Interview with Liz Wendleboro of Xeno and Oaklander!
Last week, Too Much Love got a chance to sit down with Liz Wendelbo, one half of the Brooklyn-based, minimal electronics duo Xeno and Oaklander prior to their Miami show. Since their conception in 2004, the pair have been at the forefront of the analog synths community, creating memorable and influential music and performative experiences which they have shared around the world. Talking about their live show experience, and their new album Hypnos, check out the illuminating insights Wendelbo gave into her creative world and a photo gallery of their Miami show, courtesy of Dino Rio of 4RIO photography!
How’s everything in New York?
Things are good! We started the tour a couple of weeks ago and we took a little break here before starting again. On Wednesday we go back on the road again.
You’ve been making music together since 2004, how did your paths cross?
We met in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. All of our friends lived there at the time, anyone interested in music was living in that neighborhood, on the waterfront overlooking Manhatten. In 2004 there really wasn’t that much to do. New York was really quiet because September 11th had just happened, and a lot of people had fled the city, so we were making music. We met when I was DJing some records at a party one night, in the building where he lived. All of our friends lived in the same building – this big industrial warehouse. So that’s how we met. And we started making music straight away because we had such similar tastes in music.
Do you remember the first song you wrote together?
Let me see what would that be, you know I might not quite remember. It could have been Cold Forever?
That was included in your first album, right?
Well, we made a CDR back then because we were invited to play in Germany, so we thought we should record something. We actually recorded it straight to tape, then we made some CDR copies ourselves. And that was Vigils, it was called vigils, and then later we made a vinyl pressing of it with Wierd Records. It was a label that was run by our friend Pieter Schoolwerth out of Williamsburg.
Fast forward to now, you recently released your 7th album, Hypnos.
I guess there are some debates as to which album number this is, is it lucky number 7? I think that it is. Yes Hypnos, the title is a reference to the Greek god of the Underworld. We were very inspired by Greek mythology, and also Greece itself because we went there last year for the first time, and were quite taken by the islands and the beautiful sea and sky.
That’s beautiful because you only use analog instruments in your music, and you also like to keep that raw and natural element of music and nature together, right?
Yes, yes. I’m very much interested in all the senses. So scent, hearing, sight, having all the senses stimulated through electronic music. You know, like, how one sound can make you think of a fragrance, which can make you think of a certain kind of light. They are very much intricate in that way.
You are also a perfumist as well, right?
I create my own scents yes. My fragrances are inspired by the music that we make. And in the new album actually, there are a lot of references to certain flowers, like “Angelic”, “Angelic” is actually a list of flowers.
That’s actually my favorite song from the new album, can you tell me more about what’s behind it? How was recording it, and what was behind the concept of the song?
So, I was very interested in wildflowers. Flowers that are ancient and actually proceed us on this planet, and are still here and grace us with their glorious fragrance. So I started researching the names of these flowers, and almost all of them are women’s names, which is interesting. Musically, Sean was really obsessed with this one Paraphonic 505 Roland Synth. Which is a strange synth that has this amazing revving sound, where you can play a chord and it kind of revs up. That’s where those swells in the song come from.
When you record the album, do you usually record your songs in your studio in Brooklyn? What is your setup like?
It’s pretty much a live setup in that we use the same mixing board that we do live. The same set up as you will see us use when performing on stage. Egan Frantz who mixed our record is also mixing our live sound when we play. So we have limited the number of channels that we use. We use an analog board and there is a live element to how we perform in the studio. It’s a pretty minimal set-up, which allows us to see the immediacy of the music and have a more one-on-one, immediate relationship to how we are making sounds.
Another of my favorite songs on the album is insomnia, what the story behind it?
Insomnia is a downtempo ode to, well, lack of sleep. Hypnos in Greek mythology is the God of sleep as well as the God of the underworld. It’s also a reference to night-life, to being awake at night, and the restlessness that comes with that. It’s also about how we feel today. It’s kind of hard to feel like we can sleep soundly nowadays. It’s about the dream state that we can enter when we’re between sleeping and waking, that whole netherworld.
Do you have any favorite songs on the album?
Well, you mentioned Angélique, and I’d have to agree with you. That’s probably the one that pleases me or pleases us, the most sonically. There’s something very pleasurable about it, I think it all came together really nicely. Insomnia as well, as you mentioned, is a song that we really like and we especially like to play that one live. There is something very special and magical about that one in the live set.
Talking about live sets, you’re going to be here in Miami on Friday as a part of your tour. What do you enjoy the most about playing live?
We will be playing the album from start to finish, so we’ll be playing all the songs on Hypnos. But our live rendition enables us to break the songs down and extend certain parts, and have a bit of emphasization here and there to get into the material and the live immediacy of the sound. That’s something we like to do live. Because Sean is using these modular synths, it enables him to go into directions that he feels like going into. I wouldn’t say it’s like jazz because it isn’t, its minimal electronics, but there is some freedom within the constraints of the electronic instruments.
Earlier you mentioned that you like to experiment with different senses, like the sense of smell, lights. Have you ever used scents in your performance?
I used incense in some of the shows that allowed it, as you know sometimes in clubs it’s a little tricky with anything smokey. But we do love smoke machines whenever we can, it’s nice to make the atmosphere tangible and thick with smoke, so sometimes I use incense yes.
So what are you guys working on after the tour?
So the tour goes on until the middle of June. After North America, we are flying to Europe and we’re starting with some dates in Germany, then we go to Scandinavia, and make our way throughout Eastern Europe. Then we will regroup and come back to New York in the Summer. We have a couple more dates planned out, but in September we’ll start going out again and playing some more.