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04 May 2011

Interview: Jeremy Wrenn of Airiel.

Airiel began as the solo project of Mr. Jeremy Wrenn back in 1997. After taking on a few more members and relocating to Chicago, Airiel really began to hit their stride upon releasing a series of excellent four song EPs, entitled Winks and Kisses, via Clairecords. Gaining them many fans and consistently being top sellers at Clairecords, Winks and Kisses marked Airiel's official arrival to the world of modern shoegaze; by then, everyone knew who Airiel was. Since then, Airiel has gone on to release more great material, garner critical acclaim as a live act, work with WTSH fave Ulrich Schnauss, and open for Chapterhouse - to name a few things. When The Sun Hits is proud to feature the following interview with Airiel frontman, Jeremy Wrenn.

How and when was Airiel formed? I know you were once in another shoegaze band called Black Olive. What happened there?

Wow. Black Olive started when I was still in high school. I remember opening for the Poster Children at a bar and then having a chemistry test the next morning. I started writing songs for Airiel in 1997 when Black Olive started falling apart. Black Olive was fun but it ended up just being 3 guys who overplayed on every single song. After a while we couldn’t agree on anything, so my songs became Airiel songs.

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)? You mentioned an EP in the works, is there any departure of sound or any surprises we can expect?

There’s an EP in the works for sure. ^_^ (check out the promo video HERE or at the bottom of the page!)

Andrew, Chase and I are writing really great stuff together. It feels like the group effort I’ve always wanted to have. There’s a departure in the sound in that it doesn’t sound like The Battle of Sealand. It’s much more like the Winks & Kisses EPs. It’s all dreamy stuff. I’m very, very happy about that. Relieved, even. All the stuff I disliked about Sealand is gone, gone, gone. Half of that record is garbage.

Do you consider Airiel’s music to be part of the current shoegaze/dream pop scene, or any scene? Defining one's sound by a genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre? How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?

Ask anybody who’s familiar with the genre today and we get mentioned a lot, so yeah, we’re a shoegaze band. It’s the “scene that celebrates itself”, for sure. It’s only difficult when you explain what you sound like to people unfamiliar with it. We told a guy at the airport once that “we sound a lot like Coldplay” just so we wouldn’t have to run off the laundry list of bands in the genre. In the end, this is simply the music that we write because we love it.

There are too many genres, though. Country/Western is easy. Classical is easy. You get into rock music and people see the need to break it down into too many groups. I think it started because some zealot refused to agree that one band sounded like another band he disliked, so he came up with another subgenre just to be a snob. I loved all the Manchester bands in the late 80’s/early 90’s, so I have a love for danceable rhythms. I also love lots and lots of reverb and effects, so I just blend the two together. I often just tell people “it’s really loud, it’s pretty and you can dance to it.”

Airiel. Firefly.

What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any favorites?

I’ve been a fan of Mahogany since they first started. Luckily, Airiel’s first show in 1997 was with them and also Auburn Lull. I’m a big Astrobrite fan as well. There’s a few Japanese bands out there like Burrrn and Little Phrase that I always listen to. Supercar was amazing. It’s too bad they’re not around anymore. I have to give A Place to Bury Strangers a lot of credit for getting us to play louder and harder. Touring with them was always great. Oh, The Horrors. Really great. Serena Maneesh. Wow. The Depreciation Guild’s “Dream About Me” was on repeat for about a solid week when I first heard it.

What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?

I love my Japanese Fender Jaguars. I have an American Jazzmaster that has incredible tone but weighs a ton. My favorite has to be my burgundy-glow Rick 360. If it had a tremolo on it, it would be perfect. I’ve relied more on single coil pickups than anything else, though. Jags are great because they have such a variety in tone.

I was lucky to have Oliver Ackerman make a couple pedals for me before A Place to Bury Strangers got so busy. One that he made me is the Full Range Fuzz Wall; a custom Interstellar Overdriver with a little more overtone and there’s also ½ of a Sound Saw in it. The Interstellar Overdriver is the best overdrive pedal I’ve ever used. The Sound Saw circuit helps punch through the mix. It’s great for solos. I just had him smash the two together into one box. I’ve used a Boss RV-3 for what seems like forever. I keep it on the plate reverb setting and have the decay time cranked. Sometimes it gets a bit muddy and it has that horrible drop in sound when you turn it on while playing, so I always leave it on. I have an RV-5 now as well because that modulated reverb is so beautiful. It doesn’t have the same amount of saturation as the RV-3 so I often use both at the same time.

I didn’t realize it until a few years ago but I use the Digitech Space Station like crazy. So many songs were written around that sound. You have to use it with reverb though, or it just sounds goofy.

Airiel. Sugar Crystals (feat. Ulrich Schnauss)

What was it like to open up for Chapterhouse with Ulrich Schnauss? I know you have worked with Ulrich on albums in the past (the wonderful “Sugar Crystals” track comes to mind); what was that experience like?

It’s always, always fun being with Ulrich. We toured in the UK together in 2007. He’s just a sweet guy who does nothing but compliment people and he makes great music. The Chapterhouse show was fantastic. Those guys are all so nice. We had some funny conversations before the show. They made fun of me since my pedal board was so large and I said “you guys do realize that YOU’RE responsible for all of this, right?” I sat on the stage with Simon and we talked about guitars. The whole experience with them was just really friendly and I’m glad we could do that show.

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?

I’ve always said that if I wanted to make money by playing music, I wouldn’t be in a shoegaze band, but now it’s even worse. This genre just doesn’t sell, commercially. It had a chance back in the early 90s but Grunge stole the spotlight. It’s really tough now for lots of reasons. Digital rights management is about the best you can hope for. Luckily it’s easier to get your music on the big sites for download. Doesn’t matter how indie you are anymore. I gave up on CDs a long time ago. I converted all of them to files and then put them in storage. I consider them collectors’ items now. I think vinyl is the only physical media around that’s worth it since it’s for people who truly enjoy the purchase. It’s still a bit interactive.

When it comes to label releases versus DIY/bandcamp and the like, what is your stance, if any?

Airiel has been DIY since the very beginning. We’ve always arranged shows and tours ourselves. I don’t enjoy touring as much as I should because I become the touring manager and that’s a lot of stress. Because of the ability to put your own songs online now, DIY has more appeal than it did before. A little more pay-off, anyway. The label that released Sealand did some good things for us here and there and they really tried to organize a lot of stuff for us but that label just wasn’t for us and we were lucky to only have a one-album contract. I’d love to have somebody do the taxes for me and all the back-end stuff. It’s not that I’m that much of a control-freak it’s just that we’ve never found the right people.

Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?

I listen to MP3s all day long. I simply don’t have the room anymore to store my CD collection. The convenience of music files is just too great. However, I really, really miss the days of going out and blowing tons of money and coming back with a giant stack of CDs. I miss the days of making mix tapes too. I had that down to a science. If I had a lot of blank space at the end I would grab sound clips from my favorite movies and throw them in there to fill up the space.

I don’t own a lot of vinyl. My collection is mostly rare stuff that’s only available in that format. I’m proud to have all the vinyl that Kitchens of Distinction ever put out, so I have a recording of “Prize” without the skip in that was on the CD master. I’ve got a Stone Roses picture disc that I picked up in Manchester a few years ago. I love vinyl for that aspect. It’s still an art form.

What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?

The obvious ones would be Cocteau Twins, Kitchens of Distinction, maybe Pale Saints. Juilan Swayles will forever be one of my favorite guitar players. When I first heard Drive That Fast, I nearly died. The Cure always slips in here and there. Astrobrite was a big influence when I started Airiel. Scott Cortez makes great music. The first Charlatans UK album and all the early Stone Roses helped out. Even though they’re new but not around anymore, Supercar influences me a lot, still.

Can you tell us a little about what you are currently into (books, films, art, bands, etc)?

I have a huge collection of movies. I watch movies almost every night. I never get out to theaters anymore because I’m s daddy now. Honestly, that’s fine because theater audiences drive me insane. Too much talking. That goes for shows too. One of the many reasons I like Airiel to be loud is that you can’t talk while we’re playing. I saw The Clientele a few years ago and kept asking people to go to the back if they were going to talk. I walked out of a The Ocean Blue show because the audience was too chatty and I couldn’t concentrate on the music.

There’s this one Japanese band called Capsule that I’m totally crazy about. Their production is incredible and they’ve changed their sound a lot. They used to be a lot like Pizzacato Five but now they’re more club-oriented and electronic. Check out their video for Plastic Girl. It’s hard not to fall in love with them.

If you had to choose one Airiel track that was the ultimate definition of your sound, which would it be and why?

It would probably be “In Your Room”. That’s always been the fan favorite and it has all the main components of an Airiel song. That one found its way onto the soundtrack for Gregg Araki’s latest movie, Kaboom. It’s just an upbeat love song.

Airiel. In Your Room.

Can you tell us a little about the band’s song writing process?

It really depends on who’s around at the time. Most Airiel songs start with me on a couch just playing guitar. Some come directly from the pedals I’m using at the time. Some have been group efforts from the start but those aren’t as common. Luckily with Andrew and Chase, the group effort is much easier than it has been in the past. We’re usually on the same page and we bounce ideas off each other all the time. Lyrics always come dead last, though. That’s just the way it is. I’m no poet and I’ve always had a hard time writing lyrics and sometimes I just have to be under pressure in order to finish them. I think I wrote the lyrics to "Sugar Crystals" right before we recorded it. I’m rather proud of the way that one turned out even If I don’t know what it means.

Airiel seems to favor the EP format over LP format, judging by your discography. Is that just happenstance or do you prefer the EP format for a particular reason?

The original idea came from Dan Solstrom at Clairecords. The Winks & Kisses EPs were always going to end up as a box set. They have a bit of a seasonal theme to them and more releases meant more exposure. Seemed like a good plan and it was just a fun project from all the art aspects. I like EPs a lot. Today it’s easy to put all those songs into one playlist and call it a full-length. Sealand had its moments but there are songs on there that I simply cannot stand. I should have been more assertive but a full-length album was what we signed up for. There are songs on there that should never have been released, though.

What is Airiel’s goal for 2011?

Japan. We must tour Japan. Also Indonesia and Singapore. And Europe. Should be a synch.

We’re finishing up a new EP right now. We have a TON of songs to work on once this is done. We’re really excited. We really want to re-release the Winks & Kisses box set, maybe on vinyl? That would look sweet. Once the new EP is being pressed, we’re going to rehearse like crazy and bring the new songs up to speed. Then we’ll play out everywhere we can. We’re on our own right now and gas prices are terrible, so we’ll have to do some kind of fund-raising before we hit the road.

What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?

You’re either doing the work, or you’re not.


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