Electronic music — most digitally recorded music really — is maybe too enamoured with precision. DAWs will quantize and pitch correct with basically just a keystroke. That environment promotes a mathematical, machine-enabled perfection. Perhaps a bit sterile or inhuman. Drowzy, the electronic side project of Young Galaxy guitarist Stephen Ramsay, is after something more spontaneous and immediate.
"Back"/"Rings," the second two-side single from Drowzy, is an "exploration on themes of minimalism, repetition, dissonance and drone," Ramsay says. Both tracks were recorded live. He permitted fewer than 10 overdubs each. All mistakes were kept intact. It's a Dogme 95 approach that preserves the energy and tension of human performance as well as the idiosyncrasies of the analogue instruments.
Ramsay was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on the Drowzy ethos and the philosophy behind the new record label, House of Commons, he co-founded with wife and bandmate Catherine McCandless.
Chart Attack: Why Drowzy? Is there a mission to the project?
It's so much more raw than anything else I've been associated with. I couldn't imagine going through the same process with Drowzy's music as I do with Young Galaxy, where we constantly work and re-work songs.
Drowzy serves as an antidote to the things about the music industry I despise - there's pretty much been a total corporate infiltration of all musical genres - it's resulted in all these artists angling for acceptance, and careerism begins at the first whiff of potential. There's just so much content farming going on. Artists are like commercial dairy cows being milked constantly by these big machines... With the music I make as Drowzy, I don't feel it requires mass acceptance in order to exist... I make it myself, I put it out on my own label. I'll let it develop organically and create things when I feel inspired to do so. Hopefully there is a naivety and purity about it that will resonate for people, but I'm not bothered either way if it doesn't cut through all the chatter and whoring and smoke and mirrors at this point.
You say you wanted to explore how the creative process and workflow have changed. How do we hear that on the single?
It's so much more raw than anything else I've been associated with. It had to be this way - I couldn't imagine going through the same process with Drowzy's music as I do with Young Galaxy, where we constantly work and re-work songs. These songs are very un-calculated. They evolve out of long, sprawling jams. I record as much of it live as possible, and let quirks and mistakes exist in the finished product. It's made primarily with analogue synths and drum machines that have a lot of flavour on their own, and I see myself as a conduit trying to find interesting ways of harnessing the energy of these machines. For me, I find the process of Drowzy is much more meditative and less egocentric than with Young Galaxy. It's easy to get lost in it in a good way, I think.
Back/Rings was recorded live with limited overdubs and edits, which seems markedly different than how most electronic music gets made. Why the challenge?
There's a sterility to most electronic music that has to do with making music in the box, on a computer. I think making boring electronic music is easy, but making great electronic music is one of the hardest things to do. For me, the best dance music is minimal and propulsive, hypnotic and exciting. It has a kinetic quality that forces you to move. It pulls you in.
Analogue synths and drum machines have their own character, and they groove and shift in ways that I think you can't easily reproduce with midi and software. When you interact with them, you harness energy that is just simply not there in the box. So these songs are really about capturing the process of me interacting with these machines, and harnessing the energy of them - that's the first thing I want the listener to hear. Once you start messing with that too much, you tend to lose something to the sterility of the computer environment. Did I succeed? I would say I haven't yet, honestly - but that's part of the process with Drowzy: to master how to capture that energy.
Is it productive, sometimes, to work with constraints?
Absolutely. They lend themselves to greater scrutiny of the elements that stay in the work. If you have only four tracks of music, for instance, they each better be essential to the song. Anything that isn't must go. If you say to yourself, 'I will avoid using melodic instruments to create a hook', you are forced to ask yourself why you would do it, and how you would do it differently then. Since I work alone on Drowzy, these are the foils I put in place to check myself from getting indulgent or losing the plot, conceptually.
Tell me about your new label, House of Commons. Is there a philosophy? What do you plan on putting out?
House Of Commons was founded by my wife Catherine and I. Our philosophy has to do with 'punk spirit' - not as it applies to traditional punk music per se, but as a perspective that I would describe as a rejection of aesthetics, desire and excess, that takes it's cues from brutalism and creative risk taking. The challenge of making raw, unpolished music is relatively new to me, but feels like an antidote as I mentioned earlier, to the bloated, capitalist aspects of the music industry. At this moment in history, this seems like a painfully pertinent stance. The long term goal is to make House of Commons a much broader platform for artists in general. We are surrounded by talented artists of all kinds in our community, so if we have our way, H.O.C. will collaborate on anything from music, to installation art, to clothing design.
It'a important to make our output unpredictable in nature, and to smash the expectations of how a label is perceived. We're just getting started, so naturally it's low key at the moment - but the nature of the project is starting to shift dramatically already. We're currently discussing some collaborations that are not strictly musical in nature, so there are some surprises coming. The unknown is an exciting place for us - we have never wanted to be complacent creatively.