Every year, Twin Cities musicians hide from bitter winter conditions and find their creative spirit holing up together -- often in the basement. Finding refuge for months in the Clown Lounge of the Turf Club, Sativa Flats is a project involving members of Twin Cities indie faves the Chambermaids, Daughters of the Sun, and Vampire Hands. Sativa Flats departs a bit from the punky, noisier edge the Turf Club regulars typically employ for a lush, sonically blissful, spacier type of sound that unfolds wonderfully through the band's five-song debut cassette via Moon Glyph records.
Taking a break from his countless studio projects as a producer and engineer at Blackberry Way studio, Neil Weir told Gimme Noise about the new cassette and how the project came together.
Gimme Noise: How was Sativa Flats formed, and what are the songs on the tape?
Neil Weir: The band was Chris Rose's idea. He had the band name and I knew he wanted to do something dub-influenced. We met up at Old Blackberry Way, started playing, getting sounds to work together and feeling out ideas. I'd done a project called Devil on the Beach and I knew I wanted to bring some of those ideas to Sativa Flats. I have an old Rhythm Master drum machine that sounds strange and textural when it's run through a Space Echo tape delay and a reverb pedal. I love real drums and cymbals, but they eat up a lot of space, arrangement-wise. Not having that stuff taking up space allows us to use hazy sounds that otherwise might get drowned out. There are no battles for space in Sativa Flats, so we don't end up with any volume wars happening. Our stage volume is very low, and that's new to me.
These rough ideas turned into long semi-improvised performances as we played our weekly residency the Clown Lounge. Music that has the sort of stillness that we were after doesn't really work in a normal rock club environment where people are standing around waiting for the next band to play. I liked the idea that we would play for a few hours and people could sit around and talk or space out or whatever while we played. You could stop by for a few minutes or stay for the whole thing. I've made music in this vein for years but I'd never really considered playing it live because I didn't know how to make it work.
What "lo-fi" bands do you really connect with? Do you remember the first cassette you ever bought?
I'm pretty sure my first cassette was the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, but it was a gift. The first cassette I bought was probably something by the Guess Who.
In terms of lo-fi bands, I got into the early Pavement stuff, Swell Maps, the Clean, Guided by Voices, "The VU and Nico," the Fall, "No Pussyfooting" and a lot of other stuff. I liked the idea music could be valued for its ideas and textures rather than the focus being placed on being a "good" singer or a "good" guitar player. As much as I admire a lot of technically talented musicians, I still feel that way. I think it's lacking in indie music now, especially in the U.S. It seems like most successful bands have a technically gifted, performance-oriented, people-pleasing front-person. With Sativa Flats all of the instruments are on equal footing, we're not backing up a front-man or guitar solos with what we're playing.
Is it an aesthetic choice for this band to be a bit less pro sounding than some of the clients you might have in your studio?
It seems like everybody has different ideas of what "lo-fi" is. To me "hi-fi" is a recording that sounds lifelike and "lo-fi" is when recordings are shaped and colored heavily by the limitations of cheaper equipment. However, from what I gather, a lot of people now consider "hi-fi" to mean music that is heavily produced and crisp sounding and things get called "lo-fi" if there isn't a lot of editing, processing, sculpting for clarity and automation happening. I'm pretty sure that something like Can's Ege Bamyasi would be called "lo-fi" if it came out now and I'd consider that to be a very "hi-fi" record.
I record a wide variety of music. Sometimes the goal of the session is to made things crisp and punchy and sometimes it's to leave things sounding more vague. In this case it seemed best to let things blend into a hazy whole and be fairly hands-off in terms of EQing for clarity. We also wanted to retain a looseness rather than making a record that sounds like it was created through precise editing, looping, etc.Is Sativa Flats a priority for everyone? What do you all have coming up in the future for people to get pumped about?
I think it will keep going. We all like doing it. Scott Watson's living in Madison now, so that can be tough. We're planning to do a release show but we don't have it set up yet. He'll be back for that. We've also been playing with Josh Richardson from Flavor Crystals and that's been going really well. A nice thing about releasing a tape is that the costs are a lot lower than with vinyl. Nobody has a lot of money wrapped up in it and we're not obligated to tour or anything. My feeling is that we'll keep doing it when we have time in an on-again, off-again fashion and I'm fine with that.
The Chambermaids had a 50 percent lineup change and we're busy writing, recording and getting ready to play shows. It's going to be a new direction and we're excited about that.
As for the studio, I recently finished LPs from Magic Castles, the Velveteens, Web of Sunsets, Is/Is, Teenage Moods EP, Weakwick, and Rabbit Holes. Some records in progress from Invisible Boy, Chatham Rise, Heavy Deeds, American Cream, Rifle Paw, Dick Stranger, the Persian Leaps, Seawhores, the Ronnie Buxtons, Driftwood Pyre, Call Walker, the Upward Few, and Rupert Angeleyes.
Since the genesis of Sativa Flats came about in the Clown Lounge at the Turf Club I'm wondering what you think about the recent evolution of the place?
I'm sure Chris has a more informed perspective since he works there but it's looking promising. The previous business model couldn't sustain itself and all the new developments are things I hoped would happen but I figured never would. Food at the Turf? A better PA? Perfect. It's my favorite venue in town.
As such a staple of the club, how you gonna handle not being able to hang at your favorite spot during the three-month remodel?
I'll probably survive.
To procure your own cassette copy of the new Sativa Flats, check them out at the Moon Glyph site.
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