When exactly did you start making music, and when was The Consolation Project born?
I started making music when I was 13 or so, in 1993 using my computer and old tracker software called ModEdit. It was a dos software which was composing music in a spreadsheet type fashion. The Consolation Project was born when I started playing guitar and mixed it with the computer music. My brother told me to combine it and the project began in 1997 in my senior year in high school.
Since December 2010, you've made at least 5 albums worth of music. What the fuck? Discuss. That's amazing.
Let me correct you. Since December 2010 I have released at least 5 albums of music. I am sitting on about 20 more albums. All of these albums were created since 2007. I write very impulsively and a lot of music has come out of me. It is like breathing to me, and every song I have fully lived out, if that makes sense. It is my living journal documenting my life.
I am a very passionate person, and my music feels like it is more than a hobby. It is my essence.
So what happened between 1997 and 2007? If you released 5 albums since December 2010, I cannot imagine the massive amounts of music that happened in that decade. Were you just basically honing your craft all that time?
During that time, I had made maybe 4 or 5 full length albums. I don't like calling what I do a craft. I could get into personal stories during those times, but I guess you could say I didn't know myself completely during those times, so it was a great struggle to find focus and meaning. I also was refining my equipment and software knowledge.
In 2007, I had a huge shift in awareness and personal discovery due to many tragedies in my life. I had no other option, no one to turn to, but within. Since that time, I have been writing excessively.
You mentioned that your girlfriend, Allie Hartley, has done some of the artwork for your releases. I noticed right away how amazingly the art compliments your music. Was that just a happy accident, or do you guys work on concepts together?
Actually she has only done artwork for Cutting the Strings and photography for Lose All Control. We met because I approached her about possibly doing artwork for my album. That developed into the best relationship I have ever been in.
On the other album covers, I have done pretty much everything else.
And so you essentially do everything on the releases yourself? All the instruments, all the vocals? How many instruments do you play? The fact that you are so multi-instrumental AND so prolific is kinda blowing my mind. You're a tweaker, aren't you? It's the only explanation.
I strictly do everything on every release. It is a very selfish thing, but I learned at the age of 17 that I don't want to be in a band. It is far worse to me than having a demanding girlfriend. I have way too many ideas and feelings to convey, and I know how to get the job done by myself. I play guitar, bass, some violin noises, ocarina, percussion, and keyboard for the rest of it. The drums are all played on the keyboard, if that makes sense. I don't use any premade loops or synth presets.
The Consolation Project. We Should Be Crawling.
Ok, so not a tweaker. Got it.
(laughs) You should go on tour with that sense of humor. I think it would sell.
My humor is only equaled by your obvious sarcasm, sir. Well, what the hell, you realize that kind of prolific output is insane, right?
No, it is very effortless to me. If it's insane, I'm not aware of it.
I kind of don't understand why a lot of musicians take a long time writing and recording songs. I don't spend more than 4 hours a song from start to finish. The way I see it, if I am excited about a song, I don't strangle it to sound perfect. It kills the spark of inspiration for me.
I can listen to my own music as much as I want, and not get analytical about it. It's just like listening to one of my favorite bands.
Awareness alert: it's kinda insane. But in the best way possible!
Okay, well if it is insane, it's hell of a lot better than the highlight of my day being watching a TV show or something.
I don't even feel like I've scratched the surface of all the ideas that come to me. Usually when I sit down, I make the start of a song, then i erase it. This happens about 3-4 times. So probably every song you hear there are 3-4 aborted song ideas that you'll never hear.
Unless the television show is like, an episode of "Firefly" or "Lost". Ok, that's probably just me. (laughs) I guess my point is: this level of proficiency and prolificness is utterly rare, but you have freely admitted to me that you're essentially unknown as a musician right?
I have maybe five fans that I know of. I live in a dying city, and have never been a part of a "scene" before. I haven't had much support in what I do. Most people in my life have put down what I do, I mean completely trashed it. It won't stop me, and I'm not whining, but it really feels like there are people against what I do.
That completely pisses me off. How many musicians are there in the world that aren't as strong as you, who ARE hurt by people putting down their passion, and then turned off from making incredible music? It's kind of baffling, and part of the reason Danny and I even started this fucking blog anyway. I only needed to get about 10 minutes into Glaciers before I was completely blown away.
I admit that I have my eccentricities, and it shows in my music. Maybe I don't sing on key, but I feel like singing off key is something sacred, like a broken native American voice mourning for their losses. I think that my voice can be a big turn off to certain people. Or maybe I just haven't really had the right people hear my music!
I feel kind of trapped, because I don't have the means to go on tour, and there aren't many ways to promote this kind of music. It's exhausting to even think about that. So I'd rather just keep writing songs.
Well, let's switch gears for a second. Talk about your influences. You mentioned that you had a pretty strict christian upbringing, and you gave the example that you hadn't even heard The Cure's Disintegration until like 2001 or 2002. But your music is more than sophisticated, and basically sounds like you grew up on a nice diet of loads of my favorite musicians, plus you and I are about the same age (29 and 30). Again I ask: WTF?
I'm not sure how to respond to that one. But wow! thanks! I really don't know what to say. I just...I write.
The Consolation Project. Flowers in the Graveyard.
Well surely you have influences? I mean, you mentioned The Cure and Radiohead offhandedly before...but are you just kind of in your own world musically?
The Cure, Radiohead, The Verve, The Innocence Mission, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, Red House Painters, and The Autumns, mainly. I'm always in my own world. Yeah.
Well, those are top notch influences - your work sounds like all of those bands got together and spawned a super awesome mutant baby. And yet, you still DISTINCTLY have your own sound, too.
I admit, I do tip my hat to all of those bands. Sometimes I feel like I am ripping them off completely and people tell me it doesn't sound anything like it. So, who knows!
Of your last 5 most recent releases, do you favor any over the others, and if so, why?
That's a really tough question. It's like asking me what page of a journal I prefer. Or what child is the best. Which breath I liked best.
This might come off as pretentious but it's the only way I can conceive of an answer. I love it all.
That IS really pretentious. (laughs) I'm kidding! I love your answer, actually, because maybe I'm a weirdo, but I think of songs as individual entities, almost living things, and to choose among them is just weird.
It's strange. It feels like my music is so close to me but at the same time it's like a band I love. So I'm so detached that it feels like I'm listening to one of my all time favorite bands, but it's me. It's strange.
Makes sense to me. That's the way it should be. So how did you meet Perry and Kim of bliss.city.east and end up drumming on one of their releases?
I met Perry on a shoegaze music forum and added him on Facebook, and he made a post about how drum programming is frustrating. So it's not at all to me. It's just like tapping your fingers on your steering wheel to bands you love. Yeah. I bought a huge bunch of drum kits that were prerecorded in a studio, and so its real drum hits. I don't use loops. I make my own beats.
The Consolation Project. Something.
The longer I write for this blog, the more I realize the lines between genres are hazy at best. Pigeonholing art is annoying as hell, but if you had to describe your sound, how would you?I guess if I had to put it into genre names, it lies somewhere in goth, shoegaze, dreampop, moody british drone rock.
So what else are you into - books, films, art?
I rarely read books. It's not because I am anti-intellectual, it's just hard for me to focus for that long unless it's on a computer screen. Films, I am into a lot. I could go on forever about films, but not enough to bore a moderate film watcher. Art, it's cool. That's not much of an answer.
I don't really have any obsessions or attachments...
Is that a bad answer, Miss Crain?
There is no bad answer. Except: I do not enjoy sci fi and fantasy.
Discuss the track "Returning to my Body" from Glaciers. I'm assuming it's a metaphor, and that you can't actually astrally project. Can you break down this song a little? All of Glaciers seems to be both a metaphor for coldness and alienation, as well as something literally conceptualized in the winter.That album was written during a crazy time in my life. I felt very detached from myself, even though I had gone through a lot of growth. There was so much I was aware of, and yet so much that I was completely blind to. I had decided to illustrate all of this in a setting of a spiritual struggle through an icy landscape.
"Returning to my Body" was about falling in love with ideas, barely making it through every day feeling okay, not knowing who to trust or love.
So falling in love with "Little Touch" and in love with "crawling" was trying to return to the center of myself after being gone for so long. Loving the journey back, even if I knew it would hurt.
Do then consider It Hurts But Remains Beautiful (released March 2011) is kind of an acceptance of all of this, and finding beauty in it?
That was actually all recordings before Glaciers. (laughs). If you sit and feel what is going far beyond your own perception, there is a lot of pain in the world.
I really love the lyric "may the ghosts of fear stand in line..." (from the Glaciers track "Stand in Line"). Expound on it a little?
Most people, in my approximation, live their lives with an undertone of anxiety or fear. This could be due to many things, but it seems, many seem to give in to this. As if letting blood before true death.
Most fear comes from our past. It is ultimately a waste of energy and time. Instead of moving forward, we often find ourselves in circles. Pretty much, that line is a sort of mantra with intent to dispel this awful cycle.
If we face our fears head on, and not run, we will be stronger than the fear. We will consume the fear and use it for something beautiful, contributing to our life instead of our death.
So whether or not one may see this as a spiritual entity, atmosphere, or personal decision, that line can evoke some pretty interesting visuals
How about the song "Damage" (from the album It Hurts But Remains Beautiful)? You mentioned that it was kind of an homage to the Cocteau Twins, which I can definitely hear, but there is so much more going on. The lyrics are amazing. What was the catalyst for this track?
I had known very close friends who had been betrayed, and it started a seed which grew into that song. There are so many people who lie, cheat, and damage other people's lives, sometimes to the point of no return. I've seen it, I've lived it, and I felt like it must be something that should be addressed.
Still, the song has an inexplicably uplifting feeling to it. At least to my ears. Is this basically acceptance of what you stated above?
Yeah, it was kind of a closure to that open wound. Once I got that out of my system, it became healing.
Raven Wings strikes me as a very melancholy and dark record. It reminds me of that short period when Robert Smith was touring with Siouxie and the Banshees. Upon returning from that tour, if I'm not mistaken, Robert Smith then went on to release The Top as an essentially one man band. Am I way off base?
That album was written during a very confusing and dark time in my life.
Well, what do you mean by the lyric "I am a raven"? (laughs) YES, I understand the concept of a metaphor, but I just want to hear it in your words.
They are visually dark creatures, and have been perceived as tricksters.
And you identify with this because...?
In a very personal sense, it meant kind of being able to get out of a literally psychotic and intensely constraining situation.
Been there, done that. Not to be goth, but your lyric about ghosts is bringing to mind a line from Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven: "And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor." Have you read Poe, does that resonate at all, or am I just projecting my inner gothling on you?
I've never read Poe, ever. I just imagine the raven as being a dark, mysterious creature. With wings.
Yes, in my experience, most birds do, in fact, have wings. You should consider a future album based on owls. Also creatures of the night, with the added plus that they can twist their heads almost completely around on their necks, which is obviously awesome.
I don't analyze my lyrics when I'm writing them.
So it's all stream of consciousness?
Yeah, I'd say 95% stream of consciousness. The song "In the Blood" was 100% stream of consciousness; my vocals and lyrics were completely improvised on the spot. "Come on celebrate my affliction, my death in the graveyard..." was my favorite line in that song.
Sorry if that made you pee your pants.
Oh, it's cool, that's already happened at least 3 other times today.
So moving on...(laughs)
Yeah, so anyway. Yeah, it's stream of consciousness. And no, I don't read books so yeah, it is weird how my music as similarities to things I've never actually heard.
I guess my point is...you seem to have tapped into something universal.
Yeah, maybe I have tapped in to something.
You have. Don't you know this?
Really? How much do you believe in yourself and your talent? Whoa, heavy question. My apologies. But answer it. NOW.
Do I believe what...everything? My story? Yes, I do.
The Consolation Prize. The Grey.
Well that too, but mainly that you have tapped into something without having to seek it out, like most musicians. You already have it inside you...
I believe everyone has it inside of them. But to get there, you have to pay a price for it.
You have to surrender your ego.
True. Giving in to artistic pursuits is the ultimate compromise.
If you're a true and gifted songwriter, it makes stripping look like it's an easy job. Because not only are you laying your entire soul bare, but you are wide open to light and darkness.
FYI, stripping is easy. If I can do it, anyone can. I usually strip to MBV’s “Loomer”. NOT a crowd pleaser. (laughs) Kidding.
Okay, if music didn't exist, what do you think you would be doing instead?
Playing video games, watching movies, creating video games, making 2d/3d artwork and animation.
The uber-geek in me is slightly excited about you creating video games, but let's move on. "In the Blood" (from Lose All Control) sounds like a marked departure from your usual sound, which in itself is already hard to pin down. Why is this?
Let's just say that the publicly released albums only display a small fraction of the different styles that I have worked with. "In the Blood" happened to be a fluke, I suppose! I don't feel that I control the entire process, it seems to be more of an organic flow that I follow, unsure of the final goal.
Additionally, it was a lonely time in my life.
So do you think the difficult times in your life are completely related to you creating music?
Not necessarily. A lot of my favorite songs were made during very blissful moments in my life as well. They all serve as something significant to me. More than taking a picture of a moment, or writing down a few words about my experiences.
How about gear? Any particular gear you use that is absolutely necessary to your sound? Or do you like to experiment with a variety of gear?
I am all software driven... So the gear is effects and effect chains. I need to use Ableton Live, and have my software set up on my studio computer. Within that, I love experimenting. If that doesn't already show in my albums already released.
It does. Despite being obviously detail oriented, there is also this fluidity of experimentalism that keeps the details sounding effortless. I think you mentioned that most of your songs were done in 4 hours or less, and never tinkered with again.
There is an order to it, though. It's not complete chaos. I have to be writing a song of some sort.
Well, naturally. You lay down very strong melodic foundations, but you don't let these foundations limit you as you flesh out a song. The end result sounds really free and fluid.
Yes. That is affirmative, captain. It is free. I find freedom in making music. So much in life, it feels, is trying to pull us from that kind of freedom.
Have you released anything tangible and do you have any interest at all in becoming involved with a label?
I have released a few booklets and cdr's of Cutting the Strings. I actually played a handful of the songs live on stage by myself at my girlfriend's art show opening in a record store. But none sold. If I were approached with a decent deal, I would be interested in being involved with a label.
So, Amber, why the fuck are you interviewing me? Now I'm turning the tables. What is going on here, why are you doing a feature on me for your blog?
I'm interviewing you because I get countless submissions every single day for the blog, from people who want me to hear their music. Once in a blue moon, one of those bands is awesome. And in your case, you blew my fucking mind. I cannot believe you are unknown.
I'm known to myself. Sometimes it feels like a lot of musicians try to, you know, prove something. I don't really have anything to lose or to prove.
So do you make music more for yourself than for others? Is it a personal thing, and whether others hear it or not doesn't matter?
Maybe that's why you might seem impressed, I am very humble about this stuff. It's just what I love. I write songs in a way that it goes places so much to the point where I'm not bored. There is a lot of music out there, and I'll say this: A lot of shoegazer music these days seem to be trying to prove that they are in a scene.
I write for myself, and I write for the hurting, the lost, the struggling. I create medicine music. It feels like fate calling me, and I simply follow it. I'm following my heart, not a dollar bill, or any other earthly prospect.
I'm not at all impressed by your humbleness. You are too humble. As far as the term "shoegaze" goes, even I have problems with it. It is essentially a journalism term. That's it. It's just a way to talk about something much deeper.
All we have are words when we want to talk or write about something. Words. And when all you have is words, you have to invent ones to talk about something that has no name. So we invent genre terms. It means more than what the word can convey, and encompasses more. But I do agree with your scene assessment. The shoegaze revival is kind of upsetting, only because I'm afraid the term will be ruined. The original meaning of the term has been diluted. And the original term was almost derogatory, and then became a positive term for a genre. It's an interesting progression.
You have to admit there are a lot of people making tuna fish sandwich and glass of milk shoegazer music. It's not just a journalism term. I'm not saying this to every band that has that label. I just need something amazing and unique. I need to be wowed.
I think there is something lasting from that movement that is NOT being replicated. The only reason I love shoegaze music is that the atmosphere moves my heart, my spirit.
It is THIS atmosphere that I speak of is of a genuine expression. I admit, I have my influences, man. But I'm not leeching off of them. People told me I sounded like The Cure or Radiohead before I ever heard them. You see?
Yes, that is exactly what I mean. To me, shoegaze isn't a particular sound. Tt's an atmosphere, it's a feeling, it's this shared mindspace. You hear it and you recognize it for what it is.
But all we have is words. And so we use what we have. "Shoegaze" is all we have, but there is so much meaning and variation in that one term.
If a guitar tone can break through my cynicism towards music, like Ride's "Polar Bear", I am SOLD.
Exactly. "Shoegaze" has its hallmarks, like guitar tone, feedback, distortion, atmosphere...but really, how much does that encompass? so much. I consider the Silver Apples to be proto gaze. They were 60s. Velvet Underground. Proto. The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" is a shoegaze/dream pop fetus. All of this, to me, plays it's role.
Right. I always have epic feelings. All the time. It's an open faucet. Sometimes I wish I didn't have all of this inside of me. It doesn't stop. And it's not a mental illness, it's a spiritual energy. I've had it since I was very young.
Every day is awash with emotions, light, shadows. Every moment is new to my eyes. As if I am born every second. I am constantly inspired by everything around me. I mean of course I am going to get deeply into something like music and technology to reflect some of this.
I just know a lot of musicians that labor over a single album for years, and it still can't touch one of yours.
I wouldn't know that much. You know, I'm very much in my own world, most of the time.
Well so there's your answer. This is why you are special. This is why I wanted to interview you.
It is hard to have a lot of friends because I am constantly awash with ideas and piecing them together. When I talk to people, sometimes they have no idea how I went from topic A to topic Z in 10 seconds. So I could sit down and tell them what thought led to the next, but, hey, that's a waste of my time.
I'm much the same way. And quite frankly, I don't want a point by point description of how you make a song! (laughs)
It all makes sense, you know. If I explain it.
Of course it does.
There's no way I would ever subject anyone to that. Not even you, Amber.
Its like, well, modern day magic. I don't need to know. You just do it. You do what you do. I do what I do. We don't need to explain. We just need to do it. There is no other option. To me, art is magic. Yes, there is technique, there has to be. But that spark has to exist, too, that rare spark, and it can't be explained. Nor should it be. It's been a mystery since...always.
I feel like I weave all of this information into what I do. I am moved, and have this almost incessant urge deep inside of me to move others. When I say move, I mean emotionally wake up people. Wake them up to themselves, to the beauty inside of them, the sadness inside of them, the pain of existence, the truth within them. I don't understand it when I show someone a song, and they can only say "Oh, that's cool."
It's unrealistic to expect anything more than that, but at the same time, I am shocked that people don't get it.
This wordless thing. It's not a product. I often feel like an outcast in this world. Even when interacting with a lot of other musicians or artists.
The Consolation Project. Let It Surround.
That's because even around like-minded individuals, we have our own magic. Completely individual.
Yet, when I do my Creative Underdogs podcast and interview really great musicians who I really appreciate, we completely relate.
The connection is passion. Not identical mind sets.
Yes! I am very visual when I make songs. When I say make songs, I play and sing at the same time. Right now, I'm listening to one of my albums, and I swear to god it's like a movie soundtrack. Everything.
Random, but: Do you ever experience synesthesia while making art?
I think I do experience that. Not to any extremes. But even as a child, I remember eating oatmeal cookies and peeking around the corner and David Lynch's Dune was on. Remember that fat baron, when he was dying and bleeding everywhere? The oatmeal cookies had jam in the center. So I'm standing there watching this fat guy with bumps all over his face bleeding everywhere and gurgling.
I completely felt like the texture in my mouth was what I was watching, and it made me gag like crazy. Needless to say, I don't think I can ever eat an oatmeal cookie like that without thinking of that scene. Ever again.
It's really not abstract, you know. Orange doesn't play a C# with a church organ or anything.
(laughs) I disagree! Well, not about orange in particular.
Are you saying I can eat an oatmeal cookie and not think of that scene? Maybe there's hope for me?
Synesthesia is more about using another one of your five senses to interact with something that should only hit, say, your ears. For instance, there are music notes to me that are colors. There are colors to me that make me think of sound, or of texture. You don't see a color when you hear a warm guitar tone versus a cold one?
This might sound weird, but maybe not. Like, when I hear lovesliescrushing, my mind's eye opens to spiralling, complex spires. Glowing crystal structures. My mind's eye gets very mystical and complex. It's never something simple.
YES. Fucking exactly, man. It's like another dimension. It IS another dimension. For example, to me, Ride's guitars sparkle. In my mind, they sparkle. And they sound like colors of the sky, in all its permutations. Blue, grey, stormy, dawn, dusk, noon. Cheesy, but true.
And you must know, none of my music has ever been written or recorded or performed with any substance other than nicotine.
Substances can enhance these experiences, but in different ways. Ultimately, the most important is the natural way. That's the real thing.
I reach states of being high naturally...I'm usually a very spacey person too. When I'm making songs, I lose all sense of time.
I get so excited that I have to stand up and pace around, light a cigarette. In five minutes time, I have just finished the song in my mind, even more words, even more ideas on where to go next.
And you know what, when I'm done making an album, and I listen to the one I did before that, I usually don't remember how the HELL I made it
It's kind of a weird phenomenon for myself.
Because you lose yourself in it. And you SHOULD.
You can only gain by first learning to lose.
Everything is a paradox, and the deeper you try to analyze it, the heavier each side of the paradox weighs. It's like those chinese finger traps. That's like the entire spiritual condition for human beings. The riddle becomes tighter the further you go into it.
Exactly. I think a lot of people only think of their own lives, that's all there is. Them. All I have to do is look up at the sky to know how small I am. But I am both huge and small.
Yes. And so here I am, instinctually making these, you know, literal vibrations, and capturing them, and being moved by these spheres of meaning that I catch along the way. Songs.
Do you feel that they come completely from inside you? Or do you feel that you are simultaneously tapping into something larger than you?
To be honest, I have no answer to that. Yes and no. The deeper I get into it, the heavier the paradoxical trappings.
In my mind, it's a collaboration between you and all time - past, present and future. If that makes sense.
The Consolation Project. You Collide.
I think we have whole universes inside of us. (laughs) Don't laugh at me! I do. Even our brain cells resemble, in structure, galaxies.
We have our own universe inside of us, and we explore it at the same time exploring this world, and even beyond. If we can let go of the trappings of this person we are now, and let all of that in, we can do more than we ever thought.
As do branches, water, lightning strikes...
So pretty much, yeah. Unless we put up a huge fight, or are completely unaware and ignorant, we will do what our natural inclinations lead us to. We're not just throwing down ideas and philosophies here to just say them. This is ALL encompassed in what we do. In what I do.
We are more than just bags of flesh and bone wandering the planet. There is something skeletal in the undertow that has so much meaning, weight, and depth, and I'll tell you, I can see it clearly.
If you had to identify a philosophy about life that you hold, what would it be (if any)?
Change is the only constant, nothing is permanent, and we're all going to die. So to live in the best way, we should be grateful for what we have, not whining about what we don't have.
*All artwork and photography images in this piece were done by Ron Cavagnaro or Allie Hartley.