Brooklyn’s Mike Wexler just released his sophomore record, Dispossession, on Mexican Summer – and we loved every minute of it. In fact we went so far as to say: “It’s atmospheric and washed-out, but deeply layered mescaline folk – as unsettling as it is hypnotic, with Wexler spinning song after song through your mind in a hazy blur”.
Any artist who has such an extreme effect on our senses can expect us to come a knocking, Mr Wexler is no exception – thankfully he was more than up for a chat.
Bowlegs: Dispossession was a while in the making – how did the songs evolve from first inception to what we hear on the record?
Mike: The songs on this record started out as amoeba-like organisms before evolving into higher animals, first with guitar and voice only, and then with the full band arrangements, and then further with overdubs. I always somehow wind up describing the process in organic terms, so ‘evolve’ is definitely the right word here. Songs seem to have a life and a will of their own. Half the battle is learning to allow them to develop according to their own DNA, without imposing some preconceived idea about how things should go.
Bowlegs: What kind of input did the people who collaborated on the record bring? What did they add to the songs?
Mike: Without the band, or with another band, it would have been a totally different affair. Part of the fun for me is hearing what other musicians choose to do with the raw material I bring them. I may make suggestions here and there, but ultimately it’s their contribution you hear. Andy Macleod, Ryan Sawyer, Brent Cordero, Matt Marinelli, Nate Wooley, Jessica Pavone, Yoed Nir, Shelley Burgon, Jordi Wheeler, Tianna Kennedy … did I forget anyone?
Bowlegs: What influenced you while writing the tracks? Did you take on different influences when it came to recording?
Mike: Songs are words and music, so apart from listening to songwriters I’m always looking to what people do with just words and just music. And then the idea is to see if there’s a new way for the two worlds to meet. In the studio, I’m thinking about what works in a recording, which is different from what works when four people are playing in a room. Hearing the sound come from a set of speakers changes everything. So I guess, at that point, I’m more liable to be influenced by my record collection.
Bowlegs: Spectrum is an eight-minute haunting epic – can you tell us what it’s about?
Mike: Well, I can tell you that there’s a visual spectrum, and there’s a spectrum of light outside the visual spectrum, and then there’s the harmonic spectrum of overtones. I had the image of what happens in a prism, where white light is broken into its component colours, but reversed, so that the colours all fuse into one colour. Light has a lot to do with intelligence, seeing and understanding. So for me it’s an image of the history of consciousness, seen from this point in time. We may be on the verge of a major leap forward in terms of artificial intelligence – an amazing and somewhat disquieting thought.
Bowlegs: Where did the title of the album originate from? What’s the story behind it?
Mike: A long time ago, around when I was making my first EP, I saw Maya Deren’s film Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.
I was really taken with it. In the film you witness the phenomenon of possession, central to Haitian Voudoun, where the loa, or god, inhabits the body of the practitioner in order to interact directly with the community. It’s not like demonic possession, or maybe it is, but seen with the opposite valuation. In Voudoun, you want to be possessed: it’s part of religious life. So I’ve been thinking about this since that first record, which takes up some of the themes from the film. Dispossession came from that line of thinking, but it also inhabits many other contexts and connotations that appeal to me, notably the material sense of being cast out of house and home.
Bowlegs: The sound of Dispossession is a world away from the other stuff we hear emanating from Brooklyn – do you feel any affinity with your geographical peers? Do you feel part of a scene there?
Mike: There’s an amazing scene here, but the scene that I feel a part of is really diverse. It’s more about mutual appreciation and encouragement. I don’t know that the music I’m making has all that much in common with that of my peers.
Bowlegs: How much thought did you put into the song order on the album? It seems to be front-loaded with the longer, more epic tracks, before bringing in three shorter numbers and then heading back into the nine-minute plus Liminal. Is there any reason for this?
Mike: I knew which songs would be first and last, otherwise I was just looking to fit everything onto two vinyl sides in a way that felt right in terms of flow.
Bowlegs: Are you planning to tour the album and, if so, how are the songs going to translate when you come to play them live? Are you going to bring a band with you or go it alone?
Mike: It’s important to me when writing that a song can stand up in solo context, so these songs definitely have another hidden life. I still plan to do the occasional solo show, but when I tour it will be with the band.
Bowlegs: What have you got planned for the rest of 2012?
Mike: I’m well into writing a follow up to this record, so hopefully I can make some serious headway there. I think the next record will be a continuation or sequel to this one, very loosely speaking. Dispossession ends with something of a cliffhanger. If it can be said that there’s a story involved, it’s not finished.
-Interview by David Standen-