Interview by Kevin Steeves.
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Exclusive mp3 stream/download: Distant Correspondent – “Badlands”
If you’ve been following the Brooklyn-based metal fusion band Goes Cube (who have played a few HillyTown Presents shows in Portland) for the past nine years, it might be difficult to believe that vocalist and guitarist David Obuchowski cites The Smith’s 1985 masterpiece Meat Is Murder as one of the most influential records of his youth.
“When I was about 11 years old, I had a wide awakening,” said Obuchowski. “I simultaneously discovered American heavy punk in the form of Mudhoney, as well as the British new wave and shoegaze sounds. I can remember going back and forth between my Superfuzz Bigmuff and Meat Is Murder tapes.”
While that influence might not be so obvious in Goes Cube’s two full-length releases, Another Day Has Passed and In Tides And Drifts, Obuchowski’s newest musical project Distant Correspondent firmly places these post-punk influences front and center with a preference towards the more ambient, shoegaze segment of the genre.
For the better part of the last year, Obuchowski has been hard at work putting together a collection of material for the first Distant Correspondent full-length, and the project has morphed from a collection of solo odds and ends by the Goes Cube frontman to an all-out side project. After splitting time between Maine and New York City for a few years, Obuchowski ultimately decided to move to the mountains of Colorado which is where Distant Correspondent began to take its current collective form.
After being introduced to the Colorado-based multi-instrumentalist Michael Lengel, who shared little musical similarities with Obuchowski aside from a desire to tread new sounds, the duo sent a few tracks to Emily Gray — the vocalist of the John Peel-approved, post-rock group Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia, who quickly agreed to guest on a few tracks before becoming a full-fledged member of the collective.
“It was kind of like having an incredible dinner party, and having so much fun with your guest,” said Obuchowski. “As they’re about to leave, you call them back and ask them to move in. And rather than speed off, terrified, the guest actually says ‘Great! Which one’s my room?’”
Now after more than a year of work, Distant Correspondent is on the verge of releasing their first full-length of new material. HillyTown recently caught up with Obuchowski and talked to him at length about the development of Distant Correspondent from a solo project to an all-out collective, the difference between Goes Cube and his new project and how it’s been working with one of his favorite musicians.
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Listen/download: Distant Correspondent – “Merge”
HillyTown: Obviously it goes without saying that this is so drastically different from Goes Cube or really any work you’ve released, even your first band that people knew was a punk band. Has this sort of shoegaze/ambient sounding work always been part of your music library?
David Obuchowski: Oh yes, very much so. When I was about 11 years old, I had a wide awakening: I simultaneously discovered American heavy punk in the form of Mudhoney, as well as the British new wave and shoegaze sounds. I’d sit in my room and listen to both again and again, and to me they sounded, in a funny way, very similar. They were both so intense and dark and raw. It didn’t matter if it was “Touch Me, I’m Sick,” or “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,” they both had this energy and desperation. I knew that they were different styles, but I never saw them as being disconnected.
By the time I was in high school and was in a punk band, the people I would hang out with would be these punks and hardcore kids, and I’d be trying to convince them that, no, really, The Smiths are totally punk! The Cocteau Twins are really punk! So is Lush! And Slowdive! Few people shared my view. But it’s funny because I look back on that time: the early to mid-90s, and I realize, one of the biggest punk bands of the time happened to be on one of the biggest shoegaze and new wave labels: The Pixies on 4AD. That right there should have been my argument to my friends: “Hey, look, the Pixies are on 4AD, so there’s got to be some connection, right?”
HT: Why are you releasing Distant Correspondent material now? Do you feel more sure of yourself as a musician and a person, or did you just want to use the lull in Goes Cube to branch-out of what has become expected?
DO: To really answer that question, I have to sort of explain real quick what Distant Correspondent was, and has become. A few years ago, my wife and I started splitting our time between New York and Portland as she entered the MFA program at the Maine College of Art.
I knew that my time in Portland over the next two years would give me time to think about some other music. So that “other” music was deemed Distant Correspondent. It was just a catch-all name. After her final on-campus semester at MECA, we decided we didn’t want to live in NYC anymore, and so we moved to Colorado, and it was here that Distant Correspondent evolved, or even more accurately, became something.
What happened was that I met a guy named Michael Lengel who plays a lot of instruments. We had a couple beers and discovered that while we really did not listen to a lot of the same music, we had a similar passion and drive to do something that we thought would be interesting. We also saw our different influences as an advantage. So days later, I sent him a single riff, and he recorded drums to it. When I listened to what he sent back, I was just stunned. Not only did I think it was incredible — I couldn’t actually understand what it was that he was doing. He apparently was hearing this simple guitar riff in an entirely different time signature. It was fascinating, unexpected and better than I’d imagined. In that way, he has that in common with Goes Cube’s drummer, Kenny Appell.
So, we immediately set to work on the album in early January of 2011, and it took nearly every single day of seven months to track it. During that time Emily Gray also joined us. Molly McIntyre [an artist and indie musician who also lived and studied in Portland] also guested on it, as I’d worked with her, my wife, and yet another Portland artist ad MECA student, Rachel Herrick, on a fun little side project called Tin Can Telephones. But, anyhow, we are actually just now finalizing some of the last mixes, in fact. So that’s why Distant Correspondent is just now a public thing — even though I’d been using the name here and there for a few years it’s really only come together recently.
HT: How did you go about getting in contact with Emily Gray? Did you write the tracks that she guests on with her previous work in mind, not necessarily knowing that you’d be actually working with her — but just a sense of inspiration?
DO: I’ve been a fan of Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia since 2000 or so. Ever since then, they’ve been one of my favorite bands, period. They’re one of those bands that whatever device or thing that I have that carries music Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia must be on it. I’ve listened to them constantly for twelve years now, and I’ve only grown more intrigued by them. Few photos exist of them, and little else. Just a whole lot of people — which included the late John Peel — who think the band is incredible.
When Goes Cube was on tour this summer, we were interviewed by Metal Insider, and they asked us who we’d want to collaborate with. Emily Gray immediately came to mind, and so I mentioned her. A couple of days later, we were on some long drive between cities and listening to some new Goes Cube songs that we’ll be recording for the next record and we were talking about guests, and I asked Kenny and Matt what they thought. They were into it, and so when I got home I decided to get in touch. Trouble is, they are a very mysterious band, and Emily Gray is not to be found on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or any of that. So I posted a status on Goes Cube’s page asking someone to get us in touch. Someone found out she did the artwork for a 7” that was released in the UK. So I contacted the label who then asked Emily if it was cool if they gave me her email address. She said yes, apparently, as the label sent it along.
So I wrote her asking her to guest on the next Goes Cube record, and about a month or more goes by without word. There I am, thinking about it every day, “Oh man, I can’t believe it. She’s not into it. Should I follow up? Did she not get the email? Does she hate us?” And she emailed me back and it turned out she’d been out of the country and had gotten behind. She said that she liked Goes Cube a lot so she’d be into it, and could I send her some stuff. So I sent her some of the songs, warning her that our more recent stuff is pretty brutal. She liked them alot, but she wasn’t sure if those songs left any space for her work.
So I told her I’d send her some more Goes Cube songs, shyly adding, “But in the meantime, I’ve got this other project, and it’s way different, and I think you’d be a great fit…” I was sure she’d be bothered off by me, but instead she said to send it along. I did, and she loved it. We did two tracks with her, and then we all talked about how perfect it was. So after a couple of days of being like, “Wow, that was fun, and thank you, and how perfect,” we went, “Well, hey, if this was so perfect, then why don’t you just join us?” And again, Emily — who I’d still never even seen a clear photo of at that point — surprised me by saying yes.
HT: Right now you’re working on trying to figure out how to release the complete Distant Correspondent album, have you noticed any drastic differences in the challenge of getting this album released than previous albums when Goes Cube was just starting out — in that same vein, do you think your work with such an established band like Goes Cube has helped the ability to find a proper release?
DO: Goes Cube helps and hinders in this way. I am careful to not categorize Distant Correspondent as a “side project” as I see the two bands as so unrelated. It doesn’t exist in relation to Goes Cube — it just exists. Goes Cube has been fortunate to achieve and experience a lot of things and with our third and best album about to be recorded, we truly feel that what we’ve done so far is just the beginning in many ways. Goes Cube is not big enough to where everyone knows us, but I’ve been surprised at how many people actually do know us. This has helped in getting in touch with folks in the music industry. But on the other hand, I have found that some people are eager to speak but when you tell them it’s about something that’s not Goes Cube, they’re not all that interested.
As much as Goes Cube is a metal band, we’re not. And so I’d sort of been expecting that a lot of the people I’d speak with wouldn’t really care what kind of music it is. But in that way, I have learned that metal is really in its own world. Many people in the metal world don’t go beyond it too much, and those outside of it don’t really venture into it. So I’m not saying, “Oh, it’s the metal people’s fault.” I’m saying that the challenge has been on both sides: In the metal world, it’s tough to get people psyched up about a record that doesn’t even have a second’s worth of distortion on it. In the non-metal world, it’s tough to convince people to care about a band that seems to be a side project of a brutal metal band. But all that said, I have connected with some wonderful people in the industry who’ve worked with or appreciated Goes Cube and don’t let the stark differences in genre bother them. So, right now, I’m working with those folks to see about getting this Distant Correspondent album, and subsequent ones, their proper release.
HT: How big of a project do you envision Distant Correspondent becoming? With Goes Cube planning on releasing a new album next year, do you see yourself wanting to, or even being able to, juggle both projects simultaneously?
DO: Distant Correspondent has unlimited potential and to see what we were able to do for this album, it’s stunned all of us. We’re already on to the next album and we’re really taking it all steps further in terms of the breadth of the songs. This kind of music has been so important to me for so long now, but I’ve just only started playing. So really, this Distant Correspondent album is really just the first bucket from a vast well.
But here’s the thing about Goes Cube: we used to have a manager who would always tell us “You could be the next Mastodon,” and the way we saw it, we weren’t trying to be the next Mastodon. When our first album came out it was a mixture of recent material and some of our earlier material which was more punk-driven and in some cases, indie-driven. That fueled the fire, and people around us in the industry talked about how we could be “huge,” but we never viewed ourselves as the next Mastodon or some huge band. We would tell everyone that one of the bands we admired most was Slint because they did something important and lasting. There was some real befuddlement and even anger from some people we used to work with about this, as they saw it as a lost opportunity, but that was how it was. That didn’t mean we didn’t want success or more sales or popularity, but we didn’t want “getting big” to be any sort of driving factor in what we did or how we did it.
The next album will certainly be our heaviest yet, but also our weirdest. It’s still a Goes Cube record; I mean we still do all those weird changes and have some pretty parts and all that, but we see this as being a very defining record. We’re eager to record it, for it to be released, and to support it.
But the fact is, Goes Cube is not a band that has unlimited appeal. For the metal world, it’s not metal enough. For the non-metal world, it’s way too heavy. We seem to fit perfectly in the early 90s when bands like Helmet and Quicksand were doing this new strain of music which had non-metal vocals, heavy as hell music, and all kinds of other elements. In fact, when we toured with Helmet, we’d never played for more receptive audiences. Even the band themselves — their bass player wore a Goes Cube t-shirt on our last date with them — it was amazing, and we were right at home. But that’s not the environment now. So our hope is just that we will continue to put out important, good albums that we can be proud of. We hope our popularity increases, and we always hope to do bigger and better things. But our aim is not to be the next Mastodon. I mean, there’s already a Mastodon, anyways.
In that regard, Distant Correspondent has more appeal potential than Goes Cube does. And the fact is, the other two guys in Goes Cube do their own things, too (and we all support each other). Our bass player, Matt Tyson, has been in the film industry for a long while, and he’s working with some high-profile film people on a documentary about war veterans; Matt’s actually the executive producer on the film. Something like that could be huge, and there’s no saying what it leads to. Our drummer plays in another band called Cleanteeth, which is a far more straightforward sludge-metal band, and they are mind-blowingly good. The way we see it, Goes Cube will do bigger and better things; but so will our non-Goes Cube projects. And it’s our hope that all of our creative endeavors only help the other creative endeavors.
HT: How drastically different is the process of writing and recording for Distant Correspondent compared to Goes Cube? While the former started of as more of a solo-based project, do you find the process of not having to collaborate intimidating in anyway or is it largely a positive experience that at the end of the day, you only have your own abilities to answer for?
DO: Well, again, Distant Correspondent is not a solo-based project anymore, but the process has some pretty close similarities. Essentially, when I sit down to write a DC song versus a GC song, I don’t do anything differently. I don’t know how to read music, and I don’t know anything about music so I just play, putting my fingers here and there until the guitar starts making either really pretty or really heavy or dark or whatever sounds that I like.
Because what would happen and what does happen, is that we all take those parts, hash them out, and then stick them together in unexpected ways, adding some stuff, getting rid of other stuff. For Distant Correspondent, I have a similar approach. I do it less based on “parts,” and more on movement and feeling. What I send to Michael is often the foundation for a completed song, but I don’t necessarily hear the different parts. I hear a narrative, or a collection of related movements. I hear atmosphere and moods, all these abstract things.
Often, what I send to Michael I think sounds really cool, but it’s also somewhat “shapeless.” What I get back from him are drums that take the song from being shapeless soundscapes to dynamic full-on songs. Only then do we start to think about vocals and the rest of the instrumentation. But in the end the approach is the same, and it’s a simple and pure approach: I put my hands on the guitar and try to make it sounds that I like. I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. And lest anyone thinks that I set out to form a dream wave or shoegaze or whatever band or record, I didn’t. These just happen to be the sounds that I absolutely love.