Name: Andrew Weathers
Occupation: Composer, improviser, guitarist, mastering engineer/producer
Current Release: Andrew Weathers's latest release is The Thousand Birds in the Earth, The Thousand Birds in the Sky, the last release with his Andrew Weathers Ensemble - a group of friends and collaborators which has included Claire Rousay, CC Sorensen, and Kyle Bruckmann, among others. As most of his recent albums, it was published on his own imprint, Full Spectrum, home to music by Sarah Davachi, Nick Zanca, Gil Sansón, Gretchen Korsmo and many more.
[Read our Claire Rousay interview]
[Read our CC Sorensen interview]
[Read our Kyle Bruckmann interview]
[Read our Sarah Davachi interview]
[Read our Nick Zanca interview]
[Read our Gil Sansón interview]
[Read our Gretchen Korsmo interview]
Recommendations: The Orange Show, Jeff McKissack, Houston, TX; The Future Past, Richard Brown, Littleton, NC
If you enjoyed this interview with Andrew Weathers and would like to stay up to date on his activities, visit his official website for more information. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started making music in high school. At some point, I got a cassette 4-track and every single day I would come home to write and record songs for a couple hours. Fairly quickly I got a copy of Adobe Audition and AudioMulch and started messing around with various electronic music techniques.
My first experiences with experimental music came from the very active noise scene around Nightlight in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was really interested in punk, hardcore and screamo to the visceral experience of noise music was not so much of a leap.
I don’t think I could ever articulate what it was that drew me to music in general. Playing music has always been the time I feel most comfortable and following that path has just been what I’ve wanted to do. I don’t really think about why, music just is it.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Since I was working with guitar and laptop initially, I spent a lot of time attempting to emulate artists working in that sphere: Fennesz, Christopher Willits, Greg Davis come to mind as the primary models. In less direct ways, I spent a lot of my early years emulating folks like John Cage, Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, Sam Amidon.
I can remember several discrete moments where I’ve listened to my work and thought “wow there it is, there’s my sound.” I’ve always been wrong. Lately I’ve become less concerned with a unified sound and more interested in developing a collection of approaches that feel conceptually related, however tangentially. I don’t really even feel bound to music or sound at this point, many different media are opening up in front of me and I’m just following.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I’m not totally sure how to approach this question.
My identity as a middle-class, white man offers me the privilege of non-identity: nearly everything in this world is built around who I am, unfortunately. I experience my identity and background as a void; I have very little to offer in those terms but I work without the weight of others’ expectations of identity. I’m just A Guy.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I just have needed more time, I still need more time, and as long as we live under capitalism I will always need more time. I resent every day that all of us have to choose spending time doing what makes us money over what we need to be doing. I’ve always worked constantly and quickly but I would love the opportunity to give myself more open space in my working process. Boredom is fruitful, but I’m lucky to rarely be bored despite the fact
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
The first recordings I made, I was plugging an acoustic-electric guitar with a piezo pickup directly into a cassette 4-track. It sounded terrible. After that, I was plugging an electric guitar directly into a cheap M-Audio interface. It also sounded terrible. Eventually, somebody left a microphone at my apartment and I started experimenting more with recording techniques, starting a long process of constant slow improvement thats culminated in building out my studio in Littlefield. I don’t think that there’s any one tool that’s been more influential than any other, it’s just a slow tide of trying things out, seeing what’s possible and incorporating that into my work.
I’m not too interested in being a gearhead, I’m just interested in finding unique tools that are affordable and fun to use. I try to talk as little as possible about the specifics of what I use except in limited private conversation with trusted individuals whose attitude towards tools and gear I know I can trust.
I gravitate towards gear that is simple to use and limited in scope, the blank slate of infinite possibility is not a space that I tend to thrive in. The tools help realize the work but aren’t ever central to it.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Maybe it’s obvious or a little trite, but the guitar has been my most profound relationship with music technology. I don’t consider myself a particularly good player, but the guitar has just so many possibilities that it’s been the main constant throughout my music-making.
I’ve worked with acoustic finger picker music, I’ve worked with effects-heavy guitar ambient, I’ve worked with prepared guitar. I regularly feel pretty ambivalent towards the guitar, but I don’t think I’ll ever abandon it.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love collaborating and am lucky to have engaged in long term collaborations with a number of artists. Working on music together is just what I want to do with my friends, always. I’m extremely bad at file sharing oriented collaboration - my recent album with Cody Yantis and my recent duo with The Modern Folk are the first times I’ve successfully completed a project like that, both in the past year and a half.
The general process that I like is to have a face to face session, whether that’s recording improvisation or writing pieces together. Gather as much material as possible and sift through it to find the work. Sometimes there’s overdubs, sometimes not. At any given moment, I have several projects going. The work is the most valuable when it involves other people. At this point my strictly solo material is essentially a journal for myself - the Land Ethic series that you can find on my bandcamp page.
Wind Tide, my duo with my partner Gretchen Korsmo, has been one of the most influential collaborative projects the past year or so. The project works across disciplines and levels of collaboration, which is something I’ve grown to appreciate. We’re constantly talking about different ideas for Wind Tide, and ideas for our own lives, and all of that grows and changes and influences the work. It’s an extremely satisfying project - in a lot of ways the ideal for any creative project.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My weekday routine is fairly fixed, I wake up around 7:30, have coffee and read a book and have breakfast with Gretchen. For the first part of the morning, I keep drinking coffee and take care of chores around the house and studio, take care of emails, administrative tasks, correspondence.
Usually by 11am, I pull up whatever mastering project I have next in the queue and work on that until lunch. After lunch I’ll bike to the grocery store or post office, after which I come back to the master I was working on for final touches after my ears got a break. Mid-afternoon, usually a short break for coffee. We got a stovetop espresso maker recently and that’s been a game changer. Depending on the day, continue administrative tasks, work on masters, mixes, recordings that need smaller tasks.
At 5:30 I’ll take a break, read a book on the couch and have dinner. The evenings are fairly mutable, sometimes band practice, recording, a walk. Maybe have some guests over or work on some visual art. If I’m lucky I can read a book and listen to music or have a beer in the backyard.
I try as much as possible to make creative work and my mundane life one and the same. One of my many ADHD coping mechanisms is to bounce around to a variety of different projects and activities throughout the day, and that helps along the integration of art and life that I’m after.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
The biggest thing that I’ve done for my Music Career is also the biggest thing that I’ve done for my life as a whole. In 2017, Gretchen and I moved from Oakland, CA to a small town in West Texas where we had bought a dilapidated commercial building. We spent the next several years renovating the building to be studio and living space. The low cost of living has allowed me to spend a greater proportion of my life working on my own music, collaborative projects, the record label, and all of the other pursuits that I find myself engaged in. Not only that, but I’ve found myself surrounded by a very supportive and engaged creative community that I’ve not experienced anywhere else in quite the same way.
Historically, the Llano Estacado region of West Texas is not a cultural hub - deep country music roots excepted. I think that we’re in the beginning stage of changing that trajectory, and being a part of that is wildly satisfying and exciting. I’ve come to think of my work organizing performances, recording local musicians, and working on the record label as central to my identity as an artist as my own music.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I find that any time I come home from a hike or a long drive, I have a list of new ideas to work through. Getting away from the contant flash of social media helps more than anything else.
I would describe my creative process less as a state of mind and more of a compulsion. I just wait for when it’s time to work and when it’s time, I do. I don’t spend a lot of time noodling on instruments, I typically have an idea for a particular sound or approach and pull out the relevant tool. I don’t tend to work from melodies or chords, but typically from some kind of conceptual framework. Sometimes that’s as simple as a particular combination of instruments, sometimes my ideas get fairly grand and I build a house of cards for myself.
I don’t tend to struggle to get in the proper frame of mind to do creative work, I just struggle to find the time necessary for a particular project.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music is always there for us, of course. Beyond that, without music our lives are dull and beige. One of the many things I love about music is that it can integrate into our daily lives more seamlessly than any other medium. Any level of engagement with music, from Deep Listening to distracted listening adds value and color to our lives. That’s extremely powerful.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
You know, we spend a lot of energy talking about the particulars of what is and isn’t appropriation, but I think the broad approach is pretty simple, other people’s cultures aren’t there for us to use as we see fit.
I’m deeply influenced by work from non-Western cultures, but I make a point to not allow the surface-level markers of that work make its way into what I do. All of my favorite guitar music has its roots in Black music - whether that’s Piedmont blues or Tuareg guitar music, but my hope is that none of that is obvious from a glance. That sort of superficial appropriation is something that I know we see a lot of; not only is that shallow but it cheapens the possibilities of cultural exchange.
There are deeper influences and relationships to be had with non-Western culture. Part of the difficulty here is that in the west most of what we’re able to access from non-western cultures is via colonialist middlemen, but that’s a longer discussion not exactly related to the question at hand.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
One of the many things that being very into punk taught me is the notion that the personal is political. Our politics manifest themselves in our every day life and in our work whether we like it or not. Part of having a clear vision as an artist is having a well-defined personal politic. I attempt to apply my somewhat idealistic anarchist politics to my work and life as much as humanly possible. I will always fail at this, but I’ll always try.
We all have a role to play politically that goes beyond merely voting. I would like to be more involved in activist struggles than I am, but I’ve not yet found my entry point to that world. That said, I do think that actively creating and cultivating culture beyond the mainstream is a political act. This world seeks to crush every creative impulse within us and discourages participating in any cultural activity that doesn’t funnel money directly into the hands of capitalists. Creating space for non-mainstream ideas is always valuable politically.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music is life, and appreciating our inevitable deaths is part of appreciating life. I’m less interested in music as expression and more interested in it as exploration.
There’s no way to get to the bottom of anything, music is just one tool of many that we can use to explore and make sense of the world around us and of our experiences in it.