The Portland psychedelic avatars know of what fullness they grok.
BY RON HART
From Animal Collective to Tame Impala to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, there are a lot of bands out there who like to tout themselves as the harbingers of psychedelia. But perhaps no other act currently making records at this very moment cuts closer to the cloth of the true definition of the term than Eternal Tapestry, a quintet of free minds from Portland, Oregon, who create a kind of meandering acid trip by sewing together a, er, tapestry of deep crate influences from Obscured By Clouds-era Pink Floyd to Guru Guru’s “Electric Junk” to LOOP at its loopiest.
This year alone, the band entered no less than four new titles to its ever-expanding cache of creation: two full-lengths in Dawn in 2 Dimensions and A World Out of Time, a split cassette with fellow indie astral travelers Mondo Lava, and a CD-R of studio outtakes from the Dimensions sessions called Prometheus Rising. And that’s not counting all the live recordings and jam tapes floating around of them online, or the wealth of solo material they’ve amassed amongst themselves, namely drummer Jed Bindemann’s Type Records-signed hard drone outfit Heavy Winged and guitarist Dewey Mahood’s Plankton Wat, who released their own keynote Thrill Jockey title in 2012 with Spirits.
While they are always recording, Eternal Tapestry are taking the early half of 2013 to digest what they have unleashed upon the universe before releasing any more new music. But Jed took some time to digitally converse with BLURT to survey the after effects of the sonic tabs they threw in the ocean.
BLURT: How do you primarily create your music, through composition or improvisation?
Through the years most of our recordings have been culled from hours of improvisations, which are then whittled down into a more digestible song length (well, most of the time at least). a lot of the songs we’ve played live over the years were originally improvised live to tape, and then after listening back to them with some perspective, were turned into pieces that could be performed live. But even with these songs, we usually have a specific riff that we’ll start off with, so we can all be on the same page, and then go from there in any direction that the music might dictate that night.
Which method do you feel yields the best results?
Improvisation has always been extremely important for us as a band. We started out playing purely improvised music, which was also much more chaotic and free form back then. [My brother] Nick and I both played stand up drums a la 80s Butthole Surfers. We also had a singer who would freak out the whole time, and everything could easily, and oftentimes did, turn into a big mess. Over the years we’ve reined everything in quite a bit, but what makes playing this music so exciting is that it doesn’t get old or tiring for us. If we played the same songs the same way every night for a month on tour, it would drive us all crazy. at this point we’ve been playing together long enough that we’re pretty much able to read each other’s minds, so we all have a sense of where things are headed, even when it’s being done spontaneously.
Eternal Tapestry has come out with a steady output of material over the course of this year. Do you feel it is more effective to stretch out your stuff over a span of time rather than get everything out in one big shot? Or are you guys just always recording?
We’re constantly recording new music and always have a huge back stock of tapes to sift through. We do plan on taking a break from releasing anything new for a while, though, as we’d like to give A World Out of Time some space to breathe. We’re really proud of this record and want it to speak for itself for some time. Our music is a process, though, where things tend to change around as time goes on. We don’t play the same songs live for years for years on end, but tend to switch things around a bit. So it’s nice to give the public a peek into our creative process from album to album, but at the same time we don’t want to go overboard and overwhelm people with too much music to fully digest.
What was the most interesting place you have played live?
Back when we were a trio (Nick, Dewey and I); we did a West Coast tour with our friend Meghan, who plays as U.S. Girls. We played a place in the Mission District of San Francisco simply called The Kitchen, I think, which was literally just the kitchen of someone’s apartment. People were crammed in there like sardines, standing on the counters and anywhere they could fit. on that tour we were closing our set with a cover of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown”, and when that started a mosh pit broke out, being headed by our friend DJ Rick, with everyone going totally nuts. I thought the refrigerator was going to get knocked over or something. It was definitely a memorable, and especially awesome, show!
How do you feel the term “psychedelic music” is being bandied about in the press and on blogs to describe a wide net of acts? How do you think this practice is affecting the way people view such a sonic vibe?
I don’t think the word “psychedelic” carries too heavy of a meaning today. There isn’t a defined psych scene or anything, more just a bunch of groups that orbit a similar sonic space that are acting independently from each other. Using the term inevitably sets up specific expectations in the listeners mind, but that’s inevitable when any genre name is used to describe music. I personally don’t feel like we have that much in common with most bands that are labeled as “psychedelic” nowadays, but I totally understand why we would be grouped in with them.
Of all the stuff you guys are currently listening to, whose catalog do you feel has best served as a creative template for what you do as Eternal Tapestry?
I’m sure we would all answer differently to this question, since we’re all into pretty wide ranging stuff a lot of the time. Nick, Dewey and Ryan aren’t shy about their love of 60s/70s Grateful Dead, but I’m still not convinced! It’s been mentioned before, but the early 70s Swedish and German sound has been a constant source of inspiration for us. We’re all big fans of really loose music that doesn’t just fall off a cliff into the abyss of sloppiness. There’s nothing wrong with a little flubbed note or drum hit. I think that really humanizes a piece of music, making you remember that real people are playing it. Of course too many flubs just sounds like crap, but on occasion it just adds a feeling of real warmth to the music. But now I’m trailing off. When we were driving around the eastern states on tour last year we listened to the Velvet Underground Quine Tapes box set basically on repeat for hours at a time. I’m actually listening to it as I type this, too! The music on those recordings is inspiring in so many ways. In my mind it’s quite perfect, to be totally honest.
Beyond your own region, where in the United States do you think your music is most well-received?
I wouldn’t go as far to say that we’re black sheep out here in Portland, but we’re also definitely not playing too sold out crowds when we play locally. I know it’s that way for lots of groups in their home town, though, and it does make sense. When people are used to a band playing on a regular basis, they’ll be less likely to go see them at any particular show, knowing that another one is probably not too far off. We haven’t toured the U.S. too extensively, though, mostly doing west coast tours and one Midwest/East coast tour last year. It was fun finally playing in New York and the two shows we played there went quite well. Some people there seemed excited to see us, since it was our first time playing there after being a band for six years, so that was nice.
Please tell me the story behind “Sand Into Rain” from A World Out of Time? What inspired the change in direction and is this a taste of things to come from Eternal Tapestry?
For years we’ve been talking about incorporating acoustic instruments into the mix some time, and for this album we consciously set out to record a proper “song” and this was the result. Of course there are tons of overdubs on top of the whole thing, but the basic tracks were Nick playing acoustic guitar with Krag and I accompanying him live to tape. Those tracks were recorded live and then everything else was done as overdubs over the following weeks. It was an experiment for us to record something so deliberately, but we think the results came out great! When we play it live it turns into a whole different beast, though, which makes it really fun to play. After that recording went so well we’ve talked about doing more along those lines, but nothing is certain at this point. The chances of us releasing an entire record of composed songs are slim, but hey, y’see knows?
What prompted the decision to make Prometheus Rising a limited edition CD-R?
We’d been talking to Thrill Jockey about having some sort of bonus for people that pre-ordered the new album from them, and the idea of doing a limited CD-R with outtakes from the past couple of years of recordings seemed like the perfect idea. There were a few things we recorded during the World… sessions that didn’t really fit on the album, particularly a few musique concrete type pieces, so when the idea was brought up there were some things that we knew had to be included. “The Prowler” is also a song we’ve played live occasionally for the past four years or so, but for some reason it never found its way onto an album. We had an old recording of it that had been stashed away for awhile and figured this was a great place for it to wind up.
What has been the biggest blessing the Internet has provided for you as a band?
The Internet has been a good way to people to be able to hear your music for free. I don’t necessarily mean a free download of the entire album, but at least a sample of it so that people can figure out if they like what you’re up to or not. I remember so many times when I was growing up that I’d buy an album solely based on a review or because the cover looked cool, but without having heard any of the actual music. Surprisingly enough that would usually work out well, but sometimes I’d get home, throw on the new album and be like “Oh God, what did I do? This is terrible!” So in this day and age it is a definite plus for anyone to be able to hear something before they decide to spend their pennies on it.