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Exclusive premiere: The surreal video for Balmorhea’s sublime “Candor”

Exclusive premiere: The surreal video for Balmorhea’s sublime “Candor” (photo)

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Balmorhea is an instrumental ensemble from Austin, Texas, with a propensity for fluctuating memberships: At the start, the band was just Rob Lowe (not that Rob Lowe, or even that one) and Michael Muller, multi-instrumentalists making paradoxically tiny epics. Sure, their sound was small, but their music’s scope was grand, suggesting cinematic landscapes and climaxes. Over the last four years, the band has grown to include a web of strings, drums, percussion, voices and electronics. Their sound has grown, too, peaking with the clangorous 2009 album All is Wild, All is Silent and nicely drawing itself back in with last year’s excellent Constellations.

Late last year, Balmorhea released Candor/Clamor, a seven-inch that showcases the range of their ideas. As the title suggests, “Clamor” is a loud, riveting number, with battered piano keys and a sharp bassline. It’s one of those big Balmorhea crescendos, bottled and sold on a smaller scale. (Download it here.) “Candor,” however, eases through the same musical idea, using subdued bass and a stack of marimba lines to create an easy, open and sometimes nearly silent space.

Director Mike Anderson recently gave that song a surreal, interstellar video treatment, where separate civilizations prepare to reckon their coexistence. We talked to Balmorhea cofounder Lowe about the video and the future direction of Balmorhea.

Balmorhea started as you and Michael Muller, but it’s grown over the years to be a pretty large ensemble. Did you have that size and scope in mind when the band began, or has it simply grown from necessity?

When we started, we really didn’t have a goal at all. Both Mike and I had never really been in bands before. We didn’t really know what it meant to try to make music and to try to get out there and have fans and tour and all that stuff. We really were pretty clueless about anything having to do with the industry of actually making music and performing live. We started out simply by making the music that we were interested in hearing from what we listened to and performing for our friends. And as we went, the ideas started to grow naturally, and we started playing with friends. It’s not like we started at a certain place with what we had, hoping one day to get at a bigger place. We’ve expanded and contracted in sound and energy, and done some different things, but it always just kind of depends on what we have going on creatively at the moment.

With bands that contract and expand, there’s always a question of exactly who the band is? The Mountain Goats, for instance, have had a drummer and bassist for years, but The Mountain Goats are still John Darnielle. Who is Balmorhea?

It’s hard to define. I think when it comes down to it, Michael and I, we run the band. We’re each responsible for making things happen, creatively and whatever else comes along with it. We started it, and we had the ideas. At the same time, so much of what we do would be totally impossible–I mean, maybe not necessarily impossible–if it were not for the individual collaborators that we have. Aisha [Burns], our violinist, has been playing with us for a really long time, and she’s super valuable. She contributes a pretty distinct voice to what we do. We’ve had a number of members come and go over the past few years, and we’ve shuffled around a little bit. We have a new drummer who’s really great. We’re working with a guy, Dylan [Rieck], who lives in Seattle and plays cello. We’re super dependent on other people to come with us and help us explore some of these ideas, whoever it may be at the moment.

Speaking of breadth, “Clamor” and “Candor”–the two sides of the new seven-inch–really show the two sides of Balmorhea, too. One is loud and almost heavy, while one is as ephemeral and distant as anything you’ve ever done. Was that the goal, to show the band’s range?

We shuffled things around and went through a period where we hadn’t really written much for a while. I think we were like, “Let’s just do something, let’s do something quick.” We basically wrote it and recorded it in two days. The songs came together pretty quickly. That was after Constellations, probably maybe six months after Constellations. The idea was constantly having new ideas and not to get stuck doing the same thing over and over, because it gets pretty boring. We just wanted to go in and say, “What can we do that’s different?” We brought in some different instruments; we had some different players. If you listen to the two tracks, they’re very similar. You could almost say they’re the same thing, structurally, and they’re using a lot of the same chords. It’s not that easy to pick up on, but it’s pretty much the same thing, just through two different lenses. But it’s definitely in a way representative of certain musical ideas that we’re trying to explore.

Which song came first, “Candor” or “Clamor”?

I think “Candor” came first and then “Clamor,” but I couldn’t be positive about it. We came up with this beginning section that’s on the marimba and has four of us playing on it at once. We came up with the groove from that. I think the next day, we took that groove and put it on the piano and kind of pounded it out. Idea-wise, they probably happened pretty much at exactly the same time.

The band launched a website just for a limited-edition single. What was the goal with that?

There’s a lot of groups that will have a specific place you can go online and learn about a release. I think for us–a small band, making a small release of two tracks–we thought, “Let’s try to do something interesting with the way that we present it.” We only did 500 copies of it and those sold out pretty quickly, so we thought maybe we should do a place online where people can go and learn a bit about it. I made a couple of videos that we put up there as well. My girlfriend did the photography for the package, and I wanted to incorporate that into a website as well. It’s something that’s a little bit more personal and creative than a Facebook post.

On that website, a video also accompanies each song, meaning there are now two videos for “Candor.” How do the two stand apart for you?

I made the videos for the ones that went online. I don’t really think of them as music videos; they were more just some imagery to accompany the sounds, just things that I thought matched up a little bit. I’m not a video artist, not a director. I’ve never worked with video, so I didn’t want to try to promote it as an artistic statement. I just wanted to have some imagery to accompany the songs for the website. We talked to Mike Anderson, and I really like what he does. We had done one music video in the past, and that one had a pastoral, natural, nondescript imagery to it. We wanted to give someone else full creative license to do whatever they would with the music. I think Mike did that.

Was that unnerving at all, just handing someone your piece of music and saying, “Do what you think is best”?

It’s pretty cool, giving someone this music and saying, “Do whatever you want.” All of a sudden in your inbox, there’s a video someone has worked on a lot to say something different than you might ever imagine saying with a piece of music.

I read some comments about what he was thinking about it, which definitely color what I think about it. But there are these two characters, these two female characters, and one is kind of taking a trip from one place to another, from some place that she knows to some place that she doesn’t know, where she’s foreign. It paints a picture of this world that is not defined in a lot of ways. Both of the characters are painted a little bit like they’re evil, but also not. Everything is really nondescript, which I appreciate. What he was saying is that he wanted to paint a picture of a moment, like a clash, that happens between two cultures. He was saying that he thought that was an important theme in the last decade–clash of cultures. He wanted to portray a certain moment in which there wasn’t really any drama, but it was setting the scene for two different viewpoints coming together and cutting out before you actually get to the narrative or the drama. That is something that, even in our music-making, we value and we’ve done a lot. The fact that the music is instrumental, we don’t get to be super specific. We don’t get to be super narrative about what we’re saying, so it’s always a little bit undefined. That’s something I feel like he identified in the music and was able to translate into the video.

What’s next for Balmorhea? It’s been about a year since your last LP, and you’ve released a record every year since 2007.

Over this past year, we’ve still been touring, but I moved out to a small town in west Texas near Marfa, a town called Alpine. Some of our people are still in Austin. Michael moved to New York. Our cellist is in Seattle. Over the past year, we’ve spread out a fair amount, which means we haven’t had quite the time to get together and write new material. We’ve been playing a lot of the older stuff, which I guess there’s plenty of, for us to play on our tour. But I’m moving back to Austin in a couple of months, and I think the plan is to get to work on a new record.

We’re going to go up to Chicago and record for four or so days in September, try to get some foundation for the record. We’re trying a new approach for the next one. We’ve always done stuff pretty much live, but I think we’re going to try to take a little more time with the next album and piece it together over a longer period and work with some new sounds, different sounds.

Balmorhea’s often been mentioned with regard to its rural musical landscapes. Now that Michael is living in New York, do you think that might affect the way the band sounds or approaches composition?

Definitely; I hadn’t thought about that. My experience is that the places that I live seem to affect me oppositely in terms of the kind of stuff that I’m liking. When I was living in Austin, I was starting to like a lot more traditional music, folk and country. Then I moved out to a small town, and my urban ears have been perked. I’m wanting to work with more modern sounds. I haven’t talked to Michael about it, but surely in New York, I’m sure that would influence him in some way. I’m not sure exactly how.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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