So hey: Olympia, Washington. Yeah, it’s the city from which a bunch of your favorite bands emerged, but it’s also still home to a thriving music scene. The generally excellent three-piece Broken Water, along with the likes of Milk Music, are among the groups helping to keep the city’s scene a vital one. The trio, composed of Jon Hanna, Kanako Pooknyw, and Abigail Ingram, recently released a pair of albums: Tempest, on Hardly Art, and the self-released Seaside and Sedmikrásky. The latter consists of two sprawling pieces that touch on the abstract and ambient, while Tempest is a terrifically focused effort that gets weirder the longer you listen; it’s enough to summon thoughts of another trio from the same city. I chatted with the members of the band via email about the relationship between their two albums, their connection to their city’s musical lineage, and their current reading materials.
Were Tempest and Seaside and Sedmikrásky intended as companion pieces from the outset?
Jon Hanna: Yes.
How much did the songwriting for one affect the other?
Kanako Pooknyw: They were originally intended to be a single release and were written in relationship to one another.
Jon: The songs for Tempest were structured compositions. Seaside is open and allows space for experimentation and exploration within its loose form. Playing Seaside was often a release from the rigid architecture while practicing the more structured songs on Tempest. We always play Seaside a little differently each time, which I personally enjoy.
Both of the pieces on Seaside and Sedmikrásky take influences from other works (Gabor Mate’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and Vera Cytilova’s film Daisies). What about these works attracted you to them? How frequently do you look to books and films for sonic inspiration?
Kanako: One day while watching Amy Goodman interview Dr. Gabor Mate on Democracy Now, I became intrigued because I noticed that Amy was excited and giddy, even flirting with Dr. Mate. She is usually a “just the facts ma’am” type of journalist, so I got excited to see her act human. I also became very curious about Dr. Mate’s work. He operates a legal injection site and provides medical aid to injection drug users in downtown Vancouver B.C. I support his call to decriminalize illicit drug use. I now volunteer at Thurston County Syringe Exchange and am currently working on a screenplay that revolves around the exchange.
Vera Cytilova is a brilliant film maker. I wish her work were more easily accessible and recognized by a wider audience.
Books and films do not normally trigger song writing. They just happened to this time around.
Listening to Tempest, I can hear the influence of everything from the mid-80s SST Records roster to the shoegaze movement of a decade later. What is the process of writing songs like for you? And how do you balance your sense of history with creating a cohesive sound?
Jon: Yes, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of and influenced by a lot of mid-late 80’s punk/post-punk bands and also of early 90’s British shoegaze. When the band started back in 2008 I already had a lot of songs written, and Abby and Kanako helped flesh them out. Over the last couple of years we’ve been moving toward a more collaborative writing process. Occasionally I still write a song for the band, but for the most part we all have a part in its final version.
As far as balancing a sense of history goes, I feel like our music owes a lot to the 80’s and 90’s Olympia scene and the stuff Kill Rock Stars and K Records were putting out. Our aim isn’t to ape these bands or our influences, yes, at times the influences are pretty apparent, but mostly I’m jut interested in playing music that I’d like to listen to myself.
What have you been reading lately?
Kanako: I’m reading The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence within Activist Communities and El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Drug Insurgency.
Jon: I recently finished Infinite Jest and am now reading Dharma Punks and Leaving Las Vegas.
Abby Ingram: I’m reading Human Diastrophism; still trying to read Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, and I recently read Let the Right One In and Harbor.
Photo: Jessica Orr