The sound of analog: New Yorks Whispering Olympians talk about getting bullied by some hippie bitch, Egyptian gals and the smell of vinyl

whisperingolympians
Folks who love bands like The Shout Out Louds, Polock or Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin should pay attention to this limited 12-Inch called „Scrimmage Shark EP“ by the US Indiefolk duo Whispering Olympians, that was released on Jan. 1st.

 It´s Domenic Maltempi and William Olsen from the Hudson Valley region of New York who produced and recorded this 5-song-EP brimful of slacker-cool guitars and soft electronica. On this 300 copies limited heavy black patter Whispering Olympians play diverse Indiefolk that´s going straight to your heart. Listeners will sense the sympatico odour of Stephen Malkmus tickling their noses whenever they´ll give listen to these songs. What a pleasure to meet Domenic Maltempi for an interview at the Barbés Jazzbar in Brooklyn:

LJOE: First of all let me congratulate you guys with your 1st release on vinyl and in general. A lot of musicians told me that it was a magical moment when they opened their freshly pressed vinyl at home and were too nervous to place the needle on the record, fearing they would damage it. So they scratched the needle over the record before it started to play. Did you have a similar experience?

Domenic Maltempi: Thanks so much Bjoern. I’m enjoying the blog, and Whispering Olympians are happy to have our first interview appear on a German blog, if for no other reason then that the album art started off with an interest I had in a 1967 West German postage stamp.  If one looks at the finished album cover, you can guess at its peregrinations to its current form. That part of the process of assembling this EP was the most magical moment for me— seeing the jackets come together. I suppose because I was more involved in that phase of  bringing the material to life in this object, and it’s little black round grooved baby inside. My band-mate William Olsen was much more integral in handling aspects of the vinyl record itself.  Don’t get me wrong. Seeing that beautiful heavy black platter with band images/names in that center cut–when you first pull it out of its sheath all scintillating is an emotional experience, and yeah, maybe I did feel a bit on edge, junkity-fingered dropping that needle for a virginal ride around the neighborhoods of these tunes.

 LJOE: We´re glad that Vinyl is celebrating its comeback. Even fashion stores like Urban Outfitters are selling vinyl next to their collections. Also a lot of people think that vinyl just sounds better when you play it. Agreed?
 
 

stamp

a 1967 West German stamp was the inspiration for the artwork

DM: I remember back in late 90’s reading that it was then the only musical format increasing it’s unit sales. I think vinyl will always have lovers. I think it will survive many other mediums. It will also always have a market. For me, they were the first ways I experienced music. The first music I ever bought was a 7inch recording of a theme song from an American show “ The Greatest American Hero,“ about some goofy-ass blond-afro guy who was a real shitty super-hero, but sort of ‚helpful‘ in a rude, or tripping, stumbly-bumbly way. If you listened to punk music, or home-made/unlabeled music back then—that was just it’s format, so you fell in with it like the friend who wasn’t a friend before you were both bullied in a sandbox by some hippie bitch in the fourth grade with psychedelic braids and a gnarly lisp.

 
 Provided that one takes care of their record, yes, it will sound better. An analog medium sounds more there-there to me. There’s something less draining or wearily demanding from listening to a record over it’s digital counterpart. It’s certainly not as convenient. There are more important things then the medium: mastering, speakers, room you’re playing it in–for example. There are more senses at work: the smell of the album cover, that light touch of lowering the tone arm into the groove you mentioned above, the sight of the stroboscope indicating the precise turntable speed. It’s a hell of a lot more visceral. It’s a fuller experience, in a more privileged world where we seem to concede a fuller experience for conveniences that cozen you out of a lot of what you don’t even get a chance to know you enjoy! I think the differences have become more and more marginal as far as quality of sound is concerned, but I still hold with vinyl in that old chestnut of a debate.

LJOE: The sounds on your record are very congenial, slacker-cool and relaxed. You sound more like an upstate band (in a positive way!) than a stressed band from New York that has to survive. Where do you take your calmness from? 

DM: Oh Christ, if only I were! I do consider myself a congenial sort, but hardly cool or relaxed most of the time. I’m a  bit of a mess. Sometimes when I really lock into music—dancing or just swaying in a fixed mono-purposed way—I become super-calm—slacking into my messiness with aplomb and great cheer! I’m a bit of a spazz, less of a slacker than I was, but a bigger spazz now! I’m that slightly wet cigarette you can’t light up 2 AM—found it in some ratty blazer in a forgotten closet after your body sickened of it’s sleeplessness and needed to sit on a porch and smoke. But you couldn’t light it up, and paced, and talked to your lighter, and cursed the porch creatures, and cursed the….. OK, maybe I’m being a little hard on myself, yeah I can be sort of relaxed in my own way. Will Olsen on the other hand—-and you can just hear it reproduce itself when you listen to these sick hypnotic baritone lines on our album. He’s got that unlocked house away from the city sort of spirit running in him. So measured and calm, and just there—- knows a hell of a lot about hydrology, and wood and a bunch of other things along those lines as well!  I’ve spent a lot of time in upstate, NY—during some many important times in my life. It’s a big part of me, and I do think that creating these songs, getting their lives going–up in the Capitol Region of NY– in Will’s house— is an important component to it’s sound.

LJOE: In an earlier interview you said that you´re living „a little too close to your hometown New York“. What does that mean? Can you find connections from this quote in the music that you do with William Olsen?

The Whispering Olympians

The Whispering Olympians

DM: I was probably talking about wanderlust and then thought of wanting to leave New York, which I have before, and always think about, but it’s terribly impractical for me. I achieve satisfying this wanderlust most deeply from music and movement inspired by music in a residual way and directly, then by– say—traveling. I guess people underestimate how sound helps them wander out of their usual mental meanderings and physical every-day places.  But yes, I’m from New York, and not living too far from where I grew up, and that certainly contributes to a tension caused from being too close to what you’re overly-familiar with. It might spring up in a lyric, or way of delivering a line, or in tempo.

LJOE: By the way, Vinyl sells good on tours. Will the Whispering Olympians play some shows? 

DM: Yes. I’m not sure if we will be in Germany any time soon. That would be cool. Set it up. Let’s do it. I’ll drive the helicopter over Europe with a parakeet on my shoulder! But yeah— we are working towards having enough quality material to play a few shows in and around our area come spring. Hopefully we will have a release in upstate and city of New York, and radiate out from there.

LJOE: Let´s talk a bit more about New York. I guess there is no town in the world that might host more musicians in one city—especially in places like Williamsburg, that where everyone seems to be in a band. Do these circumstances make it easy to play shows and aggregate a pro-music audience?

 DM: There are many musicians and bands out there in the area you mention of course. Perhaps friendly competition and the opportunity to be in a roiling pot of a lot of new sounds and bands will improve the quality of some acts.Of course there are far more ‚life-style‘ bohemians out-there using music as a sort of accessory to their collected or acquired coolness—-where living in the verges of ‚X‘ means ‚Y,‘ and showing up at gig ‚B‘ renders them ‚C‘—-or something. We have before, and maybe even more so now—you have to ignore a lot of uninspiring or bad bands while searching for one that you might connect to. There’s a lot of bullshit in the way. I enjoy seeing a lot of emerging bands, and I certainly hope that more and more people come out to see live music, and interact with other lovers of music, playing or listening. It’s fantastic to share these experiences with people through music, and build from them as an artist, or just as plain ole‘ person.

LJOE: What about the girls? Do they roll their eyes when you mention that you also play in a band or do they still think its cool 🙂 ?

DM: Oh god, about them? I don’t know! Good question. I get mostly half-rolled eyes, if much a response. But it depends of course. I’m in my 30’s, and I will get a lot of  ‚that’s nice.‘  There will always be those girls who think it’s cool that you pursue and take on what you love, and didn’t become your dad after pretending to be everything he wasn’t (assuming your dad was sort of lame.) I don’t know, maybe golf and anarchist entrepreneurialism is hotter right now–or something worse. There will always be something romantic about being in a band, or falling in with a sound from a band. Moses was in a band in Egypt I think—before he moved, and he was considered quite cool by those Egyptian gals and their sexy helmets.

LJOE: So what New York indie-band can you recommend to us and our readers in Europe?

DM: The Crystal Stilts are pretty cool. Caged Animals— I have a weakness for Twin Sister—Long Island band. I’m probably forgetting so many. I don’t listen to a lot of indie-stuff—as loose of a label as we both know that is.

LJOE: Domenic, thank you so much for your time and all the best to you, William and the Whispering Olympians!

DM: Thanks you so much for writing to me about music and our band. 

If anyone would like to check us out, please visit here http://whisperingolympians.bandcamp.com/

I will write a story of no less than 500 words for whoever wants one on whatever topic you choose, and stick it in the album. Just refer to this blog when you order! Albums come with free digital downloads. 

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About the author

Bjoern Hering lebt seit über 30 Jahren in Dortmund, aufgewachsen zwischen Graffiti, schwitzigen Konzerten und haufenweise Instrumentenkabeln. Bjoern liebt das Reisen und das Entdecken von Vergänglichem inmitten von hektischem Großstadttreiben. Auf seinem Blog Last Junkies On Earth dokumentiert er das Treiben seiner Stadt.

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