Monolith Q&A: Depreciation Guild
Brooklyn's the Depreciation Guild has spent the last few years fusing elements of synth pop, dream pop and experimental electronic music into an indistinguishable amalgamation of the band's wide-ranging sonic influences. In reviews and profiles of the band, much has been made of the group's use of an old piece of digital sound equipment (discussed below) but the Guild are not 8-bit composers nor are they neo-shoegazers trying to recreate a sound of times past. Instead, the act's dreamy, reflective, almost introspective music is awash with bright colors, dense atmospheres and a calming spirit. Singer, guitarist and programmer Kurt Feldman also plays live drums for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and on the eve of the Monolith Festival, we had the opportunity to speak with him about the Famicom, the roots of the Guild's aesthetics and the other machinery he and his bandmates utilize to create some of the most beautifully textured pop music going.
Photo by Drew Reynolds
Westword (Tom Murphy): Can you explain what a Famicom is and what role it plays in your music?
Kurt Feldman: Are you familiar with the Nintendo Entertainment System? The Famicom is the exact same machine but in Japan it was called "Famicom" instead of Nintendo Entertainment System. So it looks a little bit different but it has the same guts and has the same sound chip. The role that it plays in our music is that a lot of the rhythmic aspects of the band are programmed on that machine and we use both live and on record. A lot of synth based sounds, drum sounds and chirpy keyboard sounds come from the Famicom.
We use the Japanese one is because it has a top loading system and they have a special cart for it that you were able to purchase in Japan a few years ago - they don't make it anymore - but we use it live because it makes playing back your songs pretty simple.
WW: I've seen a number of references to "8-bit" and "computer game" music in reviews of your albums (obviously refrencing the Famicom). Was that part of your earlier sound and does it play a central role in how you write songs today?
KF: I would say we haven't totally departed from the emphasis on the 8-bit stuff but I would say there's less of an emphasis on it now. I think it plays an important role in our band in terms of defining our sound but it's not a gimmick. We love the sound of Famicom itself and we find ways to blend it with the guitars so that it doesn't sound like a video game system. But it does provide unique tones that can't be replicated any other way and that's important to our music and it's why we continue to use it.
We just did a record that comes out in winter and on that recording there's a lot less emphasis on that. On our first record, for example, we used a lot of 8-bit drum samples and stuff like that. Samples that we had pushed down to small, compressed samples and ran it through the Famicom itself and ended up processing those sounds to make them sound more like a real drum kit. Whereas on this record we recorded a lot of live drums and bass. On the first record we used a lot of synth bass that came from the Famicom. It's still on the record but it's more varied.
WW: Your project has often been compared to "shoegaze" bands without really naming any. To my ears in songs like "Sky Ghosts," "Dream About Me" and "Heavy Eyes" I hear bits of My Bloody Valentine, Pale Saints, Lush and Slowdive. But I also hear elements in your music of sounds that probably weren't possible until the past decade. How would you characterize the sonic quality of your own music?
KF: It's dreamy synth pop. It's not intentionally shoegaze and it's not intentionally like Kraftwerk. It's an amalgamation of all our influences and trying to combine them into one sound. I love lots of '80s synth pop, everything from Gangway to Scritti Politti, all that really synth-based music that's really lush sounding at the same time. I love that wall of guitar sound too. But we're not really trying to make a specifically shoegaze record or electronic record. Obviously more minimal Factory sounds like Section 25 and the Wake and things like that we love. Even Prefab Sprout and a lot of that weird British intellectual pop music, sophistipop stuff. We're a product of all those influences. The ultimate effect is that it's dreamy-sounding, guitar synth-pop.
WW: In your list of influences on your MySpace page I see a pretty short list of some of my favorite bands of all time. I was curious if "Ash Ra" was "Ash Ra Tempel" and how his stuff was an influence on your own music?
KF: Yeah, Manuel Göttsching. He's awesome. Ash Ra is just another name for Ash Ra Tempel. My favorite Ash Ra record is just listed as Ash Ra Tempel and is one of the most amazing electronic, Berlin School records. That album definitely changed my outlook on electronic music. The composition of the record and the mood of everything is not something I've ever heard. The fact that that record came out when it did , it seemed so far ahead of its time. The arpeggiated keyboards and the sequencing and everything is interesting. The fact that it was flawlessly played and seamlessly transitioned from one track to another - it's only a 4-track album - they're all long compositions - is impressive. I wish I was there when it came out.
WW: What sorts of guitars, effects and amps do you favor to achieve those ethereal melodies?
KF: I use a Jazzmaster, it's good for jangly guitar pop and surf twang. Christoph uses a Fender Strat and a Mustang. He also uses a Fender DeVille. I use a Roland JC-120. I think that's a totally underrated amp that's perfect for touring because they're pretty much indestructible. I have a pedal, called a Xotic AC Booster, designed for tube amps but I think it sounds better on the JC 120 and solid-state amps.
We get a little more creative on the record but generally we use a lot of simple stuff. Live we are able to achieve the studio sound with distortion and overdrive and a lot of time delay. A little reverse delay, I have a Boss RV-5 reverb pedal, I used a pitch shifter, a Boss PS-5, sometimes too and a lot of chorus too, which is essential for jangly guitar pop.