Photo credit: Victoria Holt
Allow Seattle duo Thousands to take you to the shore’s edge with their debut album The Sound of Everything. With gentle harmonies, entrancing guitar lines, and the sound of calling birds in the distance, Kristian Garrard and Luke Bergman have crafted the type of dreamy acoustic folk that will transport you to a place of peace and tranquillity with every listen.
In their first ever UK interview by the power of e-mail, we talk to Thousands about the people and places that inspired The Sound of Everything, the ever-thriving music scene of Seattle and about their recent signing to Bella Union.
Thousands! How’s it going?
Luke Bergman: Hello. Good.
Kristian Garrard: It’s going well, thanks.
Where are you right now? What five things can you see?
K: We’re sitting in Cafe Racer, in Seattle; a great bar/cafe in our neighborhood. From where I sit I can see a giant portrait of Jesus made out of marshmallows, a Vespa decked out in mirror-ball squares, Shmootzie the Clod, a musician. It’s raining outside.
You’ve recently signed to Bella Union. Congratulations! How did that come about?
K: Thanks. Our friends in the Fleet Foxes were kind enough to pass along our record to Simon Raymonde, who runs Bella Union, at some point last year. We’ve been talking with him for a long time now, and now our album is finally coming out in March!
So were you fans of Bella Union and their previous signings beforehand?
L: I hadn’t listened to many of the bands before, except for Laura Veirs and Fleet Foxes, but I have been checking the others out lately, and they’re pretty good.
K: Same here, I’ve been a fan of Laura Veirs for a long time, and of course Fleet Foxes. Lately I’ve really been getting into Beach House and Midlake. Midlake’s The Courage Of Others is on HEAVY rotation on my iPod. I’m really excited to be involved with a label that has such great bands.
Do you have a label that you are signed to over in Seattle too?
K: We’re signed to Bella Union in North America too, the CD/LP will be released here on April 26. Our album came out as a limited vinyl release here last year on a small label called Echolalic as well.
The Sound of Everything is your first release together since recording with both Heatwarmer and Born Under The Sun of Death. Did it feel strange working with each other one-on-one as opposed to having other band members around?
K: These three bands have been going on at the same time for years. Thousands has existed for about four years, but we never got our act together to record an album until recently.
L: It felt a little strange to work with each other one-on-one, but that’s just because neither of us could stop playing classic rock riffs and get anything done. After we stopped riffing so superfluously, it came very naturally.
Good job. What inspired you to work together as a duo?
K: Things just fell into place that way. We tried (not very hard) to involve drums, once, and it didn’t feel right. It’s easiest to practice in apartments in the city when your band is just two acoustic guitars. No need to make tons of noise.
L: I was a big fan of Kristian’s songs before he played with anyone else. The music is pretty sonically delicate and complex when it’s just Kristian playing, so it’s hard to work even just my parts into it. Very occasionally we get the idea for an extra instrument to be added, but normally it sounds pretty full with just us.
I see that you’re both still involved in other musical projects alongside Thousands. Do you see each of your groups as being totally separate from the last?
K: Well there isn’t so much as one, then the next, then the next. We’re both super active in the scene here. I myself play in about 5 bands, Luke probably more than that. We’re both lovers of all sorts of music, and we don’t want to be bottled into any particular style, so all the different bands allow us to express whatever it is we feel, be that quiet acoustic music, head-splitting noise, boogie-blues, etc etc.
L: Yes, each group is totally separate. I wouldn’t want to be in two bands that were similar.
Is it the norm for Seattle musicians to be involved in so many different groups then?
L: At least in our group of friends.
K: Seattle is super-saturated with musicians. I think there are probably more bands here than residents. On any given night of the week you can read listings in the paper for about 100 shows. It’s tough to get any sort of recognition in that atmosphere.
I hear that you’re both very respected within Seattle’s underground music scene. Is that how you met? What’s the story?
K: I’d say most of Seattle’s music scene is “underground”, being that the vast majority of these bands (and there are some great ones) never seem to go anywhere. Also literally, there are a lot of basement venues around town. In fact, Luke and I were at a basement show last night, seeing an awesome band called Megabog, and a few others. We met through friends at the University of Washington and connected somehow.
And you also both work as music teachers, right? And you curate sessions at a music organisation called ‘Racer Sessions?’
K: I’ve taught before, but not currently.
L: I teach in the Jazz Department at the University of Washington. The Racer Sessions is separate from education. It’s a weekly new music series that is both a compositional showcase for individuals and a session for group free improvisation. We founded it with a few other people as a way to organise and foster the burgeoning interest in new, weird music in Seattle. A different person each week writes a piece based on a theme or concept he/she wants the collective Racer Session group to explore. After the piece is over there is a time for people to improvise based on the host’s presentation. We use the term “curate,” because we wanted the weekly host to have a role larger than just performing their piece but rather taking the group to a new conceptual area, and organizing an experience that people can actively participate in. It has been amazing to see the community cultivate a way of playing and listening based on a year’s worth of weekly presentations.
So did you start Racer Sessions because you felt that you had no musical outlet in Seattle when you were growing up then? Or am I wrong? Is it the opposite?
L: Well not really. Neither of us grew up in Seattle. If anything the Racer Sessions are possible because there are so many incredible musicians in town who are open minded and supportive of each other. It is the only regular event of its kind in the city as far as I know, but I don’t know if the scene was like starved for something like this before it happened. A bunch of us just wanted to do it, so we did and people seem to be into it.
K: I moved to the Seattle area when I was in high school, and there was definitely a thriving all-ages music scene going on at that time. I was never at a loss for things to do. Vats of Blood was recording albums on a computer mic, teenagers were getting sweaty together, it was great.
You actually travelled out of Seattle to record this album, which is something that you never did with any other of your bands. Why was that?
K: We decided to do these recordings mostly outdoors to give each song a different atmosphere. We travelled around Washington and Oregon looking for quiet, inspiring places to set up our little microphone and play. This method of recording would only really lend itself to such purely acoustic music. We wanted the music to sound like it was being performed in, say, the woods, or a hayloft, as of course it was. You can hear all the sounds of birds and wind and all that in the background.
So does this mean that the album doesn’t include the sound of your hometown?
K: It does, in a way. We recorded the song ‘The Sound of Everything’ in a stairwell at the University. A couple of the songs were done inside our house, for convenience sake. I’m definitely more inspired by natural environmental sounds than say, a city bus chugging by, or a police siren. I didn’t want any of that stuff clogging up the music.
Luke, in your blog you wrote that the Northwest is known for: ‘thick forests, dismal winters, magnificently beautiful mountains, serial killers, strong beers, fog, vibrant communities, coffee, atheism, passive aggression, giant octopi, moss, suicidal pop stars, fungus, other stuff’.. It all sounds pretty oppressive… 1How have you managed to create something so gentle and easy, from such intense surroundings?
L: It’s not really oppressive. Life is easy in Seattle, and it’s an ideal place for me to be as a musician. The environment in the surrounding area is a dramatic, wild, fertile, sometimes creepy place, but it doesn’t get me down or anything. It makes me really excited. I love it here for all of those things (minus the serial killers of course). There are also things that contribute significantly to the dynamic of the area that bore me, such as boeing, Starbucks, twilight, Glenn Beck (Fox News), Sleepless in Seattle, messed up tax laws, seafood. That post was a bit slanted towards focusing on things that would optimise the effect of the piece I was presenting.
As for Thousands’ music, I think it’s still, at some level, a reaction to our environment but may not overtly match the aforementioned qualities. My post was misleading if it came across as meaning, “music must be a direct representation of its immediate region” that ignores lots of the ways that humans collect experiences. It makes sense why reggae didn’t come from Greenland, but in a diverse place with a wide range of stimuli inside and out of the natural environment, I feel inclined to make all sorts of different music. Which may be why we’re each in multiple bands.
You also wrote that it’s a place where people bottle up ‘destructive emotions’. It’s hard to imagine a whole place feeling like that…
L: Yeah. The whole place doesn’t feel like that. Those thoughts represent a snapshot of a time in my life when I was fixated on passive aggression as a regional phenomenon. I was also writing that stuff partially to rile people up to hear my piece. People “bottle up destructive emotions” everywhere in the world to some extent, right? Our region, I’m told, has the reputation for being especially passive aggressive, or at the very least, “laid back”. That general vibe may be an effect of having lots of open space and pretty easy living. Somewhere like New York City, people maybe have adapted to being more direct in their interactions because it’s the only way to get things done. You have to be hardcore to even go out and do your laundry. I was also holding up social patterns I’ve noticed next to the weather patterns in Seattle to see if there was any connection there. In the Winters, it is constant drizzly, foggy, purgatorial weather that never storms and rarely freezes. I, for one, begin to crave extremes. I’m not sure if there’s any truth behind this comparison, I was just posing the thought.
So is Thousands extremely inspired by the nature and seasons of Seattle, or extremely inspired by the people you see there every single day?
K: Definitely more on the nature side. Most of my lyrics centre round environments, and I’m inspired by all of the darkness here; the rainforests, the clouds, the bears, the ocean. People play a pretty minor role in my lyrics, where they’re mostly just the victims of their surroundings.
So has it worked out well for you, living in Seattle? I mean, in terms of it pushing you on to create something new and fresh?
K: I think so, I’m able to live in a super-cheap apartment, work only a couple days a week, and focus most of my time on creative pursuits. For that reason, Seattle is amazing. I don’t know that I’d have more trouble creating anywhere else, since I’ve never really tried it. The music isn’t any sort of escape for me. It’s just a way of understanding myself, and exploring new ideas. I hope I never start repeating myself, but so far I feel like I’m always breaking new ground in my song-writing.
L: Yeah, it’s hella chill. I also live for cheap and don’t work very much so I can make work on my music. If anything, I would think that working all the time is a way to escape from reality, it’s when you’re doing nothing that you really start to stare into the abyss.
How do you go about creating songs for Thousands? Is there a formula for your music?
K: Head-Solo-Head-Vamp out. Not really, there’s no formula. All these ideas come to me at the strangest times. I can never just sit down and crank out a song. I’m always recording little ideas into my cell phone, forgetting them, remembering later, maybe writing a song around it, maybe deleting it. The process is a complete mystery. Once I do get something finalised though, the process of arranging it for the band is just the two of us sitting in my living room, playing the same parts over and over until Luke finds the missing puzzle pieces.
L: There are only two working virtues we write music by:
1) Practice it, play it on the gig.
2) If you can’t take it upstairs, no one cares.
And who takes the lead?
K: I’m responsible for the main part of the song-writing, the lyrics, structure, etc. Luke is a pretty vital aspect of adding depth to the songs though. His parts pull together the sometimes disparate elements of a song into a pretty cohesive unit. Luke’s good at picking out themes that I didn’t know existed and making them more apparent.
L: I’m technically the lead guitarist, sometimes I’m referred to as the “Secret Weapon.”
Ha! What did you both hope to achieve when you started Thousands?
K: For a long time, I didn’t want to really “achieve” anything, other than writing some good songs, and playing them in people’s living rooms. We never went looking for normal shows or anything, and were perfectly comfortable in unconventional venues. I think this attitude is what led us to record the album in such an informal way. We were definitely not trying to create a clean, studio-style album. I’m much more of a fan of intimate home recordings, records that embrace their own flaws, or are simply unaware of them.
L: I think the goal for the music has always been to make stuff that is creatively gratifying, and also hopefully is something new and challenging to the listener. We are constantly trying to carve out a new area with each new song, so it’s always a challenge for us. As a result, the music is really fun to play and something that I can get deeply engaged with.
What other plans do you have for 2011?
K: Just building our name, hopefully touring a bunch. We have our first trip to Europe coming up, some dates around the US, and then who knows what the future holds. Hopefully we can just get busier and busier over the year.
L: Eventually it would be nice to have someone tabbing out our songs.
K: Yeah, I really want to see a YouTube video of a kid in his bedroom covering one of my songs. It’s my dream.
I’ll get my guitar… Any Seattle-based bands that we should check out in the meanwhile?
L: I just recorded the albums of Chemical Clock and Bad Luck. They are both incredible and unique bands. My other favourites are Wet Paint and Lonesome Shack. Also: Filth Mattress, Titpig, Punishment, Operation ID, Thunder Grey Pilgrim, anything on tableandchairsmusic.com Way too many to list.
K: Luke beat me to most of mine! One thing I’m super excited about these days is an album by our friend Andrew Conklin called If I Were More Like You. He’s based in Oakland, and is giving the record away for free on his Bandcamp site. He should really be getting rich off that thing though.
The Sound of Everything will be released on March 21 ahead of Thousands’ first UK tour which begins on March 31 in London. For more information check out their website: www.thousandsband.com.
31 – Slaughtered Lamb, London
1 – Green Door Store, Brighton
3 – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
4 – Lee Rosy, Nottinghham
5 – Castle Hotel, Manchester
6 – Grand Social, Dublin
8 – Vic Bar, Glasgow
9 – Mello Mello, Liverpool
10 – A Nation of Shopkeepers, Leeds