Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Softcheque is a three-piece band from Louisville that creates a mysterious blend of music, reminiscent of avant-garde composers and the ’80s keyboard revolution. Featuring Dane Waters, Arsenio Zignoto (aka Alan) and Warren Christopher Gray, the band is brainy without any uptight overtones — plus they throw in some funky humor and catchy electrofunk pop hooks. Softcheque just released an excellent new album, Misericord, as a digital download (on the awesome Bandcamp site) and on vinyl (as it was truly meant to be heard). LEO spoke with Dane Waters (vocals/keyboards) about their new album title and why the future will be totally interesting.
LEO: Softcheque brings up a sense of tangible nostalgia … good memories of bands I heard in the ’70s and ’80s that operated outside of pop music (and eventually became legendary): Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Tangerine Dream, Cocteau Twins, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Can. Those bands can make you feel like, “This is what the future will sound like!” Do you feel like the band is part of a “modern music” or “futuristic” tradition?
Dane Waters: Though I find an irresistible allure in the future, I think we try to be in the moment in order to get there. Being a subconscious synthesis of multiple styles from the past/present, we couldn’t exist without them. So rather than futuristic, I think we’re going for more of an “outside the frame of time” feel. Plus, I think our best music is what we’re about to make next.
LEO: Despite mentioning the other bands above, you have a sound that is unique. You guys have worked together on many different projects. What made Softcheque develop into its own beast? When did you decide to make a full-length album?
DW: I wanted to write songs I was in love with, both musically and lyrically. I especially wanted to sing them, because singing makes me happier than anything. Alan had been in Sapat with me, and I knew that he would know exactly how to complement the sounds I was going for. Thinking of drum parts does not come naturally to me, so that’s where Warren comes in. Both Warren and Alan are multi-instrumentalists, allowing us a wider range of possible sounds. As far as the decision to make an album, with the number of songs we had, it was the next logical step. We all share an intense commitment to seeing where this project will take us.
LEO: Sorry to throw out the difficult “influences” question, but ... who/what helps you make your music?
DW: Renaissance part-harmonies, languages, nature, people who stay true to themselves, Klein bottles.
LEO: The production techniques and atmospheres on your new album, Misericord, are very clear and human sounding. It sounds like a band working together in a common space … not aggressively assembled on computers or overly “fixed.”
DW: Warren has a background in recording, so we had the resources to do it ourselves, however humbly. We kept the process simple and pure to retain the integrity and immediacy of the songs without relying on studio gimmicks.
LEO: You all have experience playing all kinds of music (from opera to pure sound experiments). Does 21st century classical music inform your songwriting process?
DW: I’d say that it’s still in the mix, but functions to a much lesser degree. I still use theory to write the harmonies, but rarely notate the songs. They’re in our heads and this is very liberating. Most of the time, Alan or I will bring in songs and we hammer out the details pretty democratically.
LEO: Why does Louisville have so many great avant-garde and experimental bands? It’s like Berlin in 1977 around here.
DW: Low rent = leisure time? Or perhaps it’s just that Louisvillians love music and sound. I think it is a kind of zeitgeist. If one of our friends is in one cool project, they’re usually in at least two or three more. We just can’t get enough.
LEO: So what is the “sound of right now”… and, perhaps, 50 years from now?
DW: The sound of right now is an overgrown garden teeming with life and history and Wunderkammers.
LEO: Misericord — um, mercy seat or knife?
LEO: If a person was going to ask you a question in an interview, what would that question be?
DW: T’es un oiseau complètement libre. Comment ça se fait pour toi?
To hear SOFTCHEQUE - Click Here!
Published - July 13, 2011
After a long break, Louisville’s dub/doom-rock ambassadors Seluah have reunited with a ferocious live show and a stunning new album, Red Parole. LEO spoke with Edward Grimes and Andrew Killmeier about music, films and why they both had a briefcase handcuffed to their wrists.
LEO: You’ve worked together since you first started making music with Oval in the ’90s and other artistic projects, like horror films.
Edward Grimes: Making music with these three guys has never been anything short of amazing. We grew up together, and shared similar dreams and influences musically.
Andrew Killmeier: We’ve all gone our separate ways, at times, and been influenced by our other projects (Boom Bip, Rachel’s, People Noise, etc). We bring these things back to the rehearsal space, but most of the music just comes from us and nowhere else. On the very best of days, I’ll plug in my guitar and it feels like I’m back in Edward’s basement in 1993.
LEO: After a hiatus of six years, what was the first “reunited” band practice like?
AK: Awesome. I hadn’t played an electric guitar in six years, or played music with anyone, period. It was like coming home again. Ironically, I don’t recall us really talking about getting the band back together. As soon as I moved back to town, we just started playing together as if nothing had happened.
EG: I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Matt and Andy basically introduced two songs that we immediately began working on, which became the first two tracks on Red Parole.
LEO: Seluah is sometimes compared to Massive Attack, DJ Shadow and Portishead, yet you operate more like a four-piece rock band, without a lot of playback or programming.
AK: I guess we’ve always liked slow, dark and heavy. We used to use a lot more electronic gear in our live shows (two samplers, two synths), but now we’re down to one keyboard that gets used sparingly.
LEO: It was surprising to see such a strong Black Sabbath/Neil Young/Iron Butterfly influence on the new album.
AK: Bad-assery never dies.
EG: Something was quickly evident when we got back together in August 2010, and we have Andy to thank for that. We all cracked up because he almost immediately said, “I’m not gonna be the synth/sampler guy anymore. I’m playin’ fucking guitar, damn it!” We all laughed about it, but he was dead serious. It kinda goes back to our roots … it’s a sound we’ve always loved.
LEO: The vocals are more disturbing — and haunting — than on your previous EP.
EG: Once I felt supported by my bandmates to strap on the Madonna headset mic and really commit to both singing and playing drums … I think there was maybe a little venom that wasn’t there before. Not having played music in a few years at all, and now being surrounded by three great guitar players will do that to you.
LEO: What, exactly, is a “Seluah”?
EG: “Seluah” is from Persian folklore. It’s a siren-like creature that drags victims to a drowning death.
AK: In a lot of ways, it’s just a pretty-sounding word.
LEO: Kevin Ratterman recorded your EP and the new LP. You really work well together.
AK: He’s definitely our George Martin.
EG: Kevin knows us as well as anyone (musically) and what we want. Also, it was as if all the analog gear he’s amassed over the years was just for us!
LEO: Film is a big influence for you all. What scores are essential for any listener’s collection?
EG: Ah, soundtracks! “Valhalla Rising,” “Red Riding,” “Zodiac,” “The Proposition” and “The Social Network.” Must listens: “Touch of Evil,” “Once Upon a Time in The West,” Kie´slowski’s “Three Colours Trilogy,” “Sorcerer,” “Sex Lies and Videotape.”
LEO: If David Lynch, Nicolas Winding Refn and Guillermo Del Toro joined forces to make the Seluah movie, who would play you (and your nemesis)?
EG: Matt Johnson — Ashton Kutcher (or the older Jonas brother). Drew Peace — Sharlto Copley. Andy Killmeier — Ben Kingsley. Edward Grimes — Jason Statham (as long as he hits the gym). Nemesis would definitely be Brian Johnson (“Cobra,” “X-Files”).
AK: I’d like to see us all played by robots, except Drew would be played by the guy Steve Martin beats up in the bar scene of “Roxanne.” The Nemesis — Dr. Phil (playing himself). Somehow, the phantom from “KISS Meets the Phantom” would be involved.
To preview a track from Red Parole, visit www.soundcloud.com/seluah
Image: Valhalla Rising - directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
"ENJOY THE _____________"
The ever-gifted Martin Gore of Depeche Mode predicted the way electronic music would change the world, and he humanized the sometimes cold genre with humane, sexual, morally challenging lyrics. “Enjoy the Silence” functions as a wicked club hit and perennial mixtape favorite, but also as a heartbreaking ballad about being overloaded by modern life. Communicating, despite all our tools and the “effortless” way machines work together, is still strangely difficult. Not all people face this issue (because many folks can’t even dream of having fancy smart phones and laptops and recording collections). But, for those souls who have been given some latitude by life (and access to technology), it can be a new and disorienting time. The psychic stress and mental real estate media consumes is at an all-time high. Wait, is it already time to update your operating system?
Consider early hunter-gatherers building temples in 13,000 BC or the 32,000-year-old paintings in Chauvet Cave (see Herzog’s awesome film “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”). These humans gave everything they had to make a statement, to create art and represent their beliefs. Music was there, essential — yet so culturally different it’s impossible to truly imagine what it meant. The Neanderthal hyoid bone has been dated as far back as 60,000 years … songs and speech developing with our ability to examine the vastness and mystery of life. (BOOM! Saxophone kitten on motorcycle pop-up ad.) Train of thought … derailed.
We have access to more information than any generation but haven’t been taught how to process (or connect with) the content any more than those early humans searching a Paleolithic landscape for meaning. We scan, get restless, flip, scan. Thirty seconds of a song, key words in emails/online news. We say “think different” because it takes too long to say “differently.” So, I would like to make a few suggestions here to gently discuss media hygiene (especially in regards to music consumption). Aural cleansing. A small dosage could help purge that “I have 5,000 songs in the iPod yet nothing sounds good” feeling. Maybe we can ease that sense of disconnection brought on by a flood of sound and images over a thousand screens. One note: If you only like to listen to ringtones, please stop reading now and consult an exorcist.
1. Sit very still for five minutes. Seriously. It may sound trite, but try to sit for five minutes with no other activity. Please move all tech devices out of your reach. (New parents, this will be tough, but it’s worth the time.)
2. Just listen. Once again, sounds easy. Really listen to whatever is around you at the moment. You may hear a human heartbeat. It may be your own.
3. Pick one album, preferably one that you hardly remember having. Put it on “just because.” Thrift? It’s wild how many 99-cent used LPs become lifelong friends if you give them a chance. Old tapes, CDs — heck yeah. Take a break from your lumbering gigabeast of MP3 tracks and rock the A-side on Future Shock three times in one day!
4. No TV days. TV can actually be an incredible way to experience music, but usually it can’t help but try to sell you cars and steaming foodstuffs. Remind that glowing portal of media madness who’s boss! You may miss hearing how those local penguins figured out how to stay cool this summer (hint: It was ice), but now you have time for more listening.
5. Free music! Louisville is “city-lucky” to have so many free (often all-ages) concerts. Squeeze-bot Sundays at Nachbar, U of L classical shows, bluegrass at the farmers markets, WFPK’s “Live Lunch” series and touring bands at Waterfront Wednesday, in-stores at ear X-tacy ... amazing.
As always, this column is dedicated to loving music and provoking a spirited discussion between friends. Here’s to the power of silence and to your next favorite song, played on whatever media makes you happy (except ringtones).
P.S.: Here are several timeless albums that offer a rare peace of mind — headphones optional: Juana Molina — Segundo; Arvo Pärt — Tabula Rasa; Ambrose Akinmusire — When The Heart Emerges Glistening; Cinematic Orchestra — Ma Fleur; Kronos Quartet performs Philip Glass (1995); Rachel Grimes — Book of Leaves; Talk Talk — Laughing Stock.
Please send your list of “albums that saved my life” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Published June 29th, 2011