Ishmael is busy these days. Invigorated with new material after recording an EP in the dead of night in New York’s Tarbox Studios, the band reemerged at Earth House this past Saturday for a triumphant, proggy whirlwind of new tracks (like the infectious, rhythmically-baffling “Feet Stomp”), well-worn older jams, and…an impromptu Tool cover?
Anyways, I caught up with the vastly gifted Wes-based four-piece, which includes familiar faces Jordan Lewis ’13 and Andy Werle ’12, as well as McGill’s Nick Otte and NYU’s Aaron Silberstein to talk about new material, legendary engineer Tim Palmer, and the pros and cons of Katy Perry’s “Part Of Me.”
The Argus: Tell us about the new EP.
Ishmael: The songs are only a small portion of our original repertoire, so we were just trying to get all the colors of ourselves across as effectively as possible, and we think these songs were the right choices for that. I’d say we jumped at the chance to experiment a bit more with the toys at our disposal.
A: What influenced you most while recording it?
I: We were actually listening to the 24-track master tapes to “Killer Queen.” You can hear Freddie breathing.
A: How did you manage to get set up with Tim Palmer in the first place?
I: After we were finished with all of the actual recording and we were finished with nearly all of the “production” work, it was basically just a matter of doing our research about who we wanted to mix the record. We always knew that we wanted someone “professional” to do the final mixes and it just came down to finding someone that we trusted who would also agree to do the project. Luckily, Tim was very responsive to the music and really liked the rough mix that we sent him of “Kansas 1943 (In The Future).” He basically agreed to the project after hearing this first song.
A: What was it like working with him?
I: Getting the songs mixed was a weird experience because Tim lives in Austin, Texas. After we sent him the files on hard drives, we would suddenly get an email every couple of days with a mixed song that sounded a hundred times better than what we’d sent. The process basically consisted of sending him songs that were “at the mix stage,” and him starting with an initial pass at the song, and then two or three more mixes of each song that would be refined based on our comments. Throughout the entire process, Tim was really receptive to our input and was a pleasure to work with. Obviously, given his experience, we wanted to give him creative latitude. Sometimes, like with particular delays and reverbs, he made decisions that surprised us when we first heard them. We had gotten so used to hearing the songs sounding a particular way that when we first got them back we had to really allow ourselves to re-hear the songs like a first-time listener. It was a very interesting process to be involved in.
A: Why record in the dead of night?
I: The initial plan was to record it using our own gear in [bassist/singer] Nick’s basement. We went out to buy all this crazy shit and even borrowed a mixer that had been used to record Paula Abdul from Sugarbox Studios where Jordan was working. But by then Jordan had been working at the studio long enough that his bosses were cool with letting us record when it was free, which was basically from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. So we basically recorded in the dead of night because we had to, but in retrospect we’re happy it happened that way. There was something indescribable about being so creative, and loud, while most of New York slept, and it freed up our inhibitions so we could try some weird stuff.
A: What exactly went down with the Eclectic “bureaucratic bullshit” last semester?
I: We were all set to play there, but at 8 p.m. on the day of the show we heard through the grapevine that nobody had registered the show with the school and PSafe would shut it down if it went on at Eclectic. Luckily enough there was a show going on at Psi U the same night, and the organizers were extremely cool in letting us get a great slot at the last minute.
A: How did you get those ridiculous rhythmic parts down on [first single] “Feet Stop”?
Andy Werle: Well, our drummer Aaron tells us it’s based on an Afro-cuban Bata rhythm that we excerpted. From there it was a matter of literally taking the first thing I played over it. Sometimes we fiddle with a song forever, but “Feet Stomp” flowed.
Jordan Lewis: I can’t really comment too much on “Feet Stomp” since my part isn’t actually that complex, but I would say that in general the more complex rhythmic stuff is approached usually by us asking, “What could we do here that would really shake things up in a cool way?” Rhythmically, what we’re doing is not really that crazy, it’s just that we try to put things together in ways that sound unique to us and hopefully to our listeners.
A: What was the strangest part of playing at Earth House this weekend?
I: Trying a bunch of new stuff. We went against our usual setlist scheme, played new tunes fresh, and learned a cover hours before (“Stinkfist” by Tool). Jordan took over on bass for “Stinkfist,” and Nick grabbed the mic and went to mosh in the crowd. It was heavy.
A: If you could play a concert anywhere on campus, where would it be?
I: Probably in the four-way intersection of High and Church on the back of a parked pick-up truck.
A: What are some other Wes musical acts you especially admire?
AW: Gamelan with Sumarsam.
JL: The music grad students are doing some really cool stuff here. Nice and quiet.
A: Which Wesleyan professor would you invite to an Ishmael concert?
JL: [Assistant Professor of German Studies] Ulrich Plass.
Andy: [University Professor of Music] Sumarsam.
A: What’s the best record of 2012 so far?
AW: Technically not 2012, but I’m still listening to the “The Hunter” by Mastodon, which came out in September.
JL: Katy Perry’s new single: “Part of Me.”
A: Any post-graduation plans?
I: Hopefully, we’ll get to make music for a long long time.