It sounds like there’s still a lot of mystery – clues even you haven’t yet deciphered – going on with the themes/motivations of this record. Do you expect to ever unravel all its meanings?
I’ve been thinking about how when I write my best songs I almost black out. It’s some sort of tapping into the subconscious where you don’t question what it is you are writing about. It could be a line or sentence or phrase that makes no sense grammatically or literally, but something will just feel right about it, you just want to believe in it. I think these are the clues that you leave yourself behind to decipher years after an album or song is released and therefore “finished”. I often find it hard to talk about the meaning of a song, which I’ve been doing a lot with these interviews recently, because although the album is already about a year old for me, having finished mixing it this past February, I still don’t have a great perspective on where half of it came from. I think the meanings sometimes can never be fully unravelled, even by the author, and that’s exciting to me.
A house or hotel as a symbol for a collective is something that occurs in some of my favourite bits of art. Did it emerge thematically as a way for you to collect some maybe disparate things into one place, and from there become the album’s title?
Well I suppose the goings on in my life at the time of writing this record were a bit disparate, but the house basically stands for the apartment I was living in at the time. It was central to everything, while the rest of my life was a bit scattered. It was a place so charged up, I would collect my thoughts there, I feel like the furniture smelled like my moods, like everything I was feeling stained the walls, the air was always thick. It was quite comfortable yet also quite claustrophobic. It represented safety, comfort, warmth, love and also acted as a sort of mirror for my discontent, a container, a trap, a debt.
Your harmonies are beautifully unusual. How much time do you spend looking for something that isn’t an obvious third above your melody – or are harmonies a much more fluid creation than this, like you don’t even necessarily think of one of the notes as being primary?
I appreciate this. I do love a major third with all my heart. That harmony sort of scratched the itch for years, but I’ve become more interested in exploring other harmonies/counter melodies recently. I think this is executed most successfully when it’s fluid and I’m not thinking about music theory. Like sometimes you can sort of see the notes and how they relate to each other, almost like a math problem or a drawing or something, moving up and down and around, landing together, or sometimes even a half step away creating all sorts of interesting relationships.
Who are we hearing on Åkeren? Her last word is “Julie” (soft J) – and you are wearing a necklace with the same name on in the Find Me clip. Who is Julie?
That is Kaya Wilkins, AKA Okay Kaya, performing Åkeren. It’s a poem I wrote about Ricky and Julie, which she recites in Norwegian, her native language. The last word is “Julie”, who is a character that appears on the last song of the album as well. Ricky and Julie are two people I imagined. I had this thought of them getting together upstate like in the country where they would take turns telling each other exactly what they would like to hear someone say to them, and then the other would say whatever it was the other wanted to hear said. Sort of acting out each other’s fantasy vibes, some ideal relationship, some unattainable connection, I’m not sure. Of course the necklace was a nod to that, I’m glad that you picked up on it 🙂
I love the pitch modulation you’ve used on Wobble – at first I thought it was synth but now I realise you’re bending electric guitar notes? Or is it both?
Yeah, those are two guitars. I was excited about that sound; there’s not much guitar on the record even though that’s the instrument I’m most proficient at. It felt good to kind of give a nod to the rockier stuff I’ve made in the past. It feels really aggressive, but I like the dynamic it creates when it’s set inside some softer, sweeter, melancholic synths. I just cranked my preamp up as loud as it possibly could to get that nasty metallic transformer distortion. Wobble is kind of an intense song for me; it’s the last song I wrote in that apartment I mentioned, when everything was basically moved out except for the table. I sat on top of it and said, “This is the last song I’ll write here,” and that’s what came out.
Goodbye has a bit of an aural illusion at the beginning – the opening chords are quite straight, but the bom-bom synth notes that come in are slow triplets that sort of throw you the first time you hear them, and the pace seems to change. Were you intentionally thinking of challenging the listener at any point?
I don’t think I ever intentionally set out to make something challenging for the listener. Its pretty much about making something that I’m excited by, after it’s made, and if I can get behind it, it doesn’t really matter if it’s considered challenging or not… though I do like the idea of jarring musical ideas, as long as there is a reason for them being that way. I really don’t like when music is “challenging” only for the sake of being challenging.
There are some shorter almost interlude-length tracks on here: Understanding and Swimming in particular. How did you know that these ones were supposed to live this way, instead of stretching them out into an extra few minutes (and potentially ruining their feel)?
Hmmm. Hard question to answer. I feel like I just sort of knew for whatever reason that that’s how I wanted them to be. I like the idea of a quick linear thought, with no repeating of a verse or a chorus or anything. It’s kind of refreshing to just basically say one long sentence. It was exciting to figure out where to put these in the sequence; it was something I hadn’t done before, but felt really good to kind of have these moments to catch your breath and switch up the pace of the album, rather than having just ‘verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus’ or whatever, for the whole record.
You occasionally use a sort of vocoder pitch corrector on your vocals, but mostly very subtly – in something like Wobble, it’s difficult to tell if it’s there at all, or if it’s layers. How much time did you spend playing around with that particular effect?
Wobble was interesting ‘cos its like a nasty vocal take. Like my voice is all broken, and kind of harsh, and really quiet – like desperate. That, with the pitch correction, felt pretty weird and good. I also mixed in the octave up of the vocals too, just [‘cos] I liked how it sounded. So yes, I do mess with that pitch thing quite often. It’s nice to be able to have your voice try on different outfits sometimes.
The House is out January 19 via Domino.