|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS THE EMPTY MiRROR
A BEAUTiFUL NOiSEGRANT VALDES may be out to make music for himself in the same way that DAVE THOMAS of PERE UBU has claimed to do for the past thirty-five years but VALDES’ THE EMPTY MIROR has an advantage over the other noise rockers that they have been compared to – melody. Far from coming across as discordant, THE EMPTY MIRROR’s sound – cleverly dubbed ‘Nightmericana’ – reels the listener in with sheer musicality on their latest release ABSTRACTED CATHOLIC – a five song collection that defies genre and goes for the gut . Musicianship rules the day with ANTE RUICH’s assault on the bass, BILL KIM’s frenzied drumming and VALDES’ innate ability to let feelings of isolation and tension ring out of just six strings as his voice – at times a gentle SYD BARRETT-like purr and at others a feral scream – careening above the madness.
GRANT VALDES OF THE EMPTY MiRROR
TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT THEiR LATEST CD ABSTRACTED CATHOLiC
THE POSSiBiLiTiES OF MUSiC
AND WRiTiNG FROM A PRiVATE PLACE
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED conducted an e-mail interview with GRANT VALDES of THE EMPTY MIRROR. Here is how it went.
How do you feel about ABSTRACTED CATHOLIC now that all of the work is behind you and it's out there for people to take in?
It's structurally sound. Right now it sounds perfect. Well, I do wish there had been a cross fade between tracks three and four.
What is different this time from your 2008 release OVERWHELM?
The Empty Mirror is a different entity this time around. I was collaborating with different guys for OVERWHELM (one of whom will be returning for a future recording). While it's played by a different cast, the spirit is similar on this one, or rather, more concentrated, more extreme than OVERWHELM... decreasingly mammalian. ABSTRACTED CATHOLIC can be imagined as an extension of our song "SAINT ORPHEUS."
What kind of place are you coming from as a songwriter/composer?
A private place. The songs are like a beacon into the void. There are people out there who really connect with them, but there's no way to tell who they will be just by looking. So I make the music not for money, not for an audience, not even for myself... the process of writing a song, or listening to one, can make you forget yourself. It's almost a form of mind control: the song seizes your consciousness.
How did THE EMPTY MIRROR begin?
At Oberlin, my old band mates PETE STEFFY and KERRY KALLBERG were roommates who lived right next to me. Basically, we could hear each other practicing and we decided we should form a band. That was pretty much a dream because I had heard KERRY playing "PITSELEH" by ELLIOTT SMITH on a park bench earlier that winter, which completely won me over to him as a person/musician. He was enrolled in both the college and the conservatory... quite a guitarist.
How did music begin for you? Earliest musical memory? My dad whistled non-stop, which gave me my tolerance for shrill guitar tones. My mom sang lullabies, some of which I think she improvised. "WILL YOU BE THERE?" by MICHAEL JACKSON was a revelation of the possibilities of music. "BLACK HOLE SUN" was a revelation of the existence of rock. More recently, CHOPIN's second étude in A-flat was a terrifying revelation that I had still failed to understand the possibilities of music.
Was there ever one single artist that spoke to you as you were finding your musical identity and why?
OK COMPUTER. That was all I listened to for months. I learned how to play every song. This cute girl on the bus would always ask what I had in my Discman, and it was always OK COMPUTER. I was too into that album to even notice that she was flirting with me. Worth it.
Explain if it's explainable the creative process in terms of songwriting?
I think of it by analogy with painting. For me, the initial crude outline comes very quickly, and then I just live with it for awhile, like it were a painting on an easel in my bedroom, touching it up.
Talk about your band mates and what it is that each of them brings to the table both musically and personality-wise that makes this whole thing come together.
ANTE RUICH is not a bassist. I mean that as a compliment, because I hope anyone can hear how great his parts are on ABSTRACTED CATHOLIC. ANTE is a metalhead and a virtuosic classical guitarist who decided to come on board for this project but he's not with THE EMPTY MIRROR anymore. That was the expectation going into it. BILL KIM... it hurts to say this... for family reasons he's about to have to leave the country. Once we knew this was going to happen, he and I went into the Hideout studio in Seattle and recorded drums for the next several projects. With my own setup, I've been laying down the other parts for these releases and will be bringing in other folks to lay down parts for instruments that I don't know. BILL and ANTE are both great, upbeat guys with a good sense of the absurd. They're more talented and more humble than I am. As a policy, I don't start bands with friends. My relationships with the people I've played with have started with a common ground that was purely musical. The friendships have grown from there, but they weren't there to begin with. I think this is a good working method because it preserves the mystery.
What songs/moments from ABSTRACTED CATHOLIC stand out for you the most and why?
There's a melody line from "STAINGLASS" that recurs in other songs. The moment when it's introduced is glaring to me because I hear it as "the theme." It's like a private joke... maybe other folks will hear it now.
Explain the title. Does it have something to to do with having taught at a Catholic School?
I'm surprised you know that about me! Hmm. The album title is a beautiful snowflake; I will protect it from my hot air.