Imagine hearing your nervous system after you touch something hot, hearing the pulse and electric waves travel through your body. That’s what listening to “String Machine” is like; an experimental, psychedelic folk group based out of the Pittsburgh, PA. Their newest album, Threads from the Youth Fossil, released December 7th, 2016 features David Beck on lyrics, vocals, guitar, bass, piano, noise, and synth, Nic Temple on drums, producer, vocals, Katie Morrow on cello, and string arrangements, Ian Compton on trumpet, producer, and vocals, Laurel Renee Wain on vocals, David McCandless on vocals, and producer, Angelo Fiaretti vocals on “go to canada,” and Karter Schanchner on vocal arrangement and performance on “happy pt. ii”.Their psychedelic beats hit Penn Ave, Pittsburg February 18th.
Other singles released have been “Living Room,” “Happy pt. ii,” and “Going to Canada.” Featured in the Pittsburgh City Paper, String Machine is a group to keep your eye on. With a sound like that of The Decemberists, Bright Eyes, and Thom Yorke all in one, they make for a trip of a listen. David Beck’s lyrics are deceiving simple “bring home your blankets / I’ll hold you through the storm,” reminiscent of lullabies we heard as kids, and then escalate to disembodied melodies of confusion that often reflect our feelings in young adulthood.
Threads from the Fossil Youth includes: “Standstorm,” “Living Room,” “Empress (feat. Lem),” “Panic Attack/Crestmont,” “Television (Fifth or Exaggerations I Bury In ‘Skeleton’),” “Interlude (Remembering Summer ’13),” “Garden,” “Skeleton,” “Happy pt. I (feat. Laurel Renee Wain),” “Happy pt. II (feat. Karter Schachner),” “Go To Canada,” and “Finale.”
A mixture of vocals, piano, guitar, bass, noise, synth, cello, and trumpet are all utilized to create their unique sound. The blend of string instruments, noise and synth meet in a way that perfectly blends the old with the new. The next time you’re watching the sunrise after a night of drinking, or driving aimlessly at 1am, check out “String Machine” on Bandcamp, I’m sure they’ll fit the mood.
After listening to their album, here are some questions I had for them:
Can you tell me about your cover art? Is there any art movement it is inspired by?
The cover art is meant to resemble those face-cutout-boards that you would take pictures with at water parks as a kid. I wanted the actual meaning of the cover art to be interpretational. The artwork on the bed sheet was done one weekend when I was having a peak in my general anxiety after the first & only time I witnessed someone do heroin. I shut myself in my room for a weekend and felt like an innocence was lost in myself. The anxious feeling that fueled the conception of the blanket art was mainly the reason I made it the album art.
When did you start making music? Who was your musical inspiration?
I started writing little songs when I was 8. I had an older cousin who was in punk bands and he introduced me to a lot of music at a young age. In high school, being in bands in a small farming town really helped us breed and nurture our own sound. There was always the essence of the northeastern farm-town seeping into our music. I’m very much inspired by folkies like Neil Young, Jeff Mangum, and Bob Dylan. The musical concept I wanted to capture with Threads from the Youth Fossil was to layer the instruments to the density of a full band song, but let the layers be unique and experimental to hear. It was also my goal to compose these songs to sound like a sonic scrapbook. I wanted to transcend the feeling of a rough draft, but I didn’t want to make it perfect. I wanted to make it personal, purposefully shaky at moments, but still presentable to others unlike a diary.
You talked a little bit about your recording process taking place in friends bedrooms and livingrooms, what was that like? Do you think where you record has influenced your sound? If you had the opportunity, would you have utilized a studio space?
Self-recording is something that I am partially committed to just due to the spirits you build in certain rooms. My bedroom, for example, has had 20 years of life lived within it. It was my childhood room, I grew up in that room. So recording the album in there almost seemed necessary for an off-kilter coming-of-age work of art. Some recording took place in our bassist Mike Law’s basement, which carries the same weight as my bedroom does. I used to look up to his old band when I was younger and being given the opportunity to make music in the same basement I used to watch them practice in definitely captured some sort of adolescent spirit that was very essential to the album’s theme. I do not believe we will utilize a studio space next time around just due to this value we collectively see in spirits within a room.
What’s your favorite venue in Pittsburgh?
Black Forge Coffee House, James St Gastropub (Speakeasy), and The Workshop in Lawrenceville are all venues we get down with.
Pre-show rituals/pre show snacks?
Personally, before I play a show, I always need a little alone time to breath and some what meditate before going on stage. I think pizza has consistently been THE pre-show snack, though.
What was “String Machine’s” involvement in the Butler Area Polyculture?
The folks who run the Polyculture are very close friends of mine. I truly believe in what they are doing. I’m learning that I don’t like to be too outspokenly political, but two causes that I am fully committed to are conserving our environment and empowering people to become self-reliant from the food industry. The Polyculture folks are actively showing that it is possible to be self-sufficient even in an urban environment. I truly believe in what they are doing and I am excited for what they have in the works now. There’s a place north from where we live into the Allegheny Mountains that they plan on turning into a refuge for folks who wanna get away from the craziness. I’ve always loved the idea of an off-the-grid community and it’s inspiring to see them not only follow through with it all, but also teach others how they can do it too.
How does your music translate live?
The live set is always metamorphosing based on who is available to play particular gigs. The core band that is consistent at this point is myself on guitar, Nic Temple on drums, Dylan Kersten on synth, & Mike Law on bass. There are members scattered all over the North East though. Ian Compton (trumpet, vox) & Laurel Wain (vocals) live in NYC. Katie Morrow (cello) lives in Cleveland. So when they can jump in, they do.
For example, we’re playing in Montclair, NJ on March 26th and Ian & Laurel will be able to come over from Brooklyn to jump in on the set which is very exciting. Over the summer, we’re talking about making plans to tour with Katie the cellist. I’m a big fan of the interchangable-family-band concept.