After the recent rash of tornado’s that pummeled Dallas, it is hard not to think about the world, the vast amount of cataclysmic events that she has hidden up her sleeves and the empty stillness in the air that she leaves behind. To me Younger, the new project featuring Ryan Daniel Hammer (Unwed Sailor, The Skull) and Matt Joynt (Anathallo) is all of these things. The deluge of sounds and noises as well the calm and often eerie silence afterwards. As you listen to each of the two 10+ minute songs on their debut “New Message” you can’t help but transport your mind to a different place and with each sonic shift you are to a new landscape, which speaks to the true creativity that is Younger.
I had the chance to discuss their creative process among other various oddities and being a huge fan of Ryan and Matt’s previous projects it was an honor to have them in our latest edition of 5 Questions.
*Note: This interview was conducted with Matt and Ryan being in separate states so both of their responses are reflected with their initials
Cal - Younger began as means of pushing music into spontaneous and challenging territories. You described it as being “about the naked terror and ecstasy of showing up (to a show) without any songs”. When I first read those words I couldn’t help but think of the Ian Williams fronted band “Storm and Stress”, but a few searches brought me to a video of “Instant Band Day” which is the polar opposite of that. Can you talk a little about those early performances and touch a little bit on how they were received? Was any of it documented?
RH – The early Younger performances held a sometimes overwhelming amount of nearly ecstatic Friendship energy for me, and I feel like that will always be essential to what Younger is and will be as we continue to explore this path of music together. Absolute giddiness, major nerves, big smiles, closed eyes, silence, failing & embracing failure, the joy of momentarily dissolving into song: just a few of the zones we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in our performances. It’s hard to differentiate between early and current performances, however, as I feel like each performance is as much a beginning as those that preceded it and those that will follow. The “naked terror and ecstasy” is ever present, and I hope we’ll always challenge ourselves to enter, and explore deeply, altered & unfamiliar territories.
MJ – Storm and Stress! We never documented anything because the space of “performing” was an end in itself. Maybe that implies that we should have recorded everything? Maybe we will from now on? For me, Younger has partially been about trying to confidently break artistic habits in order to grow. Initially, it was a chance for me to step away from the hyper-structural compositions of Anathallo. Ry and I would just show up to these spaces and cut loose, while trying to be as honest and vulnerable as possible. Each show has been pretty small and intimate, which works well for what we’re doing. A lot of times the shows are filled with friends, so when we do something that seems like a stretch, it’s not received with much distance. We’ll get back to you on this one if we ever play in a hostile environment or in front of a large audience.
Cal - What is the significance behind the band name Younger? What is the story behind the Yoda mask cover of “New Message”?
RH – For me, the significance of the name Younger is always open. All words are charged with the energy of interpretation, history, experience, hope, fear, et cetera, and because we are always changing, always viewing our own experiences and relationships from new vistas, our sense of the significance or meaning of things is always a kind of rediscovery. I like rediscovering the significance of Younger, as a word, as this music project, as often as possible. Younger has sometimes signified things like childhood, remembrance / nostalgia, the awareness of aging and therefore the desire to hold onto some kind of youthfulness, if not physically then possibly in a kind of spiritual form. The image on the cover of New Message conjures some of these same feelings / meanings. Matt and I were performing with Think / Dance Collective at a community center in Chicago last Summer and we happened upon a bulletin board flier for a Star Wars day camp for kids. Totally amazing! There was a photo on the flier of this kid wearing a gnarly Yoda mask, arms raised as if in ecstatic worship, light-saber grasped tightly in one hand, and we were both stunned at how incredible it was. I took a close-up photo of this mystic Yoda-Child and sent it to Matt so we would both have it for safe keeping.
MJ - Similarly, when the text photo came through on my phone, it said “New Message” and it all just sort of fit together in this weird moment. I love the Yoda image because if you glance at it – scan it – it just seems silly and ironic. But over time it becomes imbued with whatever weight/meaning you give it. We were both really drawn into it as a totally sincere expression. For us, it conveyed a moment of deep gratitude. The same sort of thought was put into the back of the sleeve, an image of a plastic grocery bag with stains on it that says “Thank you / Thank you / Thank you.” Weird moments where you’re brought to a state of awareness by seeing the poetic value of the everyday.
Cal - As a fan of the work that you have both done in your previous bands, it seemed that Younger is not only about exploring new sonic landscapes, but also about distancing yourselves from the confines of the instruments that you both have traditionally played in your previous bands. Do you feel that this is the case?
RH - Totally. I think it was an opportunity for us to discover new ways in and through music. Ways that don’t succeed or fail based on how well-practiced a set of songs are. Rather, Younger seems to be a practice of a different kind. Of ritual, prayer, meditation, dance, incantation. Of nervousness, excitement, embarrassment. Ways within & ways beyond. Shared discoveries.
MJ – ditto!
Cal - The vocals on New Message (while sparingly used) seem to be purposely modulated to the point where they sound like another beat/blip and not like traditional vocals. Is there a theme or story being told by the lyrics or are they intended to be used as another vessel for the soundscape that you are creating?
RH - A bit of both. On the track New Message there is certainly a good deal of modulation going on with the vocals, but there is a theme of sorts as well that was born on the rocky shore of Lake Michigan. Matt & I, journals in hand, talking, writing, trying to share our thoughts about what New Message meant to us, even as that meaning was and would remain an “unfixed signal always passing between us”. With the Sun on our heads and water washing over our feet, we were literally trying to ambiguously define the “New Message”, like unqualified scribes receiving an essentially undefined scripture, a new Word that lives and thrives in realms of transference & transgression. It was a lot of fun!
MJ – The heavily gated vocals on New Message (to me) play with the idea of meaning being constructed as it is transferred, a process that is always in flux. Transfer as construction. Taking the duration of a single sung word and cutting it up multiple times – removing it and reintroducing it – seems to open up the words a little bit to let them inhabit an ambiguity that is fun and maybe even kind of annoying to listeners? Being that I’m someone that always listens to lyrics first, maybe this kind of messing around is really only interesting to me. But I like the idea of listeners coming in closer as they try to construct meaning from language that kind of presents itself as “present” but also impossible to apprehend. Or there is also the possibility that people will only hear the singing as melodic/rhythmic components, or on the other end of the spectrum, reject them as meaningless (another kind of meaning-making).
Cal - Where there any groups or musicians that influenced these songs as you were constructing them?
Younger - We listen to so much music together. Since we made this during a brief but intense period of time, I don’t know that there is anything too specific to point to in terms of direct references, but there were definitely concepts driving us. We were having lots of conversations about the rising popularity of drone music. It was interesting to us that it was occurring at the same time as this really long drawn out war effort in the middle east. The music felt like an inadvertent escape strategy… like drone music was an escape from conflict by transporting listener/maker to this really interior space (though some of it has the exact opposite effect too by demanding intense presence). In response, we tried to make music that inhabits the sonic landscape of drone, but attempts a clarity that is really simple and direct. Kind of confrontational in that way. Not sure that it’s entirely apparent, but that was on our minds.
Cal - In October of last year Ryan released a solo ep. Are you guys involved in any other projects or have any other “related” releases or bands that you would like to tell us about?
RH – Just hoping to make some more tunes for another solo release.
MJ – Lots of stuff going on. Some will come to light soon. Ryan’s record comes out on vinyl in a few weeks on Positive Beat. It’s great!
Cal - With Ryan having moved to California, how does that effect the status of Younger and what is on the horizon for the group?
RH - It’s been a challenge being here in California, away from Matt and therefore away from the process that has been so vital to Younger so far. So much of Younger has been born out of our friendship, our love of creating music together, our love of sharing experiences together, our love of cooking together, of just living well and completely freaking out together because sometimes life is so immediately and tangibly good, especially when things are tough and you just need that one friend that gets it and will live with you through that toughness until it transcends into great joy and celebration. Yeah, it’s been a challenge not having all of that in the same way. But it’s been good to continue journeying together even as we’re 2,131 miles apart. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways of sharing music and ideas, and by next September, when I’ve returned to Chicago-land from my Californian sojourn, things should be swell as we hopefully have some new songs for a new record and begin performing again.
MJ - I really can’t wait.