VOICEsVOICEs: IT’S A BIG EXPERIMENT FOR US
VOICEsVOICEs might be like the middle of every great Led Zeppelin song, or maybe like Yoko Ono played backwards while in a warm cave. Their new EP—produced by Prefuse 73—is out now on Manimal Vinyl. Nico Turner and Jenean Farris met with L.A. RECORD‘s Scott Schultz at the Farmers Market to discuss how Prefuse brought out the voices of VOICEsVOICEs, which of them is the better wrestler, and how drummers are more than the musicians at the back of the stage.
I was listening to an advance track of one of the songs on your new EP, and I could actually make out a couple of the lyrics clearly: ‘Human kindness.’
Jenean Farris (drums/vocals/effects): That was from ‘Flulyk Visions,’ from our EP coming out in January. It’s pronounced ‘flu-like,’ like ‘flu-like symptoms.’ When we make soundscapes, it’s all about how it feels. And we’re obsessed with the English language—the way words sound together. We try to be spontaneous about how we name our songs—it’s how we’re feeling. Whatever name pops in our head right away that just fits, we’ll run with it. And for whatever reason, that popped into my head for that song.
You were both new to your instruments when you started VOICEsVOICEs, right?
Nico Turner (guitar/vocals/effects): We were both drummers in other bands. We played around, but we didn’t actually know what we were doing. Pedals, amps, guitars—we didn’t really know how it worked.
Jenean Farris: We could strum a guitar, but until you plug it in and hook it up, you really don’t know what you’re doing.
Nico Turner: We had guitars, but we didn’t want them to sound like guitars because that was boring to us. So we started experimenting and really didn’t know what we were doing.
Jenean Farris: In the beginning, it was more about the sounds we could capture. And then we had the one loop pedal, so we would loop stuff—a lot of it was vocals going through the guitar mix and distorting the vocals to make sounds as well.
How did Nico end up the guitarist? Did you flip a coin?
Nico Turner: When we would jam and play together to come up with stuff, it just happened that I enjoyed a lot of the stuff that I was coming up with—these sounds on guitar—and Jenean is such an amazing drummer and it just happened that she was into that so much. She’s just so good at it, so it happened.
Which one of you is the better singer?
Jenean Farris: We have the same singing individual ability. We have different styles so it works out to be equal. Our name, VOICEsVOICEs, is a lot of masking. We wanted to get more harmonies out there and actually really get our voices out there—it’s like we got the drumming and the sounds were fine, but our own natural voices were frightening—and then to write lyrics and stuff … We’re the hardest critics on ourselves. So when we went to record with Prefuse 73, the first thing he did was stick us in front of a microphone and was like, ‘OK, sing this part!’ Put us on the spot and it forced us to do it. And it was cool because we wouldn’t have been able to do it unless he was the way he was—which was very, ‘DAMN! That’s dope!’ He was really supportive and telling Nico things that she never even knew about her voice before—with me too. That’s really interesting and I wouldn’t have ever thought of it that way until he mentioned it to me. It was really encouraging. That helped us get to that place where we’re not afraid now to really actually sing—even without effects and stuff.
Were you nervous about working with Prefuse?
Nico Turner: Like Jenean said, he actually yanked me in front of the microphone to sing my first day. It literally took me all day to get my voice out of my body. He was so nice and patient and willing to work with us and really defused the whole ‘Oh my god, it’s Prefuse 73!’ thing. It was great and he was one of the best people to work with.
On that first day when Nico was on the mic, were you behind the glass with Prefuse? What was running through your head?
Jenean Farris: I was excited. I know I don’t have the most immaculate voice, but I’m not afraid to go out there and try. I was excited because he was forcing her to do it, but he was able to be more encouraging than I am able to be. His way is way more gentle and supportive in ways I can’t be.
What kind of fingerprints did Prefuse leave on you?
Jenean Farris: He took us in a direction that we wanted to go but we didn’t have the capabilities. We went in there with live technology.
Nico Turner: He was somebody who knew how to mix well and was a great producer who let us draw the line without any big ego about it, and he only worked with us because he wanted to work with us. We were spoiled working with him. He pushed us vocally and with electronics and stuff that we wanted to lean toward—experiments that we weren’t previously capable of.
Jenean Farris: He also has all this really fun equipment that we don’t have. Like he let me put some lap steel in there just to add a little texture! Not a solo, but to make different sounds.
When you first started writing together, did you intentionally avoid making traditional songs?
Jenean Farris: It wasn’t a deliberate counter-approach. We weren’t like, ‘Oh, we’re going to be different!’ We wanted to embrace the sounds. Whatever we did, if it was something we liked, we were going to try to be free and run with it.
Nico Turner: It was an experiment about embracing the creation of sound. Whatever we liked was what we ran with.
Jenean Farris: We have a library of small loops that we’ve come up with. We recycle a lot of things. We’ll go back to a loop that we liked and build off of it. Some rock bands would say that we just use riffs. It’s kind of like that. We find noises that we like and build off of it.
Was the Sounds Outside EP recorded live?
Jenean Farris: It wasn’t recorded live. It was recorded at a gallery, but it was kind of live.
Nico Turner: It wasn’t one take. It was recorded in three takes. We did the whole CD in one day. The track ‘Sounds Outside’ was recorded with one take.
Jenean Farris: We sat on the floor and recorded it live—no retake.
Nico Turner: At the Show Cave in Echo Park.
Jenean Farris: That was where I first heard the Rainbow Arabia CD. I borrowed it and never gave it back.
I always say Manimal bands travel in packs. The first time I saw you at the Echo, it was after being highly recommended by Devon from Exit Music and Eddie from Polyamorous Affair. Eddie said, ‘VOICEsVOICEs sounds like the middle of every great Zeppelin song.’ How do you describe it?
Jenean Farris: People always ask us and I just say, ‘I don’t know, man!’
Nico Turner: I just say ‘experimental,’ even though that is totally vague. But that’s what we are. It’s a big experiment for us.
Jenean Farris: People want you to classify yourself, but the second you do that, there is so many things they can write off about you. We’re really worried because some people say electronic, some people say ambient, psychedelic, rock … We’re really parts of all of them. We just try to stay away from a band sound. We’ll let other people make those statements.
You two have been together less than a year and a half. Are you surprised how much progress you’ve made?
Nico Turner: We never had a plan—we wanted to create something different without being stuck behind a drum kit.
Jenean Farris: We don’t want to be a drum machine for someone else’s band—like a robot. We wanted to get the respect as artists and songwriters.
Nico Turner: We wanted to break that mold of our only being drummers—
Jenean Farris: —and not being credited as songwriters or having any creative input.
Nico Turner: Just because we liked what were doing and it was so special to us—that was the drive for us to go out and play as many shows as we could in the first year. Then we met Chuck P [from Indie 103.1]. We were so proud of our EP—we said, ‘Chuck, you love music, check this out!’ We just gave it to him and he loved it, and he knew Paul from Manimal. It was really just being proud of what we were doing and wanting to share it, and everything just came from there.
Jenean Farris: In terms of things happening to us as a baby band, it’s really serendipitous. Everything is falling into place. I mean, we do have to give ourselves some credit, too—after all, we have been working really hard. Right from the beginning, we were out promoting and putting ourselves out there as much as possible, even when we weren’t even ready. We would play shows before we even had our set down, and it was actually a very vulnerable place to be in. People could see us learning how to play right in front of them—a very, raw vulnerable place to be. But that was part of the excitement. And of course we would do that in places where that was OK. We wouldn’t go play at the Viper Room. People go there expecting performances and they expect them to be tight. The art galleries, the Smell—places like that—we could put ourselves out there and it was fine, and then it just happened that Paul saw one of our notices out there online—it may have even been L.A. RECORD. Serendipity and the total effort of working hard.
Was there a ‘Eureka!’ moment when you realized that you two had something? That it wasn’t just a personal project?
Nico Turner: I remember my ‘Eureka!’ moment. We were practicing at the Smell—it was just us there. It was hot, and we felt like we were wasting time and were ready to give up. Jenean went outside to smoke a cigarette and I stayed inside and to get out my aggression I started playing the second part of ‘Tape Moon’ and yelling that part, and Jenean came running in and said, ‘Keep doing that!’ And we wrote the song. It was June 2008 when we were first practicing. It was one of our first practices. We were trying to write songs for our show we had with Mick Turner.
Jenean Farris: No. From the Dirty Three. If it was Nik Turner from Hawkwind, my mom would have shit bricks. She loves them. One of the first records I ever had was Fripp and Eno where it was one long song. My parents were punk rock musicians, though. Nico’s dad was a jazz player.
And you two met at a Xu Xu Fang show?
Jenean Farris: We did meet at a Xu Xu Fang show. We had talked about meeting up at a show at some point. I had just discovered Xu Xu Fang, and I loved them and I saw that they were playing at Silverlake Lounge. So I called her and said, ‘You have to check out this band.’ So she went and she loved it and it was awesome—so that was cool. And it was really weird that night because there were thunderstorms. It started to leak in and the power went out, but they still managed to do some sort of a drum-off with minimal light in the background and funky pictures. It was all very moody because they had to play without power. From there, we started talking about having a project together.
If you were to ever cover a song with clear vocals, what would it be?
Nico Turner: We want to cover Laurie Anderson really bad. We would do a cover medley and make one big song out of it.
Jenean Farris: We just got this new sampler that will make it awesome. When we get back from our tour we are going to learn that thing. No work—just play music.
Nico Turner: We want to figure out how to imitate Laurie’s vocoder sound but without a vocoder. We’ll borrow howardAmb’s—howardAmb is this band who loves Laurie Anderson also. They’re a two-person band and they use a vocoder.
Jenean Farris: We saw a band the other night—Jogger—at Mr. T’s Bowl, and they did a Laurie Anderson cover, and I was like, ‘YEAH!’ They did ‘O, Superman.’ It was genius because you have to be creative with the electric violin, and he was singing through his violin and it gave a vocoder effect.
Jenean Farris: I think we’ll meet Laurie Anderson soon because I believe in the power of positive thinking. Read The Secret!
Who wins when you two wrestle?
Nico Turner: Jenean is pretty aggressive when she drinks, so she usually starts it, and she’s pretty good so she usually wins. I’m getting better though, unless she catches me off guard.
Jenean Farris: I tried to wrestle Quinn [from Corridor] when he was playing drums with us on the road. We were in Seattle. I think that’s why he decided he didn’t want to join our band.
Nico Turner: Quinn is in great shape. He must have wrestled in high school or something. He took her out in nothing flat. He’s also an amazing drummer.
What are your spirit animals?
Jenean Farris: I am a tiger and Nico is a crow. It’s funny that you asked that, because the cover of our new 7” is a merging of our two spiritual animals. It’s a tiger with a crow flying through it.
Nico Turner: I think I’m actually more of a house cat.
Jenean Farris: No, you are definitely a crow!
VOICEsVOICEs WITH PREFUSE 73 AND GASLAMP KILLER ON WED., FEB. 3, AT THE TROUBADOUR, 9081 SANTA MONICA BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $15-$17 / ALL AGES.
TROUBADOUR.COM. VOICEsVOICEs’ ORIGINS EP IS OUT NOW ON MANIMAL VINYL AND VOICEsVOICEs “ANIMAL BATTLE VOL. 1″ 7” IS OUT NOW ON HOW TO FIGHT RECORDS. VISIT VOICEsVOICEs AT WEAREVOICESVOICES.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/WEAREVOICESVOICES.