Reveries – An interview with thisquietarmy

I’ve always been intrigued by the collaborative process, especially when a pair of individual artists come together for a unique project. Often, identities are revealed in the compositional process only to be directed to foreign territory as something distinct to either artist bubbles to the surface. Eric Quach who talks to us here as thisquietarmy compares it to a one-night stand in a previous interview; “The situation creates new ideas that you’d never come up with on your own.” This is exactly how Reveries was born, which came together as a collaborative project between Eric and Sarah Lipstate, aka Noveller. As solo artists, both Eric and Sarah, sculpt remarkable textures using guitars as their instrument of choice and it became inevitable at some point that they would eventually cross paths. Sarah and Eric’s individual styles complemented each other perfectly on Reveries, an ambient construction that manages to unfold a story as it continually develops along its time-line, rather than wallow in the subterranean frequencies of a low drone. The spontaneous composition resonated with the dream-like state, as the title would suggest, and offered a very visceral journey through Sarah and Eric’s own improvising methods. It confirms Eric’s virtuoso status as a performer, just in case his twenty or so albums as thisquietarmy haven’t already done so, but it also offered a variation from his solo work. I caught up with Eric via a few emails shortly after hearing this album to get a further understanding of how Reveries came together.

What brought you and Sarah together and how did the Reveries project get started?

Sarah & I played a few times together when she was touring Canada a few years back – I also released her split with unFact on my micro-label TQA Records in 2010. In January 2013, I planned to visit some friends in New York and we managed to squeeze in a couple hours of recording at Electric Blue Studios, my friend Brian’s small apartment studio in Brooklyn. Planned spontaneity.

I noticed that, although there are traits of your individual work on the album, it is completely unique. How did you affect each other musically through the compositional process? 

Basically we improvised on-the-fly with the little time that we had, and with the help of Brian recording us and monitoring everything, we could just focus on playing. Some people have to talk about what the results should be before even starting anything but we didn’t do any of that as I think we’re both good improvisers. Both our distinctive styles were just meshed in consequence since we were in the same room at the same time – it was easy to get a feel of what was happening at the moment, and try to complement each other. After each recorded segment, Brian would suggest different directions such as “how ’bout something more aggressive or upbeat or dreamy” and that would trigger either of us to start something in that vein, which helped to get a wide variety of material in such short recording time.

I am quite surprised to learn that Reveries was improvised in such a short time. You talk about getting a “feel for the moment”. Was the intention to express that moment in a visceral construct, or was there a preconceived idea for trying to capture a dream-like state, as the title would suggest?

We decided on the title when we had all the tracks mixed & edited, so there wasn’t anything preconceived. Usually when it comes to collaborations, I don’t really think of a direction unless someone suggests one (as Brian of Electric Blue Studios did between takes). The whole point of getting together impulsively and spontaneously was to see what can happen in whatever amount of time we have together and the result is this record. Of course, if we didn’t like what we recorded, we probably wouldn’t have looked to release it or we would’ve worked on the material further until we’d be satisfied.

There were also techniques you employed (especially noticeable on Reveries III), where you moved into dissonance intervals and it creates exquisite moments of tension. How do you execute that level of control in the spur of the moment?

It’s hard to analyze exactly what happened at a certain moment when I’m recording or performing because we were experimenting with different ideas and I usually I just get lost in that. Being conscious of actually being in control of anything is a weird concept for me – I just use my ears and my instincts, my brain does the rest in this mysterious way – whether it decides to play a specific note or layer a specific loop to create an effect that may or may not work in the context, but by experience I already know that this way of doing things, has a fairly good success rate, although the results are always surprising.

The press release emphasizes the fact Reveries was completely composed on the guitar. I quite enjoyed hearing the buzz of the amplifier in the background from time to time in this context. Is it essential that the listener is aware of Reveries’ origins?

Both of our solo materials are usually strictly recorded with guitars and I think we both have this passion to transform our guitar sound into something else. A lot of times in reviews of my albums, they mistake synthesizers for guitars and it’s disappointing because the goal isn’t to fool anyone, but rather to showcase our sonic experimentation through our chosen instrument. We like our pedal boxes and we keep striving to make the most out of them with different techniques.

Also to me, the buzz of the amplifiers is a distinctive reminder of how the recording session all went down as I’m quite used to record and do everything on my own, at my own pace in Montreal. But because I was in Brooklyn, I didn’t use my guitar or my amplifier – I just smuggled a few pedals with me across the border. Brian was kind enough to receive us in his small space at the last minute, to let us play through his amplifiers and use his gear to record us.

Brian obviously played a key role retrospectively, but was there any piece of music, or outside influence that might have affected you subconsciously during the improvised moment?

Having to squeeze the session in everyone’s tight schedule, being in frantic New York where it’s an adventure just to get from one point to another, to then lock ourselves in a studio for a couple hours and just focus on creating something beautiful – in retrospect, the environment and the whole context played a huge role in the conception of the Reveries.

I just read a review that compared Reveries to Tangerine Dreams or ambient Popul Vuh, which is kind of surprising. But honestly, I think we just went with our guts, or in my case at least – as the night before the recording session, I was at St. Vitus (a metal dive bar in Greenpoint) and caught Theologian & Correction Houses, but none of that seeped into the recordings.

You were obviously satisfied with the results of Reveries. Does this mean that future collaborations might be on the cards?

Sure, if the timing is right. Sarah just moved further to Austin, so it might be harder to cross paths in the future.

Will there be a Reveries live show?

Again, if our paths cross. We just received an interest from a promoter in Toronto to do so this summer – but it might not be possible logistically. If promoters are interested, they can get in touch with an offer to try and figure it out.