What do Typhoon, Genders, Sunbathe, and Tea For Julie all have in common? They’re all (at least partially) in Risley. That’s right — folks from those acts (and a few others) were all involved in the making of Michael Deresh’s latest project which goes by the name of Risley. You may know Deresh from many things: he was one of the founding members of PDX Pop Now, he runs Lamplight Recording (where Genders recorded the wonderful Get Lost), he was in Tea For Julie, and I’m sure he does other stuff on top of that, like… oh, I don’t know, how about RECORDING 138 FUCKING SONGS over the past few years.
Yes. That’s not a typo. The self-titled Risley debut that’s coming on February 26, started as 138 songs, recorded over the course of some odd years with members from a handful of Portland acts. The final product: a 22 track journey that sufficiently achieves Deresh’s desire of “boundless musical adventure”. For more, check out our interview with Michael and the album preview below. And of course, don’t miss Risley w/ Sunbathe and Fog Father this Wednesday, 2/10 at Mississippi Studios.
N&C: In your recordings you collaborated with a long list of talented musicians from various noteworthy acts. Tell me a bit about the process of assembling the live band.
Michael Deresh: Well, the live band (as of now) is an assemblage of those who were involved in the recording process and have the availability for it, and one new addition. It’ll be a slightly fluid thing going forward, I’m sure.
For example, we’ll be playing with Sunbathe at the release show. Maggie [Morris of Sunbathe] is available and will be joining us for her parts on stage that night. She plays in 3 bands. She might often be busy or even on tour for future shows? Matt Hall (Genders and Paper Brain) will be playing. My old band mate from Tea for Julie, Travis [Stanek], will be playing. Aaron Landreth and Dan Schuman (Support Force) will also be onboard. We’ll have to see going forward. I’ve seen Broken Social Scene a few times over the years and the cast does vary. We might be looking at that sort of scenario?
How fluid was the songwriting process with so many individuals involved? Were others bringing ideas to the table or was it mostly you bringing ideas to others to build on?
Gosh, there were a lot of paths leading to the songs. Certainly, a good portion of the material started with me and then friends sprinkled their magic on [the songs]. A number of songs were ideas that Travis brought in, that I then flushed out and turned into full arrangements. Then there were other surprises that grew out of recording session happenstances.
For example, Matt would be in tracking some bass parts, and I’d hear him noodling or playing some cool bass line and ask, “What’s that?!?” excitedly. He’d say “Ah, nothing. I just made it up”. The next thing you know, we’d be recording it. He’d come back a month later, and I’d be playing him a fully realized song that had grown out of it. In some cases, I’d even have one of his band mates come and lay down parts for them as well as myself and other friends.
I really enjoy playing producer/arranger. Sometimes, you can just hear in your head who would be the best pinch-hitter for a song. There were definitely a batch of songs that were just made for Alex [Fitch] (of Typhoon) to drum on, for example.
You started with a collection of 138 songs recorded over several years. How did you go about whittling that down?
Actually, I was a total disaster to the end about it. In this realm, decisiveness is not my strong suit. I wanted them all to be heard. It was like choosing between my children, so I ended up enlisting the ears of others.
I painstakingly narrowed the bunch down to 35 or so and then handed them off to people whose taste I trusted: Jeremy Peterson (OPBMusic, XRAY.FM), Dave Cusick (OPBMusic, KPSU, That Sound), Stephen Leisy (Genders), Jeremy Downing (Three Imaginary Girls), and 6 other friends. They were kind enough to spend the time listening, considering and documenting their feedback.
I had initially anticipated a smaller end result than the 22 tracks we ended with, but there wasn’t such a clear consensus. It was helpful enough to shave off 13 and save a few songs that I was ready to let go of.
So 116 tracks were cut, but 22 remained making for what’s still a very long album. Was there ever any thought to release multiple albums over time, or was the goal to build up as much material as possible?
The goal was most definitely NOT to build up this much material! 22 tracks is a far longer album than I’d advise anyone to release. It’s too much to ask of a listener. Perhaps, in the day and age of playlists and shuffling though, only the people who really connect with a band are delving deep enough to listen to entire albums anymore. For those exceptions, the more the better? I have to hope so.
Initially, the idea of multiple albums was the goal. Unfortunately, there are two realities that made that pretty unrealistic. The first is obviously financial. There’s a massive cost to properly getting an album out into the world. The second is time. By the time it would appropriate to release more material, there would surely be newer songs that we’d be more excited about.
Unfortunately or fortunately, there was a creative faucet running over the last several years. We could never seem to catch up with the volume of material coming out or seem to stop ourselves from creating more. I understand now why the Beatles famously decided to stop touring and holed up in the studio those years to mine their potential. Believe it or not, doing it again sounds appealing.
It seems a bit overwhelming to try and weave a consistent thread through 22 tracks — was there ever an overarching theme? Or was that sort of decided when paring down/arranging the track list?
There was never a consistent thread or theme to the body of work. There are just so many sides of me and so many things I love musically, that the only rule was no rules. I wanted boundless musical adventure. I can’t speak for anyone else on that, but it was important to me this time around.
The whole process was very self-indulgent in its lack of scope or focus. Each song was its own world. That did make choosing songs and sequencing the album challenging, but I’m glad we didn’t compromise. The input that we received from our aforementioned listening team did help inform the sequencing. Some of my favorite tracks are buried deep toward the end of the album, but that made sense.
Do you have a plan for the leftover 116 tracks that didn’t make the album? B-side releases, TBD, or scrapped? Hopefully we’ll get to hear some of that in the future!
As of now, there’s no plan for all of those songs. I hate the thought of them never seeing the light or being heard, but it’s quite possible. Who knows? If we’re lucky enough that there’s actually enough interest at some point…. For now, they’re safe and sound. =)
Look for Risley’s self-titled debut, out February 26, 2016. Catch them live 2/10 at Mississippi Studios with Sunbathe and Fog Father.
[Editor’s note: This interview was lightly edited for clarity.]