Interview with Tag Cloud

Interview by Guillermo Pizarro

Tag Cloud was one of my first introductions into the DC Experimental Music scene. I grew fond of his first album “Named Entities” and got the chance to see him perform many times. With each performance he seemed to keep adding a subtle new element. I appreciated his focus to these subtleties, his sonic surgery allowed me to just let the sound take me away instead of visually focusing on the performance.

3 years later, Tag Cloud continues to inspire with this insight to his influences and process. I look forward to seeing where his sonic spelunking takes him. I think you’ll want to, too.

Let’s get the cliché question out of the way; how and when did you get your start in the wonderful world of experimental music? Were you always attracted to it, or did it just evolve to this stage?

It was a gradual process. I was always interested but got into it seriously later than a lot of my peers. Much of my education came from going to shows put on by Transparent Productions and the Electric Possible series here in DC in the 90s and oughts, and later on Sonic Circuits. The Circuits shows really made me want to do something of my own. I guess I spent a long time listening before I tried it. My thing was always going to be something experimental and drone oriented.

This is a kind of part II to the first question. I wasn’t around for all of Tag Cloud, if I remember correctly I came into the community around 2012. How did the early incarnation of Tag Cloud differ from your current work?

The early incarnation developed when I got a handheld recorder and started playing around with field
recordings. I didn't feel like it was the direction I wanted to go in, but it was an interesting exercise. There are a couple of recordings sitting around from then, but that's about it. It didn't click for me until I picked up some kit electronics and found the means to do what I really had in mind. Although, I'm still figuring that out, I never expected there would be a live element to it, but that turned out to be pretty enjoyable.

The first time I met you at Artomatic, I believe you might have been wearing an Earthride shirt or something doomy like that. Does Doom Metal or its more extreme cousins like Drone Metal and Funeral Doom play any role in shaping your sound? What are some of your other musical influences?

It probably was Earthride. I've seen them many times. It may not sound that much like it, but there is an influence of metal in there sometimes, in terms of tones and atmosphere at least.  As it evolves there's likely to be a little more. But, it's one component. I'm a huge fan of Pelt and Birchville Cat Motel, and I suppose I'm trying to find a space in that continuum. Flying Saucer Attack. Those three changed everything for me. Certainly krautrock, shoegaze, it's in there. I don't know that I would characterize what I do as straight noise music, but that's a definite influence. The scene in DC is important since it was so much of the inspiration for me to try it.

Outside of musical influences, what drives you?

Having a creative outlet is important, and there's a meditative and even a therapeutic aspect to this for me as well. I find collaborations really enjoyable. I've done quite a few in a short time: Lab Mice with Gary Rouzer; BLK TAG with James Adams and you, among others; Safe Fast & Effective with Dave Vosh and Keith Sinzinger; and a few more. I have a long way to go yet to get where I want to be, but that constant process of discovery is also something that keeps me going.

What are your main pieces of equipment that you use? Any particular additions you’d like to make?

The main components are the Drone Lab and Drone Commander, a couple of pieces of kit electronics with oscillators and various filters. Those get fed into a series of pedals. I also recently picked up an Arturia Microbrute. Nice little synth I'm still settling in with. Occasionally, I use an old Casio CZ-1000. And, every so often, the setup includes gongs, bowls, and/or shruti box. I would like a better harmonium one day. I got a cheap one that hasn't held up too well. I've looked into modular synths. It seems like it would be a logical progression.

What is your recording process like? Do you record at home?

Everything to date has been recorded and mixed in my living room, initially on a Tascam 8-track and now a Korg D3200 16-track. There is some additional editing/processing on my computer. I'm
entirely self-taught and working at it with each release. It's a somewhat limiting approach, recording at home, but I'm mostly happy with the results. I'm not at all opposed to a real studio/engineer at some point.

I envy that, and I have to say that you've done a great job. I've always enjoyed your recording quality. You show great restraint also, in that you don't over saturate the internet with recordings, despite having that at your fingertips. 

I’ve met some of the most interesting people with many different careers in the few years of doing this type of music. If you don’t mind my asking; what do you do for a living? (I’m pretty private myself and try not to reveal much about my personal life, so I understand if you prefer this not being out there).

I've worked in scientific publishing for 20+ years. I try and keep the two worlds separate. This can be hard to explain to coworkers with no frame of reference.

Very cool! It's definitely difficult. I try to keep the two worlds separate as well. They know I do something in "music," they're just not sure what. Some have asked for recordings or have asked to let them know when I'll be playing out. Maybe when the right event gets put together, I'll subject them to the wonder / horror. Maybe you and I should host an event meant only for unsuspecting family members and co-workers.

Are there any particular places you’d like to perform? Or if you could open up for anyone, who would it be?

The west coast would be cool. England, too. I've been fortunate to play some great places like An Die Musik in Baltimore and Goodbye Blue Monday (R.I.P.) in New York in a relatively short time but have not done anything that could be called touring yet. If I could open for anyone it'd be Pelt or Birchville Cat Motel.

I’m listening to 5-22-14 right now around the 16 minute mark. I just thought you’d like to know that the drone is synced up with blinking cursor.

Completely intentional. Glad you noticed.

You’ve recently released the wonderfully resonant “Overnight” cassette. In its own special way, I feel like this is one of the harsher releases that you’ve done. Especially in the title track, you sweep through some pretty high frequencies that just drill into your frontal cortex. Was this intentional? Head space wise, where were you?

Thanks. Agreed, the tape is a bit on the harsher, noisier side in places, though not entirely. I hesitated over this somewhat because it is a departure from the previous CDs. Much longer pieces, a little more demanding. I do think of "Candle" as being atmospheric in its own way. It's a single take, and the recording session was an intense experience. That and "5-22-14" were recorded during some rough times for my family. The other two tracks came a little later but are a product of pretty much the same mindset. I guess they are sort of unflinching in a lot of ways.

What’s next for Tag Cloud?

Proper album #3 some time. There are a couple more extended pieces in the works already that go in the direction of "Overnight" but are more "composed". Some shows outside DC again, maybe even a mini tour sometime. More collaborations with any luck.

Including our collaboration! Maybe that could be your soft exposure to a studio since I cannot seem to pull off DI recording like some of my other peers do. Looking forward to seeing where you go!

Anything you’d like to add?

Just thanks for the opportunity.

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