Into the Gold Wave with the Sixteens - Kristo Bal and Veuve Pauli, San Fransisco's punk-rock-art-disco-weirdwave beat combo (well, how would you describe them?). From Europe to the USA and back again. Structure and fluidity, smear on the black. It's time to catch up. Kristo Bal gives us an update on the past...and the future.
What's been going on in the world of the Sixteens of late? Quite recently you based the band in Berlin and took the opportunity to play around Europe for a while - including a swing through London. How did that all work out? Was it a good move, to become temporary Berliners?
Well, it's been quite a stretch of time, actually, between living in
Berlin and being here in the states again. So, what's happening with
us currently is very involved: We've spent the last 7 months recording
and mixing our next album, which at this point is well over a double-album's
capacity of material, and we'll have to see what we can do with all
of it. You know, all the decisions that are pertinent concerning fluidity,
or non-fluidity (as it may be...) and should we just do an EP with some
of it. We are excited and scared to possibly be releasing this on our
own label THIS STARCRAFT. It seems an opportune time to take things
on entirely ourselves, because we tend to do so much of the work ourselves
anyway. Our friendly labels are good, but we're still having to walk
our own albums into radio stations, if you catch my drift.
I guess Europe has played an important role for us, being one of the best places for us to unfold this project, especially earlier on. Somehow people heard word of our deeply buried existence, and seemed to have their arms open for us. Of course, we'd like to continue to travel the world with it, because it expands our take on life, including music and all of its components.
What does Europe think of us? Well, we don't really tend to get emails saying how much we are worthless and terrible, but so far the right things have clicked with our audiences and our relationship with them continues to grow.
We'd like to play throughout Europe more regularly, but it's not always so easy. And I'll tell ya, it's not easy knowing what you're getting yourself into booking shows with all of this Inter-Webbing going on. It's sometimes not very professional, to say the least. But we are grateful to those who try.
Did you meet kindred spirits in Europe? Did you meet other bands and think, 'These people are on our wavelength!' Or were you conscious of being the odd ones out, playing to audiences who didn't quite get it?
Well, of course...we have friends now everywhere, and that has a lot to do with who we play with or who sets up a show and where we stay the night. And this isn't a new story, as far as bands go. But I have to say, most of my friends reside in Europe and I wish I could be there for longer stints at times. It does make for more of a productive time here in California, I must admit, however. At least half of my time is spent locked in our studio...I like it, but sometimes I crave a window.
People who may not enjoy a Sixteens show don't often let us know about it any more (they used to, though!) I think the crowd usually transmits through itself a string of positive reaction. Even if we seem pissed (meaning angry, not drunk, but sometimes...) on stage, I think we still translate a promotion of Life, and sometimes by unveiling its frustrations.
We were driving ourselves from Lyon that day and we'd never played in the UK before. We can get to a pretty strung-out point in a crunch to get to a showon-time after driving for so long...it might be humorous via satellite, but otherwise...
We also had an incorrect address and map, so that didn't help. We then proceeded to go down a wrong way alley where there are those low metal poles keeping you from entering, but for some reason we did it anyway and bashed up the side of our rented van. Just getting geared up for performance, ya know?
We also were unaware of the way gigs take place early in London (I suppose because of licenses, etc). So we were über late, and it's unload through a thick 'n' fancy crowd, smear on the black, plug in the 10,000 cords...and we're off! Like a crashing plane! Thanks to that sound guy at Being Boiled, it all worked out as best as it could. I recall him being so nice and supportive and quick! What a cutie...doesn't happen often. That's why we should be travelling with our own sound person next tour.
At Being Boiled you went straight to the stage, set up your gear and played - it was as if the whole setting-up process was part of the performance. And yet the gig went off brilliantly. A situation which many other bands would have regarded as a problem was seamlessly incorporated into the show. I've often thought that the Sixteens operate on the basis that all life is art, and anything that happens, however random or wrong, becomes part of the performance. Am I talking through my arse here, or is that really your approach?
It has developed to always be part of a Sixteens show...however, we never seem to account for it as a length of song, and so we often aren't able to finish our set that we prepared. Word to the wise. Any venue or person booking us from here on out: Give Sixteens an hour on the bill!
And then on the other hand, it's like the construction of a city, with its fluctuations and deterioration throughout. Our set-up is a skit in itself, and due to its entanglement, it can't happen beforehand...there's just too much in the way to have it partially set up on stage. Just goes to show you, life is in the moment, and nowhere else.
For a while things looked different. That's one of my motivations for travel: it rearranges dimension, creating new life. My thought process is open and moving freely. Although I've been stifled a few times since having been back, I oscillate between art, music and financial disfunction, but I understand thought projection and strive more toward a sunshine beam, than a dark cloud...as far as my insides go.
Berlin was also rough financially, and though we weren't too sure if we were ready to leave, we did. And in a way we felt relief that in the USA there are easier monies to be made. Food is also so different from country to country, and Ilove it when something new is introduced to me, or I decide to eat differently. That in itself changes all daily routine.
then there was the recent album, Into The Gold Wave Of Future Non-Ripoff.
I've seen several reviews which remark that this album sees a slightly
more accessible side to the Sixteens - in fact I think I said something
like this myself. Is that a fair comment? Did you deliberately make
this album a bit more listener-friendly, or was it an organic process
that just happened to result in an album that has fewer tangents and
angles, and a bit more of a killer groove, than before?
I love this question! We wrote all of Gold Wave before moving to Europe! Ha-Ha! It was supposed to have been released sooner, and we were hoping to have it for the move but it was not quite finished in the mix.
Who really knows where, what, and when has influenced us but us - we're not even sure! I don't always like to think of the stream-line that has led to a place (sometimes, though). I usually like to just let it come through me and do its thing. In a way, I might have nothing to do with it at all. In that sense, completely an organic process. I like that. And yes, we did feel like making more drum-shifts on this album, getting structured like 'Aphrodite', and such. But song building has never just been loose for us. We've always worked on structure and design. It's our city-scape that lends toward new existence. You can actually see it, for the most part.
One result of your Berlin period, and the live shows you played in Europe around that time, was that I think the Sixteens are now quite a high profile band on the Euro-underground. That might seem a bit paradoxical (How can a band be high profile while also being underground? You'd hit your head on the roof!) but there seems to be a real Sixteens fanbase out there now. Does it seem to you that things are starting to build up?
Yeah, I can dig that. I've hit my head a few times in the process! Who's gonna open up that darned latch up there?! For example: We played in Los Angeles last weekend and the famous Don Bowles was doing our sound. He hadn't seen us in a long, long time, and was really impressed and couldn't stop mentioning it. Like, 'You've come a long way, baby!'
And you know, if you threw us on a stage fit for the Stones, we would know what to do with it, and you wouldn't have guessed we could be that professional. So, it really has to do with everything else, and everyone else involved, too.
Certainly, the crowd you got at the Drop Dead Festival in Prague was big, the reaction was good, and afterwards, when I looked at the discussions on the Drop Dead forum it seemed that the one band that everybody mentioned favourably was the Sixteens. That was quite an achievement, since there didn't appear to be any general agreement as to which other bands were good or bad.
But I felt that the Drop Dead festival crew didn't realise you had a certain profile, you'd worked your way up to a certain level in Europe. It was as if they still thought of the Sixteens as an obscure Californian art-rock outfit - and so you ended up going on stage very early in the day (after originally being scheduled for a later slot, as I recall) and the set was cut short, to the genuine annoyance of the crowd. I don't really know what happened there, but it was hard to escape the thought that they'd called it wrong. So...what did happen? Why the sudden shift from a late set to an early set? Did the plugs get pulled, or did something break down on stage?
Annoyance here, too. We should have played later. It was half-way around the world for us! We are still friends with these people and love them, but without hurting anyone's feelings, I agree with your take on our stance. Perhaps some people aren't ready to view us as an evolving, and definitely growing band. 'Tiny SF Avant-garde' is taking on a much bigger perspective; and actually always has been.
We would like to apologize to everyone for the set's brevity, but there really was no reason for it. We just got cut off. That night was insane - when I found out we were on stage right after the next song the DJ was playing, I had to run a few blocks out of the club to our apartment, where both Veuve and Andrew (our projectionist) were sleeping! Fucking sleeping! And we're on in five minutes! I was punching the air and pissed, pissed, pisssed! (definitely not drunk yet - mad!)
when we rushed to set-up on stage, another guy had borrowed our keyboard
and that made Veuve leave all of his notes back at the apartment! so
He had to run back and I had to set up the entire stage! Now, that's
not usual. Nothing technological went wrong after that, we just got
a little screwed. Some people missed the show, too, because they were
out eating, expecting to catch us later. I required free Vodka Rox for
the rest of the night!
I sometimes secretly think so. But I'll continue to keep that to myself (with a wink!)
The band played the Mutant Transmissions festival in Los Angeles recently, which I suppose you could call the Weird Daughter Of Drop Dead. Does this event represent some sort of growing phenomenon? Or is it more the case that there have always been odd and arty and weird and awkwardly creative bands out there, and it just so happens that the spotlight has caught 'em all of a sudden?
I think it's almost post-mature, since this stuff has been lurking for
a long time. But somebody's just hitting it now, so whatever. Better
late than never!
We have absolutely never gone on a tour representing a new album with it in our hands. We always have new material that is not yet released...this may make things strange for a listener, because they won't be familiar with it, so we try to throw a couple of known pieces in the mix. But we've already been showing much of what is to come for our next release entitled LIGHTFIGHTER: The Interdimensional Model.
We are hoping to get back to London, and Portugal in October...with other stops in between. Also, we're hoping to pay a visit to a bit of the South, here in the States. I'm looking into playing shows in Florida, New Orleans, and Texas before we get back to Europe. Nice folks keep contacting me from these areas, and it's about time to give them a piece of SIXTEENS.
America might need it more than the rest of the world does, at this time.
Sixteens on MySpace.
Photos from the London and Prague shows are here.