The unexpected success of Perry, Ga.'s Washed Out in 2010 showed that living with your parents, recording on your laptop, and blogging could be a viable alternative to gigging at dimly lit dive bars every weekend. Washed Out rode last year's sound du jour, chillwave, to success, and now a new wave of young, Georgia-based musicians are following that bedroom-to-blog path in their own ways. The duo Featureless Ghost has set up a home studio packed with keyboards and drum machines to create nostalgic, electro vibes, while Time Wharp's Patrick Loggins, who splits his time between Marietta and Boston, uses little more than a laptop to create dense, jazz-inflected beats. Nico Giarrano of Places has clearly taken a cue from Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox's bedroom recordings, laying guitars and drums into warm songs that range from melancholic tunes to garage jams. New Animal exploits the freedoms of home recording with odd combinations of accordion, hand percussion, horns, and other instruments to create songs that gesture toward the fractured pop-stylings of Brian Wilson or Animal Collective.
Attention from music blogs and sites such as Bandcamp.com have given the groups a freedom to seek out musical communities tied less to geography and more to sound, a shift that could change the way we think of local music. We caught up with the artists in their home studios and bedrooms to see how those places were shaping their processes as musicians.
Listen to Time Wharp "clstrphlia"
Patrick Loggins is sitting on the painted-white porch of his parent's house in Marietta. To the side of the Atlanta-born, whip-thin 20-year-old sits a silver laptop that almost entirely comprises Loggins' recording setup for Time Wharp. Loggins splits his time between Atlanta and Boston, where he is studying music production at Berklee College of Music. His most recent album, later., highlights a fascination with jazz rhythms as much as his ability to navigate the outer limits of electronic music. He is visibly tired at noon, still worn out from recording a track late the previous night. He picks up a freshly packed bowl and lighter, and politely asks, "Do you mind?" before he takes the first hit.
I don't really record anywhere. I embrace the aesthetic of not going into a studio and having a perfect recording every time. If I'm recording in like a bathroom or something, it's because I like the sound of the bathroom. I have all these different sounds, different fidelities and different ambiences. I can just do it wherever.
Most people always start with a beat, but it doesn't really happen that way with me. The way the tracks end up forming themselves, it's like the demo is the final version is the live version all at once. The sounds can come from wherever. Sometimes I'll have a mic and record it into there and sometimes it'll be a sample from something, like, a song or a movie or whatever.
It's different every time. It always happens in the moment and as soon as it's done, I can't really remember how I did it. It's like a zone and if I'm not in the zone, then there's not even any point in working. Whenever I'm in the zone, I try to think about the zone after I was in the zone and I can't remember how I got in the zone.
When I started making this music, about a year and a half ago, I couldn't think of any peers in the area. I made more contacts in the Atlanta electronic music scene after I left, through the Internet — the whole Peace Age [blog] crew, like C Powers, CH-Rom, Featureless Ghost.
Sometimes I work until four or five in the morning. At that point, you're totally open to your improvisational mistakes. It won't be until I'm so tired that I'm practically hallucinating that I'll mess something up and that will be the spark that finishes the song.
I'm just trying to find other ways to hit buttons and make them do different things than what I'm just doing every day. That's all I really do, is hit buttons.
Listen to Places "Black Lion"
Nico Giarrano records in the loft space of a ramshackle barn behind his parent's house in Marietta. His mother's antique furniture collection surrounds his guitars, drums and other instruments. Mannequins, lamps, picture frames and other decorative objects are scattered around. The jumbled furnishings collected here resemble his scatter-brained but promising full-length, March. The fresh-faced and earnest 20-year-old explains that after playing drums for most of his life, he taught himself to play guitar in the seclusion of this loft.
My brother had bought a bunch of recording equipment and, whenever he was gone, I just started messing with it. At first, I was bad at guitar, I mean really bad. I learned how to play by recording myself and then playing over it.
I would record two chords — everybody knows chords — and then just start messing around. You kinda get a feel for what notes work with what. If someone would come out here, like Dad would work on the computer or my brother would come out, I would just stop. I wouldn't play in front of them. Especially with someone like your parents, it doesn't really matter. They're not going to judge you, but I would be so scared to be bad. Being by myself and alone out here helped.
I still can't track vocals with anyone around. When I record, it's such an improvisational thing that it sounds awful the first few takes.
I really just love when music is simple and pretty. The most surprising songs or melodies are the ones that seem like you've heard them before or that you could have come up with. For almost all of my songs that's where the inclination is leaning — a desire to listen to something pretty.
Listen to New Animal "When They Come"
Alpharetta natives Kris Hermstad and Derek Burdette have been playing music as New Animal for about a year, though they've known each other since childhood. They moved to a house in Kirkwood not long ago and promptly filled the place with dogs, beat-up couches and the lingering smell of smoke. Upstairs, they've packed a tiny room full of guitars, electronics, an organ, hand percussion, an accordion, and the plan to play as loud and as often as possible. Their recent EP, Up!, shows the band maturing from a scattered, uneven approach into a focused, melodic sound, even if they don't want to grow up.
Derek Burdette: We recorded our whole album in our last apartment. The neighbor would always complain, "They're making music again!" We were pretty loud, all day sometimes. We'd be working on a song [wails in faux-passion] from 10 o'clock in the morning until 8 at night. But [our neighbor] never got physical about it. It was always passive-aggressive.
Kris Hermstad: It wasn't like we were starting a band, at first. It was just, "Let's just record music because we live together and we love playing music." Our songs are kind of different styles and we started off — I'd record my song and he'd record his. And then we realized we should just start a band and release it under the same name.
DB: Then it was like, "How are we going to play that live?" All the different sounds, the maracas and tambourines, we use a lot of the melodica, accordion. And if I had like tubas and shit, I'd use that, too.
KH: It's like, not having any rules.
DB: All of it started from recording, from putting stuff on each other's tracks. If you go on our YouTube account, you can see in order the songs we've recorded together.
KH: It's like instant feedback. "Ten views!"
DB: That's why we released our last one, Up!, because we were like, "We need feedback. We're dying."
KH: There's a void and you need it to be — you have to figure out new ways to keep it interesting. People are really quick with the blogs, they're always on to new stuff.
Listen to Featureless Ghost "Featureless Ghost (Virtual Night)"
Elise Tippins and Matt Weiner have been dating since 2003, which means that the 23- and 25-year-old musicians were just teenagers when they met. In conversation, they have that cute manner of couples that finish one another's sentences and seem to share parts of each other's brains. If that sounds a bit like science fiction, it should. Featureless Ghost is steeped in the retro-futurism of movies such as Blade Runner or William Gibson novels. After attending the New School and NYU, respectively, in New York, Tippins and Weiner moved last year into a house in East Atlanta where they're surrounded by electronic equipment, keyboards and wires.
Elise Tippins: The surroundings [in New York] were like living in a soundscape. I lived across from a steel factory. We'd dangle a microphone out and record it.
Matt Weiner: Not being able to play drums in an apartment in New York, you know, without everyone in the building hating me, sort of forced me to find other outlets. Field recordings, sampling, just taking guitar pedals and using them for other stuff.
ET: Our setup was a little different in New York, we had a roommate who had other stuff.
MW: And we didn't have as much stuff as we have now. It changes every few months. One way to keep it fresh for us is to constantly try new stuff out: buy something, use it for a while, sell it, buy something else.
ET: We were dealing with the atmosphere of the city and the human interactions that were very, like, closed off — the isolated in a crowd type thing.
MW: The songs all sort of deal, in some abstract sense, with living in a body versus having an online presence.
ET: Or a spirit presence.
MW: It's all synthetic and electronic, so that lends itself to that. ... Our mind-set is similar enough that it's almost like working with one person.
ET: [Laughs] We have a linked mind-body.