Blood: A Look Inside REIGHNBEAU’s New Album

Posted by on March 19, 2015

When I called Bryce Fletcher Hample of REIGHNBEAU, he was in his Albuquerque studio, painting. The musician was preparing for a show exhibiting seven of his newest paintings at The Harwood Art Center alongside a handful of other New Mexico-based visual artists. Hample’s career as a visual artist is perhaps a little known fact in the music community, but is unsurprising given the delicate and yet diagrammatic quality of his visual work – two qualities which also aptly describe Hample’s recordings as REIGHNBEAU.

Bryce portrait

exhibition reighnbeau

On March 20th, Hample has yet another opening, but this one for his latest album, Blood. Performing alongside friend and collaborator Shey Mertz of BK Beats, as well as GLOWHOUSE and 1960s Sci-Fi Era, Hample will give a free copy of the album to everyone who purchases a ticket to the show, hosted by Sister in downtown Albuquerque. The new album features the dreamy “Milk of Amnesia,” which Hample released as a single, along with a music video, in September of last year. The track showed a departure from the more ensemble-based shoegaze of previous releases like HANDS or his contribution to Family Time Records’ 4 way split 7″, while remaining faithful to REIGHNBEAU’s skillful transformation of his own field-recordings into programmed drum kits.

All in all, Blood promises to show off Hample’s ever-diversifying range as an artist, while also staying true to – and even building upon – the heavily-layered compositional intricacy we’ve come to know and expect from REIGHNBEAU.

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Anaïs: Tell me about your new album.
Bryce: I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I’m really excited about it, but it’s a massive collaborative effort. I’m the core, but I’ve involved a ton of friends to perform on it and a couple of them were also involved with the writing process.

Who are you working with?
I’ve been working with Sister Grotto. We’ve been friends for a while now and we both admire each other’s music. We started collaborating two years ago. She sang on a song that I did on this 7” that I did with some friends. She sang on the HANDS album as well. Yeah, so she’s on the first track, “Milk of Amnesia.”And the song “Highways,” she wrote originally and it was really minimal. Then I remixed it because I loved the song so much and wanted to make something with it. We decided to not release it as a remix per se but as a collaboration.

I also wrote a song with my friend Colleen Johnson of Twig Palace. As it happens, her and I connected and started playing music together even though she lives in Oakland. A friend was having an art show that we were both involved in and he convinced us to link up and perform a joint set at the opening. We had good chemistry. So she sings on a lot of the album. In a sense this album is a direct product of that collaboration.

It’s one of those things I’ve been working on for a long time now. A couple of the songs have been released. There’s a video called WISHFORNOW that I made. It’s more noisy and shoegaze-y, but also electronic. That’s probably the oldest song – it goes back to 2013. It’s funny, that sounds really far away now that it’s 2015, but a lot of work has gone into the album and I want to share it while I’m still really feeling it. I’ve been performing the new material with my band so it’ll be really good to have those recordings available. Right now, it kind of feels like everything that’s out there, as far as released music, isn’t a totally current portrayal of what I’m doing.

How would you describe what you’re doing now?
Well, I wasn’t sure I wanted to have a band for a while there. That got me into recording, rather than just playing live music. I hadn’t necessarily been using the studio as an instrument, and so maybe three or four years ago, I decided that I did want to explore that and stop worrying about whether it could be done live. That was good for me to do and I think where we are now is trying to figure out how to translate a lot of these songs that we have recordings of but have never been played live. It’s the reverse dilemma that I was in before. But I’m playing with two good friends – my friend Hannah who’s a singer and my friend James who’s a drummer – and I’m singing and playing keyboard and hitting things.

On “Milk of Amnesia,” there are these great percussion samples. It sounds like you’re hitting some really interesting things.
Yeah, that was something I would dream of doing when I was growing up playing music. I always wanted to do that – you know, create drum patterns and drum sounds out of things that weren’t drums and know how to sequence them electronically. But I could never wrap my head around it. Those percussion samples on “Milk of Amnesia” are ones that I made myself. A lot of the snares are me hitting shelf mushrooms in the woods in New York with a butter knife. Or like popping ice bubbles in puddles in the winter. I use that sound a lot. But also, I have a friend who has a cabin in New Mexico that I go to to record at sometimes. Hitting shovels on rocks and toaster ovens and all these strange things in the kitchen there.

Do you go looking for a particular sound? Or is it just a matter of exploring all the things you can hit and finding something you like?
I think it’s a matter of exploring. I’m really fascinated with field recording and sound collage.

I’m really fascinated by the field recordings too. There’s this element of chance there.
Yeah, it’s funny. I try to make room for chance but it’s not really something that can be planned for or completely incorporated into one process. It’s more like I’ll get so lost in something and be completely immersed in it, play one part and record that – and love it – but if I’d thought too much about it, I wouldn’t be able to write that same thing. Or if I hadn’t captured that one instant when I did play it, it would’ve been gone forever. Or even creating new instruments, which is something that I’ve gotten really into. It’s featured pretty heavily on the new album, like using non-traditional audio sources for drums and sampling audio sources and turning them into synths, for example. You mentioned “Milk of Amnesia” and a lot of those instruments you’re hearing are my voice. But, for example, one of the sample recordings I use a lot, which I turned into a synth – I think it’s totally by chance that I found that one little recording and it worked so well.

You mentioned creating instruments. Say more about that.
Well, using samplers is something that’s relatively new to me. But it’s exciting that I can turn a small sound into something enormous. Or use a shelf mushroom recording as a kick-drum or as a snare. Or my voice as a synth, or my breath as a high-hat. Recording myself snapping and clapping. But, you know, there are also samples that are further obscured. Like on FULLOFSALT, the main synth that you hear at first is actually an acoustic guitar that I expansively sampled. I turned each note into a new instrument to be played on the keyboard.

Are you able to incorporate the instruments you create into your live performances?
Yeah, my friend James who plays in the live band and I have figured out the system of using drum triggers, where he’s playing an acoustic drum-kit but triggering that mushroom sample with his kick-drum. So it’s layered in realtime. His impulse makes that recorded sound happen. But I’m also playing keyboard instruments that I’ve created live.

Are there certain performance environments where you feel the samples are best heard?
That’s an interesting question because I feel like, with our current set-up, it tends to be a lot easier to be playing in big clubs where they have good sound systems. But at the same time, I wouldn’t say that’s really where the music feels at home. It’s not really club music. We played a show this summer that was outdoors, at the foot of this mountain, about ten-thousand or eleven-thousand feet up. And that felt really good. It was amazing for us to be waiting to perform but sitting in our tents next to a moss-covered stream. There is something about that forest-setting that feels right.

A lot of your video work happens in desert and forest settings.
Yeah, the video for Highways. When I first fell in love with that line that Maddy – Sister Grotto – had written, I was driving on that exact strip of highway that’s in the video, at sunset. I knew that I wanted to do something with it. It doesn’t happen very often that I’ll immediately be inspired to create a video for something. There were other options, like I had a friend who wanted to help make a video for it, but I had already decided that I wanted to be true to that original inspiration. I mean, it is just driving on the highway on the way to Cuba, New Mexico from Albuquerque, but to me, that’s one of the most beautiful strips of highway.

Did you also do the graphics for the video?
Yeah, I sourced a lot of them from weird commercials from the 1950s and 60s. But I did know what I was looking for. I feel like sampling from other things can often be written-off as not trying or not as genuine as writing it yourself, but I think if it’s done with enough intention, it’s different.

Sonically, how do you think ‘Blood’ compares to your other work? For example, I hear definite parallels between “Milk of Amnesia” and some of the tracks on ‘HANDS,’ for example, but I also hear a bit of sonic contrast.
Well, I think the easiest difference is that I’ve been making guitar-based music for some years and the last album was a total travel-down-the-rabbit-hole of guitars. And I love guitar, but I feel like I also satisfied that by making HANDS. There are some guitars on Blood, but most of them are altered or sampled, or turned into other instruments, so they may not be recognizable as guitars. The main difference is that this is me now, after having gotten sick of playing guitar. I played keyboard instruments before I ever played guitar and it took me some years to delve deep into guitar and other string instruments, like I studied sitar in India, and also viola de gamba, which is used on my ambient music.

When did you study sitar?
That was in 2009. I went to India and studied sitar for three months with a guru. I’d never really studied music with such discipline before that, so it was a pretty humbling experience. I learned a lot about music but also about myself. I’d recorded an album of sitar music before going and I had to completely re-learn how to play the instrument because I was playing it wrong. I haven’t used sitar on anything since then. I think I maybe will revisit it at some point, but the program of study I was doing – you make sitar your main instrument, your only instrument. You don’t have time to play other ones. You have to dedicate your life to it if you ever want to really know the ins and outs of that instrument. So even though I loved sitar, I wasn’t ready. I’m more in love with sounds rather than any one instrument. People always ask, “So what do you play? What’s your instrument?” And I’ve taken to just saying I’m a composer. That’s an easier way for people to wrap their heads around the fact that I play tons of instruments but not very well. I’m not a maestro at any one; that’s never been my goal. But recently, I also got into R&B, which I think is apparent in the new album.

What have you been listening to as far as R&B goes?
I got really into Frank Ocean and SZA. Oh, and Anthony Hamilton is a funny one. He’s pretty legit. That was were it started. I had a bad break-up and a friend was like, “You need to listen to Anthony Hamilton.” And I was like, “Damn, dude. So right.” It’s kind of funny because I’m not necessarily listening to a ton of that at the moment, but I was for a while, and kind of had no choice but for it to come out in the music I was making. That’s how it works for me. I immerse myself in something, absorb some it.

Is there anything else about the new album you think we should know?
It might be worth mentioning that I have tinnitus. I think it’s definitely shaped my musical journey. It happened when I was playing in a band where we were originally playing pop music and then got interested in doom metal. So we had these ridiculous amps and were trying to be louder than everyone else. I ended up really damaging one of my ears. I had to completely stop playing amplified music for over a year. I got really into acoustic instruments and playing really quietly in a band called Elephant Paintings with my friend Emma who sings on the new album. But our problem was that we were so quiet that we couldn’t perform in certain venues.

Is that something you still have? Are your ears ringing right now?
Yeah, but it got better. I’m playing amplified music again, but my hearing will forever be much more sensitive to volume. I can’t really go to shows that are too loud. But that also maybe has something to do with me making electronic music. I got very interested in composing arrangements for multiple instruments and when I couldn’t do that in a band with super loud guitars, I started to do it electronically. In a live setting, electronic music is something I can engage with more easily because it hurts my ears less.

Do you think it’s influenced what you produce at all? In a way that goes beyond the consideration of volume?
It’s definitely changed the sounds I’m attracted to. For a while, any high frequency would really hurt me. I think I was making really warm muffled music for a long time. And then over time, I realized I was doing that and tried to get better at mixing for balance and not just excluding certain frequencies. I’m less inclined to use instruments that have a harsher or more abrasive sound.

On ‘FULLOFSALT,’ there’s a track – I think it’s the track called “FULLOFSALT” – that jumped out at me because the samples feel more aggressive, or sharper. It’s more jagged than the other songs.
I think that has to do with two things: one being where I was at as an audio engineer at that time, but also, I was also going for a completely different sound, one that – you were right – is more aggressive. I was listening to a lot of Three 6 Mafia and Crystal Castles at the time. Things that are emotionally more aggressive. I’m still trying to figure that song out. We play it live and it’s great because it’s high energy and it goes over well, but it’s one of those things that makes us ask, “How can we take certain elements from that and make new material?” It’s a challenge.

From time to time, I do have subtle musical identity crises. I like to genre-hop and not confine myself to one sound for the entirety of a project. I’ve been in a lot of bands over the years and I was always disappointed when they would dissolve and I’d have to think of a new band name. It’s exciting to me to finally have a project that can be consistent in its output and can fit under a cohesive umbrella. That’s what REIGHNBEAU is. It’s my main output for music that I’m making on my own and with friends, live and otherwise. It’s a different arrangement, but it’s a shift I needed to make in order to feel like I could keep momentum.