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Identity Lock

Photo by Scott Everett

Scott Reitherman took the long road to Marble Mouth, his second album under the name Pillar Point. The Bay Area-born, Seattle-dwelling musician first popped as bandleader of Throw Me the Statue, an indie-pop band that scored a minor hit with the peppy, possibly lecherous song "Lolita" back in 2008. Eight years, countless US and international tours, several albums and a name change later, Marble Mouth is a full-blown dance-music marathon, a percussive workout produced by Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal and featuring a slew of guest musicians. Reitherman created the album during a year of travels, starting in Athens, Ga. at Barnes' home studio, spanning a few months of vibe-soaking in New Orleans, and finally landing back in Seattle to apply the finishing touch. After some production delays (ask him about the triple-vinyl Forrest Gump soundtrack pressed at the same plant as his album), Marble Mouth came out late last month; he celebrates its release this Friday at Neumos. During a 90-minute conversation, we talked to him about his musical day job, the pros and cons of living in Seattle, and, eventually, the making of Marble Mouth

Now that the album is done, what are you working on these days?
I’m working on a track for a commercial which is not that exciting but it’s money. 

Oh yeah. You told me awhile ago that you’ve been getting into that more.
I do it when I can. It’s an education. It’s good to stay nimble.

We don’t have to talk about this sausage-making stuff if you don’t want to.
Here’s the thing—I’m happy talking about this shit because it fascinates me, especially with people who are sympathetic and in the industry. And of course people are interested in how musicians make a living, make it all work. But then in the same breath, you get asked how much money you make. It’s none of your business! Essentially musicians get asked that all the time because it’s common to get asked how you make a living. Like, “You do that fulltime?” If it’s not explicitly “How much money do you make doing that?” it grazes it. People know it’s tough times and it’s more acceptable to talk about because it’s more on the table.

Are you familiar with “Song Exploder,” the podcast? This guy interviews somebody and they dissect the making of one of their popular songs. He has high-profile indie artists and lately has even gotten U2 and some bigtime bands to participate. It can be pretty interesting. I heard one with Phil Elverum and that was good. It can be really boring, too. Jimmy Tamborello breaking down a Postal Service song. It can be interesting to listen to how they came up with the ideas. And they’ll solo certain elements in the mix that you’ll hear in a different way, and I was having this conversation about a non-musician friend about how much he loved it and I was like, I like it too but I’d be way more interested in that interview with those guests except talking about what they do all day. How they make money. I’m happy they have a hit song but I wanna know how they figure out the ability to make another record. But nobody’s gonna bare that stuff because it’s nobody’s business. But that’s what makes it appealing.

Billy Collins, the poet, has this quote. Someone asked him what’s the hardest part of being a poet. And his answer was figuring out what to do with the rest of your day. 

Haha.
I think it’s honorable to do a variety of things with your musical life to pay your rent with music. The sellout conversation is dated and binary in 2016. But I wish it were easier to find more opportunities. In two or three years I don’t know how many musicians will be living in Seattle that operate as working artists. Its gonna be Death Cab and a bunch of local bands.

Because of rising rents?
Yeah. That’s it. I was having a conversation a couple nights ago with some musicians and two out of four people had moved to Tacoma already and were talking about how much they like it. I really don’t see moving to Tacoma. Seems kinda lonely to me. They were like, we work from home. What’s the difference? If you wanna walk to a coffee shop to break up the home studio routine you can do that just fine. I’d rather go somewhere much different than the Northwest.

So why do you stay?
I guess because my friends and my professional network are still here. It’s the easiest place to do business, to work in studios. I mean a lot of this livelihood operates on buddy prices and getting work from people. You have to have buddies to get that stuff.

There’s a strong enough infrastructure to keep you working.   
Yeah but I only have one perspective on that. I don’t know a lot of 24-year-olds in new, up-and-coming bands. But I know people that own local studios so I can sometimes get a nicer rate at that level.

The scene is flourishing right now. Lots of young bands. Lots of musicians moving here, still, to make music. I think once you're a music city, you're always a music city, though to a greater or lesser extent.
I think that’s true. There’s a good club infrastructure and a lot of places you can play. There’s still a receptive local audience and KEXP. That’s gonna be true forever, probably. I don’t get the sense that the new influx of professional crowd is taking away ticket sales, even if people are getting displaced because they can’t afford Seattle, and they were the kind of people that went a lot of shows. There’s just so many people moving here.

This is the main thing people in Seattle are talking about right now.
The reason I don’t like talking about this or reading pieces about this is that they become pity pieces. We’re completely powerless so it’s obnoxious to rap on it too long. But I also know that I can’t do what I do and work a fulltime job. I need to go away for months at a time and make new work that I can come back and promote. That’s a more interesting conversation I have with musicians that have a fulltime office job. They come home and have no juice in the tank. Records take forever to finish, which is not always good for making a record.

I’m not the judge of who deserves to make a living from music and who doesn’t, but there are talented people in this city, and if I could change things, their level of talent should put them in a class that should be able to make a living from their music. I don’t think that about every band. There are necessarily all kinds of bands that operate at all levels of seriousness. But it’s a shame when talented people that go on tour and sell records can’t make the math work out.

Let's talk about the record. Your sound has changed significantly over the last several years. Seems like you've been creatively restless, shifting from one style to another.
It’s more interesting for me, that’s the bottom line. I don’t think I would’ve been happy continuing to do songs like I started doing with Throw Me the Statue. It’s the more interesting artistic move to make. When people check out the records I’ve made and they think I’ve been making these stark shifts and with this record I locked in the identity of the project in a way I’ve been working toward that I didn’t realize til now. But even with Throw Me the Statue stuff, there’s a lot of different kinds of songs on one record, I’d say. But that’s not an easy road. And maybe the greatest challenge is to make a cohesive record that’s interesting from song to song, that doesn’t have so much ADD.

With the first Pillar Point I was transitioning out of Throw Me the Statue. This one really feels like the identity lock. Part of that was having the opportunity to go on tour and road-test the material. With the first record I thought I'd made a dance record and I realized I hadn’t when I played it for people. I made a few dance songs on an electronic record, but it was a songwriter record with a lot of keyboards. This one is more squarely within a dance world. Electronic pop dance.

That kind of change provides intimacy between the artist and the listener. You're progressing together.
Yeah because you watch someone experiment with different things and make choices and be open. I love that. l’ve heared people’s music that changes from record to record because you go along for the ride and see where they’ve landed. I’m fortunate that people are interested and labels will put them out. I’ve always felt like a late bloomer so having the chance to get to this point feels lucky.

Definitely more difficult than, say, Coldplay putting out the same Coldplay record over and over again.
That’s just an easier story to tell and digest, when there’s a really clear simple statement of identity to a project, a song, an album. We crave those sorts of stories. I don’t know why but we do. And we want that from our bands, from pop music. We want 10 new garage rock bands every year to have those sugary lo-fi hooks and we don’t care if they’re three chords and we just want that on loop every year. Apparently we have an inexhaustible need for simplistic rock and roll. And that’s fine because it’s part of the Venn diagram of what we digest musically. But it’s valid to want to be able to hear… This sounds like I’m judgmental, but it is remarkable that I can find people to put [my] shit out because it’s not the easiest story to convince people to invest in.

It's dance music, but there's still a very strong emphasis on your vocals. Though you change the sound of the vocals enough, with electronic filters and effects, that you almost become different characters from song to song.
That rings true. I wanted to make a bolder vocal identity. Just in regard to the vocals, I was more interested in stacking the vocals and making a bold vocal identity that would feel larger than life, or larger than what I could do with one of my voices. So I started stacking them. And sometimes pitching them down or up to create that synthetic quality. And it’s partly my interest in making music with computers these days, taking advantage of all the unlimited possibilities that affords you. It was interesting to me this time to play with that element. There are a lot of keyboards on it, but I imagined what you’re talking about, with the middle chunk of the songs where it’s hard to tell the sonic sources. It’s dialing in a variety of keyboard sounds and piling them into this sonic stew to make a cool groove.

There's a lot of sense of place on the album. I know you spent time in New Orleans and recorded in Athens. You don't necessarily hear those places on the record but I imagine they were influences nevertheless. And with "Gloomsday," you finally made a song about the weather in Seattle.
It only occurred to me on the fifth record I got to make. But I did enjoy in these examples you were talking about the chance to imprint a place on a track explicitly. This record was the first time I left my home to make a record, and that home has always been Seattle. It was gonna be about the travel, I guess. But it started being interesting to me to imprint different elements of the places I was talking about in these songs, whether it was Athens or Seattle or New Orleans, with deliberate choices like that. For me it's more personal too. I don’t know that anyone would listen to “Lafayette” and think they were listening to a New Orleans rain storm at the end of the track, but hopefully in some impressionistic way it’ll speak to the feelings they get out of that song.

Will you stop in any of those places when you go on tour?
We were gonna tour to South by Southwest and come home, but we’re now gonna do a whole circuit of the US. So we’re gonna go to South by and then head to New Orleans and lie low for a few days and stay at the apartment in the Bywater that I stayed at when I was recording. I can’t wait. More than any other place I think about, if I go back there enough for visits chances are I’m gonna move there one of these times. It’s gonna be too appealing. I gotta be careful how many more times I go back or else I’m gonna stay.

Pillar Point plays Neumos tomorrow night as a fundraiser for KEXP, opening for a DJ set by Moby. The show is sold out. 

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