RokRiot interrogates Distant Correspondent

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Running a blog really expands your world. It affords you the ability to cross paths with a number of people you wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to meet—people you feel fortunate to interact with because their passion and creativity is so damn infectious. One such connection was made recently with David Obuchowski, founding member of Goes Cube, a brilliantly brutal hardcore act out of Brooklyn. I had been listening to Goes Cube for several months before David reached out and contacted me.

I was fortunate enough to get an advance preview of some new music he was working on, and I quickly coordinated an interview for his latest project, Distant Correspondent.

What’s really compelling about Distant Correspondent is their sound, and the 180-degree shift in songwriting that David has adopted. While Goes Cube embraces a very aggressive tone, Distant Correspondent is its antithesis, a beautifully melodic mix of echoing guitars and transcendent vocals. As a fan of creative process, I felt this would be a unique opportunity to dissect a musician’s embrace of contrasting artistic pursuits.

Joining David for this interview is one of Distant Correspondent’s collaborators, Edith Frost—a full-time musician, and part-time tongue-n-cheek raconteur whose musical talents have afforded her a lengthy career in music and live performance.

Pictured above: David Obuchowski and Edith Frost.

Tell us a bit about the origins of Distant Correspondent—how did the band come together?

DO: The band has really come together in steps. I started it a few years ago as not-even-a-side-project. It was just a way to label the non-Goes Cube stuff I recorded. Then in late 2011, I met Michael Lengel. We got together to play some music in person, and it was good. But the real “magic” happened over email a week later. I sent him a single looping guitar riff. I thought it sounded cool and was maybe good enough for some kind of a interstitial track. He heard it differently, both on the conceptual level and the musical level. He played drums to it, and the rhythm he settled on was so vastly different than what I’d been hearing in my head—and it was so much better. He urged me to expand it into a full-length song, and we did. That became the basis for “Badlands.” Shortly thereafter, I’d come into contact with Emily because we’d tapped her to do some guest work on a new Goes Cube song for our third album.

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Above: Michael Lengel; photo by Amy Retureta.

Emily was in a band called Meanwhile Back in Communist Russia that I stumbled upon at the end of college, and who I loved. Never heard anything like it. Very dark post-rock stuff with no traditional vocals; just spoken word stuff (Emily). Real cinematic stuff. Emily’s not on most songs, but she’s on a few of them, and we’ll enjoy going back to her when we’re looking to really heighten the atmosphere and drama of a song. When Edith Frost joined Distant Correspondent in the fall of 2012, everything finally clicked into place (to use a cliché). Really, that’s true. It’s like you’re building something—a piece of furniture—and working on all these little parts, and you can’t even figure how what you’re doing is going to turn out to be this nice completed piece. But when Edith came in and started singing on our existing songs, it all came together. In fact, her work with us has been so significant, that we went back to every one of our songs that we thought was “done,” scrapped all of the vocals, and I sat down with Edith for us to re-work everything out. It’s been incredible.

EF: David had been studying creatures like me for some time. He’d been aware and looking all over for at least eleven years. Finally found me frightened and cowering and snapping at him, deep in some black forest, having been adopted by a family of elephants. He asked me if I would sing on one track and I nearly broke his fishing pole in half! But I agreed and he’s slowly grooming me for public viewings again. I live in the San Antonio Zoo now, I’m being managed by my keepers in a protected-care environment. But I’m getting so old now and hoping this project is the big truck that’ll ship me off to the sanctuary of renewed creativity. I don’t belong in the zoo, but I also need to be protected from poachers. So here I am now in the Distant Correspondent mega-paddock. I’m looking around and finding all my old shit wrapped up and waiting for me, all clean and pretty again. The joy in life, love of music, and the power of actually talking things through with people you trust, I mean really really really trust. Now we’re happy and getting super dirty in the kitchen, chopping up and making delicious mud pies out of what we thought might be shit. Should I keep going with this? No, right?

What aspects of Distant Correspondent really appeal to you as a songwriter and musician?

DO: I suppose there are a few of them. For one, I love the music. Though Goes Cube is classified as a Metal band, and though I love Metal, Metal is not what I listen to most often. So until DC, there’s been this whole other music side of me that has been dormant. But, I think what’s been most interesting to me is who I work with. As I mentioned, I’ve been a big fan of Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia. So it’s an honor to work with Emily. And to say that Edith Frost is a bandmate is so incredible, it’s difficult to get my mind around. I’ve been a fan of Edith Frost since the mid-90s. I’ve always been a Drag City devotee, and so any record that came out with a Drag City logo, I bought it. That included Edith Frost albums. I’ve not just loved her music, but as I’ve heard other artists come out over the years, I’ve realized just how influential of an artist she is. Edith’s voice is just incomparable. And her ideas. Just one after the other. She brings such depth and creativity. I’m learning a lot from her, to say the least. With Michael, here’s a guy who’s never really been in any bands. I didn’t know what to expect, working with Michael; and it certainly wasn’t that I’d have found some staggeringly talented multi-instrumentalist. But, as it turns out, that’s who he is. Working with Michael is sort of like working with a mad scientist. He’ll disappear with these songs I write, and then a little while later he’ll emerge having recorded the drums and bass, and all my notions of what the song was shattered.

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Above: David performs with Goes Cube; photo by Markus Shaffer.

EF: It seems like a whirling wonderful dream right now. We’re this frankenstein beast of music love that I’ve never seen before, much less been a part of. I snorted up David’s fairy-dust and it’s giving me superpowers. As long as I stick with this I’ll be growing trunks and tentacles and oh god, I have no idea what kind of hell I’m going to be raising out there. It’s fantastic. He need to keep me on a short leash though. I might break furniture by accident due to being such a large creature with only one good eye remaining. No depth perception. All I can see is what’s right in front of me, and it’s soooo beautiful I can’t look away.

How do you approach writing music for Distant Correspondent vs. your own projects?

DO: I don’t have a set process for writing music to begin with. I try to pick up the guitar as much as I can, and I really don’t enjoy playing other people’s songs or even my own finished songs. I also (and this is bad) don’t like doing guitar exercises. I probably should do more of those. When I’m on tour, I’ll see other guitar players just doing scales, or running through their set, or playing Mastodon songs or whatever. For me, I just like to make new, exciting sounds every chance I get. Sometimes those sounds are more melodic, and they’ll become Distant Correspondent songs. Sometimes they are more aggressive. Those will become Goes Cube songs. Also, it helps that I use one weird tuning for Goes Cube, and another non-standard tuning for Distant Correspondent. I keep one guitar tuned to the Goes Cube tuning, and the other to the Distant Correspondent tuning. So, to some extent, it really is just a matter of what guitar I pick up.

EF: I haven’t been writing much at all since my last album came out 30-someodd years ago. There are a few demos I’ve done, posted pitifully to Soundcloud. I’d been under the impression that I was done with music and vice versa, frankly. But I guess not! How wonderful! I’m sticking my fingers back into the pie now, carefully. Very carefully. It’s frightening to share songwriting duties when you’ve never ever done that before EVER. I don’t know how it’s done by other songwriting teams, so for now I’m just gingerly getting my feet wet a bit, and letting David and Emily handle most of the serious word-lifting. We’ve only more-or-less-finished five songs so far, in the past three weeks. Which, don’t get me wrong, is CRAZY fast considering how glorious & perfectly-formed it all sounds to me. But it’s just the beginning. We only just got started with this. That’s just…mind boggling to me.

How has your involvement with Distant Correspondent influenced the sounds or creative direction of your other projects?

DO: As I said, I’ve been learning a tremendous amount from Edith. I’m actually a little fearful now of what I bring to the table as a vocalist without Edith. She is really showing me all the ways (many of them subtle) to make a performance more interesting, to make harmonies and parts more dynamic, to phrase words and even edit lyrics better. Instrumentally, I’m absolutely being influenced by Distant Correspondent, but that is just a function of how when I am in a very busy writing/recording mode, I don’t listen to any music other than what I am writing or recording. So after doing that for a few months, it becomes inevitable that you end up influencing yourself. The challenge then is to have that influence propel you forward, and not have you developing crutches. There are times where you might think “it sounded good in that one song, so maybe it will sound good here!” That’s not something you want to be doing.

EF: Influenced? INFLUENCED? Obliterated, more like. I don’t know about David but this is it for me, for the forseeable future and hopefully well beyond and into foreverland. Just seems like a far sturdier contraption than the old one that’s still up on concrete blocks & rusted out in Drag City’s driveway. But you never say never. Who knows. I think if & when I do make another EF solo record, I will want David with me to do that. For sure, probably, I would imagine. And my Drag City mentor/producer Rian Murphy too of course, since he pretty much invented that character. Well, we came up with it together but still. I’m sensing more and more the difference between these two acts. It’s becoming much clearer to me as we go along, which of my songwriting hats are appropriate for Distant Correspondent and which are more suited to an EF record. (Like the Stetson, and the straw boater. But not the swimming cap or the fright wig, those will be great for this band!!)

How have colleagues, friends and fans reacted to the sound and songwriting of Distant Correspondent?

DO: We haven’t shared it with many people, but for those we have the reaction has been fantastic. When I played, for my wife, the first song I did with Edith, my wife cried. She said something like, “this is what your music needs.” And that had been exactly what I was thinking. For people who know Edith’s work, they know how beautiful her music can be. But for people who only know what I’ve worked on, their reaction is two-fold in that, yeah, they seem to really love it, but they’re also just shocked.

EF:  Only played it for a few people so far, but all I hear is gushing and amazement and the word “love” repeated over and over. Maybe that’s all I want to hear? Yeah, I don’t give a fuck who doesn’t like it. For me it’s the greatest music ever made on this planet, because of course it’s mine. Ours!! It’s a jewel.

It seems as though almost all musicians end up pursuing side projects – what would you attribute this desire to?

DO: Before I answer the question, I want to make it clear that Distant Correspondent is not a side project. The two bands coexist peacefully and harmoniously, but not in reference to each other. When I first started recording these songs, I would have maybe said it was a side project. But at this point, it is certainly its own stand-alone thing. But I get what you’re asking, and I think there are probably a number of reasons. But from my own observations, there aren’t many musicians out there who only listen to one style of music. So when you take an extreme form of music like Metal, you might tend  to think that the dudes (and ladies) in Metal bands only listen to Metal. But even the most Metal of Metalheads (Goes Cube’s drummer, Kenny Appell is the most metal guy I know) doesn’t just listen to Metal. Even he’s going to throw on some old Johnny Cash or Dalek or Explosions in the Sky. But, as I said, he’s most the metal guy I know.

Being on tour, you really get a sense for how much people just love all kinds of music. I remember being on the road with East of the Wall, and we’d go to someone’s house after a show to relax and drink some beers, and everyone took turns putting on music, and there was just hardly any Metal. It’d be like Kate Bush, Engine Down, Rush, Hall & Oates, Merle Haggard, and then yeah, there’s a Decapitated song, but then it’s right back to Mission of Burma, etc. So I guess for a lot of musicians, you have to throw yourself into one band or project with one sound to get anywhere, any recognition. But after a while—especially when you’re touring a lot—you realize, wow, it’s been almost ten years and I haven’t played anything but metal, or whatever it is you’re playing. And so you go, OK, I need to mix it up a bit.

EF: I wouldn’t know but I can guess? Maybe you can’t always get it exactly right the first time. Or you paint yourself into a musical corner but you know you’ve got a lot more in you. I was always guesting on other people’s records doing backups and stuff, and that was super fulfilling and made me know I could work in other styles. I could try veering off in different directions in my own music too, but then what? I’d be building something I can’t actually pull off live, on my own. Can’t do anything by myself, really. What I CAN do on my own is…very nice, but very simple and basic and just kiddie-stuff compared to the muscle I can harness with Distant Correspondent. Night and day.

This is my first actual honest-to-god side project, by the way. I’ve never done anything other than EF music and occasional guesting, at least not after I got in with Drag City and stopped monkeying around with all the rockabilly & country cover bands. Which were tons of fun!! But not my own original work, and that’s super important to me. To create something genuinely new rather than rehashing the normal old creaky blues and R&B and country music that I absolutely still love & cherish? But that isn’t fully my own, really. Not completely. I have a lot more to offer as a songwriter than just a bunch of old genre-studies and torchy songs wherein I complain about those mystifying men and their mystifying ways.

How do you split your time between both of your projects?

DO: Again, they occupy such different territory, it’s not really anything I think about. The drummer of Goes Cube is also the drummer of a sludge band called Cleanteeth, and the bassist is producing a documentary about veterans, the working title of which is Thank You For Your Service. There are no conflicts with any of this stuff.

EF: LOL. I just don’t.

What’s coming up for Distant Correspondent, Goes Cube, and Edith Frost?

DO: I really don’t like jinxing things by saying what is when it hasn’t happened yet. But there is a third Goes Cube album in the works, and getting a Distant Correspondent album released, and getting us on the road is also a major priority.

EF: Edith Frost solo is frozen in carbonite for now. She’ll be okay, but it’s all about Distant Correspondent in 2013. That’s where it’s at, man. We’re on fire, like almost literally human combustion on fire!! I have NO EARTHLY IDEA how far we might be able to go with this. Really it feels like the whole world is our oyster right now. I hope I always feel that way from here on out, like I really can do anything provided I have the right people around me, supporting & fostering my creativity. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid ears on. I don’t ever want it to end, and it doesn’t have to. What a huge relief that is, you have no idea.

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Visit Goes Cube at facebook.com/goescube. Learn more about Edith Frost at EdithFrost.com.