Interview with Vibrissae

Vibrissae - Photo Credit: Emma Bell

Vibrissae – Photo Credit: Mark Jordan

Portland, Oregon-based Vibrissae is slated to release its enchanting debut album Somewhere Away in August via Vipchoyo Sound Factory.  On the full-length, Vibrissae offers up a sonically accomplished and stylistically varied batch of songs that meld or alternate between electronic and synth-based sounds and guitar-driven shoegaze.  Band members Imber Lingard (vocals on Somewhere Away), Emma Bell (various instruments), Aaron Bell (various instruments), and Sandi Leeper (vocals for current live performances) originally hail from various regions in the world, but they share a love for specific types of music.  Aaron Bell kindly took the time to divulge more details about the band, its upcoming debut album, and interesting mélange of sound.

I’m really intrigued by your stylistically diverse debut album Somewhere Away, which swept me up in its electronic, post-rock, and shoegaze atmospheres.  Most artists stick to one genre of music on an album, but you shake it up by weaving in a variety of instrumental and compositional elements.  Where does this adventurousness come from?

Aaron Bell:  Hello, and thank you for your kind words!  We listen to a wide variety of genres and artists, so it was very natural for the debut release to reflect the breadth of those interests.  As far as the creative process is concerned, using different instrumentation and textures from song to song is much more attractive than repeating the same techniques over the course of an entire album.  It’s more interesting for us, and hopefully, it creates a more interesting experience for the listener, also.

Are you still in the preparatory phase in advance of releasing Somewhere Away on August 19th via Vipchoyo Sound Factory?  How did you connect with that European record label (and who else do they release)?

AB:  There will be one or two pre-release singles, but other than that, no other preparations need to be made.  If time allows and everyone’s schedules line up, we might shoot a promo video for the second single, but that is up in the air right now.  We connected with Vipchoyo through Shauna McLarnon, who is a terrific champion of the shoegaze scene (and all of the other scenes that intersect with the shoegaze world), both as a member of Ummagma and as the tireless force behind Shameless Promotion PR.  Vipchoyo’s roster currently includes Stella Diana, and I believe they are planning to expand their line-up in the near future.

You’re all located in Portland, Oregon at this point.  Why did you decide to reside in this area and not somewhere else like LA or NYC?

AB:  Emma and I relocated to Portland in 2002.  It’s a great fit for us.  We love the music scene here, and despite gentrification and the related increases in rent, the city itself is wonderful.  Portland’s weather suits us well, too, as we are not lovers of warm climates.  Financially, I don’t believe either LA or NYC would be a possibility for us, but we hope to play shows in both cities someday.

Who is the songwriter in the band or do you share this duty?  Is there an overall lyrics-based thread that runs through Somewhere Away?

AB:  I wrote the music on Somewhere Away, and Imber wrote the words for three out of the five songs with lyrics on the album.  There isn’t an underlying theme, lyrically, although a few of the songs, both those with and without lyrics, are about cats.

From what I understand, Imber Lingard, who provided vocals on the album, is no longer an active member of the band.  Is she on hiatus with the intention of returning to Vibrissae in the future?

AB:  That is correct.  Imber is no longer an active member of the band, although she is one of our best friends and we still meet and chat regularly.  She will be moving back to Australia in the near future, so there are no plans for her to return to Vibrissae.

How did you find Sandi, the vocalist for your current live performances, and get her to step in so quickly?

AB:  Emma and I posted a ‘vocalist wanted’ ad, had a quick meeting with Sandi a few days after she responded, and the three of us rehearsed together within a week or two of that first meeting.  For the most part, Sandi was ready for a show after that first rehearsal.  I think we would have been comfortable playing a gig the following day.

I’ve haven’t heard you play live, so I’m curious about the differences between Sandi and Imber’s singing styles.  Is there a similarity in sound and delivery between the two vocalists? Where does Emma’s vocals enter into all of this?

AB:  At the present time, since we are playing shows to support the release of Somewhere Away, there isn’t a drastic stylistic difference.  We are very fond of a specific vocal style, and both Imber and Sandi are able to do it well.  Emma performs the lead vocals on “Incident Report”, as well as all of the backing vocals on the album.  We recorded a cover of New Order’s “Doubts Even Here” for a tribute compilation last year, and Emma performed all of its vocals.  We are planning to release another single later in the year, and Emma is handling vocal duties for that song as well.

You have a shared admiration for certain bands like The Cure, Blonde Redhead, Ladytron, and Lush.  What draws you to these bands (which are favorites of mine too!)?

AB:  As you might guess, we tend to gravitate towards artists who don’t restrict themselves stylistically.  In most of these cases, they aren’t afraid of evolving and branching out to try new and different things, which is something I have always admired.  In addition to this, all of these are artists with whom we have made many emotional connections.  If someone is able to achieve that connection through their art, it is very likely that they have made a fan of me for life.  For Emma, that often includes being transported to a different time or place.

I’m swooning over your tune “Not Forever” from your debut.  To me it has a Lovespiralsdownwards-like meditatively tranquil vibe.  Are you familiar with this music project, led by Ryan Lum? Any influence there?

AB:  Thanks!  It’s one of my favorites on the album, and we perform an extended version of it during shows.  No, I am not familiar with that project, but I will check it out!  The name puts me in mind of Lovesliescrushing, so I’m definitely curious.

Lead single “Need” is such a different beast from the rest of the album as it roils with post-punk restlessness at times.  Where does this angst come from and can you go into what the song is about?

AB:  Lyrically, that was one of Imber’s contributions, so it is open to interpretation.  That’s great that it gave you a post-punk vibe!  We are big fans of many post-punk bands, and it’s a style that might find its way into more of our songs in the future.

The album-ender and title song “Somewhere Away” really spotlights your sure handle of disparate music genres.  You move through post-rock and electronic landscapes and even add the bittersweet swell of symphonic synth strings all in one song there.  Was that intentional and why did you decide to include the cinematic orchestral strings in this arrangement? 

AB:  Thank you so much.  “Somewhere Away” is my favorite song on the album, and I think it is the one that best illustrates what we do. The change in dynamics is intentional, but there wasn’t a conscious decision to “be post-rock” or “be electronic” for those dynamics to occur, if that makes any sense.  Not specifically, at least.  It’s something that happened naturally during the writing and arranging process, and for the most part, I was trying to match appropriate instruments to those that I heard in my head.

I know it’s difficult to encapsulate your musical journey in just a few sentences, but what have your experiences been like since you first formed Vibrissae?  What does the next half-year hold for your band?

AB:  Our journey has been incredibly frustrating one minute, and incredibly rewarding the next.  We are at a very positive stage right now, however, and we are looking forward to the release of Somewhere Away.  We are playing several shows over the next few months, including our first festival appearance at Seagaze in Seattle.  Before the end of the year, we hope to release a remix EP and the additional single that I mentioned earlier.

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