“I have no delusions that we’re changing the world here or anything but it’s changing somebody’s world and that’s good enough.” – Ian Maleney talks recording, mastering and Tulsa life with Brad Rose.
Brad Rose is a wearer of many hats. From single-handedly founding and running the underground staples of the Digitalis label and the Foxy Digitalis zine, to recording as part of multiple projects and under a host of different monikers, Rose has been kept busy. Working tirelessly to release and promote weird music, regardless of petty genre distinctions, Rose has become a pivotal figure in the world of alternative music.
While the work of Digitalis and Foxy Digitalis remains ongoing, the release of a new Concessionaires album is the most pressing issue on Rose’s mind when we chat over Skype. Concessionaires is the duo of Rose and Pete Fosco, a close friend and experimental guitar player from Cincinnati, Ohio. Together they have released a couple of tapes but Artificial Interface is their first work to be released on vinyl. The process behind the project is rough and ready, as Rose explains; “About two years ago, Pete and his wife came down and hung out for a weekend. He and I spent most of that time recording. Then they did the same last year so again, we recorded most of that time.”
The off-the-cuff nature of the recordings made for plenty of material at the end. “We’d talk about whatever general ideas we had beforehand and then we’d hit record, see what happened and edit it and add overdubs afterwards. It was all pretty much hit record and go. The LP is kind of a culmination of all that stuff. We did a couple of tapes from some of the material but we always had it in the back of our minds to piece together the best stuff into an LP.”
The task of piecing the final record together was soon delegated to a third party. “We both have a mutual friend named Matt McDowell who has a number of projects, including a solo project called Sagas which Pete actually put out a record from,” says Rose. “We kind of had this idea that we’d send him a bunch of the raw tracks and let him piece it all together and let him do whatever he wanted with it. It was good to get a fresh set of ears to process it rather than myself or Pete because we were both getting quite tired of it at that stage.”
The essence of collaboration makes for markedly different results to those of Rose’s own solo projects. He himself notices the differences, both in approach and end product. “Projects with other people involved, a lot of times it’ll just be where conversations on the phone or over email will turn into us saying we should put our ideas together into one singular idea and see what happens. With solo stuff, I get an idea in my head and beat it to death! Then I move on and see what else I can come up with. There’s no formula, most of the stuff just seems to happen.”
Keeping track of Rose’s multitude of project names and personal aliases is a full-time task in itself though he believes things are slowing down just a little. “Solo-wise, the only thing I’m really doing any more is the Charlatan stuff,” he says. “There’s a couple of North Sea albums that have yet to come out but that kind of going to be the end of that project. Maybe not permanently but at least for a while because I kind of feel like I’m out of ideas for it. Then there’s Concessionaires which seems like it’s a once-a-year thing so it’s active but not super-active. Then my wife, Eden, and I do stuff as Altar Eagle which is always kind of ongoing but we work really, really slow so it takes a long time for anything to happen.”
Rose’s approach to each project differs greatly, from the root of the project’s concept to the format of its delivery. The different formats especially play a key role in determining the eventual style of the release. “If I know beforehand that I’m working towards an LP release or something, something that’s going to be a wider release, I try to make it more of a fully-formed idea, more of a definitive kind of statement,” says Rose. “Whereas a lot of these short run tapes are me working out ideas and my way of getting to that point where I’m ready to record an LP or an album. That’s especially true of the Concessionaires stuff where the tapes we did were just the improvisations we did edited down to a particular length and nothing more really done to it. For me, having these small releases and multiple releases really helps me crystallize my own ideas and boil it down to exactly what I’m trying to do.”
Away from his solo work, there is one project that remains a little closer to Rose’s heart than most. “For me, the Altar Eagles stuff is always like the biggest thing,” he says. “Just getting to work with Eden on it and spend all this time being creative with someone who is obviously important to me in every way possible. The amount of time that goes into each of the songs we do, never mind the whole record, it always feels like whenever we put out a record… Well, we’ve only put out one but we’ve finished the second one, it feels like giving birth because it’s been just such a process!”
When it comes to personal highlights so far, Rose has a few. Both his North Sea LP on Type, Bloodlines, and the Charlatan Triangles LP on Digitalis, stick out. What becomes clear is Rose’s pride in the work he has committed to shellac. “If you look at any of my projects, if you look at the vinyl releases, those are the places to start because they are the ones that hold the fullest story,” he says. “Vinyl has always been my favourite, most preferred format for as long as I can remember. Any time there’s an opportunity to do a record with whatever project, it becomes a bigger deal to me as I work on it and think of the ideas and concepts.”
This love for the vinyl format extends throughout the Digitalis label, with Rose having moved all the label’s vinyl mastering to the fabled D&M facility in Berlin, perhaps the most respected mastering house in the world. For Rose, the extra time and cost is worth it, even if only a few people care all that much. “Having the opportunity to work with the kind of bands we put out – who aren’t generally really well known – and music I think is really important and I really love, presenting it in the best possible way is awesome for me,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard lots of records that aren’t mastered through there and they sound really good but whenever I’ve heard a record and I think ‘Oh, this pressing is amazing’, nine times out of ten D&M were involved somewhere along the line. I don’t know if that’s important to a ton of people, but it is important to me. It is important to some people, that’s awesome. I’m glad that some people still care. I have no delusions that we’re changing the world here or anything but it’s changing somebody’s world and that’s good enough.”
This sense of being on the margins is reflected in Rose’s somewhat unusual choice of home town; Tulsa, Oklahoma. While it is not a city renowned for its overflowing arts culture, Rose manages to find a lot of positives in living away from the mainstream. “Oklahoma, it’s not for everybody,” he says, laughing. “I love it here. I think a lot of stereotypes that Americans have outside of America, hell, even in America, being bigoted and small minded… There’s a lot of people like that in Oklahoma. That’s not one of the selling points! There is stuff happening here. There are people here that are doing like really interesting, weird, out-there things and have these really big ideas. There isn’t all this stuff happening like you’d in New York or Chicago or wherever but in the Resident Advisor piece, I said it’s like living on a island and I actually meant that as a good thing! To me it’s not a downside, it’s being able to exist in the vacuum and do whatever I want to do, as far as what I’m putting out and the music I’m making. I love it. I mean, I live in a city! People have this misconception that Oklahoma is this big empty farmland! Eden is from up in the Seattle in the Pacific-Northwest and when she moved down here, her family would be like, ‘Oh, how are the cows?!’, and it’s like ‘Dude, I don’t live on a farm, I live in a city, there are skyscrapers’.”
While Digitalis and Rose’s own music might be big news to fans of weirded-out psychedelic jams and desert drones, the success of his his various projects is unlikely to go to his head, at least while he still calls Tulsa home. “It’s kind of interesting too here, most of the people here that I would consider my close friends, they’re aware that I make music and I run a record label and they’ve heard some of the stuff but they don’t really get it!” he says. “That’s one thing I love, it keeps me grounded. I could never get a big head doing this. I’d be like, ‘Oh man I got reviewed in the Wire. I’m fucking awesome’ and my friend would be like, ‘What the hell is the Wire?’. For me, that’s like a huge positive!”