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More Feelings, More Sludge: The Oscillation Interviewed
The Quietus , March 31st, 2011 09:04

Samuel Breen talks to Demian Castellanos about The Oscillation's new album Veils and studio misery

The Oscillation, with their gaze forever focused on production, are a slick psychedelic outfit. Where many acts would reach for the distortion pedal, Demian Castellanos will don his producers hat and get to work mastering the sound into mind-bending Valhalla - as if the dirt on the psilocybin mushrooms has been scrubbed with potent bleach. What Castellanos's music creates is a sweeping collection of dramatic landscapes and graphic detail, with huge rolling guitar lines and intricate electronic sounds that scatter the relatively simple song formats.

Castellanos was born in London, and grew up in Cornwall and Venezuela before moving to Manchester. Eventually, he returned to London and formed The Oscillation. The group began when bassist Tom Relleen, then working for DC Recordings (who Castellanos had signed to), suggested he should start a group. Relleen knew a drummer, while an old school friend of Castellanos, ended up on keys. Since then, the only line-up rotation has been the new addition of a new keyboard player who they met after playing a show in Jersey (the Channel Island, not the Garden State). And while Castellanos has been busy working on a project with Chrome Hoof's Milo Smee (under the moniker of Booze) and a separate collaboration with Relleen (inspired by "a shared love of drone"), The Oscillation have just released their second album Veils. Rockier than its predecessor, it dispels the notion that the band are geared solely towards electronica. The Quietus caught up with Demian to discuss studio stresses, broken hard drives and why pop music is nothing to be afraid of.

What was the initial idea behind starting The Oscillation?

Demian Castellanos: Mainly to make the kind of music I want to hear, and consolidate a few of my musical influences - to get these ideas and songs out of my system without interference or being told what I should be doing, or what's commercially viable, and to just do it. I'd say it's become my main vehicle for expressing ideas I've had in my head for years but couldn't realise before - a big reason being because it's taken me ages to kind of articulate [them] in some way that makes sense.

How has the process of performing live changed The Oscillation?

DC: Playing with the band live really got me into guitar again in a big way, which was a real passion for years and slowly took a bit of a lesser role. I would just use it as another tool for composition or another texture on a record, equal to the bass or synths or whatever, whereas now I've started writing on guitar a lot more and messing around with sounds as a starting point for a track, rather than being something that would come a bit later. Before that, on Out Of Phase, nearly all of the tracks started out with a bass line. I still like writing that way as well though.

In what sense do you think The Oscillation is developing?

DC: I'm not too sure how to answer that. I don't think about development too much. I think hopefully, with this new album, there is a bigger picture as to what The Oscillation is, which will make things broader for where it might go. Maybe there was a bit of a perception of it being more a 'clubby' kind of project, and with this album it opens things up a bit. There's definitely a lot of room to pursue some other areas sonically but I'm happy that there is quite a wide palette of ideas already, and that I can go off on or expand on still using the same name.

Yeah, I keep thinking that the new record is a lot rockier than Out Of Phase. But then I hear 'Violations' [off Out Of Phase] and think that I must be going mad. Am I?

DC: If you are going mad, you have my empathy. Veils is probably more rocky overall; there's still a lot of groove there but on some tracks I just wanted to make it more dirty sounding, get some more feedback on there, and freak out a bit more like Ash Ra Tempel or something. 'Violations' is pretty rocky, probably the noisiest on the guitar side of things on Out Of Phase. Overall on the first album, the guitars are a lot more textural. They have a role more like synths or abstract sound, to provide weird textures and more rhythms.

Perhaps playing live made me realise how much I was missing guitars that actually sounded like guitars a bit more. I still love abstract guitar noises though, so there is plenty of that on Veils too.

I'm trying to work out what level of input members of the group have? Do you see it as an auteur project which requires specialist musicians... For instance do you bring the songs to the table and see where they go?

DC: Up until now I've recorded and played everything myself, so that proves it doesn't require a specialist musician. When I did Out Of Phase, I didn't have any intention of going live with it, so it was purely a studio/recording project. I get the tracks as finished as possible and take them down to a friend of mine, Tim Weller, to replay what I have programmed. I do have quite specific parts that I write but there is a lot of scope to add and expand on - he has a great style, and always seems to get just the right feel that the tracks need. The band is more to represent the record live and take it somewhere else, which is also really important. It's also a relief in a sense to let go a bit, and we make quite an effort to experiment as much as possible with the tracks, and have fun performing them.

For some reason I've always associated being an auteur with being an egomaniac... But I currently still record in the same way [laughs]. I do like collaborating and there are a few projects which will be released this year - with various members of the band and also outside of that - but with The Oscillation, it's very personal to me, so I prefer to play what I can myself.

I'd like to discuss you collaborations. How did you come to work with Julian Hand, and do you ever think about the imagery when you're making music?

DC: I met him through a mutual friend a few years ago, and invited him over to hear some tracks. Up until then he had been concentrating on his visual poetry using cut up images and neon words that he obsessively collates and gathers on his Super 8 everywhere he goes. He's also already done a bit of live projections by then as well, but luckily for me he was looking to expand into working to someone else's music for the first time. We decided on 'Respond In Silence' as the first collaboration. We do spend a fair bit of time beforehand where we talk about the track, and what kind of feel it should have. I always try to remember anywhere interesting I come across that would be good to shoot on Super 8.

On 'Future Echo', he already knew he wanted to film around Dungeness and the sound mirrors, and I'd found this place in some woods that, for some reason, looked like it was another planet. We both felt it had to be pretty apocalyptic, so we would just put our heads together and see where we could think of to film and any other visual ideas with colours... Julian usually has some new idea he'd like to explore in terms of editing or blending various optical techniques with celluloid, or slide projection. He has always been very inspired by underground or experimental cinema, reviving old tricks and melding them with today's digital media.

Your other famous collaborator is Tim Holmes. Now I haven't seen the credits for Veils yet but is he, or at least his influence, on the record? To get overly specific, on 'Future Echo' there's these two tied notes in isolation that recall a similar repeated moment in Death In Vegas's 'Hands Around My Throat'. And their track 'Aisha' could easily fit onto Veils...

DC: Yeah, I worked with Tim a few years ago, but he's not actually on the new record. It would be cool to do something together again. We mixed the Violations EP together at his studio in Kings Cross and he was great to work with - it was a lot of fun. He made the tracks sound way better than I hoped and I learned a lot from seeing the way he works and listens to everything.

I'm a big Death In Vegas fan, so they have definitely been an influence since the The Contino Sessions came out. I feel quite an affinity with the way they were mixing together lots of different influences and their production style. I hope they do another album sometime... I especially love the last album, Satan's Circus. I hadn't actually twigged about the 'Hands Around My Throat' reference, I'd better go and listen for that.

So I'd like to discuss drumming on the new record. There seems to be a lot of 'give the drummer some' thinking in the production. Could you talk about this a little?

DC: I'm into drums being as much a lead instrument as any other, and I like the trance-like state they can induce. A lot of my favourite records and bands have influenced me with their drums/production like Can, Echo And The Bunnymen, Pink Floyd when they were more experimental, A Gilded Eternity by Loop, The Cure's Pornography, and Juju by Siouxsie And The Banshees. I wouldn't necessarily say it's a conscious decision to specifically give the drummer some, but I like the drum parts to sound musical, as opposed to keeping the beat or taking a more background role background on all the tracks. I liked an observation a journalist made about Echo And The Bunnymen that everyone in the band was playing a lead instrument. Some of the tracks on Veils might sound a bit more drum orientated due to some double tracking and additional percussion and overdubs.

It's funny you mention 'trance-like state' because I think your drumming achieves that. Although your points of reference totally surprise me: I thought you'd be waxing lyrical about Tony Allen or Steve Reich's Drumming. Do you often find yourself trying to create pop music?

DC: Yeah, I do find myself trying to make pop music quite a lot - or an idea will just turn out that way. I love it as much as some long, freaked out instrumental music, and I really admire bands that can be quite experimental but also not be afraid of some lyrics or chords that can resonate with people in some way. I'm into the structure of pop music, but with weird production and sounds. I'm not that familiar with Drumming, actually, but I love Six Pianos and all that slow phasing.

It's a work of genius. I was wondering you have targets when you're making records? Like, I need to hear rich guitars, electricity cracking. Do you have an idea as to what The Oscillation should sound like?

DC: I'm not sure if I have specific targets as such. Having said that, with Veils I did want to make the album quite different to the first. I wanted it to be heavier, and also to reflect how I was feeling at the time - to make it a bit more intense and emotionally direct. Out Of Phase was an effort to do something very rhythmic, and see how far I could push having no chord changes; to keep a basic drone, and create atmospheres using dynamics, a lot of which were provided in the drums. Emotionally and lyrically it's quite vague, as there aren't many words. It's more of a sonic record. In some ways, maybe I didn't want to be too personal, so there was less to be interpreted and read into. It needed tracks like 'Hear Your Sadness' and the Julian Cope cover to stop it being completely devoid of any emotion.

On this record, I did want more feelings, more chord changes, more sludge. The overall picture isn't really there at the start. It just kind of develops in its own, until I can see more clearly where everything is going and that helps me with writing more tracks. Or the missing pieces will join it together and balance things out.

You sound like a good studio band, yet it's taken over three years to turn out another LP. Has Veils been a struggle to produce?

DC: This opens up a whole can of worms for me. Three years is a long time between album and I hope it won't be as long this time round. Basically, it was a real struggle for quite a few separate reasons. Some of it seemed kind of out of my hands. It was quite a difficult time for a while... For quite some time, I completely lost confidence in myself as a person and as a musician, and had a few things in myself to sort out, so I took some time out to do that. I also had to get an incredibly mundane job to get by, so I was working five or six days a week, and didn't have enough time or energy to devote to music as I would have liked. [It was] really frustrating.

At the end of 2009, the album was pretty much finished, but one night I broke my hard drive and lost hundreds of tracks - about 70% of them being the new Oscillation album, so I had to start again. [Laughs] Happy days! I didn't re-do all of them apart from a couple of songs that I felt were really essential, so I just wrote new songs. In some ways it was a good thing and in retrospect there's quite a few tracks that I'm now really glad got destroyed so I didn't have to feel obliged to stick by them. It's quite hard sometimes to just accept that something isn't quite right. I think that's what I learned from it - not to be so precious about an idea, regardless of how much you put into it. Well, that and remembering to back up...

The Oscillation will play at Madame Jojo's, Soho on April 12 with Alexander Tucker. For more information including tickets, click here.