Outer Space Stopped Freaking Out and Made an Album to Help a Baby Sleep
The Cleveland duo—featuring John Elliott of Emeralds—met during a panic attack, but their new album ‘Gemini Suite’ was initially conceived as a sleep aid.
Photo courtesy of the artists.
John Elliott met Drew Veres during a particularly chaotic time in the former's life. In 2009 the then-member of the beloved—but now disbanded—synth trio Emeralds was living in Cleveland, and spending a lot of time "freaking out." He didn't really have a name for it at first, but he slowly realized he was having crippling panic attacks. "I'd smoke weed and go to the hospital and tell them I was dying," Elliott says with a laugh during an early October Skype call, between pulls on a vape pen. "And the next day I'd wake up and smoke weed and go to the hospital."
Veres went to the same high school as Elliott, but they didn't actually meet until a house show at a mansion in Cleveland lovingly called the Cool Ranch. It was the first time that Elliott actively realized he was having a panic attack, and Veres—who also deals with anxiety—was able to console him. Elliott says Veres told him, plainly, to "calm down," but Veres protests: "I'm sure there was a bit more bedside manner than that."
From there, the pair sparked an easy friendship and started recording together. Outside of his work in Emeralds, Elliott was also making slowly unfolding synth music as Outer Space. Veres, who went to school for audio engineering, first started helping Elliott record his works, even donating a little time in a studio he had access to for school. Slowly, he became a full-fledged member of the project, forming a core duo that would eventually release on experimental institutions like Editions Mego and Blast First.
Favoring spontaneity, the duo would record torrents of material, both on their own and with help from friends like Coil member Drew McDowall. Their unraveling free-associative compositions drew on their love of free jazz and ambient music—forms that prize moments of discovery which emerge from overall shapelessness. They'd find the beauty sorting back through the hard drives full of material and they'd release upwards of a dozen tapes, cassettes, CD-rs, and full-length LPs over the course of the next three years.
For a multitude of reasons, including pressing plant delays, cross-country moves, and more mental health issues, Outer Space has been quiet for a while, but next week they're set to release an LP called Gemini Suite. That record was initially recorded as a gift to a newborn baby, to help the child and their parents by extension, get some sleep. After their friend William Berry, who runs the label Amethyst Sunset, heard and loved the record, they decided to give it a proper release, but it still retains the hallmarks of its conception. Spread across two sidelong tracks, Veres and Elliott space out and embrace the simple placidity that they offer at their best, offering a version of their ambience that's weightless and bright—less a drift through the cosmos than a night afloat on an old waterbed.
Below, you can stream the record in full, alongside a conversation with Veres and Elliott about the special spontaneity of their partnership and how they keep each other from freaking out.
THUMP: What first drew the two of you to actually work together after you became friends?
John Elliott: I had been putting out tapes as Outer Space for like three years at that point but it was only me. Then I slowly started to add people to the mix. So I told Drew to come over and play synths, because at the time I had a lot of synths. I don't think Drew had ever played too many hardware synths before. I always encouraged people who didn't play synth to play synth on my records because when you don't know how it sounds best.
Drew Veres: I'd argue that I knew how a synth worked at that point.
Elliott: Not that well. I come with that ignorance shit. It's not necessarily better or worse, but I find it fascinating when someone's like "What's it doing?" and I'm like "It sounds great, I'm going to record that."
There have been other people in the project over the years too right?
Elliott: A lot of people live in New York, like Drew McDowall. Then there's this guy Phil Whiteside, who's a total maniac recluse who lives in Virginia. It's hard to get everybody together to do it and me and Drew started playing together a lot so we just pared it down to a duo in the last four years.
Veres: At that time we were probably doing 80% of the stuff as far as time goes.
It seemed like you got into a rhythm where you were able to get a lot of music out really fast.
Veres: We put out two albums in one summer.
Elliott: It wasn't intended to be that way. We took a nice grip of money from Blast First to get a bunch of synths repaired. So then we owed them a record.
Veres: We were playing, at minimum, three or four days a week. This was during an interesting phase where we were on really bad schedules. We'd watch a bad movie and then jam for a couple hours and then watch a bad movie, at like 4 in the morning.
Elliott: It was a vicious cycle.
Were working in a spontaneous way? It doesn't seem like you really use plotted out concepts aside from this release.
Elliott: A lot of it was on the fly. We didn't really write, per se. Even to this day we don't do too much of that. We get the sounds we like and get a bunch of them and structure it later. A lot of it was just free jammin'. I delete half our shit anyway.
Veres: You get a high out of that.
Elliott: I love deleting master tapes.
Veres: But we kinda balance each other out. [John] has that spontaneity and I'm overly critical of everything.
Elliott: He has to rein it all in because I'll just go crazy. Even before I got into synths I was listening to a lot of free jazz like Coltrane, Albert Ayler and that kind of shit. Even when I was back in Emeralds you could hear how that worked, [the music] just unfolded itself. The mind-blowing parts of those songs are when you realize that things are unfolding in a really interesting way. I don't think that you can't get that out of structured music, but I never found it as compelling as just having it happen.
Veres: You're starting without structure, a relatively controlled chaos and then finding the structure organically.
What makes your partnership so fruitful, especially after all these years?
Veres: In all honesty, for a multitude of reasons, we haven't really been able to jam for a year.
Elliott: Longer. The last thing we actually worked on with a focused effort was this Gemini Suite album, and that material's almost two years ago. We have this thing where we get all this stuff done and maybe 80% of it is a no-go and 20% of it works. I think the working relationship is good because both of us are satisfied with how each other operates. Drew's more of a workhorse.
Veres: I actually feel like I'm kind of lazy. We both have similar ideas for what we're trying to get to. We could both get there in some form in our own way, but [working together]'s a more creatively efficient way to get there.
Elliott: I'm bonkers.
Veres: You tell me to chill out and I tell you to tie your shoes.
So if most of the stuff comes without a specific mandate, this record was really different right? It was made as a sleep aid for a baby, right?
Elliott: I think [the parents] were weirded out because more people were finding out it was for their baby.
Veres: It was supposed to be a surprise gift. We were going to make a bunch of white noise type stuff.
Elliott: We cranked out the whole record in an evening. We spent a lot of time screwing around and mixing it and we made a small CD-r run that I don't think anyone even knows exists. We gave to our friend to give to his friends. It just happened really fast and it was really easy to make because there was a really simple and straightforward concept. I know it's high time to release an ambient record with all the ambient wars going on right now on the internet, but it was this simple concept of making relaxed electronic music for a sleeping child. We ended up really liking it and then The Wire [said in their review] it was satanic yoga music, so hopefully the kid can still get some rest.
Veres: Yeah that kid could be fucking Rosemary's Baby.
Were you thinking about it as a sleep aid as you made it?
Elliott: We just defaulted to something we know we're really good at and something we don't really try too hard at because it's so easy for us to roll out that kind of music. But it was weird because it happened really fast. We were sort of thinking of making a classic mellow electronic record for the baby.
Veres: Yeah there was the intention of giving it to our friends but as we were making it the only time there was direction for what it was supposed to be was if it was something you couldn't sleep to.
Elliott: As to not disturb the child. If it started getting flipped out, he had to check me.
Veres: I think I only did once but it's still on the record.
Elliott: I did insist on a weird part on the B-side staying because I thought it'd be good for the baby.
Veres: But this record actually happened at a crazy time.
Elliott: I moved right after. It was a weird year and then I moved to the desert for a while.
Veres: And I lost my mind without moving to the desert.
Veres: Panic attacks.
Elliott: Drew has really bad anxiety. So do I, but I've sort of been able to curb it. Drew froze up. The engine seized up. We had to cancel a European tour. It was bleak.
Veres: We went on the worst tour ever.
Elliott: The house I was living in that was our recording studio and a base for a lot of people, which Drew slept on the floor every night at. One day this dude in Hummer came by and said "We're bulldozing the house, man, turning it into a parking lot." We were like, "Alright, cool." We had to be out in two weeks so I put all my stuff in my dad's basement and went to New Mexico for a while. Then Drew freaked out.
So this is why all the releases slowed down.
Veres: Well, yes and no.
Elliott: William [Berry of Amethyst Sunset] got it and dug it a lot. The pressing plant we were working with actually fucked it up about eight times. For some reason they couldn't cut a lacquer of this record and press it. It's been in the works between various pressing plants for well over a year.
Veres: We had layouts and artwork done for two years ago.
Elliott: With any kind of music that you feel comfortable releasing, I guess it doesn't matter when it comes out if it still hasn't been heard. It's been so long since we've recorded this music and it's not really where we're at, but we haven't had anything come out in a long time and I still think it's good. So hopefully people still like it for what it is even though it's been years.
Veres: Hopefully people can use it for things other than yoga.