Over his decade-plus career, Eskmo’s genre-defying electronic productions have been featured on Ninja Tune, Warp, and Planet Mu. Real name Brendan Angelides, he took a decisive step forward in 2010, releasing his first album on Ninja, a self-titled effort that found him incorporating his vocals into his lush sound designs like never before.
On October 30, Eskmo will release the Language EP on his own Ancestor label. The EP is the latest Eskmo release on the label since his collaboration with Amon Tobin, ESKAMON.
Language shares the textures of previous Eskmo releases, but with a more emotive aesthetic, and opening up new territory. In advance of the release, FACT spoke with Eskmo (who moved to Los Angeles after living in San Francisco for years) about the creation of Language, the collaborative process, and his wide-ranging influences.
“I honestly love it. I had a resistance to the idea of LA, since I’m from the East Coast. My idea of LA was that it was a horrible place, until I moved to California and I started to come here more and more, and I ended up really falling in love with it. I still really love SF, but it just felt like my time was starting to pass there.”
Language is quite different to Eskmo; definitely in the same universe with familiar hallmarks.
“I was going with a specific type of aesthetic. The Ninja [Tune] album was very sound-design heavy, and I just came off making the track with Amon Tobin as Eskamon, doing that type of sound-design-y stuff. With this one, I didn’t really think about it too much, but I wanted to still have that be a backbone. I didn’t want to get lost in the sound design side of it, but really focus on simple, big melodies. Stuff that felt very good melodically, that I would love listening to myself. Something overall that felt a bit warmer, and not as cerebral as the first [album].”
Is focusing on melody more organic for you?
“Yeah, it’s reflective of me moving down to LA. Overall, the Eskmo album feels very angular to me. My head space and emotional space since I’ve moved down here, and the writing environmnet that I’ve created down here, just feels very grounded, very simple and nice. I think that got reflected in the tracks.”
How did your influences change since Eskmo?
“I’ve been listening to a lot of Peter Gabriel and things that don’t feeling overly big, but heartwarmingly nice. Also, part of the whole theme around this was to put out some stuff that was expressing vulnerability. It clearly stems from a relationship scenario, the “world of dread,” being openly vulnerable and expressing simple concepts. And [it’s about] how those each played into my life while I was writing this. They all kind of fit into that category for me.”
You’ve had releases on Ninja Tune, Warp, and Planet Mu. How does the process differ when releasing music on your own label?
“It’s really a different process. It’s a lot easier in the sense that I don’t have to ask anyone else or wait. As soon as I want it out, I can get it out. The whole thing with Ancestor is I’m not trying to build up some kind of cool…”
“Totally not a vanity [label]. Essentially, anything I get my hands on that I feel would be better by me putting it out, just to get it out there. For me, this totally makes sense, especially since the direction with this is esoteric in a sense. The artwork clearly is that. Some of the video stuff I’ll be doing with this, in correlation with the live sets… Having it put out on Ancestor allows me to jump into any kind of narrative I want without having to get anyone else’s yes or no.”
Is the way you perform live changing?
“No, essentially only the content and delivery. For the past two years, since the album came out, it’s evolved progressively along the way. Right now, I’m doing a two laptop set where I’m also controlling the audio and the visual at the same time. And I sing live, and I do live percussion, and a lot of looping. Because a lot of my sound does involve foley work, I’ll bring on random sounds — cans, pieces of paper, PVC pipe, metal pipes — and play them on stage, loop it, add effects and all that kind of stuff, because it actually fits into the aesthetic of the music as well. A couple weekends ago in Holland… this is the first time I did this, but I really want to do it again, just for the impact and the sound of it. You know the big water cooler jugs? Playing two of those together. Basically, anything I can find in a venue or theater that I can try to use on stage.”
That’s real sound design, not a plug-in or a VST.
“It’s very organic, very tactile.”
Even childlike, using whatever makes noises around you.
“Totally. I’ve really been trying to explore innocence and vulnerability through the art and through the music. Not to have it come off too stuck-up, but if you approach any kind of art with that mentality, if it’s painting, writing a novel, whatever, working on cars, if you approach it with innocence and vulnerability it can be a really good process.”
Was Eskmo the first time you added your vocals, at that level?
“At that level, yeah. For a long time I had my vocals in my own tracks, but it was always little snippets and tiny hooks, it was distant and a bit far away. When I put out the Planet Mu track ‘Let Them Sing’, it was basically kind of like talking to myself and also talking to what that means in general for the world of people that might be involved in the kind of thing I’m involved in. It’s a scary process to do that, all of a sudden putting yourself out there. Ultimately, it felt so good to do that on ‘Let Them Sing’ that when I started to work on material for the album, it felt very, very right to do that again because I had more I wanted to say.”
Looking back, how did the Amon Tobin and EPROM collaborations come about?
“With Amon, we had both played at a NASA space center in Cali, actually in a shuttle hangar, at an event. I happened to play right before him and we just connected, we just got to say hi and chat a bit, from there we kept in touch. When I started sending him music, he seemed to really be into some of it and he invited me up to his house in SF. We connected more on music and the way we approach sound. It felt like a natural process to start fiddling around with some gear and see what would happen; it ended up being a very fluid kind of thing. We were basically laughing the whole time.
“It’s turned into a solid friendship; he was a huge influence for me back in the day, and seeing the whole trajectory of his career and where he is now is something I really value. He’s not trying to do the rock star thing, he’s someone who loves sound and loves creating. It’s a really honorable thing to see someone at the level he’s at to keep going with that and have it be a success. He ended up becoming, I don’t want to say a mentor-type figure, but definitely falling in that realm.
“With EPROM, we were both living in SF and hanging out. I was loving some of the music he was doing and I think he was liking some of the music I was doing (laugh) but it ended up being another natural thing. Someone from Warp had seen me play and he went back and told his bosses, and I sent some stuff in and it worked out naturally.”
“I’m very particular about collabs; I really don’t do many of them. I think I’m very particular and to be honest, whether it’s good or not, I’m very picky about sound. The actual writing process with Amon was super, super easy: we just approached music from a similar kind of place. Different techniques, but in terms of working in the studio, it felt very fluid. Anything like that, if you have to force it or there’s no flow, it will sound forced.”
Going from SF to LA, with what else is happening in the city, does that affect your music?
“To a degree, it’s hard to not allow it to affect somehow, but to be honest, I don’t go out to a lot of stuff. I’m more the type of person that would have dinner with a bunch of friends and then go out on a hike than to go out to a club. But when I do, it certainly does influence [me]. In general, any good music out there… it’s kind of everywhere right now, but that new Grizzly Bear album, I love that. It’s super inspiring and I’m sure it’s going to affect me in some kind of way, just like anything else.
“I know Tom Waits has massively influenced me, but I don’t know if I could pinpoint exactly where his stuff has come out in my music, I just know it has. I think it’s like anything else: I like getting influence from the outside world, if it’s environmental or nature stuff, or if it’s from friends’ music or whatever it is, and allowing that to churn on the inside and then have it pop out in my own voice.
“Down in LA, it’s super-vibrant, lot of people doing really good stuff. And all over the board, which is rad. It’s a hyper supportive community that feels very organic, and everyone is pushing each other, which is very good to see.”
Tell me about Welder.
“Welder is the other project I put out, randomly, when I feel like I have a big emotional release that I need to get out that is completely different from Eskmo. It basically goes along different rules and lines – there’s no focus on making it sound big or worrying about having it sound good on a live system — and no focus on bass whatsoever. In 2006, I had a bunch of material that I hadn’t shared with anyone; no one had heard it but a few close friends and I had to decide if I wanted to put it out as Eskmo or make a new character. It just made sense to me to make a new character.
“When I play out, I would love to do a 90 minute almost ambient set, but there’s just no way that could happen with Eskmo. I would want to give this other material its proper space, so I made this Welder character. I actually wear a welding mask when I play. It allows me to have another therapeutic outlet with that kind of sound. I don’t tour that around, I just do shows when they come up. I couldn’t tour both of them full time: I wouldn’t have a normal life. The last Welder album, Florescence, came out in 2011 on Ancestor.”
“Earlier today I was listening to the new FlyLo; I’m super happy for him and it’s awesome to see how that’s all going. I love Bear in Heaven, still been listening to that consistently. Beach House, years later I keep on listening to them. I’ve been listening to Clark; I became buds with him when I was living out in Berlin – been listening to more of that. The new Sigur Rós is beautiful, it sounds exactly like Sigur Rós but it’s still beautiful. Oh, I’m going to see Peter Gabriel this Saturday, I got two tickets to see him down here in LA and I’m stoked for that – he’s doing the whole So album back to front. I’m really excited to see the level of nostalgia for that. The new Deerhoof is really good, I like that a lot.”
As for FlyLo, I think we write about him every day, but no complaints there.
“I’m so glad that it crosses into territory that’s not… it’s very gentle, it’s not jarring. I heard him talking about intentionally wanting to thin it out from the last ones and I think it really works that way.”
Have you played these tracks out?
“I played all of these tracks out when I was in Europe, and I’m about to go to Australia in November. Then I’m playing in Giza at the Great Pyramids in December.”
How’d that come about?
“Wildly enough, just through this company The Do Lab, they’re out here in California. They threw a few festivals like Lightning in a Bottle. They know that I’m all about the esoteric side of sound, and they thought it was a really good fit.”
Was there any connection to the album art?
“Completely unintentinoal. The main character on the cover of this EP is Thoth. He’s the god of language, writing, magic, and knowledge, and I’ve kind of just felt connected to that archetype as a symbol that’s out there. And obviously, ouroboros eating it’s tail, and the sun and the moon above it, the balance of those two principles. Honestly, it was already in the pipeline and this Egypt thing came up and it was a great fit.
“I kind of debated it for a couple of weeks, but I figured, why not? I was a little bit intimated because of the fear component of it — it’s kind of a crazy thing to do — but I figured, with the calendar end of 2012, if I’m not going to go to the pyramids, why…?”
What has this all been for if you can’t play the pyramids in 2012?