Having first recorded the songs that would become Norse Horse while teaching in South Korea, Ryan Beal would continue this project once home in Riverside. Secret Geographies on Family Time records in 2009, and a split 7″ with Ancient Crux on La Station Radar in 2010 quickly followed.
Now based out of Los Angeles, Norse Horse most recently released his Grids EP on Family Time Records earlier this year which was followed by a West Coast tour with Brother Mitya in support of it. Beal was nice enough to answer a few questions about his most recent release and the future of Norse Horse.
dA: How was your summer tour with Brother Mitya? Any unique experiences or standout shows? Did any places not live up to the hype?
Ryan Beal: The tour went well. The San Francisco show went incredibly well. Yours Truly was able to bring tons of people out on a Monday and the response was the best that we’ve gotten. As far as hype, I generally don’t allow myself to develop any preconceived notions about the places I go, so there really wasn’t any hype for them to live up to.
dA: Norse Horse has been through several changes in personnel. Who are you playing with now?
RB: I’m currently playing with Sam Woodson (Family Time chief, No Paws frontman, and Norse Horse veteran), Ian Collins (of Ghost Shores fame), and most recently Brent Mitzner (who also lends his formidable skills to the wonderful Dollchimes).
dA: Grids is your first release since your move to LA. How has your change in geography affected your music?
RB: I don’t know to what extent it has. Secret Geographies was in part inspired by the wonder of being in a completely different place since I recorded most of it in Korea and I’d never been there before, but Grids was recorded in more familiar territory. If anything, the grids that the title alludes to are more psychological and social than geographical.
dA: Secret Geographies and Grids were both released on CD-R and cassette. What’s your stance on format, and how to you feel about digital downloads?
RB: I’m not too concerned about formats. I am fond of vinyl. I like the heft. Track Number Records will be releasing Grids as a 10″ vinyl pretty soon and I’m excited by that. I like when I buy vinyl that either comes with a CD or includes a digital download. I like the idea of tapes, but my cassette deck hasn’t been handling them too well. I was toying with the idea of creating a series of loops to be released on 3.4″ floppy disks, but realistically most people don’t have floppy disk drives anymore and I’d rather not be too much of an obscurantist.
dA: The increase in accessibility to world music in recent years, through both the Internet and commercial releases, has made it a lot easier to find more obscure world music not previously available. What has been your greatest recent find?
RB: We shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which Youtube has become a serious forum for people to listen to music, not only for people who don’t actively seek out a lot of music, but also for those who do. I’ve found a lot of great stuff on Youtube lately. I’ll make you a playlist, or at least a linklist.
dA: Were there any specific eras of music or artists you were thinking about while making this album? I know you’ve listened to a lot of 20th century classical music – has that influenced your writing in any way?
RB: Grids was more an accretion of influences over time than anything specific. The influence of 20th century classical on Grids is expressed primarily in its desire to seek out greater harmonic complexity than its predecessor, but it’s important to qualify the extent to which it bears any sonic resemblance at all to anything that could rightly be called 20th century composition. Joe Meek was an influence in terms of production, but I don’t know to what extent that shows. The next record will probably owe a lot more to specific influences. I’m currently trying to articulate a style of music influenced by the harmonic language and psychological depth of the music of the French composer Olivier Messiaen while utilizing the melodic vocabulary of traditional Vietnamese music, particularly in terms of the way that I ornament my melodic lines. I’m bound to fail, but I’ll probably end up with something interesting anyway.
dA: Other than world and 20th century classical music, what have you been following recently?
RB: I was recently introduced to Maston, which is Frank Maston’s solo project. I’ve been listening to that a lot. Maston has an instinctive ear for atmosphere and his music ripples and chimes with crystalline splendor. He’s got a great tape out entitled “Opal” and more should be coming soon. I’ve also been listening to the new Alak record, Groups, or actually, both Groups and her previous record, Clarinettis Qoonotations. Both records feature fantastic arrangements and incredible guitar playing. Other than that I’ve been listening to Lifetones (Charles Bullen from This Heat), which released a single EP in 1983 and then nothing.
dA: Do you consider yourself technical with the recording process, or is it more based on feel and figuring it out as you go along?
RB: Interesting question. I don’t think there’s really a dichotomy. I’ve gotten fairly comfortable with the technology I’m using, but there’s still a lot I don’t know. Whereas in the past I might have been content to play around and stumble across something I liked, I’m a lot more likely now to have a concrete idea of what I want beforehand and I’ll work on it until I get it right. I still enjoy getting lost and discovering new things by accident, but I like to use it as a tactic rather than a crutch.
dA: What are your next plans for releases?
RB: I’m recording a full length and there’s a good amount of interest, but I can’t say too much about the business angle. Ideally it will be both weirder and catchier than anything I’ve done so far.
dA: Anything else you’d like to add?
RB: I love the gloom and I hate supermarket news stands.
Don’t miss Norse Horse this Saturday at the dA:
The dA Concert Series Presents:
+ A special screening of “Underground in Suburbia: Bridgetown Records” by Cine Maza / Not Waiting for an Invite, 2011, digital, 10 min.
Saturday, October 29th
7:00 pm / All-Ages / $5