What inspired you to first start making music? And how did you come to be in your current incarnation? Or if you prefer, a brief bio about you.
I was turning over Pepsi boxes as a wee kid and banging on them with plastic beach shovels and taping paper over tennis rackets to turn them into make believe guitars. I started on piano, migrated to drums for a few years, then back to keyboards and onto guitar. There has always been a gravity to music that has unavoidably pulled me toward it. The goal was always to learn to write songs, become part of an ensemble and have multiple skills to bring to the table. After playing in many local projects (Twelvehourmary, The Dibs, Buchanan) I headed out on tour with Rocco Deluca across the states. I made my own solo record (Brett Bixby – City Lights) and began to work with my Mono Sources collaborator Jesse Nason in the live context of that album.
At the time Jesse was playing keyboards for LA artist AM. He was pursuing his masters in mathematics and was not able to go on the road and asked if I’d assume his keyboard chair so I joined up with AM and spent a few years touring, opening for Josh Rouse, Charlotte Gainsbourg and some fantastic runs with AIR. AM hooked up with maestro instrumentalist and fellow library music fanatic Shawn Lee (see the newly released The Library Music Film on Netflix) and thus began a 3 record partnership between AM & Shawn Lee. Playing with AM and Shawn opened up a new realm of keyboard acquisition, knowledge and sampling experience. I came back from those tours regenerated and brimming with the desire to take this keyboard energy and explore a new project.
Jesse and I began to share a space to keep our growing collection of synths. We dabbled in some short form commercial type pieces but decided that ultimately it was the album form that was calling us forward. Mono Sources was born.
I meandered from piano lessons as a kid, to drums out of rebellion, to always being in many bands at once, to buying keyboards because of OK Computer. All of those things are still circling in my musical brain.
How I came to be in Mono Sources can be seen in Brett’s answer above.
Provide us with some info about your latest release…
The ideas was to form an indie version in the vein of Massive Attack or Zero 7 where we make the music and find friends and peers to collaborate on the vocal end. This proved both fruitful but also a challenge as it’s similar to asking an artist to draw on top of something you’ve already drawn. There is both risk and unexpected reward. We approached people who’s aesthetics we love and worked together until we were all happy with the results. We are lucky to have Kotomi (Lauren Hillman), Sas Liska, Derrick C. Brown and Nick Logie (Hott MT) contributing their unique voices to the record. Though at the beginning I was disinclined to sing on this project, some of the songs presented themselves naturally in a way where it felt appropriate for me to add my voice to Mono Sources. The result is an eclectic record that all began with setting up some synths in a room and letting things happen. There are quiet pieces, more electronic songs, more drum driven tracks and a few instrumentals. The album from the outset was meant to deliver songs at our own pace, to slow things down in a world of non-stop information and daily hurry.
We also enlisted a host of talented musicians to join us. Denny Weston Jr, who toured with AM & Shawn Lee, is a large presence on the record. His palette is wide, his groove is deep and his insticts always serve the song. Our resident guitar sniper Justin Burrow provided the guitar atmosphere on a number of songs whether it be spacious sounds or single note melodies. Shawn Lee and Tyler Chester each guest on a track as well as drummer Dan Bailey Jr. of Father John Misty and Paul Doyle of LA band Midnight Faces. Reaching out to friends and finding so much willingness to collaborate was a liberating and empowering experience. We let the songs lead us as they developed and then reached out to people who felt like they would have something great to offer each piece.
Another part of this Mono Sources album was helming the recording, production and mixing of the record. Each of those is a process with a learning curve but we trusted our ears and advanced the ball until it all came together. Owning the means of production is also empowering.
I think Brett and I have a similar attitude toward music. We have a curiosity that is relentless and we are constantly buying new music and seeing shows. This eclecticism transferred to this project, where we were always trying out a different sound than the last one, with different singers and players, and recordings that happened in different locations. I think the album has a cohesive sound because the theme of “anything goes” is the common denominator.
Which ones would you consider your main influences both music-wise & non-music-wise?
I’d have to start with AM / AM & Shawn Lee as that was our springboard toward experimentation and the keyboards we collected as a part of those projects became the stable of gear we used to begin Mono Sources. From old analog synths to plastic Yamaha and Casio keyboards and the notion of plugging anything through anything, our flashlight beam of synths was wide.
Music-wise our influences range from Pink Floyd to Radiohead to Peter Gabriel to Eno to newer acts like Bon Iver and Bibio and Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Sigur Ros and Sylvan Esso and Warpaint. Of course these acts are all singular and the goal is to take inspiration and then sail our indie ship out to sea and find our own cove.
In addition to what Brett has said, I have to point to my friend Chris Karn. I joined his band Deccatree way back when, and he went on to produce Brett’s solo album that I played on. Chris introduced me to two important pieces of gear: the omnichord and the Yamaha PSS 480. Because of the PSS 480, I got the PSS 380, which I used on an AM record, which got both Brett and AM into these weird keyboards. I would say that all four of us already had our own searching spirit for the weird and unique, but Chris played an important role in setting the spark. In addition to the artists Brett mentioned, I lean toward a lot of music in the style of Brian Eno, Alessandro Cortini, Suzanne Ciani, and Sarah Davachi. Being influenced by the long meandering ambient vibe is how a sound like the Telharmonic ends up on Uneven Ground.
In what way does your sound differ from the rest genre-related artists/bands and why should we listen to your music? In other words, how would you describe your sound?
We describe our sound as mid-fi. We use both state of the art gear and plastic keyboards others may consider toys. As a result the music is part indie, part sound collage and part polish. We believe in single note melodies, earworm music. More than ever music that can slow people down is providing a service to those who are rushed and distracted. If listening to our album can do that for an hour then we’re happy to be of service.
If you like melody, mid-tempo beats with fills you want to put on repeat, and fleeting sounds that make you turn your ear, then our record is for you. With the different voices and instrumentals, there’s a few songs on there for anyone. Its an art album that is not afraid of drawing people in to personal stories and sing-able melodies.
Please name your 3 desert islands albums, movies & books…
Desert island albums – Radiohead / OK Computer, Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun, Michael Andrews / Hand on String
Desert island movies – City of God, Dog Day Afternoon, Stop Making Sense
Desert island books – The Art of the Personal Essay / Philip Lopate, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying / Sogyal Rinpoche, Nick Hornby / High Fidelity
Albums – impossible. But, at this exact time on this exact day, I’ll choose: Radiohead / Kid A, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead / Source Tags & Codes, Stevie Wonder / Songs in the Key of Life
Movies – Interstellar, Magnolia, Office Space
Books – Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs / Chuck Klosterman, The New York Trilogy / Paul Auster, Axiomatic / Greg Egan
Do you prefer studio or performing live and why?
Both are essential and different parts of the cycle – the yin and yang of making music. There is nothing like the exchange of live performance between stage and audience. That is an energy that you cannot capture on a screen or device. There is also nothing like the bottling of magic while recording – like trying to capture sound with a butterfly net. They both have their joys and challenges which make them an indispensable part of the journey.
Both are separate beasts and totally dependent on the other. There’s a lack of inhibition when you are with friends on stage, but there is also the ability to really focus in on a part and be meticulous in the studio. I consider live as punk rock and studio as art rock and I want to do both at all times.
Is there any funny-unique story you would like to share with us, always in relation to your music ‘career’?
On tour with AM in Tennessee we performed on a local cable access channel in Knoxville and our live performance was preceded by a sock puppet. From sock puppets to the Theatre de la Mer in Sete, France … you have to enjoy the full range of performance scenarios.
In the days of record deals, I once was picked up in a Lincoln Town Car to go home from the airport. My bandmate turned to me and said, “Don’t get used to this”.
Which track of your own would you point out as the most unique and why?
Uneven Ground is the barest of bones Mono Sources. It is the two of us with a Teenage Engineering OP1, a Telharmonic modular unit and a Korg Electribe drum machine. The lyrics are raw and honest. The failure of a relationship is a two way street and if you tune in to the retrospect, you can find growth out of change. These are the building blocks. Synthesizers also need humanity.
Would you like to share with our readers your future plans?
Our plans are to bring this record to life, beginning locally, and to turn people on to the myriad of voices on this album. We encourage you to look into the music of those who participated on this album. Go read some of the amazing poetry of Derrick C. Brown and check out all the talented people who are published through writebloody.com. The collaborative experience has opened up a host doors with talented people and we’ll look to continue to explore sounds and create fresh music with both familiar and new voices.
Free question!!! (Ask yourself a question) you wish to answer and haven’t been given the opportunity…
Curated by: Christos Doukakis
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