Minecraft, Half-Life 2, Pancakes & Music: An Interview with Haunter

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Thoreau monk.

Kari gets to post all manner of very good music from the Pacific Northwest, specifically Portland, and it’s a littler rarer that Wisconsin gets included. Sure we have Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Volcano Choir fame and way back in 1983 the Violent Femmes kicked things off and long before that Les Paul was tinkering away. So Wisconsin has it’s imprint, it’s relevant, it’s just few and far between compared to other locations dubbed musical hotbeds. I did a quick search of notable artists and musicians and basically this is what popped up in addition to the above:  Steve Miller (though most would credit San Francisco), Erik Benét, The BoDeans and get ready… Liberace.

Now, in their infancy, Haunter is starting to make some noise across the internet. No it’s not the top 40, and no you won’t find them headlining Coachella this year but they are making waves, gaining steam and most importantly making very good music. With each member bringing their specific influences, and many of them starkly different from one another, Haunter has an eclectic sound that they tag on their bandcamp as, “atmospheric dream experimental folk psychedelic Wisconsin.” Each of these can be easily spotted from the psychedelic “Laura Palmer” to the atmospheric folk of “Snowberries” each brings their specific member’s influence while possessing the accessibility of good pop.  As for how the Wisconsin aspect plays into shaping their sound, well, that you’ll have to glean from reading below as the first ever interview with Haunter kicks off the 2013 series of interviews from the Swill and we couldn’t be happier about that.

SM: It appears you guys make music individually as well as a whole. On your bandcamp you link three albums, all of which appear to be solo projects. Were you all working as solo artists who found each other and created Haunter, or are those solo projects something that came after the formation of the band?

H: We’ve all always been into music. Alec and John were in various decent sounding high school bands. Our current solo projects started around the time Haunter started.

SM: Do you feel that the solo work is a necessity to your group creativity?

 Our projects themselves may not be a necessity but the fact that we all write music by ourselves contributes to the group’s creativity. Our solo projects help us grow vertically (like better songwriting/recording) while Haunter allows us to grow horizontally (deeper and better music).

SM: I’ve read that you each write your own songs, respectively. This lends its hand to creative collaboration, but also to an eclectic sound. What commonalities bind each of you together musically?

H: Our tastes all fall into something like a Venn diagram. We all like somewhat different types of music but we meet in the middle with small commonalities that can be found between them. These similarities are what largely contribute to our sound. Each member’s different taste brings a different flavor to the music. For instance, Alec really likes Dream Pop so his guitar tracks are really dreamy and shimmer over the mix, which adds an interesting dynamic when juxtaposed to Aidan’s dark songwriting.

SM: It’s evident from your Facebook page that Aidan is the only one that’s not fully on the Half-Life 2 bandwagon, but other than that, what differences lay within the members? Musically speaking, that is.

Erik:  While some of our tastes overlap I’m really influenced by Person Pitch by Panda Bear, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, and Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. I really like the rawness of Jeff Mangum’s voice, the way Noah Lennox builds his songs over time, and the awesome melodies/punctuality of Brian Wilson. I think these elements find their way into all my songs in one form or another.

Aidan: I generally don’t listen to music that’s all that similar to Haunter’s. Right now I’m actually more into ambient and electronic music than anything else. My two favorite artists and main inspirations are Grouper and Burial.

Alec: I’m probably the most mainstream out of all of us. I can’t really get into death grips. I don’t worship Animal Collective like the rest of the guys. I’ve been influenced more by John Mayer and Beach House growing up than anything, probably. I think I am more melody focused than the other guys.

John: I don’t think any of us all really listen to all the same music, or even music that sounds that much like Haunter. Like, my favorite album of last year was The Money Store by Death Grips. I’ve been really into hip-hop and electronic music lately, not at all the type of music that Haunter plays. However, there will always be albums that I hold in high esteem, such as For Emma, Yellow House, and Sung Tongs which have directly influenced my songwriting.

SM: You guys may have the most telling and fantastic Facebook banner image I’ve seen on any musical group in a long time. You list your five favorite video games. What games have you spent the most hours playing throughout your life?

Erik: I played Pokemon a lot as a kid, we went to Europe and traveled a ton and I spent most of the time with my head in my Gameboy.

Alec: I grew up with Nintendo, so I played the pancakes out of Zelda and Metroid. Minecraft and Half-Life 2 take the rest of the cake.

Aidan: I’ve spent a lot of time playing Animal Crossing: Wild World, Minecraft, Dark Souls and a lot of Bethesda’s RPGs. I never really had a console growing up so while I did get to play the classics at friends’ houses, I never had those really extensive Zelda playing sessions in my childhood. Most of the games I’ve put a lot of hours into have been recent. 

John: I really like games that feel like art and not just mindless, shallow entertainment. I’ve beaten Half-Life 2 and the Episodes four or five times. I can’t tell you how much I love those games. I’ve also spent hundreds of hours on Bethesda’s games: Fallout 3, Morrowind, Skyrim, etc. The worlds they make are so beautiful and easy to get lost in. And then of course there’s Minecraft. Back when Aidan lived in Stevens Point with us, our weekends were defined by lengthy jam/recording sessions followed by long bouts of playing on our Minecraft server. If our music brought us together, then so did that game. We still play it pretty often online with each other.

SM: All of those are fantastic but there was one thing that jumped out, Alec I’ve never heard the turn of phrase “_____ the pancakes out of.” Where did that bit of beauty come from? And don’t try to pass it off as a Wisconsin thing because I lived there for 18 years and never once heard it.

Alec:  I wish I could say that the pancake phrase has been passed down in my family for generations, but the lame truth is that it is just something I made up while answering the question to sound like a cool guy. I am going to start using it from now on. Perhaps it will trend.

SM: With the band separated by a couple hours drive, how do you guys create as a whole? What’s your process?

H: We all write songs on our own time, then we get together and jam until we form the song into what we think sounds good. Then we record it, and often during the recording process we add a lot of new things to the mix.

SM: As global as music is, I find it’s also quite geographic. Certain areas often tend to produce certain sounds. Growing up in Wisconsin, how has, if at all, the areas you’re from shaped your sound?

H: For one, we think our music reflects the vast openness one would find while driving through our state. Last weekend we drove down to Milwaukee to visit Aidan and John was talking about the subtle beauty that Wisconsin has, especially during the winter. We think our music has this same subtlety lying under its surface.

SM: Do you guys have any ambitious resolutions for the New Year? Musically or otherwise.

H: Alec says he wants eat a little better, other than that, not really.

SM: Obviously having your music featured on sites and blogs is not like having your song on a giant radio station, but it is an outlet that many people turn to instead of radio these days. What was it like the first time you posted your tracks online and strangers from all around the globe were throwing praise at your work?

H: We always think back to our first midnight release when we got like 1000 plays before morning. It was such a shaky, exciting feeling that people were actually caring about what we were doing. For some, 1000 plays wouldn’t seem like that much but to us it felt really amazing. Once blogs started picking it up, we realized we might actually have something special on our hands, which felt great.

SM: There’s not a ton of information on you guys out there and chances are I haven’t asked you a question that you’ve wanted to be asked. That being said, what would you guys like the world to know about you?

H: We really are dreamy and we really do cry often. But seriously, probably just that we don’t aspire to achieve a certain sound. We’ve read a lot of interviews where a band is like “we’re trying to be more poppy” or something like that. We don’t try for a specific sound, we just kind of let the sound develop itself with no particular goal in mind. A lot of our sound could be defined by how limited our resources are.

SM: I always find it interesting the things that people cling to or pick up on when looking at a new band or artist and writing about them. For instance, the way “Doom Soul” was everywhere in referring to Cold Specks when it was her just throwing up words without too much thought the night the track was posted. With you guys the whole “dreamy and cry often” has really seemed to be that. Perhaps every article on you starts that way. Who’s the mastermind behind that?

H: Aidan came up with it when we couldn’t think of anything else to write on our Bandcamp bio.

SM: It appears you guys put it up because it was funny, but since you’re here what was the initial intent of it?

H: There really was no initial intent. We kind of just like to be funny and do our own thing I guess.

SM: I’ve never tried this before but if you guys want to try it — let’s use this section as a personal section. Feel free to simply sound off on whatever you would like. Praise, frustration, anything. 

H: We decided to do top 5 lists.

Erik: Favorite 5 songs of the 1950s .(also: top 5 songs to die to in a car crash)

1. So What/Flamenco Sketches by Miles Davis
2. Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry
3. It’s a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
4. Mr. Sandman by The Chordettes
5. Giant Steps by John Coltrane

Aidan: Here are my top 5 albums/EP’s everyone should listen to:

1. Grouper – “Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill”
2. Burial – “Street Halo”
3. Akron/Family – “Akron/Family”
4. Animal Collective – “Campfire Songs”
5. Shlohmo – “Bad Vibes”

Alec: Top 5 guitar strings

1. E
2. B
3. G
4. D
5. A

John: I did top 5 animals

1. Cat
2. Fox
3. Male Angler Fish
4. Cat
5. Giraffe
 
This is how Haunter signed off. I felt it necessary to include.
This is how Haunter signed off. I felt it necessary to include.
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