In short – sentient terrorism. Brock Van Wey has been participating a love affair with tomorrow that’s defined and realigned the way we approach that very concept. Putting his vast back catalogue aside, as difficult as that may be, there’s an enduring sense of genuine love for those on his life and those he connects with regardless of the depth and it’s certainly something that can be clearly felt in his work. We’ll be clear though – those rolling landscapes harbour subterranean soldiers and the intricate tunnels they reside in.
That brings us to today. Three fresh projects are skirting the horizons of release – When Loved Lived’ is the first long player under the deep house pseudonym ‘Earth House Hold’. Marching on – his work under ‘East of Oceans’ will be available this August. The flagship double album proceeds it. Titled ‘Home’ and due for release on Echospace before the years closure, the sheer scale of the project is difficult to accept given the duress the majority of us would incur after being confronted with such a schedule.
That said, life marches on in his world.
Kn: First up, a lot of exciting things going on at the moment – run us through everything and what boxes you’ve ticked in 2012?
Bv: Well non-musically my life is about as boring as they get, so other than somehow managing to keep a few goldfish alive for more than a few weeks and making at least five of my students cry (admittedly, making a 19 year-old girl cry isn’t the hardest feat in the world), I haven’t made a whole lot of my 2012.
But musically I’ve had a lot going on… my first full-length as Earth House Hold (my deep house project) entitled When Love Lived is out on Love’s Label (Chicago), after years of James’ (label head) working several jobs and scrimping and saving to make it all a reality. I’ve also finished my first full-length under my East Of Oceans guise (my breaks project), 121 Years, which is coming out in August on Home Normal, through the massively kind support and open mind of my man Ian Hawgood, and one that has been a really long time in the making. I also had two albums out through Darla earlier in the year, Serenity and Don’t Say You Know, as well as The First Day on Home Normal, all of which are awesome of course (laughs).
I’ve also either put the finishing touches on, or given final approval for some other upcoming releases, including a new double-CD album for Echospace out later this year, and an album of re-interpretations of selected tracks from Ian Hawgood’s Wolfskin, which is going to be re-released this year, re-mastered and complete with remixes and re-interpretations, of which three are mine, and which, unsurprisingly, take up an entire CD, with the longest being over thirty minutes. I’m definitely excited and honored for that, as Wolfskin is really one of my favorite ambient albums of all time, and Ian is one of my best friends (and in case you think I’m biased, I bought Wolfskin before I ever knew him), so there’s no better combination than that. I was a bit nervous about tackling that, as it’s a bit scary to mess with perfection, but I did my best, and honestly it’s some of my best ambient work. I hope others feel the same.
In addition to that, I’m currently working on new albums for Darla and AY…
and somehow still keeping those goldfish alive, knock on wood. As for crying students, well that’s a given.
Kn: The new Echospace album in particular is something that’s stirring some interest and, quite frankly, plenty of guessing, as it’s remained quite shrouded in mystery. What ideas and concepts are making a profound appearance in the record, where’d it all arise and theoretically – where’s the album going?
Bv: It’s called Home, and for a myriad of reasons… from my attempts to examine and re-examine what ‘home’ means, living 7,000 miles from my own, in a place that goes out of its way to remind you every time you leave the house that where you are is not your home… to really what ‘home’ means philosophically I guess, how much of it derives its meaning intrinsically, how much of it is manufactured, and really what it means to ‘be home’… to the fact that my return to Echospace is really a return home for so many reasons I could never even attempt to outline here.
This issue of what home means, and what it means to be home, is one I’ve grappled with for years upon years of self-imposed exile in China, isolated from everyone and everything that I would associate with what at least would best encroach on a standard definition of ‘home’… it’s hard to describe until you experience it yourself, like most things, I guess.
The album is a bit hard to describe… while it obviously has many qualities that my work always contains, there’s just something about it that is nothing like anything else I’ve made… I really don’t know how to describe it… from the way it sounds, to the way it feels, there is just something about it that’s unlike anything else I’ve made. It’s by far my most hypnotic work, and really possibly my most powerful, but in a quieter way than I think most would expect when I use a word like that, as I’m generally known for being pretty overboard.
It’s pretty massive… a double CD, all of my own work, with one CD containing (some) beats, and one beatless, but it’s dramatically different from White Clouds Drift On and On, much darker, much more hypnotic, and more somber in some ways, while in some ways going to new heights of emotion that even White Clouds couldn’t reach, or really anything I’ve made before.
As with anything, I don’t really know how or why it came out the way it did, I just listened to my heart and went with what it said… but (just like White Clouds) it was made from beginning to end completely from scratch purely for Echospace, and more importantly, was the first time I sat down to try to face this issue of ‘home’ head-on… a lot of my music touches on it, as it’s such a massive part of my daily life, but this is the only time I’ve ever really tried to face it head-on, in all its beautiful, horrible, exhilarating, terrifying glory. Though it couldn’t really be much more different from my last Echospace album, it shares a similarity, in that it could have only been made for Echospace. No one else in the world could bring out what it brought out in me. As always, I just hope someone can feel what I feel.
Kn: As of right now you’re taking a step back from DJ’ing and committing your time, in it’s entirety, to studio work and live performances. How’s that working out and is there anything you’re discovering about yourself now you’ve shifted your focus?
Bv: (Laughs) Well ‘taking a step back’ is a bit of an understatement. I officially stopped DJing back in 2001 when I moved to China the first time for the sole purpose of leaving all that behind, and I’ve never picked it up again. In the last, say, 5 years, I’ve maybe done 3 mixes, and that’s about it. It’s extremely rare that the inspiration to make a mix hits me anymore, and really that’s the only time I can make one… and that’s how it always was.
There were many years between when I stopped DJing to when I started making music where really my relationship with music was much more passive… where all I did was listen, but of course, once a DJ always a DJ, and my mind could never stop working in that way, even when supposedly being a passive participant. At some point back in 2006, one of my friends, a sound engineer, convinced me that it was time to go the direction of making my own forays, and kindly spent many a sleepless night on the phone with me walking my bumbling ass through a myriad of software and hardware that was to me at that time was like trying to read the hieroglyphics on King Tut’s tomb.
Though I loved my years of DJing, and will always keep them very dear in my heart, from the first few notes I ever fumbled through making myself, I knew there was no going back. There’s just no comparison. I will always have massive respect for someone who truly knows how to DJ, and can really program a set, and really take it somewhere, and say something – it’s a true artform – but for me personally, it’s too hard to let others’ music speak for me anymore, and I have my own things to say. Now if I listen to others’ music, I do so from that passive perspective once again, and let it say what they want it to say – and just listen and let them take me where they want to. When I want to say what’s in my heart, I use my own words – though don’t get me wrong, there’s an amazing beauty in being able to use someone else’s music to do so – they each have their own beauty that the other can’t accomplish, which is what’s great about it, I think – and really it’s that connection between disparate, otherwise connectionless people who have never met that is what music is all about, whether you’re making your own, or DJing someone else’s.
Kn: So having a press kit isn’t something you really need, clearly. In fact we had a quick chat earlier and we both agreed the idea of placing a face to an artist when music is really all that matters is quite strange and you shy away from it – can we elaborate on your view?
Bv: Yeah, I mean obviously I’ve taken pictures before for interviews etc, and I understand people sometimes want that kind of thing, but if no one ever asked me, I would never give them a single one, or even take one. In fact, I hate taking pictures in any situation. My mom can attest to that, and her lifelong frustration at my complete and all-encompassing aversion to taking pictures in general (evidenced by the fact that she has like 10 pictures of me throughout my whole life, and all of them have a horrible, duress-filled squirmy look on my face).
But when it comes to music and artists, I see even less need for it. I really am honestly perplexed with this fascination in recent years with seeing what artists look like. Who cares? What possible effect does that have on your view of, or connection with, their music? I miss the days when you had absolutely no idea not only what an artist looked like, but even really who they were. When you heard their music, you knew it was them. Nothing else mattered.
Not that you asked, but for me it all started when the focus of parties or anything else became all about one person… when we started putting a DJ or artist up on a stage, as the focal point. Everything started becoming too much about one person, and not the entire movement that was the reason they were even there. It used to be you just went out to hear good music, and loved being immersed in what this music meant. Then it became all about going here or there because “this” DJ or “that” artist was playing… the whole reason to go to something became all about whether or not one person was there… I don’t know, that’s when it all really started to lose me.
But much more importantly, all philosophy aside, do we even really need to see what any of these people look like? I think anyone who comes from the times before artist pictures can agree, we all got along fine without it.
Most of them just look like ex-junkies who have been up for a week (myself included)… and 9 times out of 10, when I finally see what someone looks like, I wish I hadn’t. It’s just gone insane now… artists and DJ’s have their photos on fliers, have their own personal logos (don’t get me started on that), and god knows what else. What happened to the days when a flier just said who was playing, all in the same text, and same font? When did it all have to become an ad for the next Michael Bay movie?
It’s all tied with the fall of the underground… this is where it all started to go wrong… putting DJ’s on stages, as the centerpiece, making everything, a whole night, or a whole genre of music, about one person. It just became a massive ego-stroking contest, and completely lost its way from a community, and a movement. One person isn’t a movement. It’s just some guy trying to feel important. There’s a big difference.
Plus, at the end of the day, I just see zero logical reason how knowing what my scowling ass looks like would make anyone better understand anything I’ve ever made, the words I’ve said, or anything else…
So that’s why I don’t have a press kit.
Kn: Whilst we’re talking about what’s going on right now, how’s the industry vista looking from your perspective at the moment? Where’s the positive progress coming from, and where do you think there’s some room for improvement?
Bv: I really don’t think of things from an industry perspective… though my music gets released, and is therefore part of the ‘industry,’ I am in most ways just a very idealistic musician (not a businessman), and really all I care about is making music.
Obviously I can say the same things so many others have said about illegal downloads, the over-saturation of new music and artists, etc, but I think all that’s been covered, and is pretty much just basic math and common sense anyway.
One thing I do see that’s quite positive, though, is it seems in recent times there is a bit of a renaissance where people are opting more and more to support artists the right way (i.e. buy their music). There was a time it seemed pretty much all people did was fileshare and rip off everything in sight, but I think a lot of people realized that if you want artists you love to continue to make music, you need to actually support them and their efforts. For all the ones I know, anyway, it’s not ‘about the money,’ and I think the vast majority of people out there have no idea how little money most artists actually get from their music, even ones that would certainly be deemed famous, at least by ‘underground’ electronic music standards, and how many jobs many to most of them work all day just to be able to do what they do musically… in fact I literally only know one who actually lives off it, and even then, he barely does so. But it doesn’t have to be ‘about the money’ to appreciate someone supporting your work in a real and sincere way, and to keep you motivated to push on, because you know it matters enough to them to go to the lengths of supporting it properly, especially when the alternative is so much easier.
So to see a bit of an upturn in that is heartening… not because of the actual money (which amounts to a few more beers a month, maybe), but because it shows a shift in people’s attitude toward music, and so many artists who give and risk everything for their music. As far as room for improvement, for me the overwhelmingly obvious factor is a long-standing one, and that’s people’s out of control egos… from artists, to DJs, to labels, hell, to even fans, way too many people think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, and are somehow the sole reason the world of music exists… and have completely forgotten (or likely never knew) that it’s actually because of the rest of the world of music that they exist, not the other way around. Far too many people only care about their own bizarre feeling of ‘fame’, seeing their name on some blog, their hits on Youtube or Soundcloud, or whatever. They care about nothing else, and would step on their own mother for a few more meaningless Youtube hits, much less any semblance of community or cause that should be their first priority. A whole hell of a lot of people really need to sit down and examine why they make, release, sell, or even buy or listen to electronic music.
Other than that, I will admit I do my best to stay away from knowing too much about the ‘industry’… like anything, the less you know the better, and I just want to focus on my music.
Kn: Looking around we’ve noticed more and more artists, especially those more inclined to dive into the world of ambient atmospheres, are looking at new ways to make their music accessible outside the discourse of the straight retailer to consumer structure. Have you conjured up any projects in your mind that could fall into this category? If so what are they or if you were think about it, what idea entertains you?
Bv: Well I ran Quietus for some years, in which I did just that, making each CD completely by hand (all of which also contained an actual print of the photo as the cover – not a printed version – that was taken while listening to the album itself), and shipping them all out of my house (though later I also went through a small number of stores), and in many ways it was a really rewarding experience, but it’s also really hard to keep up if you have any other responsibilities in your life. Nowadays people are really coming up with a lot of creative and quite amazing ideas, and I have to say for the most part I really respect not only the innovation, but the massive amount of time and dedication it takes to do some of the things these guys are doing.
But then in some other ways, I’ve started to feel like much of it has become far too gimmicky and ridiculous. I mean, I love to be able to have something (mine or anyone else’s) that’s special in some way, even handmade, one-of-a-kind, or with some extra beautiful or personal artwork, but I think quite honestly it should be within reason, and have something to do with the music. Some of this stuff people are doing now is, I think, pushing it too far, and making the focus more about the packaging and what the music comes in, and not enough on the music itself. Images and the visual presentation that are part of my albums mean the world to me, and honestly I can’t imagine any of them any other way now… they have really made them something they never would have been without them. But I think the way it’s presented should have something to actually do with the music, and its message. It doesn’t need to just be ‘different’ for ‘different’s’ sake. If it’s good, I don’t think you’ll care that it comes in a bento box carved once every leap year by a blind woodsman living alone on the top of Mt. Fuji, or encased in a piece of a comet from the Antennae Galaxies. I mean, if it does, well don’t get me wrong, that’s pretty damn cool, but at the end of the day, you need to want to listen to the music, otherwise none of that matters. No one loves a beautiful or personalized package more than me, but at the end of the day it should be the music that does the real talking… and I think if you make something that’s not only from the heart, but also, quite frankly, good (a subjective term, obviously), then people will find it. You don’t need to put neon lights on it and wave it around.
As far as bypassing retailers, that’s a tough one. I mean, whatever works for you, I guess. Yeah you can bypass them, and there are positives to that, but a hell of a lot less people are going to ever discover or know your music, as well, so retailers serve an important function – you just need to decide if it’s worth the trade-off, I guess.
It’s true that many retailers are pretty vicious, and take way more than the lions’ share of the money, while the label and the artist basically have to lap up the scraps, but there are also a lot of retailers who have really done a lot to help a lot of artists and labels get their message and their music to the world, and who at the end of the day only take a fair compensation for their efforts and their hard work, which I see nothing wrong with. I think many people are all too quick to vilify others for simply expecting to be paid for doing their job, while they themselves would never think of working whatever job they work for free. So for me, I’m not as quick to jump on the anti-retailer wagon as many other artists. I think there are still a lot of really important and supportive ones out there who really support and love the music, and the movements they help their customers discover. I think the biggest tragedy in the modern history of electronic music, however, was the fall of Smallfish. No store will ever have as much love in their heart, or do more for the advancement of the music they lovingly carried, than them.
Kn: The depth and space that you’re able to envisage is something many fail to convert into a realization but you’re certainly not one of them. What’s the concept of “space” mean to you and is it something you’re conscious of regardless of the medium of art you’re being exposed to?
Bv: For me the concept of space my music achieves is pretty natural, because anything I make is an extension of my thoughts… times in my life or emotions that circle endlessly in my head until I can get them out (and even then, long after, though it helps). Such thoughts are expansive and amorphous… and as grand as sweeping as they come out in my music, and so I think there is naturally a lot of space there… because in those kinds of scenarios, it’s what’s not said, and the things you don’t know about, that mean as much as what was said, and what you knew.
But on the other hand, some of it is an actual technical matter, and something I’ve had to work over time to achieve. When I first started making music, it was really compressed and mashed together, and had zero space. I had no concept of what space meant, and why it was important. So just as my achievement and use of space has grown naturally over the years as it represents thoughts and ideas with an equal amount of space, so too have I worked hard to consciously better my understanding of its importance, and how to use it. I think I achieve a strange balance of making tracks that are some of the densest and most heavily layered on the planet, while still being some of the most spacious and open. At least I hope so… but there’s always room to get better, and I always try.
Though a portion of it is technical, I would the large majority of it to the fact that it’s really just a reflection of how my mind works… and the fact that while I spend the vast majority of my time lost in daydreams and huge, sweeping visions, I’m also forever trapped in cyclical, often exhausting, and even oppressive loops of obsessive compulsive thoughts… and just as I have to find a way to strike a balance between them in my daily life, so too do I need to in translating them to music. Like most anything I make, the majority is all my subconscious taking over, and is me on auto-pilot. But sometimes some conscious thought slips in here and there… and just like in real life, I can never really tell which one is hurting, and which one is helping. Usually neither of them are doin’ me any favours.
Bv: It is a constant learning process, and yes, I would say it’s an ongoing study. I constantly have to walk a bit of a tightrope, as my productions become exponentially more dense and complex, yet I want to keep seeking that ‘space to move,’ as you put it. It’s hard. I mean, it’s easy to just say fuck it and mash everything in there, but I know that’s not truly what I want to do or what I want to say, and it’s not my best. At the end of the day, everything I make, at that exact point in time, has to be my absolute best, and the best thing I’ve ever made. Of course there’s always a new ‘best thing you ever made’ just around the corner (and anyone who knows me always has to endure me yapping about that fact every time I make something new, which I know they love), but if this one’s not the best, then why even try? It’s always an ongoing study, and a push to get better… if not, you should just quit.
Kn: We’re fairly certain a field recorder isn’t too far from you right now and it’s played an integral role in the past. What approach do you employ to attaining samples, where do you go and what do you do to work with what you’ve brought back?
Bv: Nowdays it’s so much easier, with the advancements in cell phones. I used to have to take a field recorder everywhere with me (granted, it was a fairly small M-Audio, I’m no Rod (Modell), but it was still too big and clunky to fit in your pocket). Now I can pretty much use my cell phone (granted it’s an extremely expensive cell phone – no, not an Apple), for which I even had some parts custom built (viva la China) does a pretty nice job, and can even record into 24-bit WAV, so it’s really helped me expand both my recording and usage of field recordings, because I can now make them whenever the inspiration strikes, and never have to make a premeditated decision to take a field recorder with me somewhere. It’s just like when you go shopping for clothes – when you don’t have any money you see tons of stuff you want… and when you go out specifically to buy clothes with a pocketful of money, you can’t find a damn thing you like to save your life. For me it’s the same with sounds… just like with everything, they just kind of happen, and I suddenly find myself somewhere, with sounds surrounding me that I know I simply can’t walk away from without capturing that moment forever. And luckily, now it’s become exponentially easier to do so.
To me there is no picture that can come close to what a field recording can do, as far as bringing every last little memory flooding back, even from the most seemingly insignificant place or time. It was a phenomenon I first realized when I was an art major in the 90’s, and I had this classmate who talked about his experience living in Africa for a number of months (I think it was something like 6). When he introduced himself to the class on the first day, he said he had lived in Africa, and when people asked him what it was like, without a word he pulled out a DAT player, and hit play. He had basically recorded every single place he went, and his entire journey, from start to finish, all in field recordings. He literally didn’t take one picture. It was the first time I had ever heard of something even remotely close to that, and it had a massive impact on me, as I sat and listened, and could see and feel everything he had, even though I had never been there. It changed the way I look at recording memories forever.
As far as how I use them, not to sound too much like a hippie or something, but I basically just listen to what the recording, and the situation they came from, tells me. Some just feel really prominent… the time and place itself was just really major or important, and it naturally falls into the foreground… some others are more environments from my daily life, or more subtle moments that naturally weave themselves into the background, or as layers to other sounds and experiences, just like they do in my life… which is the subject, in all its different forms and intricacies, of everything I make.
Kn: …can you elaborate on anything that’s really stood out as a success in the context of an experimental technique or process in the past? Nothing risked, nothing gained right?
Bv: Man, that one’s tough. I can’t really name one specific experiment, but with every album, I always consciously set out to develop something new, some new way of saying something, and a way to push the boundary… just a bit. There is a very careful progression in my sound over time… I always want to try new things, as my story is progressing, and thus the way I tell it needs to progress with it for it to make sense. But I also think that just randomly and recklessly mashing new ‘techniques’ into your work just for the sake of doing so to prove some kind of arbitrary prowess when they don’t even need to be in there is just ridiculous, and my music is about sharing my heart with people who listen, not about showing off. So I’m very careful and measured in my approach, but I think anyone who understands my music will know why that makes total sense. But I’m always pushing to make every chapter in the story different from the last in some way, and to have some kind of progression… and that comes from trying things you haven’t tried before.
I think this is the most integral part of any artists’ production… and it’s one I take very seriously. I see people online saying a lot of my stuff sounds the same, but those people don’t truly understand what I’m doing, what my music is really trying to say, or where it’s going anyway, so frankly I couldn’t be less concerned with what they have to say. Anyone who truly understands and feels what I make can sense the difference in every thing I make, and know that not only the story, but the way it’s told, is always different… always new. Sure it has a very strong connecting thread, but it’s supposed to. I don’t make music for clubs, I don’t make it to try to achieve some sales record (otherwise I sure as hell wouldn’t make ambient techno) and I certainly don’t make it to please some pseudo-‘fan’ who illegally downloaded a bunch of my albums and so now feels he has the right to spout off some typical message board ‘expert’ opinion no one asked for. I make it to talk about life… and I make it to have that conversation with those who are open minded and big hearted enough to want to listen.
People who say they only make music for themselves, if they release it, are liars. And I won’t make that lie. Yes I make it for myself, but I make it just as much in the hopes that it will connect with another human being… if I didn’t want to communicate it to someone else, why would I even need to translate it into music? Of course I do so because I want to at least make an attempt to share the thought with someone else, and hope that they can relate. For me, that is the whole point of music – for someone else in the world to understand you, even to a small extent, and even for however long a song, or an album lasts. It’s a way of attempting to share your experience as a human being, and know you’re not alone, that there is someone else out there who feels the same as you, and sees the world through the same eyes. I just say what I feel, what I know, and what I believe – and any time another person somewhere in the world can connect with that, or we can somehow share a moment through that communication, that’s what matters to me. And just like life itself, time moves on, you change, and your way of looking at life changes with it – and so do my techniques, sound, and the way I approach things… and with that, I am constantly experimenting, and pushing. I’m proud of the fact that every album I’ve ever put out pushes something… in some way. It may be part of the same overall story, but it’s always a new chapter, and in my eyes, always better than the last.
Kn: There’s a lot of steps in between having an idea on what you want and actually making it happen when you’re producing. How do you best deal with moving forward when you’ve decided you’ve been following a dead path? Good examples?
Bv: I’m a weird or extreme example, at least among anyone I know, in that I’ve never not finished a track. I’m a stubborn bastard, quite frankly, and I know that even if something’s not working at that moment, the ideas behind it are what I want to express, and that it still needs to be said. Sometimes your mind and your – well, all the stuff you use to make music – just aren’t in sync… really no different from how we all have those days where we can’t get in sync with someone we love. No matter how hard we try, everything comes out wrong, and it’s just not working. So you call that day a wash, and you start again the next.
I don’t think my relationship with music is any different. I wouldn’t cast off my mom, best friend, or girlfriend over one argument or bad day, so why should I cast off a song? Just like those people, it just needs to be approached from a new angle, to see things a little differently, or (and this will sound really hippie-dippie) to see things from its side. When I sit down to make something, I already know the emotions it needs to express, and the story it needs to tell. So if there’s something about it that’s not working, it’s not the song’s fault – it’s mine. Just like with misunderstandings with people, I’m interjecting my own barriers that shouldn’t be there, and I’m not really listening. So I will leave it for a small time (during which time I will work on nothing else at all, as I never work on two things at once), and then come back again with an open mind as to what it’s really trying to say… and we’ll open our dialogue again, from a fresh, more open-minded perspective… and just like with people, who always appreciate you coming back and letting them know you now see things from their perspective, the track will respond in kind.
As a result, I’m rather weirdly proud of the fact that I’ve never began a song I didn’t’ finish. I cant’ say all my relationships with people end so successfully (laughs).
Kn: If we were to catch up in a quite some years Brock, and I’m sure we will, where would you like to say you’ve been, seen and what really needs to be crossed off as a completed task? Any long term projects or goals that require the attention of furtherance? (throw anything out here, short term or long!)
Bv: I wish I could think of something really exciting or grand that I want to achieve that could really make me sound important, but I really just live and think day-to-day (much to the constant frustration of my poor mother and girlfriend), and as long as I’m happy doing whatever I’m doing today, then I’m good. Really I just try to be the best person I can be, be the best teacher I can to my students, who I love to death and take as my own family (though don’t tell them that), and to just do what I love to do. To play even a small part in the music that’s been my entire reason for living for over 20 years, and, frankly, the reason I’m alive, is already the greatest goal I could ever reach… everything else is just icing on the cake.