Portlandian Thomas Meluch -- Benoît Pioulard to you -- sweeps through town this evening for the final stop on his tour supporting Lasted, his third release for Chicago's venerable Kranky Records. Like the two albums and small handful of EPs that precede it, Lasted is a sublimely gentle bundle of shimmering sounds and meditative melodies, half droning audio-memos of places visited and half lilting guitar ballads. At Amnesia, like his first San Francisco appearance this May, he'll be holding court with a guitar and a phalanx of effects pedals and sound manipulators, along with a loop of moving images whose dreamy haze ideally accompanies the ebb and flow of his music. Lazarus, the lushly psychedelic post-Tarentel project of San Francisco's William Trevor Montgomery, opens.
We caught Meluch as he recuperated from a driving-filled day off in New Mexico, and learned about the obstacles to his second life as an accomplished Polaroid photographer, his recollections of San Francisco sounds, and his unpredictable encounters with the Canadian border patrol.
How's the tour going?
The tour's been pretty fantastic. The frustrations have been short-lived and forgettable -- it's been way more good than anything else. I was in Marfa, TX, last night: it's a super small town. Before I went there, a few friends from Houston were telling me it's a kind of idiosyncratic spot with no doctor and no veterinarian but like twenty art galleries, and the population is something like 2,000. It was a blast. It's a strangely hip community out in the middle of nowhere, a strange harmony between local Texas dudes with huge handlebar mustaches and young hipsters wandering around.
What were some of the frustrations?
I had a serious border hassle getting into Canada -- I got to go in ultimately, but I had to wait for about five hours. This woman had apparently never admitted a musician into Canada and didn't understand the tax-exempt status I was trying to claim. I had to drive an hour south to another entry point where they were much more used to dealing with musicians. The best part was when she was like, "how do I know that if I refuse you some Canadian musician's not going to replace you and make that money? I'm just afraid of you taking a Canadian job." I had to explain that I'm on a headlining tour and that the shows would be canceled if I didn't show up -- which I believe was the case. And she was like, "well, if you're so popular and well known, why aren't you playing the kind of places Tim McGraw would play?"
What have you been doing live these days?
I'm not doing anything much more unconventional than changing up my song list. My set is similar to what it was earlier this year and when I toured Europe at the end of last year -- guitar and voice, primarily, put through a bunch of pedals and a couple of auxiliary instruments like tape players and cassette recorders and stuff like that. I have this little box that a friend of mine built that's got a little pickup that I can sing and breathe into and play with a bow. The performance is generally split between dronier instrumental passages and songs that might be a little more recognizable. I've been encouraged by a few people to branch out and have a drummer and a bassist, but I don't feel willing or prepared to figure out how to orchestrate that. It's not something that's within my realm of options right now. But it's been working out this way -- I've been playing at places I've played before, and it seems like most of the people who have come out haven't seen me before. My fear would certainly be to retread and do things people have seen before, but it doesn't seem to have been a problem so far.
Have you played in San Francisco?
I played there in May with Eluvium at Cafe du Nord. That was an awesome show and a fun trip altogether, but I'm sort of getting the other side of that now, being on my own and having to deal with new faces and names every day. It's all kind of become a blur at this point. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. This time I'm playing at Amnesia as part of a showcase they do every so often there called Seaweed Sway.
What's new about Lasted?
As opposed to the other two records, which were totally written at home and piece by piece and recorded in about ten months, I started writing this one as long as two years ago and started incorporating those songs into my live sets when I began touring a year and a half ago. That became a really easy venue to explore variations I could do; I ended up sitting in the car with [tourmates] Windy and Carl rewriting lyrics, figuring what worked better, so it was a different mode of composition altogether. By the time I started recording last December, I had about half of it written beforehand. It went pretty quickly -- it was done by April -- and it feels more cohesive in my mind, the fact that it was drawn from the same kind of energy and time period, the same season.
Speaking of seasons, what makes your music so... autumnal?
Well, I would say autumn is my favorite season, so I'll take that as a compliment. I don't know what evokes that for other people, and I don't know that it's attached to any particular season. A lot of Précis was written and recorded in the fall of 2005, when I was going through some heavy things, so it resonates in my mind that way, so that's a particularly autumnal record for me. Temper feels like a summer record because I recorded it during the summer of 2007, when it was 85˚ in my apartment and I was having all kinds of equipment malfunctions and the fan in my computer was interfering with my recording, all that sort of thing. I recorded this one during the rainy season last year, so it's kind of a chilly record in my mind. Which may contrast with the warmer tones of the artwork.
What other projects, photographic or otherwise, have you been working on?
I've obviously had trouble getting a hold of any Polaroid film these days -- I have an archive of things from the last couple of years, but I officially ran out of Polaroid film about three months ago. Polaroid themselves stopped making it, and I've heard rumors that Fuji bought the technology from them, though I don't know if that's substantiated or not. Maybe it's just a matter of them getting it together and realizing there's a market for it, but there are initiatives to get it going again. Other than that, I'm always taking photos and trying to document things as best I can, and making sound recordings and field recordings, which usually end up on records.
As far as other musical projects, I've been working since January with Rafael Irisarri, who records for Ghostly as The Sight Below, and Tiny Vipers -- the three of us are finishing up a record. Raf told me he would actually have more or less a final version to show me when I'm back in Seattle next week, so I'm pretty excited about that. We're aiming to have that out by the end of next year.
Do you associate any particular sounds with San Francisco?
Shoot, I don't know. I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time there last time I was there... I know there's a lot of public transit, and I saw an argument on the street, but I guess those are kind of universal.
Yeah, but we got a unique brand of argumentation here. It's very smug.
The first time I visited there for a few days, I was on a road trip with an ex-girlfriend of mine, and I was getting my car fixed -- the air conditioning went out and it was in the middle of the summer and she refused to drive across Nevada without air conditioning -- so I was downtown and dropped my car off and took the MUNI across the Bay to Treasure Island, where we were staying. I definitely have a distinctive memory of the sound of that, sitting there by myself at like 7 a.m. on the MUNI. That was kind of a memorable silent, early-morning thing.
Anything you're looking forward to doing here?
Cafe du Nord fed us really well last time we were there. And I enjoyed Golden Gate Park -- any park in the midst of a city is good with me. On the same road trip I was talking about earlier, there was this nice, weird little cove at the end of the park where nobody else was hanging out, and my ex-girlfriend and I went down to the beach and felt like we were the only people there. Then suddenly we walked back up this super long staircase to the car, and drove two minutes and we were back in the city. So that was pretty rad. But this will be my last show before going home to Portland, so I feel like it's one that I should make count, if there is one.