Stereospread are Sara and James, an Asheville, NC-based duo performing a blend of dreampop, indietronica and synthwave. Intrigued by the blending of these genres, I fell in love with their songs instantly and they were kind enough to share their thoughts on their music.
What projects are you working on right now?
Sara: We are currently working on a three-song EP that will follow the release of our album this summer. It’s going to have lots of synthy goodness.
James: Finishing up a new Stereospread EP and our upcoming full-length album. I’m also working on a few side projects here and there. Namely, Hushhush, which are remixes as well as collaborations that don’t fit our current sound.
What are your interests outside of music? Any shared or separate passions?
Sara: I’m a professor of Anthropology and I teach the Cherokee language, an indigenous American language, at Western Carolina University. I also play trumpet with community bands and churches in our area. I like to garden too. We both enjoy exploring and driving around to new places and trying new foods.
James: I used to be really into photography, especially black and white high contrast, but I’m more laid back nowadays. I have always been into books, particularly science fiction and fantasy. I have read Asimov’s Foundation perhaps 80 times from cover to cover and I have read every single thing that Neil Gaiman has released. As for shared passions, outside of music, I’d say beer. We like to try new beers and new foods all the time. Sometimes we’ll download recipes and just have nights where we make food we’ve never had before.
Do you have any particularly great memories related to making or performing music?
Sara: We did this really cool show where we put a lot of time into stage props and we had these huge technicolor ‘clouds’ that totally mesmerised people in the audience. They would come up and reach out to touch them. The clouds were made of polyfill and they were huge. Every time we moved them pieces would fall off and we’d have to chase them down and reattach them. We’d love to bring the clouds back for future shows but we have to figure out a better design so that they don’t fall apart all the time!
James: There are a few. One was playing live with a Moog Voyager that Michelle Moog let us borrow. That was a fun show! Another was waking up one day to an email from my mother about how a Peruvian (my mother is Peruvian) film team had created a music video for a song of ours, All My Life.
Another was probably when we got the DSI Pro 2. That was one of the best days I can remember as it was so new to us. Our friend Marc Doty had raved about the DSI synths to us and thanks to that, we tried them all and have three currently: Prophet 12, Prophet 6 and Pro 2. Some more memorable times: being interviewed by DSI, remixing Assemblage 23, being interviewed by Ask.Audio, working on a project at LEAF on using found sounds to create sample instruments. Performing live with Kevin Spears was a ton of fun at the Asheville Electro Music Festival and it was not even planned!
Dreampop and indietronica are really interesting genres, especially combined with the retro feel of synthwave. What attracts you to these styles?
Sara: The two of us together gravitate toward ‘pretty’ sounding music that still has a good beat and songwriting. So combining the ethereal atmosphere of dreampop with the catchy melodies and songwriting of indietronica and synthwave is the best of all worlds.
James: It’s not really as if we try to initially gravitate to those kinds of sounds, it’s just no matter what we do, by the time it gets to mixing the songs usually turn out that way. We obsess over reverb so that may be the reason. We will start songs in completely different genres, but it always returns to the genres we are typically best known for.
Some day, we’ll post demos of songs before mixdown to show where they start from. But if we say, “Okay, we dig these styles,” then the reasons would be simple: the vintage synths, the infectious melodies, and the feeling you get from them. Literally, having feelings is what makes music interesting to me.
A simple bassline can raise so much anger, or happiness, or calm, and so forth. A guitar strum or pluck in the right place can change a context of a song, as well as how a person reacts to their day in that moment.
Do you guys have any rituals or specific processes when you get together to make new music? Does it tend to be fairly organic or are you quite structured in your approach?
Sara: I tend to focus on chords, leads, and vocals while James tends to write the bass and drums and other elements of production. We both do mixing and then I master our tracks. There are a few songs where we deviate from this approach, and sometimes we step on each other’s toes, but generally we try to stick to our respective strengths.
James: I am the nutjob in the studio. I have lately insisted on each of us being on our different side of the studio with our instruments only. In the beginning, we used to walk around the room playing everything. It got annoying to me and I wanted my own little world, so we started consolidating sections of the studio. Sara was against it. She is more of a ‘free spirit’ than me.
I’m all about rules and planning, which goes against the idea of working on music in some cases, but I do feel having rules makes it better as our music has always been a balance between her side and mine. Take our new song, Spend the Last Night With Me, for example.
Her voice/chords go one way but my drums/bass go the other. Our different influences pull and twist the song which makes it unique. One of my specific processes nowadays is to create a template for the song we are about to write so then we are limited to a specific set of sounds and effects.
It never stays that way! But it’s always good to have a starting point. We mix in two stages: One of us will start mixing, and then a few hours later the other will take over. We tend to pick the best parts then change up the ones we feel need work. It’s an annoying, often argument-inducing situation but seems to work for us.
One of the things we have realised is that it’s far easier for Sara and I to write the tracks before we bring them to collaborators. We had a drummer years ago and could not write a single thing with him. Same with when we had a cellist and a bassist.
Talented folks for sure, but it did not fit our way of writing. We have worked with some really incredible people that put up with our way of working: Ryan of ODDSTAR, Paul of Thy Fearful Symmetry, David of Lycia, Jeremy Wilson, Adam Fielding, Eric of Null Device and so many more.
You both mention prog rock influences in your music, although Sara seems to lean more to blues and jazz and James to electronic music. Do you tend to like what the other listens to or are there ever any slight disagreements there?
Sara: Well, James isn’t a huge fan of some of the rock music I like such as Bruce Springsteen. Whenever we take a trip, James puts together a playlist of music we both like, which includes so many, such as Röyksopp, m83, Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, and many others! We definitely have distinctive tastes, but there are also many artists we both love.
James: Ha! We argue all the time. Sara LOVES Dwight Yoakam… I have no idea why. She also loves Bruce Springsteen… I have no idea why, except for his song Streets of Philadelphia. We get along though when we talk about Peter Gabriel, who to me is probably one of the most talented songwriters/vocalists of the last 30 years. We do agree on Bel Canto, though. Their album Shimmering Warm and Bright is one of the best either of us have ever heard. We also agree that GusGus created a perfect album when they did Arabian Horse.
Your music videos on YouTube are awesome. Do you have any favourites or could you say a bit more about any of them in particular?
Sara: We have some amazing fans who created those videos for us! I am so grateful because I am terrible with any kind of visual art. Some of our worst single artwork has been due to me! Haha! But really, I am terrible with video and photography and value people who excel in those areas so much. We hope to get a real photographer to do a shoot with us soon for promoting our album.
James: We have yet to make a video of our own.
Fans and friends have done some awesome and some weird videos for our songs or songs featuring us:
The Fire, directed by Micah Mackenzie.
It’s very close to what we would have done, personally- except we’d have done it in a ‘mystical forest’ rather than the masonic temple in Asheville, NC 🙂
What’s the music scene like in Asheville or North Carolina in general? Is it good for this type of music?
Sara: Asheville has a pretty big experimental electronic scene. Moog Music and Make Noizz synth companies are in town, which draws some electronic music experts to the area. We have a lot of friends and acquaintances in the area who do some great work in the scene.
James: Honestly? No. It’s mostly EDM, rock, blues, bluegrass or something in between. Not to knock the scene, as we’ve gone to tons of shows in the area, but for our kind of music it’s hard. We had an entire series dedicated to synthpop and attendance was shit. I mean, literally, we were putting on shows that would have sold out in Portland or New York City.
By comparison, we did a DJ fundraiser for our favourite venue, the now-closed Emerald Lounge, and it sold out consistently throughout the day into the night, so it depends on how lucky you get, I feel. With our kind of music, you have to leave the state to do any kind of really good business. We’ve been to see Yeasayer and Sbtrkt at the Orange Peel in Asheville and neither were even close to selling out — absurd!
Is there anything you wish you’d known when starting out that might help others making their way in the music industry?
James: What I wished I’d known as a kid when I started out? Do not try to emulate or copy anyone else. Be yourself, be unique, stand out. Be the moment that lasts. Stand for your music, don’t let anyone get you down, don’t let anyone try to mould how you feel or what you write. Write what you feel. Who gives a damn if someone doesn’t like it; it’s not meant for them. If it gives you joy, then that’s all that matters in the end.
What amazing advice! What can we look forward to in future from Stereospread?
Sara: More beautiful music. Hopefully a tour!
James: You can hear some new songs of ours on Oren Amram’s show Synthesize Me, amongst others out there. Looking to the future, I’d say a few new albums, we have a backlog of maybe 4 to 5 albums worth, a TON of shows, for example we’ll be doing five shows in Cherokee, NC, alone this summer, including one during the upcoming full eclipse.
Due to numerous life-changing circumstances over the last year, my father passing away, Sara getting a new job, moving. etc., we’ve been behind on our releases, so I won’t give an exact release date right now, but it should be soon. We have enough material to fill Several EPs and full-length albums.
Thanks so much guys, I can’t wait!
You can also check out Stereospread on: