In the year after I left The Giraffes I spent a lot of time thinking about what I had already made and what I still wanted to hear. I was bored with extreme situations, bored with confrontation and bored with complexity. I wanted to do something long and cold, something I could burrow into and escape myself in. I looked around however there was very little in the world that seemed to scratch the musical itch I was feeling.
So I made it myself.
I completely reinvented the methods I use to create music. Instead of being a "rider" on the "wild beast" of the riff and the drum I tried to become the antenna for quiet transmissions that come and go without the distractions of thoughts or plans. I worked to stop editing and attempted to let the music grow from me like fingernails or hair.
I began taking guitar lessons from the wonderful Jesse Krakow. I rented a basement room in Manhattan's legendary secret speakeasy rock-n-roll gem "The Red Door". I also made it a point to record every session I held. With a new tuning (B minor - open) and a loop pedal, I had all I needed to explore new ground.
I was looking for something bitter, sparse, dark and expansive. This album is the best of countless improvisations in a secret abandoned crag.
All of these songs were recorded live.
All are first takes.
All are improvised.
Lyrics were made up on the spot*.
*The only exception being "Her Grandfather Explains" which comes from an improvised collaboration with the amazing fiddler Russell Farhang at his home in CT- (I recorded the lyrics later on my laptop while running a fever).
This album is only the beginning. There are four secret tracks that are available to you when you download the record. These are effectively demos of songs that I am currently recording with Joel Hamilton at Studio G in Brooklyn. Look for that batch of music in the coming months.
THIS RELEASE WILL FUND THE FORTHCOMING FULL ALBUM.
So please support and spread the word. As work comes from work.
Thanks so much.
Interrogation: Aaron C. Lazar
by Grant Moser
Aaron C. Lazar is the former lead singer of the New York-based band The Giraffes. Poploser could write a full description of what this band is like and how ridiculously loud and unruly their live shows are, but it’s probably sufficient to just say that Aaron suffered multiple heart attacks while fronting the band. That should give you a pretty clear picture—of both the band and Aaron. But if you want more, please visit grantmoser.com
to find album reviews and interviews with the band.
But now to the present: Aaron left The Giraffes early in 2011 to plot his own course and has recently sent Poploser a demo of what he’s been working on, a solo album called Improvised Experiments. All the songs on his demo were improvised on the spot, recorded live, and are first takes. You can check out two of the tracks while reading the article. You can also listen to and buy the whole album online; there’s a link at the bottom of this article.
To learn more about his latest endeavor, Poploser took some time out of our hectic schedule to chat with Aaron. He graciously obliged.
Q: Why the decision to leave The Giraffes after so long?
A: This could be a long story—or I could just say it was simply time. I was no longer enjoying it, and I was being a drag to play with.
Q: What have you discovered about yourself over the past year?
A:When I first quit The Giraffes I thought I’d be able to simply fiddle around on my guitar at home and feel like a human being. I was wrong. I needed a separate space where I could just stretch out and get loud. I need to make music seriously; not as a hobby. Always will. That—along with deaths in the family, moves, breakups, and a general complete upheaval in my living arrangements—was enough to hit the reset button so to speak. I realized that using a method more like a visual artist—set times of being creative rather than writing and practicing for “shows”—worked better for me. So I rented a basement space in a building that’s long housed a speakeasy and studios, and began plugging away. Chopping wood so to speak. It was what I needed.
Q: What “musical itch” did you have and how did you find a way to scratch it?
A: More than anything else I wanted to hear the huge desolate sounds that seemed to echo my state of mind at the time. I was in a leaky stone basement, I was alone creatively, and things were very stark in a lot of respects. Which is not to say I was depressed or upset about that. On the contrary I was really happy about the sort of heroic emptiness of the whole situation. It was like an Icelandic landscape or an Ohio highway in late February: grey, cold, harsh, endless. Musically I was really interested in the openness of a lot of Neil Young’s instrumental stuff—like the Dead Man soundtrack. I was also really in love with Portishead’s Third. It all added up to a harsh, sparse sound I wanted to hear. Something with very little comfort to it but a lot of pride. Luckily for me I had slowly acquired, with the help of my friend Mishka, a kit that sounds fantastic. A twelve-string Danelectro through a Silverface Fender Twin and a lot of pedals. It has a huge tone that expands outward—and requires a lot of space—a stately and cruel sound that I’m in love with. After I recorded these songs a friend turned me on to Dirty Beaches who is doing a similar thing. And where there’s one there’s many. I expect I am in a room that’s filling rapidly with like-minded singers and players. Also, after the hot cock-rock intricacy of The Giraffes—the speed, the wackiness, the danger—I was primed for huge, open, cold, ominous things.
Q: You recorded this record solo, but you also have a band, D O N ‘ T. Tell us about that.
A: D O N ‘ T is a separate thing. It evolved from a set weekly “free play” date with my friend Mitchell King, who is an amazing and really idiosyncratic drummer. After several months of simply playing without thinking, a sound began to emerge. We sort of felt our way to where we are. Lyrics were never even written down once, most are simply ad-libbed with a theme in mind. D O N ‘ T has a more public face and it’s born to be live. The solo stuff [like Improvised Experiments] is more private—made for travel, headphones, or long drives.
Q: You say you made a conscious effort to stop editing, to let the music “grow from me like fingernails or hair”. How hard was it to just let go, and what sort of hair and fingernails did you find waiting for you at the end?
A: Self-editing is where most people get into trouble. Editorial skill is very important—but never at the same time as being creative. When you are trying to generate ideas, editing is poison. It took me a while and some sage advice from friends to realize this. Hair and fingernails continue to grow after you have died, and in a lot of ways show that you are either inside or outside of the “world” or civil society. Wild men, bums, corpses, and zombies are unkempt. I suppose using that metaphor was a way for me to signal that what has come out of these experiments is raw and honest, if also baffling to me a lot of the time. It’s wild and sometimes awkward with strange cowlicks and dirt, but that honesty is something I need.
Q: What was your process when you went in to record? Dark room, candles, whiskey, headless dolls?
A: Dark basement room, one naked 40-watt bulb hanging down from the rafters, a damp concrete floor, dusty old pianos, drums, and bottles of rum laying about. But to be fair that’s just the way the room came. There will be no “Oddities” cameos for me, thanks.
Q: What instruments did you use?
A: There is the double neck twelve- and six-string Danelectro (12-string tuned to open B minor, 6-string tuned to Open D). I sometimes would use my baritone Danelectro (also tuned to open B minor) a Capo, a slide. A Fender Twin reverb, silver face style amp with an Electro Harmonix 2880 looper station, A line 6 looper / delay pedal, a Fulltone “full drive 2″ distortion, and a tuner. The old PA in the basement room with a 57 mic.
Q: Improvised Experiments was taken from countless improvisations. How did you decide which to include? Did they speak to you?
A: Sometimes I would know right away that something was working. A lot of times I would attempt to re-create it later and fail. That’s always a good sign that what happened was somehow magical. I would also bounce down all of the recordings on a weekly basis and listen to them while walking around the city shooting photographs. Incidentally, all of the art with the record is done by me as well, photographs I shot over the last year or so.
Q: Do you have any personal favorites on this demo?
A: They are all my children, though “Canfield to New Castle” is a fave as is “Enough Simple Realities to Spoil the Night”. Both capture that harsh and bitter expansive mood I love so much. I was intoxicated by that feeling and made a lot of songs in that vein, but it gets overwhelming for the listener if more than two are strung together. I like the playing on them, its all pretty simple picking, but it’s very sensitive stuff I think. It’s not about mechanical skill, it’s about skill in shaping an sonic inference. “Finally Spring Like” has the most plays on my iTunes—that one begins to turn the corner thematically into something simpler, more blues-based and warmer. I think most people will respond to “Her Grandfather Explains” first however because it’s the closest to what I am known for. “Longship” is all about submerging yourself in the waves of that groove, I recorded it several times, each time it simply flooded me and kept me held tight, unable to do much to change or guide it. It’s an overpowering groove. “Lemming in Love with the Sea” is the acme in bitterness for this record, and I am strangely proud of it. I tried to rework the lyrics several times after I recorded it and none of it worked as well as the automatic stuff I came up with in that room alone, enraged by a stalker. “Another Hill” was complete auto pilot: one second I am tuning, the next I was playing it before I even knew what I was doing. It reminds me of what I liked best about Nine Inch Nails stuff when I was 17 or so. Lyrically he has always been a cautionary tale of what never to do, but he is a seriously gifted composer and producer. This record is traveling music. A lot of the songs are too slow-moving and dilated to make for a good performance or show, but they work great while getting somewhere or while working on something.
Q: These songs seem to have a dark tone in common. What pushes you to write songs like these?
A: It was simply what I wanted to hear; something cold and open. I still think of Iceland and how the land looks when I listen to these songs. Harsh and unforgiving, but as a result very beautiful and overpowering. These sounds make me feel smaller, and I like it that way. It could also have something to do with growing up in the Rust Belt. Watching everything around me get worse and worse year by year. It’s crushing, but sometimes it straightens your spine and makes you stronger, oddly proud of your resilience. I tend to react poorly to people trying too hard and “giving things their all”. Usually the harder people try, the sillier they seem to me. Especially when there is this undercurrent of “redemption” or whatever, like in a lot of orchestral indie rock of late—like Johnossi, ironically from Iceland, etc. It’s just so cloying and insipid to me it hurts. Then again I can be accused of being similar albeit in a different palette. Invoking hope has always seemed to me like false courage, and in a lot of ways even more depressing in that it suggests “Oh, I’m just gonna believe in this miracle,” rather than face the facts and live life to the fullest anyways. A lot of friends have told me that this view depresses the shit out of them. But to me that’s the more inspiring outlook. We are tiny. We are insignificant. We are also part of it all. That’s powerful.
Q: While the songs, for the most part are dark and brooding, “Her Grandfather Explains”—which is still dark and brooding—really has a different feel due to the violin. Can you tell us about recording this song?
A: That song came out of nowhere. A friend—Russell Farhang, fiddler extraordinaire and member of Howard Fishman’s band—invited me up to his house in Connecticut for a weekend of hanging out and seeing what, if anything, we could work up together. We spent the afternoon—me on my acoustic and he on his fiddle—simply improvising. We just went from one idea to another. That particular idea seemed to have the most happening. A week or two later while I was sitting around with a fever on my couch, I pulled up the track and made up some story about being lost in a strange country. Something about the timing of the violin and where it comes in was perfect. I simply couldn’t sit on this one. I also think it hearkens back to a few of the things that I did with The Giraffes on the Gentleman Never Tells EP—so it was a natural inclusion. I must mention how amazing of a musician Russell is. I have worked with some great people, but he seems to have an ability to get inside the head of the people he is playing with. Playing with Russell is like being part of a small flock of birds or school of fish; everyone moves as one. It’s borderline creepy.
Q: While I seemingly can’t stop using the word “dark”, there’s also a subtle bluesy undercurrent as well. How would you describe your musical style?
A: I suppose that’s just due to the way I grew up and how I first learned to use my voice. My father is a huge blues fan and I listened to it a lot as a child. My first singing experience was with a gospel choir when I was a kid. I imprinted with a bit of bluesy-ness, though I don’t think its a defining characteristic of what I do. It’s a trace amount. Also, I am an American musician and we all stand on the shoulders of gospel and blues.
Q: For music coming from a singer, it’s worth noting that there’s a good number of instrumentals. Was that a conscious decision not to sing and try and let the music speak?
A: Yes. Lyrics are always read into, not that I care if anyone “gets” what I am talking about mind you, but the fraught nature of lyrics was becoming a bit tiresome to me. And the simple instrumental seemed to have so much more freedom in it to imagine with. Clouds vs skywriting.
Q: All these songs were first takes, recorded live, with improvised lyrics—or so you say. Tell us about that process. Why resist the urge to edit the songs? Were you ever worried about how they’d turn out?
A: At first I thought it would just be raw material from which I could gather ideas and maybe later take it into the studio for a proper recording. But in that process I noticed good accidents and unrepeatable happenstances that enriched the source recordings a great deal. So I decided not to fight it. The lyrics are indeed improvised, I got good at doing that in The Giraffes, where I would make up new lyrics to songs a lot on the fly just to entertain myself. I grew to love accidents and randomness as a result. I’d so much rather surprise myself then “communicate” with an audience. Its also where I am moving too quickly to be guarded as well, so in a way it’s either more honest or a total goof, but nowhere in the middle. Honestly though, not editing is not really natural-feeling to me. I tried and tried to rewrite a lot of these songs and it always brought the house of cards down on itself. After a while I just learned to trust the moment and live with the consequences. It’s just songs after all. I can make more.
Q: Tell us about improvising lyrics. Did you have any idea of a goal for each song, or did you let the music and your twisted imagination take over?
A: Some phrases would come out at the beginning of the process and from there I would try to build on that idea. Usually trying to turn it around some corner towards the end of the song. I usually have no idea what I have said till I listen back to the recording—and even then it’s hard to parse a lot of the time. I should point out that I have absolutely no desire to be “twisted” or “shocking” in any way, that sort of stuff is really pretty boring to me at this point. That said, it is a rather dark record, but I think that it has more to do with the sonic space the songs came from than from the ideas and words that spilled out.
Q: When you listen to the demo you put together, what are your own impressions? Did you like what you heard? Are you surprised? What do you hope people listening take away from the songs?
A: I suspect a lot of Giraffe fans will find this album to be a disappointment, and I welcome that. It’s really nothing like what I have done in the past. I’m a creative person and I need to change to stay interested in what I am doing. I hope people will share their reactions to this record with me, good or bad. I prefer brutal honesty to simple smoke blowing. I love this record. It does surprise me, and I think it’s a collection that takes several not-so-close listens to enjoy. Its cinematic; the stories in there are really in the hands of the listener. This is soundtrack music for a movie in my head. It’s impressionistic I guess. Best enjoyed alone, while moving across open spaces.
Q: What can we expect in the future from you? Is there an album forthcoming? Are you playing shows?
A: I have spent a few sessions so far at the renowned Studio G in Brooklyn with Joel Hamilton. It’s been very fast and very fertile so far. We both decided to let the language of the improvised experiments guide us, but to not be tied to the material. Instead we used the tone of the improvisations to guide us to new songs. So far there are seven in the works, all near completion. The proceeds from buying Improvised Experiments will go directly to funding the next record (as it should). So far the stuff I am working up with Joel is somewhat more accessible and less bitter than Improvised Experiments. Some even is coming out more R&B like. Right now I am still burnishing that record, and more work has to be done to finesse it all into a gleaming sexy package. Look for it within the year or early next. D O N ‘T is going to be playing more shows around NYC for the rest of 2012 and we hope to have a record in the can by the end of the year as well.
visit Poploser online: poploser.com/interrogation-aaron-c-lazar/