As we begin to accelerate dramatically into the new year, I wanted to reach out once more to some excellent artists and restart the Words With series of interviews. If you’ve been keeping an eye on my musical radar across the last year or two, you’ll know that Brad’s work as anthéne and elsewhere has become a recurring feature on HearFeel; I thought it was only fitting to reach out to him for a chat and Brad has graciously agreed to answer a few questions of mine. All answers are his own: enjoy.
Thanks for reaching out! The holidays were pretty productive. I was able to spend quite a bit of time recording music, which is sometimes challenging after a long day at work. So as a result I have a few releases lined up for this year that I’m pretty excited about. Aside from that, my wife and I spent some time catching up on TV shows and hanging out with our cats.
Before I started making music with Mike Abercrombie (as North Atlantic Drift), I played guitar in several bands and gradually found myself more and more interested in more minimal music. I was really into (and still am) Grouper, Stars of the Lid, Max Richter, Windy & Carl, as well as minimal guitar music like Loren Connors, and works by Arvo Part, Gavin Bryars, etc.
Mike and I still get together to record every now and then, though it’s definitely less frequent than it used to be, but I think we have a really good musical rapport. We’re just finishing off a new record that is in line with what we did on our last album Departures Vol. 1. With these albums we’ve stripped away most of the percussive elements and a lot of the recordings have been live in the studio without much in the way of overdubbing or layering. I think in this sense recording with someone else is really interesting, while we’re both playing guitar, or both playing synths we end up with these overlapping tones and textures that are sometimes accidental, but we’re able to create natural ebbing and flowing dynamics. We’ve played quite a few shows over the past couple years and we’ve tended to build songs from the ground up for live performances, which has led to us recording material in a similar way.
I think the biggest challenge for me was getting more confident in my production abilities. I think there was always a nagging self doubt about the music I was recording on my own, that I think I’ve gradually gotten over. Musically, for the most part I’ve relied on the same instrumentation as North Atlantic Drift: guitars, synthesizers, and effects pedals, but I think both projects have a different aesthetic. Once I recorded my first solo work (Repose) and got very positive feedback I think that really inspired me to keep recording and releasing music on my own.
I find that I go through phases of productivity with music. I tend to record a lot of material in a short period of time and then have a break where I don’t get much accomplished. Part of the motivation behind 2017 being so prolific has to do with working with labels outside of my own, having releases through Sound in Silence, Lillerne Tapes and Pyramid Blood really inspired me to sit down and record. I also put out some download only releases that were really inspired by Bandcamp’s fundraising initiatives, so I was able to contribute in a very small way to the ACLU and the Transgender Law Centre.
Astrid was something I recorded in a couple of days last fall. I had been recording a lot of stuff with multiple synthesizers, and one coming up on Patient Sounds with the addition of cello, so I decided to challenge myself a little to record an album using only guitar as the source, and “astrid” is what came out of it. I had worked with Phil at Assembly Field before so I passed him along the album and was really happy that he was into releasing it!
I think it varies depending on the piece. With some pieces the starting point is a chord progression, and with others it’s a certain tone or sound that kind of drives the song forward. The longest piece I’ve done is 24 minutes (“for the first time in years”), in that case I had this fairly long, swelling progression that to me just felt like it could carry on with subtle shifts in dynamics and tones. So parts of it are what was recorded in real time, other parts are pitch-shifted and time-stretched, and in some places these overlap. In this case I pressed stop when I felt like each texture had run it’s course. In a lot of cases I would leave a recording like this as a 6 or 7 minute piece, but with this one, it’s tough to describe, but it felt like it could carry on and continue to be immersive. I recently sent something I was recording to Paul at Pyramid Blood for some feedback, and where I felt a piece was complete at about the 6 minute mark, he felt strongly that it should carry on for longer. I went back and re-worked the track and extended it and, sure enough, with more time to develop and fade out I think he was exactly right! I think it’s a matter of giving a track enough space to develop without having it over-stay it’s welcome, and it’s something I have by no means mastered. Sometimes it takes an extra set of ears to help guide things along.
Mike and I actually started the label in 2012 to release our first North Atlantic Drift album. It took a couple of years, but eventually I decided to expand it to release works by other artists that I really liked. 2017 was definitely the most productive year for the label and I’m really happy to have put out so many albums that I really enjoy listening to. Running the label is a bit of a challenge, it’s not always easy getting the press you think that some releases deserve, but I think I’ve been able to find an audience through the bandcamp community. There are a few press outlets that have been very supportive as well, yourself included, which I think really goes a long way for small labels releasing CD’s and tapes. I have a few releases scheduled for 2018, CD’s from Hakobune, and Clara Engel to start things off in the next couple months.