Herbcraft Interview – Performance Friday, September 4 at Howler’s

When I listen to Herbcraft I feel like I’m listening to one of those Sublime Frequencies releases from another era — Far-East Psych, 1966-1969. Herbcraft started off as the bedroom project of Matt Lajoie, who now leads a full ensemble. Herbcraft is signed to Woodsist, the great Brooklyn psych label of Jeremy Earl, of the band Woods. They visit Pittsburgh Friday in support of their new LP, Wot Oz
Lajoie answered some questions for us in anticipation of the show:
Pittsburgh Music Report: Your songs have so many layers and textures. How do you begin to go
about crafting such soundscapes? What do you usually lay down first?
Matt Lajoie: The first two records were recorded solo, and usually started with a
guitar riff as track one and the base of the song. Everything would be
built off of that. But the two most recent records (The Astral Body
in 2013 and Wot Oz) were recorded with full bands, and mostly
tracked live with minimal overdubs. “Au’s Nation” was a little
different, starting with a bass and Wurlitzer improvisation that we put a
couple overdubs on, and “Push Thru the Veil” is the only track with
mostly overdubs in the final mix. But in general we prefer to have the
final mix be as “live” as possible.
PMR: Did you approach the recording of this new album any differently than previous recordings?

ML: There’s always been a big focus on improvisation in the recording
process, but this one is definitely the most extreme example. There
really wasn’t any rehearsal at all, and we scrambled to set up mics as
soon as a jam felt like it was something we wanted to remember. They
were almost more like rehearsal tapes that we planned on re-recording
for an album later on, but once we listened back to the tapes we knew
that that was exactly how we wanted our record to sound – capturing the
freshness of that moment. The record begins with 14 minutes of the first
time the three of us ever played together, and once we heard how it
turned out we knew we had our method for recording this album. I had
really gotten into stuff like the raw Velvet Underground bootlegs, Les
Rallizes Denudes, and live Grateful Dead audience tapes, and those were
kind of a guide to how i was hoping this record would sound.

PMR: Besides lending a cachet, what are the benefits of being signed to Woodsist?

ML: Jeremy’s been a huge supporter in terms of trusting our instincts
and letting us go for it without any intrusion whatsoever. The  freedom
he gives us to do whatever feels right is huge.

PMR: Tell us about some of your labelmates we should check out.
ML: I was drawn to Woodsist early on with those Raccoo-oo-oon, Woods,
Sun Araw, Moon Duo, White Fence, and Blues Control records. MV & EE
did a couple excellent LPs with Woodsist around the time Herbcraft
started up, and that was a huge attractor to the label for me. The first
two Herbcraft records were actually on the sister-label Hello Sunshine,
and I can highly recommend all the other LPs in that series (Jovontaes,
Polyps, Ryan Garbes). Jeremy’s a real curator, and though there’s not a
specific “Woodsist sound”, his vision for the label stretches across
microgenres and ties it all together subtly.

PMR: What’s the ideal set and setting in which to listen to Herbcraft?

ML: More and more I think a live set is what I’d like people to
experience first. But for the recordings, I don’t think you get the full
vibe unless it’s on vinyl and listened to all in one sitting. Turn the
lights low, spark some incense if you’ve got it, and get comfy.

PMR: Tell us about Maine. What’s the scene like in Portland? 

ML: It’s very small and because of that everyone is pretty supportive
of one another. If anything cool is happening in town, everyone knows
about it instantly. There aren’t too many touring bands that come as far
north as Maine, and few Maine bands tour outside of New England, so
most shows are by and for locals. There really isn’t much worry about
fitting into “a scene” here, and most shows have a combo of bands that
stretch pretty far beyond a genre bracket.

PMR: Talk about the scorching guitar work on “Bread Don’t Rise.” How much of it was improvised?

ML: Except for the basic repeating riff, that one’s completely
improvised. The song was originally in a different key, and it kind of
fell flat the first time we tried it. But within a few seconds of
playing it in a new key, the groove clicked and we immediately hit
“record”, so the version on the LP is the first time we ever played it
through. It was also intended to be much shorter–three or four
minutes–but we wound up riding it out until the tape ran out! I like
the idea of something being circular but also constantly moving forward,
and I think “Bread” is the best example of that. It keeps returning to
the beginning, and we explore a new path forward each time through the
cycle. Actually, we once played an entire 30-minute set of just
variations on “Bread”!  The possibilities are endless.
Tickets to the show are just $6. Opening is The Garment District, project of Jennifer Baron, formerly of New York’s The Ladybug Transistor (Merge Records). The Garment District are also celebrating their new album, Luminous Toxin, which was released on Kendra Steiner Editions. Also performing is Sagas, aka Pittsburgh singer/wongwriter Matt McDowell
— Brian Conway

3 Comments on “Herbcraft Interview – Performance Friday, September 4 at Howler’s”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *