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Through A Room: An Interview with Bill Nace

The Philadelphian experimentalist talks to us about his latest Drag City release.

Sounds that provide discomfort are the ones that unlock certain emotions. Often they have been hidden or, in some cases, are emotions you never knew existed. The window of opportunity for this is small. Many factors have to be taken into consideration (the time of listening, space, mindset), but if all three align, the results can be intriguing.

A Bill Nace record is the perfect case in point. Entrenched in the world of noise and experimentation, the Philadelphian guitarist has spent a career widely in collaboration, alongside the likes of Chris Corsano, Okkyung Lee, Steve Gunn and, of course, Kim Gordon as one half of the mangled assault that is Body/Head. Most recently, the latter collaboration extending to included composer, Aaron Dilloway with three releasing last year’s Body/Dilloway/Head.

As well as an impressive oeuvre of collaborative work, Nace has also carved out a stellar solo career. Oscillating between collaboration and solo work is always interesting from a listeners perspective, especially when thinking about the creative approach and how that changes between the two.

“Yes…but I think the beginning point is very similar. It’s more than end result or where and how it is steered that differs,” says Nace, answering some of our questions via email in the lead-up to his latest Drag City release, Through A Room, which follows 2020’s Both.

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“The two both feed each other,” says Nace when asked about collaboration and how important it is to push forward his own ideas as a solo artist. “I personally gain a lot from collaboration and am grateful for all the people I am able to play with and learn from… It one hundred percent informs what I do in a solo context.”

On Through A Room, there’s a lot to unravel. Nace using everything from guitar and the hurdy-gurdy to a doughnut pipe, and again working alongside producer, Bitchin BajasCooper Crain, Through A Room is an album dotted with knotty feedback and raw speaker-buckling dissonance. Essentially, it’s the kind of record you’d expect to be conceived from the bellows of an industrial garage. Abrasive noise created amongst an array of spare parts strewn across the grease-stained floors.

Bill Nace - In A Room

“Cooper came out to Philadelphia with a kind of mobile studio unit,” says Nace, explaining the creative process during Through A Room. “We recorded live tracks in my practice space for a about four days and then mixed from about 12 to 11 for about a week after that. I wanted it to be an extension of my last solo record so it was a similar approach of taking one thing and seeing how much it could be spun around on the wheel.”

The metallic blur of Les Echoes (Piece for Tuba), The Giant and Ann enmesh a sci-fi swagger within Nace’s trademark sonic incongruities. Never immediate, but on the other hand, its not like chewing on rusty nails, either. “Sci-fi sounds and psychedelic/hypnotic effects are all things I’m interested in,” says Nace.

While Daniel Higgs artwork, to me at least, didn’t feel aligned to Through A Room, the more time spent with this album and the more it all makes sense. A collage blending fact with fantasy, and alongside Nace’s sharp tape loops and hisses, suddenly the full package emerges and you’re drawn into a virtual-like world. In a roundabout way, it reaches the very ideas of psychedelia. “I think the art fits the music perfectly…but none of this was discussed beforehand,” admits Nace.

Bill Nace (photo credit: Ryan Collerd)

A track like Boil First takes me back to my earlier point about sounds having that ability to dredge up once-buried thoughts. It got me thinking: where does the impulse come from to create something like this?

“I’m not sure it’s a place,” says Nace. “I want to kind of investigate or pull apart and see its individual parts…I just try to obey it when it arises.”

It’s an interesting take, for Both and Through A Room feel like very meticulous recordings. There’s not a second wasted on tape – everything is in place for a reason. It feeds into the central ideas surrounding a record like this and where they come from. Are they concrete or more loose and free to evolve once in the creative process?

“Usually a mix of both. For me, part of recording and dealing with the ‘studio’ is being open to those initial ideas changing or mutating or not working but allowing for something else in its place … so… I think much like a live improvisation set its a mix of intent/direction and also of letting go and being open.”

Through A Room is out now via Drag City. Purchase from Bandcamp/ Boomkat.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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