Danish experimental guitarist, René Gonzàlez Schelbeck, discusses his ambient instrumental recordings as Western Skies Motel.
Western Skies Motel released several albums in 2016. Was this a burst of creativity you experienced or were these older recordings that coincidentally were released in the same year?
Settlers was the main release in 2016 and from the outtakes of the album we compiled the EP Generations as a kind of accompaniment for those who wanted to dive deeper into that universe. The making of Settlers was a somewhat long and slow process. I think I spent a couple of years working on and off with that material.
Buried and Resurfaced was originally released in 2015 by the now defunct Australian label Twice Removed in a very limited edition. It was picked up by 1631 Recordings who re-released it in 2016. That album on the other hand was a much more experimental and spontaneous process that I used as a kind of valve to let steam out while working with the more slowly progressing material.
You're based in Denmark. How does living there impact your creativity?
I live in the countryside in an island called Funen here in Denmark. As opposed to Copenhagen, it’s a very quiet part of the country and the distractions are a lot fewer. One obvious impact is probably the fact that like-minded musicians don’t hang on trees here and, I suppose, in some ways that has forced me to cultivate my own expression - at least that’s what I like to tell myself. That being said, there is often some kind of eerie isolation that shines through my work.
Do you tour and play the Western Skies Motel songs live?
When I play in Denmark it is usually just one-off shows. I did a European tour in 2016 with Mute Forest who also released an album with Lost Tribe Sound. Playing with such continuity really makes you grow as a musician and allows you to play more loosely and more musically, too. Since I’m just one person, I can’t really play the songs as on the recordings. I tend to focus mostly on solo acoustic guitar. Sometimes I mix in the odd electric guitar and some tape manipulations when I need the music to grow fuller and louder.
Western Skies Motel has a very eerie, abandoned, or despondent aesthetic on the visual front, in particular the Settlers and Generations album art featuring old and worn tin-type photos. How does the visual element compliment your songwriting? Is it an influence beforehand or curated based on how the songs turn out?
The artwork was made after the recording of the album. Those photos are actually from the family archive of Ryan Keane, the crazy dude who runs Lost Tribe Sound. He always puts such an impressively meticulous effort into all of the releases he publishes. I was completely blown away when he showed me his idea for the artwork. It was just such a perfect frame for the music. There’s something so unreal and yet so universally human about those photos. The pride of showing the hard work. The costs that must have been involved. I always thought they represented some kind of strangely cynical wisdom that flows through the generations. Perhaps, a sign of a spirited landscape that leaves its mark on the people who thread it.
There's a level of anonymity to your work that adds a level of mystique to the project. Is there mindfulness in this aspect? Is the mysterious nature by design?
Haha, no not really. Not purposely, anyway, but I suppose choosing the name Western Skies Motel and choosing the artwork is a way of directing attention away from myself. I want the music to be the center point from where your mind is allowed wander off in whatever direction your associations take you. I tend to prefer art that has a certain openness it where the listener/viewer can choose his own angle and subtract their own meaning. Egos have a tendency to blur that picture.
What's your recording and production style? Is it done in a studio or at home?
I work from home. I have set up a very humble homestudio - just a basic PC with a simple audio interface, a couple of mics, and a small collection of instruments. I don’t work with soft synths or MIDI-based instruments. It isn’t necessarily because there’s anything fundamentally wrong with those tools. They just don’t inspire me the way physical instruments do. I don’t think Settlers could have been recorded in a pro studio without the freedom to pursue an idea or experiment at any given time of the day when inspiration set in.
Your bandcamp mentions that the songs are inspired by the dry winds of the American prairie. This seems so accurate. Where you personally influenced by the American prairie? Did you spend time there?
Honestly, I’m a bit uncertain where that came from because I’ve never actually had the chance to visit the Mid-West. It’s more of a mythical place of my own imagination, a metaphor for something more universal. Here in Denmark we don’t have that kind of widths. Nature doesn’t really exist here in its wild form. Everything is cultivated and I guess it has made me dream of something more profound and pure. Existence in a more original form, I suppose. The truth is likely that none of us would last more than a few days in that brutal environment we call nature in its raw form.
What type of things influence your songwriting? Are there musicians whose work you aspire to emulate or find real inspiration from?
I find inspiration in a lot of different musicians and I probably steal bits from here and there. To drop a few names, I could mention bands and artists like Sparklehorse, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Nick Cave, Arvo Pärt, etc. It’s not so much that I try emulate what they do but they leave an impact in me emotionally that I might try to recreate. Or they structure their music in ways I could never do.
What are your plans for 2017 for Western Skies Motel?
Oh, I have some plans for world domination. I’m working on new material that I’m very excited about. And I have some upcoming shows. Perhaps, a little bit of touring, some collaborations. We see if it all works out.
Buy Western Skies Motel's latest releases here.