Musical Eyes: Gem Club on Japanese Boro

Few things put me at peace the way Gem Club does. Like staring at the moon, with stars dimming out of focus, clouds at all sides, churning with a rain that never falls—it’s a melancholic kind of contemplation, yet ever-assuring, as I know that this pure, unrelenting beauty lies just out of reach, just one squint away.

Gem Club, comprised of Christopher Barnes and Kristen Drymala, has soundtracked many a late night while I’ve worked on my own art, often making me wonder what types of visual influences might exist behind the sound fueling mine. Christopher has been kind enough to open up his and his partner Jared’s personal collection of textile art, as well as, chat for a few on his path to music and his admiration for Japanese boro.

Gem Club – Lands "Gem Club – Lands"
Gem Club – In Wavelengths "Gem Club – In Wavelengths"
Gem Club – Sevens "Gem Club – Sevens"

I know very little about Japanese boro, can you tell us a little about what it is and it’s history?

In rural Japan back in the 19th and into the early 20th century cotton was very scarce. Most early Japanese garments were made of hemp, but for northern Japan these clothes had to be thickly woven, were often uncomfortable, and did not retain warmth very well. So when cotton was introduced to Japan, it was seen as a luxury item for rural poor. Cotton was brought from warmer districts such as Osaka and other cities by ships, where people bought fragments instead of a cloth roll as it was less expensive. It was common for these textiles to be passed down through generations, where they would be patched and mended to reinforce them for the next user. It’s sort of an unintended art form, which highlights preservation and the importance of reuse and recycling.

You hold degrees in fields outside of music. For you, was music an unintended art form? What paths lead you to form Gem Club?

In some ways yes. For a long time there was no real path. Well, I mean I was making choices that would ensure that there would be none. I had graduated from university…I’m not quite sure how that was pulled off. I was very much a mess. Somewhere in there I decided that I wanted to go back to school for music but I was having a difficult time keeping sober and going to school. School wasn’t a joke either, I think sometimes people think that going to study music means you’re playing the guitar all day. That’s part of it, but there’s a lot more going on – composition, ear training, theory. I had written songs before I went to school, and they were very personal and I never played them for anyone. They were also very bad. School forced me to have to perform in front of an audience, something I don’t think I would have otherwise ever attempted. In that way, I feel like had I not gone to school much of what would later happen with Gem Club would never have surfaced.

Boro are deceptively simple, made of only cotton, indigo and thread, somewhat mirroring the elements you use to compose your music–piano, voice and strings. Both achieve an incredible amount of depth from so few raw materials. Can you speak to this minimalist philosophy that seems to underline both the art you collect and the music you create?

This is an interesting question and something that I’ve never really thought of before. I feel like people would notice these flaws, the holes that needed to be repaired and they would cover it up, they would mend it. I don’t really think they would think twice about it, I mean which piece would go where. You saw that your jacket had torn and you fixed it because you didn’t want the hole to get bigger or you didn’t want to be cold or whatever. I don’t think there was a lot of concern for aesthetics. We admire these pieces for the unintended end result–the insane array of patches and stitching–but to the Japanese, the heavily patched side would typically be hidden.

I think with my work I tend to obsess about the missing pieces, often to my detriment. It makes me nuts. I remember working on Lands for weeks trying to find the right textures for the horn and the cello to fit underneath the chorus. There is a lot to learn from boro–not only about the history of the textile and the people who were using them, but also in it’s creation. Instead of fussing over these holes, worrying what piece should go where, or waiting around for that perfect piece to surface, the garments were just patched and with time you could eventually step away from these objects and see this fantastic end result.

Thank you Christopher.

You can explore more of Gem Club’s music on their website and stream both the LP, Breakers and EP, Acid and Everything here. I highly recommend you get a copy of Breakers (on white vinyl) while it lasts.

All images above are courtesy of the collection of Christopher Barnes and Jared Graves. I want to extend a very special thank you to Jared for photographing all of these for us.


Takahiro Kimura’s animated collage reflects a fragmented landscape

Wide-eyed and hollow, we enter this world, with no choice but to move forward and emerge from the dark. Reflected onto us is a fragmented landscape, shimmering with moments of hope while simultaneously emitting apprehension. We unknowingly let it shift our appearance. At our core were are unchanged. Our eyes, the windows within, remain ever open, for growth is a difficult process to see.

View more of Takahiro Kimura‘s Broken Faces and observe as we go from Born to Bone.

Also, try muting the above video and watching it re-scored with Julianna Barwick’s Prizewinning.


Musical Eyes: Teen Daze on A Silent Planet

Over a continuous stream of emotive dance music, Teen Daze has evoked just about every contemplative landscape Earth has to offer—oceans, sunsets, forests, and so on. His latest effort however, leaves this world behind for a day-dreamt voyage through the pages of CS Lewis‘ celestial “Out Of The Silent Planet.” Upon first listen we begin acclimating ourselves with our new found surroundings, wondering what secrets may be hidden beneath the surface. Enlivened by curiosity we begin the exploration, him along side, scoring our thoughts as if hovering in the very atmosphere. He’s been here before and knows the way.

Anticipating that there must be more to the tale than sound and word, I’ve asked Jamison to share with us some of the more visual influences that helped shape the album. Below he describes how the novel, it’s many cover designs, the work of Scott Hansen, Carl Sagan and Candy Claws have effected the ep.

Surface "Surface"
The Harvest "The Harvest"

A Silent Planet
As I read “Out Of The Silent Planet,” the first in CS Lewis’ “Space Trilogy,” I was incredibly moved by the way that Lewis could create such vivid landscapes with his words. It was easy to feel claustrophobic and tense as the main character sped through space in his coffin-like ship, and it was easy to feel disoriented and in wonder as the main character first stepped onto the new planet. Throughout my reading, I had a visual playing in my head. As well as having that visual creation happening, I also heard what the soundtrack to those visions might sound like, and that’s what eventually became “A Silent Planet”. The music on the record is a companion to the visuals that I saw in my mind.

This isn’t the first time that visuals have played a big role in the creation of my music. Listed below are several different artists/pieces of art that have had a significant influence on the creation of A Silent Planet, as well as all my other works as Teen Daze:

Out Of The Silent Planet Novel Covers
Obviously, “A Silent Planet” draws a lot of influence from its novel counterpart. But the physical novel itself even served as an influence; the many pressings of this novel mean that there are many different visual interpretations of the story. Each one tells a different piece of the story, and each presents a different idea visually. Just as I had my own visual experience with the novel, it’s so interesting to see how each one of the illustrators has their own idea of how to represent the novel.


Scott Hansen (aka ISO50)
One of the greatest inspirations for me, both musically and visually, has been the work of Scott Hansen, who creates music under the name Tycho, and designs under the moniker, ISO50. Scott’s works evoke so much emotion and feeling. So much of my work as Teen Daze has been created as “vibe music”, or in other words, it’s been created to have that same characteristic that Scott’s work has. I want Teen Daze records to draw out those same emotions and feelings that I experience when I listen to Tycho, or when I see some of his design work.


I only discovered Carl Sagan this past year, and I dove head first into Cosmos. The man’s passion and love for all things “unexplainable” is so inspiring. The way that he was able to take something very intellectual and formal, and present it in a very relational way was such a wonderful gift. His passion for Science spilled over and became a passion for anyone that came to experience him, whether personally or through this series. Visually, the series itself is so lush and pleasing to the eye. The soundtrack uses electronic music in a way that is more comparable to classical music, rather than dance music, which is a trait that I’ve always strived towards.


Candy Claws In Dreamland
A huge musical influence on the record is the works of Candy Claws. Dreamland is a series of videos that feature the band exploring some of the beautiful nature scenes in their home state of Colorado, as well as showcasing their ability to create other-worldly sounds through the series’ soundtrack. When I first approached Ryan, one of the principle members of Candy Claws, about possibly designing the album art, I was shocked when he said that he was a huge fan of the books when he was growing up. A week or so later, and he sent me his first draft, which ended up being the cover!  His design work has this modern, 50′s look to it, and it suited the feeling of the album so well.

Images from top to bottom:

  1. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Avon Books 1949
  2. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Avon T127 1949
  3. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Pan Books 1962
  4. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Mac Millan 1970
  5. Out Of The Silent Planet, Publisher: Scribner Paperback Fiction 1986
  6. ISO50 – Tycho: Past is Prologue
  7. ISO50 – Tycho: Dive

A Silent Planet is available (September 13th) digitally on bandcamp and physically at the Lefse Records shop on both CD & cassette.


Musical Eyes: Mutual Benefit on Contemporary Ephemera

Old broken music boxes, warped circuitry, blogger cameos, banjos, pianos, (insert anything else that’s capable of creating sound waves here); now combine them with the voice and mind of Jordan Lee and you have Mutual Benefit. Often simply described as boyish crooning, Mutual Benefit, to me is so much more, it’s a heart-driven exploration into the mind as it finds it’s way in this world – arms and fingers outstretched. Sure, the journey may take detours along the way disguised as toy instruments, Midwestern basements and an existential crisis or two but I assure you the intentions are pure. In the dissonance there is beauty, in the beauty there is all of us.

I’ll leave you to look, listen and explore with words to live by from Jordan himself, “remember to do cool stuff and be kind to each other.”

Wishing "Wishing"
Animal Death Mask "Animal Death Mask"
Birdwatcher "Birdwatcher"

In a sentence or two, tell us why you love each of the four artists whose work we see above.

Betty Blue – With Betty’s work she creates her own specific aesthetic universe using all the materials around her; innocent things become occult while disturbing imagery is twisted to become cute again.

M. Foster – I am always immediately drawn to M. Foster’s interesting color choices and but I also enjoy her sly social commentary.

Stephanie Bonham – While photography may seem to not fit in perfectly with the other three artists, Stephanie Bonham’s pictures captured an emerging diy music scene in Austin that influenced my sounds immensely. Her attention to the little details that make everyday life so absurd as well as the little moments that are so beautiful make her pictures special to me.

Whitney Lee – My sister Whitney Lee’s work is made from found latch-hook rugs which she uses as a canvas to hook an era specific nude model onto…  I love how it blurs the line between art and craft, makes an interesting statement on feminism, and just looks really cool.

Of the artists you’ve chosen to share, many work with materials most would not consider suitable for “art,” such as markers, stickers, rugs… What draws you to their love for the unconventional?

Pieces that incorporate everyday imagery with consumer-level art supplies are definitely the most compelling to me. I like the idea that there shouldn’t be any entry barriers to expressing yourself and being creative. I see a lot of parallels between the art and music that I enjoy. Both could be considered “lo-fi” in a sense. I think there’s a lot of priviledged seclusion and hot air in the fine art world and its nice to see some people ‘stick it’ to any sort of remaining conventions.

Why is it important for you to surround yourself with contemporary, working artists instead of looking to what established greats have already accomplished?

It’s important to me to be able to connect the art to a person. Every day my computer spits out hundreds of images and at this point its hard for it to have a real impact on me unless I see it in real life. I’ve been lucky enough to talk extensively with the four artists featured here so I’m inspired equally by their personality and work.  It gives everything much clearer context. I definitely appreciate the greats as well but its become so commodified. Until I saw Starry Night at the MoMA it existed in my mind as a mousepad. Duchamp and the other surrealist troublemakers did really amazing and important work but its still people making art now that inspire me most becomes now is now and now is real!

We had talked before and you mentioned that Spanish artist Betty Blue (who designed the drifting ep cover, as well as, I saw the sea) was the most influential to your work, even inspiring the music as you wrote. How important is it for you to bring visual art into your process rather than searching for album art after the fact?

In between releases there is a time where I’m just looking for inspiration to make subject matter for next album. Visual art can definitely provide a lightbulb going off in my head or a couple rogue neurons accidentally bumping into each other. For example, the idea of enso played a strong role in conceptualizing I saw the sea. Anything can spark song ideas though, a quote from Deadwood, bird documentaries, scary truckstops in new jersey, a girl talking in nonsense in her sleep, epitaphs of famous people…

You also run the cassette label Kassette Klub, often creating much of the handmade insert art yourself. Are you ever making art of your own while conceptualizing an album? If so, are your visions ever fully realized through your music?

I’m a terrible visual artist! I was hand-making the covers for a while out of financial necessity and it was nice but I’m discovering more and more that there are people out there who are so gifted at crafting imagery that it would be silly for me to try to do everything myself. On the other hand, I have found that getting a bunch of crazy books from the thrift store and having people come over to make collages is so much fun.

Images, from top to bottom:

  1. Title image: Betty Blue – untitled
  2. Betty Blue – untitled
  3. M. Foster – Quips: Directions
  4. Betty Blue- untitled
  5. M. Foster – Telebots at the Playground
  6. Stephanie Bonham – untitled
  7. Stephanie Bonham – untitled
  8. Whitney Lee – Venus of Urbino by Titan
  9. Whitney Lee – Afro

Listen, stream, download several Mutual Benefit albums here on bandcamp.


Musical Eyes: Pandit on Vast Landscapes

Pandit is Lance Smith, a songwriter/musician/producer hailing from Lumberton, Texas, where, alone in his room, he experiments with pop music. What he’s discovered is a sound that weaves in and out of various realms of the soul, scoring the soundtrack for an introspective journey within, navigating an unknown landscape.

I’ve always been interested in what types of visual art musicians were surrounding themselves with, which artists may have inadvertently influenced a sound. Lance has been gracious enough to help me form this new series, Musical Eyes, where we’ll begin exploring the favorite art/artists of musicians and perhaps gain a little more insight into the vision behind the sound.

I invite you to listen to as you take in the images and read his responses to a few questions I had on his interest in vast landscapes.

Kathryn, My Love "Kathryn, My Love"
In Love With a Fool feat. Foxes in Fiction & Coma Cinema "In Love With a Fool feat. Foxes in Fiction & Coma Cinema"
Human Qualities "Human Qualities"

Why do you think you are drawn to landscape photography?

My father introduced me to Ansel Adams when I was very young. He had bought a book consisting of various famous photos while he was stationed in San Diego in the late 60′s, waiting to head for Vietnam. My father was able to hold on to that book to this day, and I tend to pick it up quite often.

I’ve always been so interested in the Old West, especially 1800′s Texas history. I look at these photos that were taken nearly 70 years ago, and picture myself in another time period. A period in American history where there were millions of acres for the taking. I’ve consistently had those types of dreams since I was in my early teen years where I would be riding across country looking for a place to settle. This Ansel Adams photo in particular is one of those places where I could have seen myself establishing myself.

Do you feel your song writing is ever influenced by these vast open spaces, consciously or otherwise?

Most definitely. I spend a large amount of my free time out in the woods where I fish and explore. There are a ton of creek beds and wide spread fields, lots that just so happen to influence how I write a lot of my music. The words themselves in my songs don’t necessarily depict any of that, but I believe the music itself does. The elements of isolation and nature itself tend to come out a lot in what I might be playing. Whether its a guitar being played or a synth section, it relates quite accurately to where I’ve been and what I’ve seen in a lot of landscape photography.

Your music always conveys a distinct mood, do you ever have a specific vision of what the final sound might look like?

Never cohesively, no. A lot of what I write is based on letting go of really trying to write anything in particular. I never actually go into something thinking “Ok, this is what I intend on making.” It always turns out to be unexpected and even a surprise to myself. I really enjoy the process of never knowing what I’m going to end up with. There’s this intense adrenaline rush that sets sail through me when that takes place. If I write a song on an acoustic guitar, I can pretty much tell how its going to end up on record. But allowing myself to be free with what I’m doing and never setting any direction or goal, it always pleases and stimulates me much much more. There’s just something about it that makes me happier and in awe than anything that could have been written beforehand. Something you make that you cannot explain afterwords is the beauty of how far advanced the human brain and soul is. We will never understand it. That’s what makes me so passionate about continually making art. To never know what I’m going to end up with.

Being a musician, do you feel you see art differently from say, an oceanographer?

Everyone sees and interprets art in a different manner. I don’t think anyone ever really sees the same thing. If that is the case, then it just isn’t that interesting. Where I might look at a photograph of underwater life being somewhat of a nightmare or a phobia in a sense, an oceanographer might see it as a world of hope and light. I believe everyone takes what they see or create and interprets it completely different than what anyone else might relate it to. That to me is very special. Its yours. If no one else has that same interpretation, its your own belief. You control it.

Are there any visual artists (past or present) that you wish you could meet? What would you talk about with them?

I’ve always found Andy Warhol to be extremely interesting. I have a ton of old footage from some early Velvet Underground shows in the 60′s where he did all the visual work. A lot of the visual stuff done or thought of from that time period might be associated with the hippie movement. A ton of chemical colors flattened on a projector. Andy’s work was very very moving with real footage that he would tamper with. I read where he would cut certain parts of film and connect them with paintings he would do. He would leave the film outside in the heat for a matter of hours and allow the film itself to burn. When played it was this hellish interpretation of what everyone seemed to be going through back then like the draft and the overabundance of assassinations in those days.
If I could talk to Andy, I would try to figure out where he got a lot of his ideas from. The man was a total innovator of how art is perceived to be today. In a ton of Hollywood films that depict Warhol, he’s shown as this tripped out dope head. But from what I’ve read and have been told by people who knew him, he was the complete opposite. He was there mentally and would talk for hours about the meaning of life and what kind of times that they were living in. The man was a true artist.

Images, from top to bottom:

  1. (Title image) garmonique – untitled
  2. Kim Holtermand – Icelands
  3. Tim Navis – Sandia Peak, NM
  4. Ansel Adams – Mt. Moran, Teton National Park
  5. Ashley Oostdyck – Forever
  6. Janice and Nolan Braud - Field of Texas Bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis, and Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja indivisa, near Whitehall, Texas.
  7. Tim Navis - Death Valley, CA

You can find Pandit’s music here: Full length debut ‘Eternity Spin’ | Free ep ‘Strong Nerves and a Steady Heart’ | Free 17 track demo


Think or Smile | Nathaniel Whitcomb © 2011