KCPR’s DJ Dionysus sat down with San Luis Obispo’s very own Bryant Keith Bayhan (aka .paperman) to chat about his experiences playing around SLO, the stories behind his songs, and his opinions on “glitterwave.”
This is the second incarnation of an ongoing series, The Undertow, which focuses on new music with the ability to pull you in fast n’ hard, make you dance during your bus ride to school, kick you in the gut, and make your mascara stream down your cheeks, but only if you’re lucky enough to find it.
Dionysus: Have you ever done an interview with KCPR before?
.paperman: No, nothing official. I have done interviews on-air, if you’re counting that, where we decided to play recordings and then talk about them. I’ve done that, like, four times.
Recently, my friend Gompers, who was a DJ on KCPR, and I went on Tristan’s (the DJ formerly known as Doji) show and it became a joint interview. We would switch off playing each other’s songs at the end of every spot so we could talk about them a little bit.
D: And, great segway into your new releases, I heard that Gompers helped you with nectarmines.
P: Yes, he plays guitar on one of the tracks – “pastel moon.” I believe that’s the only one he plays on for this album.
D: Is that a new recording of “pastel moon”? That track was also on kink lagoon last year.
P: Yeah, it’s a new recording of it. I like to sell the same thing again, like Kanye. It’s actually not that different. I had been playing that song for a year, and it’s the longest song I’d ever played live. It’s very me, and I always play it during sets following “emulating a human,” so it made sense to have it on the album that way.
D: Do you play stuff differently when you perform live?
P: It depends. I usually try to go off of whatever the recording was, but then I switch out the instruments. With my writing recently, I haven’t been attached to certain sounds. My music used to be very dense; it had a lot of sounds that had to fit together and they had very tiny bits of space to live in. Recently, I’ve been more comfortable with writing sounds that can take up more room and are also a lot easier to replace.
At my last show, that WOW showcase at SLODOCO, I had three technical difficulties, which never happens. That was weird for me. One of them was that a patch got changed on a synth that I had to play a lead part with, so I had to find a preset that sounded like it would work. Just going off the name, I had never heard it before, and I thought “that’s fine.” It was a newer song and the part could be replaced, just part of the evolution, it took up the right space.
D: So, with that new approach to making music, you have two new releases. Could you tell me more about raspberry spores?
P: So I started doing the ambient thing with the album figs, which was made for my great aunt who is really more of a grandmother to me. She lives in a retirement home, and it took a while to get to her. She really likes music, and it’s probably a little patronizing, but I was like, “she’s eighty four, I’ll give her ambient music.”
It was probably more for me. I listen to a lot of ambient music at home, almost exclusively for the past couple of years, just because it relaxes me more and my ears get tired from working on other stuff.
raspberry spores continues my “fruit and sweet things” convention of naming releases – there’s no reason for this trend. I try to keep my ambient music away from being just drones and “pretty sounds” that you can easily forget about and are both tropes of the genre. There’s a lot of breadth to ambient music, and I feel like people think ambient music means that it’s supposed to be boring or wash past you like there was nothing there, but it can also be something that you can sink your teeth into if you feel like listening critically. All of the songs on raspberry spores have layers of interesting sounds woven into them and a strong sense of melody and harmony that I had to constantly wrestle from the chaos of my writing process.
The opening track, “horror of abandonment in space” is my favorite song of the release almost purely because I like the name; it’s evocative of how I want the whole EP to feel. The name, when combined with the whizzing and whirling burble of synthesizers, twist together to make everything I want my music to stand for.
The way I think about “melting raspberry spores” is that, ideally, the song should be experienced from atop the twinkling melody that repeats throughout. It is the preferred listening position for the rest of the album.
“quarterbrother” is the first song I recorded for the release, and it has remained virtually unchanged from its initial form I stitched together last January. It’s primordial and some parts are almost a little toxic and gaseous to me. It’s one of my favorite songs but it also makes me a bit anxious listening back to it, it’s like a thousand years moving too quickly.
The next two songs, “hostingamachine” and “naolis,” were both collaborations with my friend Michael Gompers from our project Certain Futures. I believe “hostingamachine” is actually the first full song we recorded together, and makes for one hell of a start to a writing relationship. Eleven minutes of a completely improvised Frippertronics style guitar led soundscape with Michael on Ebowed guitar. I actually removed my initial synth part completely from the track and added others in later to fit to the story Michael’s guitar playing was suggesting, turning the song into a duet with a ghost.
“naolis” also features a lot of Michael’s guitar playing along with my own. I took his guitar and manipulated it to the point that it no longer sounded like anything either of us would recognize.
The very first sound you hear on the track is the main guitar slowly being crushed by concrete underwater.
“sev egret” is the real album closer for raspberry spores, making say things over the encore. Ambient music encourages me to write melodies that tell much richer stories than most of my other music. “sev egret” feels romantic and moonlit to me… pale lavender plastic and porcelain. It always needed more work and I still feel like I never finished it.
“say things over” may feel like it wraps up the album with a bow shaped like a question mark, but I wanted it to be the final track on raspberry spores because it leads into the rest of my discography with its dancey outro. “horror of abandonment in space” brings you into the emptiness and timelessness of the galaxy of raspberry spores like a spaceship leaving the atmosphere and “say things over” throws it all crashing back home in a molten and sticky mess.
D: Wow, that’s all very visceral. What’s it like performing ambient music live? Is it different than playing your usual dance music?
P: I tell people it’s more like synth wrangling because I’m playing six different things at once. During my normal live shows, I’m playing one thing at a time, maybe two or three minorly. What happens with electronics [is that] people sometimes already don’t like it … if you have a *buzz* or a *whir* sound, people will get turned off from what’s supposed to be quite nice and background-y.
I’ve done this thing where I just pull up a blank Abelton Live session at home and try to improvise. Originally, I could only do about twenty minutes improvised, but now I can do about an hour. The problem is making sure there aren’t really bad dead spots because sometimes you can have quiet [ones], where something isn’t working and you can’t quite make something positive out of it. So I have to have a lot of outs for that.
D: Can we switch gears to nectarmines? Will you walk us through the tracks on that?
P: I wrote “emulating a human” right after school, a year and a bit ago, got out for summer. I wrote it really fast, it just clicked, there wasn’t any work. It sounds a bit more familiar than my other work, sort of Cocteau Twins-ish and like 4AD stuff. The defining moment for me was that I liked the hook for the choruses, but I didn’t want it on a synth, so I thought, “people like guitars, I’ll play it on a guitar.”
It was out of my comfort zone but it worked – people liked it. I always enjoy playing that one live. The title is pretty much word-for-word what .paperman means. I like to talk about gender a lot, how people present themselves, and it sounds kind of cliche, but what’s expected of people. “emulating a human” references the idea of emulating a man.
We’re lots of things at once.
“pastel moon,” which has been released twice, I always say was inspired by Pet Shop Boys and specifically the song “Being Boring,” which is one of their songs that is more well known with their fans but wasn’t as well known on the singles charts. It’s about this woman finding letters from the thirties about teenage parties, which I go to, and it’s all about being boring but not wanting to grow old. The song also has Neil Tennant singing a lower register which just sounds really sweet the whole time. So “pastel moon” is really fun, and I think it sums up my music a lot. I always end up wanting to go back to it. It was originally going to be the name for the kink lagoon album.
Now, “block printing a child.” I think that one got its name because you (Dionysus) were talking about block printing. I liked this one mixing with “pastel moon,” because I work with pastels a lot, and I was thinking about different art forms. I thought block printing sounded cool and it looked good in print. It was a point where I wanted to use certain words in song lyrics and titles. I almost have a list, otherwise my brain just goes back to certain things. The most I remember playing that song is when I played that random Wild Nothing show a year ago.
D: Quick detour, can you tell us about playing with Wild Nothing? Was it the best show you’ve played?
P: Sure! I was emailed forty five minutes before sound check. I didn’t have anything ready, I had played a show two weeks before. I had to quickly check to make sure everything was routed correctly, because usually I change all that. I didn’t have time to run through anything. I hadn’t played the songs in a week! I just had to pack everything in the car, and my setup is a lot cables and stuff.
And yeah, I opened up and it was a lot of fun. I had people stop during the Wild Nothing set, people who paid $40 to be there, and turn around to say that they enjoyed me. That was really nice. That was the biggest show I ever played.
The best show I ever played?
No, I’d have to say that was a house show, I think they only did two or three shows there. It was over by Captain Nemo’s, on a little cross street. It was set up by Shoot the Mariner. I’m trying to remember if they played at it, but I think they did because we did our first shows together. Daryl and Matt and the original Daniel, they have another Daniel now, set up the show and I think it was for a touring band that ended up not showing up.
I ended up having a lot of fun, it was probably my sixth show. I remember the moment because it was my biggest technical error: someone unplugged one of the power cables that went to my pedal board, so a bunch of stuff went out. I could have kept going, but I felt weird so I stopped and asked people if they wanted me to start over. They were like (quizzically), “yeah sure,” like they hadn’t even noticed. It was really encouraging because people were enjoying it a lot and wanted me to go back through this thing, and hear it again!
D: That’s a big contrast, and sounds like some good times! Let’s get back on route for the last two tracks, “oni” and “nectarmines.”
P: “oni,” the name comes from my friend Johnny, who used to play under the name L U V, because I was calling it O-N-E-Y. I had heard it as someone’s nickname and thought it looked cool.
He told me that oni is Japanese for demon, and I thought, “I have to go with that then! I stumbled across an actual word.”
That song is just really funky, and the drums have a really heavy swing feature so it’s not really on the beat in a way that is really hard to replicate. It’s very mechanic. Listen to it, and listen to the drums. It’s clearly very different from all the other tracks.
And then “nectarmines”! That one is way darker than all the other tracks, just in tone. There are a lot of labels for darker ’80s synth music. It’s what got me into music really, and I feel a strong connection to it, but I always liked the idea of making lighter synth music in general. In this track I try to go the other way.
D: You definitely transcend glitterwave on that track. Speaking of, how did you come up with glitterwave?
p: It was just kind of because I got tired of putting “new wave.” That sounds terrible, I’m not new wave at all. I hate indie or indie rock as a title – it’s totally meaningless as a genre label now.
Experimental is just not a genre, it’s just a thing you put when you can’t figure out what it is. I just started calling it glitterwave.
Lo-fi was a big thing for me when I first started out. I got really intimidated because I didn’t have all the stuff. Then I heard Pavement or whatever, and was like, “oh, they’re just kind of doing things.” Then I found Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse – that changed my life completely.
And with that, Dionysus and .paperman both took satisfied sips of their americano and “tummy mint” latte (respectively), knowing that they had provided the curious with a window into one of the souls of SLOcal music. They continued talking about anime, arguing about how long cassettes last, brainstorming a way to form the major Enology (not wine science, but the study of Brian Eno), and not being able to remember the term “vaporwave.”
Ella Worley conducted this interview and wrote the words. She’s a KCPR staff member and Cal Poly viticulture junior. Kelly Chiu is a Cal Poly graphic design senior and KCPR staff member. She took and produced the extremely aesthetic photos for the article.