The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Semblance Through The Cracks: An Interview With Braille Face
Alan Weedon , September 27th, 2016 08:13

Seldom do we realise things are crumbling while we're in the middle of them – unless you're Melbourne's Braille Face, who tells Alan Weedon how his debut LP inadvertently charts the demise of a six-year relationship

Whether it's the breakdown of an empire, economic collapse or a love's bitter end, there's nothing quite like the swirl of emotions accompanying demise. Granted, you're bound to be fighting an uphill battle if you're looking for clarity in the throes of loss. But, almost perversely, through moments of trauma, we've got a lot to be thankful for: we wouldn't have, say, the darkened beauty of Vulnicura. And it's this context which bring us Kōya – the debut LP from Melbourne's Jordan Edmund White, aka Braille Face.

Daring, with a precocious backstory, the record is a sumptuous release that ticks a very 2016 box. Prior to this release, Braille Face had embarked on an ambitious 'one month, one album' project throughout 2015. Each day was spent experimenting, learning Ableton and having just enough work to satiate White before his then girlfriend got home from work. This work was meant to go unnoticed but, surprise surprise, it just so happened to be picked up by one of Melbourne's leading music figures, Tim Shiel. He just so happened to be launching Spirit Level, a brand new label co-founded with Wally De Backer of Gotye fame, and cutting to almost October, we've got White's fruits from 2015's labour (and coincidentally, Spirit Level's debut musical baby).

Part-cathartic accident, part-journal, this release comes at the nexus of 12 albums' worth of work. It's a statement of musical proclivity, a welcome product of SoundCloud's twilight years and, at heart, a timestamp of emotional complicity.

There are a lot of things I assumed about your 2015 from listening to this record. Who were you before you realised Kōya could be released?

Braille Face: I had a dog and a house that I'd lived in for four years… a domestic life that was ordinary but beautiful and after six years things were wrapping up with my partner and coming to a dismal end. I guess I felt stunted managing this home life and struggling to make art and seeing how my job could support that. When it ended, I found I was putting all of my energy into all of these songs which I couldn't understand why I was doing it, but now looking back I can see it was me screaming out for help.

There's one line that I kept coming back to. It was something along the lines of, "I throw my shame around" – does that stem from your break-up?

BF: Yes it does.

I get a sense that there's a degree of shame breaking the normative idea: that ending your nice late-20s stable relationship, resulting in some sort of failure. Did you feel that in any way?

BF: You look at what you're complicit in after something like that, especially after such a long-term thing – especially for it to go pretty awry pretty quickly. I guess I was really aware there were all of these unconscious things that I was doing; it's more a process in discovering yourself through this frame of reference with this other person. There's no resolution to it either.

Of course, there's never a clear-cut answer to this but Kōya comes with hindsight. Your one-record, one-month project happened near the break-up right?

BF: It was the end of September 2015. There was a bunch of stuff happening… so the break-up started in the midst of the 12-month record project. Now I realise looking back, it was me being in a really shit relationship. It's me trying to deal with that and funnel it into those 12 months – it was my way of saying it was done before it was done really.

So when you started the 12 months, did you have a set of frameworks in place?

BF: It was completely void of any realisation. It was totally about practice and getting better. Purely just discovery and curiosity: like how to use Ableton live during the process. So she'd come home from work and I'd say that I made three tracks and that was that. That was my reward… if I could do something before she got home and feel good about it that would be great.

I take it she was working during the day and you weren't?

BF: Yeah, in a sense it was me trying to discover who I was without her. I'd get up, start at around 10am, have breakfast and start work. I'd either have some reading or writing stuff around me that was really going to start triggering things for me, whether it was visual references… It was really just a routine, it'd just be showing up to work.

So when each month passed, did you move – organically, for lack of a better term – toward certain objectives while 'experimenting'? Here I can't help but be reminded of the marathon musical 'work-outs' Prince used to do.

BF: I'd been reading a lot about Brian Eno and production in general, and one of the huge recurring themes people talk about is limitation: obviously for me that was electronic music and Ableton. Because the project was so impulsive, and it was about trusting my intuition and trusting my gut on decisions and moving really quickly through it, it had to be something that delivered those results really quickly.

Was there a clear moment you can think of where that worked?

BF: Yeah, I mean, initially, the first time I uploaded something and it was there. It reminded me of back when I was ten recording something onto a tape and I'd physically hand a cassette to a friend… the moment when you realise something's not yours anymore. So that realisation when I uploaded the first album to SoundCloud – not that anyone heard it – but the realisation that there was a process, that there was an end point to what I was doing, and that that was the way that I could direct some energy.

You talked about the process in letting things trigger you. Were you overtly looking for anything specific?

BF: A lot of artists talk about where they don't know where their art comes from, where unconsciously there's a conduit for it. In some ways there was a lot of that: where I would read four pages from a book, and I would circle maybe 12 words and those 12 words would be the impulse or mood to a song. They were kind of like Brian Eno's cards, the Oblique Strategies. It'd be news, or things lying around my house – like old books that I started reading.

I want to talk about the shift you experienced, when you became aware that those projects started getting listened to.

BF: So it would've been around record three and Tim Shiel just messaged me and said: "I'm not really sure about this, is this you?". I couldn't put two-and-two together because my head was so buried in the creative process: it was a militant routine and I had to be doing something for the sake of doing it. So to have Tim – who I immensely respected from a musical standpoint – and then to have Wally come on board completely brought this other dimension to what I was doing in later 2015… because by then I was aware that people were listening to it in a way.

Before that did you have any wider intentions for the tracks on these albums?

BF: I guess a huge part of the catalyst for why I took this project on was because I'd spent so many years in this band Playwrite, taking three years to make our first record. It sucked all of the energy that I had for music. So when Tim and Wally started paying attention, it was really just a psychological challenge of not letting their kudos get to my intentions about the project – which was to stay as experimental as possible. Essentially the band imploded because we let outside influences affect us and dictate how we made our music.

I also imagine that you wanted to get a record out after waiting all that time with Playwrite.

BF: Yeah absolutely. I felt really lazy at the end of it. I was also living in a really musical household with my ex – one of my housemates was Liam McGorry from Dorsal Fins – so there was constantly good music being made in the house. I felt as though if I wasn't working every five minutes I felt lazy. And you notice it. That really triggered something in me to act compulsively.

I feel as though Braille Face, then, as a fully-fledged musical project seems to have emanated from the gaps over your past 12-and-a-bit months – obviously with a bit of sheer coincidence.

BF: Having done such a demanding project allowed me to objectively look at what I did in 2015 and ascertain what worked and what didn't. But I guess regardless of whoever listened to it, 2016 was always going to be me playing what I made the year before… It's just that I had these amazing champions for what I was making who were really vocal about it and really on board and honoured to push it further than anything I ever really could on my own.

So what's the story you want to tell about Braille Face's debut?

BF: I think it's a collage. I think it's a collage and a response to everything that was going on in my life at the time. It's a mixture of so many things. It is a break-up record but it also isn't. In that way, the decline of my relationship defined everything on it, but not all the songs are just about that.

Kōya is out now on Spirit Level