The Olsen Twins of Drone
The other day took me from a positively gray day at the office to an art gallery opening. I walked up the stairs toward the gallery, surprised by its astonishing brightness. Apparently, the artist had put in especially bright fluorescent bulbs himself. I mean, walking into an art opening is usually bright enough -- all white walls and people everywhere -- but this light was blinding. My friend Shea eventually walked up the stairs too and met me outside, headphones in ears, all wide-eyed, and in some sort of trance. He stopped about a foot in front of me before realizing where he was. “What are you listening to, Shea?” I asked. As I suspected from his pale demeanor, distant glances, and the general returning-home-from-a-vision-quest vibe that he was giving off, he was listening to Island Diamonds, a recent LP by LA two-piece Pocahaunted. (I loaned him the album the day before.) From tepees to white-walled rooms with this sprawling murky dubby stuff as his soundtrack, I understood both his confusion and his elation.
Bethany and Amanda comprise Pocahaunted. Most of Pocahaunted's music has been in the murkier, ambient sort of school of primitive experimentalism, but Island Diamonds is all druggy tribal rhythms and hypnotic dub jams, drenched in a grimey sort of reverb that smacks of the desert in a major Alejandro Jodorowsky kind of way. They're El Topo on the streets of California, but they're hard to pin down, extremely prolific, and always trying something new. They've now got several releases out on the likes of Not Not Fun (which Amanda co-runs), Ecstatic Piece, Arbor, Night People, and several more. I talked to Amanda and Bethany about a couple of their new records, Los Angeles, their recording processes, and Patrick Dempsey.
So, did you guys just have band practice?
Amanda: We're about to go in and record our album for Teardrops called Chains. Teardrops is Cali Dewitt's amazing label that has put out such famers as No Age, No Age, and No Age.
Cool, I did an interview with Randy Randall last week. I'm really digging on their new record.
Bethany: Cool, where was Dean? I saw him at Target last week, probably during your interview.
Dean was in Target yeah. Maybe, probably. Anyway, what's the deal with a new album? Do you have anything in mind for this one, if Island Diamonds was your self-proclaimed ‘dub record'?
A: We have one coming out in a few weeks on Weird Forest that has more of a "tribal soul" feel, and we just finished one for Troubleman which is like our "dark raga" album. It's very schizophrenic around here. Tonight's session will be "Pocahaunted does Tom Tom Club." Cross your fingers for us.
I've been so obsessed with Tom Tom Club lately.
A: They're the greatest.
That's kind of a lot of albums you're putting out though!
B: I'm about to move to New York, so we're trying to get as much done as possible. Is it too much? Let me know when it's too much.
It's never enough. How do you guys work though? What's your recording process? Do you often just jam and lay it down to tape?
A: Yeah, you nailed it; no practicing, just one take wonders.
Wow okay. Even on Island Diamonds?
B: Yeah, that one we just did one take, but Bobb Bruno worked his ass off
Yikes. I guess I thought it would've been more mapped out, maybe because it's way more clear and direct than something like Hunted Gathering.
B: The concept of those albums are completely different. Hunted Gathering is supposed to have more of a free-flow vibe, and we tried to make the beats super focused for Island Diamonds.
I was thinking how well your sound works in a dub sort of form.
A: Dub is awesome; it was really inspiring for us during the time we were recording. I would just wake up and do the dishes to weird Soul Jazz box sets, and my husband Britt bought endless rare imports that Pete from Yellow Swans would suggest for us, and then there was the Lee Scratch Perry biography....
"We really like to pride ourselves on being a band that changes."
Awesome. Those Soul Jazz compilations are terrific, eh? A lot of that super old vintage-y dub has kind of a spooky feel to it. A different spooky to you guys, but it makes sense with your sound I think.
A: God -- rich, esoteric, white British men know what's up, right? We should be on Soul Jazz.
Totally. So, is Chains going to be the tribal soul one?
B: No, that's Mirror Mics. Chains is the pop Tom Tom stuff.
Is it quite dark, still?
B: Yeah, I mean... no. No, it's like reggae pop with great jazzy wandering vocals.
A: Noooooo, it's really a Talking Heads Stop Making Sense ‘home' thing. We're not dark people, and we're not spooky. We like to move and be moved; we like to dance and feel rhythmic. This just reflects that.
Yeah it seems obvious that you guys aren't dark people; there seems to be a good sense of humor that comes with it. The stuff I've been reading always describes your music as quite scary/spooky. Would you say you agree with that at all?
B: Maybe because it's a people's projection thing. Like, we're connected to great drone psychedelic music -- and we're proud of that -- but we always want to be slipping in weird beats or pop into it. We get kind of spooky.
A: I mean, if you're alone, listening and watching the eyes of Laura Mars on mute with us playing in the background... yeah, then we're spooky for sure
Yeah, I know what you mean. Actually I was finding Hunted Gathering to be actually quite bright, as I was listening to it before. But maybe because the sun's out in this afternoon.
A: I think it's hopeful, sure.
You seem to like to dress it up a bit as well, making this mythology or mystique to go with the band. This general aesthetic you've got going on seems quite assured.
B: Our aesthetic is really important to us. If we were just our band making music and putting it out there with no mystique, we'd be utterly forgettable and boring. Our art helps us, like our personalities help us.
A: Also, we're women, and so I think to not rest on the weird laurels of Bethany's beautiful goddess voice, we want a bit of spook or mystery. Sometimes I think we're performance art.
Yeah definitely. There's a reasonably fine line between the distinction between music and sound art or performance art. With the aesthetic -- the vision quest kind of native Indian vibe you have going on -- I was wondering if you have any personal connections with the native Indian culture or anything like that?
B: Nah, I took a few native anthropology courses and got really into the culture, rituals, imagery... We have drawn some of our song titles and art from what I've learned, but we're trying to move away from ‘moccasins' or the pun of our band name.
A: Native Americans have amazing traditions, and their storytelling rituals through chanting are absolutely mesmerizing and something we would love to emulate. But now I don't know. Now I guess we're into Africa, haha. Northern Africa at this exact moment.
Which I guess could have connotations of the tribal or the innate. It seems like you guys are pretty into that.
B: I think we just aim to have a final product that is somewhat modern-sounding mixed with something tribal- and antique-sounding. In our personal lives, we both listen to mostly older music, so I think we tend to draw from what it is we listen to. We both have very eclectic tastes in what we listen to, which essentially is the reason we "change" so much. We have so many influences and so many things we want to try. We really like to pride ourselves on being a band that changes.
It seems boring not to -- I mean, me personally, I change everyday, there's so much stuff out there!
A: Seriously! And it's not cool to be like ‘no good music was made after 1975,' but sometimes it's only your own personal influences and inspirations that keep you making music. There is great stuff out there, but we like what we like I guess!
I was thinking that there's definitely some new age kind of vibe about your music and image too. Like ancient stuff translated into a modern voice.
B: I'm into Enya and Yoga; maybe it's me who brings that to the table.
"We like to move and be moved; we like to dance and feel rhythmic."
Yeah, Bethany I was reading somewhere that you have a really new age mom.
B: Yeah she's pretty out there. She has this weird crystal that she asks questions to, and she seriously takes its advice. She is also really into spiritual healing. She also claims she can sense spirits, so she's kind of like a ghost hunter. She's into past lives.
Oh, wow. Does she like your music?
B: Yeah, she really likes it. Both of my parents are really supportive of what I choose to do, and they both really enjoy the band. I think they are kind of confused by it, but they're still into it.
Cool. It seems like the sort of thing parents would think was really weird.
B: The weird thing is, most of the people who I would imagine to think something like ‘this is totally fucked' are really supportive and into it.
I was working at this office job for a couple of weeks, and I was listening to stuff like you guys -- as well as this Heather Leigh Murray record a lot and other noise stuff -- and thinking that if the other people here heard what I was listening to, they'd think I was real wacky or something.
A: My parents think it's totally weird. It's weird and it isn't. Sometimes you forget that the rest of the world isn't listening to Double Leopards and Blues Control. I think we're the least weird of all of it, and that's certainly true. Sometimes I even hear serious melodies and harmonies in our music! That's not weird, but moms... they're into Pink Floyd and Peter Allen, so...
B: To be honest, sometimes I think we're kind of weird. But I think that because we have this really lulling, underlying beautiful vibe hidden underneath a lot of other stuff. It can be appealing to variety of people.
Well, its certainly a long way from the mainstream. Do you feel like that's the case for your everyday lives too?
A: Not exactly the margin, haha. Okay, it's more like our personalities are strange, and definitely when we get together, the strangeness comes out. We're very crazy together, and that makes our music "out" and special, I think.
Do you interact with mainstream culture much? Like TV, movies, music, or whatever?
B: Oh, we are only mainstream culture. We went to see Made of Honor last week. We're both really into TV and celebrities, and seriously, the Olsen twins. Well, at least I am really into them -- Amanda is more into British models.
Oh, rad. I saw Patricky Dempsey on The Late Show the other day, and for some reason, it really made me want to go see that film. But yeah, The Olsen Twins of Drone thing... it seems to make a lot of sense, but I'm not sure why. Do you know?
B: The Olsen Twins of Drone is a joke from Bobb stemming from the fact that one of us looks like a fancy and one of us looks like a crazy, and we drink a lot of tea and talk a lot of shit and hang out together. And then we play drone music, see?
A: I couldn't have said it better myself.
Do you ever find music to be a bit of a boy's club?
B: I think that this style of music can sometimes be looked at as a "boy's club." I have joked before that Amanda and I are making music in a scene filled with "dirty boys." I think that we just roll with it though; there are also some really amazing female musicians in this "scene." Inca Ore, Christina Carter, etc.
Yeah, DIY scenes always seem filled with grungy boys
A: Our fans are mostly men, for sure -- at least at our shows. And yes, our bandmates are mostly men. But so many women make music in every single genre too. We chose this one because it fits our wants and needs as musicians, not because we wanted to make any particular statement about women in the noise/drone scene. We're lucky to be with Christina [Carter] and Liz [Grouper]; we're big fans of theirs, but they're not amazing because they're women -- they're women and they're amazing.
Oh, definitely. Another thing I was wondering about was how you got into making this music, and if you had training in any instruments or anything?
B: My dad is a musician, and I have grown up around music for my entire life. I grew up doing musical theater and took opera lessons, as well as guitar and piano. I'm not a musical genius or anything, but I do have some sort of [musical] background. Amanda and I just came together because I voiced to her my want to make music, but not the kind I had been making in my younger years.
A: I can't play anything or do anything really. I was a playwriting major, and other than that, I dunno. I'm excellent at puzzles.