Killing Ideas & Wielding Synths with Xeno & Oaklander

Sometimes it’s just better to do things the old fashion way, and that’s what Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride are all about. As a duo they’re Xeno & Oaklander, touring the world and twirling thousands of knobs along the way. Haunting yet poppy, brooding yet bright, their synth-heavy electronic music goes back to (not so) basics and eliminates any laptops.

Witness their vintage, analog setup in all it’s tangle wired glory tomorrow night at Charlie’s American Cafe. A super-stacked lineup celebrates the debut release from Good Glass Records. The mind behind it all, Andrew Horton (playing his own synthy songs tomorrow as Young Hierophant) was kind enough to send the band a few questions. He gained insight on their new album ‘Hypnos,’ Greek mythology, and eau de toilette inspired by the purest electronica.

 

Many of our readers aren't necessarily up on the vagaries of music production. Would you kindly describe to the non-anorak spectator how X&O's approach is different than using a laptop for making electronic music? 

Liz Wendelbo: Think of the immediacy and raw power of an electric guitar - that’s the analog sound, it’s electric and it’s dynamic.

Sean McBride: The difference is akin to playing Grand Turismo on one's video game console  and actually driving a 60s Aston Martin or Mustang.

On your new album ‘Hypnos,’ one of the first things that jumped out at me was the polyphony - string machines, etc. after years of extremely minimal arrangements. But they don't overwhelm the skeletal arrangements. How do you balance polyphonic chords with such minimal counterpoint?

SM: Much of the song writing begins sketching out the character and arrangements on the piano. and then it is simply the task of building the scaffolding of the songs with Monophonic bass and arpeggiations.  The chords or polyphonic voicing, at this point, fall perfectly into place.

Speaking of the new record - many of the tiles and lyrics seem rooted in greek mythology, and I'm immediately reminded of your first album as a duo, ‘Sentinelle’ - with the acropolis or Parthenon on the cover. What do the Greek myths mean to you? How do they resonate, thematically, with X&O? 

LW: Greek mythology is fascinating because it speaks the language of our dreams: Hypnos is the god of sleep and the underworld is his universe, a cave-like space. We’ve always loved how imaginative and free Greek mythology is. The mind wanders and you can just create your own stories. We love architecture. The Parthenon is a wondrous edifice - an ancient temple that sits atop a rock in the center of the city of Athens in Greece,  called the Acropolis.

Perfumes are like music, scents are layered like a song.

- Liz Wendelbo

The album cover, which you designed, has an almost lenticular effect. Would you kindly talk about how it came about?

LW: I’ve always been into 3-D and creating that effect in simple ways. For the album artwork for ‘Hypnos’ I used several plastic sheets that I printed stripes on. Think of silk-screen printing techniques, or even analog photography, in the days when people used to project slides. I then super-imposed the printed transparent sheets on top of each other and that created a Moiré pattern. It’s an optical illusion that the surrealists were really into, Salvador Dali loved that effect. It tricks the eye into seeing movement or a pattern. Also the pattern reminds me of the Aegean sea in Greece, that blue. 

What are you reading lately? Do you read on the road?

LW: We like to listen to books on tape while we drive, right now we’re listening to free Yale University lectures on Youtube by Paul Freedman on the Middle Ages, about the fall of Rome - it’s an interesting contrast to the wide open horizon lines and bright blue skies that we see as we drive on our tour of North America.

In addition to all of your other projects - music, film, print, fashion, etc. - you've released several scents in the ‘Eau de Xeno’ line. What are your favorite - or least favorite but memorable - scents that you associate with music? What are your favorite base notes and top notes? What interests your nose?

LW: The first one is always the best! Jasmin, Eucalyptus and black pepper. Perfumes are like music, scents are layered like a song. Scents tend to sing best when fragrances keep each other company, so in Eau De Xeno a flower such as a Jasmin flower ascends out of the bottle thanks to the uplifting nature of Eucalyptus and sustains its note thanks to the aggressive quality of black pepper.

What's your favorite Chris Marker project? What about Agnes Varda? Favorite Scott Walker song?

LW: I like Agnes Varda’s vagrant stories such as ‘Sans Toit Ni Loi’ or ‘The Gleaners and I’ somehow I can identify,  tour life sometimes resembles that vagabond feeling. 

What's the largest thing you've ever killed? Was it on purpose or an accident? [credit to BabySue for this question - I always loved when they'd ask it]

LW: Killing an idea is the closest we’ve come to that.