Interview: One on one with Philadelphia’s Tulipomania
Philadelphia-based Tulipomania recently released their new maxi-single ‘Off the Map’, together with the remix of ‘On the Outside’ by London-based electronic producer Spinello. This three-track offering is available via Sursumcorda Recordings.
For this release, band members Tom Murray (lead vocals, bass, drums) and Cheryl Gelover (synthesizer, background vocals) were joined on guitar and glockenspiel) by Mitch Smith, who also contributed to the band’s eponymous first album. Recorded and mastered by Richard Hartline, the final mix was produced by Mark Plati, famed for his work with such artists as The Cure, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Philip Glass crafted the final mix, in addition to producing, recording, mixing or performing on most of Bowie’s musical output from 1996 to 2003.
To date, Tulipomania have released four albums, as well as numerous singles. Their music is built on conflict and contrast, internal battles between hazy dream-pop and angular indie, between fractious and shattered vocals and muscular beats, swirling psychedelia and sonorous, drifting keyboard washes, between sinister atmospherics and raw guitars.
‘Off The Map’ is a trance-like dark moody affair with bluesy elements, with Murray’s smoky deep tenor sparingly backed by Gelover’s vocals. ‘On the Outside (Spinello Remix)’ is a more upbeat offering and is dramatic, dark and dubby. It was created by Spinello (a.k.a. Shane Woolman), a London-based producer and remixer, who also hosts shows on NTS Radio, Resonance FM and New New World, in addition to working at The Wire magazine and DJing as part of The Wire Soundsystem.
I had the opportunity to chat with Tom from this particularly art-conscious duo, who revolve within an resolute juncture between music and visual art – this dynamic has also made Tulipomania videos stand out among their peers, bringing them various awards and recognition at various film festivals internationally.
Hello Tom – You’ve been very prolific over the past few years with your music output. Would you consider yourself a relative newcomer to the music scene or is there a whole musical past we don’t know about?
Hi Louder Than War – thanks for talking with us! We have a fairly long history releasing music as Tulipomania. We released our first record in 2002 and have released 5 albums and some singles over the years. Obviously we have been releasing more music and music videos over the past several years that we did during the first 15 or so years.
Your music seems like a whole melange of genres – post-punk, alternative rock, downtempo and experimental – has Tulipomania always been more or less of this fabric, or was this a gradual process to arrive here?
That’s interesting. I think we have always worked from a wide set of influences but without any intentional mission to combine them in any specific way. I hear a continuous thread in all of our recordings to date. We have been leaning more toward electronic instrumentation and more space on the new music we are working on now. We have been revisiting some of our earlier music with an eye toward re-imagining the songs in more sparse arrangements. My first reaction was to say we have always worked from this melange – but as I am saying it – I feel we are moving gradually toward more air and more electronics.
Please tell us about your latest release ‘Off The Map’.
You asked about process and the nature of gradual change in the overall fabric. With our Off the Map /On the Outside – Spinello Remix single with music video release – we wanted to give more control over to others. Cheryl Gelover and I are Tulipomania – but we have worked with several other musicians on many of the recordings. We have often worked with Mitch Smith on recordings. He plays the guitar on the single Off the Map. We worked closely with our friend and producer/engineer Richard Hartline on almost everything we released prior to this single. Every prior recording we worked with Richard directly and produced the sessions and mixes with him. Not that we needed to – but because we were learning the process and wanted to have some control of the final result as a co-producer of the recordings. On this release we worked with two producers.
Mark Plati mixed Off the Map in his NYC studio without us in attendance. He included us in the process by sending versions as the mix progressed. Finally we meet at his studio and listed to the nearly final version he made a small modification or two and rolled off the master. Being somewhat removed from the mixing process was a relief. We worked in much the same way with Shane Woolman (aka Spinello), the London based producer. We have been friends with Shane for some time and always wanted to work with him. We sent him tracks and he made the remix. He offered to give us input but we were thrilled to have his take on our track. We are beginning to feel that maybe that method of working and allowing others to mix and remix our music without attempting to control the process is a good direction for us. We plan to do more of this with future recordings. Richard recorded the songs and mastered the final mixes by Spinello and Mark Plati for this release. We used the same hands-off approach regarding Richard’s mastering session as well.
Cheryl and I made animated music videos for both tracks on the Off the Map single.
Both videos are made using animated collage techniques. We direct and animate all of our music videos. This continues to be an area with which we are unlikely to try our experiment with relinquishing control – at least for the foreseeable future.
I see Spinello created a remix for you on this release, but you’ve been remixed previously too. Can you tell us about these varied collaborations?
The remix process is – i think – how we started considering letting go of the need for control a bit. The only control we have exercised regarding remixes was in deciding who to work with.
In both of the recent remixes we approached the producers based on an interest we had in their work. Spinello (Shane Woolman) has been a friend for several years and we have always wanted to work with him.
Previously, we talked with Jon Tye about the possibility of remixing a track because we liked his work and his label Lo Recordings. After we talked with him – we agreed that a Seahawks remix (Jon Tye and Pete Fowler working together) would be an interesting direction for a remix. The process was very similar to the Spinello process and we were thrilled with the results. The Seahawks remix may have been the impetus for our current direction in allowing more freedom and having less input into the mixing, remixing and mastering process.
We’ve also been remixing songs for friends. I am very excited about the results – but none of the tracks are released yet. Finding other people to collaborate with has given us a freer perspective.
Do you feel you are part of the music scene in Philadelphia?
Yes and no. We have always been interested in listening to new music – but we are not connected to the Philadelphia scene. Obviously we live and make music in Philadelphia – but we are not overly influenced or connected to the city’s scene.
Philadelphia is lucky to be the home of MAGNET magazine. Although MAGNET is not a local or regional magazine – they have supported the local Philadelphia music scene as well and they have been supportive of our music too. Without them – I am not sure we would be connected in any way to the scene here except for by proximity.
What inspires you to create music?
Both Cheryl and I have been interested in making art since we were kids. We met studying art, animation, and filmmaking. Both of us are driven to create music in a layered and painterly way, adding and subtracting elements until we are excited by the end result. About half of the songs we write have lyrics first – but everything, even the tracks with lyrics first, undergo the same additive and subtractive process. I know we are both inspired by the process of playing and recording and by seeing and hearing the work of others we admire. If we start recording we end up making finished work. Part of the inspiration comes from the process of doing.
Also where in the world did you get all these wonderful ideas for your videos? I realize you’ve been involved in numerous film festivals – can you tell us about this?
Thanks so much! Glad you like the videos!
We animate tests all the time. We are always looking for and experimenting with ideas that cross our minds. Sometimes we reach blind alleys or the technique is too cumbersome for anything more than a test of a few seconds – but other times the results inspire us to push harder and experiment more. We are obsessed with collecting printed images, interesting objects, old home movies and photographs and attempting animated techniques with light and projection in combination with other techniques like papier-mâché, clay modeling and casting. We continuously try new processes and techniques. We are inspired by other animators and filmmakers like Theodore Ushev, Norman McLaren, Oskar Fischinger, the Quay Brothers,… and many others.
We’re inspired by animated filmmaking that is as much about a unique painterly visual style and lighting as it is about animation.
We see a direct connection between animation, filmmaking and music. They are abstract in a way and evolve and reveal themselves over a controlled use of time.
We are inspired by the artwork and music of our heroes and heroines, and have been lucky to work with some of them as well. We had the chance a few years ago to make an animated music video for the Tom Tom Club.
Over the past summer Cheryl and I worked on animated backgrounds with Vaughan Oliver. We have been fans of his artwork and graphic design for a very long time. His artwork for bands we love is legendary. We were offered the chance to work with him on background animations that will screen at the end of October and early November in London at the Roundhouse. The animated backgrounds we made will be projected behind the Pixies during their 30th anniversary Surfer Rosa / Come On Pilgrim performances. The animations will screen with other media behind and along the side of the stage. The anniversary album performances will also be presented in Brooklyn and Mexico city – and our work will serve as part of the background for all of the performances. We are very excited to work with Vaughan and to create something for Pixies for this anniversary performance series. We are looking forward to seeing the show live!
We were inspired by both Pixies music and Vaughan Oliver’s art when we worked on the animated backgrounds. We can’t wait to see what the reaction to the finished production is. Working with Pixies longtime lighting, scenic and technical director Myles Mangino has been interesting and enlightening as well. His experience with live media production and lighting design seems to help make him unflappable and ready for the stress and rigors of performing a live show with animated backgrounds. Hats off to Vaughan for including us in this project, and thanks to Myles for making it happen every night.
We’ve also been really fortunate to have had all of our recently released Tulipomania animated music videos included as official selections in film festivals, worldwide. Our music videos are screening as official selections in York at the Aesthetica Short Film Festivaland at the Leeds Film Festival in early November. Two of our recent music videos are also screening as official selections at Stoptrik in Poland and at the Amarcort Film Festival in Italy in November.
We have attended a number of the festivals whenever possible – and it has been interesting to meet other filmmakers and the people responsible for running the film festivals. We regret that we have not able to attend all of the festivals who honored us by screening our animated music videos and including our work as official selections. We appreciate the support and the opportunity to show our work to a wider audience. We have been screened alongside some really excellent company. Three are many terrific animations and music videos being shown. We are flattered to have our efforts exhibited along with amazing films of every type.
What are your top Tulipomania tracks?
Mostly we stay focused on things we have recently finished or are still working on. It is very hard to know how to answer this question. Recently we have been looking over our earlier work with an eye to making new versions and/or revisions and combinations/medleys that are more sparse and allow mixes and remixes to be made without much input from us. I think after our next release based on re-imagining our earlier wok – I may have a better answer to this question. Maybe.
What are your top 5 fave tracks by other artists you’re currently listening to?
I can’t really say that I have a list of 5 tracks at the ready – but lately, we have been listening to:
The new Low album Double Negative, which is fantastic, Paper Dollhouse’s new album The Sky Looks Different from Here, On The Wane’s – Sultry Song, Shark Smile by Big Thief and the most recent album by Figure Walking, The Big Other. We have been listening to some recently posted rough demos by William Byron, the former singer of the band The Judex, and we’re also looking forward to his solo release in the near future. Hope I am not forgetting something I’ll wish I had mentioned.
What plans have you got for Tulipomania over the next year?
We are working on several new tracks and re-mixes. We plan to release an LP in mid 2019 with music videos. We have been working to create video to project with a live performance as well. Thanks again for the interview!
All words via Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog and you can follow him on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.