Monday, January 17, 2011

Musicians are People Too: Interview with The Conduits (Exclusive)

As an expat, I spend half my social life trying to maintain contact with people up to nine time zones away. It can be tricky.

Sometimes it's fantastic; at a sober noon on a Sunday the facebook statuses of friends back home begin changing to dramatic drunken ramblings about how life, love, and humanity in general hate them because they're going home alone. On the flipside it can suck; one apparently math-challenged buddy texts me almost exclusively at 3am my time, and gets promptly pissed when I don't respond.  So I'm acutely aware of the difficulties of long-distance communication; anything more complicated than birthday wishes or sexts is rarely worth the time.

That makes The Conduits' work all the more impressive. In love with their track Up and Down, I was amazed to learn that Toronto-based Chris Postill and San Francisco-based Heather Mauch have never even met in person. They found each other on a musicians' website and decided to corroborate on one song. That song turned into The Conduits. 

Heather, Chris, and I shared a Moscow-to-Toronto, Toronto-to-San Francisco, San Francisco-back-to-Moscow interview to discuss it all. So what follows is really two interviews between three people who have never met each other.

Mr. Shuffleupagus
You have to admit that your system is unique. How do you do it? What is the system exactly?
Chris Postill: I’ll give you that it is slightly unconventional but certainly not all that novel an idea. I think a lot more people are doing this than it seems. The truth of the matter is that we don’t have a system at all, one of us comes up with something and sends it to the other, who adds something. We really haven’t discussed what our sound should be or any of that stuff; up to this point we have just dug what the other adds. I have no idea what sort of music Heather listens to.
Heather Mauch: Usually how it works is he sends me the instrumentals with light vocals in parts, and I fill in all the blanks. He is really quite talented! In any case, we pretty much just try to take it as it comes now.

Do you find the system works with or against the "creative process"? 
Chris: I think it’s great. When I sit down to work on a new Conduits idea I have this foggy idea of what we've made in the past and what I think Heather would like to build on; but seeing as I don’t know much about her at all, the Heather I’m trying to write for is just this ghost I’m guessing at and I think that’s where the fun comes from. The Conduits its sort of us both working with someone else who is a big bag of mysterious who-knows-what.
Heather: Haha, I agree. We both don’t know each other and are far apart, which as its plusses and minuses. In a sense, yes, we are both working off of our false perceptions of one another, but I also like to think that in some ways the music speaks true to who we are. If we weren’t somewhat similar, then we probably wouldn’t have been able to make good music, right? I think if we met we’d probably get along pretty well.

Did you think that the arrangement would last this long? Why do you think it has?
Chris: Nope! It was supposed to be one song. I think it has lasted purely because people seemed to dig what we made, which motivated us to want to make more. It’s good fun, people seem to like it, it seems worthwhile. I also have a crush on the way Heather sings…..
Heather: I am blushing! The good thing about this project is that we had no expectations for it – just two people who wanted to make music…and kept on doing so! So, flexibility has been key.

Finding yourself working so far apart, what do you think keeps you in sync?
Chris: Ahaha often times nothing. That’s probably the biggest obstacle. We both have lots going on and The Conduits often falls to the background. Every once in a while we catch each other on Gmail chat and say ‘We’ve got to make a new song’. It’s tough to both get on the same page at the same time.
Heather: Yeaaahhhh…I often times am apologizing for Chris for being so busy with school/work. Also, I let a friend borrow my mic and it got lost. Yikes! So I am working on getting a replacement ASAP!

The Impossible Question: How would you describe your sound?
Chris: Tinkery experimental pop. I am obsessed with found sounds, I go out at 3am when the city is quiet (and when I can get myself out of bed that early) and bang on stuff with my portable recording unit and then try and work those sounds into songs. I really want The Conduits to feel like we meet in some little nook tucked away in some corner of the internet and make music out of all the objects, toys, etc. that we find there. It’s a pretty romanticized image…
Heather: Romanticizing is okay as long as you are aware it is happening, I say. I’d describe our sound as innocent but not naively so; vivid, and awake. There is a certain quality to our songs that is very playful – but there are also darker undertones in the lyrics and whatnot. I think that is what makes them likeable – listeners can relate to either or both dimensions of the songs.

Cliched question that everyone wants the answer to anyway: where do you usually find inspiration? 
Chris: Always in the morning… I think I have mild OCD. I wake up and have too much coffee and then get excited about something. Then I’m stuck on it for days. I neglect my actual work (actual meaning, the stuff that pays my rent) because I get obsessed. Just trying stupid things and then trying to work those stupid things into sorta cool things. Simple answer, getting up early and copious amounts of caffeine.
Heather: I actually don’t like to force things. At all. If I do, then the song sounds rather silly and fully of clich├ęs. I write whenever I feel the compulsion to, which isn’t every day at all – but here and there I think of little tid-bits while I am walking to school or to the coffee shop, and I jot them down on paper or write texts to myself on my phone. That way I know I can go back and gather up all the small pieces and make them into a bigger, more complete concept.

Who are you listening to right now? 
Chris: Older Mum (Icelandic band) stuff, trying to steal ideas for a new EP… Lately whenever lyric-heavy stuff like Leonard Cohen or Bill Calahan comes on at random, I’ll let the whole album play through. My old roommate and I have a weird soft-spot for Antony & The Johnsons that we’ve been reliving recently.
Heather: Been listening to Andrew Bird, Weezer, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Also, I have been meaning to listen to more of The National – love his smooth, deep, rich voice.

Whose style/ trajectory do you admire? 
Chris: I like people who are subtle.
Heather: I enjoy subtlety as well, and tend to stray away from the radio. However, I don’t want to completely forget about the pop/mainstream of music, so every now and then I’ll tune in just to keep up to date. As for role models…or picking favorites even…I’m no good at that... I am always going back and forth with artists – for a while I was into Owen, Damien Rice, Iron and Wine, Against Me!, the Promise Ring, and others, and I would listen to them every day over and over. Now they are sort of background artists that I’ll revert back to as a sort of comfort food. I like to try to listen to new things every day, though. My boyfriend introduced me to some artists from the S.F. Bay Area from a label called Anticon Records...Check them out!

What do you think the most exciting current trend in music is? And the worst? What trends do you predict?
Chris: I really can’t comment. I’m sort of tired of hearing about Kanye being a genious?! There’s so much music being released that its become really easy to ignore the lemons. I think how your music is produced is becoming more and more something artists are playing with, and that’s sort of interesting.
Heather: The most exciting trend…hmm. I guess it would be the fact that the underdogs are starting to get more play. Take us, for example, a small band who uses the internet as our medium, and we’re getting blogged about all over the place. It’s weird, but also neat. The internet opens up a whole new door though…sometimes good, sometimes bad. But on the whole, it’s working for us, so that’s okay!

What advice do you have for other DIY artists?
Chris: We haven’t really been successful enough to offer any advice. Try to be experimental but not for its own sake?! 
Heather: haha, yeah I agree. Be humble. If you get too ahead of yourself…well, it might fall apart.

What are you planning for the future? Meeting, I presume? Then what?
Chris: We’ve actually never discussed the idea of meeting. I’m a bit afraid to. We might not get along?! I fear it wouldn’t be as fun to hear what Heather has come up with if I knew about her life and personality. Again that’s the romance of this whole project, right? I think we find this way of collaborating just as interesting as everyone else, so we might be a bit hesitant to change that....There will definitely be at least a new EP in the next little while. We've had a few quick chats about concept-ish albums.
Heather: I think we’d get along! I’d like to just keep going in the direction we are going. Experimenting! Taking it one song at a time.

And the Lightning Round:

Quick and honest--what's the last song you listened to?
Chris: “Girlfriend Is Better” – The Talking Heads
Heather: “The Lyre of Orpheus” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

What is the first album you ever owned? And the last album you got?
Chris: I have no idea. I hardly know what I did yesterday… I remember a cassette tape when I was young with Crimson & Clover on it… I liked that crazy flangey tremolo guitar.
Heather:  Ummm…pretty sure it was Chumbawamba’s Tubthumper as my first album. Last album? Patti Smith’s Easter.

Musical era you'd most like to time travel to?
Chris: If I wasn’t also required to murder Germans in cold blood, I wouldn’t mind tearing up the dance floor to the Glenn Miller Orchestra with a hot tamale in the 40’s.
Heather: Hmm… I’m not really sure. The 60’s-70’s had some awesome music. I mean…disco! Also I love Cat Stevens and the singer/songwriter era.

Who is your favourite artist of all time?
Chris: I listen to a lot of music, much of which is bad.  Very tough. Tom Waits is my dad (of course he is pretty much everyone’s dad, isn’t he?). Howlin Wolf is my uncle... Thom Yorke is my asshole little brother…
Heather: Yeah, Tom Waits! Amazing. Like I said before, though, I am not good at picking favorites. I plead the fifth!

Do you have a musical pet peeve? Something when you hear it, you turn off the music immediately?
Chris: I hate generic lyrics; large abstract ideas... I’d rather listen to a song about your desk than your true love. I like music that has a lot of character about it, concrete real life stuff made poetic with music.
Heather: Generic lyrics definitely upset me, too. Stereotypical or egotistic vibes also frustrate me.

MP3s: Death of the music industry or music industry wild west?
Chris: I doubt we’d be releasing music at all if it weren’t for MP3’s so I guess its pretty obvious where our loyalties lie on that point.
Heather: I am very undecided about this…like I said before, and like Chris said, mp3s are how we get by. But I can see why those who came from before mp3s up to now would be pissed off...Every now and then I get the urge to load a real-life cd into my car stereo. 

Would you like to say hi to your parent/partner/secret crush?
Chris: My mum birthed me.
Heather: Matt! (My boyfriend) Hello.


My thanks to Chris and Heather for adding one more person to the musical daisy chain and taking on this interview. But not for reminding me about the existence of Chumbawumba. That song will never leave my head now.

To contact The Conduits:


And since today is Monday and we like covers here on Mondays, this is The Conduits doing Journey (available on the bandcamp)

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