Wednesday, April 27, 2011

interview with evan caminiti

Instead of submitting poor Evan Caminiti to a bout of 10 rounds silliness, I thought it was much better to have a proper, serious interview with the Barn Owl man, in light of his hypnotically inspiring new solo album, 'When California Falls Into The Sea', out on R. Loren's fascinating new record label, Handmade Birds Records. As you're about to read, Evan proved to be a brilliant conversationalist, and I just felt like picking up yet another copy of the album when the chat was over. You all go and do that now, so you'll have a cool soundtrack for reading it.

First of all, I know this is not your first solo release, but it would be interesting to know how did the idea of a solo career first came up in your mind. 
Evan: Just as a way to work on music outside of collaborations with other people. I always enjoy being engaged in some kind of music making - or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I need it to keep me sane. Whether it's writing or recording or mixing, it's nice to just be able to work on some things independently. I love playing with other people, it's a completely different feeling and experience, but it can be a special thing to just get really meditative and focused with solo work too. I sort of gave up on band names and just decided to call the work I did alone by my given name.

Was it clear from the beginning what kind of music it was going to be, or did the style of music just develop further ahead in time?
Evan: After years of digesting all kinds of music and playing guitar there were certain things that really stuck with me. Minimalism, krautrock, American primitive guitar, metal, raga, different as all these things are I think there are some common threads. Over time the style is always developing and changing and I like the idea of records having a unique identity and not making the same record over and over. You know, things become distilled, they take on their own life. Like, with the new record there is a big focus on space, letting overtones unfold and decay and enjoying the silence between notes. It was just time to focus on that approach, for years I'd come up with some solo guitar pieces that didn't really have a home so it just kind of sat in my subconscious and slowly came out.

How would you compare When California Falls Into The Sea with your previous stuff like West Winds or Psychic Mud Shrine, for example?
Evan: Well, the big difference with the new record was that I stripping everything down to tracks of solo guitar or just two takes of guitar. I guess it translates to a live context more than the densely layered work of the last two records.  Although some of those could be played live with the use of loops, the new album is more about just playing the guitar. I've done pieces in the past that focus on liberating the guitar sort of- distancing the sounds from an obvious origin, and I'm continuing to explore that aesthetic with new material too. But for California, I only used a couple of effects- delay, reverb, fuzz, tremolo - no loops or tricky production. I wanted to explore the wide range of sounds possible to the guitar without removing it too far from the context of simply playing guitar, some pieces that could be played acoustic even. So there are some weird sounds on California made with feedback and playing with a slide, but it's a really organic approach overall. The focus was really placed on subtle tonal differences, space, and getting a wide range of sounds from a small palette.

How has the creation of this album been, a long process? What is your method of working for your solo work?

Evan: Yeah, this material was written and recorded over a year. It was challenging to make an interesting and cohesive album this stripped down so it took a lot of time to reveal itself. Recording to cassette was really crucial for these songs for the withered, hazy characteristic it can lend. A lot of the writing and recording was done alone at night in a reflective mood, staring out at the moon and the city lights. It's nice to be able to record at home too, because there's nothing like capturing a moment of inspiration when it happens.

I find the album to be extremely evocative, visually. Almost like Earth, sometimes. Do you have a sort of pictorial vision or landscape in your mind before you start writing the music? Or does the music itself acquire that property after you write and perform it?
Evan: Sometimes. Sublime landscape paintings were a big influence with Psychic Mud Shrine, but with California the inspiration was a little more abstract. I really wanted to just channel pure emotion even though there are certain images in my mind that recur throughout the album.

How did it acquire that sort of “urban” atmosphere, was that decided beforehand? Is the minimalist nearly guitar-only nature of the album meant to reflect that somehow?
Evan: I spent a lot of time within the last year stuck in the city, in a neighborhood that could definitely be described as gritty and raw, and the album sort of channels some of the harsh things I witnessed there but in a bitter-sweet context.  It's sort of a meditation on beauty and filth living side by side, I guess how all things are just different aspects of the same energy.  The bare nature of the songs definitely reflect the feelings of vulnerability this environment creates.

What about the title/concept of the album, how did that come about? I can’t help but think of Bill Hicks’ Arizona Bay, which is a good thing. It’s the best reference ever for a musician, as far as I’m concerned.
Evan: Hah, yeah Bill Hicks is awesome. There is always the threat of the 'next big one', a major earthquake, in San Francisco, so I guess it's tied in with that idea of impending doom, but it's definitely not meant to be taken at face value. Just from soaking up my surroundings in the city, seeing so many people seemingly desperate and on the edge and getting this feeling that we're all just teetering on the brink in a way. I mean, look what just happened in Japan. One day everything you love could just get wiped out, and that is a terrifying though.  I guess this record was a way of processing those feelings in a way. Ultimately, the conclusion I reach from these gloomy thoughts is a positive one - we have to be grateful and make the most of our time and spend it with those we love.

Is it clear in your mind if you’re creating for Barn Owl or for Evan Caminiti?
Evan: There used to be some gray area, but it's becoming more clear over the years.  Jon and I have developed an intuitive dialogue so it seems more obvious now when something feels like a Barn Owl piece. I definitely try to steer away from being redundant and try new approaches solo.

How was your first contact with Handmade Birds? What do you think of the label so far, is it the ideal home for your work?
Evan: R. Loren got in touch after hearing West Winds, I think. He's such a dedicated and passionate guy and I'm really happy to be a part of Handmade Birds. When he explained where he was coming from - a main point of that being the focus on music that emphasized a pull between aspects of dark and light, the doomed and the uplifting - I knew we had some common goals with creating transcendental sounds. He's been just wonderful to work with and I'm excited to hear what's in store from the awesome HB roster in the future.

Do you have plans to perform this material live? Man, I wish I could see you closing out a Roadburn day.
Evan: Nothing for sure at this point. Barn Owl will actually be in Europe around the time of Roadburn, although it didn't work out for us to play that festival - but we will be doing 32 shows in Europe throughout April and May with Jefre Cantu Ledesma also. Performing these kind of spacious guitar pieces in a large festival context would be daunting- I'm hoping to play this kind of material live in collaboration with the films of Paul Clipson - I think it would greatly benefit from a pairing with his amazing visual element. We'll see, I don't play out solo very often at all but I'd like to more.

Feel free to mention anything else I might have been dumb enough not to ask.
Evan: Hey, thanks so much for the thought-provoking questions and the review - hopefully we'll run into each other in Europe. The dates of our tour are here or here. And I also just contributed to a fantastic compilation of which all proceeds go to helping the people of Japan in the aftermath of the horrible events there.

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