French Horn Rebellion, the Brooklyn-based brotherly duo currently dividing opinion with their debut long-player have furnished The 405 with a lovingly answered interview. Read on for a previously only-hinted at exploration of the themes underpinning the album, and a whole lot more.
Hey Robert, David. Could you start by telling us a little about yourselves please? Robert: Hi there! I'm Robert, and I love to surf. I've recently learned on a trip to California, and it is by far my favorite activity at the moment. I just went out last weekend here in New York City, and needless to say, the water was very cold in mid-November! Professionally, I've wanted to be a French horn player in an orchestra for most of my life... I soon realized that no matter how much you practice the horn, most people on the subway will think you play the tuba when they see your instrument case. This was discouraging, so instead I started working on French Horn Rebellion. David: We're from Milwaukee WI . . we grew up in a house where we were always encouraged to explore and appreciate the most precious and beautiful things that nature and human nature has created. I've always had a strong desire to love and be loved and have been searching to better understand myself and my surroundings for as long as I can remember. The story goes that your name was inspired by your disdain for the eponymous instrument, but do you feel that your classical training is partly responsible for your current sound? Robert: Actually, the story is quite the opposite! It would seem that my frustration with the instrument would cause such a synth reaction, but the story of French Horn Rebellion is more of a tragic paradox than anything else. The band is a call for French horn players to rebel together against society, and have them realize that they can musically do more than play one note at a time. However, the thing they can use to further their creative existence is the very thing that is wiping them out--the computer. The music should sound like a French horn player trying to transcend into a modern, computer-driven world When he goes on this journey, he learns a lot about the places he visits, the way he feels, and also the very fabric of music, but at the same time realizing he is destroying himself. David: right -- and you're right also about our training. What’s the dynamic like, you being brothers? Robert: I think we argue a lot, but usually come to a consensus. I'm better at the functional "where we need to be at what time" type stuff. David is better at the "what production technique will make us sound better in this venue." So, sometimes our lack of strength at one or the other can cause friction! David: We trust one another so I feel like we have a solid platform for healthy discussion. . . sometimes it's loud. Without wishing to flatter you too much, I personally believe The Infinite Music... is a late contender for album of the year. It covers so much ground though; was that a conscious choice? Robert: Wow, that is a big statement! But to answer your question, YES, every second of this album was meticulously crafted to bring the listener on a cosmic journey. We wanted to write a modern-day psychedelic-rock opera about a French horn player traveling through the modern universe. On this journey, he gains understanding about himself in many ways. One of those ways is through harmony. For example, when the horn player decides to embark on his journey (in 'New Florida,' after taking a visit to Coral Castles) his knowledge of the world is limited, yet the symbols he sees at this place are overwhelmingly inspirational. So, in the music there are only five pitches used (the pentatonic scale) for the entire song. From there, the harmony gets wilder, and crazier as our character ventures farther from home. For example, in 'Mawson's Peak,' during the verse, the harmony utilizes five pitches at a time, but those five pitches change every four bars to a new set. When the character abruptly crash lands on an alien planet, in 'Geomancer's Compass,' the harmony gets even crazier. As the character is getting accustomed to this new place, we chose to have the harmony inspired by a twelve-tone row. This is also the first time in the album that all twelve pitches are used in a song. Once you get used to this alien planet, you begin to organize these twelve pitches into functional harmony until 'The Cantor Meets the Alien,' when all twelve pitches are in perfect harmony with each other. That's when our character realizes that he is not just a horn player, but instead a cantor--somebody who uses song as a means to reach a higher power. It is meant to be a cathartic moment. To reach the end of the album, the character we've created has to travel geographically, harmonically, and spiritually in order to succeed.
David: I feel it's very reflexive of our experience -- very multi-dimensional. So many things are going on around us -- a lot that we can control and learn to understand but so much more that remains a mystery . . . it's that balance of knowledge and intuition that we were attempting to reach with the album. Using tools and methods we've studied (like the function of harmony) as well as our imagination to create a story that is meaningful to us and speaks to us on all these different levels. And how does that bode for future material? Do you feel you have a signature sound or are you still learning what you like best? Robert: I think our signature sound is more about the way we use the past, present, and how we view the future and combine them into a coherent piece of music. I can't see myself sitting in a studio for hours tweaking with knobs on synthesizers to try and get that "new sound" through equipment. I'm more about using genre and established formats, and altering them in new and unique ways. Although I think the next album will be heavily influenced from the adult-contemporary R&B genre. David: oh Robert -- you and your AC . . . you're in love with Billy Ocean aren't you. I bet I could find a Burt Bacharach song that he sings and it would blow your mind. Up All Night was obviously on Kitsune 8; what was it like being asked to have a track on that album and what is it like working with Kitsune? Robert: It was amazing! Definitely one of those experiences where you couldn't really believe it was happening. I've been a big fan of Kitsune from the beginning, and being the first track on their compilation was such an honor. We've also played a few Kitsune parties, and the crowds at those shows have been simply amazing. David: We were blow away when we found out they were going to use our song to open the compilation.
According to your bio, you’ve already played in the UK, France, Holland, Finland, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium, as well as the US, Brazil and Canada, and appeared at SXSW, CMJ and NXNE. All this before your debut album. How do you keep your feet on the ground? Robert: Yes, it's been a lot of touring before the actual release of our album. We've had singles released, so we had to go out and support them on the road. Honestly though, it is really hard to be composing while on the road. This album we are releasing now was worked on in about every country you can think of. 'Brasilia Girl' is a great example. The verse was composed in Brasilia, Brazil, the chorus made in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, the tracks were recorded in Brooklyn, New York, it had further production done in Berlin, Germany, and was finally mixed and mastered in London, UK. A lot of the songs on the album have gone through a similar process! David: Yeah when the opportunities came to go on the road we took them . . . traveling around has been really rewarding. It has exposed me to all kinds of awesome things and opened up my perspective intensely. When we go places we try to schedule in time to see the places we're playing and the things that make it distinctive. .. rather than just showing up for the gig and leaving. What is the country you’ve not yet played in that you’d most like to, and why? Robert: I'm excited to go to the continent of Asia. I've never been there even though Japan, China, and Korea are constantly in the news here in the US. We're hopefully going there next year, and I'm very excited! David: I know it's not a country but I'd love to go to Mesopotamia being considered the "cradle of civilization" and everything . . . also I've always wanted to visit Malaysia. It just seems so far away from Wisconsin. Who would you most like to go on tour with, and why? Robert: I would want to be in Count Basie's big band as a horn player playing one of the trombone parts. David: Early early beatles . . . looooove those fun beats . . . i would have loved playing with them in Hamburg . . . divy bars - playing raucous music. What’s your favourite historical rebellion and why? Robert: I think I like the Battle of Trenton from the US Revolutionary war. It warranted the creation of that amazing painting, "Crossing the Delaware." David: teenage rebellion -- because it's about developing an independent identity. Finally, what’s the worst thing about being in a band? Robert: The worst thing about being in a band is also the best thing--touring. You love to hate it. David: I'd say it's the exaggerated insecurity I feel from all the naysayers inside and outside of me . . . challenges are good though.