[22 June 2011]
Thousands is the Seattle duo Kristian Garrard and Luke Bergman. With their debut album called The Sound of Everything, they have created some of the prettiest sounds you’re likely to hear this year—recorded outdoors in the woods of Washington State with only one microphone. For listeners, there can be no doubt that the album is a gentle, deliberate gem in its simplicity.
“Thousands started out with a mission to only play unamplified shows,” says Garrard. In fact, for the first few years that the band played shows, they only played small house shows and warehouse-type venues with no microphones. When it came time to record the album, the duo decided to take a similar approach. “Recording the album this way, outdoors with only one microphone, allowed us to present the material in the same way that we had been performing it.” This allows the listener to imagine the band is sitting right in front of them—making the album feel like a performance captured in its most organic state instead of something that is heavily produced.
The Sound of Everything is very intimate in the feelings that it conjures up for listeners—serene, enveloping, and very grounding all at the same time. Garrard and Bergman traveled to several locales in Washington in hopes of capturing a certain sort of sound, and in that, they have created an intimate little world that makes any space the listener happens to be in feel like home. Recorded in places like abandoned farmhouses, old barns, and even the banks of the Columbia River, “The locations themselves were mostly places that Luke knew of from growing up on the Eastern part of Washington state, as well as some we discovered just while driving around in search of inspiration,” Garrard states. Adds Bergman, “We did have some locations in mind at the beginning of the process, but we really didn’t plan too much about the perfect ambient setting for each song. A lot of the time we just wandered around looking for interesting spots. In the end, the ways that the surrounding noises interacted with the music were mostly a surprise to us. I really like that about the recordings.”
Although Garrard writes the majority of the songs, the arrangement of the guitar parts and the harmonies are a collaborative effort. The band’s approach to constructing the lush sounds that fill the album is an interesting one, as it differs from most acoustic bands. Explains Garrard, “We never have ‘rhythm/lead’ type arrangements. Rather, we try to construct intertwined parts that sound as if they’re coming from one guitar. This allows us to use some pretty dense harmonies and chord voicings that sometimes have every note in the scale in them at the same time.” It’s remarkable what the band accomplishes with seemingly so little, as The Sound of Everything feels incredibly textured and full. The mixing of the deliberate guitar melodies (along with some harmonium here and there), ethereal vocal harmonies and subtle found sounds in the background—birds singing, water running—creates something magical and poignant. Layered with dreamy, woodsy lyrics inspired by literary greats like Robert Coover, Jorge Luis Borges, and the nature poetry of Gary Snyder, the end result is often hypnotic in its scope.
The band’s origins come from a place that is much different than the album’s warm acoustic sound, however. Both members have been part of the Seattle music scene since they were young, and met through mutual connections. Garrard says, “I believe the first time that I met Luke was when my old hardcore band, The Murdered Housewives, played with Luke’s old hardcore band, Blue Mouse Theater. We started playing together through a mutual friend, and things clicked. We’ve been pretty tight musical partners for about four years now.”
It is pretty safe to say that the Pacific Northwest and Seattle serve as a major source of inspiration for the band, both musically and artistically. “Being close to so much natural beauty is a big inspiration on my general mindset,” says Garrard. “Seattle has had a great music scene for as long as I’ve been around. It’s an inspiring place to be creating music, and I find myself at shows most nights of the week.” When not making music as Thousands, the duo play together in a “much louder” band called Heatwarmer, which serves as Bergman’s main creative outlet. They are also heavily involved in the city’s avant-garde/improv music scene. Bergman helps organize an event called Racer Sessions, which happens weekly at a neighborhood establishment called Cafe Racer. He also helps run a record label called Table and Chairs that promotes the music that surrounds the Racer scene. Bergman explains, “Each week it is hosted by a different person who is responsible for composing a piece that is based on a concept, or an improvisational approach that he or she wants the attendees to experience. Afterwards, it is opened up into a free improv jam session that is a reaction to the curator’s presentation. There are typically between 30 and 70 people that come to play and listen, and it’s usually pretty great and weird music! I feel really lucky to live in a place where this type of thing can exist and where there’s a really positive community to support it.”
The duo’s strong and prolific presence in the musical community helped lead to being Thousands being recently signed to Bella Union. At the time that The Sound of Everything was recorded, the band did not have plans to end up on a label. However, with a little help from friend and Fleet Foxes guitarist Skye Skjelset, the journey was set in motion. Garrard explains, “We just wanted to make an album for our friends, who had been asking us for years to record something. Once the album was finished, ideas started brewing in my head—“what if?” Skye made it his personal mission to help us find more recognition. He took a stack of CD-Rs and passed them out to all sorts of bands he knew when they’d tour through the area, as well as sending the stuff to Simon at Bella Union, who sent me a very nice email afterwards. It’s been a long process of waiting for the timing to be right, working through all sorts of details.” Despite the new whirlwind of activity surrounding the album, the band is already looking ahead to the next. “Our next album will be much more conceptually focused, being largely inspired by a historical account I read of an eccentric man living alone on an island in British Columbia. I’ve re-imagined a lot of the elements of the story, and added a lot of supernatural elements, in a sort of love/fear spiral that eventually leads to the guy’s death,” he explains.
Thousands are embarking on their first tour supporting the album, with time spent both touring the US and the UK. A residency at a Seattle club called The Sunset has given the band time to practice and hone the songs before heading out on the road. The audiences there have done much to help the band get comfortable establishing their live sound. “Our music requires some degree of intimacy and attention from the audience to really come across, and people here are very respectful of that fact, making the shows very comfortable. We’re definitely not a bar band,” Garrard smiles.
True, the hushed beauty of Thousands may not be one suited to large venues and huge crowds of people, but this is most definitely not a bad thing. If The Sound of Everything is any indication, seeing the band live will be an escape from the trappings of our hectic everyday lives—a sunlit walk in the woods filled with tall trees, gentle breezes, and the most gorgeous sounds.