Hello Gabriel and Mie! It’s so sweet to be doing this interview with you both for the imminent release of your sophomore album We’ve Got A Map. From what I’ve read, you were working on We’ve Got A Map during or right after the July 2011 release of your first album, If… What compelled you to jump right into the music pool again so soon?
Gabriel: I think the best way to describe it is that we were working on the songs for both records at the same time. They were all in various stages of completion, and the first to find their way to the end-point became If… . The rest of the songs that became We’ve Got A Map were finished up over the course of the summer and fall 2011. I’ve got quite a backlog of material, so as long as we can afford studio days, we have things to work on.
Mie: As Gabriel described, we already had a lot of songs & song ideas when we started working on the first album. While the production stage was going on, those newer ideas have kept coming up which made us continue the recording after the completion of If… . To me, the songs on the album If… are our transitional phase from our former project (The Love X Nowhere) and the songs on We’ve Got a Map are the first set of the new realization of Tidelands.
On BandCamp.com you describe your sound as “Orchestral Indie” and I think that’s a fitting description because you create a gently sweeping, symphonic production on many of your songs. How do you achieve this sound? Is it all through keyboards or did you entice some members of an orchestra to help you out with that part?
Gabriel: We do a lot of layering and looping to create the orchestrated feel, but we also very much enjoy working with symphonic instruments, and as we did on If…, we worked with the composer/arranger Minna Choi and her Magik*Magik Orchestra. There is less orchestration and instrumental variation this time around, as we wanted to rely more on ourselves, but the three songs on which Magik* appear are very much defined by the instruments we chose to work with.
Mie: For the album If…, I basically notated all our songs and handed to Minna for her reference. I used to work with several different large ensembles and jazz big bands for their arrangements. I think such experiences keep me hearing/arranging our songs with a large scale format with orchestral instruments. For this new album We’ve got a Map, we let Minna work more freely than before since the songs have a definitely simpler (catchier) feel, so that we wanted her to go with her own ways and feelings towards those 3 songs.
A fun part of what we’re doing is that we create the similar atmosphere (orchestral grace) on our live performances with just 2 people.
Acoustic guitar motifs, rock guitar lines, and soft horns also figure into the mix, depending on the song. On “The New Black”, there’s a faster, harder rock guitar line that comes out by the end of the song. You change up your guitar-playing style and type of guitar on other songs, with a liquidy sound on “Sexy Fox”, an upbeat strum on “Japan”, and jangling guitar on “Toaster”. What types of guitars are you using?
Gabriel: Ha! I pretty much use my G&L ASAT on everything. It’s basically a semi-hollow Telecaster that I’ve tweaked with some after market pickups that gives me a wide sonic palette to choose from. Of course I use a fair amount of effects as well, the liquidy sound on “Sexy Fox” is MuRF filter pedal by Bob Moog, the solo guitar line on “The New Black” is an AnalogMan custom modded Ibanez TS-9 overdrive pedal, and the jangly guitars are achieved using the bridge pickup and most likely a vintage Gibson Falcon amp that belongs to the studio where we record, and is in many ways my go-to amp for so many of the sounds on both Tidelands recordings.
I’ve read that you ‘loop’ guitars and other instruments. What does this mean and what sound do you generate by using this technique?
Gabriel: Looping is a technique where you use a foot pedal device to record and layer parts with immediate playback. I’ve got mine set up so that I can switch from guitar, to voice or flugelhorn. It’s how we achieve that “orchestral” sound with just the two of us. Sometimes I may have 6 or 7 layers playing at once, so when you add my live playing and singing on top of that, along with Mie playing drums, synth, and singing as well, you can see that we create a lot of sound for just two people. There are a lot of great artists who use live looping in their performances, and each one does it a little different, using different technologies with different capabilities. There is a local SF band called Tartuffi that does it to a humbling degree, and Andrew Bird is definitely an inspiration as a live-looper as well.
Gabriel, your lyrics, which range from bittersweet to hopeful even when the subject matter is bleak, and are a definite standout to me. So many artists these days cover up their words or don’t have much to say, but you are definitely not in that category! Despite downer topics like being at the end of your rope on “Rock Bottom, where you sing about being “…ash in the wind.”, there seems to be an overall warmth and positive vibe to your vocal delivery and aim to your lyrics. For instance, on album-opener “Coil” you describe music as a healing force. Is this the intent of or philosophy behind the music you make?
Gabriel: As a musician without an audience, I’m most definitely on a personal journey. Lyrics are and have always been an important part of the music I like most, with content / meaning and poetic quality being equally important. I am definitely in a process of trying to evoke a certain feeling from the listener, and I’m fighting against my own way of doing things, the sonic tones and sounds and inspirations of my past, which were much darker and without the uplifting payoff that I’m trying to make the signature sound of Tidelands. “Coil” is all about respect for the muse, or that moment of inspiration where you create something from nothing.
You address universal themes with your lyrics, of love and struggle, and hope and survival. On the exemplary “Twin Lakes” you write about living in a war zone and having the choice of whether to stay and fight or run away and survive. In this instance are you are writing symbolically or literally about war? Are you addressing personal inner conflict and relationship skirmishes or are you addressing wars being waged on a global level? Or are you leaving it up to the listener to decide?
Gabriel: As with “Letter To A Young Soldier I Love” from the first album, “Twin Lakes”, as well as “The New Black”, are pretty literal reflections on my feelings of helplessness and complicity in the sickness of global wars. “Twin Lakes” is more historical, based on decades old memories and vague imagery from WWII era books like Night by Elie Wiesel and The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. I was imagining being in pre-industrial Europe as the machines of war came rolling through, and the choices that individuals had to make. It’s not hard to relate those same ideals to what’s happening today, as we seem to have a knack for only making wars on people who have the least already.
Your astute and thoughtful lyrics make me feel like you have a solid grasp on the way the world works, whether it’s individual people in relationships or humans on a mass scale. Did you focus on historical and/or psychological studies in school?
Gabriel: Nope, but I was a very introspective sort of youth, I’ve always read a lot, and I travelled a lot at a very young age. For financial reasons, I didn’t get past my first year of college, and then life kinda took me in a different direction…
Mei, you also take part in some of the subtle, but sweet background vocals on several songs, most notably on “Twin Lakes” and “Half A Century”. Is your back-up singing a new venture or did you also contribute vocals to your debut album?
Mie: The first album was my really “first” experience of recording vocals (although I did a little harmony part before). I did sing some back-up vocals on “Holy Grail”, “Holiday”, “Eyes of God”, “A Letter to a Young Soldier I Love” and “Marigolds”…but I (we) tried to be as “invisible (transparent)” as possible since, you know, I had not trained my voice for a long time. As a music student, I used to take vocal classes but they were for more opera singers. So, towards to the end of the If… session, I started taking voice lessons which I have been doing for more than a full year now. I definitely felt more comfortable recording the songs for WGAM as well as those live shows.
Gabriel, what’s the story behind how you got your first guitar? I read that somehow it involved Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead!
Gabriel: Part of my childhood was spent in Marin County, CA., where my dad had a restaurant in which Weir was a small investor. They were also of the same mind and friends to an extent. At some point my dad got tired of me co-opting his guitar, and asked Weir to arrange one for me, which he did, through the company that was his sponsor at the time, Alvarez-Yairi. I’ve got a great photo of a 17 year old me on stage with Bobby and my then-new guitar at the famed Sweetwater Saloon, where we were toasting my dad’s 50th birthday (I think). If I recall correctly we did a version of Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. Heady stuff for the youngster that I was.
Gabriel and/or Mie, you have swum in the music sphere before Tidelands. At some point in the recent past you formed the band The Love X Nowhere and released 3 EPs and one album. Why did the band break up? Is Tidelands an extension of that band or a totally different animal?
Gabriel: Tidelands is a different animal, but you can’t ignore the continuity of sound as I was one of the songwriters for TLXN as well. Mie was drummer number 4 in that band, and joined as we were peaking musically on the High Score Blackout album, but winding down in my own desires on the collaborative front with those individuals.
Mie: I joined TLXN when (now I clearly know) Gabriel started writing musically more uplifting and technically really challenging songs for the band at that time. TLXN had been known as “emo, shoegazy rock” which was not really my strength so that I was super excited when Gabriel brought the first draft of “The New Black”. Well, that attempt was not successful not just because of the band but individuals (including myself) were not ready to play the song physically and spiritually. I think the transition from TLXN to Tidelands was pretty smooth without having stereotyped band-break-up drama, but my personal recognition (that Tidelands is totally different animal) has been a sequence of enlightenments. Gabriel started working on flugelhorn, more looping stuff, getting out of “a rhythm guitar role”… I had never seen those things before with TLXN and each such movements has been inspiring me and making me recognize “This is truly an original project”.
This is going to sound silly, but many months ago I viewed the epic video for your song “Holy Grail” (officially at YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlYskcAAnc8) for the first time and I wanted to review it, but I didn’t feel I’d be able to do it justice. Were you involved in the creation of that video and are you planning on releasing any videos for songs off We’ve Got A Map?
Gabriel: The video for “Holy Grail” is such a stunning achievement, the credit for which goes wholly to the creator Ami Kurata. Literally thousands upon thousands of hand drawn and watercolored illustrations which were then scanned into a computer and animated. She’s such a talent, we were very fortunate to form a collaboration with her at a moment she was also searching for a project to express her own artistry. There are two videos for songs on WGAM. “The New Black” is up and streaming now, and there is a video for “Coil” in production. Both are shot and directed by another young talent named Nelsen Brazill.
Will you be touring to support your new album? If so, where will you be headed and will you be adding more members to the live incarnation of Tidelands?
Gabriel: I think the future of Tidelands involves another as-yet-to-be-discovered musician, but right now we’re really enjoying the two piece and feel we’ve worked out a way to create the sounds we want with just the two of us on stage, and without using any sequences or pre-recorded material. Tidelands Summer Tour 2012 will hit most of the western, mountain, and southwestern US states. Dates are still coming in so check our website at: http://www.tidelandsmusic.com/