“With instrumental music the expanse of relateability is essentially endless.”
With their most recent release, Stranger, american experimental-folk-band BALMORHEA once again headed for new territories. There’s rarely any other band out there at the moment, which captures different moods and vibes by the means of pure instrumental music and turn it into absolutely stunning records as these Texans do. All of their work has been following the path of simultaneous reinvention and resurrection. Always searching for new ways to express themselves, BALMORHEA nonetheless kept some simple but basic trademarks over the years. As long time fans, we were glad enough to get to ask the band’s founding member Michael Muller some questions about the current level of creativity in indie-music, the impact of technological change and, of course: Hope and Passion. I think I’m not exaggerating, if I say, that this guy’s not only eloquent, he really has some inspiring things to say. Find out about it all right here:
Hey Michael, finally back to Europe. Hopefully everything’s going well with the tour?
Michael: Thank you. We’re happy to be back in Europe after over a year absence. We hit a few new countries for us on this tour like Croatia, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia. Three days left in the tour now, and I can easily say this has been the best one yet. Great crowds of such lovely people all over the continent.
Let me boldly start with an interpretation of your last three releases: to me, all of them seemed to be based on an overall idea of imagery, although you don’t use vocals to express them. “All Is Wild, All Is Silent” breathed a sense of rough, but beautiful nature and landscapes. “Constellations” had a more maritime feeling to it and “Stranger” tended to evoke urban associations in me: at least, it seemed to be more lifely than the previous ones. So, questions is: will there always be this kind of overall mood in your albums or am I over-interpreting?
You are spot-on with those evocations. In the writing and recording process, certain elements always surface that lay the foundation of what the material generally gravitates to as it pertains to imagery. Stranger feels like perhaps the broadest swath of potential emotive expressiveness to us and hopefully each release and songs therein can speak to each listener at their own speed or viewpoint. That’s one of the redeeming aspects of the lack of limitations brought on by the specificity of lyrics. With instrumental music the expanse of relateability is essentially endless.
You have any idea where you’re heading next, thematically?
We haven’t begun the process for the next recording, and are only now beginning the downward slope of touring and promoting Stranger. That will begin shortly this Summer as we have some downtime from touring. We’re all excited about the unknown possibilities of what lies ahead.
Speaking about your influences you often mention classical (or neo-classical) european artists like YANN TIERSEN, NILS FRAHM or LUDOVICO EINAUDI. Generally spoken, do you feel more attracted to European music traditions?
I can personally say that the geography of the music doesn’t bear much into direct influence. It’s more of the emotive output that the music generates. There’s a common fabric among piano-based music, especially instrumental varieties. Artists like Nils Frahm, Greg Haines, PETER BRODERICK, MAX RICHTER, etc all have a thread that unites that we, as BALMORHEA, certainly subscribe to and are inspired by but we also have some very deep-set American influences like indie-rock or country music as you can see from our recent video session for the AV Club where we cover a Texas artist named ROBERT EARL KEEN. Our music is a total amalgam of a wide array of influences, musical genres, as well as many aspects of art, film and literature that all come into play.
Would you agree that Austin, where you come from, feels more like a European city, rather than typically American?
Austin does not feel European, actually. Though it is quite progressive socially and culturally, especially in relation to the rest of Texas, Austin still retains many low-key, Southern type of culture that are intrinsically and traditionally American.
You once said that “there is more bad music now than at any point in human history, but alas, there is also more good music as well”. It’s a bit weird to ask this a musician, but: do you think that there might be a point of musical saturation in the public? And: have we already reached it with music surrounding us every single second?
It seems that in the machine of American indie music blogs and with such aggressive social media tactics, that there is a point of over-saturation. There is simply too much content and too many artists to fully engage as a listener paying due respect. It takes so much energy to sift through all of the hyped bands to find the newer stuff you really are inspired by. It really depends on the individual listener’s habits as far as the amount of time and resources are spent in researching, following and listening to music. One can always log-off, tune out and just play old vinyls!
BALMORHEA: “Some amazing music is being missed simply because there is too much.”
If it is true – as you once stated – that there is nothing really “new” in music ever, only the art of rearrangement – then what is it, that distinguishes the indie music-scene from the big industry if they both work this same way?
I see the indie scene as smaller artists that make a name for themselves without relying on the immediate catapult of money and hype that the mainstream industry seems to breed. Although on the other side of the coin, the chasm between the two industries seems to be blurring ever more as smaller labels and artists are winning Grammys and selling 500,000 records. In the end, if the music is authentic and touches people then it will reign over any temporary trend.
Due to the technical progression, nowadays, everyone with a laptop and some programmes is able to make his own music – do you see this as a positive development?
The technical progression and the internet makes things much easier and lowers the playing field these days to enable anyone to get their music heard. It is an quizzical thing when a no-name person acquires a great following based off of a bedroom-recorded track they put on YouTube. It seems like this is mostly a positive thing. Again it circles back to each individual listener as to their involvement or association.
Music always evolved and transformed – but the fact that it gets easier everyday to make and publish your own music, find own ways of expression does add to what we talked about earlier: the saturation-problem, don’t you think?
Exactly. As with the above question, it is a tremendous feat of technological advances but it also is daunting to the listener to try to approach a massive amount of music and artists. Certainly some amazing music is being missed simply because there is too much. There isn’t enough time or energy to due it all its due diligence.
I always felt that making music or being creative in general shouldn’t come without any notable effort, that it should have this kind of physical side to it, like playing an actual instrument. It’s quite obvious that Pro Tools and stuff like that influence the music that comes out of its use. Do you see this as a problem as well or are you more into the benefits of that?
The purpose of music is to relay emotions and ideas creatively via the medium of instruments and voice. ProTools and studio outboard gear can really help shape and hone the details of this production and I feel it’s valuable. The difficult thing for the artist is to pull it off in a live setting. There has to be an attainable balance between the two worlds.
BALMORHEA: “Without hope or passion there really isn’t much meaning to our life”
Let’s leave this complaining area. Any albums you look forward to at the moment? Me, I can’t wait to get my hands on that ALBUM LEAF/SUN KIL MOON-release…
I did read in an early ALBUM LEAF interview from many years ago that he was a huge RED HOUSE PAINTERS fan. This collaboration is a nice bridging between their two realms of music. BALMORHEA is greatly inspired by Mark Kozelek‘s music and this release should be interesting. At the moment for us, the newly released KURT VILE record Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze is just some of the best music in this current age. He is on a completely different level in every way. It’s tremendous. I thought it would be really hard to compete with his last release Smoke Ring for my Halo, but this release is right up there. It’s so good.
You already hinted on getting back to make new music, anything apart from that, you can tell me about the near future of BALMORHEA?
Yes, like stated earlier, we are just now beginning to think about the next release. We’re always looking for new territories to play and tour in and are excited to play in Mexico City this June followed by a West U.S. tour this August and back to some different European territories this coming September. Hope we can get some Asian and Australian dates in the next year as well.
Okay, one last question, as our magazine is all about hope and passion – what do these terms mean to you?
Without hope or passion there really isn’t much meaning to our life in this world. They are essential to our well-being and progression to our humanity. Music holds both of these things. Perhaps that’s why we love it so much?