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QRD #65 - Getting by with friends
QRD - Thanks for your interest & support
about this issue
Jason Young
Jamie Barnes
Mike VanPortfleet
Scotty Irving
Shaun Sandor
Ben Vendetta
Ben Link Collins
Nick Marino
Joe Kendrick
Brian John Mitchell
Carl Kruger
Candy Reviews
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Silber Records
Silber Button Factory
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Shaun Sandor photo by Cathy Heyden
Shaun Sandor by Robert Pepper
Shaun Sandor by Robert Pepper
Interview with Shaun Sandor of Promute
October 2013
Shaun Sandor photo by Cathy Heyden
Shaun Sandor makes music under the moniker Promute & until very recently ran the experimental label Blondena.  He’s been a supporter of Silber for years & his 5 in 5 release with his daughter Zlata was a runaway hit in the series.

QRD – You recently announced a hiatus for your label Blondena.  What’s behind it & how long will it be?

Shaun – I stopped all label work when I started thinking about how much time I spend with the kids, on my other interests, & how much time I don’t get to work on the label as a business.  I really started feeling anxiety over not being able to properly or fairly promote somebody else’s work.  I really feel like there have been some strong releases that I put out & just wasn’t able to keep up with the promotions & I felt it really wasn’t helping those artists in particular.  I have always had this thought that Blondena would exist to help promote artists, but it really felt like I wasn’t helping anymore.  That was the big reason.
One smaller reason is that I have less & less time to devote to any creative projects & I have been neglecting some of those.  I am interested in building instruments, but to do that well takes time.  Then I would have to practice playing those instruments & that takes time.  I also want to get back to mixed media arts & papermaking & all that takes time.  Without having the worries of what I have to do as a label, I think I can focus on those other things now.

QRD – You started Blondena with pretty much experience as a musician & having interned at a couple labels.  How did your experience shape your approach to your own label?

Shaun – Well, for one thing I learned that having a label can be as big of an operation as any business, really.  There are plenty of jobs to cover & when you have very little help, you have to have some knowledge of how to go about getting things done.  I started using Blondena Music as my own personal way to release music & it did grow a bit from there, but I never relied on it as a source of income or to get a career launched for a musician.  I did keep it small because I did not want to deal with some of the headaches that go along with bigger labels.

QRD – I know you for your noise music & was surprised to find out that you not only own a guitar, but actually know how to play it.  What was your path of transition from guitarist to noise musician?

Shaun – I have been playing guitar since I was 11.  I took lessons for a few years in the beginning; but I used to buy used pedals, sometimes broken ones, & experiment with them at home.  When I started playing in bands, it was easy to go through the motions.  Everybody was playing metal music at the time, so I did that too.  I played in a bunch of different bands -- country, christian bands, thrash metal, etc. -- but nothing really ever felt so satisfying as experimenting & improvising.  I started improvising with a few other good friends in my hometown & we would play parties & just play for hours improvising.  That was very rewarding. 
For a stretch of about 5 or 6 years I couldn’t play consistently because of my military obligation; but when I started seeing a ton of experimental music, it made me realize that there were a lot of tools at one’s disposal to experiment with.  This is when I really started working with other instruments & electronic stuff.  I have been doing that since about 1997 & my guitar was never really a factor in all of this.  When my daughter was born I was playing my guitar a whole lot at home with her, so I started really thinking about developing music & experimenting with guitar again.  Since my interest in sound is predominantly instrument design & acoustics, it seemed only natural to me to start working with prepared guitar as opposed to using a lot of effects on a signal.  Plus I did not have a loop pedal or anything, so I just worked with the guitar as my main instrument since then.  I now work with prepared bass, snare, cymbals, & homemade stuff.  I find it very satisfying & interesting, so hopefully anyone who listens to my work does too.

QRD – You make a lot of your own instruments, both acoustic & electronic ones.  How did you get into that & how are the two activities similar & different?

Shaun – In college I was studying psychoacoustics & acoustics & it just seemed natural to also study propagation of sound waves through conventional instruments.  That got me fascinated by instrument design, but mostly of conventional instruments.  I had known some theater folks through a girl I was dating at the time & we went to see the Plasticene Theater Company & Eric Leonardson had one of his homemade instruments & was performing live along with the theater troupe.  So I took one of his four week workshops & learned some great things from him.  By far the most important item I learned was to experiment! 
There were many electrical engineering courses that I took as well in college, geared mainly for audio applications.  I had already been familiar with electronic components & the insides of amps & guitars from when I was a teenager, but after learning some math & other details, my confidence had been built to a level where I was ready to just start building my own stuff.
The way that both of these are similar is how I develop an idea.  I know what kind of sounds I would like to achieve to start with, so I know how to develop the instrument from there.  The difference would be that I have to hand craft a wood or metal instrument, whereas the electronic stuff is more of a layout issue for knobs or jacks.  I am partial to the electro-acoustic world right now.

QRD – Are you more satisfied when you complete a recording or building an instrument?

Shaun – Completing a recording is more satisfying.  An instrument is only a piece of that & doesn’t mean too much if I don’t have music to share with anybody. Plus I love playing music more than I love building anything.  Once I start constructing an instrument, I know that playing it is my reward.

QRD – You’ve spent the past couple of years as a stay at home dad, but it seems like the past few months you’ve really increased your musical output.  Has anything changed?

Shaun – Nothing really has changed, just really trying to make sure I keep working & keep sharing some of what I do.  I appreciate the scene here in Houston & really everyone has been great to work with & nice to me.  Also very receptive audiences.  I couldn’t ask for more really.  I have enjoyed being an audience member here too at the noise & avant-garde shows.  Good pool of performers to check out, so I do my best to take advantage of it.  I suppose that has been inspiring me to work more as well.

QRD – Do you think noise today (& your music in particular) is closer to what punk or jazz is supposed to be about (but obviously neither are today)?

Shaun – That may be a good comparison.  Sometimes I think that nobody wants to hear this stuff & then I go to a show, or play a show, & there are plenty of people there who are really appreciating the music or sounds.  Jazz strikes me as a genre where ideas can be shared & you can learn from tenured players & experiment more with sound.  I don’t believe punk music really fits that mold & is quite conventional in structure anyway (the I-IV-V stuff).  I would hope the noise music today would be more like jazz in that sense.

QRD – You’ve been a key member to a few different regional noise scenes over the years.  What’s your secret to being part of these communities that are often somewhat elitist?

Shaun – Hopefully it is because people like me enough or are willing to tolerate me to help make things happen?!  Really, I don’t know that there is a secret for how any of this happens.  Timing may be key, I suppose.  Having the appearance of being organized & trying to be as reliable as I can probably helps.  I feel that I have been fortunate in being able to work with some good people to make some cool things happen.  Being open to ideas & willing to try things helps too.  My hope is that people like my work enough to keep up with me.

QRD – The record with Zlata got a lot of attention.  Does it irk you a little that it was better received than some of your more serious work?  Will you do more family recordings?

Shaun – Absolutely not irked by this.  I am extremely happy about it, & grateful to even have the opportunity to make music with her & have Silber release it.  I did not do it for me to promote my work.  I did it to work with my daughter & in the future hopefully it will mean something to her too.  Because we knew the recording had a home, we had some motivation to get it finished.  I would definitely work with my family on creative projects again.

QRD – What’s the last record that you found yourself listening to over & over?

Shaun – The CDs that get the most rotation at my house right now are: Free Zone Appleby 2007 with Evan Parker, Ned Rothenberg, & Paolo Angeli, & also Dropp Ensemble’s Safety from either/OAR.

QRD – How has working as an engineer effected how you listen to music?

Shaun – As far as conventional music is concerned, I tend to have a problem with the snare drum sound & mix, or the kick drum sound & mix.  If it is a problem when I first listen to something where I don’t like a snare sound, I usually skip the track.  Conversely, I tend to really like some guitar & bass sounds & will keep those songs on my “reference list” for future recording purposes.  Other than that, my stereo EQ is set flat (no accentuated bass or treble) & I prefer it that way. 
For experimental improvisational music, I am not as judgmental I suppose.  I can like something or not, but I don’t judge from a sound engineer perspective.  However, when I am playing in an ensemble it affects me more.  If I feel that a particular frequency range is lacking, I may move my playing to that frequency range.  It depends on what is happening of course, but I do notice it clearly when I am listening to the other players.

QRD – Anything else?

Shaun – Thank you for including me in this issue of QRD & thanks to everyone who reads it!

Other QRD interviews with Shaun Sandor:
Label owner interview with Shaun Sandor of Blondena (March 2013)
Musician dad interview with Shaun Sandor of Promute & Bicameral Mind (June 2009)