Trans-Pacific duo We Are Loud Whispers have a knack of making what doesn’t seem possible. The brainchild of Sonya Westcott and Ayumu Haitani, the pair’s debut effort Suchness was created over emails sent between their respective homes in Seattle and the Japanese island of Honshu, without the two principals ever coming together face-to-face again after briefly meeting in 2007 when Westcott’s earlier gig Arthur & Yu toured Japan. And yet you wouldn’t know that Suchness, which premieres on PopMatters, was the product of purely virtual interaction, considering the warmth and immediacy of the music therein. Indeed, the contradictions built into the band name We Are Loud Whispers reflect how Haitani and Westcott bring together contrasting elements so seamlessly, combining electronic atmospherics with gentle, organic orchestration. PopMatters caught up with Westcott via email — naturally — to find out more about how We Are Loud Whispers came to be and how, appropriately enough, the twosome collaborated with the Postal Service’s Jimmy Tamborello. PopMatters is pleased to share a stream of Suchness, out this week on Hardly Art.
We Are Loud Whispers – “This Time” (for sharing and downloading)
Photo by Charlie Schuck
PopMatters: Can you describe how We Are Loud Whispers came together and your process of working together transcontinentally via the Internet?
Sonya Westcott: I met Ayumu when Arthur & Yu did a small tour of Japan back in 2007. We hit it off right away and managed to stay in contact ever since. I was fortunate enough to see his band, 4 Bonjour’s Parties perform while I was there and was absolutely impressed with all the instrumentation involved, which made for a great live show. Ayumu also did a cover of an Arthur & Yu song that I really loved. We Are Loud Whispers was really just a chance for me to work with Ayumu. We did one song a few years ago and were strongly encouraged to do an album.
PopMatters: How did you figure out that this was the right project for you? How did you decide to go into We Are Loud Whispers after being in Arthur & Yu?
Sonya Westcott: Arthur & Yu was on hiatus. Grant [Olsen] was working on his project, Gold Leaves. So it just seemed natural to pursue WALW based on the feedback we were receiving. It was nice to do things differently for a change and to be able to take the time I needed to focus on this album. We didn’t rush it.
PopMatters: Considering the long-distance circumstances behind the making of Suchness, do you think We Are Loud Whispers could only have come together at this time, thanks to the technologies you use? Of course, other projects have come together via email or by post, but is there anything particular to the way you collaborated online that comes through in the music?
Sonya Westcott: I don’t think so. I feel like even if we were living in the same town, the album would have sounded similar. However, I don’t really know. I’ll have to spend some time in Tokyo for the next one. What we come up with might be drastically different. =)
PopMatters: I think it’s appropriate that your band name consists of contradictory terms — loud whispers — because there are a lot of interesting contrasts at play in your music. For starters, the sound feels completely organic, even though there are a lot of electronic elements to it. And despite the easy-going, chilled-out vibe of the music, there’s actually a great deal of complexity at work in the compositions. What was the tone you are trying to set on Suchness?
Sonya Westcott: Honestly, it’s those contrasts that you mentioned that I had hoped would come across. Music with as many electronic elements could arguably come off sounding cold, emotionless, sterilized…but I don’t feel that with Suchness. Also, I love the myriad sounds that you hear after repeated listens that you may not have noticed the first time.
PopMatters: It’s also fitting that the Postal Service’s Jimmy Tamborello has a guest spot on the album. How did you bring him on board for Suchness? And was it just a happy coincidence that he appears with you, in light of the seemingly similar ways both groups work?
Sonya Westcott: Needless to say, Ayumu and I are huge fans of Dntel, the Postal Service, James Figurine. I had worked with Jimmy before, contributing vocals for a James Figurine track. Also Arthur & Yu did a song, “The Distance” on Dntel’s Dumb Luck. For “Glossolalia”, we knew that we wanted it to be a duet, and we both immediately thought of Jimmy. So I just asked. I’m so happy he agreed to do it.
PopMatters: Do you have plans for a tour and, if so, would playing together live be a totally different experience for you?
Sonya Westcott: We don’t have any immediate plans for a tour, but that being said, it’s not necessarily out of the question. I would love to reunite with Ayumu, get some folks together, and play some shows. Perhaps we could do a few performances in Japan. I’m sure the experience would be different, having never played these songs live before and having to figure out how to do that, but it’s a challenge I would gladly explore.