Mysterious Denton Musician R. Loren Talks To His Blossoming Label And Newfound Local Music Affection
For the past few years, Denton-based musician R. Loren has simultaneously served as the most mysterious and intriguing entity in the local scene — mostly because, in many ways, he's specifically tried to avoid much interaction with it, choosing to forgo live performances and keep his visage hidden from the general public.
But that hasn't kept locals from adoring his work — as well it shouldn't.
Loren is a master songsmith, a post-rock savant whose heady, heavy releases under his Pyramids, White Moth and Sailors With Wax Wings monikers have showcased a wide variety of stunning melodies, endlessly compelling beats and ear-shattering drone.
Critically, his music is internationally hailed. And, as such, his reputation as a boundary pusher of the post-rock and experimental music genres is unvarnished.
Last year, he began putting his desirable place in the music world to good use, launching a record label out of his home called Handmade Birds. And, to hear Loren discuss it, this still fairly new endeavor has been a rewarding one, affording him the opportunity to release the outputs of previously largely unheralded acts into a world eager to hear almost anything to which his name is attached.
It's been quite the undertaking, too: In a little over a year, Handmade Birds has put out almost 40 releases, and, again, to almost uniform critical acclaim. But perhaps none of these releases are as compelling as the label's next production. With Loren's once-firm, hidden-from-view position seemingly softening, Handmade Birds will release on May 15 its first album with significant local ties, the self-titled debut of Fort Worth's two-piece Pinkish Black, which features former The Great Tyrant performances Daron Beck (also formerly of Pointy Shoe Factory) and Jon Teague (also formerly of Yeti). Yesterday, and with the band's release still over a month away, the lead-off track to that album earned its premier on Pitchfork, with writer Brandon Stosuy praising its dark overtones and droning appeal, and, unsurprisingly, shouting out Mr. Loren in the process.
The credit there isn't undeserved. There's little doubting that Loren's attachment to the project is what put this band's music onto the taste-making site's map, and, for helping cast a light on the often unrecognized North Texas deep underground scenes (and, yes, this party is every bit as guilty as others in that regard), he deserves a heaping of praise.
So, in the wake of that song's debut, we caught with Loren over Facebook to congratulate him on the new Pinkish Black song's positive early reception, as well as to ask him about his future plans with his label and to gain a little insight into his background. He was kind enough to bow to our request — and kinder, even, to pass along in the process an exclusive stream of another Pinkish Black song, called “Tell Her I'm Dead” to Central Track readers. Check that track out at the end of our Q&A.
First things first: Congrats on all the early, hugely positive press on the Pinkish Black record! That's got to feel pretty great. Plus — and correct me if I'm wrong — this is the first release you've put out on Handmade Birds that's had any significant local ties. Does that add to your pride at all?
I definitely appreciate your enthusiasm. There is a heightened sense of pride that comes with supporting a local band. Especially one that has such a rich past of dedication to the craft. These guys have been paying their dues for a long time, so getting them some attention is well deserved. Daron and Jon both were ahead of their time in their respective projects — Pointy Shoe Factory and Yeti — and all I want is for other people to be given the chance to hear what they are doing. People don't even have to like it, but they deserve to be exposed to it, and hopefully it will be a source of inspiration for more than just me.
Can you tell me how you came to discover and then work with the Pinkish Black guys?
The stars must have been aligned for Pinkish Black, as there were a series of coincidences that all came together.
First, the night after Swans played Dallas last year, I was online, and completely at random, friend requested people that Facebook suggested I “know” based on who went to the Swans show. This is something I had never done before.
Andrew Haas was one of those people; he was in the band Lychgate, and runs Discipline over at Rubber Gloves in Denton on Thursday nights. All of this I find out after the random request. Through our brief conversations, it was clear to me that Andrew has his finger on the local pulse, along with great taste in music.
We were chatting one night, and I asked him what local music he was really into. I had been toying with the idea of working with a local band for a long time, but hadn't found a wealth of artists that I really connected with outside of Sans Soleil, who have since moved to Austin. Andrew praised Pinkish Black and sent me some YouTube footage of their music. I was sold immediately.
And where the story takes another turn is here: About a week prior to my conversation with Andrew about Pinkish Black, I had sent an email to a guy I did not know, named Daron Beck, about the possibility of re-releasing Pointy Shoe Factory material.
One of the strains of Handmade Birds is the Dark Icons Series, and I had been familiar PSF as unsung heroes of dark music. One of the other guys in Pyramids had turned me on to PSF years ago when I lived in California. Shift forward, and this band that Andrew was recommending so highly to me had the same vocalist, the same guy I had contacted only days before about another band. So I wrote Daron a second time, only about Pinkish Black. I am convinced that had I not met Andrew, and moreover not written Daron the second time as I'm not sure he would have responded to my first letter, it may have taken me a lot longer to stumble on them.
Are you still working with the Sans Soleil? What's the plan there? Are there any other locals you're working with or planning to work with?
Sans Soleil is still in the works. Their move seems to have been for the better, but obviously messed with our timeline, as they have naturally had to settle in there, find jobs, etc., etc., before resuming the songwriting process. I am excited to see what direction they take their music. Another Denton band that I really enjoy, who also came recommended to me by Andrew, is Vulgar Fashion. We have a plan right now to do a cassette release, and hopefully more down the road if they are willing. Marriage Material is also someone I have an eye on, again thanks to Andrew. Oh, and Terminator 2.
What's especially remarkable about the label is the number of releases you've had. Pinkish Black, I believe, is your 40th release. And you only launched this endeavor last year. You've said in the past that you expected things to slow down somewhat in 2012, but you haven't really done that….
You could not be more right on. I want to, I need to, slow down. My strategy for the first year was to come out with guns blazing, for purposes of momentum. What I did not account for is the significant amount of artist delays that make so many release dates unpredictable. So a delay will occur and push a release into a month that had one that was actually planned, hence doubling the releases intended. One might say that rather than doubling up, I should push the delayed release to another month, but it isn't that easy. Chances are, the next month is planned too, and artists love to insist that the release comes out immediately, despite the fact that they are responsible for the impossibility of planning in the first place.
In any case, it is a labor of love, one that I am continually trying to get better at. And once my ambitiously full pipeline has been cleared — this year for sure — I will scale way back but heighten the focus on what output I do have.
In a 2010 interview published right around the time when you released albums under your separate Sailors With Wax Wings and White Moth monikers, you talked about the panic attacks you often underwent during the creative process, how you mentally poured so much of yourself into your work that you physically broke down — to the point of having to visit the emergency room, even. Is running a label a less stressful endeavor, even at the absurd pace with which you're putting out new releases?
Without a doubt, yes. One reason I started the label is because I thought it would be a relaxing way to stay connected, and envelope my two daughters with art in our home that they could actually lay their hands on.
It is providing all that, but I could not have anticipated some of the stressful situations that come with meeting release dates, staying on top of manufacturing costs, and, the bane of my existence, filling out customs forms.
You're an obvious fan of collaboration: You've gone seemingly out of your way to champion remixes of your Pyramids work; you released that collaborative album with Nadja, which also involved a follow-up remix record; and your Pyramids White Moth and Sailors With Wax Wings projects both involved a ridiculous amount of collaborations, many of which were handled in a decidedly modern fashion, with you and your collaborators almost never being in the same room. How much of an inspiration was your previous, collaborative work to starting the label? And how much did that same work specifically train you for the kinds of interactions you're now embarking upon with the bands whose albums you're releasing? I imagine much of your interaction with these acts is handled in a similar, Internet-based way.
Everything you said there is correct. My need to collaborate does in fact carry over to the label. I find the process to be similar — working with someone I admire to realize an artistic vision. I approach most of the roster in the same way I do when I collaborate on music with someone I don't know. I contact them respectfully, and am transparent about my intentions.
Your label's releases are nothing if not varied. And, from what I understand, that's always been the intent. Is it more difficult or less difficult to sustain such variety given the inherent boutique nature of running a new, start-up endeavor like this?
This is the easiest part of the operation. What artists fit on this certain plane of texture just comes naturally to me. It all stems from what I love to listen to.
How much of your current visibility a direct result of your efforts with the label? You're all over social media these days — on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. — and you're posting about going to events like 35 Denton and Discipline. Hell, you even DJed a Pitchfork event at South by Southwest! What's changed? Did the current music industry model — what with all the importance placed on direct fan interaction — make you reconsider the way you were doing things?
My perception at least, despite what you've listed here, is that my approach is the same. Tumblr is basically just my upgrade from Myspace. I always kept some “official” outlet for news and whatnot because I dislike not having a concrete forum to state what is really happening with a given project. I use Tumblr as the news section of the label as well because I am not a computer programmer, and it allows me to update easily.
Ninety-eight percent of what I do on Twitter is posting reviews, whether it is about one of my projects or a release on the label. I have never had an issue with people reading about the music, especially favorable reviews. Again, this was just an upgrade from Myspace, which I always maintained. The only forum I reveal a bit more of myself on is Facebook, and that is because I know (most) of the people that will see it. The account is private and I don't post pictures. So my lack of enthusiasm for a spotlight on myself still reigns. But I never had, nor do I have, any problem with people reading about the music. The Pitchfork thing was low key and at the request of a good friend.
Beyond that — and aside from your words of praise for Sans Soleil and your obvious affection for Pinkish Black — you just seem to be a far less shadowy figure in the local music scene in general these days. Has that affected your opinion on North Texas music? Or is it maybe vice versa — that your opinion changed, and thus your involvement did?
I would say the biggest factor in the “shadowy”-ness is that, six years ago, when my wife and I moved here, we had very few friends. If anything, the slow organic process of creating a few relationships out here over the years has heightened my enthusiasm for North Texas. We still have few friends, are in desperate need for an intern and like to maintain a low profile. But I am not so withdrawn that I will shy away from going to see a band I like.
Has running the label at all inhibited your own ability to create? Or is it the opposite, having only further inspired your own musical output?
It hasn't impeded anything but my time. And time is so limited already with a job and a family that making music is very hard to do right now. With that said, I have been very busy with a multitude of projects in recent years, so I have actually enjoyed the break to do something else.
What's next for the label?
There are two milestones on the horizon: Panopticon's Kentucky album which is a hybrid of bluegrass and black metal, which doesn't seem like it would work, but is amazing and will be a gamechanger for the genre. Then in early fall, [a release from] Locrian with Christoph Heemann, which bridge two of the most important musical entities in our lifetime. That sounds lofty, but Locrian truly are in the top tier of the most prolific and innovative bands currently playing, and Heemann is easily considered one of the most important musicians of this lifetime. And along with Pinkish Black in May, there is a new full-length from lovesliescrushing that I am excited about.
What's next for your own music?
We are working on a new Pyramids full-length. The process has been and will continue to be slow. I am fine with that since this label endeavor has sucked up my free time. I'm also finishing up a split with Mamiffer. Other than that, I suppose if I get this pipeline cleared and have more time to record other music, I will start another project. I have hours of drums recorded that I have been meaning to mess with.