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Interviews

All Tiny Creatures

by Robin SinhababuApril 9, 2009

  In the conversation, Creatures’ guitarist/keyboarist Tom Wimcek and drummer Ben Derickson discussed the instruments they play, the group’s division of labor, being compared to other bands, cute band names, the snakeboard, softball, the lack of anything between Milwaukee & Texas, and much more…

QRO: Who came up with that name?

Tom Wimcek: I did.  I don’t know why.  I named a song –

QRO: Yeah, me neither.

TW: [laughs] What?  So, anyway, I don’t know.  I named a song that, and then I just thought, I’ll name the group that.

QRO: You had a band name before that was kind of cute, too wasn’t it?

TW: Cute?

QRO: Yeah.  What was the band you were in before?

TW: Is this like a…what’s going on?

QRO: This is Meet the Press right here, man.  Only hard questions.

TW: I was in a band…

QRO: ‘Emotional something’?

TW: Oh, Emotional Joystick. 

QRO: Yeah.

Ben Derickson: That was solo stuff, wasn’t it?

TW: Yeah, it wasn’t a band.  Although, that’s not true.  Joe and Brad and I played together.  Brad and Joe are in MegaFaun (QRO photos).

BD: Who just played.  And are the reason we were in a good mood.

QRO: What bands that y’all have shared the stage with so far have been a really good match for you?

TW: Efterklang and Slaraffenland (QRO album review) were amazing.  Stars Like Fleas is really good.  MegaFaun.

QRO: Not just this festival, I mean, in general.

TW: Oh, I’m sorry. 

QRO: It seems like y’all could play with more rock bands and could play with more electronic bands, and could play with instrumental groups, or not.

BD: Most of our shows so far have been very low-key.  Mostly local guys, local bands from Milwaukee and Madison.  I can’t think of anyone–

TW: What about Ross’s – Canyons of Static?  That’s a Milwaukee band.

BD: Celebrated Working Men, they’re really good and they’re getting more popular.  They’re just a proper pop band, but we manage to fit in with them somehow.

TW: That’s true.

QRO: What’s the division of labor in the band between the two guitar/keyboard players?

TW: I write most of the stuff, although they’ve started writing more now.  But I don’t know, I usually come up with an idea that’s just like a process I and lay something down, and take it to the band, and we work on it and flesh it out.

BD:  He composes it on a computer, with scratch drums, whatever, and then we get together and figure out how to pull it off live.

TW: It’s gone pretty well.

QRO: Is there a difference in guitar styles and keyboard styles between the two of you?

TW: Yeah. 

I’m a terrible guitar player, so I don’t play guitar really.

  My guitar has a sustainer on it, so it’s like an E-bow, but it’s actually in the guitar.  So I usually play drone, one-or-two note things.  So it’s not a guitar so much as it is a soundmaker.  Andy, however, is a completely great guitar player.

QRO: So that’s why you have him doing it most of the time?

TW: Exactly.

BD: He’s the guitar player of the band for sure.

TW: That’s exactly right.

BD: I’m the drummer.  I’m not the guitar player

QRO: Yeah, I didn’t see you doing any guitar the day before yesterday.  I was going to ask, but maybe you’ve answered it, what goes into choosing whether a particular riff, especially a note riff, should be played on the Rhodes versus the guitar.  Is it just because you’re more comfortable with the keyboard, or is there a timbral decision that’s worth making?

TW: It’s a sound thing.  It’s the sound of the guitar – I’m running the guitar through the computer and processing it.

QRO: You could do the same with the keyboard, right?

TW: No, because on the guitar, I’m hitting a note and it’s sustaining.  It’s a consistent thing, so I can hold on to a note for forever, really, and then process it on the computer, loop it and stuff like that.

BD: The Fender Rhodes is not so processed; it’s straight into the PA.

TW: I play it live.

QRO: Are y’all at all influenced by what Battles (QRO photos) is doing?

TW: That’s funny.  No. [laughs] But it’s funny, because we’ve gotten asked that.  That’s like the one – with Bees, Collections of Colonies of Bees, that’s my other band, they constantly got compared to Explosions in the Sky, and this band seems to be getting compared to Battles.

QRO: They’re the most famous band doing some of the things y’all are doing.

TW: We really like Battles.  They’re one of my favorite bands.  I look at them as the best live dance band, because their music’s very dance-y.  Although I think it’s a lot better than most people consider dance music, it’s really intellectual and amazing.  They’re mind-blowing.  But I look at our stuff as kind of rigid; it doesn’t have a swing or anything.  It’s really straightforward.

BD: And their stuff is so much more groovy.

TW: It’s groovy, yeah.  But I do really like them; I actually really liked Ian’s first band, Don Caballero.

QRO: It surprised me that you say that you’re more rigid, because one thing that really struck me a couple days ago, is Ben, you’re not playing a hard, motorik type beat, a la Klaus Dinger or John Stanier as the case may be.  You’re not breaking any sticks, but you’re doing more ghost notes and subtle things like that.  Not pounding the kit as some drummers in the genre are.

BD: Yeah.  They’re a couple songs where I go over the motorik thing.  But I’m no Klaus Dinger.

[laughs] I will say, Ben’s more of a finesse – he’s not a pocket player, you know the guys that do two and four and it’s exactly the same for the whole song.

QRO: One of the things I enjoyed about the show most is that you showed that you can have the effect motorik creates, where you’ve got that hard beat but ethereal guitars and keyboards, but by doing a lot of subtle stuff you were able to make the same thing happen.

BD:  That’s what we’re going for.  So I’m really glad that you said that.

TW: [laughs] Me too.  So that was an awesome observation.  And Battles I think is something totally different.  They have a different end and a different means.  It’s really flattering that we get compared to them a lot.

QRO: It has a little bit to do with ignorance of the people doing the comparisons, myself included I guess, because if you don’t know that much about loops-based music, it’s your reference point now.

BD: Maybe we’re just totally full of ourselves.  No comparison, you know.

TW: No, I wasn’t trying to do that.  I’m sorry.

QRO: Even though that may be my current reference point for this kind of music, currently for this kind of music, the…

TW: [laughs]

QRO: What?  Oh, yeah.

TW: That totally distracted you!  Okay, interview’s over.

QRO: Yeah, the fat lady, or guy on a skateboard as the case may be…what is that thing?

TW: Snakeboard, man.

BD: I remember those from when I was a kid.  I never had one.

QRO: Is it easier than a skateboard?

BD: You kind of swerve your hips.

TW: See, this guy [all laugh] – oh, he’s no good.

BD I always figured it was pretty hard.

QRO: How was those guys’ show?

TW: Awesome.  I think they’re here for the softball game.

QRO: Oh, there’s a softball game.  This is a motley collection of people.  That guys in the Braves, or Angels cap over there, I didn’t think he would be here to see some post-rock.

TW: Yeah, it’s nice!  I like it when it mingles like this.

QRO: It’s a multi-genre bill.

TW: Yeah.  [laughs]

QRO: Anyway, although Battles might be my current reference point for this kind of thing, there’s a lot of music that’s similar to what y’all have done.  So what’s the new ground to cover in your genre?  What are you going to hit that no one else has hit on yet?

TW: I don’t know.  I’m actually starting to work with more vocals.  I know Battles sings too…I don’t know, I don’t really think about it.  I don’t want to be a Krautrock revival band or anything, so it’s different than that.  I don’t – actually, I do know. 

I want to fuse the actual classical influence more than other people have done.

QRO: You want to show the classical influence more?

TW: Not show, but actually use process, as opposed to just quoting Steve Reich or something like that.  Just think about how he actually wrote those songs, the process technique he used, but actually use those in a rock setting.  So “it sounds like Phillip Glass,” but instead of just doing that, thinking, “What did he do?  What were his methods?”  And then finding my own methods and process and incorporating that with rock.  If I could do that, it would be awesome.

QRO: Is that what you’re in it for too, Ben?

BD: Well, I’ll tell you how I got in it, was playing drums for some songs that he had written.  We started recording stuff that we’re playing now over two years ago.  Actually, I think it was more like three years ago.  So we were putting this stuff together piece by piece, and once we had a collection of songs we were lucky enough to find a bass player and a guitar player.  But musically my goals are very similar to Tom’s.  Although, you know, he’s the bandleader.

QRO: One thing that struck me a couple days ago was that song lengths are pretty short.  They’re not extended jams.  First of all, why is that, and second, do you think that might change as you try to have more process in the music?

TW: That was that set, because we cut things short. 

Everything’s cue-based, so to go to the next part, I or Ben usually cue it.

  Then there’s parts that are super-extended.  The extended parts, we made shorter.  So when we record it; they actually end up being about 4-5 minutes, but live, I like to play them for much longer.  It’s more fun.

BD:  We’ve got a pretty short set, anyway.  We’ve got an hour’s worth of stuff, tops.

QRO: That red drum kit was part of the backline, right?

BD: No, that’s my kit.  My kit was the backline for the showcase.

QRO: It kind of made sense, the way you were playing.  I thought, is he easing up because that’s not his usual kit?

TW: No, that’s like the Ben Derickson – you built that specifically, picking –

BD: Yeah, I chose that kit and those sizes.  It’s an old kit; it’s from the 1960s.

QRO: Sounds good.

BD: Thank you.  I’ve heard that a couple times this week, and it’s really satisfying.  I never thought – sometimes I think it’s kind of rickety, and other drummers might not like it, but I like it.

QRO: It’s especially cool to have your kit backlined and not destroyed.

BD: Although the Slaraffenland – that guy kind of killed it.  Also, the Efterklang guy.  He actually completely downtuned the floor tom.  Did you notice when he played it a lot, it wasn’t like “boooom,” it was just “wuchukchukchukchuk.”

TW: Cause it got loose.

BD: Well, he did it on purpose, that’s just how he plays.  So he was really whacking it.  But they’re all awesome dudes.  It was really nice to meet them.

QRO: They would never break your drum kit.

BD: And if they did, it would have been an accident, I’m sure.

QRO: Have y’all been to North Carolina at all?

BD: Yeah.

TW: Yeah.  Like I said, Brad and Joe and Phil from MegaFaun, they live there.  And they really are my best friends.  So I’ve been there for weddings and stuff like that.

QRO: How do y’all feel about Texas?

TW: Well, when I traveled to Texas, I was a kid, and since I was a kid, I’ve only been to Austin, and I feel like Austin’s a little bubble.  Texas as a whole may be a little different, you know.  Although we did go to Lockhart, like an hour away, for a super good barbeque.  And it was a sleepy, very nice town.  Dropped into a couple shops.  People are super polite.

QRO: Do any of y’all cook on tour?

TW: No.  We’ve got groceries, though.

BD: Cold sandwiches.  Lots of avocados and tortillas and stuff.  We pretty much drove straight from Milwaukee to Fort Worth.  So we killed it.  We’re going to kill it on the way back, too.

QRO: So this isn’t a tour for y’all, you’re just –

TW: No, no. 

BD: It was kind of last minute; we have to thank Hometapes so much, because we got on the bill pretty late.  They asked us to play, and we didn’t have time to plan a tour of any type around it.  Would have been nice, but we’re working on that for next year. 

TW: We’ll play St. Louis, because that’s about the only thing you can play on the way down.

BD:

There’s not much between Milwaukee and Texas.

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