In Conversation with Stag Hare (August 2017)
Stag Hare has been the musical and visual project of Willow Skye-Biggs over the last 10 years. She just released her final album as Stag Hare, “Starlights Gloom”
, in May on Inner Islands. I, Sean of Inner Islands, have been talking with her over the last month through email about “Starlights Gloom”, the history of Stag Hare, and future projects.
What were you inspired by (both musically and otherwise) when you started the Stag Hare project and what are you feeling inspired by now, at the close of the project?
Well, in some ways things are similar in terms of inspiration - mainly non musical - which is kind of interesting considering how long it’s been. But in other ways I’m really in a different place now. As far as what I am listening to now vs then, almost no cross over in terms of actual playtime. In other ways I think that the sound in my head I attempt to translate into music, or the feelings I want to convey are in some ways the same deep down but quite different in the way they manifest is all.
When I was starting Stag Hare I was on a tail end of a lot of noise/freak folk obsession and listening to a lot more song based music, i.e. songs with a folk structure and lots of lyrics and such. And then also any “new age” music I could find, especially contemporary underground stuff. I definitely listened to a lot of Valet and White Rainbow and Lucky Dragons, which I think informed that sound more than anything else, but it was more in just giving me the confidence to do what I wanted with music when I wasn’t hearing a lot of anything else that was in a similar approach. I also just have always listened to a wide variety of music to try to always have context for what I’m doing in a larger picture - which sometimes can be overwhelming - but in hind sight a lot of my favorite music now I was not really fully aware of at that point in time. Midway through the project I would get really into Grateful Dead and then later shift into all the house and techno I am listening to now. I also was an avid Arthur Magazine reader and that sort of filled in the gaps for this vibe I was interested in. My biggest inspiration in some ways has always been movies though and I was just discovering a lot of foreign classics in that time period.
Lately I have been listening pretty heavily to lots of house and techno, deephouse, techhouse, deep tech, minimal tech, progressive house etc. And that I would say is a pretty major paradigm shift for my general approach to music as of now. Where I was more inspired by a psychedelic living room then, I’m more interested in the secular dance temple as a platform now.
In a lot of ways I feel like it’s all been this process of waking up out of a deep deep dream and getting closer to waking reality. A lot of what I wanted to do with music and where I imagined it being played and who was listening to it seemed like something I just imagined and was just some fantasy and after years of trying to find it for awhile I decided it probably didn’t exist. Now I’m just still aiming for the same things but I’ve found that there actually are lots and lots of places where people come together to experience sound in the way that I’ve always imagined, (so it wasn’t a fantasy, I was just looking in the wrong places and making some general assumptions) and so that world is definitely inspiring me a lot right now as I feel like I am sort of finding a new voice.
My deeper goals with music are still the same just different ways to translate it and attempt to reach more people in a meaningful way. I’m not going to overly define those goals though, I think people who know know.
I’m still obsessed with the forest and land in general, but also letting a few more people into that world now, and expanding territories so right now I’m working in a mindset of forest green to black swamp zones.
I guess I could say I feel like Stag Hare was more about bringing myself into a deeper place and stillness and centeredness, and calm a lot of anxiety, and right now I’m interested in movement and empowerment. Expanding the headspace sound into a full body sound.
Do you feel like the pieces on Starlights Gloom are closer to those aims of movement and empowerment?
I feel like Starlight Gloom is maybe about as far as it is going to be explored with Stag Hare….. but also, that’s kind of still its own thing, so I’m not sure whether I think so or not?? Maybe some tones of that yes, but overall maybe not….
Do you feel like it was significant at all to pull fragments from previous Stag Hare work to create Starlights Gloom, as it’s meant to be the final album? Like a summation of sorts. Or was that simply just a method to create some new work?
Well, honestly at the time I started working with that method I wasn’t conceiving it to be the final stag hare album specifically, although I suppose it kind of did feel like that. It wasn’t particularly conscious though, no. It does seem like it works out well though. At the time I was just thinking about music made out of samples and realizing I had more than enough material to do that while just sampling my own material… And also just not feeling inspired to record any new sounds but wanting to put tracks together, basically.
At what point did you realize that the guitar drone was going to be a staple in every Stag Hare piece?
The whole project basically started out of the concept of using guitar as a minimal sound generating device rather than as an instrument to “play” notes or melodies on. At the time I wasn’t very experienced at the guitar on general and was just fascinated by that idea and mainly by the feeling I’d get getting lost in the sound I was coming up with running my guitar through a digitech digidelay pedal. After that it just slowly shaped out that anytime I tried to create a track that wasn’t built around that drone centerpiece is didn’t feel like a stag hare song. And eventually it just solidified into the general concept that the whole project was just one long guitar drone with various ways to decorate on and around it.
Do you think you’ll return to drone-based work at all post-Stag Hare? I know it’s a long life… but do you have a sense from your current vantage point?
Oh I fully expect to make more drone/ambient based music for sure. Not sure about using the guitar in quite that same way anytime soon, but certainly not closed to that. I just know I don’t want to use that as much or rely on that consistent element. I’m really not sure exactly what this will all sound like but regardless that type of music will always be really close to my heart and meaningful to me and I still am not satisfied with everything I’ve done in that particular medium yet I don’t think.
Speaking of mediums, after doing Tastes Like Mandy
do you think you’ll want to get into more installation work?
Absolutely yes. I completely loved that process and have always been very interested in more visual mediums, and specifically the interaction between visual and sound as in Tastes Like Mandy. I have plans to do related installations in the future, as well as standalone sculptural work and am also starting the process for my first short film/video project hopefully taking off this fall! I keep meaning to make music take a backseat to focus on other projects but somehow I keep getting sucked into music again! This is literally what I’ve been doing for the last ten years, music was always just something for me to work on “right now” while preparing for other projects but apparently “right now” is still now….. haha
Was the "Imago" video your first video work to get released? How do you feel about that piece at this point?
I believe that was my first official video release? And still the only thing I’ve released that’s involved as much work as that did as well. I was really happy with how it turned out, and still think it was a good exercise for me in translating ideas visually…. I was always on the fence about doing too many videos for stag hare though, so I still have mixed feelings about that. Honestly, non creatively speaking, it’s kind of not something I enjoy watching at this point as it was made during a pretty painful time in my life and has a lot of heavy reminders in that regard…. But, I suppose that’s what happens when you continue to make art throughout life and inevitabley will have those kinds of moments.
How and when do you listen to music? What do you focus on (or not focus on)?
It seems like I have different levels of music listening. I listen while I’m doing things, like driving, cooking, reading, and then I have focused listening when I am only listening to music, usually with headphones but not always. I’ve lately been in my car a lot so listening to a lot of music in that environment, which I like because it is a sort of enclosed little space and you can get really engulfed in the sound while still keeping pretty much to yourself. My favorite way to listen lately would be at an all night event of some sort, with well tuned high quality speakers with decent low end playing good sounds for hours on end. It feels very satisfying and therapeutic right now to be able to really feel the sound physically and be surrounded by the music.
Regardless, if there’s music on I have to be listening to it and am automatically dissecting it in some way or another. Sometimes at a restaurant I have trouble hearing what people are saying because I can’t not focus on the music. In a way it’s rather obnoxious. But I seem to be just wired that way or something. So when I am not specifically interested in listening to music (generally a specific type of music depending on my mood) I don’t want to listen to anything at all. I’d rather listen to no music than music I don’t want to listen to. But, that said, if someone else is choosing music, I usually love that. It’s easier for me to relax and passively listen that way - although I will still be analyzing. It feels like someone doing the dishes for me or something.
When you make music do you try to acknowledge the different levels of listening that you find in your own listening habits and dialogue with those? Do you try to imagine other people’s listening habits?
Oh yes, this is something I think about quite a lot. I like to be as intentional as possible with what type of music I’m making and what type of listening state and system people will be listening on. But, I’ve found it’s not always useful to try to imagine what other people are going to do or not do, so I tend to just use myself as a reference point, beyond determining the intended function of a track. If it’s an intimate headphone album or something designed for live speaker systems, or what. Inevitably a lot of music will be heard on laptop speakers, phone speakers, and shitty apple earbuds as well which is something I also keep in mind. I like to have a track translate hopefully to different systems and still put across the essence of a track, although I will say sometimes you can’t do that. I want to be able to be more specific and nuanced with my mixes sometimes, and combined with doing a lot of work that is not melody based or doesn’t have a lot of focal elements going on in the mid range zone that comes thru laptop speakers sometimes it’s just a loss.
Is your newer (unreleased) work more focused on bigger sound systems where that nuance can really be felt? And how are your new productions going, in a more general sense? What can we look forward to from you and your work?
For the most part yes, I am finding myself splitting tracks into headphone/home listening and live sound systems with the latter being my primary focus at the moment. Particularly there is a certain environment I’m interested in producing for, not really a club, and not really a “main stage” kind of vibe but something like what I experienced playing at the Lunar Transit festival here in Utah this Summer. A space where things can balance between music to sit on piles of pillows to, or music to dance to essentially. I’ve been testing out new things out when I dj to see what’s working and what isn’t, for the most part I’m pretty happy with how things are developing. I have a lot of different things I want to express and put out there, so it’s mostly a matter of organizing all of that and working on being more specific as well as finding the right context where what I’m doing will sit well. I’m planning a series of digital releases to come out by the end of the year, mostly singles and working up to some EP’s. After that we will see…. I have a tentative plan to do a full album intended more for home listening and probably fitting closer to the Stag Hare sound within the year, but I feel like I need to get some other stuff out there first. From there I really have no idea what shape things will take, my goal is to just try to stay in touch with the creative energy and follow that where it goes…