Reimagining memories in sound is something instrumentalist Andrew Tasselmyer has expertly achieved via latest album ‘Surface Textures’.
It’s not often that we feature artists such as Andrew Tasselmyer, but such was the lure of his current album, ‘Surface Textures’, with its eye for detail of everyday noises cleverly implemented with electronic music (ambience), that any opportunity of learning more about this American musician and his new long player was simply a must.
With his latest album consisting of a palette of field recordings, painstakingly edited to accompany the sound textures drummed up through various instrumentation to respond accordingly with the atmospheric sounds captured in nature’s truest form of its own backyard as a means to recall, and portray, the memories associated with the journey that is ‘Surface Textures’, Andrew Tasselmyer has been a musician hard at work.
The journey in question began in 2017 and involved visits to China, Japan and Europe, in addition to the surrounds of his home country of America. Once the fieldwork had been completed for ‘Surface Textures’, the accompanying sounds received equal attention to detail in order to explore and recreate those former memories of places visited and experiences gained through the medium of sound.
The album ‘Surface Textures’ conjures up visual imagery for the mind where memories playout over numerous landscapes for the artist in question, but for those listening to Andrew Tasselmyer’s latest work for the first time, fresh visual imagery is imagined, giving way to new and different interpretations of the instrumental tracks on offer. Such a position between old and new memories, as well as different interpretations of the soundscapes created throughout ‘Surface Textures’, creates an interesting platform for discussion, but more notably that ‘Surface Textures’ is an album very much open to interpretation, despite various details pointing to specific places in time due to sounds being influenced by cultural and environmental factors of the countries explored, which makes its overall playback such an intriguing experience.
Returning to the introduction of this article, the notion that Famous Last Words (FLW) is stepping on virgin music territory when it comes to music of an ambient nature is not entirely accurate as this music paper has regularly featured such albums in terms of its reviews. However, when it comes to interviews, the evidence of relevant artists is a lot thinner on the ground, and not for any conscious decisions either. In all honesty, it’s a corner of the music world that requires further investigation because there is an intriguing sense of mystery surrounding these artists and their creative visions. With these thoughts in mind, FLW decided to open its account with Andrew Tasselmyer by asking how his music has been perceived in America by the likes of the music press and general public alike?
“Honestly speaking, I work in such a niche musical space that there isn’t much press to speak of. There are blogs in the ambient/experimental community that have been very kind to me, but the audience we’re talking about is an extremely small one. I’m grateful for anyone that hears it and has kind things to say, though. That’s kind of the whole point for me, hopefully by recording and sharing the results I can give people an interesting, pleasing, or thought-provoking experience. I enjoy communicating with people in that way and love feedback when it comes. I do perform live, more often with Hotel Neon than with my solo material, but I quite enjoy it when the opportunities come up. It’s a chance to improvise, calm down, and try to express something unique in that moment of time. I also like the idea of sharing my field recordings in those settings, as it feels like I’m sharing stories or travel photos with the audience. For example, people often ask after a performance where the sounds came from, and it’s great to share stories and talk about other people’s experiences. People have told me that it is somewhat of a meditation for them, and a calming experience. That’s always great to hear.”
In order to achieve the results of current album ‘Surface Textures’, Andrew Tasselmyer admits that he’s never without “…a portable recorder (either my phone or a Sony PCM-M10), a pen, and a notebook, because you never know what you’ll hear or see out there,” he’s an artist true to his genre where preparation is definitely key because you wouldn’t want to miss the compelling creak of a piece of antiquated furniture or the crashing of ocean waves for example.
“On any trip I take, whether it’s for business or personal reasons, I have some recording equipment with me, and this trip was no different,” responds Andrew to the preparations he sets in place before any recording experience. “That’s just instinct, to record the sounds I hear, anywhere I go. So, while I was travelling to these places – Japan, China, and beyond – I kept homing in on all these peripheral sounds in the environment. In manic locations like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Osaka, Stockholm, and the like, I made a conscious effort to zero in on the sounds that weren’t in plain sight. There are lots of recordings I captured of side streets, alleyways, and overlooked environments amid all that activity. But it [‘Surface Textures’] wasn’t much of a challenge or a new approach necessarily, it was more like a continuation and evolution of the techniques I’ve tried to use previously.”
Did you have an initial blueprint before the recording of ‘Surface Textures’?
“There weren’t any preconceived blueprints for the album at all,” comments Andrew before continuing, “but when I came home and started listening back to everything I recorded, I kept thinking to myself: “I really didn’t capture any of the ‘loudness’ of these places.” At that point, the decision was made to dress up those field recordings with some lonely-sounding drones to emphasize that feeling of forgotten, overlooked spaces. The surface textures of a city, I guess. It was refreshing, and really a calming experience to listen to those quiet places.”
How long did the album take to fully complete?
“I think from start to finish, it was about a year and a half if you include the time it took to capture the field recordings. I was in Stockholm in late 2017, Japan and China in 2018, and didn’t have mastered files until about March 2019.”
Returning to questions concerning the genre of music that you work in; how would you describe your sound?
“I like to think that it is tactile and physical,” considers Andrew. “I hope that comes across when listening. There is always an element of the real world in my work, whether it’s a field recording from a very specific location or obvious artifacts of the analog recording process (tape machines hissing and clicking, contact microphone feedback, etc.). I’m interested in music that sounds human, like a person took the time to construct it and put it together. I tend to shy away from things that sound so billowy, imaginary and distant that it doesn’t feel real in some sense.”
What influences you and inspires you in terms of creating your music?
“I think it comes back to the elements I mentioned in the previous answer: real world sounds, real world experiences that can transport us to another place. There isn’t a piece I write that doesn’t contain some element of a personal experience or memory. I like to include real and lived experiences in my music.”
Going back to the recording of your album ‘Surface Textures’, did you encounter any problems along the way or was it a relatively happy experience completing the album?
“There were no problems at all really, “admits Andrew. “It was a ton of fun. When I’m recording, there’s never any hesitation about this stuff, it’s all about what feels right in the moment, what comes closest to capturing the mood and feeling of the raw field recordings. Typically, that’s whatever my gut instinct is. I like to make decisions quickly and work at a rapid pace. If it feels good, then I call it done and move on.”
Did you work alone on this album, or did you receive any help?
“I worked alone except for some guitar textures that my Hotel Neon comrades added on a few tracks. They added just enough extra ambience to glue it all together.”
How did the record deal for this album come about with Eilean records?
“It came completely out of the blue! Mathias [label boss] emailed me one day and mentioned that he had enjoyed some of my past work. It was a no brainer for me since I’m a huge fan of both Eilean as well as IIKKI. So, after a few exchanges back and forth, it all came together. It’s such an honor to be in the company of those other artists on the label.”
Do you have a favourite memory from recording the album, especially considering you visited a few countries to record the field recordings?
“So many good memories,” says Andrew. “One of my favourites is the very audible train sounds on ‘Nara Sunset’ [‘Surface Textures’]. The title is obvious here, but from the window of the train we were able to see a beautiful sunset as we made our way back to Kyoto from Nara. It was a wonderful moment, and I just placed my recorder on the floor of the train and hit “record” to capture it. When I listened back afterwards, it was amazing how easily I could picture the setting.”
When you talk enthusiastically about such tracks as ‘Nara Sunset’, are you equally enthusiastic about the entire album or, in hindsight, is there anything that you would do differently now?
“I am happy with it, but truth be told I don’t really listen back on my past recordings after they’ve been released. I like to live with them a bit while I’m mixing and putting them together, of course, but once they’ve been released, I rarely return to them. I’m just a bit of a manic worker, always jumping from project to project and don’t really have time to revisit older work. I’m sure if I listened back critically now, I’d find all sorts of issues and problems with it [laughs].”
With such details revealed concerning ‘Surface Textures’, and its detailed components coming together over a period of time, it’s important to document here that Andrew Tasselmyer has built up his knowledge and craft over a number of years. Therefore, when and where did this music journey begin for this American musician?
“I’ve enjoyed listening to music for most of my life and played trombone in school bands as a child,” begins Andrew on the start of his career. “I eventually picked up bass guitar in high school and played in local rock bands around Baltimore. However, the current stage I’m in with ambient or experimental music, whatever you want to call it, didn’t really begin until about 2010, when I was at school at the University of Maryland. I became very interested in a more meditative and expansive sound, so I started making post-rock [music] with my brothers, Michael and Stephen, and dabbling with instrumental ambient. It wasn’t very good or well-produced, but it was good to test the waters and it really lit the fire for me to keep going.”
It sounds therefore, that you haven’t always worked as a solo artist. Is that true?
“I’ve actually played in bands more than I’ve played solo!” Andrew confesses. “As I alluded to, I gigged and recorded with rock, funk, and jazz bands in high school, which was an amazing experience to be quite honest. It taught me a lot about the business side of music, how to handle things like bookings, communications, promotion, etc, and this was before Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, and all the other platforms that really took off. So, it really instilled in me a sense of appreciation for the power of a local community, as well as basic drive and “hustle” as they say, I really was that guy putting up gig posters around town to promote shows, selling tickets to friends in the hallways between classes. Just all the fundamental DIY stuff that taught me not to take any bit of fan support and listeners for granted. Plus, the men and women I played with back then were so much more talented than I was, and truly pushed me to progress as a musician. Anyway, after high school I played in a post-rock band called The Sound of Rescue. Again, not very well-produced and extremely DIY, but an incredible learning experience on so many levels. From the ashes of that band came Hotel Neon – first as a duo with just me and Mike, then eventually Steven when it became clear that the trio format afforded us so much more flexibility and creativity.”
Having established a few facts regarding your past in terms of your life with music, let’s return to your music in the present by asking: Do you have a favourite track from your current album ‘Surface Textures’?
“I think the track ‘From Out Of The Depths’ is my favourite piece from that album [“Hear, hear!” FLW],” Andrew replies after some initial thought. “There are pieces of recordings from Japan embedded throughout. Mostly rain and nighttime atmospheres from around Tokyo and Hiroshima, like quiet side streets, humming neon, school children running through the streets, and the like. It recalls a very specific set of memories that I love. When I came home and worked on the track a little more, I felt it needed a slightly more industrial vibe to really place the listener in a nighttime Tokyo side street, so I hooked up some contact mics to a metal railing in my house and banged on them, and that’s the metallic ringing sound you hear throughout.”
With past and present established, what’s next in line on the creative front for Andrew Tasselmyer?
“Quite a lot!” he replies enthusiastically. “I just released a new album through Constellation Tatsu called ‘Interior Currents’ in collaboration with my friend Patrick Spatz, and it’s likely we will start work on a follow-up soon. I recently did a remix for my friend Matt Kidd of Slow Meadow; look for that on the horizon sometime soon. I also have a solo album coming this fall through Shimmering Moods Records (Amsterdam), which is called ‘Formosa’ and includes a lot of recordings from a trip to Taiwan earlier this year. Gray Acres, which is a side project of mine featuring my brother Mike, will have an album out through Whitelabrecs later this year. Hotel Neon has a couple collaborations in the works that will start trickling out in the coming months, but our big focus is touring Europe with Marcus Fischer and Simon Scott this September. And finally, I’m organizing a charity compilation album called ‘Place Language’ in partnership with Robert Macfarlane. An incredible roster of 28 artists responded to the themes in his book “Landmarks,” and it’ll be released in September. All profits go to War Child, an organization that benefits children displaced by war and conflict.”
The album ‘Surface Textures’ is out now and on limited release via Eilean Records
“Honestly speaking, I work in such a niche musical space that there isn’t much press to speak of."
FLW - From the Tapes
It’s not just the textured ambient compositions that hold the senses for some considerable time when it comes to Andrew Tasselmyer’s current album ‘Surface Textures’, but its artwork gracing the cover where the photographic image gives the impression of a scene above the clouds. Therefore, it’s down to Andrew Tasselmyer to provide a few details to explain the reason(s) for this choice of imagery.
“Thank you for asking! So often, the visual artistry of musical releases gets left out of the equation. Mathias [label owner] works with quite a few talented artists for Eilean’s cover artworks, and he presented several options that fit both the music and the aesthetics of the label. I chose a picture by a photographer named Rebecca Cairns. She captures beautifully rough, textured images. To be quite honest, I have no idea where the picture was taken that appears on the cover, but it reminded me quite a lot of a scenic overlook that I visited on the island of Okinawa towards the end of the recording process for this album, and it felt like a fitting symbol of the album’s closure. It also has this wonderful texture and almost nostalgic-feeling mood to it. In fact, it just clicked with me the very moment I saw it.”