From Aural Innovations #19 (April 2002)
"We're Surface of Eceon, and we're going to give you Supreme Evil Love Rock!" Thus said guitarist Adam Forkner, before he and the rest of the band launched into a half hour long set of improvised, psychedelic weirdness.
The venue was The Raven, in Hamilton, Ontario, one of two stops on the Canadian leg of their short east coast tour. After a couple of opening acts, S of E took to the small stage (all five members and their equipment somehow finding space up there), and embarked on this evening's voyage, taking us, the audience, along for the ride. The crowd wasn't huge, but those there were definitely into it, especially those of us up front, sitting on the floor. The girl next to me spent the entire time with her head tilted back, and her eyes closed, just letting the music wash over and through her. Another guy there, dressed all in black, seemed focused totally inward while still managing to watch the band. It was that kind of show.
Phil Jenkins, on a brightly lit center-stage, lead the jam with some very impressive and creative drumming, reminiscent of Nick Mason in the early Floyd days. Adam Forkner (of Yume Bitsu) sometimes little more than a mysterious silhouette, and at other times the crazy man of the band, was all over the stage. If not embellishing the sound with scintillating guitar harmonics, or moaning guitar shrieks, he was kicking bells around with his feet or rattling shakers in his hands. For a few minutes, he was even on his knees, wailing away on a trumpet into a handheld microphone.
In contrast, the three other members of the band (who are also members of Landing) were far more sedate. Aaron Snow, wrapped in a huge brown scarf, switched effortlessly back and forth between playing luminous guitar textures, and creating whooshing space sounds on his synthesizer. Daron Gardner was a mysterious giant on bass, his back, for the most part, to the audience as he focused on his deep bass sound, and Dick Baldwin completed the three guitar attack with some stirring soloing, a slight smile etched on his face, a faraway look in his eyes as he stood almost still.
The music was sometimes tight, sometimes loose, and seemed to roll in huge waves from quiet ambient passages to loud crescendos of shrieking intensity. It was continuous. The band never stopped playing, even when, near the end, they slid effortlessly into a recognizable bit, The Open Sea, from their debut album, The King Beneath the Mountain (see review in AI #18). Is was then that Dick Baldwin seemed to magically come to life, attacking his guitar in a re-creation of the amazing solo he did on the album, with Adam Forkner adding his own embellishments to it; a great finale for an all to brief performance. I think almost everyone there would have liked to have heard more.
But then Aaron Snow mentioned before the show that night that it always surprised him that their performances were as short as they were. When they get up there playing, in the Vessyl, as Adam Forkner likes to put it, time seems suspended. There is no time, only music.
I had a chance to talk to all the members of the band before the show, about their band, music, where it all came from, and where it's all going. And since I had three of the four members of Landing present, we chatted a little about that band as well. Here's what they had to say.
Surface of Eceon are:
Daron Gardner: bass
Dick Baldwin: guitar
Phil Jenkins: drums
Aaron Snow: guitar, synthesizer
Adam Forkner: guitar, vocals, trumpet, and assorted sounds
Aural Innovations: Surface of Eceon came together in New York. How did the project get started?
Adam Forkner: I met Phil, the drummer, because he hired me as a temporary worker at a company. He was my boss. At the same time I was contacted about playing with the Landing guys. Summer of 2000 we had our first few meetings and immediately hit it off, and started getting into The Vessyl, and really playing well.
AI: What did you feel you could accomplish with a side project like this, as something different from the bands you were already in?
Daron Gardner: When Adam moved to New York, I think he was just looking for people to play with, and we were fans of his band, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try something different with new people to collaborate with.
Aaron Snow: For me it's just more freedom. I can't really speak for Adam, but for us, I think, Landing is very cerebral. We think about everything really hard, probably too much. With Surface it's just more visceral. We just do it, and when it's done, it's done. It's very pure.
Adam: It's very emotional and unstructured. I think that's been a great release for all of us. Except for Phil, not coming directly from another band.
AI: So, Phil, what is your background?
Phil Jenkins: Well, I played in bands in Austin, Texas years ago. I played with some bands in San Francisco and a little bit in New York. I was playing in bands that you would not really have heard of or anything. Different kinds of music; mostly rock, some improvisational stuff. I always really liked psychedelic music. I just never considered it having the freedom to just sort of experiment until I started playing with these guys.
AI: So do you feel like you've finally found something you've been looking for, for a long time?
Phil: Yeah. With drums, I think it's particularly hard, because with a lot of bands, the other instruments are sort of free to roam around a bit, but with drums, you have to stay in a certain pattern. With this band, I can essentially play whatever I want to.
Adam: Phil leads it a lot of times. He leads where things go.
Phil: Even though I often play off them. They're playing off me, but I'm playing off them.
Aaron: It makes it really hard to start the shows.
Phil: Yeah, we're just waiting for each other to do something-
Aaron: You play.
Phil: No, you play.
(more laughter ensues)
Adam: No really, Phil is the dynamic element a lot of times. He's the person who structures things out of the amorphous nature of the rest of our playing.
AI: I know that most of your music is improvised. Do you do any kind of composing, or planning out the structure of the piece, or coming up with the basic riffs before going ahead with the improvisation?
Aaron: Well, there is one secret. Everything's in D. The key of D.
Adam: We just hear the note…hear the key, and stay in that riff…
Phil: ...and just work off each other.
Adam: Much like in Indian music, where you stay with the drone, and just improvise on top of that.
Aaron: It's not like free jazz where it's not based on anything
Adam: It's based on the D.
AI: Is there any difference between your studio improvisations and your live improvisations?
Aaron: No, hopefully not.
AI: When you're on-stage, do you re-explore the pieces from your album, or is it totally new improvisations? Do you play anything from the album?
Aaron: Just only one song.
Daron: And not the same way, really.
Adam: We play the opening track from our record. That was something that was recorded as an improvisation then embellished with lyrics.
AI: That's The Open Sea?
Adam: Yes. Now we're playing that.
AI: Speaking of which, who plays the amazing lead guitar solo on that track?
Aaron: This guy (pointing to Dick)
Daron: The quiet one.
Dick: I'm the one who comes in right after the vocals.
Daron: That's Dick Baldwin on guitar.
Adam: Let's talk more about improvisation.
Phil: (laughing) Who's interviewing who here?
Adam: Well, I think we just touched the tip of the iceberg in that conversation.
AI: Well, I think you're right. Improvisation is so key to the kind of music you guys are doing. It distinguishes it from something like progressive rock or even psychedelic rock, and has its roots in jazz. Do any of you have a background in jazz?
Adam: I have a strong background in jazz. My parents were jazz musicians, and I grew up as a jazz musician. So for me, improvisation has always been the paramount aesthetic. The only thing I've ever really got excited about or creatively wanted to do was improvise. I think that's where all the musical magic is.
(The others nod).
Phil: I don't like jazz. Never have.
AI: But you still like to improvise.
Phil: Oh yeah, definitely.
Aaron: I think for us Landing guys it's a little different. I don't think it's the main thing we try to accomplish in music, but it is equally important as, I think, song writing is. Improvisation is just a different channel, and that's what makes it exciting.
Daron: That's what's so nice about Surface. It's a chance to take that to a new extreme and just completely ignore one part of what we usually do and just focus completely on improvising. I think one of the reasons it works so well is because we've been playing together so long and we just gelled with these two guys who have been playing together and it just worked from day one.
AI: So you obviously take a bit of a different approach when working as Landing. Tell me about that.
Aaron: We have two approaches basically. One is either Dick or I will write a song and we'll work together on it as a band, and it'll be a song. The second approach would be the same as the Surface of Eceon approach, where we show up, set up, and we just do it and put it on tape. It's probably about 60/40 song writing versus improvisation. With Surface it's 100%.
AI: How did Landing originally get together?
Aaron: Me and my wife Adrienne wanted to do music out in Utah where we were living, but we didn't really have any friends there. But in the summer of 1997 we went and saw the first Terrastock, and we really got the attitude of DIY, like, we gotta do this. So we went back to Utah and started playing. About that time I met Dick and we became friends, and I said "Hey, how about you start playing with us," so he joined. We met Daron at one of our shows, and asked him to join as well.
AI: What kind of bands were into at the time that influenced you?
Aaron: Well, back when I first met Adrienne, we bonded over The Cure. Slowdive, Seefeel. Later on I got into Jessamine, Füxa. Low of course was a big influence. That sort of thing really influenced what I was doing. And I grew up listening to new wave.
AI: You did a split CD with Windy and Carl too.
Aaron: Oh yeah, a huge influence. If I hadn't seen them at Terrastock, I don't think I would have had the guts to get on the stage. I'm very shy. Seeing them, I just had to do it.
AI: So you recently released Oceanless. How has that done for you?
Aaron: It was very good to finally get that out, because it was so old. It was recorded in the middle of 1999.
AI: You've got a new album coming out soon too, don't you?
Aaron: Yes, Seasons is coming out on May 7th, on Ba Da Bing! Records.
Adam: May 7th is actually a very officious day. The new Yume Bitsu double vinyl is being released that day, and also the new Landing album. And then Yume Bitsu's keyboard player, Alex Bundy, is putting out a solo album called Planetarium Music: Traditional Electronic Psychedelic Music (Planet 2).
Daron: All on May 7th.
AI: So what's the new Landing album going to be like? Has your sound changed or evolved since Oceanless was recorded?
Aaron: It's evolved quite a bit. When we recorded Oceanless, we'd only been a band for six months, so it's kind of an uneasy sounding record. It think we've grown more comfortable. The Windy and Carl Split CD is kind of more like what we're doing now, trying to work in finger picking guitars, clear vocals. Seasons is much more structured.
Daron: It's very song based.
Adam: They can write the most beautiful pop records I've ever heard.
Aaron: (grinning) Thanks Adam.
Adam: You'll be surprised after listening to Oceanless, or any other past Landing album, just how beautiful these guys can write a song. They're actually amazingly wonderful, avant-pop songs.
AI: So when you're touring now, are you playing some of the new stuff?
Aaron: We pretty much just play new stuff now. We play a couple of old songs, but…
AI: Every band wants to show the audience what they're doing now. I for one, always appreciated that.
Daron: Sometimes you want to hear a nice old song, but I think it's more interesting to see what the band's doing now, and what direction they're going into. You see them as artists, not just as performers of something you've already heard.
AI: Tell me about The Vessyl. What is that all about?
Aaron: That's Forkner's territory.
Adam: The Vessyl is a collective state of mind. Some people call it "being in the zone" or "that was a good jam". When people are making improvised music they've always had different ways of describing the collective musical expression. What I've always said is it's greater than the creative egos of the people involved, because once you're in that zone you're really just letting all this music speak through you. There's a lot of times, I think the best times, that we're "in the Vessyl". It's when you forget that you're even playing; it's just music that's happening from these four different sources together, creating this amazing full sound…this one sound…this Vessyl sound.
Aaron: Time gets lost a lot of times. Like this tour, we've been playing very wide ranging lengths of the sets, as one whole piece. Like the other night, we played twenty-five minutes but it felt like forty-five.
Daron: Another night we played for sixty something minutes, and I thought it was only like thirty. It was really strange.
Adam: Once we're in there, we don't know how long we're going to be kept in there. There's a lot of different factors. You know, your distractions. How long the Vessyl stays together, is really a combination of everybody's collective concentration. We quickly get in the Vessyl, explore, and then when it ends, it ends.
AI: What this mythology that surrounds the Vessyl? Does that come from Yume Bitsu?
Adam: The whole Dryystonian myth is something that Franz, the other prominent member of Yume Bitsu, has been working on, as far as a mythos and everything.
Note: For those who aren't familiar with it, this description of the Dryystonian myth is taken from the Yume Bitsu web site (used with permission):
"Early explorations of deeply intuitive improvisation led to the discovery of the Vessyl, a channel of collective energy that is greater than the whole of the creative egos of the performers involved. By channeling music through this Vessyl, Franz and Adam became aware that they were on the verge of a deep spiritual enlightenment. Through the trance- like state of both listening to and playing forth from the Vessyl, Visions of Beautiful New Dimensions of Existence came to the young men."
"Upon further investigation of this higher realm of existence, Franz and Adam found that while many of the physical and metaphysical properties were distorted or altogether missing in this new realm, it did have the organization of a city. They dubbed it the city of Dryystn, a name that also came to them in a Vessyl trance. Soon they were in communication with the sentinel creatures of this realm, the Mothmen and became their pupils. Through the teachings of the Mothmen, they honed their craft at Vessyl-playing, and could soon conjure deep epic tales (depicting the colored history of Dryystn) through the sounds of their earthly instruments."
AI: How easy was it to adapt the mythology to Surface of Eceon's music?
Aaron: It's a direct offshoot.
Adam: Yeah. We like to think of Surface as this amorphous cloud on the outer reaches of this tree city called Dryystan.
Aaron: The Second Tier.
AI: Hence the title of the final track on the album. (Ascension to the Second Tier of the Outer Plane of Dryystan (Ecyeon))
Adam: So definitely we want to emphasize that, although we do believe in The Vessyl, the Dryystonian myth is slightly tongue in cheek. (grins)
AI: So I have to ask you, after reading some of your mythology... what did you think of the movie The Mothman Prophecies?
Adam: That's just so weird, for that to come out. We saw a poster for that-
Aaron: We all started laughing.
Adam: It's like, "Did we write that?" Is that about us?
Aaron: Richard Gere should play me in the movie.
Adam: It's about Dryystn... that movie. Actually, no, I haven't seen it. What's it about?
AI: These extra dimensional creatures called Mothmen that are beyond our normal senses, but they communicate with us.
Adam: I think what happened was, Richard Gere is in the Vessyl with us-
Adam: -albeit in a different time and space, but he is here. Probably what happens is one of those Being John Malkovich things. When we go into the Vessyl, we really trip him (Richard Gere) out.
(lots more laughter)
Adam: All of a sudden we're in his brain. And he just had to make that movie.
Daron: It was a very odd coincidence.
AI: I find your music is very visual for me, in part suggested perhaps by some of the song titles, but in general, it just conjures images up in my mind while I'm listening to it. Dose that happen with you?
AI: So what comes first? Does the music come from the imagery in your mind, or does the imagery come out of the music?
Aaron: The imagery just explodes out. For me, it's colors. I feel certain colors for certain tones.
AI: Sort of a synaesthesia effect.
Adam: I'm not visual at all. For me it's all sound. I tend to just go in off into total darkness, visually.
Phil: Hey man. It's been a long trip up here.
Aaron: That's why we like to ask the clubs to turn off the lights.
Adam: Light is bad-takes you out of the Vessyl.
Phil: Dark... good.
AI: So what brought you up here to Canada? You have tonight's show in Hamilton, and tomorrow's show in Toronto.
Daron: We just had a couple of extra dates and, being the nerd I am, posted it to some e-mail lists, and someone from Sonic Unyon and Scratch Distribution contacted us and said they'd love to have us play here. And they have this Wavelength series they do on Sunday nights at Lee's Palace, and they were interested in having us play. We've had a few good reviews in Exclaim! (Canadian music newspaper), and they invited us to come up.
AI: And then you're heading to New York City?
Daron: Yeah. We have a week off to record, then were doing the date in New York City with Acid Mothers Temple.
Adam: It's gonna be a wah-wah fest.
Aaron: Yeah, it's going to be crazy.
Adam: Acid Mothers Temple. Major superstars. I think even their bass player has wah-wah. We have three wah-wahs. So I'm thinking, out of the three bands, there's probably going be like, about nine wah-wah pedals.
AI: Speaking of effects pedals, how about a rundown of the equipment you use?
Daron: Sure. I'll start. I play a Fender jazz bass out of, my pride and joy, a Sunn 2000S bass amp with a 2x15 Fender cabinet. As far as effects go, I play just with a delay/sample unit, and distortion. That's it.
Dick: I play on twin reverb using a Les Paul. I play with delay and distortion and wah.
Phil: A beat up set of Pearl drums…and lot of moxie.
Aaron: I play out of various amps that usually like to blow up during shows. I use three digital delays, one analog delay, a wah, a Bigmuff distortion, tremolo, Small Stone phaser, Russian distortion, Russian octave pedal, and then I also have my synthesizer, which is an Octave Cat run through a digital delay.
Adam: I use my guitar-
Phil: What kind of guitar?
Adam: Ah... a junk-store guitar…an Electra actually with e-bow, delay, Bigmuff fuzz, ring modulation, filtering, and more delay and samplers. On this tour, in that same exact chain, I've been adding microphones, and doing vocal and trumpet samples.
AI: Being a side project for most of you, is this just a one-off thing, or is there a future for Surface of Eceon?
Aaron: Definitely a future.
AI: So you'll be recording another album?
Aaron: We'll be recording next week. Hopefully we'll get enough for an album. I think that we're all pretty united on the idea that we'd like to do this once a year, hopefully. Record an album each year.
Adam: Yeah, it'd be great.
AI: So when can we expect a follow-up to The King Beneath the Mountain?
Adam: I think by the fall.
AI: Any ideas for a title yet?
Aaron: (laughing) Need to read some more Tolkein. Maybe it'll be called The 20-Sided Die.
Adam: (grins) It'll be something arty and King Crimsonesque.
AI: Well, we're all looking forward to it.
Surface of Eceon Discography
The King Beneath the Mountain (Strange Attractors Audio House 2001, SAAH 004)
(see the review in AI #18)
Web Site at: http://www.surfaceofeceon.com
The Strange Attractors web site is at: http://www.strange-attractors.com
Centrifuge (Music Fellowship 1999, 004)
(This EP is a fully developed version of the band's demonstration cassette)
Circuit (Music Fellowship 2001, 00X)
(This is Landing's official full-length debut-dreamy guitar melodies floating on a sea of electronics. This is a more "song-oriented" album than Oceanless.)
Windy and Carl/Landing Split CD (Music Fellowship, 2001)
(This EP features one 16-minute track by Windy and Carl, and three tracks by Landing, all recorded especially for this release to promote their tour together)
Oceanless (Strange Attractors Audio House 2001, saah003)
(Although released most recently, Oceanless was actually recorded in 1999, before their "debut" CD, and sounds quite different-see the review in AI #17)
Web Site at: http://www.landingsite.net/
Yume Bitsu Discography
Auspicious Winds (K Records, 2000, K121)
Yume Bitsu (Ba Da Bing! Records, 2001, BING 20)
(Adam Forkner told me this is his personal favourite of the three Yume Bitsu CDs. I agree! It's spacey and mellow, yet noisy and edgy at the same time. Mostly instrumental, but with a few great vocal harmonies.)
Giant Surface Music Falling to the Earth Like Jewels From Heaven (Ba Da Bing! Records, 2001, BING 15)
Web Site at: http://www.kpunk.com/yumebitsu/