Lily and Horn Horse “It’s hard to answer your question because we haven’t figured it out.”

If dreams were quicker, if the days between them — the stuff they come out of, the stuff that informs them — were easier to forget, life might start to feel something like Lily and Horn Horse’s latter release of 2017, Next To Me. The album compresses a magnitude of instants into a singular fast-acting release. It’s a tangible, affecting world of sound that blurs and undoes itself with collision and reprise. In 25 minutes, a listener can be immersed in the larger experience of 19 micro-movements, built up of interlocked MIDI counterpoint and blissfully floating melodies. The result is an album with an incredibly clear self-definition.

I spoke with Lily and Matt (a.k.a. Horn Horse) over the phone on the day of the release of Next To Me (Ramp Local). Our conversation became a long, sprawling, and at times introspective event. It occurred just after the two had gone on tour with The Cradle and Eyes Of Love (for which Lily and Matt were each, respectively, behind the drums) and the duo’s own tour opening for Deerhoof.


How are you guys doing?

Lily: We’re doing pretty well, my day was boring and Matt had a good day.

Matt: I never said that. [laughter] How are you?

I’m pretty good. Congrats on your release!

Lily: Thank you!

Are you doing a show for that?

Lily: Not for that but we are going on tour in a few days that happened to be at the right time. Opening for Deerhoof starting on the 29th.

What will the live set look like for you guys at the Deerhoof shows?

Lily: You mean like the setup?

Yeah what’s the setup and what’s the flow?

Lily: We’ve actually been struggling with that recently.

Matt: We’re in Hudson, NY, right now where we both used to live and where Lily’s parents live and so we’re staying with them. There’s a building here in Hudson that is run-down, but some kind of corporate litigation lawyer bought the building and he happens to be a generous person and rents it out for some affordable rates to artists, and so we’re using that space right now. It used to be a school so it has a big auditorium in it, and so we’ve been practicing in there and trying to figure out some spectacular… performance.

Lily: However, it is spectacular in its own way, but it is not… it’s what we do every time. There is basically the track, which Matt has mostly created, then we sing over it because it’s pretty hard to do a band version of those tracks since they’re all electronic. Matt has a trumpet and a baritone horn that he plays live over it. So that’s how we do it and we sort of just play. All of our songs are really short, so we play like a good number of songs that end up being only a 25 minute set. We often dance together. There is some performance.

Choreographed?

Lily: By accident. There are a few choreographed moments but the majority of it is on-the-spot strange movements.

Very cool. So it’s all karaoke-style then.

Lily: It is. Karaoke-/horn-style.

Have you guys done that much in the past, either Matt solo as Horn Horse or Lily with any other projects?

Matt: Well, I haven’t performed with brass really before this project (and this project has been going on for only a year or so) and other than that…

Lily: …you played drums.

Matt: That’s all confidential, but Lily is in Palberta.

Yes.

Lily: That’s not what he’s asking. Yes, I have done karaoke-style performances in the past, before I met Matt, but when we first started performing we actually had more of an elaborate set-up that proved to be more of a maze than a good idea. But it was that I would play electric guitar randomly at times, and there were keyboard parts, and Matt also would play live drums over it… It became very confusing-sounding, and it was physically hard to do. People said they liked it but they’re lying, I think this might be better but I miss playing live sometimes.

Matt: This year I acquired an electronic drum set, but sometimes I use the interface of that drum set, which is like a plastic box. It’s like the cheapest electronic drum set brand but it can mount on a cymbal stand and sometimes I suspend…

Lily: Sometimes Matt just pulls out a cowbell and just starts smacking on it during one of the songs, and it’s very distracting when he does it. But sometimes we add a little percussion.

Matt: Yeah, according to Lily it’s never attractive. It never sounds attractive.

The cowbell?

Matt: Yeah, confusing and not appealing to you. Right?

Lily: It’s just… Yeah, I would have to say yes.

Matt: Okay, but then I still try it, I try it in every possible way just to make sure it’s still not OK.

But one time it might work, right?

Matt: Yes, sometime in the future.

Yeah, I think I’ve noticed the Karaoke performance thing happen a lot more lately like in the last year or so.

Lily: Yeah.

And I think everyone has a bit of a different reason for it, or approach to it, and I think what you’re describing is actually different from what I’ve seen. You’re finding freedom in it to do other things, whereas I’ve seen a lot of people doing choreography or have little skits going on… kind of using it to enforce structures, but it’s interesting that it frees you guys up in a way, is that accurate?

Lily: It does free us up.

Matt: Yeah there’s not as much to preoccupy us.

Lily: But I think the real reason is we just can’t, I think one day, I think soon we want to move away from the karaoke performance.

Matt: We don’t really have a good reason for it.

Lily: No, we actually do have a good reason. It’s that we can’t perform the songs we currently have any other way, and that people have sometimes liked it for some reason, so we just keep doing it. But we need to change that because playing live instruments is so much more fun.

Matt: I don’t know. I like having less obligations, technical obligations.

Lily: It’s kinda scary and fun to just be a person standing there on a stage.

Matt: It’s weird, it’s really awkward and I know that it’s irresponsible, but I think sometimes, yeah, it actually is enabling in some situations. But most of the time we don’t know what to do with that freedom. So it’s just sort of default to default personality, and cross your fingers and hope that people don’t dislike your personality.

Lily: Yeah, sometimes I’ll dance and everyone is laughing and I don’t know why because it’s not that funny, I think, and then Matt is just behind me imitating my dance moves.

Matt: So that’s the extent of the boredom and idleness that you’re describing, so it’s hard to figure out what to do. Maybe not hard, but we certainly struggle with it.

Lily: It’s hard to answer your question because we haven’t figured it out.

That makes sense. Matt you used the word irresponsible. Why do you say that? And then I’ll get off the Karaoke thing after that.

Matt: Okay. Well, usually when people use samples they’re shorter and they incorporate them in smaller fragments that are triggered in a live musical way, where[in] the musicality of sampling happens in the performance. We don’t really do that so we just, we use iTunes and we press the space bar. Recently we’ve upgraded our technique by adding 20 second silences at the end of every track. Now we actually have to press forward to go to the next song whereas before we just didn’t have to do anything. So now we do have to interact with the laptop keyboard. We don’t really even need a computer, we just need an mp3 player. We don’t even care enough to make it sleek.

Lily: And that’s part of our charm.

Matt: So that’s why it’s irresponsible. Like usually for musicians there’s a whole process of making recordings and then another process of performing them. And it’s just really one step for us. Does that answer your question? So it’s … negligence. [Laughs]

How do the two of you write songs then? I understand Lily On Horn Horse [March 2017] wasn’t intended as a cohesive album, is that right?

Lily: Yeah, we’d just decided to go on tour for fun so we did this extremely long album. We kept adding songs because my songs were longer than Matt’s and he wanted each of us to have the same amount of play time (rather than songs), so every time I added a song he would add like three songs so it ended up being really really long. It became like a mixtape I guess and people liked it, which was nice.

Matt: A little bit of it was also collaborative but only at the final stages of recording, overdubs and stuff like that.

Lily: But this one [Next To Me] was all… we just sent the files back and forth on the new one.

And did you write it all together?

Matt: We just went back and forth basically. We recently wrote our first song where we did it in the same room and did it all together.

Lily: We just wrote our first song from scratch together.

Matt: We’d never done that.

Lily: I think we were both happy with that, so we’re gonna try to keep doing that I think.

Matt: But this one, yeah, one of us would start an instrumental track and send it to the other

And just adding parts on top of one another?

Lily: Mostly Matt would come up with the skeleton of an instrumental and I would come up with a melody over it and that would initiate more writing from him, and that’s kind of how it would work. So basically for the most part on this album, I wrote all of the vocal melodies and I wrote like one instrumental, but Matt did a lot of the instrumental work.

That makes a lot of sense to me listening to it. I think the cool thing about Next To Me is that, while Lily On Horn Horse was cool because it was very sprawling and goes a lot of places, this one has a very internal vocabulary in a certain way, pulling from this sort of MIDI fusion-jazz thing that you do Matt, and then Lily, your melodies which are very characteristic of you (also within the context of Good Time Now, which I know you both worked on). So it’s very cool how solidified the sound became on this album.

Lily: Yeah, what’s interesting about writing with Matt is that I think I write melodies that I would never write if I didn’t write over his instrumentals. I know they’re reminiscent of the melodies I write over my own music, but it is different. It’s more like chopped up versions of how I write and I like that, it makes me write in a very different way.

Matt: It’s more limited. You have to cut off your idea sooner than you want.

Lily: But it’s cool, I like it. The chord progressions I write are pretty basic even though the time signatures are often kind of weird, people say, but then Matt’s doing all these jazz chords that I write over and it makes a difference.

Has that affected any of your solo songwriting?

Lily: I don’t know. Probably, it has, but I can’t say. I’m sure it has because everything seems to… whatever you do you seem to use in whatever you work on next.

Matt, I’ve poked through your Horn Horse Bandcamp, although there’s so much there, which is what I want to ask about. Is there a certain thing that draws you to churning out so many songs and albums or is that just a natural part of your creativity? How do you feel about that?

Matt: I would blame the volume and duration of recordings on the short attention span of millennials and because I’m a millennial I can’t construct musical ideas longer than two minutes. Usually not more than one minute. So that’s… you can tag all the journalism criticizing millennials and their rotten brains. I think that method of producing music is predicated on GarageBand and the layout of that software and how it makes producing… I used to not really consider any of those recordings full songs. They were supposed to be sketches, and it was so easy using that program to add parts to one idea instead of visualizing a full longer song. Lily can visualize a melody that has a much longer duration and a more complete song in the sense of a standard song as two or three minutes. And I think the reason those songs don’t really approach longer durations is because I would stop at one part — they would be just one part — and instead of adding another part subsequent to the first part I would just construct the song vertically and just add parts to the first part, and it would start to sound just like a complete idea. So I would just package that. Basically that’s the explanation for why there’s so many, and such short, songs.

Was Next To Me recorded in Garage Band?

Yeah, on Garage Band 4.2. And now they’re on 10.6 or something, which I think is a downgrade. Even Logic is supposed to be a more advanced program, but I think what happens is that there’s too much. There’s so many functions, and some of them are just obstacles to do what I would normally do or need to do, and so it’s another step in the process that I made habitual using GarageBand. It’s really time-consuming to transition. It’s not even that it’s a learning curve, there’s actually more junk in the way of what you’re trying to do.

That was like the old thing any time Facebook would change its layout — probably before they really had it figured it out — I just remember people posting about how “the new Facebook sucks” for days.

Lily: I remember that. Yeah, I guess that hasn’t happened in a long time. I kind of forgot that that used to happen. They know they’ve got a good thing going that’s addicting.

Yeah, they just change a little thing at a time maybe.

Lily: Yeah, now it has that little thing that people do where they put a big block of color and text inside, that’s a thing I noticed. I don’t even know how to make that happen. I don’t like it.

Matt: It’s an alarmist feature.

Lily: It looks like a billboard that I see on the highway. I don’t like it. People that I like use it, I’m just not for it.

Also based on that and what you were saying about attention, Matt, do you guys use social media a lot?

Matt: I don’t.

Lily: Everything on my Facebook is about every band I’m in, but lately I have felt like there’s too much so people don’t pay attention anymore. Too much is going on and there’s too much written about everything. And today the album came out and I just didn’t look at it at all or promote it at all because I figure, “Jakes doing that, it’s fine.” Jake [Ramp Local] has done a lot for us.

Matt: Jake released a couple singles from it and so with all that pretense, I don’t know.

Lily: I think it would be more impactful to just release the whole album at once and be like, “bam,” instead of just releasing singles and stuff.

So do you guys worry about overexposure then? Is that your concern?

Lily: Yes, I feel very strongly about it. It’s funny cause we’re getting interviewed for an article about our album. I think that this thing we do just started as a way to hang out and play music, and it just escalated quickly. And maybe this isn’t the way we want to be making music together, and we just gotta figure that out because we’ve only been collaborating for about a year really.

Matt: I think we worry that when there are multiple posts about a release that people in our network are gonna see something multiple times and it’s gonna bother them. We know that it would be annoying.

Yeah.

Matt: The problem is we haven’t really figured out what we want. I think we’re apprehensive about promoting it because we’re not even sure about it. We understand it’s a very fortunate opportunity to tour, and I would say we’re apprehensive about it but also very grateful.

Lily: Yeah, I think we do worry about overexposure in answer to your question. I guess I want things to feel more complete.

Matt: When you’re done with something?

Lily: Yeah, when I feel like I’ve solved the problem. Music is like a big problem a lot of the time, and when you’ve solved it, it feels really good. But it’s only happened to me once or twice.

Matt: Yeah, that’s a good point. Sometimes there’s a disparity between how you feel about music on a personal level in terms of completion, and how that’s being promoted.

Lily: When you’re excited about something that’s when you wanna be like, “Here it is everyone!” But that’s just like not the way it works. I mean that’s how it used to work and it was nice.

Matt: Not in the old days but in our lifetimes that’s kind of like the DIY way and it is exciting to have complete oversight of your promotion and how you release your music. I think that’s great. I think it’s more realistic or whatever.

Lily, have you experienced this at all with Palberta?

Lily: I think it hasn’t upset me as much for some reason. I haven’t really thought about why. I guess it’s because of the nature of the band. We’ve been long distance for two years, and so we’re only together for chunks of time and are barely in each other’s lives, and making the music together and then we’re sort of gone and doing other things. It doesn’t feel like so much time goes by. Then I guess I fill up my other time doing stuff with Matt. However, Matt and I are always around each other pretty much. We’re always working. Lily and Horn Horse is like our solo music coming together so it’s almost more personal. It’s kind of hard for me to figure out the answer to that question actually. And because Palberta is such a strange, funny band the prep and the response that I get for that is more exciting sometimes because it’s just weirdos reaching out to us.

[At this point in the conversation, Matt and Lily can’t find the charger to their laptop (which they are using to speak to me) and they call me back using Matt’s phone. Upon answering Matt continues.]

Matt: Next to Me was intended to be merchandise for a tour at the beginning of summer. Basically we just compiled whatever stuff we’d been working on in the six months prior and I just don’t think either of us feel…

Lily: I like all of the songs, I just think that when you make an album, hopefully all the songs are intentional. We definitely thought about the order.

Matt: We just sort of included whatever was acceptable for the last year or so, we just wanted to release our most recent recordings and it was not an intensive screening process. In retrospect I don’t think… I’m not happy with all of it. I also don’t regret that it’s out there.

Lily: I think someone would be lying if they put out an album and in retrospect said that they were happy with all of it.

Matt: I guess I’m apprehensive about promoting it as if it’s a concept album or something that we really constructed in a super intentional way.

Lily: Maybe this is our thing, accidental releases.

Yeah, it’s interesting your songwriting and arrangements and way of editing the album together actually do lend themselves well to being seen as a snapshot of the time during which you made it. Even though the album does sound cohesive to me, it doesn’t sound like such a concept or produced product. It sounds so specific to its time and to the techniques that you guys used, and it’s not anything overly ambitious even though it’s incredibly technical what’s going on. So I think you guys are already — embedded in your songwriting — addressing that anxiety that you guys have.

Matt: Yeah.

Lily: That makes sense, I agree with that analysis.

I wanted ask you guys about your individual backgrounds in music and also what your experience at Bard was.

Lily: I first played music when I two years old. I started piano at two and writing songs. Probably my first song was my best song. I still remember it. [Matt starts singing] Yeah, Matt knows my first song.

What is it?

[Both sing: “Ohhh, you really got me babe/ Ohhh, you really got me”]

Lily: That’s how it goes.

That’s great.

Lily: Yeah, I think Palberta might use it some day. But yeah, in terms of high school I didn’t go to music school or anything at that point, but I decided I wanted to start a band. So that’s when I started leading a band with a weird assortment of people, and I wanted to sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at that point. I wanted to sound like Karen O and it probably sounded embarrassing, but we wrote a lot of music. Then I started playing with Paco, from The Cradle, and Hugo from Palm, and they’re some of my really good friends but that band became something that we really liked.

What year was that?

Lily: That band started my last year of high school into my gap year and ended when I went to school at Bennington. I went there for a year and nothing really happened, and then Palberta began when I transferred to Bard. And then a lot of music stuff started happening there because I met all of the people that I’m still friends with today that made my life better. Weirdly Matt and I both went to Bard, but we did not talk to each other basically at all or see each other or notice each other until after he graduated and we were in really different music scenes that overlapped just a little bit when we were in someone’s senior project together.

I read on Bandcamp that it was a lost blanket that brought you two together?

Lily: I suspect we probably would’ve met if the blanket thing hadn’t happened because he was like living 20 minutes from bard right across the street from each other. But it was pretty funny that we didn’t know each other at all but we went to school together.

Matt: OK, so this is like… We’ve been asked this question multiple times and so I’ve sort of redrafted an explanation of how we met.

Oh, okay so we’ll get it out here once and for all.

Matt: “One October night in 2015 the sky was filled with rockets made by Jake Gyllenhaal and I decided to search for a big blanket that I abandoned in a house that I used to live in. At the time Lily was occupying that house and guarding the porch with her friend Julia. I wasn’t scared, I asked her permission to take a look around, and she acted like that was normal and escorted me around all the closets. We barely met the year before while overlapping at Bard College, and we didn’t have anything to talk about, so she started making up riddles and suggestions. I agreed to play a drum solo at a birthday party that she organized for Chad the shuttle driver. The solo was a success and so was Lily’s intimidating performance. I was glad when she asked me to add baritone horn to her songs, and glad when she agreed to add her siren voice to music that I was recording. It made sense for both of us to continue making music collaboratively and we developed a strange performance relationship.”

Great! And yeah, Lily it’s interesting that you were playing with those members of The Cradle and Palm at that time and that you’re definitely still in the same world as them.

Lily: Yeah, I mean, when I met all those people I had a feeling we would all grow up together because I knew Paco and Hugo when I was in high school, so we’ve just known each other for a long time actually.

Matt would you mind just talking about your background in music?

Matt: I grew up in Petaluma CA and there’s this venue there called the Phoenix Theater. It was this small venue but it has a very elaborate history. It used to be a movie theater and what-not, and an opera house and now it’s a punk venue. The manager/owner really supported local music. It’s a community center. It has a free clinic and stuff, it’s got skate ramps and graffiti everywhere, the manager employs high school students to work at the venue and, at least when I was there, there were multiple bands that formed in high school that really only ever had an opportunity to do anything or perform because of that place… But that’s sort of the reason I got into music or probably responsible for creating a musical experience outside of the public high school band. That was what I really cared about, rehearsing with my own band so I could play there. When I think of Lily and Paco and Hugo and everybody in New York I think that maybe they had that formative experience in New York that I had in Petaluma, but it just kept going. That’s kind of what it seems like to me, it seems like a very healthy incubator for musicians. And Petaluma did that to a point, but really it’s just a small town. A lot of small towns don’t even have that.

Lily: There’s something amazing about The Phoenix because it’s there for the youth to occupy their time and make them do something interesting and have somewhere to go that’s not dangerous. It’s a learning experience. I’ve never seen anything like it before actually.

Yeah sounds incredible. I’ve toured up the coast a few times but I’ve never even heard it mentioned. It sounds like a really beautiful place. So then at Bard you played jazz mostly?

Matt: I was studying chemistry and jazz.

Were you majoring in chemistry?

Matt: I technically didn’t major in chemistry but I mostly studied chemistry and music. Improvisation too and then jazz composition. I got into making charts. I haven’t really retained that skill but I would like to relearn it. It’s really fun but I have all of these papers lying around and I can’t really do anything with them because I don’t have the same ensemble. It’s not as practical anymore.

Yeah, a shifting of resources and availability?

Matt: Exactly. But yeah I think that’s about it for me.

Awesome, thanks so much for your guys’ time. Anything else you guys want to add?

Lily: I don’t even know.

Matt: It felt like a long therapy session.

Lily: It actually felt good, I feel like I’ve learned some things now.

Oh, great!

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