CW: What are your names?
JL: Jake Lerman
IG: Ilan Gitter
CW: How long have you been Aotearoa?
JL: We played our first show as Aotearoa on September 21st, 2010.
IG: It was in the band’s hometown of Lawrence, KS.
CW: The band is just the two of you. Both of you sing and play guitar and drums -- switching off instruments depending on the song. When I share your music, people can't believe that it's just two guys. How long have you been looping, and playing the drums?
IG: We have been doing our current setup since the beginning of Aotearoa. Both of us have been playing drums and guitar since our teen years.
JL: I bought my first looper back in 2009. It was the Boss RC-20, which is what we’ve used for the majority of our recording and touring. It turned out to be the signpost that let us explore new ways a two piece band could function.
CW: What's the general amount of looping layers you have in a song?
JL: It really varies song to song. Typically we build a bass line, a rhythm guitar layer, some sort of accent part, and at least one or two textural layers. When you apply that to three or four distinct sections, it’s not unusual to have around twenty individual layers occurring throughout a song.
IG: In the end, we look at the looper as a tool and try to focus more on the song construction.
CW: What's your equipment for live shows? I recall a Marshall solid state amp and a Fender Stratocaster (I think). Do you loop with a Boss RC30? What effects pedals do you use?
JL: You’ve got a great memory! The Marshall is a Valvestate I’ve had for years, it’s rarely seen as a sexy amp to have, but it was a real workhorse and delivered great tone despite the abuse of touring. The black Fender is a fat-Strat with a humbucker in the bridge position that my dad snuck me out to buy when I was 12. It was my first guitar, I love it and I still use it today.
As for pedals, we’ve grown a bit since our beginnings but in essence, we still employ the same pedal chain we always have. I’m in love with our setup so I hope you don’t mind the detail.
[Editor's note: Those who don't wish to indulge in effect pedal chain details / amp specifications can find the Strange Weather album interview below this section. I love this tech shit, but it's because I speak the language.]
JL (continued): From the guitar we go straight into a Ibanez TS-7 Overdrive which we push through to the ever popular Boss DD7 Digital Delay. From there the signal hits the LPB-1 by Electro Harmonix. It’s a clean boost pedal which we discovered about halfway along our long tour route that proved massively helpful for cutting a layer through the haze of a heavy loop without resorting to the crunch from the fully driven TS-7.
The next in line is a mini Q-Tron and the Octave Multiplexer both also by Electro Harmonix. If I had to pin our sound to any gear aside from the looper, it would be these two guys. The multiplexer is a monophonic octave pedal which is where we get all our low-end from. It’s massively flexible and unfortunately often overlooked in favor of the P.O.G. by EHX. The Q-tron is a funk machine plain and simple. If I never found this little beauty we would probably be making afrobeat records.
Before reaching the looper the chain rounds out with a Cry Baby to a TC Electronics PolyTuner. Both of these were crucial to what we were able to manage live. Polyphonic tuning is miracle. However, for “Blue on Blue” our most recent release, we’ve moved into some new territory... The Boomerang.
Unlike our trusty RC-20 (which is an absolute tank and we couldn’t recommend highly enough) The Boomerang III Phrase Sampler has multi channel looping as well as stereo ins and outs. What that’s meant for us is that we’ve finally been able to route specific elements of a loop to specific speakers.
We used to achieve this bi-amping by using a simple Y-Splitter to send sound from the looper to the Marshall and an Acoustic Bass amp. Both of which would be mic’d. We’d often hit the bass side to an EQ pedal with the highs rolled off before a DI box would pipe it to the house subs. In the hands of a good sound tech we managed a bass sound that could rival any full band.
However each amp was always receiving the entire loop, which often left any mixing / balancing to us on stage rather than front of house. Now that we can send pure bass lines to the bass rig and only guitar tones to the guitar amps via an A/B switcher it’s really made recording and live tone jump up to a whole new level.
STRANGE WEATHER INTERVIEW
CW: Where and when was Strange Weather recorded?
IG: Strange Weather was recorded in three different studios over a period of 6 months in 2012. The Bomb Shelter in Nashville with Andrija Tokic, The Bunker in Brooklyn with Aaron Nevezie and Pieholden Suite Sound in Chicago with Matt DeWine. Mastering was done by Erik Wafford at Cacophony Recorders in Austin.
CW: There's a definite theme to the album: something like vagabonds and hurricanes; tornadoes, down pouring rain storms, and funk. It's seems to tell a story. In your own words, what would you say is the theme or story of the album?
IG: It explores loss, redemption, and an interconnected doomsday. But more importantly it tries to answer the less asked question, “then what?” Jake did an amazing job with the lyrics in The Gyre (named after the North Pacific Trash Gyre) that really brings it home.
JL: The thread here is probably loss, and perseverance in the face of the big intimate natural disasters we all face. Perhaps not the most upbeat thesis for a funk band. But we always felt that the genre we we’re trying to couch ourselves in had much more potential to communicate than many of our contemporaries ever explored. After living out on the road for a year and half, I think the ups and downs of nomadic touring were finally coming out in the music. You begin to feel your own absence in the lives of the people you care for, you begin to feel the height of the hill left to climb in more detail and when every city you visit, is your first time in the market, you constantly fighting even to be heard above the noise. I think we saw the parallel in survivors of acts of god who somehow maintain that elusive joy of living despite the walls falling down around them. Even with the cover artwork on the album, which is an amazing image by the photographer Jeff Moerchen, we were hoping to evoke that bright kind of stamina. To contrast and evolve the “diamond in the back” towncar image that’s so familiar to groove music, by planting it against a calm neighborhood scene where a single house is has collapsed under some unknowable weight - The whole thing feels to me like singing into the howling winds.
CW: The album is so consistent in it's production. Did you record analog or digital?
IG: It was a combination but everything touched tape at some point. We did most the recording and mixing with Matt DeWine at Pieholden and he did an amazing job blending the sounds we got at the other studios. Also, Erik at Cacophony did a great job in mastering to give it all a unified feel.
JL: I think we got really lucky with the cohesion on this record considering we tracked it over such a long period of time and in such different environments. But each of the studios we visited is a legend in it’s own right. The Bomb Shelter was fresh off of the Alabama Shakes first release and follow-up LP, The Bunker had been responsible for at least two Grammy’s off “Brothers” by The Black Keys and Pieholden, where we spent the longest amount of time, is the famed collection of gear by Wilco’s late Jay Bennett. Matt DeWine was such a great host and guide through that final process of tracking and assembling the record. We were sleeping in the studio just to keep our heads in the project and he would come in with a slow cooker full of curry to prop us up.
We’d also worked at Cacophony to record our third EP. It was home to the some amazing Black Angels albums and he’d been a real help to us during that process. We knew he did great work and would be the right guy to bring the record home.
CW: My favorite track off Strange Weather, if I had to pick, would be Jaguar Tornado. Any personal favorites of yours, and why?
JL: I’m glad that one stuck out to you! It’s always been a fun one for us to play live. I’d probably say “Red Tide” for me. It just came really naturally when writing and it was the first time Ilan and I were able to work in an instrument trade in the middle of a song. It really breathed a new life into the live shows and it always just had a mysterious weight to it, that made it really great to perform. Also, the key intro to “Park Bench Bail” still knocks my head back every time I hear it.
IG: I love how the tracks from the Bunker came out. Mine might be “Thunderbird”. I can’t listen to that track and not move. I also love the electric sitar sound on “I’m Alive!”.
CW: You guys are perpetually touring, so it seems like ideas would be constantly flowing. How did you bottle up the experience that is Strange Weather? What was the conception process of the album?
JL: That’s right, we were touring constantly at the time. When we began writing it had been around 18 months of eating sleeping living on the highway. Gigging in every major city for a month at a time, and playing every venue along the way that would have us. In regards to new material the hardest part of that lifestyle was the absence of a place to write and rehearse. We would take advantage of any sound check or empty night to develop the musical sides of our new songs. We even snuck some power from an abandoned ranger station outside of Death Valley to demo out some ideas among a pen of desert tortoises.
IG: Yeah, the tracks were definitely a product of that lifestyle and the people we met. Because it was so hard to find time and space to write the tunes, they were usually written only because of people we met. A few were written in a friend’s cabin in the woods in Alabama. Some were written in a friend’s barn in upstate New York. One was in someone’s living room in Opelika and some were written from seeds from a jam at a show. When we had most the songs we sat down together, found unconscious threads, and wrote a few more tunes in Chicago to tie it all together.
JL: Lyrically, I remember we’d often write with acoustic guitars in the van as a starting point. That might’ve lent itself to a more confessional approach. I think like Ilan said, we were just able to recognize threads in the material as the songs began to stack up. As for inspiration, I think we were as much on the receiving end as the listeners. Ideas just came fast around the corner and we’d be lucky if we had the mind to catch them.
CW: Any strange or funny anecdotes about the album? Favorite tracks? Any cool outstanding experiences during the recording?
IG: I’ll always think of that album as a product of the road. If we didn’t meet everyone we met the songs would not have come out the way they are. If we didn’t meet a friend of ours because of a cat that attacked Jake, then we might not have written Jaguar the same way. And if we didn’t meet him we wouldn’t have met some other friends that let us stay at their place in upstate NY and write some of the other tunes or see a man zip line over a lake and shoot a flaming arrow at a ten-foot-tall wooden vagina stuffed with fireworks.
JL: That’s a good one! It happened the night before our first session for what would become Strange Weather. We were playing a festival in Seale, Alabama called The Doo Nanny. It was a mini Burning man of sorts in Northern Alabama. Like Ilan said, each year the event culminated in the lighting of a 40 foot vagina effigy by the infamous artist Butch Anthony.
This event occurred immediately after our performance, and set off what became a late night. Needless to say we had to wake up very early the next morning to make it to Nashville for our session at The Bomb Shelter. As the warm Alabama air hit my face I managed to nod off at the wheel and spin our beloved van Daphnie Valerie Vega backwards on the highway as semi traffic was approaching. Miraculously ending up in a embankment, all parties emerged safe and sound.
Aside from explaining to an Alabama Highway patrolman that the Yerba Maté tea leaves which were spilled on the carpet of the car was not in fact Marijuana but rather an Andean loose-leaf caffeine alternative, we arrived at our session without further incident.
A memento of this drive is actually seated in the last 30 second of “Antibad”. With the help of Andrija, we popped the hood and ran a microphone to the engine block of the van as we revved to check for damage. I’m happy to say, we all emerged from this experience for the better.
CW: Strange Weather is a 15 track album, your longest record thus far. Are you planning on recording another album of similar length?
JL: I think we would love to make another record like Strange Weather. The longer format allows for a more in depth narrative to bloom and for us to explore more nuances of our sound. If we can find the interest and support to devote the studio time it would take to do justice to another LP, I bet we’d be very interested in that.
IG: You’ll be one of the first to know if we do.
CW: Thanks for your time, guys. And congratulations on the release of Blue On Blue.
JL: Thanks Casey, we love hearing from you.
IG: Keep the new music coming!
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