Making Minor Arcs: Bear Colony's Matthew Putman on long-distance collaboration | Rock Candy

Making Minor Arcs: Bear Colony's Matthew Putman on long-distance collaboration

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Cover for Minor Arcs' "EP01."
  • Cover for Minor Arcs' "EP01."

From four members of Little Rock indie electronica camp Bear Colony comes "EP01," the new release from Minor Arcs, a four-track, visually-leaning sampling project. If you've already been enjoying the fruits of that collaboration, here's a peek into the group's long-distance creation process, how it all started, and where it might be headed next. 

"Break Up Violence" was out October 2015. Was that created by way of you all (Matthew Putman, David Huff, Lee Atkinson) sending samples to each other? Like, was that the process even then? And is it because you guys live far apart, or because it's how you prefer to work?

90 percent of what we do is accomplished through file sharing. We do get together every 3 or 4 months for a "music weekend" as we call it, where we listen back to everything that's been done up to that point and work together on new parts, ideas, or mixes. Working in our individual home studios is amazingly efficient and allows us to get much more done, but it's nice to get a break from doing all of the engineering, performing, and editing alone. When you have a friend handling the engineering, it frees up your mind to get lost in a sound without the worry of capturing it. But the bulk of songs are created by one or two people making a basic idea and sending it down the line. Sometimes they come back in a similar form with added parts, whereas other times they come back a completely new beast. It's a bit like the children's game "telephone" where you whisper a phrase into your neighbors ear and it goes down the line until it comes back to you; sometimes it's the same thing you said, and sometimes it's a completely different phrase. 

To give a little history, Minor Arcs started in 2011 under the name No Moon. It was mostly a distraction and outlet for new ideas as we put the final touches on the previous Bear Colony album "Soft Eyes," which was released in 2012. We had experimented with sampling on that album, but mostly as layers on top of existing songs. "Flask Retort" was the first Bear Colony song that used sampling as a core element. The main synth part was taken from an a capella vocal warm-up on the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" boxed set. We sampled it and played it as notes on a keyboard, and went from there. "Flask" was one of the last songs we included on Soft Eyes, which is indicative of how we all work. The newest thing is almost always the best thing, and we thrive on moving to the next idea or set of sounds. Sampling became a prime obsession with us around this time, though, so new songs started coming forth based on that aesthetic. But Minor Arcs has two distinct phases (so far) in terms of how the songs were created. 

Phase One used sampling as the core element of songs with traditional instrumentation layered on top. "Breakup Violence" is from that period. The piano part was sampled from an artist named Lewis, whose real name was Randall Wulff. His story is a bit mysterious, but the legend goes that Wulff showed up at a studio in 1980's Los Angeles with "a white Mercedes convertible, a beautiful girlfriend, perfect hair, and a handful of ethereal synth-pop-folk tunes." He recorded an album ("L'amour") and immediately disappeared into obscurity. The album surfaced a few years back and received some acclaim for its strange beauty. The Lewis story goes from there and takes some interesting turns, with some speculating that it was all an elaborate hoax. At any rate, it was all a bit fascinating. We get lots of samples from YouTube and were able to find a few songs from the Lewis album, so we grabbed one and did some slicing and chopping to create something new. The song kinda grew from there, with everybody adding guitars and bass and vocals, etc.

The sample at the beginning is from an interview with Marvin Gaye where he's talking about his love for different styles of music. Mashing disparate samples together is also something we enjoy doing, even if it's nothing new. 

We take a lot of inspiration from artists like Jay Dilla, Boards of Canada, Toro Y Moi, Oneohtrix Point Never, Panda Bear, The Field, and others, but we also take inspiration from the stories behind the sounds we use. Intriguing stories inform almost all of the sampling that we do, so it's less about hunting for cool sounds and more about hunting for cool stories with good sounds.

So, that was Phase One, and we made dozens of songs that way, but that method eventually morphed into Phase Two. Vince owns a vintage Roland Juno-60 Synth which is capable of producing a wide array of amazing synth sounds. We are suckers for vintage synth, which is only becoming more popular with shows like "Stranger Things" using those types of sounds for their score. So Vince and Dave studied the Juno and got down to the details of how it worked inside and out. They started making patches and using it to create some really great sound vignettes, most of them relatively simple with programmed/sampled drums, Juno synth, bass, and guitar. They were churning out two or three of these amazing pieces every weekend, so our workflow naturally changed. They would send the files to me and I would just edit the hell out of them, add my own ideas. There were sent to Lee afterwards and he would record his ideas and send them back to me. For the vocals, we wanted something between human and robotic, but weren't too sure on how to get there. So we ended up playing around with lots of different methods, which you'll hear on the EP.

That's one of the joys of the process; experimenting, trying things, destroying things, and collaborating to make something that's more than the sum of its parts. It's the same philosophy and methods we used for Bear Colony, but taken to their extremes.

A while back, you guys posted a long list of Minor Arcs songs on your Facebook page, and only one of those titles is on the EP. Were any of the tunes from that list on the EP and retitled, or is that whole list (save for "The Universal") yet to come?

None of the songs on the list you mentioned were re-titled, so those are all to come. To make a long story short, that list is dated at this point and most of those songs are from "Phase One" of the project. The material from Phase Two came together a little easier and was more exciting in general since it's newer. As I mentioned above, we always gravitate towards the newest thing we are working on. (Invariably, we always think the current song being created is the "best one we've ever done," haha.)

So, when it came time to release something, we naturally picked the last few songs we'd made. We have over 40 songs at this point in different phases of completion, 15-20 of which are more or less done.  

Keep an ear out for Minor Arcs releases on the band's Facebook page, and meanwhile, here's a stream to the EP, "EP01." 


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