WXJM’s own local music director is in a band, Forward Smash. They came into the studio this semester earlier this month, check it out!
Earlier this month, Morgan Schaffner sat down with San Fermin for a short interview before their performance at TDU on JMU’s campus.
WXJM DJ Tony Schaffner and friends of the station, Annie Horner and Zach Carlson made a kick-ass documentary on Harrisonburg’s DIY scene.
Derek: This is Derek Niver from WXJM Harrisonburg sitting here with Martin Doherty of CHVRCHES at the National in what appears to be some sort of green room or waiting room…?
Martin: Yeah, it’s at the end of one of the many corridors or labyrinth-style rooms they have here at this venue, which actually is quite lovely.
Derek: So from what I understand, you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Scotland? How was your first?
Martin: Um yeah, yesterday, we did it. Kind of classic style, we went out for dinner at the hotel and had a nice sit down Thanksgiving experience. Then got drunk and watched a bunch of football on TV.
Derek: [laughs] Classic American Thanksgiving. So you’ve been in town for two days, is this your first time in Richmond?
Martin: It is, yes! I’ve actually never been down to Virginia before. We were in Norfolk, 3 days ago and we had a couple days here, really lovely.
Derek: What’s your take on all this Black Friday craziness?
Martin: We were kind of harboring plans to go to the mall last night and of kind of see if its as crazy as everyone says it is. Or as crazy as it gets reported, you know in the UK all you ever see of Black Friday is shots of people fighting each other to grab 20% off something, but yeah… I’ve not really sure I’m that kind of guy, I’m more of an online shopping guy. Rather just sit in my house and not get involved.
Derek: Not get trampled, or have to kill for a tv?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah I’m not in the business of killing for consumer products.
Derek: So you’ve got Thanksgiving and Black Friday under your belt. What so far has been the biggest cultural shock for you so far experiencing the US and our weirdness?
Martin: You know there’s not so many differences between here and the UK. I mean I’ve grown up on American culture. You know food and TV and American movies. So there’s not, I feel there’s not so much of a leap as if you’re going to mainland Europe or Japan or somewhere like that, because we share so many of the same tricks and that makes it a lot easier for me. It’s a lot easier to tour here because there’s things that actually remind you of back home everyday and that’s fine. I mean there is the occasional time, where you happen upon a town that’s really small and you kind of assume that your customs will be the same, because you speak the same language, but then ultimately, when you think of the size of America, it’s pretty diverse. Much more diverse than you might realize…
Derek: So many different sub-cultures.
Martin: Yeah, I just try and take in as much of it as possible actually, and just enjoy it as much as possible.
Derek: When you’re on tour and go into the next town, what’s your first priority for food? Is there any food you consider yourself the connoisseur of? That you have to try everywhere?
Martin: Well.. yeah it kind of works with localities, you know, if I’m in Texas I’m going to try and get BBQ, if I’m in California, I’m looking for tacos, or tex-mex. The different sort of local delicacies are what we are usually after. And you’ve these amazing applications these days that just sort of tell you where is good, instantly. So we always eat well. And there are those days where we just kind of wander off somewhere and make a huge mistake.
Derek: So I think I speak for a good amount of WXJM when I say your first album, The Bones of What You Believe, is one of the best of the past year. Im currently compiling our station’s top 10 albums for the year and at least for our staff writers, it’s on everyone’s list. Aside from being lyrically smart and melodically addictive. One of the things I love most about it is there is not a bad song on it, you know it is very much a complete album, not just a couple singles and some filler.
Martin: That’s a really nice thing for you to say, because we really worked on it in that way. We could have easily held back a few singles and then just filled out the record and hoped some of the songs connect- like a lot of people seem to do these days. But that was never what we were going to be about. We don’t believe that the album was a format, instead we believe that it is the best way to get an idea of where people are coming from musically and still listen to it for the record. And we spent a lot of time making sure every song was right and every song was good enough- at least in our eyes, you know. It’s a nice thing for you to say.
Derek: So when you all go into production or start tinkering with how to put together a song, do you all have a certain role amongst yourselves or is everyone kind of chipping in with writing lyrics and everything else?
Martin: Yeah it’s kind of a democracy, in that respect. There is a lot of pitching in and a lot of changing, but again we each play to our strengths. Mine would be the writing of melody and of production, Iain and I share a lot of strengths in those departments. Lauren handles most of the lyrics these days, but it’s not like no one can challenge each other’s input and i think that’s why it works. It’s important to be able to tell people when they’re going off on a tangent or when something trips your radar that’s not good enough and maybe we should explore other avenues. That’s a big part of the creative process.
Derek: Where do you most readily find inspiration- dreams, or just from parts of everyday life…?
Martin: No, umm… Inspiration for songs, or melodic ideas really comes from… they kind of just come in a specific moment. I never just start humming a specific melody and take it to the studio. It’s usually formed by an interest in a loop or an idea that we got going on in the studio that will instantly become… you know just takes your brain to a unique place in terms of melody and its all sort of spontaneous. And the bones of a melody or a skeleton of a tune can form very quickly after you get that first loop or that first idea and you can go… and the melodies for these songs can often come out by accident and its like a moment of excitement and panic as everyone tries to grab for the mic and record it down on tape before you forget it! That’s kind of, that’s a cool thing and I think 90% of the music we recorded was never really studied. You know, what should we do here? What should we do there? It’s all just very spontaneous and in the moment and that’s just very cool.
Derek: From what I understand you and Iain first met back at University almost ten years ago right?
Martin: Yeah… It was back in… 2005, so yeah something like that, almost 8 years ago. Iain was lectured in computer music and I came through as a student and we became friends. He was one of those guys that did so well in his courses, they just gave him a job as soon as he graduated. So there wasn’t that much in terms of age between us, but we agreed on a lot of the same things. He was in a band that I really respected at the time and we became friends very quickly. We would play off each other’s ideas and come up with things to the point where he got me to come work on the final album that their band made. That was the first record that I ever made and we always talked about doing something, where we were the principle songwriters. Because neither of us had been that in the previous bands that we had been in and like 5 years past or something like that where everyone was busy doing their own things. And finally we sat down for fun and actually found Lauren and started working with her and then things really started to snowball in the beginning, or well towards the end of 2012 really.
Derek: CHVRCHES really sort of had overnight success on the internet, but you all had been working on these songs for well over a year before you released your first single Lies, right?
Martin: I think we had started writing in October of 2011 and then the first time we ever put a song on the internet was in May 2012, so we spent those months writing and writing and writing, making sure that our house was in order and if anyone was interested in what we doing, we wouldn’t get caught short. We wanted to have a lot of material we were excited about before we let anyone know we were doing anything. Anytime somebody asks me my advice about how to move forward, I can tell them all of the mistakes I have made. And the one time I got it right was- don’t let them know anything! Don’t do anything. Don’t play a show, don’t tell anyone about it, don’t boast about it in the pub when you’re drunk- just do your thing in a very, very quiet way. And when you’re completely ready, then you can move on. And that’s how we did it.
Derek: Solid advice. When you all are out of the road, what’s your favorite past-time or hobby? I heard ya’ll did a little cover of The Game of Thrones theme song, are ya’ll big fans?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah we just did that in the studio for fun one day and it ended up getting reported by every website in music and we were like- oh shit, maybe we should think twice about- well I don’t know, I think everyone could tell we were just having fun, it was just a little joke.. Um.. but I spend a lot of time, either working on DJ mixes or working on songs. When I’m not doing that I’m playing table tennis, mostly.
Derek: Nice, you have table tennis on the bus?
Martin: Well we bring out the table with us, so I can whip the crew’s butts everyday. [laughs] No but its gotten quite competitive recently. It’s a good way to pass time. Oh, also this thing called T25, it’s like an insane workout.
Derek: Is that like P90X?
Martin: Something like that, like Insanity and all of those things. Exercise is important and its just a 25 minute a day workout that you can do in front of your laptop and doesn’t require that much floor space and it can get pretty intense. But you gotta get your exercise on the road somehow, right?
Derek: So you all are gearing up to leave the United States and head on a world tour right? I think I saw Singapore and New Zealand are some of the first stops. Can we expect CHVRCHES shirtless with killer abs?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah well… we’ll see. we’ll see… We’ll be in Japan and Australia, yeah Singapore and New Zealand, that side of the world in late January, early February and then come back to UK and smash out a European tour. And then we’ll go straight back here and hammer out as many shows in the US as we can, because this is where we feel the connection is strongest with this band, that the people we can see every night with ticket sales and how everyone are at the shows. It seems like a very special territory for us, this is the fourth time we’ve been here this year and we’ll be back as much as possible next year. You know it feels like we’re kind of right on the edge of something right now and we’re sooooo close to tip it over… and then it will really go. But we’re in such good spirits and we sort of take this thing as sort of a privilege. And we’re just going to have the best of times, you know?
Derek: Well thank you so much for taking the time for this interview!
Martin: Oh no worries, it was a pleasure.
Derek: Let’s get out of here, its so cold.
Martin: Yeah, it’s fucking freezing right?
If there is one consistent quality in Canadian rock group Arcade Fire’s music it is their inconsistency; Arcade Fire has a knack for releasing albums that sound so strikingly different from one another, while still always sounding just like Arcade Fire. The group’s latest effort, Reflektor, moves the band’s sonic focus towards more rhythmic style dance music that is seemingly inspired by disco and Haitian dance beats. This double LP comes in at just over a whopping 75-minutes, with most tracks averaging in over 6 minutes in length, making this Arcade Fire’s longest and densest release to date.The two discs have a definite tonal split between them: the first disc is an infectious, lively celebration of sorts, while the second is a darker, heart-wrenching love story.
The first part of the album opens up with the self-titled single “Reflektor”, a real mood-setting song burning with a disco fever and a disdain for the disconnection technology really creates between us. In the opening verse, Butlers sings about “the reflective age,” the idea that the digital age of constantly staring at screens and obsessing over social networking is really isolating us all more than we think. This concept is explored throughout the entire album, however it’s presence is the strongest on the first half. For example, when frontman Win Butler groans out “What if the camera really do take your soul?” on the track “Flashbulb Eyes,” there’s a suggestion that there’s a sort of emptiness in all the pictures that fill our iPhones. “Here Comes the Night Time” is a chaotic party of a song that begins with the sounds of Carnival. The pace quickly changes to a slower, bass, drum, and bongo driven Caribbean style dance beat, only to break into a high speed mess of drums and guitar minutes later. For a song that Arcade Fire seems so unable to decide what to do with, “Here Comes the Night Time” is an undeniable high point for the entire album, and is without a doubt the centerpiece of the first disc.
The rest of the first disc probably resonates a little easier with Arcade Fire fans, since the songs more resemble standard indie rock numbers. “Normal People” has the lyricism and tone of a rebellious 15-year-old, however the guitar riffs during the chorus give the song an anthemic quality, making the anti-normies song not feel ridiculous for a band that has been firmly established for almost a decade. “You Already Know” and “Joan of Arc” are the two safest tracks on the album, both having a similar sound to songs like “Ready to Start” off of their previous album The Suburbs.
Then comes the second half of Reflektor, opening with “Here Comes the Night Time II”. The second “Here Comes the Night Time” is the polar opposite of the first; while the first song presented the night as a celebration, this time around the night time brings with it some pain. Butlers’s flat delivery of “I hurt myself again, along with all my friends” is accompanied by swirling strings and piano and an extremely heavy bassline. It makes for the perfect introduction to the next pair of tracks, which incorporate the mythological love story of the sculpted couple, Orpheus and Eurydice, which appear on Reflektor’s album art. The tracks “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and ““It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” lyrically are a retelling of the classic Greek myth through the lenses of Arcade Fire. The first is from the perspective of Orpheus, and the second from Eurydice. The songs detail Eurydice’s attempted escape from Hades, where Orpheus is unable to turn around and face his lover while the two journey out of the underworld; if he does, Eurydice will be lost to him forever. Then comes “Porno,” which just absolutely gets in the listeners face with its heavy lyrics and catchy synth ridden beat. The sheer desperation in Butler’s voice as he cries “Makes me feel like something’s wrong with me” is the perfect setup for the climax of the album, “Afterlife”, which the band premiered online with a lyric video set to 1959 film Black Orpheus.
At its surface, Reflektor has an excessive amount of ambition that at times is countered by the its sheer density. There’s a lush amount of detail to be found in every song, which of course producer James Murphy most likely had a heavy hand in. A lot of songs on Reflektor aren’t going to click with a few casual listens, which is may be a turn off for a lot of long time fans. The band didn’t do themselves favors with the girth either; a lot of tracks should have been cut down or maybe even removed completely. “Flashbulb Eyes,” for example, isn’t a bad song, but it doesn’t really do much for the album as a whole. While as songs like “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” or the final 11 minute track “Supersymmetry,” carry on perhaps just a bit too long.
That being said, however, Reflektor also includes some of the best songs and musical ideas Arcade Fire have ever produced. Songs like “Afterlife,” “Here Comes the Night Time,” and “Reflektor” are great examples of why Arcade Fire are as revered in the music world as they are. On top of that, there’s just so much here to delve into and that’s the beauty of the Reflektor experience in a way; it’s an album that rewards listeners with a little more each time they decide to dedicate 75-minutes of their life putting the headphones on, and turning the volume way way up. It’s fun, it’s long, it’s chaotic, and at time’s it’s absolutely heart breaking, but without a doubt Arcade Fire have once again done what they do best: create a beautifully crafted album around a set of central ideas that not every listener will connect to. At least not at first glance, anyway.
By: Daniel Richtmyre
WXJM: First off, as fan and a DJ myself it’s super cool to have this opportunity to talk to you. You’re one of the main reasons I got into this style of music and started DJing in the first place.
Claude VonStroke: thank u so much. Its a very nice feeling to know that i have influenced someone in a positive way.
WXJM: How would you describe your sound/style to someone that’s never heard you before?
CVS: beverly hills coyote + ghetto strip club + Detroit philharmonic + brooklyn hip-hop + bristol drum n bass —- all mixed up into house music..
WXJM: How would you describe your experience growing up in Detroit? Did growing up around such a major center of music influence you at an early age?
CVS: yes but not really in the way everyone assumes. i was inspired mostly by the radio, by early hip-hop and funk music and a very eclectic mix of things. also by the symphony orchestra and the music my parents love.
WXJM: What got you into DJing/producing? Was it a particular artist, friend, etc.?
CVS: I was always into it but i never had a mentor. You could say i ended up mentoring myself by making a documentary about famous Djs and going out and getting the info i wanted to get on my own – interviewing Djs and house producers to find out what they were doing.
WXJM: I remember seeing an interview you did about a year ago. In it you stated that you didn’t sample when making music. What’s your reasoning for not doing so?
CVS: i from other music. But the main reason was that i saw how much easier it was to not sample, so many less headaches if you have a hit track that you own and you made all yourself. I also feel like its much more creative, harder to do and more rewarding to know you didnt steal anything.
WXJM: How did your Ibiza residency work out? Was it everything you guys were hoping for? Do you have any favorite stories or moments from the experience?
CVS: The season was like everything in life. We had to work really hard in oder to play really hard. We loved the opportunity and the parties were amazing. I dont know if i could ever travel to Spain for 13 weeks again until my kids are older but it was so great to do it and see everyone out there from this little American label. We had some really good fun in Ibiza.
WXJM: Your new record varies a lot stylistically and by genre. What were the primary influences for you in making it?
CVS: I want to make music and not be tied down to anything. I also know my fans dont want to hear 10 drum n bass tunes so i took everything into consideration and came up with what i think is an album full of cool ideas and tracks that i had fun making.
WXJM: The artwork of the album is really unique, too. Who was behind that whole process and how did the idea of having architectural photos of Detroit/the midwest as animals come about?
CVS: This was my idea but i didnt execute the actual art myself. I sent a ton of buildings i love over to Matt Goldman and told him the idea that i wanted to make something cool out of them…just like in music i use alot of sounds to construct a brand new entity – i wanted Matt to use all the buildings to create different animals. Fortunately, he did an amazing job and came up with these really cool animal images using the architecture.
WXJM: I saw you are bringing label mate J Phlip along with you for your upcoming tour. How did your relationship with her come to pass? What can we expect from the tour in general?
CVS: Jessica’s style and my style go together really well. Sometimes when i play with the other people from dirtybird its kind of like a battle to see who has the bigger tracks but with Jessica, she has her own sound that is really refined and a bit more advanced. Its no offense to anyone else of course, her sound just fits with mine the best to make a really great party. Its not that easy to play an amazing opening set. Thankfully she is really talented and she understands how to make the show flow really really well. Im so happy she is on this tour. Pretty soon she will be the headliner and so im really grateful to have this chance to tour with her before she gets to that next level.
WXJM: When you DJ do you like to stick to a particular sound/BPM or do you vary it up regularly?
CVS: It depends on the night. Sometimes i break out and play drum n bass or some modern dubstep vibes, but sometimes i just like to rock it all night around 124 bpm. it really depends on what the crowd is feeling with me. I really try to never play the same set.
WXJM: What can we expect from Dirtybird in the near future? Also, what was the reasoning behind the label name?
CVS: A bunch of great remixes from my album will come out as well as our big compilation at the start of next year. Just now we have a really cool EP by ZDS as well. The label name just came from a childhood drawing i used to do of a bird. i drew it in church to try and get my little brother to laugh.
WXJM: Is there anyone in the current scene who has impressed you lately?
CVS: Cajmere just finished his album and i loved it and then i heard he’s almost already done with a Green Velvet album as well!! 2 albums in one year for our genre is incredibly impressive, especially when they are good!!
WXJM: Do you have any words of wisdom for performing or general advice for aspiring club dj’s? “
CVS: dont copy other people and deliver the highest quality possible. If you dont have any money dont start a label – put some tracks out on other labels and wait until you have a name to try that part of it. but overall, believe in yourself and create a support network of friends that all believe in your sound.
Interview by: Ross Figlerski