Peel Dream Magazine, Holy Tunics
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As the theoretical brains behind minihorse, the 32-year-old Collins has had music in his life practically since birth; his parents met at music school, and his younger brother is a band director. “Everyone in my family plays music—I’m probably the worst musician in my family,” he says with a self-deprecating laugh. After attending the University of Michigan to study performing arts technology, which he describes as “a strange degree that covers all sorts of media—music, performance, film, sound recording,” Collins struck out working as an engineer at the age of 18 while going to school.
“The best way to engineer is just by doing it,” he explains, and the CV he’s since accumulated is a practical who’s who of Midwestern indie talent, from Bonny Doon and Double Winter to Stef Chura and Fred Thomas; he also played on the most recent album from Ian Svenonius’ Chain and the Gang project and gigged with Ann Arbor outfit Starling Electric. Around 2015, a few of the band’s members heard rough demos and implored him to form a new project around them. “I stole those members and started this band,” he remembers with a chuckle as to how he linked up with bassist Christian Anderson and drummer John Fossum.
Collins refers to to Minihorse as “a home recording project—the culmination of building a lot of gear and learning how to go back and record to tape.” Accordingly, 2016’s Big Lack EP was mostly formulated around those demos that caught his band members’ ears: “We never could record those songs better than the demos, so we kept the demos.” Overall, he refers the writing and recording process behind that release as “very weird,” as he delved into experimental treatments ranging from sleep deprivation and transcranial direct current stimulation to experience their own effects on his creativity. “I find songwriting to be the hardest thing in the world,” he explains. “You have these moments of inspiration where a song comes easily, and then years go by without it happening again. You find yourself in these strange patterns, trying to coax out creativity.”
Around this time, he also began working with the world-famous social humanoid robot Sophia — a gig that led from his involvement in creating Breathscape, an app that generates algorithmic music based on your breathing patterns. He is currently part of the team that operates and programs Sophia, and has been teaching her how to perform music as well. “The job is very strange—part bodyguard, part publicist,” he marvels. “I’ve been joking that it should be a TV show, because it’s such a surreal experience to carry a robot in a suitcase and fly it to speak at global events.”
Despite this surreal side hustle, Collins and minihorse nevertheless found time to record Living Room Art‘s ten indelible cuts in his home studio, as well as Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Studio—and they weren’t alone. “I tried to bring friends into the studio to make it more collaborative,” he explains, and Living Room Art indeed represents a true Midwestern come-together, with contributions from Fred Thomas, Kelly Moran, and Anna Burch—the latter of which sings on and appears in the video for first single “Drink You Dry,” as well as the title track. “She’s a genius, and has toured with us a bit,” he enthuses. “We thought it would be fun to incorporate her into some of these songs.”
Gooey and tactile, Living Room Art often takes on surreal shapes, from the overwhelming waves of guitar on “Summer Itch” to the careening melody of its title track. “I’ve often told people that I don’t care about the words, but I do care about the lyrics,” Collins explains when discussing his songwriting approach. “These songs have been educational for me, personally. Some of the songs start out lyrically impressionistic, but later it becomes clear what they were about. I’m blind to it in the moment..”
Despite possessing a natural aversion to drug use (“I’ve had anxieties for so long that I’m capable of having a bad trip while I’m eating an ice cream cone”), Collins had a lyrical breakthrough of sorts after taking part in a sacred medicine ceremony in Tulum, where he took ayahuasca. “I felt these strange, cyclical things happening with some of the newer songs where they felt connected with that experience. Lyrics I’d written before the ceremony ended up describing lessons I learned during it. It makes you question the nature of time.”
“When you watch your thoughts, you don’t feel responsible for them,” he continues. “They happen toyou. You feel more like an observer or a victim of thought. It’s freeing—when you don’t feel like you’re in control, you can actually listen to what your brain is doing.” His perspective often hovers over these songs, even when they’re directly connected to his past; “Drink You Dry” centers around a car crash he experienced in 2011, but he describes the song as “a shadowy figure in our band’s career. People come up to me and say ‘I love that song.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it sucks—I can’t beat it,’” He says with a laugh.
Then there’s the haunting closing track “Misophonia,” which features contributions by Moran: “It’s about this idea of having an aversion to sound, which I’ve always dealt with. I just hate certain sounds—certain types of sound grate on my ears to the point where they’re psychically difficult to handle. I thought that was a really interesting theme to explore—someone having these sonic aversions. Kelly did a great job with sound painting on this track.” The result mirrors to the experience of listening to Living Room Art as a whole: it’s alluringly just out of reach, to the point where you can’t help but hit “play” once more to unlock this record’s strange pleasures.
Peel Dream Magazine
Founded by New York City-based musician Joe Stevens in 2017, Peel Dream Magazine released their debut album, Modern Meta Physic, on the much loved and venerable American independent label Slumberland Records the following year, 2018.
Driven by a DIY aesthetic and initially very much a ‘home recording project’, their debut recalled the likes of Yo La Tengo and Unrest and harkened back to the early 1990s, when The Velvet Underground resurged as an inspiration to a new set of bands wielding synthesizers and off-set guitars.
Having only played their debut show in January 2018 the Up and Up EP, and forthcoming second album, reflects Peel Dream Magazine’s gestation beyond the bedroom delivering something more dynamic than Modern Meta Physic reflecting their new status as a 4-piece band. Recorded in part at a studio on the northern tip of Greenpoint near Queens, the tracks feature vocals from sometimes-band-member, collaborator, and friend Jo-Anne Hyun.
While channelling some of the droney, kraut-y repetitiveness of their debut album, the tracks however hide less behind a hazy veneer possessing a hitherto to unheard sense of immediacy which draw easy comparison with the likes of Stereolab orBroadcast.
Talking about the inspiration for the EP, Stevens said:
"Thematically, these songs are plucked from a big batch of material that deals with the ethics of popular music. I wanted to talk about the current popular music scene through the eyes of Bertolt Brecht, who warned that audiences become susceptible to mind-control when they take popular art at face value. The entire EP is like a little Brechtian play. Up and Up is literally about feeling manipulated by the theatre of crap art. It's about second-guessing the highs and lows you're told to feel. Our heartstrings can be pulled by anyone who really knows what they're doing, and its not a very nice feeling when you suspect that you're being taken advantage of. Oppressive political regimes ban free-thinking art because they don't want citizens to flex their brain muscles and question the status quo. In the song, I'm inserting myself between Brecht and his nemesis, Aristotle. I want to stand up for audiences everywhere, myself included."