Last February, I met Toko Yasuda in Tokyo. She is undeniably one of the key figures in the American Indie music scene, having (and have) played in bands such as Blonde Redhead, Enon, The Laps, St.Vincent and PLVS VLTRA as a solo artist, so I was very honoured and happy to get to know this lovely human being. Just like I casually did to Neon Bunny, Baths and Gold Panda, I gave her a disposable camera to freely take pictures of Los Angeles – a place where she bases herself in right now. Here’s what she saw.
When I first listened to “St Anthony” by Joel Porter, a singer songwriter and a North Dakota native, I was by myself in the office brainstorming some creative ideas for my client. I had to stop. The song was, though quietly charged, so captivating and filled with emotions – both hopeful and sad, I knew I needed to commit myself fully to this song. After a dozen of listens, I couldn’t help but wonder, who is this guy? So when I heard a news that he would release an EP in a week, I messaged him right away for an interview.
Porter explains that Mountain Twin EP is about growth. Over the course of four folk-based, painstakingly carefully crafted songs, which include a song he co-wrote with his musician parents, he illustrates the nature, feelings, memories and what it means to seek for the truth. You can easily feel yourself being in the desolate plains, where the snow is falling, the river is flowing and the mountains howling. In order to get to know the world he paints further, we asked him how he came to discover his own style, how the nature influences his art, and what he believes in life. Make sure to check out the streaming link at the end of the interview.
Interview: Joel Porter
By Satoru Teshima, March 12 2017
How would you describe your music in three words?
Ambient, Honest, Beauty-seeking
Where are you right now?
In my bedroom in Nashville, Tennessee
Growing up, were you a musical kid? What made you want to express yourself through music?
I was. My mother is an incredible vocalist, and my father is a talented and intelligent musician and composer. We actually wrote “Winter Coat” together. That is so cool to say…”I wrote this song with my father.” Makes that song really special.
I started playing violin at the age of four, french horn in the 5th grade, guitar/bass guitar in the 6th grade. It wasn’t until high school that I fell in love with writing music. I’ve always associated songs to certain time periods and linked them to the little truths we find as we grow. I’ve found that I can explain these memories and little truths to someone through music better than I can through conversation.
How did you develop your way of singing that you do now?
I’ve been singing since I was six or seven in my dad’s children’s choir.. but this is the first time I fell like I’ve found where my voice fits. This project plays to the strengths of my voice rather than me trying to force it to be something it’s not. This music is where my voice needs to live. Soft, honest, aching at times, uplifting in others. Intimate the whole way. Eric (my good friend, producer, and 1/2 of the band Foreign Fields) took this idea and capitalized on it.
Are there any singers you look up to?
Not so much vocalists, but artists/groups. I love atmospheric sounding artists like Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Asgier, Foreign Fields, Connor Youngblood, Death Cab, Coldplay etc. I’m also very inspired by orchestral and choral music.
I recently watched a TedTalk presentation by David Byrne, in which he talks about how the environment can affect the way you write. Seeing from your pictures, it seems like you are surrounding yourself with nature. How is that affecting the way you make your music? Is nature playing a big part?
Absolutely. I grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota. Its a city of 70k people, by a river in the heart of the midwest. Its full of rolling golden hills during the summer and desolate snowy plains during the winter. You feel like you can see forever. That open space fuels my writing, and I try to get back home as much as possible to let my mind roam.
I also spend a lot of time in the mountains. I love mountain landscape as well as mountain culture. The communities and people I’ve spent time with in those areas are content being isolated, but are constantly pushing themselves to be the best version of themselves for the sake of growth rather than status. That constant search for beauty is a beautiful way of life, and it definitely influences the thoughts and opinions in my music.
Your emotional songwriting and meticulous attention to details what made me a fan. How do you approach songwriting? What’s the process?
It’s different with every song, but for the most part it usually starts with a melody. Then I’ll find one idea to write around and try to describe it in as many personal ways as possible. If its honest and beautiful, its usually right. The rest of the process is molding, adding, and taking away the unnecessary until there is a complete, beautiful idea. Then I take it to Eric and we finish it up in the studio. The two of us covered everything on this record (except live drums). E turned my idea for this project into something. His production and guidance are just as much a part of the identities of these songs as my writing and melodies are. He takes what I’m trying to do, and elevates it. He is incredible to work with.
“I’m sick of writing songs that my father cry”, is a line that left a bittersweet sentiment in me somehow. Are your songs autographical? Or are you more of a storyteller?
That line came from a conversation I had with my father… but overall I would say it’s a combination of both. Everything that I write about comes from some form of personal experience. I build and create layers and layers of material from that experience. At its core, the end product is very autobiographical… but its covered by interesting, beautiful pieces of imagery and metaphor.
Tell us more about Mountain Twin EP. Is there a certain theme underlying to this EP?
From the beginning of the writing process, to the end of the mastering process, it took about a year. The Mountain Twin EP is about discovery.. sifting through our low points, our adventures, the quite, desolate open spaces where our minds are able to roam and rest, our memories… taking all of those moments and trying to piece them into an identity…. trying to weave them into something that matters. Its about growth, and becoming the best version of myself that I can.
Finally, what do you believe in as an artist to achieve your goal in life?
To never stop seeking the truth, and continuing to grow. I just don’t want to waste this life. As long as I’m working toward a beautiful life, I’ll have no regrets.. Love as much as you can. Thats my ultimate goal.
Stream Mountain Twin EP.
Connect with Joel Porter
Dare to reach the unknown forces. Lights + Music HQ, as known as wherever I am with my laptop, receives a ton of interesting submissions every day. We were both surprised and confused about this newly founded New York based label, Choice Records. They reportedly started in 2016 and specialize in releasing rare albums and singles on vinyl record. Their first release is by a Colorado based songwriter, Debz and her EP called “Extended Play”. From her punkish introduction on “Plastic Wrap” to bonkers electro pop “Barbizon”, she makes sure she is heard. Crying, laughing, yelling and singing. Despite all the Lo-Fi soundscapes she creates, Debz’ freewheeling nature is somehow adorable and charming. Stream the record and check out their different ‘rare’ releases here.
Every childish sonic instinct combined. LA’s electronic producer Katie Gately is set to release her new LP, “Color” from Tri Angle on October 14. Listen to “Lift”, a abrasive and intense album opener to which the artist says, “I wanted to open the record densely, freely and quickly both as a warning and invitation!”. Listen below.
Shake this, shake that, not too fast. New York’s electro-pop act Stalking Gia has a lovely new single out called “Second Nature”. It is a perfectly restrained Disco pop with attitude that is too cool to ignore. It’s amazing.
This serpent bites hard. Polishing his style in Underground NYC queer scene, finally this Baltimore-born serpentwithfeet is releasing his debut single from Tri Angle with “The Flickering”. Mixing the sensual and poignant natures of R&B with classical elements, it hits you right at the core of your emotions. Beats provided by the Haxan Cloak is subtle yet heavy, enhancing the song’s lonesomeness, as the singer sings, ““I’m starting to feel there’s no cord between us two / are we made of gossamer?”
A multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Principe’s solo project Port St. Willow is following up Brian Eno approved masterpiece Holiday from Tokyo’s flau (cuushe, Noah) and People Teeth this month. Inspired by the idea to capture the moments just after an idea is found, his new LP Syncope is build heavily on improvisation. By leaving everything unedited from the recording sessions, it enabled him to capture the unique tension and pure existence of sounds. Closer and closer you listen, you will be sure to discover little things breathing quietly from far away.
Lights and Music spoke to Principe to find out more about the album’s concept, reasons why he was drawn to improvisation and thoughts behind the album title. Make sure to check out the soundcloud widget that contains standout tracks from Syncope.
Interview: Port St. Willow
By Satoru ‘Teshi’ Teshima, January 29, 2016
How would you describe your style of music in three words?
Melodic, rhythmic, drone.
When did you first decide to pursue in creating music?
I don’t think I ever really decided…it just seems to be the part of my life I keep coming back to no matter how things change. I’ve been playing in some form since I was a child.
What was your first song like?
A saxophone and trumpet duet. It was not very good.
How do you approach music now?
Around the time that I began Port St. Willow, music and noise became very visual for me. I was still interested in writing songs, but I also started to consider the environment in which the songs lived, how to create a path to feel connected to that space.
What was the thought process for the making of Syncope?
I wanted to capture the feeling of opening your eyes and finding that you’ve been severed from yourself, surrounded by the most indifferent and true black you’ve ever seen, and then, after you’ve learned to face that blankness, jumping into the coldest water you’ve ever known.
Syncope was built heavily on improvisation. What is it that attracts you about improvisation?
There is something about the exploring involved…a newness to everything and you have to be present. You become aware of what you’re doing because there’s some sort of danger in that moment…that it might fall apart. When I was working on Syncope I was really drawn to this headspace. There were many things in my life that were taking me away from being present, and working on this record was a way to reset that focus.
One of the focuses on the record is to capture the moments just after an idea is found. What have you learnt from making a record based on this concept?
It’s a very intensive process to work that way. Whether it’s with a band or alone, and I remember feeling completely empty after finishing those sessions.
I feel very connected to these recordings…little things. A drone or a small bell sound, they feel worn in and made in a way that I really love. The slight imperfections that you let stay there unedited because it makes it real to you. I think there’s more of that when you’re capturing the inspiration rather than the best take. It’s quite a hard thing to pin down, but I believe that’s what drew me towards it in the first place.
I am also a big fan of the later Talk Talk records (Spirit of Eden / Laughing Stock) and I drew inspiration from those sessions where they were chasing something very basic and pure, and collecting those sounds.
Can you elaborate on the album title, Syncope? Did this title come from a specific personal experience?
“Syncope” means to faint or suddenly lose consciousness. It both relates to the literal in that someone close to me collapsed and as a result began a very unexpected and difficult period of time, and in the metaphorical in how these things that come out of nowhere can drastically change our sense of reality, and the beauty that you can find in looking into that darkness and laughing.
How do you see the current Brooklyn music scene?
It’s a very hard place to sum up as one scene because there are so many of them. While living there, I’ve met musicians that I admire and believe in, but the lack of affordable space and time keeps many of them from being able to produce the art that I think they could. Some make it work, but others, like myself, only seem to end up writing when they are away from the city.
Lastly what is it that you are most excited about this year?
After many years of moving around, I will have my first home studio since I lived in Oregon back in 2011. Few things can make me as happy.