Exploded View is a musical project based in the tenuous balance between chaos and restraint. Formed by Berlin-based musician Anika and Mexico City-based producers Hugo Quezada and Martin Thulin, Exploded View released a striking self-titled debut in 2016 on Sacred Bones Records. The band's excellent 2018 record Obey builds upon the structure set by their debut, at once densely textured and remarkably light, the varied, evocative instrumentation coalescing around Anika's distinctive vocals. At the start of a two week tour of the US, we spoke with Exploded View about the process of writing and recording Obey.
MH: What musical element typically acts as a catalyst for a song?
Annika Henderson (Anika): Many different factors contribute to the songwriting process: moods, personal problems, what we had for breakfast, the weather, what we're reading, whether news or fiction (increasingly hard to define these days). Or what instruments have been serviced, what's working and what's not, what music we've been listening to, an off the cuff comment-- "how about something like this", Hugo playing a tune on the guitar because we're waiting for something, Martin playing a beat, tensions between certain band members... It all feeds into it and is the music's cause, effect and catalyst.
Martin Thulin: On the new album [Obey], we actually did some overdubbing on the songs recorded live. Hugo and I would sit in front of each other and play, for instance, two keyboards at the same time. I could always tell the difference between mine and Hugo's take. We played in response to one another.
Do the structure of songs come about naturally as a process of improvisation?
Annika: Sometimes, yes. Normally we just play freely. The structure either works as is or sometimes we say, "oh, that could work as a chorus," and then we go back and play it again and then we say, "oh, that part works as a verse." Our songs are not really typical structures, which is quite apparent. They don't always peak, as tradition leads us to follow. They go on their own paths.
Hugo Quezada: I think it's around half improvisation because it's also tons of work editing. Sometimes the idea comes out after editing, but the song usually has some kind of structure during the jam.
Martin: I'd actually say there are no songs in the beginning, mostly random jams that are edited down to songs. Many of the jams are 20 minutes long and cut down to 3:30.
How did the environment in which Obey was recorded and written shape the record?
Annika: Like I said above, many factors affect the songwriting process. We are all very emotional and that comes across on the record. We don't really set out to create something specific, we're more interested in the investigation. This leaves a lot of work for Martin and Hugo in the cutting room, but I guess that's what makes the record special in its own way. It's an emotional rollercoaster with no filters.
Hugo: The studio determines it a lot because we are all together in one room surrounded by tons of equipment that we can use.
Has your approach to making music shifted since forming Exploded View? Does it feel like a natural extension of your previous projects?
Annika: For me personally, it has allowed for a lot more experimentation. It has also pushed me to learn more about musical craft. I learn a great deal from the others, not just about music, but also about life and how to deal with my emotions. Communication and learning to accept criticism have been a huge part. I consider these guys close friends, even family because of what we've been through together. We had the guts to face things when it got tough and overcome them.
Being in a band is not easy; it is a democracy. None of us are 'yes people,' so this means returning to the drawing board time and time again. We each approach things from a different angle having grown up in very different environments and eras. I think we each took a lot away from this experience. This is the gift of collaboration: having your opinions challenged, having what you think as the perfect answer be ripped down and de-cloaked, realizing there is no such thing as the right thing or way to do something, but instead just an angle to look at things from.
Hugo: Yes, having no limits, just experimentation, and being totally free. Nothing is wrong if there are no rules, right?
What different musical backgrounds and perspectives does each member of the band bring?
Hugo: It's hard to say exactly. I, for one, am not thinking a particular band or thing when we're playing.
Martin: As Hugo mentions, we don't work with direct influences, which probably makes our music sound like everything we already love. I think this is one of the things that make us different from other bands: we don't work within a genre. However, we're always sort of cornered into mentioning genres, which I personally find meaningless.
Annika: It's difficult to define. It's easier to say what brings us together and that's a love of certain records and music. It's why I love to DJ with the guys because both have such unique and inspiring collections.
Has playing the songs on Obey in a live setting altered your understanding of them?
Annika: We haven't dared to bring "Rant" or "Obey" to a live setting yet. They'll have to wait but yes, I guess it has breathed life into them. Music is a conversation, so seeing how the public reacts transforms the songs into something else; it brings them into a different form of meaning.
Hugo: For me, I don't think so. It is the same kind of vibe and experience.
Do you have a favorite model of synthesizer? The synth parts on Obey are remarkable, especially in how they complement Annika’s voice.
Annika: Personally, I only ever collected Korg synthesizers because I love the warmth of their voice. That was something I learned from playing in [Geoff Barrow project] Beak>. Hugo has a whole different level of synth-- more than I've ever seen, though he has slimmed down his collection in recent years. He has a true understanding of them and treats them like his pets. I think that's important with instruments generally: you have to spend time with them, get to know them and then you can truly make them sing.
Hugo: There are three pieces of equipment that we use extensively. This time we really focused in on the textures created by these models. One is the Pro One synth, another is the ARP Solina, and the third is the Yamaha CS50. The three of them have a really inspiring sound, and the record is completely full of them.
What constitutes an ideal tour soundtrack for Exploded View?
Annika: We never really play music on the road. We rather look out the window and listen to the quiet or the sound of reality.
Exploded View will tour the US through November 12th. For more information, visit the band's website. Obey was released on September 28th, and is available through Sacred Bones Records.
First published on the website of KEXP.