Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Interview: A Weather

Portland folksters A Weather traffic in the sort of unassuming, melodically-rich music that made Bedhead such a compelling band in the mid-90s. But unlike many descendents of that seminal slow-core mainstay, A Weather is more than an empty amalgam of terrapin-paced guitars and whispered vocals. Forsaking reverb for clean, detailed production, the band makes intricate and thoughtful music that has a life all its own and grows more rewarding with every listen. Imagine Arab Strap's Aidan Moffet without the Glaswegian drawl singing overtop harmony-rich acoustic arrangements reminiscent of the Red House Painters' Ocean Beach. Throw in feathery female vocals and nuanced finger-picking, and you'll have some sense of what makes A Weather tick. Composed of old friends Aaron Gerber and Zoe Wright and new partners Sarah Winchester and Zachary Boyle, the band will be releasing a 7 inch on Conor Oberst's Team Love label within the next few months. We had the opportunity to exchange emails with Aaron and got his thoughts on food, Portland, what its like to play in such a quiet band and, of course, the weather.


Being a die-hard Julia Child fan, I was excited to see on your myspace page that you're a fan of cooking shows. Any favorite TV personalities? I'm imagining A Weather playing along side Doc Gibbs and the Emeril Live Band and laughing to myself...what a contrast that would be!

I have a strange fascination with Rachael Ray. I can't really say why. There is both something comforting and frightening about watching her that makes it hard to look away. Aside from that, I am a big Alton Brown fan. He makes learning fun. I like that he tells you why things happen. I've tried out a few of his recipes. Zoe and I watch the Barefoot Contessa sometimes. She likes Bobby Flay, but he's a little too masculine for me. It would be fantastic to play with Doc Gibbs and the Emeril Live Band. A Weather could use a bit more jazz-fusion influence don't you think? Doc Gibbs's conga playing could push our little songs to new heights. I wouldn't be as good at laughing at Emeril's jokes though.

Are there any bands or albums that first inspired you to start writing music? If so, what was it about them that you found exciting?

In high school my friend gave me a sort of 'quiet-indie-rock-sampler-pack' which contained albums by Bedhead, Low, Yo La Tengo, Galaxy 500, and Ida. I remember sitting in my bedroom with my headphones on listening to The Dark Ages and being startled that a song didn't need to have a huge bombastic chorus to get my attention. There was also a mystery about those records. I liked having to strain to hear what was being said, like the lyrics were secrets that weren't intended to be overheard. Also the intimacy and warmth of the recordings were really nice, but ultimately I think it was the restraint and moderation that was most important for me. Bedhead is still one of my favorite bands because they seem to be a 'band' in the truest sense: a group of people contributing equally to a whole. I think of R.E.M. in this way too. I am also pretty influenced by ambient music and idea of a piece of music being a static place that the listener can explore. It is hard to achieve this exact result in pop type song writing but I am curious to see how the two might coexist somehow.

A Weather could be filed along side Bedhead, Nick Drake or Elliott Smith--artists who are great at crafting introspective and hushed songs that, despite their subdued volume, manage to be enveloping and substantial. What are some of the challenges of making quiet, inward-looking music?

Well a big challenge is playing live and getting the vocals loud enough. You can't just sit down in the middle of a party and play your newest hit for your friends without telling everybody to hold their breath for five minutes. We've done a few shows without PA's and it's really frustrating because you lose that sense of intimacy and like you say, that enveloping feeling. It is also hard when the club down the street is playing techno dance beats and it drowns out the quieter parts of your songs. You use the phrase 'inward-looking' and though I agree that there are definitely moments of introspection in our songs I also think there is a whole lot of outward-looking too. There is also a whole lot of irony and playfulness which for some reason people miss. It is very interesting to me how singing something in a quiet, mournful way can impart so much sincerity to otherwise silly lyrics. Though of course it has to be balanced. Will Oldham and David Bazan are really good at doing this.

There's a great amount of detail in your arrangements; I notice more and more with every listen. Is the process of constructing your music a laborious one involving lots of reworking, or does it come out pretty naturally?

It is a pretty slow process. We aren't the type of band that writes songs by 'jamming.' We rarely 'jam.' Not that there is anything wrong with 'jamming' it just doesn't suit the type of songs that we make. Most often one of us will come to the group with a chord structure and lyrics and then we will start to form an arrangement around this. We spend a lot of time on very small parts and we talk about things a lot. It is kind of tedious sometimes but for us it is more rewarding this way. I am a huge fan of interlocking parts: two guitars that fit seamlessly together so that the listener can't always tell who is playing what. Our vocal harmonies are also getting more complicated. Early R.E.M. was really great at putting two melody lines together and creating a beautiful meshwork. We are trying to do something of that.

You and Zoe began collaborating while attending college in Massachusetts. Since your move to Portland last year, how have things changed? Its seems to be a fertile ground for bands of your ilk, and I wonder if the change in environment has brought about new ways of working.

Portland has been sort of a slow burn. When we moved here last year I wasn't immediately blown away by the music I heard and it took quite a while before I discovered other bands in the area that inspired me. In a way I feel like Portland lacks a center, which might be a good thing. There are lots of little pockets of things happening but it is hard to sift through these little pockets, if that makes sense. I am also sort of close-minded and hard to please so it's probably my fault too. But, anyway, I feel like I am slowly learning how to get into Portland and it is slowly learning how to get into me. I am really happy to have met Sarah and Zach here and that is pretty important.

Last question, and I can't resist: What's your favorite type of weather?

Sweater weather of course.

MP3: A Weather - Oh My Stars

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