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VMP Rising: altopalo

On April 14, 2020

VMP Rising is our series where we partner with up-and-coming artists to press their music to vinyl and highlight artists we think are going to be the Next Big Thing. Today, we’re featuring farawayfromeveryoneyouknow, the latest LP from New York quartet altopalo.

“I want to be very clear. There was no conquering in this band. There's only struggling and the vocalization of that struggle,” Rahm Silverglade, lead vocalist of altopalo quipped when I asked the band about an excerpt I’d read that their latest album was all about “facing fear head on.”

Speaking of fear, the Brooklyn four-piece is currently scattered across the country, so we all sat in our designated quarantine spaces, keeping safe from the pandemic as we round robin questions and answers.

Silverglade is in Indiana, where much of their latest album farawayfromeveryoneyouknow was recorded, wishing it was possible to share a mug of mate with the group virtually while joking, “That's the only drawback of digital life right now, that they haven't found a way we can share food digitally, like, fuck the real world.”

Guitarist Mike Haldeman is in South Carolina, reveling in the fact that he’s finally made it past day 14 of self-quarantine and can hug his parents. Bassist Jesse Bielenberg and drummer Dillon Treacy are at their homes in Brooklyn, balancing different levels of objectiveness and optimism regarding the current situation, though Treacy has apparently been pretty buoyant about it.

farawayfromeveryoneyouknow is the band’s second studio album following their debut frozenthere in 2018 and their EP noneofuscared in 2015. Their sound has been described as atmospheric, ethereal, woozy ambient rock, and punctuated with terms like “experimental” to describe the spontaneity of sound they generate in the studio. Those descriptors can leave you thinking that the music might feel overly pedantic or perhaps pretentious, however, much like the banter and quick wit between them, their employed improvisation doesn’t feel contrived at all. They aren’t taking themselves too seriously but the musicianship needed to generate a fully realized song using whatever in the room is capable of making sound isn’t something a novice could just conjure up. What results is an auditory experience that’s both enjoyable and studied, equally erudite and playful.

Exhibit A: the creation story behind the album’s lead single, “am i am.” Haldeman threaded a playing card between his guitar strings while playing chords. Bielenberg found a USB-outfitted Nintendo 64 controller in the trash and programmed it to trigger destroyed drum sounds.

“Things tend to start with one person noodling and doodling and then someone else being like ‘Aye yo, record that,’ and then we record it and either start working on it then or kind of dog ear for work later,” Haldeman shared regarding the track. “We have a growing mass of dog-eared things that we call germinals that are compelling little nuggets of ideas that are either generated by one person or in-a-group improvisation. It's usually a sound or a moment that everyone's really grabbed by, and then that serves as the seed for the song. So ‘am i am’ really started with the thrash-y program drum thing and this guitar thing I was playing one day in the studio and then the whole thing kind of bloomed from there.”

Much like their creative process, their second album manifested organically. “Part of our friendship is making music but also catching up with one another, feeling out where everybody's at in life,” Haldeman said. “Just getting inside of each other's heads and learning where our brain, heart, worlds are at. Music is the epiphenomenon that arises from all of us, like peeling out where everyone's at respectively.”

The natural progression of their latest LP goes as follows: They decided to release “mud” and “letdown” into the world, not because they were planning on a record roll out, but simply because those songs were ready to share. Next, they did what they do, bloom songs from ideas, and as those creations began to tally up, they came upon the realization that when sequenced together each individual song amalgamated into a cohesive body of work. Voila, farawayfromeveryoneyouknow was born.

I took a moment to apologize in advance for such a banal question before bringing it to the group, but I had to know, was it coincidence or clairvoyance that motivated the band to name a compilation of tracks that started germinating in 2018 farawayfromeveryoneyouknow and then release said album amid a global lock down?

"It's kind of a misheard lyric from one of the songs,” Bielenberg explained. “The lyric in the song is ‘far away from everyone you owe’ but it was kind of fun to just give it a small twist and edit. But, it's kind of the same world as feeling in between places or in between people or in a distant and ambiguous space, where you're feeling a little bit lost but a little bit clear because your attention [is] heightened.”

“We also should probably tell you that we're actually time travelers,” Treacy added evenly. “So we're actually from this time zone, and we went back and realized that this is what we should call the album ’cause it just seemed appropriate. But just, you know, you don't have to put that in the interview.”

The pandemic has put the band’s first headline tour on pause, and they’re pontificating on jumping on the livestream bandwagon to keep the connection with their fans kindled, though they admit those live streams might digress into videos of them playing dominos and Settlers of Catan, both important aspects of their creative process.

“It's the same process where we record shit and you don't have a lot of equipment that you need and you just figure out ways to make it work.” Treacy shared in reflection of the current limitations challenging the band. “This is one of those situations as well, which I think we're all very used to in the way that we record our music and perform, it's using your limitations to the best of your ability and I think this is the exact situation where that should come into place.”

Outside of their propensity for creation under limitation, the band’s ability to embrace the full range of emotion that comes with the human experience has primed them for this new normal, and, lucky for listeners, it has bled its way into the ethos of their music as well.

“I just hope that everybody comes away from it, not necessarily like 100 percent positive, but very much so aware that they can feel a lot of things including sadness, joy, and be content and OK with it,” Treacy said when asked what message he hopes listeners receive from the album.

Bielenberg shared a similar sentiment, relaying, “You can feel really bad and bummed out and that sucks, but feeling something is what you gotta stay alive for. That's the thing that humanity is, the ability to feel the ups and feel the downs. It's all just stupid and meaningless so you gotta find something that you care about."

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Erica Campbell

Erica Campbell is a southern preacher's daughter, self-proclaimed fangirl, and post-punk revival devotee with way too much spirit for a girl of her circumstance. She takes her coffee black, bourbon straight, and music live.

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