An Interview with the Acorn's Rolf Klausener
PopMatters chats with Rolf Klausener about the Acorn's superb and concise new record, No Ghost.
With their latest LP, No Ghost, Canadian folk-poppers the Acorn have done a strange thing: scaling down and de-glorifying their craft (after the immaculate Glory Hope Mountain from 2008), making it seem like a wonderful progression towards a woodsy, utopian breed of rock. There is an awful lot of joy in the record, as if time spent recording it in the wilderness--they retreated to an isolated cabin to piece the tunes together--was as freeing an experience as it should be, and the heaviness of Glory Hope Mountain had been lifted. Rolf Klausener was on hand to curtly and efficiently answer a few questions about No Ghost and shed a little light on its gestation.
No Ghost-- first things first, it's not a concept album. In fact, there aren't really any large themes drawing it together as such. Did you want to move away from the scale of Glory Hope Mountain?
In short, yes. The process of writing and recording No Ghost had little planning being it other than the location. Writing GHM was an all-encompassing affair which, creatively, dominated the better part of two years. For better or worse, we wanted No Ghost to be a lot less premeditated and commit to whatever came out of the cottage sessions.
It's a looser sound, perhaps, than before. The songs are more simply structured and shorter. How did you discover this economy of sound?
It might have been something in the lake water, or more likely it was the collective whispers of the millions of shad flies that lined the cottage windows every night. They have a 24-hour life cycle, and were not interested in us stretching our songs out too much.
You recorded the album in isolation. Could you tell me why the place you recorded it in is special?
It was special, simply because we were so isolated. The lack of cell phone reception, TV, Internet, and landlines was unbelievably liberating. It also had a spectacularly rad deer head mounted in the main foyer.
The first song is called "Cobbled From Dust". Is that a fair description of how it--and the whole album--came to life? Something organic or from the earth, if you will?
Yes. Wait . . . let me think about . . . that. Yes, that is fair.
There are some interesting references peppered across the record--Bon Jovi ("Slippery When Wet"), "Smoke on the Water" ("Bobcat Goldwraith"), Dark Side of the Moon . . . Is this you having a little bit of fun?
No, we were having a lot of fun.
Instrumentally you seem to have become a little leaner. The sonic palette is still wide (excellent trumpet work, by the way), but it's definitely not quite as wide as before. How did this affect how you wrote the songs?
The economy of sounds was precisely a reaction to the large palette used in GHM. We simply wanted to see how much we could with the band's individual contributions and not go overboard arranging the songs.
Do you get sick of everyone immediately comparing No Ghost to Glory Hope Mountain? Would you prefer people to consider it without subconsciously expecting a concept album or something equally epic?
No, I never get sick of it, and fully expect it. I'm generally always happy to do interviews, regardless of comparisons brought up.
The band spent two years on the road before recording No Ghost: How does a period like that affect what you do artistically? What does it mean for the relationships in the band itself?
The two-year stretch on the road supporting GHM was relatively draining, but mostly due to the delayed release of the album in Europe. More than anything, I just had trouble writing. I very rarely write on the road, and need stretches of time to myself to get back into writing. Not to say that our tours weren't incredibly inspiring, because they were. But I need privacy to experiment with melodic ideas. I generally do most of my writing in my home studio. Words come all the time, but melody seems to be fairly elusive on the road. As for the band, our relationships remained as wonderful as always, but spending that much concentrated time with anyone can be tiring. We took seven months off at the end of 2009 to recharge. Now, we're all really looking forward to hitting the road again, and nursing our tour guts.
Canada, musically speaking, is doing well at the moment in hip indie circles. Your music is unique in that it doesn't sound quite as "Canadian" as a lot of your peers; broadly speaking, I'm thinking of Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade, and all those guys. If anything, it sounds far more worldly and expansive than those bands. Do you feel like a Canadian band?
I'm not sure what it would feel like to be anything else, so I'd have to say, yes. Though, I'd be curious to know what you thought of artists that are considered quintessentially Canadian like Rush, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, or Stomping Tom Connors and what they have in common with BSS or Wolf Parade.
Finally, I always wanted to ask you about the Ear Worms mini-album, an album of minute song ideas and snippets that's far better than most bands' full-length LPs. Did any of those tiny songs ever turn into bigger songs? What was the function of that recording?
Ear Worms was an album I recorded for fun in December 2008 as a little bit of musical catharsis, and a gift to my friends and family. I was so happy with the finished product that I decided to make it available to the public on our website. Generally speaking, I take advantage of the relative quiet of the holiday season to do some fun recording and writing experiments. Ear Worms yielded some songs that I'm actually happier with than some of our proper releases. One of those songs, "I Made The Law", was re-worked for the No Ghost album. I had no intention of re-recording that song, but the band was pretty insistent.