At the beginning of January, word came that the long-awaited full-length debut from former Common Children band-mates Andrew Thompson and Marc Byrd had been released. For fans of the two’s previous work, Hammock’s “Kenotic” is a welcome collection of atmospheric/instrumental/soundscape music that is reflective and beautiful. Both band members kindly answered some questions for us:
For the sake of those who have not read your bio on your site yet, can you describe for us how you two came together to form a musical duo?
Andrew Thompson – We met on tour & I joined Common Children not too long after that for “The Inbetween Time”. We continued to work together (writing, recording & producing) after Common Children disbanded & started recording the music that eventually became Hammock when we both had free time between projects.
Marc Byrd – Let’s just say that Andrew and I connected guitar wise. He played on my solo EP and recorded some songwriting demos for me also. It just grew from there.
What inspired you two to create this particular style of music?
AT – It just kind of came naturally. It’s not very different from what each of us listen to for pleasure. The music is so far removed from what both of us had been working on that it provided a welcome & refreshing release from the norm.
MB – My nickname in school was Marc, Marc, Marc because I used so much delay on my guitar. I have always loved spacey music. My favorite guitar players and bands have always been spacey sonically. Like Andrew said, it just came about naturally without any agenda in mind.
Why did you decide that “Kenotic” would have (mostly) no vocals?
AT – It really wasn’t a conscious decision at all. We just did what made sense in the context of the song. If the song called for vocals, then we put vocals in.
MB – I don’t know—I think I was just interested in getting the immediate idea down without concern about whether or not anyone could sing on it.
From there it just turned into what it became. I’ve heard plenty of bands that I wish were just instrumental. If a lyric is not great why clutter it up with bad poetry or adolescent pretentiousness? Also around the time we were creating this album the person who taught me apologetics and theology killed himself. He was a teacher at a Christian University. One day he drove to walmart bought a shotgun and shot himself. When faced with events like this there are no words. I’m still processing this. I do have some songs with lyrics dealing with this but for a while I didn’t want to write about it.
Describe the recording process of “Kenotic”…how was the project written and recorded? How do you write your songs for Hammock?
AT – We wrote & recorded the entirety of “Kenotic” in my basement studio (Studio 37) over about a 2.5 yr period of time. Just whenever we could get together between other projects. There was no intention of ever releasing this stuff, it was done mostly for the pure enjoyment of making music that WE liked to listen to & work on. Eventually we built up a collection of almost 40 songs & at that point we thought maybe someone else outside of the basement might actually enjoy some of this material.
MB – Yeah I think the first idea came about because I had just got my Baritone guitar. New sonic arsenal always seems to open up new creativity. When we’re in the studio we spend a lot of time fumbling around and exploring different sounds and combinations of sounds. A great deal of our work comes about because of a certain sound we dig up and develop. We have to have time to make mistakes and explore. Don’t get the wrong idea—it didn’t take a full 2.5 years to make Kenotic…there were months that we didn’t work on it because we were busy on other projects.
On your site, you have an impressive collection of quotes and links to other interesting sites and ideas. How do these thoughts connect to “Kenotic” and your philosophy as a band?
AT – There are so many artists, writers, musicians & photographers that we are into, we thought that sharing some of our interests & influences might motivate the creative flow in others as it had done in us. We wanted to provide a creative & collaborative sort of community around us & “Kenotic”.
MB – Yeah the whole purpose of the site is the same as the music—SLOW DOWN, LISTEN AND ENJOY THE SUBTLETY. We wanted to put things on the site that fit with the music. There is a bunch of Zen type poems on our site. The words fit perfect with the music. I personally love Japanese Zen poetry. There is also a link to a book I read by John Daido Lori called the Zen of Creativity. It really opened up doors for me as an artist. It’s all about capturing the immediate moment with your work and not over thinking everything to death. Get out of the way and let it happen.
Aesthetically it totally fits what we’re trying to do. I like that when we started Kenotic we didn’t have any reason for creating other than our sheer enjoyment of the process.
With several “Christian” releases to your credit in previous bands and projects, you must have some incredible insights into that music scene. What are some of your thoughts regarding the Christian music industry?
AT – The Christian music scene has been good to both of us. Sometimes, though, there seems to be a stifling of creativity for the sake of commerciality. We created Hammock as a means to eliminate any creative boundaries & to be free to write & record for the sole & only purpose of our own enjoyment.
MB – I could bash the whole scene to bits but I’m not going to. It’s frustrating knowing that music is a lot of the time an afterthought. The agenda of the machine is usually the first priority. But it’s like that in corporate pop/rock/country music also. That’s why Hammock is such a release for us and a genuine expression of who we really are—Kenotic is free of all advisory committee decisions—We are the committee.
The only other thing I’ll say on this subject is that CCM music wouldn’t be where it is if Christians didn’t buy it. If the overall consensus among Christians was that CCM sucks then things might change. I think the real issue is what it says about the people inside the sub culture of Christians. Is the average Christian bookstore a reflection of what the average Christian believes and enjoys?? Pretty scary!! The issue is deeper than just bad A&R decisions. Overall the CCM “industry” and the little red words in the Gospels have very little to do with one another.
In the same vein, Marc’s lyrics on previous releases are explicit in their references to your faith. Would you say that your faith has influenced the inspiration behind the songs on “Kenotic”…and in what way has your Faith connected with your music?
AT – I think that faith is a constant struggle & it comes out, inevitably in the music. For me the process of writing & recording this album was a catharsis of faith. It allowed me to express feelings & emotions in a way that was so much more free than almost any other musical experience I’ve been involved with. (outside of Common Children)
MB – The word Kenotic is taken from the word Kenosis. It’s a theological term referring to the self-emptying of God in creation and specifically the Incarnation. I believe that the theology of Kenosis already is and will be the ground upon which the Christian and Buddhist dialogue will be able to take place. So yes, faith or the lack thereof has an influence on the music. Ingmar Bergman’s film trilogy (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, the Silence) dealing with his own struggle with the existence of God influenced us on this project as well. Heavy stuff in those films.
I have also been sitting in silence twice a day for a little over a year now. Twenty minutes in the morning and thirty minutes at night—this has definitely impacted every area of my life. It has made me get honest with the uncertainty of life. There is a lot that we as humans just don’t know. We all deal with a great amount of uncertainty. I just want to keep growing and expanding however that looks and whatever that may mean. One thing I do know is that faith is much broader, at times more simple and sometimes more complicated than the average right wing evangelical spokesperson will have us believe.
Fans who have followed your careers up to this point also probably have a question that you may want to answer: Will Common Children or Glassbyrd ever record together again? Will Christine (Marc’s wife) ever record a solo project again? And what do you feel about your past releases, especially Common Children’s releases?
AT – I have a very special place in my heart for “The Inbetween Time”. My first recording experience with those guys was magical & I can still listen to that album today, which is a rarity in this business.
MB – I don’t think GlassByrd or Common Children will do another record. Christine and I are both planning on releasing solo records sometime in the future. I’m still fairly proud of Common Children’s past releases. They’re good for the time that they were made. I feel that the Glassbyrd release was more of a concept project now that I look back on it. Christy and I just wanted to express our faith.
Marc, you recently were involved in recording The Choir’s new CD. What has that process been like for you?
MB – I feel honored to have been asked to take the role of producer. They have actually named me as an official member. So I guess I’m in two bands now. It is different to work with guys you have respected and looked up to for so long and then see them operate as artist. Derri and Steve have a different role to play when they’re producing or recording another artist in the studio. But when the roles are reversed and they’re the artist then you have to deal with the same stuff all artists deal with like insecurity and interpersonal history. I completely understand that in my own life. Perhaps that’s one reason they asked me to come on board. It’s been a great experience. We’re actually mixing the record right now. I believe the title will be “O How the Mighty Have Fallen.”
Do you have certain musicians or artists that you admire who you feel have influenced your songwriting/playing? What CD’s have you been listening to lately?
AT – Lindsey Buckingham, Dave Gilmour & Johnny Marr come to mind so far as influences on my playing. Songwriting influences are endless & everywhere. Too long a list to even fathom. I am so far behind in my listening duties lately! I have a huge stack from Christmas to go through still & new music coming in every day.
MB – Brian Eno is my favorite musician of all time. Marty Wilson Piper from the Church, Derri Daugherty, Johnny Marr, Robert Smith, Michael Hedges, William Ackerman and Lindsey Buckingham have all influenced my playing. Songwriters—I love Patty Griffin, Mark Kozelek—really too many to mention. Producers—Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno.
CD’s I’m listening to right now are Long Gone Before Daylight by the Cardigans, Universal United House of Prayer by Buddy Miller, LOW’s new one and the Dead Texan.
What is in the musical future for both of you, whether together as Hammock, in other projects, or solo?
AT – We have 2 EPs in the works so far as Hammock is concerned, Marc’s solo record, my solo record & another collaboration with some friends of ours that should take place some time this year, hopefully.
MB – The first EP will have a limited number of vinyl printed up. The second EP is probably going to be called “Rock Music for Songs.” It will be heavier but still instrumental and spacey. I have more than enough material for a solo record but after my above comment about lyrics I’m afraid to follow through with it. All I can say is my solo effort is pretty melancholy.
Any other comments?
MB – Support Tsunami relief and —I think it would be nice if America stopped blowing things up.