Monday, January 12, 2015

The Gorgeous Sound of Grey Waves

Before I interview musicians, I spend a good amount of time listening to the work that we’re going to talk about. So the morning of January 7th, I listened to Faith/Void by Grey Waves for a few hours preceding my chat with Jesse Hughey. The result was that, by the time I got to talk to Jesse, I was in such a mellow, contemplative mood that just the sound of his voice made me smile and nod. The press release for the new album describes it as “noise-oriented,” and that’s the effect the album had on me; I was one with the universe, stoned on the sound. (I sound like my transcendental father here. Damn hippies.)
Original artwork for Grey Waves first album, Faith/Void.
You may remember Jesse from our earlier interview here about his other band, Jack Ruby Presents. It’s rare to talk to someone who has such a strong artistic vocabulary, especially when conversing about art that lies outside of their particular metier, so it was a pleasure to catch up with Jesse and find out how he’s been blending music and visual art with his new ensemble, Grey Waves.

The last time we talked, your other band, Jack Ruby Presents, had just released a new album. What have you been up to since Pale Road came out?

The main thing I’ve been working on is curating an art project for this current record, Faith/Void with my group, Grey Waves. We sent out blank record sleeves and music to 25 different visual artists that we admire and just had them react to the music. They could react simplistically or get really involved whatever manner they wanted. I told some folks, “I know you’re busy, just listen to the music and create something in real time.” Some of them did that, and then I had other friends who spent weeks with it, thinking about the lyric content.

So the coordination of all that has been a pretty big project, and then I’ve written a whole new set of sounds and prepared a new set collections of songs for Grey Waves.

Jesse Hughey with one of the many original cover designs created especially for Faith/Void.
Tell me about the other people involved in the ensemble, your drummer Brandon Hughes, and visual artist Alison Pate?

Brandon is a really killer drummer and a great arranger. I always work best having somebody sharp to bounce ideas off of. I feel like I always write songs to the 75-percent mark. Brandon has been really helpful in pushing a lot of our songs to completion. He’s a much stronger musician than I am, so working with him has been terrific.
Brandon Hughes, drummer and arranger for Grey Waves.
And Alison is a massively talented photographer. I’ve worked with her for a number of years. She shot at least half of the art work for Jack Ruby. I have a lot of respect for the way she approaches her art. We get together every few months and do an “art day” where we go see a few shows in town and then discuss them. She’s really a intelligent and thoughtful artist.

Alison Pate, the visual artist for Grey Waves.
With Alison, I wanted to have somebody who would seriously take over the visual component and aesthetic of the band. I feel like there is a whole second dimension that a visual component can bring out of an otherwise flat musical concept. Starting right out of the gate with a visual art-based project like this one, I wanted to involve someone whose eye I trust more than my own and who would approach the visual output with the same scrutiny and obsession with which I approach the lyric content of our music. Ultimately we would love to do some video stuff – potentially in collaboration with our live shows. We’ve been working pretty hard on this project, so maybe in a few months we’ll have some time for something new.

Can you talk about the collaboration between visual artists and musicians? What’s that like?

I spend a lot of time writing after seeing visual art shows, or spending time with visual artists, and I’ve always taken a lot from that medium. Because it’s not specifically MY art form, I find it’s really emotive to me. It makes me feel and makes me want to create. I wanted to do something that was representative of the connection that I believe is there, and I like the idea of doing something that has unique pieces with a common thread. They’re different works of art, but they’re connected by their singular point of origin. That’s really interesting to me.

I don’t think that there’s a necessary division between visual art and music, and I think the exploration between different artists and mediums can be really potent and really powerful. That’s why film is such a powerful art form, because there’s no division between what you see and what you hear, and I think we can gain a lot from working together.
Additional artwork for Faith/Void.
How have people responded to the music so far?

Honestly, it’s been really humbling. I set out on this project having recently moved to Seattle, and I was feeling a bit disconnected from my artistic community. I wanted to do a project that reminded me that I’m still a part of something, and the response has been really overwhelming from the artistic community. In my living room right now, I have just over 100 really beautiful, unique pieces of artwork from artists I really respect, and the fact that they were all willing and excited to contribute to a project like that… You don’t find that level of generosity in many circles.

What are you listening to right now?

Hang on, I’m going to walk over to my turntable… Oh man, I don’t wanna say that!

Well, now you have to.

(laughs) On my turntable currently is a Santana album, Abraxas, the one with “Black Magic Woman” on it. It’s actually pretty rad.

Okay, now the hipster ones I’ve never heard of

I’ve been spending time with an album by Protomartyr, Under Color of Official Right, that came out this last year. And the last Shabazz Palaces record, Lese Majesty, it came out on Sub Pop in 2014, and it’s mind-blowing. Oh, and I just got a live Om record that’s pretty heavy.
More original art for Faith/Void.

When does Faith/Void come out?

Grey Wave will play our first show January 30th at Lo-Fi in Seattle, which will also be the release party for Faith/Void. We'll be displaying all of the artwork from our collaborators. And then we’ll be playing more down the road. We’re still booking stuff and putting together a tour.

That’s awesome. What next, hot stuff?

A full length record! I have it written, we have it arranged. It’s work that I’m more lyrically proud of than anything I’ve done, and Brandon’s added a lot to it. If I can say this in a humble way, I feel like it’s some of the best work I’ve ever put out. As soon as we get some time and money, we’ll be recording it.

Well, I can’t wait to hear it. Oh, say hi to Karen!

Hi, Karen!

Faith/Void by Grey Waves is being released by the label People in a Position to Know Recordings. You can pre-order the album here, either as a digital download or a 7” vinyl with the original artwork created for the album.