July 28th, 2008 | Interviews

Remy Stratton

((sounder))’s Mike Aho didn’t make The Bachelorette but he is releasing a new video for a different song from his last album every month. He speaks now to Rebecca Balin.

I googled your name and a whole bunch of cool stuff came up and I was just wondering what was it like to work on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette?
That’s not me. It’s really funny, actually—I saw that, too. There’s this guy who made a movie called Pierre and Gilles about two French artists.
So I’m guessing then that you didn’t live in Paris for 13 years because I was going to ask you about that next.
You know what’s so funny about that? There wasn’t a bio that existed for this other Mike Aho, and somebody attached my bio to his IMDB profile. It’s different now but my artist bio was listed under him. So it was like all this stuff about doing art for skateboard companies and things like that and a list of other things I had done alongside these random things like The Bachelorette and stuff like that.
So you truly do art for skateboard companies?
That’s kind of like my full time job. It’s how I make a living. Doing illustrations, artwork, and video projects for different skateboard companies.
You’ve been releasing a new music video for your songs online once a month. They all seem to have a bit of a psychedelic feel to them. Was that idea from the band or individually from the visual artists you were collaborating with?
It’s definitely a little of both. I think musically I try and write stuff that comes off as a pop song and then I sort of sabotage it by making a little noise section as if I’m bringing it back home a little bit. I think the videos are kind of similar in that way too. I work with different artists—all my friends that I’ve done art shows and different things with—but I did the directing. It was a collaboration with them. If they were illustrators, I’d have them do some illustration. Each person is different and I interact differently with all of them. Some people were more involved on the direction side and some people were just giving me drawings to put together. I think the psychedelic thing is just that I really like to create things that are visually stimulating. Some of the videos make sense with the song and some of them are completely opposite.
Can you describe your writing process?
Most of the songs we put together are loose. When we’re making the music, we don’t really talk about it too much. I bring something to play and we’ll just jam it until it feels right. Those are the ones that are pretty quick to put together. Some are just little guitar or piano parts that we just develop into a song. Those might take more like a year before they feel like they’re there. The ones I don’t originally write words to take me longer to complete. If I’m writing the words up front it’s a lot quicker of a process for me. It feels like it’s done. I don’t feel like anything is done until the words are there and make sense with the vibe of music, which can take me a long time. So songs will either take me fifteen to twenty minutes or a year. There’s no in between.
Which song on the new album are you most proud of and why?
I think probably the song ‘Things Are Going To Get Worse Before They Get Worser’ just because it has a Tom Waits feel. I wrote that a couple years ago when I was just learning piano so it was just kind of a departure completely from what I’ve written in the past. It’s real loose and dirty, and it feels good to do that sort of stuff and I think writing that song just kind of opened me up a bit to do a little bit more noise to compliment the prettier stuff.
From chatting with you and hearing your songs, you seem like a very mellow person. Are there any past experiences that helped contribute to that?
I think having my daughter changed me a lot. It’s cool to see her experience creativity from that pure perspective and it really made me reevaluate art and creativity and what that really is. I now try to not do things just because no one has done them before or because it looks weird—things that I might have done when I was younger. Now I really just do things for evoking emotion and being creative. I’m pushing myself in that way. To not try and do things that are cool or anything but to just do things that feel right and are just creative for the sake of making something. So since I’ve had her I really think that I’ve pushed myself a lot harder. In the last four years from doing art I’ve gotten to travel a lot, all over the world. So I think seeing different cultures and seeing them a couple times a year has been a pretty big experience for me too and just coming back to this place—America—and being so grossed out every time… even though I’m only gone for like a week or something, it’s just a frustrating experience and I pull a lot from that when I write these things that are from a social view or whatever.
How do you see America?
I was just in Paris for a week and I don’t really know population numbers but I’m sure it’s close to the size of New York. It moves at such a different tempo. In New York you feel like you’re going to get trampled any second and in Paris everyone just has a different speed that they live their life by. I guess they’ve just been doing the whole ‘civilization’ thing there a lot longer so they know that you have to look at yourself a little bit more than Americans do. I mean—America’s just pretty fucked, but I’m not anti-American. I don’t know if that makes sense.