Last year saw the first release from the Minneapolis trio Web of Sunsets. Comprised of Sarah Nienaber, Sara Bischoff, and Chris Rose, the trio’s first seven inch was a note-perfect example of dreamy pop music, ethereal and elemental in equal measure. This year has brought with it their follow-up, the full-length Room of Monsters, and it represents a huge leap forward for the group. They’re still absolutely capable of heading for blissed-out places, but there are also some unlikely rhythmic choices, interesting uses of all three members’ singing voices, and a perceptible emotional arc across the length of the album, one of my favorites of 2014 thus far. I checked in with the band via email to learn more about the album’s genesis, their own processes, and more.
The sound heard on your album goes to a lot of places I might not have expected, given your seven inch. Were some of the new directions in which you went conscious choices, or did the changes in style happen more gradually?
Sara Bischoff: The sound of Room of Monsters happened gradually and it wasn’t really an intentional thing we set out to do. Even though the album wasn’t released until February 2014, a lot of songs on the album were written in the winter of 2012 and early 2013, during a time when our mood was a little different. The songs reflected that mood and it turned out more mellow and reflective than the two songs on our seven inch. The next thing we are releasing will be yet another mood — we change and the songs change, I suppose.
The way the bassline in “Permanent Ghost” shifted the textures of the song left me very impressed; I was reminded of bands like Souled American, who took a dub influence to unexpected places. How did that particular element come about?
Chris Rose: That particular element is my guitar with the high-end rolled off. One thing i’ve always love about dub is the soft and focused low end, along with guitar tone it was the inspiration for the keyboard tone too. Around this time I was listening a lot to Super Ape, it’s a great album! I’ve also always thought as a musician it’s important to draw on really different elements, because you’ll never be able to escape your own personal stamp on things, so what to me what might sound extreme or goofy like dub/country, when its coming through me, will still sound like “me” and webs and it won’t be as out of place as initially thought.
What is the group’s general approach to songwriting? And how did you go about recording the album in a way that would allow certain aspects of each song to be emphasized?
Sara Bischoff: All three of us write songs, and also take turns on keys, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar depending on what the song needs. The person who writes the song usually has the chords, structure, and lyrics/vocals of the entire song before bringing it to the group. As a group, we finish the song and it always transforms a lot with the influence of the others. For example, my songs tend to be really folky and stark when I bring them to the group, and Sarah N. and Chris round them out, pushing them in a more psychedelic, ambient direction with guitars or keys.
Sarah Nienaber: The album was recorded quickly and efficiently and the approach was very straightforward. We set up all together in one room, played the songs, and the tracks were laid down live. We were careful and deliberate but without rigid expectations. We let the songs be what they wanted to be… always a little indefinite, free. That’s kind of the spirit of Webs.
What does the concept of a room of monsters mean to you?
Sarah Nienaber: “Room of Monsters” began as just something that came out of my mouth. We were practicing all together in our cramped, moldy, amazing little space, and I looked at Chris and Sara and said, “We’re a room of monsters.” I don’t know what it meant. If something sparked it, I don’t remember what it was. I guess the phrase stuck with Chris and he wrote a song.
Chris Rose: I loved that phrase, and it really inspired me. I was thinking about the housing crisis and this idea that there are people in a room detached from your immediate life but have very real control over it. This “Room of Monsters” came to my mind, where I wasn’t directly affected, but indirectly, where there is this play of fantasies meeting reality. This evil is not attacking me directly, but there are a bunch of people who are going about their business and the consequences are real and negative.
You’ve played music together in other bands; what do you feel sets this particular group apart from your other projects?
Sarah Nienaber: Passing the songwriting around so much is definitely new to me. I’ve really enjoyed learning how to play guitar to songs that aren’t my own. I think we’re all very careful about wanting to do a good job for each other and for the songs. They deserve everything. What’s amazing is how effortlessly the sounds have always sort of just fit together, even though I don’t think any one of us is trying to assimilate to an assumed or agreed-upon style. We all are truly doing what we are naturally inclined to do.
Sara Bischoff: The songs I’ve written for Web of Sunsets are songs I feel like I’ve been waiting to write for a long time. I only want to play them with Sarah and Chris and it wouldn’t have worked with anyone else.
Photo: Graham Tolbert