Having spent time as a member of A Silver Mt. Zion, modern chamber group Esmerine, and Set Fire To Flames, Rebecca Foon has been no stranger to the more experimental and loosely constructed aspects of instrumental music. But it wasn’t until 2010 that she began to write solo material with a view toward recording it herself. Blending together the aesthetics of dream pop, no wave, and classical improvisation, this solo material would eventually form the basis of her debut record as Saltland. Titled I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us, the album is set to be released on May 14th via Constellation Records.
Bringing along Jamie Thompson (Esmerine, Unicorns) on percussion and programming and a host of former band-mates and close friends, Saltland definitely feels like the work of a closely-knit group of individuals (as it is), but it also shows the steady hand of Foon standing firmly at the controls. To assist with the production duties, she also brought on producer and engineer Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire), who helped to shape and mold the sound of Saltland alongside her. Combining cello loops and ambient textures, along with aspects of intimate folk and dream pop, this album stands as a testament to the cohesion of disparate influences.
We recently spoke with Foon about her experiences writing and recording the material on I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us and how it was extremely important to her that she had her friends to help out with the studio sessions. We also talk about the intrinsic musical nature of Saltland in relation to the other bands in which she has been a member, either currently or at some point in the past. Read below for our full conversation.
Beats Per Minute (Joshua Pickard): As a member of A Silver Mt. Zion and chamber group Esmerine, did you find that your experiences in those bands helped to influence the direction of the music on your debut as Saltland?
Rebecca Foon: Definitely. Playing in Silver Mt. Zion and Esmerine has deeply shaped my approach to music. Esmerine was born out of a desire to explore more acoustic sounds built around the cello and marimba to create a sort of modern chamber music indebted to the emotive melodic lyricism of indie rock on the one hand and to a more rigorous Minimalism/repetition on the other (both influences being a big part of Mt Zion too, but in a more ragged, punk-rock way). Saltland emerged out of my desire to push my own musical boundaries and try something I had never really tried before: writing songs for cello that I would also write words for and take the lead in singing over. I also wanted to explore processed cello, looping and electronics in a more focused and compositional way – things I’d played around with in various capacities, but only casually or in one-off projects. Collaborating with Jamie Thompson has been awesome – he processes my cello sound live, in real time, and transforms it into electronic textures and beats (alongside his own sampling and live percussion as well).
BPM: What was it about these songs-those which would eventually coalesce into your debut I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us-that made you decide that a new moniker was needed? What set them apart from your work in any of your previous bands?
RF: Saltland is a very personal/intimate project. I wrote all the songs in a cabin in Banff during the winter of 2011 – I pretty much just locked myself up there until I felt like I had a framework for a record. It’s the first time I’ve written lyrics and sung like this before. When I first started performing this music, it was billed under my own name. But I wanted the project to have its own identity and a name that evoked the sonic atmospheres and lyrical themes I’m interested in channeling. Also the music has developed with Jamie (and with Mark Lawson as co-producer in the studio, where the material also really evolved) such that I didn’t necessarily want it perceived as my “solo” work – even if I remain the main composer.
BPM: You’ve brought along a fairly sizeable cross-section of Canadian artists to help round out the record, including fellow Constellation Records label-mate Colin Stetson, Laurel Sprengelmeyer and Jess Robertson of Little Scream, and Sarah Neufield and Richard Reed Perry who’ve both had tenure in Arcade Fire. Were these artists that you’d played with previously and had maintained a working relationship or simply musicians with whom you’ve just wanted to work, but never had the chance until now?
RF: This album is very personal, and the initial process of writing was very solitary and isolated, but I wanted to move out of that isolation to record the material. I wanted to bring in people that I have worked with in the past that are very close to my heart. Everyone that plays on the record is a close friend and has been hugely supportive of the whole process. Mark Lawson produced the record – he has been so incredible and artistically generous to work with – and he had a significant impact on the overall aethetic/sound of the record.
BPM: I Thought It was Us But It Was All Of Us establishes a strong and very personal musical identity fairly quickly. How would you compare the recording of these songs to those in A Silver Mt. Zion or Esmerine?
RF:I think some of the themes addressed on I Thought It was Us But It Was All Of Us touch on similar themes that have surfaced on the SMZ records – and on the Esmerine records too, even though these have been primarily instrumental albums. But I think when you say Saltland has a personal musical identity – that’s obviously what differentiates it from SMZ and Esmerine, as both those bands make a much more “collective” sound that is truly the sum (or greater than the sum, hopefully!) if its parts/members. Saltland strips that away (even though many people contributed layers of textures) and I was certainly trying to keep the record very intimate at its core.
BPM: The songs on this record seem to revel in the evocation of tangible places. Each song seems to unfold into a vast landscape of dust-covered hills and barren horizons-all encased in a gauzy analog haze. Was this a conscious effort on your part to make each song seem to be continually in motion, moving outward toward the listener?
RF: This was partly a conscious effort and partly happened organically – because all of the songs were built from cello loops. The record weaves through a lot of themes related to urban landscapes too – urban poverty and youth homelessness, which was a major horizon for me growing up in a pretty gritty part of East Vancouver in the 1980s and 1990s; urban sustainability and environmental issues, which is a big part of the work I do outside of music; urban policing and the control/criminalisation of protest and political action, which is a huge issue in general and particularly in Montreal these days – so I was trying to create a sonic landscape that could allow me to tackle these themes. I don’t consider the music to be reductively dark and cold, I was really seeking to hold a lot of different tones and feelings in tension: clear-eyed observation, reverie, meditation, activism/agency – and hope and warmth too. It’s not a pretty world these days, but I wanted to also leave the listener with a sense of hope.
BPM: The record comes out on May 14th through Constellation Records. Will we be seeing any sort of touring in support of the record? Who would you like to take out on the road with you?
RF: Yes – Jamie Thompson (Esmerine, Unicorns, Islands) will be playing drums and doing live processing and Aaron Lumley will be playing double bass. We have some dates booked in May and June, mostly in Canada for now, and for a few of those shows I’ll also be playing solo, opening for Moonface (including New York).
Saltland’s I Thought It was Us But It Was All Of Us is due out May 14th via Constellation Records.