Wils Glade of Charlotte, NC's momentous psychedelic project, Shadowgraphs, spoke to us about advancing their production with their new record and having their tape recordings mixed on the same equipment as Animal Collective.
What were the influences during the songwriting for Venomous Blossoms?
Quite a few! We are constantly finding new music and actually pull a lot of our influence from contemporary artists. I know for sure that we were both listening to Chris Cohen’s latest record As If Apart around that time. The way he structures his songs along with the tones and textures on the record are subtle but brilliant. Sugar Candy Mountain 666 was on repeat for me but those are just a couple I can think of. Bryan is really into 60’s one-off singles and he is constantly frequenting a site called Office Naps for inspiration. Broadcast and Stereolab are a couple other big influences as well. Bryan mentioned that he enjoys female vocal melodies for ideation when it comes to songwriting and it shows on tracks like “Moonchild” from our first EP. There is definitely more to list but that is all I can remember right now. Actually, I forgot got to mention Burt Bacharach! I was on a kick of his which definitely influenced the Bossa nova style track at the end of the new record.
Your last record, Return to Zero, was released in late 2015. How has the band changed from then in terms of creativity, writing, aesthetic, and live performances?
I’d have to say our live performances have improved since we started out playing together. At this point, we all are pretty much dialed in and comfortable with improvising in between songs as opposed to when we first released the EP in 2015. Our sound is definitely rooted in psychedelia but with Venomous Blossoms we wanted to explore different genres and instrumentation because we don’t want to be pigeonholed to one sound. Bryan and I also spent a lot more time working together as one unit when writing the songs and, for the most part, split duties throughout the recording process.
The new record, Venomous Blossoms, really presents a more advanced production and depth in the songwriting and recording. What type of things impacted the new sound? Were there some new people involved on the production side? What was the writing and recording process like?
Well we’d say more than anything, “gear.” Bryan is a big vintage gear collector and at the time he was buying up a bunch of equipment. For Venomous Blossoms we moved from a Tascam 38-8 track deck that we had used on Return to Zero to an Otari 24 track tape machine, so we knew that sonically this record was going to sound a lot different from the last. Some other unique gear used throughout the recording sessions was a vintage Altec 1567a tube mixer, Roland Space Echo and a Deagan Vibraphone. Bryan had also acquired a vintage Telefunken U67 microphone but unfortunately it had some issues so we weren’t able to use it as much as we would have liked. It’s completely restored now so we are really looking forward to using it on the next record! Being that we put a lot of care into the recordings, we wanted to have the tracks professionally mixed in a proper studio. That and we also knew there would be a ton of rad recording gear to play with that we could never own, like tube plate reverbs and other high end stuff. Most importantly, having someone at the controls with an incredible ear for mixing; Drew Vandenberg.
One of our main goals with this record was to add another level of instrumentation, so we invited some percussion players and a saxophonist to play on a couple of the tracks. Brent Bagwell, Marlon Young, Patrick O’Boyle and Shaun Olson really brought the tracks to life in a special way with their contributions and we couldn’t have been happier with the way those songs turned out.
The writing process was quite fast for this record in which we were writing as we were recording. We had been playing out some of the songs live for a couple of months but the majority of the tracks were pretty fresh when we tracked them. It probably wasn’t the best way to go about it but we had already booked the studio time with Drew, so we only had a couple of months to knock everything out. Bryan and I usually write all of the songs without bass or drums, but have a good idea of what direction we want the rhythm to go. Then we have Ethan (bass) and Cody (drums) come over to add their parts to the songs. Shaun, Bryan’s older brother, actually played drums along with percussion on a few of the tracks too. He did the same on the last record Return to Zero and is great at playing in the pocket.
Once all of the songs were recorded, we made a list of things to complete and areas to experiment with. Most of the time we’d end up filling up the tracks with vibraphone or synth parts. Ethan played slide and 12-string guitar on a couple of tracks and we love that he was able to contribute more than just electric bass.
You guys recorded to tape and took it to Chase Park Transduction Studio for mixing. First, what were the advantages or disadvantages of recording to tape?
Well the disadvantages are that you can’t save anything. There’s no way to go back on what you recorded over with analog tape. So once the tracks start adding up and months of time pass, you know almost 100% that something will get recorded over on accident and you’ll have to record the piece again. Plus, for the most part, you have to perform from start to finish with having the occasional option to “punch-in” when possible.
The advantages of recording to tape are that you get this natural compression that just makes everything sound so much more real, especially drums and vocals. We hate tracking drums direct to the computer because they always sound so bright and unforgiving. Another big advantage is taking your eyes of the screen and using your ears. It really makes you a better musician when trying to nail a whole part rather than just gluing the best parts together. Recording to tape is a much more rewarding process.
Secondly, what made you decide to bring your work to Chase Park Transduction?
Well, we are fans of Drew Vandenberg’s work and the owners are some of the coolest down to earth dudes. Of Montreal, Deerhunter, and Toro y Moi are a few bands that have recorded/ mixed there. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was mixed on the same board, and same room as ours was. We had no idea that was the case until Drew mentioned it and after hearing that we were pretty impressed. Drew really took it to the next level and we were blown away on how great he made the material sound. We also sat in with him on each song and learned some mixing techniques and how to apply them with different gear - nerdy studio shit haha.
Was this album written as a group or more of a piece-meal type of thing between each member? Are these songs brand new or the product of a longer workshopping period? How did you settle on the track-listing?
Only a couple of songs were specifically written by one of us originally but for all of the others, Bryan and I would contribute pretty much 50/50 until the song was at a good point to show to Ethan and Cody. We work really well together when it comes to writing songs and I think it’s because we both share the same musical tastes. At one point or another we are trying to impress each other, which ends up creating some great writing fuel. We are super glad that our mutual friend introduced us almost 3 years ago knowing that we would hit it off really well.
You guys really stand out in Charlotte as creators of quality psychedelic tunes. What's your take on the music culture in the city and how Shadowgraphs fits in there?
Thanks! Well we listen to a lot of different styles of music, which psychedelic music can kind of offer. Like “Eastern Holiday” from the LP is more of a western song, but in our context you could consider it psychedelic. So I guess we enjoy finding new genres and bands, and those bands inspire us to experiment with “different” genres too. It keeps things interesting! There are a bunch of great bands in Charlotte, I don’t want to name any cause I don’t want to leave anyone out. But some are truly unique and a lot of folks that visit from out of town are always saying “I wish bands like this existed in my city.”
What's next for the band? Will there be a tour for the new record?
Yes, we actually scored a booking agent with the release and are wrapping up the dates for a cross-country tour to Portland, OR (where our label is) and back for the whole month of June. Before we head out, we will be releasing a music video that my friend Cory Ring is finishing up. He’s a cinematographer based in San Diego and his work is really professional. He is also with a VFX person to bring some special effects in during post. The teasers he’s been sending over look amazing and we can’t wait to get it out on the internet for everyone to see! We are really trying to hit it hard this year so we will definitely be playing some shows up the East Coast after we get back in July. Stay tuned!