We Saw This: Speaker

Would you maybe say that your favorite combo of things to do is eating various cheeses and then watching some live music? OK!

I’ve been a fan of Lexie Mountain since I first came across her band Lexie Mountain Boys a few years ago. Last night I saw her play with one of her newish bands, SPEAKER—which is Lexie and fellow Baltimore-ite Shana Palmer on myriad electronic devices and mics—at The Ho_se in Bushwick. It was Cheese Club’s “Italian Night,” which turned out to be just what it sounds like, a night of Italian cheese, “robust” wine, and grapes for just a $5 donation fee. The night was hosted by DIY event organizer Alaina Stamatis, who gave a short, enthusiastic reading about the cheese being served.

Post-cheese, the crowd oscillated between the sweaty outdoors and the possibly even sweatier, though AC’ed basement, to see both bands. First, the Cammisa Buerhaus + Tamio Shiraishi Combination, an experimental trio that consisted of sax player Tamio; organist Cammisa; and Butoh dancer Michiru Inoue, took the floor. Then, SPEAKER. Between the trance they put me in with their looping vocals, distortion pedals, Moog, samplers, vocal delay pedal, et al. and the mega-sweating that was happening all around, it was the perfect backdrop for a cult initiation. I was so in the zone with them, I would have been sold on whatever Kool-Aid they might have given me.

But there were no sugary drinks in sight (even the wine was gone by the time they played), and, in fact, SPEAKER just played a mesmerizing and inspiring set. Their improvisational, in-the-moment vibe kind of felt like the best parts of band practice: those uninhibited moments where you really let yourself go and just do whatever it is you’re doing without questioning whether it works or not. I had the pleasure of catching up with Lexie for a brief chat before their set—here’s how it went.

VICE: From what I’ve heard of SPEAKER, you guys have a really chill vibe; which made me wonder if music is a spiritual thing for you?

Lexie Mountain: It is. I think that if I don’t make music somehow, no matter how stupid or useless it is, I feel like there’s a part of me that isn’t working right. The thing about music is that I just feel like it’s so much better for me when it’s spontaneous. And also the other thing is I’m limited by the tools [I play], like, I play keyboard a little bit, I play a little tiny bit of guitar, but I feel more comfortable with things that have a much more open tonality, with drones and synthesizers and different vocal processors. So, I definitely feel most at home in the voice, whether or not I’m good at it.

How did this tour come about, and when did you start doing SPEAKER?

When Shana first moved to Baltimore she moved into this apartment that I was renting, and the very first night that she came to town, we played a show together—we had never played together or anything. And then, Shana and I are both in the same graduate program at UMBC, and we’re both in the same year and everything, so it just seemed really natural. I was invited to perform at Voice of the Valley last year and I asked Shana if she wanted to come perform with me. [Since then] we’ve played a couple different shows. We played with Joseph Hammer at The Red Room in Baltimore; we played at Floristry. And essentially what happened with this tour is that I went to Massachusetts for my cousin’s wedding and I was like, “Well, the wedding is on the fourteenth and then we have a show in Baltimore on the nineteenth—do you want to come up and then we’ll set up a couple dates super last minute and see what happens?”

How did you figure this show out?

Shana wrote Shea Stadium asking for July 17 and so SS did all these machinations and put us on a bill and then when I wrote to the girl who set up the show, she was like, “Oh, we put you on August 17.” And then she mentioned Alaina, and I was like, “Oh well, I know Alaina, I’m a really big fan of hers.” So, when Nora was like, “Oh, Alaina has this place,” I just called Alaina and she knew that Cammisa Buerhaus, whose also playing, had wanted to play a show, and it just worked out really well. I think it was destined to happen here.

You seem really uninhibited when you’re on stage. What makes you nervous?

Yeah, I don’t know; everything, nothing. It’s an interesting question because I still get very nervous around people but I think the process of making music just feels really good, and so the things that make me nervous are, you know, other humans; like the impossible things that you never really want to think about, like, “What do other people think of you?” And you don’t want to think about that ever; it’s not a healthy thing to try and figure out; it’s a waste of your time. So, I think the thing that genuinely makes me nervous is [the possibility] that what I’m doing will sound bad to me later.

Where does the material for your recordings come from?

I try and have different arrangements of objects or toys for each project, but I use cassettes a lot. As far as cassette material goes, I use material I’ve recorded in the past. Lately I have some looping pedals that are pretty versatile, and I’m really happy about those. I got this Electro-Harmonix 2880, which is a four-channel loop station where you can reverse and change the tempo and change the octave of what you’re doing, and it’s a really flexible tool. Also, right now, with SPEAKER I’m just trying to sample myself. I also got a Fostex four-track tape recorder that I’m using, so really I think it’s just whatever tools are at my disposal. I make a lot of my own samples, and then I use a lot of tapes that I have around. People will give me tapes of things, and I tend to really like environmental tapes or motivational tapes. I also got a really amazing collection of cassettes from a woman who recorded past life experiences.

What is next for you?

After this week I’m going to focus on a project I have with Max Eilbacher and Nate Nelson—it’s called Whiff. We’re playing August 3; we have a tape release. A tape is coming out on Suspicious Stimulus, which is the Ehse Records tape offshoot. And then, because Nate is the drummer of Lower Dens right now, he’s going to be on tour with them, but Max and I as Whiff are playing Voice of the Valley. And then I think in between that, I don’t know, I might try and go see some comedy!

Previously: We Saw This: Dirty Projectors