by Andrew Wilhelm (You TX Dark Star)
You could say I've been a bit obsessed recently with the work of Denton, Texas', R. Loren, mastermind behind Pyramids, Sailors With Wax Wings, and White Moth. You're probably right, and for just reason. Prolifcity often comes at the expense of quality, but his projects serve as the exception. The majority of R. Loren's work is based on lush textures that beckon for quality headphones, airy vocals and off-bent drumming, but none of his projects are exactly the same. As I reviewed over a year ago, Pyramids' album with Nadja takes the musical aspects of the former and conforms them to the length of the latter. Sailors With Wax Wings takes a more post-rock approach, while White Moth is seemingly possessed by the work of Autechre and Atari Teenage Riot (whose Alec Empire collaborates on that album). You listen, get lost, and stay lost. Being found would kill your high.
I corresponded with R. Loren about his projects, the importance of collaboration, and what exactly "the moth" is of White Moth.
Crustcake: When did you begin making music? How did Pyramids come to be?
R. Loren: I come from a musical family, and began my relationship with music at a very early age, singing in choirs, playing in various school bands, then various concoctions of bands with friends in their garages ... I suppose a similar evolution to many others who grow up in an atmosphere that places importance on music. Pyramids came to be in much the same way as these projects, though there was no hallucinatory experience as the catalyst. I was daydreaming, however, about the various voids I felt existed within the genres of music that were in constant rotation in my own stereo, and felt a project that explored the extreme dichotomy of texture- that is, the pummeling push of the drum machine juxtaposed with the swirling pull of lush washes of guitar- was something that would be interesting to experiment with. As with these new projects, I had a group of musicians in mind who I knew could achieve the sound with me that I had envisioned.
Crustcake: Throughout most of your work, there is a foundation based in very lush, dreamy music. What attracts you to using such a foundation?
R. Loren: Initially, prior to the first Pyramids release, I was attracted to the sonic density and overall aesthetic of the kind of textures being explored by artists like Prurient, Blut Aus Nord, Jesu, etc. As the constant pursuit of new and interesting music is as much a part of our musical growth as anything, artists are just naturally attracted to more mature sonic explorations as they grow/age. My ears just feel comfortable listening to music with numerous layers.
Crustcake: Pyramids has collaborated with many different artists, and there is quite a bit of attention for the White Moth and Sailors projects because of the guests. What is the importance of collaborating with other artists?
R. Loren:: For me it defines the entire reason why I create to begin with. The inspiration I receive from the artists that provide the soundtrack to my daily life is why I do this. Their music has filled me with life, and I want to thread them into my work in a way that Bukowski might constantly reference Celine in his novels.
Crustcake: How do decide with artists to collaborate with? When writing music, do have collaborators in mind?
R. Loren: When I envision the initial sound for a given project, it is accompanied by a specific list of collaborators that are necessary for the intended result. Most of these artists, again, are either friends or those that fuel my own ideas with their inspiring work.
Crustcake: Was there anyone you wanted to work with, but they declined/weren't able to?
R. Loren: Nobody really outright refused, but a few were a bit too busy at the time- Nina Nastasia for instance, is someone I really want to work with.
Crustcake: Sailors is structured more like a post-rock album. What sort of sounds/moods/etc were you going for with this record?
R. Loren: The foundation was to be dense in a metal way, with the hushed male/female vocal style heard in Low, Ida, Jejune, etc. Initially, it was to be a heavier version of Codeine, in a sense that the songs would be tremendously slow, but melodic. The direction shifted in a softer way, and for the better.
Crustcake: Sailors has a great deal of noise incorporated. Is that from Dominick? How did you work that into the record?
R. Loren: The noise is coming from both Dominick and Simon Scott. The idea was that all of these artists are threaded together through their mastery of melancholy, usually through the means of sheets of texture, whether by noise, keys, guitars, or lyrical content in the case of Marissa Nadler. for instance. Simon was the second thread in the songs. All he had to work with were drum tracks, and he layered bass-y tones throughout to set a depth in the songs. Dominick had worked on his layer simultaneously, without hearing the other instruments, trusting my description of where to go with it. His task was to manipulate sound in a way that would run underneath the entire record nonstop- which it does- while not competing with the other instrumentation, which again, he had not heard at the time.
Crustcake: The song titles on Sailors have a literary quality to them. How do you come up with lyrics?
R. Loren: The lyrics are derived from the poetry of Stephen Crane. He, of course, is not known for his poetry, but it is incredible and completely unorthodox for the time. The titles are lines pulled directly from the poetry, which is public domain.
Crustcake: The last song on Sailors, "Strange That..." is really beautiful. How did it come about? How did you get Marissa to work with you?
R. Loren: I started a dialogue with Marissa, explaining the intentions of the project and the vision for the sound, and she was both free at that time and interested. The song is slower and felt like a good vehicle for the solitary female voice. Her haunting tone is absolutely perfectly suited for it.
Crustcake: White Moth is probably the most beat-oriented I've heard of your works. What led to the great use of percussion/beats?
R. Loren: Many years ago I saw Atari Teenage Riot live, and have always wanted to do a project that dabbled in that style of percussion. With Pyramids, drum machines are often used, but in a completely different way. ATR truly left a void in music that has yet to be filled, despite anti climatic attempts by others.
Crustcake: Going on that a little bit more, I do notice an IDM influence in White Moth. Was this intentional?
R. Loren: Possibly and indirectly. AJ (Treasure Fingers) has built a reputation through his work in Evol Intent, easily the best drum n bass crew in North America, and is a master of IDM. His involvement came from my frustration with bands incorporating drum machine breakdowns in the name of experimentation, yet they are usually failed attempts because the person making the beats isn't versed in electronic music. AJ is well informed by both electronic music and hardcore/metal, which makes him ideal for such an undertaking.
Crustcake: The mood of the White Moth record is very tense and sometimes disorienting. Is that what you were going for?
R. Loren: Absolutely.
Crustcake: In the press release for White Moth, there is mention of lucid dreaming. How does that work into the music you make?
R. Loren: I think the textures are lucid in and of themselves. The entire project was born of a lucid recurring dream I have had for just over fifteen years now involving a metaphorical white moth.
Crustcake: What exactly is "the moth?"
The moth is a living metaphor that has led me toward the light of positive life choices for a good portion of my life. Of my two encounters- the moth and the poet, the one with the moth is the most private.
Crustcake: Both the White Moth and Sailors records end with ambient drifts, albeit in different forms. Was this intentional?
R. Loren: Absolutely. Ambience is another common thread in terms of the artists that were involved, and was present in the initial vision.
Crustcake: What are the concepts behind the videos for "And Clash..." and "Smiles Warm Red Light"? Do you see music videos as a viable expression, with the decline of MTV and rise of youtube?
R. Loren: Those were concepts I had on a whim, and recorded using a cheap digital camera. The last time I turned on MTV and saw music, I can't even remember. MTV fails to peak my interest at all.
Crustcake: In your "Day in the Life..." post for Deciblog, you go through your day as a teacher. Does having a full-time job and being a father enrich or restrict you creatively to make music?
R. Loren: It definitely does, as all experiences manifest themselves into one's art. But, it also compounds the stress and crowds the time I have for expression on most days. That said, it comes full circle as I use music as an outlet for the aforementioned stress. In hindsight, I am convinced the horrific encounter with the late poet Crane was the early stages of what would end up being my full blown anxiety disorder, from which I am now recovering.
Crustcake: I know you put out a 5-cassette boxset of collaborations earlier this year. Considering that physical releases aren't in vogue, much less cassette releases, it was a bold move. What do you still find valuable in physical formats?
R. Loren: Ironically, there is something charming about the cassette format now that downloading and digital mp3s are king. There is a sonic quality to a cassette that, much like a vinyl record, can't quite be duplicated in digital form, even if it is uploaded to a computer through a USB port. The type of project that permeated the box set was a sound experiment on a massive scale- allowing over fifty artists to play with the same layers of texture to produce very different results. Many of the artists involved lend themselves more to tape- drone, noise, black noise, chamber, etc, so the medium of cassette was ideal.
Crustcake: What do you get out of discovering new music, whether it's recently released or just new to you?
R. Loren: Music drives my daily life. I am constantly daydreaming, humming, tapping on a desk, etc, it is in my blood, so finding new music rejuvenates that fuel supply that is constantly inspiring me and informing my own ideas.
Crustcake: Do you have any connections with the music scene in Denton? I know UNT has a respected music program, but I don't know much about the scene there.
R. Loren: Denton is a great place with a healthy culture and a ton of music. Rubber Gloves, for instance, is easily one of the more thoughtful venues in the nation. I have been here for about five years, and don't have a ton of friends, nor do I have time for a ton of friends. Most of my relationships stem from old friendships.
Crustcake: What is next musically for you, Pyramids or otherwise?
R. Loren: Pyramids is wrapping up releases with Wraiths, Mamiffer, and Horseback, and working on the next proper full length. Other than that, in this stage of my life, I feel that starting a small thoughtful record label is my calling, despite the dire economic climate.