From Aural Innovations #23 (April 2003)
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Floorian have been traveling the musical cosmos since 1997, with founding members Todd Fisher and John Godshalk struggling to find committed like-minded musicians to give the lineup continuity, though the duo have always persisted, even creating music as a two-piece. While the band's music has a firm grounding in the space-psych realm, it's difficult to classify or label them. My review of their What The Buzzing? CD (see AI #21) threw out a diversity of analogies including Pink Floyd, King Black Acid, Porcupine Tree and Amon Düül II, though other reviewers have referenced Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine and Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Though existing in various forms since 1997, Floorian's What The Buzzing? CD didn't see release until 2002. But listening to this compilation of songs, it quickly becomes clear that theirs is a mind-bending brand of space rock and psychedelia with a detailed attention to sound construction and direction that can be equal parts power and floating bliss.
Having latched on to the band's music with enthusiasm (space rock bands are a rarity here in Columbus), I had the good fortune to experience the Floorian creative process when I was asked to take photographs in December while the band recorded their new song "Aether Spill" in the Olentangy Indian Caverns outside of town. Now this sounded exciting... joining the band for a recording session in the cavernous bowels of the earth. Wow! And it turned out to be a particularly enjoyable experience for me, having written so much about music over the past six years but only rarely getting a peak at the process of actually creating the music. (All accompanying photos are from that session).
Deciding that is was time to profile the band, I met up with them one evening in March at their practice space in the clubhouse of the condo complex where John lives. (An unexpected block watch meeting pushed us downstairs.) It was great hearing the band tell their story with such enthusiasm. Todd and John go back a long way and it was clear that this brought back fond memories. Lots of laughter. But as we came to the present, it became clear that the band's principle focus at this point is to prepare for live performance. And live performance is what this writer is slathering for!
The current Floorian lineup is Todd Fisher on guitar, John Godshalk on bass, Larry Durica on drums, and newest members Alex (Lee) Mason on guitar and Bill Spiropoulos on keyboards, with each member ultimately functioning as multi-instrumentalists... always ready to fill whatever role is needed, especially to make a song work live.
AI: John and Todd seem to have been the constants in the band. Are you the two that started Floorian? Your web site says you began in 1997.
Todd Fisher (TF): The very first stuff we did would have been '84-'85.
AI: Wow, so you guys go back a ways.
TF: John and I, and my brother Ken... we had just learned to play. And we'd hang around in my brother's trailer and do two chord dirges.
John Godshalk (JG): One chord dirges.
TF: Yeah, two was pushin it. But god, we'd just go and go and go, and we couldn't play anything...
JG: Well we thought it was the best shit ever of course because we were making it. It was so bad, and yet it was so primal and so good. We were like... this is great. It's funny because in retrospect it wasn't a whole lot different than what, for example, Spacemen 3 was doing at the same time. It was really minimal guitar stuff... repetitive as hell. And we were on a completely different plane. We were listening to the Cramps and the Dream Syndicate. That started us on our... hey, we can do this too. So we went and bought gear and we started out by playing these insane one or two chord hypno-dirge mantras... we loved it, but never dreamed anyone else would. Then years later, after finally discovering Spacemen 3 and hearing their early stuff I was reminded of our own early days and thinking, "wow, there actually WERE people who dig that kind of stuff!"
TF: And the first thing we started doing was covering Cramps tunes.
JG: We started playing Cramps and Dream Syndicate covers and a few 60's things...
TF: Some Joy Division stuff. Anything we could latch on to...
JG: Anything that was simple enough to play. I started with the Beatles as a wee lad, but what's funny is how things came full-circle over the next twenty or so years. My post-Beatles phases went from the Stones to Clapton, to Frampton, to hard rock, to Cheap Trick, to U2, etc. But things started changing around '80-'81, thanks to a college roommate who had a mind-boggling psych/prog record collection and turned me on to stuff by Barrett/early Floyd, King Crimson, Hawkwind, Amon Düül, etc. I was hooked! Then in '84, while Todd and Ken were already delving into stuff off the beaten path like Kraftwerk, the Cramps and Devo, I stumbled on to some guys who were doing fantastic underground radio shows at the University of Akron, where I first heard neo-psych stuff like the Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, True West and Plasticland, as well as post-punk bands like Joy Division and Public Image Limited. Needless to say we were blown away, and after seeing Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate shows in Cleveland we were like, "hey, we gotta do this!", and in no time the hypno-dirges were emanating from trailers and barns in rural northeast Ohio!
AI: You mention "going on and on and on"... so you were doing instrumental stuff?
TF: We'd do our own type of stuff. But none of it was realized enough where we thought it was anything.
JG: There were no vocals or percussion. A friend of ours had an old keyboard. It was out of tune, it was dissonant, but it was like... nothing beats the old days for stuff like that. Y'know we try to over think things sometimes... it made me think how great it was just sound-wise back then.
TF: I think it was good because we could draw from that and we could do something simple or do something that just sounds good.
AI: That was a learning and growing period.
TF: Exactly. And we played parties here and there.
AI: Were you mostly playing covers or were you doing any of your own songs at that point?
JG: The last Halloween party we did we actually started playing a couple of originals. Actually the very first time we ever played "Or So They Say" was at that party.
AI: So this was still the 1980's?
JG: Yes. The original version of "Or So They Say" was played on The Snickers New Music Search. Thirty people... thirty complete strangers actually thought our song was the best!
AI: You'll have to tell me what that was.
JG: It was like a talent search. A band search kind of thing. This was WAPS which is the Akron public radio station. And we submitted that song and they played it.
TF: There were 20 some bands and we got a good response to it.
AI: Do you have recordings of that still?
TF: Yeah, I'll bet we do.
JG: It was different.
TF: And it's a home recording too.
JG: But the night they played it we couldn't pick it up from where we were. So we drove up to Wadsworth which is a suburb of Akron and sat in the Giant Eagle [grocery store] parking lot listening to the radio. And it was just so amazing hearing it.
TF: And then we promptly drove across the parking lot to the pay phone and each of us made our call to vote for us. [wild laughter]
JG: But that was our first brush with radio play.
AI: So have you been working on music together continuously throughout the years?
JG: Well that was when we were in northeast Ohio. Todd and I moved here [to Columbus, Ohio] in late '89. And then it wasn't until '91 when we went to what is now Blue Moon, it used to be Diamond Mine, and recorded four songs and made our first demo. We were called the Daymare [a play off the word Nightmare] back then. And we sent that one around. We sent it to CD101. They called us in to do a little interview thing that they played on a Monday night.
AI: And this was still in the early 90's?
JG: That was '91. We go back a ways but it's always been a struggle finding people here and we could never keep anything sustained.
TF: Either find a drummer for a while or a guitarist for a while...
JG: And shortly after the Daymare thing we hooked up with Phillip [Park]. We didn't get any recordings done until 5-6 years later with him, but we kind of kept things going, at least a little bit. And we played some shows in ‘97 with Rob Jarrett who played drums on the first three songs on the CD.
TF: We actually got some live stuff going with Rob, Phillip and us two around that time. We played a few shows. We played Staches once. We played down at Barleys.
AI: Were you at this point called Floorian?
TF: Yes we were. But nothing was sustained.
AI: So given that you've got various lineups on What The Buzzing, how much of a timeframe does the recording of those tracks cover?
JG: 1997-2002. The first three were recorded in 1997.
AI: When I first heard that album I was really surprised and thrilled that you were playing that music and located here in Columbus. At what point did you start sounding like that... doing what I would call the space thing? Were you sounding like that in the 80's?
JG: Our influences have obviously changed, but the stuff we were listening to back then was Dream Syndicate, Joy Division... we liked guitars, it was always guitar based, it was always kind of slow... it really hasn't changed a whole lot.
AI: I've read several reviews of the CD. And I recall you making a remark about Pink Floyd comparisons. Are you finding that people are pigeonholing you at all?
JG: I think there's been a lot of diverse influences talked about. Pink Floyd just seems to be the common one.
AI: To my ears "In Slow Motion" is the only song that really has a strong Pink Floyd sound. More like something from a Dave Gilmour solo album really.
JG: That's exactly what I think. And I think it's mainly because of the vocals. And it seems to be a lot of people's favorite song.
TF: A lot of webcasts have played it. But if you read some of our reviews, we have been compared to Pink Floyd in three different eras of Pink Floyd. What else is interesting about reviews, at least for me, is there are some bands that we've been compared to... that they're trying to let other people know who are reading it if they dig that they might dig this. And there are some bands who, I won't say I don't like, but I don't really care for... I don't listen to. Personally I would say I wasn't influenced by that at all.
AI: So it's not an influence but a frame of reference for the reader.
JG: And I think Pink Floyd is a very common one that most people know about.
AI: But the key is you're not getting pigeonholed.
JG: I don't think so. We do a lot of different stuff.
TF: And not that we don't want to be pigeonholed but we just don't want to make boring music either. We're always looking to do something that we haven't done. I hope it all comes across as Floorian.
AI: I think it does. I certainly heard various elements that brought to mind certain analogies but you've definitely got your sound.
TF: There was one review that mentioned that he didn't really think we had "our sound".
JG: He was talking about how many influences there were and kind of intimated that we need to pick one and go with it. They're struggling for their own sound so to speak.
TF: But if that could be construed as negative... that a band can't find their own sound that somebody can compare them to... all eras of Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine, Porcupine Tree, King Black Acid, early Spacemen 3. If that's the worst thing that's ever gonna happen then fine. I totally love being compared to all those bands. I dig a lot of those bands.
JG: We approach every song as a new adventure. We have a lot of different kinds of ideas. Sometimes they start more structured than others. But we get together up at Larry's and jam, and then we pull the good stuff from it and condense it, or focus in on bits and pieces.
AI: Do most of your songs result from what was originally improvising or does somebody come to the table with something of their own?
TF: The person who had the first germ of the idea of whatever it became, that person always retains veto on any ideas. It's a democracy of ideas... but if there's too many cooks in the kitchen... somebody has to say that just doesn't work.
JG: It goes through all kinds of stages. And we don't care who comes up with an idea as long as it's right for the song and as long as most of us agree on it. And usually we do.
TF: But you always have to have somewhere to draw the line. And that's how we draw the line. And another thing that's interesting too is the fact that... we did a lot of improv over the past couple months with Larry. Just us three. Before we hooked up with Bill and Lee. But I think we do our best songwriting with no instruments. We just sit and talk... if you can believe it. We talk over ideas. But I think we do a lot of our best writing trying to come up with ideas without playing or listening to anything.
AI: So when you do play there's already been a level of discussion that serves as a launching pad for solid ideas?
TF: We've talked about what we think this instrument would sound like here or that instrument would sound like there. We've pretty much talked it over more than we've played it over.
Alex (Lee) Mason: I notice when these guys work they sing out the parts more even if they have instruments in their hands. It works!
JG: With me, I'm hearing all kinds of guitar parts in my head... and I can't play guitar! It's like trying to relay them to these guys...
TF: Well that's the way it works too. It's not necessarily your own instrument. If Larry playing drums has a problem with the sitar that someone's playing, or the e-bow part here or the bass part there, then that's cool. And right along those lines too is... we love mistakes... mistakes are where you hear things where you wouldn't have heard it. And there are plenty of things that came from mistakes when we said that's a great idea. That's what's great about backwards stuff, that's what's great about messing with tempos, that's what's great about using loops. That's what gets creative stuff going. Music is an exact mathematical thing and totally organic at the same time. That's what's so cool about it.
Bill Spiropoulos (BS): One time we were talking about the value of not playing perfectly. Of being a little sloppy. How we have perfect guitarists out there who are technically perfect but it might as well be played by a machine. And that little bit of unpredictability that comes when mistakes and flubs do pop into the music, into your playing or whatever.
Lee: Or what you always say too about the empty space sometimes when there's no notes.
TF: Yeah, we've talked about that a lot, Lee and I. Wasn't it David Roback (Rain Parade/Opal/Mazzy), the whole thing about if you think about all the negative space between the notes of music, there's plenty of room to create. It's white space in art. It's what's not happening... and when something happens. That's sometimes the total genius. It's like what didn't happen at this point that set up what did, or what did happen that set up what doesn't. And where stuff flows somewhere you didn't expect it to flow. It's just the whole creative thing. That's what's cool about it. And then the whole mathematic thing along with the organic... it's just what Bill's talking about... it's also technical as opposed to style.
Lee: We're in a phase now where we're learning to do this live. And the approach that we're taking to doing this live is we want to do the album all the justice that possibly can be done. And I'm learning all the parts that Phillip played. And I'm trying as best I can to learn them note for note and emulate everything he did on that album, because it works... it's effective... it's what sold me... and it's the way I want to play it. It's the way I want to convey it to people who come to see our show. And it's been a great great experience doing that.
TF: Actually Lee's been wanting to really get the stuff, which is cool. But then again we don't want Lee to not explore the creativity that he's going to bring into this. And I think he has. And I think a great example of that is the cave... is "Aether Spill".
AI: So when I saw you guys recording in the cave was that right around the time that Lee had joined?
Lee: Yes. I grew up with Larry, the drummer. I've known Larry since I was 9 years old. And then we went our separate ways and hooked again when he was in college. And I don't know what happened with the other guitarist in the band...
TF: Well Phillip actually helped us with some of the songs even up to some of the tracks on What The Buzzing that are newer. So really when we were at the point of recording, we had kind of finished the stuff that Phillip was going to be involved with. So we were looking to get the live thing going, and we were looking for a guitarist to be full time. Phillip has got some of his own stuff going on. And we had met Lee up at Larry's... during the process of doing What The Buzzing.
Lee: And they asked me to come out a do a jam with them one night, and I blew them off and never showed up... didn't expect to ever be called back. But I guess Larry talked to them, and I was feeling kind of self-conscious because I haven't done this in a professional setting. I consider this a very professional setting. So anyway, I got a second shot. I think that's when the cave thing developed. But I haven't ever been in a band that has gigged out. These guys are familiar with a lot of the indie underground type music. Talk about influences again, I'm a big Gilmour fan. I always have been. But these guys have turned me on to different music every week.
Larry Durica (LD): Prior to Floorian I was playing in a project that we called Madison Skyway along with Lee. It was mostly improvisational. But it kind of fizzled out because it seemed like it was becoming more of a straight ahead songwriting thing. So it was the perfect opportunity to hook up with Floorian. And it's ironic that Lee has teamed up with us. But it's worked out for the better. I had worked in quite a load of bands previously. Pretty much every band I've been in barely got out of the basement or the garage. And that was just due to lots of creative differences. Although when I was going to school down in Athens at Ohio University I was in a band called Solid State Marty. And we started playing out quite a lot. After college I moved back to Cleveland and played in a band called Automatic Daddy, which was pretty much just me and a couple of my cousins and whoever was around. After that I was in a band called Jones. And then there was the opportunity to move down to Columbus to make a full time thing out of the Madison Skyway project, and that went on for about a year or so. Around the same time I was also in a side project which didn't really get off the ground but it was really a great learning experience. I actually played guitar for the most part in it. And that project was called Ohm. We soon found out there were a couple other bands using that name. But the project was really interesting because it was ambient, dissonant, soundscapey kind of music. And it was really just a different way to approach it for me. I'd been just discovering artists like Brian Eno, Steve Roach and Robert Rich. And even Throbbing Gristle and stuff like that. It really had a profound effect on the possibility that music does not have to be 1-2-3-4 rock n roll stuff. And even though I play drums in Floorian I'm still very sensitive to that ambient approach. It's a little harder to do on the drums but I still have an ear for it. By the way, Madison Skyway has commenced once again with the mutual understanding that it takes a back seat to Floorian, as well as my own side project called Vernon Dent, and that we continue a simple, improvisational approach so as not to stir up old issues of "creative differences" (i.e., it should be fun!!).
AI: So were the other bands you mentioned more rock oriented? Anything off the beaten path?
LD: With Solid State Marty we were really into odd time signatures. It was more to my liking at first because it was a lighter touch and there were more dynamics to it. After a while it started getting to the point where we started sounding too much like Helmut. And Helmut's alright but I didn't want to be that heavy. Automatic Daddy was pretty experimental. We had some freeform jams and then other ones were along the lines of funk... almost like garage Steely Dan. Jones was my first adventures into more of a space rock kind of thing. But then the lead singer in the band started to get into more straight ahead songwriting. He was really into Elvis Costello and stuff like that. REM. And it pushed us more into that straight ahead pop songwriting... which wasn't bad. He's still a great songwriter. But once again I didn't care for the direction. But we still get together every holiday, right after Christmas, and we have what we call the Jones Family Christmas. We've done it two years in a row.
AI: Bill, how new are you to the band?
BS: I am the newest guy in the band.
TF: He's two rehearsals new. And in two rehearsals he's played keys, and electric, and e-bow, and sitar. We've got Bill jumping through hoops.
JG: We're so lucky to find somebody who can do a lot of different stuff. I mean, it took us forever to find a drummer, there's guitarists galore, and I guess there's bass players galore, and there are drummers galore too. But to find somebody multi-skilled...
TF: And what we started to hear... I think Lee was mentioning earlier about doing this thing live... we never want to sacrifice anything. We don't want to compromise or sacrifice this for that. It should sound even better. Our goal is to make it sound... a CD can sound as intimate as it can, but it's nothing like having it played right there. And we do not want to compromise and pull things out just cause we can't... our goal is to do it.
Lee: If I'm doing effects as he's playing a line, or if I've got a little keyboard part I've got to play, or he's jumping through hoops dropping guitars and picking up other ones... it's just a choreographed thing that we do.
JG: Like the song "Alt.11" is a nightmare arrangement because there's keys, recorder, sitar, acoustic, electric, e-bow... but we've actually figured out a way to pull it off and damn it we're gonna do it.
AI: I remember chatting with Todd one time and asking about live performances and you said to do shows you've got to have five players, including three guitarists. So I guess what I'm hearing here is it's not just the sound but you need people to play a number of roles too.
TF: And the really nice thing is... you want to talk about lucky... Lee can play keys...
JG: Larry played guitar on "Auravine"...
TF: Larry can play guitar, he plays bass, he can play recorder on "Alt.11". Bill's playing sitar. He can play keys. So it's really good that we have that flexibility and diversity. That's just something that we think is a strength. That's great to be able to pick up instruments and play a whole bunch of different instruments because that just lends itself to the creativity.
AI: Larry, you had mentioned playing guitar in an earlier band too. Do you consider yourself a guitarist first, a drummer first, or is there no real line between the two?
LD: I guess I consider myself a multi-instrumentalist but I'm probably most competent on drums. Chronologically the first instrument I learned was guitar. That would have been in high school. I'd always liked the drums better, but drums were always more expensive and always noisier. It's hard to practice in a house when you live with your parents. So I played guitar until sometime in college, I was still living in Cleveland, and I was jamming and the guitarist said I'm sick of playing drums let's switch. And I sat on the drums and it was almost like it came naturally. I took me almost three more months to realize I wasn't a right handed drummer though. Which is really bizarre because I'm a right handed person. But in regard to the credits for all the songs, it's a little confusing, I'm the new drummer yet you only see my name appear on one song and it's on guitar ironically. But I definitely enjoy adding guitar or bass or keyboards wherever it seems appropriate for me to do that. There might be songs where we have a tape loop or no drums at all, and I'll be called upon to play another instrument. Which is great, I love the fact that I can just hop around even though I'm primarily the drummer.
AI: So are you guys working aggressively towards getting a live show ready?
JG: Absolutely. That's the number one goal right now. And we've got a bunch of new material in various stages that we need to start crackin on.
TF: Yeah, so we're trying to keep a schedule of trying to get the live set ready to go. And like John said we've got plenty of stuff in various stages of completion. We've got so many different ways to record now which goes back to every song's an adventure.
JG: We've got unlimited resources. We've got time at Blue Moon [studios], we've got a 4-track, he's got an 8-track, Larry's got an 8-track, he's got Pro Tools.
AI: So it sounds like you're simultaneously preparing for live shows but a new CD as well.
JG: Oh yeah. And I don't know if it's feasible but we'd like to have something out this summer.
TF: I think we will this summer.
AI: Tell me about how the recordings at the Olentangy Indian Caverns came out.
TF: I always thought it would be cool. Who was it that did the world highest gig?
JG: Spiritualized. The tower up in Toronto.
TF: So we figured since our music is so down we'd do the world's lowest gig. And we had to go subterranean to do so. [laughter all around] But once again, we had the germ of an idea and decided let's try it and see what happens. We didn't over-rehearse the thing... we wanted to just let it take its course... let's get some feeling out of it. But I just called the people up that own it and they said yeah, when do you want to do it? And they were just very helpful letting us go down there, and really nice about it. Bent over backwards for no reason. We didn't pay them anything.
JG: It was the perfect time to do an electro-acoustic kind of thing. We had bass and keyboards, but then we had primitive percussion, Lee had a little tiny plastic Marhsall thing.
AI: I got a kick out of Larry's "drum kit". You had your beer making stuff and plastic jugs...
LD: When we were trying to decide what we were going to bring with us and how we were going to record that song, I started thinking real primitive. For one thing I didn't want to lug a whole kit down there. And playing in a cave should be something a little bit more primitive, or tribal almost. I wanted it definitely to be a more simple approach... less hindrances. I got the spring water plastic jug. I did some parts from a traditional kit like a cymbal, and drum sticks of course. I brought a thing called a thunder tube, which has a spring on the end and it makes that rumbling sound. Besides the one cymbal, the other cymbal-like piece that I brought was my boiling pot that I boil my beer in, and that had such a great tone. And you can only hear it in one part of the song but there's a traditional shaker you hear near the end, but in the middle, and I believe at the very end, you hear another type of shaker that's actually a dried tabasco pepper. And it just worked great.
TF: We had the opportunity to have somebody go down there and record it for us. We could have said, bring a bunch of gear and an engineer, but we decided not to.
JG: At first we were going to just record it with my mini disc, essentially in rough stereo. Just keep it simple.
TF: But we decided let's do a little better than that but let's not go too far. And I think what happened was... we wanted to string microphones way away from us, down a couple of halls. And have some microphones out away, plus the overheads that we were trying to capture the room with... the cave. And the proximity mics. I think it lends that organic feel. With the proximity mic you can move closer or further away. And one thing I noticed was the beginning with that weird acoustic... I shook it closer to the mic and shook it away from the mic. It's exactly how I played it. And I think we captured that feel. It's the organicness of what it was doing. We weren't in the studio. There was stuff dripping from the ceiling... it was great.
AI: Well I'm looking forward to some Floorian live shows.
Floorian: So are we!