Sometimes I feel so uninspired by sounds that surround me. On those days, the hunt for decent and stimulating tunes can take hours and by the end of it I don't even feel like listening to anything else but pure silence. The draining hunts were definitely over when I stumbled upon the sound of Colin Stetson, a Quebec based saxophonist. Listen up!
Currently situated in Montreal, Stetson is a bass saxophone player who has also performed and recorded with numerous artists such as Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, Bon Iver, Sinéad O'Connor, Kevin Devine ... His musical path began with a degree in music at the University of Michigan in 1997. In the coming years he was studying his sound and techniques in San Francisco, then Brooklyn. It all climaxed in the release of the New History Warfare Vol. 1 album in 2008. Next in line was the New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, which came to life in 2011 and was definitely a good representative for his hyper-demanding solo technique. What technique, you ask? Stetson uses a special kind of circular breathing to produce an endless stream of notes in mode of classical minimalism.
His latest work, the New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light, was released in April 2013 and is the third (last) part of this solo trilogy. The album is nothing less but pure dope. It also features Justin Vernon, which just adds to its awesomeness. It might feel like you're rambling through Bon Iver records, but in a more mature, provocative and demanding way. Take your time, chill, and listen to the whole album, cause you just might love it. But first, read this short interview.
The New History Warfare trilogy was complete on April this year; Vol. 1 was about people lost at the sea, Vol. 2 finds them washed up from a shipwreck. Do you think the material on Vol. 3, To See More Light, stands alone if people choose to ignore the narrative of the previous work? Where does New History Warfare: To See More Light drive us to?
I see all three records as standing alone, as well as functioning together as a whole. Like films or books, they tell a story of their own, but one which falls into a greater context when experienced with it's counterparts. Vol. 3 is more of an epic than it's predecessors. It's a story of war and aftermath and is ultimately an examination of death, love, and the wish of an afterlife.
You've been working on the trilogy for a lot of years - Vol. 1 was released in 2007. Were there any big pauses in this period of time or did everything went smoothly, continuously? Would you want it to enlarge further, maybe into Vol. 4?
It was originally conceived of as a trilogy, so definitely no Vol. 4. in the works. As for the pacing of everything, there was a bit more time between Vol. 1 and 2, largely due to my touring schedule with Arcade Fire, but for the most part the creation of three records has been smooth and unencumbered.
It seems like the previous records were more focused on spirituality, where this one feels more wide-ranging. Was that all premeditated or did you let your creativity lead you?
I'd say that the 3rd Vol. is intended to be the most epic in scale and in character, deploying much more spacial and timbral diversity than the last two. The path from one to the next should convey growth and development and reach it's climax in the title track of To See More Light.
The amazing technique of circular breathing (I just have to touch this topic). It surely stands for much of your work. What was the developing process like?
I started circular breathing when I was 15 years old. My teacher at the time had recently learned how to do it and had been employing it in the classical saxophone repertoire (which I was studying) and had decided that I should learn it too. And I should especially do this when I was young as it would be easy to learn (as everything comes easy then), which it was. I think it took the better part of an afternoon to get the basics of it under control. The rest has been a lifelong process of developing endurance and strength so that what I can do with it becomes something that transcends it's technical foundations.
It's fascinating how you're able to have the specific circular breathing in mind, play the saxophone the way you do, and also simultaneously sing. Do you sing on every track on Vol. 3?
No, not every song. Though, certainly on more songs that on Vol. 1 or 2. For example, I don't use my vocal chords on "And In Truth", "In Mirrors", or "Brute".
I guess it takes a lot of physical condition to master the instrument the way you do. How do you practice, is every day the same or do you constantly keep on changing the routine?
There are things that I do everyday, things that have been part of a fundamental routine of mine for years, and other things that have changed. As I imagine new techniques, I try to develop new exercises to help develop those techniques. That, and there's always a considerable amount of improvisation that I do in practice, that's where a lot of the songs come from initially.
Microphones on your throat, on the horn, microphones all around the place. What does this mic-ing process allow you to do?
The microphones are there in order to pick up the sounds that I'm making with the saxophone and with my voice. I was making this music long before I figured out what to do with the mics, so this was just an attempt to capture all the sounds that were there in the live experience, but would get lost if I recorded the music with only one microphone in front of the sax, for example. The multi mic process allows me to capture as many sound as I can, all as isolated from one another as I can, so that I can create something that is both identical to the live performance on it's intention and musicality, but can have it's own dimensional reality, specific only to the recorded medium.
You've found audiences that may not necessarily listen to the kind of music you produce in their everyday life. Do you consider this as a commendation for your ability to crisscross the genre lines?
I suppose so. But I'm definitely not alone in being someone who makes fringe music that more people are listening to, now. I think it's happening more and more that the minds of the majority of people (or at least a growing minority) are opening to so many different things in art and music, and I'm definitely fortunate to be a part of that growing trend.
Thanks so much for your time, Colin!
Slovenian readers will get a chance to listen to Mr. Stetson next Tuesday (October 15) at Cankarjev Dom!