A JOURNEY OF GIRAFFES: into the wild electronic world
To present this superb ambient project, Jason Lamoreaux from Somewherecold Records, tells us about the artists and the kinship that led him to invite John on his label.
WHAT is your music about?
“A Journey of Giraffes” is just me, John Lane, with some contributions from a handful of friends at any given moment. It’s a solo thing I started around early 2014, and just kept steamrolling from there. I chose the name because giraffes are my favorite animal, and I like the joke that the name is a collective term for a group of giraffes...but basically it’s just one person doing the music. In terms of what my music is about, well, let’s just say it goes back to the name -- a “journey”. It’s primarily been more vocal, more “tune”-oriented (Beatles, Beach Boys, Animal Collective, Bacharach, etc.) but I seem to have turned some sort of corner to be more instrumental-only. “Katamari” (January 2018) was the beginning of that transition. And then it just fully tipped over with “People Magic” (June 2018). I’m into the challenge of trying to convey a feeling or a thing without having to open my mouth and instantly use the logical series of words that express that feeling or thing. So instrumental electronic and with whatever grab-bag of things I can throw at it -- that’s what the music is about at present.
Which brings us to “Hour Club” - the most recent work. I wanted to make something sort of big and epic in scope, which is why this creature is about 3 hours long. You know that scene in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, where Richard Dreyfus is building an enormous model of Devil’s Tower in his family room, before he can reckon out just what it is he’s building? Sort of like that!
A lot of musicians are reluctant to talk about influences these days, ‘cause they feel it’s either uncool or they fear it’ll invite comparisons or kill the magic of their own creations, but I’ll just say -- Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works Volume 2”, Huerco S., Susumu Yokota’s “Magic Thread”, and 1991’s albums sort of fueled me on “Hour Club”. Everyone of their works makes you feel something when you listen, and it’s difficult to pinpoint why given the abstract qualities -- but boy, do you feel. And that was my aim.
I should stop here and give a little back story. When I completed “Hour Club” after 6 to 7 months of work, I sort of thought that would be it. This big, fat album would go out as a self-release (which it did, for like 5 minutes) and just die a quick, natural death -- well, enter my friend Toby (a.k.a. The ridiculously talented artist, Orange Crate Art, generous of spirit) who referred it to Jason Lamoreaux of Somewherecold Records. Jason was (and is!) so kind and enthusiastic about it that he wanted to release it, so there you go; very whirlwind and unexpected. I am extremely grateful to both Toby and Jason.
To answer your question about the 7-minute length of each song: I chose 7 minutes because 7 is a lucky number and more concretely I wanted to set myself an arbitrary limit for these songs. Plus, I had this theory that I wanted to test: if the ear listens to x-number of songs on an album that all have the same duration, does one become used to the duration? And the answer is yes -- you sort of feel intuitively, when listening, when you’re at the middle of the song, or when you’re rounding the corner to the end. And if you threw in a 3 minute song into the mix, boy, it would feel out of place for some reason, because the ear has become attenuated to the framework. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it did to me, haha!
Another thing about this album -- all the song titles have something to do with Atari and its history. A lot of these titles are just names for the guts of the machine. Why? I loved my Atari when I was a kid, and the remembrance of the lazy afternoons of hours (“Hour Club”, see?) spent playing it evoke certain cozy feelings to me. Also, I had this running idea in my head: what if, everytime you put a cartridge into the Atari, certain pixelated creatures fell out and took up residence in the machine, which to them is a vast universe? What sort of songs or sounds would they make?
I’ll walk you through a few of the songs here…
I arranged this one during the week my grandmother was dying. It was, of course, tremendously sad visiting her, literally on her deathbed with her spirit already occupied with the great hereafter. I wanted some imprint of her, something to tether her -- like an invisible line between Heaven and Earth, and a sort of rope that I could feel the tug of, even when she’s not physically here. So, her oxygen machine was about 2 rooms away from her bedroom, and I recorded a minute of the mechanical inhalation and exhalation. That sound, of her machine communicating an expression of her breathing, is buried in this song. I hope that doesn’t sound morbid or disrespectful; it’s really meant to be a loving, happy monument.
This is another one that has personal meaning to it because of the samples I recorded. My wife and I went to visit my son in New York, so it was a very happy, autumnal day. The beginning bit (with beats I overlaid) is of some street performers trying to psych up an audience hanging out on the steps of the MET. The other sample I captured was taken inside a subway station. A parent was trying to hustle his small children to catch their train; the dad says quietly, “Let’s go!” and his son imitates him, “Let’s go!” - so they both appear, and it was just terrific because it goes so nicely with the beats and syncopation. This one is kind of lean and sparse - just those samples, some beats, a synth pad, a bit of piano to offset and yet still provide a frame.
The Atari game is a reference, obviously. (Initially, I was going to keep going and record songs about a lot of these games, but decided wisely to cut that idea short - otherwise it would’ve been a 6-hour album.) This one was going to sound war-like, and then I switched to the idea of just an ominous war-drum sound. I liked the juxtaposition of a song with this title sounding mellow instead— defying expectations.
Tell us about the artists you have worked with
Aside from my brother Mathew, my longest running musical partnership has been with Christian Lipski, dating back to 2008. We’re a duo named Expo (expo.bandcamp.com) and we’ve recorded a bunch of albums together. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Christian is a one-man Beatles, and I’m just honored I even got to stand next to him much less record songs together. Right now, we’re on what I consider an extended hiatus — the last album we did together was so joyful and so “perfect” that I’m afraid of spoiling that precious thing we have had. So anyway, Christian is recording and performing with his successful real band, The PDX Broadsides (check them out! Fun!) and I’m off on this tangent doing God-knows-what, haha!
Where are you from? Where are you living now?
I’m a Baltimore (Maryland) guy.
What did you study?
I studied English (Literature & Writing).
What is your day job at present if any?
My day job is as a writer for a social services organization; I love my bosses, love my coworkers, and love what I do. So I feel very fortunate.
Do you dream to live from your music or is it a passion you do not want to spend your full time on?
This is a good but difficult question to answer. I’ll just say that the course of my life so far, where I’ve never done music full-time, has provided me with enough inspiration and challenges to fuel what I do. I’m just grateful that the ideas keep coming; anything beyond that is just gravy.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite bands, the music you listen now, some you may want to bring the attention from the reader to?
This is going to be a little lengthy, so I apologize to the readers in advance; I just want to do these artists justice. So here goes: Susumu Yokota- his music is godhead to me; Huerco S. continues to delight & surprise me; a new-ish Japanese artist named Meitei (his album “Komachi” might be out by the time this interview appears, and I’m super psyched to hear it!) is doing magical things; the secretive 1991 is reliably thought-provoking; Skee Mask; Daniel Caleb’s “Semblance” album; Chihei Hatakeyama; Federico Durand; Charlie Morrow.
Also, on a friend level: Orange Crate Art, who is the love child of Brian Wilson and Kevin Shields; The Corrupting Sea (Jason Lamoreaux’s intoxicating sonic landscapes); Lars Lentz, meticulous electronica with heart; Future Children from Akron, like if Kubrick had a Moog instead of a camera; pop wistfulness of The Very Most (Jeremy Jensen); stark honesty of With Child (Elijah Jensen); The Bordellos, who make The Sex Pistols look like little biddies on a bus trip to a casino; Mister Fusty, who makes beautiful music to soundtrack every ineffable mood; genius madness that reaches my soul by John Furst; there’s so many more but I’ll stop here.
Do you have a message that you want to get across in your music? If so, what are some of the messages you want to spread?
My only message is I hope that my music is keeping you company like a trusted friend. And if you’re creative, I hope it’s inspiring you to go create something after listening.
Did your listening habits changed over the years and does it affect what you write?
This is a thumbnail but: I come from a Beatles/Beach Boys background rooted in my childhood; it has informed a lot of what I do. Went through a Sonic Youth and Pixies phase in college— tuneful aggression. Then as I got older, abstraction became more appealing by degrees (Prefab Sprout, The High Llamas, Brian Eno, John Cale, Robert Wyatt to things like Tortoise, Fennesz, and Boards of Canada) til I found myself at this point where if I listen to any lyrical music, it really has to say something or else I’m disinterested. In the current political, social, and technological climate, there are so many voices wanting to be heard and so I find myself distancing myself from all that and seeing whether I can make a flute sound like a bell instead.
How is your recognition going worldwide? Is it growing? Are you happy with it?
I am super obscure and esoteric. I’m like the fellow who sells model trains; occasionally someone might visit the shop. That said, Jason at Somewherecold has pulled me out of my dusty corner and walked me into the sunlight.
Could you let us know some important technical tricks you learnt during the process that could help other musicians not as experienced?
I am the least technical musician around. My only recommendation would be to make yourself open to “happy accidents” during the recording process. Don’t get hung up on some vainglorious idea about being a perfectionist. Perfectionism don’t always equal being true to your work, unless the glow of technique is what you’re after. Find out what it is you truly want to express from within and say it. I have a print of a cave painting in my studio: it keeps me honest. Nobody knows who did that painting; it’s not the most proficient work of art; nobody now would dare use the the tools he or she did then; but it was truthful. That was a long-winded way of saying I avoid technical tricks.
Tell us what you are looking for when trying to achieve your sounds? Do you experiment a lot or have a clear idea of what you want?
Like most musicians, I guess I start with the goal of a specific feeling of emotion or place and how I want to convey that. The rest I would call focused experimentation— you winnow down the variables until you land upon the 4 or 5 specific things soundwise that will carry your idea across.
I’m not really a part of any scene. Musician friends from around the world are my scene, and they’re all coming from different creative points of view.
Regionally, here in Baltimore, it’s all still a bit tribal which is not a put-down, just fact. There’s still a sort of “mach schau!” vibe here — amps up to 11 — and a macaroni-and-glue painter like me isn’t in high demand. That said, Dan Deacon has managed to create a nice niche for himself here, so who knows!
Could you tell us a bit more about your record label and your relationship with it?
I am new to Somewherecold Records, but I can say this: Jason is one of the most enthusiastic, dedicated, fearless people I’ve met in the arts so far— a rarity. A lot of people talk a big game about community when really they’re just self-serving, but Jason is the REAL deal. Not a lot of people would embrace much less promote a 3-hour (3 disc!) record, but he did.
What is the next album due?
My next album on Somewherecold Records is an ambient affair but different. It will be titled “Kona” and should be out in June! Orange Crate Art will be mastering it! “Kona” is basically a love letter to Susumu Yokota.