Portland’s 1939 Ensemble joined us in the studio for a set of new songs from their latest album Black Diamond Pearl. Watch the videos above, catch their interview below, and download mp3s of the songs.
Jose Medeles and David Coniglio hit a mainline when they started to writing drum-&-vibes tunes together. 1939 Ensemble’s Howl & Bite quickly became a favorite among serious musicians and more casual groove hounds: jazz-flavored melodies layered over percussion that’s by turns meditative and thunderous. For their sophomore record, Black Diamond Pearl, they’ve formally added multi-instrumentalist Josh Thomas, whose trumpet & analog synth work seems to have given the band a third leg, and more horsepower.
The group just played a couple of mid-May dates in California – their first gigs outside the Pacific Northwest. Here are some excerpts from our interview:
April: This band was happy marriage, and now, with Josh in the picture, you’ve expanded to a love triangle?
Jose Medeles: You nailed it with the word “love”.
AB: Was the agreement automatic that this might bring an interesting dimension?
David Coniglio: I think when we got this instrument [the synthesizer] it just sounded right with stuff we already had going on. It was instantaneous. We’re [already] running this vibraphone through a Moog pedal and it just felt really nice to have that low end. I think we recognized right away how much it would give to us.
JM: “Circles” was the first song we wrote with it. When we’d blasted through that a few times, it just kind of made sense. Josh played on our first record, and he played live shows with us, so he knew our language already.
AB: The sound is a little more hopped-up. Where did you want to take things?
JM: We were invited to do so may cool things [after “Howl & Bite”] - a lot of live soundtrack stuff. They’d put us up onstage with an old movie. When you write for an hour-and-a-half film, you have to dive into other aspects of music. Also we had a lot of people we admire liking the band. That gave us more confidence doing the second record - John McIntyre, Matt Ward, Mark Ortonm Holland Andrews.
AB: All of whom pop up on the record.
JM: With the first record, I didn’t really know if anyone was going to care!
AB: Jose and David, you switch back and forth on the drums and vibes. What are the differences in your styles as percussionists?
JM: I have a lot of issues! I think I’m a more aggressive drummer. Dave, he’s aggressive but he can kind of hold back (laughs). I think that goes the same way I approach the vibraphone. To me it’s another percussion instrument I get to wail on.
DC: I’d agree.
AB: Are there ways in which a percussion sensibility have had a role in the melodies you’ve come up with?
JM: What I really like to do when I bring a piece is, I like tension! Where it’s kind of comfortable for a minute, then that release. The intention is to create something that has that beautiful melody, and underneath it this noise, and angular beat, really aggressive. I like making it easy for the listener — and myself — to get what’s going on.
DC: I try to approach these melodies really simply, try not to play too much.
Audio recording and mixes: Steven Kray with Randy Layton and William Ward
Interview: April Baer
Video production: Brendan Jones
Videographers: Sam Smith, Grahame Bywater, Nate Sjol
Photographer: Gerard O’Sullivan
Executive Producer: David Christensen