Todd Gautreau was once better known as Tear Ceremony, a dark ambient electronic project, like the flip-side of Baths side-project Geotic, or a desolate Boards of Canada, only devoid of near-dance beats. As the music evolved, Gautreau changed the name of the electronic outfit to Sonogram, and eventually he diverged to sullen indie-rock in the vein of Mark Kozelek’s Red House Painters, calling his new project Crushed Stars. Originally signed to Portland’s now abandoned Area Rock Records (once home of local favorites Talkdemonic and Richmond Fontaine), Crushed Stars and the rest of Gautrea’s projects are now with Simulacra Records.
Oddly enough, Gautreau’s opinion’s on music are almost completely contradictory to the live-focus we have here, but his professionalism towards crafting music was compelling, as was that fact that he recorded his lastest album with Stuart Sikes (Grammy winning engineer behind Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose along side producer Jack White, and Cat Power’s The Greatest).
Living in Dallas, Gaurtrea answered some questions over email about his new album, studio musicians, and why he somewhat famously turns down all opportunites to play live.
What made you want to stop recording more electronic-style music and focus more on instruments like guitar, piano, drums, etc?
I started playing guitar at a very young age, so when I reached my 20s and started recording on a 4 track I was ready to explore new sounds. I started experimenting with reverbs and delays and eventually synths. For awhile, I just wanted to get as far awy form guitar as possible. But I had always intended to write pop songs, so after a few years of experimenting and learning about recording, I finally decided to get back to guitar with Crushed Stars. Since I was accustomed to recording alone, I continued doing it that way. And at that time I didn’t know many other musicians.
You traditionally don’t play live, and so seemingly a tour is out of the question. Can you talk about why you’d rather have people listen to the album or why you’re not a fan of performing live?
As a music fan I have always enjoyed recordings more than live performances so I naturally gravitated more towards recording. Music has always been an intimate experience for me and its hard to share that with a room full of people. I find some of the nuances of Crushed Stars get lost in a live setting. I can’t hear anything when there’s a drum set behind me. So I would rather spend that time and energy working on new material. Even a great show you tend to forget after a few weeks, a good record stays with you forever.
How long did it take to record the latest album?
It was recorded over a course of six months, but that wasn’t working every day. It was closer to 3 months if condensed. I usually come up with all the songs in the first few weeks, and the arrangements come pretty fast. Then the rest of the time is just me trying to record all the parts in my home studio.
You collaborated with some very talented people on the album, are there other musicians you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
Peter Milton Walsh of the Apartments would be high on the list. I would love to have Jim O’Rourke or Richard Hawley as a producer. Kevin Junior of The Chamber Strings recently connected when he heard we were covering an Epic Soundtracks song on the new record. Perhaps he would be interested in doing something. Kevin has had some health issues lately. There’s a fund set up to help with his medical bills. There’s a link to it on our Facebook page.
How much did the other musicians help contribute the songs on this album and how much of the material is comprised by you alone?
On the first couple of records I was probably more of a dictator because I felt I had to be protective of the material, but lately I have tried to let go and allow guests more freedom. Things like horn or flute parts I usually still write and ask them to play it the same way, but drummer Jeff Ryan (St. Vincent, War on Drugs) usually has total freedom and I only make minor suggestions to push it in a certain direction. Stuart helps me with that when I can’t speak drummer language. Justin Evans (The Angelus) contributed some great background vocals to this record that made the songs come alive, as did Howard Draper (Okkervill River, Shearwater) who also contributed keys and a really cool lap steel guitar on “Take Flight.”
What was it like working with Stuart compared to other engineers you may have worked with in the past, and what did he bring the album?
Stuart did our “99 Red Balloons” cover and that was very much the sound I wanted for this record , especially on tracks like “Brighter Now” and “Pretty Girls Are Everywhere. I worked with John Congleton on the previous record. John’s more interested in working with darker material and I knew he would be really receptive to some of the darker textures on that record. They are both great to work with. I will likely continue to alternate between them.
Even though you don’t play live very much, do you have a favorite live moment either as a fan or a performer? Least favorite?
My favorite might be the second time we played SXSW when our record was out on Arena Rock. We had been playing more regularly that year and the lineup was somewhat stable. I also enjoy the solo shows, particularly the CMJ show which had a surprisingly cordial audience.
Who are your favorite musicians or groups at the moment?
Gem Club is interesting, Real Estate, Peasant, I like the new GBV record and the latest Aidan Moffat record, Richard Hawley, Charles Bradley.
What are your musical plans in the coming months – more recording or taking some time off now that the album is out?
I have another Sonogram record that’s almost finished, I would like to get it out by the end of the year. I usually alternate between the two projects. As soon as a Crushed Stars record is finished I usually start on a Sonogram and vice-versa. I can’t seem to go more than three months without working on music.
Thanks to Tood for answering questions. You can find out more about Crushed Stars on the band’s website. And be sure to reader our other interviews with Horse Feathers, The Thermals, and Portugal. The Man.