Other Systems: An Interview With Rebecca Gates

Rebecca Gates

Interview by Tobias Carroll

It’s hard to know where to begin when talking about the music of Rebecca Gates. Her work with the Spinanes yielded three excellent albums — Manos, Arches and Aisles, and the sublime Strand — as well as a handful of EPs. (And right about here, I’ll point you in the direction of Carl Wilson’s essay on the song “Hawaiian Baby,” as both essay and song are fantastic.) 2001 saw the release of her solo debut Ruby Series, which continued Arches and Aisles’ explorations of rhythm and textures in the context of memorable pop songs. Since then, Gates has worked as an artist and curator, while continuing to make music; 2011 should see the release of a new album, titled The Float, along with a collection of remixes from Ruby Series. Gates’s current tour, along with backing band The Consortium, will take her to Maxwell’s on April 12th, and to Brooklyn’s Rock Shop on the 14th.

Until a few years ago, I hadn’t realized that you’d done so much work in the fine art sphere, both as a curator and as an artist. Was this something you’d always been involved in, or did you actively shift your concentration to that after Ruby Series?
I didn’t really become active in the fine art side of things until after Ruby Series. I’ve always been involved with design of the albums, photography, had an interest, but it’d been private. I learned more about sound art and started engaging in communities outside of music, just followed some threads.

Your website mentions a new album [The Float -ed.] — how was the recording of this compared with Ruby Series (or even the Spinanes albums before it)?
Previous records were all done in a short period of time and with a context for release. This new record has evolved over the years, still is taking shape. I’ve not written a novel, so don’t know for sure, but the idea of writing over a long period of time, documenting, bringing different facets to a project that I associate with long form fiction writing is a parallel with my experience with this album. I’m not sure if it will come across, but it’s been interesting. This record was recorded in many different places and all the other albums were tracked in one or two. That’s different.

What’s the current status of The Float (and, for that matter, the album of Ruby Series remixes)?
The Float is being mixed and the remixes are waiting for release. Date announced soon.

Some of the musicians who will be playing on your new album are people you’ve worked with before; others, I assume, are not. Were you looking for a balance between the two?
I wasn’t thinking strategically in terms of new and familiar, but in terms of a song and what it might need.

Was the same process true for assembling The Consortium?
The Consortium is more a collective of people who know songs and enjoy playing together. it’s not really a matter of new or old.

Has the work you’ve been doing as an artist and curator had an effect on the songs you’ve written since then?
I think the songs aren’t as affected as much as my approach to writing, in a sense it took me stepping away and being exposed to other systems to understand more about my own. My songs have always been a little odd or opaque, they’ve always been very space and visually inspired, so that’s not new, but it might seem more apparent to others given my wider scope of activity.

How do you balance music with your artistic and curatorial projects?
It’s all part of a single practice. It’s best when they are happening at the same time. It’s far more difficult for me to balance the necessary business side of what I do with the also necessary playing or writing.

How did Sonoset get started?
Sonoset is a response to a desire to hear voices and sound in a way that I find doesn’t exist yet.

Do you see your art and your music as addressing the same themes, and coming from the same impulse?
Yes, though music offers a specific confluence of experience I’ve yet to find in other disciplines.

How did you go about choosing which older songs to revisit for this tour?
It’s a combination of songs that folks have let me know they like to hear, and songs that still feel like they have some resonance in the context of what we’re playing now. Sometimes just fun to revisit one and let it fly. They’re good songs, and no one else is playing them!

What influence has Portland had on the music you’ve made?
Portland and my community there had a lot of influence on me when I first started playing. Since I’ve spent time in so many places over the last ten years, that influence is now more diffuse. As influential is the geography of the mind…