Love Of Diagrams: Interview
“When people compare us to American indie rock, I have to do a double-take.”
Saying there is no shortage of bands that nod to noise while specializing in melody is like going to a bike race and asking, “did you see that guy in spandex?” Love Of Diagrams, however, stand out from this crowded field of sonic negotiators. In a genre where guitar squeals and effects usually dominate our attention, Love Of Diagrams boast songs based primarily on the fierce interplay of rock's most recognizable elements -- Antonia Sellbach's bass, Luke Horton's guitar, Monika Fikerle's drums -- and it sounds increasingly effortless with each release. Where they used to clamber on top of each other for dominance like a churning dog pile, they now work together to reach more appropriate heights.
Horton and Sellbach were kind enough to sit down and answer some of my questions about how they've explored the songwriting process and the changes between their debut and their new release, Nowhere Forever.
It's only been two years, but it feels like a lot longer. Am I wrong in thinking that has to do with side projects? Can we expect Love of Diagrams to be in full touring mode upon the album release?
Luke: Yeah, there's other bands we're all in, Antonia's other band Beaches are doing particularly well, but really it was just that we spent a lot of time touring in the U.S. over 2007, so we got home and wrote lots of new songs over 2008 and demoed them and then made the record and these things just take time… but yes, we're touring Australia next month, and the USA early 2010, possibly around SXSW, not sure yet. We're yet to confirm a U.S. or UK release for the record, but we're confident someone will put it out. It's the best thing we've ever done and we're very proud of it. We hope Matador hear it and shit their pants.
While you obviously fit in well with American line-ups I feel like I'm always hearing about you and thinking of you as “Australian band Love of Diagrams.” Does that get irritating for you or do you think it's just because you like where you're from and talk about it? What do you think the biggest benefit of being from Australia has been for you?
Antonia: I have been lucky enough to grow up around really potent music scenes. Monika and I grew up in Hobart, Tasmania (Monika was in Sea Scouts), and there was an amazing scene there. Tasmania is very isloated and there were a lot of kids there who had nothing else to do but jam and play music. It was brilliant and it had it's own sound. The way Geelong has its own sound. And to travel over the Pacific Ocean, Dunedin had its own sound. Melbourne also has an amazing music scene. It's really diverse and very inspiring. I wouldn't live here if it wasn't. I guess we feel really lucky that we have grown up in Australia because of the amount of amazing music we have been able to see over here. So when people compare us to American indie-rock, i have to do a double-take. It seems like a quite U.S.-centric perspective. It's not irritating for us to be described as Australian at all. I think it's weird that people aren't aware of more Australian bands.
People who got into you with Mosaic or are just hearing about Nowhere Forever might not know that when you started out you were an instrumental band. What prompted the change in aesthetic?
Luke: We started as an instrumental band because when we started jamming there just didn't seem to be a need for vocals. Antonia was just starting to play bass and I had never played guitar in a band before, and with Monika as such a unique drummer, we were happy just exploring the dynamics between the three instruments. There was enough melody going on with guitar and bass.
"We hope Matador hear it and shit their pants."
As an instrumental outfit you used to record all your jams and try to recreate the parts you liked. How important is jamming to you now?
Luke: It is still a major part of our songwriting process. On this new album, Nowhere Forever, there's probably less songs that came from jams than ever before but we still split our rehearsals between working on structured new songs and jamming. I tend to write songs on my own and bring them to the band fairly complete, whereas Antonia likes to jam on ideas and work out songs that way. I think having these different approaches keeps us from getting too stuck in our ways and also gives certain songs a different feel.
There are groups like Pylon who use repetition almost as an excuse to display different tones and then there are those that repeat things to really get into the minds of their listeners. I'm thinking of those kind of hypnotizing poet figures teens idolize but it doesn't necessarily have to be like that. You seem to fall somewhere in between but closer to Pylon's side of the spectrum. Do you look at lyrical repetition in literary sense or as a reoccurring sound?
Antonia: For me, repetition has always been a way of expanding a song, of sitting on a word or a lyric or a moment in time or an idea and allowing it to grow, instead of continually moving on with the narrative. I find narrative really tricky. It's almost anathema to me. I don't like overly explaining things. I like the idea that people are able to read thier own meanings into the songs even if there is a specific meaning embedded inside.
“Static Information” and “Forever” remind me of Sonic Youth's Rather Ripped both in terms of being more melodic but also in that they manage to be laid back but still avoid feeling washed out and stuporous. Has playing alongside them affected you more than say, general influence in your past?
Luke: We've only played with them once, but of course it was pretty momentous for us. Someone else said “Forever” reminded them of Dinosaur Jr., and neither of these bands were in our minds when we wrote these songs, but certainly subconsciously they inform our approach to music in some way, along with a lot of other bands that use noise and melody. I think we're getting better at writing songs generally, combining our love of noisy, dissonant guitar textures and also a love of melodic vocal ideas and harmonies. Two years ago no-one would ever have called us laid back, and even now it's really only the drawn out vocal lines that lend the songs what you might call a dreaminess, or more laid-back vibe, and that's just a reflection of us getting better at using vocals.
“Forever” was the first track you showcased from this album and as it's semi-titular I probably read a little too far into it but you can't help but notice how far down in the mix Monika's drums are. Since one of your goals for Mosaic was to capture the live power behind the drums does this represent a shift in your goals for this album?
Luke: For Mosaic we knew we were pressed for time and that Bob was great at getting live sounds so we went with that and tried to capture the sound of the band live. This record we spent three weeks, although we still felt like we were working against the clock... That's because we spent a few months at home in Melbourne working on demos of the songs, building them up with lots of guitar sounds and effects, and we were trying to reproduce that in the studio at Bear Creek. We really wanted this album to have more variety in terms of sounds, song structures, mixes etc -- to sound like a really great album rather than a document of a live band. So we approached each song individually, and really questioned every assumption about where things should sit in the mix, etc. I wanted “Forever” to big a wash of guitars and with this pop melody on top, and the drums are there, and very integral, but to achieve that wall of guitars, they had to sit back a bit.
“For me, repetition has always been a way of expanding a song.”
Initially I heard Bob Weston was working on this album but it looks like Ryan Hadlock was actually manning the producer's chair. How did that change the process?
Luke: Bob was never going to do this one. We love Bob and had a blast making a record with him, and we like that album, but this one seemed so different in terms of how the songs were written, through home recording demos and not through playing live etc, that we thought it would be good to approach the whole thing differently. Ryan was great at capturing live sounds very quickly, like Bob, but it was really the added time that made the difference, and perhaps it is more Ryan's style to spend this amount of time and really work on different sounds and textures.
For Mosaic you were just grabbing studio time as you could when you were in the states right?
Luke: Yes, Mosaic was recorded in 8 days at Electrical Audio. We really wanted to spend more time on this one. Originally we were talking to Guy Picciotto about working with him but it became very hard to schedule it, and he suggested Ryan, who he worked with on the Blonde Redhead records, etc., and Bear Creek is such a beautiful place, a big timber farmhouse type feel, with lodging in the studio, so it seemed a like a perfect place to spend 3 weeks making a record. We didn't tour at all on that trip, we liked the idea of just going over to do that and having nothing else to worry about.
You're releasing your first single on your own label, what prompted the formation of Free Field? Is it more to ensure your own freedom or do you see it as a way to expose other bands?
Luke: We are too busy to start a label right now, but it would be great to put out some other 7 inches. Both Antonia and I have solo projects, Wide Galaxy and This Free Field, so we'll probably put something out by both of these within the next year. But mostly this was just a way of putting out something by ourselves before the album came out.
One of the major themes of this album seems to be the relationship between time and space and explores how they can be incomprehensible. Aside from more obvious references like the album title and or explicit lyrics you can hear nods to it in the composition of “winding” or the lyrics on magnifying about magnifying in slow motion – which would make it seem like the viewer was actually approaching the object. What attracted you to this dynamic?
Antonia: When you work on something really closely sometimes you can loose sight of the reoccurring themes... they just become sub-conscious and familiar so you stop over thinking them or what they are or mean anymore... So i had to give this a little more thought. I've always been interested in temporality. The title Nowhere Forever has multiple meanings. It is kind of a dig at being dropped from dream label Matador and it also points towards mortality. Which is an issue that for me is also steeped with themes like space and time. There are no guidelines to deal with death. Its off the charts... off the map, it's new territory where you can no longer apply the stable and formal concepts of space and time. I think that was a big preoccupation (or me at least) when we were writing this album.
The name Love of Diagrams, some of your song titles like "form and function" or "figure 1" and the music itself hints at an appreciation of structure, which I think a lot of the people putting you in the no-wave tradition miss. Do you think of yourselves as more regimented and disciplined or lax and spontaneous either as a band or as individuals?
Antonia: ... we aren't very regimented at all! A lot of our songs are based on us just seeing what happens. Back when we started Love Of Diagrams in 2000 me and Luke had been listening to the band Unwound a lot and in one of their albums they had this diagram, which makes absolutely no sense at all. I think it was a diagram of the sound or something but it was the most genius thing. We were drawn towards the way they looked... kind of organized and structured and also this idea that they are these useful things which help us communicate. From the simplest thing to the most complex thing... and they can also be completely ridiculous and nonsensical too.