When The Sun Hits Interviews Peridot
Interviewed by Ellie Sleeper
Portland, Oregon is no stranger to quirky, kitschy, synth-driven bands. Husband and wife duo Peridot began amid similarly humble origins. However, on sophomore effort Consequences, the two have set themselves apart as something a little darker, just slightly obscured and aloof. The reinvention suits them brilliantly, and yet they maintain a quiet sense of whimsy all the same.
It's an intriguing space for a group of artists to inhabit, high wire walking between sun and shade. While the innocent, sparkling veneer may prove disarming, a closer glance at the lyrical content shows a more biting, bitter side behind the glitter and glow. Tracks like "Gone" and "Masquerade" are nothing short of spellbinding, and the theme of disappointment and heartache throughout the album is thoroughly emotive.
Curious to peer a little deeper into their newfound fog and mystique, I sat down with the Armstrongs to better understand how their process had changed and where they see themselves going as they slink further into the night with each new song.
How and when was the band formed?
Josh: The band itself was formed in 2014, but we had been doing cover songs since we met .
Sienna: We basically wanted to try our hand at making our own music instead of playing someone else’s.
Can you tell us what the band has been working on and what you've got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc.)?
Josh: We have a new song we have been working on; it’s keeping with our style but further refining things, as we are always trying to do. Any new musical creations going forward will be at a slower pace...we keep busy but we also want to make sure our sound from here on out is defined.
There’s been an obvious progression in sound from the earlier releases, with things having gotten darker and more emotive. Would you say we should expect more of this on future Peridot releases? Are there any other stylistic changes or ideas you’re wanting to explore that you haven’t yet? Anything you can tease us with?
Josh: Using this unreleased song we are working on as an example, that one gets into a little more of a danceable beat. In terms of future music, I’ve stopped making plans for myself because things always change.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that the lyrics are rather abstract, but quite pointed at a lot of times. Sienna, I assume you write the lyrics. Are you coming from your own experiences, or are they a mix of different points of view?
Sienna: Honestly it was basically an even split in terms of who wrote the lyrics; it was almost like taking different lines from each of us and throwing them at a wall, seeing what stuck. Personally, my writing is more fragmented than a lot of music calls for. It sides more with poetry, while Josh’s lyrics are more of, well, lyrics. I kind of splice my random phrases in with Josh’s more cohesive writing.
Josh: I do more storytelling lyrics. Sienna’s are more abstract.
Josh: I guess a part of it is observing other people. Whenever I write lyrics I try and think of it as more storytelling versus autobiographical, but it can kind of play to both ends of that.
Can you tell us a little about the band’s songwriting process?
Sienna: I feel like it is probably a lot different from other people’s experiences, but it’s what works for us. If someone walked in on us sitting at the computer with what we’ve got going on in terms of music making, they would probably be confused. Josh: I think the songwriting process can be glorified at times, but it’s a little slower moving for us. This time around we were really into drawing inspiration from video games and anime.
What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?
Josh: To be technical, the computer would be the most important. But for our sound, the most important element would be the Roland Juno 106.
What is your process for recording your music? What gear and/or software do you use? What would you recommend for others?
Sienna: We literally title our music projects [on Cubase] “song 1”, “song 2” et cetera...and most of them start with maybe five seconds of a synth line. From there, we just narrow them down. I think our ratio of keepers versus throwaways making this album was one to three.
Josh: When we first started making the album, the ratio was more like one to five, but as we continued making more and more songs we were kind of on a roll. We have a pretty minimal setup. We use Cubase and we have had a lot of luck with digital soft synths and drum sounds. We also have a Nord we like to use. We record Sienna’s vocals with a pretty inexpensive tube mic and tube preamp going into a PreSonus Firepod [audio to computer interface].
As far as recommendations go, it always depends on the type of music being made. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that one decent microphone can go a long way in recordings of any kind. Learning about mic placement and how to properly EQ, mix and master are really important.
Do you consider your music to be part of the current shoegaze/dream pop scene, or any scene? I’ve certainly found that you exist in this interesting space between dream-pop, minimal electronica, and darker territory.
Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre?
Josh: Maybe I’ve just never heard a band we can compare ourselves to completely, but I don’t feel like we fit into any ONE specific genre. I think that is because we draw our inspiration from so many different places that when you get all of that together it becomes something totally different.
Sienna: I had just been describing “Consequences” as an album where you weren’t sure if you should dance to it or cry to it. Dark yet dreamy, for sure. We have come across people who have had difficulty placing us and our sound, but I think I prefer it that way. Being an enigma can be fun.
How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?
Josh: I understand the purpose but some people take it upon themselves to categorize bands for them...I guess it’s a necessary evil.
What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any favorites?
Sienna: I suppose this would be more my area of expertise so to speak; in terms of the word “modern” though, that might be more difficult. I feel like everything I like is old! I love the sound all around, I just need to become well-versed in current artists.
Josh: We discover music we like through seeing other bands we like live. A lot of our current favorites have become so because they had opened up for bands we have seen perform.
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the phenomenal bill on the night you played with WTSH favorites Bloody Knives, and the whole lineup was marvelous. As a fan, it’s been exciting to see the new live face for Peridot. What are your thoughts on Portland’s live scene? Are there any places around the city or the region you’d like to play at? Any new aspects of the live Peridot experience you might roll out soon?
Josh: We’ve played a lot of random venues, and it’s nice to see that people come out and support local music. I would like to play at Mississippi Studios sometime.
Sienna: When we have a show we can justify it, we’ve had our eye on a sound-reactive device we can plug into our projector. Should make for a really cool live experience. I second Mississippi Studios, it’s a really nice, intimate experience. I will also feel like we’ve made it when we get to play Wonder Ballroom.
How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no doubt a massive change underway; how do you see it and do you feel it’s positive at all?
Josh: We really don’t keep up with the popular radio music scene. But there is an obvious division between that music scene and the self-starters.
Sienna: Technology has allowed so many people, who otherwise might not have had the means, to make their own music. I find, in that respect, it can only be beneficial.
When it comes to label releases versus DIY/Bandcamp and the like, what is your stance, if any?
Sienna: Bandcamp is a good vessel for bands to self-release: but by the same token, all of the promotion falls on them [the band]. Josh: There are still going to be small and big labels, but for those who aren’t able to get to either one, things like Bandcamp are good promotional tools.
Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?
Josh: I never really got into the vinyl bandwagon, but that’s probably because I don’t have the space for a collection of vinyl. MP3 is probably most preferred.
Sienna: We still use CDs in our car, because the sound quality is still really good! Keep MP3s on the computer, burn them to CDs. Somewhat old school, I suppose.
What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?
Josh: I admire Tim Kasher as a whole [Cursive, The Good Life], and Conor Oberst to an extent [Bright Eyes]. Also Isaac Brock, from Modest Mouse. None of those bands are even close to electronic, but I admire them as musicians and songwriters. I also like video game soundtracks, and movie scores.
Sienna: I appreciate bands who can “genre bend”. I am also inspired by 80’s music in general: New Order, The Smiths, Depeche Mode….strong female leads are also really important to me, such as Mozart’s Sister and even Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Can you tell us a little about what you are currently into (books, films, art, bands, etc.)?
Josh: I like mystery novels. Lately, I’ve been rediscovering music I used to be into, such as The Good Life. Sienna and I also like going to museums. I think it’s a requirement we go to some sort of museum every six months.
Sienna: Ellen Hopkins is always a favourite author of mine, and Josh got me a few of her books for Christmas I chewed through pretty immediately. In the span of the last half hour, I’ve listened to Radiohead, Bombay Bicycle Club, Washed Out and Modest Mouse...so once again, I’m all over the place.
If you had to choose one track that was the ultimate definition of your sound, which would it be and why?
Josh: “What We Get”. I wrote the lyrics on that one. To me, it was the right mix of driving beats yet aspects of dark [through the lyrics and synths].
Sienna: I’m going to have to say ‘Capsules” is my favourite. It leans a bit more toward the darker side of the album. When I listen to it, I can just picture it as the soundtrack to an older, 90’s anime. I think that is crucial in music, listening to songs that can transport you.
What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?
Sienna: Josh and I have always done so many things together. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish, but I don’t think it would have been possible without balance. I can be pretty tenacious and at times a little too ambitious, and Josh balances that out by bringing a more realistic sense to the table. So my philosophy would be that balance is extremely important...and always have fun.
Josh: I’m a strong believer in doing things in life that you enjoy. And to echo what Sienna said, sometimes I might be too cautious for my own good, and having Sienna want to branch out more has helped us be where we are now.