Interview: Jatun

There’s something wonderful about hearing the most delicately rendered, expansive music that is coated with a sense of despair and then meeting the people behind, only to find that instead of these morose, overly serious figures, they are gregarious and filled with life.

That happened not too long ago when meeting Scott Worley, the man behind Jatun. I had seen he and Ryan McGreer perform together at Holocene, rendering sheets of noise out of iPhones and banks of effects pedals. And I’d heard his music which was heavy and droney with a touch of shoegazer light. I expected to find the creator to be a bookish fellow with shoddy social skills. He was the exact opposite – friendly with a wicked sense of humor and an absolutely gracious attitude when it comes to supporting artists and creative types that he admires.

You get that sense both with his own collaborative works, and when he works in the studio engineer/producing recording sessions for other bands. He’s there to facilitate something amazing, and has the patience and grace and calm to make it happen.

So, it was that he offered to record an exclusive track for this site that turned into an epic 47 minute journey into Worley’s feverish musical brain. Sampled bits of sound sidled up next to field recordings, guitar swirls, and infectious loops. It’s big and requires a lot of your attention, but it is well worth that outlay of time and effort.

In advance of this new release – and in advance of his live appearance at next week’s Experimental Portland Presents… show happening on the 29th of December at Record Room, Worley was kind enough to answer some questions via e-mail.

Was there a particular artist or album that sent you down this path exploring more ambient/electronic/experimental sounds? What kept you from say just strapping on a guitar and starting a loud rock band like the rest of the rabble?

National Skyline‘s s/t release is what got me into electronic music. When it was released I was really into playing indie rock, and I didn’t really care about synths, samplers, and drum machines. I bought the album because both members of National Skyline had come from space rock (?) bands. Upon first listen it was quite obvious that they had created something much different from their respective projects. That in itself made a huge impact on me. It sort of made me reach outside of my comfort zone to not only find something new, but create music in a completely different way. Up until hearing that album, I had never thought about using synthesizers or computers to create music.

Listening to your music, even at its most spacious and strangest, there’s always a hint of melancholy that lies just under the surface. Is that something you are aware of or something you embrace or does that just come out of you without you realizing it? Or am I just reading too much into things?

I’m aware of it, but I certainly don’t force that sound into my songs. It just ends up getting in there, naturally. I’ve written albums worth of material that I’ve never used because it was “too happy” and lacked that touch of melancholy.

I’m always curious with collaborations like the one you have been doing with Cloud City Cars. How did you know that Ryan was going to be someone you could create music with? Was there some element that drew you two into each other’s circles?

We both had met on an internet forum some years ago and I really liked what he was working on at the time, which was his debut release. In November 2011 we got together for the first time and started making some noises down in my basement. I didn’t know if it was going to work out or not, but it did. We’re currently working on our debut album, scheduled for release in 2013.

Jatun started out as a duo. What became of Alan Grosvenor? Is he still part of the project?

Around the time when I was writing songs for Blanket of Ash, I had just recruited David Bolt from The Delta Mirror / Letdown to play synths & keys for the live Jatun shows, and Alan had started working as an accounts manager for a local coffee company. The work essentially swallowed up Alan and he had little time and interest in playing music at that point. He left Jatun shortly afterwards, but he contributed a couple guitar parts on Blanket of Ash. He then took off to Seattle for a while, then Finland. Now that he’s back in Portland we’ve been trying to work on a more rock oriented project together. These days he stays busy with his project, Fantasytank.

The Mass of Portland is probably your most experimental work to date…how did you create the music for that?

I came up with the idea of recording a full-length album served up as one song. There’s 16 tracks total, comprised of guitars, analog & digital synths, homebrew programs on the Nintendo DS, iOS apps, vinyl record samples, field recordings and tape loops. All tracks were recorded in one take from beginning to end. I recorded most of the album in one day, and then finished the rest over the course of the weekend.

Do you have a preference between working in a more freeform fashion or writing “traditional” songs? Or does each have their advantages?

Each certainly have their own advantages. For my “beat” material, I work in a more traditional fashion. I want to write songs, so I think about hooks, choruses and such. For my ambient material, I started out working more traditionally, and then slowly started drifting away to working more freely, without measures, time signatures, borders. It’s allowed me to able to see things a bit differently, and I’ve learned a fair amount from making table top drones over the past year.

How do you approach remixing someone else’s song? Are you applying the elements that you think are missing or simply playing with the pieces of their particular puzzle?

My approach usually depends on the remix, and how much of the song I’m really into. I started out being more experimental with my remixes, hacking things apart, doing weird glitchy stuff with vocals & whatnot. I wanted to take pieces of a song and create something original from it. As the years went by, I felt like I wanted more and more to create elements that were lacking in the song and just produce it differently.

How about when you work as a producer or engineer for another project? Do you take a pretty Steve Albini-like approach and just do your best to facilitate the artist’s vision or do you have to help coax the finished project into existence?

I’ve taken both paths before. Just recently I produced an album that reshaped a project from the ground up. It’s my job to make the album into something the artist has been searching for, so there are times when I’m seeing something beneficial that they haven’t conceptualized yet. The use of different effects, for instance. Because of the engineering I did for the guitars on the album, now these guys are all about more overdriven guitar sounds, and love the use of a good chorus on a lot of their songs.

Of course I have to ask about the name of the project – Jatun – where does that come from?

It’s southern Quechua for “big.” Quechua is a language spoken primarily in the Andes of South America. It’s a beautiful word that no one I know pronounces correctly.

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