Please introduce yourselves. How did Ifwhen form? Can you give us a history of the band?
Mary: I studied classical piano and composition for many years. I’m self-taught on viola and guitar, although I play neither on this record. At one point we were thinking of using viola alongside some of the vocal tracks – that never materialized on this record but I can see it as something we might try in the future.
Kentaro: I started playing music when I was 13 years old. When I was in Tokyo, I was in some bands and we would play shows. It was more metal. I met Merc when I answered an ad he had placed.
Merc: I started Ifwhen on the tail end of doing the then ten ep. Then ten was sort of the final phase of All Natural…. and by the time we were finishing up in the studio, we knew that we weren’t going to be playing together anymore somewhat indefinitely. That was at the end of 2000. I started writing the songs that ended up being on the first Ifwhen record at that time. I would get together with Brian, the L&L (all natural…) drummer and we would go through each song and work out the drum parts. It was sort of backwards. The first record is all just Brian and I. Kentaro came along as I was finishing mixing that record with josh from L&L. It sort of turned out to be a “studio album” I guess. It wasn’t supposed to be, but I overdid it with too many tracks and overdubs. It didn’t really work live. I hated how it was coming across. I used the laptop for way too much, it was like a karaoke thing. That’s what made me decide to find a keyboard player – to be more versatile live. After meeting and auditioning with several people, I finally came across Mary. So much of the situation had changed at that point. Brian had left the band and Mary and Kentaro had joined. It seemed to only make sense to do a new record so somewhat suddenly, I started writing We Will Gently Destroy You.
We Will Gently Destroy You has lush sounds and intricate percussion and bass work. Also, the vocals really compliment and bring depth to the band’s sound. Can you give us some insight into the recording and writing process of the album? In general, how do you approach song writing?
Merc: I approached this record in a more sensible way than the first. From the beginning, I had the live set in mind. there are maybe only 2 or 3 spots on the whole record where I used an overdub. I didn’t so much plan that at first, but that mindset just fell into place. As Mary said before, I had initially wanted to utilize her viola playing, but grew to dislike the idea of having something that wouldn’t incorporate itself into the live set. I would have totally done that for the first record, but I didn’t know her yet. This record is all just two keyboards, one for each of Mary’s hands, one guitar, bass and drums. The drums are all sample based so I would start off by working with that. Working out a beat, cutting the samples and getting the sounds. Then I would write a guitar part around that. writing those parts goes hand in hand with working on the guitar sound and the preset. I tried to get those sounds to be exactly how I wanted them to be on the final record. I didn’t want to think, “oh that’s fine for now, I’ll get it right later” – because what’s being played is so dependent on the sound. The same idea goes for all of the keyboard sounds – I write the part and the sound simultaneously. I’m sure that’s a very common idea in certain types of music, but it was different from what I did on the first record in using temporary reference sounds or relying more on plug-ins and post production. Anyway, I would get a guitar part together with a certain beat and record that. That’s usually the basis of the song and there’s really no specific approach to it. I’m just trying to come up with something that sounds good or interesting. When I would write the other parts, I get a bit more technical. I take out my notebook and I approach it from more of a compositional point of view. I usually notate the guitar part and figure out what’s going on – which is always somewhat incidental until that point. After that I usually try to write the bass line and then the keyboard parts. Sometimes I switch that around if I get stuck. I’ll record rough versions of those other parts and keep them until I meet with the others. I’ll just play back the rough takes that I did and they’ll figure out the part and be ready to record it on the spot, I don’t think that I could ever do that. They’re both very good players and it makes things real easy for me.
Merc, I know that you were in All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors. How has your ability as musicians grown since then? What lessons have you taken from that experience into Ifwhen? Do you find L&L’s songs still relavent and interesting to you? Will there ever be a release of Then Ten’s music?
Merc: I guess that I’ve grown in a lot of ways as a musician and as a person from the L&L experience. People say that they can hear the influence of L&L in Ifwhen and I guess that’s true, but what I think is more true is that you can just hear a lot of the same influences that influenced all of us as a band in L&L. We were all pretty much into the same music and I still listen to a lot of what I listened to back then. With L&L we really concentrated on our live set a lot. We felt the best about ourselves when we played a great show. I learned to love that feeling and really seek after it. I do look back at our old records in a positive way too. I think that a lot of those songs are still worth putting on every once in a while. Some of them were really clever and well executed. I’m definitely proud to have been a part of that band.
I’m not sure that then ten will ever be released. If somebody wanted to put it out, we’d be all for it, but there’s not a big market for that sort of thing. It’s pretty experimental and most people would probably consider it a bit alienating. none of us are going to pursue a label for that now. It would really take somebody else’s efforts and that doesn’t seem to be happening.
What about yourselves leads you to write such innovative, experimental music? How have you come to make such soaring, intricate compositions?
Merc: I’m not really sure. I’m just the most moved by music that ends up changing the way I look at music altogether – so that’s what I try to make. I wonder what else can be done with music and I try to go that way. I just try to stay away from all of those patterns and ideas that we’ve been so conditioned to expect and feel comfortable with, whether its rhythmically or tonally. I like the idea of entertaining people while making them feel somewhat uncomfortable and disoriented. I think that can be an interesting sensation. I think that those feelings of discomfort and disorientation come from not hearing what we’ve grown to expect from music. I just don’t want to write songs that have already been written and contain ideas that have already been explored.
What do you see as the future of Ifwhen? Is there a label in mind for your new disc?
Mary: At the moment, there is no label for the new record. To be honest, no label in particular jumps to mind when we think of where we might fit in, at least stylistically. Maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know…
Merc: Our focus is on the live set and we’ve been rehearsing steadily. I feel like if this comes across live the way it should, this music would be best perceived that way. There are a few labels that I sort of have in mind, but its difficult to say. I’m not sure where this music fits in so its hard to say what label would be an ideal fit, but we would love to have it out there.
What artists would you say have most influenced most over the years?
Mary: Alastair Galbraith, Peter Jefferies, Bert Jansch, Roy Montgomery, Nick Drake, Brigitte Fontaine, Go-Betweens, Robert Wyatt are a few artists that come to mind. Also my favourite composers, Henry Cowell, Olivier Messiaen, Conlon Nancarrow.
Merc: The obvious one is MBV. Seeing them perform while I was in high school really marked a turning point for me musically. I’d also have to say The Beatles like so many others. There are so many things that influence me though and for so many little reasons. There are tons of random songs that I feel like I’ve gotten concepts or ideas from. There’s this awesome old song, “I only have eyes for you” that was recorded by The Flamingoes and that was the basis on one of the tracks from the first Ifwhen record. I definitely wouldn’t call The Flamingoes an “influence,” but there are things like that all over both records, where maybe a sound, a line, or a break was my attempt at what someone else did on some random song that I like.
Who are you listening to now? What cds are you currently enjoying most?
Kentaro: Tokyo-Jihen, a Tokyo band, Pin Back, Radiohead, Blonde Redhead.
Mary: I’ve been listening a lot to this Finnish artist Es, his band Kiila, and virtually everything on his label Fonal Records, for that matter. I finally got the chance to see him play last month in Brooklyn, and it was fantastic. The latest PG Six album is really good…I also was into that Michael Yonkers record that came out on Sub Pop last year…and a few months ago I finally picked up the two Judee Sill records – what a talented songwriter.
Merc: I listen to so much different music. It’s tough to make a list. During the making of this record, I was listening a lot to melt banana – they’re amazing, Syd Barrett, Lalo Schifrin, a lot of old Motown stuff, various dub, and a ridiculous assortment from my hard drive.