“…it’s nice to look back and realize that all of that energy was spent for good reason.” – Ian Maleney spoke with Franklin & Ryan of Afterlife, whose new LP Celestial Habitat is out now on Hooker Vision.
Afterlife are Franklin Teagle and Ryan McGill. They are a pair of musicians working out of Brooklyn, though they are a world away from the guitar-driven, uber-hip sound most often associated with that particular borough. Teagle and McGill aim for a synthesizer transcendence, creating blissful expanses of deep drone. Open your third eye and see. In the past they’ve released on legendary labels like Digitalis, Stunned and Tranquility and now they’ve put together an LP for Rachel and Grant Evans’ ever-exploratory (and fast becoming definitive) Hooker Vision label. Celestial Habitat fits in perfectly with that labels’ “southern cosmic” sound, with the duo utilizing a host of synths, electronic devices and tape loops to create a uniquely refined tapestry of sound. Colourful, expressive and ambitious, the album is one of the duo’s best achievements to date.
So, I guess, tell me about Celestial Habitat. What were your intentions going into making this record? Did you have any? Was the LP format decided on beforehand or was that just how it came about?
F: After releasing a split cassette with Thoughts on Air on their label Hooker Vision and releasing several tapes from their projects on my label Tranquility Tapes, Grant and Rachel offered to put out our first vinyl release. So yes, we were specifically recording with vinyl in mind. Almost all of our work is a combination of improvised and composed passages that eventually come together as a whole. We holed up in Ryan’s apartment whenever we could for a few months, and finally had a master we were very happy with at the beginning of this year. We like for our releases to feel like a journey or an escape, sometimes to a strange and otherworldly place…sometimes to a place that’s beautiful and familiar. We tried to incorporate all of that in Celestial Habitat.
R: The record was certainly composed and structured to invoke a sense of journey and continued evolution. It’s been great to hear people’s reactions to the material and the progression from passage to passage as this was something we’d talked about from the very start. I wouldn’t say we had any intentions regarding where that journey would lead or end however, so the sounds just took on a life and direction of their own. It was reassuring knowing from the start that the attention to detail we gave the material would be faithfully recreated and we couldn’t have been more pleased when we heard the final press.
You guys seem to have a huge amount of material in your back catalogs, even by drone/synth artist standards! Have you always been prolific and what kind of effect do you think that might have on your work (and indeed the reception of it)? How long did Celestial Habitat take to come together?
F: Prior to Celestial Habitat, we’ve released ten tapes across different labels in our three years of existence. It’s all relative, but there are plenty of artists operating within this realm who are far more prolific than us. One of the most enjoyable parts of working on this project, has been working with multiple labels to release our music. It’s been such a pleasure collaborating with labels like Hooker Vision, Stunned, House of Sun, Digitalis, and others. Ryan and I are both big fans of physical releases, so it’s exciting to see how different labels approach the presentation and ultimately hold a finished product in our hands that began with our recordings.
Though we have played several live shows and had a lot of fun doing so, I think we’re most in our element when we’re recording. We try to get together as often as possible, and whenever we do we’re working on new material. Being “prolific” isn’t really a goal. We don’t aim to have a certain amount of releases each year or anything, but as we continue to record, new releases just take shape. Rather than just releasing every jam session, we like to put together pieces that we feel hold common or even contradictory themes and ultimately tell a story.
R: Over the past few years, we’ve been fortunate enough to always live relatively closely to one another and I suppose we’ve just made the most of it. This release was recorded, mastered, and pressed in a matter of several months, but the recording process probably lasted slightly longer than usual as we were especially particular this time around. It’s definitely been a pleasure working with all the friends and labels that have supported us thus far, and though I’m happy about the quality/quantity of releases we’ve been fortunate enough to get out into the world, I’m still consistently impressed and inspired by the vision and prolificness of some of our other friends out there whose catalogs are ever-growing and ever-evolving at an astounding pace.
Going back a bit, when/where did you guys first meet and how long did it take for you to start making music together? You both grew up in Georgia right? Has the move to Brooklyn affected what you do at all? I’m sure living in Brooklyn means some higher costs of living so does having jobs and things (if you do) affect your music making?
F: Ryan and I grew up in Alpharetta, GA, and met through a mutual friend about sixteen years ago. We were kids with different taste back then, but we bonded over music pretty much instantly. I believe an early favorite was Rage Against the Machine’s “Evil Empire,” which came out right around the time we met. Ryan was already playing guitar back then, and his electric was the first I ever played. We started playing music together casually throughout high school, and both went separate ways musically when we were in college in different states. We continued to keep in touch and recommend music to one another, though. When I finished school, I moved to Brooklyn, but would hang out with Ryan whenever I went home to GA. As our tastes continued to gravitate more toward experimental music, we began to record improvised noise with our friend Matt Yacoub whenever I was in the south, and some of those recordings have been released over the years under the name Meditations. When Ryan moved to Brooklyn several years ago, we knew we wanted to start a new duo that recorded more frequently and played live, and that project came to be Afterlife.
Living in Brooklyn definitely affects our sound. We often think about natural and urban landscapes and where the two meet when we conceptualize new releases. And other times, we think of the project as an escape from the city and any of the stress that can sometimes come along with living here. A creative outlet is a necessity. There’s a lot to be inspired by out here, though. I don’t know that the experimental music scene is as tight knit as other places, but there is still plenty going on, and it’s all so diverse. It’s been wonderful to step out of our front doors and be able to see incredible projects like Telecult Powers and Grasshopper play regularly and continue to evolve over the years, as well as connect with other musicians operating within similar realms on a regular basis. We both work full time jobs and have plenty of other things on our plates, as well. Living can be expensive and time is limited, but we manage to make it work. There are few things more satisfying than a successful late night session.
R: It’s funny to think about how long we’ve known each other (rode the bus together and everything!) and how the vast majority of that time has been spent obsessing over music and the quest for new sounds. Though we only started making music together later in the game, it’s nice to look back and realize that all of that energy was spent for good reason. I suppose Georgia shaped us, but Brooklyn’s been great to us. It only took 2 or 3 visits before I decided I had to make the move myself. There’s just a visceral creative energy here that I’ve yet to encounter anywhere else. It’s been motivating, exciting, and equally humbling to be surrounded by so many talented people since I arrived here a few years ago. The city has certainly had an effect on our sound, though it’s hard to verbalize it exactly. Living here and playing music, listening to others’ music, you find that all these sounds are meditative safe havens, externalized representations and interpretations of a certain time, space, and energy. It’s all about shared experience in the end and the setting is a major player. Setting plays a major part in our recordings and it’s nice to revisit older releases and reconnect with both the mental/emotional/physical space that was captured at that particular moment.
Life in NYC has its ups and downs just like anywhere else. There’s an energy here that can both inspire you and destroy you, and everyone deals with it in different ways. Late night jams are a necessity.
How do you feel about the current “scene” of synth jammers? There’s an awful lot of music out there now, on so many tiny labels, that is working off a similar basis as yourselves, at least on the surface. Do you worry about standing out or is that the kind of thing that bothers you?
F: I think it’s great that so many people are discovering and turning to the synthesizer to make music. I think good music is about much more than the gear you use, but the synth is such a diverse and deep instrument. There’s so much you can do with melody and texture. Coupled with the fact that they fit nicely into your bedroom, they’re truly perfect for home recording and underground music. I’ve heard some people complain about a sort of “synth over saturation,” but I think that’s a lazy complaint. If overuse of an instrument was an issue, the guitar would have run its course years ago. Sure, there’s been an upswing in interest in analog synths and synth music over the past several years, but I’m constantly hearing exciting, new projects. Most of what I hear has such a distinct identity. It really depends more on the person behind the synth than the synth itself. Pulse Emitter, Quiet Evenings, Emuul, and Hobo Cubes are all separate projects based primarily around the synthesizer, but do any sound alike? To my ears they certainly don’t.
In terms of standing out, it’s not a major concern for us. We’re just happy making music that we enjoy and getting lost in the process. We feel incredibly fortunate to have connected with a number people through our music, and it’s always satisfying to know that something we made moved someone in any particular way.
R: Synthesizers are powerful and endlessly complex machines with infinite potential for new sounds, so I’m certainly not surprised in the least that there are thousands of people out there churning out quality releases every day. I’m sure anyone who’s got an ear for electronic music and an insatiable appetite for new sounds no doubt shares my excitement about the direction things are headed right now. Personally, I never have trouble recognizing and appreciating what sets each artist apart from everyone else, quite to the contrary! There’s an incredible amount of experimentation and individual personality in this music and I wonder if people who speak about over-saturation are taking the time to actively listen and appreciate the sounds. I suppose it all depends on the listener. No one’s taste is completely the same as anyone else’s. You’ve got jazz fiends who can recall/divine endless amounts of information within seconds of dropping a needle on a random record, but to any casual listener the only convenient point of reference is probably just going to be “jazz.” The same holds true for hip-hop, classical, punk, and so on. It just depends on the level of any individual listener’s desire, exposure, and personal preferences. You’ve got the same thing going on in electronic/experimental music now and it’s been going on for decades. We’ve been very fortunate to be a part of this continued evolution of sound and we’ll just continue to make music that we enjoy listening to and hope that other people are sharing our happiness along the way.
How do you feel about the term New Age?
F: I think New Age has some really great roots, and I love the music of Stephen Halpern, Iasos, Ashra and others affiliated with the movement a whole lot. Like most defined genres or terms used to market music, though, I think it has been sufficiently bastardized over the years. I like how some of the underground labels and artists are taking the ideas and philosophies that started the movement back. I would say we’re influenced by music that might be considered New Age to an extent (both the current crop of artists and the pioneers), but I don’t think our music fits comfortably into that category. It’s not all suited for healing and relaxation. We like to incorporate beautiful, pleasant melodies and meditative sounds a lot, but we also love to explore dark and strange places with our music. A number of people have commented on the darker aspects of the new record, and I’m glad to hear that’s coming through.
R: Though I wouldn’t classify our music as New Age, I definitely have respect for everyone who blazed that trail in the past and continues to uphold those original ideals and philosophies. Change is the way of the world, and a literal new age is always on the horizon, increasingly so these days. I think there are transcendental and meditative aspects of what we do that resonate with the New Age movement, however there are also stranger territories that we’re exploring that have no place in that world. There’s the continuum that exists between dark and light, negativity and positivity, within which we all exist and operate in our day-to-day, but there’s also an area beyond this duality that we’re reaching for with these sounds.
Celestial Habitat is out now on Hooker Vision.