[Originally for DC Music Download on 16 November 2012]
Interviewed By: Clay Conger
Dishing their experimental offerings to the District over the last five years, Imperial China has been one of the most consistent bands in the area. Their 2012 release, How We Connect, elevated the band’s ownership of the avant-garde genre-with a release that gave a fresh perspective on what it means to put out an album in its truest sense. With music turning to a more ‘singles’ based approach, How We Connect gave incentive to unrestricted listening-with each track pouring itself onto the next-a continuous ride that sets you into a utopia crafted by the trio. With a striking album, their lives performances make for an equally engaging experience that can be easily summarized into three words: bring your earplugs.
Opening for punk band Regents’ album release show Saturday at Red Palace, DMD spoke with Imperial China’s Brian Porter as he breakdown the creative process behind How We Connect, the band’s reaction to record label Sockets coming to a end, and favorite places in D.C.
D.C. Music Download: How did Imperial China begin?
Brian Porter: The band started in February 2007 when our drummer Patrick joined the band. Matt and I had been playing together on and off for about two years prior to that. We started trying out drummers in late 2006, and we were really lucky to find Patrick. Not only was he a good drummer, but Patrick’s previous experience in bands really helped Matt and me (as newbies), because he knew how to really organize and focus our efforts towards the goal of actually completing songs and playing shows.
DMD: I think it’s safe to call your music experimental. How do you create some of your various sounds?
BP: I wish I could say we have some crazy techniques, but we really just use a lot of effect pedals. Most of the time, we’re tweaking effects to get a sound we like, and then just looping riffs or sequences. I personally tweak various loops and samples for a long time until I have something I’m ready to show the other guys. As we write and layer parts together, the focus is really on the whole of the sound together. I suppose most musicians approach it with that attitude, wanting to write parts that complement each other, but I think that with most of our songs, there’s not really one instrument or part that dominates the space.
DMD: When creating songs, does Imperial China take a more jam-oriented or composition approach?
BP: Almost every song starts with one guitar part or a sample. We start with that idea, and then try and string a couple parts together. Then we record it, go home and listen to it, think about ideas of where the song can go, then come back to practice and try out those ideas. It often takes several practices before we’re all happy with a song. Sometimes it takes several months or even years. The song “Redux” on our last album is a different version of the song “Space Anthem” that we recorded on our first EP in April 2008. It’s hard to go back and re-work songs, but we always really wanted to do it on that song.
DMD: I got to review your latest album, How We Connect, and found it to be a wild mix of electronic and rock. How was the composition process for this album?
BP: While the writing process was generally the same in terms of songs being written by the three of us together in practice sessions, we approached writing How We Connect by really wanting to create an album rather than a collection of songs. Prior to that, we always felt like our releases were just a collection of songs, which made sense considering that the songs we grouped together had been written over the course of years. On How We Connect, most of the songs were written over a seven month time frame, so there’s some continuity and consistency in ideas.
DMD: Where do you record?
BP: Always with Devin Ocampo (of Faraquet, Beauty Pill, and Medications). We’ve recording most of our music at either Inner Ear or Devin’s basement. The dude is an amazing recording engineer.
DMD: What’s your favorite venue so far?
BP: Black Cat backstage always holds a special place in my heart. In my opinion, very few places have better sound and energy. While some other clubs may have a better sound system, the sound on the backstage is amazing when that room is packed. The ceiling is so high, and when the room is full, it just has this huge sound. On top of that, their staff is about the nicest group of people we’ve ever worked with.
DMD: Have you collaborated with anyone else? Not just musicians, but artists and filmmakers? If not, would you consider it? I personally thought the intro of your song “Creative License” would work well in a trailer of some kind.
BP: I think we’d love that, but we’ve never really been asked! If you know of any filmmakers interested in using some sinister loops, send them my way!
DMD: What are your biggest influences?
BP: I think people always hear Fugazi and Battles in our music. Talking Heads is king in our circle. While we definitely dig those bands, our tastes are always evolving. I would say that in addition to those three, some of our favorites include: Dog Faced Hermans, This Heat, Black Dice, Double Dagger, Ponytail, Lightning Bolt, Don Caballero, Gang Gang Dance, Deerhoof, Bastro, Tortoise, and The Jesus Lizard. I’m sure I’m forgetting others…
DMD: What’s it like to play and promote in D.C.?
BP: We love D.C. We love the people in D.C. The community-vibe of D.C.’s music scene is hard to beat. Sometimes, you’ll go to a show where an acoustic act shares the same bill as a punk band-it only works because you have a community of musicians that are really supportive of one another. Go check out any show at the Paperhaus, and you’ll see what I mean.
DMD: What’s your reaction to the news that Sockets is coming to an end?
BP: We saw the news on Sockets, and we kind of knew it was coming. We’re all friends with Sean [Peoples], and we knew he was feeling ready to pursue the finer things in life. Sockets has had a great run, and Sean’s imprint on the D.C. scene has been so valuable. I think he really breathed life into a community of artists, and it’s been really exciting to be a part of that. Currently, we haven’t really been thinking about the next album, so i guess we’ll just need to cross that bridge if and when it comes!
DMD: Practically everyone has picked up an instrument at some point, and there are many who yearn to perform on the stage. Any tips for them?
BP: I barely know how to play an instrument myself, so I’m probably not the best person to ask that question. So I guess my advice is keep your day job. Playing music doesn’t pay