Park Avenue Music is a unique and talented duo who creates memorable and touching music out of electronic fragments, odd loops, and soaring female vocals. Their recent EP release on Clairecords entitled For Your Home or Office displays the band’s capacity to communicate raw human emotion through the cold sounds of technology. The band graciously answered our questions below:
How did you each get your start in music?
Wes – Well when I was a little kid, my dad would play tapes of moog records in the car when we went on family vacations. Then my sister would take me to punk shows all the time (this was in the 80’s- I was still a little kid)… then in my teens, I started playing the guitar cos I wanted to play like Johnny Marr.
juju – in second grade, I had a school teacher who did music time, which usually involved a circle of kids struggling to remember the strains of “Puff The Magic Dragon”. it wasn’t so inspiring, but it was more involved than coloring whilst listening to the Carpenters 8 track at home (which I still love, btw). She would mostly play guitar, but then sometimes she’d let this other girl in the class (think Lucy from Peanuts) play heart and soul duet type things with her on what turned out to be a “piano”. Well, I couldn’t let that snotty girl have all the fun. I soon learned that the cumbersome piece of furniture in our living room that we’d moved from house to house growing up was actually a musical instrument. My sisters started taking lessons from the lady around the corner, and I stole their lesson books and taught myself to read music. I guess I also used to play by ear a lot, especially the theme from E.T… though I’m pretty sure it was the Neil Diamond tune I was picking out. To this day, I can’t stand John Williams.
How did you develop your sound?
juju – We actually started as just Wes. Then I came along… I guess we both lend ourselves to the band as equal parts Wes and juju, meaning he gives this, I give that. As we change, our sound changes. it’s just a natural progression = starting out as some lush, dreamy sounding project with guitar and drum machine and evolving into a melodic glitched out one with piano and handcrafted beats…I think we nurture each other behind the music as well, and that must come thru in the sound. Though the lyrics might be forlorn and broken over the state of things, the music says everything’s gonna be ok. And really, we just try to make music that we like.
What do you draw inspiration from in the writing of your songs?
Wes – My g4(s).
juju – My environment. The color of the sky outside the glass. The wires against the clouds. Sad boys. The news. Wired magazine. my cat. The love of my life. People I’ve met, known, or dreamed of. the shapes of things. I don’t feel “inspired” ever as much as I just start playing something and singing along with it, telling the story of whatever movie is showing in my mind at the moment. it’s often a jumble of true stories made into day dreams – the way things could be or the way I might wish they would be… depends on my mood. Sometimes, like for “401k?”, it’s simply a case of goofing off. My attempt at rapping turned into a pop song. Certainly wasn’t planned out. Just happened.
What are the challenges (and good aspects) of self-recording and producing your music?
Wes – it’s not like we have a super fancy studio or anything. The challenge is to make it sound as good as you can. …on the other hand, we’re not limited on time like how we have been before when recording in a professional studio, rushing thru things.
juju – Yah, we threw out most of what we recorded in the studio for this ep and just remixed what we’d done at home. Except the train that was braking outside while I was recording rhodes on “the mellow one”. So queaky and rusted metal sounding. it fit perfectly at the end of the song with all the other ambient noises happening on that track, and it started and ended at the perfect place, too – when the melody has been overtaken by the drone. = a happy accident. I love that song. it breaks my heart every time I hear it, and it’s brought me to tears several times. (side note: I use the term “ambient” in a technical sense. we’re not trance or anything.)
How did you get hooked up with Dreams by Degrees and Clairecords?
juju – A dear friend passed our cd onto Jonathan dbd, and he wrote us inquiring about putting something out. We became friends soon after (and forevermore). We’d talk about his goal with the label, and it was just so touching, I couldn’t wait to work with him. He really cares about the beauty in music, and its presentation, and incorporating all aspects of art into not only the label but his life. He’s a very talented young man, not to mention a superb chef.
We discovered Clairecords upon discovering the Mahogany lp. Then they (being Dan & Heather Claire) moved to Sacramento, and we invited them to our show. They liked us and said they’d like to put out our music. They’re the sweetest people and have good taste, besides being conveniently located, so when we had our ep recorded, we asked if they were still interested in releasing it. And they did. Even though it’s not shoegaze or anything. I think it’s a nice departure for the label, and it still fits on the ‘pretty’ side of things. it’s very heartfelt, and heck, I’m always looking down, so in that respect…
What are the dynamics of being a couple in a music project together?
Wes – Well I wouldn’t necessarily kiss other band members if I weren’t married to them.
juju – Being married is very much like being in a band, and vice versa. For us it’s always been very intimate, being just him and I. there was a short spell when we had a drummer, and he got pushed away by our intensity and arguments. Music is the one thing we actually have tisks over. No real fights or HUGE disagreements: just tugging and pulling until we reach a happy compromise. That way, we keep each other in check so I won’t get too sappy, and he won’t be too dry. Wes has been the backbone of all our relationships – band, friendship, and marriage. And I’ve always been the heart. it sounds like a stereotyped male/female sitch, but I am not making this up. He does all the hard work, and I make things pretty. it’s as simple as that.
Describe for us the recording process behind For Your Home or Office.
Wes – Each song was different, really. Some of the vocals and rhodes tracks were done in the studio, but most of it was done at our house.
juju – Yep, each song is really different, except maybe the first and last? Some tracks were just improv things I was doing to stuff he’d already arranged, and some things were painstakingly etched out. “golden hummingbird”, for instance, started out with a straight vocal recording done in the studio, which I hated, so Wes spent hours upon hours splicing and editing. it was silly for me to put him to the task, but all I had to say was basically “mess it up”, and it was done. He really impresses me, song after song. Every new thing he tries just amazes me.
Are you happy with For Your Home or Office? Was there any kind of specific message in the music that you were attempting to convey, and did it come across as you wanted it to?
Wes – Yes. (That answers all the questions.)
juju – I’m happy it’s finally out! A year later… I was having a hard time when we did those songs. a lot of disappointment in people who were supposed to be responsible, loving, giving, etc… including the president, our former label, ex’s, just selfish people in general, and the way the world is becoming so plastic and unreal. And by that I don’t mean plastic the material. I have a fondness for futurism and modern design and all that, but I was really fed up with the way humans were treating each other = worse than they treat their belongings. There is something about self deprecation, and there is something about charity. I don’t know what others get out of the entire thing, but it has touched me, and I’ve learned a lot from it. Sort of like a child that we raised and is all grown up now. So now it is time to make another one?
From our end, there seems to be quite a fertile music scene in the San Francisco, Sacramento areas…what is the scene like over there from your perspective?
Wes – it’s two completely different scenes. Sacramento gets overlooked, and everything happens in San Francisco.
juju – We have friends in the sf “scene”, and they do fine there. They share musicians and labels and shows, and it seems like everyone there is so artsy. it’s so city. Lots of kids doing similar things. Sacramento, however, is so small-town. We’re the only band like us here. There are some electronic music makers (read: boys with laptops and gadgets) who stick together, but there isn’t a lot of integration happening here like there is in sf. We play here, and we’re lucky if our loyal crowd of 5 shows up. We play sf, and we get a guest cello soloist to sit in on our last song, totally off the cuff and gorgeous. I moved to sf to work with other artists in that way, but I ended up moving back to Sacramento because, well, Wes was here, but the band does better here than it could really anywhere else. And I think it’s because we stand out, and don’t get sucked into a certain niche. We do have a small support system here, too, which is comfortable and nice. The sad part about small-town sacto is that there are no venues for independent music anymore. Most bands play in Davis now, which is a college town between here and sf. we had a good show there recently. Those kids with their parents’ money are crazy to buy up any merch you have for sale! it was bewildering at first, but now I think we should do a tour of only small college towns just to make some money…
What artists are you listening to these days?
Wes – Stereolab, Rollerskate Skinny, fennesz, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t think of right now.
juju – The new interpol, Remote Viewer’s latest, Rob Ellis, Eluvium, that Four Tet/Pole split 12″ (can u c I am a sucker for pretty piano and electro?), ediT,F, deadbeat, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Charles Atlas remixes (yah, we’re on it, too, but it’s really good overall, plus I HEART iSAN!), Lali Puna, still in love with M83 and Radio Dept, oh, and I’ve been craving Blonde Redhead and getting into Camera Obscura.
LiFELiNER+ is also an active musical entity. How is LiFELiNER+ balanced with Park Avenue Music?
juju – LiFELiNER+ is all caps, and Park Avenue Music is all lower case. Don’t ask me why, it’s just so. pamuz gets more attention now because of the ep release and all, but Wes is working on LiFELiNER+ stuff again, and it’s sooo good. = my favorite band. I’m hoping he finds a label home soon, or else we’re going to start our own label just to put it out.
Wes – yes, I would like to put some LiFELiNER+ music out. I’ve recorded some other songs, too. I try to do Park Avenue Music stuff first. That’s my highest priority, but sometimes, if a certain song doesn’t work out for Park Avenue Music, it might end up being used for LiFELiNER+
What is in the future for Park Avenue Music?
juju – Erm, PBS is coming to our house next week to film us at work in our studio… wonder if they have any idea it might just end up with me making lunch and daydreaming next to Wes while he works at the G4 in headphones? Or it could be Rita Rhodes, me, a mic, and some effects pedals singing our hearts out for twenty minutes while Wes looks for some knobs to turn… other than that, who knows?
Wes – I’d like to get a publicist but they are so darn expensive! More music is on the way.
Any other comments?
juju – Erm… haven’t I said enuff already?