Broken Water work towards clarity

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Kanako Pooknyw talks Olympia, Wrought, and the politics of investing in art.

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David Glickman | March 18, 2015

There is an inherent immediacy that drives Wrought, the newest and most fully confident album by Olympia trio Broken Water. The record sounds like a true crystallization of the varied sounds they’ve played with over the years, a marriage of scrawling distorted guitars and glistening shoegaze to dreary dream pop. It is their best record yet. In advance of its March 24 release, we spoke to drummer and singer Kanako Pooknyw about the hard work that went into this new record, Olympia’s influence on the band, and the politics behind investing money in art.

How are you doing today? How is Olympia right now?

I was running a fever last night, but I’m feeling a lot better today, a lot better than I thought I would. I definitely felt a little delusional yesterday.

Olympia is really sunny. We’ve had the mildest winter I can remember; it’s kind of surreal almost. But yeah, it’s gorgeous out, considering what some people are enduring for their winters.

How has living in Olympia influenced Broken Water?

It’s a very small town, it’s a small music scene, and it’s very intimate. For instance, the space that my retail clothing store is in is also a practice space at night, in the back of the building, and also [home to] some record labels, and a recording studio. Vexx practices here, and G.L.O.S.S. practices here, Tobi Vail’s band Spider and the Webs practices here. We’re just surrounded by a really amazing, creative community. I wouldn’t know how to divorce myself from it. It would be hard for it not to influence me.

When Broken Water started there was this real explosion of music from Olympia. Most of it though was hardcore punk. How have you been able to connect to a scene, making different sounding music?

I feel lucky in that there is that crossover, especially in terms of genres and showcases. We just got asked to play the Olympia Hardcore Festival and we played new stuff at the festival. It’s always interesting to bring our music into that sphere. We also used to play with Schwarmek Asthetic and with heavier bands. There’s a pretty big black metal scene here too and we use to open up for Wolves in the Throne Room or bands like that. I guess we’re just like genre sluts. [laughs]

We’re friends with everyone; we listen to all kinds of music and really appreciate all kinds of music. I appreciate more diverse and eclectic showcases of bands, and I’m always curating my own shows that aren’t just a specific genre of music.

People will all see our other activities, like our other social activism, and that sort of helps to bridge those connections and differences. I’m not a genre purist and I don’t think a lot people here are. There are definitely some hardcore people who won’t even listen to other music, which I think is psychotic and kind of judgmental.

I’m not hiding what I’m saying, and that feels good.

For the new record, Wrought, you recorded with Steve Fisk. Was that your first time working with a proper producer?

He actually forced me to produce the record. He engineered it, but it was the first time we had spent more than four days and $400 dollars, recording 80 hours worth of material. In the past the pattern was to get the biggest bang for our buck. A lot of our friends that have recorded us have done it for peanuts, just because there wasn’t a lot of access to it. We just were trying to do everything pretty local and DIY.

I’m about to turn 40 this year and I studied audio engineering at the Evergreen State College on 16-track, analog recording equipment back in the day, and there was a part of me that wanted to take a radically different approach for us. Not worrying about the bottom line, to just have a slick record that’s well produced. We spent 180 hours on mixing, which if you had told me that was what I had planned for it, I would have been like “Hell no!”

But then in the process I was like, “Holy shit, this is how you do it” and it shows in the results. It shows in the production, it shows in the music. It’s really exciting for me to be able to invest into art and music, which feels like a subversion of the dominant paradigm chain, personally, to think, “Oh, this is a cool thing to invest all my time and energy into.”

You mean you weren’t as invested in the band before this?

No, I just feel that when people spend a lot of time and money … they’re motivated to gain property or wealth or power. And I feel in the underground community, there’s a lot of lack of class critique recently, but I’m not ashamed we spent a lot of money. Really it’s just a fraction of what would normally be spent on a recording like this. Steve actually worked on a sliding scale, and so did the studio. We were the first people to utilize it, but Steve was not even making twelve bucks a hour by the end of it; he put in so much time into it. He’s been paid twenty-five times as much to do the same amount of work, but he had a real punk ethos about it. “I’m just going to treat this like anything else I care about and really give it my all.” When you’re coming from a community of scarcity there’s a lot of judgement about flashy anything. There’s a part me that feels investing in art or investing in music it is a diversion from investing in property or material or power.

The vocals are much higher in the mix of Wrought then they have on your other albums. There’s also that moment in “Choice” where the line, “We will find ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies, even if the law tries to stop us” is really clear. Was there an attempt to make the lyrics more prominent or potent on this album?

That was a lot of Steve’s encouragement. They’re still not as upfront as on a regular pop release but they are a lot more up front for us, and I think Steve put a lot of confidence in us to mix it that way, and it was an aesthetic choice encouraged by him. But I think it came out ok. I’m not hiding what I’m saying, and that feels good.

There’s a part me that feels investing in art or investing in music is a diversion from investing in property or material or power.

You returned to Night-People for this release. Before this you had released a two track, experimental 12”. Is there something you enjoy more about operating under DIY and independent methods for your releases?

Well, we didn’t have a lot of offers on the table, and even with larger independent record labels it doesn’t necessarily create a sustainable economic situation for the bands that are involved. So working with Shaun Reed [of Night-People], he’s very fair and he’s also a musician that understands the reality of touring. He’s all in on this record, so we really want this record to work for him as well because I care about his label and really appreciate his incredible work ethic and how prolific the label has been. Just releasing so many underground tracks from all over the place. It’s really inspiring that he’s not so focused on a scene and that he’s really open.

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