If Thousands interview for QRD
It’s been a few years & two albums since I first heard If Thousands’ Candice Recorder.They’re the drone band that doesn’t just use drone in rock, they just have the drones.I got to meet them briefly at the 25 hour drone performance Elegy & eventually I got to help them release the Lullaby record on Silber.So anyway, here’s the interview &I didn’t really expect to get separate answers from both band members to the questions without them interacting, but that’s what happened, so it might read a little strange.
QRD – You decided to release your second & third albums (Lullaby & Yellowstone) nearly simultaneously on Chairkickers & Silber.How did you decide which release for which label & how was it beneficial/detrimental to do the releases together?
Christian – It just happened that way. While we were recording lullaby it was more on the low-fi "out there fun thing we want to do but no one will understand it except Silber" aspect. Shortly after recording lullaby we were dropped by Sursumcorda and were asked to join Chairkickers' and recorded yellowstone, which is a more straightforward studio album. Well, as straightforward as we get anyway. The way it worked out was they were released very close to the same time. I was worried about them being so close together, but since they're totally different recordings in many ways, it's worked out very well.
Aaron – The 2 releases were kind of a surprise. 2 options were presented and we wanted to be a part of both Chairkickers & Silber. We decided to release a more song to song kind of CD with Chairkickers to keep in line with the other acts that are on the label. When it came to Silber I knew that we could bend the rules a bit. Brian at Silber is open for almost anything so we decided to do a seamless one song drone. I was worried about releasing both CD’s at the same time, I thought press and radio would look at it as arrogant and they would shame us for pulling such stunts. Well if Tom Waits can do it why can’t we? No It actually turned out great. We have gotten lots of great press and actually I haven’t read a bad review of either CD. We are amazed how far the CD’s have gone. We have found reviews all over the world and radio play has been beyond our expectations. John Peel has even played us.
QRD – You recently did a short tour, what are the most important things you learned on it about your music & yourselves?
Christian – I stay up too late and I wake up too early. I sincerely love performing, but touring isn't the rock & roll lifestyle you've always dreamed it would be when you were a kid. It's a lot of hard work.The people you meet on tour make up for it. The people who come to the shows, the other bands you share the stage with and the people who are behind the scenes. When you've been driving for hours and hours after sleeping on someone's floor, setting up, performing and tearing down, then off again on the road to do the same thing over and over again – it's a pretty unglamourous lifestyle, really. The people make up for it. That's what it's all about – it's more for them than it is for yourself, anyway. I have a lot of respect for touring bands now. And yes, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Aaron – We have decided that if thousands is not a bar band. We love to play shows and the tour was great but I think people knew that this was a listening tour and not an excuse to get drunk and talk loud. So the whole tour was nice and relaxing. When you play a show a night for 2 weeks you find that being improvisational and in the moment becomes the same thing every night. We did find ourselves playing the same stuff night after night and we became good at it. Traditionally if thousands never plays the same show ever! Now we practice even less than we did before. Instead of 1 practice a week for an hour it has become no practice in 2 months. Who knows it might be a break, it might be that we don’t need to worry about that anymore?
QRD – Why did you choose to use instruments you were less proficient with when starting If Thousands?
Christian – Up until if thousands, I was "playing by numbers". I was tired and bored of what I was used to doing and Aaron & I came up with what we thought was a pretty goofy concept at the time. The core idea was to play instruments with the same awe and fun as a kid again – with naivety, and to take every chance and break every rule. We had nothing to lose. After the first time we practiced together, I remember looking over to Aaron with wide eyes saying, "That's it! That's the sound I've been looking for all these years!" Who would've known? I was a classically-trained musician and soloist for about 15 years and only with if thousands have I felt that it's what I should be doing musically. I feel pretty grateful that we found if thousands – or rather, it found us.
Aaron – We thought it would be more of a feeling rather than a trained thing. I can’t stand music some times. If it’s clear and perfected, polished, and nice! It’s great that you know guitar inside and out and can play it like god but I can’t do that and Christian can’t play the piano so now what do we have to do. Well ride that bike and make it sound nice & not nice. That’s why we/I don’t sing much. I can usually express more making sound then singing. And we tend to play our instruments in a way they were never meant to be played.
QRD – Do you see soundtrack work as your future? Why is this a good/bad thing?
Christian – Soundtracks are what we really hoped to do in the first place, so it's a good thing. We've had our music in three movies so far and by summer's end we'll have another. It's slowly becoming our future. if thousands was built for soundtracks.
Aaron – I hope so. We love doing soundtrack work. We have always tried to add a visual to our performances because we don’t do muck on stage. It works. People like it. We are lucky to know Travis Wilkerson. He has really given us a great opportunity and I think we owe him because he has been a part of our success. This is a good thing, it is something we love & I would love to spend most of my time doing this work. To watch a film and hear your music! Wow what a feeling. Even if it’s a film you kid brother made, it’s still cool.
QRD – Why did you decide to record Lullaby live?
Christian – I think we were still under the glow of Elegy.
Aaron – There was no other way we saw to do it. We completely improvised the recording. We shut our amps in a room with 12 mics and we played outside that room. We could only hear what we were doing half the time. We had no idea what was going on in that room. Was it too loud, too quiet, did it make sense, can Christian hear what I’m doing, can I hear him? The idea of this forced us to do so. It’s like exploration into something you know nothing about and we wanted to try.
QRD – Are you more pleased with recording at home or going to the studio & where do you expect to do your next record?
Christian – Both have their benefits and pitfalls. It's hard to say how the next album will be recorded. I have a bunch of ideas and I'm sure Aaron does also – so out of the two we'll meet on middle ground as we always do and it'll be slightly warped, hopefully.
Aaron – The studio is great because you can stay up and work late and it’s a rush in that way. Kind of like a slumber party as a kid. But I have been most excited and amazed at recording at home. It’s honest, you know your limits and how things work and sound and there is no rush. Keep it simple. The newest recordings we have done with a friend Jake Larson. He played cello on our first CD Candice Recorder. He has just finished school for engineering and he has a simple laptop with pro tools and a few good mics and it sounds great without mixing and mastering. We just recorded 8 songs that are as good as any other in 6 hours. That works. No need to go to some big studio and spend that cash.
QRD – What’re the Matthew Shepherd samples & references on Lullaby about? Did you know him personally?
Christian – I can't find adequate words for how I feel about that – it was just plain bizarre. Aaron recorded some stuff off shortwave and we both had no idea what it was. All we knew is that it fit the "mood" of lullaby. We burnt a rough disc and I played it for a friend from Utah and he told me what the voice was – Matthew Shepard's father on the verge of tears delivering a speech about his murdered son. When I listen to it now it gives me chills. The inspiration of Elegy and the Matthew Shepard sample fit way too well.
Aaron – No one really knows that those samples are of Matthew’s dad. No we didn’t know him. I remember when it all took place and what happened. How awful I thought. To be beaten and left to die alone. One night years after I was listening to my short wave radio and I came across this voice. It was Matthew’s father speaking about his son. The intensity in his voice, how he held back his tears to speak with passion about his son. I could never ever match that. I thought it was beautiful and amazing. I could listen to that speech over and over again. Why we used it? I have no idea. After I tell people about the sample they often ask if Matthew’s dad know about the recording. I’m sure he doesn’t and I don’t know if he would even like it. A beautiful night sky, he had the day light and the sun to shine on him one last time. He had the smell of Wyoming sage brush and the scent of the pine trees from the snowy range!
QRD – Are you still thinking of making Lullaby the first in a series of records to fall asleep to?
Christian – It's still an idea we're rolling around in our heads.
Aaron – Yes. I am already thinking of an even more quiet and sparse CD. I think this winter we will record it. I don’t expect anyone to release it for us but I need to do this again. I need to make more of this.
QRD – How would you like people to listen to your music – quietly on headphones or as a massive permeating piece of sound?
Christian – Both. They're two different experiences. It's like two albums in one.
Aaron – I guess both. Whatever moves them. I listen to Lullaby very very quietly and I listen to Yellowstone rather loud.
QRD – I know the situation between you & Sursumcorda ended badly, do you want to talk about it?
Christian – Sure, it was humorous, really. We were dropped because if thousands fans kept sending the owner of Sursumcorda hate email. They never helped us an inch – not even a webpage. Somehow the word got out. A couple months after we were dropped the whole company imploded. There's no hard feelings whatsoever – but we owe a big THANK YOU to whoever wrote those emails.
Aaron – Well when it did end I had a rather long letter to Dave at Sursumcorda. I was ready to send it and I shared it with my friend Dan Leary from the band April Seconds. He agreed with my frustration and convinced me not to send the letter. How can you tell someone who is wrong that they are wrong when their whole situation is wrong and he has no time to listen to you because he knows he is wrong and, well, it wouldn't have done anyone any good. I saved my time and probably his. We got the short end of the stick, but oh well. Sursumcorda has closed it’s doors and now only resides on the internet.
QRD – Do you think you’d feel comfortable making a living off of your music or would you rather always keep the security of a day job?
Aaron – It would be strange, but I don’t like to work so I would do it if I could.
Christian – At 9% unemployment nationwide, markets in the toilet and people losing their careers by the hour due to downsizing and closings, day jobs aren't secure anymore. Maybe back in the 1950s, but not any more. Don't even get me started on retirement plans
Aaron – that's a whole other can of worms. I'd rather make a living off what I love and should be doing rather than grinding my teeth on a false sense of security at a day job that some day I'll die of stress from.
QRD – What’ve been your best & worst musical gear purchases?
Christian – I didn't buy it, I found it. I found a Moog in a snowbank deep in the middle of a forest. No lie! My worst? A Dr. Rythym drum machine. I don't know what I was thinking. I do know that they don't work any better if you hit them with a hammer. Repeatedly.
Aaron – Best would be my first Danelectro guitar. I paid $120 for it and I don’t think I will use anything but. Worst, Rouge volume/wah pedal. I paid $19.00 and it sounds like crap.
QRD – You’ve started to have vocals on the records, why the change?
Christian – We felt we needed a human element. It was an experiment like everything else we do. I think it's worked very nicely.
Aaron – I feel like I want to do more. I’m not a singer so I thought I would give it a try. Also people seem to like it?
QRD – Why did you choose to cover a Joy Division song & why did you pick the one you did?
Christian – We're both big Joy Division fans. We worked on other Joy Division covers, but “Isolation” sounded the best. Besides, it was the most fitting song since there was a lot of unpleasant circumstances happening in our lives at the time.
Aaron – I have been a huge Joy Division fan for years. When I was 12 I remember listening to them. I wanted to cover a song that we could really slow down. Joy Division is a tough choice because they are as slow and depressing as they come. I’m not sure why “Isolation”, but it just fell into place. We did record a version of “Heart & Soul” but it didn’t make the cut.
QRD – What’s your favorite Swans/Angels of Light song?
Christian – The Joy Division cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart," oddly enough.
Aaron – You're not going to believe me, but I had never heard of Swans/Angels of Light till last year. Nathan from Rivulets turned me on to them. He gave me the double CD Soundtrack for the Blind? The silver & gold cd’s? Well I’m still taking the CD in at this point. I like it, but I think because I don’t know anything else by them, I can’t really say what my favorite song is? I’ve been told that I sound like the guy in the band?
QRD – Where did the name “If Thousands” come from anyway?
Christian – I used to say "In Synch" was already taken. I'll let Aaron answer this one since he basically came up with our name...
Aaron – I hope you got the right story from Christian, he tells it different every time. I saw the word “thousands” in a magazine. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and wrote other words around it... (example: if, ant, the, blue, light, star, cold, etc etc) If & Thousands stood out. No meaning what so ever. It never had any meaning. If Christian says it does, it’s only for him. To me it’s just some words.
QRD – You were already doing material when Stars of the Lid & Godspeed You Black Emperor! got popular, who were your initial influences & what do you think makes you different than your contemporaries?
Christian – A hefty dose of Brian Eno and all the people he's worked with. Also people like Harry Partch, composers like Pendriki, bands like King Crimson, Sonic Youth and most of the old 4AD bands like Wolfgang Press and This Mortal Coil. I think we're more raw and rough around the edges than our contemporaries. Also, there's an element to our albums that tells listeners that our music isn't being made by computers and samplers - it's really us making all those sounds. I'm not a very big fan of digitized instruments. They're too perfect – too sterile. I'm not saying God Speed and others are digitized – I just think there's enough computerized music out there to last us an eternity.
Aaron – Hmmm. Bands, Joy Division, Yo La Tengo, Miles Davis, John Coltrain, Bauhaus, Sonic Youth, t.v.b.c., April Seconds, I am the slow dancing umbrella, sin ropas, etc etc. Sounds… feedback guitar noises, an orchestra tuning up.
QRD – How much of your music is improvised & how much of it is planned out & how meticulously is it planned out?
Aaron – Most is improvised but we are working on having a good part of a set that is planned out. Tough without a drummer and words to cue off of. If it is planned out it is in a very loose way.
Christian – Improv plays a big part in what we do – it allows for freedom of movement. When we do plan something out, I'm more concerned with the overall feel, emotion and concept of what we're doing rather than trying to sound like something or someone else. What we do is on an entirely different level than vocalized music.
QRD – What did you learn in your classical training that you use in If Thousands?
Aaron – Christian can answer this one.
Christian – If this makes any sense, I try to combine everything I've learned and experienced in life and funnel it through what I do in if thousands and let that be my guide. I hope that doesn't come off as too hokey sounding. I think the best thing classical training did for me was train my ear to discern subtle aspects of sound. What I do in if thousands is more of a fusion of every style of music I've ever played or studied, then I break every known rule along the way. If my ear likes it, that's all that's important. Some of my old instructors are probably rolling in their graves.
QRD – How did the Elegy drone performance effect how you think about music?
Christian – I was floored how many people actually showed up and performed. Over the 25 hours, I'm guessing at least a couple hundred or more from all over the country and even overseas. It confirmed my belief that the drone is a primal element to the human ear and heart – and if done correctly it has a deeply spiritual and emotional impact on listeners and the performers. It's just another thing that inspires me to keep doing what Aaron & I do.
Aaron – Elegy was great. I wished I spent more time with it, I hope to do something like it again. I just realized that music moves me. It’s not the words or look it’s the sound. Put it all together & it’s just sound. I know what sound I like and I like trying to make those sounds. How long and for what reason I’m not sure but I like it and if other do as well then everything is good.
QRD – Anything else you want to talk about?
Christian – That's all!