INTERVIEW: Atoms and Void
Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Doing very well, thank you. Making stuff, spazzin’ out…. Nice to finally have the album out in the
world. By the way, you’re welcome to use as much or as little of these answers as you want.
Believe it’s always better to be honest and thoughtul that sassy or insincere. Here goes : )
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Waves of Blood”?
Hmm… What to say? To my ears it sort of sounds like a cross between a quasar spitting dark matter into the universe and a massive ship sinking in a storm.
We chose to release “Waves of Blood” first because it’s the loudest, most orchestral piece of music on an album that’s otherwise pretty minimalist and contemplative. The bones of the song were initially written by Eric and myself with later contributions from a handful of session players over the course of several years, including double drummers J. Clark and Eric Akre. During tracking we asked them to track at the same time with full-sized kits positioned face-to-face. We wanted to capture that crazy double-drummer energy. No need for any kooky post-production tricks. The intro needed to sound very lively, organic, and explosive— as if the Apocalypse were suddenly rising up and raining down. That moment when a colossal wave breaks and swallows your ship. The beginning of the end, followed by the long, peaceful descent to the bottom– over and over again. The front end is terrifying and super annoying, sure. But the second half is really lush and quite nice. What I like about it is that you can really hear the drummers playing off of one another, eyeball to eyeball. Each drumming in the pocket but playing and improvising off the other in his own style. Other than that, the guitars are myself and J. Clark. Morgan Henderson on bass. Eric Fisher on organ, recording, and mixing.
Um, what else? Oh, throughout the process we made a lot of field recordings, (fireworks, a neighborhood of strangers singing The National Anthem on the 4th of July, dogs barking in Mexico City, the whistle of a street vendor selling steamed potatoes at 4AM, a voice message from my sister back in 1999 after having disappeared some 17-years earlier, our friend Chris Carnel calling from outside a Scorpions concert in the early 90s, radio ads from the Philippines and Vietnam, etc). We also worked in snippets of random voice message recordings and shortwave radio bursts, (for years I ran around snapping up micro-cassettes from old answering machines in thrift stores and junk shops in Hawaii, Washington, and elsewhere). The shortwave radio was given to me by my dad a long time ago. It had belonged to my grandfather. It is by far the most ghostly thing I’ve ever owned, great for tuning in and hearing weird songs, wonderful languages, bonkers dumb radio commercials and different kinds of static from around the world. It’s pure magic.
Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
Guilt, regret, embarrassment? Grief? A desire to howl at the moon and make noise, beautiful noise. I dunno, in many ways the song feels like a sonic map through places like Washington, Oahu, Hawaii, Reno, Nevada, Valdosta, Georgia, New York City, and Los Angeles, CA. A musical map of memories of family, friends and loved ones. Some gone, some still here. To put it another way, and for a lot of reasons, “Waves” emerged as an instrumental because words sometimes just can’t explain a lifelong feeling. That probably sounds corny, but oh well.
Instrumental and experimental music can often touch on things we can’t really sum up in words. Like, language just doesn’t suffice. And, sometimes a song will pass through us on its’ way to somewhere else. Occasionally, it’s almost as if we’re just the conduit, the vessel that makes it possible for the sounds to come into the world. “Waves of Blood” is exactly that kind of song. Whether real or imagined, in some ways it feels like we were just helping to tell the story that the song itself wants to tell. To my ears, “Waves of Blood” feels like it has a consciousness and will of it’s own, in an almost supernatural way. Mega-dorky, I know. But it is what it is.
How was the film experience?
Making the film was fun. The director/editor Jason Farrell is one of the most talented and gracious people I know. We came to him with a really simple concept. He brought additional ideas to the project and filmed the entire thing in one take using one camera angle. The boy in the film is his son Ian, which from a generational perspective makes the work that much more interesting. Blood, milk, and drinkable water are the fluids we most oben associate with maintaining one’s “life essence”. So what then does it mean to spill milk? To take life for granted? We wanted to examine closely and in mesmerizing detail the gleeful, wanton waste of something so closely aligned with survival. As abstract films go, it’s a bit of a rumination on the ways some folks just kinda wanna fuck things up. Lol. They don’t even know why. They just do it for the sake of doing it and then maybe ponder the legacy of their decisions long aber, if at all. Out there in the wild it’s always a bit difficult to capture the momentary joy a person experiences when he/she consciously makes the decision to throw a wrench into everything. Inevitably, it almost always leads to further heartache and pain down the line, (as evidenced in almost every John Cassavetes film ever). Other than that, kids are cool. Ian was psyched to make a mess, which was nice.
On a related note, many years ago Jason Farrell created the artwork for the final Juno album, A Future Lived In Past Tense. We’ve done a lot of work together over the years. He has an exceptionally creative mind. Equally so, he has the most wonderful combination of serious and light-hearted personality traits, which is important because Eric and I tend to write music imbued with a lot of heartbreaking, mind-erasing gravity). Like, we write bummer tunes, always. It’s good to work with a director that understands the vibe and intention of the music but that also has a sense of humor and shares an inquisitiveness about the work that can lead to unconventional and new ways of expressing it visually. Jason was also in SWIZ, one of my all-time favorite bands. Anytime I get to work with him I feel lucky and grateful. Even when we’re making a mess of it.
The single comes off your new album And Nothing Else – what’s the story behind the Title?
Oh man, sorry, the air’s about to get really thick in here. The phrase “Atoms and void and nothing else” is a refrain found in the 200-line poem ‘On The Nature of Things’ by Roman philosopher Lucretius. Written in the first-century BC, the poem is his attempt to explain the entirety of existence, (which is bonkers pretentious but, hey man, I suppose somebody’s gotta do it). He touches on notions of atomism, free will, fortuna (aka chance), and the nature of everything — describing with resolute clarity the universe, matter, and the void in which we all float. He conjured up all these remarkably huge ideas, and yet atomic science and modern physics wouldn’t be established for another two-thousand years or so. Any way you cut it, that’s pretty Tiiiiite, man!
Though the poem was lost for nearly five centuries, upon rediscovery his ideas went on to influence the modern world. Like, that lil’ dude posited the idea of Uny atomic particles floating around in the void coming together to create maHer, to create existence: People, memories, songs, puppies, CheetosTM, skateboards, hard drives, hand towels, sea urchins, optical nerves, etc. Proof that even the most esoteric creative bullshit can make a useful impact at some point down the road.
Anyway, ‘Atoms and Void and nothing else’ is a reminder that in life there is only stuff and non-stuff. You either make something of life or you make nothing of it. Doesn’t have to be important, lasting or even notable. It only matters that you try to contribute something meaningful with the time you’re given. We lost our album twice during the recording process. We could’ve given up and just said, “Oh well, guess it’s not meant to be.” But we chose to persevere. Doing so took nearly ten years to figure out. Life really is what you make of it. It isn’t something that happens to you. You gotta work hard at it and cross your fingers. Life is a combination of good and bad fortune, free will, intentionality, inquisitiveness, and creativity. When you’re going through hell you’ve just gotta keep going. While you’re here try to be loving, try to be kind. Be forgiving. Be creative. Make stuff. Do stuff. Share life. That’s kinda it, that’s all. We’re here now, and we only have so much Ume. For example, Prince passed away today and I’m all kinds of sad about it. Can’t even wrap my head around it. Just grateful we had any Ume with him at all. We’re all made of stardust, each and every last one of us. That atoms came together in the void to form Prince for a short amount of time is just incredible, and incredibly beautiful.
How was the recording and writing process?
Um, we set out to make the album in an unconventional way. Two principle songwriters + a huge revolving cast of session players, each selected for his/her specific instruments, styles of playing, and personal vibe in relation to each piece of music. We often had people come in to record on a specific segment of a song, rather than on the entire song. Sometimes the sessions would be years apart, making it impossible for folks to remember what they’d played or how they’d contributed. This was hilarious and sometimes terrifying. But Eric and I have a really easy-going, intuitive way of writing music together. Even when our session players really had no idea what the hell we were aiming for, between the two of us we knew what we wanted each song to do, and how each needed to sound…often right down to the last note. Within that context we gave our session players a lot of room to experiment and find themselves in the songs, which in turn oben lead us to deeper places in the music.
As friends and creative folks, I’d say Eric and I just kinda know each other’s likes and dislikes, strengths and challenges. Eric Fisher is a really gifted audio engineer and multi-instrumentalist, which helps immensely. We’ve been friends for, I dunno, half our adult lives at this point? We complement each other well as friends foremost, and then secondarily as musicians, producers and arrangers. Atoms and Void is rooted in our shared ideas about where music could go rather than where it typically goes.
It also helps that we’re fans of each other’s previous bands and have a large pool of friends and fellow musicians willing to grapple with our methods of writing and recording. Atoms and Void has always felt a bit more like being co-composers and conductors at the helm of a makeshift orchestra than band-dudes trying to “make a band” with everyone playing specific parts and adopting pre-defined “rock n’ roll” roles.
The album features members a wide range of bands from different genres – did you handpick them or they were randomly chosen?
All handpicked. We asked each person based on his/her respective instrument, style of playing, and for how we could anticipate he/she would approach improvising and experimenting during the recording process. Some of the folks we worked with because they were really precise and efficient. Others because their approach was loose and improvisational. The only commonality between all of the players was 1) That they are our friends, and 2) That they believed in and trusted us enough to give us their time and talents for a long, long time.
Were you looking for something in particular on these musicians or they brought different things to the table?
Yes, and yes.
The album was recorded on different cities – how has this affected the sound and lyrics on this record?
We knew from the jump what we wanted our listeners to feel like they’re entering the world of the album. Just sort of use it as a catalyst for pondering existence. Essentially, we wanted to make an album that’d be good for long drives, miserable red-eye flights, and lonely dishwashing. I know that probably sounds dumb but I’m being entirely sincere.
As an audio engineer Eric Fisher achieves really unique tonal qualities with his mic’ing and recording choices. He has a great mind for making things sound natural and expansive but somehow also gauzy and intimate all at once. Yes, the different cities and life circumstances have definitely impacted the lyrics.
Any plans to hit the road?
Currently, we’re just focusing on making six abstract films for the album. Other than that, we’d like to do what we can to promote the album in record shops and online. If people respond well and have a desire to see us perform we might play shows at some point. Honestly though, I’d be really surprised if anyone wants to see us perform these songs. They’re all loner jams for headphones. To finally put it out is really the greatest reward. Anything positive that comes from here on out will be surprising and nice. We have no expectations for how or if it will be received well. Just grateful to anyone who might want to give it a listen.
What else is happening next in Atoms and Void’s world?
Hopefully, boat loads of entirely weird, minimalist, (i.e., perhaps boring) abstract films made with a lot of good friends and great directors. Other than that, just happy we’re finally here, and thinking about when/where/how/if to start work on the next album.