First of all, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Michael. Please tell us more about your new record, Vivid Flu.
Thanks James it’s been great corresponding with you as well. Vivid Flu is my latest solo record and my first for the Denovali label. It was assembled throughout 2016, and then the final recordings took place at Electrical Audio with engineer Greg Norman. Primarily the record is centered around both treated and untreated electric guitar, although there are also pieces of various synthesizers, piano, field recordings and some drum machine.
Denovali is an awesome label. What’s it like to work with them and how did you first get involved with them?
Denovali has been amazing to work with. They were familiar with my duo Cleared and had been carrying our releases in their distro for some time, and then we began exchanging emails over the course of about a year. This was around the time when my previous solo album Distance had just been released on Opal Tapes, and we started discussing working with each other more seriously. The whole process has been very fluid and I’m really pleased with this album. I’m definitely looking forward to working with the label as the main outlet for my solo work for the next several releases.
What was the creative process like during the making of the record? Was it a case of the ideas flowing first, or did these ideas emerge from the music?
Usually when it comes time to start working on a new solo record it is something that is very intuitive, I will literally just wake up one day and feel it’s time to begin that process. Once that happens it’s usually a cycle of paying attention to the world, picking out language and images that seem pertinent in my daily life while simultaneously starting to write the initial guitar passages, or making new field recordings, etc.
You mentioned tuning in to your own inner reality when recording. What sounds do you discover in your interior world, and how do these interior sounds affect the music and the emotions or story within the music? Do you find inner sounds to be more introverted?
I just think I’m interested in sounds that feel attached to a certain visual quality. I like sounds that aren’t necessarily dark or ethereal, but might showcase a combination of both those states. There’s definitely a heavy type of mood I’m interested in establishing with the arrangements of sounds I use, and I think with this particular record that just happened to feel like an interior kind of space to me, whether it be physical or psychological.
The tracks on Vivid Flu have specific titles. Did you imagine specific scenes or images for the music, or is it transparent and open to interpretation?
I think it is definitely open to interpretation. The titles have specific connotations for me, but I only hope they act as a type of guide for the listener. Most of the time the titles are created through a process of using cut ups, and pairing different bits of language together that resonate with me around the time the tracks are forming in the studio. Once I had settled on the main title though, I felt the record was getting more solidified in terms of how it wanted to exist.
It still amazes me to think of the sounds you can coax out of the electric guitar. When we were talking earlier you mentioned the record being 90% guitar. What kind of pedals or processing did you use for the record, and were there any particular inversions or melodies on the fret board that you aimed for? And why did you choose those notes or chords?
My guitar rig is fairly simple. The goal is to always do as much as I can with as little as possible, so it’s been years of slowly editing things out. Basically it’s just a combination of distortion, a particular chorus I like and some older delay and reverb units. There is one piece in particular, it’s a Dynacord DRP-20 from the 90s, this really involved rack unit that allows me to alter many parameters of the algorithms it employs for reverb processing. I picked it up years ago and it’s become a huge part of how I make certain sounds. I think that, in combination with a tuning I use is what constitutes my style right now. I tune to my guitar to FAEBAE, which allows me to more easily drop in half step accompaniments to different chords. I’m really interested in building consonant or more melodically pleasing phrases and then just obliterating those passages with something discordant. That kind of melodic interplay is something I’m really interesting in pursuing with the guitar.
Vivid Flu is an apt title for 2017! It feels like the world has been felled by a sickness or a fever. Did you feel that disorientation when you were recording it, and how does the record deal with the bombardment of constant information and its subsequent overload? And by exploring the subject, does it exorcise that tension?
The title is definitely a reference to a mental state that, at the least I have certainly been experiencing over the last few years. It feels like the result of a combination of access to information, to images, to communication, and the overall dark thread that has seemingly bled into all of those facets of reality. It feels clouded, but concurrently actual and present, which is what I wanted the dichotomy of the title to convey.
Is Vivid Flu a symptom of or a remedy for the world? Or is it both?
At the end of the day the album is simply a piece of music, but I certainly hope it offers the listener a unique kind of space to become lost in, or maybe something they can play throughout the day and have it color the environment in a way that is meaningful.
Was it a lengthy process to bring all of these sounds together as one? During the recording process, did the record pose any greater difficulties than normal?
My solo records usually take the most time to work on and complete. I feel like my biggest strength in the studio is being able to collage things together, finding relationships and transitions between sounds that are interesting. However when I am acting as the sole creator of the sounds and assembling them as well, I find that the editing process just becomes longer. The biggest difficulty with this record was letting it be what it wanted to. I had actually intended the tracks to be much more aggressive when they were initially sketched out. By the time I got to Electrical to record with Greg, what came out was much more subdued, and at the time I just felt it was important to let what was happening shape the final energy of the tracks.
I personally sometimes feel like the guitar can become staid, stuck in the popular aspects of its sound, most notably folk, rock and blues. Do you think it’s important to push the sound and the instrument’s capabilities forward? Was this a primary aim for you? Did you want to develop new possibilities for the instrument, or do you think the guitar is just the tool and the transport for what the music needs and requires?
I grew up with guitar and rock music, and that is still a huge part of my life. There has been an endless amount of exploration of the electric guitar as a sound source, it’s only important for me to continue the progression of my own style and interaction with the instrument. If I had to rid myself of every other means to create music it would be the one thing I could never abandon.
Do you ever feel constricted or constrained by the ‘genre’ term?
Honestly it has never been a concern of mine. My solo work has been placed in so many different genres and categories over the years. It’s always interesting to see where it ends up depending on the context, but it’s simply not something I find to be important.
What can we expect from you later in the year, Michael? What are your plans?
I have a new release called Serpens with my duo Cleared coming out at the end of this month, and I’ve been doing final scans for a book of my photography that hopefully will be released this year. I also am working on plans to travel over to Europe to perform, as that is something I have yet to do.
Thank you kindly, Michael.
Thank you James, it was wonderful speaking with you.
‘Vivid Flu’ is available to order now through the Denovali website