A little over a year ago, we debuted a stream of Wrekmeister Harmonies’ You’ve Always Meant so Much to Me, a harrowing piece of modernist drone from mastermind JR Robinson (the Alan Moore-looking dude above). We dug it a lot, so we are super psyched to let you know that he’s already recorded a follow-up, Then It All Came Down, and it’s coming out October 21. Featuring members of Indian, Leviathan, Codeine, and more (see the full breakdown in our exclusive interview below), it’s one track, 34 minutes of carefully composed despair. With artwork (also visible below) designed by artist Simon Fowler (Earth, Sunno)))), it’s a pretty sweet package. But let the man himself explain it to you below.
Did you approach this work any differently than your previous albums?
They were different with respect to having more collaborators this time…more moving parts. I recorded some at home, some with Howard Bilerman up in Montreal and with Sanford Parker here in Chicago as well as collaborators in Los Angeles and San Francisco sending in their parts. I also recorded the sound of a church organ and then played it inside of a lighthouse on Lake Michigan and recorded that. The approach was different on this work too because of the subject matter. You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me was about the endless cycle of nature slowly obliterating the physical structures of mankind, about nature obliterating itself and the beauty and harshness in that decay cycle. Then It All Came Down is an examination of lightness into dark, how human beings gravitate from circumstances that are considered inherently “good and of the light” and decline into occurrences that are considered obscene and barbaric.
The “pretty” parts and the “evil” parts feel respectively prettier/more evil this time around to me. Do you feel that way as well, and is there a reason for that?
I do. The piece was inspired by a Truman Capote essay in which he interviews Bobby Beausoliel in San Quentin Prison back in 1973. Capote presents Beausoliel as a figure of almost angelic beauty but with the slightest change of angle one that becomes a harsher and more sinister human. This one observation was (to me) incredibly perverse and interesting – lightness turns to darkness. This condition is a reversal of what most humans seek. We are taught to reject the darkness, if confronted with darkness or “evil” in our existence we must find a way to back to the light, to all things “good”. I spent a great deal of time thinking about this, writing an essay about it and composing this piece of music as a reaction. There are several intentional correlations with Capote’s essay and my piece; Ryley Walker’s tranced out strumming imagines Beusoliel as the beach bum chugging along the PCH on his bike, tripping and fucking. Lydia Lane Stout, Chanel Pease and Kate Spelling represent Beausoliel’s girls, celestial voices of beauty and light swooping in and out of the atmosphere tempting you to come closer. Wrest’s strangled invocation and ceremonial introduction to the evil that will befall you. The string quartet of Lonberg-Holm, Patterson, Shaw and Howard pulling you into the madness where loss of direction is imminent and irreversible, finally delivering the listener to rot and be abandoned in the inescapable darkness represented by Indian, Bloodiest, Brokaw, Soltroff and Leger.
Why did you choose the particular guest musicians for this project?
About a year ago I dropped by the recording studio where Indian were finishing up their new record. The sound was absolutely dense, violent and severe. Speaking with Dylan O’Toole and Ron DeFries I found two exceptional and intelligent opinions on composition structure and sonic transference. They were into the idea of stretching out over a longer format and the result floored me. Wrest is a shadowy and elusive figure that I have infrequent phone conversations with, usually very late during the harlot hours. I’m lucky to see him in person once or twice a year. For some reason he’s interested whenever I float an idea by him about collaborating. He’ll mail me a cd and I don’t ask too many questions. Chris Brokaw made Frigid Stars with Codeine, which is in my opinion one of the finest examples of monolithic, slow burning contemporary music ever recorded. I met him in NYC several years ago and we’ve maintained a tight bond. Noah Leger plays drums in Disappears and is one of those unique individuals who has totally mastered his craft. He’s very much like the roadrunner in human form, very difficult to catch because of his schedule and penchant for crashing his motorcycle and amazing with his speed and dexterity. Eric Chaleff of Bloodiest is a gruff and militaristic individual with an almost clairvoyant ability to interpret my ramblings about “heaviness” and transfer them into the physical realm. I’m fortunate and thankful to be able to work with them.
What do you find to be so effective about the structure you’ve used on this and You’ve Always Meant so Much to Me, with the extremely slow build to an apocalyptic heavy part?
The slow build to apocalyptic end is all about creating an atmosphere for the listener and about communicating an idea. Creating a feeling or idea of “things might be ok here” and transferring that to a different territory of “things are definitely not ok” almost imperceptibly. This is the way a lot of humans experience their existence and I’m trying to communicate that through these compositions. This inevitably takes time and is a reoccurring theme, much like the experiences we all have encountered, some with greater or lesser degrees of frequency. This particular format of arrangement is an empirically effective way for me to communicate this complex set of emotions and experiences of the human condition.
What do you want the listener to take away from this work?
I could not begin to dictate what the listener should or should not take away from listening to my work. The fact that a person takes the time to listen to the piece and has a reaction (whatever that might be) is the best I can hope for.
***Then It All Came Down releases October 21 on Thrill Jockey. Preorder the album here. Get that totally sweet poster here. Order tickets to a special live performance at the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago on December 6 here.