Shauna Keddy - San Francisco Bay Guardian
We’ve Got a Map boasts the title of experimental folk band Tidelands’ upcoming sophomore album – and do they ever. You may remember seeing Tidelands’ stunning animated music video for their song “Holy Grail” last summer off debut album If....
Well Gabriel Montana Leis and Mie Araki are back this summer, with a relatively minimalistic follow-up to that orchestral introduction. And a show this week at Bottom of the Hill.
For the new album, which drops Aug. 7 (check track "The New Black" now on Bandcamp), Leis and Araki decided to play more of the instrumentation themselves, so they wouldn't have to depend on a big backing band this time around. They wanted to conjure those immense sounds on their own. This gave them a chance to experiment with learning new instruments and therefore expand their creative endeavors.
Leis’ voice has the deep and theatrically clear pronunciations that bring to mind Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. Araki is a badass drummer from Osaka, Japan. A classically trained pianist and percussionist, she also plays the Moog synthesizers for Tidelands. Their music is certainly elaborate, but their newest album offers more simplicity. While their sound is still intricate, the two artists have taken it upon themselves to treat our ears to exotic sounds and old favorites such as the flugelhorn.
Beyond that stunning animated video, you may have heard the name Tidelands due to their collaboration with Magik*Magik Orchestra. The SF-based Magik*Magik Orchestra – currently on a world tour supporting Death Cab for Cutie – joined Tidelands for three songs on the new album, along with producing and arranging one of the tracks, “Twin Lakes.”
I wanted to find out just how the tides were rising for this local duo as their late summer album release approaches, so I spoke with them over a cup of tea at Revolution Cafe in the Mission this week prior to the show:
SFBG Has learning to play different instruments always been a strength for both of you?
Gabriel Montana Leis I have fallen in love with the flugelhorn – it would be easier to not do it, it is a physically challenging instrument, but I just can’t stop. I want to be better. I do have plans for improving my basic knowledge of other instruments, I would love to explore them more fully.
Mie Araki I would like to put a huge explanation mark, and underline to this point – it definitely helps to play other instruments. Leis has become way better than before, it comes from playing flugelhorn. We spend more time thinking, feeling what is going on. When I play classical instruments, there is not enough time to practice, because there are so many different styles and it gets confusing, but it does help you to learn more as a musician.
SFBG I read that Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead provided you with his first guitar, can you elaborate?
GML My dad was a friend and business acquaintance of Weir’s. He was someone that was around, who I knew. If I saw him we would certainly say hi and have a conversation.
SFBG Who are some of your inspirations and why?
MA Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, those are the guys [I grew up with]. Then I began to know the MTV people – Michael Jackson – the pop musicians. I also studied jazz – John Coltrane, Miles Davis, they are huge inspirations to me. Sigur Ros, Wilco, and M83 are current influences, so I have a lot of old and new inspirations.
GML Even our inspirations from when we were teenagers affects who we are now. Kurt Vile is a huge inspiration to us, as well as a Danish musician by the name of Efterklang. Their use of horns has really informed our work – it's grandiose and glorious sounding, with happy choruses. St. Vincent is amazing too.
SFBG Did Death Cab’s tour with Magik*Magik Orchestra lead you to consider who you would like to collaborate with, if you could choose from any musician?
MA It would be our dream to have [Magik*Magik Orchestra tour] with us actually. We know them through John Vanderslice and his Tiny Telephone Studios in SF that we record in. It would be amazing to play at a venue like the Fox Theater, with a full orchestra like Death Cab did – that was a great show! We have a lot of people around the Bay Area that we would love to work with for collaborations, if we have that chance.
GML Minna Choi of Magik*Magik is part of Vanderslice’s world, his success is that he brings people together. With Choi, we understand each other musically really well.
SFBG Where did the inspiration for the album title come from?
GML We pulled the line We’ve Got a Map from one of the songs. It is about searching for a meaning, and the feelings surrounding it. It makes a statement for where we are at, what we are trying to achieve.
SFBG You mentioned that when you initially recorded the songs, you did not know how you were going to perform them live, what was the process of figuring that out like?
MA We start with a segment, phrase, motif and then Leis adds layers.
GML We actually did that at the recording studio this time, but we will take hours just figuring it out. It's trial and error, and takes time, you just get better through effort and force of will.
MA It's tricky, it is an orchestration, a choreography. Sometimes the music comes first: but then we have to figure out how will we make it happen.