Posted on Nov 8th 2007 01:50 am
The brainchild of Tim Donovan, who lives in New York, and Seattle-based Joseph Dierker, 310 have been producing beautifully detailed records for ten years, bringing together elements of jazz, hip-hop, folk, pop and ambient to create a truly unique sound. As they are gearing up for the release of their sixth album, Sixes And Sevens, on Conduit Records, we caught up with Tim Donovan to talk about the new record, how they find it increasingly easy to work 3,000 miles apart, and why the new album is primarily being released digitally.
It’s been four years since Recessional was released. What have you been up to?
Well, making the new record for one. But the entire record didn’t take four years to make. I think probably most of it was done two years ago. It’s just taken us until now to figure out how we were going to release it. In the meantime while sorting that out, we did some remixes for Six Degrees Records. One for Azam Ali and one for Karsh Kale. And we’ve been working on more new stuff, so hopefully it won’t be another four years before our next record.
You’ve got a new album, Sixes And Sevens, coming up on New York-based label Conduit Records. How would you describe it and how do you see it fit with the rest of your work?
I think this record has been a huge step forward for us and also a return to some of our older ways of working. A step forward in that we’ve pushed the production and the writing further than before. I think we’ve been moving our songs into more complex forms and arrangements with each record, but with this one the tracks have even more detailed harmonic and melodic structure and have a much more organic feel with Ralph Rolle’s live drums. And there’s even more guitar work on it which is really where our roots are. It also returns to an older way of working for us in that it reminds me of our third record, The Dirty Rope, where it was just me and Joe for the entire record. More of a duality in the work or a dichotomy per se. Once we came to the decision that these new tracks were going to be instrumental, then to me it felt like we were in the same mindset as on The Dirty Rope.
How did you come to work with Conduit, which is primarily known as a jazz imprint, and is this a permanent change of label for you?
Beck Henderer-Pena, the co-owner of Conduit, is a friend of Joe’s from when Beck was living in Seattle. Beck moved to New York and through Joe I got to know him here. We were looking into several different possibilities for the record once it was certain that it wasn’t going to be released on Leaf. Beck showed a lot of interest in what we were doing and suggested we do something with Conduit. We talked about different project ideas until Joe and I came to the decision that it would be a great idea to do Sixes And Sevens with Conduit. I think the most interesting thing about working with them is that now they’re half in Seattle and half in New York like us. It makes for easy dealings. But we’re taking it one record at a time like we did with Leaf and our self-released records. We’ll see how things go with this record and take it from there.
The new album seems more jazz-influenced than previous releases, especially on the first couple of tracks? Is this a bit of a new direction for 310?
I don’t think there’s ever been a moment in 310 where we’ve staked out a new direction per se. We just begin working on new stuff and it just goes where it goes. We’ve been influenced by a plethora of musical styles and we draw upon many different things. We’ve been huge jazz fusion fans since we were in high school, so it’s easy to conjure up those kind of ideas. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened as much on earlier records. The first track, Fortuitous Bounce, didn’t necessarily start out in a fusion direction. The beat was coming along like a funk track initially, but once we added the live drums and the trumpet it just went there on its own. And Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s turntable work was the cherry on top. That’s the nice thing about 310 for us, the freedom. It’s our artistic outlet where we let the tracks we create go wherever they want to go. They take on a life of their own and you just do your best to channel them in the right way. But somehow it always ends up being characteristically 310.
On Recessional, Andrew Sigler, AKA Fire/Fly, was credited as a full member, and he was also present on previous records, but for Sixes And Sevens, 310 is back to being just the two of you. Is this permanent?
No, it’s not permanent. I hope that we can include Andrew on future 310 projects. He’s been a very good friend of ours for a long time and he’s popped in and out on 310 over the years. He was very much involved in the making of Recessional so it was only natural that he be listed as a member of 310 for that record.
During the making of the new record Andrew has been living in Los Angeles and has been very very busy and hasn’t had much time to work on stuff with us. He lived with several of the tracks in their early stages, but as more and more time went by and as the tracks developed instrumentally, it became clear that was the direction for this record. Joe and I have developed a steady working rhythm between New York and Seattle. It’s a very easy process for us now. Adding the third leg of the Los Angeles element became a little more daunting this time. But I hope we can sort that out and include Andrew again in the near future.
You have surrounded yourself with a few additional musicians for the album, and there is a bit of a live feel to quite a few tracks. Are you planning to take the album on the road?
No. I don’t think so. It’s very tough for us to get together and play live since we live 3,000 miles apart. We’ve always been more of a production team than a real “band” I think. 310 started out with that mentality. But in the two year period around our record Afer All we devoted a lot of time and travel to performing live. Through the Leaf Label we were given several opportunities to play in Europe and that’s something we always wanted to do, so we jumped into it and made it happen. It cost us a lot of money to do it and the travel from Seattle to New York and visa versa just to rehearse before a show became quite daunting. But we’re glad we spent those two years doing that when we had the opportunity. We’d certainly love to play again, so it’s not out of the question. If it happens it’ll probably be just one off shows in New York and Seattle.
You still live on opposite sides of the US, and one would think that, with faster internet and Skype, it is easier to work while apart nowadays than when you started. Has the way you work changed a lot over the years?
Oh yeah definitely. I think each 310 record has been in step with the emerging technology of working long distance. And the faster the internet has become, the more efficient we’ve become at sharing ideas. We’ll send each other MP3s of rough track ideas and things initially and once we’ve decided on something that we both like then we’ll do a big upload of the Protools session for that track. From there we’ll pass back and forth more MP3s of roughs and then upload full files for the final additions so we both have them. Protools and the internet has allowed us to be much more on the same page all the time while we’re 3,000 miles apart. It shrinks that distance very nicely. No more waiting for that snail mail package with the zip disc in it. Although there was something nice about the waiting too. It’s a give and take.
On your first few records, your music was quite minimal, but in recent years, there has been a moved toward more elaborate arrangements and production. How did this change happen? Was it a conscious move?
Yeah I think it’s been a sort of natural progression of things. It also reflects what we’ve been into musically over the course of ten years now. Initially 310 was heavily influenced by things like Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Zoviet France, Rapoon, etc. That’s the kind of things we had in mind making our first two records. We didn’t even use sequencers on our first record, Aug 56. It was all free floating loops using samplers. By the time we did our second record, Snorkelhouse, we began to use sequencers to make the loops and beats. So things started to take on more structure and weren’t so free. It was starting to have more song elements along with the dark ambient soundscape elements we set out on initially. With each record I think that we’ve tried to work more and more toward that idea of a marriage of free ambient styles fused with a contained song structure. And as we’ve grown with that, I think we’ve pushed the production more and more where we’re getting more elaborate with the things we do.
It’s been ten years since you released Aug 56. Did you ever think that you would still be making music together after all this time when you started, and, looking back, what do you think about what you have achieved with your records?
Holy shit, we’re getting old no? Time flies. It’s all a blur I tell ya. Well I’m certainly tickled pink to have yet another 310 record out there and to be answering this question. It’s been a great ride so far. Each record posed its own challenge for us. I think this one has been particularly challenging because it’s a transition into a different way of releasing the record. But it’s been a great learning experience. I’m very excited about this record and the future of 310. I don’t think I’ve ever seen 310 ending for us. Once we got the thing rolling strong it just seemed like a solid and long lasting thing for us. Joe and I have been close buddies since we were fourteen years old. We met in a musical situation and developed a long lasting friendship and musical partnership since then. It was ten years ago that we did the first 310 record but it was twenty years ago that we were in a rock band together and played in college bars. 310 has just turned out to be our natural musical home. Joe likes living in Seattle and I’m a New Yorker down to the bone so the long distance music we’ve created is perfect for us. I think 310 will always be with us and we’ll always find a way of getting it out there for the people that enjoy it as long as we’re physically able to do it.
The new album is, I believe, due out primarily as a digital download release, with only a limited CDs being pressed. Why did you choose to go this way?
When we were looking into different options for releasing this record, many people we talked to were promoting the idea of doing only digital distribution for the release and that their physical sales have been going down while their digital sales have been going up. And certainly that’s an obvious trend. It’s a no-brainer. More people are downloading their music rather than buying CDs. I mastered a record for a friend’s label recently and when I saw him last he gave me a copy of the CD and he said that he thought that it would be his last CD release. He’s going to do it all through digital distribution from now on. He just didn’t see the point in printing up CDs anymore. And I hear that more and more from people. So when we discussed the new 310 record with Beck at Conduit we initially decided to go all the way ourselves and do it through digital distribution only and test the waters and see what happens. But as we mentioned this idea to some fans of 310 they seemed a little disappointed. They understood the move but asked if we could at least do a limited CD release for the people who still hate listening to MP3s and want a CD. I hate MP3s really myself more or less and I’m glad we made the move to make the CDs. It just is what it is. Things change and you have to go with the flow and make it work. So this record is a bit of a testing ground to see how this approach works. If it turns out well, then we’ll do the same thing for the next record. We certainly want to make it as easy as we can to get the CD version to the people that want it and we very much appreciate the interest in that.
For the CD version of the record we did a continuous mix of the whole thing like we’ve done on all of our past records where the tracks crossfade into one another. And for the download version, since it’s more common for people to grab individual tracks, each track has a beginning and end to make them separate and it isn’t a continuous mix. So that makes the CD version special from the download version.
As you just said, CD sales have been seriously slumping in the last couple of years, and as a result, Tower Records shut down all their stores in the US, and Virgin is pulling out of the market place altogether in the UK. Do you think this is the end of the CD as a music format, or could it favour small independent music retailers with a specialist offer?
I’ve definitely given up trying to be Nostradamus on anything, especially the music business, but my crystal ball tells me that CDs are pretty much going to be dead and buried in the not too distant future.
In 2001, you released Nothing To See Here, a collection of instrumentals released at a very limited quantity, with hand made packaging. What was the idea being this particular project, and why did you choose to release it that way?
Vince McLean who owns Manifold Records had the initial idea for that record. He went around to flea markets and purchased a whole bunch of old photographs and had the idea of a CD cover where each CD has its own unique old photograph attached to it like an old photo album. He’s been a huge 310 supporter since our first record and that cover idea very much reflected the same ideas we were doing with our covers up to that point. So he asked us if we could do a straight up ambient record in the style of our first record, Aug 56, for this release on his label. We loved doing that record. We made it at the same time we were making the After All record. They were very much side by side productions. One was a break from the other in styles. And in other ways they overlapped each other stylistically. But Nothing To See Here gave us a mission. An assignment to do. Make an ambient only record, period. No beats. And from the start we decided that it would be many short ambient pieces that had definite beginnings and ends. It wasn’t going to be a continuous mix like all other 310 records. The pieces would become short stories that would be companions to the photograph on the cover.
Do you think you will ever do something like this again?
We’d love to. If Vince called us tomorrow and said, “I’ve got another assignment for you if you want it”, we’d jump on it. I think for a project like that we need somebody to bring us an initial idea and say “I’d love for you to be a part of this idea I have”. We love those kind of situations. Remixes are a lot like that for us. Working in that capacity on music for a film would be great. We’ve always been open to film possibilities but nothing has panned out yet in that area.
On the 310 website, there are a number of rare tracks, some of which don’t seem to ever have been released. Would you consider collecting them and make them available on an album?
Possibly. A couple of the “rare” tracks on our site have been released on Leaf compilations or as B sides. St. Mesa Substation was on an Invisible Soundtracks release and Extra Virgin was the B side to the Opposite Corners single. Some of the others may need to be called in and reworked a bit now if they were going to go on a record. They’re sounding a little old to us. We always have these tracks that almost made it on records lying around that we revisit from time to time and see if we can bring some new life into them. We always talk about those tracks as if they’re sitting in the waiting room. They’re reading magazines, watching TV, chain smoking cigarettes, waiting to be called in to be reworked. Some tracks have been in the waiting room for a long time. They’re getting old and crusty with hairs coming out their ears and nostrils.
Most of your album covers feature what look like old photographs. Where do you find these, and is the visual aspect of your records important to you?
Our first three record covers are old family photographs of mine. The cover of Aug 56 is a photograph of my parents’ first television. Other old photographs later on were purchased at flea markets and things like that. Some of them are photographs we’ve actually taken ourselves and made to look like old photographs.
The visual aspect is very important to us with our covers. It adds to the element of mystery and imagination and different interpretation that we like to convey in the music.
Now that the album is almost out, what are your plans, either for the band or for you as individuals?
To push this record out there the best we can and hope that people enjoy it. We hope that listeners who have enjoyed our past records will hear something new and also something familiar in this one. But as far as 310 and the future goes, we don’t have specific plans other than to work on new stuff and push toward the next record and cross that bridge when it comes. We’d like to do more remixes. We love doing those. And hopefully get an opportunity to work on film music.
Sixes And Seven is out on 13 November on Conduit Records.
Email interview with Tim Donovan, November 2007.