Childspeak

FOCUS // A GLOWING, GARGANTUAN DEEP-SEA FOG MACHINE: CHILDSPEAK SHEDS LIGHT ON THEIR UPCOMING ALBUM AND THE INSPIRATION BEHIND IT’S NAME

A couple months back, you might remember a little flourish of coverage regarding Boise, Idaho’s fantastic Tree Fort Music Fest. We went on and on about Deafheaven, YOB, Deerhoof, Zeta, and dozens more in a fit of frenzied love for live music and the community behind it. Emotions still run high whenever we revisit those memories, which you can see for yourself here. Festival gods willing, we’ll be dipping chips in those delicious vegan chilis same time next year. But this year, just when we thought the party was over, the journey was just beginning for Childspeak.

It’s been a cool three years since Indulgent Endeavors slithered out into the world, which was incidentally this writer’s first record with Childspeak playing second guitar. Looking back, it’s still an eerie, densely layered tapestry of prog with a lot of beautiful moments, but just as importantly, it’s how we met Marcel Fernandez and ending up falling in love with the studio experience. As we started to put the finishing touches on our latest batch of songs, we knew we wanted to try new things in the recording process, but weren’t sure how – even up to the day we left Treefort and headed to the studio. When we finally got there, we were still buzzing from a week’s worth of live performances, so we decided to record the album that same way – live. Marcel, our Grammy winning, long suffering producer, springboard, muse, and friend, was happy to oblige. He’d actually just finished a tour doing live sound for bands on NOFX‘s most recent Punk in Drublic dates, so it was business as usual for him, in a place he was beyond familiar with. Robert Lang Studios was the place he recorded Foo Fighters during their Seattle “Subterranean” sessions, after all.

But we had one more thing to take care of – on the sole free evening we had between the festival and our studio time, we had also scheduled a photoshoot. Portland photographer Sam Gehrke had dealt with us before – he certainly remembered our last shoot together in which we gratuitously dismembered a bear containing… well, meat. Luckily, he was just as intrigued by our ideas this time around, and relieved that there’d considerably less of a health risk. A few broken mirrors and a dozen or so smoke grenades later, we made it through the shoot. And then morning came.

I remember turning off my phone before I went to bed so it would actually charge while I slept. When I woke up, it took me about fifteen minutes to register I should probably turn it back on and see where everyone was. A flood of text takes over the screen, and all I can see is one word: positive. Now, COVID cases at the worst moments possible are pretty common, but that one felt particularly damning because the logistics of us getting back together any time soon were, on multiple fronts, highly unlikely.

Luckily, Marcel and Bob, the only two people who would be at the studio, were down to test their immune systems and civil engineering skills. While we all wore masks at almost every moment we were inside, Marcel had moved around some baffles to give our patient zero well over six feet of space. Ultimately, I was the only other person to come down with a case. I’m content thinking that we got it from the Deafheaven mosh pit, which also helps me justify (just a little bit) that because I tested positive, so did my then fiancĂ© (now official space spouse, thank god) and we had to reschedule our wedding. But like everything else surrounding the album, the odd timing worked out in our favor, and I wanted to make sure I captured at least part of the crazy journey for the blog. Thankfully I got the chance to catch up with Bri (guitar), Matt (bass), and TJ (drums) on record a few weeks ago to make sure I didn’t leave anything out. More than an inside look at the new album, I hope this interview gives you a sense of the beautifully bizarre friendship we share – I have a feeling it will.

Michael: So first thing’s first – what about the week before did we take to the studio? What was that energy like for you guys?

Bri: Other than COVID? (laughs) I think there was a certain looseness because we were at a festival the week before. I don’t know if it was being tired, but more being saturated by so many kinds of music live, and I wasn’t listening to studio albums that were perfect leading up to it, to the point I was more into the live sound, and more open to the imperfections we got in the end because we recorded live.

TJ: You know, mozzarella sticks with melted plastic is what I brought (laughs). I was just very connected to everyone, we actually got a chance to hang out and be around each other before making the album, so for me the whole thing just felt very chill.

Matt: I think I still have that bag of big old blood oranges! I just knew the material super well, we had done it to the point that recording live was possible. Like I could play these out in one go, I just felt very ready because we’d played them so much, and now we get to do it in a nice, controlled comfortable room as opposed to a crazy Masonic Temple or something.

Michael: Remember how I said earlier there were things I might have forgotten or blacked out? Well, one of those things is what TJ is referring to above. After… a countless, ungodly amount of drinks, I got the idea that trace amounts of aluminum are totally safe in microwaves when mozzarella sticks are involved, especially in Air BnB’s. But that’s a different story altogether. But what about arriving to the studio? Anyone have any stand-out memories of rolling up to Robert Lang’s?

TJ: I thought Marcel was angry at me because he hadn’t followed me on Instagram! (laughs) Like, anxiety all of the sudden at an all time high over that. That’s mental illness though, that’s what it does, but it was cool, he ended up validating me and had the same kind of experiences in the past.

Bri: I felt a sense of relief making it to the studio because I got sick right before and wasn’t sure if it could happen last minute, but we’d been to that studio before with such a different band. Most of the same members, but going back in and feeling super confident about what we were going to do rather than scared as really empowering. COVID changed me so much, the world so much… and there had been so much doubt around music, at least for me, so it was so cool to be able to go in and finish something. There were so many opportunities to just give up, and it would have been easier, and way less tiring, but getting to record something I can listen to for the rest of may life is so invaluable after we’d all been in such different places for to years. I was really proud of us.

Michael: Me too, I remember just being emotional that I was looking at that big old front door again, and those creaking steps with the acoustic brick up top. You just get a sense that every inch of that place is covered in this nostalgic, unexplainable feeling you want to pick up and hold in your hands. Of course, I mean this very literally when I think about it. Robert Lang Studios has had some of the greatest musicians in rock and alternative music record there since it was built in 1974. Whether it’s the sheer aura radiating from Dave Grohl’s handwritten message on the mantle upstairs, or the shadow of the studio’s infamous specter, there is a palpable, physical sense of power coming from the place. Even if you don’t know where it’s coming from, you can feel it, and one of our goals between us and Marcel was to try to capture that.

Matt: It’s just a really cool studio, they have all this old gear and do workshops there, so hanging out there was really nice, getting a chance to look at old tape machines and stuff.

TJ: My favorite part of the whole thing was the sound we captured, and that it didn’t sound like a modern record. It’s like the sound of everything mic’d and the sound of the studio itself in that echo chamber, and it’s cool and I’ve never made an album that sounds like that. The interesting thing to me is that the album starts off with that vibe, then progressively expands, and it’s just… insane. Of course, I wanted more room and bigger stuff but I didn’t expect it to get where it went. I got to assistant engineer parts of the record too, plugging stuff in, which connected Marcel and I too. I thought it was funny that the console died because the house guy had done something with the wires, and Marcel was taking the faders and moving them up and down so aggressively, but nothing actually got messed up, it just added character.

Bri: I like how he hid it from us, like he doesn’t want us to know the console is broken because it’ll stress us out. I have two favorite parts, though. One was just working with Marcel again and going to sleep knowing I was going to see him again the next day, because he’s been away from us for so long. When Marcel like something there is this warmth that I feel, and I guess that’s just what happens when you admire someone a lot. But my other favorite experience was driving around and listening to the mixes – I almost prefer the unmastered, unmixed raw sounds because those memories are so fond. You hear your own part, but to be able to hear everyone else and as a complete song reacher than playing a technical guitar part perfectly which is what I’m doing most of the time. It’s like the first time hearing the finished product.

Michael: What about the one word challenge? If you had one word, how would you describe the album?

Bri: Can I say deep-sea? Like with a little hyphen in the middle?

Michael: Deep-sea?! I mean, yeah!

TJ: Big… no, gargantuan!

Bri: Wait, megalodon. That’s what I want to go with.

Michael: Oh, okay.

Bri: Wait, Matt, what was your word?

Matt: I’m having a hard time with this one, it’s a real brain teaser… I mean, no. It wouldn’t make any sense… like… fog machine.

Michael: Fog machine… (laughs) fog machine is two words. And TJ, you went with gargantuan?

TJ: Yes.

Michael: Wow, all this sets a pretty high bar.

Bri: I think I’m getting an idea for the next photoshoot. Like, ripping ourselves out of the belly of a shark, or chewing our way out. Sam will be alright. What’s your word, Michael?

Michael: Everyone’s kinda got a water-y, misty, vapor vibe. I’m trying to think of a word that describes a glowing. When I hear that room sound, it reminds me of a light bulb turning on.

TJ: Lava lamp! (laughs)

Michael: Lava lamp. That is true.

Bri: That might have been one of my favorite parts of recording as well, being sent to the store for a hard drive but coming back with a lava lamp. I have since bought like, six more lava lamps. I remember when Marcel was like “Hey Michael, will you set up the lava lamp? Let’s get it going.”

TJ: Between the lava lamp and The Office playing on the screen…

Bri: It was a good vibe.

Michael: So we have a gargantuan, deep-sea Megalodon, fog-machine lava lamp? Well, how about that! Um, how would we describe the relationship between Marcel and the new album?

TJ: He and I had a really good working relationship when it came to changing parts this time, trying to play to what the song wanted. Especially when we’d listen to a take and I’d point something out that didn’t fit as well as it could have, he would connect with me on that and just not even have to use sentences or words.

Michael: Yeah you guys had an almost unspoken, psychic chemistry this time around.

Bri: I feel like he’s our bands muse at this point, he’s the first person I’m excited to show something new. I think it was cool how we named the album and a couple of the songs just being in the moment in the studio, going with how we felt then, rather than what we were feeling when writing the song. It’s definitely a new way to approach it, and I think it was influenced by the week we had before working our asses off and getting a firm grasp on what was important to spend time on and what wasn’t, having that looseness about it.

TJ: Yeah it is cool we didn’t have any analysis paralysis, it’s so easy for that stuff to come up. Decisions take forever when it comes to music but that’s what I liked the most about this record, things formed super organically. We mixed the whole record quickly, came up with names and changes quickly… it was a nice change of pace.

Michael: I like the very end of the record where Bri and Marcel created the sound collage, it’s literally the last thirty seconds where Bri is playing something, and he just cut a different guitar take of mine and spliced it in there…

TJ: Yeah, the ending of the record is super cool where Marcel put that Space Echo over the snare drum and it just goes “wubwubwubwubwub” forever (laughs).

Bri: It was nice that we named the record and songs so fast, but we were all attracted to the album name for how vibrant it is – Datura. I wasn’t familiar with the flower, Matt told me about it when we were researching possible names, but there is this concept we’ve been dancing around throughout the record with reflections, and how the way you see yourself isn’t what’s reflected to the world. Especially writing these songs in COVID, where you don’t really have the world to reflect back on you. So it seemed cool to use this flower that’s so against the grain, it’s not what you expect when you hear the word “flower.” It blooms at night, it’s poisonous… it’s a saturated term. And the record feels saturated to me as well, for how hard it is, and how soft, it just captures a full spectrum of emotion really well. That’s why I think that name was apt, and why we all liked it so fast.

Michael: Matt, did you find one outside?

Matt: Yeah, I had to eat one for us to find out all of these facts. (laughs) It tasted good, I promise. You trip too if you eat them, they’re hallucinageic, and really it’s just this funny nexus of it does this, and this, and this crazy thing… it’s the platypus of flowers.

Michael: Woah… that’s a revelation. That is gnarly (laughs).

Bri: (laughs) That would be such an amazing band name.

Michael: Is there anything else about the studio itself we haven’t talked about?

Bri: Also though I really wanna mention Bob, shout out to Bob. He represents what it is to have a career in music so perfectly. The guy is just digging, he’s been digging for years and is never gonna stop. He’s totally motivated by this little motor inside of him, it is not external. No one is telling him “please, build more!” So when I see him and leave the studio and go to the rest of my life, Bob is still there grinding away to pursue that perfect place he can see in his head, and it’s really beautiful to see someone living like that.

Michael: Really, I’m just trying to see if we can be the next band with a plaque in the Robert Lang pisser upstairs.

TJ: (laughs) We should make a commemorative thing so every time someone takes a shit they have to look at us, and know that Childspeak was there.

Bri: A urinal plaque! (laughs)

Michael: We should look into urinal cakes as a viral thing, just little pink, wax versions of our faces. A four pack. Right? (laughs) I think we got it.

And there is your exclusive, unflinchingly honest look at the story of Datura, the upcoming Childspeak album. It’s a glowing, gargantuan megalodon vape. That is to say, it is unknowable, elusive, and loud. But sometime soon, real soon, you’ll be hearing the first official single, and you can judge for yourself. More on that later. We’ve got all kinds of good stuff coming up in the meantime, so please, if you want to make this honeymoon easier on my wallet, bang our coffee line here. Thanks for letting me break the fourth wall for a bit. Till next time!