Posted on Feb 4th 2009 10:05 pm

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Three years ago, the duo formed of Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp delivered their second album as Mountains, following a very promising debut published the year before. Since, the pair have focused on various solo endeavours and taken some time off. Now, following a very limited live LP released last year, Mountains are back with their third album, Choral, and will be spending part of the year on the road. We caught up with them a few weeks before the new album is out to discuss the new album and the process leading to it, how their respective musical projects inform their common work and Italian music of the seventies.

It’s been nearly three years since you released Sewn. What have you been up to?

Brendon Anderegg: I moved to Arizona for a while to go back to school. Since returning to New York I’ve been working at a recording studio and doing a lot of composing for film and television.

Koen Holtkamp: Well Brendon went to School in Arizona for a bit so I focused on doing solo work again as I wanted to continue performing and making music.

In 2008, you released an LP-only album on Catsup Plate, limited to 500 copies, which featured, amongst others, some recordings made during a tour I believe. Why did you choose to release this in such a small quantity, and why on vinyl?

KH: We had a few odds and ends that we really liked and wanted to release but we didn’t really consider it as a new ‘album’. Rob who runs Catsup Plate has been a friend for awhile and I have a huge amount of respect for what he does with the label so we decided to see if he’d be interested in releasing something. He gave us the option of either doing vinyl or CD and we’re both big vinyl fans so we were excited to do an LP. Also we didn’t want people to consider this as a new proper album as it was not conceived as such. The pieces were done at different times (spanning a couple years) and in very different circumstances.

BA: We have always liked the Catsup Plate label and had some music that we hadn’t released. We really wanted to get that music out there and start focusing on new work so the 12″ idea seemed like a good one.

You released your first two albums on Apestaartje, the label you founded some years ago. Why did you choose to release Choral on Thrill Jockey instead? Is Apestaartje still active as a label?

BA: We decided that putting our next record on another label would give us the opportunity to focus all of our energy on the music. We also thought it would give more people the opportunity to listen to our music

KH: After Sewn we decided that we wouldn’t release any of our own music at least for the near future. It just got to a point where I was spending too much time with the business side of running a label and I would prefer to focus more on actually making music. After we finished Choral we sent it to a few labels who had expressed some interest in what we had done in the past and Thrill Jockey just seemed to be on the same page as far as what we wanted to do. In terms of a label, Apestaartje is sort of on the backburner at the moment. I’d like to do some more releases in the future but the label will not be releasing anything anytime soon. It’s really just a matter of time. At a certain point I just felt like it made more sense to fully dedicate myself to either making music or the label as I was kinda half doing both.

You recorded Choral at home in Brooklyn, and the music was recorded mostly live. Did you follow a different process to previous albums, and how do you think your music has changed or evolved this time round?

BA: On the past couple of records we spent a lot more time recording one track at a time, overdubbing and editing. We were practicing live sets a lot around the time of this record so it seemed natural to approach it in that way. Rather than overdubbing one track at a time , we decided to record several versions of a track live and pick one for the record. Or we would do one layer of a track live and then record overdubs at the same time switching to different instruments from one layer to the next. I think it helped us explore longer compositions and build a fuller sound.

KH: The process was very different from previous records. Much less reliant on post production editing and more focused on capturing a moment. I think this approach somewhat came out of us learning to work together again after a hiatus.

Your music relies a lot on acoustic sounds, which you then process into the finished compositions. The music seems to be mostly based on guitars, both acoustic and electric. Do you use any other instruments, and are the instruments you use changing from one record to the next?

BA: We use about as many instruments as we can get our hands on. We have an organ, Rhodes, accordion, cello as well as a lot of smaller instruments like melodicas and harmonicas. We have used many of these instruments on multiple albums. Sometimes we will want something that sounds a certain way and then will go about figuring out the best way to make that sound.

You also use field recordings in your music. How do you collect them, and do you usually process them a lot before incorporating them into your compositions?

BA: We both have small field recorders that we use. A lot of times the field recordings are unprocessed or blend from unprocessed to processed over a matter of minutes.

KH: Most of the field recordings are fairly unprocessed though that’s not always the case. I usually use in ear binaural microphones for recording. To put it simply, I tend to go for long listening walks and just document various sounds that I find interesting. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Putting them in a compositional context usually comes later.

The new album features tracks that are overall much longer than the ones on Sewn. The tracks on your first album were, for the most part, even longer than those on Choral. Do you feel more at ease with longer tracks? Do they provide more scope to develop the piece, or is it just a different approach for you?

BA: I think the length of the tracks on the new record have a lot to do with the fact that we recorded so much of it live. It is easier for us to build up a sound over several minutes than all at once. We do so much with looping and recording while playing that it sometimes takes a while for a composition to take shape. Also, on Sewn, we really wanted to try a different approach so having shorter tracks on that record was very much a conscious decision.

KH: The tracks on Sewn we made deliberately shorter as we were very consciously trying to do something different from the first record. Our music tends to be rather gradual so it takes more time for things to develop hence the longer tracks.

How do you see Choral fit with your previous records? Do you see a natural progression?

BA: I think the main difference is that it is not as rigidly structured as our other records. In terms of the future I’m not really sure where the music will go. We are going to focus on performance for a while so we’ll see what direction that takes us in.

KH: There’s just a much looser approach with this album. In some regards it was a process of us discovering how to work together again after taking a break from the project.

Your previous two records were very well received both by the press and the public. How did you react to this, and did it put pressure on you for the third album?

KH: Um.. I think I feel more pressure now that the record is coming out then I did making it. We deliberately chose to make the record ourselves on our own terms before talking to anyone about the possibility of releasing it as we just wanted to focus on the music first.

BA: We were really excited that people enjoyed our music. In terms of pressure I think we felt a lot more pressure when making the second record.

You are due to play a few live dates around the release of the album, all in the US so far. Are you planning to tour more, and to come to Europe?

KH: Yes. We really enjoy performing so we’d like to do as much as possible. Right now we will be doing a handful of shows in and around NYC in Feb then a longer US tour in April. We’re also currently planning a European tour for the fall of this year. Possibly some other things but we’ll see what comes up.

Koen, you released an album under your own name on Type last year. Can you tell us more about the project, and how you came to work with Type?

KH: Field Rituals was somewhat of a learning process for me. A new beginning of sorts. I’d been focusing on Mountains for a number of years and when Brendon went back to school I decided that I wanted to try doing some solo performances as I thought this could be an interesting challenge. At first I found it frustrating not having the energy and feedback of another person to react to but after a few performances I really began to enjoy it. Playing solo is a very different kind of experience and I think it gave me a chance to discover and explore some things that I might not have in the context of Mountains. At this point I really like having the balance of doing solo and collaborative projects. I think that both situations really compliment one another.

In terms of the record, it’s probably the most personal thing I’ve done. It was all recorded in my former apt, most of the field recordings are either from my old backyard or the surrounding neighborhood and many of the titles somewhat directly reference things right around where I’ve lived for the last few years. It’s very much a document of a particular time in my life.

I made a hand numbered/packaged CDR edition of Field Rituals that I gave to some friends who’d been supportive in the past. One of these people was John from Type. He dug it and we just went from there.

What is happening with your other project, Aero? Are you still involved with it?

KH: No plans for Aero in the future.

Brandon, your own project, Anderegg, seems to have been dormant for a while too. Do you have any plans to return to it?

BA: I’ve been doing so much sound work, composing recording mixing and editing that I really haven’t had much time to focus on my solo work. I think Mountains was a natural progression from what I was doing before. If I were to put out another record anytime soon I’d like to do something completely different from what I’ve done in the past

Do these projects affect how you work within Mountains? Do you sometimes find new ways of working on your own, or new sounds, that you want to explore as part of the band?

KH: Yes definitely. Working solo again really gave me a chance to explore and expand in different ways that might not have occurred to me in Mountains. I think both situations really help each other in terms of not becoming stagnant. There are things that I might come across alone that I bring to the band or vice versa and there’s times that I’ll respond to something Brendon has done and come across something that I never would have were I be purely working alone. I’d like to think both situations bring different challenges and possibilities.

Now that the album is ready to be released, what are your plans for the future with Mountains, and beside?

BA: Play a lot of shows and see what happens.

KH: The LP Mountains Mountains Mountains will be released on CD this spring with bonus tracks and we will be doing a 12″ for the A Room Forever series. Aside from that, lots of live performances.

When you’re not focusing on your own music, do you have the time to listen to a lot of music? What kind stuff do you like listening to?

KH: I spend a lot of time listening to music. If I’m at work or at home there’s generally music on. I work for a reissue label so for better or worse I spend most of time listening to older records. A friend played me a pretty amazing Roberto Cacciapaglia LP (Sei Note In Logica) the other day which has got me exploring more Italian music from the seventies – Alan Sorrenti, France Battiata etc. Lots of Early Music. (…anything with Jordi Savall) There seems to be a never ending expanse of amazing international records out there that continually blow my mind but I probably listened to the first few Kevin Coyne and Mickey Newbury records more then anything last year.

BA: Usually I like listening to music that is pretty mellow when I’m at home. Lately I’ve been listening to Max Richter, Johann Johansson and Avro Pärt.

Who did you really like in 2008, and who are you looking forward to hear this year?

KH: I don’t get to hear nearly the volume of new stuff I did when I was working in a record store but there’s a lot of great people making interesting music these days – just to name a few folks- Lichens, Bird Show, Invisible Conga People, Corridors, City Center, James Blackshaw, Chris Forsyth and Soft Circle. Best shows I saw in 2008 were probably Michael Chapman, Tetuzi Akiyama and Black Dice.

Email interview January 2009

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2 Responses to “INTERVIEW: MOUNTAINS At Home With Mountains”

  1. Matton 10 Feb 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Great interview, cheers. I loved Sewn but Choral is really shaping up to be something.

  2. Mountain*7 - Music, Books, Cultureon 10 Feb 2009 at 3:15 pm

    […] – Choral Artist: Mountains Album: Choral Label: Thrill Jockey A good interview with Mountains over at The Milk Factory about their new record, Choral, set to be released in the next few days. […]