Thousands interview December 11, 2005
I’ve been a fan of If Thousands since Nathan Amundson (Rivulets) first introduced me to their music back in 2001 & I performed along with them at the Elegy 25 hour drone. They’re drone music & they embrace the label of drone that some bands shun away from. They have a new record on Silber called i have nothing. We did do an interview with them back in issue #24 as well if you want to check that out.
QRD – How do you describe your music to someone not into experimental music?
If Thousands – That’s a really good question. It’s very difficult to explain what we do to people who aren’t familiar with experimental music. Usually we just say we’re a “soundtrack band” – which actually makes no sense, but gets the point across. The easiest way is to give them one of our albums or invite them to a show. The result is almost always positive, although some people still don’t understand. That’s okay with us... sometimes we don’t either.
QRD – Your live shows are improvised & your studio recordings are also improvised, how do the two differ?
If Thousands – The environment. In a studio, although you don’t want it to interfere with the creative process, you know in the back of your head that what you’re doing will eventually be on an album for people to listen to over and over again. So, in this respect, we’re tighter on an album. In a live situation it all depends on the size of the room and the type of audience we’re playing to. We just played in an old renovated church over the weekend with Low. Audiences at a Low concert are unbelievably awesome; they’re quiet, respectful, and want to hear what you do. So, with these two factors in mind, we played rather large, grandiose, gargantuan melodies as the central core of the improvisation. On the other hand, we played a small bar in Minneapolis about a month ago filled with a very noisy audience that paid us little or no attention regardless of what we were doing. For this situation, we played even quieter, more droney music that built very slowly to a huge, noisy, distorted cadence akin to a train wreck. Wherever we perform it’s totally different.
QRD – How do you think living in Duluth instead of a big city influences your music?
If Thousands – About three years ago, a studio engineer from Los Angeles told us, “It must be great to live in Duluth!” When we asked him why, he said since Duluth is cold most of the year and there’s really not much to do, we must make music pretty much year round. He said in LA, he has to practically drag musicians off the street in order to get them into his studio. He was right. There’s a lot of great music being made by many great local musicians in Duluth that the world will never hear.
QRD – Did you send Crispin Glover a copy of i have nothing?
If Thousands – Not yet. Christian just found his address. We hope he doesn’t freak out and sue us or anything. We named the song after him out of our admiration for his style and work.
QRD – How did you decide who you wanted to guest star on your record?
If Thousands – With every album, we always invite other musicians to record with us. So far, we’ve recorded with everyone from highly trained jazz flutists to DJs and reggae musicians. Surprisingly, it always works out. Alone, our music is unfinished in a sense. If you get the basic idea of what we do, there’s a myriad of possibilities to layer our music under or over any other style of music. Besides, we love collaborating with other artists. We meet great, new people with each album we do. On i have nothing, we’d been playing shows here and there with Paul Metzger and GST and loved what they do. 2i was a Minneapolis jazz band that Aaron used to listen to many years ago. How it kind of works is: if we like what you do, we’ll probably ask you if you’d like to record with us.
QRD – How do you think i have nothing differs from your previous albums?
If Thousands – For one, the songs are shorter. We did this on purpose for a change of pace. Also, we wanted to see if we could fit what we usually do in 15 minutes onto a song 5 minutes or less. In addition, there’s very little of the Hammond organ drone we’ve gotten to be known for since our first album. Some say it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We went into the studio totally fresh with no ideas in mind beforehand. We’ve never done that before. Every other album at least had a concept or feel thought out ahead of time. It’s certainly getting more attention than any of our previous albums. Perhaps we’re just getting better and better at what we do.
QRD – I’ve heard rumors that Christian is a really amazing singer, is there really no chance of him singing on any If Thousands releases?
If Thousands – Nope, sorry. The promise that we kept to ourselves in the beginning was that we’d never play instruments that we’re accustomed to. Christian is classically trained in voice and guitar, so you’ll never hear him sing with If Thousands. He does, on occasion, add heavily effected background loops of his voice reciting various things. On Yellowstone, he kept repeating, “Wo budji dow,” into an antique chest-worn microphone heavily laden with reverb. “Wo budgi dow” means “I’m confused” in Mandarin.
QRD – Do either of you still play guitar at all?
If Thousands – Aaron still plinks around from time to time, but not as much as in the old days. His guitar may make an appearance on a future album, though. Christian plays guitar and cello in a band called “Devil’s Flying Machine,” and he also plays solo shows every once in a while.
QRD – You’re both in your thirties now & have real jobs & real responsibilities, do you think If Thousands would be pushed further if you were younger or that you couldn’t have even made this kind of music when you were younger?
If Thousands – We believe we wouldn’t be making this kind of music 10 or 15 years ago. If Thousands is indicative of who we are and where we’re at right now in our lives. 15 years ago, Aaron was heavily into punk music and Christian was into classical and folk. However, with more responsibility comes a re-routing of what’s most important to each individual. Aaron now has a wife, daughter, and a day job at a school that he loves. Christian is engaged, loves his day job as a designer and is very active in the Duluth, Minneapolis, & St. Paul artist community. Although we both work very hard at what we do, with all of our responsibilities we only have so much time for music – though it’s a huge part of our lives that we’ll never do without. If we were 15 years younger, with crappy jobs, discontented, and had very little responsibilities; the sky for If Thousands would be open even further. It would, however, change our sound. The peaceful, sleepy part of our music is owed to the fact that we’re peaceful, sleepy people. At this stage in If Thousands or our lives, we’d change nothing.
QRD – In addition to your studio albums, you do a lot of limited run EPs that have hand-made packaging. Why is it important to you to do such releases?
If Thousands – Mainly because it’s a lot of fun. Also, it keep us limber, musically speaking. The EPs are usually a slight bit rougher around the edges, although 2d came out rather slick in the end. It’s just another part of what we do. We haven’t done a hand-made EP since 2003 due to lack of time but we have many ideas for future ones.
QRD – You’ve worked with several different record labels, do you find it advantageous to have your music released by multiple companies or confusing to the people trying to find the music?
If Thousands – We try to get our music out to as many people as possible in as many genres and countries as possible. Musically, we’re pretty “out there”, so we feel it’s necessary to use as many outlets as possible. Hopefully, this hasn’t confused anyone.
QRD – Aaron’s been getting into podcasting, do you think that’s the most exciting thing going on for indie music right now?
If Thousands – It’s definitely one of the best things to surface in quite a few years. Podcasting has leveled the playing field. The internet in general has opened up the world to music that otherwise would never be heard.
QRD – How did the Elegy performance affect you personally & your view of music?
If Thousands – That so many artists from all walks could come together and collaborate on the spot for a greater good was incredibly inspiring. It was a simple idea: a 25 hour drone concert in honor of a murdered friend. No one knew that so many musicians were going to show (about 200 total) from all areas of the planet (from Canada to Texas – even Australia). Also, seeing the audience’s reaction to what we were doing was definitely moving. At the 25th hour, instruments and amplifiers were shut down one by one until there was nothing but silence. Someone in the audience was so affected that they began to cry. It’s hard to explain what that feeling was like. We always knew music could move mountains, but we never saw it in action until then.
QRD – I know Aaron works with a high school orchestra, do you think they’ll be incorporated into your music?
If Thousands – Aaron doesn’t actually work with an orchestra; he works at an arts school where there is an orchestra. He knows all the kids, though. They’re featured on “Children With Horns” on i have nothing.
QRD – What are your plans for your next album stylistically?
If Thousands – It’s hard to say.
We’ve just begun to talk about what we’ll do next. If Thousands continues
to amaze both of us. If you would have told us in 2000 that we’d
be where we are now with all that we’ve done, we would have thought you
were crazy. In 2000, our biggest goal was to make the best album
we could and we had no idea how to go about it. In the beginning,
we were sure everyone would hate us. Nearly 5 years, 4 albums, 5
EP’s, 6 films, too many compilations to count, and a lot of great concerts
and collaborations later; we’re still excited to see what’s ahead for us.
With If Thousands, you never know what’s around the next corner.
It’s always been wide open.