Anthem's Web crew has timely delivered what it promised: Part III of the Internet half of our Future Sound feature. Check out the first and second online installments, and, of course, pick up Issue #34 of the magazine to read the other half of our feature on 2008's Bands to Watch!
As usual, each page corresponds to a different group, so click through to get the full scoop. Some stories come with MP3s or mixes, so don't skip over those nuggets!
The Black Ghosts
Theo Keating AKA Touche and Simian's Simon Lord make up The Black Ghosts, the newest member of IAMSOUND's growing stable of exciting bands. But theirs isn't the empty saccharine electro-pop most people are used to; The Black Ghosts make music that's got depth and complexity to it… with a touch darkness dropped in the mix. Somehow, the tunes revel in a Gothic ambiance without becoming depressing. Imagine a refined, smoother musical version of the classic Castelvania video games music. You won't hear Keating and Lord dropping any 8-bit beats―they're weathered DJs and neo-psych rockers respectively, mind―but the fun-loving soulfulness of the arcade classic shines through in some wacky way.. Their eponymous debut will be released on July 8th. Anthem threw a few questions as Simon to get to the root of their sound and aesthetic.
It's probably a questions you guys have had to answer time and time again, but it's one that needs to be asked: when did you guys meet up and when did you form the Black Ghosts?
Simon: We first met roughly 2 years ago, it was initially all done via the Internet. We thought we'd try out a couple of songs but more and more kept on coming. After we had about six songs finished we thought it was about time to meet in person and to talk about making this into it's own thing, hence the Black Ghosts was born. In that way we never had a masterplan or concept about the band; the music came first and was just about us making tracks that excited us and trying lot's of ideas out.
Theo: I used to walk around London with a shopping bag that contained instrumentals and freeform poetry written on rubber hands. One day I just collapsed in a doorway and started wailing and gnashing my teeth. At which point Simon walked past and did an impromptu set there on the pavement after fishing some random beats out of my bag. We then decided not to meet in person again for 1 year, and did the rest of it via email.
One thing that seems to be ever present in the Black Ghost's music is this almost noir-like feel? There's something about your music that feels darker (without becoming depressing of course) than other bands. What's the reason for this?
Simon: For me there's always a darkness present, maybe it's because I want to make pop music and the darkness comes out to balance the popness… but also I just like music that has a mysterious or sinister edge to it, a hint that something else is going on. I never want to make anything with a clear message or that gives just one side to the story. So if it's a song about relationships it shows the warts as well as the roses.
Theo: Nice. I'm going to start an uber-trendy blog called Warts vs. Roses, and just post items about hardcore experimental theater and the fascism of “cool” – and then when the first person in lenseless glasses logs on, set the server on fire while reading out a list of singers and bands who only ever made one record which nobody has except ME, and moonwalking in a circle covered in pig's blood. At which point I shall attain zeitgeist absolute zero and will explode.
As I mentioned earlier your sound is very unique, one that's electronic and dance-y, but definitely cannot be merely labeled as dance or electronic music. How would you describe your sound? Is there a specific genre that you feel you belong to?
Simon: I think our sound is shaped by our respective histories and skills in music. My main thing is songwriting and vocals and i come from more of a band background, Theo comes from more of DJ and beat production background so our sound is a combination of the two.
Theo: I play every possible instrument, keyboard and synth noise over the top of Simon's vocals until there are hundreds of layers, and then gradually pick away the ones I don't want til what's left is the finished song. We did invent a genre to describe our sound, but then uninvented it straight after cos we liked the power. It was lots of letters written on top of each other rather than in a line. With the word “-core” at the end.
Electronic music seems to be getting more attention as of late―at least in America―what do you feel is the reason for this? Is this a good or bad thing?
Simon: It seems to go in cycles, for ages bands and rock music has been dominant in America and it's time for a change! Also dance music has been recently learning trick's from rock and so there's much more of a
cross-over. It used to really be a case of two opposing tribes, but that has changed now. It's definitely a good thing.
Theo: Yeah the whole rock vs. dance thing is a complete non-issue, invented by cheesy editors at dance magazines. However the fact that this question keeps cropping up shows that “electronic music” is still seen as something weird or exotic – an outsider. But that term itself encompasses a huge range of music, from ambient and experimental stuff, through to the hardest Drum N' Bass or techno, and everything in between. Maybe one day people will just accept it as a normal part of music. But the fact that people are getting more into it is great. If only that would extend to the horror that is FM radio!
How does the band approach it's music videos. So far they've all been very different from one another, but they are always creative, fun, and undeniably cool. Are they representative of how you envision the songs?
Simon: The ideas for the videos aren't really connected to the songs meanings so far, but we definitely try and do something that'll be sympathetic to the songs vibe. We really enjoy being involved in all the visual sides of the album, it's important to try and put your stamp on everything, put up a united front!
Theo: We didn't want to interpret the songs too literally with the videos. We just wanted to have very strong and fun visual ideas that complemented them. B. H.
Hercules & Love Affair
Countless college students tinker about with music while in school, but it rarely amounts to anything more than a few laughs. That is not the case with New York based Andrew Butler though, whose managed to build upon those early music making days and become an increasingly world famous DJ and producer. His work is held in such high regard that for the project nearest his heart, Hercules and Love Affair, he was able to gather a few talented friends to help. Of course those friends do not just happen to be anyone, as they include Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons fame), Nomi, and Kim Ann Foxmann. Along with this extremely accomplished group of individuals, Butler was also able to get DFA cofounder Tim Goldsworthy to help produce the project's first album.
Plenty of records are said to be full of life but few deliver on this promise like Hercules and Love Affair's self titled debut, which finally hits US shores this June. The album is about one thing: dancing. Disco beats, lush strings, strident horns, and some truly magical vocals combine to create some of the most refreshing dance tracks in years. It is clear that Butler is a student of dance music's past, but this does not mean that he churned out an album of Saturday Night Fever disco tracks for a new generation. Instead of creating a sound built purely on camp, he's taken the best qualities yesteryear's dance hits and synthesized them into something completely new and passionate. Plus Hercules and Love Affair's substance filled music is sure to evoke memories of Arthur Russell, and if an artist can do that they are definitely on to something. It's a fresh and exciting album that will surely have even the most cold hearted listener tapping their foot, although most listeners will have already sprung from their chairs and hit the dance floor. B. H.
Post War Years
Oh, to dream of an era of post war years. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? And if the new British indie import Post War Years is any indication, we’ve got some good music to expect, too.
Straight out from the very center of England, in a spa town named Leamington Spa, Post War Years are starting to make some noise through their jazzy, ‘80s-influenced music. Self-proclaimed to be living out of an abandoned Russian social club/hair salon, the four-piece band mixes synth and bass to produce music that is best described on their Myspace page as “sorbet sounds.” Sweet, cheerful, fun, but also a little soft; full of optimism, it’s a little easier going down the ears.
Take the band’s single “Black Morning” for example. The song starts out slowly with a consistent, rhythmic, almost ominous piano line and lyrics about insomnia. After a bit more than a minute, though, the beat suddenly picks up and the hand-clapping begins to complement the chanting of “Don’t cross the black morning/Don’t close your eyes.” The song no longer is dark or ominous, but rather encouraging, uplifting even. You might even find yourself dancing.
Ah yes, we can’t wait for those post war years. C. T.
Los Angeles tends to be a relatively flat community for musicians. The metropolis is where everyone eventually comes, but not where everyone eventually produces good stuff in. We consciously imagine New York City to be America's perpetual capital of what's hip and new while L.A. remains the States' hot and sunny party land, populated primarily by crummy DJ's.
Woolfy is valiantly breaking this trend. The D.F.A.-endorsed (and now signed!), London-born Los Angeleno has been in the So-Cal club scene since 1991, so he knows this territory well. While Woolfy began as simply another DJ, he has since changed his aesthetic and altered his approach to music, picking up a five-piece live band in the process. Now, Woolfy―who has released material on Rong Music―is pumping out chiller disco-infused funky club tracks that are clearly the work of a weathered professional who's been around the block many times, but only recently discovering himself. His bass lines throb with a saucy vindication and deliberation that's completely irresistible; his synth lines dip in and out of tunes with an atmospheric, almost delicate quality; his guitar riffs sooth and calm you in their spacey grandiosity. Listen to one Woolfy cut, and you'll find yourself rendered incapacitated to the beat. N. M.
Critics and the public alike too often speak in distressingly simple terms about the purchase of young musicians and songwriters. A band, in the highest sense of the term, emerges from an inexplicable exultation of feeling and a responsibility to the expression of that feeling, which in consequence to its ability to produce music is objectified sonically and physically into a made-thing. Washington, D.C.’s Le Loup fits this ontology; Le Loup is a band in the highest sense, speaks of a profound, albeit at times precious, individual and collective apperception of the cultural breakdown of our contemporary society.
The songs on Le Loup’s debut LP, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly (Hardly Art; 2007)—its title and blog-hit “Fear Not” lifted from artist James Hampton’s found-object monument to Jesus Christ—are the works of front-man Sam Simkoff; Simkoff wrote and recorded demos of these songs over a 9-month period in his bedroom in 2006. As he explains:
“The album is comprised of all the original songs I made by myself with sporadic collaboration with my best friend Christian Ervin. I started recording the songs that eventually made up the album [The Throne… ] around August of 2006. [I] didn't expect to share them with anybody [but ] after some encouragement from friends I stuck a few songs on Myspace and was shortly contacted by A&R at Sub-Pop. I figured that was incentive enough to put together a band for live shows.”
Recruiting his band members via Craigslist.org, by December of 2006 Le Loup was formed into its current 7-piece line-up. After a few live gigs beginning in February 2007, Hardly Art, the new Sub-Pop imprint, signed them officially in March.
Now a solidified unit, with a full-length album and touring behind them and ahead of them—Le Loup begins a 3-month tour of Europe and the United States on February 21st—Simkoff remains Le Loup’s leader and greatest creative force. This quick success, which has earned Le Loup its fair share of backlash, represents the quality of Simkoff’s songs, but further a twined sense of professionalism and artistry. Invited to practice, I witnessed the band dynamic first hand.
Acting more like a producer than singer/banjo/percussionist/synthesizer extraordinaire, Simkoff works with focused attention to each nuance of these songs. His varied musicality accentuates his producer-like gait, as the incorporation of the array of instruments that appear on the record—bells, xylophone, rattle, tambourine, French horn, in addition to standard issue guitars, banjo, bass, drums, piano, keyboards and electronic manipulations—are necessary for the songs’ intonations; Simkoff’s incorporation of sounds seem to stem from an awareness of the necessity to create a proportionate sonic balance to the expanse of feeling his lyrics impart on a listener. Simkoff is able to create art in a way that best markets itself.
Lyrically, there is a narrative continuity to the album. If inclined, the album could be read as an homage to Dante’s Inferno. Like Inferno, The Throne… begins with “Canto I” and ends, penultimately so, with “Canto XXXIV”—the last track on The Throne… is titled “I Had A Dream I Died,” which perhaps makes the homage all the more apparent. Each of these songs deal with similar and overlapping themes: confusion with self, society and nature, loss of faith, destruction, guilt, a renewal of faith in the recognition of humanity’s limitability. Simkoff’s songwriting does not attack stratums or classes, though, rather it deals in the tumult that our contemporary culture can create in one’s mind, and does so without fear or embarrassment. This is the music of a native stung with bewilderment of a world burying itself, layer over layer; these songs find their origins in their ultimate destination. While the album has been referred to by reviewers and fans as “apocalyptic”—who with intelligence does not sound apocalyptic these days?—it certainly isn’t as simple as that. Though these songs repeatedly speak of the end, they also open a door to something new. For beneath each Devil-head is a set of wings to be admired.
Each person has their own voice and their own way of speaking. Le Loup seems to be Sam Simkoff’s. And it is a voice and a way of speaking that deserves our attention. Fear not the wolf!
After practice, I sat down with Simkoff to discuss all things Le Loup:
Given the fact that you wrote all of these songs before forming Le Loup, is Le Loup a band? What were the creative contributions of your band-mates? Explain the dynamic.
It was very easy to start-up with a band given that all the parts were already written. Because I’d made the songs on my computer, over-dubbing piece by piece, it was easy to isolate out the parts that I really wanted to play live and then just dole them out. So, that’s how we started, with assigning parts. And that’s a really good way to start when you don’t know anybody in a band personally or musically. To be able to give them a pre-arranged part and let them go with that, it’s just nice and a good way to get people comfortable and get to know them in the meantime and not have to worry about people going in different directions creatively.
Now that you are in a band, do you think your role will change? Has it changed?
It was never my intention to hold the reins indefinitely, to make it quite obviously me, and all about me. I guess, superficially what you might think of as, “oh, they just play what he gives them,” it’s not really true. You give people parts to work off and they use that as a creative springboard. There was a point when I took it much more literally, and I thought, “I have an idea, they are going to play it.” Eventually, what you realize, is that if you work with 7 people, or 6 people, regardless of what everybody’s intentions are, as to who is going to lead and do this and that, all that goes out the window after a while because people can’t help but have their own influences and their own ideas, even if they don’t want to inject them.
Do you think this band dynamic will alter the sound and the songwriting process of Le Loup’s follow-up? Is the next album going to sound dramatically different?
It’s going to be different. And part of that is because I have a different idea about how I want to go about writing songs. I want to make them much more minimalist: based on fundamental melodies, not really buttressed by a whole lot of razzle-dazzle. The old songs, I love them, but they rely heavily on a baroque phrasing where everyone is playing something small and different.
Do you think, artistically, that you’re past The Throne… ?
No, you don’t really get past it. My sole intention when I write music is to write stuff that I like, that I can listen to. Maybe it’s kind of cocky to say that I listen to my own music, but that’s why I do it. You have an idea and you want to hear it realized. I can still go back and listen to the last album and really love it. There are obviously things I would have liked to have done differently production-wise.
Where was The Throne… recorded?
I recorded it in my bedroom, in my apartment. Just on a computer. It was pretty low budget.
Now that Le Loup is signed to Hardly Art, do you think you’ll record the next album in a studio?
No. We had a big discussion about it. I don’t like studio work. I find it’s incredibly stressful. I mean, you’ve got to think of everything as paying by the minute and you’re on time constraints and creatively you’re kind of constrained because even the studio technician is going to have a certain idea of how to record something. We don’t want to deal with that. It’s much more natural and organic to find your own recording equipment and do it yourself whenever you have the desire to.
Le Loup is often compared and grouped with Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. Personally, I think this is partly due to the size of your band, given Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene have distinguished themselves in the public as “collectives.” How do you respond to these comparisons, as they, to a degree, pigeonhole your sound and this record as part of a particular scene or sound in rock music?
Well, obviously it does sound different. And you’re right, from early on, people coming to the live shows and seeing how many of us there were and how we throw ourselves around stage, people draw certain inferences from that. I don’t get too worked up about it. If you are a music journalist or a blogger and you’re trying to describe somebody new that nobody has ever heard of before there is no other way to do it other than to discuss them in reference to somebody who came before them. You can say this is, “Appalachian-electro-indie pop,” but what the hell does that mean? I think [critics] were clutching at whatever they could to get some sort of vague inkling at what we might be presenting ourselves as. And no, I don’t think it’s particularly astute, but I don’t begrudge them for it.
In addition to praise, Le Loup has received its far share of backlash. What are your thoughts on this, if any?
There’s going to be backlash anytime there’s some new band that has any sort of buzz whatsoever. People are going to form opinions. I’d much rather it was that a bunch of people really loved us and a bunch of people really hated us because if everybody is lukewarm it means you aren’t doing your job correctly. These days I don’t take it too personally. At least they are passionate, and passionately listening to and paying attention to music. There was a point when it really did get me down, but if you’re going to function at all you have to get passed that.
Given the success of Le Loup, how have you balanced business and art? Were you expecting to get signed?
Every musician, no matter what they say, wants to get signed. I wasn’t expecting to. These songs were purely for my own enjoyment when I made them. It was right after I got out of college and I was figuring out what to do with myself, professionally and philosophically. I’d moved to [Washington,] D.C., but there wasn’t really any reason behind it. I didn’t have a job lined-up or anything. The initial impetus came once I put the songs on Myspace and somebody from Sub-Pop contacted me. It wasn’t really ambition, as much as a goal.
A band, for all intents and purposes, if you’re trying to make a living off of it, is a business. I mean, we just did our corporate taxes for the year. You have to treat it as a money-making enterprise, which is not to say, “how can we get as many people to buy our shit as possible?” but if we are put in the frame of professionals, of musicians who are signed, we are expected to bring a certain quality of product to the market. We realize that expectation. We don’t want people coming to a show and leaving disappointed or thinking, “we could play that, we could play that better than they can any day of the week.” You want to give the people something to really be excited about and to be happy about. The entire point of playing a show is to get people in that mindset.
Do you think your music is “happy”?
The live music is much more joyful than the recordings. There’s a tension, there’s a very deliberate tension, between the tone of the music and the lyrics. I always try to have this tug between darker lyrics and a prettier tone and a more promising overall message. It wouldn’t be interesting to me to make a one-note album stating, “this is exactly how things are,” and, “this is how you should interpret them.” That’s not really the way the world is. I think it’s much more complex than that.
On behalf of yourself and Le Loup, do you have any words for our readers?
Don’t do drugs. Stay in school. J. K.