Seattle, a city that's been situated at the epicenter of music history on more than one occasion, is yet again home to one of the most remarkable new acts in America -- but don't expect a grunge or indie rock revival. Crater, the brainchild of Ceci Gomez and Kessiah Gordon, uses genre as a palette rather than a boundary, existing at the confluence of a considerable swirl of traditions, somewhere between Industrial and Dance, FKA twigs and Pharmakon, Grimes and Hole.
To say that 2014 has been a banner year for Crater would ignore the fact that the band has only really existed in the public space in 2014. They've released just four singles, and already they've garnered the attention of media and musicians alike, most notably Canada's TR/ST, who brought Crater along for their North American tour this fall.
I met up with Ceci and Kessiah before their show at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, where we talked about their history as friends and as a band, the landscape of contemporary music, and their hopes for their upcoming debut:
Jesse Damiani: How'd you guys get started?
Ceci Gomez: Kessiah and I have been friends for a really long time, we went to college together. The funny thing is we lived together in college, but we actually didn't form a band together until after school. She somehow convinced me to move to Seattle, I started working on some stuff, and then -- she was on tour with another band and she came back and she was like, "I really just want to be in band again," so I said, "Well, we should totally just do this together."
Kessiah Gordon: That's the Sparknotes version.
JD: Any anecdotes along the way?
KG: We've done a lot together over the course of the 7 years of our friendship. We drove across the country together; we've worked on a tour together--
CG: We worked at an ice cream shop together this summer.
KG: So, as far as testing the limits of our friendship, I feel like, at this point we're kind of in it for the long haul. Can't get rid of her. She's my platonic wife.
CG: It's pretty awesome.
JD: And you guys are living together now, how does that influence your creative process?
CG: Well, it makes us kind of lazy, to some extent [laughs]. I'll make music in my room and be like, "Oh, Kess, you should come listen to this and add a drum part," and she'll be like, "Uh, okay," and then she'll walk over in her sweatpants and grab the computer and lay in bed and write a drum beat over it--
KG: That's not always how it goes [laughs]. A lot of the time the music stems from us lying on each other's beds waiting patiently because computer-based music is much different than constructing songs in a physical studio space where you have a kit, guitar, and full band. The way Ceci and I have been writing is that she'll generally construct the foundation of a song on her computer and then I'll come in and add my own production ideas to it, which is strange also because in the past we've been in full-piece rock bands, and hadn't really explored computer-based music until a little bit later down the line.
JD: How do you guys feel about that transition from live instrumentation to computer-based music?
CG: We've both been writing music for a really long time, since we were teenagers. I used to play music with my guitar and just sing, and there came a point where it felt like I hit a wall, and that I need to re-orient the way I wrote music. I started learning how to use Pro Tools first, which I actually never use now, and then Logic, which I really like, and now Ableton, which is super fluid for me to write music in. Instead of writing a song as an A-B-A, you know, a formal song structure, I think of it more as a sonic landscape, so I'll write a vibe. Then there'll be a drum beat or a synth pad, and then what I do is layer hundreds of things on top of each other, and then from there, pare it down and find the structure afterwards.
KG: [to Ceci] Yeah, I think the kind of music you've been writing suits your personality a little bit more, as opposed to writing a song on the guitar and doing the A-B structure. Ceci's thought process is a little more chaotic, and beautiful in that sense. I feel like the way she constructs songs now on the computer reflects what's actually going on in her head, which is very layered and confusing. My songwriting process is a little bit more formal, I still like writing songs a certain way, and this project has been really challenging for me -- rewarding but challenging -- because I'm still finding a way to work around Ceci's way of writing songs on the computer. It's been really fun.
JD: Can you share more about what's been challenging?
KG: I'm the same way as Ceci; I always like playing really loud guitar. It's been hard because we've struggled finding practice spaces in Seattle. At first we tried writing music in our duplex...but our neighbor wasn't particularly happy about me blasting electric guitar with delay effects at late hours of the night. So that was challenging. That's how I've always written. Sometimes it's hard just having headphones on and focusing on a screen, and not being able to do much more than that; you're within this tiny world, working with sounds that are imported onto the computer. I know if we had the resources and the rehearsal space it would sound great, but right now we're figuring it out within what we have, working with what we've got.
JD: Do you find that within that process the songs you write have shifted or evolved, that the thematic content and structures become more coherent? More varied? How does Crater Song #1 compare to Crater Song #20?
CG: We feel like they're so different; they've evolved so much. We actually went through and listened to all the songs right before we left for tour, and we found that we were more drawn to the newer songs because when I first started writing them, I was doing it by myself; what I thought was going to be a solo project ended up being a project with my best friend, which is way better. I have another person to help me flesh things out. Kess is really good at finding drum loops that sound really good. She does monitors for bands so she knows the EQs, you know, and everything that needs to happen to start to sound better.
KG: My role is the more fine-tooth-comb stuff.
CG: And now when we'll write a song it's funny because I'll write a section and Kess'll be like, "That doesn't sound like a Crater song," but then I'm like, "What is a Crater song?" and then it's this whole existential crisis. I'm never gonna stop writing, and I don't want to pigeonhole ourselves either; it's so early.
KG: We just want to work with whatever comes out and then dissect and pick apart later, not restrict ourselves in any way musically.
JD: You mentioned existential crises, and that definitely comes through in the music. When you're approaching that space from a creative viewpoint, what's that landscape like?
KG: Being 25. I think that's just it; being our age, graduating from college and not knowing what you're doing, and how that manifests itself in the creative process, because life after college can be chaotic. A lot of what I'm going through is just about not choosing a traditional path post-graduation, and strictly focusing on music -- because that's all I want to be doing with my life right now -- and making the appropriate sacrifices to make sure I stay on that course.
CG: From a musical perspective, being 25, I have listened to so much music in my life, I realize now. And when I listen to music I'm like, "Would I want to make something like that?" So I'm getting all these inspirations from so many different directions and sometimes I don't know how to place them, and what ends up happening is total chaos in my brain. And things don't make sense most of the time. But then when they do it's amazing. I'll hear a song I wrote six months ago and be like, "What?" I still like it; I'm just very confused by it. It was just a feeling, and sometimes when I write a song it'll be based on a word, or a phrase, or a sample I find online, of like, a cat crying or something, and a song will evolve from that feeling.
KG: If you look on Ceci's computer, she has a folder called, "Black Hole," where she just compiles the weirdest shit. I can't even go in there. I think sometimes I'm having an existential crisis, but like -- [to Ceci] not to say that you're crazy -- everything about Ceci is beautifully messy. Her creative process, the way she looks at the world. And I, as her best friend, am still picking through it, and trying to figure out how she functions. I kind of enjoy not knowing. And every now and again I'll look through that folder and I'll freak myself out. It's just random images, loops, crazy shit.
JD: Do you think constructing this music with software on computers creates a platform where you guys can best engage?
CG: To some extent; I never really thought of it that way.
KG: Technology's supposed to be this rigid structure -- thematically when I think of technology and computers, it's supposed to be this really efficient way of working -- but then Ceci will come in and add all of her images into the folder on a computer and that will attack that idea of balance. It's interesting thinking about it that way.
JD: What are some of those creative pieces you're plucking from? Influences, inspirations, triggers, etc.
CG: Well, we listened to Bjork for six hours in the van yesterday. We both love Bjork and Radiohead. I know it might sound cliché to say we love Radiohead, but we love Radiohead. We both listen to a lot of grunge; Kess grew up in Seattle so she's a big Pearl Jam fan. Wipers, Bleeding Harvey, Slint; we love Garbage, Hole--
KG: Alanis Morissette -- even Top 40, we love Top 40. It's all mixed together.
CG: I also really love techno and avant-garde electronic. I've been listening to a lot of Holden recently, Oneohtrix Point Never, and weird synth stuff. Giorgio Moroder--
KG: Something that's been really nice about this thing is that I like to think that I listen to a lot of music, but just in starting this band with Ceci and her forcing me to listen to this other music, it's completely changed my perspective, she's exposed me to a lot more sounds and different genres.
JD: Yeah, your music seems to be a big swirl of a lot of different genres. What are your thoughts on genre and categorization; how do you think people should talk about genre, particularly in relation to your work?
CG: I mean, it's important when you're categorizing things, like in iTunes, or with hashtags (which are super important these days). A lot of people discover music on platforms like Soundcloud just by searching a hashtag, which wasn't relevant to me until I started working with other bands -- I had worked in music management previously -- and metadata is super important in a way I'd never expected. It's kind of annoying trying to say that you're a particular kind of artist because you're limiting yourself.
KG: Broad categories are fine, but genre is tricky because over the course of time and music history, it's difficult to just call one sound, like, "Rock," "Hip Hop," or "Pop;" everything's so hybrid now, and you start sub-categorizing things, and it just gets messy. I don't like the idea of limiting yourself and saying you're one particular sound because then people have this expectation that that's what it's going to be like for the rest of your career, and you might disappoint them. Radiohead's a great example of a band that's subverted and destabilized that idea; you listen to early records and it's rock, you listen to later records and it's so weird and crazy. I like the idea of challenging genre, but it's okay that it exists.
JD: It seems like the Seattle community has been really supportive of Crater. How do you see local music scenes functioning in the Internet age?
CG: Local music scenes will never cease to exist because people exist in real life. Speaking for Seattle, I think it has a super strong music scene, and having social media is helpful for getting people to those events, unfortunately; I don't know when things are happening a lot of the time if I don't get a Facebook invite for something, which is kind of sad, but...
KG: What's interesting about Seattle is a lot of the time people will be able to figure out what events are happening based on the posters that are plastered everywhere in Central Capitol Hill, and you don't get that in New York City because it's illegal to do that. So, from a regional standpoint, Seattle is special because it still has this element of non-digital distribution of information.
JD: So, you're in the process of putting together the debut album. How's that going?
CG: We have a lot of songs, but we're still a baby band; we've only released four songs so far. We still have a long ways to go before we're done with it, and we'd like to go back into a real studio to re-check guitars and vocals. We like the aspect that parts of it sound like it was made in the bedroom, but we also have a bigger vision for the record, and want to it sound really epic as well.
KG: We also want to find the right home for that record. Right now we're doing everything for the most part pretty independently -- we did release three of our singles through a subsidiary of another label -- but, as of now, we're just focusing on playing, touring, and perfecting our live set. We want to be a really great live band, and that comes before putting out this record.