The Bilinda Butchers On ‘Heaven’, Japan & Animal Crossing! jimmy 31/07/2014 features, interview The Bilinda Butchers are fresh from a string of live shows following the release of their debut album ‘Heaven‘. It’s an adventurous concept record that journeys beyond genre expectations in favour of story telling. It was a complex undertaking, with a mix of sounds, samples and guest talent. The San Francisco-based trio weaved changing emotions with each new melody. In this interview the Bilinda Butchers’ Michal Palmer sheds new light on ‘Heaven’… First up, congratulations on getting the job done on your debut LP ‘Heaven’! Are you happy with the result? Thank you so much. Yeah we are really proud of this one! From the moment Adam and I started we had this idea for this record and we are so happy that we are finished with it. It came out even better than we could have hoped. For the uninitiated, what’s The Bilinda Butchers back story? Adam and I started the band when we were 16 or so. We loved My Bloody Valentine, especially Bilinda Butcher’s vocals. That sound and feeling really resonated with who we were, really shy and effeminate. So we picked the name in honor of her and to preserve that original feeling and mentality we had about making music. After finishing our two EP’s we started playing live a bit which is where we met Ryan. He fit really well and brought a different piece to the sound so we asked him to join. Have you had any contact with the “real” Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine? Surely, that’ll have to happen if it hasn’t already! We haven’t actually. We hope we can speak with her soon and explain what an impact she has had on us from a very early age. I’d love the chance to talk to Kevin Shields as well! When I first came across you guys via the ‘regret, love, guilt, dreams’ EP I thought that perhaps some of the band members were on the cover!? Kinda blew that image for me! How do you go about creating the artwork for your releases? Ohh *laughs* one of the girls is Adam’s girlfriend and the other is a friend of ours *laughs*. We are very keen on having a strong hold on our aesthetic and how we present our music. We had the idea for cover images for the first two EPs and we had to reach out to friends and artists to help us make it happen. The second EP ‘goodbyes’ was painted by our friend Yoshinori Asai. The cover art for ‘Heaven’ was done by another Japanese artist named Megumi Tsuji. We were looking for a piece that reflected the story behind the record and when I saw her artwork it just clicked. ‘Edo Method’ is one of my most loved songs of the year – I’m not just blowing smoke! It’s a great pairing of drum machine and shoegazey guitars. How did you come up with it? Thank you! Originally that song was really boring and had a really straightforward indie rock sound. I wanted to scrap it from the record completely but we started experimenting with different ideas. Ryan’s musical background is in techno and drum and bass, so while working on this record we were playing with a lot of breakbeats and such. So the first thing we did with this song was put in a typical drum and bass breakbeat and it just worked really well. That’s when we thought it would be appropriate to keep pushing everything to its limits and let the track get out of control. You’ve said previously that video games had a big impact on you, particularly ‘Animal Crossing’. I don’t think many bands would be keen to admit that! Can you give us some background? Adam and I both grew up with video games, it’s one of the biggest things we still bond over to this day. We are big fans of Nintendo, and Animal Crossing was one of those games that just really struck us (perhaps maybe a little more me than him, I have an Animal crossing tattoo) *laughs*. But there are a lot of video games that have made a huge impact on us. Truthfully, we would love to make music for video games and movies more than make records. ‘Heaven’ is a concept record built around Nakajima Ume’s Japanese love story. How did this idea come to fruition? Was it tough building an album around the idea? It was a really interesting and difficult process and a lot of people were involved. Adam and I knew that we wanted to make a concept record before we even started really playing. So after we had our first two Ep’s under our belts we knew it was time. About three years ago I had started getting into 19th century Japanese literature as well as rediscovering my love for Samurai Champloo. The video for ‘The Lover’s Suicide’ is pulled from an episode of Samurai Champloo that ended up influencing the entire story. ‘The Lover’s Suicide’ is a popular tale in Japanese culture as well, so once the idea sort of started developing I submersed myself in research. I read a lot of travel diaries and tragic romances from the period and we pulled a lot of the elements of the story from those works. I worked really closely with Michelle Yoon, a close friend who helped me develop the story with the record. The really difficult part was that we had written about 45% of the record before the story was fleshed out so we had to fit the story into the music rather than sculpt the music to an already finished story. This was an incredibly difficult task but I think we did a really good job with it. And if you listen to the record with the story in mind you can hear the emotional dynamic with how the story progresses. What was the recording process like for ‘Heaven’? There are some things that I am not at liberty to discuss about the recording process. We used some really unorthodox recording techniques that most people would shudder at. But I will say that it was entirely done on two computers at home, using very minimal equipment. My producer Lukas Untersteiner and I basically pushed ourselves to our limits in the digital realm and somehow this is what we made. I read a blog post while you were putting the album together, it seemed like frustration levels were running high and it almost got scrapped. What were the road blocks you came across? *laughs* I’ve had a lot of comments on my diary recently. This project was really large and there was so much that went into it that I really needed a place to vent. I also wanted to have a record of some of the emotional trials I went through. I am not as good at keeping it updated as I would like to be. Someday soon I think I will fill in the gaps. I also deal with depression, especially when I am working on music. I have really extreme highs and lows so sometimes I wake up and just say I’m not making music anymore, I don’t like it at all. And sometimes I think I’ll do it forever. The diary reflects a lot of the low points *laughs*. There’s a number of guests on the album (Juri Nakashima, Sarah P, Lamp & Harriet Brown). How did you end up working with them? Juri is a close friend who lives in Japan. We bonded over poetry some time ago but we’re unable to speak each other’s languages very well. We found we had a lot in common emotionally when it came to art. I visited her in Japan last year and we finally got a chance to sit and talk. Our bond over art became stronger and stronger. I knew I wanted to work with her and make something that had both of our names that could be cemented in history. This project was just that. The collaboration with Sarah Psalti happened very naturally as well. We were looking for a female vocalist for ‘Golden House’ and I contacted her immediately. It was only a couple of days after her announcement of leaving Keep Shelly In Athens so we were really worried that she was done with music. She took some time getting back to us but she replied with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the whole idea of the record and track. She sent over one take of the vocals and it fit in perfectly. Lamp are a band from Japan that are incredible. They are my favorite band. We were fortunate enough to start speaking with Taiyo, the guitar player some time ago and when I travelled to Japan last year I went to meet with them. So when I returned back home to work on the record I knew that I had to have them on it. Again they sent over one take and it was perfect. It fell together very naturally. Harriet Brown is one of my best friends who I actually lived with for about two years. He just recently moved down to LA. We both would make music in our bedrooms and hear each other through the wall. It only felt natural for us to work on something together. Aaron has a beautiful singing voice and I knew that I wanted to showcase that somewhere. The last track which suggests Ume’s arrival in ‘Heaven’ is greeted with Aaron’s energetic vocal. I think it was really important to have something big and energetic at the very end to explain the happiness and excitement that Ume feels now that she has finally made it to her destination. Your label Orchid Tapes have been putting out some really impressive stuff this year! I’m talking Foxes In Fiction and Alex G. How did you get involved with Orchid Tapes? Warren and I have been friends for a while now. We started talking after we released ‘regret, love, guilt, dreams’ and have wanted to work together for a long time. We started talking about ‘Heaven’ about 3 months or so ago, but very casually. I told him about the recording process and why I was doing the project. He told me about his record ‘Ontario Gothic’ and how it had took him a long time to finish it. We just bonded so much on the process of making art that when he finally asked us to join Orchid it seemed very natural. Like being welcomed home by family. What have you been listening to this year? Any top albums of 2014? To be honest I don’t listen to much current music. There is too much of it out there. But one of my favorite records that I have been listening to a bunch lately is by Shed. It’s called ‘The Killer’ and I think that it’s one of the most progressive and hypnotic “shoegaze” records to date. How have you found self-funding yourself for so many years? Any tips for up and coming independent bands? It’s a difficult market out there. We started out when the climate was in between the death and rebirth of the “music industry.” Free music, death of labels and such. So it was really difficult to navigate and gain traction. I said no to so many things when we started out because I had no idea what I was doing. I think it’s important to be aware of who you are and where you fit. Decide EXACTLY what it is you want to be doing and look at other people who are doing the same thing. Reach out and try to get some advice! What are your most treasured pieces of gear? I don’t have any one piece of gear I favor. Adam and I love our guitars and we have a quadraverb we like. I try not to become attached to these things so that I can always fall in love with another instrument or piece of gear when it comes along. Any plans for a second album yet? Given this has been a long term process I’m guessing you’re eager to push onto something new/different? We have ideas and we are starting to have meetings about the next concept. But for the time being we still have a lot of work to do on this record. If you could assemble a fantasy band (of musicians living or dead), who would be in it? Mukai Shutoku from Zazen Boys, Damon Albarn (Gorillaz Era), Kevin Shields and both of the guys from AIR. You’ve got some live shows coming up, what else is on the horizon for The Bilinda Butchers? We haven’t decided in which direction we will go in immediately. Play some shows, keep making music, get better and keep going. If you’d like to make any shout outs or have anything more to add, here’s your chance! Thanks to everyone involved in the record. It was such a labor of love. Michelle Yoon especially who helped work out the story behind the concept and was a great friend throughout the process. More from her and I in the future! Thanks Michal for your time, honesty and the music. *** THE BILINDA BUTCHER’S ‘HEAVEN’ IS AVAILABLE @ ORCHID TAPES (VINYL SOLD OUT) @ FASTCUT RECORDS (CD) & ON DIGITAL*** **THE ‘HEAVEN HOLDS A PLACE 7inch NOW ON PRE-SALE VIA FASTCUT** Visit The Bilinda Butchers @ Orchid Tapes @ Bandcamp @ Facebook.