Interview: Andy Fenwick
Photo: Juan B Cano
In 2015, Kai Hugo sliced his live electronic outfit Palmbomen in two, launching an in-studio-only incarnation, Palmbomen II, via a S/T release of instrumental compositions. Also, and not surprisingly, given how Palmbomen’s 2013 LP Night Flight Europa announced deep cinematic knowledge via the track “Planet Sauvage,” every track on Palmbomen II’s s/t debut was named after a character from The X-Files.
Arguably the best track on that 2015 release, “Cindy Savalas,” finds renewed life as the inspiration for Palbomen II’s new Memories of Cindy, which collects four EPs of music recorded for Hugo’s surreal, fascinating video album of the same name. Vocals have returned, but less in the manner of chorus/verse structures like Night Flight Europa’s “Wolves.” Best example: Memories of Cindy’s “Peter Accepts Death” features only Julee Cruse-like vocals repeating “please accept it” over a programmed track that – listen carefully, it’s not your wifi – includes or retains VHS tape sound distortion, a magical, wonderful move used on other tracks, and something akin to a recent, viral video of Toto’s “Africa” recorded as if heard in an empty shopping mall (although Memories of Cindy is far better, not in the least because it’s not Toto). VHS distortion holds huge weight as a tonal memory inducer. Pre-digital era, often the only way to record an unreleased song from a TV or movie soundtrack was to run a VCR through a stereo receiver and press record on the cassette deck as the VHS tape played.
A matching of sound and screen was probably always in cards for Hugo. On screen, Memories of Cindy works like a quilt of The X-Files, Mulholland Drive, Wild Palms, and the found, DIY videos of the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult. Music seamlessly weaves between fake commercials and videos-within-a-video introduced by Hugo, playing himself as a guest on a delightfully odd public access talk show hosted by a monotonal, androgynous host dressed like a cult leader. Inhabiting that hard to achieve, odd universe where everything spins eerie and funny at once, Palmbomen II’s Memories of Cindy places Hugo in the envious position of an in-demand musician and filmmaker.
Any favorite new equipment in the recording process for the Memories of Cindy tracks? What was more prominently used, if anything?
Ehhh, I use mainly my Liveset to make all my music, so that doesn’t really change. But I plug in different pieces of equipment into my Liveset. A piece I really loved was the Casio RZ1. It’s kind of a disco drum machine; there’s a legend YMO made the samples, but you can sample four sounds on it. I sampled a few drum sounds on it, and that’s pretty much the whole “IAO Industries” track, but also others. It’s a fun machine. And very cheap. Cheap equipment is nice.
Will the live lineup, or general live approach, change any for Memories of Cindy?
No not really. Though I am playing more different stuff lately. I have a set that’s more 120BPM, a little heavier, for festivals. Also, I’ve been experimenting doing some shows with a woman who’s a lighting tech. But also, because I have a few more records coming up after this Memories of Cindy series, I’m playing new songs in my live sets all the time.
Talk about the collabs with Betonkust -where do they fit in?
Some Betonkust music is heard in the film. He’s one of my best friends and he always helped me with all my Palmbomen records. We always worked together so we figured to make a record. More music of us together is gonna come out too.
Talk about the VHS movie on the palbomenmusic.compage/for “24×33” – is it real? Found footage? Created?
It’s a video me and my friend Betonkust made. We got actors and some people doing art direction, finding all kind of props and outfits and all kind of other crew. We went over the budget and we’re still paying off money for this video. It might seem messy but it was actually a lot of work to create that.
Cindy – is she completely fictional? Based on someone?
Cindy is Cindy Savalas, which was a name I just got from an X-Files episode. She is played by my friend Blue. So not real. She just lives in my world and, in this world, it seems kind of real. Not based on someone I lost or anything.
You made an album inspired in part by the X-Files; Am I right in assuming Memories of Cindy might in part be inspired by (in addition to whatever else) David Lynch, specifically Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive?
Well, the previous videos were also based on Lynch I guess, and also these new Memories of Cindy videos are based on X-Files. It’s just a lot of stuff that’s always inspiring me. I guess I wanted to do something with a TV show and fake commercials. I guess that was more Tim & Eric inspired, but also by real public access television. And that’s also what they were inspired by. Lot of inspiration going back and forth. 🙂
I like when things are dark and light at the same time. I guess I like this melancholia. That something is very dark but at the same time very pretty. It’s a conflict I’m trying to find constantly.
The commercials are beautiful and menacing, in a way, for their local-channel amateurish-ness; is that an aesthetic you take seriously, or does it just tickle you? Both? The Crazy Falafel twist was pretty funny …
Thanks, I like when things are dark and light at the same time. I guess I like this melancholia. That something is very dark but at the same time very pretty. It’s a conflict I’m trying to find constantly I guess. I don’t like Radiohead absolute sadness, as much as I don’t like absolute happiness and sweetness and party. There are so much more flavors in between I guess.
Is Memories of Cindy a new aesthetic direction for Palmbomen II, or a tributary? Are you aware if you’ll return to more house/ital-disco/dance-oriented work (I hate genre titles, they never apply to the good stuff)?
Well I guess these records have all that in it too. I am (at least) hearing also house/italo/dance oriented. Maybe a little less danceable, but I don’t think the other record, or the records I made with Betonkust, were so danceable. I’m more in a phase now where I’m trying to go less lofi, thinking to pitch it midfi. But more on that soon.
The live toucan living in the studio – for real?
Ha yes. I love birds. Birds can be great samplers. As people are paying crazy money for rare 12-bit samplers, birds can do a certain same kind of thing. There’s a mocking bird living close to my studio who’s repeating certain drum rhythms sometimes.
Talk about the filming process. Concrete Studios – real studios? And the cast – friends? Auditioned talent? Palmbomen members?
Concrete Studios? That was the company I rented a space in where we shot the TV show for Memories of Cindy. So not mine and they didn’t do much more than rent me an empty big concrete hall hah. But I produced and made everything myself. Everyone in my films and helping are just friends. Getting some things with budgets now though, so I can pay people and do it a less little DIY. I love DIY, but it’s a lot of hassle too. I want less hassle.
Any plans/chance you’ll do video for other musicians?
Yes, have been asked quite a lot. But recently got a nice offer that I’m actually gonna do pretty soon. Nothing out though. I really like the freedom I have for my own videos. And doing it DIY. I like that I can change the script at any moment. Samantha was never written to be so rude and weird, but in the editing, I saw that this felt better, and totally made Samantha this way at the end of the process. It’s harder to have these freedoms when working for others or shooting bigger budgets. But slowly I want to get a-little-bigger budgets without losing this freedom. 🙂
Maybe an odd question: In the past few interviews I’ve done for Ravelin (and especially Sugai Ken comes to mind) I’m seeing an exciting shift in electro-analog-based or -inspired music where the structure of a three or four minute “song” is being discarded for a non-ambient, almost soundtrack-like sprawl, with unrepeated sounds and sections. Do you feel yourself leaning that way? If so, why? Does video game scoring contribute to that?
No … I don’t know if I even do that? I’m not even so much into this kind of stuff. I like repetition. I like clear melodies and I like repeating harmonies. I have nothing with these kinds of soundscapes. But I do like repeating melodies with slowly changing parts underneath this. I like to create these soundscapes inside songs. Where I play pads very loosely, live, without any musical ideas, and feel where harmonies are bringing me. But I don’t like this soundscape kind of music that has nothing of repetition or melodies anymore. It bores me. I feel it comes from a lot of usage of modular synthesizers. People go crazy on them and make, so it feels to me, very boring music with it, but with spectacular sounds. I don’t hate modular, I have some stuff myself, but I see it as an addition to my cheap and easy synths. 🙂