Richard Wink 28/04/2010
After wildly raving about Cathedral With No Eyes, awarding the EP five of our finest stars, we at GIITTV are privileged to speak to Aria Jalali the maverick man behind Railcars.
Cathedral With No Eyes is one of the most visceral cuts I've heard thus far in 2010. But what inspired you to recall the life of Edmund the Martyr?
Aria Jalali: I've always had an interest in him, and that period in history in general. I studied medieval history at the University in Berkeley (across the bay from San Francisco, terrible daily bike ride!) and took a few courses specifically on Anglo-Saxon history, so there was no shortage of things I wanted to recreate.
Despite the somewhat jarring, experimental sound of the EP the release is oddly accessible, beautiful even in places, yet everyone who I've recommended the EP to has turned off, saying that it's all a bit too much, evidently your music divides opinion, is this a good or a bad thing?
AJ: Yeah this has truly boggled me since the albums release. I read a lot of reviews that talk about how unbearable the distortion is and how loud vicious it is and all this and I just don't hear it. I've heard such infinitely more abrasive, noisy albums. To me this was a pop record.
I guess a lot of the fuss about the distortion is that I used clip distortion via the microphones to fuzz the guitars instead of distortion pedals. I just figured distortion pedals have been done, you've heard that kind of fuzz so much already. Who wants more of it?
I can see how this affects some people, but honestly, to me, the album eases into it and the "distortion" just becomes inaudible hum or white noise that I don't even notice; just texture or film. I personally hear every layer vividly and hi-fi. This wasn't some lo-fi garage band recording, but again maybe I just hear it all because i know what's there. Who knows?
And as far as the "loudness" goes, yeah, that's the volume the album sounds good at. But nothing stops someone from just turning the volume down to whatever level they enjoy.
Again, I really don't understand why it is so "inaccessible," maybe I will get it right next time, heh!
You seem to operate on the mantra of “the louder the better”, is it your intention to push the boundaries of loudness on record?
AJ: Well, it just depends on the release. The first 7" i didn't think was very loud at all, and it wasn't really meant to be. It was sort of like a "Hey, we sat in a kitchen on a sunny afternoon and made a few pop songs" sort of collection. With the last album, Cathedral With No Eyes, it was more of a concept album. I wanted them to sound live. Again, that's another reason. I thought that album had to be as loud as it was. It wasn't to prove anything or out-do anyone, it's just that when you hit a certain limit of the computer's sound card, a lot of interesting things happen with the compression. The way the drums pulse and cut right though guitars and swell to over take everything the second another instrument stops. Like I said, it wasn't a "I don't care I will just push record with a mic in the room lo-fi production". I was going for pretty specific effects.
How's the plan to rework Kate Bush's Hounds of Love album going?
AJ: It's really great but man, I'll be honest, I really bit off more than I could chew - time wise. It's a fun challenge but, I guess, at the time of planning it I was so busy with tour and stuff that I never stopped to realize I can't read formal music or hardly even play a piano with that kind of complexity. I am getting there but it's a slow process. It's really enjoyable though, she gave me GOLD to work with as far as the material goes. I've posted demos for the people who backed it on kickstarter and everyone seems to be very pleased with where it's going. It's really hard to do this. I love this album and on one hand nothing is more gratifying to pay tribute, but of course, on the other hand when you cover anything you love, you have the pit in your stomach that "you're that guy who just ruined it."
Claudia O'steen creates a great deal of your artwork, how did you come across her work? Is artwork becoming irrelevant in the digital age?
AJ: It's a great mystery to me how we came across one another, I know certainly from the internet because I remember we met for the first time in 2009 when I toured in Tennessee where she lives. She is irreplaceable. To me she is another member of the band, and her art is her instrument. I am in love with her style, and in fact, she is even doing the cover for the Kate Bush album, literally recreating the original cover of Kate and the hounds in her own style. We are both doing the same thing with it I guess.
What is a Railcars live show like? I imagine a decadent stage show, with visuals that would make Caligula blush.
AJ: Ha-ha! A Railcars show is actually pretty minimal and maybe cooler in the imagination. I don't know, I have heard very mixed reviews. Usually I am playing guitar and singing while a friend handles the drum machines and samples and electronics. On this past tour of Europe it was my room mate Rose. She's really great at those things. The tour before that we had really great visuals provided by my cousin, Fez. That was a highlight. But honestly watching a pop band push buttons is not really that fun for me, so I can't imagine it is for other people. So on the very next tour, to support Hounds of Love, I am doing a few dates completely solo, recreating minimal 'drone and prayer' versions of the existing Railcars songs (wouldn't dare play Hounds of Love songs live), using just a guitar, stylophone, voice, and pedals on the floor. The next 'major' Railcars tour will be a bigger affair than ever before - live drums + drum machine, maybe 4-5 people on stage.
I heard Caligula was more squeamish than we generally think.
As mentioned above, you recently toured Europe, what did you must enjoy about this experience? Any interesting tour anecdotes?
AJ: That was really a blast. It was my second time doing shows in Europe with Railcars, but this time was like two months with hardly any days off. We went everywhere from England and Scotland to Poland and Slovenia. It's always so much better touring Europe then in the US. Almost everyone I know who has done both agrees.
As far as interesting things? Actually, yes - early on in the tour we were playing in Budapest, Hungary and I don't know, I was kind of nervous, so I didn't talk or banter much, just kind of rushed through the set. We finished after thirty minutes, but the promoter demanded we keep playing and I had no idea what to do. So we kinda on the spot invented a new band called "Gypsy Treasures" and wrote a really psychedelic, nothing like Railcars, song on the spot and saved a lot of those loops during the show. The song actually blew everyone away and we continued to play it as an encore almost every night, after me and Rose finished our set, our two friends travelling with us came on stage to do it. We recorded it at one point and you can hear it, download it free here: http://www.ariajalali.com/wroclaw.mp3 .
He-he, that's an exclusive! Its called "Stray Dogs of Wroclaw" named after exactly that in Wroclaw, Poland. Anyway, we did this until the very end of the tour where we played with a few members of the band "Indian Jewelry" from the US, whom I love. it was really funny, after the show, the Indian Jewelry guy says "that other band was cool, what do you call it?" and i looked at him and slowly said "Gypsy.....Treasures....." and at that moment as I said it, realized it was the exact same thing as Indian Jewelry. We kinda just looked at each other, I don't know if he thought I was being a dick or something. It was really awkward and funny, we changed the name to "Gypsy Pleasures."
San Francisco has always had a thriving musical scene, dating back to the early days of the Grateful Dead, what's currently going on music wise in the City by the bay?
AJ: Oy? That's a rough question. It's sad to say but really nothing much. For starters San Francisco doesn't even have a proper all ages venue such as other cities like LA or NY or Portland, etc. The costs for spaces and venues there are so high that venues only do shows with bands they know make a return, that can bring over 21+ year olds who buy drinks to the club. It's really a shitty place these days for music (but not entirely, there are some gems of course). If you're in the bay area it's really in Oakland across the water where the good D.I.Y shows are happening. Some cool promoters out there like Club Sandwich and Pretty Blue Presents - that are doing great stuff. Although to be honest, as a whole I prefer LA, NY, or Baltimore for a music scene over the bay area. In fact, I have been living in LA since getting back from tour in March, and I plan to move to NY in a couple months permanently.