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Behind the Scenes of a Motion Album
I want to know what I’m getting myself into before I commit to listening to an album; childish I know… but really, who doesn’t judge an album by the cover art, album name and, most importantly, song titles. When I placed a space station and The Sun Machine together I thought, “All right, this is going to be out-of-this-world trippy,” and while perusing the tracks, I was totally sold when I saw “The Mushroom Hunt.” It’s a super rad mod/psychedelic rock album, a novella, and a sci-fi film but most importantly, it’s the opus of Treasure Fleet. The Sun Machine took me on the most epic adventure.
Each song on The Sun Machine serves a purpose in telling the story. The song titles give an overview and set everything up, kind of like your best friend simplifying a complicated math equation to you: here is how everything fits together. While they may be “bone-headed and ambiguous, the songs are named like paintings, hoping they capture the essence of what it all means”. With Treasure Fleet, I don’t know whether their album or their enthusiasm surrounding the album is more awesome. So I spoke with bandleader Isaac Thotz to discuss it.
In 2012, the band (Isaac Thotz, Neil Hennessy, Mike Oberlin, Jon Olson; additional players: Dave Merriman, Preston Bryant, Eli Caterer, Todd Congelliere) planned on releasing two full-length albums within six months, but they also wanted to expand their live band. “For a band like ours its crucial [to keep positive relationships with other musicians]… we do it out of the love for doing it… we all like being creative together,” says Thotz. The band used to tour with Preston Bryant, who then joined Treasure Fleet for live performances, which morphed into making experimental recordings together: “We found it extremely rewarding working together and decided to take on a bigger recording project.” And so, the adventure began.
In terms of his songwriting process, Isaac doesn’t have a specific, or typical one; there isn’t one right way to harness creativity. “Sometimes I have an idea of a theme or sometimes lyrics lead to the theme.” Going for a walk can turn into a melody.
Recorded in Isaac’s attic, they produced five songs first as EPs, but then they kept recording and decided they had an album. The first five songs were recorded in typical Treasure Fleet form; they laid basic tracks and then utilized their computer system to work vocals, dubs, and synths. They fleshed the songs out, stripped out the beat and introduced new synth tones. Experimenting with a tape machine created “Sirens of Titan,” and “A Soft Landing” was built by “totally synth-ing out elements of the track combined with a rock band recorded on the tape machine, bridging the gap tonally.”
The sound of an analogue tape is still admired, and owning a tape machine presents a unique recording experience. With that being said, Treasure Fleet fully enjoys experimenting with their tape machine, but surprisingly, that isn’t Isaac’s favorite piece of recording gear. For a brain like his, recording on computers is his favorite thing. “It puts an audio into an abstract realm. Computers allow you to look at sound waves, put them together, and listen to them.” Put simply: you get to look and think about audio in terms of visual elements.
While the tracks were recorded in a similar way, “they all sound very different…we were worried about them being an album. We knew we had the sounds to make it, so we introduced the cohesiveness after to say, ‘Here’s a story to make all these places we went one cohesive idea.’” That’s where the narrative came in. As a way to convey the narrative in Isaac’s brain, they figured the best way to get it out there as what they were intending it to be, was to make a film…a sci-fi film.
As a songwriter, Isaac was not intimated by the process of writing, in fact, he was “insanely motivated” to write a fifty page novella. “Neil [Hennessy] said, ‘You need to write a script so that our story is inside someone else’s brain other than yours.” The novella is entitled “TF3 and The Sun Machine” and was written in one shot over the course of three days. Well crafted, the story is intricate and includes a prologue and epilogue, email transactions, “satellite transfers,” “initiative proposal summaries” and a note to “children of Earth” with a great moral. It is evident that Treasure Fleet dreams big.
The Sun Machine, the sci-fi film, front-to-back, took about a year of learning tricks, and giving the movie a look and cohesiveness. Band involvement in the film was high, which made the members of Treasure Fleet closer than ever.
“It was a totally amazing experience. It was sorta like having sex for the first time. We had no idea what we were doing; there were all these techniques. While filming, I felt like ‘We don’t know what we are doing and it’s fucking awesome!’” Thotz exclaims. The pure bliss the band experienced while making the film is palpable while viewing it, and he hopes that making movie albums becomes a more common thing. “I really hope that other artists watch the movie and say, ‘Goddamn, that looks like it was a lot of fun to make!’”
Producing an album, novella and film concurrently was quite the undertaking, but Treasure Fleet persevered and the results were brilliant. To tie everything up in a nice little package, of course there is an overarching moral to the story. “From the time I started playing music, I ran into people who had one specific way that they completed a piece of the puzzle and that’s wrong; you can invent your own way to do it. Do it your way,” Thotz encourages. Find something you care about and do it however you want to do it. Ask around for advice but ultimately, “find your own way.”
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