On Tour: Interview with Andy Othling of Lowercase Noises
I was able to catch one of Lowercase Noises live shows as the tour he is on with Levi the Poet and Glowhouse came through Atlanta. Andy's set, full of projected visuals, left the audience quiet and thoughtful. He was more than happy to answer some questions after his set
Merigold Independent: How has your tour been so far?
Andy Othling: It’s been good, we’re a little more than halfway through, it’s been amazing. I really like how the three of our sets go together with the visuals even though it’s eclectic and weird. I feel like people come away with a good response.
MI: Did you create all the visuals for your set?
AO: I did! It was relatively easy. I just found some old movies and old film. It has a natural vibe to it that I didn’t have to create from scratch. I wanted to use old films from the start but it also ended up being one of the easiest ways to do it.
MI: I noticed some of the visuals were triggered by the piano?
AO: Yes and no. The blocks on the screen are real time and are triggered by my piano. But in terms of the background video I have a click in my ear giving me the metronome so I can trigger with my pad video and sound clips so they all start at the same time. When I trigger the pad it gives me a measure before the visuals come in so what i’m playing live will be synched up with what's on the screen behind me.
MI: What has been your favorite part of the tour so far?
AO: We spent our off day in New York City and that was really fun. In terms of the shows, though, there has been such a crazy range of experiences. Last night we played at this theatre hall with space for 600 people. There wasn’t 600 people there so it was kind of weird but it was an amazing space. And in contrast, we’ve also played in these two-bedroom houses in Nashville. I don’t know, I just kind of like the crazy difference in all the venues we’ve played.
Going back to the set itself. Knowing that we’d be playing in such a wide variety of places we’ve simplified the set up so that it can work in all these different places. I send my HDMI cable from my computer to the projector and we can pull it off in these big venues with huge walls or in little tiny rooms. I don’t know, I just like how every show has been very different.
MI: Where are you going next on the tour?
AO: We’ve got Orlando, Florida tomorrow which is going to be a long drive, and a couple more Florida dates and then we start heading back west. New Orleans and then five dates in Texas because it’s massive.
MI: Have you enjoyed the east coast?
AO: Oh yeah! It’s nice because when we get out here the drives are relatively short because everything is closer together.
MI: You just have the tolls.
AO: Right! The tolls. It’s a bummer. In New York there was a $13 one.
It’s funny for us because we’re used to the desert and massive mountains but here it’s like the forests are so thick you can barely see in them. I have no idea what is ten feet beyond the tree-line. In Albuquerque you can see everything for miles and the forests aren’t dense. I sometimes feel a little claustrophobic here. Not necessarily in a bad way but it’s just interesting to notice the differences between landscapes and such. But I like being in different places. I don’t want to live anywhere other than Albuquerque but I love seeing new places.
MI: Do you feel like the landscape of Albuquerque helps you compose your music? Do you pull from that at all?
AO: I'd say yes but maybe not consciously. I had a friend come visit me at my house and it was his first time in the area and he said “I feel like I understand your music more now.” So yeah, I’ve only grown to love New Mexico more and more because you can drive forty minutes in any direction and you’re basically in the middle of nowhere. You can get away from the city life quickly but there is always the landmark of these massive 10,000 feet mountains and you can see them anywhere in Albuquerque. The amount of space where there is nothing, I’ve grown to need that in a way. But yes, that bigness and openness and nothingness has allowed me to be more patient in my music than I would otherwise be, I think.
MI: Has it been difficult at all being on tour away from your wife and kids?
AO: Yeah, it’s definitely difficult for her and I but we live very close to my wife's parents and they help her out while i’m away. And with the wonders of modern technology we FaceTime and talk on the phone pretty much everyday and my kids send me goodnight videos every night. But it’s hard. Honestly, this is the fourth tour i’ve ever been on but the worst part for me is always right before I leave as I start preemptively missing them. But as soon as I do leave it gets a little better because I get into the regularity of the tour days. Like you wake up, you drive, you play, you sleep, and repeat, and I kind of end up liking it because it’s a simpler life. But it’s still really tough. Especially more than two weeks in. I’d probably be okay if we were closer to being home but once two weeks rolls around I’m like “Dang. This is a long time to be away from them.”
My wife is amazing, she is incredibly supportive. Fortunately as a full-time musician I don’t always need to tour. This is sort of an experiment to see how it would go and see how people would respond. I don’t need to get up and leave for six months at a time. And financially I don’t need to do that either, which is great.
She knows it’s a goal I have had for a while to figure out how to translate my music to be played in front of people and somewhere other than in my bedroom. She understands that and is very, very supportive.
MI: Do you have obstacles to overcome as far as transposing your music from the studio to playing in a live environment?
AO: The way I did this, there were two options for me. One was “Okay, I can take a list of old songs and figure out how to play them live.” But the more I started thinking about it I thought “Well, why don’t I just write new music and create a set up that I could really utilize when playing live." Some of the things I wanted: I really wanted visuals, that was really important to me. I wanted to play both piano and guitar and be able to loop both at the same time. And I wanted the visuals to be somewhat interactive. They are subtly interactive, but they are there. So that was essentially the criteria of what I wanted to accomplish. So basically I put together a set up that would achieve that and I wrote the music given those constraints.
So it was completely different because in the studio I can, say, record a guitar part, then put stuff on top of it. Because in the studio you can clone yourself and be four people at the same time playing on top of each other but with this it’s like “Okay, I’m just one person now. How am I going to do this?” And the other part of it was the trade offs in terms of gear. The convenience of using my computer as my guitar amp is amazing. It’s weird not using guitar amps but i’ve been incredibly happy with it. I have an in-ear mix of what's going on and no matter how terrible the sound system is at a venue it still sounds perfect in my ears so I can at least perform like it sounds good.
MI: So essentially, what we were hearing you play tonight was all new material?
AO: Yes! Absolutely. In some ways it’s the harder thing to write completely new music but in other ways it’s less painful. I didn’t want to try and figure out how to change old songs and figure out how I could perform them the same live.
MI: Any interesting stories so far from the road?
AO: Well tonight! Holy cow! We have very weird line-ups because just within ourselves (Levi, Glowhouse) it’s a weird line-up. Levi, in the past was very associated with the hardcore music scene. He would tour with metal bands to perform poetry between sets and he has a lot of friends in that scene. So there have been shows where there’s hardcore bands opening for us and it’s just funny. But tonight there has been two really great indie bands, a rapper, and a bunch of other poets with different styles. But. The best story but far is the poet who at the end of his set spray painted himself with spray paint, lit his shirt on fire so the whole front of his shirt was engulfed in flames, and then did a backflip right into a belly flop landing on his stomach extinguishing the fire with the stage. I’ve never seen anything like that before and I'm pretty sure it was probably illegal to have fire on a wooden stage in a music venue. So I’m curious to hear how the people who came out to hear me thought of the poet lighting himself on fire before my set. But that is, by far, the best story so far.
MI: Have the audiences generally been pretty receptive to your music?
AO: Yeah, they have. And it’s really cool to have people come out who already know what I do since it’s been a bedroom thing for me for so many years. But to come out thousands of miles from my home and people know about me and what i’m doing is really encouraging. But the people who haven’t heard my music before have been very receptive, too. At least, if there are people who haven’t liked it they haven’t told me yet. The cool thing about this music to me is that it doesn’t have to mean something specific. People come to me with all kinds of things they say they take away from it. There’s no words so it’s not telling you how to feel. Some people say they love studying to this music, some say they fall asleep to it, others say it’s completely melancholy to them, some say they listen to it when they pray or helps them relax or feel at peace. It’s just been great to hear how vastly different the responses are to the music.
Honestly one of my biggest anxieties before leaving was going to be me having this set and just completely embarrassing myself every night. Especially because lots of people are coming to hear Levi talk and read poetry and then they get a guy playing music with absolutely zero words. So that was a big fear of mine. But those fears have been unfounded.
MI: I had, obviously, only ever listened to your recordings by myself and it was a new experience hearing you perform live as it was almost a communal experience. Is it interesting for you to look out and see people listening to your music as opposed to you being in your studio and not seeing their reactions?
AO: It is definitely a different experience. Though it is pretty strange because I’ve got a projector blinding me and I’ve got my in-ears in so I can only hear what I’m doing. So, it’s different if you’re singing or something because you’ve got a mic and you’re looking out but for me it’s still kind of a personal and private thing in a way because one, I don’t have much time to focus on the crowd because there are a zillion things I am trying to do on stage, and two, it’s just that I…I was talking to Levi about this the other day but I just feel with my music that I want the songs to stand by themselves and I want to subtract the personality of “me” from it as much as possible. The way that goes with the live show is like tonight I didn’t feel like I needed to say anything or introduce myself to the crowd at all; I just wanted the music to do that for me, you know? And now that I think about it it’s interesting because even though I’ve got my in-ears and am being blinded by the light, you get a feeling of the room. Like some nights I can tell people are like shifting on their feet like “okay, this is whatever” but there are some nights where you can feel the heaviness of attention where people are really watching and listening. And that is the coolest part that I don’t quite understand. And it’s totally non-verbal but just a feeling of connection.
Like tonight I felt good about it. Mainly because the night has been SO weird. One, there’s been so much talking so I didn’t want to talk and two I think people maybe felt refreshed or something [by lyric-less music]. It was so different from what was happening the entire night with loud bands and people yelling, people lighting themselves on fire, I felt like there was a lot of attention during my set tonight and that was really cool.
One of the jokes I make almost every night is that the only reason Levi brought me out on this tour is because he was going to say so many words that I’m here to say zero words. So the word count in your head at the end of the night is about average for a concert.
You can catch Lowercase Noises on the second half of his tour! Dates can be found here.