The debilitating power music of Vessel

Sjimon Gompers

Vessel's Sebastian Gainsborough performs at the RBMA held in Victoria Park.

Sebastian Gainsborough, known from his work in the Young Echo collective out of Bristol and the receptacle-container referencing moniker, Vessel, released the anticipated album, Punish, Honey this past September from the ambitious and prestigious Tri Angle imprint.

Following up Misery is a Communicable Disease 12″ to the Order of Noise LP; our interest became quickly piqued by the salacious leak of singles, “Anima“, “Red Sex“, and rumors that Gainsborough made all featured instruments on Punish, Honey himself by hand. With a DIY craftsman approach, altered, soldered, and manipulated bike parts become objects of percussive intent, frame-chopped metallic flutes, among other visceral objects become implements of the album’s massive production — and laborious undertaking. For those expecting the Tri Angle age and era of blog hyped ‘witch house,’ ‘shit gaze,’ ‘slime punk,’ or what have you are in for a completely new and hands on experience that your parents’ industrial/post-industrial collection could never have warned you about. This is the completely self-created artifice of Vessel that you have waited the past few years to finally witness in all of Gainsborough self-made, and sacrificial glory. The penance and punishment of Punish, Honey is its own reward unto its own meticulous design.

Over the course of a few long distance cables, Sebastian described for us the pursuit of one single, honest, sound; elaborating on having a direct physical role and relationship with the music; all beginning with a glimpse into his hometown base of Bristol, UK.

How has Bristol impacted the shape and generative core for you in the creative developments of Vessel?

That’s a complicated question. I’ve lived here my whole life. I learned to ride a bike here, had my first kiss over there, picked up dog ends from that Aldi carpark as a teenager, etc etc. My point is that your environment has a knotty role in shaping you as a person, and trying to pin down exactly how it has affected you is the subject of a lifetime of sessions with a psychologist.

If I were to try and answer your question in broad strokes, I would say that Bristol is a good place to be a musician because of its size. Everyone knows everyone, which leads to all sorts of opportunities that might be more difficult to find in a place like London. Equally though, that can be a bad thing. Bristol can seem a bit self obsessed at times.

In what way has your previous (and continuous) work in the Young Echo collective had a lasting impact on you?

Learning how to collaborate without feeling self-conscious. That’s pretty huge, I think. That and patience, understanding, and limitless love. Like a super-marriage.

What was the whole act of sawing up bikes to create flutes and making guitars by hand like for Punish, Honey?

It was pretty fun. Bearing in mind I had no real workshop skills prior to this, so I had to learn as I went. Obviously to become a master instrument maker is the work of a lifetime, I was never going to get it down in three months. I had to be pretty loose with the definition of ‘instrument.’ As soon as I had something which I could just about squeeze something out of I would stop and throw it on the pile. The same goes for the tuning. I was more concerned with feel than with mathematical accuracy.

In championing “feel” over “mathematical accuracy” in the DIY instrument making and tuning process, were you surprised at those moments both when the feeling and mathematics are linked as well as appreciating the moments when the sentiment and the sciences depart?

There’s a particular kind of satisfaction when it comes together like that. It’s environmental. We’re conditioned by hundreds of years of listening to be satisfied when we hear a particular harmonic, melodic or rhythmic configuration. For many composers discordant phrases are only tolerated because they set up the resolution, as they make the reward that much sweeter.

The instruments I made weren’t in Western standardized tuning, so I had no way of controlling the balance of discord to harmony. Because of the balance of overtones in the notes and chords, there was never ‘true’ resolution. It was always tempered with a feeling of uneasiness, as it wasn’t hitting the pleasure centers in the same way. For me that was actually much more satisfying, and more relevant to what I needed the music to communicate. Life isn’t all perfect resolutions all the time. More often than not there is a worm in the apple.

I mean, I guess it’s like asking is the anarchy of the unconscious ever arranged or organized, and can you ever write an algorithm for that kind of spontaneous, and deep felt anarchy and release of the soul… or something.

It’s organized, we just aren’t capable of comprehensively deciphering what is going on at that level of consciousness. I don’t think we really need to understand it like that. Understanding has no bearing on whether you can access it and use it. That’s at the core of music for me. If by algorithms you mean a computer program, an instruction for a piece of software… I don’t know? I find it hard to imagine an algorithm that could be as complex, dynamic and satisfying as hitting a drum. But then, I am a closet Luddite.

vessel impose 2

Do you feel that to have control over every individual aspect of the music creation down to the instrument construction is one of the best representations of authorship, 100 percent?

I honestly don’t think notions of comprehensive authorship makes any difference in the long term, and especially not to the majority of listeners. You will ultimately be judged on whether or not it is successful, on whether it is deemed to be good art. That sense of true ownership is most useful to the composer. The feeling that I had more of a physical, direct role in the creation of the music was a powerful creative stimulant.

What sort of turns brought you from Order of Noise’s experimental adventures to the brave new designed instrumentation and techniques heard on tracks like “Red Sex”, and “Anima”, and more on Punish, Honey?

Although I recognize that it might not be very clear to those who are familiar with my previous work, I am pursing one single sound. It’s about drawing out and filtering every element and influence until it sounds like me—that is, until I feel it is honest. Simply because the tools are different, or the elements are arranged in unfamiliar configurations, doesn’t mean I have abandoned what I did before.

Punish, Honey is a different record because I needed it to be. The things I need and want from music—what I need it to do for me—are different than they were two years ago. The same thing applies to the processes behind it. I needed to break away from working both on a computer and with hardware because over-familiarity had made them a hindrance. It’s clearly more difficult to have a successful career as an artist when your tendency is to flit around stylistically. As listeners we tend to gravitate towards comfort rather than confrontation, and most artist seeking a career tend to capitulate to the demands of the audience. But I can’t see there being any other truly honest way for me to do it, and if it isn’t honest, what’s the point? For the moment at least, anything else is a compromise.

You mentioned the hindrance from the ‘over-familiarity’ of creating and working via computer and with hardware. Is it that routine methodology and business as usual kinda thing that makes it feel not so honest?

I suppose it is, but not directly so. When I become too aware of what I am doing certain thought processes, certain elements of the ego, are activated—or at least I become sensitive to their presence—and the magic is gone. Suddenly it is transformed from a process of non-judgmental intuition into one dictated by the dysfunctional and generally negative parts of my self. When that happens, anything I make feels dishonest, because it’s been tainted by uncertainty.

There is always a sweet spot with an instrument, or a program, or piece of equipment, where I know it well enough to be able to use it freely, but not so well that it leaves me cold. When the routine become calcified it becomes that much harder to find the balance, and consequently harder to suppress the destructive thought patterns that seem determined to ruin my creativity.

Having become so accustomed to the preset comforts of say the laptop, studio, and live rigs from over the years; when did you first have that moment where you realized that you had to do everything different, and take those honest, self-made composition ethics right down to the instrument construction?

There was no eureka moment. When I thought about the possibility of making instruments, it was because I was feeling very depressed and anxious about my lack of creative impulses. I decided to do it because I was seeking something that would shock me out of what was a long, long period of stasis. It’s something that every creative person I know suffers from, and particularly those who rely on their creativity for financial support. I knew that I wouldn’t find the liberation I was looking for on a computer program or a drum machine.

Also too, “Kin To Coal” feels like a freeing of the creative self from all the various processes and rituals we’ve discussed earlier, and something that belongs to that grand master’s vision echelon of the Michael Gira, the contemporary work of Scott Walker, etc. How do you even begin going about vetting through these internal influences, in the pursuit of a single, honest sound that resonates a reflection of your self and and singular projection?

I try to listen to as little music as possible. It feeds the destructive parts of my mind that I mentioned earlier. I have developed bad habits from being too close to music for too long, which is why I find it difficult to appreciate and to love other music without wanting to do something similar. Again, I think this is why my sense of what is ‘honest’, and what isn’t, is so sensitive. I feel repulsed at the idea of doing something which isn’t me, which doesn’t belong to me as much as it can. There is no getting away from your influences. The trick I use is to never look at them directly, to absorb them as obliquely and quietly as possible, and to not live in fear of never achieving anything as great.

“DPM” is a such a great, trippy break through the various techno notions through a different, totally other and alternate place. Like combining the acronyms of BPM, EDM, IDM, etc, was this your moment to embellish a genre brand of some sort to associate your current new directions by, or just a tongue in cheek bit of wordplay?

I honestly hadn’t thought it might be interpreted like that. Nice idea, but no, not at all. It stands for debilitating power music, but it sounds a bit arrogant without the acronym.

It’s been neat hearing and watching how Tri Angle as an imprint has evolved along with its artists. What are your favorite early days of Tri Angle anecdotes, and thoughts on where it’s grown today, and where it’s going?

Wife doing [omitted] at Unsound festival. Evian Christ getting attacked by [omitted] at his first gig. Sorry, they’re mostly too incriminating. Seeing Holy Other play to about 15 people in a pub in Birmingham was pretty surreal, considering he was touring his album at the time.

It’s grown into a bit of a powerhouse hasn’t it. I’m very proud to be a part of it. I’m good friends with most of the guys on the label, and I think we are all generally on the same page, even if our music is pretty different. For the most part I love what Robin [Carolan] does, he’s got an uncanny sense for developing promising artists.

Where do you feel the next Vessel directions are guiding your sound, ear, and overall self?

I’m pretty excited about launching a label here in Bristol with one of my brothers from Young Echo. Other then that, I have no ideas again, so…

Get a job. Get a girlfriend. Take up watercolors.

Vessel’s Punish Honey is available now from Tri Angle Records, and digital via iTunes.

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