With his sophomore album, Andy Larson, performing under the name Magnetic Ghost, rejected the rules in favor of boundless sonic experimentation.
Loss Molecules is a calming, transcendental sound sculpture carved out of white noise. The droning, six-track shoegaze EP rekindles memories and feelings that were long forgotten.
Ahead his album-release party at Kitty Cat Klub on Saturday, Larson talked with City Pages about the psychedelic inspiration of the natural world, the perils of "throwaway culture," and more.
City Pages: Can you give me a little more background on your Wilderness project?
Andy Larson: Wilderness collects a few improvised live performances: one from Drone not Drones earlier this year, one from the Reverie Cafe, also 2016, and one from Art of This back in 2009. It still needs to be mastered and the release date is TBA. It’s not so much “written” in a studied, arranged sense that Loss Molecules was; it’s more representative of another way of making music, improvised instant composition, much more ethereal and certainly more abstract.
There is a sort of wonderful freedom of knowing your instruments and equipment and launching off into a 25- to 30-minute tone exploration where you don’t necessarily know the destination. Performing this way live, with no safety net, can really add to the intensity and psychic energy of it. Magnetic Ghost shows often include improvised passages that string all the songs together into one set long piece.
CP: Where do you think you get your shoegaze/slumbery aesthetic in your music?
AL: I was a teenage devotee of Sonic Youth, which I think permanently warped my musical approach from that point forward, and combining that bedrock mentality with a love for delay pedals and messing with texture and perception of time got me to this point. I’ve traveled through it from more aggressive music, like the Vets, my band in the early 2000s, to something more in this direction, most recently whitesand/badlands, but Magnetic Ghost is likely the fullest realization of this musical aesthetic.
I like it because it sort of lends itself to listening like looking at an impressionist painting; Monet painted beautiful works, but they were beautiful because of how all the shades blended together, much the same as how an ethereal sound can create all of these ghost overtones. I think some of it feels to me like the truest expression of what influences the music other than music. I’ve been lucky enough to do a fair amount of traveling and seeing parts of the country and world --though there is still so much to see -- I love big open landscapes, places that envelop you and make you realize how small you are.
But, like anyone trying to explain anything spiritual, it comes out of my own perspective and is difficult to explain. The music is always trying to rectify this contradiction -- the need for open space in the world versus our human drive to fill it. A clear mind versus anxiety. The subconscious versus everyday life.
CP: This is mostly a solo project for you. Did you have others in the studio with you?
AL: I started the session with my longtime friend and recording engineer Neil Weir at Blue Bell Knoll. We took a weekend and did a few improvised takes, and I laid down some skeletal guitar lines for the songs. Most of creating Loss Molecules was spent in my home studio, it really allowed the writing process and the recording process to be one in the same. Then, after a few months, I took it back to Neil to mix, and he took a very active role in sort of finishing off the sound of the recording, smoothing some of the raw sounds, inverting or reinventing tones.
It’s been an interesting approach to playing these live. I considered forming a live band, but in the end decided I liked the idea of re-arranging the songs to play solo. As a result, things are similar to the record, but different. It takes a pretty involved setup of using four guitar amplifiers, a lot of effects pedals, and multiple guitars, looping, vocal loops, etc., but it’s not computerized. It’s all sung, played, looped, and arranged right in front of you. I’ve been using the word “songscapes” to describe it -- written and arranged songs, but embedded in a larger sort of “musical cloud,” if that makes sense.
CP: What's the meaning of Loss Molecules?
AL: Loss Molecules comes initially from a conversation I was having with my friend Nate Nelson [STNNNG, American Cream] about the general state of things in the music industry these days. You can be out there creating art, pouring your heart and labor into it, but you are just a “lost molecule” in an ocean. The internet has allowed for so much connectivity, but it has also made everything so accessible that it is in a certain sense without value; it’s the expansion of a throwaway culture to art and creativity.
I liked the term and kept coming back to it in my head. The more I thought about it, the altered “loss molecules” title both refers to that, and speaks to the sense of loss that the record has as a theme, both in system breakdown and personally, we’re all just a bunch of atomized individuals out there. It’s easy to feel disenfranchised from so many aspects of life these days despite how seemingly hyper-connected it is; it’s the slow erosion of a sandstorm of data. And personally, life is change. We’re constantly evolving in tiny permutations. We lose bonds and gain them. We’re all molecules out there.
CP: Tell me about the song “Vanish/Vanishing.”
AL: I’ve often felt that music and art in general can be a therapeutic thing for the artist, perhaps a harrowing experience for the artist can result in a strange trip for the listener, but if it is honest, hopefully it translates. In some respects, “Vanish/Vanishing” is a bit about death, but life as well, and your place in it.
I had the musical idea to try to abandon traditional song structure and work out this series of themes surrounding it, but to never really have anything repeat -- shift timing, tones, vocal melodies, and harmonies, but to also have the same repetitive bass/drum beat going. The music came first, but it was also during this period of watching people’s long lives end, traveling for funerals, seeing this desolate winter grassland, and pondering those questions everyone has about what is after this? Maybe nothing. Maybe that is comforting?
It’s tied to something I feel like is a greater undertow in American culture, the sort of “denial of death” that I think exists under late hyper capitalism: "We can always buy our way into being immortal," or so we think. We always try to see order when reality is more entropic. People aspire for, as the song puts it “a place for every grain of sand, at every point in time” when the reality of that is impossible to grasp.
CP: Any other songs that you're particularly proud on this album?
AL: I’m proud to think the LP doesn’t sound like a genre exercise, it is just more of portrait of where I was at and where I am going. It might be doomed to not be easily assignable in today’s genre-specific music culture, but I think that people that give it a chance and an active, deep, listen will be rewarded. There are lots of aspects and textures to discover.
CP: What are you excited to share at the album release show?
AL: The music -- let it be what it will be to you. Playing live for me is always a sort of hypnotic state; all I can hope for is that it translates to the listener.
With: Alan Sparhawk, American Cream, Cult of Lip
Where: Kitty Cat Klub
When: 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 19
Tickets: $5; more info here