Readers of Foxy Digitalis may remember M.Rosin as a periodic session contributor to sometimes psych-folk, sometimes black metal ensemble Dead Raven Choir. He releases his own work as GODHEADSCOPE.
In summer 2007, GODHEADSCOPE released “A City Out of Sight” (God is Myth Records), a mysterious and genreless album that M. described as “ambient drone song” for lack of a better term. More than two years later, GODHEADSCOPE is putting the finishing touches on a second full-length, “Threshold.” The album finds M. charting new musical and lyrical territory and sharing the vocals with a second singer, Cindy Lau.
M: It started as a concept in a poem. But the poem never got off the ground: I had a hard time finding a concrete image with which to explore the word. The word stuck, the poem did not.
More than anything, the name reminds me to be open to learning new things in the process of writing, composing and recording. It also frees me to do what I think is right musically without preconceptions about genre or style.
M: Thank you! For me, “A City Out of Sight” was an exploration. You can hear the sense of adventure I felt when working on it. I was finding something new in myself as a composer, and that spirit of wonder set the tone for GODHEADSCOPE.
The fact that other people enjoyed “A City Out of Sight” and took it to heart—especially “Joy/Grime”—was a pleasant and humbling surprise. At its core, the album was simply the sound of me trying to discover what was possible with GODHEADSCOPE, at least as a beginning.
In retrospect, I also see “A City Out of Sight” was something of a compilation of several very different ideas. Although there was a larger continuity across the compositions, the four pieces on the album were quite different from one another. I took it as a challenge for the next album to do something more cohesive and integrated, and to explore different sides of one continuously developing idea.
“Threshold” is different from “A City Out of Sight” in a number of respects. This began very early. Whereas “A City Out of Sight” emerged first as music and the lyrics arrived much later, “Threshold” began as poetry. I finished the lyrics before composing a single note, and the music follows the breaks in the poetry.
This also had implications for the sound. The last album was a drone album with pop hooks and songwriting submerged in the atmosphere. “Threshold” is the reverse: an art-pop album that employs drone and atmosphere as key ingredients. The vocals and storytelling are the center this time around, prominent rather than ghostly.
Both albums travel in the same universe—there’s no question it’s a GODHEADSCOPE album. But they chart very different paths. It’s just a matter of being honest.
M: I simply try to be faithful to what each album and each poem requires of me. I admire artists like Ulver who take the risk of becoming something new with each release, and who are willing to follow an idea where it leads. I just push myself as far as I can, and hope listeners will continue to feel the sense of honesty and excitement.
M: Initially, I had no plans to invite anyone else to work on “Threshold.” But I hit a wall. Certain vocal parts simply weren’t working for my voice. Frankly, those parts couldn’t work. The poetry at the center of the album continuously shifts among different perspectives and several characters. It became clear I could not do justice to these different perspectives with only my own voice. I owed more to the poetry and the music than I could give alone.
Cindy is a friend and a wonderful singer. One night I was watching her sing with a great blues band here in the Bay Area. Something about her voice just clicked. I was thrilled when she agreed to work on the album, and I’m even more thrilled with the results.
When we first started working together, the lyrics were complete and about two-thirds of the music was written and recorded. But over time, the vocal arrangements became more and more collaborative, more full of surprises. I also completed the remaining compositions for the album with the interplay between my and Cindy’s voices explicitly in mind. I did some of my best work as a result—and Cindy nailed it.
C: I totally agree with what M. said. The nature of the collaboration really evolved over time. When I first agreed to contribute to the project, I didn't really know what to expect. My prior experience had been primarily soul, R&B and blues, and classical music, so M.'s decidedly genreless approach to music was uncharted territory for me; I just came into this with an open mind and no expectations. And in the beginning, I pretty much (probably naively) approached the album as "I'm providing the voice, M.'s creating the music."
It quickly became obvious that to do the music justice, I needed to engage with it and play with how to interpret it. From the very start, M. encouraged me to offer my input, and as I picked his brain about the poetry and compositions, I came to absorb and appreciate the music and message more and more, and I eventually developed a feel for its sound and its potential. The creative process just flowed from there. I hesitated a bit at first, not wanting to infringe upon his conception of the work, but it was really easy to work with M. We decided from the beginning to stay open and honest with our ideas and feedback, and this worked out well. It was very rewarding to get the chance to help create something new, and I learned a lot about my own voice in the process.
M: The lyrics explore different rooms in a house and the various ways the characters do—or do not—find something divine by finding one another.
I hesitate to “explain” the lyrics further. In workshopping the poetry with colleagues and friends early on, I quickly learned the lyrics support many interpretations. All my revisions along the way were geared toward creating a tighter poem that safeguards these many interpretations.
But I can say that storytelling drove everything on this album, from the instrumentation to the interplay of my and Cindy’s voices. Cindy and I spent a lot of time talking about the different characters and perspectives in the poem, different interpretations, and how the interplay of our voices could best express them. I’m very proud of the result.
C: I really love the fact that the album's precise meaning is ambiguous, yet there is a definite thread weaving through it. In our discussions on how to convey the poetry, it was fun to see how our own initial interpretations converged or differed. Sometimes we really spent a significant amount of time considering what the story behind a particular persona might be, and how to reflect that story, or those stories, in the music. At other points, we evoked and played around with imagery, emotions, or ideas, and approached the music with those in mind. To me, the music and the poetry both have a very full, organic feel to them, like they've been painted with broad, colorful strokes, and like a painting, they are very much open to interpretation.
M: That’s a good question, and I wish I had an answer. The split is something Claudio Alcara (of Stroszek) and I both value greatly, but attracting interest from an appropriate label has proven far more difficult than we expected.
M: God is Myth Records in Minnesota released both “A City Out of Sight” and the first Stroszek album around the same time. Claudio and I became friends and mutual fans. He and I even spent time hanging out in his hometown, La Spezia, when I was in Italy two summers ago.
Claudio writes amazing acoustic guitar riffs that stick in your head for hours. I’m thrilled others seem to feel the same way about his work. Just wait until you hear his next album—he’s only getting better at his craft.
M: Just “thank you!” Cindy and I are extraordinarily proud of “Threshold.” I can’t think of another album that sounds like it, and I hope listeners hear the commitment we brought to the performances.
C: And I'd like to give a huge thank you to M. for letting me be a part of this process. I had a very memorable experience, and I love how the album turned out. I hope other people enjoy it too!
-- Dave Miller (14 October, 2009)