Interview: Steve Hauschildt
The electronics man on his solo LP, and the problem with making a new Emeralds record
Words Felix Petty
Cleveland, OH resident Steve Hauschildt is one third of Emeralds, possibly the most feted electronic ambient music project in the world of the recent years. Which is probably not that big of a deal — although I’m utterly convinced that if any band can turn transcendental, utopian drone into something more than a niche concern for boys with music blogs and no girlfriends then it is probably Emeralds.
2010’s Does It Look Like I’m Here was critically hailed, bubbling gorgeously in sequenced runs and reflective arpeggios, tonal masses of swelling gaseous beauty shot through with rays of golden light. Now Hauschildt’s got a solo record, Tragedy & Geometry, released on the evergreen Kranky (responsible for putting out music by Tim Hecker and Lotus Plaza among others) which continues to explore the same textural terrain as Does It Look Like I’m Here, if anything moving towards a crisper fidelity and revelling in the baroque possibility it affords. Over a thirty minute chat we discussed synthesisers, stolen instruments and the difficulty of getting together an Emeralds follow up.
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How did Tragedy & Geometry come about?
Well, it starts with Does It Look Like I’m Here — when that was recorded I’d just got a couple of new synthesisers, so that record was really me learning and experimenting with new instruments, and I started recording Tragedy & Geometry during that time too.
So it’s taken a while to get released then?
It was really recorded over a period of two years, off and on, but was only finished in spring last year. I think there are some similarities between this record and the last Emeralds record, like the last track on Does It Look Like I’m Here, ‘Access Granted’, I can see a parallel between my work on that and what I’ve been working on with this album.
You said you’d been recording it for two years, but it feels like the album has a really formal structure to it. At what point did you start to build this up from the stuff you’d been recording?
It did take me quite a while to figure out the sequence of the songs. Arranging the album was as much of a process as recording it, and I wanted to release a long album because it had been a while since I’ve put anything out under my own name. I was constantly reworking my idea of the album, to the point where there’s a huge amount of stuff that’ll probably never get released now — just like sketches and abandoned tracks that never got finished or didn’t work — so I slowly worked all this material into Tragedy and Geometry, to the extent that the finished album is like this whittled down version of all the things I’d been working over the past few years.
And this is first Steve Hauschildt release to get a proper release, outside of CDRs and cassette releases?
Yeah, that’s right. I was approached by Kranky almost three years ago now, and I wanted to put this out last year actually, but then in 2009 we played the No Fun Festival in New York, and I’d left a lot of my equipment in a van in Williamsburg, and my main synthesiser was stolen as well as load effects pedals and other stuff, which really set me back, so I had to start all over again.
Going back to your writing, when you’re approaching a track, do you know where you’re going to go with that, or how it would fit into the finished album?
Well I usually just start by playing something by hand, like working out chord progressions then bringing in other parts and textures, and then slowly build up from a sort of simple beginning and work in other sections and ideas. I can tell quite quickly if something isn’t going anywhere and I’ll need to step back from it or try something different.
So you didn’t have a set idea of how this record would end up sounding?
It came from just wanting to spend time with one instrument and really exploring all the possibilities of sound you can get from that. It’s a bit like sculpting, because with synthesis and approaching sound from that vantage point you can take these sounds and manipulate them to your will. So I think it sounds quite unified because a lot of the source material is coming from the same instrument, so it’s all sort of variations and tweaks of the same thing that are then constructed into this whole album.
At what point does naming come into things?
All the titles of the tracks are there to feed into the musical ideas of the album, rather than just being a sort of necessary addition to them. The track ‘Polyhmnia’ in particular, is named after this painting in the Cleveland Museum of Art, by this French artist Charles Meynier, and I was really struck by the gaze of the muse in the painting, this stare is totally entrancing — the actual purpose of muses is to provide inspiration, and that track is about trying to find inspiration, with me exploring this new synthesiser.
‘Tragedy & Geometry’
Do you find it harder recording by yourself? Up until Does It Look Like I’m Here, at least, Emeralds were very productive, and you released a lot of material, but you say Tragedy & Geometry took a period of almost two years to record…
It’s actually become a lot harder to finish things with Emeralds, and that’s partly because our standards have risen so much over the last few years, in terms of what we actually want to make it out to the public eye, or ear rather. We’re really striving for a certain quality with what we do with Emeralds, and that makes it a lot harder for us to finish things off to the standard we require.
So are you still doing a lot of work with Emeralds?
We’re still incredibly productive in our ideas and playing together, that hasn’t slowed down at all, but we’re just not as prolific with what we’re releasing. It’s about giving people time to properly digest what you’re releasing too, and not inundating them with releases. Although there are good things about that too, because if you constantly release material like we did with Emeralds for a period there’s this interesting dynamic where you can totally trace the development and evolution of a musician and their ideas, you can really map out their progressions, or regressions even.
Where are you at now then?
I guess you could say we’re technically on a hiatus, because Mark has moved to Portland, in Oregon, and me and John are still living in Cleveland, and the way we want to work requires us to all be present and recording within the same space. We’re really going to start trying to work out a new EP or record soon. We’ve discussed a lot of things, and have written a whole lot of new songs, like the last tour was made up of entirely new material, but it’s really hard to say just when the next Emeralds album will actually come out.
What have you got coming up then? What’s next?
In January I’m going out to Vancouver to record my next album, and that’s going to be in a proper studio. I’ve actually been working on a lot of new material since I finished Tragedy & Geometry. It’s different you know, working within the studio than at home, so that’ll be really interesting, just to see how things come out.
How’s this new record sounding then, compared to Tragedy & Geometry?
Going up to Vancouver gives me the ability to use a lot of rare or expensive equipment that I wouldn’t normally have access too, and there’s a lot of ideas I’ve had for awhile that really require the kind of studio set-up to get them to work properly, or rather, to sound how I want them to sound. I want to get my ideas sounding as good as they possibly can, because even though a lot of the Emeralds’ recordings sound like crap, I’m really not into the idea of lo-fidelity recording. So I think that actually getting into a proper studio will be really beneficial for me.
So Tragedy & Geometry was recorded in your home studio? How do you approach things then when you’re in an actual studio and have this set time limit and the pressures that go with that?
Yeah, well working from home can actually be weird, because it’s often quite hard to find motivation, or inspiration. I think there needs to be a degree of work/life separation. So I think leaving the comfort zone of the home studio will be really beneficial in that sense. We’ll just see what happens though, I guess.