“Through the Veil of Sleek Emotion, the Mists of Dark Cannot Be Felt”
It seems appropriate – if not downright perfect – to have the good fortune to learn more about Midday Veil on 01-01-11, the first day of the year, and the first post of the second year of “Revolt of the Apes.”
It seems to be what “Crushing” Carl Jung described as an “acausal connecting principle,” or a “meaningful coincidence” or if you prefer, “acausal parallelism.”
Simply put – and despite our hesitancy to concretely detail any sort of “best albums of 2010” list – there was no more striking, affecting, defining, epiphanic and just plain awesome listening experience of the past year than that psychically provided and engineered by Midday Veil’s most recent album, “Eyes All Around.” Some equals? Perhaps. But none more so.
“Eyes All Around” is an album of perfect balance – a meditation on life and death, light and dark, ambient, near-subliminal blankets of sound and loud, jaw-clenching power. It is an album in the truest sense: oversized, vividly illustrated and providing an anthology of distinct, yet distinctly intertwined, songs, sounds and emotions.
It is one of those albums that will leave not the listener’s turntable, iPod, CD player, brain, mind, soul and psyche for some time to come.
It is one of those albums that delivers a clean delineation between the life you led before your heard it, and the life you will lead afterward.
I’m not sure I’m being clearly understood. I’m trying to say I really, really love “Eyes All Around.” It sound great on headphones; it sounds great traveling through the air at high volume.
And while “Eyes All Around” offers much promise for the future work of Midday Veil, just as exciting is the act of moving backwards through the band’s preceding releases (“Remember Child/Matlalcueitl”? Holy smokes …), and understanding that “Eyes All Around” is no fluke. Rather, it’s only the current culmination of sound and expression from a truly evolving band.
I could not be happier to present to you, gentle reader, this interview with Emily Pothast (guitar and vocals) on art, music, Portable Shrines and double rainbows all the way across the sky. Too much. I don’t know what it means. Oh my god – it’s so intense. Oh. Oh. Oh my god. Enjoy!
Portable Shrines, Escalator Fest, sleeping bags in museums for 12-hour drone sessions … what the hell is going on in the Pacific Northwest?
Ha! I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been paying more attention since I’ve been in a band, but it certainly does seem like Seattle is getting more fun lately.
As a multimedia artist, I’m drawn to performances, collaborations, and events that place music in the context of art as a multifaceted, immersive experience. Shortly after David and I began playing shows together as Midday Veil, we met Aubrey and Darlene, who played in a band called Backward Masks and were starting this thing called the Portable Shrines Collective. The idea behind Portable Shrines was that there was a lot of underground psychedelic and experimental music going on, but most of it was happening in small, isolated scenes. Aubrey and Darlene were interested in putting on events that would get local and touring bands to come together and interact with each other more. Anyway, we realized that we had a lot of goals and ideas in common and we decided to join forces.
There are lots of exciting things coming up on the Portable Shrines front. For one, we’re going to be putting out a Shrines-curated double LP compilation early next year on our label Translinguistic Other, which features eighteen bands who have played on Portable Shrines shows. Plus Aubrey has started organizing a bi-weekly DJ night that brings together guests from the local scene to spin records for each other. And of course we’re going to try to make Escalator happen again next year…we’ll keep you posted!
Another catalyst for interesting goings-on is the Hedreen Gallery at Seattle University, which recently hired a couple of new curators with a great vision for the place as a sort of multimedia art hub. Last fall one of the curators came to me with the idea of David and I doing an artist sleepover. We’re both really into the all-night performances that Terry Riley used to give in the late ‘60s, so we wanted to try our own take on that idea. That’s how “A Double Rainbow in Curved Air” was conceived.
One other place that bears mentioning is this little gallery/vintage clothing shop called Cairo, which books shows and events and also has a silkscreen studio where I’m about to start teaching workshops. I love that it’s such a multi-purpose space … it’s a place where people can shop, hang out, play music, and make stuff.
But yeah, there’s lots of fun stuff going on. One thing I like about Seattle is there’s so much music … just when you think you’ve heard it all, you discover some awesome shit creeping under your radar. You should come check it out!
How does your visual art influence the music of Midday Veil, if at all? Do you find yourself exploring similar themes in both your music and art?
Well, I started out as a visual artist. I moved to Seattle from Texas in 2003 to go to grad school for art at the University of Washington. Everything I did in art school had to do with religion in some way. Like, one thing I did for my MFA thesis project was cross out a Bible with a black felt marker, line by line, so that the only content remaining was the violence.
Shortly after I graduated from the UW a bunch of crazy stuff happened (my mom and dad were killed in a car accident, among other things) and for awhile I was just barely holding it together. In 2007, I met David, and pretty soon we started making music together. It really helped to bring me back from the abyss.
It wasn’t until I started playing music that I was really able to make art again, and when I got back into it, it wasn’t the same kind of art I was making before. Everything I’ve done has always been guided by a fascination with religion and spirituality, but I think the art that I made before my “crisis” period was mostly about trying to understand things I couldn’t really identify with. Now I feel like I’m much more of an active embodiment of these interests, in that I see my creative practice as a spiritual practice. Anyway, around that time I started blogging as well, keeping track of the things that interest me and trying to communicate why. Everything began to influence everything else and continues to do so.
It would seem (at least to this observer, who has not yet had the pleasure of seeing the band live) that the visual element does not go unexplored for Midday Veil – unless your guitarist is coincidentally wearing a stark white hoodie each time you play in order to NOT perfectly provide a human screen for your visuals. What does this kind of attention to the details of performance mean to Midday Veil?
We like to change things up but in general, we try to create a performance environment that transforms the venue into a space that feels a little more cosmic than a bar or warehouse or whatever. Sometimes that involves wearing specific clothes, and depending on the venue, it generally involves white sheets behind the band, projections, and fog machines. (We’ve had multiple reviewers write about how our stage show makes them feel like they’re having an acid flashback … I suppose that means it’s working?!)
Because the band has such a strong multimedia emphasis, I think there has been something of a natural convergence of all of our visual art practices. For instance, so far David has been generating most of the projections for our live show and I make a lot of our posters and other artwork. Back in September, my bandmate Timm (also a sound artist who releases solo material as Mood Organ) had a residency at the Experimental Television Center in Owego, NY and David and I joined him for a few days to collaborate on some video feedback experiments that will go back into making projections as well as a couple of music videos we’re working on. And so on. Everything feeds into everything else.
One of the things most appealing about Midday Veil is that you seem to be influenced by more than just the sound of krautrock – Midday Veil seem to act like a Krautrock band as well. What is it about this music that finds purchase with you and the other members of Midday Veil? Is it, in the words of Erik Davis, that, “in the sublime dialectic of the kosmiche, titanic and inhuman struggles are mysteriously pared with a serene acceptance of an underlying unity”?
Wow, that’s an astute (and very flattering) observation!
So, David’s background is in classical composition. When he was in college he studied electronic music in Germany, where he attended an intensive 10-day series of workshops and performances led by Karlheinz Stockhausen, who of course influenced the krautrock bands immensely. Stockhausen was a total megalomaniac, but he was also a genius when it came to using music as a medium for reflecting all of the properties of the cosmos, and David was pretty much transformed by that experience. The rest of us are influenced by that idea as well, which is something that surfaces in a number of different ways in our collaboration as a band.
In addition to working on our composed songs, we set aside specific times for intense psychedelic improvisation sessions called “Subterranean Rituals” where we do what we can to channel whatever wants to come into existence through us. Many ideas for new songs come from them, and the best parts get released as albums. There is a CDR from 2009 called “Subterranean Ritual” which contains excerpts from a single session, edited down with lots of jump cuts à la The Faust Tapes. Right now we actually have another full-length all set to master which consists of two long improvised tracks recorded during a Subterranean Ritual at Aleph Studios while we were recording Eyes All Around. This album is going to be accompanied by a full-length video of feedback sorcery that we generated during the Experimental Television Center residency, which we’ll be screening someday soon in whatever theaters or art venues will have us.
What is the feeling or emotion you feel most vividly when performing live with Midday Veil? How does that compare to the feeling you get from shepherding a work of material art from inception to completion? Is there a feeling you get when you look to the west, and your spirit is crying for leaving?
Hm. I guess I’m just thinking about what I’m doing and saying, trying to be mindful and present in such a way that will make the performance both sincere and intense.
I have noticed that there is quite a difference between the experience of creating an object—whether it’s an album, a painting, a film, whatever—and giving a performance. When you are making an object, you get to think things through and deliberate over your decisions, right up until the object is ready to go have a life of its own. But when you are giving a performance, everything that happens has to unfold in that precise moment. Either it works or it doesn’t … there are no edits, no overdubs. Of course there is a certain level of risk involved whenever you make something and put it out into the world, but nothing compares to the risk of a live performance.
When did you develop an interest in singing? Was there a process to go through for you to feel comfortable singing live, under the watchful eye of an audience?
I’ve always had an interest. I took voice and piano lessons when I was a kid. Also, choir is a big deal in Texas, so I sang lots and lots of choral music from junior high through college. I was in a couple of garage bands when I was in high school. Then, for some reason, I got busy with other stuff and didn’t make music for a number of years. Dumb, right?
Singing in front of an audience comes fairly naturally to me, but learning to play guitar and sing at the same time and do that in front of people has been more challenging. That and the fact that I sing through a lot of loopers and effects pedals, which are subject to the whim of electrical malfunction. But the more I do it, the easier it gets to recover from a mistake or compensate for a technical issue without destroying the vibe. I think the only process has been practice, and the willingness to screw up in front of people, which is guaranteed to happen sometimes no matter how good you get.
You’ve said before that you believe “spirituality is the primary driver of everything we all do, whether we recognize it or not.” Can you give me an example of music or a particular musician who you see as driven by some aspect of spirituality – without realizing it? Alternately, can you tell us about a song that has a strong spiritual connotation for you personally, but for which others may overlook?
Whoa, that’s a big question! First, I guess I should explain what I mean by spirituality, since that word means different things to different people. I mean that we are all made out of nature, and nature is made out of patterns whose mysteries, when unraveled, give rise to even deeper mysteries. There are unseen forces all around us that influence everything that happens to us, whether we notice them or not, and that’s what I mean when I talk about spirituality: how we choose to acknowledge and engage with the forces that push and pull on us all the time.
There is this great documentary about Bob Moog where he says that he considers the work of building synthesizers to be spiritual, since it involves creating an interface for a musician to make music by channeling and responding to the inherent properties of the physics all around us.
Human beings have sensed for a very long time that there is something special about sound. In the Upanishads, the utterance of the sacred sound OM is identified as the field that underlies all of eternity. This sentiment is echoed in the opening lines of the Gospel of John: in the beginning the Word was God. The formation of sound is identical with the process of creation. Interestingly, there is a parallel between the religious notion of the generative properties of sound and the concepts that are currently emerging from theoretical physics.
So to answer your question, I guess I consider the decision to make music at all a spiritual decision. Leonard Cohen says, “There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which are heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Who am I to argue with that?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said the following: “The proclamation of grace has its limits. Grace may not be proclaimed to anyone who does not recognize or distinguish or desire it … The world upon whom grace is thrust as a bargain will grow tired of it, and it will not only trample upon the Holy, but will also tear apart those who force it on them.” Your thoughts? What does “grace” mean to you? What does a double rainbow – all the way – mean to you?
Dude, you’re blowing my mind with these questions. That’s an amazing quote. The idea of “grace” here reminds me of the part of the Sermon on the Mount about casting your pearls before swine, and the thing it brings to mind immediately is the tenuous relationship between art and commerce in our society, where everything is assigned a value and “marketed” whether or not the context of the marketplace is appropriate. I suppose this relationship is doubly strange when the subject of the work in question is the personal spiritual development of the artist.
I realize that the music Midday Veil makes might not be appropriate for everyone at every time. I can see how a song about encountering a dead version of yourself in the Underworld might be sublime in one context and a total buzzkill in another. It’s intensely personal, at times alienating stuff. And yet, we’re a rock band. We make groovy jams and we’ve been getting a surprising amount of regional press and radio play lately. While I know some of the people who encounter us through that new level of exposure will totally dig it, I know there are probably at least as many people who won’t have any idea what to do with it, or will think we’re pretentious assholes, or just plain boring.
So what do you do? If you’re going to be an artist, there’s a certain point where you have to stop worrying about that, just make stuff and put it out there and see what happens. If you thought something was worth making, there’s a good chance someone else will be into it. There’s an even better chance that some people won’t, and that gives you an opportunity to practice deciding what’s constructive criticism and what to ignore. (Easier said than done, right? This is advice I’m always working on taking.)
What does a double rainbow mean to me? Well, obviously the video was totally hilarious because the guy was apparently stoned out of his mind, but I think its popularity also has a lot to do with the intense sincerity of his reaction. He’s having an ecstatic aesthetic experience. He sees the double rainbow and his heart and mind and soul make a connection with it and he totally transcends himself for a moment. It’s beautiful, and that’s how art ought to be, too. If you’re making something, really the best thing you can hope for is to create that kind of connection with a viewer (or a listener, or a reader).
What music have you been listening to lately?
My friends! Have I mentioned that we’re putting out a Portable Shrines compilation?!! It pretty much has all my favorite bands on it … Brother Raven, Master Musicians of Bukkake, Tiny Light, Diminished Men, Janina Angel Bath, AFCGT, Prince Rama, Eternal Tapestry, Night Beats, This Blinding Light, Story of Rats, and so on. Also, we recently played shows with Moon Duo, Climax Golden Twins, Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat dan Singa, Magic Leaves, Sequin Trails, The Why Because, Moonbell and Art Lessing, all of which are awesome.
Other current stuff we’ve been listening to: White Hills, Barn Owl, Emeralds, Expo 70, Blues Control, High Wolf, Broadcast, Jeffertitti’s Nile, Dahga Bloom, NYMPH, Psychic Ills … the stuff Sublime Frequencies puts out: Omar Khorshid, Group Inerane, etc. Ooh … and the new Turkish Freakout compilation! And the Pärson Sound box set. Which isn’t really new, but you know. It’s a new release on vinyl.
Of course, there is also a lot of older stuff I always come back to: Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, American Metaphysical Circus/United States of America, Bessie Jones, Odetta. There is also a steady diet of krautrock. Have you heard this album called “Et Cetera” by Wolfgang Dauner? Our friend Dave turned us onto it. Super weird and good.
What’s next for Midday Veil?
Well, I’ve mentioned the projects that are already in the works (the Portable Shrines comp, the Translinguistic Other label, the upcoming improvised full-length, the videos from the Experimental Television Center, etc.). Meanwhile, I am currently in the process of quitting my day job to work on my creative projects full time. I’ve been working in an art gallery for five years, so basically everything you’ve seen and heard from me up to this point is what a person with a full-time job is able to do on the side. To be honest, it’s hard for me to even imagine what that kind of freedom will be like. I’m excited to see what I’m capable of.
For most of the last two years, our lineup has been a quartet: me, David Golightly on synths, Timm Mason on lead baritone guitar and Chris Pollina on drums. We recently added a bassist named Jayson Kochan to the lineup, so that will really change the contours of what we’re able to accomplish live.
David and I are committed to touring as much as we can in 2011. We will probably end up doing some touring with Midday Veil and some as a duo (which we now call Hair and Space Museum). Midday Veil started out as a duo (our first CDR “End of Time” is stuff we recorded ourselves at home) and I’m interested in spending some more time on the duo now that we have the experience of doing both things.
You will be hearing (and seeing) lots more from us, I promise!