There are only a bunch of people whose opinion about music I trust completely. To be surrounded by music lovers means, most of all, to receive recommendations on a daily basis on this or that record I can’t miss whatsoever. It’s also true that without a selection you can sink into this ocean of recommendations, the more you grow up the less time to dedicate to your passions you have so that’s why I still find precious the opinions of a small group of four or five friends, and I take them sight unseen. This is how last fall I’ve been introduced to The New Lines: “they are already my new favorite New York band”. All That We See And Seem hadn’t been released yet so I listened to a couple of tracks on Spotify. They totally blew my mind. Since then I tried to get every single record they released, I saw them live once and ultimately I recommended them to everyone.
The New Lines are four guys based out within New York City and New Jersey, their sound is a musical kaleidoscope that moves form the hypnotic psychedelia of Syd Barret and The Presidents Of The United States Of America, to the experimentation of Broadcast, til the soft melodies of Nick Drake, but with a new, fresh and contemporary sensibility. Not so much has been written about them (so far), and this is why we decided to get in touch with Hewson, René, Mark and Michael that accepted to answer to a bunch of questions for LDWT’s readers. We are very proud to consider ourselves within the first that dedicated an entire feature to this fine band. We already love them, now it’s your turn.
Who are The New Lines and when did the project take shape?
H: So I just checked and apparently we opened up our Myspace account in 2006… Could it have really been that long? We’re into a lot of different things, and it took us a bit of time to figure out the right mix of elements so that we felt ready to present something to the world as a “finished” release. We would wander in various directions baroque, polyrhythmic (quite painful to practice!), sparse, poppy, experimental, but finally reached a sound that allowed us to say, “Ok, we’re ready.”
It’s weird to consider you a “new” band, in two years you dropped one album, an Ep and a bunch of 7”, but still there isn’t so much information about the band on the internet and, as far as I know, you never actually had a major tour. Are you keeping a low profile or are you actually interested to get a wider popularity?
M: Although it isn’t something we aspire to, maybe there’s a certain appeal to being a cult band, I feel like our few fans are all in other bands or do other creative things…
H: That’s right, we must maintain our mystique! We weren’t really purposefully hiding in the shadows before, but now we’re a lot more focused on getting material out there, I guess we are constantly getting better at translating what’s in our heads into a recording and are excited to get that into the public record, as it were. Witches’ Milk had sort of resulted from us realizing that, in the few months after the release of All That We See And Seem, we had already gotten much more proficient at crafting textures and what-not electronically, and we wanted to release the new instrumentals on Witches’ Milk as a quick follow-up to the LP, by pairing the instrumentals with other material we had lying around that didn’t make it to the LP.
I feel like your music is highly sophisticated yet the construction of the songs is clearly in the pop canon, something that differentiates you from a lot of current indie bands more interested in sounding exactly like a band from the 70s (or the 80s for that matter) would sound, but failing to write an actual great melody. Do you think that pop music suits you better than any other musical form?
H: Hah, thanks for that…. I guess we like the interplay between the familiar and the surreal, sort of like how Twin Peaks has a simultaneously prosaic and other-worldly feel to it. And maybe that sort of familiarity is the reason why we have been clinging to conventionally poppy melodies or what-not? I’ve never thought of the music as “pop music” before though. Maybe it is!
The cinematic appeal of The New Lines’ sound is undeniable, each one of your songs could easily be the soundtrack of some Godard or Antonioni movie. Would you ever consider to write a score?
H: Yes, for the right film, of course. We are a big fan of, among other things, Jodorowski, in case there are any budding surrealists out there in need of a soundtrack.
“Witches’ Milk” Ep has been released on a very limited pressing of 150 cassettes, which would make the average listener think that it is just a side issue compared to the proper LP, but it actually is a fantastic mix of electronic experiments and pop songs, including “La Reciprocite’”. Obviously, it sold out right away. Will this Ep ever be repressed on vinyl?
M: We just rereleased All That We See and Seem, so there’s a possibility Witches’ Milk could follow at some point. We’d love wider releases for everything but mostly out of necessity (cost, no distribution), physical copies have been limited. Maybe we’ll collect the singles and EP and issue them as a compilation someday… ? Probably not before we release some new music.
I am really intrigued by the artwork of your records. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
H: Our good friend and graphic designer Peter Santiago did the split 7” and album. He really captured that sense of the “other-worldly and yet familiar”… We loved the album cover image in part because Peter found some sort of satellite probe that also happens to look like a disco ball, which we found absurd and funny. We also love the Witches’ Milk artwork that Steve @ Moon Glyph created. He does all of the art for his label, and so there is a consistency to the “Moon Glyph look” that harkens back to, say, the recognizable feel of an Impulse! cover…
All That We See And Seem, design by Peter Santiago and Witches’ Milk, design by Steve Rosborough
Your records bring our minds back to one of the most fascinating period of the last century, the 1960s, and more specifically to an historical moment where the masses took the streets to show their spurn and disapproval to governments’ actions, and that, with a ripple effect, influenced culture in all its aspects, from literature to music, from cinema to visual art, changing the assets of the world completely. Don’t you think it’s curious that now that you’re evoking those times with your music, the world as we know it seems to be living a similar situation (the failure of the capitalistic system, the increasing unemployment, the Occupy movement, the never-ending battles for civil rights…)?
H: We don’t set out to make “protest music” per se, but it makes sense that in times of unrest or strife people start looking for other ways to conceive of the world around them, and psychedelic music, to me at least, is a compatible soundtrack for that. So it seems more fitting that, when confronted with suffering, one might rather sing some mantra about opening their (third) eye, than to chant some party song about rockin’ all night long. That being said, I feel like psychedelia today is bound to stray from its 60’s precursors, because some lyrics in a contemporary setting don’t quite resound with the same cultural force.
M: Exactly, there are definitely bits even on classic 60s psych albums that haven’t aged well. I prefer music and films from the 60s that, while obvious products of that time, avoid direct references… like Czech films after 1968 or the whacked out poetry of Tropicalism in Brazil finding oblique ways to comment on the era… that really appeals to me. If we touch on a moment in time, I feel it’s best done in an indirect way.
H: Is that why you wouldn’t let us record that song about the first scientifically cloned cat???
Aside from the 60s psych-pop, I hear some 70s kraut-ish reminiscence in a bunch of your songs, especially from the electronic experimentations of Cluster. Am I wrong?
H: We love that 70s German stuff, and I am sure the influence shows up. In the song, All That We See and Seem, we attempted to temper the bubbly peppiness of the guitar hook with a delayed synth part somewhat reminiscent of the flute in Kraftwerk’s Ruckzuck…
M: A bit of Kraftwerk, Cluster, and I’d say there were echoes of the Radiophonic Workshop and library music in those electronic experiments too.
H: I don’t see the new lines going as far as Cluster, however – I am not a drummer, but I am hopelessly addicted to real drums. This electronic influence may increase over time, since we recently acquired a sequencer. Composing on sequencers tends to be minimalist, since you to focus on tweaking, say, a loop of 16 steps as opposed to just firing a stream of new notes in from a keyboard.
You’ve been defined as an exception in the current NYC music scene, mostly because you don’t follow any trend and no one sounds like you. Do you get any inspiration from NYC itself? Also, is there any band in the city you like or admire?
H: We love New York City, you can walk down the street with a guitar feeling completely normal, without anyone batting an eye (most likely the elicited reaction will be an exasperated sigh, haha!) and the wealth of venues helps. You get the feeling that there are countless stories unfolding in every nook and cranny, and that there are an infinite number of layers to discover to this place. I can talk excitedly like this, perhaps because I’ve actually spent the last two years in quiet Princeton, NJ, where my wife is getting her anthropology PhD, but am looking forward to returning to NYC shortly. …I suppose the rest of the band, being long-time New Yorkers, probably have a more tempered view of the city…?
M: In terms of other bands, there are some outside of NYC. We love Still Corners, their album is really great…
H: Still Corners had been bugging us to hurry up and start putting proper releases together. We thought we would repay the favor by naming our first single, “Please Fall in Love” after their single “Don’t Fall in Love”…. Hah!
M: Other bands like Death and Vanilla, Mmoss, Magic Castles… there’s a lot of great music being made now.
It’s been six months now since “All That We See And Seem” and “Witches’ Milk” came out. Are you currently working on new material?
H: We’re always coming up with new material. Typically, we accumulate piles and piles of snippets and phrases and then as we get closer to understanding what we want out of the next release, those bits mature into complete songs.
M: And we’re planning a split 7” with Death and Vanilla, hopefully out this summer. We’re very hopeful, it seems like more people are listening…
All That We See And Seem, originally released on The Great Pop Supplement, 300 numbered copies only, is out now on Greenwood End.