Otherworldly. Since their first release in 2011, Jonathan Relph and his band of madmen and women have been sculpting and shaping a music all their own: hypnotic, engaging, meticulously crafted, borrowing from a minimalist aesthetic, but never navel-gazing. Toronto’s Indoor Voices has been one of the few bands we look to, to break apart the form, and put the pieces together in a truly unique sonic sculpture. Recently signed to Sweden’s stellar Häxrummet Records, the new EP Auratic is due to be released on cassette and digital formats on 15 January. And around these studios, when there’s new music from Indoor Voices, it’s kind of a big freaking deal. We sat down with Jonathan to try to get our heads around how this unearthly music is birthed.
DKFM: How is this even possible? How are you able to coax music like this out of guitars and drum machines? Describe the songwriting process that’s able to craft this music.
Jonathan: I first started learning how to play a guitar in 1994. I bought my first guitar, a fender telecaster, from a close friend who taught me how to play it— bar chords, open chords, strumming properly. I almost immediately started writing my own songs. Nothing to perform live or anything but, I really connected with music. About 5 years later that same friend taught me how to use emagic logic audio platinum, and I was off. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you learn from someone who’s patient and willing to show you how to do things properly it just kind of falls into place. Chris Stringer has been a part of my musical life since it’s birth, so it made sense to get him to mix Auratic. He understood what we wanted to achieve with these five songs, and was able to make sense of the mess my files had become. The songwriting process itself has evolved over time, but I’ve always been pragmatic in terms of using the means available to me. What this has meant in terms of guitar sounds and drums, has been that since the majority of the recording has taken place in a house, volumes are artificially altered after the recording process, and tracks are recorded to a click track so that the proper drum sample or machine can be added after the fact. It’s all very quiet until we play live.
DKFM: Tell us a little bit about your setup. What sonic elements go into crafting the Indoor Voices sound?
Jonathan: Over time the setup has changed a bit, but it’s essentially been the same all along. I own two microphones, a shure sm57 and an apex condenser. Since I’m fond of gentle vocals, I usually prefer the sm57. For tracking I use Logic Audio Pro. I’ve had people try to convert me to other DAWs but I’ve been using Logic for so long, I’m invested in it. I have a vox ac15 and Chris Stringer built me my fender jazzmaster some years ago which totally changed my writing and playing style for the woozy.
DKFM: You’ve been able to enlist some real luminaries in the genre to assist with vocals. How did you connect with these heavy hitters? And how do they help color the Indoor Voices sound?
Jonathan: I’ve met a lot of other artists through happenstance, shows, friend of a friend, record label mates. All people whom I admire and have gotten to know because of shared interests and a love of music.
I met Sandra Vu (SISU, Dum Dum Girls) through my oldest internet friend. We’ve had a slow-burn music relationship and friendship. I have an enormous amount of admiration for her ethic and her voice was absolutely perfect for “See Wish” and its walls of vocal reverb and bombastic drums.
I met Jimena Torres when IV shared the stage with her band The Great Wilderness at a music festival where to buy flagyl in canada some years ago. We’ve kept in touch over the years, and when “Atomic” was first recorded, I knew based on her quiet disposition that she was right for it.
I met Kate Rogers in the 90s when we were both pot-heads (I think?). We lost touch and then were reacquainted again over a decade later when she was recording a record with Chris Stringer. She has always been a light in the rehearsal space and has a great intuition for ad-libbing on recordings. Her secondary vocal parts in “Indifferentiator” are wicked.
I met Alisha Erao as a label mate (Alligator Indian) on Bleeding Gold Records. “Telepathic Boys” was the first song I heard by her band. She has an amazing sense of melodic harmony and after her performance on our S/T EP on “Hung Out”, I knew she was the right person to sing in “What Can I”. You should hear her Lush Agave project. Totally freaked me out when we played with & witnessed her live.
I met Maja Thunberg after reading about and listening to Star Horse on Sounds Better With Reverb. I almost immediately messaged the band and Andreas put me in touch with Maja. Her vocal treatments in “Say” still give me goosebumps. I’m really happy to have met the two of them. They are beautiful people and I wish I could live close to them.
DKFM: If we were pressed to thumbnail-sketch your sound in words, “My Bloody Valentine crossed with Philip Glass,” probably the closest we could get. What’s influenced your unique songwriting and construction style?
Jonathan: The first song I ever wrote in the 90s, was 100% influenced by Lush – Spooky. The dissonant beauty in “Nothing Natural” and “Monochrome” was all encompassing for me. I wasn’t aware of what “shoegaze” was at the time, I just heard those songs on the radio and knew that music like that was special. I’ve also always had a soft spot for more ambient instrumental works. Melancholy, dissonance, slow patient melodies, trance-inducing rhythms.
DKFM: Indoor Voices started out as a bedroom project, but evolved into something exponentially greater. Tell us about the supporting cast that helps bring your vision into focus?
Jonathan: In the early days of what became Indoor Voices, I did a lot of collaboration with friends who I had met through music in a previous band. When it came time to play live, just after the release of Nevers, Craig Hopgood (our old keyboardist) was instrumental in helping find the right people to make up the live interpretation. Chris Stringer was also the original bassist, and helped us to hone the live sound. We are now 4 strong. Myself (guitar, vocals), Owen Davies (bass, samples), Ryan Gassi (drums, percussion) and Kate Rogers (vocals).
DKFM: What’s next? We know most of these songs have been ‘in the can’, as it were, for a little while now. Already have new music on the drawing board? Any thoughts on touring?
Jonathan: There are many sketches in my music folder. Sometimes it takes years to get back to them. Our S/T EP had at least two songs (“Still”, “So smart”) which were almost eight years old, so when the time comes again to start writing, these sketches will be waiting for me. With regard to touring. I won’t say that it’s not a possibility, but a lot of things would have to go right before it would be feasible.
DKFM: Any final thoughts, especially for new fans that might be discovering your music for the first time?
Jonathan: If you like dreamy vocals and swirly guitars or are drawn to the dichotomy of ugly/pretty in music for its emotive quality, you might want to pay attention. Thank you for your support DKFM! The world needs more like you.