Eternal Tapestry Talk Atmosphere, New Album 'Wild Strawberries,' and Recording Over Phish Cassettes
The psych rock stalwarts disappeared into a cabin in the woods to record their latest album—here's why.
Photo courtesy of Thrill Jockey
With production technology becoming part of the standard software package of most laptops, tablets, and even smartphones, the place where an artist chooses to record an album has started to mean less and less; most folks don’t care where the tracks were laid down as long as the end result sounds halfway decent. However, there’s something to be said for how a particular room or space can affect the sound of an album, and can affect the people playing it. That’s why Portland psych rock explorers Eternal Tapestry are drawing attention to the fact that in the fall of 2013, the quartet decamped to a cabin in Zigzag, Oregon at the base of Mount Hood to record their eighth full-length Wild Strawberries.
“I don’t think I could imagine a better way to spend time than to just take a leave from home and city and get away to somewhere where you’re disconnected from things,” guitarist/vocalist Nick Bindeman said of the experience. “You just focus on the people there and you wake up, eat, play music, smoke some turkey, drink some Kool-Aid, and then call it a day.”
The sprawling double LP (out on February 24 via Thrill Jockey) that emerged from these week-long sessions carries with it that same unhurried, relaxed quality. All the songs are named for plants native to the area, and extended jams like “Enchanter’s Nightshade” and the title track unfold languorously with Warren Lee’s organ drones wafting around Nick’s guitar leads. For a long stretch towards the end of this epic album, the rhythm section (Nick’s brother Jed and bassist Krag Likins) disappears, replaced by long komische instrumentals that gently massage your brain with pot resin-stained fingers.
Noisey tracked down the Bindeman brothers to find out just what went on out there in the woods.
Noisey: How did you come to record this album in a cabin?
Jed Bindeman: It’s an idea that we’ve been throwing around for a few years now, going to a private cabin totally removed from Portland and kind of in the middle of nowhere. Nick was doing some research trying to find a cabin in the Mt. Hood area. We’d been around there a bunch going camping in Zigzag, and when we saw photos of this place, we thought, “Well, no time is better than now.” We booked it for a week and then drove four cars full of every instrument we could squeeze in and a whole studio setup. We bought food for the week and settled in.
How difficult was it to turn the cabin into a makeshift studio?
Nick Bindeman: I think when we got out there we spent one full day setting up all the microphones and getting everything fully rigged up. It was a beautiful cabin on the river but the room had extremely high ceilings. We had to do a lot of tweaking to get everything placed correctly so it would sound okay. We also set things up to record on cassette and also on a computer so we’d have options.
I wanted to ask about those cassettes. Rumor has it you recorded over a bunch of Phish bootlegs.
JB: It’s true! Maybe three years ago a friend of mine sent me an email with a Craigslist posting of someone who had 400 free Phish bootleg cassettes that were available to anyone who wants them. I emailed the guy and they were still there. He gave me two massive boxes of tapes. He said 400, but I counted them and there were close to 700 tapes in there actually. When I looked at them, they were all Maxell High Bias cassettes which are kind of expensive, and they’d only been recorded on once. It was an endless supply of cassettes for us to use for free.
Photo courtesy of Thrill Jockey
Do you know how many of them you used?
NB: We did about thiry-five hours of recording. I don’t know how many cassettes that was. It was a nightmare to go through afterwards. There was so much stupid garbage on there. I think the nature of being at the cabin, it brings out the best and the worst. It let us completely let down our guards and do whatever we want all the time. In the end, we learned that we didn’t have a lot of focus. Now we know the best way to do it. We need a schedule so it’s more like camp the next time.
JB: We were out there for a solid week. Once we got everything dialed in, it was very easy to forget that you had a life outside of that cabin. We could just jam pretty much all day and close to all night in different configurations. If one of us was taking a nap or someone else out for a walk, we’d play as a duo. There are only a few recordings on the record that are the full lineup. Otherwise, it was just whoever was around.
NB: I suppose that was kind of a benefit of being not focused. because we were all in different places at different times and just let it be. We did so much atmospheric ambient music, which is the main reason why we did this as a double LP. We had such a variety of music, a huge dynamic of extremely atmospheric open washes and then blasts of insanity with two drum sets going overboard.
Your previous albums have been plenty spacey but always rooted in psychedelic rock. A lot of Wild Strawberries feels much more influenced by ambient music. What made you gravitate towards that material?
NB: I’ll gravitate towards whatever feels good. We haven’t released a lot of atmospheric stuff. I’ve done a large amount of music on my own and feel very connected to a lot more atmospheric sound. That just happened to be the case where I thought, “This is gorgeous. I wonder if we can make this work.” It’s the kind of thing where it was to our benefit to have an extra forty minutes of music so we could really explore a lot of different vibes. It was good to be able to share it all.
It sounds like you guys already want to do something like this again...
NB: I’m already looking at places on AirBnb that we can go to. That’s part of the fun being able to rent a big house somewhere and settle in.
JB: It seems like it’s something that’s easy to do. “Well, you just go out to a cabin that’s far away from any neighbors and play music.” But when we told people about it, it put it in perspective. People were, like, “Wow I can’t believe you did that. That’s crazy.” I guess it is something that I don’t hear about bands doing too often. I’m surprised that more people don’t do it. It’s not hard to accomplish.
Robert Ham is improvising on Twitter