I shot a few questions over to Ross Gentry, a zealous, emerging artist in the world of ambient and drone music who performs under the name Villages. Gentry spreads his artistic wings, going for a style of sound design and craftmanship nesteled closer to folk and post-rock, than your average drone-head's digital destruction or shoegazer's laces. He's got a little southern seasoning in his soulful sound-soup, and it's that rootsy vibe that makes everyone love what he's doing, or at least me.
He's about to hit the road with Angel Olsen in April, and I wanted to get in his head a little bit before he headed out. We talked about his coming up in the southern United States, his musical appreciation and approach, and where he's headed. Enjoy…
VICE: First off, if you could start us off by simply introducing yourself, and basically just give us the gist of how you got started in music-making.
Ross Gentry: I was born in the Western Coal Fields of Kentucky in 1983. From a fairly young age I've been all about staying home and working on music. My parents bought me a guitar, a four-track, and a microphone when I was eleven and, basically, from that point until today I have slowly become more and more obsessed with collecting different instruments and experimenting with different recording techniques with no real sign of that obsession dying any time soon. I've played in some bands here and there over the years but my main focus has always been homestyle, solo recording.
You are from Asheville, North Carolina. Now, has that been your home base since you were young? Asheville, recently, like within the past two years, became the operation station of Bathetic Records, who you work closely with, as well as your own label Headway. How has Asheville changed since you were coming up?
I moved to Asheville nine years ago this month, actually. It's such a great town. I've lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else, so although I didn't grow up here, it's certainly become the home base. Asheville's become this genuinely inspiring, self-sustaining hub of forward thinking, uncommon music of all forms. It's a pretty small town but the scene here just keeps growing. New venues are popping up and it seems like there is always an interesting show to check out. Everyone knows everyone and there are endless conversations to be had about music.
Having Bathetic Records based here as well as Harvest Records, which is an Asheville institution and the greatest record store in the world, has really helped to expose what's happening in Asheville to a wider audience. I think that's the biggest change. Our existence as a whole has been underexposed and under the radar for so long. It's really cool to see some left of center musicians starting to creep out of the local bubble and receive wider exposure.
Your music has a lot of experimental elements, and you sort of traverse the realms of ambient and drone, but your music possesses a lot of very classic elements. There's a rootsy vibe going within it, and it doesn't just feel like background music at all. Where would you say you're coming from, as far as influences over time, be it musical, or elsewhere?
I'm completely obsessed with drone and ambient music. It's where my heart is and it's definitely the music I love creating the most. I'll never stop making it. But in the bigger picture of my musical existence it's very new to me. I'm a product of the South. Specifically, Appalachia. I've been surrounded by old time and southern roots music my whole life. Completely born into it. I have such a strong and comfortable connection to this regions musical framework. I feel like my influences are directly related to the emotional elements that are found in classic southern music. But it's not necessarily the music itself. Sometimes it is. Sometimes, I want to record a banjo part that sounds like a Buell Kazee song. But usually it's all about trying to capture the raw, visceral quality that that sort of music possesses. It's just so human. So unbelievably honest. It's the furthest thing from background music.
Your full-length, Theories Of Ageing, which came out on Bathetic last year, has a very specific flow and style to it. Though it seperated into many movements, it has a fluid chemistry to it, it's works cohesively, almost like a film score. Was this intentional?
Absolutely. When I'm working on a recording, I always try to maintain a strong sense of a narrative or compositional structure. I try to make every sound and transition part of something bigger. Even if it's abstracted, the idea is always front and center. It's a goal of mine to create an immersive listening experience rather than a group of songs that can be shuffled around. If I actually accomplish that I have no idea, but I like to try. The album is supposed to be listened to from beginning to end. That's why there are no actual breaks in the grooves of the vinyl. It's basically one long track. I'm an album guy. I want to listen to a record the way the artist intended. Like David Lynch films on DVD. No chapters. Drop in until the end or get out. I love that.
How long did you spend working on Theories Of Ageing? Could you give us some insight into your personal recording process? I remember Jon [Hency, Bathetic Records owner] telling me you really hunkered down and spent a lot of time working on it. Was there something ritualistic about your work sessions with the album?
It was a five month recording project. October 2011 through February of last year. I really immersed myself into that recording more that any other one I had made prior. I really got into every detail. I'm way into the back and forth of analog and digital recording methods, using both methods equally to find the sounds that fit best. Tape to computer, computer to tape. Altering tape speeds, making loops, recording a tape over itself 20 times until is perfectly degraded enough to work.
It felt really good to shift all focus to one specific project. I suppose it did become ritualistic in a sense. I wasn't burning sage and lighting too many candles or anything, but I did feel like I was extremely focused and maybe slightly detached from the rest of my life. I worked for hours every day. I obsessed over the processes and was constantly thinking about it any time I wasn't actually doing it.
You use a variety of different instruments and effects to create your sound. How important to you is it to create different sounds, textures, and environments for the music? Obviously, you're going to great lengths to create the perfect atmosphere.
It's extremely important. It's the part that I get the most enjoyment from for sure. It's so wide open. Creating the textures and background sounds is something I do in the beginning stages of the recording process and it sets the tone for everything that follows. Sets the wheels in motion. It's that really freeing moments when all that really exists is an idea and a bunch of instruments and pedals and things. I just start picking up different instruments and playing through certain effects, testing out different processes and finding what works and what doesn't. I really love the physical nature of picking up instruments and playing them and hitting record. Once the idea is in place I start getting deeper into building the tracks, structuring and adding layers. Probably too many layers a lot of the time. The hardest part, for me, of recording is knowing when to stop.
You used photographs by Herb Snitzer for the record's artwork. They have a very classic, worn, lived in feel to them, that greatly compliments the music. What was your decision to use these? You actually spoke with Snitzer himself about using the pieces, correct? What was your correspondence with him like?
I found this book called Summerhill: A Loving World in a box of old books at a thrift store around the time I was finishing recording the album. The book is a documentary of an alternative school in England in the 1960's. The book itself was aged and weathered as if it had lived a lifetime. Which I suppose it had. It had that old book smell. It carried the exact sort of feeling I was trying to achieve with this music I had been making. The photos from the book instantly floored me. There is so much humanity and simplicity in every single image. It fit so well with the themes I was working with for the recording. We decided to use scans directly from the book I found to preserve that "old book" feel.
We had minimal, but really positive correspondence with Mr. Snitzer. Jon emailed him just to inquire about using the images and he was really supportive of the idea.
You'll soon be going out for a jaunt on the road with Bathetic's rising star, Angel Olsen. How did this come about?
Yes! So incredibly excited to be supporting Angel and hanging with the Bathetic family on the west coast. I feel truly honored. I've never been to the west before. Basically, Mark Capon, Angel's manager, and Jon from Bathetic were brainstorming ideas for the opening slot on this tour. They wanted a low maintenance, single person act that wasn't necessarily a songwriter and I guess my name came up. Being label mates with Angel surely helped. I lucked out.
What is the typical Villages vibe like, when it comes to a live session? What type of energy are you trying to create for the people standing in the room with you?
It can go a lot of different ways. It's always dark. Pitch black if possible. No lights or projections or anything. Usually it's pretty mellow but still really layered and immersive with no breaks whatsoever. One long, undistracted listening experience. Sometimes I get into pushing the volume and creating some harsher type sounds. I'm just into trying to create an atmosphere that I and the people in the room can get lost in.
What, so far for you, has been the best type of environment for your peformance?
I'm into playing spaces that are focused on music first. That could be anything from a house to larger venue. Anywhere where people come to listen. My music has never really gone over very well in the straight up noisy bar environment. Also, festivals. I'm way into playing festivals. Just throwing that out there. Not the big outdoor ones, but the small venue and club festivals. I've had the opportunity to play a few and each one has been such a great experience.
What's on the future horizon for yourself and the project?
First up will be an LP version of my first Bathetic tape The Spilling Past on my label, Headway. Hopefully it'll be ready to go before the tour. Keeping my fingers crossed. I also have a few tapes coming out in the first half of this year. One called Sun Control which should be out very soon on Sacred Phrases. I also have two splits coming out, one with Divine Circles and one with Grant Evans, both on the always amazing Hooker Vision label. I'm currently finishing up a tour only tape for Bathetic as well. Beyond all of that and the tour I'm hoping to start recording a new Villages LP very soon.
Go see Villages on tour with Angel Olsen! Ride the vibe, support the vibe! Also, Villages' LP, Theories Of Ageing is available on Bathetic records; snag that here.
Sat. April 6 – San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop
Sun. April 7 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Crepe Place
Mon. April 8 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
Tue. April 9 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah
Wed. April 10 – Phoenix, AZ @ Trunk Space
Fri. April 12 – Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture
Sat. April 13 - Sante Fe, NM @ High Mayhem
Sun. April 14 – Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive
Mon. April 15 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
Tue. April 16 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux
Thu. April 18 – Portland, OR @ Bunk Bar
Fri. April 19 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
Sun. April 21 – Vancouver, BC @ Media Club
Wed. April 24 – Sacramento, CA @ Bows & Arrows