An Interview with Whimsical

An Interview with Whimsical

by Jason

Whimsical was originally a band of far more members between 1999-2005. Their debut, Setting Suns are Semi-Circles, was released in 2000. The second full-length, Sleep to Dream, was about 90% done when life took band members in different directions. Eventually, the album was thought to be lost forever until Neil, one of the band’s two remaining members, found it. Krissy, the lead singer, also remains with the band and the two set out to complete the album they had labored over so many years ago. Sleep to Dream was released on Saint Marie Records in February to great acclaim. Neil and Krissy were kind enough to answer my questions about the band’s history, the recording of Sleep to Dream, what comes next, and much more.

Hello Neil and Krissy. Thanks for answering my questions. I guess let’s start with a question about the band. Who was the line-up and who played what during the recording of Sleep to Dream

Neil – Hey Jason, thanks for asking us to do this interview.  The recording line-up was Krissy Vanderwoude on vocals, Neil Burkdoll on guitars, Mark Milliron on guitars, Brian Booher on bass, and Andy Muntean on drums.  I recorded most of the album in late 2004 at my home studio in Indiana, but finished the album throughout 2015-2016 at my home studio in California.

Krissy –  Honored to be doing an interview with you Jason, thank you <3

Neil has answered many of these questions to the fullest, so I’ll only chime in where I feel that I have something to add J

How did Whimsical originally form and what’s the history of the band in general?

Neil – I started writing the songs that would become the Setting Suns are Semi-Circles album in 1995 when my first band Mystified Thinking broke up.  I knew I wanted to continue writing dreamy songs, but this time in a more upbeat fashion.  Krissy had sung a song on the last MT album and I knew she should be the singer of my new band Whimsical.  We had a very short-lived version of the band in early 1998 but then I moved to Florida for school.  In the summer of 1999 I moved back with the whole first album written musically.  Krissy and I formed the new version of Whimsical in August of 1999 and it featured us with our long time friend Tim Fogle on drums, Mark Milliron on second guitar, and Joe Santelik on bass.  This line up recorded the first demo as well as the first album.

Joe left the band as soon as the album was released and was replaced by Mike Bailey on bass, who had been the drummer in the 1998 version of the band.  This line-up recorded the Love Me/Sleep to Dream single in 2001.  Mike eventually decided to leave the band and our friend Brian Booher joined on bass.  Brian had been the bass player in the 1998 version of the band, so things were coming full circle now.  We had been having problems with Tim’s drumming for quite some time and although we loved the guy as a friend, we knew we had to replace him before the second album was recorded.  In early 2004 we asked long time friend Andy Muntean to join the band on drums.  Andy had been the drummer in Mystified Thinking with me throughout high school and had played with Brian in their college band OLO.  At this point, most of the songs for the second album had already been written from late 2000 to mid-2004.  We knew that we wanted the songs to be a bit more layered than the songs on the first album, so the writing process took longer than we expected.  We were also slowed down by members leaving and constantly playing live in Chicago through the years.  The recording for the second album started in late summer of 2004 and went pretty quickly, but we hit a snag once we got to vocals.  The band had not practiced for a few months at this point and it was winter, which is very depressing in Northwest Indiana.  I’d say that 60% of the vocals were recorded when Krissy and I could tell that there was really no point in going on in Feb 2005.  I think we were both just burnt out and since no one else in the band had even asked about the album for a few months, it just seemed dead in the water.  There was never any fight or bad blood, it was just time to move on.  I was very busy with my other two bands Dirty Dead and Logsplitter at the time and I was enjoying them more and more.  All of us had such long histories together that we all still remain close friends even to this day.

The hard drive that contained the album eventually went missing in April 2006, when I moved to California.  It was the “Lost Album” that I really was regretting not finishing, for many years.  Then, in early 2015, I stumbled across a hard drive in a random box.  I knew instantly that this was the missing album.  I had to take it to a computer specialist and they were then able to salvage all the files from the old hard drive.  Once I opened up the session files in Pro Tools, I realized the album was around 90% finished.  Krissy and I decided to finish the album on our own.  Krissy set up a vocal studio at her house and we worked out a system for finishing her vocals.  Throughout 2015-2016, I added some guitar and keyboard overdubs, Krissy finished her vocals, I edited a bunch of tracks to tighten up the performances, and then I mixed and mastered the album.  While this was going on, Krissy and I had started working on songs that would be our Brought to Light album, which consisted of cover songs as well as some re-recordings of older songs.  This was a way to figure out how we could make new music together as well as slowly get our name out into the world again.  We essentially recorded another album as a way to promote the new Sleep to Dream album, which may be the first time that has ever happened.  Sleep to Dream came out on Saint Marie Records on Feb 24th, 2017.

How do you see this record in the larger history of the shoegaze genre? It comes really on the heels of the death of the scene in Britain, but that scene didn’t seem to go away in North America.

Neil – I’m not sure to be honest.  My view of what is considered Shoegaze / Dream Pop is very different to what others may think of those genres.  I’ve been told that we are Shoegaze and I have been told that we are not Shoegaze.  I’d say we have just as much in common with The Cure as we do with Ride/Lush.  We were never a Slowdive/MBV sounding band, as we were never based on guitar FX as our main sound.  Our songs were mostly written on an acoustic guitar and then transferred over to electric guitar with some minimal FX added.  I had started writing songs for Mystified Thinking in late ’91 and when the band ended in ’95, I had just continued writing in this style for what eventually became Whimsical.  Our musical roots are the 80’s and early 90’s for sure, and I can see us being played alongside bands like The Cure, early Jane’s Addiction, early Smashing Pumpkins, as well as the classic Shoegaze bands.  The scene did die, but we, as well as many others, tried to keep it alive in any way that we could.

Can you talk a bit about the writing and recording of Sleep to Dream? I know it was long ago, but what can you remember from that 2004 period and how did you go about finishing the album?

Neil – For Sleep to Dream, I’d say that I wrote about 60% of the music, while Mark had stepped up and wrote around 30%.  The last 10% was written by Brian with his contributions on bass.  This was much more of a collective band record than Setting Suns was.  I sort of answered this in the history question, but it was all recorded by me at my two home studios.  Sleep to Dream sounds much more like how we heard ourselves, compared to Setting Suns.  That album was recorded at a pro studio, but it was recorded very quickly with zero time for experimentation.  It was basically set up the gear, mic up the gear, get sounds, record.  I don’t think we were ever happy with how the first album came out.  When I heard the album with fresh ears, after not hearing it for 10 years, I could hear everything that needed to be added and fixed.  I had learned many studio techniques in the years since we originally recorded the basic tracks, so I was able to apply this knowledge to the songs now, which resulted in a much better album than if we tried to release this album in 2005.  It’s a better album in 2017 than it ever would have been in 2005.

How did this album finally come to be? How did it end up at Saint Marie Records?

Neil – We originally were just going to put the album up on Bandcamp and make 100 cd’s ourselves, in the hopes that eventually people might stumble upon the album online.  I decided to send out promo cd’s of the unmixed album to labels in late 2015, just to see if anyone would be interested.  I had the Seasurfer cd from Saint Marie Records and I had recently read an interview with Wyatt from SMR online.  I decided to email him and ask for an address to mail a demo to.  He wrote back and asked if I thought the songs were good enough to be released?  I said yes, because who says no to that kind of question?  Anyways, I ended up sending him three MP3’s of songs from the album.  To my surprise, he liked the songs and asked to hear the whole album.  Within a week we had signed a contract for Sleep to Dream as well as a 3rd album.  It was at this point that Krissy and I decided that we needed to start making new music together somehow.  Since we knew that it would be some time before the album was released, it gave me time to continue adding things to the album as well as fine tune the mixes.

Krissy –  This is all still very surreal to me.  Truly a dream come true.  I will never forget the first time that I heard these songs again, after thinking for so many years that they had been lost forever.  I had forgotten about so many of them & was honestly very moved when I listened again.  I had tears in my eyes and was SO proud to have been a part of these songs. Neil and I both knew that we had to find a way to finish this album, but at that time it was really only for our own satisfaction.  It seemed like just a dream at the time, because I had no idea how we would make that happen, with him being in California and me in Indiana.  I certainly did not think that any kind of home studio was going to be an option for me, as the mere thought alone was so intimidating and seemingly impossible. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a label like Saint Marie Records would then want to release it for us!

When Neil told me that he was going to submit a few of the songs to some labels, I had zero expectations.  We were not a touring band and hadn’t even really figured out at this point how we were going to finish the album.  When Neil told me that Wyatt (Saint Marie) was interested in signing us, I was in a state of shock.  To sweeten the deal, Wyatt not only wanted to sign us for this album, but another to follow.   At this point, we knew that we had to find a way to turn this dream into a reality.  Neil told me what equipment & recording software I would need to purchase.  I was still incredibly intimidated by the thought of it, but Neil believed in me & was determined to help me get set up with a way to record.  Once everything arrived, we agreed to FaceTime so that he could walk me through the setup process.  To my surprise, after many laughs, and a few very frustrating moments, it was much easier than I thought to set up this home studio.

Once I became familiar with the software and felt confident enough to start trying to record my own vocals, we decided to begin by doing some cover songs.  We wanted to use these cover songs as a way to perfect the recording process, before I finished the vocals for Sleep To Dream, or began working on songs for the next album.  This idea is what would eventually lead to our Brought to Light album.  We started with my favorite cover that we have done so far, of the song “Dagger”, by Slowdive.  We were nervous to put this song out into the world, because the original is loved by so many, and covers are not always well received.  We assumed that we would be subjecting ourselves to some criticism for our approach to the song because it was so different, but we were ready to take that chance.  We truly had NO idea how well received this cover was going to be, and I feel like it was what truly helped to put us back on the shoegaze “map”. It drew lots of attention for us and pointed many people in our direction.  We were having so much fun with these covers and were starting to release a new song every month.  Between recording the covers, and finishing the songs for Sleep To Dream, I was constantly recording.  It really created a monster and one that I have no desire to tame.

The themes on this album are clearly about the “rubber meets the road” sort of things that happen in relationships. Can you talk about this threaded theme throughout the record and, if it’s not too personal, where it comes from?

Neil – This is 100% Krissy’s department.

Krissy – Thankfully, Neil has always given me total control & creative freedom when it comes to writing vocals.  This applies to both the melodies and the lyrics.  I’m very grateful for that because it would be hard for me to connect to the songs as much if I wasn’t able to sing about something that has meaning to me.

The songs become like a journal for me, in a way.  Sometimes I am singing about my actual life circumstances, and pouring my heart out.  Other times I’m just floating away in a daydream and getting lost in those moments.

Ultimately, I will say that there is nothing in life that I am more passionate about than the human emotion of love.  It’s fascinating to me how love can take you to the highest highs, and also drag you through the lowest lows. It can melt your heart, or break it.  It can be such an emotional rollercoaster & writing music is such a great outlet to plug into, when looking to release those emotions. During the writing process for Sleep To Dream, I was definitely riding that rollercoaster. That’s all I will say about that.

One thing that I have been hearing a lot, that really means so much to me, is how many people are connecting to the songs, based on the lyrical content.  Lyrics mean a lot to me.  When I’m listening to songs by other bands, I listen to lyrics very intently, and it makes me so happy to know that people are finding something to relate to in what I’ve written about.  Love is a universal language, that everyone can relate to, in one way or another.  It is definitely a common thread through many of my lyrics & probably always will be.

I like to ask bands about specific tracks on their most recent albums. Could you talk about writing and recording “Leap of Faith” and “Anchor”?

Neil – “Leap of Faith”, which happens to be my favorite song on the album, was mostly written by Mark with me adding a few parts to finish the song musically.  “Anchor” was musically written by me and it was my idea to write a shorter upbeat song, to sort of balance out the album.  These two songs, as well as “The Beginning of the End”, were never performed live as they were all written right before we started recording the drums for the album.  I really loved the ideas that Mark brought to the band because they were things I could never create.

Krissy – “Leap of Faith” was our most unfinished song at the time that the hard drive was recovered.  I had never written any vocals for that song, and originally we were just going to release it as an instrumental song on the album.  Thankfully I was given the chance to write vocals for it over the summer of 2016 and I am very happy with the way it came together.

“Anchor” is a song that seems to be a “fan favorite” on the album, and to be honest, we were a bit surprised by that.  We love the song, but never really viewed it as a stand out track.  However, it is one that many people continue to mention as being one of their favorites.  Pleasant surprise, that will be duly noted as we head into writing for the next album.

So, looking forward to what’s coming next, where is the next Whimsical album at in the process and how are you approaching this next album differently than your former recordings?

Neil – I have slowly started writing new songs for the next album.  I have around 11-12 songs started, but I think only 7 are really worth exploring further.  I’d like to finish everything and have some more songs for the planned second volume of Brought to Light.  I’m also working on new albums by Dirty Dead and P.O.O.R., so it’s sort of a balancing act at this point.  Some of the new songs sound like what you would expect from us, while others have a very Siamese Dream type vibe going on.  I have a bunch of tools and sounds now that I didn’t have access to years ago.  Also, we are using programmed drums this time and I can write songs without having to figure out how a 5 piece band will play the songs live.  It’s actually very freeing, to be able to do whatever I want this time around.  I think the next album will be different to Sleep to Dream, but Sleep was different to Setting Suns as well.  The truth is, I didn’t write any songs in this style for over 10 years, there’s going to be some changes, but the way I put melodies together is still the same.

Krissy – I am very excited about this upcoming album and the songs that Neil has sent to me so far.  I have been feeling more inspired than ever when it comes to writing vocals & lyrics.  I’m really looking forward to digging into these tracks.  We are both very open to one another’s suggestions and ideas, and working on songs with Neil is a really fun, creative process.

I love that there really is no set formula for songwriting with us & we are open to experimenting.  However, I do feel that our songs will always still have the Whimsical signature.  Regardless of the different things we may try, there is always going to be that common Whimsical thread running through the songs, and that makes them identifiable as our “sound”.  We love working on the fun, upbeat and happy songs, as much as we do the heartbreaking, tearjerker songs that will rip your heart out.  It’s safe to say that this next album will have a nice balance of the two.

Wyatt heard one of the new songs and was very happy with it.  If his reaction is any indication, I think we are on the right track & off to a good start.

What sort of equipment do you use in recording and producing the sounds and textures you want to make in recording your music? Neil, how do you go about selection tones and textures that you find intriguing or useful in the sound you want to produce?

Neil – The way we recorded on the first two albums was how most bands do it.  It was just mic up all the instruments and record into Pro Tools.  This time around, I knew I couldn’t do it that way since I have two small kids now and mostly record late at night before bed.  Our Brought to Light album was a way for me to figure out a system that worked to our advantage.  I’m using programmed drums from EZ Drummer 2 and virtual amplifiers from Vox.  The only microphones being used now are on the vocals.  It’s completely different to how we did it in the past.  These days I just program the basic drums and then start recording layer after layer until I get something that resembles a song.  Once I have that, I can start editing and getting into the small details.  Usually, by this point, I’ve sent a basic version to Krissy so she can start working on vocals, or vocal ideas, while I work on the details.  Then she sends me a ton of vocal takes of a main vocal and a harmony vocal.  Then I go through and make the master vocal tracks.  Once in a while, I will experiment with vocal layers, to create new parts that she didn’t have originally planned.  It’s all just part of the production side of things that I enjoy doing.

Can you both talk about the other projects you’ve been involved in and where readers can go to listen to your other artistic endeavors?

Neil – I’m not sure any fans of Whimsical would really care for my other musical projects.  Most of my music lies in the extreme side of things.  I have done albums with Fatalist, Stump, Logsplitter, P.O.O.R., and Dirty Dead.  All of these bands have albums on Bandcamp and like I mentioned earlier, I’m currently working on new albums for P.O.O.R. and Dirty Dead.  I’d say that Logsplitter and Dirty Dead might be the only bands that may interest fans of Whimsical.

Krissy – One of my favorite parts about all of this has been the friendships I have formed within the music industry and the other creative endeavors it has led to.  Having my own home studio is such a blessing because I’ve been able to be a part of some really incredible songwriting, with some really beautiful people.

Andy Jossi, of The Churchhill Garden, is honestly one of my favorite musicians OF ALL TIME.  He is literally up there with Slowdive for me, so that bar is set really high.  Seriously though…I’m a total fangirl for his music.  The fact that I’ve been able to work on songs with him has been such a gift.  We started out working on one song and determined very quickly that we had such an undeniable musical chemistry and had to do more together. Before that first song, “The Same Sky”, was even released, we had already moved onto working on the next song, “All Beauty Must Die”.  Our third song together may very well be my favorite yet, and that one is called “In Your Waves”.  At this point, we have agreed that there will pretty much be no end to our collaborations, and I consider that to be the most incredible honor.  I just love him and everything about the songs we write together.  I am honestly awestruck, every time I listen.

I am also currently writing vocals for a few songs with Seasurfer, for an upcoming album.  This is another HUGE honor for me because they have been one of my favorite bands for many years.  Opportunities like this are just surreal for me and very humbling.  One of the songs is finished (with the exception of final mixing and mastering) and I’m so excited for people to hear what we have done together!

Other exciting projects that I’ve had the chance to collaborate on were for a few different tribute compilations that were put out by “The Blog That Celebrates Itself Records”.  Most recently I sang with Maxime, of The City Gates, on their rendition of the Slowdive song “Catch The Breeze”.  Prior to that, I recorded vocals for an excellent cover that was done by Pipes Not Dead, of the song “Want” by The Cure.

Thanks so much! Is there anything else you would like to say to the Somewherecold readers?

Neil – Thanks Jason for the interview and for taking the time to support Whimsical.  We do this for ourselves as much as we do it for the people who enjoy our songs.

Krissy – Jason, you have been such a constant pillar of support and we cannot thank you enough.  <3  We are honored to be a part of this beautiful shoegaze community with you.

To everyone else that has shown support for us and the music we make, THANK YOU.  We are humbled to the core and so grateful for the outpouring of love that we have received.  Everything about our album release, and the fact that we are even making music together again, is such a dream come true.  We are so happy that people are listening to our music, and that has helped to elevate that dream to the next level. Your support will never be taken for granted & you are appreciated more than words can ever say.


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