In about one month, Exploding In Sound records will be releasing a new split cassette, Private Split, from Mattress Financial and Fond Han, the respective solo projects of Two Inch Astronaut vocalist/guitarist Sam Rosenberg and New Brunswick-based Thomas Baumann of Neur/Hot Fang. Today, Fond Han is unleashing his contribution to the split, “Carrier,” to the world. A lo-fi grunge lullaby he recorded in his bedroom, Baumann has become a household name in the New Brunswick basement scene, a former resident of, and booker at, the now-defunct Alamo venue. We caught up with Rosenberg and Baumann about the split, which you can read below the stream.
Why solo projects now?
Baumann: I had been boiling down a stew of music last year in a life-sucking garage in New Brunswick. Mostly unfinished snake-pit-blues tunes with general vocal ideas, pretty much just spewing sickly vowel sounds between gulps of E&J. In August 2013, I cleaned up and moved to a farm near Princeton, where I started working with children again. I have always admired certain musicians’ ability to express challenge or pain with a neutral, observant tolerance. I could hear the same emotions without the croony stylistic bullshit I couldn’t avoid. Everything I have recorded in the past irritates me, like I want to tell the singer to shut up. I felt different about these new songs. I guess I had begun feeling more like a useful rag than an art school drama queen, and I wanted to make note of that with some recording. No time to work with others and explain everything, I just wanted it to be marked quickly, while it still felt real. My friend Matt Weiss also moved from New Brunswick to the farm house and wanted to record something in the new space. He had a bunch of gear, I had a batch of songs… ya mon.
Rosenberg: My primary musical bag is playing in Two Inch Astronaut, but I had a few songs that didn't quite fit the bill for that band. I amassed a small collection of these creepy little songs and thought it'd be fun to try and play most of the instruments on them. I'm attracted to things that are portable and practical, like a really good backpack, so I tried to write simple things that could stand on their own without much in the way of bells and whistles, or a capable bassist and drummer. I wasn't sure about releasing it, but Dan Goldin asked about it and I thought it'd be cool to do as a split with Tom because I instinctively trust him and I love his music. At the end of the day, playing with other people is more fun and far less stressful.
What's it like working in a more lo-fi setting than in previous work, as far as some of the opportunities and/or limitations it presents?
Baumann: It was a lot of fun. Lots of time for whacky tracking experiments that wouldn’t be used. The song “Carrier” actually had an entire fart beat box track (which I eventually replaced with drums). You can hear Matt and me laughing at the end of the song, which is from the end of the fart beat box track. It was one of the most painful laughs I can remember: tears, ab work out, snot…
Rosenberg: It wasn't entirely a conscious thing, I just wanted to give the recordings some character. Given the instrumentation of my side, if the production was all hi-fi, it might end up sounding (sonically at least) like Jack Johnson or some shit, which was not what I wanted. We ended up dirtying up a couple things to try and avoid the Dave Matthews Band end of the spectrum of acoustic guitar-based music. We recorded everything on the fly in different places, and I think that comes out in the recording in weird ways. We tracked in an office building, in my friend's room, and in the house I learned to play music in when I was a kid which had been put up for sale and had zero furniture.
How does it feel working with the Exploding in Sound fam?
Baumann: Since Dan sent me the EIS 2014 sampler cover graphic, and I saw “Fond Han” in that circle of band names, my gut has been smiling. Couldn’t be more grateful, or more excited. I love the bands, and for years have been deeply inspired by a few EIS musicians. So I am very happy.
Rosenberg: It's great, we're all very lucky. Dave and Dan are lovely guys and I really admire how fair they are about label stuff. They show everyone the same love and are endlessly supportive of every aspect of the bands. Also they're just good friends to have. Two Inch has played with all the label bands, but I'd love to play with them all again as many times as I can before I die. I would love to open for Nina Nastasia somehow, or Action Bronson.
Does the experience of solo work make you more introspective about songwriting? Describe the experience of writing and producing “Carrier.” More personal than some of your other songs?
Baumann: I’m hitting a big brick wall trying to answer this question. The writing process of “Carrier” was similar to an insect’s last few days on a spider web, or a pile of diarrhea behind a half-vacant strip mall that remained overlooked until it had solidified into a dry, fibrous pie, which no one would be able to identify as diarrhea. Lyrically, the song has three sections: the first represents a long painful challenge; the second wallows in the speaker’s accepted disposition; and the third shows gratitude toward a life-saving relationship. “Carrier” isn’t any more personal than other songs, just the kind of personal one would be more reluctant to explain.
What are your plans for after the cassette comes out?
Baumann: Heck, I’ve got a crockpot of wet, hot, sticky, bowel-rocking tunes to come. More focused in layerd percussion and subtle rhythmic mutation. I’ve been making Frankenstein drum kits at the farm, like a sheet-metal batter-head on a kick, gas tank Rasta racks and big old hard drive discs hammered into bells. I’ve also got this great new dog. She’s sleeping with her head on my foot right now. I really look forward to touring without much gear so I can bring her. She loves my new songs.
Rosenberg: We're recording a new Two Inch Astronaut full-length in May, which I'm excited about. I'm not sure what's next for Mattress Financial. There are more songs. I'll probably continue to experiment with stuff that I don't know how to do and stuff that makes me comfortable. Tom and I are going on tour in June and are going to play on one another's songs I think, which I'm really psyched about.