"I recently had a chance to ask Undo some questions whose new album "As Always, But Never Before" is an expansive experiment in songwriting and soundscapes. The band consists of Ory Hodis and Mike Jerigum who both have ties to the experimental rock band Woven.
"AZL: What draws you to the world of electronic music?
"Mike Jerigum: For me, it’s the capacity to redefine what sounds can be used to create music. Piano music has one sound. Traditional rock groups have four or five. Electronic music, when approached creatively, can have a completely unlimited and ever-expanding supply of sonic ingredients. It’s like a painter being given the ability to literally mutate color to suit the painting’s needs.
"Ory Hodis: It used to be you had to pay for an orchestra or fly to Africa to record the drummers. Musicians who were not wealthy or signed to a major (label) would never even have the opportunities we have now. Most people that have grown up with the software don’t even think about that luxury and magic. On top of that if you are into synthesis you can invent a sound that has never been heard by human ears. That is the most captivating part of electronic music to me, birthing a bastard child that should have never been. Hey it might even be cute.
"AZL:How did you first meet?
"MJ:Ory and I carpooled to day camp together when we were five years old. It was only a matter of time before we were combining digital synths with Norelco electric shavers on vari-speed tape decks to make music that even we couldn’t listen to after the fact.
"OH:Yea to think we could have started our own version of Einstrzende Neubauten. What were we thinking?
"AZL: What records did you bond over in the early days?
"MJ:One of the most formative musical experiences of my life happened in a lounge chair at a gathering that Ory threw while his parents were out of town. The music was Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon," and the gathering involved mistakenly ordering pizza four times in a row. We also shared a healthy common affinity for Cocteau Twins, Jane’s Addiction, The Cure, The Sugarcubes, The Meters, Peter Gabriel, Love and Rockets, The Pixies, The Orb, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, Jupiter Boy, Ruger Seeds, Severine Baron, Loaded Coil, Plaid, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Massive Attack, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Buckley, James Brown, Bob Marley, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Future Sound of London, Duran Duran, Dead Can Dance, David Bowie, Coil, Boards of Canada, Kruder and Dorfmeister, Bjork and everything else ever recorded.
"OH:You pretty much summed the music. I have to add there were some mind altering substances that led to the the pizza incident. Every time the pizza man came to the door I remember getting really confused and slightly paranoid. It was like a bad nightmare I couldn’t understand why so many pizza men kept on coming one after another.
"AZL:What are some of your favorite memories recording and playing music in junior high? Did you always know you wanted to play music with detailed ambiance?
"MJ:I think a turning point for us was when we were jamming in the music room of our school with our very cool (and questionably moral) art teacher. The jam was a droning improv. version of "The End" by The Doors, and was very much the "A-HA!" moment for most of us in the room; the moment when we all knew that we had found our common calling.
"AZL:In 2004 Mike left Woven to pursue an independent career. Were you looking for more creative freedom?
"MJ:It would be hard to say that creative freedom was the issue at hand, given that Woven represented, and still represents, a deeply creative musical spirit. For me it was more a matter of process. My process is one of: get the vibe out as quickly as possible while it’s still fresh – take too long and underlying inspiration is lost and forgotten. If given the appropriate free time, I’m sure I could crank out a complete song from start to finish every single day. Woven, on the other hand, was a life lesson in patience and compromise. Each song had to be put though extensive, often times excruciating scrutiny, that, in my opinion, more often than not did not help the songs improve, but instead they suffered. Add to that the fact that six guys without a central producer’s voice or vision was chaos at best, a tragic chaos on average. I grew up with the guys in Woven, and when I woke up and realized one day that I was rejecting their incoming calls out of loathing, I knew a change was going to be necessary to salvage the underlying friendships. A decision I have never once regretted.
"AZL:Your music as Undo is textured and rhythmic and emotional, who are some artists you admire whose work also embodies those characteristics?
"MJ:Every single artist listed above in some way or another!
"OH:When I heard Peter Gabriel’s album "Passion," it changed my whole perception of music. The fact that you can have these seemingly disparate world musical pieces that could make a real organic whole. So touching. First album that made me cry. I remember looking up all of the musicians that played on the album and buying the CDs. It also really opened my eyes to Middle Eastern scales and other rhythmic potentials. Massive Attack was another one. This really opened my eyes to song composition with electronics. Aphex Twin, Autechre and Square Pusher really got me into programming beats and harsher digital atmospheres. There were so many and are still so many influences. I could go on forever but ill stop now…
"AZL:What do the phone messages on the record mean?
"MJ:A nod to our friends and their importance and inspiration in our creative process. Without them, Undo could never have been.
"OH:When you improve, you can really see how one note that someone plays can introduce a whole new musical adventure. It can lead to hours of cohesion or train wreck the whole vibe. Its the same with conversation and our actions. It’s like a fragile spider web. We would be nothing without our friends influence. The albums each of us produce and write would have never been without each other.
"AZL:You’ve described your guitar playing technique as "un-guitar." What are some of your favorite effects to throw over a guitar?
"OH:My life changed when I heard Michael Brook and the Cocteau Twins. Before that I was playing bare guitar and learning blues licks. I am glad I did because it built the dexterity, but after I bought my delay pedal, it was all over. I have over 50 pedals, most of them in my pedal board. I would say favorite affects would be the vintage Whammy. This is important because the new ones suck. I don’t care what people say. The tracking is off and the sound is imitation. The boss Dm-3 for the analog delay blooming feedback sound. The ebow for the sustained violin notes. The Electro Harmonix Hog. This pedal does everything from freeze drones to complex harmonies to filtration. My modified EH clone chorus. I changed the capacitor values so I can get everything from sickly vibrato to tremolo and every thing in between in a small package. The Frostwave Sonic Alienator. Some of the warmest eight bit crunching. Last but not least my absolute favorite the Sherman filter bank. Total unadulterated chaotic mayhem that has the possibility of generating the brown sound.
"AZL:What are your favorite keyboards to use?
"MJ:The most fun keybords to play with might not be the best keyboard choices for our music. We found the the Roland Juno 106 and the Casio cz-1000 were the tools best suited to the Undo sound, along with much of the madness contained within Native Instruments Reaktor. However, the must fun synth I’ve ever played with was a giant vintage Moog modular rig at the UCSC electronic music lab. Fun and insane? Yes. Appropriate for Undo? Probably not (Though if we still had access to it, who knows? We might just find a way to squeeze some emotion out of it).
"AZL:As a graphic designer/illustrator, I have to comment on the beautiful cover of "As Always, But Never Before", who did the artwork? Did you commission it, or was it a work that matched up to your intentions and you had to have it?
"MJ:That is the work of the amazing and talented Amy Sol. Ory contacted her about using her artwork for our album cover, and she was so inspired by the music she gave us free reign on her portfolio to choose anything we wanted to use. That piece is titled "Dream of A Distant Cousin" and is the one we felt best suited our vision. We still have another painting of hers waiting in the wings for a future release. (http://www.amysol.com/)
"AZL:What’s next for Undo?
"MJ:We have a back catalog of about three more full length albums worth of music yet to release, plus we’ve been continuing to write and record new music as well as starting a body of work on remixes and cover songs. Ory and I also have a full palette of solo work and other side projects. Expect us at some point to take a week or two to stare at the inside walls of a padded cell.