I came across Columbus, Ohio’s Mollie Wells and Casey Immel-Brown, a.k.a. Funerals, through a track posted on Canadian producer Hissy Fit’s Facebook page. The married duo’s dark, grey beats and minimal sounds are infused with lightness that I found mesmerizing. I sought out more of their music and was further intrigued, so I decided it was time to get better acquainted. I caught up with Wells and Immel-Brown via email and started by asking them what their first musical influences were, and it went from there.
Q: How did you two first get involved in music?
Casey Immel-Brown: Honestly, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in making music. My family always had various instruments around, and I was always messing with them. When I was 12, I started trying to learn my mother’s acoustic guitar, and I got obsessed enough with it that they eventually bought me a cheap electric. Pretty immediately I started writing my own stuff, and from then on I was always doing something with music.
Mollie Wells: Yeah, we’ve both been doing it since we were kids. I’ve been in bands since early high school, toured a ton when I was in my early to mid-20s. Casey’s worked on several solo projects and did this band, Dub Noir, for years. It’s just one of [the] things we’ve always felt compelled to be involved with. We both grew up in that '90s era when underground bands were just about the most exciting thing personally and politically, so that mindset totally carried over. You just always had a project, often more than one. And it’s funny, because I can remember back then certain people being really interested in techno and house, like the underground scene was divided into the guitar-purists and the electronic-enthusiasts. We’d go on tour and play these high-energy, almost bloody raucous shows, then get in the van and listen to Phuture and Autechre and Scandinavian downtempo or whatever. And nearly all the electronic enthusiasts I knew then, if they’re still making music, are making some version of techno now. It’s like we all said, OK, let’s just do this, we’ve wanted to for 10 years. We’ve always been socially anxious and this means we can shutter ourselves away in a studio without feeling guilty about it.
Q: What’s the story behind the name Funerals?
CIB: When I was maybe five or six, I used to sit down at the piano and record myself playing weird patterns of what I’d guess were harmonic minor scales. I called it “funeral music,” just stuff that sounded dark or scary or Eastern European to me. That honestly has nothing to do wit h our name, but I like to tell the story, because I wish it’d been on my mind at the time. In reality, I think the name was just something we were OK with enough to stop agonizing over it.
MW: Our friend Conrad might’ve come up with it, actually. He was in the very first version of Funerals, when we started doing this dark, sort of minimal electronic stuff that was way more traditionally structured. We evolved into a 100 per cent different project once he moved to Portland a few months later, but we kept the name. BUT like Casey said, we just couldn’t bear agonizing over it anymore.
Q: How would you describe the music you produce?
MW: Oh man. I’ve never figured out our elevator pitch. We’ve always called ourselves “midnight techno” to sort of allude to the deep, dark nature of the thing, but the trouble with that is midnight’s pretty early by techno standards. We’re really making, like, 4 a.m. techno. Deep, sweaty, after-party techno. That said, we’ve found we do best at events when everyone’s drugs have just kicked in, so maybe midnight works after all.
CIB: I don’t think anyone who makes music has an easy time answering this one. In general, I hope what comes across is some amalgam of the things we love most: German minimal, U.K. garage and bass, deep house, '90s rave, Balinese gamelan, gnawa. Sand and palm trees, both with and without the accompanying shoreline. Four a.m. when you’re still dancing because you don’t want to go back to the real world.
Listen to the Hypermotion B EP:
Q: You’re based in Columbus, Ohio. Does the landscape of your home affect your music in any way?
MW: The cultural landscape, definitely. Columbus was a major tour stop for lots of underground bands in the '90s and early 2000s, as well as being sort of a secondary Midwestern rave mecca for a bit, so we were constantly exposed to this influx of disparate activity. That sense of newness and possibility sort of stuck in the cultural fabric of the city. It’s not uncommon for people here to juggle several projects, tour for several months of the year, constantly be active in booking shows or throwing parties. It’s just what you do. It’s also a pretty huge college town, so there’s this air of transience about the place. I’d bet that a huge percentage of young Columbus is actively trying to escape Columbus, so I think sometimes that sense of impermanence filters into how we construct music. There’s always the thought that the ideas we’re working with now will totally shift in six months or even in the span of one record.
CIB: If the physical landscape has had any effect, it’s definitely been a reactionary one. It’s consistently grey here for much of the year, which has certainly informed our love of travel and tropical climates, simply as a defence mechanism. We really like the idea that, wherever you are, the music can feel like it’s from another place. There’s a certain kind of escapism that’s inherent in that idea, and I’m sure that’s influenced by growing up in the Midwest. Then again, I also think that any good dance music has an element of escapism. ‘Cause really, what is escapism beyond being completely in a moment? And isn’t that the ultimate goal of the dance floor?
Q: How does being married affect the music you make?
CIB: I think it affects the process and experience of making the music in lots of ways – but in terms of the end result, I really don’t know. I mean, it’s all a product of these two personalities and how they interact, and I suppose one of the things that happens when you put those personalities together is that they decide to get married. And one of the other things that happens is that they make this particular kind of music. It’s all so unique to us individually that I can’t really pick apart how each factor specifically affects another. In some ways, you have to actually work to keep them separate. Not like a thing where when we’re working we’re strictly bandmates or whatever, but just in terms of making sure that the time we’re working is spent on working, and that the rest of the time we’re not letting the music bleed so much out of the studio that it consumes the rest of our life together.
MW: Yeah, I think that’s probably the biggest effect – the effort we have [to] make to keep work-time designated as work-time, and how much more efficient we’ve become because of that. I was talking to someone about this recently and he said something like “You’re doing what you love with the person you love! How can that be difficult?” But the thing is, we went down this road for a while where everything was about Funerals, even when we were travelling for fun or just out to dinner, the talk was all “did you call that promoter?” or “I still think that snare’s too quiet, God damn it,” and it was just eating alive our time as a couple.
The benefit is that we’re best friends, so we make music like best friends. We’re also very different people musically, so we get that natural push and pull of disparate influences. But the drawback is that the push and pull – and how comfortable we are with each other, for better or worse – can create sort of contentious disagreements. Which is good for textural, multi-hued songs, definitely. Not good for marriages. I think it’s easy to romanticize the notion of a couple creating together, especially when you’re single and thinking “oh jeez, I just want to find my partner in crime.” I mean, I certainly used to romanticize it, but it’s actually not all that romantic. Sometimes we crack a bottle of prosecco in the studio. We laugh a lot. But that’s as close as it gets.
Q: You have a Canadian connection with your work being remixed by Jokers of the Scene and collaborating on a split EP with Hissy Fit. How did those situations come about?
MW: We do have a Canadian connection, don’t we? It’s totally by accident! We met JOTS simply via mutual respect for each other’s music. They were into one of [the] first tracks we ever did, we asked if they’d be interested in remixing it. Seriously awesome guys, those two. I still spin that remix constantly. We met Hissy Fit when we played this great San Francisco party together, Future Perfect. We realized we were both headed to L.A. for the next several days, so we spent the weekend hanging out and getting lost on the freeways. He pretty much stole my heart when he closed his set with my favourite Jacques Greene track.
Listen to "AITU (Jokers of the Scene Remix)":
Q: What other projects do you have in the works?
MW: We have so many things in various stages of completion right now. The split EP with Hissy Fit is definitely top of mind and we’ll hopefully do some dates to support it later. Then another EP for potential release with a Canadian label (there’s that connection again!). Yet another EP of really deep after-party tracks that we’ll release with Tundra or a Tundra side-label. And we’ve also been toying with this idea of creating a series of singles influenced by various cities. We’re travel dweebs and get really into the concept of constructing almost hyper-real worlds with songs. I’m not sure what we’ll do with that, but it’s something that’s been bubbling at the back of our brains.
Q: What was the first record you ever bought and where?
CIB: Spartacus by the Farm. It’s a super Madchester-influenced dance-pop record that totally does not hold up well in retrospect. I’m not even sure why I finally broke down and bought that specific record (cassette, actually), except that I had an older brother and sister and had generally speaking just borrowed their music, but that was the one thing I wanted that neither of them had. Though a week or so after I bought it, I cut up my arm really badly falling through a window, and my brother and sister had my mom ask me, in the hospital, if they could borrow the tape.
MW: I don’t remember mine specifically, but it was one of three: Janet Jackson’s Control, Edie Brickell’s Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars or Madonna’s first album. I would’ve been six or seven, so this was clearly not a solo purchase. I grew up in a tiny Ohio town, so my mother probably took me to Woolworths or somewhere. But the first record I remember buying when I was really conscious of music and able to purchase stuff with my allowance was En Vogue’s Born to Sing.
Q: What music are you currently grooving to?
MW: Um. En Vogue’s Born to Sing? Only half joking. I’m really into everything Fade to Mind is doing right now: Nguzunguzu, Gremino, Mike Q. Kingdom’s such an amazing curator, besides being a mind-blowing producer. GoldFFinch is on constant rotation, along with Function’s Obsessed EP. And there’s this incredible project called Men In Burka, Tundra just released their debut. It’s this really textural combination of bass, bounce and ambient with Muslimgauze-inspired atmospheres. They deserve 500 times the attention they’re getting, seriously one of the most stunning projects I’ve heard in the past few years.
CIB: Right this second I’m listening to a mix I made for our last vacation of Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean pop from the ‘60s, so I guess that. Otherwise, Mumbai Science’s Unified Theory singles series is all around pretty incredible. Also, the last couple releases from Trevino, Ejeca and Objekt, Alex Young’s Minimarket EP, Batida’s full-length. Tons of other great releases have come out recently, too; 2012 has been a pretty great year so far in terms of electronic music.
Listen to Funerals, The Litany (Live Mix from LIL DEATH 2.26.12):
Q: What’s your preference: vinyl, CD or MP3?
MW: Depends on the purpose. I love the physical experience of vinyl and getting to interact with a release in a tangible way, but ultimately anything that lets me create a relationship with the artist’s work is fine. I’m not a huge format snob. I do prefer MP3s when I’m DJing, though. They’re just easier for me, and my OCD, to keep organized. I wish that was some funny little exaggeration, but it’s not.
CIB: In a perfect world, vinyl for sure, at least for the time being. I do get torn about it though, since digital releases are so much cheaper, and I can’t really argue with anything that allows more people to have access to more music, particularly when it comes to DJing. I really dislike the notion of economic barriers between people and their creative pursuits, and the idea that you have to have this enormous vinyl collection to be a legitimate DJ inherently favours the wealthy. It’s a problem in any creative endeavour that involves equipment or supplies, and I love anything that allows less privileged people to increase their presence in the creative community.
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on Jul 02, 2012