January 28th, 2012 at 7PM
The Project Lodge
817 E. Johnson Street
(Mezzic is proud to join up with the excellent Madison singer/songwriter Jeremiah Nelson to share with everyone one of his favorite musicians. This Saturday, be sure to check out ten-speed along with Here Comes the Night and Terry N’ the Front at the Project Lodge! Read Jeremiah’s interview with Isaac below.)
A couple years ago I saw ten-speed play in Chicago. They absolutely floored me and didn’t sound like anything else I had heard. The songs were angular and raw and bared no resemblance to any current trends, which I’ve always admired. Isaac, who is the core member and principle songwriter took the time to give us some insight into how they make records, chord voicings and process. Mezzic will be presenting Isaac Pierce at the Project Lodge on 1/28/12
1.) One of the reasons I really love ten-speed is because it doesn’t sound like anything – I mean that as a compliment – It does not resemble any current, past or future trend, it’s a totally unique sound. I think I was immediately pulled me in because of it’s emotional immediacy… I get the impression that a lot goes into the arranging of ten-speed tunes and when you guys record, it’s more about documenting the energy of the performance than lots of intensive editing. It comes across very raw, in the best way. To me, it really stands out in a sea of indie-rock where editing to death is has become the status-quo. Your stuff is done on tape right? Did you ever develop an aversion to working digitally or DAWs or whatever?
Isaac: Tape affords a sound that is becoming for much less money than a DAW (how do you get digital to sound sweet: front load it with a bunch of Focusrite and Neve Mic Pres!!). We didn’t/don’t have any money, but I did/do have a Tascam 388 and now an Otari mx 5050 4 -track
Mike and I have both worked as engineers-he for LMR (his label) and me for a company called Edge Audio. During my time, I was punching peoples words…overdubbing guitar/voices etc and started to feel/hear, with suspicion, that all these overdubs and fixes were part of a different time and space that sacrificed something. Some of the bands were pretty good. Click tracks/sequencers sometimes sound like people chasing a machine around…people playing in a room: dangerous! and comforting!
I have no aversion to DAW’s. They might be better for mixing and editing after the fact, though I still prefer live mixing. It adds a layer of consciousness that the listener-I believe-can feel because it has to be performed. Also, I think that digital interfaces can be a little distracting because they are visually based and readily allowing for endless augmentation…retakes, touch-ups etc…will lead to endless augmentation tape is limiting. I asks does it speak or not?! No, well throw it away then and do it again.
The third record is 6 tracks live with 3 overdubs (bass on _, 2nd voice on Progressive Metal, 2nd voice (I was outa tune for some reason) on When Everything Happens. My new recording is live with a couple overdubs here and there. FPC is 8 tracks.
There is also the moment when tape rolls. It says: “Do something!” We don’t have all day, all life, all. Maybe though, I am covering up that I have trouble finishing things.
There are a weaving parts…one voice stops, another starts…rhythms fullfil each-other and communicate and propagate though the structure. On the third record, we were trying to build a structure that was thin-that leaned in on itself to survive. On the third record, within those structures, we were waiting for moments…like a tearing… looking for something impossible from that strange space created at the edge of a transition in song. Performance-based recording instead of a production based one…
2.) Mike Thompson engineered some of it, who is actually from my hometown. I used to see him play in high-school. He was always a really captivating and expressive musician. Back then and he was playing drums. I was wondering how you guys hooked up and if he had played bass in bands prior to ten-speed.
Mike played in Eye-sine and Relative. He also runs a small label called Last Minute Records. Nick and I played a gig with Alina Simone and These United States, and Cartright. She liked what we were doing and knew that we having trouble getting out of the bottom wrung of Chicago gigging so she invited us on a show at the Note (Sept 4th, 2007, now the Flat Iron) which Mike attended. He was impressed with what we were doing, which at the time was heavily improvised song. I played bass pedals.
Mike had left Google to pursue music and was interested in revitalizing LMR with new bands and asked that our music be included. We began recording Firewater Pinhole Camera in November and finished it in June of 2008. Approached like a 4-track sketch. I played a lot of intergral bass parts on that recording. Mike offered to help with them live.
At some point, we started working on new songs with him playing bass. The stuff was speaking and was super fun. Sometime in Feb ’09 we started really working on some stuff that ended up the 3rd record and much more that is in process. I have also jammed and gigged with Mike on drums…which has an awesome intensity. We speak to each-others inner post punk.
3.) You use a lot of really interesting chord voicings. I was wondering if it was a product of experimenting with different tunings and just stumbling into unique sounds or if you have studied theory in depth…
I look for the notes on I want to hear within the chord structure. The problem with additional tonal degrees is that they require more voice leading to keep them resolving. I have studied theory. I was taught by my guitar teacher, Paul Stoddard. I wanted to study composition but I didn’t play piano so I don’t really use alternate tunings. Not opposed to it though, occasionally a drop a note to bring out a drone or a note I need that is physically tough otherwise.
UNDERSCORE on the 3rd record has the B dropped to A, and Wake Up Sleeper has high E dropped to C# to get that color. On my new recording Warm Bruise is drop D. Everything else is standard.
4.) It seems like your tunes are highly nuanced in form and phrasing and really pay no mind to traditional song templates. Are there any artists you would cite as influential cornerstones that you took hints from? What is your writing/composition process typically like?
I’m not sure. My influences probably pertain more to sonics then fabrics. Shudder to Think, perhaps. Arrangements tend to be about balancing the structure. I have some sort of proto-composer bend.
So far the tunes seem to start in a blurrily…they are emotional, non-sensical and violent. Everything was there, only I can’t remember much of it. Sometimes there is a word…sometimes sentence….most times a piece of melody I really love somehow. There is a sense that there is a new thing and the rest of the work is about trying to define or bring back what that thing is….melodies get longer…words begin to emerge and ride on the melodies…they begin to reflect each-other…themes come into focus…verses are sacrificed for the sake of clearer meaning or left obtuse to maintain a tonality..or sometimes they are gutted and completely re-written at the last minute. Recording for me is the process of deciding. They are never done because they don’t exist here anyway…
5.) 5 stranded-on-a-desert-island recordings?
I’m not sure I would want to have any records on a desert island but these records meant a lot to me:
Neutral Milk Hotel, In An Aeroplane Over the Sea
Animal Collective, Feels
Van Morrison, Atral Weeks
HUM, Downward is Heavenward
The Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould 1981
Albert Ayler, Live at Greenwich Village