I’m excited to present to you an interview with Eric Quach of THISQUIETARMY. I wrote a lenghty review on his new album Resurgence for TITEL-Kulturmagazin and also had a short interview with him which I used for a short review on Resurgence and the recently re-released Unconquered for FUZE Fanzine. Eric turned out to be a very nice and interesting person, so I decided it would be a good idea to do an interview with him. Parts of that interview were published in the latest – and 100th! – issue of OxFanzine, which you can order here. I had to translate it into German, of course.
But here’s the interview (sans a small part where we talked about print media) in English for non-German speakers. Read it, think about it, listen to his music, buy it and then go see him live together with the almighty AUN on their forthcoming euro tour. Links and tour dates see below.
Photo by Christy Romanick
You put out a lot of music and don’t confine yourself to working on your solo projects. You also collaborate with other artists like Aidan Baker. What are the advantages or disadvantages of working on your own? And how on the other hand do you benefit from working with other musicians?
The obvious advantage is of course, freedom – to do whatever you want the way you want and not depend on others. Creating is an essential need for me, and I am thankful to have this solo outlet that is available at any time, without any constraint. You also have to be creative in the sense that you are limited to your own abilities and you have to max out your resources in order to create material that is true to yourself, that will hold on its own, and that has to compete in a world where bands dominate the music scene. Anyone who has been in a band can understand what a pain in the ass it can be to work with others, there are so many compromises to be made, tensions, problems, etc. that will eventually arise from different individual needs and egos. It’s very much like a relationship, or a polygamous one. One-off collaborations are kind of like one-night stands – you get together to work together at a given time, or for a short period of time, and there is no defined future commitment from one another. And it’s great to collaborate with someone else, especially when the other person pushes you outside of your comfort zone, and your creativity start to flow in ways that never happened before, and that never could happen alone. The dynamics are very different and it can be quite exciting when things work out. Plus, you can’t be misanthropic all the time. Eventually you get lonely, and you become your own enemy. So it’s good to go outside once in a while.
The process of making music together despite all geographical distance has become a lot simpler. Nowadays you can easily exchange song ideas via the internet and work on those separately. When you work with other musicians, what do you prefer? Getting together in person to jam or do you use the internet?
It’s different for each collaboration. In the case of Scott Cortez from lovesliescrushing (one of my biggest influences with their albums released in the mid-90s), we have never met in real life and everything was done exchanging with one another through the internet. It does make connections and dreams that you never thought could be possible – much easier to make happen.
In the case of Yellow6 who is from the UK, he was in Montreal for the Under The Snow festival, and even though we were very tired the evening we met, we both knew that there would never be another opportunity to do this again any time soon. So we went into studio in this state of exhaustion and recorded together for hours.
As for Aidan Baker, we’ve known each other since 2004 when we played together with our bands Mnemosyne & Destroyalldreamers. Our first time (Orange, re-issued this year) collaborating was through file-sharing/internet, which I really like the process at the time because I didn’t feel as comfortable about live improvisation & recording as I am now. For the second album (A Picture of a Picture), we wanted to be in the same room and record together. The results between both albums are completely different to me.
I’ll also be appearing on french doom band Monarch‘s upcoming album, which I’ve met and became good friends with. However, the collaboration has been done separately – they gave me general themes and ideas about what they wanted me to do and I recorded a bunch of tracks for them to choose from and then adding to it on their side.
In a way, collaborating in real life is easier and more spontaneous – there’s also the circumstances of your exchange at that place at that moment that can truly influence the output. But with the internet, you can take more time to think about the process, re-record your parts and overdub if you wish, just trying to make things perfect. I enjoy both ways of working – though with more and more collaborations happening online, I think it’s now a lot more impressive to get out of the saturated virtual world to meet face-to-face and have a real human connection.
You’re pretty much your own company. Apart from your impressive output you also run a label and have a distro. It seems like it pays your bills as you don’t work as an engineer at the moment. Is that another benefit from mostly working alone? After all, every cent you earn is yours and you don’t have to share. Seems like a pretty clever business plan: Nowadays you need very little to record your music. Releasing and distributing it has considerably becoming easier, too. Is that also something you’d consider to be beneficial?
I’m currently on hiatus from my old profession because I needed a break from that working environment and lifestyle after working intensively for 7 years while doing music in parallel. It doesn’t really mean that I’m living from my music now as I have some savings from the engineering job which I’m using to take time off and focus more on music and see where it can lead. Also, the money from the music is mostly pocket-amounts that is constantly re-invested in equipment and other things that you need to make your art evolve, so there’s still very little profit.
Though, it’s true that it’s more beneficial to work alone, in contrast to being in a band like Destroyalldreamers, where we would keep losing money (like most bands) and after a while, it’s not worth pursuing a project which you never get rewarded for, even if you’re proud of what you do. But I’m not really working alone as a “business plan” either, it just happened that I’ve managed to create projects that answer my needs much better in general. The advantages are just bonuses (such as less expenses for touring, easier for travelling, 100% of shares, etc.) and they were not really planned in terms of being beneficial financially. It is also more difficult to work alone and to take care of everything on your own, so really not for anybody. In the end, that clever business plan always comes back to having to work really hard, no matter what. I’ll see how long I’m able to survive this way, but I will probably end up working a real job again. Making enough money to live from music is still and will always be a big pipe dream.
What is your approach to songwriting? You use a lot of loops, drum computers and such, adding different sounds here and there. Which reminded me a lot of how Techno tracks usually work: A pattern – based on loops or maybe layers – that seldomly changes but with a lot of additional sounds that prevent those songs from being repetitive or boring. Dr do you have a scheme in head, a sort of structural plan you want to put into action or do you prefer improvising?
It’s really interesting that you compare it to Techno, I would tend to compare it with Krautrock. But techno might make more sense, since I’m creating alone and with the help of patterns and loops with computer programming.
My songwriting approach is a combination of several things. First, I do not consider myself as a musician and I know very little about music theory and I’m self-taught. My background is scientific, which allows me to be analytic and organized, but my artistic output is very much an intuitive and emotional expression of my state of mind at that moment. So it usually starts with improvisation. The tracks with drum machine take a lot longer to figure out and accomplish, because like you say, I have to add a lot of additional sounds to prevent them from being repetitive and boring, kind of why the new album took about 4 years to complete. Usually I will jam with that beat and make a lot of recordings, play them back a lot, and even play those sequences live, in order to develop ideas with practice and time as ideas and specific sounds don’t really appear in my head. They come with endless hours of improvisation and experimentation, as much in studio as in rehearsal or live. At some point, patterns start to develop unconscious that you start playing the same melodies that stuck through time. I also record a lot of anything that I do, which is very time-consuming to listen to after, but you can find a lot of gems, brilliant moments, or “happy accident” that I would never get back, if it wasn’t for the recordings. Sometimes, I would manage to get a near-perfect improvisation recorded, and I will either leave it as is. Or I’d add things later on, edit the track, loop some parts over as extra layers of overdubs.
Photo by Meryem Yildiz
I think it’s fairly uncommon that musicians will admit that they don’t even consider themselves “musicians”. What is writing music to you, then? Pure craftsmanship? It’s a very interesting point though. Obviously, making music has become easier and easier over the past decades. How do you think that the situation, i.e. working on one’s own, using the latest technology, not really relying on other people anymore, has changed music or will change music?
I don’t really know who is and who isn’t a musician out there – I’m assuming most of them (or at least those who have made a name for themselves) had some sort of training, theoretical knowledge about music or at least took some basic classes for learning how to play their instrument. For my part, I’ve virtually had none and I approach music pretty intuitively and emotional place. I do feel like I have tons of limitations in that aspect and I can often feel intimidated by other musicians who, for example, actually play music for a living (even if it’s really bad music – though, I might feel a bit sad for them). I also wouldn’t be able to explain to someone else how to play my songs, or how to play along to them – they would have to figure that out for themselves. I’m assuming a lot of musicians are able to go like this: “ok, let’s play this jam in a certain key, scale or time-signature – or let’s play a cover of this Led Zeppelin song – or I’ve got this song that has just appeared in my head, and I’m gonna play it”. Clearly, I am completely incapable of doing anything like that – I guess crafting is a better term than writing or composing for me but maybe we’re just getting technical with terms. Aidan Baker just sent me a score sheet for his multiple guitar composition project, and I have no idea how to read this. Thankfully, it comes with sound samples and I’ll have to play it by ear.
At the same time, I’ve exchanged with musicians who can do all of these and I’ve even played with a lot of them too, either just for fun or for real projects – in general they are somehow far more impressed by what I can do rather than what I cannot do – which to me, is mind-boggling. In fact, I’ve recently been asked to be on the cover of this Canadian magazine, Muzik ETC that they distribute for free in music centers and music shops – which is of course, read by “real musicians” (in that sense). Honestly, I feel like a fraud being on that cover – but hey, gotta seize an opportunity when it’s there, right? Plus, I’m assuming it’s also written by real musicians as well, or people who knows what they are talking about. But a lot of the time, it turns out that the “real musicians” I’ve crossed paths with actually envy my lack of knowledge and my naive but creative approach to music-making. I guess it sort of make sense because they may themselves be limited by their own theoretical knowledge and standard playing-style, which makes them stuck inside a box, struggling to do anything more creative than what they’ve learned.
As for me, as an artist, my creativity might be endless and sound is just a creative medium for me (before music, I used to paint for the same creative needs) – but it may somewhat be fueled by the fact that I’m still motivated to go towards a level of skills that I know I will never be able to reach, where as trained musicians can already be very near their peak and they can somewhat feel like they are saturating. As a consequence, this struggle process – trying to reach this unreachable level and making music that can be as good as what is out there – tend to weasel itself out as very productive and creative. I think the same logic sort of applies in terms of my music being liked not only in the ambient scene, but also in the electronic, post-rock and the metal scene. For example, my music may not be as complex or be as sophisticated than music made by bands, but it can very well be liked by the same people who like those same bands and that’s as flattering as real musicians being impressed by what I can do.
As for technology making it easier – I guess it’s true but I think that everyone should be able to make music if they want to and that no one should be denied to do anything creative whatsoever as it’s something that is essential in one’s life. Everyone has now access to the same tools and they are no longer constrained by the fact that you have to go to very specific channels to become a “musician” – anyone can be one, and it’s great for everyone in that respect. It might have hurt the businesses and it made things a lot more competitive for those who have worked hard to get where they are – but it also makes it fairer – there’s no need to point out that technology has destroyed certain defined infrastructures – that’s how it has evolved and this is today’s reality. It’s sort of like a revolution overthrowing an empire that used to have all the power. Now it’s ground zero, and everyone has the opportunity to try to be what they wish. The question is, whether they are actually worthy or not.
In consequence to this, we are now flooded with so much more music than we can handle, most of it is really horrible music, and there are now tons of people who think that they can be musicians, which means that there are also a lot of people who are not able to judge quality. This has, understandably, created a massive chaos out there where everything is saturated. It has become very overwhelming, to the point where I feel like the universe should just explode and make everything disappear for the greater good. But there is no guilty party, everyone is at fault and I don’t think we should blame progress and technology. It’s up to us to filter the mediocre from the outstanding, it’s up to the artists to let their ego aside and choose whether their music is worth being released, it’s up the labels to make good decisions concerning the quality of the music they want to release and not just settle to do it for something because there’s some business potential, it’s up to certain media/radio/webzine to hype certain artists or type of music that should not be based on their advertisement sales or to be playing god by telling people whatever they want the new flavor of the month to be, and so on —- Of course, in the end, money will always run things and thus devaluate art, but that’s nothing new. Nonetheless, each individual has the responsibility of being real to themselves…
That is also applicable for other type of arts, cultures, economy, politics – I’ve already given up on any notion that anything will ever be fair, so there’s not much we can do but to go with the flow and try to be as real as possible. Things don’t have to be a certain way, they just are the way they are because that’s how they are happening, even if you don’t like it. There’s no template for anything about life, just what you make of it. Besides, in the end, nothing matters… Sorry, went on an abstract philosophical tangent there.
You’ve recently re-released your album “Unconquered” on vinyl, your new album “Resurgence” will also be available in that format. Drastically speaking, physical copies of record seem to become more and more obsolete, some artists already prefer selling downloads rather than putting out an actual record. What do you think still draws people to physical copies of records, especially vinyl?
Putting out an album on download is just too easy and lazy. It’s effortless and by the same token, there is absolutely no statement about the work, and no one to vouch for it. When you find a label that is willing to put out a physical product by shelling out thousands of dollars/euros for the production and the promotion of your work, it’s a real investment and a real risk. There are a lot of things at stake, but it also shows what the work is worth to their eyes, and it shows how much they believe in it. That’s a great feeling.
I think the same can be said for people who buy vinyl records, who spend their hard-earned money on a big physical package – that is also a commitment from their part. Anything can exist in digital realm, because like you say, technological advancement and evolution has made that possible. Of course, digital records can have digital artwork, which makes sense especially since music and art is also made with digital tools anyway, so the logic of physical objects becoming obsolete is unfortunately plausible and logical (maybe we don’t deserve real objects anymore after all?).
But then again, we don’t record and mix music with computer speakers & ear buds. MP3s, even of the high-quality is a sub-format that was created to save space, while decreasing exponentially the quality of the way it was intended to be listened to. To artists, that is a huge compromise. I won’t get into the technicality of what you’re losing, but I think it’s a real shame that it’s become the standard for music data now. Also, an album is not complete until I have the complete artwork put together. The artwork is a very important aspect of a record, and it also dictates what the sound of the record would look like, at least for me. If music fans really care about art and if they really love the music, then they will be drawn to own the physical record, as much for the greatness of the artwork as for the quality of sound. It’s as simple as that.
Check out some more of Eric’s tunes here and buy his records if you’re from Europe! That vinyl sure looks beautiful (as usual with anything Denovali Records puts out). If you’re from America, you should pay thisquietarmy‘s homepage a visit. There you’ll also find some of the stuff Eric has put out on his own label like Adrian Anioł whose music is truely uncanny – in the best sense of the word, of course.
thisquietarmy on tour with AUN, brought to you by Denovali Booking:
13.04.2012 Tilburg (nl) – Roadburn Festival
14.04.2012 Netherlands / Germany (AVAILABLE)
15.04.2012 Kopenhagen (dk) – Loppen
16.04.2012 DAY OFF
17.04.2012 Berlin (ger) – Lovelite
18.04.2012 Leipzig (AVAILABLE)
19.04.2012 Bremen (ger) – MS Stubnitz
20.04.2012 Hamburg (ger) – Droneburg Festival
21.04.2012 Frankfurt (ger) – Ivi
22.04.2012 Metz (f) – La Lucarne
23.04.2012 Nancy (f) – Le Caveau du Sauvoy
24.04.2012 Esslingen (ger) – Komma Esslingen
25.04.2012 Innsbruck (AT) – PMK
26.04.2012 Basel (ch) – Hirscheneck
27.04.2012 Bochum (ger) – Christuskirche