23 May 2012

The Solar System - IT'S A MYTH! Review and Interview

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 record
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.

The Warmth EP- A collection of 4 songs, 3 of which are instrumentals. I was really into The Residents, Brian Eno, Skip Spence and Syd Barrett so I think that explains enough HA!

Then My friend Zach and I put together a collection of older recordings from 2003-2007 called " The Four Track Sessions 2003-2007" Clever title huh?
And these contain what Zach and myself consider my best early songs. Some of "Living Alone" is featured here.

Then came "World, I Don't Need You Because I'm Awesome" I had the idea to make sort of a rock album on my 4-track. A bit heavier songs as I was very much into bands like Sebadoh and Guided By Voices at the time, But as with all my albums there are traces of Psychedelic music in the sound as it's the music that is in my soul. It's the style of music and sound that means the most to me!

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 the cosmos!

"Materi" was followed up by "Ugly Face/Ugly Town" This album was recorded rather quickly. I should state most of my albums come together rather quickly. I tend to let the muse take me. So from my memory this was written and recorded in about 2 or 3 weeks in the summer of 2008. I was hanging out with my good friend Joseph Paris, who is responsible for most of the cover art on most of my albums. So we were hanging out a lot and he was super helpful and supportive of my music and this made me and continues to make me feel good. It's always nice to have someone in your corner. So with this album I was trying to channel in my own way the creative side of albums like "Electric Ladyland" and the first 4 or 5 Brian Eno solo albums, in which both Hendrix and Eno used the studio as a instrument. I feel in my own way I did. This one is another album that I think is super psychedelic and very textural. I try with all my albums to take the listener on an aural journey. I'm very much inspired by the production techniques of the classic 60's psych albums as well as a lot of modern psychedelic music like the Elephant 6 Recording Collective. Robert from the Apples In Stereo and Will from Olivia Tremor Control are masters in my mind and I'm always inspired by their work.

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 winner!

Up next is "3 Bird" my little play on words with the Lynyrd Skynyrd song Free Bird. Get it? This album, like "Digital" is a bit scatterbrained but I like that quality of my work. Some of my favorite albums and artists albums jump around style wise. It's like a mix CD a friend made you or free form radio or something.

Then comes "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.

Up next is "Butterfly On The Wheel", another strong, very psychedelic trip-type album. I was getting more comfortable using Garageband and all it's possibilities to bend and shape the fabric of sound. I think it shows on the album. Plus I was falling in love at the time!

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. 

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