The Preservation label presents Transcending Spheres, the debut full-length album from Georgia’s Quiet Evenings. In a little over two years, the duo that comprise Quiet Evenings – Grant and Rachel Evans – have become two of the most prolific and active artists in the American underground. Each also has solo projects: Grant’s Nova Scotian Arms and Rachel’s Motion Sickness of Time Travel. Between those as well as Quiet Evenings, they’ve amassed well over 50 releases for various labels in various editions. They also co-run the Hooker Vision label, clocking up a similar amount of releases for other kindred spirits.
With minimal instrumentation of guitars and synthesizers as well as voice, the pieces on Transcending Spheres curl out to seize a moment, then carry it forward with beauty and grace. Far from the realm of pure ambient drift, subtle forces build within their disarming restraint to give the album a vital pulse and provide a stunning balance between light and shade. Quiet Evenings inhabit a ghostly space of unique elegance, and as this highly spirited work’s title suggests, this is a duo that can carry their craft well beyond standard shapes.
As part of our Tape Loop Series, we were lucky to be able to be able to discuss the release with Grant and Rachel in a little detail; their approach to recording music, their distinct lean towards analogue and their plans for the label.
What can you tell us about Hooker Vision?
Grant: Hooker Vision is a vehicle for the sounds we think are interesting. Our friends’ sounds as well as our own. We focus on obsolete formats such as cassette tapes, VHS tapes, CDs, and soon, vinyl. There’s not really a “Hooker Vision sound” but we’re mostly interested in stuff that’s outside the range of general public acceptance. Basically noise, whether it’s tranquil or harsh or whatever, is what we’re into.
Rachel: It’s also just a huge creative outlet for us; we need something like Hooker Vision to let out those natural instincts we both have to continue creating and disseminating the things we love, like art and music.
How did the label start?
Rachel: Grant was the one who started the label. I didn’t become involved until pretty recently… about a year ago or so.
Grant: It was mostly just something to write on CD-Rs that we were burning… We’ve gone through a couple of major phases. The internet has been incredibly crucial to the success of the label. Obviously there is zero market for this kind of music where we live. We’ve been really fortunate to connect with so many like-minded individuals from around the world and we owe that all to the internet.
Was there a release on the label or by the band that had a reaction that surprised you? Are there any favorites out of all the work that you’ve done?
Grant: There’s been so many great releases that we’ve put out… Brian Lavelle’s ‘Two Ostensions’ tape from last year was a really important piece of music for me. It’s got such refinement. There’s definitely some other amazing standouts too.
Rachel: Yeah, I’d say another outstanding release for me was the Afterlife/Thoughts on Air split. It’s simply incredible music, well-executed.
What prompted the release on Preservation?
Rachel: We had been in touch with Brad Rose and Digitalis for a while. He first mentioned Preservation Records to me last summer. However I didn’t get in touch with Andrew at Preservation myself until sometime around this past Christmas. Andrew sent me a message one day and introduced himself just saying he enjoyed our music and asking what we had planned for Quiet Evenings as far as upcoming releases. We didn’t have anything on our plate for QE, so it was perfect timing! And that’s when Andrew told us all about the Circa Series on Preservation…
Grant: We basically recorded the whole thing in one weekend. One of the tracks was recorded a few days earlier than the bulk of the work. But we basically just sat down with a few ideas in mind and the songs just happened.
How did you go about arranging the cover art for the release?
Grant: Mark Gowing does the cover art for all of the Preservation releases, as far as I know. I really respect his aesthetic and approach to the design aspect. His style really lends itself perfectly to the type of music that Andrew tends to spotlight. He’s made some incredibly striking covers and it’s definitely an honor to have him design ours.
Rachel: Mark’s designs for the Circa Series of CDs are all realized using a specially created abstract alphabet of shapes which is determined by the artist name, title and catalogue number of each release, making each cover both fixed and random.
What musical roles do you both have within the band?
Grant: I play guitar and synthesizer. I also record all of the field recordings we use in our music, although there are none on the Transcending Spheres release.
Rachel: I play my synthesizers and occasionally I’ll use effected voice. With Quiet Evenings, I hold down the more atmospheric zones and let Grant lead with his guitar, but every so often I’ll bring in minimal repeating melodies.
Why the focus on old/obsolete analogue formats?
Grant: I guess it’s partly due to nostalgia; they’re the formats I grew up with. But for me, things like vinyl and cassettes have such a presence that you really don’t get from a digital file. They’re physical objects that really hold up well over time and continue to resonate with music lovers even though most people think of them as obsolete.
Rachel: My parents always had vinyl around when I was growing up, and cassettes even more so. You get such a warmth from those formats that doesn’t come with others. The same for VHS. For me, the VHS has more of a nostalgic quality than any other format because that’s all I watched as a child. I feel like these formats really hold a special place for everyone in our generation and generations past.
What’s it like, dealing with production houses for cassettes? Is there a lot of freighting involved?
Rachel: Not really a lot of freighting. Since cassettes are so small, its usually pretty inexpensive to ship them. The production houses have some disadvantages… sometimes you run into bumps that you can’t foresee since its in their hands. But overall, I’d say the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. A little more hassle here and there, but the quality of the product is so much better that it ends up being worth it. There’s certainly a lot more design options open to us that way.
Grant: We send them everything they need (audio files and art files) and they send us the tapes in a few weeks. It’s usually as simple as that.
Is it a struggle to find good production houses now? Is there still an existing commercial market for them, or is it a niche?
Rachel: I wouldn’t say its a niche, but there aren’t a ton of them either. It’s thanks to Brad Rose that we’re in touch with the company we use today.
Grant: We had just been buying blank tapes and dubbing them ourselves. The color options for the shells were pretty limited and we wanted to snazz things up a little with more color. We got a few hundred blank but colorful tapes and home-dubbed all of them; while slowly getting more stuff pro-dubbed. Our very last home-dub was from the last batch of tapes. Hopefully we’ll be able to cover the costs of pro-dubbing for the remainder of our time on this planet. I know my tape deck will be grateful.
How long have you been making music together?
Rachel: Long before Quiet Evenings, and even before we were married, we made videos together before we made music together. It started out by me scoring one of his short films. The first time we made music together I believe was Grant adding guitar tracks to one of my earliest songs… long before I recorded as Motion Sickness of Time Travel… actually I remember it very clearly: it was at the music studio at the college later one night, I was in the mixing room and he in the sound room. It sounded so amazing. The recording was done but he was still playing, so I went in the sound room and found him lying on the floor passed out. Something I’ll never forget! We got a great recording out of it though.
Grant: Yeah… Good times. We started the Quiet Evenings project in 2009. At first, it was our way of coping with loud neighbors and life outside of nature. Now we live in a fairly isolated location, beside a lake, and life is always quiet. The music is a reflection of our immediate surroundings.
Is completing a release in one weekend unusual, or do you tend to work quickly?
Grant: We both tend to work rather quickly… A good bit of our releases have been recorded in just one day or so. They’re like snapshots. We really like to capture a particular moment in time. How we’re feeling that day or weekend is always evident in the sound document. Plus most of our music is improvised so that tends to be complimentary to the documentary recording approach.
Rachel: Yeah, we both work really fast actually… we each seem to do things in spurts. We’ll go forever without recording anything, and then in a couple of days we’ll record a few solo albums or a QE album. It’s just the way we work I guess. Improvisation and our mood definitely play a huge part in that.
When you say there’s no market for your music where you live, where are you based? You mention an isolated environment, how far out of town are you?
Rachel: Well we live in the western part of Georgia. We’re just outside the city limits of LaGrange, GA by a few miles, but we both work and Grant goes to school in LaGrange. The actual town of LaGrange itself is very small… I guess it’s not as small as it could be, but it certainly doesn’t have anything to offer socially, musically and very rarely artistically. The only big store in town is Walmart, and beside the tiny over-priced restaurants theres’s just fast-food. Even the college at the center of town is tiny compared to most… Just under 1,000 students altogether. There’s very, very little culture. We try to stay away from all of that most of the time. We used to live in the very center of town, but enjoy our new location a thousand times more. Our house is surrounded by trees outside of town just off of West Point Lake.
Grant: LaGrange is about an hour south of Atlanta. But there’s just not much appreciation for weird music in the south in general. I can remember maybe two tapes that we’ve sold to fellow Georgians…
You mention the music being a documentation your surroundings – is it personal expression or does it represent a comment on modernity? Did you move to get away from it all?
Grant: I’m not saying we’re like these Walden types, traipsing around in the woods or anything like that. Although that does happen on occasion. We’re just not very keen on living around other people. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, our move across town is inconsequential. LaGrange is isolated no matter if you live in town or in the woods.
Rachel: We really love where we live now. It’s much more peaceful. We’ve always relied on ourselves to keep us occupied, but it really helps when you can free yourself from those unwanted distractions. When we lived in town, even when we were in the mood to record it sometimes was impossible due to the noise coming from traffic and neighbors, etc. Outside of town we can really focus on our craft. We’ve been much more prolific with our recordings, all projects included, since we moved outside of town. It’s all about atmosphere.
You seem to have been pretty prolific with a number of releases on a number of labels – is this a by-product of being productive?
Grant: Yeah… The way I work is in spurts. I’m very “bipolar” in that way. I generally feel a need to create something, whether it be music or art or whatever.
Rachel: It’s definitely a by-product of being productive… but only by default. I think if we had more to do in real life, and more friends in real life we might be a little less productive. There’s really just nothing to do here so we have to create things. Sometimes that’s the only way to pass the time.
What releases due you have coming up for yourselves, and the label?
Rachel: On the label’s upcoming batch we have a Hobo Cubes VHS. I’m really looking forward to this one as Frank has been in close contact with both Grant and I for some time now. We all share a love for visual music, so we’re really excited to be the imprint for this release. We’re also looking forward to a Pierrot Lunaire cassette tape, featuring some amazing saxophone bliss jams, as well as tapes from DJ Ecto Cooler and Indian Weapons… Grant can tell you a little more about those…
Grant: DJ Ecto Cooler is the alter ego of Water Lilly Jaguar mastermind, Ian Najdzionek. In Ecto mode he creates these intensely layered sound collages out of various samples from all over the spectrum of popular music. It’s basically the mashup gone terribly wrong. And Indian Weapons (Nathan Young and Brad Rose) should be a fairly familiar name for fans of underground music. The duo has also recorded together as Ajilvsga and with Eden Rose as Godseye.
Rachel: Solo-wise, Motion Sickness of Time Travel has a tape release coming up on Hobo Cult Records, a 3” mini CD-r coming from Kim Dawn Recordings, and a LP/CD from Digitalis in the near future. I’m also currently recording music for an LP on Spectrum Spools due out early next year.
Grant: I’ve got a split tape with a new Scott Johnson (Thoughts on Air) project, Permanent Bedhead, coming soon on Sacred Phrases. Rachel and I have a split LP coming out soon on the Belgian record label, Aguirre. Both of our solo projects are contributing to a four cassette box set on Cloud Valley that will also include Sundrips, Hobo Cubes, and a new Carter Mullin-related project. The debut Quiet Evenings LP, Intrepid Trips, is coming soon on Hooker Vision and a few split tapes are in the works. And finally, my project with Adam of Dry Valleys/Sacred Phrases, Peyote Crystal, has a tape coming soon on Housecraft.
Does the label support itself, or is it a labour of love?
Grant: It definitely started as a labour of love… We started out by burning CD-Rs and home-dubbing old recycled tapes from thrift stores and stuff. We played a show and managed to sell a good bit of those tapes, which helped fund the first 100 new tapes. We still home-dubbed everything up until a few months ago. Now the label is doing fairly well and we can afford to have the tapes pro-dubbed, which improves the sound quality enormously, in my opinion. It certainly beats doing it all myself…
Rachel: Yeah since the label’s been doing a little better recently we’ve been able to break even the last few times we’ve released a batch which is all going to bettering the product. We started out printing our covers for free at the library or at home and had to cut every single cover out ourselves. Now we’re able to get our covers printed professionally, which of course beats the quality of black & white printing and keeps me from having to cut and trim 100 or more tape covers by hand.
What is the dream with the label? Where would you like to see it go?
Grant: I guess the dream would be to have the label eventually become more of a “proper” label. I would love nothing more than to keep doing this forever and to continue to work with incredible musicians. The cassette tape underground is a very warm and nurturing community. We’ve been able to grow and develop without the regular bullshit that larger labels have to deal with. I think the momentum we’ve achieved so far will allow the label to continue to operate and continue to grow.
Rachel: Yes, we definitely want to keep going with the label for as long as we can. The labels first LP release (coming really soon) is a dream come true by itself. We never imagined when the label first started up that we’d ever be able to afford and sell vinyl records! We’ve already got a second LP planned for later this year. I’d love to see the label release more and more vinyl, but we’ll never stop releasing cassette tapes.
When you mention the cassette tape underground, is there an established network? How did you make your way in it?
Grant: I guess there’s a loose network that makes up the underground. We’ve all kind of crossed paths in one way or another thanks to the amount of other rad labels releasing similar stuff. It’s thanks to the internet that we ourselves have anything to do with any kind of established network.
Rachel: Yeah, the internet definitely opened up the doors. Where we live certainly doesn’t lend itself to being able to sell music in person to anyone… online is where it’s at.
“Transcending Spheres” is the fourth work in a new limited edition CD series from Preservation called Circa. Only 300 copies of each release in the series will be available and will feature a design by Mark Gowing. Each design for 2011 will be realised using a specially created abstract alphabet of shapes, determined by artist, title and catalogue number for something both fixed and random.