You often use video as part of your performances, and from those and your videos on YouTube, it seems that you’re drawn to archival images, ones that have a history or even a sense of mystery behind them?
That is true.
I also noticed that you’re into Polaroid photos; what is it about Polaroid that appeals to you?
The saturation of colors is just perfect for my particular sensibility, and I love that each is a unique image, a little moment in time that can’t be duplicated or manipulated. I thought those cameras were the coolest things in the world when I was young and went nuts and spent tons of cash on film cartridges when I first got my own. Those photos are also something I love to give away, cos to me it’s one of the most meaningful and personal gifts I could give to someone. I don’t have very many left, sadly, and there’s no sign of the original film going back into production…
How did it feel to sign to Kranky? It’s such a fantastic label to get to work with.
Fantastic and unreal, really. And, I agree; Joel is super smart and shrewd and one of the most enjoyable conversationalists I have ever met. Shoots from the hip.
Did you approach the making or writing of Lasted in any way differently to your previous albums?
Not to any great degree, except that several of the songs came about well before I actually got around to recording them, so they simmered a bit more and underwent a few more changes than I normally make over the course of a little while. In the past I’ve generally written and recorded songs within the same few days, but in this case having a batch of pieces ready when I began recording made the process go much more quickly.
When do you know when a song is complete – are you the type who goes back and changes things or do you get a gut feeling telling that when a song is done, it’s done?
There’s a feeling of balance to which I’ve become increasingly attuned, and when that occurs I let it go, except occasionally for making notes about the mix, you know, this snare needs a boost or this fret noise needs to be cut, etc.
Nature seems to play a big role in your music – from field recordings to videos, it’s a constant presence. Are you someone who tries to spend a lot of time in nature to draw inspiration from it or connect with it in a certain way?
One element that I love about your music is that it balances melody with more obtuse sounds, that there can be layers of noise but among them a really strong vocal melody or guitar lines. There’s also a contrast between the analogue sounds and those that appear to have been recorded digitally. Is this something that you consciously try to balance, or enjoy balancing?
I don’t think I consciously try to do anything, really. I am, however, terribly addicted to the way magnetic tape filters out the cleanliness of a lot of sounds, particularly my hammer dulcimer, which one person referred to as sounding like an ‘underwater piano’. I liked that.
What’s your recording set up?
A Shure SM-58 microphone, a cheap Behringer mixer and GarageBand for Mac.
I’ve noticed that on some live performances of your shows (like the Decibel Festival) you play your set as one whole piece – is this usually how you perform live, and what is it about this mode that appeals to you?
Lately I’ve done a lot of acoustic shows, which is totally simplified and different because I feel I should talk in between songs, and they are reduced to the discrete miniatures that they are… But for the electrified sets I like to at least attempt a sonic narrative, the way you would experience a film in a single sitting. Long passages of minimal or dissonant sounds that lead into something more ‘momentous’ with a layering of elements and greater sense of structure, something like that.
You’ve collaborated with a few different musicians, like Praveen. What’s the most enjoyable thing about these collaborations?
Ah, I love Praveen. He is known to friends as the Wild Man, and we had a blast when he and Travis (Machinedrum) played as Sepalcure at the Decibel festival in Seattle last year. He also came to Portland the year before and stayed with me; one night I had to work and was supposed to meet him at Holocene afterwards, but by the time I was done he was already off to the next party, so I went to sleep on my floor in a sleeping bag, having given up my bed to him and thinking he’d be back by, you know, 2 or 3 am, but he wandered in around 10am with a pretty memorable look on his face and passed out for the rest of the day while I ran some errands and went to read in the park. Later on we recorded some guitar duets on my tape recorder and got some cheesy fries at the bar around the block. That was pretty good.
What musicians inspire you?
Mostly good ones.
What was the first band or musician you connected with as a child, the first music that made you think, ‘hey, I want to do this too!’? Do you come from a musical family?
My first ‘favorite song’ was ‘Cannonball’ by The Breeders when I was about eight years old. I loved the video, too, when there’s the shot from underneath of her breathing bubbles. I still love that song. And no, not really; my dad can play some tunes on the guitar but otherwise the only person who makes music in my entire extended family is my cousin Bryan, and man, it’s a trypp.
What interests you outside of music?
My bicycle, my wife and my kitchen. But all those things are musical, too, I would argue; my wheel hubs click and the tires hum on the road, my wife’s laugh is like a melody and my gas stove gives a little whoosh when it fires up, for example.
Have you been working on any other projects besides Benoît Pioulard recently?
Yep, I’m finishing a record with Rafael Anton Irisarri (aka The Sight Below) and Jesy Fortino (aka Tiny Vipers) under the name Orcas. Its fate remains to be determined, but I like what we have.
What are your plans for the rest of 2011, and might they include touring in Europe, and playing in Ireland?
Everything’s kind of up in the air at the moment, but not in a bad or unsettling way at all; just maybe check back in a few months…
State Mix #34: Eight Songs That Make Me Really Miss Playing Drums on a Regular Basis
Compiled by Benoît Pioulard:
1. ‘Man Is Not a Bird’ by Broadcast (from Haha Sound)
2. ‘Magmanic’ by Giddy Motors (from Make It Pop)
3. ‘Two Bass Hit’ by Miles Davis (from ‘Round About Midnight)
4. ‘I Am Oozing Emotion’ by The Chap (from Dror Frangi)
5. ‘Carrying the Wet Wood’ by Maps & Atlases (from Perch Patchwork)
6. ‘Kool Killer’ by Ex-Models (from Zoo Psychology)
7. ‘Batcat’ by Mogwai (from The Hawk is Howling)
8. Windowlicker [Acid Edit]’ by Aphex Twin (from 26 Mixes for Cash)