An Interview with The Emerald Down: Part 1
The Emerald Down are a shoegaze band that got its start in 1995 in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. They emerged in a scene that had no shoegaze presence while the first wave shoegaze scene in the UK was dying, killed off by the cynical British press. By 1995, bands like Slowdive had broken up with members going on to various different projects. The Emerald Down’s first self-titled release, an EP, came out in 1996 and their first full-length, Scream the Sound, came out in 2001. In this regard, they were pioneers of the genre in the U.S. Rebecca Bayse has agreed on the band’s behalf to an interview and I, for one, could not be more pleased. Saint Marie Records has re-issued Scream the Sound on vinyl for the first time as well on CD with new artwork, etc. Here, I ask the band about their history, reformation and the re-release of what is an important record in the history of shoegaze, especially on the North American continent. We will eventually conduct a second interview concerning their new album Songs from Saturn, which is due out sometime during 2017 on Wrong Way Records. Much of the line-up has changed, with Rebecca Basye and Jason Markin remaining from the Scream the Sound days. Therefore, most of the following questions in this particular interview will only pertain to them (sorry to the others). However, we will get to a question or two for the new line-up.
Hello everybody. How about we begin by talking about the big news in the line-up changes by introducing yourselves and letting us know how you ended up in the band and what part you currently play?
RB: I’m Rebecca Basye. I am one of three guitars, vocals and founder of The Emerald Down (heretofore referred to as TED). Thanks to mastermind Al Boyd at our new label Wrong Way Records, who hooked us up with stellar new label mates David Fitzgerald (The Junkyard Liberty / The Telescopes) and Nick Noble (93MillionMilesFromTheSun), and our adding of Tyler Royster (Blanco Bronco) on bass as well, we will have five contributing on the forthcoming single Lucas and new album Songs From Saturn. I will let the others tell you about their fantastic current and former bands.
JM: Hi, I’m Jason. Next year will be my 20th that I’ve been holding sticks for TED. The longevity of our band and the sound is absolutely amazing and I’m ecstatic about our new line-up and forthcoming record release on Wrong Way. So Rebecca and I met at a house party in Olympia, WA in 1996 and discussed our musical interests. In Oly at the time Riot Grrl was continuing to reign as the musical choice of the scene, so finding a common interest in atmospheric guitars with Rebecca was easy. I was playing drums for a band called Some Gorgeous Accident at the time with Toby Gordon from Delta Haymax (Tooth & Nail Records) and Rebecca gave me a 4 song demo TED just recorded at Moon Studio and instantly I loved the sound. After several conversations, the band invited me to play and TEDs current drummer rolled over to bass guitar and I’ve been the drummer ever since.
NN: Hi, I’m Nick and I’m glad to be on board. As Rebecca said it was Al Boyd from Wrong Way Records who first made contact with me to see if I’d be interested. My band 93MillionMilesFromTheSun had released a record on Al’s label so I knew Al quite well. Rebecca then messaged me direct and we got chatting and here we are! I have just finished recording and mixing the new 93 record so all this fits in really well and will give me something different to focus on which I am really excited about.
TR: Tyler Royster, bass guitar. I’ve known Jason for years and I’m very familiar with the earlier works of both Jason and Rebecca from The Mukilteo Fairies all the way up to TED. When Jason asked me to help contribute to the new album, I was pretty excited.
How did you all get started in music? Why is it that you feel compelled to express yourselves in this way and what keeps bringing you back?
RB: I was drawn to music as a child (violin, piano, and chorus) and was around music my whole life growing up around musicians in the Bay Area. I was taken to rock concerts as a child, and even got to sit in and watch recording sessions in the 1970s, but began my own band adventures in 1991-92 starting with my first band Horehound (a ‘gungegaze’ affair) not long after buying my first guitar. I felt compelled not just due to the inspiring music coming out at the time, but also because of the encouraging supportive riot grrl movement of which I was a part in early 90s Olympia, WA. Music production feeds my soul. I cannot live without it.
NN: I’ve been in bands for years and 93MillionMilesFromTheSun have been going now for nearly 10 years. I mainly play guitar but, in the past, I’ve been a drummer and a bass player. I was into Hip Hop when I was a kid at school and then it was The Stone Roses album that changed everything for me. It was a great time for music while I was in my teens with the Shoegaze stuff and I immersed myself in that and I’ve always loved it and been drawn back to it.
TR: The first real paycheck I ever got was spent on a guitar. I think that was in ’93 or so, back in Olympia. I wasn’t a great guitar player, but I really developed my own style. When I picked up a bass for the first time, I knew that was going to be my instrument. I’ve been playing bass nearly exclusively ever since. The bass just lends itself to dense melodies so well. It’s kind of meditative for me to come up with these hooks. Making music that drives definitely keeps me playing.
Can you talk a little bit about the early years of the band and what it was like making music in a genre that had its founders all falling apart at the time? I mean, Slowdive, Ride, Swervedriver, etc were all getting panned in the UK press, being dropped from labels, and so forth.
RB: Well, the panning was very real in the US too, with the added problem that it seemed like not many in my region, indeed country, had extended familiarity with many of those UK bands or what we were trying to achieve and inspired by soundwise when TED started in 1995 (and prior to that I had four other ‘shoegazey’ bands from 1991-1995 that confirm this for me). Hence, very few in our genre got signed to US labels in the first place for the same reason! Such were the early and most years of TED until today (2016) where for the first time we are feeling like we are a part of a bona fide, international scene where we hope we belong in terms of genre, whatever you want to call the genre. Back then some in my area were still drawing comparisons to the Sundays, the Cure, or Pink Floyd because that was simply all they knew to compare it to or lived largely on a steady diet of the output from lo-fi, twee, emo, punk, slowcore, etc. This existing taste trend was a bit ill fitted for us and we used too many effects for some people, but also kind of cool because TED played with mostly punk and post-rock bands throughout the early years. I attribute the somewhat post-rock meets ‘shoegaze’ sound of our first ep to that environment.
JM: I absolutely agree with every point Rebecca just made… Bands like Slowdive, Ride, and Swervedriver were quickly dismissed as soon as Creation signed Oasis and the surge of ROMO and BritPop swiftly sucked the life out of the scene. Magazines like NME and Melody Maker were no longer focused on shoegazey bands. Labels and their A&R reps were not clueless, the general public wanted Blur, Shed Seven, Suede, and of course hip-hop started making its mark in mainstream music across the world. The sad reality about the rapid decline of shoegaze, including the founding bands of the genre, is that they too moved away from the swirling guitars and lush vocals. One in fact became successful so to speak sounding like roots were set up in Nashville, and the other started wearing bell bottom pants, grew long hair, and trashed the delay pedals. But, several bands like Allison’s Halo, Bethany Curve, Godspeed, and quite a few Slumberland bands carried on the sound in America. So while the well-known founders of the genre declined, a tight niche of bands decided to keep the torch burning. The painful part about watching the most fascinating genre to ever exist fail was the constant jabs by magazines, radio stations, and venues calling the surviving bands clones or just another Slowdive rip off band.
What was the scene like in the pacific northwest and how were you received as a shoegaze band? Why the move to Ohio prior to the full-length and how did that environment differ from the PNW in terms of your band and how it navigated that music scene?
RB:Despite the fact that Seattle/Olympia were known for anything but a sound like ours, I think the PNW crowd was actually pretty supportive at the time due to the DIY music environment, at least at gigs. However, getting any of the regional labels to release our first ep was a no go, which is why it faded away to never be heard from again, and at the time I just did not have any solid label connections outside of the PNW to try my luck. We moved to Ohio when I got a job offer there. I would say that our experience in Ohio was fairly similar to Olympia. It was still a very difficult time for ‘shoegazey’ bands until at least 2005-2006 (after we dropped off). And despite the emergence of the second wave at the dawn of the aughts, a scene newly aided by the internet, and labels like Clairecords, we still ended up self-releasing against a tide. No domestic label I tried, even ones releasing other bands like us, wanted Scream the Sound. It was very discouraging really, but the audience we did have in the Midwest and the Northeast where we toured and played with bands like Skywave, Alcian Blue, Stellerscope, and Highspire were wonderful despite their very small number. We got some great feedback too from those like AC30 who invited us to come play in London just before we imploded. I think if we had been elsewhere at that time things might have been different. Nevertheless, we are grateful for the way Olympia and Columbus treated us on the whole, they largely had an open mind, and found musical parallels in their own experience.
JM: The Pacific NW is like no other! The majority will say, “it rains too much or Grunge” but shoegaze existed more as an indie and as most of us know Nirvana or Pearl Jam reigned supremacy. For a short period, this band I played for in Oly prior to TED called Some Gorgeous Accident, named after a lyric in a Blueboy song, gigged with bands like The Melody Unit, Voyager One, and we continued to promote a dying genre. The move to Ohio… while difficult to exit the NW, we were looking forward to a change. Rebecca and I had an amazing employment opportunity plus I’m originally from the Dayton area so we figured why not, let’s start a new adventure.
It has been 15 years since you released your last disc, Aquarium on Honest in Secret label. If you are willing, would you speak to what has happened in those intervening years that has kept the band from making new music until now?
RB: Well, after constant rejection and some major disappointments I just gave up in 2002 very near the time Aquarium was released. For example, we were invited to come play for a Sony A&R rep in 2001 and were unable to due to the literally overnight loss of one of the old band mates (someone no longer with us). I went back to school to finish my degree in anthropology and worked as a graphic designer in those years. Later, I moved to Germany where I now live. Once I began to work on the new versions, vocals, and artwork for the re-release of Scream the Sound for Saint Marie, and I got a second chance at living after getting through cancer treatment, I began to realize it was time to come back and try again. We are being given a second chance by both Saint Marie and Wrong Way (who will be releasing the new album). We didn’t find a way to make it happen until now. Really, it is not just our labels, but all of you in this great new scene making this happen for us!
JM: The passing of our friend 15 yrs ago was an enormous blow to our creativity and family like feel within the band. Not to mention our newest member Erik had recently graduated from Ohio State Law School and his focus was passing the bar exam. Our decision to take a break and focus on our studies at OSU somehow time-warped 15 yrs. If Wyatt from Saint Marie Records hadn’t contacted us, I’m not sure if TED would have ever released another song. Sadly, Rebecca has struggled with her battle with cancer over the past several years, I moved back to the Seattle area, so a future release was bleak at best. My current employment working for NORAD swallows an abundant amount of time plus several right shoulder surgeries and most recently my right ACL and meniscus were repaired. I’m just elated TED never replaced me as the drummer.
I would like to ask you about a few tracks on Scream the Sound and see what you recollect about recording those. Can you talk a bit about writing/composing and recording “7am” and “A Minor Crush”? Looking back on Scream the Sound, do you have any favorite tracks? Why those tracks?
RB: Oh man! Here goes the chemo brain. Yeah, Scream was recorded in early 2001 in Chicago’s Wicker Park at Engine studios by Andy Bosnak and Laurent Bichara. It was a great studio and a lot of fun. Two of the tracks on Scream were made up on the spot as tape filler, and one of those ended up being my second favourite on the album, the title track “Scream the Sound” where I am joined by Laurent
Bichara’s monolog in French as written by Jim (also written on the fly). And Jim’s bass, wow! Andy said “hey, you got some space left on this reel. Do you want to do some more stuff?”. So we obliged and winged it. “Heavier than Ether, Lighter than Air” is the other track written in-studio. Both had no second takes. We just hit the record button and rolled. It was equally fast for the pre-written songs as well, very little in the way of second takes. We went in very tight.
Well, lyrically “7am” is about maintaining a measure of self-respect and not losing yourself in someone else or being dependent on their approval for your sense of self-worth. It is a song full of sadness and defiance. It is a feminist song about being in love with a hurtful narcissist. I love how Chad’s guitar interacts with mine in this track and still wish we had him louder in the mix. “A Minor Crush” is about a creepy stalker with a crush on someone and a play on words. Someone was stalking me for a bit. So the lyrics just came magically as we were writing the music because it was coming out of us exactly how I was feeling: intrigued, trapped like an animal, and frightened! It developed in practice and then when we brought it to Engine in Chicago we added extra vocal harmonies in the chorus. It’s probably my favorite of all songs on Scream. It’s is always connected to “His Sight Shiny like Chrome” when we play live as one continuous song and we absolutely loved playing that live because every member goes hog wild in the chorus. The song still gets me every time I listen to it. It’s a real a ‘crusher’ (pun and triple entendre intended).
JM: Amazed how we recorded all 11 songs live in one take and in one day. Engine Studio in Chicago was a blast and the engineer just let us flow. The most difficult part for me was being separated in another room on the other side of the building. It was basic isolation for me during the recording process. There were no windows to daylight and no glass wall for visual cueing, basically a set of headphones and my kit centered in a room that was larger than 3000 sq/ft. Perhaps this was unconventional, but the acoustics in that room were stunningly crisp with a tinge of reverberation and I knew it was going to be a learning experience for the entire band. Enough about the facility… Do I have a favorite song from Scream the Sound? Yes, without a doubt “Recondite Astral Traveler”, but “Caught a Wave” is nearby. CAW was the perfect song to open up our live performances with simply because the guitar delays mixed with Jim and Rebecca’s vocals bouncing off walls usually set the atmosphere for crowd and from that first verse and chorus everyone knew exactly what to expect sound wise. What you hear on Scream the Sound and Aquarium is precisely what you’ll hear live.
What was the impetus for re-releasing Scream the Sound and how did Saint Marie Records get involved in that process? Might we see a re-release of the songs off of the self-titled EP (1996) and Aquarium (2002) as well?
RB:Well, Wyatt Parkins at Saint Marie contacted us in late 2014. Sadly, this was just when I was diagnosed with cancer, hence, the delay. Saint Marie describes Scream the Sound as a “lost classic”, and that about sums up the impetus I think. It truly was lost save for a few diehard old school shoegazers who kept it in their collection. But many just know a song or two, the ones that have been floating around the internet on file sharing sites for ages like “Caught a Wave”, so here is a chance to purchase and hear the entire album as it was meant to be heard, a way to right things again. Finally, there is a whole, massive new world of shoegazers out there, a third wave of bands and people to whom we are entirely new (and for some first and second wave folks as well), and we really hope they like it. This is a time of discovery and re-discovery. We also wanted to bring something new to those who have been with us for so long in the way of new versions, a bonus track, full readable lyrics and all new expanded artwork and, last but not least, coloured, double vinyl. Aquarium will also be re-released in 2017. As far as re-releasing the 1996 ST ep, that is most definitely the plan, just have not quite figured out in what way we will do that yet.
JM: Wyatt, Wyatt, and Wyatt… Scream the Sound and Aquarium has been out of print for years and we never planned to re-release ourselves. I’m stunned by the resurgence of the best genre to ever exist. To see fans of shoegaze creating a buzz and generating media attention about the sound is just crazy. Social media has changed promotional capabilities significantly plus provided a method for the masses to easily access bands like TED and Slowdive creating a wave of dreampop and shoegaze bands around the world. In the year 2017, Aquarium will be re-released on SMR and new material following soon after on Wrong Way.
Looking back, what was the last thing The Emerald Down did together as a band before going separate ways? How do your prior experiences inform how you are approaching things now?
RB: I think the last thing we did was a gig with our Ohio friends Pretty Mighty Mighty. As for prior experience informing what we do now, I would say that the mistake I made before was giving up so soon just because of a few asshats. I will not be giving up this time. You are stuck with us now! Mwahahaha.
JM: Our last show as a band was by far the best. If I remember correctly it was sometime around Nov 2002 or 2003 at a venue in Columbus. Bits and pieces of footage are floating around the internet but the sound quality on the video is subpar. Yeah, as the singer/guitarist of TED once said, “a few asshats” will not be a creative roadblock this time.
As a bit of a preview and looking forward to our second interview, can you talk a bit about how the inclusion of Nick, David, and Tyler might enhance the band? To all members: What are you looking forward to and how do you see yourselves being inserted into the writing process of the next album?
RB: I am excited beyond words about this new group of folks and honoured to work with David, Nick, and Tyler. It’s amazing really. In addition to collaborating, David will bring his producing and recording expertise, as will Nick. Jason and I are both over the moon about all three of them. I think we are going to take TED from caterpillar to the butterfly. We are proud of all our line-ups, but this time around is something really special. TED is a democratic, collaborative, ego-free animal by nature, so the field is open and we are still devising writing and production strategies as things are just about to start up. Take it away guys…
JM: I’ll just wing it like Nick. A challenge awaits the entire band and it’ll come together and I’m excited for final product.
NN:Haha I’ll just wing it like i always do! No seriously I’m buzzing about it. I’m not 100% sure how it’s all gonna work yet as we’re all in different countries but the internet is a wonderful thing. I’ve got a copy of Scream the Sound from years back but it had been way too long since I last listened. Rebecca sent me some tracks through and I’ve had it all on repeat ever since. Can’t wait to get involved in the new stuff in which ever way that might be.
TR: I’ve been playing bass in Oly and Tacoma bands for years, mostly in Blanco Bronco. I’ve had the chance to play with some pretty amazing bands and people over the years. With TED, I really just see myself as a hidden foundation, a solid base to add layers to. And maybe, hopefully, a driving catalyst for some of the new songs. The writing process has really just begun, so we’ll see!
Also, more broadly, what was the catalyst for reforming the band and recording new material?
RB: The time is finally right, we’ve got a great label in Wrong Way to release it on, and I’m still alive! It’s a triple win! Also, because I’ve had this on my mind for 15 years.
JM: Rebecca is still alive, a new label, amazing new band members, an exciting time to create that wall.
Thanks for this TED! I look forward to our second interview in 2017 around the release of Songs from Saturn. Do you have any other comments for our readers? Also, could you leave us with some news about a potential single that may be released soon?
RB: Thank you Jason. Yes! Our new single “Lucas” will be released in April 2017 and the album Songs from Saturn in Autumn 2017, both on Wrong Way Records.
JM: “Lucas” will surprise quite a few people. Rebecca will crush cancer and hopefully Jason jr is lurking around the corner … Ha!
NN: I’ve heard the demo of Lucas and it’s so so good. Can’t wait to see what the five of us can do with it.
Buy it on colored/black vinyl or cd at Saint Marie Records!
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