In contemplating our review of the tenth anniversary deluxe edition of Hammock’s Raising Your Voice…Trying To Stop An Echo, yours truly was reminded of an interview he conducted with Hammock shortly before the album came out in 2006 for a short-lived website he ran. Thought it’d be nice to share it with you here, so please enjoy…
Marc Byrd, one half of the instrumental duo Hammock, is a quiet, thoughtful fellow. Talking to him about the music on Hammock’s album Raising Your Voice…Trying To Stop an Echo provides an excellent insight to his creative process, but it doesn’t capture the overwhelming beauty of his work. Haunting, spiritual music that sounds like a trip straight into space, his music is grand, and, ultimately, it is to be experienced in a dark room, alone, with headphones on. Hammock’s music is some of the most beautiful music you can possibly experience. It was an honor and a privilege to speak to him.
Raising Your Voice is your second full-length, but it’s my first experience with Hammock’s music. In looking up information about the band, I didn’t find a lot of biographical information. Could you tell me a little bit about how Hammock came to be?
Andrew and I have known each other for a few years. We had played in a band together a long time ago. I started coming over to his house with the idea of just getting down some ideas, for no other real reason than to get down some musical ideas. I live in Nashville, and I work on making records I don’t like at all, but it’s a job. In response to that, I just felt I needed to work on making music for music’s sake. I started going over to his house and putting down these ideas, and he started contributing to them here and there, and then it turned into the two of us working on it equally. I had no ambition whatsoever about making an album or releasing the music, but by the time we looked up from what we were doing, it had been a while, and we had recorded over nineteen pieces. So we decided to put together an album, and those songs became Kenotic. We self-released it, and the response to the amazed us, because we were just two guys in a basement who made a record. I know there are other people who just sit in a basement and make records, and some of ’em aren’t that good! (Laughs) So we were really surprised. Because the music was deeply instrumental, and some people have called it “cosmic post-rock ambient music, we knew that an audience for our music was limited, but we didn’t make our music for any other reason than to make it. Approaching the second record, we did it in-between time once again, between our day jobs. On this album, I found I was second-guessing myself a lot, but in the end, I’m really happy about. Though I never listen to a record I’ve released more than once after I release it, so I hope it’s a good record! (Laughs)
Considering Kenotic was made with no fore- or afterthought about releasing, did you find your priorities changed after releasing the debut and seeing how well-received it was?
Yes, it did. Hopefully I don’t sound too pretentious, but music is really a pure form of expression for me. It really, really flows naturally. In order for me to make the music of Hammock, it must come from a very intuitive place. If I feel like I am forcing something too much, then I start second-guessing myself a whole lot. There were times when we would start and I would stop, because it didn’t feel right. Maybe it was because I was in a bad mood, but most of the time, if I am not feeling it come from a deeply emotional place, then I can feel detached from it. Hammock, as far as the music concerned, I am deeply attached to it, and I love it so much, that I never want it to turn into just work. I mean, making a record, period, is always going to require an aspect of hard work, when you deal with the technical aspects and the sequencing and other decisions like that. Creating the record, for me, at least, was a little more difficult. I think I had in the back of my mind a Hammock fan base, and I’d wonder about what people would think of this music. Once I got over that, we just said, “Screw it,” and we just decided to make a record with no real ambitions; we decided to make music we enjoy and that we would like to listen to. At that point, the music started to flow, and what we were doing just felt right.
Something that surprised me was discovering Hammock’s music has been used in such places as National Public Radio’s news programs and Hearts of Space, as well as other media, like the Olympics. When you started working on the new album, did you have it in mind this time around that you would do more soundtracking?
Oh, absolutely. I have a publishing deal where I write songs with and for other artists, and sometimes I don’t really enjoy it, because, for me, in writing other people’s songs, I have to ask them, “Okay, what do you want to do, what are you trying to say, what is your motivation?” and I kind of help facilitate that creation. I don’t get emotionally attached to it, and that kind of music is not precious to me at all. But when I made Kenotic, I went to my publishers, I went in and presented it to the company, and one of the big guys said, “You know, I appreciate are, but I’m a capitalist pig, and I enjoy what you’re doing, but blah blah blah, I can’t make any money from it.” Since then, the music’s been used on NPR, three songs were used on the Winter Olympics, and since then, I’ve met with some of these music publishing supervisors in New York, and they’ve changed their tune. They really want to see us involved with more soundtracks and advertising work. Personally, I’d really love to compose a soundtrack with Andrew for a film–especially a moody film. I think we’re destined to do that. But yeah, we’d talked about that when we started the album, but that really wasn’t our motivation. I kind of felt that since there’s a lot of pressure for me to write music here in Nashville, I wasn’t going to get caught up in that world with the music I’m making now, with Hammock. I just want to do Hammock as long as I can do it, until it feels like it’s worn itself out. As long as it feels good, I’m going to keep doing it.
With the nature of the music you’re making, I would personally be of the attitude that I’d rather make the music first and let others use it in the ways that they see fit, as opposed to struggling to write something for a scene.
Oh, totally. With Hammock, I don’t think I could work that way. When we assemble the music, sometimes I’ll come in with one little idea that I worked with on my own, but a lot of times, it’s just us sitting there, waiting for an idea; we’ll be waiting with our instruments, and we’ll try to capture the immediate idea on one take, and then work up the idea and performance from there. It’s a very immediate approach to making music.
On thing I noticed about Raising Your Voice… is that, for all of its Heavenly, ethereal instrumental beauty, for the one or two songs with vocals, the lyrics are very dark, depressing, and emotional. What prompted you to use vocals this time?
(Pause) Hmm…I don’t know…I think it’s just…I know that with none of the songs that have vocals on them did we go in with the intention of putting vocals on them. The little 6/8 song, “Shipwrecked;” that was mainly Andrew’s idea, and I heard a melody, and I went outside and I wrote the lyrics and sang them. Then, I thought of two other songs I felt like could use some vocals. The title track, we actually thought it was finished, without the vocals, then I started to sing a little melody to it, and then it wound up with vocals. Our lyrics are written like that. When we make a decision to write vocals, it’s literally, like, the music is done, and when I’m listening back to it and I start to hum something that fits, then we decide to do it, and once I get the melody, I write the lyrics. It’s pretty spontaneous, but once the melody is set, and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to take away from the song, then I’ll go and write lyrics. For all the beauty that’s in the record, lyrically, it’s very much a sense of loss and permanence of death that I was trying to capture, based upon the view of life I have in general. I had a close friend who was a few years older than me; he was an assistant teacher at a college, and he was someone I liked, but one day he went to Wal-Mart, bought a gun, and went and killed himself. At the time I didn’t feel like being all happy-happy, joy-joy, and lyrically trying to capture that loss and the finality that comes with that enhances the beauty that we have here in life while we are here.
It’s that harsh, stark reality Yin to the heavenly, other-worldly, dreamlike Yang to the instrumental beauty of your music.
Oh yeah, yeah. Exactly! That’s exactly it; that’s exactly it.
I don’t like delving into lyrical interpretations with the artists themselves, because interpretation is only one person’s opinion, but I couldn’t ignore how cathartic the lyrics were; it’s hard to ignore the pain within them. The three lyrical songs seem to have a theme…
With my friend who killed himself, he was a very religious guy. That’s where the line, “your faith is finally fading like starlight” comes from; it’s almost like his faith was the only thing keeping him from going over the edge. I don’t know what ultimately happened to make him decide to do what he did, but that’s definitely part of what I was feeling and trying to capture in my lyrics.
For this album, you signed with Darla; an excellent choice, considering the label’s aesthetics. Being involved with them, have you thought about collaborating with some of your label mates?
Oh, I would love to do anything with Robin Guthrie! (Laughs)
Right! Personally, I was thinking collaborating with Manual’s Jonas Munk would be interesting.
Yeah, that would be fun! I’m open to whatever, actually. I have an album or two by Manual. I’m always interested in collaboration. We’ve done some things called The Sleepover Series. Volume one was me basically doing some deep, heavy ambient stuff, but I’d like to see volume two be more of a collaboration, or at least different pieces manipulated by other artists, but it would need to fit under the concept of the Sleepover title, which is ambient material. But yes, I’m always open to ideas like that.