Warehouse Eyes: I'm going to do this completely viscerally
Warehouse Eyes collaborators Christopher Williams and Jennie Lahlum have been dating for quite some time. In fact they're now engaged, but up until two years ago, they'd never considered making music together. Christopher half jokes "It took me about a year after we started dating to convince Jennie I was a good songwriter."
With the help of Colin Sheffield on guitar, Jay McGlone on drums and Kevin Scott on bass Warehouse Eyes' new EP Carvings paints a vast and haunting scoundscape. Christopher and Jennie were able to sit down with Gimme Noise to discuss their EP before their release show Friday at Turf Club.
How did you guys meet?
Jennie: We were long distance and I was living in my hometown [Chicago] and not doing anything that I cared about really. Why not just start somewhere else? So I moved out here and it worked out. You can get along well with somebody in small doses and never know what it's like to be with them 24/7. I think the awesome thing about our relationship is that he works nights and I work during the day. We don't even have an opportunity to get tired of each other. Every time I see him is a really special treat.
Christopher: Which is why I'm drinking coffee and she's drinking beer. [laughs] Kevin our bass player was someone I knew as a high schooler and Jay, Colin and I played in a band together [Heartbeats] very briefly. I also played in a band called the Big Strong Men, but we never really did the heck of a lot. It was very Americana rock 'n' roll, so it worked better in small towns in Wisconsin than it did in Minneapolis.
Jennie: That's the band he was playing in when I met him and I actually hated the music. So I was a little apprehensive about starting a project with him.
Christopher: I forgot that actually. It took me about a year after we started dating to convince Jennie I was a good songwriter.
Jennie: Yeah. He's not exaggerating. But once he left that band, he became less influenced by that music. It was a pair of songwriters in that band, so once you became a solo entity it was the real Christopher Williams.
So if writing this type of music is fairly new to you guys, what new skills did you learn in the process?
Jennie: I'd never played the synth before this project. It's been a new experience for me and I like it. I think on the next project I'm going to try experiment more on making my own patches. Chris did a lot of them this album.
Christopher: I love synthesizers. Synths really open up a whole other world. They're just amazing. Instead of playing with melody, you're mostly playing with timbre and creating your own instruments for songs. That's why the recording process is so powerful, because you continue to learn new things.
Jennie: There's kind of a nerdy tech-y aspect of synthesizers that doesn't really draw me. I think I needed the experience playing it first to be able to get the inspiration to learn how to create it. That's how my brain works. I think the other thing we've never done before is mess around with found sound which is something we're trying to move in the direction of. We want to do a lot more found sound manipulation on our next album.
Christopher: There's only a little tiny bit on there. From "Lullaby" to "Through the Glass" we actually put a lot of found sound in there. That's a simpler song, so there's this need for 3D-ness to it. It's a woman reading a story to her child, an air conditioner and a sink at my friend's house that made some pitches. I really like that kind of stuff. We almost didn't manipulate it that much because it was this bridge between songs, but I'm interested doing more.
What types of obstacles have you encountered with the way you write music?
Christopher: One of the risks with what we do is that Jennie has a pretty voice and a lot of times lyrically it can be a little maudlin that things get too pretty. Sometimes it's not the moment you want to create.
Jennie: It's been a real journey for me to work on that. You [Christopher] really challenged me a lot. I'm thankful for it. I have such pretty jazz/classical roots so much of it is on how elegant you can be. I feel like it's the opposite of this. I want it to be part of the texture, but sometimes the texture isn't pretty, it's ugly. So I have to suit the texture but also maintain a cohesiveness throughout the rest of the song.
Christopher: I wouldn't change the timbre of her voice, but it's like constructing the songs around it so your immediate reaction isn't "this is pretty." For some people, that's all they ever want music to be.
Jennie: Is that always the goal in music? Do we always just want things to be beautiful angelic and ethereal? That wouldn't be the reality if people weren't using music as an outlet for expressing their emotions.
Jennie, did you train as a vocalist?
Jennie: I did. I trained classically. I studied in Vienna for a semester and that's when I realized I didn't want to sing Opera. It was always a possibility, but in the back of my mind, I knew I was going to do alternative stuff. Like new classical music, but something that really expands beyond typical tonal classical music. That was kind of where I was going to box myself into. All the while I was doing these tiny side projects with my roommates and loving that so much more. It felt so much more natural. I don't know why I didn't think I could just do that.
Both of you went to school for music in college, do you feel like your classical training has an influence over your writing and singing?
Jennie: I think it was really necessary to have a lot of that background fundamental foundation in classical music. It wasn't just classical, it was also 20th century music which goes way beyond. It's more of John Cage and lots of wacky stuff. I don't regret doing it.
Christopher: I certainly didn't write a song that I liked until way after I graduated college. You just have all these people being like, "This is the right way to do things." I have this conversation with a lot of musicians. It's kind of weird that people are telling you what's right.
Jennie: Any songs I wrote, I didn't listen to anything I learned. I threw everything out the window. I'm going to do this completely viscerally, but I have that knowledge in the back of my mind.
Do you guys put lyrics as a high priority?
Christopher: Yeah. To me, you always build it around that. I'm almost never starting with a seed of a song and putting lyrics on top. It's almost always the other way around. I more fit the music to the lyrics. In the sense that usually they're forming at the same time. I almost never have lyrics without anything in mind. To me with music, there's often a lot of arranging for a band. You can do almost anything, so sometimes lyrics really help cement your decisions. If we have three options for how to play something, we sort of go back to the lyrics and reflect on what we're trying to accomplish here. What's the expressive moment.
Jennie: I think it's really really easy for me to create a melody once I've got lyrics. Then I can kind of form the melody in a lot of places. Do I want to go up with the this line or down? Do I want it to be straight or monotone.
When you write everything, do you have all the parts set out or do you let the other members have creative freedom?
Christopher: There's a little bit of both of those. Somewhere out there is an ideal band dynamic: there's a clear vision and everybody has as much creative input as absolutely possible. We try to reach that as much as possible. Usually it will happen a number of different ways, but ideally I will have a skeleton and the band sort of fleshes out the rest of it. Sometimes we'll sort of hit a spot in the song where it's time for me to take it for a week and make some decisions and we'll end up with something. A lot of this band figuring itself out happened in a studio versus in rehearsals. A lot of that was great to say the least. Our drummer, Jay [McGlone] engineered and mixed the record. We did a lot of that stuff between the three of us and different combinations of everyone. We had to talk all those little decisions through and figure things out. [We recorded in] a combination of places, the Hideaway in Northeast is where some of it was. We did most of the mixing at Essential Sessions in St. Paul.
How long did it take you to construct the EP?
Christopher: We recorded a lot more songs, like eight. Part of that was just figuring out what we were doing exactly. In total. I think it was seven months to record the four songs. It wasn't like nobody was doing anything for a while. We purposely went into it wanting to be patient. I've done things with other bands where you have a timeline set out for you right away. It just really hampers creativity.
Jennie: Even now those four songs don't sound as cohesive as what we have going with our live set. That's why everyone should come to our EP Release. Once you've created something and it's in existence, then you start making new stuff, the new stuff always feels better hopefully. When I did the album art, I did the cover and then I did the back of the album. Then I was like "Oh. I want this to be the cover now" I had a bunch of people tell me "No. Just leave it. It's the back" It's almost like the grass is greener on the newer side. We had no timeline. If we didn't give ourselves that time, we probably wouldn't have found our sound.
Christopher: The next time, we'll probably have a firmer timeline, but it really gave us the opportunity to take our time to change our minds a little bit. While we were doing it, we were rehearsing without any shows on the horizon. We played a few shows last summer and one in the fall. Then we decided "We're going to make this record and rehearse every week and not play until January" We got a lot of stuff fleshed out. We're slow but I like being slow.
Did you listen to a lot of music growing up?
Jennie: I lived in the suburbs so I would drive to the city a lot oftentimes at night. So I just have really strong associations with driving really late at night with darkness and city lights and listening to music as loud as possible. I did that with a lot of Radiohead. I dated a guy who lived way out in the middle of nowhere in the north suburbs (45 minute drive one way) and I could get a lot of listening done in my car. I would never talk on the phone or anything. I would drive with the windows down because I was super naughty smoking cigarettes in my high school years.
Jennie, do you feel like the music and location of where you grew up with has really helped mold your sound?
Jennie: I like to name-drop Broadcast because I think they're a really cool band and not that many people seem to talk about them. Trish Keenan has been such an inspiration to my vocal transformation in many ways. My aunt is an interior designer in Chicago and whenever I went to visit her, she had all of these super trendy art-kid hipster dudes working for her. I was a 14 and they were all in their mid-20s. So I thought they were so cool. They would come to her studio and work as her assistants, but they would always leave CDs around to listen to. I would come over and burn all of the CDs and make copies for myself. That's how I learned about Broadcast, A Tribe Called Quest and a lot of cool music. Those were some prime influences in my early teen years. I owe it all to those dude who I barely even interacted with. They probably have no idea.
Christopher: Jennie has a way different taste in music than I do. She asked me what the first CD I ever purchased was.
Jennie: I bought The Bends by Radiohead.
Christopher: And mine was Savage Garden. [laughs]
Be sure to check out the Warehouse Eyes EP release show feat. Sun Gods to Gamma Rays, Grand Courriers and Aaron from Aaron & the Sea (DJ Set) Friday, May 23rd. at The Turf Club. 21+, $5, 9 PM
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