Wymond Miles on his time in Denver, Pinkku and his new album,Under the Pale Moon
James Cromwell Holden
See Also: Tonight: Wymond Miles at the hi-dive
Wymond Miles is better known to the rest of the world for his scintillating guitar work in the San Francisco psych-garage pop band, the Fresh & Onlys. But Miles grew up in Aurora, and during the second half of the '90s and going on for around a decade, he was deeply involved in the underground music scene in Denver. The first band most people probably saw with any real frequency was the space rock band Pinkku, or at least the later, dark cabaret post-punk incarnation. But Miles also played in various experimental rock bands before moving on to the West Coast. We spoke with Miles at length about his time in Denver, his numerous collaborations as well as his new solo album, Under the Pale Moon.
Westword: How did you meet Zimmerman Stein?
Wymond Miles: He came to a Pinkku show when that was Matthew Brown and Sarah Bell, and I had instrumental psych-rock as the root. He came to one of our first shows. I feel like a friend of a friend invited him. He was the most decadent, Bohemian guy there. I remember he was wearing a full fur coat with the collar popped that went down to his feet.
He was hitting all over Sarah, my girlfriend at the time, and just knew gear to no end. He was asking me about pedals and whatever and the next thing you know, we're geeking out about Marshall 50 watt Plexis and stuff like that. We just clicked and he had that real magnetic energy. He almost tricked me into, you know, "I'm just going to start playing with you." It was a really slippery slope with him where he was just a stranger and then we were really close suddenly.
What was the idea behind Pinkku? The early incarnation was very different from the later version.
I'm still really conflicted about how that turned out. I remember Matthew Brown was the one that came up with the name Pinkku. It's a funny lineage where I'd just started this band after I stopped playing with Annik. I was twenty or so. Then I wanted to do this band that...basically I was thinking Slowdive. I was so obsessed at the time and I wanted brutal volume to use the intensity of the volume as a tool to sculpt something much more beautiful. I knew I could do the melodies, but I was eager to push that. Annik was a pretty aggressive band.
I met Matthew at the Snake Pit. He was in a Jesus and Mary Chain shirt. I went and talked to him, and asked him if he played guitar, and he said, "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do." So we started playing, and we tried the name Honey for a while, but we became Pinkku by suggestion of Matthew. But that was really it. It was certainly the big shoegaze thing before there were so many neo-shoegaze bands.
We really wanted to push the My Bloody Valentine more into the Slowdive rather than the pretty, ethereal element. We had that but we wanted something bigger. That unfolded and Matthew was really uncomfortable with playing really big shows. Like we were playing with Space Team Electra a lot and playing at the Gothic and the Bluebird. I was really thrilled with that, but Matthew just felt like he wasn't up for it and that we weren't up for it and so he left.
That's when I met Zimmerman, and we picked up. I stopped singing then. We were all of a sudden playing incredibly loud. It was more a practicality. I was going through an eight by ten Marshall stack with a Fender Bassman and Twin. Orange stacks with Marshall heads and old Ampeg cabinets. It was more out of necessity because I was curious about exploring the volume of it all.
So we were [an instrumental band]. Zimmerman broke his hand and didn't play his guitar for, I feel like, was a year. He showed up to where I had an artist loft off of Larimer or Blake Street and 30th. He showed up, and I had a Fender Rhodes piano over there. He had written all these songs on piano that were mostly gut-wrenching tunes. I hadn't seen him in a while, and we just thought, "Alright, let's continue this thing."
I really wanted to do a whole new band name. It just didn't feel the same. It wasn't inspired by the same kind of thing whatsoever. But he was pretty insistent that we should keep it. We were offered an opening gig for Sixteen Horsepower through a friend. It was our first show back as Pinkku, at the Gothic. So that's when we met James Yardley of Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, who's about to play with me now at this upcoming show.
We had just met him and it was our first show out as this new version of Pinkku, I guess, with singing with more classic, song-oriented tunes. It became another year or two years of drama. But James and I are both excited because our first show together was at the Gothic on a whim a long time ago. Now we're sort of doing it again on a whim, opening for [The Dandy Warhols].
Why did you move to San Francisco instead of New York City or some other major metropolitan area?
It seems like people from Denver do Chicago or the nearest one city out. I went there when I was nineteen and made a vow that I would live there. There was a lot of romance I had for San Francisco at that time -- it was more northern California -- the whole charge of it with the redwoods and the ocean. So it was sort of the classic thing, though I feel hesitant to say as much, but I was hitting my mid-twenties, and my Saturn return was coming up, and I just got jones-ing, and I had to sort of get out to challenge myself with something entirely new.
My whole family, my whole cultural sphere was so grounded in Denver. Just to pick up and walk away from that was the boldest move I had made. I wasn't cowering away from Denver at all. I loved it there; I just needed something else, a fire to be lit under me a bit to explore something else.
So you grew up in Denver? What part?
It was Aurora, right by Buckley Air Force Base. I went to Rangeview High School, and it was just awful. But I'm so tied into all of that now. The last round of press photos that are out there with me outside, kind of cold and snowy, that's the fields of Buckley Air Force Base right behind my parents' house. I wanted to sort of bring it back home and set it up there.
Caleb Braaten is from around here, so did that have anything to do with how you got hooked up with Sacred Bones?
That's all in the Denver family, as well. I started working at Twist and Shout Records. I got hired there as a baby. I was twenty, I think, or 21. I feel like I didn't even drink. At the vinyl store, there was this dude that worked over there. He was the manager at the show. He had a Sisters of Mercy shirt and long hair down his back and a beard. I was like, "Oh, there's that old dude." I'd seen him before at Muddy's. I always thought he was cool, but I always had the impression of him being ten years my senior, but it turns out we're about the same age.
We became fast friends because he was the dude in the Sisters of Mercy shirt, but we were both trying to steal each other's funk 45s. He was the most unpretentious, easy-going guy. So me and Caleb just worked at Twist, and we stayed in touch over the years. We lost touch for a long time. He's the guy who went to New York. I went to San Francisco. We left at similar times, six-ish years ago or so. He'd reach out and touch base with me. He was one of the guys when I had a MySpace page up for what was [some of the material that would make up the] Earth Has Doors EP, but with a different vibe. He reached out and said, "Hey, I think I'm going to start a label. Would you ever be into doing anything for it?"
Slowly, as the years unfolded, I was in the Fresh & Onlys, and we're all hanging out at the Woodsist/Captured Tracks festival in Brooklyn. His label is doing really well. He was just always the guy, right there, saying, "Whenever you're ready to put something out, I want to do it." So there was almost never anybody else.
I'd sent it around to a couple of other people with labels. But then I realized, "What am I even doing? Caleb's the guy that's been asking me about this for years now." I was just so busy with the Fresh & Onlys. I was in school. I had a kid and couldn't focus on doing this. So basically I stopped school and had a hole vacant to squeeze this in.
Some of the most interesting records coming out right now are being released by Sacred Bones.
It just happened to be a happy coincidence. If it were a shitty label, it wouldn't be the same. It was never like that. His aesthetic from the get-go with the label was huge to me. He was doing crazy limited editions that no one was doing at that scale. I found that it was effortless. It was the kind of label I wanted to be a part of but didn't even seek out.
There's kind of a David Bowie and Roxy Music vibe to your new record in that it's haunted with romantic overtones. What do you feel you were trying to express with this set of songs?
It was almost when I knew there was an outlet for it with a framework, it gave me some motivation to go. Basically a tune sort of fell into my lap and I recorded it right away. Then I had this thing in my head. You know when you get that itch and you get a sound you want to explore. I really wanted to do that. Basically, I was obsessed with the bass lines on those early Cure records, particularly the sound.
Absolutely. Seventeen Seconds wasn't as refined, but I think Faith is. I wanted to do something that was really driven by that and everything else was kind of atmosphere around it. The bass was the driving force. Musically, that was the initial itch I wanted to sort of have out. And I was really into the whole pop song format. Simple. I was getting in over my head a little bit with the songs. I couldn't write anything that was less than six or seven minutes.
That was just something I had to see through and when I did it was one thing leads to another. It was a domino effect and I got excited and had all these ideas. I went really sparse too. I recorded everything on an 8-track tape machine. I remember building up the first couple of songs, which were "Strange Desire" and "Pale Moon," and just bounced the hell out of the tracks. Like I would record say five drum tracks and bounce them on to one. So I was just doing my usual methodology of bouncing everything obsessively and I got to bouncing down to six tracks and both of the songs were done at that amount.
I could have filled them up with what Johnny Marr calls, like, "the guitaristra" or "guitar orchestra" that they did on the Smiths' records. The layers and chime-y things. I certainly could have built it up more but I liked the sparseness in it and just that everything mattered.
Being driven by the bass lines, I was certainly listening to that classic red wine, art gallery era of Roxy Music, or whatever you want to call it, where everything is from the hip and blatantly sexualized. There was that I was leaning toward as well. It's been easy to explore that territory.
I was going to just do an EP but when I sent it to Caleb and other friends, they were encouraging me and saying, "Well, here's your record. Don't waste your time with an EP. This is it." So I just saw it as chapters in a book and take it just one at a time. That was the fun bit too. Instead of having a body of work I was writing for no reason at all, I was starting to write specifically like, "What would the third song on an album sound like after these two?" I was writing almost with the sequence of the record in mind.
You were in Esperanto with Ben DeSoto, is that right?
Yeah, right. I remember Pinkku and the Cigarette After were all happening while there was Esperanto. This guy, Kerry McDonald, who played in Christie Front Drive, was the main guy singing in that. We met through some mutual friends, maybe Jason Heller. That was funny because I played with Kerry, and we played with Andrew Warner a few times, and he's playing drums with me on this tour as well. In the long run we played with another guy. That was a really good band. It was the first one where everyone in the band was really talented and challenging me to play better. Kerry just had that raw thing about him that I loved. In our heads we sounded like Credence or Neil Young.
Off stage it sounded kind of like some weird space rock band.
Absolutely. We sprawled out. That's what probably put the brakes on that. Kerry wanted to explore more songwriting, and we were writing collectively as a band -- just the power struggles at hand. I was getting more out there with psychedelic and kraut rock. I began my first explorations with Charles Mingus and stuff and none of my songs were in 4/4 -- going out there. Finally Kerry ended up doing the Mighty Rime. There were some songs he carried over from Esperanto to that band.
You mentioned the Cigarette After as well. Was that more your thing or more James Holden's project?
Again, it was a mutual collaboration. I got in one of those lucky situations where I would just meet these other people I felt were really dynamic and charismatic, and we'd be inclined to do stuff together. James was this young kid sneaking into the clubs to dance at soul nights when he wasn't old enough to get in. He cracked me up. I'm only a few years older than him but I always felt like his older brother. He was so persistent. I had no interest in playing music with him at all, but he was absolutely insistent that we do it. It was so simple and off-the-cuff for us.
What was cool about that group was James's brother was the drummer and Sarah Bell and I were dating for several years at that point so it was quite a locked-in group, kind of a family affair, so if we were tight or there was some cohesion, it was probably in part a product of that. Sarah was in Pinkku as well. Everything until the split with Zimmerman.
What projects did you have before Pinkku?
Sarah and I had some off-the-cuff things when we first met in college. But really the first band I was in that was meaningful to me was Annik. That was my exposure to Arapahoe Warehouse and Monkey Mania. I got pretty steeped in that San Diego hardcore scene crossed with the "gothcore" thing out of Boulder, like the VSS, Heroin and Angel Hair. That was my punk rock, as it were, falling into that.
We did a couple of shows with the Locust at the Arapahoe Warehouse, and they did one minute blast-beat songs. We were almost like Low because everything was so slow, heavy and guitar based. We were the antithesis of a lot of those groups, but it went over well. We'd always end shows bloody and strobe lights going. By the time I left, Sam Cooper was in the band and half of our shows he was playing Tibetan Monk chants on Walkmans through his guitar pedals. They walked that path near the end of the band.