Everyone in Minnesota needs a reason to not hate winter for a while longer, Swimmer, Bressler & Waldo might have a something to help make that possible, Their new release w.i.n.t.r embraces the sonic wonder of winter in a way we all should. Big thanks to members Ryann Daisy Swimmer, Kenneth Gregory Bressler and Jonathan Tatnall Waldo for answering 5 questions.
Please tell us about yourselves as musicians individually and together as a group.
J: I grew up learning Suzuki Viola and played in orchestra and string quartets in college, but I have always had a curiosity about music that diverged from traditional paths. Starting in high school I got into electronic music and playing in bands. I learned how to record myself and others and over the years I’ve developed a passion for DIY audio production, mixing and mastering. A few years ago, my friend Will Markwardt and I started a record label called Corrector Records which gave me the opportunity to connect with both Kenny and Daisy and help them realize some really awesome musical projects. Corrector isn’t releasing music anymore these days but I am really excited to be making music with them as a band now.
K: I had a few years of piano lessons as a child, and two years of high school band. My siblings and I had a couple old Casio or Yamaha keyboards with the “funny” and “cosmic” presets and we would entertain ourselves for days on end during summer vacation recording ourselves with a Fisher Price cassette recorder. We were just goofing off, but that must have sparked my interest in recording; specifically how the medium of tape can be used creatively, not only as a method of recording sound, but as a performance tool as well. I studied German in high school, and my teacher was into music. He played Kraftwerk for our class, and that was when I got serious about making music. I got a job and saved up for a MicroKorg, which was my first synthesizer and the beginning of what would become the primary focus of my musical life. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become interested in less conventional structures in music, and connecting with Daisy and Jonathan has been the first time I’ve been able to explore that region of the musical universe alongside other musicians. Working with them has been something of a sublime experience, as we all seem to have converged at a similar point in our own separate artistic paths where we’re all sort of interested in this esoteric branch of art where music and sound and spaces interact, but perhaps for differing reasons. It’s really fun to be able to venture into this rabbit hole in their company.
RDS: i have worn many hats as a musician, but my main focus over the past four years or so has been solo ambient guitar music (for live performance). i also currently play guitar and sing in the shoegaze band malamiko and frequently collaborate/improvise with other local experimental musicians. Jonathan and i met at a house show and connected on our mutual love of ambient music. after we worked together to put out Corrector’s compilation Impossible Musics Jonathan talked about ideas for what i believe was intended to be a solo project with guests, but eventually led to a fully formed group with Kenny and me.
How do you create together? How much song construction is scripted and how much improvised?
J: The primary theme is that remixing and resampling is the default approach. In other bands, everyone has their part, but in this group we take each others’ ideas and refine them, and sometimes keep the original too! A lot of our work has been online. It started with a bunch of old personal cassette recordings and samples we made individually. And conversations. For example “Without ending pt. 1” actually started as a sample from a performance done in I think 1982 by an early music ensemble my dad directed. I recorded it into my sampler, looped the last syllable of the word “ending” and played it for the band. Eventually it turned into a rocking wall of sound! The concept of not having any endings persists though.
K: “frozen lakes” began with a sample pack of guitar sounds that Daisy created and uploaded to the group’s shared google drive folder. I pieced a few of them together to create a chord progression and that’s the backbone of the piece. That’s a good example of how we work: someone records some sounds, and the others thread them together and add their own ingredients to flesh it out. When we got together in the same room for the first time, it was hours before our first ever live show, and we had to figure out how to do all that stuff live. So the way our recordings are made is sometimes very different from what we do as a live band, but there is a chunk of our EP that was done together in a live room as well.
RDS: this project has been fairly experimental on how we write. sometimes it is a fully realized idea with others layering parts on, sometimes it is building on a small idea, and sometimes it is improvisations together. i think it has been a creative challenge for each of us, and we have all come back as better musicians at the end.
What inspires you first, a sound or an idea? Clearly w.i.n.t.r. has a distinct, unified theme running through all the songs and being honest, I get cold when I listen, but do you start by saying – let’s create about winter or do you play for a while and realize, the room is getting sonically chilly?
J: The concept emerged from the sound in this case, but for our next work, it might be the opposite!
K: A common theme in our music thus far has been how environments and sounds coexist. It seems like there’s always this idea of where the music is happening, at least for me. With the EP, we were clearly evoking the chill of the darker months, which isn’t so much a physical place as it is a mood or a feeling, but focusing on that seems to have had a similar effect on the music as creating with a physical space in mind has had on the full-length we have in the works.
RDS: the minnesota cold found its way into the music subconsciously for this record! i don’t think that was ever a conscious decision, but one that fell into place.
One of the things I like about ambient music or soundscapes is melting into a wordless meaning and into feeling – whether cold or sad or annoyed. I love the lyrics in w.i.n.t.r. and it puts an image into the soundscape. I wonder what are the “words I need to remember” and it changes how I experience that song as compared to a song such as frozen lakes. It works both ways – but how do you decide when to add the lyrics?
J: It’s easy to get totally lost in an ambient record, but I’m so glad to hear that you connected the vocal elements with the later instrumental parts! Daisy shared the works of ambient composer Claire Rousay with us and I really loved how seamlessly deeply human and personal verbal content are interwoven with dreamlike textures in her music. We had almost an entire album complete before we started on this EP that was all instrumental, but we’re definitely going to integrate more vocal elements into that having completed the EP.
RDS: i feel like this project in particular has a lot of feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality (whether fully intentional or just happenstance). vulnerability is also a driving force in my own musical journey. throughout both this EP and future releases, Jonathan pulled out various samples ranging from his father’s old choir recordings, to distant family friends’ conversations, to live performances from friends. as the EP started to come together, Jonathan mentioned wanting to title it words i need to remember, a quote taken from a tape recording his daughters made years ago.
i can’t remember the full sequence of events in order, but i wanted to add a folk song-esque prelude to the initial draft of nocturne, so the idea of integrating the themes of nostalgia, vulnerability, and the phrase words i need to remember was my main jumping off point. i sat with the phrase for a few days and quickly sketched out lyrics about my wife (who sang the song with me into an old portable tape recording as we sat together on our dining room table).
the text for nocturne was one of the last things we recorded for this EP. the track was almost fully finished when Jonathan suggested spoken word be added. expanding on the lyrics from w.i.n.t.r., i somewhat candidly recorded myself talking about memories from when my wife and i first started dating (i am a certified wife guy™).
Where can people find you – online and/or in person? Do you have any upcoming shows? Or will we have to wait for next year’s Drone Not Drones.
J: We are playing a set at Bryant Lake Bowl on May 21st, for “Weird Stuff Only” which is “A time based carnival” often featuring performance art. Other than that, you can find us on Instagram @swimmer.bressler.waldo or on Bandcamp! We each have solo projects and/or other bands as well, mine is called Neon Menhirs. I tend to haunt the Mac Groveland neighborhood of Saint Paul with my family.
RDS: you can find me at the grocery store or a local coffee shop. you can also find me at a show if you look hard enough. we are planning some performances later on this year, and i play both solo and with my other band around town fairly often. you can find me on instagram @ryanndaisyswimmer and the band @swimmer.bressler.waldo
K: I live in Duluth where I play with another group called Babie Eyes. We’re wrapping up our first full-length album which was recorded at Sparta Sound about fifty miles north of here. It will be released this June, with a release show at Earth Rider brewing in Superior on June 10. I also host a semi-regular event series in Duluth called Sound Lab, which showcases experimental music and performance art. There’s a show tonight (March 31) featuring local mad scientist and master of atmosphere Tim Kaiser, along with duo astrid hubbard flynn and Ivan Cunningham from Minneapolis, and an avant- garde trombonist named Brad Bellows, also of Minneapolis.