Bellows - August 2013

Bellows Session
Violitionist Sessions

Session Date: July 3, 2013
Posting Date: August 20, 2013
Artist Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Links: Facebook, Bandcamp
Recorded by: Michael Briggs @ Civil

Am I? Or Was I? Because I
Uh Oh!
See Bright, Be Fine
ONE: What was it like recording As If To Say I Hate Daylight? Did you create all of the sounds yourself? The album sounds very lush. How did mixing go?
Oliver Kalb: As If To Say I Hate Daylight was recorded on one microphone and was basically constructed in the most primitive way possible–dozens of instruments and voices were layered into every song and the arrangements were not really planned in advance. The whole album was made in a trial-and-error way, mostly because I didn’t really know anything about recording. I would listen to the bare-bones acoustic recordings of each of the songs and try to imagine huge string swells and weird percussive and orchestral sections—once I had an interesting idea I would basically record my own versions of the instruments I was hearing with the limited means I had available. The one rule I had when I was recording was that I purposely didn’t use any MIDI, electronic or digital sounds at all—there are no samples or synthesizers on the album, so most of weird sounds are just voices or acoustic instruments made to sound like something evil coming out of the ether. The percussion on the album is usually comprised of found objects rather than real drums kits—again, this was kind of an accident that came from my inability to carry a beat on a standard drum set. In a number of songs, I had a couple different percussion tracks each playing an extremely minimal beat—one track was usually a ‘thump’ and another was a ‘chh’ and so on, approximating a bass drum and snare. The drums on songs like “Uh Oh!”, for instance, became dance beats after 5 or 6 tracks of thumps were panned and mixed to dance around each other. Group vocals also played a really integral role in the recording of the album. Once a song was finished, it would be sort of inaugurated by all of my friends coming over to my house and singing along to a climactic moment. This was more-or-less just for fun, but it would also help develop songs that needed to go to a different dynamic place than they were going with just my own quiet singing—the middle of “I Opened My Eyes”, and the end of “Yanguang” and “You are Not” are some examples. I think the group vocals are the biggest carry-over from the recordings to the live band.
TWO: How was your recent US tour? Were there any particularly high or low points? How many swimming holes did you end up finding?
Oliver: The tour went really well. It’s interesting to be a touring band at our level of popularity (none), because you play tremendously different kinds of shows every night. This recent tour was our longest and broadest so we played for lots of different kinds of people in lots of different kinds of settings—one night we’d be playing to a huge number of really psyched people in somebody’s house and the next night we’d be playing in an art gallery or a café where about seven people were sitting on the ground and looking really bored. One really amazing show on this tour was in a geodesic dome in the woods near Columbia, Missouri. Our friend Joe built a house and a small farm on some land a few miles from the Missouri State College and kids from there come and see bands and usually everyone sleeps over in the dome. It was a really cool space and it was great to play a show and then go hang out with goats that are about 20 feet away from your amplifiers. Sadly, we didn’t find as many swimming holes as we would have liked to but we did swim in the James River in Richmond and the Broad River in South Carolina. We swam a lot in New England too.
MB:How did you find all of the players in your live band?
Oliver: They are my best friends! I’ve been in bands with Felix since I was in high school, and I play in another band with them called Told Slant. I met Gabby and Henry when I was in high school too—they each have solo projects that I really love too; Gabby’s band is called eskimeaux and Henry’s is called Small Wonder. All three members of Bellows are songwriters whose writing has inspired me to write music for a long time, so it feels really natural to work with them and let them embellish my music in a way that feels instinctual for them.
THREE: What’s next for Bellows? Where do you see the band 2 years from today?
Oliver: I’ve been working on the follow-up album to As If To Say I Hate Daylight for over a year now so I’d hope that in two years this new Bellows album has been released and that we have a lot more music recorded. As a songwriter it’s sometimes a challenge to keep yourself interested in your own brain—especially when you devote your life to traveling around playing shows and are trying to write new songs in every spare minute, certain sounds and patterns of thinking become almost second-nature to you and it’s easy to become bored by yourself. I see a lot of songwriters struggle to make music that they would want to listen to, and oftentimes fail to do that—I think being bored is the most common reason people give up on being songwriters and touring musicians. It’s simply too hard to convince yourself that it’s worth it to get up and sing the same song every day for over a month and not feel like a total faker. Which is not to say that I’m disillusioned by touring and am thinking about not doing it anymore—I mean the exact opposite! I’d hope that with each successive Bellows album I’m adjusting the way we sound just a little bit, so that there’s something sitting just behind the music that’s still a little bit foreign to me. My goal is to make something ethereal, that’s good for a reason that I don’t understand. And in two years I’d like to have made an album that has nothing in common with As If To Say I Hate Daylight at all.
– Interview by Michael Briggs.