I’d like you to meet my friend Andy Othling.
I met Andy a few years ago on tour in Albuquerque, New Mexico. i remember he had a really fancy pedalboard. He was the first person that I saw with Strymon pedals. Anyway… We met again through the internet and have stayed in touch for the last couple years. He has an ambient project he calls Lowercase Noises. His album Passage is one of my favorite records. He’s really smart and funny and a really hard worker. He’s also a great musician. Read our conversation then check his music out.
What are you doing?
I just ate some cold pizza!
Gross. Happy New Year?
Ha. Yes. Happy New Year.
Why is that funny?
I always chuckle at your addition or omission of ironic punctuation.
How many songs do you write in a day?
Like a hundred. But most all of them are terrible.
You played guitar with Future of Forestry on their last couple of tours. How was that?
It was awesome. The first tour was just on the west coast, which was awesome but I’d been to lots of those places before. This time we went way east, so I got to see lots of the country that I’d never seen before. Plus I totally love all the guys we toured with. It was so much fun.
You played few different instruments on that tour. What all were you playing? Did anything go terribly wrong during a show?
Yeah. I played guitar (duh), keyboard, vibes, bells, harmonium and some cymbals. And I did some vocals. Oh and a stand up kick drum.I think the worst thing that happened for me was in one of the songs I have to start the click on my computer a little ways into it. But this time I completely forgot. Eric (the singer) finished his part and other guy was holding out a harmonium note and they were just staring at me and I couldn’t figure out why. I just stood there like an idiot waiting for them. Eventually I started the click and the song went on. Luckily, from the crowds perspective, it probably looked like Eric’s fault.
I’m sure he appreciated that. Speaking of spacing out, One time I was in Brazil (humble brag) and I had an allergy attack on the way to the church we were about to play, so my friend gave me some allergy medicine. I took 2. immediately after that he said, “yeah take one and put one in your pocket for tomorrow”. I said “I took them both”, to which he replied: “YOU TOOK BOTH?!?!?!”. The next thing I remember is hearing “earth to James”. I snap out of it and look around and I am standing on stage, with my guitar in the middle of worship. I looked over at my friend and he whispered “start the song”. I remember nothing before that. Nothing. I had to ask him what song he wanted me to start. Cool pills.
That’s even better than my story.
It’s not a competition, Andy.
Too bad it didn’t look like someone else’s fault though. I also jumped off a kick drum (humble brag) and twisted my knee and fell over and knocked Eric over. But that ruled.
Tell me about your Ambient Songs series.
It all really started for me with YouTube videos. I started doing the Ambient Songs series because I was frustrated with songwriting. They helped me simplify and get some good ideas down. Those started to kind of take off, and people started asking me lots of questions.
Which lead to you blogging.
Yeah. The blog is really there to try to answer people’s questions on a larger scale. Lately I’ve really turned the focus of the blog to songwriting tips and advice on self promotion, because those are the biggest questions I get.
What’s the funniest comment you’ve gotten on youtube.
I made a video announcing that I was doing the Future of Forestry tours, and I had one guy say something like “how could you do that to your family??” as if the video was also my announcement to my wife that I was leaving and that we hadn’t already been discussing it for months. That gave me a good laugh.
I never watch YouTube. Ever. I mean, I have watched a couple of your videos, but that’s about it. A lot of people watch your ambient songs. Have you found that posting your videos to YouTube help your album sales?
Yeah, it definitely does. I sort of “started out” on YouTube, so that’s still where my biggest fanbase is. And a large majority of people who sign up for my blog tell me that they discovered me through YouTube.
Actually I did just watch a YouTube video last week where these two kids are speaking german or something and then they walk over to a table, rip the tablecloth off, one boy falls back and hits an entertainment center and it falls over on top of him. I laughed.
I know the one of which you speak. I laughed too.
I think it was fake.
See, I thought that too. But then that seemed like too much destruction to be fake? Maybe you just watched it too many times in a row.
I think you should make more videos. This one made me laugh. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQAoXKjdgJc
We just talked about YouTube for a long time. Wow. Should we talk about gear?
Probably. Here’s a picture of the pedalboard I used on the Future of Forestry tour. http://instagram.com/p/TEpQZrh4ju/. I also used a Boomerang III looper that you can’t see. For amps I run stereo into a Matchless Chieftain and Clubman. I put the cab for the Clubman on the other side of the stage, so it sounded huge in stereo. My main guitar is a parts Telecaster with Antiquity pickups in it. I’ve got a Gretsch Country Classic Jr and a ‘78 Tele Deluxe that both rule too.
Are you still loving your new Badcat? It looks so awesome. And it’s named after your daughter.
It’s a cool amp! about 5 hours ago I put some new tubes in it. I put a Dario Miniwatt rectifier tube in it. Also a Phillips EF86 and some old Yugoslavian 12AX7’s in. All NOS. Blah Blah Blah. But I will plug in it tomorrow and see how it sounds. I never get to play guitar at home. Stetson hates loud noises.
That rules. On the fall tour with Future of Forestry I came across this massive bin of NOS tubes stashed in this random church office. I guess the worship pastor had a friend who was an old radio guy and he just gave him all these tubes. I bought four 12AX7s off him. But I haven’t even tried them yet. Maybe they’re awesome.
Luckily my kids are cool with me being loud. They even sleep through it right next door.
You just quit your job.
Tell me about it.
Well, the goal was always to quit my job and do music full time. So my wife and I were preparing for that. But when I told my manager about the second Future of Forestry tour, they basically told me that I had to choose between keeping my job and doing the tour. So I quit and did the tour. It happened earlier than we were planning, but I think it’s gonna work.
I know we talked about that several times over the last couple years. I remember telling you not to quit your job. But I am proud of you.
Yeah, I remember that. I wanted to quit for a long time. But it wasn’t the right time. THANKS JAMES. If I could put the crying emoji in here I would.
Tell me about your new record.
It’s called Passage. It’s five songs. I wrote and recorded it all in the four weeks between finding out that I had to quit my job and leaving for tour. I tried to capture both my excitement and sheer terror of my new situation. It’s lots of swirly, verby guitars, but I used lots of banjo and other things this time around.
It’s really pretty.
Thanks. So is the new ATBL. Am I allowed to tell people that I’ve heard it? And when is it even coming out?
You may tell people you’ve heard it. At least people will actually believe we have a new album. It’s coming out… soon.
Good. It’s good.
Thank you. Do you find it hard to keep a consistent song quality when releasing a lot of music? How do you keep yourself accountable.
Yes and no. I feel like the more I do it the better I get at it. So that helps. But there’s also a little more pressure each time to try to do better than before. I try to be honest enough with myself about the good and the bad in my songs so that they’ll always come out better next time.
What do you have coming up? What will we see you doing this year?
Well, my wife and I have our third baby due at the end of February. And I’ve written music for each of my other kids, so I’ve kind of set the precedent and will be doing that for this little guy as well. I’m also going to be doing a lot of work on my blog trying to help people learn how to write, record and promote their music all on their own. And hopefully I can release another full length album by the end of the year. That would be swell.
What about Lowercase Noises shows? Are you going to play live this year?
Oh man, I’ve done that a few times and it was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know. I do most all the instruments myself, so I’d either have to get a few guys together and coordinate all that or figure out a way to cover a bunch of stuff myself without making it boring. I’m open to the idea but I haven’t thought up a good way to do it without going crazy. Probably not this year. But maybe. I don’t know.
Do you play at church?
I do. I haven’t played a whole lot the past 6 months or so because of touring and lots of other stuff, but yes.
Do you like playing at church?
I like it in the sense that I get to serve others by playing my guitar. I like when people tell me that my playing helped them worship. But I really struggle with a lot of the cultures and mindsets within worship music. I feel like there’s a lot of settling for mediocrity that goes on, and I don’t like that. I guess in a nutshell I’m glad to play occasionally, but I’m glad that my “career” isn’t based on playing at church or being part of the larger worship music scene.
Who are some of your musical influences?
When I was in high school I was all about Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I wanted to shred so hard. But eventually I got sick of that kind of playing. When I started college a friend gave me a copy of El Cielo by dredg, and I freaking loved it. It’s still my favorite album of all time. Their guitarist Mark has this absolutely massive sound that I fell in love with. From there I discovered post rock and ambient music, my biggest influences there being Hammock (especially the Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow album) and Riceboy Sleeps by Jonsi and Alex.But the first song that I ever fell in love with was Changes by Bowie.
How much do you love his new single?
I love his new single! I love Bowie. His music feels so important, if that makes sense. When I listen to Bowie I feel like I’m being allowed into a different world. Or whatever. Yes. I love him.
I agree. I’m glad we get to hear some more.
If you could write a song with anyone, who would it be with?
If I got put in a room with Josh Scogin and Skrillex I think we could come up with something pretty cool. (I’m not even kidding)
But for real, I would love to get together with you and Frodo. I don’t know what it would sound like, but I think whatever we made would rule.
What is Post Rock? Are you Post Rock?
Post rock is Explosions in the Sky. Everyone knows them, right? To me I feel like it always has full percussion and lots of big dynamic crescendos. I wouldn’t say I’m post rock. But I dunno. People can call it whatever they want. I just want to make music that they can feel.
Are you Post Rock?
No. I don’t know. No.
I made up a genre name one time. “Motivational Rock”.
That sounds great. But maybe too happy. I’d go for the “Demotivational Rock” where you are crippled by a debilitating sadness.