Meet Speaker Face, the folk-electronic band you never knew you wanted - until now
These 'deep folk' makers talk about new genres, adult nightmares and embracing the universal driftwood sent your way
I caught Toronto-Vancouver folk-electronic act Speaker Face at a three-night Hybridity Records showcase earlier this year. The duo called Speaker Face is the latest signing on the Vancouver music label’s already eclectic roster. Here’s my chat with the band.
Scott Wood: Hello Speaker Face aka Trent Freeman and Eric Wright! Thanks for chatting with me. Let’s start with a song. (Please introduce your favorite Speaker Face track so people have an idea about what you do.As musicians, we find that a lot of our lives are lived in a luxurious type of homelessness.
Speaker Face: Our pleasure! This is a video of us playing “Looking for a Bed” live in Vancouver. As musicians, we find that a lot of our lives are lived in a luxurious type of homelessness. We travel around, meet new friends, see amazing sights—and sleep in a lot of different beds. Eric has mentioned that, at this point in his life, the only thing he is looking for is a bed.
Scott Wood: Speaker Face has a bit of a secret. GASP! Both you guys work together in another music project, a string quartet called The Fretless. There is not a lot of crossover between string quartet fans and experimental electronic music fans. To calm everybody down, how about you explain how you guys could be into two very different types of music...
Speaker Face: The two bands balance each other out very well. We both grew up playing traditional music, so we find it important to stay connected to that through The Fretless. For the genre, that band has quite a modern sound and draws on many influences, as does Speaker Face. We also occupy similar roles in each band. Eric is therhythmic driver, whether on the cello or on beats, and I am a melodic player. We are both harmonically inclined, so there we meet in the middle. Speaker Face allows us to stretch and poke every noise we’ve ever dreamed of making. It’s very liberating after growing up in such rigid traditions. We like to call our music "Deep Folk", taking a page from Deep House, Experimental Electronica, and Folk music.
Scott Wood: It shouldn't be surprising that strings still play a large part in Speaker Face tracks. Why did you decide to mix strings and electronic music together?
Speaker Face: Strings have been both of our music voices for over 20 years. It’s no surprise that when we dream of music, it includes strings. Also, as electronic music doesn’t typically have a violin, we enjoy the challenge of finding ways to make it work, and the opportunity to have it as a distinguishing sound.
Scott Wood: Between you guys, you play the violin, the viola, the fiddle and cello--which is the easiest to mix with electronica and why?
Speaker Face: The fiddle has been our most used, and we feel like it works very well. We are still discovering new ways to incorporate it because it is such a complex instrument to record and mix, and it’s an extremely expressive voice so there are many directions to go. It’s great at being subtle; it’s great at being in-your-face.
Scott Wood: You guys don't use a lot of vocals on these Speaker Face tracks. Why not? Vocals are often a shortcut to get the listener to identify with the song. Feel free to disagree!
Speaker Face: We do feel that vocals can be a shortcut, so when we do use them, we try to avoid using them in that way. Instrumental music asks a little more of the listener, but once they are engaged, the message and interpretation of the music can be so much greater. It’s a less overt way of sharing emotion, so you need to work harder to make it as powerful, but it’s very rewarding when it succeeds. That being said, we love working with vocalists and are looking forward to incorporating more songs into our next album.
Scott Wood: Trent is from Vancouver Island and lives in Vancouver while Eric lives across the country in Toronto. Did you guys write the Speaker Face record by email?
Speaker Face: We write music over the Internet a lot, recording ideas and sending them back and forth. We also spend a lot of time together, so we find many chances to work together. Both have their advantages, and I feel that both are important in our sound. We both like working alone, but also enjoy the energy of teaming up on a sound. When we’re together in a room jamming things out, we can talk through things while the music is playing and work on specific parts. Once we have the general ideas, we trust each other to put our own individual spin on evolving the track.Musical genres are really hard to pinpoint... Sometimes, when you say you're something, you have to meet those expectations.
Scott Wood: The term “rad trad” is sometimes used to describe the approach to music used by your string quartet band The Fretless. This term means that with the fiddle tradition you guys try to make new sounds with a lot of the older tunes and marrying together Celtic, folk and chamber music. What would you call what you are doing with Speaker Face?
Speaker Face: Musical genres are really hard to pinpoint. We’ve had many discussions about the viability of labeling music and how that limits the creative process. Sometimes, when you say you’re something, you have to meet those expectations. “Rad trad” was actually a joke that one of us offhandedly said in an interview because we had few ideas about how to define our music. However, with Speaker Face, we feel like we’re combining multiple sub-genres of contrasting styles. We like to call our music “Deep Folk”, taking a page from Deep House, Experimental Electronica, and Folk music.
Scott Wood: Eric Wright once said in an interview that “My nightmare as a child was that I was going to become a music teacher.” Surely teaching his teddy bears to play piano couldn't be all bad. What are your nightmares now as an adult (and professional musician)?
Speaker Face: It’s funny how childhood nightmares can turn out to be the opposite in the future. When Eric was a child, teaching was his nightmare, but it turns out that making your own hours and showing people how to play instruments can actually be pretty fun… Our new and more practical nightmares now are: A load in with stairs, grumpy border guards, and overly enthusiastic baggage handlers. Oh, and computers crashing during live performances.
Scott Wood: Vancouver electronic record label Hybridity is releasing your new record Driftwood. Hybridity has a nice roster of local electronic music producers. Tell me which fellow Hybridity artist you'd like to remix a Speaker Face track and why.
Speaker Face: When it comes to Hybridity artists, it would be great to hear what alumni Project Pablo would do to one of our tracks. He uses a lot of real instruments mixed in with his production, and we think he'd have a good time using Trent’s violin as a focal point for a house track. Maybe we’ll see a remix from him sometime in the future...
Scott Wood: Thanks for answering these questions, Speaker Face aka Trent Freeman and Eric Wright. Let’s end with another song.
Speaker Face: Thanks for your time, we really appreciate it! Here is a video that Trent created for the title track off of our new album, Driftwood. The glitching in the video matches up in amazingly intricate ways with the music. The idea is to embrace the universal driftwood that is sent to you.
Find more about Speaker Face online.
The Interview Show is everywhere.
www.cjsf.ca (Vancouver, BC, Mondays 4:30-5pm PST and Wednesdays 12:30am PST)
www.ckdu.ca (Halifax, NS, Saturdays 1:30-2:00am AST)
www.radiocfxu.ca (Campus Community Radio, Antigonish, NS, Fridays 11pm-12am AST)
www.cfru.ca (University of Guelph Radio, ON, Tuesdays 3pm EST)
www.umfm.com (Winnipeg’s Hit Free Radio, Fridays 6-6:30pm CST)
www.caperradio.com (Cape Breton University Radio, NS, Wednesdays 3-3:30pm AST)
www.localfm.ca (Campus Radio Saint John Inc., NB, Tuesdays 11:30am and Fridays 3:30pm AST)