Reviewed By The Active Listener
Sometimes it seems we live in a cynical time - a time where we generally assume that the word 'interesting' is being used as a euphemism. Well, I'd like to start a movement back to a simpler time, because 'interesting' is the word I came back to most often when listening to the Solar System's new album "It's a Myth". I of course mean it in the most old fashioned sense of the word, as this is an album that is consistently unpredictable and clever - not 'cramming in the kitchen sink' clever, but clever in terms of letting songs go off in their own often surprising directions.
The Solar System is the pseudonym of Chris Oliver, an advocate of home recording who has been recording himself and various bands he's been associated with since the late nineties.
His albums are not what you'd necessarily expect from home recordings - they push the format to the limit and are diverse, multi-textured and they sound huge.
"It's a Myth" is his newest and it's a doozy. Oliver pulls from a varied pool of influences and injects plenty of his own personality to come up with an album that would fit in nicely with the Elephant 6 aesthetic of psychedelia influenced dream pop. It's an album that's very aware of the sixties, but could only have been recorded now.
Delicate slurred guitar arpeggios that aren't a million miles from Radiohead's recent work, insistent vocal hooks and pounding drums make tracks like "Soft Bullet" and "Wildfires" jump out of the speakers at you, while "Puscifer Rising" indulges a more challenging experimental bent for the more cerebral listener.
Chris had a chat with us about his work.
Active Listener : You've been recording yourself for years. Can you tell us a little bit about your recording set-up and the gear you use?
Chris Oliver : Ever since I can remember I've been interested in music and
recording. My first recordings ever were made on like fisher price tape
recorders etc etc.
When I was 16 my dad got me my first 4-track
machine. Since then I've gone through 3 or 4. I still use my Tascam 464
every now and then but I mainly record
On my Mac which my
girlfriend got me for Christmas awhile back. I use a program called
Garageband. I have no outboard gear or anything. Just Garageband and a USB microphone and my instruments.
Active Listener : You've recorded with R. Stevie Moore. How did that come about, and what was he like to work with?
Chris Oliver : I discovered R. Stevie Moore's music about 5 years ago now. I
don't remember how or where I first hear it but I found out about this
guy who they call the "Godfather Of Home-Recording" and that he has 400
albums to his credit etc etc. This just caught my ear as I'm someone who
records pretty much all the time. It's all I think about and all I want
to do with my time. I love making music and want to be able to make it
my career or job I guess you could say. Anyways I got a bunch of his
albums and was hooked. Befriended him on Facebook and at some point I
had this half finished song that I was calling "Time Share" I just sent
him a message on Facebook asking if he would like to collaborate so I
sent him the song and he dug it. A few weeks later I got an e-mail with
the complete song and it's a piece of psychedelic heaven. It made me
even happier when he included it on his 2010 album "Space Bar" which
came be found on his Bandcamp site. Since then R. Stevie has FINALLY
been discovered and now is becoming the star he deserves. I can only
hope for the same myself one day!
Active Listener : Your sound has obviously evolved quite a bit since the late
nineties. can you guide us through your back catalogue and tell us a
little about each of your releases?
Chris Oliver : Wow! this is
going to be tough. Well since I got my first 4-track when I was 16 in
1996 a lot has changed. It went from pretty much forcing my friends to
These crazy things with me and a lot of just
experimenting, trying to figure out how to write songs. The first tape I
put together which I thought was good enough to show my friends etc etc
was a album I called "Living Alone" in 2003. Sadly I can't find the
master tapes in which those songs are on but since that album I've put
out 12 albums so i'll try to keep this short. At this time I was also
making long distance recordings with my friend Zach Biggs who lives out
in Austin TX. We were sending our 4-track tapes in the mail and adding
to each other's songs so besides working on the Solar System albums I
was doing that.
Then My friend Zach and I put together a collection of older recordings
from 2003-2007 called " The Four Track Sessions 2003-2007" Clever
And these contain what Zach and myself consider my best early songs. Some of "Living Alone" is featured here.
Next up is "Materi" Which is an
album looking back is to me quite a stepping stone in my development as a
songwriter and musician. This is a very psychedelic and experimental
album that a lot of friends seem to think is the perfect "Stoned" album. I was just pushing my 4-track to the limit and
having fun turning the tape backwards and exploring sounds I heard from
After this I started
recording a bit on my friend Joe's computer. Using the same program I
use to this day. It's how I learned how to record on the computer.
Anyways I kinda didn't want to completely let my 4-track go so I came up
with the concept of my next two albums. The first being "Analog" and
the other "Digital" "Analog" was recorded on my tascam 464 and is mainly
an instrumental album. Very much a late night psychedelic trip of an
album. "Digital" was recorded using Garageband and is kinda all over the place
style wise. I'm proud of "Digital" but out of the two, "Analog" is the
"Drawing A Blank." This album along with "Materi", I see as another turning
point. Very psychedelic and textured in it's sound and production and
contains some of my favorite songs.
Major Heave came from my friend
Henry Van Loon, a friend and musician who is amazing in his own right
was telling me about National Solo Album Month which is every November
and he said I should take part so I did. Most people who do just make a
short album of 8 to 10 songs but I gave myself a challenge of writing
and recording a song a day. 30 songs in 30 days. This to some may seem
crazy but it was a lot of fun and most of it turned out great. It's a
very dynamic and diverse album as I think you can hear all of my
influences coming through.
Active Listener : I always find it interesting to hear how an artist hears their own music. How would you describe "It's a Myth" and which of your major
influences do you think are most apparent on it?
Chris Oliver : Well After
"Major Heave" I took a bit of a break. The band I co-founded with one of
my best friends "Cody Stagefright" stopped which to me was a god-send
as I'd slowly been losing interest, and one of the members
and myself just couldn't get along with each other, no matter how hard both of us
tried. So once the group stopped, I felt a huge weight come off me and I
started writing. 2 of the songs though I should note were either
written or started before the writing session began and those songs are
"Donating Blood" which was originally written and recorded back in 2007
when I was in Austin TX visiting my friend Zach and playing drums in a
band he was in at the time called "School Police." So the original
recording of that song is on our album entitled "II" and the song
"Wildfires" was started in Austin again but this time in 2011. The first
half of the song was written the day after my girlfriend and I saw
Olivia Tremor Control live. I found out they were to be playing there on
the 2nd day of our vacation and the show was great and it was nice to
get to hang out with them and become friends with some of them. Also I
got to finally meet my friend Paige Dearman who has a project of her own
called "Midget and Hairs" and has featured pretty much everyone you
could think of from the Elephant 6 crew. So with the good vibes of the
show still in my mind I started the song - that explains the first
half sounding very much like a long lost Olivia Tremor Control song.
After Cody Stagefright stopped I was feeling
like myself again and started writing this album. I think it's one of my
strongest albums and I'm very proud of how it turned out. Every musician
hears their influences in their sound which is something you just can't
get away from no matter how hard someone tries, but with this album, beyond hearing all that I can clearly hear myself in this music. It
started with "Materi" and has slowly been morphing into something that I
can say is the "Solar System Sound".
Active Listener : Anything to add?
Chris Oliver : I Just wanted to thank the other artists who did cover art for me.
Especially since one of them is family ha ha. So there is Mitchell
Oliver, Nina Pratchios and Mikki Shenkenberg.
You can check out all of Chris's releases here on Bandcamp.