When we heard The Wilderness, the debut from Cemeteries (real name Kyle J, Reigle), it was like all our Dream-Pop Christmas’ had come at once. What with its blissful melodies, haunting atmospherics and downright divine arrangements – we’d fallen head first into this one. And even now, some weeks later, we still have little intention of re-surfacing; though we did manage to find the time to talk to Reigle about how you go about creating such a gorgeous record.
Bowlegs: I’ve read that your musical inspiration for this record was vintage Horror films – yet the sound has a serene undertow. What were you taking from the films that shaped these songs? And tell us some of your favourite horror movies?
Kyle: When I was pretty young I stayed up late and caught John Carpenter’s Halloween on TV and it changed my life. I started watching any horror film I could get my hands on (I had the luxury of living close to a VHS rental store called Movie World that had a whole room devoted to horror). I think there’s a level of beauty and atmosphere in the genre that a lot of people don’t realize, especially when it comes to cinematography and music. It’s not that the songs were inspired by certain horror films (except Brighter Colors), I’m just more creative as far as production and lyrics when I think back to watching those grainy, warped VHS tapes through my hands.
My favorites are kind of cliché: Halloween (1978), Suspiria (1977), Dawn of the Dead (1979), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and The Evil Dead (1981). There’s so many more though, I’ll probably regret leaving off a few tomorrow.
Bowlegs: What does a vintage Horror movie have that the modern horrors don’t? Have horror movies had their day or you still digging Paranormal Activities etc?
Kyle: I feel like most modern audiences have grown numb as to what’s truly terrifying. Lately, horror movies rely on buckets of gore or mindless jump scares to draw in a crowd, which is fine (I can have a certain level of fun with those movies) but I respect what older horror films achieved with atmosphere alone.
I think there’s still a handful of great films being released. I’m a big fan of Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), his pacing is very old-school. There’s always a few releases every year that get my attention so I think the genre is still pretty strong (until they decide to make a Saw 8).
Bowlegs: The record has a real sense of wandering in the wilderness as it were. Indeed there is mention of woods in the press release and of course the artwork. How do you get a feeling into music? Are you a bit of a rambler – long walks in the wilderness?
Kyle: I write the music before my vocals. Once I have the basic structure figured out, I try and get myself in the mindset of how I want the song to feel. Then I work on melodies and lyrics. I love hearing people’s interpretations because while I obviously have a certain vision in my mind for every song I create, I like when people walk away with something completely different.
I’m actually not much of a rambler. There’s a patch of woods behind the house I grew up in that I never really explored as a kid but when I moved to Buffalo, I missed being surrounded by nature and realized I took that for granted so I tried to put that into my music. Whenever I get a new album I’m excited about, I walk along this nearby canal and listen to it. Other than that I’m actually kind of a shut-in.
Bowlegs: Whilst we are talking woods – one of my highlights is In The Trees – it is so atmospheric. How do you go about writing songs that seemingly have little structure (no verse, chorus, verse etc etc).
Kyle: I’m glad you like that track! I just had this eerie progression I enjoyed and wanted it to repeat while everything else builds around it. Sometimes I get tired of traditional song structures so I wanted something kind of odd as the centerpiece of the album. That and What Did You See? don’t really have structure. I wrote their initial cores and just let everything else drift around them.
Bowlegs: OK Twin Peaks – an influence, a song title – guessing you are a big fan? Have you watched the series again lately? I have – seems to hold up pretty well?
Kyle: I’ve been a big David Lynch fan for a long time but I didn’t actually get around to watching Twin Peaks until about three years ago. I was living in Edinboro, PA with my then-girlfriend and we started it one night and watched the whole series in a few days. I was so inspired by its atmosphere and Angelo Badalamenti’s score that I decided to start writing music again. I think I wrote Young Blood the night we finished it and Leland pretty soon after. I just re-watched the whole series for the third time with my friend and it definitely holds up.
Bowlegs: In terms of lyrics are these songs themed? Direct experiences? Your vocals come across as wistful – floating on the instrumentation as it were. How do you find the right effect and levels for the vocals?
Kyle: Most of the songs are about personal experiences in some way, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I’m still picking up on certain lyrics and discovering why I wrote them when I did.
My vocals were the toughest thing to record. I wanted them to be more of an instrument than front and center but I didn’t want to fall in the trap of having them buried and unrecognizable. I spent a solid month mixing and re-mixing until everything clicked. I think I got the right level out of them but my grandma complained that my voice is too quiet.
Bowlegs: Obviously some will term this as Dream-pop which it probably is – but there is more here – the way the songs span out with instrumental passages – it’s these moments that let you reflect, daydream and imagine? Would you agree?
Kyle: Yeah. I didn’t set out to make a dream pop album or any specific genre at all, really. I just wanted to make an album that I would want to hear.
Bowlegs: How did you hook up with Lefse records? What were you doing before the recording of The Wilderness?
Kyle: I owe my life to Tyler Andere who runs the blog Flashlight Tag. He posted a cover I did of Neon Indian’s Should Have Taken Acid With You awhile ago. When I started recording The Wilderness, I finished Summer Smoke first (Young Blood and Leland were older tracks I re-worked) and sent it in to him. He put it up and it got some decent circulation. A few days later I got an email from Lefse. I finally met up with Tyler in person the other night at CMJ and gave him a bear hug.
Before The Wilderness, I recorded an album called Speaking Horrors that turned out pretty iffy. It’s that one first album that a lot of musicians make and then disown. I stopped writing music for a bit after that but eventually decided to move things in a new direction and started working on The Wilderness.
Bowlegs: And how about the recording of the album – who else was involved – where was it put down? Do you see a direction that you may follow for the next record?
Kyle: I wrote, produced, played and mixed all of it and recorded it in the spare room of my apartment. Jonathan Ioviero did a bit of drum programming on it and him and Pete Zamniak perform with me live.
The next record is written. I’ve got my direction and influences all set and I’m really excited to be working with new songs. It won’t be too drastic of a change but it has an overall different theme and vibe.
Bowlegs: Finally what records have stood out for you in 2012?
Kyle: There’s a few obvious records I really love like Bloom by Beach House and Shields by Grizzly Bear but there’s been a lot of great surprises this year. Some albums that really stand out for me are: Put Your Back N 2 It by Perfume Genius, Nootropics by Lower Dens, Under the Pale Moon by Wymond Miles, Half Way Home by Angel Olsen, Holiday by Port St. Willow and Ceremony by Anna Von Hausswolff.