Uncharted is our weekly showcase of independent artists we think you should hear. Celestial Shore are a Brooklyn-via-Boston group who are using art school education and deep jazz roots to create their own band of winding psychedelia. Jordan spoke with bassist/vocalist Greg Albert about family jam sessions, short attention spans, and riling jazz purists.
If the density in these songs makes it seem like Celestial Shore are making up for lost time, it's because they are. Formed out of art school in Boston six years ago, the band went through two incarnations before dissolving catastrophically onstage (that iteration included Orly Rodriguez aka Empress Of. Happily, her vocals feature on 10x). It was then that work on 10x began; first with long-distance song trading between New Hampshire and Boston with guitarist Sam Owens, then with a move to Brooklyn, where they were stymied again by a terrible job market. “It’s not an easy place to live,” vocalist/bassist Greg Albert says, “Surviving becomes difficult.” He now teaches music full-time both privately and not-for-profit, which he loves. But Celestial Shore is always a priority: “We’ve gone through periods of intense practicing. When we first got here, we were playing everyday for about 3 or 4 months. We know the songs better than we did when we recorded them.” This tightness of form makes each song like a web of pneumatic tubes, all busy with hurtling messages with rigorous structure.
I spoke with Greg over the phone. He sounded eager to get the album out, which makes sense – the album's release was delayed for over a year by not giving the mastering a deadline. And yet, 10x feels very of-the-moment. As new music is getting more crowded and more disposable, ravenous listeners need better concepts, faster. Celestial Shore has plenty to spare.
When did you start playing music?
I started really young. My family are all musicians. My grandfather was a trumpet player in a big band in Boston and I started singing as soon as I could talk. Now I guess I’m a "multi-instrumentalist."
Coming from a musical family, did you ever experience a moment of teenage rebellion where you were, like, “Screw this! I want to be an accountant!”
No, never. I was always pitiful at sports and math and stuff. My family was super supportive. We would have family jam sessions. I used to play concerts with my sisters and cousins. We’d just jam at gatherings and parties, sit around and play on one or two chords. It was super fun because there was no pressure, it wasn’t like a recital. I remember everyone would fight over the drums. Sam, who’s the guitarist in Celestial Shore, he had a family band growing up too. And Max, the drummer, his dad is a really talented saxophone player who played with Charles Mingus. So he played with his family his whole life.
So what do you play now as a family?
A lot of jazz, grooving… their musical interests are different because I like weirder stuff like psychedelic rock and free jazz. They prefer Stevie Wonder tunes, and I can get down with that.
Your album certainly has jazz elements, but doesn’t sound like you were going for a jazz record. Is that fair to say?
Yes. Celestial Shore all have a jazz background. We were kind of rebelling because any kind of art school turns you off from what you’re directly studying, I think. So we all got turned off on the jazz thing for our own personal reasons. I can’t put any emotion into it… it’s become like exercises than communicating any kind of feeling. Like playing scales and patterns and not necessarily saying anything. I think we were all sick of that.
Have you had the opportunity for any jazz purists to hear the album?
I have some friends who have heard it and haven’t necessarily reacted negatively… I don’t think it’s inaccessible to that kind of person. We weren’t trying to rustle any feathers. Making somebody feel something and not necessarily wow-ing them with technical facility, that's the goal. There’s a lineage for the kind of music that we make and we draw from specific influences. Some of them aren’t jazz.
Definitely psychedelic rock. That’s a pretty broad thing to say, but… And pop. Anywhere from the big 60’s stuff like early Soft Machine. And I know we’re all really into Broadcast. They were a big influence. Psychedelic rock and free jazz. Deerhoof. Sam grew up in North Carolina, so country music is a big part of what he does and where he comes from.
Your songs have very fantastical titles. That kind of stuff really sticks with me.
When we were writing these songs, we were all in a similar place with our song-writing. It was a lot of stream of consciousness and feelings that at the time were whatever they were. And looking back, they kind of become this dream-like, strange thing.
Was there editing? What was the process?
I can only speak for my songs and for most of them, melodies and words were written at the same time. So the melodies were pretty much married to the lyrics. There wasn’t much editing I could do.
How was working on the songs that Sam brought in?
We were co-writing every song. He would have these super idiosyncratic guitar parts basically entirely worked out and we would compose the other instruments around that. And my songs would be a melody and chords and I would give them the freedom to write whatever parts they wanted and help arrange the form. The exception being “Valerie,” where the guitar part was set.
Do you incorporate improvisation into your live performances?
Yes, we improvise plenty. We try to leave room in specific songs. A lot of the newer material has improvisation as part of it. I miss doing that so I’ve been trying to work it in.
The album is a relatively short statement. Any reason why it’s so concentrated?
The original concept was to write these super short songs that had a lot of content in them. For a while, that was our concept, just packing a lot of information and feelings into a short amount of time. I feel like it’s good for people who don’t have the patience. We don’t even have attention spans for TV anymore, I feel.
How’s your attention span?
It’s all over the place. I try to focus when I have to, but it’s hard.
What movie do you think your album should be played over?
I don’t want to be too… We’re all super into Lynchian kinda stuff. Maybe They Live, or something with puppets like Dark Crystal. It would have to be something super aggressive… or something in space. Max might say THX1138.