Motion Sickness Of Time Travel: Interview
“I’ve always just used what I have or what I can afford.”
Motion Sickness Of Time Travel is the solo project of Rachel Evans. Since 2009, she has recorded and released a substantial number of limited-edition cassettes, LPs, and CDs on labels such as Digitalis, Aguirre, and Hobo Cult. She is one-half of the duo Quiet Evenings, along with her husband Grant Evans (Nova Scotian Arms, Moss Swarm), and also plays in Aerial Jungle and Modern Lamps. Evans and her husband also own and operate Hooker Vision, a meticulously curated label that they run from their home in LaGrange, Georgia. The sound of MSOTT is Evans’ heavily treated vocals swimming in layers of drone, synthesizer arpeggios, and dusty analog hum. MSOTT is a series of meditations on a love both private and mystical, as well as universal and timeless. These mantras are etched onto magnetic tape with a minimum of editing or post-production.
This month sees the release of both a self-titled double LP on Spectrum Spools, a subsidiary of Editions Mego, and a two-track album called Traces, which acts as the inaugural release for new label A Guide To Saints. TMT spoke to Evans via email to learn more about the project.
The new double LP is your first eponymous album, and it’s also quite long. Should people view this one as a definitive statement about the project?
I’ve never done a self-titled LP before, and didn’t have that in mind when I first started working on the album material. After about 7 months or so of working on the music the original title I had in mind for the album didn’t seem to fit so much. The more I played around with other titles for the release I kept coming back to the idea of doing a self-titled album. When I finally finished all of the music the only title that seemed to work for the album as a whole was just calling it Motion Sickness of Time Travel. I wanted the music on the album to embody what the project has come to mean to me as much as possible, and I felt like the finished product was a good representation of where I’m at right now with the project. In that way it is a definitive statement, although I didn’t intend to do that at first… it just fell into place that way.
It seems like you are working with the same basic set of sounds and techniques as on previous releases, but everything is a little more crystallized… thicker. How did your techniques change or refine on this album?
My techniques when recording this album were the same for all my previous albums. I always track on top of myself until I feel a piece is finished. And even though most recordings are done in one sitting, I recorded material for this album over a really long period of time. I’ve never worked on an album as much as this one before so maybe the fact that I just spent more time on it, and the recordings that make up the album come from a wider range of a time frame, maybe that adds to it. I also used some Max/MSP on this album to create some more specific effects, especially for the vocal parts on the D-side and end of the B-side. I think that helped add to the thickness. It had been more than a year (maybe two?) since I’d worked with Max when I started using it for this album’s material. Synth-wise I used the same synthesizers and electronics as I have on my previous albums and tapes. One big difference in the “thickness” of the sound, I think, has to be credited to Lawrence English. He mastered the audio for vinyl and that really added a lot to the thickness of the sounds overall.
Unlike a lot of synth-heavy underground acts, you don’t seem very purist about analog and modular synthesis.
I’m not trying to sound like a specific type of music from the past, and although I’d like all my gear to be analog and modular I just don’t have that kind of stuff. Analog/modular synths are more pricy than digital, and I’ve always just used what I have or what I can afford. I got my first truly analog synth (Dave Smith Mopho) in February 2011, and it’s become my favorite piece of gear. I have a couple of smaller synths that are analog, like my Space Synth, but I also use a Microkorg and digital effect pedals. So yeah, you’re right in assuming I use a combination of analog and digital. Just doing the best with what I’ve got.
I can relate your work to 1970s and 1980s kosmische/new-age music — Ashra, Upper Astral, etc. — but you don’t seem very interested in specific reference points. Do you ever use older music as inspiration or a creative starting point for your compositions?
I don’t have any specific reference points that I draw from when I start new compositions. Although I’ve heard a lot of music like that, I listen to newer music much more often, and I think my compositions come from a composite of those influences. When recording this album I was actually listening to Grant’s solo music a whole lot (especially his double cassette Winds) and I think that influence is really obvious, especially in certain parts of the album.
You have said elsewhere that your music is largely improvised. Do you tend to build your pieces vertically? In other words, do you improvise for 20 minutes, then overdub on top of that?
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Everything I record (unless it’s a one-take “live” recording) is built vertically, improvising on top of myself until I feel it’s fleshed out. As I said in a previous question, that’s usually done in one sitting. Sometimes two or three sittings, but 90% of the time in one sitting over the course of an hour or two. The music on the new album was recorded in pieces, more like “songs,” in single sittings like that with layers of improvising. In January of this year I arranged the tracks together into suites and did a little post-editing to connect tracks that weren’t originally recorded together. Everything but the C-side was done that way. The C-side, though, is one complete piece, no overdubs or layers.
As far as tapes being fashionable, there’s a large group of people who never stopped releasing tapes, and in that way tapes have always been “fashionable.”
I can’t make out the words in your music, but the presence of them is intriguing. Do you remember any of the lyrics that you could share with us, or is it all channeled on the spot and subsequently forgotten?
I never write anything down word-wise. And I usually forget them myself because it is all channeled on the spot. But with some tracks I can pick out what I’m saying because some words/phrases just stick with me. I’ve also listened to this album quite a bit myself (something I don’t do with most of my music), so it’s easier for me to remember some words more than others. There’s also a lot of vocal sounds that aren’t words at all, just oh’s, ah’s, and things like that. Here’s a little breakdown per side of the “lyrics”, if you can call them that:
- “The Dream” (A-side) only has vocals in one section, and it’s “I am the universe” being repeated over and over.
- “The Center” (B-side) I can’t remember the words for the first segment of that suite really, but can pick out the last bit: “I can see the way it goes… someday”. The second segment is in my memory much more, and includes: “Is there a way I never knew; take the oceans tide in your hand, find it new; All alone time goes away…” And the last segment includes: “Stay inside, the dark side I see; you and me; like a… ; as far as the eye can see; You and I; You and me like a…We’ve gone to the edge of our minds, and we’ve come back again… I’ve never seen anything so so so; I’m seeing it all for the first time again; Like a dark star, a dream, and you with me; it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. You and I are the center of everything… Find our way outside… I’ve never seen. Oh, nothing is the same as being wrapped up in your arms; you and I are the center of everything.”
- “Summer of the Cat’s Eye” (C-side) doesn’t have any recognizable words that I remember, mostly because that recording was one live take and I didn’t listen to it as much since there was no multitracking involved.
- “One Perfect Moment” (D-side) has vocals in several places. The first part of that side says: “Cheer up babe, what’s hapennin’ to you” and the last part is something like: “I can see where we roam, like a dream, I am home…” over and over.
I think all sounds have a visual quality to them. When I make videos for myself or anyone else I’m trying to make the video look like the sound feels to me. My husband Grant has been a huge influence on me as far as exposing me to abstract films and older cinema, so I guess those influences come out in the music, too.
How is your working method in MSOTT similar/different to what you do with Grant in Quiet Evenings?
Well as I said MSOTT is me tracking to myself most of the time, and only sometimes do I record live one-take tracks. With Quiet Evenings, Grant and I typically record in the same room and capture all our sounds live in one take. Then we’ll line our two pieces up together and do a little mixing. We’ve done a couple of albums (like Transcending Spheres) by passing tracks back and forth doing a more layered approach, but generally that’s the big difference between the two recording methods. MSOTT is layered tracks, and QE is essentially live recordings.
Hooker Vision is such a carefully curated label. How do you decide what is released on the label?
Grant started Hooker Vision so he’d be better at answering these questions. He’s still the head-honcho. As far as what’s released, we usually don’t contact artists since nine times out of 10 all the releases are by friends we’ve been in touch with from releasing our own music on their tape labels. We get some demo submissions too, but generally we stick to releasing people we’re already in contact with or already working with in some way. Some artists, like Aloonaluna, get in touch with us first. The cover art is both me and Grant and it all depends on the music in the batch. Grant and I both do the collage part; sometimes it’s one he made, sometimes one I made, other times we make collages together with a certain artist’s music in mind. For example, the Riviere Amur tape, Lace Bows tape, and Former Selves tape, collages were made by both of us, sort of passing collages back and forth until it looked just right. The Nuojuva tape collage was all Grant, and the Sashash Ulz tape collage was done by me. But the inside artwork for all the tapes, and the imprinting designs are all done by Grant. Grant also does all of our Hooker Vision LP cover art, layout of the back covers, and label designs.
There have been some blog debates lately arguing about the merits of cassettes as a physical format. On one side, people claim that the recent popularity of the format is due to fashionable retro-fetishism; on the other side are those who note the cheapness and special qualities of cassettes. As the co-curator of a label that releases mostly cassettes, what do you think about the format?
I think cassettes are amazing. I’m more with the second camp. Tapes are really affordable to make and produce, and they allow smaller labels like us to continue to afford releasing music. I also think cassettes have certain qualities (like any format) that are unique; tapes have a certain sound and it really lends itself well to a variety of music. Tapes are also pretty durable and since they’re small they’re easier to store and cheaper to ship too. There’s also a nostalgic thing, most people our age grew up with tapes more than they did vinyl, and in some cases more than CDs. I remember being one of the last kids when I was in middle school to get a CD player, and it was always easier to record to tape on a crappy boombox than it was to record any other way (especially before I had my own computer). As far as tapes being fashionable, there’s a large group of people who never stopped releasing tapes, and in that way tapes have always been “fashionable.” Some formats just never go out of style, like vinyl. Even when tapes and vinyl become less “cool” there will always be people who release in those formats no matter what. Certain people just prefer certain formats. I wouldn’t call it retro, just classy.