Interview with Garth from Old Light

Interview with Garth from Portland band Old Light, recorded on October 11, 2013. Garth was undoubtedly one the most genuine people I had the pleasure of hanging out with during my trip to San Francisco. Their opening set for Thee Oh Sees kicked some serious ass. It was especially awesome to see Garth and Pat come back on stage and play the tambourines for Thee Oh Sees. Garth even did a stage dive and still managed to play the tambourine while he was crowd surfing! Seriously awesome band, and you can find more information about Old Light on their website:

Parisa: This is Parisa from KAMP Student Radio interviewing Garth from Old Light. How are you doing today?

Garth: Very well, stoked to be here in San Francisco with nice weather and seeing old buddies

Parisa: Can you do a quick intro: say what you do in the band and say what was the best Halloween costume you've ever had?

Garth: I'm the singer, guitarist and main songwriter of our band. Our band used to have two drummers, but one of them recently moved away. So now we are playing as a three-piece. It's more dangerous and kinda more fun. It's also less fun in some ways but more real in other ways. So yeah, that's where we are now as a band.
And Halloween costume...probably the funnest costume was one time I had a huge beard, Halloween came around and I had no idea what I was gonna do. So I shaved off my mustache, put on a white shirt and a black suit and steamed a cowboy hat so the brim was flat instead of curved up…and I was Amish. It was really convincing and people totally thought I was Amish.
Parisa: I bet. That must be the nice thing about having a beard is you have so many options of having a Halloween costume.
Parisa: Just to give a quick intro, you guys have had 5 cassette releases in 2013. Each release is produced by a different band member, recorded on an 8-track tape machine, mastered directly to cassette, and each subsequent release features a variation from a track on the previous release.
So why did you guys decide to release cassettes as opposed to just going digital, and why is it so important for you guys to keep that direct analog connection?

Garth: I'm really glad you asked that. I will say though that the choice to do cassettes was really just time and money. They're cheap to make. Our friend Sam, who runs our label Curly Cassettes in Portland, owns a high speed duplicator.
When we first talked to Sam back in January, we said: "We've had a good live set for a while, but nobody has the songs. We don't have the money to go into a studio and we're certainly not gonna spend 6 months trying to find a record label to put it out on vinyl and wait for manufacturing and art and all this shit. How can we do this really fast?" Well, Sam said he could make fifty tapes in an hour. We could make as many tapes as we felt like and sell them at shows.
So we set up my Tascam 388 in my basement. The first tape, called "NO," was basically just our live show, recorded to tape in my basement. It was so fun and so fast--we came up with the idea on a Friday, recorded it on Saturday and Sunday, mixed it, printed the art, and had 50 copies for sale at a show in less than a week. Some of the songs on the tape are literally the second time they were ever played. They're that fresh. So in less than a week we had a full-length album to sell at a show.
Of course, we learned later on that the rest of them wouldn't be as easy as the first one. Production time took longer and longer and then Todd [drums] moved away. It's kind of an amazing journey, these five tapes, 'cause it started off super fast and hot and heavy. The second one, TIME, got more contemplative and we brought in some quieter stuff. The third one, YES, is more like a pop record that we made really fast but it's really strong. We finished that one right before our two week tour in June.
When we got back home from that, we played Pickathon, and then Todd suddenly moved away, which created some real challenges for us to overcome. We had two more tapes to make, and we had to figure out what the hell we were gonna do, and it wasn't easy. Rather than make two mediocre full-lengths of songs that were kinda slapped together, we focused more on making one good song-oriented one, which is SPACE.
The last one, MAGIC, is an audio collage of all kinds of stuff that went into the project--tracks played backwards, sped up, slowed down, live recordings, alternate versions. It's like emptying the compost bin into the garden after making a 4-course meal. I really like it.
So then we had to focus on our live set with Scott on drums. The first show without Todd was with Ty [Segall] and it went great. Half of it was probably just being stoked to play on that bill, but it also proved to us and our hometown audience that we can do this with three people. And yeah, playing tonight with Thee Oh Sees is a dream come true for me--if this is the last show we ever play, at least I can say we did that once.

Parisa: So what are some of the benefits you've seen with recording mobile with your 8 track and what are some of the kinks you had to work through?

Garth: Well, first of all you're limited to 8 channels and it's tape, not digital. You don't really have the opportunity to revise. In the meantime, you're practicing your parts over and over cause you have to nail the take. You can punch in a little bit but there's no revision or "fixing it in the mix," really. And that's really good for us as musicians - you know, make recordings that sound like the live show. Or make the show sound close to the recording. That's the worthwhile work.
When it came to mixing, we were lucky enough to work with seven different engineers and five different studios in Portland. We did the first one at my house with Brent Asbury, and the second one at Mike Coykendall's home studio. We recorded the third one at my house and mixed it at Hamptone with Matt Morgan and Scott Hampton. The fourth one was recorded at home again and mixed at my friend Seth Lorinczi's studio. Seth's a DC hardcore guy whose old band toured with Lungfish.
Everyone had their own style and their own challenges: "How do we get this fucking tape machine to sound as good as it can on its way to a cassette master?" We just learned a lot. Some of it is super raw, my friend Brent mixed the first one--just EQ, panning, and levels inside the 388--and just ran the mix out through a single compressor. That one's very present and aggressive and lo-fi, and great. It's still my favorite.
I dunno, it's just interesting to have so many different opinions and so many ways of doing things and yet everyone is working with the same limitations. I'm happy with all of the results and they're all totally different.

Parisa: Can you say how you selected a song off the previous release to do a variation of? What's the decision making process?

Garth: There wasn't one! We just thought it would be fun. We just kinda said, "Well, if we're gonna do five different records, let's find a way to connect them."

Parisa: That's awesome, whose idea was that?

Garth: I think that was me and Sam [Farrell, of Curly Cassettes]. Sam is sorta the fifth force in this project 'cause his label put it out. He has a really great way about him. He's an excellent visual artist, he has a really good eye for color. He's a very sweet and passionate person.
So for things like that--the overarching connective tissue or the larger philosophical cohesion of the project--he was a great sounding board for me. 'Cause I can run off in any number of directions and get super retarded about "inner meanings" and "double meanings" and he'll be like, "yes, that's fine, that's enough."
But what's cool about the variations is that it's totally up to the listener how far they want to go with it. We hope that people will go as far as we went, but it's a lot to ask. The variations are a way of saying: "This is a recording of the song, it is not the recording of the song, and it is not THEE song--this is a version of it."
It's like saying: "I'm using this camera right now to get this stuff in the shot." If we're playing live, it's a different lens and there's different lighting. It's still essentially the same song, but the song is a fluid thing. Whenever you play it again, you're literally summoning it from silence. And that really is the nature of playing music together. When people try to grasp and hold on too tightly to things like definitive recordings and "Oh, well, this is the limited edition on that label so it's worth $5000 on eBay," it's like: "Wow, this has nothing to do with listening at all."
I'm happy that an esoteric concept like that found its way into the project--it shows that we don't want to be stuck. We don't want to know what we're doing. I don't want to be able to classify what our music sounds like. If we do that, we're sorta saying: "It starts here and ends here, and it costs this much." I've never played music with that as my goal and I've never wanted to.

Parisa: What are you guys looking forward to on this tour that you're going on right now?

Garth: Visiting Burger Records was cool. Sean [Bohrman] gave us a huge stack of like 14 tapes and just plucked them out: "Oh--check out this and this, this is amazing, and oh--this is Baroque psych from Belgium, etc." And we listened to all this stuff yesterday in the van and it was just amazing. It was really cool to meet them. They are at the top of my list of people who are doing music for the right reasons. So that was a highlight. Of course, tonight we're playing with the fucking Oh Sees and that's pretty bitchin'!

Parisa: Could you name 5 ingredients that describe the smell of your tour van?

Garth: It's funny, the tapes we got from Burger actually smell like pot. So there is the faintest suggestion of pot mixed with the plastic off-gassing smell of tape cassettes! Pat smells like cigarettes. A beer exploded in my backpack so there's some beer in there. And then there's just this kinda Pacific Northwest…not mold…but misty fugg…sorta greenish smell of bleh. And then, I dunno, just farts. And coffee.
Parisa: Do you guys play any games when you're on the road?

Garth: Yeah, Scott always has games. He started this word game: you have to subtly work words that contain certain letters into normal conversation. But it's funny cause someone will say something off-topic and you're like, "Why did you say that...OOOHh!" Right now, we're on the letters T-O-M. And so it's customary to get tomato soup at the bottom of the atomic…you know, like that. That's actually really fun. And the drive goes great, we love it. We drove 2,500 miles out to a festival in Ohio in June.

Parisa: Which festival was it?

Garth: Nelsonville. It was our first time on a big 40 by 50 foot stage and a lot of bigger bands were playing. Tim Peacock was the guy who invited us out and he was really rad.

Parisa: Have you played any other festivals since then?

Garth: Yeah, we also played Pickathon festival, which is really great. Thee Oh Sees were out there last year, Ty was out there this year. Sonny and the Sunsets were out there a couple years in a row. It has been great to see so many SF bands making it out there. We also did Music Fest Northwest which is a city-wide festival in Portland. That was when we played with Ty Segall, as well as Mike Donovan from Sic Alps, and La Luz from Seattle which is another Burger band who are great.
Parisa: Well, those are all my questions so thanks again and -

Garth: Aren't you gonna ask me what our music sounds like?

Parisa: Oh right! The biggest question of them all! What does your music sound like?

Garth: It's pretty much exactly like classical music but waaaay shittier.