Public Memory Gives Insight Into His Bittersweet Musical Style

"I feel like this record is coming to terms with the futility of life in certain ways, whilst also appreciating and embracing its inherent beauty."
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Harrison Williams
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"I feel like this record is coming to terms with the futility of life in certain ways, whilst also appreciating and embracing its inherent beauty."

Public Memory is a man who's music speaks for itself. It's haunting, mysterious and ethereal motifs are highlighted by atmospheric layers, revealing a distinctly emotive expression. On his debut album, Wuthering Drum, he explores the concept of life and delivers a stunning collection of tracks that allow the listener to be immersed in the moods which he portrays. He's an artist who truly uses his production style in the most brilliant way and approaches the process with the perfect mixture of originality and grace. 

We got the chance to ask Public Memory a few questions regarding his production process, inspirations and what he aims to convey within his music. He goes deep into the concepts behind his work and presents us with valuable insight into his unique message.

Purchase Wuthering Drum via the felte Bandcamp

Your musical style seems to have a dark, mysterious and ethereal motif. Where do you draw inspiration from in order to develop your distinct sound? 

My inspiration has always come from some kind of acknowledgement of the spiritual world and its influence and affect on perception, relationships, nature, politics. While other albums I've made with different bands have drawn upon themes of spiritual paranoias and the subject of good vs evil as a resource, *Wuthering Drum *is much more of an existential record for me. As far as things being "dark" to me I don't think this album is *particularly* dark. It is more balanced to me, in the same way that I feel nature can be both light and dark - sometimes dark things appearing as light, sometimes light things appearing as dark. Good masquerading as evil, evil masquerading as good. There isn't a particular equation or algorithm behind these things. You can find patterns in nature, order in chaos, but overall I feel like this record is coming to terms with the futility of life in certain ways, whilst also appreciating and embracing its inherent beauty. Thus, if anything I'd say that for me, the album is more bittersweet than dark. Its protagonist is actually a very fragile, somewhat skeptical, but inquiring and also loving person behind all of its brawny drum sounds, damaged synths and dusky ambience. I do find inspiration in visual art, in film, in writing, in other music - but really my music is some kind of a regurgitation, or better yet - a reduction, of the perceptions and emotions that I experience. A way of making sense of it all. A very close friend of mine, Aaron, put it well when he said "There is a slightly religious or spiritual element at *Wuthering Drum*’s core; a sense of being in existential crisis, while simultaneously being uplifted, in the face of change. The focus is on a kind of renewal, but not in the New Age, aggressively positive sense. This is the search for redemption in a far away place, away from comfort; it is adjustment to an inner dissonance, rather than the washing over of past fears and regrets with sterile holy waters." I do think that sums it up well. I will add that of course I have musical influences. None that feel especially direct. It's just an accumulation of an interest in krautrock ethos, dub, a little bit of trip hop, and trap (rhythmically speaking), field recordings, ambient and electronic music. 

You recorded the music for your debut album while living in LA, but you are originally from Brooklyn. How do you think the contrast of those environments influenced your music? 

I am originally from just outside of Brooklyn and I lived here for a number of years before spending a year in Los Angeles. I have since returned to Brooklyn at the end of last summer. I'm not really sure that my album sounds at all like the platonic / romantic ideal of what taking a sort of "sabbatical in LA to make a record" might sound like. Of course that's totally subjective anyway. But people often ask me what influence it had being there. If anything my time spent in LA put me in an environment where I was best suited to work. Not just in terms of having some space to do it, but I also feel it put me around the right people. The people I lived with while I was there, the people I spent time with. All of these things naturally shape the creative / artistic process. I wouldn't say that the warm weather or the vastness / openness of Los Angeles influenced my record much. Simply, when you change where it is that you are working, it changes the way that you think, in about a million little ways (some perceivable, most not) that cumulatively affect the way one approaches their work. So, it wasn't so much about some of the classic things Los Angeles has to offer - or at least the ones you always hear about. So-and-so says the warm weather changed the way they wrote, or "being close to the beaches really chilled out my songwriting style" and that sort of (usually) pretentious kind of talk. It was just about what I mentioned earlier - the summation of things that come from being in a totally different place, not to mention being far away from most of my closest friends and family, that allowed me to enter into a kind of mindset that helped beget the kind of record that *Wuthering Drum *ended up as. 

As you have worked with bands in the past, what are your thoughts on the creative process while working by yourself as opposed to working with others? Do you like having complete control of the music as opposed to bouncing ideas off of those who you work with? 

I do enjoy working with others, but I have also always made music on my own. Just never officially released it as a project where I was the singular presence behind all of it. I feel like the most difficult part is something I've heard others say as well: you don't have anyone to really help check yourself. You can hear a song 300 times and find yourself left feeling like "is this even any good? I can't tell anymore." Which is why I've found it's important to step away. You hear about musicians today and in the past writing and recording a record in something like 10 days - I can't even imagine that and honestly I'm not good enough as an artist or a songwriter, I think, to pull something like that off and to be able to sign-off on it and to feel confident that it will hold up, even after just a few months or so. I need to work, step away, and then revisit the work. In doing so I feel like things reveal themselves to me, ie "this section is too long" "this section is too short" "this or that 'voice' (as in an instrument or my own voice) is too loud, too soft, too present, too infrequent." etc. When you work with someone else you have them checking you, so to speak. They will tell you what stands out, what shouldn't stand out, what needs to stand out more. They will tell you to take out some indulgent overdub you did late at night that you still haven't quite come around to facing up to that it isn't any good. They will check you on things that sound overwrought or like an afterthought. They will help you try not to overthink something, just the same. Of course they also contribute their own input, influences, emotions and ideas into the process as well, which is the real satisfaction that comes from a collaboration. But when my last band broke up, and considering that I have been in bands with other people for about twenty years now, I felt it was time to do something on my own. I did send tracks, at times to my friend Vanessa (who is also in the live band with me), to my friend Aaron (who wrote the album bio, which I quoted a part from earlier) and to my manager / friend Jeff who runs felte (the label I am on). All of these people gave me useful feedback and Vanessa actually helped me pick out the tracks that I should take out of the running for the final album, and almost single-handedly came up with the final tracklist and song order. That was an immense help to me. So, in the end, even though I've done a lot of this on my own, I still benefitted greatly from calling on the trusted opinions of friends who are also fellow musicians. I don't think that will ever change

You highlight your vocals with atmospheric ambient tones and distortion, which seems to convey a distinct emotion. Do you aim to convey a certain message or feeling with your music? 

I suppose I aim to convey some of the things that I described in response to the first question. When it comes to production choices and techniques I am really just trying to find a balance between what is aesthetically interesting and emotionally relevant. I do a lot of trial and error until things feel right. I do believe very much in applying a kind of "first thought best thought" approach to working, because sometimes you just have something inside and you'll find that it works best and best in its earliest and purest form in lending itself to everything else that is going on in a track (especially when it comes to vocals). I do often mull things over and try out many different things on a track - that's some of the greatest joy and beauty in working on a song - establishing a structure of some kind and then bringing it to different places. I really love this. But I feel like if one does this too much and for too long, it becomes overwrought and it's easy to lose the original fundamental feeling of a song. It's important not to lose sight of this or bury it under too many layers of changes or iterations. There is a balance though. I've worked on songs that I've changed so much that I reach a point where I just put the song to rest on the shelf because it doesn't even know what is is anymore, and I don't know what it is. I feel like I've lost the song, and it's so far from what made it originally fresh and exciting, it doesn't make sense to try and bring it back around. At the same time I've gotten to that point and then taken a part of that song and created an entirely new song out of it. The track *Zig Zag* - the core percussion / beat in that song was lifted from an earlier track - just a little section of that earlier track, toward the end. That track didn't work out, but taking that percussive core out of it yielded the foundation for something completely new. When that happens it's like, alright - I was just on a path that was longer than I expected. It's easy to feel like the reason that the earlier track didn't work out is because it led you to what at first seemed like a dead-end, but upon a closer look was actually an opened door. I may have gotten a little off-topic there, so to answer the question simply and directly - yes, I do aim to convey a distinct emotion / feeling / etc, but the road to get there is very intuitive and subject to change, rather than sitting down and being like "abc or xyz is the distinct thing I'm going for" like a target that I'm trying to hit. I'm just trying to put energy into this vessel and see where it takes me - which much more often than not, gets at the core of a feeling / message / emotion or memory, far more accurately than if I took a step-by-step approach to try and pinpoint it straight-on. 

How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard your music before? 

Naturally, I can't call upon a specific genre or combination of genres. I would probably aim to say it as directly as possible. Electronic music with vocals, that's songs are strongly rooted / grounded by their percussion, influenced in structure by krautrock, production by dub and atmosphere by ambient music. That's probably as straight-forward as it gets, though it doesn't quite hit the nail on the head. I think for anyone making anything important today, this can be a trying thing to sum-up, short of playing a piece for someone. In the end it's really about their vantage point / reference points, in music, in life, in other forms of art. 

What do you hope listeners take away from listening to your music? 

I hope that even not just in its lyrics but more importantly, in the mood it creates, it says something to them about their lives or the lives of others. Sometimes you just hear a song and you're like "yes, what is this" and you want to Shazam it so you can find it again. You could hear 2 bars of a song and instantly it just connects with you on such a level that you're like I have to know what this is so I can feel this feeling again. I want people to enjoy it on an aesthetic and production level. I want people to feel something from it, I want it to be visual for them (music is very visual for me so naturally that's something that I (try to) invoke in my music). Dare I say, maybe this track or that will even provide a kind of catharsis or healing. When I listen to (some) classical music, for example, it just moves me and I don't know exactly why and even if I could break it down on a psychological level or bring science into it, I don't want to. It just feels right. I don't have some big message that is at the crux of the Public Memory project. It's just a vessel for me to create things that are emotionally cultivated and aesthetically pleasing to me. Something that makes me feel something that matters to me. That's all I hope for with regard to what people will take away from my music. If they want to go further, and they want to know all the lyrics, the anecdotes and references in it, and to find out where they came from and apply these sorts of things as well, or find hidden meanings and some of the easter-eggs in the tracks, then that's wonderful and I'm flattered. 

Are there any future plans in the works? A tour? 

We are doing our album release show on 3.30 at Nothing Changes. We'll be playing SXSW as part of the felte / Part Time Punks showcase on 3.15 @ Barracuda. We'd love to play more shows at SXSW and here in Brooklyn. Other than that, it looks as though I'll be starting to work full-time on the next record this spring.

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Public Memory

Wuthering Drum by Public Memory