you resource for all things shoegaze & dream pop.

29 July 2014

WTSH Interviews Jaike Stambach of The History of Colour TV.

WTSH Interviews 
Jaike Stambach || The History of Colour TV

Starting out as a conceptual audio-visual project, The History of Colour TV was created by Jaike Stambach in early 2010. After relocating to Berlin and releasing a string of cassette-only experimental EPs and videos, the project soon evolved into a full band line-up. The music underwent a slow but radical change, gradually incorporating dark, dreamy pop and abrasive electronic soundscapes with a new focus solidly anchored in the song format, the band released the Colour TV EP in 2011, its fusion of "majestic pop melodies and rivet gun industrial swathes" (Louder Than Bombs) being the first manifestation of the sound and style the History of Colour TV have been exploring since.

The History of Colour TV began 2014 with a newly finished second album, When Shapes of Spilt Blood Spelt Love, one year after releasing their debut Emerald Cures Chic Ills on Saint Marie Records (US). Voluntarily adhering to a more stripped down approach to production, the band nonetheless retain the sonic density of their previous releases. Working predominantly in Berlin, with additional elements tracked in France and the U.S., the album was recorded in 30 days and nights. In keeping with the band's typical work method, it was self recorded and produced with minimal outside intervention.

It would be an understatement to say WTSH adores THOCTV. Jaike Stambach, the mastermind behind the project, was kind enough to answer a few questions for WTSH, the content of which you can find below.

Somehow I’ve only recently learned that the now-defunct Safeashome, a band I remember well from the late 2000s, was actually your project. Listening back now, it’s so obviously you. Can you explain the transition from Safeashome to The History of Colour TV, your current project?
Safeashome was a band I formed whilst living in Paris. We were active until 2009, and then split just before I made a move from Paris to Berlin and everyone in the band kind of started other stuff. Any continuity in style between the two bands was unintentional. Initially Colour TV was a very different sounding project, but I can see how you could connect the two now.

The cover art for THOCTV’s debut LP (Emerald Cures Chic Ills) was easily my absolute favorite album cover of 2013, and the art for the new record is excellent, as well. Who’s the artist?
The artist is Stefanie Walk, with whom we have collaborated with for all our artwork since the Badnite single. She’s a fantastically talented photographer and painter, has a great sense of colour and depth, and a great eye for noticing random, chance interactions between things in everyday situations. Working on these two album covers was a very satisfying experience. Both were the result of avoiding Photoshop and experimenting with sculpture, light and photography, in that order. I see them as an integral part of each album and its music, there isn’t one without the other.

THOCTV has just released its sophomore LP, When Shapes of Spilt Blood Spelt Love. I’m curious about the title; I hate when people ask artists about their album titles so I apologize in advance, but this one is interesting to me. Any story or particular meaning there?
Somewhere I wrote down a slightly different version of that phrase, a while ago, before the album was ever started. It came back to me during the making of the record, and in its new form it was a perfect fit, it completely made sense. It’s very ominous, although it’s in past tense. It seemed inevitable that the album would have that title, even though it was met with some resistance initially. You can interpret its meaning in different ways, but like Emerald it seems to announce a story of some kind, and it happened to weave the various semantic elements of the album together into one phrase. Handy.

I love both of THOCTV records equally, but stylistically they are quite different. Emerald Cures Chic Ills was a very synth-based record; it was unnerving, gritty and sometimes even abrasive. The new LP seems much more guitar driven, the edges smoother. Why the change?
It’s part choice, and part a result of the equipment and approach to recording we used. Emerald was consciously a very processed sounding record, very electronic, with lots of layers of sound. There was a feeling that the next one could be a little more open and organic, and the approach to recording was a reflection of that. Although it ended up being a lot more mellow than I predicted. A significant part of it was recorded in a bigger space, an actual studio in Berlin, as opposed to doing it all in rehearsal rooms and apartment spaces.
What’s your gear set up for this record? Which synths and guitars are you working with and why?
The guitars are either Jazzmasters or Jaguars, and a couple of different basses, semi-hollow and solid bodies. The reason for using those particular guitars is mainly because they’re the ones we have…  But each one is slightly different, with a couple of modifications here and there, and those individualities sometimes influence the direction a piece of music might go in when being written. There’s five or six alternate guitar tunings across the record, and each song uses one or the other, so those also become an important part of the overall texture. The synths are a Korg Polysix and a Yamaha DX7, with some software-based synths in there as well.

The new LP also features more emphasis on lyrical content and vocal clarity than in your previous work. Was that a conscious choice or a natural evolution for you at that time? The lyrics on the new one are brilliant, by the way.
Oh thanks a lot.  Well the fact that the record is less densely layered opened up some space in the mix for the vocals, but again it wasn’t really a choice that was made before starting the album. The tracks are a bit more song-based than the first record, so I suppose it was natural that the vocals would end up a bit more to the fore. The decision to include printed lyrics with the record for the first time was a very conscious decision though; it’s a complete part of the artistic statement. It makes complete sense for me on a conceptual level with this album, whereas on our previous releases it really wouldn’t make sense to be able to read the lyrics separately from listening the songs.

For this record did you generally write lyrics first and sculpt the music around them, or did the melodies come first and the lyrics later? Or is the process completely different every time?
It can vary, but generally the music comes first. The lyrics sometime change the length or structure of a song, but there’s pretty much always some music there to begin with.

Even the though 2 LPs are so different, do you feel that the nucleus of what you’re trying to say on both records is essentially the same? Are you continuously working out a specific philosophy, one particular demon, a single emotion at the very heart of it all? I see so many common threads between the two...
I would tend to say no, but I can see connections once the songs are written and the records are finished. But I think it’s more of a subconscious thing than an attempt to deal with specific themes and interests in a direct way, which I wouldn’t be any good at any way, in terms of writing. I could never comfortably approach writing a song with some kind of theme in mind. And it’s so beautiful and scary to see them emerge by themselves, once the song is done.

“Split Blood” is a great single. Planning any other singles or remixes from When Shapes of Spilt Blood Spelt Love?
There might be, but probably not in a physical format, probably just a video or something. It’s rumored that Screen Vinyl Image are working on a remix, according to Jake of Screen Vinyl Image…

Will there be any chance of a US tour in the near future?
I really hope so. We keep getting offers from people and venues across the US. Hopefully at some point we’ll make a list of all the offers, place dots on the map and draw lines between them, and if the lines all form a nice shape, we can put on a tour. If all the offers still stand at that point that is…

You mentioned in another conversation that you recently caught Slowdive live in Paris at la Villette Sonique. What did you think of the show? How did it feel hearing those songs?
It was an exciting prospect to go see them there. They were headlining, and the venue it was taking place at is not so huge and is indoors. Many of the other places they seemed to be playing were big outdoor festivals, stuck between other bands, which didn’t seem so great. Anyway my expectations before the show were precautionarily modest, but the band was genuinely amazing. Powerful and dynamic, great control over their sound. They played some of the key tracks off Pygmalion, and just rocked them as a five-piece, truly amazing. The atmosphere in the room was really intense. It was a magical night. I wish I could go back to that.

Are there any other classic shoegaze/dreampop bands you’d love to see play live or release new music?
There are some bands I feel it would be nice to have some new music from, but on the other hand, in their positions, I can’t imagine making the same music 20 plus years later. Any reformation which includes new stuff is either going to be more of the same, which you’ll inevitably compare more or less favorably to their classic stuff; or will be something completely different, which might be unsatisfying, although it should be the more exciting prospect. There was that joke that the new MBV album might be a Drum ’n’ bass record. It’s a bad example because in a sense Drum ‘n’ Bass is also very era-specific style and sound, but it would have been so cool if their new record had had nothing to do with the sound they’re famous for. It was a good album though. The bands I’d really like to see reform and play live aren’t Shoegaze bands, haha…

It seems like quite a few first generation shoegaze artists are reappearing after 20 year silences to find that listeners still very much consider them relevant, not in the least obsolete, and new music made by these classic bands sounds unexpectedly current. Now some of them are enjoying the kind of success that really should have been theirs the first time around. Shoegaze was considered to be a blip on the radar in terms of genre evolution, but clearly the strength and meaningfulness of it endures today. Why do you think that is?
It’s hard to say why things retain or regain relevance and others age so badly.  There was also a lot of below-par shoegaze-style music back in the day, which is probably best left in the past. But I feel the classic, most famous Shoegaze/Dreampop bands, whose music has aged so well, Slowdive, MBV, Cocteau Twins, etc., all actually sound very different to one another. What they all have in common is great songwriting and some kind of bullet-proof authenticity, which are timeless, in a way. On a side note, at the Slowdive show every song sounded like it should have been a hit single – I mean that in the best possible way - it was pretty incredible.

What sorts of things are inspiring you right now? What are you reading, listening to?
Poino’s new record is the album of the year for me so far…  Check it out. I keep wanting to say Still Life Van der Graaf Generator crossed with Fugazi, but don’t dare. And you can’t really argue with the new Swans album. 

We recently played shows with Slowness and Yes Deer, both have just released great albums. 

I’m still gnawing my way through Maurice Blanchot’s œuvre, which takes forever. It’s like building your own house, you can’t really stop until it’s done. It will probably take forever. Some Henry Miller to balance it out. And Badrock.

How do you envision your sound evolving from here? Do you have any plans yet for what comes next?
Working on new stuff, there’s maybe half an album’s worth of new ideas and songs. We tested out a couple of pieces of new-new stuff at the recent shows. I think any future the History of Colour TV may have will be more abrasive in its texture. I might be wrong though, but I hope not.

See also: