by Spaceman33

From Aural Innovations #41 (October 2010)

Here's a bit of Aural Innovations history for you. I first started the zine, and it did start off as a printed zine, in part because of conversations I had with Quarkspace member Paul Williams about the music scene in Columbus, Ohio. Quarkspace were profiled in our debut issue and have cropped up periodically throughout the years (see the alpha index for articles and reviews). And they were active live performers through the early part of the new millennium, so I've seen them live numerous times and have been witness to one of the best improvisational units I've ever seen. Though they retired from live performance years ago, the band regroup enough to have kept a steady stream of new material hitting the streets. What follows is a review of their new Spacefolds 10 album and an interview with Paul Williams.

Quarkspace - "Spacefolds 10" (Eternity's Jest Records 2010, digital download, and lossless CDR through Amazon.com)

The Spacefolds albums feature all improvised Quarkspace music and here we have the tenth in the series. Those who saw Quarkspace live when they were active may not have seen original guitarist Darren Gough much, and recent albums have included various guests, but on Spacefolds 10 the entire album is the quartet of original members Darren on guitar, Chet Santia on bass, guitar, and loops, Jay Swanson on keyboards, synth, and loops, and Paul Williams on drums, synth, keyboards, and loops.

The album begins with Tourist Music, which puts Jay Swanson's trademark piano front and center. But there's also some spaced out keyboards that combine and contrast nicely with the piano. Actually it struck me listening to this song that if all the spacey elements were stripped away I could envision the band performing this in the lounge of some hip little restaurant. The promo sheet says that Spacefolds 10 is Quarkspace's most loop based material in years, and that is evident on Quartzmining, which is quirky and funky, with an underlying ethereal drift. I love the mellotron sounds on parts of Durable Space 1, which sounds cool combined with the looped patterns. Lots of tasteful guitar soloing too, surrounded by all manner of oddball sounds. Cowboy From The Storm is an outstanding jamming track, similar to Tourist Music, but both piano and guitar are at the forefront and it has a spaced out free-jazz quality to it. The aptly titled The Dark Freak is a short, moody tune. Durable Space 2 is an atmospheric piece with a feeling of tension throughout because it continually feels like its building up to something, draw backs, and then jams along for a while again. Darren's guitar gets downright Bluesy a couple times too. Lots of variety here. At 13+ minutes Revolves Around Seven is the longest track of the set. It starts off as a quirky jam but after a couple minutes settles into a rhythmic groove. Oddball rhythms, funky and rocking. Excellent jam. And Don de Dieu is a fitting closing track, with its angelic atmosphere and spaced out light jamming.

One afternoon in mid-August I visited the Quarkspace studios to chat with Paul Williams about the band's activities.

Aural Innovations (AI): I first met you guys in 1996 and you were very active throughout what I'll call the Strange Daze Festival period. And when I say active I mean you were playing quite a few live shows. While there haven't been any live shows for many years you've continued to release albums. How do you see the band as having evolved since the early 2000s…. the post-Strange Daze period through now?

Paul Williams: When we released Drop for free, and 9/11 happened and all that, we kind of rethought things at that point. We retired from playing out, but we still got together for the next couple years to jam and build material. And then we all took a couple years off from Quarkspace and were jamming with other people. That's when the guys from Floorian came by and did some jamming with me and Chet. I met my soon to be wife at that point. So there was a lot more activity dealing with personal things and such. I did the Church of Hed album around 2002 as well. Then around 2005 we got back together with Jay and Darren. My wedding was the catalyst that got us back into the vibe again. We played and rehearsed at the wedding. And we've done some jamming since then. And around that time with Darren, Chet, myself and Jay we started to get together a little more often. The Spacefolds 8 and Spacefolds 9 releases were taken from the 2001-2002 timeframe. So there's a gap in jamming for a couple years. And like I was saying we've got these cool jams with Floorian and some other people that will see the light of day at some point. But what format they come out, who knows at this point. Because we decided with Spacefolds 10 to skip ahead to the more recent jams, with a little more recent take on technology. We've always teased Jay for being something of a Luddite and being afraid of technology. But he's now getting into loop writing. Chet has always been into loop writing. I write loops obviously. So a little more modern focus on jamming. Jay and myself get together every month or so to jam. Darren too when he's available. He's had some health problems with cancer but things are looking good with that. He had surgery and the cancer is all taken care of. He didn't have to do chemo so knock on wood…

AI: So he's in remission?

Paul: Yeah, he's cancer free as far as I know and not having to take radiation treatments. Jay was over there playing with him a couple weeks ago and we hope to get him out here next month to do some work. I'm starting to piece together some of the material for Spacefolds 11. We've got a new studio album that's, I'd say, 50% done… 60% done. We've got some jams picked out. We've got some instrumental pieces, one of which is on our Facebook page, that are pretty close to being finished. We've got four songs that we're putting together. The title track we've got a decent enough version together with that. But with us, and vocal songs, it's better to have the band being able to play and knock it off in the studio as opposed to doing a million overdubs and piecing them together that way. So with my Church of Hed Route 66 project, Rivers of Asphalt, I was having difficulties getting it finished, just with writing lyrics and the vocal pieces for it, which was about 20-30% of the album. So I decided to remove that stuff from Rivers of Asphalt and put that out as an instrumental album. Two of those songs we're going to do on the next Quarkspace album hopefully. We've got the one song with Chet recorded and then we want to do another one of his pieces. So those four songs, a bunch of instrumentals, and then we're going to pick a couple of the good jams when all of us get together. When Chet moved back to California we had a big party here and had a bunch of people jamming. We're going to pick the two best improvs from that and that'll be the next studio CD.

AI: You mentioned a couple projects there.

Paul: Rivers of Asphalt, that's the Route 66 project I've been working on for Church of Hed.

AI: That's right, you've been talking about that for years.

Paul: I've got all the instrumental parts done. I've got all the music written for it. And then it came to the point, like most of my writing, let's write lyrics. And my enthusiasm for the project kind of dropped at that point. It's really been an albatross on my back, preventing me from doing more of my own new music. But I just came to the realization that I wanted to get this thing done.

AI: Are you close to having that done?

Paul: Yeah, that'll be done by the end of the year. And then Chet might be back for a jam in October. Maybe next spring. So that's going to predicate when the next Quarkspace studio album comes out. All we need is for him to be here one more time and we'll be able to finish everything else with that. It's that close to being done. And then we'll probably have Spacefolds 11 come out after the Church of Hed. Depending on when the Quarkspace studio album comes out Spacefolds 12 might even happen before then. The Quarkspace album will be titled All These Suns. And that'll really be the first one since Drop. Node in Peril was really a Quarkspace-Matt Howarth project, with him kind of dictating the theme and the song titles for us. And that was predominantly improv music. The best of the Spacefolds more or less, with a couple of instrumental compositions and then we did overdubs. Normally we wouldn't have done that in the past. I know we've gotten away from that a little bit so we're not as anal about that as we were in the original days with the ALL improv. Spacefolds is still all improv based but there may be an overdub or two. And with Darren not being able to be here all the time it gives us the ability to at least tell him the key and let him go. I noticed you played Durable Space?

AI: On the most recent radio show I played Durable Space 1.

Paul: That was the three of us together. You can tell by the way the guitar happens. Darren and Jay were in the room at the same time because there's that telepathic ability that we've all had with each other, being able to make improv sound like it's composed. That's kind of where we are for the most part. I mentioned to you earlier about my fledgling career as an iPhone game developer. Once I can get this baseball simulator done one of the things I want to look at is doing an outer space shoot-'em-up, but based on Quarkspace… based on the Spacefolds series. Each level being one of the Spacefolds is kind of how I'm imagining it. And that might be a nice way of getting new people into Quarkspace. Guys that are video game players that might dig some of the music that they're playing to.

AI: I was looking at the credits on the past few Spacefolds albums and Spacefolds 10 is the first in a while where Darren is listed as the guitarist, as opposed to just appearing on certain tracks. Is it that you're just now getting caught up with the music that he had been playing on more?

Paul: Yeah, more or less. I think it's a case that we've slowed down. When we started pushing hard in the late 90s and early 2000s - as you say, the Strange Daze era - with Darren being married and having kids it was hard for him to keep up with what we were doing. We had Dave Wexler and Stan Lyons in the band helping out. At this point we're not moving that fast anymore. There's no reason for us to not wait for Darren to have the time to put his work on it. Because he is Quarkspace's guitar player. Family life probably took him away from that. But he's always been the guitar player that we want to work with and I guess the credits on Spacefolds 10 reflect that. Honestly, Chet plays a lot of guitar on it too. He's almost playing as much guitar as Darren. If you listen you can tell. Darren is more of a Clapton-esque lead player. Chet's guitar style is very jazzy. He uses the hollow body guitar which has that style to it. And we laugh about this too. Ever since Jay got a certain keyboard, I forget which one, but Jay is probably the predominant guitar player in Quarkspace because he uses synth pads that sound like guitar. Some of the reviews on Spacefolds 7 after Dave left would talk about Stan Lyons' guitar and all these trippin' leads and I was like nah, I think that's Jay more than anything.

AI: Jay's keyboards are that close to a guitar that people think it's a guitar?

Paul: Yeah. That happened all the time. So I guess that's where we're at at this point. Working on the studio CD steadily. It's getting closer. Go on our Facebook page and one of the tracks there is one that's on the CD. We've got 4 or 5 instrumentals like that. We're picking two improvs and four songs.

AI: So just to summarize the upcoming stuff you've got the Church of Hed Route 66 project which you think will be end of this year. That'll be called Rivers of Aspahlt. Then there's the new Quarkspace studio album which will be called All These Suns.

Paul: We've been doing the song All These Suns for ten years anyways. So that's part of the live repertoire. Every time we've been getting together we've been doing different takes of it and the last take we did we think is the one. It has a nice open improv feel to it.

AI: I was thinking there's not many bands that have the history you guys have. There's a core of you that have been playing together for well over 20 years.

Paul: This is our 25th anniversary. I remember doing a show the same time as the Live Aid concert in 1985 playing in an open field next to the house that we lived in on Lawnview Avenue in Dayton. It's funny because you go on to Google Maps and you can zoom on where that is. And all that stuff is gone. The University of Dayton ghetto is completely different from what it used to be. They urban renewaled it so to speak and it's a lot of campus buildings and such that are where we used to play. And some of those old jams are really cool. You can hear in some of those jams from 1985 that we had that improvisational chemistry.

AI: I've got to make a note to check the New Druids page on Facebook. You said there's some music there.

Paul: New Druids is the band I joined in 1987. I've got some Quarkspace music from that era on Facebook. I think I've got a cover of a Pink Floyd tune - Stay - that's on our Facebook page that's from the Canal Street Tavern in Dayton. That's fall of 1985. And the New Druids played there as well. There was a battle of the bands we played in the 1989 timeframe, also at the Canal Street Tavern. We'd do well when the Dayton crowd would be there. But during the semi-finals the Dead were playing in Indianapolis, so we lost that round because none of the Quark crowd were there to vote for us. Some of our bios mistakenly say we were formed in Columbus, but we were a Dayton band.

AI: Spacefolds 10 is freshly available.

Paul: Yes. That's the first one where we didn't press of any CDs to sell ourselves. We tried to go digital only with Spacefolds 8. But enough people complained, and we had gotten promos together, so we thought let's autograph some promos and we'll sell those. We followed the same model with Spacefolds 9. But the interesting thing is Amazon.com has a deal with the distributor we work through, and they'll print a lossless CDR. So with Spacefolds 10 people have the option if they want a CD of it they can go to Amazon.com and order it.

AI: Amazon will make the CD with the artwork and everything?

Paul: Yeah, so that's been nice. We're just starting to see the sales coming in for that so that's been pretty cool. We're seeing some Amazons. And iTunes, we've always done really well with iTunes. Since we haven't released any CDs in a jewel case since Node in Peril our sales our probably half and half digital vs. CD.

AI: Do you use CDBaby? A lot of bands rave about CDBaby.

Paul: Yeah, everything up through Node in Peril we've done through CDBaby. And with the Church of Hed and new Quarkspace CD we're going to use the distributor we have now. Since CDs aren't that big anymore you can do a pressing of 100 at $2 a pop. So we're going to do that. We'll have promos because a lot of magazines are still prejudiced that if it's not on CD it's not real music. But we still sell CDs. And the ones we do sell I'd say two-thirds are going overseas.

AI: That's interesting. There are a fair number of labels that are doing both CDs and vinyl, or even just vinyl only releases. But most of the ones I know of are outside the U.S.

Paul: It's always bummed me out because we record all of our stuff in 24 bit, or 20 when we were doing ADAT. And any time we've had to take something DOWN to CD quality, dumbing it down to 16 bit, that's always frustrated me because our music is very spacious and there's a lot of sound going on and a lot of panning, and you lose that as you compress it down to even 16 bit, vs. mp3's and things like that which are even lower quality. So I've never been into vinyl. The annoyances of having to clean the albums and getting all crackle and poppy. I've never been a fan of that. So vinyl is something that's never really interested me. I think there's a hipness factor involved with it, especially with indie bands. I'd much rather go the route of having 24 bit, like DVD audio or even a Blue Ray release. But people just aren't into that. They want the convenience of having their music in mp3 format, and who am I to argue with them? So it's been nice for us to do well enough in the digital domain to keep things going here.

AI: So Spacefolds 10 is technically a digital only release, but it just turned out that you can send people to Amazon to get a CD made. It's interesting because on the one hand I know a lot of people who don't have turntables anymore and get annoyed when record labels release albums on vinyl only. But they do want a hard copy, a CD.

Paul: And the digital only is something we only wanted to do for the Spacefolds releases. It made perfect sense even with Spacefolds 8 to do that. It's just that we ended up pressing up all the promos to send out to people and it was like, gosh, enough people are complaining, let's autograph some of these and sell them. And then we did that ahead of the game on Spacefolds 9. And now with Spacefolds 10 I was like, let's find four of the DJs that have played our stuff and pushed our stuff and let's just give those four people copies of the music.

AI: You mentioned that you and Jay had been talking about maybe getting out and doing some shows. Any possibility of that happening?

Paul: I don't know. It's tough. I look at all the gear I have and it's kind of hard to shlep that stuff around. A friend of mine from high school who is a guitar player, he's been doing weddings and wineries. And I was thinking the wineries might be a cool gig. We could do our own material and maybe some of the loop stuff. We had a good time playing at the Space Rock BBQ that Doug McMahan from Scattered Planets hosts. We played there last year. We did improv and we did our loops. And it rocked. Darren played guitar over that stuff. There was always the joke that Darren didn't like the loop based stuff as much as just jamming but damn, it was a pretty incandescent show.

AI: The last time I saw you live was in 2004 at Orion Studios in Baltimore.

Paul: That was the Doug Walker show {ed. note - Doug Walker of Alien Planetscapes] where we did a kind of Jay-less Quarkspace.

AI: You billed it as Church of Hed.

Paul: Right, Church of Hed with Chet and Stan. That was a fun time. I would like to get out there and play some time but logistically it's probably not going to happen. The drive is one thing. But the rehearsal. It's one thing to do the loops. We could do the loops at the drop of a hat. But to be able to rehearse the songs, I'd like to be able to do some songs as well… we had a hard enough time playing at my wedding. We did better on the Neil Young tunes than we did on our own stuff. Budget no issue, I'd love a full Quarkspace show with backing singers and stuff. Kind of like Roxy Music but we wouldn't be dressed as well.

AI: Anything else we should know about?

Paul: I mentioned the potential of a Spacefolds video game. An outerspace shooting game. So I'm thinking we'll do an outerspace shoot 'em up based on the Spacefolds series. I've explored the Rock Band network and things like that. I've noticed the prog band Glass Hammer has a couple songs on there.

AI: You mean something to do with the Rock Band game?

Paul: Yeah, where indie bands can download software and mark up their songs in the Rock Band format so they're playable within the game. It's more predicated to Microsoft's xbox, but some of the titles do make it over to the PS3 side, that's what we've got up there. But with our music it's not really… maybe with Rock Band 3 since it's more keyboard oriented, but I can't think of any one of our songs that would fit nicely in a Rock Band format. But yeah, Rock Band's kind of fun. But I don't think we're going to see any Quarkspace.

AI: Well it's exciting that the Route 66 album is finally coming out this year.

Paul: Yeah, and Quarkspace music will be coming out pretty much ad infinitum.

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