Featured Work: White Noise Everywhere
Website: le_mol Bandcamp
In the beginning of Chris Cunningham’s bizarre video for Squarepusher’s “Come on My Selector,” a television plays an interview with Squarepusher mastermind Tom Jenkinson, with a host asking him, “How do you play all the instruments at the same time?” Jenkinson scrunches his eyes in confusion and responds, “Can’t you understand anything? You total prick,” and the audience responds with laughter and cheering.
Somehow, this scene is relevant in discussing Viennese post-rock duo le_mol, which consists of Raimund “Mundl” Schlager and Sebastian Götzendorfer. In the studio, overdubs can convincingly turn one musician into dozens, as has been proven contemporarily on albums like M83’s Before the Dawn Heals Us and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. However, live performances generally necessitate the hiring of a performing band or for the artist to strip down their songs to bare but engaging routines.
With le_mol, Schlager and Götzendorfer want to have their cake and eat it too. Both live and in-studio, they expend tremendous effort maintaining the gargantuan crescendos of popular post-rock and the delicate strata of ambient music while religiously – some might say stubbornly – adhering to the intimacy of a musical duo. le_mol make heavy use of Boss’s Loop Station foot pedal to capture several bars of one instrument track before picking up another and adding it to the song. Their chosen genre of post-rock – peppered with the occasional ambient-leaning interlude – is, structurally, the perfect place to do so.
I spoke with both of them via Zoom in mid-December to better understand how they pull it all off.
“Raimund started the band as like a home project or living room project kind of thing where he played by himself with the Loop Station – and back then it was more of an ambient project,” Sebastian Götzendorfer, the band’s percussionist and synthesizer player, said. “I caught one of his shows in 2012 where he was still performing as a solo artist and I was looking for a new band at the time, and ever since then we became buddies.”
“I was looking for a drummer because I wanted to have more sound on the stage – a bit louder with drums and everything,” said Raimund “Mundl” Schlager, le_mol’s guitarist, pianist and founder. “I was looking for a drummer and [Sebastian] was actually a friend of a friend of mine and he was at one of my shows. And then we just started talking, and like a week or two after that we started rehearsing and it really went well that way.”
Schlager, who also mans the band’s Loop Station RC-300 during live sets, cited post-rock mainstays like Sigur Rós and Mogwai as influences. Their 2018 album Heads Heads Heads (Panta R&E Records) even features a song called “le_mol Fear Mogwai.”
“When I watched them at a show, I thought to myself that I wanted to do that music because it was really great or a strange experience to see such music live,” Schlager said. “I started with that and Mogwai is one of my favorite bands, so I’d say that’s a huge influence – or at least it’s something I’m always coming back to listen to.”
Götzendorfer, on the other hand, attested to being a fan of metal and prog-rock. He mentioned former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez as an inspiration.
“Martin Lopez was a guy where I learned basically that if you’re a metal drummer or rock drummer you can also incorporate jazz and softer musical influences,” he said. This idea shines through on songs like “Hands” from the band’s latest album, White Noise Everywhere (Panta R&E Records), which features a jazz- or dance-inspired beat early on, loaded with syncopated ride cymbals and drumsticks rapping the edge of the snare drum.
Götzendorfer also said he’s turned Schlager on to post-metal recently.
“I tried to convince him earlier but he wasn’t ready,” Götzendorfer said with a laugh. “One thing that’s interesting is that we come from quite different musical corners, so to speak, so both of us played in bands before basically ever since we turned 14 or so, and I was sort of like a metal guy and he’s coming from the grunge corner.”
Austria is also home to post-rock acts like Lehnen, who have toured the U.S. and Europe and supported bands like Russian Circles, Boris and Caspian; Doomina; Møuntain; Maira; and Our Ceasing Voice. le_mol sounded happy to be in such good company, but I was interested in speaking with the self-described “loop orchestra” about what sets them apart from their contemporaries and influences their signature sound.
—Starting from Scratch
On stage, le_mol perform a few bars of e-drums or guitar while feeding them into the RC-300 and loop them. Then they sync additional tracks of the same instruments or move on to others to continue to build their songs.
“E-drums, synthesizers, piano – or keyboard – and guitars,” Schlager said. “These are the four main instruments we’re putting through the Loop Station.”
“And one mic for percussion,” Götzendorfer added.
Schlager continued his explanation.
“There’s always a few main loops and we start overdubbing so it’s really hard to tell how many overdubs we are doing –“
“Maybe 30 to 40?”
“Is it that many?” Schlager asked.
Live looping comes with risks. Building a song up live requires precision and leaves no room for error, because one buzz note on a guitar or one wrong key pressed on a keyboard doesn’t just happen once – it comes back around in perpetuity.
“It’s something we get a lot after our live concerts,” Götzendorfer said. “People notice that we have to be very concentrated on stage because once you loop something in your Loop Station, obviously it repeats all the time, so basically if you fuck up one of your loops your song is destroyed.”
I asked how le_mol deal with that. Götzendorfer joked that they have a strict one-beer policy before each show. “Otherwise we can’t cope,” he said.
“At the first concerts I was really nervous,” Schlager said. “As Sebastian said […] if you make a mistake everybody can hear it and you hear it every, I don’t know, 10 seconds, and it comes again and it comes again and you can’t do anything about it. At first I was nervous about that, but it got better when we played more shows because we had more practice.”
It would be easier to perform with at least some tracks prerecorded, but both members of the band immediately disavowed the idea. Schlager emphasized that le_mol start every song from scratch at each performance; Götzendorfer added that they don’t even bring their laptop onstage.
Schlager said that working with the Loop Station has influenced their writing process as well. Since becoming a duo, le_mol has started writing down the lengths of each loop, how to combine them. On the one hand, it can sometimes be limiting – Götzendorfer said they often joke about being slaves to the Loop Station. However, he was quick to mention that it pushes them creatively.
“Just on Friday we jokingly also said that we should be endorsed by Boss because we’re actually using the Loop Station in a way that I think it’s not even supposed to be used,” he said. “We’re sort of pushing the boundaries quite a bit and the longer we’re doing this stuff the more we get even more creative with how to use it.”
They said they had worked with it as a component of le_mol for five years before realizing how to use panning to split the pedal’s stereo signal in two. They push the guitars over to the right channel and the synthesizers to the left now, and the addition of a second Loop Station to the rig will help them modulate the signals further.
All the overdubbing adds up. Schlager mentioned that they took a break for two months due to the coronavirus outbreak and when they came back to rehearse, they had to remember how and when to incorporate which of the more shoegaze-like elements to their sets – “where to step, where to put your foot and which track goes where and everything,” he said.
Götzendorfer agreed. “[It’s like] crazy choreography, with which pedal you switch on before which loop, and it looks like a crazy dance sometimes.”
They also recently successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign for a vinyl edition of White Noise Everywhere. I asked them what the key was and they said they believed it helped them to express to their fans and friends that the Kickstarter was more of a pre-order, which helped eradicate the perception of a lot of crowdfunded ideas that the creators are “begging for money.” By stressing that they were gauging public interest in the project by taking pre-orders, they controlled the narrative. Their top tier rewards didn’t hurt either.
“One of the top prizes that [we gave] to people on Kickstarter is that we would manufacture our own maxi-single, on vinyl, and people could choose which songs they wanted to have on there,” Götzendorfer said. “And that was not so cheap; I think it was like 60 or 70 Euros – and some people that we’ve never heard of before were ordering these maxi-singles and one of these guys, for the A-side he wanted one of our five-minute drone interludes and for the B-sides he was opting for one of our demo songs where I wasn’t even sure where he got that from [laughs].”
As a band and as individuals, le_mol found themselves in an awkward spot when the coronavirus came to Austria. Schlager is a schoolteacher and has had to adjust to teaching students online while the Austrian government – like all other federal governments – has had to adjust public plans on a week-by-week basis all year.
“We can’t plan anything right now in school because we started off in school, then there was a lockdown, then the students from 15 years to 18 years went to distance learning, then everybody [went] to distance learning, now some of them are back in school,” he said. “We think there will be a next lockdown after Christmas, so then we will be back at home stuck distance learning again and we will do everything like in video chats or something.”
Among other adjustments teachers have had to make, Schlager included not being able to give students feedback face-to-face nor interact with them in any other way in person. It hinted at one underreported phenomenon unique to COVID-19: Educators around the world, whether teaching for their first year or their 30th, have had to relearn their jobs almost from scratch due to the different world of distance learning. To make matters worse, teachers like Schlager have become so used to frequently-changing safety measures that developing a syllabus is more of a joke than a goal.
“To not have a plan for the next three months at least…You’re just waiting for the next order or the next thing the politicians are saying, and then you have to do that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Götzendorfer is a clinical psychologist who works next to a COVID-19 station at a hospital near Vienna. I’ve spoken with virologists and psychologists this year who told me that one oft-overlooked factor persistent in 2020 is that not only have lockdowns been incredibly disruptive to our daily routines, but there’s no specific, guaranteed end date to anticipate. In other words, if world leaders had been able to tell their citizens, “We’re all going to stay home until X date on the calendar,” even if that date were 18 months away, we’d be able to look forward to that date and most people would have handled being shut inside much better. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that, so it’s added to our stresses. Götzendorfer agreed.
“I learned something the other day in one of my trainings, at a seminar I had to take; I think people start to mix their home life and their work life, and I think that’s something that drags people down a lot,” he said. “What I would recommend and all the other experts recommend is, even if you have a home office, when you get up for work in the morning you put on your nice working clothes or whatever and you do all these daily routines the way that you would also do it when you go to your job. Work at your desk or in another room or something, and then [after work] it’s even recommended to go out of your home and take a walk or do something that cuts your day into two halves.”
Götzendorfer stressed the importance of structuring the day as solidly as possible and trying to keep up with physical exercise, even if that only means taking a walk.
Of course, for most of the world, going to concerts has been off the table for most of 2020, but le_mol managed to squeeze just one gig in earlier this year: an August 7 concert at KAPU in Linz. The catch? Social distancing was still enforced at the time and the audience faced strict mask mandates.
“It was a very strange atmosphere,” Götzendorfer said. “For one thing it was pretty cool to be able to play a show, at least, right? Other places that wasn’t possible at all. [But] it was still a weird experience because there was no response whatsoever from the audience other than between songs – so obviously they were clapping between songs, but during the songs, if there’s people seated and they wear face masks, you don’t even see their faces, so after the show I sort of realized that the feedback you also get from the people in the first few rows is more important than you might think.”
“For me it was the same,” Schlager said. “It’s strange to just see eyes from people who are just sitting in front of you and like something from a dystopian future, where [you’re] like ‘Ok, this is how we do entertainment now?’ Afterwards when you talk to people again, then you see ‘Ah! Yeah, they enjoyed it,’ but it was strange while playing a show and acting like nothing is weird right now. But it was also good to play a show – to play this one show this year.”
Götzendorfer noted that he also appreciated being able to play at all. He said some people in the audience approached them after the show and said it was the only show they’d attended since the pandemic began and they were excited to see a live band again.
Starting from scratch.