Botany Session - December 2011

This Session
Violitionist Sessions

Session Date: August 18, 2011
Posting Date: December 5, 2011
Artist Hometown: Denton, TX
Links:, Western Vinyl Page, Twitter, Facebook
Recorded by: Michael Briggs

Monk Rock Version 1, Chapter I
Monk Rock Version 1, Chapter II
Monk Rock Version 1, Chapter III
ONE:Can you tell us about the beginning of Botany, and how your new EP came about?
Spencer Stephenson: OK, well…I was playing in Sleep Whale, who I met through a friend of mine, who was recording at their house back in January of 2009. I ended up being asked by Bruce and Joel to play guitar, originally, for Sleep Whale, and then I ended up on drums two weeks before our first show. I stayed on drums for a year and a half until we took an indefinite hiatus. Sleep Whale was on Western Vinyl, and I had gotten to know Brian over a few shows that we played in Austin that he had come to, and so on one of those last Austin shows with all of us together as Sleep Whale, I just presented the idea of him putting out some of my solo material, which I had been working on in some way or another since I was probably fifteen, and he said yes.
BF: What was it like making the EP?
Spencer: Well, a lot of it is just a few years of collecting samples from records. Basically, I go through all of these sound sources, mainly records, and find these tiny little pieces that I sometimes leave as is, and other times I edit to my liking. I basically build a library of samples, kind of the way I would build a vocabulary of, you know, chords and scales and, on drums, fills and beats and different things like that. I just build a vocabulary of samples so that I have whatever sample I need to suit a specific part, and then I just work really linearly by placing measure after measure, focusing on one little tiny piece of it at a time, and then moving on and going to the next thing, and then going back over it and adding the free-form element to make it feel less rigid. I add the free-form element with live guitar. Usually, there is an organic bass line under every Botany song. That’s just part of my working style. And of course, I play drums, too, so whenever it’s convenient for me to record them, which it rarely is, I record drums. Basically, this is just a big melting pot of everything that I have been doing since a young age, you know? Everything I love, really.
BF: Did you record in a studio or at home?
Spencer: It was at home. It was all done on pirated copies of the shittiest software in the world. I’m not going to tell anybody which software, because I don’t want the comment boards to blow up with all kinds of nerdy call-outs, but yeah, it’s all really simple and cheesy. And fun, you know?
BF: Do your samples help direct the creation of the songs, or are they more of an afterthought?
Spencer: Absolutely. I guess what I meant by building the vocabulary and building the sample library, and being able to pull from that, is…with samples, it’s sometimes both a forethought and an afterthought, because I feel like that’s where you find some of the real magic of sample-based music, when you can find two entirely different sources that match up amazingly. So, I just have to keep a mental log of everything that I’ve collected so that if I find one really awesome sound, I immediately jump to another one in my mind that might compliment it perfectly. It starts and ends with sample placement. Sometimes, not all of the time, but that is one element of it.
TWO: How do you translate your songs into live performance?
Spencer: Well, I’ve just been trying to find every way possible…not to recreate what’s done when I’m alone necessarily, but to bring that core feeling, that core aesthetic, to a live situation without the rigidness of electronic music. My goal is to try to bring some kind of improvisational possibility. Just a lot of room for musicians to just be themselves on their instrument when I’m playing with other musicians, and room for me to do what I love to do on…it’s guitar this time, but it could be drums someday, I could play bass. The live performance is geared towards freedom. After being in Sleep Whale and having songs that were structured, although they had some loose elements, I got sort of bored with the idea of a band going on stage and knowing exactly what they’re going to play before they start. I’m just…I don’t think I’ve ever really been a fan of performing songs that way. I was always really…You know, learning other people’s songs on guitar growing up, I would just take riffs from here or there, because I never wanted to learn a song rigidly, as it was recorded.
BF: You didn’t want to recreate it the same way…
Spencer: Yeah. The recording is an entirely different thing, especially the way that it’s done nowadays, in people’s bedrooms. It’s an entirely different thing than a live performance, you know? A record is like a painting you do, and it’s kind of weird to go do a live painting, unless you’re Bob Ross or somebody like that. The whole point of the live performance is to make it as fun and free as possible.
THREE: What’s next for Botany?
Spencer: Well, I’m just kind of slowly working on building a repertoire of songs for my first full-length album. I might release another EP before I go ahead and do the full-length. I kind of hit a wall in some ways because I love to experiment with different sounds so much that I tend to become disinterested in whatever sound I’ve built up for the last six months, and move on and change it. I’m always afraid that I’ll end up with a very ‘all over the place’ album because of that, and I just didn’t want to commit to a full-length album until I had a solid, clear line between every track that was going to go on it.
BF: Is there a theme for Feeling Today?
Spencer: Well, those songs actually kind of magically matched up together over about two years of working on tracks here and there. I originally put a couple of those songs on there as throwaways that I wasn’t really emotionally invested in, but that Brian at Western Vinyl had liked and convinced me to put on there. Track number four was done a couple of years before the rest of them were. Track number two was a fun track that I didn’t think I would ever really show to anybody or put on anything. It was kind of the same with track four. We just wanted to get something out so that people knew that I was alive, and so I could kind of get my foot in the door while I worked on what I really wanted to do. I hope I haven’t talked that point into the ground. I feel like the EP…the emotionally tone of it was really honest, but I don’t really feel that way that I did anymore. I guess it was almost kind of…I wouldn’t call it naïve at all, and I wouldn’t even call it happy, just…I would call it more…I don’t know. I feel like I’m a super sad guy that loves happy shit. Or, maybe, the other way around! A really happy guy that loves sad shit. Either way, I’m confused as fuck by how I feel all the time, and going back and listening to the EP, I kind of…I…I don’t know, it just comes from such a different place. The stuff that I work on now has a little bit of a darker emotional tone from time to time. I think some of the happiness that was on the EP came from…that process of making music on the computer was a little bit newer, and it was little bit more joyous for me to work that way. I think that really came through on those tracks. The EP is a little happier than what’s probably going to be on the full-length.