Californian polymath Eskmo on his hunt for “simple, big melodies”, working with Amon Tobin and welding as therapy
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.”