Published on October 31st, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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We dug the heck out of What Makes Us Glow, the fourth album from toytronica pioneers and Grey’s Anatomy theme-writers Psapp, describing it in our four-quail review as “so aglow with pink pearls of synth that we just want to rub our teeth against it”.
Sorry…bit odd, that. But then so is the use of cows, a box of mealworms and a homemade “bone-a-phone” – that’s a marimba made of bones – in the recording process. Thusly do Psapp infuse delightfully crinkly snatches of ‘found sounds’ into their warm spreads of colours and shuffly rhythm sections.
Thinking on, What Makes Us Glow is kind of like a cross between Nightmares on Wax and Matmos, without really being all that much like either. Why not mark that description as helpful?
Anyway, we winged some questions over to constituent duo Carim Clasmann and Galia Durant to find out more about this latest chapter of their career…
Congratulations on an excellent new album. Why was there a five-year gap between records? Do you anticipate a similar gap until your next one?
Carim: I hope it won’t take quite as long for the next album. We are actually itching to get back into the studio and write the next album. Two years would be my guess for Psapp Album No.5 to appear.
Galia: Yep, it won’t be as long this time, we’re raring to go! I have all these fantasies about writing an album in a weekend. But actually an album has to straddle a few phases as we write about our experiences and most weekends simply don’t have enough fodder for an album.
I am finding I write a lot of stuff in the night at the moment. The inspiration and the glow is quite all-consuming when it pops up and we’re both quite excited about making more music.
How does one go about scoring a box of mealworms? Did you record the cows and assemble the bone-a-phone yourselves?
Carim: We record everything ourselves as a matter of principle. The cows are locals – my neighbours – but we had to record them late at night to avoid picking up distant traffic noise.
The bone-a-phone was probably the most tricky instrument to build as we had to get the right sort of bones from Smithfield meat market, boil them, clean them, build the marimba-style frame etc. The beef stock was quite tasty and kept us going.
Galia: The mealworms were a latecomer to the record. They arrived by post and we took them to my neighbours (Panos and Claire from the Chap) to record them before they expired. The great seething mass of them sounds like white noise or an Alsatian prancing in a fabric shop.
Would you describe yourselves as synesthetes? It comes across that way.
Carim: I think that we both have a different perception of music about to come to life. I am definitely not the “C minor sounds dark blue to me” person. I imagine music and then hear it in my head and then it sometimes turns out to sound exactly like that or it’s just a mess.
As we write together we each interfere and collide with each other’s ideas and that’s the best thing about it. I love surprises and you never know what will come out when we knock our heads together.
Galia: Actually I always have had a bit of synaethesia. I still think of Tuesday as an orange pair of scissors and certain noises trigger something in me which reminds me of other experiences in a weird abstract way. Sounds have quite specific shades: it’s quite universal and one of the magical things about listening to music, that all these strange forgotten moments and atmospheres flash into your brain as if from nowhere.
I agree with Carim too; we just never know what’s going to happen when we sit down. I often like to suggest a concept but whatever we do always ends up sounding a lot like Psapp. What’s that all about?
Which were the best #thingsthatmakeyouglow tweets you received?
Galia: Mostly they’ve been cat-based or people anticipating our new record!
Is the Grey’s Anatomy theme a steady stream of royalties, or has it been taken out of your hands? How satisfying is it saying to people “we did that, you know”?
Carim: Yes, we’ve still got some coins rolling down the hill right into our pockets, but we’re not involved with what happens with the track as it has been taken out of our hands indeed in the sense of master rights and other boring legal issues.
Galia: It’s funny; when it happened, we had no idea what a big show it would turn out to be. We’ve been very lucky as it’s funded a lot of cake but it doesn’t really feel like our song anymore. We gave it away a long time ago.
Have you heard the AM & Shawn Lee album from this year? If so, what do you think of it?
Carim: I’ve been working with Shawn Lee for nearly ten years as a sound engineer. Not lots but always a day here or there. He is one of my favourite people to record and mix as he can play any instrument and knows what he wants. I haven’t been involved with the AM album though but it sounds great as Shawn has played me some tracks in the studio. Shawn will also play in the Psapp “Big Band” next month for our gig in London.
Galia: Shawn is an amazing creature with endless energy and excitement about noises and ideas and the sort of ridiculous sense of humour we delight in. He also seems to make a record every couple of months, if not more. And if all that wasn’t enough, he has a Celeste! And a good couple of rooms crammed to the rafters with incredible noise making equipment.
Were you playing festivals over the summer? If so, were there any particular highlights for you?
Carim: Nope. Our gig next month will be the first for a long time. Maybe we’ll do festivals next summer but we need to consult the oracle of Psapp first.
Galia: The oracle has a lot of questions coming its way so it had better limber up.
How do you plan to spend Christmas?
Carim: I’m not sure yet. Christmas still seems very far away until it’s December 22nd. I’ve never enjoyed planning too far ahead; the next couple of days is the range of my radar.
Galia: Carim is not a big Christmas person. He bloody loves a birthday though. I like Christmas but I object to excessive tinsel use, which turns Christmas in my house into an aesthetic warzone.
Finally, which have been your favourite albums from 2013?
Galia: Some of these are reissues or records we found out about this year. Is this cheating?
Brenda Ray: I heard this on YouTube. Perfect lo-fi late-’70s reggae brilliance. Makes me glow.
Pictish Trail: another excellent pop record from the man we like to call “puss puss”.
Wire: how are they still being excellent after all these years?
Roots of Drone (compilation – chrome dreams). After initial reservations about Spotify (Money Mark isn’t on there and my intense craving for some MM was left unsated) I am now a convert. This comp was a Spotify discovery and it’s bloody excellent. Buy it. Don’t be put off by the unmagical cover.
Classroom Projects – Trunk Recordings. Another amazing find from Mr Trunk; compositions made by school children in the olden days (’60s and ’70s actually).
Psapp, thank you.
What Makes Us Glow will be released on November 11th through The state51 Conspiracy.