Introduction by Mark Brathwaite ~ Interview by Maurice Marion
Neoseeker's debut album, My Hand, is a record inextricably linked to the geographical context of its creators: singer/songwriter/guitarist Sebastian Choe, drummer Zachariah Calluori, and recently added guitarist Max Lawton. Although all members contribute to the arrangement process, the spirit of Washington's noise-y, post-punk scene (think Broken Water, Dreamdecay, Monogamy Party) is most immediate and overwhelmingly present, with a few early grunge tropes tucked in the folds for natural good measure.
The most intriguing aspect of the album is its exploration of a very visceral sort of dynamism, displayed both within and between each consecutive track. The verse of record opener “Spirit 95” sets screech-stop guitar riffage against choppy, frenetic percussion, a coupling which converges and collapses into a heaving, half-timed breakdown of a chorus. The emotive peak of the record comes through Choe’s despaired wail in “Firwood”, which punctuates the half-repressed, tubular dread of the track’s modal body. Similarly, the interludes -- constructed of digital production elements absent from the album's primary numbers -- offer a distinct, almost alienated calm between tracks.
Rare Candy’s Maurice Marion met with Neoseeker’s Sebastian Choe to discuss influences, concepts and the reconstitution of his pacific-northwesterly musical character in New York.
Maurice: How did Neoseeker first get started? How long has “My Hand” been in the works?
Sebastian: Neoseeker is the New York iteration of a band called Uda Ox that I was in when I lived in Washington – met Zach right after moving here and we started playing together as Neoseeker not long after. We began recording My Hand last December but the songs have been written for about a year. The Uda Ox album Contact came out eighteen months ago so it is cool to be releasing somewhat of a response to it now.
Maurice: The obligatory question: what sorts of influences went into Neoseeker’s creation of the album?
Sebastian: I grew up attending and playing shows with a small group of dark and heavy Pacific Northwest bands that all influenced each other’s sound a lot: Naomi Punk, Broken Water, Weed, M. Women... This neofolk group from Helsinki called October Falls uses very sincere interwoven guitars – they directly inspired the song “Silver Lily”.
Maurice: Would you like to say anything about the ideas or concepts that went behind making this album?
Sebastian: We tried to make each song as redacted and deliberate as possible – a curated fury kind of? Conceptually there’s always been a tense longing or violent spirituality… I think the lyrics make sense when heard in tandem with the lyrics on Contact – they’re both sort of narrated by this sinister alter-ego. Both album titles might be read as sensual and surface-occupied as well.
Maurice: What was it like recording at The Anacortes Unknown? How extensive was your and Zach’s input in the mixing and mastering process?
Sebastian: Zach and I actually tracked the songs at this warehouse in New Jersey with this rough guy who refuses to be credited for one reason or another. Nicholas Wilbur [Mount Eerie, LAKE] and I mixed the album in this beautiful old church in Anacortes, Washington. This is the space he runs with Phil Elverum [Mount Eerie, The Microphones]. I feel like I always get neurotic when it comes to mixing – my requests led us to the point where we were splicing, panning and equalizing individual guitar and drum strikes to achieve an industrial tone. The mastering process with Chris Hanzsek is always easy – he’s been the wizard of slow and heavy since he produced the Melvins in ’86!
Maurice: The guitar sounds on the album are noticeably different than that of your live shows (much less distortion, more reverb and flanger-y/phaser—y effects). Was this a pre-planned conscious decision or did that just happen organically? What do you see as the relationship between the sound on your record and the sound at your live shows?
Sebastian: I don’t know if I’m a proponent of having the record be a linear reproduction of the live sound – recordings allow the introduction of new textures that are impossible to produce when amps are turned up in a basement! Punk tapes with blown out guitars and squealing feedback are cool but producing something smoother allows for a more unpredictable live set.
Maurice: Are you the main songwriter on all the songs? What sort of input do Zach or Max have in the songwriting?
Sebastian: I wrote the songs on paper in a morse code style of dots and dashes to feel out the velocity and rhythm of each then pasted in the notes that sounded right on guitar. Zach is the actual trained musician: he gives important input when I say it needs to feel more like a chain dragging through a bog or something. He sculpts these drum parts that give the songs a surgically syncopated feel. Max only joined Neoseeker last fall and comes from a more heavy-handed doom background which we hope to incorporate into new songs!
Maurice: What role do you see the dreamy interludes playing in the overall aesthetics of the album?
Sebastian: The interludes are the types of songs I made for the first Uda Ox album called Ma’acah’s Room when the band was still a solo project. I think featuring a few delicate and wistful moments contextualizes the louder songs and that both styles inform each other.
Maurice: I know you to be a lover of "early 2000’s pop princesses” like Britney, Hilary Duff, Avril Lavigne, etc. Has that interest of yours worked its way into the songwriting on this record or the way you produced the vocals?
Sebastian: Those inspirations are more realized in this other project I’m involved in called Agatha Claw, but pop vocals have always been important to me especially on songs that lack vocal harmonies but are still successful. There are moments in the album where I’m singing three octaves or doubling tracks that were very inspired by JoJo’s first record… “Brightest Morning Star” off Britney’s latest record definitely informed a lot of the singing in “Rings of Saturn”.
Maurice: Can you talk some about your decision to make the second half of the album a slowed-down version of the first half? It’s a pretty innovative idea. It seems almost as if you had the amount of songs for an EP and then found an interesting way of turning it into an album? Did you originally approach the project as an EP, which then evolved into this original album idea? Were you in anyway trying to deliberately subvert the listener's pre-existing idea of what an album is?
Sebastian: About three years ago I started making slowed down versions of songs just for my own listening pleasure. I remember slowing down Avril’s “My Happy Ending” for the first time and discovering this new punishing dimension to glossy recorded music [available for listen at slowed.bandcamp.com]. Last August I slowed down and remastered the Uda Ox album and rereleased it because it made the songs sound more correct. This time around it just made sense to offer that option from the start!
I don’t think we are trying to subvert the concept of “album”; we had a handful of songs that we saw a way to get more mileage out of. The slowed half makes it easier to deconstruct the songs’ elements and just communicates this otherworldly vibe. Will be cool to hear whether people like to listen to it in full, prefer the slow half when they’re sad, etc.
Maurice: Are you planning on playing a lot of shows around the city in promotion of the album?
Sebastian: We’re playing the basement of that house “Creative Commons” on Saturday February 28 with Zach’s other band Orca Minor!
Neoseeker will be performing at Existential Breakfast this Saturday, February 28th.
My Hand can be listened to and purchased at Neoseeker's Bandcamp.