Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Interviews:: Andrew Spencer Goldman of Fulton Lights

We recently fell in love with the debut from Fulton Lights, so why not take the opportunity to have a chit chat with the brainchild behind it, Andrew Spencer Goldman. The self-titled debut is a joint release on catbird & android eats records and if I only had one word to describe it, it would be real.

HH:: My first question relates to the overall theme/purpose of the record. The songs are really cohesive so I was surprised to hear that the album was written/recorded over three years. How did that affect your outlook on the music you were creating and the record in general? I mean, three years is a long time, especially when it comes to music.
ASG:: Three years really is a long time, you're right. At times it was maddeningly long. Some of that was just the process of being very deliberate, of sensing that maybe I was onto something and that it would be worth taking the long route. Some of it, though, was out of my hands.

But as far as how this all relates to the writing, I think it really was surprisingly healthy for me because it forced me to be very critical of my own work and to elevate my own standards. After I finished the four-song demo with Alap [Momin] in '04, I took time to reflect on it and on how I needed to improve upon it, and on the kinds of songs that I needed to write in order to flesh out the album in the best way. Not long after that I hooked up with Rob [Christiansen] and Steve [Silverstein], who deserve a tremendous amount of credit for helping me to formulate my ideas and to make them real and cohesive, as you said. The whole process pushed me to out-write myself, to really challenge myself to make a great album. I've made albums that I've been proud of before, albums that some people have liked, but this is the first one that really feels complete and "mature" to me, as ridiculous as that adjective may sound. Hopefully the next one won't take so long...

HH:: You had a lot of people contribute to this record, all of which seem to have different sounds and styles. I mean you go from dalek to people who worked with Ida and Wilco. How did you get them involved, and how did the writing process work. Did you play them songs you were working on and have them work out parts, or was it more focused on your total vision?
ASG:: I'm lucky enough to have some preposterously talented friends. So it wasn't like I had to approach unapproachable people. These were all people who have either worked with me before (with my old band John Guilt) or who I have known in some capacity or another for a long time.

Writing is almost always a solitary endeavor for me both in theory and practice, but once the songs were ready I knew that all the different players I rounded up could help make this album into something bigger than it would have otherwise been without them. The string players are all gifted at what they do and all have one foot in the avant/improvisational world, and part of me wishes that there had been more room for them to go to town on the songs. But this time around I wrote the arrangements and counted on them to make them breathe.

Oktopus and Still contributed their brilliance at opposite ends of the recording timeline. Ok was first, and Still was last. "1,000 Little Eyes" was the last song I wrote for the record, and it wouldn't be half as good without Still's genius. I gave him a sense of what I was looking for, he made the samples, and then we cut them up and laid them out for the song. TJ (Lipple) played with me in John Guilt, so I just told him what I was up to, mailed him a copy of "Breathe In, Breathe Out" with the vaguest of instructions, and let him do his thing. He came up with the vibraphone sweetness you hear.

HH:: You seem to have a good relationship with catbird records, choosing to release this record and reissuing the maestro echoplex. Do you prefer working with a smaller label and maintaining a bit more control? Or is just the way the music industry is forcing artists to go – self promotion, small labels, myspace?
ASG:: ASG:: Ryan (who runs Catbird) has been cheering me on since I was first getting started writing and recording songs, so in some respects it's logical that it happened like this. The road to Catbird was a long and winding one. As far as his label is concerned, he runs it well, is prompt and clear about paying me on time, puts a lot of love and attention into making sure his releases are interesting inside and out, and has a real ground-up mentality. All of that is great.

Everything about the mp3 era feels so cold and impersonal to me, and I like being able to offer people a limited edition version of the album with handscreened covers and so forth. But I'd be guilty of omission if I didn't tell you that I've knocked on plenty of doors and been turned away. That's not a secret, just the hard truth. Fulton Lights is a big project in every way--I'm writing big and thinking big, and I do want my music to be heard by as many people as possible. All of that requires money. I want to be able to push myself creatively and write the music that I want to write, without restriction. (Within reason, of course; I'm not talking about hiring the philharmonic. Yet. ) Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and sell enough copies that we can make another one. If that happens I wouldn't hesitate to do another Android Eats Records/Catbird Records release like this.

HH:: It would be interesting to hear what influences your music, both in life (as the record itself is so visceral and ethereal), but also musically.
ASG:: Everything influences me. Love, death, sex, art, politics, literature, geography. Last night's basketball game. The new Ghostface record. The coffee shop I'm sitting in. It might not all come out in the lyrics, but it all goes into the music in one form or another.

A lot of this album seems to be about life in New York, viewed from a variety of angles. The subway, the skyscrapers, the lights, the hustle, the mind-numbing monotony of temping, the claustrophobia, et cetera. They're all there in the landscape of the music if not in the lyrics themselves. It's not a concept album by any means. Just a reaction to living here in Brooklyn for the last five years.

As for music influences, oh man. That's even harder to answer than the first part of the question. The usual songwriters like Dylan, Lennon, Paul Simon, Neil Young. Mississippi John Hurt, Leadbelly, Howlin' Wolf. Tom Waits. James Brown, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Sly & The Family, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Marvin Gaye. Bob Marley & The Wailers. Jimmy Cliff. Lee Perry. King Tubby. The genius producers of Hip Hop, like The Bomb Squad, DJ Premier, RZA, Dr. Dre, Prince Paul, Marley Marl, J Dilla. Portishead. DJ Shadow, DJ Krush. I like the new Joanna Newsom record a lot. Coltrane, Mingus, Miles, Art Blakey. dalek. Third Eye Foundation. Morricone. John Cale. VU. Nick Cave. Howe Gelb. Cat Power. I really could go on forever.

HH:: After the upcoming album release, what's next for Fulton Lights, Maestro Echoplex and you in general?
ASG:: You mean aside from The Big Takeover? Ha ha. Well, I'd really like to get Fulton Lights out on the road and show people what we've got. To paraphrase Raekwon, right about now I ain't braggin' or nothin', but Fulton Lights has got something that everybody wants to hear, cuz I know I've been waiting to hear it. That's going to sound totally pompous to anyone that hasn't memorized 36 Chambers. For real, though, I would like to get out and play. We've been at the gates for so long. It isn't easy getting shows, but maybe it will get a little easier. Seems like everyone and their grandmother has a band these days, and they're all booking four months in advance.

Outside of Fulton Lights, I'm producing the debut by Katie Mullins, who I've played with a few times around the East Coast sort of as quasi-Maestro Echoplex shows. Her stuff is great, folky, quirky stuff, and she has a terrific voice. Songs with mbira, harmonium, banjo, and so forth. It's a lot more interesting than most female songwriters that are stuck in the Cat Power mold. One of her songs, "Pastoral," is one of the craziest and most awesome things I've ever heard, with vocal harmonies that wrap around themselves to the point of dizziness. I'm also going to produce Still's next record, which should be exactly the opposite--very dense, dark music made primarily with turntables. I'm excited to be helping with both projects for the chance to help draw the goodness out of their already great music. It should be a new challenge for me. And I'm working on songs for the second Fulton Lights record. I feel a sense of focus about all of this that I haven't felt before, which may have something to do with getting a little older. I feel a sense of urgency to move it or lose it. I love making music, and I'm going to be busting my ass to make it happen in '07. Oh, and I'm in love again. Life is good.

Posted at 7:57 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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