We had the pleasure of talking to tsaik (pronounced “psych”) after their recent release ‘Lemon’ with Lost Tribe Records. With Brighton based Lost Tribe putting out some of the most forward thinking experimental music around; tsaik sit with the likes of acclaimed artist Ambassadeurs on the ever growing collection of unique releases.
tsaik is made up of two people, right? Tell us a bit about each of yourself. Where are you guys from? How did you meet? What is your musical background? Favourite colour?
We are two young folks, Jacob McArthur (20) and Joshua Ruffolo (19). Well, to start, the consensus is green. But to be honest, the idea of favourite colours is so fricking weird. To start, even if you LOVE green, what does that really say about you? There’s no innate values associated with green. And also, despite the fact that you’ve held green dear to your heart your entire life, you’ll tell someone that and it means nothing. What a useless way to connect and identify! tsaik loves green.
We both grew up in Homewood, IL, a south suburban town outside of Chicago, and continue to reside there today. We actually first met at a sleepover in early grade school, but we really interacted for the first time and started becoming friends during our freshman/sophomore year of high school (grade 9/10) where we took a computer science class together.
Jacob: I’m a painter by profession and a musician by moonlight. I’ve been camping and backpacking for much of my life and, to be honest, I didn’t have much of a traditional musical background. I was also interested in things that made sound but I only dabbled in various instruments without much in the way of a passion taking hold.
Joshua: I grew up around a lot of music, my dad has good taste and helped introduce me to a lot of interesting stuff as I got older. I also started learning the guitar when I was about 8 years old, and took lessons for quite a long time. Played in a few bands. I was always pretty musically active, was in choir for a lot of years, and I did a bit of work for my high school orchestra (conducting and stuff). Jacob and I started exploring more music as we become friends in high school. Those were very formative years for me. Since we were also both pretty nerdy and in comp-sci classes and stuff, doing more technical audio seemed to be a natural progression for us, and we just started messing with Ableton Live 9 and that’s been pretty much what’s up ever since.
Do you both have very separate roles when you’re working on music? For example, does one of you maybe focus on drums more, and the other more on the harmonic and melodic aspect?
People always ask that! And it makes perfect sense. But no, we actually are all over the place. It reflects upon the fact that our workflow is very difficult to pin down. Scatter-brained, or rather scatter-eared. However, we do each lean toward certain styles and tendencies and the varying tastes seem to complement one another quite a bit, thankfully!
I read on Soundcloud that you like to make use of obscure samples and found sounds, do you record these yourself? And if so, what kind of sounds?
Yes! We spent a lot of time running around through our houses and recording in local forest preserves recording everything we could as we were making this album. Sounds of twigs breaking, us laughing, peeing, oven doors squeaking, literally anything that we found interesting… lots of water sounds. We always loved having the ability to just import sounds that we heard in the real world because it’s a lot easier than starting from a sine wave. The adventures in nature are always a great inspiration and release for us. Shouts out to the trusty Tascam DR-07MKII that got lost in a snow bank for three months and still worked. We took a lot of inspiration from people like Mount Kimbie, Bibio, Boards of Canada, and more when we started doing that stuff.
Now, let’s get into the album. What’s the story behind the title, ‘lemon’? Also, I wonder about ‘io’, what’s the reasoning behind that name?
Lemon was the name of this dope ass cat that lived at a friend’s apartment (Spectre Waltz aka Henry). It had a gold chain and was really chill. io means absolutely nothing. It’s a pretty moon named after a Greek mythological figure, I guess. We just sorta put the letters together, it happened of its own accord.
The arrangements of a lot of the tracks feels refreshingly playful. Take ‘DUI’, where the outro takes a turn and unexpectedly introduces some mad rap vocals. How do these structures come into existence?
We are just generally very distracted and have scattered thoughts all over the place. It’s hard to keep us in the same room focused on the same thing for longer than a few minutes. We digress constantly, usually just making jokes or talking about something interesting. It’s a blessing and a curse, because it basically means that we can never do the same thing more than once, and it’s hard to get work done. tsaik is largely a collection of unique events and interactions between the two of us. It’s a very accurate representation as well as documentation of our relationship.
The vocals on ‘io’ are very interesting and give a sort of gentle warmth to the track. Did you write and sing them yourself? Is there some complex meaning behind the words I hear?
Yea, hi, thank you. I’m Joshua and I wrote and sung those. We really wanted to do a track with lyrics for once, and it was something that definitely wasn’t easy for us to overcome. It’s very difficult for us to go out and state things in English, because we have to make a very deliberate decision, as opposed to our usual distracted audio muckery. I felt like it was always very hard to write something that I could stand behind as a representation of my thoughts, if that makes sense. So those lyrics in “io” are largely about me coping with putting myself out there and giving people an intimate glimpse into who I am personally as opposed to hiding behind the guise-wall of tsaik. Writing about being afraid of writing is kinda a cop-out, but it got me through it.
How did the album end up on Lost Tribe?
We have a talented friend named Sean Smith, also known as Hominidae, who had signed on to LT and had released a couple very innovative and fresh EPs. Sean showed the label heads our music and we got in contact. LT showed a lot of interest in our sound and direction and we decided it would be a good place for an album as potpourri and eclectic as this one to end up.
I can imagine this is a tough one to answer, but which track on the album is your favourite and for what reason?
Well, these nine tracks were made over the course of two and a half years. When you spend that much time with a project this (relatively) small in scale, it becomes much more personally complicated. It makes it difficult to see them in a ranking fashion. From the listener’s perspective though, I could see how a very engaging track such as io could end up as a favourite. I wish we could give you an answer, but they all have a lot of sentimental value and are very special.
Was it always meant to be an album from the start? Or did that become the plan in the process of making the tracks?
For a long time it was just making songs without any specific intent. It was very much exploratory and very much for us, something that we just liked to do. Though it actually wasn’t the first time we put a bunch of things we made together and called it an album! The Tea Enfoca EP we released was actually a full album of our best early material. We ended up hand-picking the best tracks from there for the EP.
How do you think tsaik will evolve? Like, are there plans to maybe start playing live sets and get into a big fancy studio? Or would you rather keep it small and personal?
Well actually our studio is pretty well stocked at this point… Let me find some pictures.
*interviewer and tsaik proceed to blabber about monitor stands, analogue equipment, midi gear and other electronic ingenuity.*
Oh, about the live sets. We’ve started doing those yeah, but it’s hard. I grew up going to music festivals and shows with my dad, which we still do today, and it was always a lot of fun, very entertaining and energetic performances.
Though I must admit I never felt the same about DJ sets. They’re cool in a sense, but I think that in a live setting, the experience is more about the dance and party (which I’m not into) as opposed to creating the music. I think that electronic musicians should be held to the same standard as any major instrumental band, the best electronic act I’ve ever seen fulfil that is Caribou.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem listening to a good DJ set, but I guess when I’m at like pitchfork music festival and there’s all these very great and entertaining bands playing it’s hard for me to opt for the DJ set.
That’s fair! Last question: what can we expect from tsaik in the future?
More wild and unhindered sonic exploration, but using all the tools at our disposal as opposed to just Ableton’s technical abilities. That means composition, physical experiments, and the scariest one of all — putting meaning and context behind our creations.