The fifth installment in our Interview Series is with musician, photographer, and Chicagoan Michael Vallera. Sorely missed on our last release, Grid City, Mike discusses his new record All Perfect Days and shares a few exclusive examples from his forthcoming photo book published by Harmonipan (find them after the interview).
Vallera's latest offering has elements of The White Arcades by Harold Budd, early Talk Talk or Durutti Column, and, more currently, the dark, sprawling meditations Growing offered on their Kranky releases. Though Vallera works as a collaborator in a number of projects, All Perfect Days is a solo affair. These songs are more like found transmissions or compositions rather than traditional songs. Often times spare, these five tracks could support an epic film documenting a vast voyage not unlike the film Koyaanisqatsi directed by Godfrey Reggio or Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising. The photography and music are juxtaposed well and allow for the listeners' imagination and mind to wander.
Q. How many projects are you currently active in?
At the moment, there is my solo material under my name (previously I had released solo work under COIN), my duo with Joseph Clayton Mills called Maar, and Luggage, which is a trio I would consider a slow-core band. My long-standing duo Cleared (Steven Hess and myself) is
technically still active but we are on a bit of a hiatus right now due to time constraints. It may seem like a lot of projects, but they basically operate organically in the cycle of releasing material and live performance. I find that as soon is one is winding down a space opens for work on another project and it keeps my mind active and fresh in terms of creating work.
Q. Was your first discipline music or photography?
I’ve been playing guitar since I was a child and didn’t start experimenting with photography until high school, so I would say music came first.
Q. What is the location of the album cover?
The cover for All Perfect Days was shot on the side of a canyon road heading down to El Pescador State Beach in Malibu. It’s a really small beach in that area and is one of my favorite places on that part of the coast.
Q. Is this a 'solo' album (ie recorded at home, by oneself, for people with headphones)?
This album is definitely a solo record. All of the material was written and arranged by me and was recorded both at home and at Electrical Audio in Chicago. I do think the material is suited for personal listening or maybe for a group of two people.
Q. Did you have any collaborators while writing, mixing, or mastering?
The writing was self contained and happened over a period of about six months, although some of the melodies I have been sketching out for longer than that. Greg Norman was the recording engineer at Electrical Audio. He is a friend and someone whom I have worked with over the years for my solo records. He’s a great and very impartial engineer and it’s always a very seamless experience working with him in the studio.
Those tracks were then arranged and mixed by me at home and afterwards were taken to another studio and given a final eq treatment with Benjamin Balcom. He is another individual who is extremely talented and for the past several solo records we have done final stage alterations on the mixed tracks together. Daniel Rejmer, who I met while opening for Ben Frost a few times over the years, mastered the record. He is Ben’s front of house sound person and an accomplished engineer and musician in his own right. It has been a wonderful experience getting to shape the record with all of these people and I couldn’t be happier with the final result.
Q. Synth, guitar, effected samples as on "Elon", and acoustic piano featured on "Pale Watered Floor" hints at your flexibility. How do you know, when writing, what project the music will be for?
Actually all of the sounds on "Elon" are guitar based. The textures at the beginning and end of that track are my guitar through a rather intense manipulation on an Eventide H3000 that Electrical has. I’m a big fan of that era of outboard gear because it still retains a non-pristine quality and feels more like an instrument or at the least something that has been re-amped and put back into actual space. Any synth on the record was actually re-amped through a Hiwatt half stack in the studio and re-recorded as it played.
All of the material was created with this specific record in mind. I feel like I work in a compartmentalized way, so when it comes time to write or record for any of the projects it is usually a completely dedicated task for that specific record, live show, or whatever it may be. My solo work tends to operate in a bit of a collage fashion as well, so there are almost always bits of synth, piano, guitar, and field recordings that make their way in to the final tracks. The goal at the end is to always make the track feel cohesive and have all of the various elements contribute to an overall mood or final context.
Q. Any inspiration from Lou Reed's song Perfect Day?
Hah, I had never thought about that in relation to the title of the record but I’m sure in my subconscious all of my work is an attempt to reach such a perfect sonic creation. That’s an eternal track, a real gift for all of us.
Q. Care to share what you're working on next?
I have a book of photography called Wet Earth that will be released later this year via Harmonipan out of Mexico City. It’s a project I’ve been working on for the last three years and is my first hardcover release so I’m really excited about it. All of the images I’ve provided for Love Lion are ones that came from the final edit for the upcoming book.
Maar has a USB release coming on Opal Tapes imprint VANILLA in June, Luggage is touring out to the east coast in July, and, after that, we will be recording our third LP. Outside of that, I just try to travel as much as possible and really hope to make it to Europe this year to perform material from the new solo record.
Q. If you had to choose today, piano, guitar, or photography?
All or none.