If you asked us to name our favorite musical artists, Married in Berdichev would easily be in the top 50. Brittany Gould makes some of the most beautiful music we’ve ever heard, both as Married In Berdichev and with Experimental 1/2 Hour’s Eva Aguila as Caldera Lakes. Her recent trip to Paris prompted us to ask her friend and fellow Denverite Nicholas Houde of SFTSTPS to have a chat which took them through laser tag playlists to self-disconnection. Listen to her brand new WIP while you read the following conversation.
Nicholas Houde: I really like this scotch …
Brittany Gould: Which did you choose?
There was only one. It was the Johnny Walker but I prefer it. It has a nice aftertaste, kind of earthy.
Bourbons and whiskeys are just so easy. I could just drink them for hours.
I guess it depends if it’s a really good bourbon.
I’ve tasted ones that are smokier. To me, it’s like an un-scotch man’s scotch [laughs] Which I’m okay with.
It’s like a wet blanket of peat.
“Peats in a blanket” [laughs] I don’t even know what peat is … but I know the taste!
I think it’s funny too, because all those sculptures you were making for a while were all covered in peat.
Is it like moss?
Yeah dude, it’s almost the same thing! Maybe there’s a slight difference. Scotch and bourbon, moss and peat … Pete and Pete.
Well, that was just moss. I don’t know what it is.
New topic. What are your top ten songs to play laser tag to?
Ha, I don’t know. A lot of Metallica, Prodigy and The Offspring.
Like Enter Sandman-era?
[laughs] I’m going to have to make a list. The faster songs probably. Not so much the Black Album because there’s some ballads in there, but some of those are good, I guess.
I just remember Enter Sandman. I don’t know anything about Metallica. I can’t stand that band! Those dudes were looking so tough.
It was so bad. Let’s see, I was listening to a lot of Operation Ivy back then too.
Damn, really! That’s young!
This was 7th grade to 9th grade.
Oh okay, the time period I’m thinking of is when I was about eight or nine.
At that time I was into popular dance music: Real McCoy, C & C Music Factory, CC Penisten – finally it is happening to me! That was my first karaoke song at my friend’s 4th grade birthday party. I brought the tape.
Trying to get the party started?
I took the tape from my sister. I mean it wasn’t really karaoke, I just put the tape on, got on top of the couch and starting singing.
I never knew you liked dance music.
I like dance music! I like it a lot, but it’s so expansive and hard to keep up on – there’s just always so many genres.
Yeah, but the same goes for noise.
But I don’t know those either. I’d like to make dance music.
What would that look like to you?
Like what I do but with beats. It would probably still be pretty poppy, well, not still. I feel like my music’s poppy. I definitely don’t make noise music – it’s too sing-songy.
When you preform live it seems more in the noise realm.
Live is different to recorded.
What does it look like these days when you play live?
I have a Kaoss Pad now, it’s pretty fun. It feels a little more electronic, a little more sample-y although only slightly. I’ve been using a lot more on-the-spot samples. It can get a nice rhythm going.
Kind of like the last track you did, ‘Light Comes’ with that vocal syncopation?
Yes, stuff like that though not through an entire song like that.
I like those patterns because they provide structure, so much of your stuff seems expansive but really you can only expand so much. I like how that track pushes things along instead of just expanding forever. Sometimes you don’t want to just see the valley, you want to walk through it. That song moves; it has a lot of forward movement.
Yeah, it makes it almost environmental.
I care a lot about the environment [laughs]. I don’t know, it’s similar to looking at a painting, like Agnes Martin or something. Or maybe that one Simpsons episode where they’re in the no-man’s land, in the void.
The one where Homer is lost in the psychedelic world?
Yes, and it’s just blank space all around him. I feel like when you have repetitive sounds, it does that.
Do you feel like your music is experimental in this way?
Like when there’s chaos involved? I guess it would be fully experimental, but only because everything that’s recorded is improv.
But do you record it a couple times, or is it just one take?
One take. I’ve tried a few times – in ‘Light Comes’ for example – I recorded maybe one part again but it was literally five seconds. Or I’ll add something on top of something I’ve already recorded. Everything is pretty much the first take, the lyrics are just stream of consciousness. You know I never write anything down and that’s what makes it so hard.
The female Lil’ Wayne!
When I play live nothing is ever the same even when I sing the same words. It’s always a new take and sometimes it sucks.
And sometimes it’s great.
I feel like I’m in a spot where I don’t even know what to do with it. It feels fun to make a song but it doesn’t feel as fun as it used to be. It’s nice when there is this instant gratification, that instant fame: I make this song, I put it on Soundcloud, oh look, people liked it and I feel so good about myself for a minute. But then in the end it really doesn’t feel like anything, it feels so empty. Then the next day I sit there and wonder, how many people have listened to it now? I do it just to feel something, even though it feels so empty. Things feel empty anyway, like when you complete something you have that feeling of ‘well, that’s done and I’ll do something else now’.
You could look at it as an end point, or you could look at it as a gift – putting it in the hands of someone else. That, perhaps for the thousands of people, it’s something that’s alive in them, even if it’s not alive in you anymore.
I guess it goes back to the selfish thing. I do it the tiniest bit for that satisfaction that people are into it but I always wonder if people are getting out of it what I get out of it. Truthfully, it’s because I listen to my own songs. It doesn’t even feel like me when I do – I really just want that mood. I’m not playing out that much.
Do you play much at Rhinoceropolis still?
Yeah, but mostly because they ask me. I’ve been playing some shows at this place called Ironwood. It’s a plant store with ephemera and furniture – a furniture plant store. I think it’s really nice for my music.
In what sense?
Is that the goal? To be calming?
No, not all the time. A goal? I don’t know, is there one? Maybe to make myself feel good? [laughs]
So it’s a selfish endeavor? How funny because you’ve been telling me that you haven’t been making a lot of music. Have you just been feeling really good?
Sometimes that’s true. No. Yes, yeah, that’s totally true! I usually record when I get upset or lonely but then I won’t realize it until I play a show. Then, once I play I’m like, “wow, that felt great!” I’ve been playing a little bit, just not all the time. Plus I don’t have a nice practice space or anything.
I would come and visit Denver sometimes and it felt kind of weird, but really I couldn’t uncover how it felt different from when I lived there in any sort of specific way.
It feels a lot different. I feel like everyone is only going to dance parties all the time. I really have no idea. I don’t go to those things because everyone’s so cool, you know? But at the same time they’re just there to have fun so I’m not dogging it.
I think about this a lot in Berlin; there’s this big party culture but it seems less and less about creating things or engaging on a certain level.
I feel like if I did go out I would probably be more inspired to do things but only because you’re around other people who do things. Maybe.
Even at those dance parties?
Why not? You kind of get this weird superficial idea of what other people are doing especially compared to when you don’t go. I don’t really look at the internet or anything, and everything is on the internet.
Feels really weird, huh?
That is really weird, and of course I am to blame too because if I’m doing something like an art show or a music show I’ll just post once on Facebook and then tell some people and that’s it. I haven’t made a flyer in so long.
Remember when we used to make so many flyers? Just the process of that was really great. Like a stupid reason to make something beautiful.
I think people still do stuff but they do it for the internet. You don’t really see them posted around or anything. But I don’t look on the internet for anything so that’s also why I don’t go to anything. I really don’t know when anything is happening, but some people scour it like crazy or it’s just their natural routine.
I feel like that gets too esoteric though. I remember when I first moved to Denver and my access point for all those shows at Monkey Mania or something was going to …
.. Wax Trax! I know! And there’s still lots of flyers in there but you’d be surprised how many less. I feel like there are only posters for touring acts now.
I will always remember those wacky drawings on the flyers made by Josh Taylor. They always had stuff like: ‘featuring members of Ultraboyz!!!!!’ and I was always thinking ‘Who are these Ultraboyz? And why so many exclamation marks!?’
But it’s different now. Now everybody is always on their game all the time.
The networking game or something? Parcheesi? Guess Who! [laughs]
The ultimate networking game!
It’s kind of weird. I don’t even understand, it’s awesome that Electronic Beats wants to write about me but I don’t get it. I feel like there’s nothing to be said.
Do you feel like there is nothing to be said because your opinion doesn’t matter? Or do you think it’s just because music should be music?
I don’t feel like music should always just be music. There are so many interesting things that aren’t music that have to do with music. Context is always interesting. I’m interested in articles and interviews with artists about their reasons for making things.
But wouldn’t that justify doing this interview now?
I just don’t feel like I’m that interesting [laughs]. Or maybe I am but I just don’t know the right words to say. I feel like everything is a word game. I do care about things but it only matters what I feel to myself – it doesn’t have anything to do with anybody else. It’s for my own personal experience. All I want to do is feel like I’m stuck in the rain. I know that other people get that when I play because no one says anything until after the performance and they come up to me and say “oh, I was in a trance!” and that’s great!
Do you feel like that allows you to connect to people?
I think we’re all lost in some weird zone, some weird universe where we’re all connecting to something, but when I finish playing I don’t look out and say ‘wow, I feel so connected!’ I feel like it’s kind of disconnected. Sometimes I think that it’s because I’m searching for connection. In some of the songs you feel like you are in a beautiful universe like a movie or a dream, floating in water. You know when you are watching a movie and see a scene that is just so beautiful and you imagine it as the most beautiful thing in the world? And then, when you’re in life doing that same sort of thing it feels great but it doesn’t feel as transformative as what you expected it to be. There is a longing for something, and I appreciate that other people get into that place too. I want to hear that they are, I want them to feel that! How amazing to know that they feel that.
Analogue synth aficionados have re-contextualized the collective memories of the sonic past into their idiosyncratic renditions – usually aided by an opulent visualization of their music.
Chicago band Gatekeeper are as influenced by Wax Trax! as they are by the mighty John Carpenter and early EBM. Their debut Optimum Maximus appeared on the Kompakt offshoot imprint Fright Records and was followed up by Giza on Merok.
We caught up with the New York based duo to talk about Chicago, their music and, erm, witch house.
Hello Gatekeeper! Tell me, how did you two get together?
We met in Chicago while we were both at school there. I was studying music and Matthew was studying critical theory. We moved to New York last summer.
Did you make music prior to meeting up?
Yeah, we were both making music, but just for fun before we created Gatekeeper.
Were you influenced by the rich musical heritage of Chicago?
Definitely. Chicago’s house music, labels like Wax Trax!, Trax Records, even stuff like Dance Mania. People don’t really pay much attention to it in Chicago these days unfortunately.
This straight dance music aesthetic is different to what you’re doing though. You also draw from other influences – has EBM had an influence on your music?
Yeah, some of it but we’re pretty selective in our influences.
As for EBM, it’s the specific aesthetic of the sound and the rhythm of the music, less the vocals and stuff, which were not quite as interesting for us.
When you got to New York, did you hook up with the whole scene there – the witch house scene? Is it a scene as such?
We don’t really consider ourselves as part of a specific movement right now. There are lots of movements that we cross over, but I think we’re pretty different. We’re definitely not a witch house band. Lot of our friends and communities that are supporting their music also support us.
It’s not music that really sounds like ours. Of course we like Salem, but we’re not trying to sound like them.
What sort of equipment do you work with?
We work with both analogue and digital. Our studio consists mostly of keyboards from the last thirty years. We record everything in Logic.
Does the fact that you both studied music influence the way you look at and create music?
It’s harder and easier in different ways. It’s harder because I’m comparing everything to the standard of quality that has been around for hundreds of years, it’s also easier because I have those tools that I can use to express my ideas. It can be difficult when comparing it to the traditional way people approach music.
But you feel free to defy those things that you have learnt?
It’s like learning a language and than you can speak whatever you want. Once you have the tools it’s up to you to use it in an interesting way. We have a lot of analogue synthesizers from the past and we are using new digital technology.
What would you say is the special Gatekeeper touch?
We think of it as imaginary soundtracks for films that don’t exist. We take a lot from the past, from many different genres, but we recombine it so it never sounds like anything in the past. It’s hard to say what our trademark is, as it’s always changing. That’s probably more to the listener to decide.
Do you have something specific that you do, a little trick that you can divulge?
A lot of times when we’re listening back to what we’ve recorded, to make sure it invokes the right feelings, we’ll play a movie on mute with our music to see how the music informs the action in the movie. That’s important since we heavily rely on cinematic tools.
Visuals are important for your project then?
They’re totally inseparable for us. We rely on the way music looks either in your head, in the form of a video, or in the form of a live set. Some way of creating a visual identity for the music is crucial in the experience of what we’re doing.
What about the semantics of your visuals?
We don’t really choose the visuals. Generally, the visuals that accompany our music are loose interpretations – it would be a colour, fog. Ideas that would conjure images in your head, it’s more like a feeling communicated by music.
You’re planning a VHS release. Can you tell us more about it?
The VHS was created by us in collaboration with our friends Thunder Horse, a visual collective from New York. We also work with them on our live sets, create special effects, etc. We made all six videos with them together and created the VHS. It’s meant to accompany the album in one sense – visuals with each song – but it’s just one interpretation of how it could’ve been done. I feel our music can take many different directions with the visuals.
Did you choose the VHS format to fit with the retro-futuristic sound?
It’s a novelty in a way. There isn’t a lot of VHS around anymore. We are using stuff from a lot of eras and the VHS plays into that. It’s also a medium that Thunder Horse work a lot with and they have huge VHS libraries. There’s also the aesthetic quality issue. When you put something onto VHS – the videos all take this uniform quality and the music sounds overcompressed. It’s a nice experience to watch it because it unifies everything.
What about your latest record – Giza?
We’re drawing from this imaginative desert world. Our last EP drew from John Carpenter, Dario Argento. The new record is a little bit different.
I guess this Goblin horror score music has been omnipresent in the last two years…
That’s what we were interested in two years ago when we made our first EP. As a result of over-saturation, the way we consume media is with a need to hear new things. Once we’ve been into something for half a year or year, chances are we’re not going to be into it anymore to keep us from getting bored.
Do you consider what you do as dance music?
Experimental club music. Not really. On some level, it works in the context of a club with the lights and smoke and people dancing but it’s also very cerebral. But we are both very flattered when it works in a club. It can work but it just has to be in the right context.
What are you working on right now?
Bunch of stuff. We are working on mixes, some new material, a score to a video game. We just started talking to people about doing film scores, T-shirt collaborations, etc.
Are you planning to come to Europe any time soon?
We’re planning a big tour, France, UK, Germany, etc. in April.