Midday Veil are one of the few bands around today that really capture the pioneering spirit of the psychedelic scene that emerged in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Rather than relying on tired cliches and tacky drug references, they continually push the boundaries of their sound with an emphasis on experimentalism and ritualism over simply slapping stranger guitar effects over the top of every song. Sean M. Palfrey caught up with Midday Veil frontwoman Emily Pothast to talk about band’s new album, musical rituals and cake orgies, yes cake orgies.
The Current is the band’s second full-length studio album. What has the reaction been like so far?
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, which is exciting, but I also think we should be careful not to put too much stock in what other people think about us and stay focused on making things that we feel proud of.
There is a distinct ritualistic quality to the Midday Veil sound. What would you consider to be your primary influences and how do you feel they manifest in the music and lyrics of The Current?
Musically, we’re influenced by a lot of things. Faust, Can, Broadcast, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane…we love both of Joseph Byrd‘s records from the 60s, United States Of America and American Metaphysical Circus, because they are very fluid with genre; each song has a distinct character. David was really influenced by taking courses from Karlheinz Stockhausen when he was in college in Germany, and he listens to a lot of Coil and early Tangerine Dream. I’m influenced by African-American folk and blues vocalists, like Odetta, and the wonderful Bessie Jones, as well as Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono and Leonard Cohen. Timm listens to everything, but as far as guitar tones go, he’s obsessed with Middle Eastern guitarists like Omar Khorshid. Jayson is very into Moroder. Chris (our original drummer, this album was our last recording together) used to play in hardcore bands but now he’s mostly into funk and soul. Our new drummer Garrett is a jazz guy. We’re all influenced by working with Randall Dunn as a producer. We’re also influenced by the practice of improvising together in different environments and under different circumstances. Our list of influences outside of music would be even longer. Influences manifest themselves in different ways. If you really experience something, it becomes part of you, and comes through you in whatever you make.
There is a spontaneous and experimental feel to the album, what is the song-writing process like for a Midday Veil album?
Every album is different. The last two releases before The Current were totally improvised. For this album, we had some songs that were totally written when we started recording, and others that were partially formed ideas that got fleshed out in the studio. Some of the songs that were totally written ended up not making the cut onto the final album. ‘The Current’ and ‘Without and Within’ were basically written in the studio, and the vocal parts were the last thing to be composed.
As you mentioned, you’ve previously released a couple of improvised albums. Do you feel that going back to writing and recording more traditional song structures benefit from this experience?
Absolutely. With improvised music, it’s often more about texture and exploration than structure. The song ‘Choreia’ is an example of a song that began as an improvisation, but became a staple of our live set. Through performance, it became more and more structured. The recording for the album is a unique thing. We recorded basic tracks of the drum and bass parts, which are very skeletal, and filled in the structure through a series of overdubs. Throughout the process, we thought of it as “growing crystals” in sound.
You’ve previously recorded in The Integratron, which must have been an amazing experience. What was that like and did it throw up any challenges?
The Integratron is a very unusual place. It’s a wooden dome, and it has strange acoustic properties. The whole space has a natural slapback. There are some spots that are very resonant, and some spots where it seems like the sound is being “thrown” somewhere else. Other spots are totally dead. We only spent one night in the Integratron, but I get a sense that learning to play inside of it is like learning to play an instrument. If we ever go back, we’ll bring a lot more mics and experiment with a more spatialized stereo recording.
You worked with Randall Dunn on this album. What was that like and what do you feel he brought to the process?
Randall is a total pro. He’s recorded so many great albums; he brings a lot of experience to the table. He also had a vision for what he wanted to hear from each musician. He would spend a lot of time crafting tones, and also forcing us to self-edit. I read a review of the album that said that every sound on this album seems necessary; there’s nothing superfluous. I think that strong sense of curation has a lot to do with Randall’s production.
You filmed a music video for the song ‘The Great Cold Of The Night’ with Steven Miller and Ian Lucero. What led to that decision considering the length of the song, and what has the reaction to it been like?
‘Great Cold’ is a long song, about 12 minutes, but it’s not the longest video we’ve made. There’s a video for an improvised song called ‘Moon Temple’ that’s almost 24 minutes long. I think that if people are going to get into our band in the first place, they probably have a lot of patience for long things. In the age of the Internet, a lot of music seems crafted for shorter attention spans. You can typically watch or listen to something for 30 seconds and go, “OK, I get that.” Well, we pretty much do the opposite of that. Where you start and where you end up are sometimes really different places. It’s not intentional, it’s just how things seem to happen when we work. I think this video has taken off in a viral sense more than any of our other videos because it’s so eccentric. People are like, “Uh, you have to see this for yourself.”
The video plays out like a scene from a folk-horror movie with your keyboard player David Golightly being sacrificed. Where did the concept come from (and what was the origins of the“Cake Orgy”)?
The concept of the video happened in stages. Early last spring, David and I were hiking in the San Juan islands and we saw these weird structures in the woods we imagined were altars for human sacrifice. We started dreaming up ideas for the video based on that, and when we got Steven on board, he ran with our basic concept and added enough to make it a story that would be interesting for 12 minutes. The Cake Orgy was inspired, in part, by the various ancient mystery religions, as a way to dramatize the relationship between the ritualistic debauchery of rock and roll and the shamanic cycle of death and rebirth. The video is not based on any specific myth, but the women who abduct David function kind of like maenads. The cake itself was made for us by Timm’s girlfriend Marleigh Atherton, and I really love the images that result from the cake being sensuously devoured.
In addition to Midday Veil, you also run the record label Translinguistic Other with David Golightly, which specialises in analogue releases. What is it about releasing music on analogue formats that you are so passionate about that you founded a record label, and how do you see the market today?
First of all, if you’re trying to sell music that might as well exist as a digital file, you’ve got to make an object worth having. We love records and tapes for their object-ness. But they also sound better. LPs are still the audiophile standard because they store a deeper range of information than a digital file. Same goes for tapes, and I love the way that tapes tend to make everything sound a little darker. We’re not completely opposed to digital formats, though. All the tapes and records we make come with a download code because we appreciate that people listen to music in different ways. But our tour van still has a tape player in it, of course. The market is a weird thing; I don’t understand it. We’re a small DIY label, so people tend to buy our records directly from us. I’m in the process of getting some distros in Europe to carry our new album, but right now I personally package and ship a stack of records and tapes all over the world every week.
Finally, what are the band’s live performance plans for the rest of 2013?
We’re playing two festivals in Seattle this fall: Bumbershoot in September and a new festival called Hypnotikon (with Silver Apples, CAVE, Lumerians, Master Musicians Of Bukkake, Fungal Abyss and a bunch of other incredible bands) in October. Between those dates, we’re doing a few West Coast dates (Portland, Eugene, Eureka, San Francisco and Oakland). We just did our first full US tour earlier this year, and we’re hoping to make it to Europe sometime soon. We’re still waiting for the right opportunity to lure us over.
Sean M. Palfrey