Sunday, 9 April 2017

Interview with Emm Smith (Stereo Moon)


(This feature first appeared in issue 62 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview with Emm Smith click over the jump at the bottom of this post. Photo by Mat Manser.)
 
Canadian sonic adventurers go back to the future and top up their studio tans with Duncan Fletcher.

Ultimately I want to trip out like when you're dreaming, which can be the most amazing journey. Jumping from one adventure to another, seeing things appear in multiple places or configurations. Using the recording studio as an instrument. A Jerry Garcia quote says it best - 'mixing it for the hallucinations'” So says Stereo Moon mainman Emm Smith talking about modular recording, the technique pioneered by Brian Wilson on 'Good Vibrations' and SMiLE, and also utilised on Stereo Moon's latest outing, The Shape Of Psych To Come EP. Over its four tracks the band pick up the psych baton that was dropped by mainstream musicians in the late '60s. “I think in a Brian Wilson interview from that time he mentions the future of music being psychedelic and it doesn't happen. That future is a lie to some.”

Aside from the tightly arranged psych-pop of lead track 'Requiem For The Non-Believers', the band get to stretch out with free-form jamming and studio experimentation on the EP's instrumental tracks. They've also been obsessively re-working a debut LP, Smoking Shake By The Riverside, which should be ready for mixing next year. “There's a lyric in one of the songs that says, 'I've been driving myself insane but I wouldn't have it any other fucking way'. There's everything from pedal steel to horns, strings, double bass, organ, piano, banjo. I was laid-off from work in 2015 so production has slowed down. It costs money to rent a vibraphone for example, the next thing to get excited about! All the exotic instrumentation can be hard to find, or even people who can play them!”

Live shows are a less disciplined affair. Says Emm, “Live I’m going for more of a noisy Velvet Underground sound with psychedelic organ. For me the VU and The Beach Boys are the two ends of the spectrum I want to explore.”


Click here for Stereo Moon on Twitter.





Who are the 'Non-Believers'?

It is taken from the lyrics in “Wonderful” by The Beach Boys. I interpret it as being Brian Wilson or creative types not wanting mediocrity and always looking for something new. Not being held back by the squares and the unenlightened. Similar in tone with the lyrics to their song, 'I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times'.

How did you first get into psychedelic music? Any earlier bands we should know about?

It all started in 1994 listening to Rick White’s Eric’s Trip/Elevator to Hell and in interviews he mentioned Love's Forever Changes. Taping a radio program on the CBC called, Brave New Waves, and hearing The Olivia Tremor Control but not realizing until later. Seeing The Apples in Stereo play on a Canadian talk show (you never see anything cool on Canadian TV). You get the internet and make the discovery of the OTC and Apples connection through The Elephant 6 crew. Through them take a closer look into The Beach Boys catalogue, especially Pet Sounds as a whole album for the first time. Watch an A&E Biography on The Beach Boys and hearing these snippets of music from an album I have never heard of called SMiLE. Purchase Dusk At Cubist Castle and it blows my mind. Then I find some fan mixes of SMiLE and the music seems so mystical as if it was literally the Holy Grail. The search continues…

You cite Modular recording and arranging as a technique that's not been fully explored. What is it about this approach that attracts you?

I like the concept of a song within a song which you can obviously separate into two. Also having every song/section create its own little world or utopia. I want to write as many melodies as possible and can they coincide at the same time? Or do you have to deconstruct and then build it back up again? Having something work as one whole complete idea excites me. Ultimately I want to trip out like when your dreaming, which can be the most amazing journey. Jumping from one adventure to another and seeing things appear in multiple places or configurations. Using the recording studio as an instrument. A Jerry Garcia quote from their Classic Albums episode says it the best, “mixing it for the hallucinations”.

For a lot of people psychedelic music hit some sort of high water mark circa '67. You obviously feel (like us Shindiggers) that it still has untapped potential and unexplored areas. Why do you think its time in the mainstream was so short?

Seriously, I think it was in some way SMiLE not being released and the ensuing myth and half truths that too many drugs fried Brian Wilson’s brain. Smiley Smile is a psychedelic record but not what people were expecting then they go back to basics like The Beatles and others and kinda leave the production race behind. There is other stories of drugs playing havoc on other musicians and some of these may be true but that stigma has people stepping back from psychedelic drugs. I think in a Brian Wilson interview from that time he mentions the future of music being psychedelic and it doesn’t happen. That future is a lie to some.

'Rolling Doobies For The Beach Boys' – great title! What is it about The Beach Boys' music that gives it enduring appeal?

That combo of jazz harmonies, rock and roll, surf, doo-wop and R&B will probably never be duplicated again and that is just the first couple years of the band. Brian Wilson was constantly looking for new sounds and experimenting with chord structures along the way but having hit records as he expanded their sound. The amazing thing is he is at the helm of it all from the very beginning (with some help from his Dad and Nik Venet up to the first LP or so). He had lyric writers as collaborators but he wrote nearly all the music, produced, arranged, mixed and even engineered some with help from The Wrecking Crew in the studio and the other Beach Boys cooing the vocals and taking his productions on the road. In my mind he is some combination of Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche and George Martin, Lennon/McCartney all rolled into one. Everything is on his shoulders all the while no one knows Brian has a mental illness and is basically the sole means for supporting his family financially. “Ahead of their time” is a phrase misused a lot and in the case of Brian Wilson’s 1966 productions it actually rings true. Self doubt, inner conflict and/or outside events force him to choose his dysfunctional family over his art. What a crazy story!

Much like Brian Wilson with SMiLE, your as yet unreleased LP Smoking Shake By The Riverside has been obsessed over for some time. I hope it's not testing the limits of your sanity! How's it sounding and when can we expect to hear it?

There is a lyric in one of the songs that says, “I’ve been driving myself insane but I wouldn’t have it any other fucking way”. So I am trying to own it. This will technically be my first full length release but the last record that I have written. I have been writing songs since 1994 and have 5 albums waiting to be recorded so I have some experience in sanity. This record has some jazz and country mixed in with the psych pop tunes and some instrumentals. From October 2012 to April 2013 Bruce Mackinnon and I did some pre-production for the album which consisted of Bruce bringing over an instrument and trying out melodies to see what worked best until he ran out of instruments. So there is everything from pedal steel to horns, strings, double bass, organ/piano, banjo etc;. You name it, Bruce can play it. As recording progressed new things were written, added and some things even re-recorded. I was laid-off from work in December 2015 so production has slowed down because it costs money to rent a vibraphone for example which will be the next big thing to get excited about. All the exotic instrumentation that can be hard to find sometimes or even people who can play them . I’m hoping for mixing to be started by the end of 2017.

Bruce Mackinnon (New Grease Revival) and Jon Sloan (Hairy Holler) have helped on the recordings. What's the musical scene like in Oshawa?

I wouldn’t be able to achieve the sounds I want to make without them. For a couple years Bruce was the scene in Oshawa until he moved to Toronto. The musical community in Oshawa has been mostly Folksters and Punksters since I moved here in 1999, branching out the last 5-10 years into other sounds. There has always been 2 or 3 venues to get gigs but that can fluctuate in such a small musical community. Shout out to The Moustache Club as a place bands should play if they come through Oshawa.

I get the impression Stereo Moon is mainly centred around the studio, though you have played live shows. How does the live stuff differ from your recordings?

Live I’m going for more of a noisy Velvet Underground sound with psychedelic organ. For me the Velvet Underground and The Beach Boys are the two ends of the spectrum I want to explore.