Smile Politely

Storming cyan seas

For most, music and colors tend not to be associated much, outside of image and marketing. Sure, a punk band will incite visions of black jeans and leather and pop artists produce videos filled with more shiny white colors than the latest iPhone model. However, the local post-rock/punk/shoegaze act Withershins have sunk into a new shade of blue with their freshest album since Silver Cities in 2012. Just like the color, their new album Mt. Fuji in Blue is purely chilling and definitely stands as their most lo-fi to date. With the addition of their new drummer Luke Bergkoetter, the track pacing is much more refined throughout the ambient parts of the album. Yet the skillsets he’s brought to Withershins definitely touch base with his punk roots in heavier tracks “Moss God” and “Chronic”, marching hi-hat hits along dreamy vocal tracks.

As for the more ambient songs, “STFU of GTFO” is by far my favorite, with soothing acoustic and piano melodies playing along solemn lyrical sonnets;

How have you gotten away with / Therefore, so long / It shows when you walk / It’s not your fault now / Is it?

Leaving Ground, second to last track on the album, sets in as their most shoegaze-esque track, as Colin Larson admits he wrote it almost stereotypically so.

I had the chance to send a few questions over to the fine musicians of Withershins while they were on their album release tour (that will make the usual rounds at Mike ‘N Mollys this Saturday evening), and you may find their eloquent responses below.

Smile Politely: Your past album covers seem to have all used photography, while MFIB seems to hold three basic tones and hues of blue, which does seems to resemble a mountain. Would you be able to reflect upon this decision at all?

Isaac Arms: Blue is a significant color to me. It’s both happy and sad; like water, it both gives life and takes it away. If Silver Cities was about burning in a personal hell late-night in the city on a barcrawl with your past demons, Fuji is about drowning in uncertainty and ambivalence about the future and staring up at the surface, the light becoming more clear as you sink into the deep dark.

I created the cover image. It is the color family of Cyan. It’s damn near unrecognizable, but if you Wikipedia “cyan”… that is the same image. I just used Photoshop to do the same thing to the image that we use our pedalboards to do to audio.

The photograph on the back cover is in fact a picture of Fuji-san himself.

To answer the question why? To paraphrase John McCrea, responding to criticism of Cake’s lack of lyrics in their album sleeves, the man said, “albums are meant to be listened to, not read.” Albeit one some level I think that is not true, I appreciate the idea of the experience of an album. The album experience to me is making sense of it all, and finding out how it makes you feel, and ultimately, how you consider it in memory — how you compartmentalize and organize and categorize and store it. Some people think of Siamese Dream and just think of fuzzed out guitars. Some people think of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and think of the album cover. And that cover sort of ties together all the threads of narrative and sounds and styles. For Mt Fuji in Blue to have an album cover that is, in a sense, nothing…is asking the listener to map their own experiences and emotions onto that music.

SP: Are there any experience’s that stand out in the production of your third feature-length album?

Arms: The experience that stands out to me most in my memory, for better or worse, is one of our producers taking me to task. I was tracking vocals for “Chronic,” and I was having a hell of a time because the part calls for a significant yawp. After straining to get what I thought was the perfect take, everyone in the control room let me know on the talkback that the consensus was that I should be doing my vocals differently. I protested, in a fit of ego/insecurity, and my producer Allen Epley, someone I truly look up to, wasted no time in taking me to task. He basically said that they didn’t need to be there if I wasn’t going to listen to their input. That was exactly why we had brought them down to Tolono in the first place. So, Al sang the melody as he envisioned it, and I sucked it up and got the take… Now it is one of my favorite parts of the album and my favorite melody to sing live. I’m grateful for the experience, because I learn best when I get my ass handed to me.

SP: It seems like MFIB was jammed with much more musical content (including back vocals, pedal effects, ambient noises etc); which little additions stand out the most to the members of Withershins?

Colin Larson: The changes in our sound are primarily due to the changes in our lineup. Our original lineup was a four-piece with me on drums. After I moved to Indianapolis, I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend practices in Champaign regularly, so we brought Luke in to play drums. I still wanted to be in the band, but wasn’t going to be able to make it to every show, so I figured out that if I play all the extra parts on the albums (keys, 3rd guitar, etc) then I could miss a show occasionally and the band could still play. I kind of screwed that up for this new album though! For example the title track sounds a bit off without me in my opinion.

Arms: In a way, to me, it feels more spare than Silver Cities — even though we’ve added a member since then. I think we maybe are doing more with less. Everyone knows their role and occupies their own space. Our pedalboards have gone through some changes, but there is one, most significant addition: Luke Bergkoetter (also of Take Care and The Marathon Guitarkestra) on drums. His style and energy have really expanded what the band is and can be. A good friend of the band remarked shortly after we started playing with Luke last spring that “now that Withershins has a punk drummer, you’re somehow more shoegaze than ever.” And I think now that we’re a five-piece, we’re more minimal than ever.

SP: According to your Bandcamp, this seems to be your second album recorded in Tolono. Why Earth Analog and how did you come to find them?

Arms: Mt Fuji in Blue is the second full-length we’ve recorded at Earth. We tracked Silver Cities down at Matt’s (Talbott) between 2009 and 2012. Taking that much time on an album, we really got to know Matt and the studio well. We originally recorded with Aaron McCallister (who now runs McCallister Audio in Urbana, where we all get our gear fixed). Aaron produced our first album Aeriel in his own studio, and he helped us transition to a serious, analog recording space and process. This time, we tracked with Allen Epley and Eric Abert of The Life and Times. They actually recorded their first and third full-length albums at Earth Analog themselves, so they certainly knew the space as well. It was a beautiful convergence of experiences and styles, and we’re still impressed that as a team of seven (with a little help from our friends — shouts to Matt Talbott, Mark Wyman, and “Bry-Bry”), we got all twelve songs tracked in three days.

SP: There definitely seems to be a change in the mood and atmosphere with MFIB, as there aren’t as many thrashing punk songs (with exception to “Moss God” of course!). Would you agree that this album is taking Withershins in more of a shoegaze direction?

Arms: Yes. I make no effort to hide my love of the gaze. I have, really, spent the last year or more listening to substantial amounts of shoegaze, doom, and hip-hop. So, gauzy guitars, heavy bass, and sick beats were really where I was coming from. That said, one of the joys of writing with withershins is that everyone comes from their own musical place — and that convergence is the beauty to me.

SP: What is your absolute favorite thing about playing at Mike ‘N Mollys? It really seems to be a home venue for Withershins.

Arms: Actually, I am [the] in-house talent buyer for Mike ‘N Molly’s now. We played our first downtown show at MNMs about six years ago, and have had both album releases there. It’s just the spot, man. The hometown digs.

Larson: It’s our “Cheers”, you know? Everybody knows your name there. Playing outdoors there is the best.. I love it.

Withershins will be playing at Mike N’ Mollys this Saturday for their record release show with Neiv and Common Loon, starting at 9 p.m.

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