D//E Interviews: JR Robinson (Wrekmeister Harmonies)


Featuring a much smaller ensemble than their previous critically acclaimed record, Night of Your Ascension, Wrekmeister Harmonies' new album, Light Falls, is coming on September 16th via Thrill Jockey.

On this one JR Robinson and Esther Shaw are joined by Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Thierry Amar, Sophie Trudeau and Timothy Herzog, as well as Ryley Walker and Cave's Cooper Crain who appear as guests.

The band is currently on a US tour which includes a lot of dates, together with Marissa Nadler and Muscle & Marrow. On the point of Wrekmeister Harmonies being constantly absorbed in their project and operating on a tight schedule, we are thrilled that JR Robinson took the time to answer a few questions...

Since the inception of Wrekmeister Harmonies the list of the collaborators that have worked with you includes many and much diverse artists, from Leviathan’s Wrest to Ken Vandermark. How difficult is it each time to partner with someone new?

Each collaboration is its own unique thing  but I’ve found it helpful to be very communicative with what my expectations are and then just let the individual performer do what they do best. I generally have them record no more than two takes and don’t get in the way.  Most of the time this works out really well. After they’ve gone I can sit down and shape what they’ve given me and make it fit into the original idea. I’ve used entire first takes with no editing and also have taken about an hour of material and used about thirty seconds but I think the most important thing is to invite the most creative people I know and them let them do their thing without interruption.

This time the album features a much smaller roster than last year’s Night Of Your Ascension. What led you to go with a smaller ensemble for Light Falls?

After completing Night of Your Ascension I was totally burned out on the idea of working with so many different musicians from various backgrounds. Esther and I  had a very positive experience playing with Tim, Sophie and Thierry up in Montreal for a performance and decided we should get together and record. We ended up going to this recording studio housed in this mansion in the middle of the woods of Quebec where we recorded one half of Light Falls. A couple months later we reconvened and tried out some more material at shows in Montreal and Toronto and immediately recorded that as well. It was all very easy and had none of the logistical or emotional drain of the Night of Your Ascension experience.

What served as the main inspirations behind Light Falls?

The main inspiration for Light Falls came from this book by Primo Levi called If This Is A Man. Levi was a Jewish chemist living in Italy who was imprisoned at Aushwitz and wrote about his experiences not only as a testament as a survivor of torture but as a witness to the inhumanity of his captors and fellow prisoners.  How can a group of mankind completely dehumanize and destroy another?  How can there be such a breakdown?What are the after effects of surviving? Is the realization of this the absolute in nothingness? Does each day become a dull repetition?  Is there truth or is that truth too harsh of a light? Does the light of that truth illuminate or incinerate? Where do these questions fit into YOUR own personal existence and how can they be applied in our current reality.

How do you choose each album’s theme?

It depends a lot on what I’m reading, researching or dealing with at the moment and if that resonates enough to create.

Is Light Falls going to be more manageable to perform live, compared to your previous work?


Why did you choose Nick Blinko’s art for the album’s cover?

Both Timothy Herzog and I love Nick Blinko’s artwork and his band Rudimentary Peni. We had this fantasy of having Nick Blinko doing the artwork for the record so we asked Simon Henderson about it and he did this incredible thing of getting in touch with Nick Blinko’s gallery representative in London. The piece does a great job of capturing the feel of the record. I especially like the black orb that hangs in the corner.

How do you feel about having three members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor backing you up?

We don’t see it as backing us up at all. It was a totally fortunate turn of events that got us together. The creative process involved all five us working together. I know that kind of experience doesn’t happen every day and will value it for the rest of my life.

Are you going to keep producing music at the same pace in the near future? Do you ever plan to take a break?

No we don’t plan on taking a break.

What made you relate so much to Wrekmeister Harmonies – the film?

The film caught me in one of those particular moments in life where I was questioning seemingly everything. The vastness of it all. Was hope just an exercise that a degenerate gambler makes? What was the balance of darkness versus light? How are we able to delude ourselves and those around us when circumstances are out of our control? I had the opportunity to interview the director Bela Tarr about the film - he gave up very little in regard to meaning and insisted that it was all what each viewer makes of it. I decided that I would create my project.

The two-minute album trailer for Light Falls is so bleak and matches perfectly the album’s overall darkness and grim aesthetics. Is there going to be more film or music videos in relation to the new album?

Nothing planned right now. That piece was put together by Chariot of the Black Moth, we had a few discussions back and forth about what it should represent and I feel like he did a great job.

Do you ever feel like music has won you over visual art? Do you handle all the artistic aspects of yours equally?

Music is taking up a lot of my time right now but I’m always shooting film and working on other things. Right now Esther and I have started a coffee collective with the visual artist David D’Andrea called Coptic Light Coffee which is a tremendously rewarding experience. We also have a live score for a film called Haxan Witchcraft Through the Ages that we’ll be doing at the Hollywood Theatre on Sept 18 in Portland that will be a combined Wrekmeister Harmonies and Coptic Light event.

Pre-order Light Falls

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