Interview: Graph Rabbit
The minimalist duo on their craft and why they choose to perform their entire album front-to-back, with no computers
by Naheed Simjee
NYC-based Butterscotch Records recently hosted a unique event that defines its guiding philosophy. Two of the artists on the label, Mikael Jorgensen and Graph Rabbit, played a show at west LA record shop Touch Vinyl and while the artists performed, headphone pros Audeze (one of the few to use planar magnetic drivers) installed high-end hi-fi turntable listening stations for people to listen to limited edition vinyl records. As live music and recorded music happily shared the limelight, Butterscotch Records reminded us of what we're missing out on when we contently stream music onto our laptops.
We chatted with Brooklyn-based duo Graph Rabbit, made up of singer and filmmaker Austin Donohue and experimental pianist Shy Kedmi, whose concept album Snowblind transports the listener to the inside of an expansive, glistening snowglobe as Donohue's vocals (reminiscent of more delicate Jónsi) swirls with metallic textures and bells. When playing shows, Graph Rabbit performs Snowblind's eight songs front-to-back without pausing to speak, to fully immerse the listener in the new soundscape they have created. And despite all the electronic elements in their album, you'll see no computers and hear no prerecorded samples on stage; Donohue and Kedmi perform Snowblind with their bodies and instruments—embracing variation, mistakes and risk, fully engaging with the audience.
When performing Snowblind without any computers, what element does performing all analog and acoustic bring to your shows? Does this mentality lend to your creative process as well?
For our music, analog and acoustic instruments are a more visceral and truthful approach. It imposes limitations which can be very liberating in the creative process. Because nothing is programmed, we never know exactly what's going to happen. It's a constant tightrope walk.
What tends to influence and inspire you?
Rothko, John Luther Adams, Vespertine, snow storms, bell choirs, Nick Drake, Brian Eno, Arvo Pärt, minimalism.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
It's a great question, but none of us feel that we have any other option—it's hard to imagine a time before or after music.
Is the artistic life lonely?
Surprisingly not. We have a tight-knit group of collaborators and we get the opportunity to work with amazing artists. It's very gratifying.
Do you do have any rituals that you perform before you begin working on a piece?
We are devoted to albums as an art form. Snowblind is a narrative concept record and there was an extended writing process that slowly revealed the narrative and themes. When we are writing or working in the studio we devote ourselves completely to art making and stay focused on the thematic purpose of what we're trying to create. Good coffee never hurts.
How do you know when the dust has settled and a song is done?
The songs on Snowblind all fit into the larger narrative concept of the record. We try to focus on the artistic intention of the album and each songs' place in it, both in the writing and in the orchestration of the recording. Our producer Allen Farmelo is instrumental in this process. Once again, the limitations that we impose on the songwriting make it a bit more clear when a song is done.
What gear are you fond of lately? Is there something you can’t live without?
Snowblind is available in vinyl, CD or digital format from Butterscotch Records.
Additional reporting by Nara Shin, images courtesy of Rob Givens