Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Embers From the Underground #1: Aarktica

Hello, readers! What you've stumbled upon here is the working title for a new interview segment on SCQ called Embers From the Underground, which will focus on a particular artist/band and their latest release. Organized as an Interview/Review piece, EFTU (yah, I'm abbreviating it already) will traditionally kick off with a brief Q&A with the artist, followed by SCQ's review of the album. So long as interesting records and generous artists continue to exist, I'm hoping to publish new content on this series every other month or so.

The first guest, I'm proud to announce, is Aarktica (AKA Jon DeRosa) who recently followed his return-to-form album In Sea with a completist's dream of a remix record. Last week, DeRosa gave some time for SCQ's queries and discussed the making of In Sea Remixes (reviewed below):

SCQ: In December, you described the recording of In Sea as "manning up, getting my shit together and making the fucking record I should've made eight years ago". What does that album represent for you personally, and in terms of your discography?

Jon DeRosa: Since it came out in 2000, I had always kind of regarded No Solace In Sleep as the best thing I was capable of making. I mean, it wasn't that I felt it was genius compositionally or anything. But it was important because it was a personal statement about how my life and world changed when I lost my hearing. It was largely improvised and recorded primitively. But the fidelity of the recording, the process in which it was made, and the way all the elements worked together resulted in what I feel is a very intimate record. I never felt I could top that sound, and honestly I never wanted to go to the dark place again that spawned it in the first place.

So for the next decade, I flirted with that sound, or incorporated it into my work in different ways, but never dared to attempt a stylistic sequel to that first album. Part of it was just simply evolving as a musician and trying new things, like writing more anthematic and atmospheric pop songs. And part of it was probably a fear of failure. Then while I was living in California around the time Matchless Years came out in 2007, I found myself kind of back in that isolated place. I wrote the first demos for "Young Light" and "Hollow Earth Theory" there. When I came back to Brooklyn in 2008, I wrote the rest of the album.

It felt good to be able to reconnect with that person I was over a decade ago through making In Sea. I've changed a lot since then (I was only 19 when I wrote NSIS), so it was somewhat cathartic and nostalgic for me. During its recording, I realized it really didn't matter if the end result was "better" or "worse" than NSIS. The important part for me was the process and the resurrection of the original spirit of Aarktica.

SCQ: How did the idea for a remix album focused on In Sea originate and branch out?

Jon DeRosa: Part of it was my own experiment to see if it was still possible to pull a compilation together like Brian John Mitchell of Silber Records (and I, to some degree) did back in the late-90's. Another part of it was conversations I had with individual artists who expressed an interest in doing remixes. More than anything, I think it was an attempt to reconnect with friends and fellow musicians after having fallen off the map for a little while. The year after I returned from California was spent largely in survival mode and music took a backseat to real life for a while.

And again, it was the process of doing something, making something special and reconnecting. I didn't feel the pressure of making sales numbers since I funded it all on my own. Luckily, the interest was such that it made it financially worthwhile to do. And it marked the first time since I was in high school where I planned a release, saw it through to manufacturing, dealt with the art/packaging and actually stuffed the CDs into mylar sleeves all on my own.

SCQ: Considering how much of yourself you put into In Sea, was it difficult offering other artists this material to be spliced and transformed as they saw fit?

Jon DeRosa: Not at all really. I mean, no one really considers the loneliness of a solo project. You pour a lot of yourself into the writing and the recording of the album. You make this work that's obviously very important to you, largely in isolation. And then the record is released and you hold it in your hands, and there's no real celebration because there's no one to share it with. Not like a band, where you go out for drinks and you can sort of all look back on the process and laugh about it. There's no listening party because this is definitely not party music, obviously. So simply to have so many artists I respect give their time and inject their spirits into something that I created is something I feel very humbled by and grateful for.

The most difficult part was having to leave off some tracks due to time constraints, as there were no weak submissions. Hopefully some of those will be made more available in the future and include contributions by Rivulets, Dynasty and PD Wilder, among others.

SCQ: In Sea had a very cool, almost sterile, feel which rendered it an excellent winter release. With Planar's remix of 'Young Light' and Summer Cats' remix of 'Hollow Earth Theory' as two of many examples, In Sea Remixes has the pulse of a spring companion. Were there any overarching intentions or objectives between artists for it to gel this way?

Jon DeRosa: It wasn't really something I thought about going into it, but I did ask artists to make the tracks their own. I told everyone to please add elements and don't be too sensitive to the original. But, yes, I think the Remix album spans the seasonal gamut for sure. I love that Keith Canisius turned "Autumnal" into a super summery dance track, while Thisquietarmy took "Corpse Reviver No. 2" even farther into the icy sonic depths.

SCQ: With all due credit to these talented remixers, are you excited by how well your sound adapts and flexes in new sonic environments? Have any of these particular takes opened new avenues you might wish to explore on future endeavors?

Jon DeRosa: It definitely got my mindset more in the direction of collaborations in the near future. I realized that while I have tried many different sounds and styles in the past, I'm better at some things than others. So I'd to like to take the things I'm best at and work with others in new contexts, hopefully resulting in some stellar new sounds in the years to come.

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