Subtempo Guest Mix 014
Walrus Ghost is the working moniker of Brooklyn-based musician Christian Banks. His most recent album, "Avenues and Remembrances", a collaborative effort with guitarist Max Frankl, came out last year via Hush Hush records. Banks is currently in the middle of working on a new Walrus Ghost album.
Surrounding the release of this mix, we got a chance to catch up with Christian Banks, aka Walrus Ghost, exploring his latest album on Hush Hush Records, what keeps him inspired and other musical things.
Hi Christian, first of all thank you for taking the time to do this mix and interview for us. It’s an honor to count with your contribution to the series.
Thanks, I've been looking forward to it.
I wanted to start by asking you about the mix itself. Where and how did you record it?
I made the mix in Ableton Live, which is what I use for the majority of my music production.
Is there a particular theme you had in mind when putting this together, musically or otherwise?
There's not too much of a theme, just music that I've been listening to recently, some new, some old. I wanted to make a mix made of mostly ambient music with some other stuff mixed in, electronic and ambient rock or whatever. The mixtape platform is also a fun way of presenting new material, like a teaser of what I'm working on, what's coming.
You mentioned you were going to include a couple of unreleased tracks on there, that’s exciting, tell me about those.
Yes, there's two new Walrus Ghost tracks, which may or may not be included on my next album, and there's an unofficial remix of a Masayoshi Fujita song from his most recent album that I made for fun. His music is great, I hope he enjoys the remix if he hears it.
I'm in the middle of working on a new record, so I thought why not share some of the new material I’m working on.
You released an album last year via Hush Hush, which is how you and I originally connected, through Alex who runs the label. Did those tracks you added onto the mix not fit into that record or did you make those after the fact?
I love Alex. He's such a great dude. I knew after one conversation that working with him and Hush Hush was the right way to go.
But yes, these new songs didn't fit because they aren't part of the collaboration I did with guitarist Max Frankl, and also they were also made way after that release. We do actually have some songs that weren't released on the record from that project though. Not sure if Max and I will do anything with them.
When we made "Avenues and Remembrances", I was also simultaneously working on other material as well, for Walrus Ghost. Some of that got put on hold, but I would always work on stuff that wasn't meant for my collaboration with Max off and on. So right now, all this new material I'm working on is for a solo Walrus Ghost album, a follow up to my debut "Uplifting Themes For The Naysayer". That's my main focus right now.
Tell me a little about your latest album “Avenues and Rememberances”. I love the dreamy vibes and spaced guitars, they really take me far.
The album basically came together because Max Frankl came to live with me for a period of time, I forget how long, but it was when I was finishing my first album. He was hearing what I was working on and expressed interest in it. We started messing around with the idea of writing some music together or doing some type of collaboration. It didn't happen right away, it took time to find a cohesive sound and work flow that suited us. And of course all of this is happening while both of are lives are going on, with everything else you do day to day, so it took some time. The best feeling was when it started to come together, beginning with just one or two songs we liked, then a couple more, then we had a record.
Who did the artwork for it? It’s gorgeous.
I made the artwork, it's a mix of drawing and collage. It was something I had started making years ago, and then thought it might fit for the album. Thank you!Cover art for Walrus Ghost & Max Frankl "Avenues and Rememberances", out on Hush Hush.
You produced that with Max Frankl? Is he the one on guitar?
We're both on guitar. Max is the one who sounds good, ha. I wrote many of the ideas, then Max would contribute some playing and ideas, I would edit and mix, work it a little bit more, and that was kind of how it went song to song.
On that topic how do you feel about collaboration with other artists. Is that an easy process for you? Or do you prefer to work alone?
Collaboration can be a little difficult for me. I have a tough time giving up control. When Max and I started out, I said from the beginning that I would only be down if I had complete creative control. And Max was completely cool with that. I know what I like and how I'm going to get my vision or ideas realized, so it's hard for me to give up full control. But actually, some of the best ideas came out of Max just doing his own thing and me giving in to learning how to work with that. That process really opened me up to collaboration.
I would work with Max again for sure, and I am interested in collaborating with other artists in the future if it's right. There are so many great artists creating amazing work. When it comes down to it, someone else is always going to have a different approach than your own, something you haven't seen or heard, and it could lead to something beyond whatever it is you were thinking about, perhaps sound more interesting, or could be a better solution. I do like to work as a solo artist, but I think conversation is important and different perspectives open up possibilities that aren't there when you're alone.Walrus Ghost during a recording session at his Brooklyn studio.
I wanted to ask you a bit about your composition and recording process. Do you use a lot of field recordings? How does a Walrus Ghost track typically start?
I use field recordings often. Sometimes it will be mechanical, repetitive drone stuff that I re-pitch and use as an actual tone or musical note. Other times it's a recording out my bedroom window, Fort Greene park, the bars I work in, a random street, block parties in the summer time. I love that textural element being present in some of my music. I made a great recording the other night in the backyard of Sunny's, a bar in South Brooklyn.
For me, a song begins in many different ways. Sometimes I have drums I'm working on and fit ideas around those drums, or I'll be playing guitar or piano and loop up an idea. I might have a emotive feeling that I'm trying to capture. I try to sit down and play guitar or piano for a bit everyday. I guess I start there and just go with whatever is sounding good to me.
Do you play drums too?
I can play drums, but I wouldn't on any of my music, unless it's simple work like recording samples of cymbals or whatever. In the past I worked with a great drummer, Chuck Palmer. I met him through his younger brother Max who is a good friend of mine. Max was always like, "Hey you should meet my brother, he's a drummer." You always take that kind of stuff with a grain of salt when you hear it. "Oh yeah, cool, I'm sure he's great..." and you're whatever about it. Then it turns out his brother grew up with RJD2 playing music with him, is a Grammy-winning musician, and is the best dude ever. I felt like an idiot, haha. Chuck is very generous, very humble, and one of the best drummers I've ever seen play. Chuck played on "Uplifting Themes For the Naysayer" for a couple songs. I also have unused drums tracks from him that I still use on stuff, as loops and samples.
I also still sample drums from records I've collected over the years. Making sample-based music is how I originally got started. I don't sample that much anymore, but I have a couple go-to folders of all kinds of drums that come in handy sometimes. I always find drums and engineering of drums challenging. It’s an important part of my music when they’re present in a song. Right now I'm not working with any drummers, but I will be again soon for my next album.
What kind of gear or VSTs do you own in your studio currently that are absolutely essential for your creative process these days? What helps you find inspiration?
I love gear and software, I can go down that path and become obsessive. It's an important aspect of making the kind of music I make, but I try to not get lost in it. If anything, I've tried to narrow down on what I use, limit myself to a couple of tools. I think it helps me focus on the music. The less you have to work with, the more creative you can become. Glitchy, electronic aesthetics were an integral part of my sound in the past, but my music has moved away from that a bit. I'm using less tools from inside the computer.
When we talk about essential, I would say my Fender Jaguar, the Rhodes, Electro Harmonix Big Muff, Boss Overdrive, Vox Amp, a microphone, Apogee Duet. And I love Valhalla Reverb. And I love my reel to reel tape machine.
I get inspiration from visual art, from regular day to day life, from history and memory, from the human condition, the current state of the world, the undeniable environmental crisis.
I feel like your music has a very journey-like quality to it, like a movie, a very personal one, filled with cherished memories.
There's no question there, haha! But thank you, that's very kind. I just feel lucky to have the opportunity to share my music, for my creative output to be heard. And I'm happy people seem to like my music. I work very hard for a living, to be able to make Walrus Ghost happen, but over the last couple years, back around the time my first album came out, I began to have very serious, disabling health problems. I reached a point where I couldn’t work on any music or anything, I was barely getting out of bed most days because of the pain. All I did was work at my regular job that paid me because I needed the money to continue on. The notion of being creative in any way went out the window. Eventually I began finding the right doctors and physical therapists that were able to help me. I feel much better these days but the pain is still there. There's no silver bullet to stop this thing, it's something I live with every day. Luckily, my mind was able to allow itself to slowly shift back to creative work. So these days I take nothing for granted and music become more important than ever to me. To be allowed to be creative is a privilege. We're all here for such a short amount of time, and you never know what’s coming, so do what you can while you can.
That is very true. Well, hope you get better, and glad you found the way through that. I was looking through your instagram and noticed a nostalgic, super 8 feel to the photos you have on there. Do you work with photography as well? What about video?
I'm not big on phones or social-media, but I try to upkeep an instagram that paints the picture of what I'm up to for anyone who might be interested in me or Walrus Ghost. I like photography and shooting photos. I try to capture images that I like, that are visually pertinent to my music. I've never made any videos personally, but I love film and video. I like writing music for film, or having my music cut to a video, anything visual. I was very happy with the video Brendan Gilliam shot for "Downing Still Life" from the most recent album. I try to work with various videographers and filmmakers as much as I can. I just had some music in a short that has been selected for the Toronto Shorts Film Festival, which is exciting. I'm currently working on two other film/video projects that should be good as well.The view from Warus Ghost's studio in Brooklyn, NYC.
You are based in NY, correct? How’s the music scene there?
To be honest, if there is one I'm not part of it. I haven't played live in many years. When I first started out as Walrus Ghost, I was trying to actively play live and I hated the music scene. For whatever reason, early on I had a hard time getting booked with other acts that fit with what I was doing. Always I was dealing with horrible booking managers that would rip you off. My cab fare with my equipment would be more than I would get paid. So I'm essentially paying to play shows with bands that sound like a poor man's Joy Division. I didn't feel like I was making good connections or meeting people that I wanted to be around. The music scene wasn't vibrant or challenging. Everything felt insincere and hollow to me.
It was frustrating, I said fuck it. I just stopped putting effort into playing live and put that energy into writing music in the studio. And I never tried to get back into it, even after I got signed to a label and put out my first album. I think if people are going to pay for a live show, it should be something special. It's something I would like to focus on, and most of the new material I'm working on I can perform solo, so we will see.
However, New York City is definitely one of those places where there's a scene for everything. Whatever you're into, there's a scene for it. I don't actively go out to see live music like I used to. These days, with the time I do have to myself, I spend it in working on Walrus Ghost. Many of the venues I liked when I was younger have closed, but there's always new venues as well as older organizations that have been doing great work for many years for the music scene in New York. Wordless music is an organization dedicated to producing various events based around instrumental music. I've always enjoyed what they do. Pioneer Works in Red Hook is fantastic.
In such a busy city, “the city that never sleeps” as they call it, do you find there is a place for ambient music? I’ve been following people like Ambient Church who put on ambient nights in churches and those seem to be very successful.
Yeah, ambient music I think has a draw for everyone in some way, kind of like what I was talking about in the previous question. There's definitely a scene for ambient music here. I'm familiar with Ambient Church. That's another good example of people promoting a cool scene. Although, I haven't been to any of the events they put on. It reminds me of a Stars of the Lid show I went to at St. Agnes Church in Carroll Gardens, which was great. I think Wordless music organized that. I can't remember.
What is next in Walrus Ghost’s world?
More music. A new album on the way. And hopefully more music after that.
Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview and for sharing such a gorgeous mix with us. All the best to you.
Thank you again opportunity. It was a pleasure. Enjoy the mix!
- Walrus Ghost - "Clearing" [unreleased]
- Solo Andata - "Porcelain Blue" [12k]
- Stijn Hüwels + Yadayn - "Pale Hills" [Dauw]
- Rival Consoles - "Untravel" [Erased Tapes]
- Cass - "Cooper's Return" [Spinnup]
- Mogwai - "Burn Girl Prom Queen" [Chemikal Underground]
- Johnny Greenwood - "Tree Strings" [Lakeshore Records]
- R Beny - "Blank Light" [Self-Released]
- Papa M - "Crowd of One" [Drag City]
- Bibio - "Phantom Brickworks V" [Warp]
- Masayoshi Fujita - "Fog (Walrus Ghost Remix)" [unreleased]
- Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - "The Right Things" [Null Corporation]
- Express Rising - "Trace of You" [Numero Group]
- Walrus Ghost - "Unpacked Boxes" [unreleased]
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Most tracks are available on our Guest Mix Playlist available on Spotify and Apple Music until we update it with the next guest. Follow the playlists to get fresh tunes curated by a different artist every month.