APRIL IN THE ORANGE

17 May

“This ‘British country music’ tapped indigenous roots, while fashioning the sound of modern tailoring. It tends to play up the atmospheric effects that the countryside seen most transcendent – offering an organic experience as far removed as possible from the urban. Time runs slower in the country; magic, myth and murder  intertwine and have not yet been swept out of its mysterious corners. If some of it verged on easily satirized tweeness … at it’s best it retained the tumbledown hardiness of a drystone wall. Running away from the city can bring ecstatic highs and inner peace, but it can also bring the refugee face to face with nature at its most forbidding and alien. The poet Edward Thomas, reviewing his ‘Georgian’ contemporaries verse in 1913, could well have been describing British country music half a century in the future: ‘It shows much beauty, strength and mystery, and some magic – much aspiration, less defiance, no revolt – and it brings out with great cleverness many sides of the modern love of the simple and primitive, as seen in children, peasants, savages, early men, animals and nature in general.” – Rob Young, excerpt from the chapter “A Collection of Antiques and Curious,” from his singular book, “Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.”

The words above were written about an entire musical form, and (to our knowledge) not written with any knowledge of the music made by April in the Orange.

Yet Mr. Young’s words – with the exception of some slight differences in detail, like the fact that April in the Orange hail from upstate New York, and not the mythical Albion of yore, and that discerning minds may wish to replace the word “country” with “folk” – seem to be precisely on target when communicating why we’ve fallen so hard for their music.

Certainly, these words are better than the few words of praise we were able to conjure when we applied the dubious distinction of “Band of the Week” to the duo back in January of this year. Certainly, these words have more meat on their bones than our meager – yet heartfelt – non-explanation that April in the Orange’s music “fills us with a complex combination of comfort, longing and awe … as much energy in the chiming, charge of guitar that opens [their] song[s] as we would in more than a million metallic marches … [and] it feels – just at the moment the song drifts toward domineering drone – like all the mysteries of the universe are just seconds away from being answered.”

The mysterious of the universe are not answered by April in the Orange, of course (excepting for the fact that … maybe they are), but our questions about their mind and their music were answered, in this case by guitarist and vocalist Andrew Barrett.

Can you pinpoint one or two specific moments in your adolescence wherein you realized that music would be a large and important part of your life? What was it about those experiences that have kept them in your mind year after year? What impact did your family life have on your musical development?

I have been turning my mind over in the eerie warmth of this mid-March sun, but I don’t believe there are any epiphanies of a future musical vocation to be found in my adolescence. The adolescent initiation into music was more a process shrouded in fog. The true epiphanies lie further back in time – memories of pre-adolescent listening which hinted at a future passion for music and sonic texture. There were several times during my early childhood when I happened to hear the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata…perhaps at my grandmother’s home during time-solid Saturday afternoons…the impact of that music was so complete yet so elusive and seemingly outside of the emotional ken of my young mind that I still can’t really understand the essence of what I hearing – or thought I was hearing. I suppose all that matters is the wordless profundity of the sensation. I later found out that my grandfather – who was an amateur classical pianist and passed away some years before I was born – spent many hours perfecting Moonlight Sonata and I have often wondered if my rapturous and dislocating response to Beethoven’s arpeggios can be attributed to some form of creative, genetic memory. As for the second memory, my mother was a great fan of the first wave of British folk-rock from the late 60’s and was in the habit of playing a number of LPs from the era when I was a child. Whenever “Cam Ye O’er Frae France” from Steeleye Span’s Parcel Of Rouges came out of our small, grey, circa 1985 speakers, I was instantly transfixed. The sheer sonic presence of that track’s arrangement (that thoroughly corroded electric guitar, snare, mandolin, harmonium and Maddy Prior singing in a Scots dialect so thick as to be incomprehensible) appealed to the aesthetic awareness I was developing through my interest in drawing and visual art and I am fairly certain that is when I first realized that sound/music was a medium lush with creative possibilities.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPad App

When did you make the leap from (presumably) being a fan of music to making your own, and by extension, when did you start playing guitar? Can you think of one thing you know about your sensibilities in regard to creating music that might have served you during the infancy of your writing? What has been the most challenging part of developing your style of guitar playing, either from a technical or perhaps a mental/spiritual perspective?

Somewhere around the age of 14, amidst the fog-swathed transformation, I became hounded (it was a feeling almost external) by the need to create through the guitar and songforms-cum-aural shapes. I even remember writing songs for the guitar before I had a guitar – impossible, most likely laughable howls scrawled out in an illegible, personal notation. Visual art was proving insufficient for the inchoate tumult of the fogged years and my evolving awareness of music’s emotional tactility was beginning to fill the void. I soon realized that not only did I need an instrument, but I needed a way to record, because I was more interested in recordings, sonic textures, and the plastic possibilities of tape than I was in performance. I still am. So I got a Tascam 4-track on a payment plan from the local music store and set to slowly writing songs through the process of recording them. Songwriting for me is still a reason to layer and to sculpt the guitar, to shade timbres and notes via the recording process – which I do now on what is a somewhat rickety 7 year old laptop and a two track tape machine from the 70’s (ghost of grandfather again) instead of the Tascam 4-track of my adolescence.

The first few months of learning guitar were the most difficult chapter in my musical education. Once I made it atop that initial plateau, the whole endeavor became a lot less frustrating and a lot more fun. I was interested in developing a wide range of styles – finger-picking, solos, de-tuning, riffing, beating at the thing with lengths of pipe – and ever since I mastered the rudiments, it has been a fairly steady course of progression, of trying to develop the unique voice. 2008 was an exception. Another plateau. I spent several hard months grappling with a double thumbing technique. Once I got a hold of it, a whole dimension of mutant finger-picking patterns opened up for me and greatly enriched my technique. I didn’t really leave my house for months and played my strings till their sound went dead – a first for me. “Siva Casting Dice” and “Vale Of Fire” come from this stage of development. As for spirituality, it is always something of a struggle to reach the flow-state, that luminous space where the demons of thought remove themselves from the equation. The ability to arrive there a little more peacefully is something that I want to work on.

We ask about the guitar not only because of our errant forays into the six-string forest (the less said about, the better), but also for the compelling way in which the music of April in the Orange makes use of a variety of guitar sounds and styles within its songs. Was this an important element in the formation of April in the Orange, or was it more driven by your sound evolving naturally? Which guitarists still make your jaw drop a bit? What guitarists do you appreciate who utilize a style or approach far, far different from your own?

My first instrument is an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar and some kind of recording setup. So yes, that aspect of our sound has been there (courtesy of my proclivities) since the very beginning – and of course in the beginning it was just me anyway. As for guitarists who cause jaw to meet linoleum…I still can’t get a handle on Davy Graham, Skip James, Django Rheinhardt, Richard Thompson, Robert Fripp. It would seem all of those guys have/had secret brain lobes which light into existence and flash about, Simon Says style, whenever they pick/picked up a guitar. Their respective techniques are almost magical or non-human to me. The more proximate influences (to my mind) are less mysterious but they still have the ability to astound – a Tom Verlaine solo or Bert Jansch lick, or those savory guitar parts Paul McCartney scattered throughout the back half of the Beatles catalogue, can still flutter my mind. And there are a number of guitar players whose work I appreciate even though their approaches to the instrument can’t readily be traced in my own playing. I can’t ever imagine playing quite like Johnny Smith, Jeff Cotton, Baden Powell, or Arto Lindsay, but I love what they do.

Where do you think your (presumed) love of the mystical side of folk rock (for lack of a better term) stems from? What continues to fascinate you about this music as you create your own? And from what part of your being does the desire to make absolutely loud and wild electric guitar sounds spring, and how did it come to be that you integrated this approach into the sound of April in the Orange? We’re thinking specifically of the song “Green Glass” from “The Glittering Fish Were Stars” as an example of this sound – perhaps we’re being a bit dilettantish in our description of “quiet guitars meet loud guitars”?

I have an admittedly natural inclination towards the mystical, a natural drive to describe that pre-religious intuition for a divine that hums beneath the mundane, ripples through the natural world and illuminates humanity’s faculties for creation and compassion. Strains of folk music tend to harmonize with such a disposition. Folk musics can be satirical but they are hardly ever cynical. Folk musics have the ability to announce the texture of our preternatural consciousness whilst dodging the excessive self-awareness found in more deliberate genres of expression, if that makes any sense. Hmmm. Or: it is as if folk musics still offer one the chance to circumvent the fractured, fast-moving complexity that is the industrial and post-industrial endowment of post-Western life and strive for some kind of radiant connection between self and the perceived world, the worlds of the senses. That can be very appealing. Hence, this slow-burning, myriad revival in folk musics, pre-articulate Noise and ethnomusicology? Hmm. Also, more personally and simply, British/Celtic strains of folk constitute a kind of first music for me, a roots music. As I mentioned, my mother was a fan, so I have lived with that music for a long time and revisit it often for nourishment.

The contemplative, quiet, mystical – whatever one wants to call it – dimension to our songs springs from the same place, creatively, as the loud electric guitars. It is a unified sound that we are after, which is nevertheless given a palpable sense of texture via a conscious manipulation of dynamics and the contrasting of sonorities. For “Green Glass”, I was trying to achieve something almost raga-like in the arrangement and execution of the song: a long, subtly formed electric guitar solo under-girded by an acoustic guitar rhythm rich with harmonic information…much like the fundamental rhythms of a raga seem to lie within the slow-pulsing harmonics of the tanpura and the vibrant overtones of the tabla. It could also be said that I am asking one to look at the electric guitar solo as an exercise that need not be bolstered by electric bass and a trap drum kit…

On the topic of meeting, what can you tell us about the relationship between you are your co-conspirator in April in the Orange, Samantha Linn? Was making music together a decision arrived at mutually, or did one bring the initial idea to the other? What has been the most pleasantly surprising thing about your musical collaboration up to this point? How, if at all, do you think that spirit of collaboration has benefitted you outside of your work with April in the Orange?

Since both Samantha and myself each dedicated our individual creative consciousnesses to music long before our meeting, the decision to meld our musical inclinations was most certainly a natural one…at least that is how I remember it. A “why don’t you try singing harmony on this song of mine?”, “why don’t you come up with a guitar lick for this song I’ve been working on?” weekend afternoon at home kind of situation. I think our differing approaches to songwriting and the construction of melody are the most wonderfully serendipitous elements of our musical collaboration. Samantha writes songs to write songs in the purest sense and has a innate gift for lyrical melody. I write songs in order to have material to record and then rather torturously extract melody from my harmonic and rhythmic tendencies…I think our musical relationship…lends extra layers of meaning to the life of day to day.

What are the differences in your mind – musically or thematically – between “The Glittering Fish Were Stars” and the “When A River Meets the Sea” LP? How, if at all, would you compare these works to the upcoming “The Song of Green That Echoes Through the Ice”? How do you think your immediate surroundings impact the music you make?

It can be rather difficult to discuss the musical and thematic qualities of our records – only because we don’t sit down and record an album, per se. We are constantly recording and, when the time feels right, we cull from the material that has accumulated and sequence a record. And that process is very mysterious and more visceral than cerebral. A “feel” for a record will emerge and then we will doggedly pursue the further expression of that “feel” through the subtle art of sequencing and editing. I suppose I can say that each side of The Glittering Fish Were Stars is meant to reflect its twin in an image of failed perfection…a reality whose verity is enforced by the reflection of its own finely graded falsity, as it were. An organization that is easy to recognize but harder to understand. Back to the folk rock mysticism again. When A River Meets The Sea is more of a woven song, continuous. We were interested in creating a long record where drones and vocal-based songs would twine around one another, dependant on your point of hearing, in a manner more or less seamless – kind of like Another Green World or Wish You Were Here. With the Song Of Green That Echoes Through The Ice we have tried to pack the maximalist textures of our longer songs into songs that are generally only two, three, four minutes long. An exercise in the polished, concise expanse. As for surroundings having an impact on our music, Detroit’s metal-fed bucolic noir definitely shaped – positively and negatively – The Glittering Fish Were Stars. However, I think as time sambas on, our music responds more and more to inner landscapes.

Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that you once began recording a self-referential, Monkees-esque introductory song specifically for the benefit of new listeners, but had to abandon the project when you couldn’t find a word to rhyme with “orange”?

Oh, it is all true. It was Michael Nesmith’s idea. I tried to resist but his perfectly perched wool hat was too persuasive and the laugh-track kept offering me carrots just out of reach. Finally, we watched Head in Betamax res and landed on the totally “now” concept of eye rhymes. Turns out the masses weren’t into the silent cream of “orange” and “flange.” Bummer…

Where do your music and your avocation intersect? Do you find that one can influence the other on a regular basis? What we know about Greek literature could fit into a thimble with room to spare – what do we chance missing out on due to our ignorance? Do you find specific parallels between ancient times and (in your wonderfully appropriate words) “these grey, rampant plutocrat times”?

Translation and music are both creative acts. The translation process and the making of music are both filled with timeless hours of peace (or frustration) punctuated by the illuminating moment, the ecstatic rush of creative recognition. In each case you start with a vague idealization of the to-be-realized-creation, a statue hewn from fog seen at dawn on some distant or neighboring hill, and it is only through the process, the work, that the true contours of the translation or the song come into focus and you find that it wasn’t a fog-statue at all, but a chimney carved out of soap or a wooden hedgehog and that the hill was really a lake…and lest we forget, all creation is an act of translation…

Ancient Greek literature, despite the paucity of surviving manuscripts, is exceedingly rich – full of humor and humanism, lyrical poetry and narrative sophistication. If nothing else, everyone should be familiar with the Odyssey. It boasts the fragmented storytelling of Faulkner or Pulp Fiction, a cast of characters as complex and realized as anything in Shakespeare, flashes of pure poetry, and a playful self-awareness concerning the nexus of  authorship, narrative and audience, which we tend to associate with modern and not ancient literature. The curious should then seek out Heraclitus, world history’s finest rational mystic, and, of course, the man I have been translating, Nonnus. Nonnus’ Dionysiaca with all of its imagery, ritual cadences and insanity is sure to please the eccentric who likes an April in the Orange cut now and again.

The parallels between the Roman Empire in decline and USA’s current state of moral and political decrepitude are now so obvious that to enumerate them is to puke garum and corn syrup into a barrel, as it were. Know that in essence we are the same and that we would do better to take note of elements of archaic Greek culture. Gently build our theaters into the natural slopes of a hill, cultivate an intuitive sense for the sun as powerful hallucinogenic, heed with a certain fear the nymph that lives in a tree and Pan who giggles under the shoots, understand that the whole thing quivers, is alive, and you are of it and that it is not your choice.

From Anne Michael’s 1996 novel “Fugitive Pieces” – which, coincidentally, won Britain’s Orange Prize for Fiction that year – comes the following:

“’Reading a poem in translation … is like kissing a woman through a veil,’ and reading Greek poems, with a mixture of Katharevousa and the Demotic, is like kissing two women. Translation is a kind of transubstantiation; one poem becomes another. You choose your philosophy of translation just as you choose how to live: the free adaptation that sacrifices detail to meaning, the strict crib that sacrifices meaning to exactitude. The poet moves from life to language, the translator moves from language to life; both like the immigrant, try to identify the invisible, what’s between the lines, the mysterious implications.”

Your thoughts?

Perfectly stated.

What’s next for April in the Orange?

Nebulous live shows, the release of Song Of Green That Echoes Through The Ice (details to follow) the possible inclusion of more hands to make said nebulous live shows more rich, more writing and recording from the song-hoard. Also, the //cae-sur-a// label is soonly putting out a tape, entitled In The Mirror Under The Mirror (the original, possibly secret antecedent to The Glittering Fish Were Stars — sometimes this band is a kabalistic game of appellations) of some of our earliest (circa 2007) and, I think, best songs.

April in the Orange

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: