Wednesday 20 November 2013


← #17: BOTANY #19: BRETON →

Since I first heard of these guys a couple of months ago (courtesy of their song 'Everything Belongs To The Sun'), I was interested in finding out more about them. An opportunity to find out more presented itself and here I am. It's an interview with London duo Psapp, they've been active for about 11 years, released 5 albums (one of which was a Japan exclusive, and one of which I'll be writing about at the end of this week), and are credited with creating the genre "toytronica" - it sounds legitimate, doesn't it? I'll go with that. In fact, Indonesian duo Bottlesmoker are pretty toytronic as well. What is toytronica? It's electronica with the additional introduction of toy instruments (children's keyboards, play-a-long guitars, GameBoys, etc) as well as homemade stuff, maybe including circuit-bending as well.

Anyway, that's enough of that. And if you don't know anything about them at all, you should have a listen to their latest single 'Wet Salt' or have a search through their extensive back catalogue. As for now, let's have a look-see at what makes them tick, eh?

Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do?
Carim: I am Mr Psapp, aka Carim Clasmann, born in Cologne, Germany and most things I do revolve around composing, producing, mixing and mastering music. Apart from making music with Mrs Psapp I work as a sound engineer, music producer and mastering engineer.

Galia: I am Mrs Psapp AKA Galia Durant. We are mongrels from lots of places, but mainly London and Cologne. We make songs out of objects that sound good. I do a lot of drawing too.

Why did you decide to start creating music?
Carim: I think my most transformational moment was when a friend of mine lent me his Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. I was only 14 years old and all I ever wanted to do then was write and record music. It was like opening a magic box and suddenly understanding that music can be pieced together of whatever layers you want to add.

Galia: I’ve been making music since I was a teeny tiny tiddler so it was less of a conscious decision - it was inevitable.

How would you describe your sound? What makes you and your style stand out?
Galia: We use a lot of objects we find and homemade instruments in our music. We combine this with vocals, violins, toys, guitars and anything within our grasp.

Carim: Our songs are mostly not based on chords but on melodies and counterpoints, very much like classical compositions. So as all the melodies intertwine they create passing chords and harmonics. The same applies to our rhythms which are layers of individual percussion rather than a drum kit. But we are not strict about this because that would be an unnecessary limitation. As far as sound is concerned any sound emitting object is a potential instrument may it be a field recording, a log of wood or a piano. We very much enjoy experimenting and creating our own instruments as even a tiny alteration in texture can create a unique atmosphere.

Is there a perfect time and place for listening to your music?
Carim: On the sofa in the library because that’s where my nice stereo is set up.

Galia: For me it’s on headphones - there is so much intricate detail in our music … and lots of different ways of listening to it.

What inspires you most when writing a song?
Carim: For me it's the atmosphere in the studio and the total cut off from the world outside. Sometimes the bubble bursts by just a small distraction.

Galia: Everything. It’s hard to filter it sometimes. We tend to be inspired by each other, other people, the weather, joy, drudgery and the magic of being in the studio.

What is your most memorable musical experience?
Carim: I don't have a very good memory. Galia and I playing the keyboard, layered with a whole new set of freshly recorded sounds, together is definitely one of my favourite things in the world.

Galia: There are so many moments. One that comes to mind is a particularly prolific period when I was staying on my own in Carim’s place with no heating in midwinter, homeless and jobless with only my keyboards, cigarettes, sausages and some thick socks to comfort me. I just wrote and wrote.

What are your favourite three songs at the moment?
Moondog - "Bird's Lament"
Can - "She Brings The Rain"
Talk Talk - “Ascension Day"

Aksak Maboul - "A Modern Lesson"
Talk Talk - "I Believe In You"
Susan Cadogan - "Hurt So Good"

Who do you most admire in the music world?
Carim: Anyone who stays true to himself. I wouldn’t know where to start singling out individual musicians.

Galia: Yep. Definitely. But as for singling out a lone person - well this is like choosing your favourite album ever - it’s just impossible! Different music for different moments, and different people for different flavours of admiration. In your opinion, what is the future of music?
Carim: I don't think many people will want to explore what is between the twelve semitones of an octave but there is definitely a lot of scope for different rhythms and sounds to spill over from what is now deemed experimental into more commercial music. Personally I am always very happy about tracks not being in 4/4.

What's the future of your music - what do you hope to do next?
Carim: We want to get back into the studio soon any try out some of the ideas spooking through our heads. Usually whatever I put in comes out quite differently once Galia gets involved and vice versa. I want to try writing some songs with found sounds being more at the forefront, picking out their natural notes and adding instruments to fit them rather than starting on a guitar. Maybe also something very quiet, whispery, hardly audible vocals, leaving large spaces. I also imagine building a giant musicbox with a large rotating drum that spins and hit various objects in its path. But for Psapp we just need to sit down together and then all plans we made on our own become pointless and we’ll do what feels right at the time anyway.

Galia: Everything Carim says sounds bloody excellent… and I really want to try scoring some classical instruments. We have done this a bit in the past but I think it would be a real thrill to try out more instruments. Also we should definitely build more instruments….. put all of Carim’s DIY and soldering equipment to good use. I like accidental notes in sounds which then turn into a melody of their own - a hoover, a creaky door, a swing, a washing machine, a distant argument.

What, aside from music, is most important to you?
Carim: My lady, my cat Marbles, eating too much cake, a hot summer that lasts for 6 months, keeping my brain busy and feeding it with fresh new ideas.

Galia: My boy, my babies and my brain being full and in danger of bursting.

Don't they sound just lovely? Experimentation in music is what keeps it alive, for sure, otherwise we'd be in a perpetual loop of people doing pretty much the same old thing. What's clear is that Psapp, as a pair, are not only passionate about music but also about the very sounds that make up music itself. Taking objects that don't have musical connotations whatsoever and forcing them into a musical dimension, not even basing songs on chords or progressions but rather on the paths that each sound can take within a melody - both of these show a clear desire to cultivate sounds, hear singular sounds, showcasing their individual tones and textures rather than that of collective, pop-driven chords.

Some of their music has been used in TV programmes, and it's no surprise: Psapp's music bursts with an original freshness, with collections of melodies and multi-faceted percussion that conjure emotions, atmospheres, or which perfectly illustrate certain scenes of life. And it's all thanks to the outside-the-box yet technical thinking in Psapp's positive and experimental approach to making music; it certainly bodes well for the future of music, when experimentation is so much more widespread and widely accepted, with Psapp echoing the undertones of this change in the music world's dynamic well before the popular outlets began to recognise the fact.

Please stick around for what the words I will write about their latest album, What Makes Us Glow.

← #17: BOTANY #19: BRETON →

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