Shiny Around The Edges

Shiny Around The Edges - November 2012

Shiny Around The Edges Session
Violitionist Sessions

Session Date: November 19, 2012
Posting Date: November 26, 2012
Artist Hometown: Denton, TX
Links: ShinyAroundTheEdges.com, Facebook, Bandcamp
Recorded by: Michael Briggs

Butterflies
Summer Waltz
Mexico
3 QUESTIONS
ONE: You’ve just released your new album, The Night is a Disco. How did that album come about, and what was the recording process like?
Jennifer Seman: I think, really, it started two years ago. Justin Lemons and I kind of formed this band, really more of a recording project, called The Rayzor Ranch Davidians, and we did play one show— we played a benefit. This was before you moved back—
Mike Forbes: Oh, yeah.
Jennifer: We both played bass, I think—
Michael Seman: And Luke sat on stage in the midst of everyone.
Jennifer: And Luke sat on stage behind us and just kind of watched us. So, we would record these songs, because Justin had gotten these different mikes that he wanted to try out, and I had started to write on piano, and so, he wanted to record, to, you know, experiment as a recording engineer with those things, and so, I think that’s how it started. He was like, ‘Jen, could you just come over, I want to try out these mikes.’ And then, I would play these songs, and then it kind of took on a life of its own, and then we just invited other people to come sit in, like Ryan Williams and James Kerr, and David Saylor of course.
Michael: And Justin played, too.
Jennifer: And Justin played guitar on some things. So, that was a couple years ago, and then we didn’t know at first if we would maybe put that out as a record, or a 7″ or something, and it just kind of never happened, because we just started incorporating that music into what we were doing. And then Mike Forbes moved back to Denton from Chicago—
Mike: From San Francisco.
Jennifer: From San Francisco! Okay. And then started playing with us again, and then we started working on other songs with piano, and then the songs that were recorded for this session were all kind of created also in Justin’s living room, but with saxophone, clarinet, and then…
Michael: Where was it all recorded? Because “Seventeen” was recorded at our old place, some of it was recorded at Justin’s place…wasn’t some of it recorded at our place? Or, wait, was that the Built to Spill thing?
Jennifer: That was the Built to Spill cover that we did for 35 Denton. That was recorded in our home.
Michael: And we also recorded at the Echo Lab. We could have re-recorded everything at the Echo Lab, which in hindsight would have been a thousand million times easier, but the vibe of it is more what we wanted, with the different feelings…It’s a much more place-specific record, in that it’s all over the place. You get the feeling you’re in Denton, whereas Denton’s Dreaming was all done at the Echo Lab, almost, and you kind of lose that tapestry of place you get by recording in different places. In fact, in one song, “Butterflies,” if you listen really close, you can hear a party break out while we were recording it— literally in the next room. I was watching them starting to pour drinks, and I was just like, ‘Oh…’
Jennifer: I think you can hear someone pop the top of a beer at some point.
Mike: Oh, that was the session over at Justin’s house! That was when everybody came to hang out.
Jennifer: Yeah! It was so much fun!
Michael: It was a lot of fun. You can hear birds on it…
Jennifer: And Millie, their dog, would scuffle through the room…
Michael: You can hear all kinds of stuff.
Jennifer: But I love that kind of stuff. I think that it’s…yeah. Like, you can hear wind chimes outside, you can hear these things in the background, and I think it’s cool.
TWO: You mentioned there being a sense of place in the recordings. The songs themselves also cover a lot of ground, referencing places like Mexico and the US borderlands, while others take place in intimate settings like homes and houses, such as in “War Love Song,” with the lyrics ‘We could destroy everything in this house. Give me thirty minutes.’ What was on your minds when you were writing these songs?
Jennifer: That song…That’s interesting, because I wrote that song after reading A Woman in Berlin. It’s about a journalist in World War II, she lived in Berlin, and at the end of the war when the Russians came and occupied Berlin, and basically…I don’t know, Michael and I have talked about this, but they just basically got revenge. The Russians came in after World War II, and Germany had lost, and they basically just raped their way through the city, literally, systematically. And so, this journalist was there, and she— It’s great, because she was part of this kind of elite group that didn’t really believe Germany was going to fail. They held on, they had this kind of crazy life, and they never believed it. Then when it happened, they still didn’t believe it, and so as they Russians came in, they didn’t leave. Also, you know, this was their home. So, I saw the movie, and the movie is actually really great, and it’s not as grotesque as you would think. It’s not exploitative at all. But, I read the book, and there’s this part in the book where her fiancé goes off to fight. He’s a Nazi, and goes off to fight at the very beginning, and there’s a scene at the very beginning where he says, ‘You’ll never forget me.’ And he comes back at the very end, and she’s had to make all of these accommodations, basically to survive. She kind of chose a Russian officer to sleep with…she just liked to control, and she made the choice to just save herself and get food, and then he finds out about it. He comes back, and he had found out about it, and they really don’t say anything, and he comes into this room and he starts…he smashes a chair and a table, and then she starts doing the same thing, and they basically just fucking destroy this room that they’re in, and that’s…the very long-winded explanation of where that song came from. I think I just lifted words out of that.
Michael: “Quicklime” is about partying with pro golfers. I wanted to give that balance. But, there is also the headspace, because I did all of the electronic stuff on my laptop…but, even with that, I played the air conditioner in my old apartment. On “The Weight of Sunshine is Immense,” I found out that if you lean on it, because basically the entire apartment was falling apart, and if you leaned on it you could get different frequencies going, and it was pretty neat, so I recorded that and sampled it, and then put that into the laptop, so it was like actually taking apart these sounds and moving it into the laptop, so it was even more like closed space…
DJ: Even the album artwork seems to suggest close spaces, with the three of you ascending those wooden stairs alone, in that tight space…
Michael: Oh yeah, that’s true…
DJ: It seems like some of the other tracks have almost a religious quality to them, like the chanting on “Tloque Nahuaque.”
Jenny: Yeah, that was taken from…I took a class last summer in New Mexico on faith healing, which is one of the things that I study, and the chant, they were leading us in all of these different rituals, and we learned about them, and that was one of the chants that the guy that was leading us was doing. That was just taken from…I recorded a lot of that stuff, and actually, that’s what that’s from, so…those are Nahuatl words, and they mean…I think some of the songs, like “Butterflies” is about— I think I was reading, it’s based on Gabriel García Márquez. I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude and there’s this part with all the butterflies, and so, I was kind of just taking from different Latin American things that I was inspired by. There was a Pablo Neruda poem, I think…I’m making myself sound very literate, I think, when I’m not really, but…
DJ: How did you approach the arrangements? Some of the songs seem very tense, getting very quiet before exploding out in huge sound…
Jenny: Well, for “War Love Song,” that one came out of that recording project, The Rayzor Ranch Davidians, and it was just going to be that really, really short song, just the little piano part and then me singing something and then ending, and then David and Justin went on top of that and did this crazy Geistheistler…craziness on top of it, and then I didn’t think, or we didn’t think that that would ever be something we could do live, and then we just…did. So, we tried to do exactly what— I thought we would rearrange it, but I love that, because it’s so pretty and so many of those things…so many things that I write are kind of delicate and pretty, but then, that’s not really what I’m like, so…
Michael: No, she’s horribly violent…
Jenny: I’m a horribly violent person.
DJ: It comes through.
Jenny: And I think the opposite thing happened also, like with “Mexico,” on the record it’s different, and we wanted to do it, and then Mike pretty much rearranged that one to make it much thicker and heavier live.
Mike: Oh, that song. Well, whenever I heard Jen play it when we were rehearsing it, I felt like there was a lot of unexploited tension in it, so we added some heavier bass parts and made it a little more rock, rather than nice and soft.
Jennifer: Instead of nice and soft and kind of mysterious folk, which, I always like when things are different on records from how they are live. I mean, it’s also nice when they’re similar, but for me, when I see artists or bands, I think it’s cool to see how they may reinvent or do something differently live.
Mike: Exactly.
Jennifer: Even like “Butterflies,” I think I wrote that one and then Mike just picked up that piano line, and it just sounded good as just that, playing that together, and made it a really cool song where it was just kind of okay otherwise. I don’t know [Laughs].
THREE: You’ve made a short film, Seven Knots, to tie in with your new album. Why did you decide to make a film rather than a music video?
Mike: Good question!
Michael: Eh…we’re Shiny Around the Edges! Why do something easy and quick when you can do something way more complicated and expensive?
DJ: I remember when you did the music video for “Quicklime” with the yarn and the accident…
Jennifer: The accident happened, yeah…
Michael: That ended up being one of the most expensive single things we’ve done as a band.
Mike: The cost of the yarn alone…
Michael: The cost of the yarn, the emergency room visit…
Mike: Oh, right! [Laughs]
Jennifer: It’s one of my proudest moments, though, and you’ll appreciate this, to look down and see blood all over yourself…I was not scared. Everyone was horrified, and I looked around and was like, ‘You guys!’ They still have to get me pictures—
Mike: Every musician is proud of bleeding! I’ve had several bands where they’ll bleed all over their instrument and afterwards come up like, ‘Hey, look at this! Badass!’
Jennifer: And they’ll take pictures of it! But, how this happened, we were talking with Chad Withers about doing a video, and then, it was like a random conversation…I was reading this book on faith healing rituals, and I was interested in this one, the ‘Seven Knots’ ritual, which I hadn’t read before, so I was just interrupting the conversation, like, ‘Oh, let me tell you about this thing!’ And then Chad was like, ‘That could be a film!’ It started out as this idea…these knots in this ritual represent worries that a person has, worries or fears, whatever, and you tie knots and then you bury the thing. We started researching where this came from, and we found all this other history in Germany, 17th century Germany, there was a virgin called ‘Our Lady the Undoer of Knots,’ and we got really interested in it and started developing this idea, and then it was going to be this idea, and then at the end we’ll do “Summer Waltz.” It’ll be in this house, Kevin Roden’s house, and then we’ll all go outside and we’ll do the waltz. But, as filming goes, we were just really ambitious with what we wanted to get done, and by the end— it was Daylight Savings time, and we didn’t take into account it was Daylight Savings time, so everything ran behind…
Mike: See, no one’s explained that to me. [Laughing] Now I understand what this video is about!
Jennifer: [Laughing] I’m sorry! Then she goes outside, and she’s in this house and all this darkness happens, and she faces these fears, and then she goes outside to bury the knots—
Mike: Okay! See, I didn’t know what the knots and stuff were about.
Jennifer: So, basically, what you do is, you take a red string or red ribbon, and you’re supposed to think of seven things at the same time. This is part of it. You think of one, and you tie a knot in the middle, and you keep thinking of that and you go to your right and you tie another knot, and you hold those in your head, and then you go to the other side and you meditate on that, at least as this book wrote about it. Then, this book said that you put it in a mason jar when you’re done meditating on this for a while, and then go somewhere around your house…there’s a certain side of your house that you’re supposed to go to, but then you bury it there, and then…you give the worries away.
DJ: I think I’ve heard of this…
Jennifer: I was talking to someone at the Rock Lottery thing, and he said there was also a Voodoo thing called Seven Knots, so what’s interesting is that it’s got all these different— it’s kind of like a rosary also, you know, tying knots and meditating on things?
Michael: And, too, why do you have to do a video? In this day and age, we have enough friends that we could do a film so, I’d rather do a film than a video, you know, because it’s a good idea, so…
Jennifer: And it looks so cool, and it’s all these people…I mean, Michael Briggs is in it, and Sarah Alexander plays harmonium in it. She’s in one scene— She plays Mary Baker Eddy, although it’s all sort of…surreal. There’s not a lot of dialogue. It’s pretty much…but she plays this faith healer, and she plays harmonium, and then there’s people reading poetry, and it’s just like…
Michael: It’s like there are all these people that are our friends in Denton that do this professionally, and they were more than happy to donate their time or work at a greatly reduced rate because they like the project and…I don’t know, it’s like the Talking Heads song…”Found a Job,” I think, where he’s talking about how if you don’t like what’s on TV, make your own show. Get your friends together and make a show. It was kind of like that.
Jennifer: Yeah, it was really special. It was fun to work on. Sashenka Lopez was the Virgin Mary in it. Just think about that. She’s awesome!
Michael: And there might be a soundtrack out of it, too.
Jennifer: Yes. That’s something…a lot of it is live things, but a lot of it we’re going to actually…do stuff.
Michael: ‘Original Soundtrack Recording.’ We’re going to leverage the brand across multiple revenue streams…create synergy.
Mike: Whoa.
DJ: Have you already negotiated all of the points allocations?
Michael: Yes, I have significant points on the back end for being a producer, of course, and for running the Craft Services with an iron fist. But, we’re going to see where it goes with the Gutterth empire…some points here and there, distribution, P&D deals…we’ll see what happens. And then, my God, the international rates alone are just…it’s a lot.
Mike: A lot of lawyers. A whole team.
Michael: Yes, a lot of lawyers. Well, you know, that’s why we like to work with Gutterth. They have that power behind them. They have a team of lawyers.
DJ: After this record cycle, after the film is released, what’s next for Shiny Around the Edges?
Michael: I want to do DJ nights.
Mike: Whoa!
DJ: The obvious next step.
Michael: Yep. I want to learn Ableton and start working more in trip hop. I’m really fascinated with that, and DJ nights.
Mike: And don’t forget, we have a side project in the works…Clarinet Fantasia.
Jennifer: It’s just those two guys…
Michael: Yes. Sijk beats and two clarinets. And that’s ‘S.I.J.K’…
Mike: ‘S.I.J.K’…Sijk! SIJK!
Jennifer; I’m excited for that! I’m going to try to get better on the trombone. Justin Lemons has been letting me play his trombone, and gave it to me, so, maybe these guys might be interested? I don’t know, just putting it out there…I don’t know. I mean, we always love to play, so it would be awesome as far as touring…it’s just, as you know, a big investment, but we’re always open to open for people or whatever…
Michael: We enjoyed doing it with Phosphorescent, and that was nice, and we’ll probably continue to play around the region and play here or there outside if we get the opportunity, but we certainly are willing to support someone much bigger, you know, because our schedules are flexible. Other than that, we’re also working on our drone woodwinds and brass…
Jennifer: You know, it’s weird, but when you put out a record, it’s so long in the making that once it’s actually out, you’re so often at another point musically, which is probably a good thing, but I’m excited now to start writing in a different way. Usually, Shiny has always worked where Michael and I each write songs separately, and we kind of bring them, and then we work on them and arrange them together and stuff like that, but I want to start actually— Kind of like we’ve just kind of started doing with you a little bit, Mike, like actually composing together. I just want to do that. So, hopefully that will…and maybe with the film, too, that’ll be part of what we can do. Bring some other sijk players in. S.I.J.K…
Michael: Word! Lean back and pull the trigger, dog! S.I.J.K.! Two clarinets and some sijk beats, y’all!
Mike: Hell yeah! SIJK!
- Interview and transcription by Dale Jones

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