Big Ass Truck Bloodkin Chuck Leavell Clay Harper Col. Bruce Hampton Count M'Butu Danny Barnes Dr. Dan Island Gruve Supper Club Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons Kevn Kinney King Elementary Mylab Precious Bryant Project Z Ralph White Slang Soulhat Stockholm Syndrome Trent Dabbs Tywanna Jo Baskette The Tom Collins
Currently regarded as two of Seattle's leading innovative soundsmiths, composer/pianist Wayne Horvitz and producer/engineer Tucker Martine had often talked about working together on their own project.
Not that the two hadn't found themselves in the same room many times over the last few years, as Horvitz's "Four Plus One" ensemble featured Martine as a card-carrying member, while Martine had co-produced several Horvitz records (Forever, From a Window and Sweeter Than the Day), among other collaborative efforts. But as they would kick around ideas for other artists records, the more they thought about forging their own band, and even began working up some primitive demos of song sketches.
"We've been part of a lot of studio endeavors together," Martine says, "and in the process of working on a record with someone, you may get some ideas flowing, but you're always a little confined by what would be appropriate for that project. So, we thought it'd be great to do something where there was no necessarily right or wrong way to go about it."
Before Mylab thought of making a full-length record, Martine and Horvitz passed along their three-song demo -- containing early versions of "Pop Client," "Land Trust Picnic," and "Phil and Jerry" -- to Terminus Records head honcho Jeff Bransford. The label chief was in Seattle to listen in on the sessions for progressive bluegrass artist Danny Barnes' new LP, an album that Horvitz and Martine were also working on. After giving the then-unnamed demo a few spins, Bransford told the duo that he had fallen in love with their post-pop pastiche music and challenged them to come up with a whole record of such music.
Over the next few months, Martine and Horvitz continued experimenting on their collages and soundscapes -- in-between working on other projects for such renowned artists as guitarist Bill Frisell, violinist Evyind Kang, drummer Bobby Previte, and saxophonist Skerik, all of whom would later be drafted by Martine and Horvitz into the Mylab project.
But the roots for Mylab run much deeper than just its contemporary components and counterparts, as Martine and Horvitz actually created the first takes of songs by sampling and looping old folk recordings that date from around the turn of the century (the 1900s, that is) and were now in the public domain. As the duo built the basic song structures, they realized that while they appreciated the wizened feel and rhythm of the archival recordings, it would be better if they replaced most of the samples with live musicians who could both play the "vintage" parts -- and be open to interpolate the material as well.
"We used those samples as the catalyst for starting a composition," Martine says, "then we'd start messing around and go, "Shit, Frisell would sound great over that, and what about Skerik over this?"
With that in mind, Martine and Horvitz put out the call to many of their recent collaborators, such as the aforementioned luminaries Frisell, Skerik, Kang, Previte, and Barnes. The trio of bassist Keith Lowe, guitarist Timothy Young, and drummer Andy Roth -- all of whom were Horvitz's bandmates in the rock-jazz combo Zony Mash -- also came on board, as well as a host of other performers and musicians that Martine and Horvitz had worked with and produced, and which they considered part of their "community," including guitarist Doug Wieselman, saxophonist Briggan Krauss, and even Horvitz's wife, vocalist Robin Holcomb.
"It was basically our community of people, Tucker says. "So many of those people are in various bands with each other, and the lines can get blurry sometimes. But this really felt like we were having our friends over, going, "Hey, why don't you try this?"
Recording the tracks for what would become Mylab's self-titled debut was also a communal experience, as Wayne and Tucker first got their hands dirty at Horvitz's Other Room studio in Seattle, then shifted over to Martine's own Seattle studio, Flora, for the initial round of overdubbing. The final round of Mylab sessions were held just last summer at Trillium Lane Studios, located in the midst of a pastoral 15-acre spread on Bainbridge Island in Washington.
In the end, Horvitz and Martine's ability to assemble and mix such an incredibly diverse range of pop, rock, jazz, folk, urban, bluegrass, traditional and alternative artists produced the kind of adventurous sonic orchestra that would have made the late, great Sun-Ra proud. The proof, of course, is in the music. From the Henry Mancini-esque bounce of the album opener, "Pop Client" to the Chuck Berry-beat of "Land Trust Picnic" or the spooky, Pet Sounds meets industrial NIN flavor of "Earthbound," Mylab is clearly not afraid to cross-over -- and transcend -- any schools of music.
Mylab isn't limited to influences from this hemisphere, however, as the track "Phil and Jerry" is based upon field recordings Martine made during a trip to Mali, while Fela Kuti's Afro-beat figures prominently in the upbeat syncopations of "Fancy Party Cakes," and there's even a touch of Massive Attack's brooding, British trip-hop on "Not In My House." It's all there, mixing and melting in the musical cauldron known as Mylab.
"We liked the "lab" reference," Tucker says, "because it kind of felt like me and Wayne were in the laboratory, experimenting with sound for fun. Mylab sounds like a kid's starter chemistry set, and I do think there's something playful about this music."
And just because Mylab was assembled in a "controlled environment" like many electronic records, Martine and Horvitz believe that the material retains a certain degree of organic-ness -- and have even mounted a live version of Mylab. Shortly after putting the finishing touches on the album, Martine and Horvitz convened a Mylab band -- featuring Horvitz, Doug Wieselman and Timothy Young on guitars, Bobby Previte on drums, Keith Lowe on bass, Robin Holcomb on vocals and Martine on signal processing and treatments -- to play a one-off show at a Seattle club. The results went so well that Mylab is now considering what Martine refers to as "a little flurry of shows, depending on whom we can round up."
But, for now, there's the impressively sprawling Mylab debut, an album that is layered with enough eclecticism to keep one's mind buzzing for quite some time. Far more than just the sum of its parts, Mylab offers a glimpse at the future of post-pop constructionism ... and beyond.
Tucker Martine - drums, percussion, treatments and field recordings
Wayne Horvitz - acoustic and electric pianos, Hammond B-3, pump organ and synthesizers
Danny Barnes-Banjo (3, 5); dobro (4, 7); vocals (4)
Dave Carter-Flugelhorn (7, 10)
Animata Diabate-Vocals (6)
Bill Frisell-Guitar (1, 4, 7, 9, 12)
Robin Holcomb-Vocals (2, 4, 6, 7)
Orville Johnson-Fiddle (4)
Eyvind Kang-Ngoni (6)
Briggan Krauss-Saxophone (11)
Keith Lowe-Acoustic and electric bass (1, 3, 5, 6, 8)
Bobby Previte-Drums (1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Andy Roth-Drums (3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 12)
Skerik-Saxophones (1, 6, 12)
Reggie Watts-Vocals (1, 4, 6)
Doug Weiselman-Guitar (2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 12); clarinet (6, 9); saxophone (4, 8, 9, 10)
Timothy Young-Guitar (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
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