With a look and listen to their 18 minutes plus electric overture, "So Jesus Was At the Last Supper"; please welcome back the triumphant return of San Diego by San Francisco's sons, A Minor Forest. The three piece of Andee, Erik, and John returned to their old SF haunt, Bottom of the Hill on November 9, 2013; their first performance in 15 years captured here by Kenneth Thomas. The West Coast rockers bring news of an upcoming tour spanning from April 29 through May 17, along with re-issues of Flemish Altruism and Inindependence dropping April 19 from Thrill Jockey for Record Store Day. In the time since their last spate of activity throughout the 90s, these 15 plus years have found Andee operating the Tumult imprint, working at Aquarius Records, playing in Lumen, with Erik performing with his band Therenody Ensemble, and Pinback, and perusing his own academics, while John has busied himself with the group Creepy Crawly Claw while holding it down in Oakland.
In the band's super tight and tricked out performance of "So Jesus Was At the Last Supper", originally off AMF's 1995 Steve Albini album, Flemish Altruism; watch as these three disciples turn the tables over in Judas Iscariot fashion like the three horsemen of the apocalypse. And like any great armageddon scripture or song, the alpha, the omega, endings, and beginnings all exist and occur on the same parellel planes of being. Andee, Erik, and John take the tablets out of the tabernacle, roll away the proverbial messianic stones from the garden tombs, and dust off the papyrus scrolls for a fine tuned presentation of an acute trinity of perfect timing. Never mind that some 15 years has past, A Minor Forest picks up all their methodical frantic and slow paces as if the the decade and a half hiatus was but a mere 15-day sabbatical. Re-creating their own musical algorithms, like a master series of equations written for bass, guitar and drums; their smarts become resurrected in an impressive fête of science and serious syncopation. Maintaining a connected and glued focus, A Minor Forest crashes the canonical chasms of holy books for the promised lands of the third and fourth testaments from one of rock and roll's all-time legendary treasures.
It is our honor and privilege to give you the following interview with A Minor Forest's Andee, Erik, and John in the following roundtable that welcomes them back to the touring circuits and sonic scenes.
Great to see you guys performing "So Jesus Was At the Last Supper" live at SF's Bottom of the Hill. What was the first reunion show like after 15 some years of not playing together?
Erik: It was actually a lot more comfortable than I had anticipated. Doing a reunion requires a musician to channel an earlier version of his/her self. I wasn't sure how easy that would be. Longitudinal change in people is subtle and incremental. But when you look at a photo of yourself from 1994, it's clear that you've changed a lot. I wasn't sure how well I would be able to embody the 1994 version of myself. But it has been pretty effortless.
Andee: It was super fun. And weirdly a relief, especially after months, and months of rehearsals. It felt great to be playing the stuff again in front of old friends, and old fans, and maybe surprisingly, it felt less nostalgic than I feared. I mean obviously nostalgia is a big part of any band playing old songs from back in the day, but beyond that it was pretty special for me to be playing those songs with those guys again. It was such a huge and important part of my life, it felt good to reconnect to that, both musically, and just as friends.
John: It was a lot of work, knocking the rust off; the songs are not simple and the way we play has a lot to do with listening and watching each other, which only comes with spending a lot of time playing together. Fortunately it was still possible to achieve that.
What aspects of your upcoming April 29 through May 17 tour are you all looking forward to the most?
A: Pretty much all of it. It's been so long. Maybe not so much the insanely long drives, but really everything else, from the mundane stuff like loading the van, building the loft, truck stops, gas station food, all that, and then special stuff like just the three of us being together again, being friends, and making music together, missed that a lot, and of course seeing old faraway friends, visiting loads of places we haven't been to in ages, playing these songs for folks again, and especially meeting a whole new batch of people who dig our band now, who totally missed out on AMF completely the first time around. And a little bit just getting away from home for a bit. Also excited to tour with modern technology for the first time, the last time we did this, there was no Facebook, or smart phones, barely an internet, we had a huge paper atlas, pockets full of coins for the payphone, hard to imagine what it'll be like with all the modern conveniences, but I'm guessing pretty goddamn great!
J: Hanging out with the guys in the van and seeing old friends. I've done a lot of traveling around the country since the last AMF tour and it is nothing like traveling with these guys, for better or worse the metaphor of 'brothers' fits here. We very literally spent our entire 20s with each other locked into touring, writing, and rehearsing together.
Great news too about Thrill Jockey reissuing Flemish Altruism and Inindependence. What is it like for you all hearing those records from the 90s now in 2014?
E: I spent a few weeks this winter remastering Flemish Altruism. That process forced me to listen closely to the album for the first time in more than 15 years. Recording and mastering aesthetics have changed a lot in the years since that album was recorded. Modern recordings tend to aim for minimal dynamics and maximum perceived loudness. By contrast, the albums we are reissuing both focus on these dynamics and have very minimal compression. These recordings are situated in a particular time and a place sonically. They were both recorded in Chicago in the mid-1990s on analog tape machines. They were essentially live albums without overdubs. As a result, I think they hold up pretty well as documentary evidence. It is really shocking to realize just how young we were when we made these records.
A: Definitely weird. Before the reunion show, we all had to listen to these songs nonstop, and it was really strange. A lot of the songs came back pretty quick, but there was so much 'what the fuck were we thinking? Why in the hell do we do that thing 39 times? THIRTY-NINE???' All of which probably seemed normal and natural, but so far removed, it definitely took some mental/musical realignment. But the truth of it, I was always proud of these songs, and playing them was always super fun, and super inspiring, so it wasn't that difficult to get back into it. Difficult to play again maybe, and to remember all the parts for sure, but playing these songs again, and having people dig 'em, it's seriously inspiring and joyous for me.
J: Yeah, crazy to listen to it. I forgot how strange the writing was; it sounded different that I had remembered. Some of it was surprisingly good but a lot of the music… I had no idea what we were thinking; a product of each of us having very different ideas and cramming them together in one place and being 20 with crazy ambition.
Being that you all blazed a path for the mathematical approach to rock, who do you all like from today's latest gentry that keeps similar math rock vibes intact?
A: I prescribe to the theory that great bands all started out by trying to sound like other bands, essentially doing their best to rip off their favorite bands, and failing spectacularly. So for me, when we started, I basically wanted to sound like Slint, Codeine and Bitch Magnet, and obviously, while sonically we're definitely aligned with those bands, I like to think that we carved our own sonic path, whether purposefully or just 'cause we couldn't pull it off. That sound that we ended up with, for me, was one that was constantly in flux. In the very early days of AMF, our sound was so far removed from where it ended up, even on the first record, it's like two different bands, and while there are Slint-y moments here and there, and little bits of sorta Codeine-isms, we all brought our own weirdness to the mix—whether it was modern composition, or weird metal. Nice to think some folks considered that blazing a path. As for modern mathiness, so much good stuff, of all stripes, some that I love: Minot, Bosse De Nage, Vaz, Geronimo, Stats, Glaciers, Roomrunner, Buildings, Accordion Crimes, Skoal Kodiak, Hawks, Jute Gyte, Hex Machine, Lento, Kowloon Walled City, Pretty & Nice, Reflector, Gay Witch Abortion, Ventid, I could go on and on and on…
J: I never really understood what math rock is. I remember figuring out how that one Pink Floyd song was in "7" and feeling so cool. Or how certain bands would stop on a dime and then totally change the beat. That's neat. any band that has that one part where you say, 'oh, then they do that thing and its so awesome…' I like that.
After the re-release of your two previous albums as a 4LP set, are you all into the idea of a recording another studio album?
E: I would love to make another record. But I think it would have to be a different kind of album with a different kind of recording process. We are now different people with different musical aesthetics. We also have different recording and editing tools at our disposal in 2014. A new A Minor Forest album might not be recognizable as an A Minor Forest album.
A: For sure. It's been really inspiring to play together again, and crazy fun, and beyond just playing the old songs, as we've gotten comfortable again playing together, a lot of that old energy and the weird songwriting processes that seemed so second nature back in the day, have gradually begun to surface. Even playing the old songs, we find ourselves doing things differently, wanting to add and change and expand, makes me thing that working on more new music would be a blast. And guessing it could sound a lot different than those old records, but also guessing that might not be a bad thing at all. Mostly it would be the logistics. We don't live in the same city, we're all doing other bands, so it would be a lot of work, but who knows, we're definitely talking about trying to make something happen.
J: Oh yeah, that would be great. I'm sure it would be different sounding but I would love the challenge.
Would you record again with Steve Albini? He continues to keep recording great things with folks.
E: It would be fun to record with Steve. But I think I would be tempted to take the audio files he recorded and hack them into a million pieces on a computer. He probably wouldn't approve of that.
A: I loved recording with Steve, and have always wanted to record with him again. Bob Weston too. Heck, would love to record with Brian Paulson again as well. I've never been a fan of the whole recording process, so Steve's method definitely appeals to me, essentially capturing a band, as much as possible, how they sound, when they're playing their songs live. That said, there are loads of killer engineers out here too, and great studios, would love to record some AMF with Scott Evans, from Kowloon Walled City, who recorded our reunion show at Bottom Of The Hill. He's an amazing engineer, and his Antisleep studio in Oakland is bad ass!
J: Steve is a hero.
From your alive and live sound, would you all consider perhaps maybe an AMF live disc?
A: We were always a live band. The songs, as good as we could make them on record, definitely were a whole different proposition live, the energy, the arrangements, the interplay, songs could and did go careening off in weird directions, songs would stop, start again in a different place, parts would stretch out forever, we'd actively try to fuck each other up mid-song, trying to trip each other up; it made it fun, sometimes funny, and it kept it interesting and exciting, for us to play, and hopefully for people to see. We always tried to capture that in the studio, but I think maybe that's just the nature of what we do, that it's sort of ephemeral, and that the things we've recorded, versus the versions we play live, are just different. Even though recording, we did basically do it live in the studio. So I guess if we did record another record, I'd be more excited about trying once again (and maybe failing) to make a record that captures some of that live energy.
J: Our live shows have always been much better than the recorded version of the songs. But that is the dead cat in the box. If you observe it you are essentially effecting the outcome, and 'you' will always make it better, it wouldn't be the same recorded and then listened back. Our albums were essentially a live recording of us playing in a basement. Maybe if it was a live improv in a room full of drunk monkeys and then we got a chance to edit it that would be an interesting live record.
As old school San Francisco souls, what do you all feel about the current states and scenes from SF, Oakland, and the Bay these days?
A: It's strange, things are so crazy here, extremely expensive, nearly impossible to survive as an artist or a musician without constant hustling and struggling. And yet, there's so much amazing stuff going on, so many great bands, weird little DIY venues, cool clubs, lots of killer record labels, new record shops, old record shops still alive and kicking. It's like all the punks and metalheads and long time SF natives and art/music lifers, at least the ones who haven't already been driven out, have decided to fight and try to keep all the stuff we love about SF from dying off. Might not be a winnable battle, but for now, it's pretty heartening how hard we're all trying.
J: Trick question? It's too expensive? The only way I can keep living here is because we own our house as a collective and live cheap. I don't know how people can keep being creative and afford rent.
Flemish Altruism and Inindependence will be reissued on Record Store Day, April 19 from Thrill Jockey.
Catch A Minor Forest on their following tour dates:
29 Salt Lake City, UT – Bar Deluxe
30 Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge
01 Lawrence, KS – Replay Lounge
02 Chicago, IL – The Empty Bottle
03 Pittsburgh, PA – Brillobox
04 Washington, DC – DC9
06 Boston, MA – Great Scott
07 Brooklyn, NY – Glasslands
08 Philadelphia, PA – The Boot & Saddle
09 Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
10 Louisville, KY – Zanzabar
11 St. Louis, MO – The Firebird
15 Phoenix, AZ – Last Exit
16 Ventura, CA – the Garage
17 San Francisco, CA – The Chapel