Interview: Cosmic American music-explorers, Aircrafting

Aircrafting began as the musical project of Jon Tehel and Daniel Jacobs and has since then expanded to a full on 5-piece who have recently released their debut full length titled, Dreamers. Aircrafting is the work of Jon Tehel, Daniel Jacobs, Nicole Lawrence, Pat Floyd and Lee Bones. Jon and Nicole answered some questions about their new record, how Aircrafting came to be and their cassette label, Sinking Spaceships Recordings.
MFL: Discuss the positive and negative sides of writing, recording AND releasing your own music on your own label.
Jon Tehel (J): As someone who prefers to take care of things in-house than outsource tasks, it makes the process a necessary one for me, partly because I’m a control freak and don’t enjoy the act of waiting on other people but also because it’s important to me to be as self-sufficient as possible. Though the amount of work involved can be trying at times, knowing that we’re in charge at every stage and don’t need to rely on anyone for anything is quite liberating.
Nicole Lawrence (N): For the me the positive was getting to control the recording environment. We made the record in our own studio space, which is modest compared to a commercial studio, but we got to take our time where we needed it. We run a small tape label so we released it that way ourselves, which is cool. But we don’t have the resources of a bigger label, so you could call that a negative. But we managed to make the record and get it out into the world on our own which feels really good.
MFL: What was the order of events for Aircrafting? What came first, the music or the label?
J: Well the first releases on the label (Sinking Spaceship Recordings) were tapes of DJ’s (organ/keyboardist) solo recordings under the moniker Timeless Music back in 2010. Those came roughly around the same time him and I first started recording as Aircrafting.
MFL: How does the music scene in Brooklyn, or NYC as a whole, influence the life of Aircrafting?
N: The community aspect is the most important part to me. Over the last few years I’ve gotten to know and play music with an awesome crew of Brooklyn musicians. There’s so many generous and talented people here. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum; the fact that I get to do this kind of stuff along side so many other great people is really what it’s all about. I love being challenged and pushed by other players. There’s a lot of support and inspiration here.
J: Everyone in the band plays in other bands around town so it is a community. Our label actually put out a compilation of NYC artists over the summer called Bright Spots you can check out. A bunch of friends pitched in unreleased songs to make it happen: IYEZ, Drew Taylor, Sunwatchers, Love As Laughter, and Pale Mara (one of Lee’s other bands) to name a few.
MFL: As listeners of your debut full length, Dreamers, should we be aware of any collaborations or is the record 100% Aircrafting?
J: The record as a whole feels like a collaboration. Prior to this record it was just DJ and I just recording songs I had laying around. For this record, now that Pat, Nicole, and Lee are in the band, everyone wrote and everyone contributed a great deal. Outside of the band we were lucky enough to have our friend and studiomate, Jon Erickson, help out on the engineering/mixing side which made my job recording the record much easier. We also had Dan Iead (of Cass McComb’s band) color a few tracks with his beautiful pedal steel playing.
MFL: How did the duo become a five-piece and what is the story behind the band name?
J: DJ and I were playing shows after we recorded the Taurean Drifts tape in 2014 and wanted to add more sonic elements to the mix. We asked our friend Nicole here to join, she kindly accepted and she brought along Pat who kindly accepted and then we stumbled upon Lee who kindly accepted. As for the name, as far as I can remember it came to me in a hallucination while lying on a couch in a garage in California listening to DJ tune a piano with a drum key, a pair of pliers, and a headlamp.
MFL: I have heard the words “cosmic American music” used many times in descriptions of Aircrafting’s sound and the record, Dreamers, more specifically. Can you break this down even further to describe your sonic exploration in Dreamers/for Aircrafting?
N: I’m very interested in American music, traditional American forms and the lineage of it–country music, blues music. Everything I think is blues music, ultimately. The Cosmic American thing is associated originally with Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. So it’s like operating within this traditional idiom of country music, with traditional country music themes of loss and loneliness, stuff like that–but then there’s an extra layer of weird thrown in. This druggy hazy sadness. Cosmic American is outside the norm of country music. So it’s interesting both for it’s adherence to form and for its lawlessness. So I wanted to make a record that existed in this lineage of American music and that spoke back to some of those artists who inspired me. It’s also why we had to get pedal steel on the record. And us, as a group, talking about Cosmic American was a way for us to find focus in what we were doing. Personally I find working within a set of parameters like that to be really valuable and inspiring, not at all limiting. It’s why I love blues music, because the form is simple, it doesn’t change much. So the opportunity for nuance and character within that form, is really limitless.
aircrafting_new
MFL: Talk more about recording Dreamers on a Tascam 388. Who got their hands on the piece of equipment and what does it have to offer that cannot be contributed by other recording equipment?
J: We got it from the classifieds as an “as is” listing where the guy said he hadn’t a clue if it actually worked. Once we heard that it powered on and had less than 20 hours on it we said fuck it and bought it. It was incredibly inexpensive being that it was sold “as is” and ended up being in immaculate shape, especially the tape heads. It’s a 1/4″ 8-track reel-to-reel with the mixing deck all on the same desk, which makes recording on it fairly simplistic to me as someone who grew up using 4-track cassette recorders.
N: These machines have sort of a cult thing right now, with good reason. Ty Segall has one… Tim Presley, and John Dwyer as well, as far as I know. Jon and I are both really interested in analog recording and the 388 is a cool affordable mid-fi option… Our 388 is really part of this record. If we had made it any other way it would sound completely different.
MFL: With Dreamers out in the music-sphere, are you all itching to write and record new music or are you still reveling in the glory of your release?
J: Can’t speak for the other guys but I could use a margarita with a couple extra floaters.
N: I’m not reveling. I’m trying to get back into the studio as soon as possible. The next record will start happening imminently.
MFL: Is there any one track on Dreamers you feel encapsulates the musical and ideological qualities of Aircrafting better than any other?
N: For me it’s “Dreamer’s Jam”, especially when we do it live because we can really open up the front section. On the recorded version we did some really cool stuff with my guitar going through a space echo and an echoplex, and right at the end of the opening solo there’s some cool sound-on-sound stuff you can hear faintly. I like the openness of it and the fact that we could never really recreate that. The sound-on-sound thing was what GBV would call a “happy accident.”  And then on other songs Dan’s pedal steel parts really elevate the whole thing for me. I think that was really integral to the record becoming cohesive.
J: I’d agree. That song stemmed from DJ getting to practice early for once and having the time to play around and write the skeleton and by the time we all got there and plugged in we had the song written.
MFL: Finally, what’s on the schedule the next few months performance-wise?

N: We are booking more shows in Brooklyn/NYC over the next few months and maybe a few out of town gigs. We’ll definitely be out there playing.

 

Thank you to Jon Tehel and Nicole Lawrence for taking the time to share some of their musical perspectives with MFL and to Mike Bell for making the interview possible! You can find Dreamers on Bandcamp now.

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