EF – So the first thing to do is introduce yourself so I don’t have to make something up about you
WK – I’m Wren Kitz, I am a musician living in Burlington, Vermont. I’ve been spending a lot of my time and energy recently learning about making analog tape recordings and have always also used smaller tape recorders to make field recordings to bring that into my music. So that’s what some of this pile of stuff is today – realistically the beginning of my collection…who are you?
I actually don’t have a good answer to that.
People ask me, “What type of music do you play?” And it’s always tough to describe, in terms of genre. I never know what to say, sometimes I’m like, “Oh, it’s like, singer songwriter stuff, experimental ding dong candy bar,” I don’t know what to say. But recently I’ve been like, it’s kind of just emo music. That has a certain connotation, and most people hear that term and it’s a specific genre that requires a certain sound from a guitar and a certain way of singing. But when I say “emo” it’s just because I kind of realized that, definitely lyrically, all of my songs are just a weird way of describing a feeling that I’ve been experiencing. Like if I’ve been experiencing a certain type of anxiety, I’ll write about it in a way that’s maybe more like a story or something, and the words that capture that certain emotion. So that’s why I say that I’m an emo artist. But I don’t think anyone else thinks that way.
Sometimes I get really self-aware, I played a concert recently with the band, I felt really funny afterwards, and I didn’t directly say to my bandmates that I felt that way…I did eventually, but just kind of feeling like all these songs are very emotionally intense for me, especially when you’re playing five or six or seven songs and they have all these lyrics. I’m singing them or performing them and kind of remembering all of those times – I don’t always write about times that I feel really happy, but maybe I should. I tend to do more writing when I’m feeling a little bit grim or something, or things are bleak.
So, when you think about starting whatever process you’re starting – like, a song – how does that work? Do you usually have a recording, like a field recording that you’ve done first, do you have a library of stuff?
I’ve done it both ways, to be honest. I’ve done projects before where I go out with my field recorders and make recordings, and bring them home and just listen to whatever I have on the tape, and then kind of put in a simple guitar structure to lay on top of it. Recently as I try to write more, I don’t even know what to call this, maybe just “bigger” guitar songs, with lyrics and kind of making arrangements for a band, I’ve been getting pretty far along in the song process and then going back to things that I’ve recorded, finding things that kind of fit in this arranging kind of way. It’s almost that the recordings start being an additional instrument.
There’s times, for sure, where I’ll record a song and then all of a sudden realize that there’s one section that would be perfect for something that I had recorded a couple weeks ago. There was a time recently that I was listening back to a recording of a song that I had made, actually even a few months ago, I had been in my backyard and recording, kind of sneakily, my neighbors, who were all singing together. And it just was like, this is perfect – this section of this song, that’s where that recording is supposed to be. So sometimes it fits, it’s all just like a kind of weird puzzle to me.
Do you use tapes in [your other band] Paper Castles? Or are these just your thing.
I haven’t much. Sometimes, I’ll bring a small recorder or player to a practice and make a recording, and kind of mess around with it. But not too much in our live shows.
Paddy [Reagan, of Paper Castles] and I had a band before Paper Castles called Soft Opening, and that was definitely one where I was able to incorporate a lot of tape recordings. There was even a while in that band where I wanted to practice music not on guitar as much, because that had become my main instrument – it’s still what I would consider my main instrument, but it was really fun to have a few shows where I challenged myself not to play guitar, and I just set up a mixer with a bunch of tape players and a record player and used those things as an instrument, which was really fun.
Are you taking a picture of this pile of tapes?
Yeah, the light is nice, and you’re in it a little bit.
My next investment and/or building project is just to get a big cassette tape rack. As you can see, this just gets out of order really fast. Right now, I’ve just got piles of tapes in my room, and then there’s this area down here, and it all turns into a big mess.
You said earlier that you had a favorite tape recorder, or were you just talking about the karaoke machine?
Well, in a weird way they’re all my favorite for one reason, which is kind of like what’s fun to me also about these. They all have their own character.
The karaoke machine is just really fun, it’s older – not too old, probably from the 90s or something, but it’s got some weird things that you wouldn’t expect to work. Like you can play both decks at the same time so they’re just overlapping each other, and you can plug two mics into it, so you can just kind of make it go completely nuts. It’s also fun when your friends come over and they want to do karaoke, except when you think it’s a good idea to have friends over late at night to do Sublime karaoke and wake up your roommates. But then all of those stories just go into that machine, which is fun, and that was a fun night. Now it’s just a fun joke, the time that “Santeria” woke everyone up.
But yeah – like this, the big four track in the middle, is kind of like my favorite right now for making really nice, clean sounding tape recordings. It’s still got a lot of hiss going on, which is something I kind of like in all these machines too. The crystal clear quality of recording to a computer gives me the willies when I’m doing it, like hearing my voice in that way when I listen back – and I know that this is maybe because I haven’t gotten very good at using computer programs to mix music and add effects that would make me feel good about it, but it’s that way that you never really like listening to your voice back on the message machine. Like, “is that what I sound like?” For some reason with these, when I record a tape and listen back, there’s this warm quality to it that makes it feel much better for me.
So that’s the player that I use for that. I got it a little over a year ago and decided last February to do one of those RPM challenge albums, where you write and record an album in one month. And part of that for me was that I was going to write and record the album and do it all on the big four track, and that would help me learn how to use it. At the end of that month I ended up really enjoying what had come out. That’s the fun thing about those challenges, is that you don’t really like allow yourself as much time to listen back a thousand times and think about things, you just make it happen, work fast. I come up with what feel like better songs to me when I work fast and then practice and add things.
So that was last February, I recorded that album to the four track, which Matt [Robidoux] ended up releasing on Hidden Temple, the “Churnin” tape.
Then this big Yamaha 8-track cassette recorder was what I recorded the album that I had written and recorded before “Churnin,” but that just came out on vinyl. All the stuff that isn’t with a full band is on that one. This 8-track is cool, it’s a bit complicated because there are some counter-intuitive features, with like panning and stuff that you have to get used to and it’s a bit strange, but once you get the hang of it it’s really easy to overdub, so you can just add and add and add.
So, do some of these come with you and some of these live here?
Yeah definitely, the two smaller Sony Walkmen looking things, those are oftentimes the ones that I’ll have in my coat pocket or whatever, it’s nice, I started thinking of the idea of making recordings out in the world more in the way that I thought of photography, which a hobby of mine.
It sounds similar to how I feel about my cameras.
You know when you have a camera around your neck and you’re walking around and you have more of an awareness of how things look because you’re thinking about pictures, it’s kind of the same for me when I have the recorder in my pocket. It’s like I hear more, and I’m thinking about things to record. So those are the ones that I use for that, they’re small and easy to use and they make surprisingly cool recordings for being a little cassette player and recorder.
It must be kind of similar, like some of the questions that I have about these in my head are questions I don’t even want to ask because they’re the same questions that people will ask me if they see me carrying around a film camera and I’m like “you’re annoying!”
Well that’s OK, no one ever asks me questions, so it’s kind of fun
Well OK, so for tape for these, how do you get that, especially for the bigger ones? Because I know how to like, use a cassette tape, but with the big reels…also, the boxes look pretty old, is that a limited supply for you? Do you reuse that, like record it, load it in somewhere, and then reuse?
I do a bit of both. A lot of the tapes that I have are just ones that I’ve bought from the junk store for like 75 cents apiece and just kind of listened to whatever was there, and appreciated a mix from the past that someone made…some things are too precious to record over and those I’ve just saved, I think in like the 70s folks were making mix tapes on these big reels, so a lot of those I’ll just record over.
But the old tapes oftentimes, you get what you pay for. You buy a tape for 75 cents and it’s really old and it’s had information on it, it sounds extra scratchy and hissy. It’s like it almost sounds dusty. That can be kind of nice for certain things.
And the other way to do it is just going on eBay, and there’s always someone who is selling “still in the wrapper!” things. It does make a difference, I remember the first time I went that route and bought fresh reels it was so much cleaner sounding, the recordings were way nicer. It’s not really surprising. In some ways it’s probably similar to the idea of, I don’t know, you can probably buy expired film…
I do buy expired film.
Yeah, it’s got a certain quality to it that’s nice. And I think that’s the tapes from the junk store kind of thing.
And there’s different levels of expired film you can buy, like even on eBay there’s people who are like “I found this? $10?” Or there’s people who are like, “I’m a photographer and I’ve stored this in a refrigerator unused, here’s the expiration date” and that’s a little more.
Yeah, controlled expiration. And it’s funny, it’s been the same with blank cassettes for me. For these 8 and 4 track cassettes you use a different type of tape than just your run-of-the mill blank tape. You couldn’t necessarily take a Bob Weir tape and record over it on the 8 track. But it’s been the same for me when people are like, “Oh I’ve got all these tapes, does anyone even still record to tape? I’m giving them away for free.” One time Paddy brought me like a whole bag of really nice cassettes, still wrapped up, which I’ve been using for the past year. It was just someone on some community forum that just posted “Does anyone still record to tape? I’ve got all of these, they’re still wrapped up.” And Paddy was nice enough to see that and think of me, and grab them.