In 1979 I was ten years old and my father brought home a cassette recorder and it had a lot of buttons and switches. I immediately began recording weird sounds, records being played at the wrong speed, the wind, the lake and the neighbors. I had already been performing for five years by that point, playing polkas, waltzes, country and western music with my grandfather’s band since I was age five, but I consider the home recording as the beginning of the band. Some of those original tapes were later used as loops on the ‘Livonia‘ album (4AD, 1990).
‘Black Wings‘ marks His Name Is Alive’s 101st release. Congrats on that achievement! How has your artistry evolved in that time?
If I knew what I was doing, we would probably have fewer releases, I’m just trying to get it right. Artistry is such a nice word, thank you. As I’ve gotten older two things have changed the most for me, one is that I enjoy working with other people more, I’m more patient with them and I enjoy the exchange of ideas a lot more than I did when I was just starting, and the second thing is that I’ve gradually come to recognize that I associate certain frequencies with different colors and that impacts how the studio needs to look or what color a guitar or keyboard should be while recording, otherwise its disorienting and very difficult to focus.
What was your relationship with the legendary 4AD like and now your current label HHBTM Records?
Ivo at 4AD struggled for a long time with wanting to release our first album, he originally tried to find someone else to release it, and then we would talk on the phone and he would say which parts were terrible and ask what exactly did I think I was doing, it took a couple years of me ruining the tapes and deconstructing the mixes for him to eventually break down and say he wanted to fix it himself and then release it. Mike at HHBTM Records heard our mixA tape on Soundcloud and texted me that same day and offered to release it and he had fun ideas about tote bags and square buttons and square posters.
Your last release, 2016’s ‘Patterns Of Light‘ along with ‘Black Wings‘ feature in-depth research into dark energy and matter – how did this come about? Did you have interests in physics prior?
A scientist who works at the large hadron collider at CERN contacted me about doing a jam session there and we began a sort of correspondence and because I had minimal school experience I got it all mixed up with creation myths, witchcraft, dragons and did you ever see that video of Björk trying to explain how a TV works? Its like that. I spent a couple years on it and got in deep. I’m still recovering.
What was the recording process like for ‘Black Wings‘? After all of that research how did you go about compiling it all into something palatable?
The recording process here at my place is generally the same for most projects – the amps are setup facing the drums in a corner of my apartment and its a who can play the loudest contest. Andrea comes back later and spends hours and hours layering the harmonies and vocal parts. We record quickly as the material is being written and work on one song at a time. Theres no clear indication what direction the project will take and we work until we run out of good ideas. ‘Black Wings‘ is one of those albums that was kinda inspired by The Doors album ‘American Prayer‘ and Royal Trux ‘Twin Infinitives‘ – both long double albums where its often unclear whats happening.
How would you say His Name Is Alive has turned “physics back into poetry”?
We’ve literally taken mathematical formulas and arranged them rhythmically into stanzas that rhyme.
I was listening to ‘Energy Acceleration’ with someone earlier and they mentioned it made them think of Catholic schoolchildren lined up on a cobblestone street as they head into a boarding school in Paris. How would you describe ‘Energy Acceleration’ yourselves?
The melody is taken from a Gregorian chant traditionally used in the Roman Catholic Church during Mass and the lyrics are primarily concerned with the speed required for high energy particle accelerators to perform experiments to create black holes or find extra spatial dimensions.
How much of an influence has Hildegard Von Bingen been on these recent releases?
Her music, her drawings and her paintings have been an inspiration for years now and she’s always a part of what I do and I would say that her work can easily be compared to the search of the modern scientists studying particle physics as they both tie into some very big picture questions about the formation of the universe.
Are there any artists you see with the same sort of work ethic as His Name Is Alive nowadays? What have you been listening to recently?
I’m not sure that I have a clear enough perspective on my own work to compare it to others. Here’s some music that I’ve listened to recently that I’ve really enjoyed Mdou Moctar, Gaelynn Lea, Libby DeCamp, Riley Pinkerton, Shells, “Belladonna Of Sadness” Soundtrack, Jordan Schug, Westerbur & Rowe, Soft Location, The Cramps (always forever the Cramps), Kid Congo Powers ‘Dracula Boots‘ album, Pussy Galore ‘Right Now‘ album and Charlie Parker’s album w/ strings.
I have to ask about your aesthetic presence. Specifically, what would you say influences it?
I don’t know, who can say, maybe I just didn’t really get into one thing, maybe the central nervous system was designed to accept music at certain frequencies and then healing occurs and the same way your body requires nutrients in food maybe we can focus on the idea that music is primarily made up of sound and it is something that is absolutely necessary for our health and survival.
If you could provide a few words on each of these subjects:
I do eat ice cream every day, all year round. yes I have a blood sugar problem yes I have a weight problem. current fave is Ben and Jerry’s Veganized Caramel Almond Brittle.
The Quay Brothers?
His Name Is Alive is planning on some summer shows and a new release in the fall. I like to release albums at the end of October or early November so that its too late for writers to include them in the best of lists but then the next year they’re way too old for writers to remember them.
Photo credits: Davin Brainard