Whenever I take an interviewee to visit to world-renown psychic and prognosticator Madam Ginger Alacrity, “Mind-Reader to the Gifted, Eccentric or at Least Somehow Unusual” it is a real treat—for all participants. For the person, or people, I am writing on it’s a load of fun because it is out of the ordinary and ho-hum circuit of off-peak-hour telephone calls, cramped hotel rooms, “fancy” restaurants and nerve-jangling question and answer sessions with the same ol’ cadre of barking journalists. For myself, because I am able to get to the roots of certain mysteries which stretch beyond the secular realm of my peers. Madame Ginger digs it… well, simply because she loves musicians. Adolfo—my midget assistant—holds that before she received her calling from the spirit world she was a groupie. He has a picture of a woman with Iggy Pop that he insists is Madame Giner. If it is… then she was flexible when younger.
In this case my manservant and I navigated the dusted and labyrinthine underbelly of downtown Los Angeles’ catacombs to be joined by none other than Montreal’s own Graham Van Pelt, founder and except during certain live shows, the sole member of Miracle Fortress. That rogue member of the group Think About Life whose 2007 debut solo LP, Five Roses, was crowed with four stars by the illustrious (but increasingly rarer-on-newsstands) Spin magazine and was nominated for the venerated Polaris Prize—Canada’s answer to the UK’s Mercury Prize. Was I the Wave? contrasts starkly, but purposefully with the rock-n-roll-in-a- home-studio line of Five Roses. His sometimes somber and often illuminating follow-up will put van Pelt in the trophy room or the firing range of anyone who pays earnest interest to electronic music. Again, as with the first LP, this is all his own work—from alpha to omega. Song-writing to engineering. Just so we’re all on the same page.
What follows is a transcript of that which came out of Madame Ginger’s mouth, but had been baked up to serve in the depths of van Pelt’s mind. Yes, dear reader, the ancient art of channeling. Van P did not use his voice once after we’d been seated by Gregor, Madam’ Ginger’s own pint-sized assistant.
Theatrical aside: Yes, to answer your question, they are related. The difference between Gregor and Adolfo? Adolfo doesn’t wear a “Swami” turban with a peacock feather hanging out the top. Dignity. Now there’s a word.
Anyway. Her lair was thick with ambience. Dried monkey hands, gonads from various birds of prey and craven images a go-go. The works. Yes, Madam Ginger put van Pelt into a deep trance, split his mind wide open like a melon. I queried him at length and have recorded his responses for posterity, reader, and for your enjoyment. The payoff for him? Graham Van Pelt would, afterwards, be allowed to ask MG one question, to which she would be obligated to answer with the celestial truth. But that is for later.
So sit back, I plead of you, and hear the words of Madam Ginger slinging the thoughts of Graham van Pelt.
MCA: I sense a presence in my mind… who else is here with us now? I give my mortal shell over to theeeeeeeeeee…
And from the darkness, in a croaking rasp, came…
Graham van Pelt via Madame Ginger: My name is Graham Van Pelt, the guy behind Miracle Fortress recordings. I live and work in Mile End in Montréal, Canada. I’ve a small studio five blocks from my home with a digital recording setup. On my own, I listen mainly to drone, noise, current rap, techno and electronic music, jazz from the ‘30s to ‘70s, some minimalist avant-garde composers, and a bit of pop and rock from the ‘60s to ‘00s. I drink single-malt Scotch, some blended Scotch, a few kinds of Bourbon, Grey Goose vodka, and watery cheap beers like Tecate and Pabst. I subscribe to the New Yorker and play pick-up basketball pretty much year round. I have a smooth midrange shot thats usually money but have difficulty getting to the rim. My D is pretty good on the perimeter but I hate defending in the front-court. I watch the NBA, NCAA tournament, some international Football and Tennis. I keep a pretty low profile until I get to know somebody personally, then its mostly jokes.
Mark von Pfeiffer: I understand sweet spirit. I understand.
I glanced nervously at Adolfo. I had never seen this level of relaxations. Obviously van Pelt had been channeled before.
Were you born with your ability as a musician, or did you have to work at it, like everyone else?
I taught myself music production during high-school on my parents' desktop computer, though I studied formally later on. I developed my taste in music during a 5-year stint as a loft-venue proprietor in Montréal's music community.
Influences? Favorites? How’d your cut your teeth, shag your rug… how’d you start out?
I grew up in a Canadian town having to actively seek any non-televised music on my own. I discovered Aphex Twin's early "ambient" albums as well as DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, which remain my one of my "desert island" choices; although now I'm working hard to become a lyricist eventually, something not present in those artists' music. I listened obsessively to tracks like “Analogue Bubblebath,” “Xtal,” “Ageispolis,” “Changeling,” "Building Steam From A Grain Of Salt,” and “Midnight In A Perfect World.” They informed my melodic sense, my sense of arrangement.
Walk us through a project.You’ve obviously learned a bit more about software with this album.
I start usually with a few scattered elements, sounds and samples I've patched together or mapped onto keyboards, and a guitar. From there I'll build evolving loops and melodies which might resolve into song-parts if I'm lucky. After that comes PA amplification, developing a live feeling for the songs and vocal sketches. By this point it's likely I'll know what the song is about and what the finished track should feel like. Then comes slaving away at the mix and lyrical what I consider the “work.” After a while I'll start showing people and try to absorb feedback as constructively as I can.
Have you developed hindsight yet, in regard to your career?
I'd be more patient with releases and recordings. In my experience a song will reveal itself in a live performance much more intuitively than in a studio. If possible I'd like to start playing more new material live before committing to the recorded version. The recordings I've done that I like least were often never exposed to outside ears before release.
How did you recreate as a child? Did you play well with others?
I loved video games, but realized eventually that they were incompatible with having a dating life in my case. I still crave them occasionally, but usually a few-days-long binge every couple of years gets it well out of my system. Specifically, 16 bit sports role-playing games had the right amount of simplicity for me. Now I can really only enjoy new games if they're retro ‘90s, which doesn't happen much.
Many people feel the failure of DJ culture in the US as having something to do with public perception of DJs as non-artists. Players of “other people’s” music. As electronic sunders its way into the American mainstream, how important do you feel it is to do your own producing and engineer work? Do you think the US audience are more trusting or appreciative of someone who sees a project from alpha to omega.
It's not up to me to worry about the “US audience.” It's completely fractured when zoomed in upon, to the point that all I can hope for is that individuals exist out there that might find meaning in what I'm doing. I think whatever the macro level audience looks like, it's changing far too quickly to get a read on or customize one's approach to. I engineer my own stuff because it's a part of my craft and something I enjoy.
You’ve been asked time and again about the length of time between your first solo LP in 2007 and Was I the Wave? If you could make up the ultimate explanation for the “time away” and have it accepted unconditionally as truth by your public, what would the reason be. Be as brief or as flowery as you care to.
I worked, just didn't finish anything. This happens to lots of people. I hope it's not a trend in my life, most definitely. I think finishing things is something I can learn and improve upon.
Your live shows have been called theatrical. What are the most important ingredients and their outcomes, the things you would like to guarantee concert-goers will experience when coming to see you?
I'd like to be distinguished from other acts, like anybody would. I just hope I can identify and amplify those aspects of my personality that will separate me as naturally as possible from other artists. Listeners want something distinctive and identifiable, which is a hope I have for my own work someday.
A very close friend of mine harbors the belief that human beings can communicate with one another via dreams. Not only with the living, but with the departed. Do you have any (Have you Seen in Your Dreams) “unique” beliefs/ideas about what one can accomplish when asleep?
I choose not to buy much about dreams. I think they're a wonderful and somewhat magical part of our lives, which is plenty important without having to glean too much meaning from them.
When one establishes such a singular voice with their first album, do they have a responsibility towards maintaining it—servicing the audience they established—or are they entirely free to work towards what is “natural,” even is that changes radically between releases. I reference the Stone Roses here and the changes which took places between their first LP and The Second Coming.
I'm unfamiliar with Roses unfortunately, but I would like a strain of continuity to exist between all Miracle Fortress records, just not one that anybody could predict.
At this point Gregor rang a platinum-plated cow bell thrice. Graham’s head snapped up and he looked about—dewey-eyed, limp-limbed and virile; Madame Ginger, however, did not so much come out of her focused state, but changed gears. Her voice when she spoke again was deep and compelling.
MG: Ask me now, Oh seeker of truth. Ask me now the question you, Graham van Pelt, have been granted.
GvP: Will I ever achieve true, lasting happiness… in this lifetime?
Madame Ginger opened her heavily painted lips, and whatever ancient and persona was inhabiting her for this blink in time took perhaps the deepest breath I have ever witnessed taken and replied: