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Ages and Ages emerge with an interesting dynamic. With a name that leads with religious connotations, yet an identity that emphasizes community and spirituality with secular lyrics, each of their movements in the music world have been carefully crafted in order to bring them to their latest album, Something to Ruin, set to be released on August 19 on Partisan Records. But it goes beyond technical skill and pristine production. I spoke with Tim Perry about the band’s dynamics, how they craft their intricate sound, and the deeper meaning of this thing called life.
While the band’s most common description is choral pop, it’s not all-encompassing for Perry. Each melody allows the song to take shape and discover different themes, enveloped in darkness and light.
“It’s funny because a lot of times, people, when they hear the term choral pop they overthink it. But I think it’s a pretty apt description. Mostly because I think each song tends to sort of represent an idea or a feeling or an approach, and sometimes that’s choral pop, and sometimes that’s something else,” Perry says.
Ages and Ages was formed in Portland, a collective that Perry began with “men and women who could deliver multiple ranges and tones, and even vibes and personalities.” Though he mentions that six personalities sometimes bring six distinct and unwavering opinions, the communal aspect of the group gives the band an inimitable quality. The first album emerged with a hodge-podge of sounds.
“What we really wanted for the first record was for it to go really fast, and we wanted to not overthink everything, just perform the songs, and have everything sort of bleed together,” Perry declares. On this album, the instruments were recorded first and then the vocals were added without using headphones. “We just pumped up the instruments through the monitors and sang through the microphone so that would pick up the original recording of the instrumentation. I think we just wanted to reflect the actual experience of playing this music, that it was a very raw, sort of in the moment thing.
Music in a lot of ways is about a moment, or just, you had to be there, like a joke that isn’t funny unless you were there a lot of times.”
The second record, 2014’s Divisionary, applied more conventional studio tactics, yet spoke to Ages and Ages’ lyricism that propelled the group forward. “What we’re all about is presenting ideas that, even when they seem clear cut, like a song like ‘Divisionary (Do The Right Thing),’ that’s actually the easiest one to be misunderstood in a sense, because there’s this clear mantra of ‘do the right thing’ but I always want there to be this conflict or this question. Nothing is easy. Nothing is actually spelled out. What does do the right thing even mean?” Perry ponders. Perry embarked on a 10-day meditation retreat during the album’s creation, and today, the practice remains so ingrained in his very existence. The act of sitting in stillness allowed Perry to peel back the layers of his own sense of self and discover new truths.
“I think that there is a certain sense of peace that comes when you recognize that there is no button you can push to make all the bad things go away, or all your faults and flaws, or the faults and flaws of others. So when you recognize that, then it becomes a process of, how do you cope with that? How do you cope with a world that is just sort of turning,” Perry muses. His revelations stem to the songwriting process itself: “I think that this music and writing is a catharsis. It’s my attempt at taking this bag of everything at once, the good, the bad, the confusing, the clear, the opinions that I have that I feel absolutely sure about, and the others that I’m just putting out there and allowing in the hopes that the true honesty will come out. Allowing the contradictions and the embarrassing.”
It’s this kind of questioning and vulnerability that allows Ages and Ages to arc the focus of their music far beyond the surface. Their latest effort focused on a blend of distinct sonic schools of thought, yet also continued the path of utilizing unconventional instrumentation, such as garden hoes and smashing toms on the ground (both utilized for their brashness in sound). “For this one, we took a turn because of the subject matter we’re singing about. We really wanted to mix the synthetic with the earthy and create the dissonance and that dichotomy, which I think is so important in the lyrics.” On this album, you’ll hear keyboards, ambient melodies, and layer upon layer of sound. “We wanted to work harmoniously at times, and we wanted to sound jarring at other times, because I think both are real. Both happen.”
During the creative process, Perry and bandmate Rob Oberdorfer traveled to Central America to explore ancient ruins. They found correlations between this area on the other side of the world and their hometown of Portland. Here, they pondered the future of humanity and the preservation of earth’s natural landmarks. This laid the foundation for their latest album, brimming with themes of despair, isolation, and ruin. While their sound may be described as choral pop, the end result is anything but.
“It’s choral and harmonically poppy at times, but I think there’s also a lot of tension and edge that we try and provide. It’s not all about creating this buttery glossy pop song or something. I think that reflects a lot of the content that we try and sing about.” To create the dissonance Perry speaks of, Ages and Ages brought in a variety of manipulated pedals for guitar lines as well as vintage and analogue keyboards. They recorded the album at Isaac Brock’s studio, known for his reign in Modest Mouse, in a warehouse space that allowed for sonic experimentation.
While the group is secular as a whole, many of them experienced a religious upbringing. Perry clung to the communal aspect of a church and brought this into Ages and Ages. It’s in the group’s experiences, from travels, to meditation, that we learn how Ages and Ages music is infused with visceral, vulnerable experience.
“I have a general feeling of, life is tough, and we’re all here living it, and none of us are really doing it totally alone. I feel like listening and playing music is a chance to reflect and celebrate and share whatever it is that song or record is doing, and I guess my biggest hope would be to experience that in its purest, most exciting sense, and just have that intimate connection with people.”
With Ages and Ages’ latest release, we’re sure to discover more about not only their sound, but about how their lessons apply to our own lives.
Photos by Alicia J Rose