Thursday, May 12, 2011

Harpoon Forever Interview

Harpoon Forever is a rock'n'roll band from Rutherford, New Jersey, which started playing around the Summer of 2010. The group is made up of Alex Goldstein on guitar and vocals, Danny Arakaki on bass, Tom Malach on guitar, and Derek Spaldo on drums and vocals. The band makes groovy, melodic songs, but isn't afraid to stretch out the parameters of the tunes into different territories. The group has released several singles online, as well as a cover of Guided By Voices' "Awful Bliss" on the "Guided By Guided By Voices" tribute compilation.

- As for the fourth death news after an interval of two years of bin Laden, what feelings is it?

Alex It's strange, I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. The whole "War on Terror" has escalated so far from the original plan, to eradicate Al Qaeda, so to hear about that almost seems as if it was news that happened years ago. It happening now, in 2011, seems anachronistic. I don't know why. I understand it's importance though.
But it does feel strange... I saw a sarcastic comment on Twitter that read something like: "This reminds me of when Saddam Hussein was killed in Iraq, and everything was fixed." People can jump to celebration, but I think looking at why this happened and what may occur because of it is much more important.

- Your gig seems to be indeed happy. What live do you always do?

Alex The live performance is very important to us as a group.
Playing live can be a place to let the music breathe in a new context. We do this through changing the arrangement, improvisation, altering the "feel" of a song. By doing this, the songs themselves will grow and change along with us as people.
That's important to me. I always love to hear the way someone like Will Oldham or Leonard Cohen will shift the melody or lyrics of a song to fit that moment in which they are playing, the way they feel that day, that hour. I could think of the Fiery Furnaces, too, whose live show had a big impact on me. There was much immediacy to their playing, and although the songs were barely recognizable from the album versions, it provided a new outlook on the music, which was something completely positive.

- "Maya Angelou" - what about is this song? and "Summer Vacation"?

Alex "Maya Angelou" is a two part story. The first part is about friendship, an uncommon sort of friendship that may have not been apparent at first, but grows to a strong bond. The second part is about the year I had spent going to school in Newark, New Jersey, specifically the time right after Barack Obama had been elected.
I remember going into the city early in the morning the day after the election, and there was a shift that had occurred in the mood of the people who lived in Newark, almost as if the cold November weather had shifted into June. I wouldn't say the song is an anthem for Barack Obama, though. It's a song about a shift in feeling, a shift in the way one feels about themselves and the world, even if it only lasts a short while.
"Summer Vacation" is about waiting for something to happen, though it can be unclear when it will be or what it is that will even happen. However, I feel that as technology's role becomes more and more important, almost necessary in day to day life, this feeling may become the standard way people view their lives. The idea of being "trapped n a scrambled movie" or in a casket held together (yet not too tightly) with gum transfigure this. Maybe this song can serve as some sort of wake-up call for younger people to start thinking about these ideas... "I know a girl who's cool at my school" repeats itself in the chorus as the narrator thinks of a remedy for this problem, but it's just a suggestion, one I recommend taking.

- From what kind of artist were you influenced?

Alex When I had first come up with the idea to make a group called Harpoon Forever, I wanted to make a simple, sparse sounding group, almost like Beat Happening or something that would be on Sarah Records. This was when the group was only me and Tom Malach, who plays lead guitar.
However, once Derek Spaldo joined on drums, and Danny Arakaki started playing bass guitar, it became apparent that the group had shifted into a full rock'n'roll band setting. There are so many groups that are important to us. Hearing records by Fairport Convention and re-analyzing bands like the Rolling Stones and T. Rex helped us formulate our sound a great deal. The Byrds and Neil Young are important, as are Lilys, the Royal Trux, Silkworm, and the Silver Jews. Pavement, especially the last few Stephen Malkmus Jicks records, Yura Yura Teikoku, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, the Misfits, Jim O'Rourke, Thelonious Monk, Jerry Reed, the Grateful Dead, Cream... We spend so much time with this music, and so many more artists that I can hear strains of all these people in our music.

- Questions on records or CD. Do you like records? How do you feel music on digital - some kind of mp3? and how do you feel about music without the case?

Alex I do like records. I just got a re-print of Michael Chapman's "Fully Qualified Survivor." He played at my favorite restaurant/bar in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where I go to school, so I was really happy about that. He played a really great set, really inspiring stuff. But anyways... it was a treat to hear that music on the newly pressed vinyl, it sounded amazing.
I listen to most music on my mp3 player, I usually have my "aha" moment with records when I'm walking around with them, clearing my mind and allowing for focus in an outdoor setting. Mp3's may diminish the sound quality, but to be able to walk around with music is incredible.
Music without a case can provide the listener with a chance to be creative and make their own case for it. If it works, it works!

- Why do you want to do music in the band? Has it been thought about other form performance?

Alex I've tried to make films, and I've made a few collages... but for me music is the best way that I can approach any sort of narrative art. I don't know why it happened like it did, but I really do enjoy it.
Derek Spaldo, who plays drums, is very interested in performance art and the John Cage idea of intermedia. He's turned the rest of the group on to these ideas... where one can combine two separate forms into one idea, be it live music and film, as Phill Niblock does, or even something more abstract like science and food, which would be molecular gastronomy. Through this, we are able to put different aspects of performance into our music.

- I feel brightness and humour in your music. What an indispensable one to good music do you think?

Alex I think, as with many aspects of life, some sort of humor in the actual music (ie. singing, arrangement, etc.) can bring a new positive energy to the material. I can think of a few humorous musical moments that sort of stick in my mind, like the ducks quacking on Bonnie "Prince" Billy's "I Send My Love to You" from Greatest Palace Music, or even Lou Reed says his body temperature on "Average Guy" from The Blue Mask.
I feel like R. Kelly is one of the best people who can fuse humor into his music without it overriding the message or overall feel of the song. His second to last album, 2009's "Untitled," is a real masterwork to me. There are songs like "Number One," "Religious," and "Pregnant" that have these little moments where I'll chuckle a bit, maybe even each time I listen to the music, but it never takes away from how great I think the music actually is. There is a song on that album called "I Love the DJ" that always finds itself coming into my mind, on this strange subconscious plane. I recommend it.

- Please teach the activity schedule for the future.

Alex Thankfully, the summertime is coming, which means we can devote a bit more time to actually playing and recording our music, removed from school and the like. There are a few ideas we have for singles and EPs, but we have enough material for a good record, so I hope that will be able to come through.
There will be more shows too, of course. We hope to spend some time playing in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. as opposed to just in New York City. We'd love to play a bit more in our home state of New Jersey too.
There could be some more Harpoon Forever movies happening as well, as we had created an electronic press kit back in the winter. We had a lot of fun with it, so maybe there will be more..... You can view the promo film here:

Thank you (゜ω゜ )


Harpoon Forever Promo Film from Derek Spaldo on Vimeo.