An Interview with All in the Golden Afternoon – January 16, 2017
It was a cloudy, warm afternoon in Austin, TX on January 16, 2017. I met Rachel Staggs and Carlos Jackson for sushi at their favorite spot. We ate and chatted about travel for about an hour. Then we headed out to the porch for a chat about their start in music, All in the Golden Afternoon, their recording and writing process, and many more things. All in the Golden Afternoon is a psych-gaze project with two brilliant albums released. The first was Magic Lighthouse on the Infinite Sea in 2011 and the second The Fog is Filled with Sprits in 2016. The Fog made it into Somewherecold’s top ten albums for 2016 and, if you don’t own it, you should pick up a copy on vinyl. The same goes for Magic Lighthouse, which is equally brilliant. All in the Golden Afternoon have also started a subscription service for rare releases at their Bandcamp. I’m a subscriber and love what they are doing with this service!
Hello Rachel and Carlos, thanks for doing this. Since you are well known among readers I have at the site, perhaps we could start by talking about both your start in music. How did you both get starting making music and how do you see your past musical ventures sort of leading up to where you are at now with All in the Golden Afternoon?
Rachel: I started playing music at the age of 11 on clarinet. I was classically trained and I played for about nine years. Once I got to college, I played in the concert band but didn’t want to participate in the marching band anymore. I was done with the uniform. I skipped marching band, which was in the fall, and joined the concert band on clarinet in the spring during my first year in college. It felt like everyone was thinking, “who the heck is this girl?” They had formed their bonds in the fall. I did well and had a great time. I took a few more music classes. I really should have majored in music but I did not have the best career counseling at that point.
I put the clarinet under my bed and went on the hunt for an acoustic guitar. I tried to learn some songs. I learned Jane’s Addiction’s, “Jane Says”. I thought I was really horrible because it’s not an easy instrument. I was playing by ear. I had all this theory on clarinet. I taught myself how to play piano after learning how to read music with clarinet. I was transposing the left hand for piano. But guitar was a totally different animal.
So I tinkered around and finished college. I moved back to Austin. I got a job at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and with my first paycheck, I bought an electric guitar. Once I plugged that in on a borrowed amp, I was like “Oh!” It excited me. I went to a Bedhead show the night before. I think that was the impetus for the purchase. I saw Bedhead at Liberty Lunch here in Austin and sat down on the floor at the front because it was so beautiful. I loved the way the guitars were simple separately but together they intertwined into this gorgeous melody. I was inspired to try something like that. I thought, “I need an electric guitar… the acoustic, not my friend right now.” I bought an electric and it changed everything.
I started a couple of bands before Experimental Aircraft and that one stuck. I’m a better acoustic guitar player now because I’m not afraid of it. That’s my start. I met Carlos and I love his exploratory nature. I appreciate his creative abilities and willingness to explore different sounds and flip the tape backward. We started recording together on an eight-track tape machine. One track, the eighth track, is broken.
Carlos: The record deck is broken on the eighth track. So, you can record to it if you flip the tape over and record to the first track, but that part has to be backward when you play it back.
Rachel: So you record on track 1 when you have the tape flipped backward. It’s on a Tascam 38 and then you flip it back and the forward track is now backward on track 8. We starting working together in 2005 outside of other bands, we were like, oh, this is a limitation, but it’s also kind of a…
Carlos: It was a nice limitation to have.
Rachel: We thought, ok, this is what we can do. We don’t have a lot of money but we have this equipment. Every song on this first release is going to be eight tracks only and nothing digital. Every song is going to have one backward track. The fact that he [Carlos] could do that, and I had been in a lot of studios at that point, was exciting to me.
Carlos: I started playing music when I was a teen as well, but there wasn’t any formal training. I just loved music and wanted to be a part of it. So, I got a drum set as early as I could, I got a guitar as early as I could. I had a chance to play drums with the guys from Comet, with Jim and Neil who wrote the songs. After Comet disbanded, they started a thing called French Films, and that was one of the things I was first proud of doing. They were such great songwriters. From there, I found a Farfisa organ at a music store in Garland on Garland road. It’s the same place I found a Sound City amp. Those two are just a pair made in heaven.
Rachel: In college, I became a DJ at the Texas Tech University radio station. I had that acoustic guitar and started playing PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, and the Breeders, seeing that there were a lot of women creating music and playing instruments. I knew I was a great instrument player. That was also a pivotal point for me. But Carlos and that Farfisa…which is a big part of our sound.
Carlos: Around the time I was working at CD World and Good Records, this was the time when Tim and Chris asked me to join the Polyphonic Spree. So I jumped onto that airplane as it was taking off. Got to play on the first record. Then I moved to Austin shortly after.
Rachel: We played a few shows together. Experimental Aircraft and Carlos’ bands – Hifi Drowning and French Films. We shared bills at Rubber Gloves in Denton, as well as Stubb’s and Emo’s in Austin, before we ever met.
Carlos: When I moved down to Austin, I had my own proto-pop band The Shells. It was very Ray Davies inspired pop songs. Very basic pop. The first Shells 7″ was dream-pop or drone-pop and it’s way gazier than most of the music The Shells were making. I met Rachel after living here a year and we started playing music together almost immediately.
Rachel: At least within a year or so. I was playing bass for the Black Angels at the time, as well guitar and keyboards in Experimental Aircraft.
Carlos: Once I moved in, we definitely started recording on the eight track.
Could you both talk about the writing dynamic between the two of you and how you go about composing songs?
Carlos: All in the Golden Afternoon, for me, is the most ideal collaboration because there’s nothing Rachel ever does that bugs me musically. Her standards are so high, and that’s probably from her classical training, that it’s a challenge for me to play something that she actually likes. When I’m composing, I’m almost always composing for the idea that there is this direct connection to this universe that we [he and Rachel] have and if I stay connected to that universe, it will be successful. It’s such a spiritual experience for her and I when we collaborate.
Rachel: I think it’s the most soulful expression we’ve been able to create so far.
Carlos: It’s because we do it together. I find that composing on my own can be almost boring at this point. I think it’s from writing all those pop songs. I mean, you can shit out a million 1/4/5 songs and put some great tones and textures on them but a lot of times the soul isn’t there unless you are incredibly inspired with every note you are playing.
Rachel: I still write songs start to finish. Stuff that I used to write and bring to Experimental Aircraft. I still do that. I wrote more often when I was searching for love. Now that I’m in love and with my best friend and partner, I write from a different perspective. Also, I’ve been dealt some interesting cards in recent years and I’m processing grief. I’ve been trying to access music as a tool and an outlet to process but, for the first time in my life, it hasn’t been there for me. That’s where my travel writing comes in and sort of fills that void. It used to happen weekly where a song would come to me from start to finish like Symphony on the Experimental Aircraft album, Love for the Last Time. That’s a song I wrote right when I came back from New York after 9/11. I picked up a guitar within hours of getting home and wrote that song quickly. I still bring songs start to finish to Carlos but also do things very organically where, maybe I’ll write a guitar and a bass part, record, then hand them to Carlos and it will be his turn. He’ll add sounds.
Carlos: Yeah, our process is a little odd because we will start with two or three instruments and then give it to the other person. We call it automatic composition. It’s very much in the vein of the surrealists. You don’t plan what you are going to write.
What does it mean to you to be a musician in a place like Austin? How has this environment impacted you as artists?
Rachel: If you’re going to be in Texas, for me, the place to be is Austin. I’ve been here since I was a child and coming up in the live music scene here in the 90’s was great. It’s a good place to explore and be vulnerable and naive and raw. I really enjoy traveling, even just outside of Austin. The expanse lends itself to the isolation of some of the sounds or feelings you might pick up from our recordings.
Carlos: Once you hit that dry-line, it’s a different vibe out there. And then when you head west and get into the desert, it’s its own soundscape.
Rachel: We do go out to west Texas for inspiration because sometimes the only thing you can hear is the sound of a train in the distance and maybe someone laughing. It’s a beautiful quiet that I find centering.
Before we turn to Magic Lighthouse, can you talk a bit about Music for Dreams and what inspired you to take the songs of your other records and really turn them into sort of ambient/experimental pieces? How did you approach the writing and recording process on this album?
Carlos: At the time, we were neck deep in Dub. We were listening to King Tubby and the Upsetters and the classic Jamaican Dub from the early 70’s and the late 70’s. I love the model where this track is a huge hit for Junior Murvin but then Lee Perry takes the song, removes the vocal track and then uses the same music track and then writes the song Curley Locks. Then Lee Perry is not happy with that, so he creates his own song, which is the same thing but with a different vocal track. I love that the basic tracks can be recycled and reused. I believe Olivia Tremor Control revisited that on their Black Foliage Record. They would take a track and it would be the basis for four different interludes within the record. I just love the idea of recycling that content. So when we had that memory man and all these delay pedals and the eight track. I just love the idea of creating another track from all this music that is already out there in a different format. I love that idea. That’s what inspired me to do Music for Dreams. All I did was take each track into a Memory Man and into a couple of delays, dumped them into a mono-signal, and then re-create the mono-signal track into a simulated stereo track within some applications.
Rachel: All I did was curate with my ears and say “yes”… “no”… He did all the work on it and I gave my feedback.
Carlos: I think there are maybe eight or nine tracks on there. We probably did 50 or 60 different cuts because these were all mixed on the fly. We did it right off the reel to reel tape. It was a lot of fun. That was the inspiration and method behind that recording. We may do that with The Fog.
Rachel: Yeah, it may be a recurring theme.
Given that The Fog is Filled with Spirits is your second full length, can you talk about the contrast, if any, you see between it and Magic Lighthouse on the Infinite Sea?
Rachel: The first album was definitely very organic. That one is all analog. With The Fog is Filled with Spirits, we decided to mix down the eight analog tracks to digital. We re-amped guitars and added vocals and polished it a little. Not too much but trying to give it some more space to grow by taking it to the computer. When you bounce tracks down, they can lose their fidelity and we didn’t want that to happen.
Carlos: Yeah, Fog was the first one we applied digital techniques to the record. On Magic Lighthouse, we literally just took the tapes and dumped them onto a master and that’s how the record was made.
Rachel: And the EP.
Carlos: Yeah, and the EP as well. So in my mind, the process for the three records, the first two are a completely different process. And it’s nice to think that when listened to, they don’t betray that vast difference in approach. Fog was…
Rachel: We took our time.
Carlos: We worked in three different studios at the end of the day and we had all these ideas going into the process. Then, when there were sounds that we didn’t like, we thought it important to go back and fix the sounds. It was a very long process. The album took six years.
Rachel: Involving other people definitely changes things. But we’re really excited about how it turned out.
So, I like to ask bands about tracks that especially intrigue me off current releases. Could you talk about writing and recording “The Fear and the Flame” and “Off the U Bahn”?
Rachel: “The Fear and the Flame” I love. We spent two weeks touring in the Czech Republic before lyric writing and vocal recording. Carlos is a poet. So, he wrote quite a few poems inspired by our travels around the Czech Republic and Bratislava, Slovakia and Austria. While we were in the studio, I would listen to the music in my headphones and have his poem in front me. I created a melody and took lines from the poem that felt right. So, that to me, was a beautiful collaboration because he had no idea what I was going to do with his poems. All of the lines are from his poem that I composed a little differently than just reading the poem straight through. So that was a really fun and new way to create together.
Carlos: Yeah, I love that song. The basis of that song was this little diddy we had on Rachels PS20. It was this innocuous little part and we built the song from there. I had a vision of an ebow symphony. I knew we would never have like 40 ebows on stage but I loved the idea of being able to track as many ebows as you want until you get a small string section. I loved the vibe that it created with the drum machine, the ebows, and the little Yamaha part. That track still has no bass on it but it doesn’t need it.
Rachel: As a songwriter, I break it down and I’m like, well, this is different.
Carlos: It doesn’t really make sense.
Rachel: It’s something I love about our experience together. We’re not trying to follow song structure on every song.
Carlos: I’m particularly proud of “The Fear and the Flame”.
“Off the U Bahn” is very different. We had been to Germany on our first tour in 2009. I think by the time we left Berlin we were like, oh man, we could have taken the U Bahn a lot more than we did. We sure walked a lot. It was an homage to that.
Carlos: Yeah, that track was interesting to work on because it started with drum machine and then we used a keyboard on it but I can’t remember which one. Maybe the 1983 Omnichord. The basic part was only two keyboard parts on that but I love the simplistic play with those sections and the backward guitars. We had asked in the studio if they had a Vocoder and they actually had one, not autotune or anything like that, but an actual Vocoder. It was really nice to be able to play the melodies on that while applying the lyrics to it. It was a really fun process.
I love some of your sonic and texture choices in your tracks like the fuzzy rumble at the beginning of “Place de la Bastille” and the bassy drones on “Road to Faroe Island.” What is your process like in exploring FX, sounds, and textures in laying out a track?
Rachel: I don’t know that there’s a process at all.
Carlos: I just feel like the process is, that if Rachel and I have heard these sounds before and if we love the way the sounds make us feel, then they are going on the record.
Rachel: Yeah, we definitely give each other feedback on the sounds we are making.
Carlos: I trust my judgment at this point because I know that I have good instincts. What is that saying, “Garbage in, garbage out?” If I were listening to music I didn’t like all day, it would be different but we are very lucky to live in a time when we can curate our own experience. As long as we expose ourselves to beautiful sounds, hopefully, we can output beautiful sounds.
Rachel: Yeah, if there’s a raunchy guitar tone, I’m definitely going to say something to Carlos.
Carlos: And in retrospect, I always agree.
What sort of equipment do you both use in recording and then live, if it’s different?
Rachel: Well, we use the Tascam 38 to record our basic eight tracks for each song. Recently, we’ve also explored using Logic.
Carlos: Yeah, we’ve gotten into using Logic. I’m really into using it in combination with the Tascam 38. With all the interfaces that are available now, we are able to pull in either eight analog tracks or take 24 tracks digital and output them into eight analog tracks. I think the one thing I would be lost without is the Tascam 38. I could still do something but I would still be lost without it.
Rachel: I love our TubePac for recording bass. It’s a tube pre-amp and compressor. I really like fuzz bass and it kinda makes it fuzzy.
Carlos: I’m really fond of this Rode microphone that we’ve been borrowing for several years from our buddy.
Rachel: Plus, I’m in love with my 1968 Fender Super Reverb amp. It’s got 4 10″ speakers and “super reverb” is not a joke. When we recently covered the Jesus and the Mary Chain for a new years eve show – I had my reverb on 10. It’s essential to my sound along with my 1992 Jaguar reissue. It’s candy apple red, headstock and the body. I really love the tremolo bar on it. I’ve had this Jaguar since ’98 or ’99 so it’s my baby along with the amp. And my Russian Big Muff pedal… everything else is pretty interchangeable.
Carlos: For me it’s that Farfisa mini-compact. God I love that thing. I just know how to play it at this point. The sound is just so specific. I love running that through different effects. I have a weird Super Deluxe, kind of a reverb tank, kind of a Leslie simulator. It’s this weird thing that a sound guy told me had been outlawed due to a chemical in there that was making people sick.
Rachel: Oh great! And it’s in our music room.
Carlos: So the Farfisa through that thing and then through the Sound City amp. I’ve got this amp, it’s not even a really good amp, but the way it handles the Farfisa is so perfect.
Rachel: I do love my 1978 Musicmaster bass. I would probably grab that in a fire as well.
Carlos: Your drum-kit is amazing too.
Rachel: Oh, thank you. I have a 1960’s drum-kit that is a Slingerland knockoff. So it’s Japanese made, Maxitone, and it’s champaign sparkle. I just bought it on ebay years ago. I don’t really know how to play drums but I can keep a steady beat.
Carlos: Even individually, before we met each other, we were kind of building a studio. We had the parts that the other didn’t yet.
Can you talk about what influences your music, whether it be music, literary, or visual art?
Rachel: For me, it’s definitely life experiences, whether that be something tragic, sad, beautiful, magical… also when people share their experiences with me. I’m a good listener. When they share, sometimes I will turn those experiences into vague stories that I wish I could change for them but I can’t. Travel is very inspiring to me. I love exploring other cultures. I’m inspired by abstract expressionists, like Adolph Gottlieb and Vincent Van Gogh.
Carlos: I’m inspired by emotion a lot, like what is the sound of an emotion. I think Rachel does this and doesn’t even realize it. Like the sound of Rachel’s heartbreaking at the end of “With Your Eyes”.
If you can come even close to simulating or even honoring a feeling in a sound, that’s the ultimate accomplishment to me. How do you capture that in a sound?
Thanks so much for meeting with me. I guess my last questions is, what is next for All in the Golden Afternoon and for you both musically if you are involved in other projects?
Rachel: Well, we have been working on a book of poetry and photography from our two European tours. Film images that I took in 2009 and 2011. We were in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, and Slovakia. I take photographs on tour and he writes poems about the experience of being on tour. We are also deep into the next album.
Carlos: We’re going to start working on Rachel’s solo record too.
Rachel: I’ve slowly worked on it for ten years, off and on. I’m a big collaborator, so whenever I start collaborating, I kind of put my own work on the back burner. He’s trying to help me focus and finish. It will be released under Rachel Goldstar, which is clearly not my last name. The name came from a 1997 joke. It stuck. Someone left that on my answering machine “Hey Rachel Goldstar, when you’ve erased all your messages, give me a callback.” They thought I had a Goldstar brand answering machine but it was an AT&T. Anyway, we are excited about the new All in the Golden Afternoon album because it’s different.
Carlos: The new record’s weird. I don’t even know if it’s going to be a new record.
Rachel: We don’t want to make the same music all the time.
Carlos: There are currently no guitars on it.
Rachel: Well, because I have not touched it. He’s laid down some groundwork for me. That’s how this album is going to work. They all work differently. A few of the songs on the last album I wrote from start to finish and the others were organic. This album is going to be quite organic I think.
Carlos: It’s going to be fun.
Rachel: I love this two person project because when we have things to get done, it’s easy. We talk to each other, we make a decision, and we move on to the next task.
Thanks so much for spending time with me and answering my questions.
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