lying’s Just-One-Second-Ago Broken Eggshell is one of the year’s most compelling debuts. Complex, catchy, pretentious, naïve, self-assured—the group easily moves between a number of different musical worlds including improv, indie, and keyboard driven pop. Stylus caught up with the group to talk about the record, their formation, and what’s next for the band.
Where did you all meet?
Sara Magenheimer: I met Eliot about 6 years ago in Somerville, Massachusetts. I had just finished building a two-headed dog out of snow with his roommate and he ran into us while we were warming up with some hot chocolate. We became friends. A few years later I met Eben when a mutual friend invited us out for coffee. Eben didn't say much at first and was smirking in a strange way. It soon became clear that half his face was paralyzed. A few weeks later we finally got around to hanging out. (We had exchanged CDs and were listening to each other's music a lot). By that time Eben's face was mobile. But when I met him at the coffee shop he arrived wearing a bloody bandage on his head. He told me that that morning he was riding his bike to work when his front wheel came right off his bike. He awoke to a bunch of beefy construction workers saying "Are you all right?" and "His ear's ripped off!" We spent the rest of the day together. Now we live together. And he's in a wheelchair. Just kidding.
Eliot Krimsky: Sara and I were friends for many years, then we started playing music together. I heard her singing voice and was very excited. I was a little tired of playing with 'schooled' musicians. Her playing was pure spirit. I was recording songs in my room and sharing them with her. I met Eben with Sara, and saw both of them play at a gallery show. The song they played was one of Eben’s about "cremating our love in a garbage fire." This inspired me. When we played together, I knew we had a lot of possibility for growth.
When did you all make your way to New York? How do you like it here compared to, say, Massachusetts?
Sara: Eben and I came to New York nearly two years ago. In many ways I love New York. There are so many creative opportunities. In Boston our friends would start underground art/music spaces and get shut down by the city. Creative people are leaving by the caravan. It's a shame. It seems like the city wants to study artists in books, instead of encouraging living ones.
How important are mistakes to your music?
Eben Portnoy: I think we're going for an emotional complexity in our music that we can't find by always doing things right. We have a process that is open and creative with accidents. Often what we discover is more exciting than what we plan for.
Sara: We're constantly working to find a balance between spontaneity and structure in our music. It is important for all art to have that, I think. Otherwise there is no room for the listener or viewer to participate when that happens, which is a shame.
How long did it take to record the album?
Eben: It took, in all, about a year.
Sara: We recorded in numerous locations so it took a while. We mixed it ourselves, too. Eben did most of that, which was really a tough job because of all of the tracks we'd accumulated.
Tell us a little bit about the recording process.
Sara: (Among other things) we went to Massachusetts to set up in a barn and record some things. We got lots of sounds we couldn't get inside. For instance, on “Stations” we recorded the entire song on the beach. Eben played guitar and sang, while Eliot and I pretended we were pre-linguistic beings and chased each other around him making those crowing- chirping sounds you can hear. It was really magical. These little translucent sand creatures were drawn toward the light of the laptop screen and came HOPPING all over the place! I still think of those creatures when I hear that song. And the bonfires. There were little glowing bonfires all down the beach. It was such a beautiful night and I think that it really made the recording what it was.
Eben: We also did a lot of sweating into the headphones in our loft. It was a really long, intense process. Some songs ended up having over 50 tracks and some we started over several times with totally different arrangements. Some we did in one take.
How did you know when a song was done?
Eben: We tried to find the magic and then not kill the magic.
There are a lot of unique sounds on the album, which seem to be obviously created by instruments other than the normal guitar/bass/drum. Could you talk about some of those? Any particular favorites?
Sara: In the barn I found this apple that had chimes in it. It was a toy from when Eben was a baby. It made an unpredictable sound—beautiful and kind of scary.
Eben: Our giant marching bass drum was my favorite to play. Thumping it was really satisfying.
Eliot: I bought a farfisa for the recording. I liked playing that and trying to make it sound like a circus organ.
Where did the title for the record come from?
Eben: Buckminster Fuller. He’s my hero. "We are just about to step out from amongst the pieces of our just-one-second-ago-broken eggshell." is a quote from "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth." He was working during a time of technological revolution, and I think he saw humans as becoming something new in the universe, something we should be aware of and responsible for. I think he was also really asking people to be reborn to the beauty and gravity of life. We chose the title because we're inspired by that vision for young openness, of something positive stepping out of the chaos of cracks.
How did you end up at Millpond?
Sara: We made some CD-R’s, which we gave to our friends. Rob(ert Stillman) was going out to Seattle to record and he was playing our CD-R a lot. He played it for Mike Manning, of Millpond, and Mike liked it. We're happy to work with Millpond. Mike is really supportive and gives us complete artistic freedom.
Who did the packaging for your album? It seems like the band is just as interested in the visual as it is the musical…
Sara: I made the packaging for the album. I think of music and visual art as part of the same sort of thing—just different media through which one expresses an idea/feeling/thought. I was a visual artist first, and even though I've always loved music, I was deathly shy of singing in public. Actually, I came to be able to sing through visual art. I was making sculptures that involved old American folk songs emanating from them, songs that I had recorded alone in my room. I now guess that the project was just an excuse to sing.
What other artistic mediums do you work in?
Sara: I paint on paper with watercolors, draw and make sculptures. I also make videos and write short stories. I wrote a little book that very few people have, although it was actually published, called "Short Stories to Read in Transit." I had to hand make the copies and after I left art school I didn't have the resources to keep making them. I just finished a video for “Pond Life” off of our album, which is going to be on the website soon.
Eliot: I draw, make T-shirts, and also paint. I hear things in a visual way. I also like to write stories, and do stand-up comedy in front of my friends.
Eben: I make videos and films and once a rock opera about the End.
Eben: "The Fire of Life" was a piece of situationist-inspired agit-prop I scripted and co-produced with a friend in 2003. We started an apocalypse cult who staged a giant spectacle (the rock opera) in a renovated vaudeville theater in Cambridge. The story was a satirical parable from the cult's point of view about a future in which humans are able to photosynthesize. Corporate greed and technology gone awry lead to an environmental melt-down. At the end of the play as the world is about to be consumed by a giant solar flare the cult leads an ecstatic revival. The audience is asked to give their carbon back to the universe by dancing through the mouth of a giant sun on stage. To our surprise, it worked—they did. It had a theatrical run of two weeks and a cast/crew of over 50 musicians, artists, and actors from Boston and around.
Do you like playing live or recording more? Why?
Eben: So far we approach both really differently. For me, in performing, there is an irreplacable exhibitionist adrenaline rush and recording is more about being excited in a kind of weird obsessive way behind closed doors.
How did you end up with the drummer, Mike? What has he added to the band's sound?
Eliot: Mike and I used to play Jazz together in Boston. We were in a band called Best of Boston. He was always my favorite drummer, so when he started playing in the band I couldn’t have been more excited. He brings both sky and ground to his drumming.
It seems like the concept of collaboration is important to each of you. Do you ever do things solo—or find that you want to?
Sara: I make visual work alone and it feels really restorative after collaborating so much. Also, I write some music alone, to bring to the group, so even within collaboration there is solitary work.
Eben: I miss the total control of working alone, but I'm learning to work with others.
Eliot: I have buried myself in my four-track or in my keyboard for a long time. It’s my own special world, my refuge from the real world. Collaboration is also amazing, though, because it shows me a part of myself that only others can shine light on. Nothing compares to building and exploring with friends. That is really huge. I think a healthy balance is necessary.
Do you contribute to any other bands' music?
Sara: Eben and I are curating Monday nights at a venue in New York City called Cakeshop with Robert Stillman. We've been inviting artists and friends from bands we like to come and do things that they don't normally do, like solo work and side work. So far we've had some of the guys from Grizzly Bear, BJ from Parts and Labor, and Eben and I performed for the first time as Fertile Crescent. I enjoy collaboration a lot. I think we all do (or else we wouldn't be in a band.) There is a small group of artists with whom I trade visual work; Hilary Baldwin, Cassie Raihl, and Eben. Hilary and I worked together on a big inflatable pyramid that we used onstage when we played with Deerhoof. It was just this big shape on stage with us. We liked to think of it as a fifth member of the band. To get back to the question, also I was asked to sing on the Stars Like Fleas' forthcoming album.
Eliot: I'm doing a solo project called "Glass Ghost." I have been getting back to some of the sounds that I was dealing with when I made hip-hop beats in high school. Outside of the band, sometimes I perform music with my friends (who are all my favorite musicians). I played keyboard on a few tracks for Luke Temple’s new album, for instance. I used to play in tons of bands and back up different people.
What’s your dream venue to play in?
Sara: We'd like to play on the back of a pickup truck decorated like a cloud. And be driven down the street in a parade playing. If it was a music video, which I hope it will be soon, we will fly up into the sky at the end of the song. If it's just a show, I guess we'll keep driving.
What were the last five records you each listened to?
Sara: I had to work on a painting so I made a mix called "Women, Girls, Ladies." On it there was Alice Coltrane, Karen Dalton, The Slits, Brigitte Fontaine, Julie Doiron, Tina Turner, Susie Ibarra, Yoko Ono, OOIOO, and Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou.
Eben: Tsehaytu Beraki!!! Also Tetuzi Akiyama, Tom Ze, "Weird Nightmare" (a tribute to Mingus and Harry Partch), and I love Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."
Eliot: MIA, Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet, J-Dilla - Welcome 2 Detroit, Ray Charles - Blues and Jazz, John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band.
Finally, I recently read that Stevie Wonder was one of the rare musical influences that you all share. What do you think it is about Stevie that's such a common thread for you all?
Sara: Yeah! We all love his music so much. I love that it appeals to so many people. It's truly transcendent. And also as an artist, Stevie wasn't afraid to try anything, even if it would seem to his listeners to be completely different than what he'd just done before. He was on The Cosby Show and also made really challenging stuff at the same time. He was open to everything. We are all inspired by that example.
Buy the record at Insound