Twin issue XVII: Wham Bam Andersen
Photography Clare Shilland, Words India Doyle
‘Y…O….L….O’ sings Natalie Mering in her wistful, luscious composition, ‘Generation Why’. The letters come so elliptically that you almost don’t piece the word together, especially as the sarcasm is delivered in angelic tones, packaged with fleeting guitars. Elsewhere on ‘Seven Words’ the same emotive voice offers a more morose, melancholic narrative. These two songs offer a survey of range of Natalie Mering’s (aka Weyes Blood) canon, and it’s no surprise that she’s considered to be one of America’s most exciting female artists. Whether she’s contributing to other records or delivering her own kind of ephemeral gospel, the music is rich, immersive and often sardonic – the fact that she’s supporting Father John Misty on tour (and is regularly photographed by his wife, and Twin favourite Emma Tillman) seems a perfect fit.
Her third album, Front Row Seat To Earth is filled with West Coast meandering melodies which encompass personal stories and wider musings on the world. Sloppy listeners will find themselves caught off guard in the same way that attentive ones wait with anticipation to see where the lyrics will bend next. Either way, you’ll find yourself surprised and likely with a grin on your face. In the midst of touring, Twin caught up with the Californian singer to chat about the state of music, collaborating with Perfume Genius and the duality of performance.
In the last two years, there’s been a lot of talk about the rise of the 70’s singer-songwriter. Do you consider yourself to be part of this movement?
In some ways, but not entirely – I love music from all decades, all time periods. The 70’s thing is convenient because its definitely a convergence of a lot of different influences, it was a vibrant time that set the pace for the time we still live in now. I can associate with that aspect of it, but I don’t think of myself as 70s.
What does a 70’s sound mean to you? What was magical about that era of recording?
Music started to expand into different micro genres, things were becoming less homogenised. That’s pretty magical. Also most people were recording to tape and collaborating with a lot of different, smart, creative people. Producers, players, arrangers. It was the hey day of money being thrown into interesting projects because mainstream music hadn’t been totally strangulated yet— big record labels were still taking risks and culturally we were discovering the future as we know it now.
How did you go about shaping the sound for your record? What specifically were you influenced by, and what were you listening to?
I was listening to a lot of Soft Machine and classical music — I wanted to make something epic but also personal… Chris Cohen had a really good ear for this concept, we used a very limited amount of microphones while recording and did a lot of things live to capture that feeling, make it all feel like it was recorded in the same sphere. I was also was listening to a lot of Weather Report which is a pretty strange non-sequitur – I have a tendency to listen to things that are very different from my own music while I’m creating.
There’s a strong visual element that runs through your cover and videos, do you think in ‘the digital age’ image has taken on a heightened significance for music?
Not necessarily — we’ve always been a civilisation driven by imagery. Things probably changed the most in the 80s when music videos become synonymous with artists – suddenly people had to look really good, seem young. I think now more than ever we’re less interested in innovative music, which makes the imagery seem more important. It’s like the music is an afterthought. Music has been congealed into a very specific “industry standard” that’s numbed peoples tastes a bit, made it a more narrow experience for the masses as a whole.
In the album the emotional nuances are very powerful – do you have to access and inhabit the original emotions that you had when writing the songs when you’re performing them, or can you do it with a certain level of detachment?
I’ve learned to replace it with other emotions if I don’t want to conjure the old ghosts – I try to avoid detachment in an apathetic sense, but sometimes I do let go and stop thinking and just feel whats happening. That’s like detachment in the zen sense.
Your fashion sense is impeccable. Do you see your style as part of the Weyes Blood persona, or is it an expression as Natalie?
It’s a part of Weyes Blood— if I, as in Natalie, had my way with clothes I would be mostly naked or wearing huge swaths of fabric. I do like a good suit, its like a huge swath of monochrome fabric but organized a bit more. If it fits super well you can climb a mountain in a suit, live in a suit. Classic hobo.
And thinking more broadly about that potential duality – why did you want to work under a different name when putting out your own music?
I wanted it to be a different world. I’m not that much of a realist with my art – there’s a lot of fantasy and imagination involved, occupying an archetypal space, my lyrics are the most Natalie Mering thing about it all and I think that stands out just enough. It’s still not too late to release under my own name someday, but I’d rather just make films or do stand up comedy under my name. Those are more Natalie Mering things.
You have worked and toured with Perfume Genus. Tell us more what that collaboration means to you?
Mike is an incredible soul — he carries very powerful and moving musical ideas that I feel a kindred spirit with. Singing with him is always an elating experience. I think we have the same knack for a certain kind of musical drama and vulnerability. He’s definitely been an inspiration to me.
Generally you’ve worked with a lot of exciting artists, who would you like to work with in the future?
I’d love to work with somebody who’s very different from me, see what that’s like. I’m first and foremost a really big fan of music, so there’s lots of people I can imagine working with. It’d be fun to dip into a top 40’s world or make a Nashville country record. Sky’s the limit.
What are your plans for the rest of the year, and what are you looking forward to?
I’m going to be touring with Father John Misty in the states, UK and Europe this fall – right now I’m writing my next record and cultivating a new sphere to take back into the studio with me for the next one. I am most looking forward to getting back in the studio and recording!
One of the pleasures of seeing bands in small venues (when they’re good) is that you get to witness how much they enjoy playing with each other – which was certainly true of Alex Cameron and his gang on their most recent visit to London. In amongst a slick delivery of the latest album, Forced Witness, were plenty of banterful asides, whispered knowing eye catches and asides made while sweat poured and Stella Artois spilled.
Such synchronicity is hardly surprising given that frontman Alex and saxophonist / business partner Roy Molloy have known each other since they were 5, when Alex was sent round to play with Roy because he was lonely ( “don’t put that in” (sorry, Roy)). That they wouldn’t tell me the name of the band they had when they were 17, or their worst lyrics, also speaks of a deep, artistic bond that means some ten years later, they’re more on it than ever.
Cameron himself likes character, starring on his first album cover ‘Jumping the Shark’ as a Scarface-esque bruiser. For Forced Witness the physical performance may have changed, but the album delves deep into various personalities and identites, unpacking as it does ideas around gender, specifically the ‘Alpha’ males of rock and roll, and the wide world beyond. And although the video of ‘Stranger’s Kiss’, a record that features Angel Olsen, Alex Cameron and Jemima Kirke play with sexuality and identity on screen, the best and most surprising expositions are most definitely to be found in the lyrics.
Co-produced with Foxygen’s Johnathan Rado and recorded partly in Las Vegas (“a completely rational and sane place”) it’s a record to pay attention to.
Read Twin’s interview with Alex Cameron (guest starring Roy Malloy) below.
Where do you get ideas for your characters?
A lot of it is dialogue with people that I’m on the road with. Someone like Mclean Stevenson who is a photographer from Australia. I worked in a government legal office working with victims of corruption, so a lot of my process is to do with taking that skill of being an assistant to an investigator; what I is a breakdown or a study of a story that I’m interested in.
Do you have a favourite one?
On the new record I really like Country Figs. My car broke down on a highway, it was me and Roy and our two ex-girlfriends and we got towed. That whole song came from a conversation with a tow truck driver.
How do you come up with melodies to support to the character?
I just try and focus on whether or not it’s a good song. The melody is quite natural, I’m kind of drawn towards them. I’m more interested in the stories and the melodies, they come together after a while. You have to be patient, and I tend to let things happen over time.
Do you find yourself looking at people on the street and get a sound to them?
Um no, I wouldn’t say so. I’ve written songs on the bus before but that comes more from absentmindedness. I do a lot of song writing when I’m walking and when I’m on public transport.
Some people write very confessional lyrics and you choose to write through the lens of character, but how much of yourself do you put into it?
I’d like to think that if you get a sense of moral awakening then that’s me trying to put some humanity into the characters, even if they are bastards or misguided. I wonder about the process of everyone having a bullshit detector, I’m fascinated by that. Some people have a strong edit before they speak and others just speak based on their emotions,without contemplating the fact that they’re an animal. So I think a lot of stories are just me wondering about certain circumstances, and I just try and let the characters take me to where they want to go. Often that’s somewhere decrepit because when I’m writing it feels like I’m writing a tiny world where someone can behave, that I’m not in control of; I’m just there. Part of it is just based on the flow of emotion and not so much trying to ruthlessly understand something and then examine it in retrospect.
Was music the most instinctive form of doing that to you?
Most of my song writing comes from words I’m constantly taking down; long sentences and utterances, lines, poems and things like that. Then I’ll find the ones with the right cadence and the right syncopation that fit with certain melodies I have recorded as well. I write short stories, but I felt that there was no way for me to access that industry. Some of my favourite authors have been more responsive to my records than they ever would be to a story.
What was it like starting out in Sydney?
Sydney was really hard. Not in a knocks way, but it’s not the place to write music with a sense of realness to it; it’s very much a paradise over there. I don’t think Sydney is the place where groundbreaking music happens. The only way for me to make a living was to leave. Sydney has been taken over by investor money, it’s corporate. It doesn’t has any nightlife. You’d have to go up against the laws and the corporations to really get a subculture going.
ENTER ROY MALLOY
Hello Roy. How did you meet Alex, and how did you get into the saxophone?
I met Alex because we went to stay at friend’s when I was kid, and that was two doors down from Al’s, so we lived next door to each other when we were 5 or 6. We met each other because his mother made him come and play with me because she thought that I was lonely. But I wasn’t lonely. Don’t print that I was lonely.
And the saxophone I came across because the school had a program where you could rent them, and I thought Lisa Simpson was pretty cool so, that’s how it happened?
Have you ever been tempted by another instrument?
I guess between the ages of 16 – 25 I didn’t think that the saxophone was suitable for rock music so I was playing the bass guitar. Then 4 or 5 years ago we started doing this live thing with the horn, and it just came into it I guess.
So were you guys in bands together when you were younger?
Yeah we played in a band at the end of school –
What was it called?
(Inaudible shouts from Alex)
That’s a secret (laughs).
EXIT ROY MALLOY
Hey again Alex. I wanted to talk to you about the video for Stranger’s Kiss and the way in which you play around with binaries in it, and also in the album more widely. Do you think that music has a specifically female or male sound?
Well the whole record was kind of intentionally made with the intention of subverting those masculine qualities in pop rock music. And so when Jemima came with the idea with this video that also challenged that it was kind of natural and perfect.
The song was produced in a way that was really strong, but the lyrics suggest a lot of denial of weakness. I certainly view the record of being a direct challenge to those tropes of masculinity, those male-dominant forms of song. Like that song Jesse’s girl I always think is pretty interesting – it’s oestensibly a song about a woman but it’s actually a discussion between two men. It doesn’t even mention Jesse’s girl’s name.
Interestingly when Angel came into the studio and laid down her vocals it became really evident that she was the strong one in that world. So we made her the one that was really not giving a fuck about the breakup, so we made her tender but brutal – which is exactly how I like a character to be.
This interview was originally published on Twin.
Presenter of Culture Trip’s original fashion series, Behind Closed Drawers.
The sun’s out and A.O.S.O.O.N have a new song out to compliment your ice cream. A.O.S.O.O.N, which stands for ‘A Lot Of Something Out Of Nothing,’ already have an impressive array of followers which include Annie Mac and Huw Stephens. Last year their single ‘Under’ amassed 3.5 million streams and their latest single ‘High Grade’ promises to garner similar acclaim. We caught up with the band to chat independent labels and sounds of the city.
Can you talk about how A.O.S.O.O.N happened?
Well, it was just the pairing of two individuals who felt like outcasts, choosing to come together to make music as a means of self expression.
You release under your own label, why did you choose to work independently?
Yes we do. I think up until this point here for us it’s been about learning the most we can about the industry. By working independently you have to be completely hands on with everything around you. We’ve had to understand every step, every choice. And we see this as a good thing.
What are your main musical influences?
It can go from Gucci Mane to Nirvana in the same sitting! Lauryn Hill is a big influence.
How does the city inspire your sound?
The city is everything to the sound, it’s the way the wind breezes and how you can relate that to the grind. London has a lot going on, there’s always so much to pick up on and it inspires us daily in a variety of ways.
At the moment the production is quite stripped back, will this always be part of your sound or would you like to explore bigger arrangements?
That’s a cool question. It’s about capturing the overall vibe every time. Treating each arrangement uniquely. So far it’s been about raw live instruments and allowing the space to talk instead of generic ideas, and if anything we think it challenges our listeners to open their ears which I think they appreciate. We wouldn’t wanna take that away from the music but yes, we’re willing to stretch ourselves with where the production could go in the future. It’s all about growth!
How do you find live performance vs studio?
Live is exciting, I mean there’s so much energy. You’re rocking out, the crowd’s loving it, you’re so caught up in the moment nothing really matters. Being in the studio varies, sometimes it can feel like forever and sometimes it’s like being on stage. It really depends but it’s definitely a more mental process.
Any screw ups or weird happenings on the road so far?
Haha nothing too crazy yet. Probably getting high and everyone losing room keys.
Who would be your dream collaborator?
That’s hard, there’s so many. Getting in the studio with Kanye would be crazy, cutting a record with Rick Rubin would be insane. Working with anyone who’s great at what they do and loves what you do and vice versa would be a great collaboration. It just has to make sense with where we’re at on our journey and feel great, that’s important for us.
‘High Grade’ definitely has a relaxed ’90s vibe. How did it come about?
We were jamming the chords one morning on the guitar Gmaj Amin Cmaj and it just came, it was pretty much instant. It felt like Bob Marley was jamming with us, it was a magical moment.
What are you looking forward to this summer?
The sun. It doesn’t come out too often in London. People looking saucy, putting out new music, shows. Watermelons.
Explore more of A.O.S.O.O.N’s music HERE.
Trundling round Europe in a white van, spending their time listening to The Band and Bob Dylan, drinking too much whiskey and beer: the antics of the six-man band Whitney have a something of a cinematic quality about them. On the icy Sunday that I meet them, they’ve just come over from a festival in Holland where they played to families and partied with the locals until the early hours. One small jaunt across the border and they’ve arrived in London, much to the delight of Hackney’s finest, who are queuing down the street to get into the small garage space which is already 100 degrees too hot from the expectant fans inside.
Maybe it’s just the home-made, half-drunk Tom Collins in hand, but as the band sound checks you can feel their magnetism entrance the crowd. By the time they’ve launched into their first song, the sense of joy from the stage and throughout the audience is palpable.
The band – made up of Max Kakacek, Julien Ehrlich, Josiah Marshall, Malcolm Brown, Will Miller and Print – are an exceptional live act. They literally move in rhythm, playing their separate instruments (trumpet, keyboard and a rhythm guitar alongside guitar, bass and drums) as though they’re all in sound together. It’s an unparalleled and unique chemistry. The lyrics are melancholy yet hopeful, expertly worked out by Julien, Max et al. Julien’s silky, pure vocals ride over melodies that swing from soft and searching to the downright groovy, led by ex-Smith Western’s Max on the guitar. Whitney are a band singing about crossroads and transience, about lost loves and moving forward and having a lot of fun together whilst they do it. “I’m searching for those golden days” Julien sings in one particularly enthralling track; judging by the reaction of the crowd, it feels like Whitney might finally have found them.
We caught up with lead duo Max and Julien to talk the bathrooms in Soho House, eyeballing audiences, Donald Trump and the new album.
How did Whitney happen?
M: Me and Julian lived together. After Smith Westerns ended we each worked on different weird projects that never came to fruition. Then one morning I bought this old cassette tape machine that sounded crazy and we were just testing out the machine and wrote two songs for it just kind of snowballed into something we wanted to make a whole album for.
J: We had never recorded my voice before. And this tape machine had a ton to do with it. It just made everything sound really good and appealing but dry, super dry. And that’s where the sound kind of blossomed.
M: The first song we recorded, if we ever release it, you’ll hear that the affect on Julian’s voice is so intense and ridiculous and we were kind of going way way far to figure out a voice and then scaled it back.
J: During the demos I was more experimenting with my voice a bit more and we were experimenting with recording it, and right before we went out to LA to record the full length in LA I kind of hit my stride and figured out how to sing.
M: Once we had the unique voice or whatever we kind of built the band around it.
Was there a particular moment when it clicked?
J: I remember a moment that we decided that we were going to drop the other shit that we were working on. It was right after we finished the second song that we wrote. I think we took shots of molly water and were walking around Chicago because it was the first nice day and we were just listening to it out of our iPhones. We were insanely proud of it. We went onto someone’s roof and were still listening to it.
M: Did you almost pee on someone’s couch that night?
J: I think I peed on someone’s couch that night… And then we didn’t really follow up with any of the other stuff that we were doing.
And how did you find the other members of the band?
M: They’re our best friends. They all basically left their apartments, which were five minutes away from ours, and everyone moved in together. It was like an open door thing, like a family.
Do you think Whitney only happened because of your experience with Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra?
J: I don’t know if it was because of other bands, but we were just in the right place in our lives to put all of our energies and songwriting talents into this weird project in the hopes that people would pick up on it, and so far it’s working.
M: I don’t think there’s anything specific I took from Smith Westerns but it’s just learning on a personal level how to arrange things.
Are you still using the tape machine?
M: No that thing broke like after we made that song. We did record the whole album on tape though.
You recorded your album in L.A with Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, what influence did he have on your sound and process?
J: We used basically all of his gear to record it, it’s obvious that he has gotten really good at getting the right sounds out of all the stuff he owns. He’s the type of guy that goes crazy if he’s not recording so we didn’t really have any downtime. Overall it was a great experience.
Do you write the songs together? How personal are they?
J: We really consult each other on mostly everything. Most of the time I concept where the lyrics should to but if I hit a road block we’ll just bounce them off each other. And it goes the same way with every instrument.
Why did you choose this particular sound?
J: Most of the songs are about transition in general. That’s where we were in our lives and it seemed like the sound suited the character at the time, but in no way is it going to define Whitney as a whole. We don’t want people to think that we’re going to come out with a sad record every time. We’ve been listening to a lot of Greenday today so…
How is it playing drums and singing vocals?
J: I’ve always done it, but for backing vocals. So it wasn’t hard to do four limbs and singing vocals.. It was more about learning how to assume the pressure of being a frontman, of learning how to talk in between songs and be more entertaining. But I’m past that roadblock now, I feel really comfortable. We toured with the idea of me standing up and playing guitar but then I looked like a fucking lame dude playing the guitar. I do not look good.
What’s the weirdest thing that happened on tour?
J: Our bass player drank our old guitarist’s piss, by accident. It was a really late night and we were hanging out in a cemetery and then our guitarist went and passed out in the van, and then peed in the half-full water jug. Then our bassist came in and busted off the top…
M: So many good thing’s going on! His name’s Josiah Marshall.
J: He routinely loses tour.
How are you finding the whole touring experience? What’re learning along the way?
J: I’m learning how to pace myself a little bit more.
M: I was pretty prepared for this tour, but I learned that Soho House as an institution is really nice! The showers.. Oh my god.
J: Just the most private bathrooms you could ever imagine, you can do whatever you want it in there.
Alright! What’s the plan for the rest of 2016?
J: Just non-stop touring. Our goal is to sit down and write more songs, but we’ll probably just learn to do it on the road.
How do you find performing the same songs every night?
J: Whitney is a band that changes things every night. We’re always working to put variations on the songs that we wrote a year and a half ago.
M: And at this point, the faces in the audience are always new, so the reaction to songs is always different.
What’s the worst song you ever wrote?
J: I wrote a song about that sci-fi movie Event Horizon with our bass player
M: I was in a really bad band called ADHD when I was in eighth grade, and we had a song called Sexy Police Officer. We sang about George Bush a lot, I was really active.
What’re you going to do if Donald Trump gets in?
J: We have a thing where during shows I’ve made the crowd flip off Donald Trump and yell “Fuck Donald Trump.” Besides that, I don’t think Whitney wants to comment on political affairs…
Light Upon the Lake is released on Secretly Canadian, June 3rd
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down are back with a Tune Yards produced mega-album.
It’s been three years since indie-rock band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down have released an album, which will be their fourth to date. However the delay hasn’t diminished the group’s signature energy and attitude, in fact the latest album from Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, produced by Tune Yards’ Merril Garbus, takes it to a whole new level. On the phone, front-woman Thao Nyguen is quick, considered and manages to explore topics sensitively and insightfully within a short amount of time: all qualities that have translated clearly into her new record.
The Californian born singer, who grew up playing guitar in her mum’s Laundromat, has previously taken inspiration from wide reaching themes. In 2013, their album We the Common was inspired in part by Thao’s volunteer work with the California Coalition for Women’s Prisoners; in 2016, the latest release moves closer to home.
Ahead of the album launch, we caught up with lead singer Thao Nguyen to discuss hip-hop, the end of creativity in San Francisco and kids today.
What was the inspiration behind the album?
Well, I knew that professionally I was bound to make another record, contractually bound. When I started writing songs for it, it turned out that every song I was writing was about the relationship with my dad. And it became clear that this record would be for the most part, or probably in its entireity directly or indirectly, about the trajectory of our relationship.
How did you find the experience of taking something so personal and rendering it universal?
Painful. I had a lot of misgivings, and there were a few songs that I wrote that didn’t go on the record because they felt like a really vulnerable and straight -forward treatment (of the subject). Too straight-forward for my liking. It was really emotionally intense, but also a very freeing and educational process. It was sort of like the momentum of it, and the truth of it meant there was no way out expect through it
It must have been a cathartic thing to make the record. How do you find the relationship with the songs now? Are you still struggling with them or no longer immersed in the themes in the same way?
It really depends on the song. It’s an interesting document… in some of the songs I’m really hopeful and there’s a forward movement and sense of optimism, that progress is being made. In others though the impasse is still there. I realised that a few months of concerted song writing couldn’t break through a lifetime of estrangement. But I think once you record the album and start performing it live you have to have a different relationship with it, a more detached connection. My preoccupation now is performing it well and making sure we engage the audience. You know, giving it away.
How do you manage the detachment element whilst giving a passionate performance every night?
The detachment is just enough so you don’t cry in front of strangers! But the energy and liveliness and the vibrancy is always there. In part that comes from the fact that you’re performing it in front of people. I find that live shows are very reciprocal. It becomes a symbiotic and communal relationship. And when we do it live I’m just so excited that we all decided to be there together.
Yes it’s a very magical, almost spirtual energy
When it works!
Exactly. Have you ever had something go horribly wrong?
I remember a show when I was wearing a dress and these guys came up and starting taking pictures underneath the dress…Things like that are beyond the pale. And then you have the typical thing, especially if you’re supporting another band, where there’s a barricade of teenagers on their phones just waiting for the main act, and I don’t have whatever transcendental state you need to be in to completely not lose your shit.
You just want to throw the guitar at them?
Oh my god, yeah (laughs).
Seriously! And they don’t even buy the music… It takes so much control that sometimes, I don’t have any. I have sort of stooped down, left the mike, gotten right in front of them and mimicked them texting in a spurious way, which I’m not proud of. I don’t justify it but at the same time I don’t apologise.
Speaking of control, your sound in general is spontaneous, lively and energetic. Is this something that as a band comes naturally or is it something that you’ve focussed on making?
In this record there was definitely a concerted effort to capture the energy of our live show. We did a lot more tracking live in the studio. I wanted to be raw and spontaneous and vocally more unhinged, which is more what I’m like live.
That’s especially apparent on the track Nobody dies –
It was really freeing to scream that! We had a few of us come in and scream “nobody dies.” That was one of the cathartic moments that the record offers.
That song feels political in many ways. I was interested in whether you think music still has that power to change and affect listeners, given that today people engage with music in a different way?
In do think music still has that power but in a less literal sense. Lyrically I don’t foresee a song being successful in the way that a Bob Dylan or an early Neil Young, you know direct lyrics that are very topical. I think capturing the sentiment and channelling a frustration and an anger without referencing concrete events is more likely. I think the way people listen to music is personal, they’re with their music all the time but only they can hear it. The level of ethicacy is still there but there’s no real way to measure the level of dissemination.
So what were the main influences on the record?
There were a lot of very broad … from early 90’s east coast hip to more current stuff, and early 60s soul music played a part as world.
What’s it like now working and living in SF? Has the tecchy side of the city affected the creative side?
I don’t know a lot of artists who still live in the city, when I first moved here ten years ago, there were a lot of musicians in the city but most have moved out now. It is a great sadness of mine to see.
A Man Alive is released 4th March via Ribbon Music