What does New Rain Duets sound like? Is there a central theme or concept guiding the project?
Mary: We've only had one "practice" just to see how our sounds gelled, but I think it sounded great and we were really listening to one another intensely. I think we're keeping it pretty loose and improvised around few musical themes and it's going to be super fun to just feed off of what the other is doing. We've both collaborated a lot with other people, so we know how to work with different kinds of sounds and to be intuitive about interacting.
Mac: We had one rehearsal and we didn't discuss it too much in advance. I set up some keyboards and pedals and we got Mary's harp down into my basement studio (which was not easy!) Then we just played for a while, and it sounded great. It was pretty intuitive and completely improvised. Live it will be the same way but at least after one practice we know it can work.
I read that New Rain Duets developed out of the POMS performance at Moogfest last year. What are the similarities between the two projects?
Mac: We wrote POMS for Moogfest, but so much work goes into a completely new piece, especially one with as many moving parts as POMS (with dancers, costumes, etc) that we wanted to perform it again. We did that at the Arts Center in Carrboro last summer. Mary opened that show and when Armando [Bellmas] asked about doing something new at the McColl Center, I immediately thought of her [as someone] to collaborate with.
Mary - On the surface, New Rain Duets reminds me of Music Inspired by Philippe Garrel’s Le Révélateur, the project you did with Jeff Zeigler last year. Both feature your harp accompanied by a synthesizer with lots of improvisation. Are there other similarities? How will New Rain Duets compare to the work you did last year with Jeff?
Mary: There are similarities but Mac and I are both bringing experiences with different sorts of bands to the table. My work last year with Jeff was based on composing for an hour-long moody French silent film with an intention of recording it, ultimately. [New Rain Duets], at this point, is purely fun and free and creative in a different way where there is a lot of potential for happy surprises, [since we are] new collaborators.
Both POMS and Le Révélateur featured visual elements (film, dancers, etc.) Can we expect anything similar in Charlotte this week?
Mac: We are still working out the details of a possible film element.
Mary: I think we are adding visuals, not sure at this point. I always like adding a visual element to instrumental music. Either that or sort of a narrative to direct the listener into a different zone or little story. People like satisfying more than one sense at a time and I think it allows them to sink deeper into a zone.
Other than playing different instruments, do you each have specific roles in the duet? My frame of reference here is the way a band has a lead guitar playing over a rhythm guitar, or a high end melody section that fills the spaces created by the low end rhythm section. Is there anything like that driving New Rain Duets?
Mac: I'd say it's pretty evenly balanced - especially since there's no "rhythm vs lead" type element. Both the keyboards and the harp can build up to a density or be super sparse at time. I think it's more just listening to the other person and reacting accordingly.
Mary: I always improvise in my solo sets, starting with a general loop or an idea that's predetermined and then taking it somewhere that's unknown until that moment. It keeps things fresh and the brain kinda sharp. And it's fun!
I know you’ll be improvising some during the set, but I’m curious to know if you have a framework that you both agree to beforehand. Like when jazz artists set a chord progression and tempo before they begin improvising. Do you set any rules before you start playing?
Mary: During our practice, we picked some various keys. Really, we just had one practice to feel it out, so I think we will be in a truly creating-on-the-spot kind of mode.
Mac: The only thing that we've discussed is maybe breaking up the program into a couple different pieces rather than having it be one long song. And maybe making sure we're not in the same key the whole time! We'll see…
Synths and drum machines require a lot of programming, which is the exact opposite of improvisation. How do you improvise using tools that are not necessarily set up for it?
Mac: We probably won't use a drum machine, and the thing about analog synths is that you are changing the sounds on the fly rather than programming. I have a couple programmable synths that sound great but my brain works better in analog.
Mac - How long have you been playing synthesizers? The release of Non-Believers in 2015 was interpreted as your first synth record, but you started incorporating the instrument into Superchunk and Portastatic records well before that. What synths will you be playing in New Rain Duets?
Mac: Ha yeah. I was way more into guitars in the 80s when I was in high school and college (though I did have a Casio). I had a friend who had a Prophet in high school but he mainly wanted to learn Genesis songs. In the pre-Ebay world, you could still stumble upon an analog synth in a thrift shop for $50. I started to buy them in the early 90s when we were on tour all the time. The first Superchunk record with synths on it is Foolish, which we recorded at the end of 1993. Around that time I started to make Portastatic records, which have a lot more space for those kinds of things.
Cream Puff Records takes its name from an old song by the Grateful Dead, a band that, for better or worse, introduced a certain strain of improvisation into rock music. Are you a fan?
Mac: What's funny is that while I did SEE the Dead live in Durham in 1982, I thought it was terribly boring. I've never been a fan. However, I did quite enjoy the FOUR HOUR documentary "Long Strange Trip" that I saw [last week] at Full Frame Film Festival here in Durham. [The Dead] always had great tee shirts though. I wish i still had mine from that show.
Mary: Sorry Jay but I don’t really like them!