Nightswimming : Mark Hutchins Talks New Pale Swimmers Digital Return

by EA Poorman

Mark Hutchins used to make the rounds as one of the premier Fort Wayne songwriters. He started making a name for himself in the band Vandolah, which to my recollection recorded one of the best local albums to grace the cd racks at Wooden Nickel Music called Please. Hutchins also made a little album called Sleepy Furnace, the first album he put out under his own name. Another stellar local album that stands up among the best. But in 2006, Hutchins followed the muse to the way of 4-track cassette recording. New Pale Swimmers was a GBV-inspired 4-track project where Mark would hit record on a little Tascam cassette recorder and just let ideas fly. It was a short-lived project, but one that if you ever had a chance to hear the music you never forgot it.

Recently Hutchins was asked about New Pale Swimmers, which got him thinking about the old tunes. He figured why not digitize the songs and put ’em up on Bandcamp for all to enjoy, which he did. Along with some brand new music he recorded over the last year, Mark has put up all the full-lengths and EPs he recorded as New Pale Swimmers. I sat down and talked with Mark about the New Pale Swimmers, the digital releases, and being a 21st century artist.

EA Poorman: So it’s been quite a few years since New Pale Swimmers have made a sound. You’ve recently put together a Bandcamp page that’s collected most of the albums and EPs from your side project to a convenient place to binge them. What made you decide to unearth these tunes now?

Mark Hutchins: A few people had asked about it, so I put the two full-lengths and an EP up on Bandcamp. Then I got the itch to go full-on 4-track cassette recorder and combined freshly recorded stuff with a few tunes I’d done last year. Now folkscan FINALLY experience the entire NPS catalog. And pay what they want. Or just listen for free. It’s okay; I’m a 21st-century artist. I live under a bridge.

EA Poorman: For those not in the know, can you give me a little background on New Pale Swimmers? How did the project come about? Who was involved? What was the inspiration for the NPS sound and aesthetic? How long did it last?

Mark Hutchins: I decided at some point to challenge myself by coming up with an album title and all the track names in sequence… then write and record all the songs in a week or two. It’s always just been me. I can’t tell you exactly what triggered this, but I’ve always been a fan of DIY, unfettered and unfiltered music. I’ve done plenty of projects that were second guessed, fussed over, refined and tweaked to death. This isn’t necessarily a reaction to it as much as it is a vacation from it–it’s the closest feeling to being a kid again, musically. Hit “record” and go nuts. Tape hiss is comfort food.

EA Poorman: So how many full lengths did you record under the NPS moniker? How many EPs? What was the typical recording process like for a NPS joint? Were you the sole songwriter?

Mark Hutchins: I did two full lengths, self titled and then Buzz Cat. A few years later, I did an EP called World Beater Takes Five. Then there are three more EPs I pulled together this year. The first NPS projects were a mixture of 4-track cassette and computer-based recording program. Some songs even morph from one to the other.

EA Poorman: With this being such a personal project, how often did you take NPS out into the Fort Wayne night life? The mid-2000s were a pretty happening time in the Fort Wayne original music scene.

Mark Hutchins: Except for maybe a gig or two, I never took this stuff to the street. But when NPS started in 2006, Fort Wayne was humming. There were so many original bands at the time… I’d venture to guess that Fort Wayne rivaled Bloomington and Indy at the time. It was really inspiring.

EA Poorman: So besides the old school stuff, you recorded some new NPS material and included it on the Bandcamp page?

Mark Hutchins: I did! Three of the EPs are almost all brand-new music. It’s like having a fit… I recorded a bunch of tunes that I titled first, then back in the closet goes the 4-track, for who knows how long. Don’t ask me how I managed to get a closet under a bridge.

EA Poorman: Probably the same way I did, which we’ll keep a secret. So besides the unearthing of New Pale Swimmers, you’ll also be playing a songwriter’s showcase on March 24th at Deer Park Irish Pub. Can you tell me a little about this show? Deer Park is one of your old haunts, isn’t it?

Mark Hutchins: Oh yeah. I love the place. It’s very cozy. I really hadn’t planned on booking any live stuff but Adam Baker (who is a really good musician and runs these showcases) invited me to play. So I’m going to do an acoustic set with my friend Lee Andrews on mandolin and possibly a special guest from Toledo. I hope to remember the words.

EA Poorman: So if someone strolls along on the web and comes across the New Pale Swimmers BC page and their interest is peaked, what would you recommend they start out with? Where should the NPS journey begin?

Mark Hutchins: A pint of hard liquor with a chaser, headphones, and the first one, The New Pale Swimmers. As you move through the catalog, I’d suggest you add opioids. By the time you hit the latest EPs, you’ll “get it.” I’m not condoning drug abuse here, but being in the proper frame of mind is key.


Head on over to https://newpaleswimmers.bandcamp.com/ and check out the entire New Pale Swimmers catalog newly minted in digital form for you to enjoy. Don’t wait too long, though. It won’t be there forever. And make sure to head out to Deer Park Pub on March 24th for Songwriter’s Showcase and check out Mark and friends break out some tunes.

 

Struck With Deer Lungs

Now here’s an odd one. I discovered Huerco S. while perusing the Software label’s roster and I was immediately drawn to theIMG_0820 bizarre face on the album cover. I figured “Hey, this is weird looking. I think I’ll like it.” Sure enough I did. In fact, it’s one of my favorite electronic music discoveries in some time.

So Huerco S. is someone named B. Leeds. What’s the “B” stand for? Billy? Bartholomew? Bob? Billy? Who knows. It could stand for Balloon for all I know. What I know for sure is that this cat makes some pretty interesting electronic music. Colonial Patterns is Leeds using his Kansas City origins as a backdrop to create this experimental, lo-fi, heady electronic music, and to incredible results. It’s not the typical, breakbeat, four on the floor kind of stuff you think of when you think of electronic music. Oh, you don’t think of that when you think of electronic music? I guess I’m the only one then. Anyways, it’s great stuff.

What’s it sound like? Well, when I’m listening to Colonial Patterns I get this feeling of ghosts. It’s like these songs are the ghosts of songs that once existed but have long since dissipated into the ether. These aren’t crisp songs, sonically. There’s a feeling of grit and time that covers them. It’s as if they’ve been entombed for years and someone came along and demolished the concrete and released these disembodied melodies and beats into the world. Brian(yeah, his name is Brian…I was voting for Bartholomew) Leeds is going the Boards of Canada route here and making electronic music that is nostalgic, but we’re not sure what they’re nostalgic for. BoC has this knack for tapping into our youthful melancholy by creating sounds and melodies we feel we’ve heard elsewhere, long ago before we knew what nostalgia or melancholy were. Huerco S.’ Colonial Patterns does that too, but without sounding like a caricature of Boards of Canada(like Tycho does.) Songs like “Struck With Deer Lungs”, “Quivira”, and “Monks Mound(Arcology)” feel like whispers from the past. They feel like these thoughts stuck in time and freed for us to hear. There’s still elements of techno and house here, but far more personal and abstract than what those genres usually offer. “Skug Kommune” feels like a MSTRKRFT song run through the washer and dryer one too many times. Faded, shrunken, and well-worn, it’s a sound you can’t let go of as it’s so comfortable.

I can’t explain what it is about this record that seems to hit me so hard. A couple of weeks ago on an afternoon run I was over at my favorite run/walk location. It’s a housing addition still in the stages of growth, so there’s a ton of open space. I find open space when I’m running or walking to be somewhat freeing and almost meditative. I was listening to Colonial Patterns on my headphones when I’d gotten to a spot in the neighborhood where there are no homes built yet. It’s just this quarter mile spot where it’s just trees and the promise of home-owning bliss. As I was walking the sun was beating down on me and the song “Anagramme of My Love” was playing in the headphones. It was pretty damn hot out that day, with the temps well into the upper 80s, and the sun felt as if it was mad as Hell at me and felt like it was pushing all it’s might on me. The song pulsating in my head, the sun beating down on my pale-ish neck it almost felt as if I was being pulled under into some daytime, asphalt abyss. For a moment it was as if I couldn’t even breathe. The music was as suffocating as the heat and sun. I turned the corner and it was as if someone had opened a vent and oxygen poured into my face and down my lungs. I’m not sure what happened, but it was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

Colonial Patterns is very much like that feeling. It’s both suffocating and exhilarating. It’s an album filled with these musical ghosts weaving in and out of lo-fi beats and muffled synthesizers. The songs are whispers and wheezes from musical ghosts and beat-driven specters. I guess I don’t mind the company of ghosts as long as they throw some air my way once in a while.

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Syd Kemp :: The Horror EP

syd kempSyd Kemp has been described as a “lo-fi psych pop wunderkind”. Who described him as that? People, that’s who. Anyways, he recently played in London’s Lion Coffee+Records in celebration of Cassette Store Day. I’m sure he played some songs off his new The Horror EP there, as well as sold a few cool cassette copies of the EP.

Whether Syd Kemp is a wunderkind or not, I don’t know. I do know that he can make some catchy music. “As I Don’t Get It” has an Unknown Mortal Orchestra vibe, mixed with a little Mac Demarco wooziness for good measure. This music really isn’t lo fi as much as it is a little gritty. You don’t hear too many horn sections in the lo fi music from my neck of the woods, but what do I know? Anyways, moving onto “The Horror”. This track lies very much in Deerhunter’s wheelhouse, with Kemp even doing a quite nice rendition of Bradford Cox’s medicated serial killer coo. It’s a deceptively simple track that carries an element of dread underneath its laid back exterior. “At The Old Blue” has a great 60s vibe to it, with a bass line that was pulled right out of Revolver. There’s real classic psych vibes going on in this track’s hazy groove. The production is pretty spot-on here with lots of things going on to keep your headphones busy. “Marble” starts out sounding like some lost Portishead track, all reverb, tremolo, and mystery. Kemp’s vocals ooze into the mix like a stalker appearing from the ether. It’s a disorienting track sure to make you have an anxiety attack about half way through. There’s touches of psych, yes. But there’s also a good chunk of avante garde and art rock in there for you folks that like things a little weird.

The Horror EP is an excellent listen for those days when you want something more than the ordinary. If Deerhunter, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Mac Demarco, and Alex Calder trip your trigger, then snag a copy of this. I’ve decided, Syd Kemp is a wunderkind. Yep.

Sounds for Enlightenment(and other things)

audrey artworkHi. Yeah, I’ve been a little absent as of late. This week has been a long one, for sure. I haven’t felt much like writing, what with late nights, after work busyness, and just a general malaise. But like someone once told me in a dream, “Time to buck up, Skippy. There’s stars to lasso and peanut butter to spread so get to it.” There were Little Rascals, talking bananas, and a chimp possessed by God in that dream as well but those are matters for another day(and therapy session.) Right now I want to talk about my little ambient, atmospheric, film score-sounding musical project called dream district.

Since late last year I’ve been going down into my studio on Sunday mornings and improvising these little experimental guitar soundscapes. I start with some sort of riff, chord progression, or even just a melodic pulse and build on top of it. Ever since I’d gotten Kim Gordon’s Body/Head album back in December of 2013 I’ve been excited/invigorated about the electric guitar and what can be done with nothing more than a guitar, some pedals, a looper, and an amp. I loved the minimalist and lo fi approach of that record. That album was essentially two guitars and a voice. I wanted to go a little further with that concept and create noises and beauty with feedback, delay, loops, and the occasional vocal. I wanted to create these sounds that evoked longing and sadness, but never being morose. Melancholy, but with no regret. I love the stuff Cliff Martinez does for his film scores. They’re anything but cookie cutter. Johnny Greenwood as well. These are my attempts at scoring film. Just films that have never been made.

I’m currently at six pieces of music. I plan on continuing this recording process till April and see where I am. It feels like one of those journeys I can’t predict the end of. Each time I go downstairs and put a cassette in the Tascam 414 Portastudio I never know what conclusion I’m going to reach. That’s because I never really know the question I’m asking myself. This is as close to writing from my subconscious as I think I could ever come to. This music is about as close as a representation of my mind creating in-the-moment as I could ever get. No preconceived notions going in. Just a main line into what’s happening in my heart and mind at that very moment. The art of improvisation. I quite love creating like this. I’m not an artist in the paint and canvas style, but I feel this sort of musical creation is as close as I can get to a paintbrush in my hand and a blank canvas in front of me. It’s also, to my ears, pure emotional expression. Even with a beautiful two minute pop song there’s an agenda. You know you want to write a pop song. You know you want a minor key change in the chorus and you want to pull on the listener’s heartstrings somehow. It’s just the way it is. But with these songs I’ve been creating as dream district, the song can go anywhere. I have no idea where it will lead. I let it write itself and I simply follow along and help color it in a bit. It could be 15 minutes of ambient soundscapes like some lost 80s Tangerine Dream soundtrack; or it could be a wall of dissonant noise that will blister your eardrums. I don’t know till I’m halfway through and see a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what I love about this sort of direction.

This will probably be the last time I write about this project until there’s an album to listen to. I feel like I’ve yapped on about this thing long enough. Enjoy your Friday. Below, take a listen to “ringing in my ears/her light”. Follow dream district’s Soundcloud page and you can keep up with the process. Or don’t. See if I care.

dreamdistrict and you

DSC04284I’ve been working on this little project by myself for about a month now called dreamdistrict. I currently have five songs done and felt like talking a little about it. What? You don’t want to? Okay, well cover your ears…err, eyes.

So for some time now I’ve had this ridiculous idea about making some (mostly)instrumental music completely with guitar and looper pedal. Not only just with guitar, but limit myself to 4 tracks of a Tascam 414 Portastudio. I wanted this stuff to sound sorta lo fi, but not early GBV and Daniel Johnston lo fi. Just kinda in that grey zone of fidelity. The idea began in December after listening to Kim Gordon’s Body/Head album way too much. I loved the simplicity of voice/guitar/noise/improvisation. There are some truly stunning moments on that album. Also, Boards of Canada, Steve Reich, and Kevin Shields played a big part on molding what I wanted to do with this project. I began my explorations with sound on the first Cambodia Highball album. Shane and I were exploring sonic structures within an improvisational space, but still very much creating “songs” as opposed to mood pieces. I wanted dreamdistrict to be mood. I wanted it to color ones thoughts and ideas while sitting and reflecting with a cup of coffee, glass of wine, or preferred poison. Most of all, I wanted these pieces to be in-the-moment reflections of emotion. If I was feeling cantankerous then I wanted the music to reflect that. If I was feeling lost in thought or reflecting on something, I wanted the music to reflect that. If my head was as blank space, I wanted the music to reflect that. With each recording session I felt they were coming easier and the structures were forming quicker. I could see the beginning, which led me to middles and ends. The shortest piece(“To Love”) is just under 5 minutes, while the first piece I recorded(“Damage/Stars In Ecstasy”) is over 20 minutes. I’m not going into these songs thinking I want them to be a certain length. I’m letting them tell me how long they need to be. Okay, the songs aren’t voices in my head telling me things, but they are leading me along the analog path. I’ve been doing this long enough that I have a sense of when a song is nearing the end. I feel each of these are short stories I’m writing. If you end the story too soon there’s no resolution. If you go on too long the ears lose interest. Knowing when you’ve reached the end is an art form, and one not easily figured out.

Yeah this is a self-serving post about my art, but this blog is named after me. I can occasionally do this sort of thing. I plan on continuing the recording project with dreamdistrict for another month or two then I’ll compile and put an album together. My ultimate goal with this project would be for some young(or old) filmmaker to hear these songs and would want to use some of them for a film score. If he or she was short on cash I’d even let ’em use the songs for free(maybe a couple free movie passes when it hits the cinema.) That is why I’m doing this. These are mood pieces for a film not yet made. Or maybe it’s being made as I type this. Or as you’re playing with your kids. Driving your car down the coast for holiday. Or mourning the loss of a loved one. Or rejoicing in the birth of a child.

Come to think of it, these songs are the soundtrack to your life. Enjoy.

Kelley Stoltz

kelley-stoltz-music-issue-550I’m not sure how Kelley Stoltz has escaped my ears, but it’s a damn shame. Pure lo-fi pop bliss this guy makes. I listened to a track off a new album called Double Exposure that he’s releasing on Third Man Records and that song was a mix of vintage synths and buzzy guitars. Something like The Cars jamming with White Fence. Very cool song. But at the moment I’m listening to his 2010 Sub Pop release To Dreamers. It’s pretty phenomenal. A scuzzy, scrappy mix of Byrds jangle, Kinks pop confection, and the spirit of late 60s garage rock. Hell, even the song “I Remember, You Were Wild” could’ve been a hit for Rick Springfield. No joke, check it out.

I am a bit perplexed, though. I don’t know how my mind differentiates one lo-fi scrappy pop rock musician from another. Why is it that I totally love Kelley Stoltz, but I just can’t get on board with Ty Segall? What’s the deal? I know Segall is a righteous dude, yet I can’t listen to more than a song or two before I want to turn the channel. His music just doesn’t do it for me. It could be that after awhile my mind just shuts down when song after song is a scrappy, fuzzy guitar. Kelley Stoltz, for example, has that scrappy production, but he mixes the songs up with synths, 12-string electric, and crunchy fuzz pedals. I need some variety. Yeah, maybe that’s it. I like the variety. I think that’s why The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society was such an important album for me when I was 18 years old. There were so many different things going on, yet it all remained cohesive. Pastoral pop, folk, psychedelia, and good ol’ rock n’ roll.

I don’t know. I’m probably just full of s**t.

All I know is that Kelley Stoltz is killing it for me this morning. I’m glad I came across him, and I look forward to hearing that new album. Until then, I’ll keep spinning To Dreamers until something else tickles my fancy.

Dead Gaze-Dead Gaze

dead gaze‘Remember What Brought Us Here’ comes bolting out of the speakers with buzzes and hisses and the sound of synths bubbling underneath.  Pretty soon a loping drum beat comes in and Cole Furlow’s vocals come in swathed in some of that lo fi goodness that so many kids love these days. Dead Gaze sounds like Grandaddy turned up to 11. Sonics busting at the seams, churning in a pool of static and melancholy. It’s a catchy noise, as if Dinosaur Jr and Dent May decided to collaborate on some drunken Friday night.

Dead Gaze is Cole Furlow’s pet project that he recently turned into a real band, with real people that play with him.  But for the studio only Furlow’s imagination and penchant for frayed-at-the-end pop hooks are needed. ‘You’ll Carry On Real Nice’ is a pop rock stomper that Teenage Fanclub might’ve recorded way back when, with Ty Segall covering it inside a giant coffee can. ‘This Big World’ sounds like ELO, The Pixies, and a dirty tape head had a head-on collision inside Lou Barlow’s skull. Bleach-era Nirvana might’ve liked this song, too. ‘Future Loves and Sing Abouts’ once again has that recorded-in-a-can vocal thing happening, with the music being a cross between Panda Bear and Yuck. ‘Glory Days For Sure’ is damn near jarring. After so much analog-y fuzz and slight disorientation comes this cleaned-up, Cure-ish track that sounds like it was transported from another time and mixtape. It’s light synth textures and slapback-echoed drums gives the track a dreamy quality. It’s a very cool track and a sound Furlow should revisit more often. I was reminded of the great Icelandic band Tilbuy as I sat listening intently. But soon enough, ‘Back and Forth’ return us to the gritty pop goodness that permeates this album.

Cole Furlow, like other fractured pop purveyors of the past(Jason Lytle and Mark Linkous come to mind) when push comes to shove is a pop songwriter. He would’ve fit just right in the Elephant Six Collective back in the early 90s. But giving that it’s 2013, he’s taking those great pop songs that are falling out of his head and lathering them up with a bit of lo fi, gritty garage rock goodness. ‘Take Me Home or I Die Alone’ sounds like The Polyphonic Spree without the caffeine and slick production. It’s pop music’s reflection in a dirty mirror. ‘Fishing With Robert’ is the kind of song that once you hear it you wish you had written it. Who’s Robert?  Pollard? Smith? Redford?  Who knows, but I want on that boat.

Dead Gaze is a great and scuzzy little band from Mississippi. Dead Gaze is a great and scuzzy little album, filled with enough pop nuggets and lo fi goodness to make fans of Guided By Voices, Sebadoh, and Dr. Dog alike giddy with delight.  Add Grandaddy, Yuck, and Dent May to the mix and you have something reminiscent of something else.  Familiar, yet new.

Broken? No, just broken in.

7 out of 10