By Scott Osgood
The band that does it all themselves are back, and brooding on an existential crisis. Their new single “Alive or Dreaming” posits our existence and the point of it all (if there is such) in a very rock and roll fashion that will have you singing along before the dreary content really sinks in. The track kicks off with a red herring of a distorted guitar that quickly disappears into a duet of piano and guitar slides that sing in sweet harmony. Feedback swells before the hook of the verse takes over, digging into the existential question at hand with Nathan Baumgartner’s declaration“I couldn’t scratch the itch, so I built my castle in a ditch, am I alive or dreaming?” The band explodes into a triumphant instrumental flourish that if you weren’t already, has you head banging along. The balance they strike here of harmony and content is the essential part of getting their message down; it’s that spoonful of sugar coating the medicine we all need to hear.
I had the opportunity to catch up with lead singer Nathan Baumgartner over email and ask him a few questions regarding the new release and the state of independent musicians. Check out the interview below and the exclusive stream for ‘Alive or Dreaming’ below.
And And And formed in 2009, and a short two year’s later won the accolade of Portland’s Best New Band 2011. What has changed for And And And since then?
Nathan Baumgartner: When the band formed in 2009 until 2011 we had an additional member who wrote half the songs. His name is Tyler Keene. He lives in New York now and does music under the moniker Log Across the Washer. It is well worth looking into. He writes very idiosyncratic music. Since then, the band has remained largely the same while going through a constant state of refinement if you can call it that. We have always been more on the amateur side of things, and that’s how we like it. However, we are always trying to be better at what we do. A lot of our equipment is exactly the same as when we started. We still develop songs in the same way. Our goals have not really changed. We just want to keep playing shows, writing and recording new music, and work toward getting better at our craft. We have always been ambitious in that regard. But in reality, not a lot has changed.
There seems to be a bit to unpack from the lyrical content included on the new record. What led to the themes you explore on the forthcoming LP ‘Idiot’?
NB: I didn’t consciously go about writing to any specific topics or ideas on the album, but once it was done, there were clearly some central themes. These being: the unknowable nature of consciousness, man’s relationship to a seemingly ambivalent god, and the fact that there is a lot going on outside our sensory awareness. There were many things that led me to explore the themes of the album. I have had a lifelong love/obsession with sci-fi and fantasy literature and movies. From my earliest memories these things always struck a very deep chord in me that I couldn’t quite name. I also had real connections with M. C. Escher’s art, extreme/absurdist humor, and noise music/free jazz. There was something within these genres and types of art that caught me on an elemental level. The unknowable and the impossible being laid out before my eyes and ears. I was also a lifelong atheist who thought there was no meaning to anything. All of this art was speaking to me, but I was failing to understand its message. In my mid-twenties I started reading a lot about Taoism and meditating and things started clicking together. I have also spent a large percentage of my life in rural and wilderness areas observing nature. I was starting to see nature and reality in a more true form. This infinitely massive force, constantly living and dying at the same time (while existing outside of time) just continually churning outward and inward. It became clear to me that I was only seeing a tiny sliver of the truth. As I started writing the songs for the album, my father was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. He died during the time we were recording the album. There were also a few other fiascoes occurring in my personal life, so here I am having this spiritual awakening and all of the shit is hitting the fan.
How were recordings for ‘Idiot’ financed?
NB: We paid for the record with band fund from playing shows supplemented with personal money from our jobs.
And And And is taking the DIY aesthetic into the digital age; you manage yourselves, create your own music videos, and provide own physical and digital distribution through your own website. Not to mention make the music. That is a lot to handle and not necessarily something every band or musician can manage on their own. What needs to change in the industry and how the music machine functions so that artists still can have the creative freedom they need without having to necessarily press their own records? On the other end of the spectrum what needs to change in the way the vast majority of listeners are accessing and furthermore consuming music today?
NB: It is definitely a lot of work, but I think that most musicians can handle it. If you are at a certain level, you absolutely need help from other people, but the majority of bands can handle the workload. We had 500 records pressed and we will be lucky (and very happy) if we sell all of them. I don’t think people’s expectations are grounded in reality. There is more music being recorded and distributed now than ever before in human history. There is so much good music that people do not physically have the time to listen to all of it. All the while, musicians and artists have been sold this myth that if they shoot for the stars they will make it in the end. That is typically not the case. Here is a useful anecdote: My 13 year old daughter Lillian had a class last year where the teacher said the usual “Tell me about your dreams. What do you want to do when you grow up?” She’s saying all this stuff about if you believe and dream anything is possible, blah, blah, blah. My daughter is sharing with her small group about her dream. She says “I want to go to community college and be a vet tech and move to my Grandma’s farm and get a horse.” That is an achievable dream if I ever heard one. A girl in her group says “That’s not a very realistic dream.” Lillian responds with “Well, what is your dream?” The girl says “To be a well-known writer.” The girl didn’t have any interest in being a good writer. She wanted to be well-known. This is the mentality that I would like to see change in the music making machine. We should all be trying to improve at what we do. We should be trying to build catalogs off potent music that we can stand behind without regard for the millions upon millions of people that don’t even have the time to listen to all the great music. I would like to see music become more locally and regionally fixated. We should be strengthening our local scenes and creating stronger regional networks
“I heard the familiar song, the one that’s eternally long, but nobody every played it” is a line from ‘Alive or Dreaming’ Is And And And playing the eternal song? What does that mean in our digital age and the way in which the vast majority of listeners are consuming new music? Is there space for timeless music to be made in 2018?
NB: That line actually comes from the first chapter of The Silmarillion by Tolkien. It is like his Book of Genesis for Middle Earth. Basically, God uses music as his creation tool. A quote, “and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Iluvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.” The song is everything. So in a way, And And And is playing a piece of it. Probably a squeaky clarinet or a 12 year old making fart noises with a trumpet mouthpiece though. I think the beautiful thing about the internet is that it has the potential for everybody to contribute to that song. That being said, in its current form a lot of people are being sold a lie and their content is being stolen. A lot of people are going to the band concert to play their music, but this one shitty kid who can’t even play an instrument stole all their sheet music and just smashes the grand piano and everybody in the audience just claps for him because they don’t know what else to do.
And And And’s Idiot will be out February 16th. They perform that evening alongside Tribe Mars and Melt at the Doug Fir Lounge.