Norman guitar loudsmiths engineer an awesome sonic nightmare.
Rock Matt Carney
I always enjoy conversations — be they digital or in-person — with Hook
Echo Sound and Nice People Records owner/engineer/operator Chris Harris, mainly as he’s one of the Oklahoma
music community’s few remaining people who speaks his mind forcefully
Norman’s scariest shoegazers talk sound textures, using recordings of alien conspiracy theorists, and their awesome debut album.
Don’t be fooled by the phrase “debut full-length.” Norman Goth/shoegaze rockers Depth & Current are veterans of the local music scene.
Front man and principal member Chris Harris runs a recording studio (Hook Echo Sound) and a small record label (Nice People Records), which have put him in touch with bands both near and far. Guitarist Derek Lemke plays in Shitty/Awesome, and I swear I see him every time I go to Opolis. Drummer Scott Twitchell said he’s played in bands since his first teenage punk band as a kid, and judging by the way he talks about songwriting, it’s probably one of the things he thinks about most.
I got to sit and chat with the band after a recent rehearsal at Hook Echo in advance of their upcoming CD release show at Opolis, mostly about the album itself. As you’ll soon find out, they’re very excited to unveil these new songs in public.
OKS: This, your debut record, is a lot more sonically sophisticated than most locally produced stuff. Is there apprehension about recreating it live?
OKS: Not at all?
Twitchell: The live stuff usually just happens. Last week was the first time we’d played a couple of the songs live together. It’s always going to be a little different, but they’re the same songs. It’s interesting how it takes everything on the record — the sounds and the textures are still there — but it takes it all and makes it a little more raw, I guess. It’s a lot more fun that way.
Harris: There being only three of us, we’re using sequence for our live shows so everything’s all timed to the music. We’re able to fly in bits and pieces of sounds from what you’ve heard on the album or maybe even an alternate take of something, and recreate the same kind of soundscape ... to me, it’s the same kind of soundscape, but it’s more intense live.
OKS: Louder, usually?
OKS: So the spoken word stuff’ll be there, too?
Harris: Yeah, you’ll hear that live.
OKS: That’s awesome. One of the things I talked about recently with Brady Smith of Gentle Ghost, they had the spoken-word samples playing too.
Harris: Yeah, they had them going between every song. It was awesome. I think they had them going through a little tiny guitar amplifier on stage. It sounded really cool.
Lemke: They used one of those Boss loop pedals. Just loaded some stuff on there and [makes flipping sound].
Twitchell: That’s a really good, easy way to do it.
OKS: Yeah, Brady said Ryan Lindsey had gotten him and Seth McCarroll listening to these paranormal-investigation podcasts.
Harris: You know what it sounded like? It sounded like these weird, small-town AM radio stations where they go crazy with, like, over-the-top conspiracy stuff. I used to be able to listen to that from my apartment because I had an old PA — it’s actually the PA we use for practice now — and we would record through it. We were getting the levels all wrong, and it started picking up weird radio frequencies and different CVs and stuff, and I would hear some outrageous alien-conspiracy stuff. I probably still have bags and bags of that stuff recorded on it.
OKS: No way.
Harris: It was freaky.
OKS: There’s gotta be a project in there.
Harris: I’ve mined that stuff and used a lot of it. There’s stuff where I’d hit different distortion pedals and make it louder and sound different in some way. I did a lot of that stuff. It first started happening when I lived off of Highway 9, over at Post Oak Apartments. I would hear a lot of CV radio. Then when I moved out to Amber [Okla.] and lived out in the country, I would hit these distortion pedals and hear these crazy preachers and alien-conspiracy theorists and government-conspiracy theorists. It was pretty insane.
OKS: There’s the spoken-word piece that opens the album. Is that mined from one of those old recordings?
Harris: No, that’s an interview that we found that was pretty strange and deranged. We chopped it up, and rearranged some of the words so it would tell a different story from what it was actually telling. And then we decided — instead of using the voice we found in the interview — that we’d take all that chopped-up and rearranged stuff and make a computer say it. It would take some ridiculous reverse-engineering to figure out where it all comes from, but it basically is a story that we heard that we thought sounded cool if you changed the sequence of events.
OKS: That bit primed me — when I listened to the album, I interpreted it this way — for the notion that the narrator of the songs wasn’t necessarily evil or crazy or whatever. It sounds more like it’s society around him.
Harris: Yeah. That’s at the heart of a lot of the themes on the record.
OKS: Talk a little about My Bloody Valentine’s influence on this record. When I listened to “Chkill” and the second song, it was the first band that came to mind.
Harris: It’s a huge influence on us for sure.
Lemke: Pretty much my favorite band.
Harris: Even the other songs that aren’t so blatantly and obviously stealing from that vibe, there’s atmospheric things going on that might be operating in a different context from what My Bloody Valentine would’ve done. It’s where a lot of the textural stuff comes from.
It would be so crazy for people to be able to hear the record where they could turn Derek all the way down, and hear what it sounds like. And then Derek all the way up and hear the textures and soundscapes. It’s like, when you’re listening to the song, they’re not right there on the front of the song. They’re atmospheric. But if you hit “mute,” you would notice it was gone immediately, and it would sound worse. And then as soon as it comes back, it’s like “Oh, yeah, that’s the sound.” A lot of that comes from My Bloody Valentine and their textural pop music.
Twitchell: Derek’s kind of a guitar wizard.
Lemke: I’m a noise wizard.
Twitchell: Yeah, there you go.
Harris: Yeah, he can do that shit with any instrument.
Lemke: I’ll make anything noisy.
OKS: That brings up a point worth discussing. You guys clearly like noise, but you don’t speed up super-fast, which I thought was interesting because a lot of bands attracted to noise are also attracted to speed.
Twitchell: We don’t have any recordings of a whole lot of fast stuff, besides “Calm to the Sea,” but live, we’ve played several different versions of songs twice as fast. The slowest song on our first EP, we’ve played that several times live and it’s--
Harris: Three times as fast.
Twitchell: Yeah, it’s been a complete punk-rock overhaul on the song. And it’s pretty fun, it’s awesome.
Twitchell: The live stuff kinda changes for whatever the event calls for. One of those shows that I’m talking about was the last time we played Norman Music Festival. Instead of doing our crazy, psychedelic light show we try to provide, we just threw up a couple flood lamps, punk-rocked our entire set and got off the stage, to get out of the way for the other bands. If this is something we can really take our time and set up for, we’ll do it to the click and we’ll do it really trippy and we’ll get the entire rig going. That’ll change the style of our set we do.
Harris: But our sweet spot is the mid-tempo rock songs.
Harris: It’s the best way to make room for textures and for things outside of a normal rock song. Seems like the faster you go, the less space you have to wedge sounds into.
OKS: How do you guys feel going from the EP to now? I listened to “Arms” again after I’d listened to the new one, and it struck me pretty obviously as a longer, more cohesive, better-developed album. There was more of everything — it was longer, there were more textures, the atmosphere was larger, y’know?
Harris: We used the gap between “Arms” and ... we spent a long time making goofy pop songs with drum machines, and that spiraled into the idea of a more post-punk, shoegazey sound. From that point, everything was different. We were able to start from right there. It’s bigger and beefier now because what we found was our zone. It was our spot, sonically.
OKS: So do you guys really feel like you’ve hit your stride?
Harris: I think, sonically, yeah. We sound fucking awesome.
You do spend a lot of time, and people get bogged down chasing all these sounds, but we’re at a point where we have a sound that I love, and everything we do now — like if I buy a new pedal at a pawn shop or something — that just adds to the sound. We’re definitely at a place where we’re less likely to toss things out moving forward, and more likely to build on what we’re doing.
Twitchell: Yeah, I think we have a reference point now, for our band and what we can achieve, despite pretty much any obstacle. We don’t have a bass player when we play shows, and that’s pretty amazing in itself. We talked about it the other night: How far does the rabbit hole go for this band? How far can we dig and just go, figuring out new ways to interpret our thoughts.
OKS: That was a thought that occurred to me when I was listening to the record. Sometimes I was like, “Is there a bass in here?” and others I knew, but I also was curious since [Lemke and Harris] both play guitar.
Harris: There’s a lot, both bass synthesizer and bass guitar all over. You gotta have that low end. It sounds awesome. That’s another one of those things that you don’t necessarily think about, but if somebody hit the mute button, it’d just be gone. You’d notice for sure.
OKS: What are your plans for touring on this album?
Harris: Just a little bit. Right now we’re going to do the two shows we have coming up in Norman, and then we’re going to St. Louis and Chicago the two days after our CD-release show. And then when we get back, I’ve got a vacation with my wife for our anniversary, so I’ll be gone for a while. And then we’ll be back in the spring.
By that time, we’ll see what’s happening promotion-wise with the album. I’ve got somebody working on it while I’ll be gone. Hopefully, we’ll come back and it’ll be like, “Oh, hey, while you were outta the country all these awesome bloggers said really sweet things about the album, so let’s go on tour.”
OKS: Are you guys in touch with a bunch of bloggers?
Harris: I do a version of promoting and publicity through Nice People with a mailing list and press releases, stuff like that. I think you can look out with social networking and blow up without [traditional promotion], but I think 99 percent of the bands I know like that had a publicist.
OKS: Or they’re just exceptionally good at doing it themselves.
Harris: Yeah, and that’s fucking hard. I mean, it really is. Having done it for all the releases on the label, even just putting together a press release and sending it out the first time is hard, and then dealing with following up and all that stuff, it’s real, real hard work.
Lemke: It’s a full-time gig.
Harris: And, the reality is that the people who get paid to do it are better than you no matter how good you are at it. Because they’re professionals. Hopefully when I go out of town, I’ll return to some buzz.