Playing this Saturday, August 11th at Slim’s with The Comas and
Great Northern: The name evokes a feeling of a place and time in which . . . to dream, perhaps, to get away from it all, or away from oneself. It’s late afternoon, strolling into night. There’s a slight breeze – but you’re warm in your coat, or bundled in cotton as you gaze out the window…
An appropriately evocative soundtrack for all this – widescreen grand nudging fuzzy intimate – is something akin to what Solon Bixler and Rachel Stolte sought when they formed Great Northern. The two longtime friends had often talked about making music together and Bixler eventually approached Stolte with material he’d been developing quietly.
“Rachel and I had known each other for about seven years,” says Bixler, “and I was touring and playing a lot with this four-track on the road with me, just writing songs.”
“We had similar tastes in music,” says Stolte. “I was taking a break from being in a band, and one night he gave me all these tapes he’d been working on and said, `Do you want to play piano and sing on these?’ And I was like, `Yeah!’ We went back and forth from my four-track to his for six/seven months and then finally got in the studio together and started recording.”
After juggling various lineups, Bixler and Stolte settled on a satisfying equation when they nabbed drummer Davey Latter and bassist Ashley Dzerigian. “We all traveled in the same circle of friends so we’ve known Davey for a long time,” explains Bixler. “It’s like having a member of your family join your band.”
Stolte recalls, “It was fate that brought Ashley to us. We met her at a party we didn’t even want to go to, and found out she played bass. When we woke the next day, we thought, ‘Hey, what about Ashley?’ By then, she’d already learned all our songs.”
The thriving L.A music scene proved an invaluable experience in developing Bixler’s expertise as a guitarist, composer and arranger, skills that had been nurtured by the influence of his father, a composer and conductor. When it came time to do his own music, he was ready to present a fresh point of view. But he was also prepared to venture beyond the familiar comfort zone and allow for an outsider’s perspective.
Great Northern found fertile creative ground when they met engineer/producer Mathias Schneeberger through a mutual friend and recorded Trading Twilight for Daylight at Schneeberger’s Donner & Blitzen studio in Arcadia, CA. Schneeberger (Greg Dulli, Joseph Arthur, Queens of the Stone Age, Earthlings) “just gets it,” says Bixler, “he just understands. He wants to make music beautiful, make it important and stand out.”
“Mathias has an amazing ear for getting really great sounds,” he continues, “and he’s a good orchestrator as well; he plays keyboards and guitar on the record. He was living at his studio working until four in the morning so when we showed up the next day, he’d already created this whole crazy thing. He’d then say, `It’s cool if you don’t like it, we can just trash it,’ but nine times out of ten it was really great.”
Trading Twilight for Daylight is a collection of shimmeringly lovely yet wildly contrasting shades of the pop song experience. Densely layered melodies are draped with Stolte and Bixler’s signature velvety chimes, stately piano, luxuriant keyboard string flourishes and smartly counterpointed electric and acoustic guitars. The songs’ very point often seem to suggest the rich emotional textures of a daydream afternoon, as sunshine gently dims into the dark. The sensual fullness of the sound is like soaking in a bath of warm frequencies. “Doesn’t it make you feel good?” sings Stolte. And later, “Was I dreaming? Was I awake?”
Great Northern songs are genuinely, memorably melodic, and it’s the several coatings of so many melodies within each track that makes them something to return to again and again.
“It’s important to Solon and me that the songs have a lot to offer,” says Stolte. “The songs on my mind are the ones that you hear over and over and you hear something new every time.”
The very moody “lOw IS a hEIghT” is inarguably a gorgeous song, but what’s it about? A crucial ambiguity raises its pointy head when the band embarks on an extended instrumental coda that brings variation to the main theme, as if crystalizing the essence of the mood the song seeks to convey.
Building to a caterwauling intensity, “Telling Lies” flirts with the epic (in short form, of course) by fusing tremeloed multiple guitars and voices as drummer Davey thrashes artfully. Exhilarating dervishes of high whining keyboard strings and guitars lure you to the bridge, where you might find yourself utterly addicted when they snow this glorious mountain of sound with spine-tingling counterpoint backing “aaah”s.
“There isn’t any specific formula for crafting a song – the song will just tell you what it has to be. It can stem from an emotion, which then evolves lyrically or otherwise. Ultimately, when you listen to a song in your bedroom with headphones, it should be able to take you away, maybe on a little journey.” And for Great Northern, that journey has just begun – and the horizon has never looked so magnificent.