You might expect one of the world's premier space-rock bands (and RBMA Radio stars) Wooden Shjips to deal exclusively in cosmic influences but it seems there's something a little more earthy behind the San Franciscans' new album for Thrill Jockey, Back To Land. Bass player Dusty Jermier talks us through two nature advocating records he listened to while recording the Shjips' hypnotic, synapse-frying fourth album.
"For the new album, Back To Land, I found inspiration in the nature recordings of Dan Dugan's Waitomo Walkway One and Tim Nielsen's Big Ocean Waves – Vancouver Island Surf.
Dan Dugan’s Waitomo Walkway One is a one-hour walk through nature that includes birdsong, buzzing insects, the crunch of earth and twigs, and the growls of unknown creatures… each sound playing in its own cycle that meshes with the others.
These New Zealand sounds are new to me. They're a new way to hear the world, a fresh start – and yet it all sounds as old as the hills. I don't know any of the bird sounds on Dugan’s album and hearing them encourages me to listen differently to the birds I do know, which helps me listen differently to all things in my life.
Why do the birds sing? To communicate with fellow birds, to alert outsiders they’ve been spotted, to confuse listeners as to where a treat might be. (Sorry if I’ve got the bird-singing thing wrong, David Attenborough, but I’m inspired by your enthusiasm just the same.) The birds are masters of mind games.
The buzzing insect fly-bys, too! I can see where they are just by listening out and their movement helps me locate other sounds – the screech-screech-screech bird on the right, the bird that rings like a bell in the far distant right, the chirp-chirp-chirp one to the left.
The sound of day to day life in San Francisco can be hectic and noisy, much of the sound from man-made machinery like garbage trucks, fog horns, planes. It’s all 'natural', but is so dominated by human activity that sometimes it seems unnatural. But on Tim Nielsen’s Big Ocean Waves – Vancouver Island Surf, it's just surf. It's that simple. There's plenty of subtle detail and natural cadences to sink into and become part of.
On the walk in New Zealand, I'm challenged to listen to familiar sounds in a new way. Sitting by the shore in Vancouver I'm reminded to sit easy and become part of the sound."