INTERVIEW: Archie Pelago

Plus, first play of both 'Saturn V' from the New York trio's new EP Lakeside Obelisk and its accompanying video game

New York-based trio Archie Pelago, made up of Zachary Koeber, Dan Hirshorn and Greg Heffernan, aka Kroba, Hirshi and Cosmo D, have just released their latest EP, Lakeside Obelisk out via their own label. It’s a further crystallisation of their intricate layering of live performance, sampling and digitised beats, meshing almost orchestral jazz, house and hip hop – have a listen to ‘Saturn V’, the closing track from the EP below, and, because that’s just not enough, have a play of the video game level programmed by Heffernan (it’s also downloadable for PC and Mac) to complement the track.

While the group have already established themselves for their mixing skills – listen in to their efforts for Resident Advisor here – this year should mark a number of further original releases, so we caught up with the group to get the inside track.

How did the three of you meet?

Zachary Koeber: We met, actually, through Dan, who was DJ-ing with another guy at the time. We met him individually at parties.

Dan Hirshorn: Yeah, I basically saw both of these guys, and figured out what their element was. I come from an instrumental background so I had a lot of respect for what each of them was doing. We had a likeminded sense in terms of electronic music which I thought was refreshing for instrumentalists, which is kinda why I brought us all together.

Greg Heffernan: I met Dan because I was sort of cruising various electronic music parties about four years ago. I saw him DJ and was instantly taken by it. It was a very modestly attended party but his DJ-ing definitely stood out.

DH: Stop, I’m blushing.

GH: We came together as a duo first, but then he was like: “You play cello, I play trumpet, I know this sax player and I wanna bring him along to complete this new thing we’re working on.” So Zach kind of showed up on my doorstep. I was rolling with it, little did I know it would become like a long-running thing.

Archie Pelago is definitely a unique name. Where did it come from?

GH: Dan and I were e-mailing, brainstorming different names and we both hit upon archipelago as something that we liked. New York is an archipelago, technically: geographically it’s a series of different islands that come together. We’re one guy, even though we’re three guys.

DH: Three parts that make up a whole.

GH: There are some bands that are named after one person even though they’re a band, and there’s a certain quirkiness to that. There’s also a certain degree of escapism to it, of exploring, like exploring the Galapagos Islands or some random islands in the South Pacific.

DH: We’re exploring the islands of sound.

Do you each have a different approach to creating music? If so, do you find that it can cause any creative disagreements?

ZK: It’s actually the contrary. We do have different approaches and different things that we’re stronger at, but it’s really more of a complimentary thing. I’ll come up with a chord progression or drum part but I’m not really sure how I want to flesh it out, so Dan will help with sequencing and then Greg will come out with different sketches; Greg’s like a fucking genius at mastering and putting that Archie Pelago sound on it.

GH: Yeah I’m kind of obsessed with production, mixing and mastering, the technical aspect of the mix. That’s where I like to get into things.

DH: There are creative disagreements when we’re bringing new material to the table but it drives it forward. We’re like: “Yeah let’s try it, I would never have thought of that.”

GH: I think one thing I like to point to is improvisatory theatre: the rule of theatre is that you’re always saying yes, even if someone comes out with some crazy idea. We like to work with a ‘yes’ approach. The creative tension is awesome but it’s never destructive.

From listening to the influence of jazz in Lakeside Obelisk, it’s clear that you’re very musically gifted. Have you found that your individual musical backgrounds influenced the way you approach the electronic side of things?

ZK: Definitely: as well as other electronic artists in the past who have been influenced by jazz, I listen to a lot of stuff with an experimental drum and bass sound. Hearing artists take jazz samples and snippets of music that I was familiar with and reworking it made me think: "Oh cool, I can take my influences and conservatory jazz music training and combine it with my love for electronic music."

GH: I think particularly with this batch of songs, it furthers what we want to get across in terms of jazz, not exactly as an aesthetic thing but more the underlying function of the instruments, vibing off one another and improvising. We’ve all played in classical jazz ensembles and orchestras, that’s where our heads are coming from. We’re acknowledging our background and applying it to this.

Before this EP, you’ve made a name for yourself for your mixes, such as your renowned Mary Anne Hobbs mix. Do you find it more interesting to make something completely original or find ways to enhance and develop other artists’ songs?

GH: I think it depends on the mood. If we’re feeling inspired by someone else’s track and if we want to put our own twist on it, then that feels best. Or we may wake up one day and say, "I think we should go deep on our own stuff."

ZK: A lot of it is up to Dan, whether he’s gonna play other people’s songs or whether he can create a drum beat from scratch on stage … he’s like the conductor.

DH: I can do whatever I want and these guys have to follow me, and they follow me quite well. They react very quickly to any harmonic shifts or they’ll hear other tracks sneaking into the mix.

GH: I think it’s helpful to point out too, there are sort of two arms with which we operate: one is the live shows and the mixes, where Dan is the conductor, we’re reacting and we’re all moving fluidly. The other side is the studio side, and that is where Lakeside Obelisk is coming from, where it’s more slow-baked and you take the time to let the tracks evolve. On stage it’s more quick decisions, which is where our roles become more defined.

Did you set out with an intended location in mind for your music to be played when creating Lakeside Obelisk?

ZK: I think DJs do sometimes play our stuff in clubs, but anyone can get into it, whether it’s in your headphones or at home.

GH: There was no real intent. I think it was more meant to be experience personally, maybe by yourself at home or surrounded by other people.

Do you feel Lakeside Obelisk represents a significant step forward for the band?

ZK: Totally, if you listen back to the first stuff we made, we were in a completely different headspace.

GH: There’s definitely been growth in terms of technical ability, mixes and what we’ve been listening to. Then there’s the way we react to people and the way they react to us. Definitely growth and change have happened: never staying still, always questioning.

What’s next for you?

ZK: We have a few longer releases coming out this year that we’re excited about. And we have some tentative plans to travel a bit.

DH: We’ll keep it vague for now!

GH: We’re trying to get out of New York this year. We have some leads, so hopefully they’ll pan out.

Head to Archie Pelago’s website to get hold of Lakeside Obelisk on vinyl or download

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