Archive | April, 2012

Things To Do Now That WLFM is Back

Posted on 16 April 2012 by Rachele

Do your shows, bros, for those of you who have them. And for the rest of you, listen in!


Things To Do While WLFM is down.

Posted on 08 April 2012 by Peter Raffel

Not sure how many people have noticed (I would assume it’s in the millions), but WLFM has not been able to broadcast over the past week or two – I’m not putting the blame on anyone, but I’m sure Lawrence’s ITS will have us back up and running soon because they are beautiful (Note: this is subject to change once I have gotten what I want from them and am free to complain all I want). Anyway, while we’re out, I can only assume our loyal listeners have been sitting around watching the grass grow, or perhaps crying in their rooms – or a combination of both, if you have some sort of grass-growing station in your room. I would say the phrase “Never Fear!” right here, but you should indeed fear, because these are dark times – I have no idea when we’ll be up and running again, when Spiritualized’s new album will leak, or when our country will decide what they want to do about all of these problems going on. But either way, I’ve compiled a list of five things, music and not music, to quench your thirst while WLFM is on sabbatical. And remember, folks, in the mean time, spend Mondays 7-9 PM CT (when ON PATROL WITH PETER RAFFEL is on) sitting in silence in solidarity.

  1. “Hey Jane” music video: It was previously mentioned, but Spiritualized new album Sweet Heart, Sweet Light is looking to make all music previously released look not so good anymore. And yes, the song “Hey Jane,” is absolutely awesome (although I haven’t been able to fine a full MP3 of it (help??)) – but the music video blows everything else you’ve seen with your eyes away. It’s not NSFW, but then again, it’s NSWAWS (Not safe for anyone who sucks).
  2. Jasmine by Jai Paul: Jai Paul released a track in 2007, then went away for a while, and now is back with one of the dirtiest tracks I’ve heard in a while. He’s only put out two songs and is signed to XL, which basically tells you that anything this guy touches is going to be gold. So get on board now so you can tell all your friends later, “Oh, you like Jai Paul? Yeah I was into him in 2012, because I don’t suck like you.”
  3. Old Simpson Episodes: Look, I’m not going spend an hour writing about how awesome old Simpsons episodes are (look forward to my thesis, entitled “Why The Simpsons Is The Greatest Thing You Idiots Have Ever Seen), but I will say that the early seasons are definitely worth rewatching, if only for the subtle changes that you see as times goes on. I mean, check out Black Smithers! Wha??
  4. Matzos: Sorry to get all Jewish on everyone, but it’s Passover and it’s the only time of year when I’m not considered weird for eating Matzos. I had like a whole box last night and it was awesome. You should do the same, and pretend like you know things about religion.
  5. Old Episodes of ON PATROL: Yeah, I mean, I’d listen to the back catalogue of my show, because it’s good. And yes, I apologize for plugging my own show right now, but I feel like that’s part of being at WLFM – only caring about you, and shamelessly telling people that all the time.

That’s all for now and remember: Be brave, be awesome, and be… I dunno, I ran out of creativity on this one. That is all.


Peter Raffel

WLFM Top 200 MD


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Why I Must Be Careful Interview

Posted on 07 April 2012 by Addy

I first got turned on to Why I Must Be Careful through their Kickstarter project (video found below), and have been hooked on what little the internet has to say about them since. Both for my own personal geeking out, and to put a little more information out into the world about this band, Seth Brown and John Niekrasz graciously put together this interview with me. Check out their website – for information on and an excerpt from their upcoming album, Honeycomb (which is excellent!), how to order, upcoming shows, and a death lottery.

AG: Can you give me an origin story of the band? Brief personal histories, how you found one another, and what the adventures have been like so far?

WIMBC: We met in Montana in 1998. Inspired by the presence of a 300lbs church organ, we began playing at John’s house in early 2001. Early songs were based on Ravi Shankar riffs and modern dance magnates. We traded a VCR for a Hammond organ to use at our first shows. Since those early days, John got a master’s degree, moved to Portland and became a board member of the Creative Music Guild. Seth also moved to Portland and developed a fascination for player pianos. He has recently acquired an Oregon Arts Council Grant to compose player piano roll music. We also have studied music abroad in recent years. John in India, Seth in Indonesia. We are currently working on our audition for the Norwegian Academy of Music. Our “adventures” together include a 24-hour performance as part of the 2009 Riverwest-24 Bike Race in Milwaukee, WI, performances at Portland Jazz Fest, DIY venues, and guerilla shows around the country.

AG: While Honeycomb is your first release, it sounds like you’ve been producing music for a good while longer than a newcomer might guess. Does Honeycomb represent a second or third “era” of the band, with the previous eras having gone undocumented? Do you have more material lying around that has yet to be recorded and released? Vague plans for further releases?

WIMBC: 11 years ago, we were writing complex, melodic, somewhat mathy songs. After a few years apart, we reassembled and spent lots of time improvising and performing very loose, free-form sets. Our current music draws from this history and catapults us forward like a magnet gun to new incarnations. We are working on a piece of musical theater composed with the hope of entering it in Edinborough’s Fringe festival. There are some earlier recordings out there if you can find them. We have very detailed plans for future releases and we look forward to touring abroad, especially Europe, Japan, & Korea.

AG: I get a strong sense of Zappa and Beefheart from your music. Am I assuming correctly? Are there some bands/musicians that have major influences on you that might be surprising, considering the type of music you’re making? Springsteen? Stravinsky? Jurassic 5?

WIMBC: John and I adore music and generate little ditties constantly whenever we’re together. But we don’t listen to very much music these days. We don’t care much for or know much Zappa or Beefheart. If anything we keep looking back to the music that originally inspired us to want to play.
Yeah, major influences are musicians from the 1990’s Chicago punk scene (including Assembly Line People Program, Cap’n Jazz, US Maple, Trenchmouth, etc.), John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Noam Chomsky, late Coltrane, John Zorn, Balinese Gamelan, classical Hindustani, and more recently Bik Bent Braam, Carson McWhirter, Hamid Drake, Paper Mice, & Sun Ra. We look to iconoclast and revolutionary thinkers for inspiration. Our people, other art forms, and nature are more influential to us than other musical acts. Although seeing a lousy touring band has always been an inspiration for us. We would often leave shows saying, well, we’d better play out more because we have something more rigorous to offer.

AG: This is quite the question, but what is your songwriting process like? Am I right in understanding that there’s a lot of influence taken from speech sounds and rhythms in crafting your songs?

WIMBC: In addition to more standard compositional approaches, we do rely upon an idiosyncratic notation system we call Syllabic Composition. Written or spoken text provides the complex rhythmic underpinning upon which melodic passages are built and transformed. We find patterns in the scansion of stressed and unstressed syllables and then leave the words behind as a kind of scaffolding or lost wax. We hope to construct powerful, intricately-wrought melodies and rhythms which have the familiarity of speech but the vast emotional valences of music. Sometimes, we do present the verbal scaffolding as sung compositions. We’re not tied-down to any one way of composing. Being playful and innovative about seeking new paths to music that feels legitimate to us and staying open-minded about the process has proven crucial to our creativity.

AG: (If this goes unanswered in the previous question): Can you talk about the Braille booklet you include with the release? Are the “lyrical structures and notations” inspiration for the complex rhythms throughout Honeycomb, or simply a description thereof?

WIMBC: The Braille booklet is the notated score for the Honeycomb album and is a continuation of a pointillist theme we began with shotgunned band t-shirts. We are not interested in just making band “merch” and instead see an opportunity to additionally engage ourselves and others. We shot t-shirts with Seth’s shotgun leaving a tattered shot pattern over the words, Why I Must Be Careful. In contrast, we also made a WIMBC kevlar “bulletproof” t-shirt. We hand-loaded and have available WIMBC shotgun shells with lead-free safety glass. We have handmade WIMBC bricks that are accompanied by a 50-page list of all banks receiving money from the TARP Bailout. We like to think of each WIMBC brick thrown through the window of a corporate bank as an individual dot in the pointillist canvas of impending corporate financial ruin. Which lead us to create Why I Must Be Careful Stock Certificates. The value of each share fluctuates according to real wealth as measured by certain specific criteria. Both of us raise animals and grow food and so are interested in the ideas and actualities of function and waste.

AG: There are a lot of little things happening on the record that take an interesting stance on what form a recorded piece of music should take. I’m even talking strictly in terms of the audio, here, and not even the very cool packaging and Braille booklet that comes along with the album. Is there a uniting idea behind the presentation of your work? As the first generation of listeners who will have heard your music before seeing the band live is waiting in the wings, is this your way of maintaining control over the “performance?”

WIMBC: Even after 11 years of making music together, we’re still figuring out what the purpose of a recorded album is for a band like us. We love performing live and find it very difficult to capture the energy and spontaneity of the live show in the recording studio. Our approach to the music and art of this record was certainly very intentional. We feel a duty to be activists in certain respects. We’re not pop musicians and we’re seeking something other than fame. The best we can do is interact with others and try to fend off the nihilism.

AG: I’ve got this fascination with bands put together by a few stray instrumentalists (like WIMBC) and comparing them to academic avant-garde music (which I get pretty well exposed to, attending Lawrence University, with its very own Lawrence Conservatory). Honeycomb feels to me that, if this had been written down on a score and presented as a “Symphony for Piano and Percussion,” it would feel not at all out of place in that world of academia. But you’re a band, and as a result are presenting the music in the tradition of the rock album, essentially. I love that both worlds have (some sort of) an audience, and are essentially grappling with the same issues in music, and creating music that challenges listeners in a very similar way. Do thoughts like these consciously cross your mind? I see this music as uniting the kids in Black Flag shirts and the middle-aged Zappa-Dad English Professors. Have you gotten that sense from the response to your music? Is that a secondary goal of yours?

WIMBC: We have no real idea who would like this music. The music we love challenges its listeners and we don’t know any other way than to follow that lead. We don’t consider the demographic of our audience when we compose but the variety of people who respond to Why I Must Be Careful is surprisingly wide.
Rock is often trying to be popular, academia might be trying to be smart, whereas bebop was about rawness and expression and alienation. Seth saw a good wheatpaste about it in the Lloyd District.

AG: Speaking of academia, do either of you have degrees in music?

WIMBC: No. We feel like outsiders. Seth is self taught and John tries to act like he were. We have consistently been writing music much too difficult for us and progressing in technique only because of the needs of the music.

AG: How much is improvised on the record? I’m guessing not a whole lot of Side A. Those solos on Side B seem to be improvised, but what about the crazier, perhaps noisy stuff on Side B?

WIMBC: 24%

AG: Why the decision to make just two tracks on the album? I’m assuming the music wasn’t written – and seems not to be performed – in the two long-form tracks you present on the record.

WIMBC: In keeping with our live show, we don’t stop very often; we’re not playing discrete 4-minute songs; we tend push out a single, high-energy, long-form structured improvisation.

AG: Do you improvise live?

WIMBC: Yes. Purely improvised parts erupt all over the place. We often perform knowing we will touch upon a dozen or so compositions, but not knowing the order in which they will arise. The improvisational connective tissue between more set parts keeps things interesting for us.

AG: How much do you owe your sound to the simple fact that you are a two-piece band? It seems songs crafted with your level of precision can only be the result of a very small band, if not a one-person project. AU, Planets, Hella, Cheval de Frise, and, say, Colin Stetson, (an odd assortment, I’ll grant you) all achieve an impressive level of composed complexity that feels out of the reach of even a three-piece band – simply coordinating all three members would prove too much at the levels of complexity these groups work with. Do you agree? Was it a conscious choice to form the lean two-piece outfit that you are?

WIMBC: We suffer from Horror vacui. It’s both satisfying and detrimental in some ways. It’s a good battle. We remain a two piece for both aesthetic and practical reasons. But there are many examples of three piece or larger groups playing music with highly intricate levels of precision: Zs, Everybody, Realization Orchestra, Moisture Throne, etc. For us, the directness and immediacy of a good two-piece band is more satisfying than larger groups.

Thanks Addy Goldberg for your time and interest. It’s very flattering.
5eth & ]ohn

Shabazz Palaces, or…Who…Do You Think…You Are?

Posted on 05 April 2012 by Rachele

Seriously Shabazz Palaces. Who do you think you are?

I should preface this review by saying I don’t feel compelled to write a review of every show that I see now that we have this handy-dandy website that I can write show reviews on. But I can’t not say something about the Shabazz show. It was too good. Wayyyy too good. I knew it would be good, but even I wasn’t prepared.

I’ll start at the end. “Thanks for coming and checking us out,” were the last words spoken by frontman (I admit, this title is debatable, but for lack of a better word I’ll call him a frontman) Ishmael Butler aka “Palaceer Lazaro,” after their hour-long, non-step set. “You’d be stupid not to!” Was the response from some seemingly star-struck fan in the crowd. I won’t name any names (Jake Fisher), but seriously, you’d be stupid not to.

Back to the beginning. They came out of nowhere. I’m not even sure if they entered from backstage or crept up from the side or what…I literally don’t even remember. They were just there. Lazaro and partner Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire  filled the stage immediately with a presence that obviates all eloquence — in speech, and in writing. These guys are badass. There is no other word. Profanity is a necessity.

There are comparisons, though. Lazaro’s entire look seemed to be drawn from the ’80s (think: updated MC Hammer), while Maraire looked slightly reminiscent of Bob Marley. When they started to play, they immediately busted out into synchronized, choreographed dancing (think: updated Morris Day and the Time) that could have easily strayed into the realm of campy, except that it didn’t. Not even a little bit. That’s the thing about these guys, is that they were just dripping with references to the past, and yet nothing about them was unoriginal. And it’s because when that first bass drum hit filled the room you were immediately transported away from the venue, away from past, away from the present, even, and into another universe. Shabazz Palaces didn’t emerge from any genre, really. They emerged from a spacecraft and swiftly converted their extraterrestrial powers into an unearthly noise we humans can only meekly describe as hip-hop.

And, I guess it was a hip-hop show, at its bare bones. The opener was a hip-hop act, the DJs doing sets between acts played hip-hop, I even danced like I would dance to hip-hop. But I’m just not sure. Their ambiguity was obvious to me early on, with their album Black Up. Besides the fact that is signed to Sub Pop, a predominantly white, girly, indie label, there are certain production choices that seem to place it in another realm. At first I wanted to label this as inexperience, or immaturity. I thought, these guys really have something going for them, they just need to refine it a little bit. Kind of like I think Janelle Monae is a genius but some of her lyrical content is a little bit immature. Seeing Shabazz live totally changed my mind. I don’t think they’re going for hip-hop, which is why some of their production choices seem a little bit strange. I also think some of the things they do don’t really translate into album at all. There’s too much going on. Lazaro was playing a drum machine, laptop, sampler, and using a vocoder all at the same time. Maraire, aptly described as a “multi-instrumentalist” by Wikipedia, was playing bongos, a tom-tom, a drum machine, a shaker thing, no, wait, multiple shaker things, another noisy thing, so many things! And that thing that’s so infamously used in “An echo…” (speaking of which, they kind of played that song, but not really, they just played around with that sample that sounds like a choir of babies and used the “thing” — God, what is that thing???). He was also vocoding his voice. See what I’m saying? There’s a lot going on. You have to see it live to get what it all means, and why they’re not just a hip-hop act. They give the word “Sub Pop” a whole new meaning. Yeah, it’s a sub-category of Pop. Not Pop, not hip-hop, just…something.

And even calling them an “act” feels wrong. I could say that Maraire and Lazaro are incredible performers, but they’re not. Performing implies that some kind of charade is being put on, that something could go wrong, that you’re not being yourself entirely. No, these guys weren’t performing. They were abducting. Abducting us into their alien noise. Everyone in the audience got taken to planet Shabazz that night (any coincidence that they were playing at Mad Planet? PS, if you haven’t seen a show there, do it). They did everything right. They played what we wanted to hear, and they played stuff we hadn’t heard ever before but now we’re eager to hear it again. They were obviously quite comfortable playing material from Black Up but they never strayed into boredom or looked like they were doing something routine, and the new stuff they played looked like they had been doing it for years. I was very much absorbed in the world they created up on stage. Their attention to the music was never broken and neither was mine. I felt a kind of strange awe that  I was allowed to view them, and I still kind of feel it. Maybe Wilmer and I got abducted into a parallel universe that just looks like earth but we’re not really back on earth yet at all. (I didn’t make this connection last night, but Wilmer and I saw a shooting star on our drive home…”You think I’m selfish, exist only to wish on stars….” Too weird.)

I had an art history professor tell my class that the average person today doesn’t know what the avant-garde is. And now I know why. It’s because it comes from another planet, and occasionally lands on earth to play shows. Shabazz’s tour schedule says they’re off to Chicago next…I think we all know that’s a lie. You can’t hide from the humans now that we’ve seen you. Now that we know who you are….

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Shane Perlowin (of Ahleuchatistas) Interview

Posted on 02 April 2012 by Addy

Shane Perlowin, the guitarist behind Ahleuchatistas, Doom Ribbons, Mind Vs. Target! and various solo recordings – the latest of which, Shaking the Phantom Limb, was perhaps my favorite album of last year – gave me the chance to shoot him some questions. Here is what he shot back.

AG: What are your major artistic influences outside of music?

SP: Movies and books.  I’m a big fan of both.  But, since I have been a full time musician, over five years now, the time I have to sit around and watch movies and read books has diminished tremendously because I am constantly working on music.  Though, I do keep some books going always, and I rent a DVD now and then.  I just recently watched Citizen Kane for the first time and was blown away by its style and story, about a man who was denied his childhood and the love that we all need.  So he surrounds himself with things he thinks he wants, but ultimately he’s empty and it all comes crashing down.  It’s an amazing portrait of a nervous breakdown and wonderful to see depicted a winner of capitalism coming face to face with his failure at living.  I recently finished Orlando by Virginia Woolf, a book that made me literally say “wow” out loud while I was reading it on several occasions.  The manic flights of the mind that she describes buzz off the pages like electricity.  I will try to read everything she has written before I die, but like I said I am not as voracious a consumer of literature as I once was because I deal in the direct conveyance of feelings that is music.  But life offers enough waiting rooms, standing in lines, visits to the toilet, and sleepy evenings that it might be possible.  Currently I am more than halfway through Don Quixote by Cervantes, and will have to agree with the consensus that it is one of the greatest books ever written.  Chivalry was the last culture of goddess worship, and is sorely and unknowingly missed by the miserable world of men.

AG: Do you draw much influence from other forms of artistic expression?

SP: Yes.  I get a tingly feeling when I connect with someone’s work in any medium, and it fires up my imagination, puts me in an alpha state of pure receptivity, out of which arises new and better ideas all the time.  I am always ready to receive.  I wasn’t always so open, but it is something that has developed in me over time as I was more and more exposed to different peoples lives and artistic expressions.  I have always wanted to keep moving forward, so I stay hungry, and keep feeding the fire that fuels creativity.  That way I can just turn it on like a faucet and ideas flow.

AG: It sounds like you grew up with some pretty different music than one might guess from listening to Ahleuchatistas. What do you admire about the music that makes up your musical background, and what about it do you let shape your music, if not its style?

SP: Yeah, I grew up on a little of this and a little of that.  I was mainly into the rock and roll music as a kid, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Oyster Cult, Queen…  Though, I think the first cassette tape I bought was Run DMC’s “Raising Hell”.  I loved that tape, I would play it on the bus on the way to school on my little tape player and the other kids would tell me to turn it up.  At some point Iron Maiden made a big impact on me, like when I was 10 years old or so.  I discovered them when I was raiding through my cousin’s record collection while he was away at college.  Fugazi is definitely one of the most important bands to inspire me, not only musically, but politically and ethically.  I saw them three times in concert.  I got way into Pink Floyd during my psychedelic years around age 16.  Around that time Bob Dylan blew my mind with his lyrics and delivery.  I became an obsessive fan of whatever I was into and get all the albums from an artist.  I got turned onto Frank Zappa when I was 16 or 17 and
I really absorbed his conceptual universe, though was always turned off by his sexism. I got into prog rock, and bought all the King Crimson CDs, and Bob Fripp really opened me up.  A really huge change came when I was 17 and bought my first jazz CD, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.  This opened up a whole new world and I fell in love with Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Billie Holiday, and the guitarists Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Django Reinhardt.  I got inspired to become technically proficient at the guitar and to write music that was exciting and interesting and would hopefully blow people’s minds.  That was the goal.  But, I was also interested in moving people emotionally, beyond just being an impressive technician.  I always shied away from the really slick and cheesy fusion stuff.  Of course those players were really technical musicians, but the music lacked an edge, the emotional connection of deep folk and pop songs, and the dirtiness I love from free jazz and punk rock.  This sort of summarizes my early musical listening experience.  I consider myself a late bloomer, however.  I started playing guitar when I was 14 and never had lessons, I just started to compose songs and come up with riffs.  I was never a kid who learned to play complete songs by the bands I was into.  Though, I do go back and do that sometimes now when I am teaching a student who really wants to learn the guitar solo from Comfortably Numb, for instance. So, it wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I really started to learn to read music and got any good at playing jazz, something I still work at and improve at because of the gigs I regularly play which help pay the bills… and I love the music.  Jazz is a means to understanding other musics and learning things quickly, as well as writing unexpected parts that work because of its sophisticated harmonic conception, so there are more musical choices.  Classical guitar and American fingerstyle tradition are very important to me right now as I play catch up with my right hand technique and develop my solo acoustic music.  Of course, I continue expanding my palette, and have really come to love hip-hop more than just about any other music in the
world.  No, I am not being ironic.

AG: There is a sense of fullness of sound that I’ve noticed you try to obtain in all of the Ahleuchatistas-related projects. As a trio, duo, and in your solo work, there is a sense of a distinct rhythmic element, a distinct bassy or background element, and then a lead voice happening on top. As a trio this was pretty clear and not much to notice, but as you’ve been moving towards more stripped down formats, you definitely maintain all three elements, even in the solo work. Has it been a conscious decision to maintain this balance? Where might this come from, if it isn’t a conscious decision?

SP: As a guitarist I spent many years focusing on the melodic aspect of music.  I am not so much a multi-instrumentalist, and have only in recent years begun to train myself as a percussionist, bassist, and keyboardist.  But, since all of my work is on guitar, and since the guitar is so multi-faceted, it still consumes 99% of my time.  But, I have started to listen much closer to other aspects of songs, mainly focusing on the bass and drums.  So, whereas in the past I would start writing something with a riff or a melodic statement, I am more often now beginning with a bassline or a rhythm.  I think this is very important.  I don’t know how I miss things like this, but I think my narrow focus has somehow helped me to develop my own voice as a writer
and player.  Things that are obvious I just ignored, and this has le to some originality.  But, to answer your question, yes!  I am very much aware of completeness and strive for that in recordings and performances.  Completeness can be very sparse, but it is what is just right, and I hope to achieve that to draw the listener in so they may have an experience.

AG: I think of your songs sometimes as really extraordinary experiments in form. Is that a large part of the goal of the band?

SP: In the earlier music, one thing led to another, one part got strung to another, and these songs with abnormal forms emerged.  Looking back it is easy to see/hear that.  My awareness of form at all was largely developed in my mid-20s when I went to school and got a philosophy degree.  I wasn’t so comfortable with abstract thinking before that. So, the music was part-part-part-part…etc.  Studying abstract systems called my attention to underlying forms.  Of course, even if you string a series of unrelated events together, our minds will construct a form out of what emerges, or at least will try to. Nowadays, I definitely consider our music as forms which generate fresh performances every time we play.  Ahleuchatistas, now more than
ever, straddles the boundaries between composition and improvisation. There are underlying forms and then degrees of composition, from a handful of elements to rigorously scored passages.  This approach allows for there to be freshness at every gig, and that feeling of newness is something that is strongly transmitted to an audience, whether they are aware of exactly what it is or not.

AG: What are your thoughts on recording a song and playing that song live? Is the recording limited by what you can produce live? It seems you are been becoming more and more comfortable with producing records whose songs will likely take a different form live.

SP: Earlier recordings were deliberately stripped down to the limitations of a live performance.  They were minimal in their production and I was also militantly anti-FX for a good number of years.  When I was 17 years old it dawned on me at my practice space that I was surrounded by foot pedals that made all kinds of trippy sounds, but I did not have a handle on the guitar itself.  So, I got rid of them all right away.  By the time I was 24 and forming Ahleuchatistas, I was just plugging straight into the amp and not even using reverb at all.  I wanted to create sounds with uncommon chords and unusual techniques, instead of stomping on a pedal to change my tone.  This was one signature of the early Ahleuchatistas sound.  I am nowadays not so limited in my use of accessories.  I also have come to see the studio product as its own entity and am not so concerned with what can be duplicated live.  I want the album experience and the show experience to be equally powerful, but in their own way.

AG: Here’s an almost generic, possibly annoying question. What do you think of the term “math-rock?” Genre names in general?

SP: I let people own their genre names.  I personally don’t call anything I’ve done math rock, I don’t know what that means exactly.  But, people can call it that if it helps them identify it as something they love or hate or whatever.  I think math rock started in the 90’s, but I am not familiar with any of the bands that coined the term.  I should really check it out, though, because I keep seeing that term. I explained the history of my background in the third question of this interview and it doesn’t include anything from the math rock tradition to my knowledge, though I think King Crimson and Dave Brubeck used odd time signatures, which involves the numbers 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, etc.

AG: To get maybe too broad here, what about describing music at all? I always think it’s a sign I’ve come across some great music when I have a whole lot of trouble explaining it.

SP: I love hearing people describe their experiences of music.  It is my favorite thing to talk about.  I am not an elitist at all, so I believe any interest in music is good and that people are affected by it whether they are active listeners or not.  Hearing young kids describe music is remarkable, they are wide open and totally candid. Some people describe feelings, others see images in their head. Feelings and images excite me.  And then, of course, there is the technical breakdown of any given music. But, feelings and images are where it’s at for the human experience.

AG: Do you have a favorite album or period of the band? If the answer is “this one” and “right now,” which is the sense I’m getting, and probably the best state of affairs, can I bug you to tell me your second favorite album/period? I ask because I find myself often getting introduced to a band through an album that people seem to discard as “non-canon” or something. I can see someone coming up to you after a show and saying “Man, I love what you’re doing right now, but Culture Industry absolutely cannot be topped.” What would your thoughts be? How do you find yourself looking back at your work that now is almost a decade old?

SP: I think we are on the cutting edge at this moment and doing our best and most interesting work now.  That said, I think our second album, “The Same and the Other”, recorded in 2004, is a moment that I am very happy to have captured.  It was recorded in 4 hours and is a complete, raw and militant statement.  Courtney Chappell’s cover art is iconic and impacting.  Some people are all about the third album, “What you Will”, which features the same trio, with Derek Poteat on bass and Sean Dail on drums, still in top form.  I honestly don’t listen to my own music once it is finished.  Although, recently, I have listened to a track here and there on youtube, like “Lacerate” or “Imperceptibility”, and was pleased that the music has withstood the test of time very well.    It seems to improve with age, which is very special.  I think that is true of all of the music from our catalog, even though it is disheveled much of the time and not as polished as it could be.  That’s part of the character.  The harmonic palette, the simple melodic originality, and the idiosyncrasies of the players set it apart it to my ears.  And I know there are fans who feel that way and really connect with where we are coming from, even as we have evolved and changed members over the years.  The fact that someone might say an earlier album, such as “On the Culture Industry” is their favorite is very flattering and humbling.  I know I have my favorites of a particular artist and don’t appreciate everything they have done on an equal level.  I am grateful that anyone is interested at all.

AG: As a follow up to that, I am noticing that maybe musicians more than any other type of artist is reminded of/expected to produce stuff similar to their previous works. Do you think this is good or bad? Or is that largely reflecting the fan’s perspective, and its not really a thought you are forced to deal with all that often?

SP: That is something I was afraid of when the band switched drummers from Sean Dail to Ryan Oslance in 2008 and again when we became a duo in 2009.  But, I have found that people are open to the changes and even have become more enthusiastic as we have pushed forward.  It makes sense that our audience would be open minded and ready to move forward always, and also that it would continue to grow as long as we put out high quality work.  I am not interested in repeating myself over and over again.  Our interests have shifted and grown, along with our technique and concepts.  The experiences of the last two years have really given me confidence that we can do anything we want that is true to who we are and people will respond to it.  So, I don’t care to meet anybody’s expectations except for the expectations of quality, honesty, and evolution.  It is a very liberating feeling, and allows us to work in a total creative flow.

AG: Here is my big, personal question that I’ve had since I heard Shaking the Phantom Limb. I’m a guitarist, writing very similar music (I think, at least), to what appeared on Limb, and I’m writing that music because I heard bands like Ahleuchatistas, Tera Melos and Planets, who have amazing instrumentalists and ways of thinking about how a song can be put together, but stylistically have a very difficult sound to get into, for most people. It’s jagged and driving and messy. That is a large part of what I love about it, but I think many people who would be able to appreciate the music’s intricacies get turned away because of it. By taking the lessons learned from these bands and distilling it into the world of the solo acoustic guitar, you expose these really valuable bits of musical innovation. That’s how I think of what is happening, anyway. Is that at least part of the idea of writing for the solo acoustic guitar? Is there an acoustics album of Ahleuchatistas songs that could be in the works, with drums and acoustic guitar and few effects for this same reason?

SP: The solo acoustic work came about because I am constantly playing.  My whole life is centered around music: playing, teaching, listening. And oftentimes I find myself alone.  You can definitely expect more of this music to come out in the future, and very likely there will at some point be an acoustic Ahleuchatistas situation.  I am still growing as a solo acoustic guitarist, so it may be some time, but it is an area that I spend most of my time developing these days, even when I am composing for other musicians.  I think one effect of this format is that it makes some of the more complex composition strategies more listenable to most people, which I am not against. Music is a form of communication, so I want people to be able to receive it.  Some of the music that I write for solo acoustic guitar ends up in other arrangements with different musicians.  I no longer write music for exclusively one project or another.  My music is shared between my solo efforts, Ahleuchatistas, Doom Ribbons, and whatever else I am involved with.  This gives the music life and helps build a community of players.  The big point here is that I am a devotee of the instrument and am interested in all its aspects and styles of application.  So, noisy, layered, heavily processed soundscapes are fair game and so is an unplugged steel string played with a thumb pick in Open G tuning.

AG: Thanks again for doing this; I really enjoyed reading your responses. Thank you for taking the time to put together this type of an interview.

SP: Thanks for the opportunity.  It was fun to put some thought into the past decade and more, and give a thoughtful and thorough overview.