Michael Vidal Talks 'Dream Center' Before Amoeba Hollywood Performance June 18

Posted by Billy Gil, June 16, 2015 05:10pm | Post a Comment

Michael Vidal is the thoughtful kind of songwriter and human being you don't encounter very often. Compared to his previous band, L.A. noise-rockers Abe Vigoda, his Dream Center EP is full of introspective tunes built on carefully constructed, textural guitars that build on where that band was headed on its last LP, the darkwave-inspired Crush. Vidal has been playing live shows now with a three-piece band as Dream Center has been recently reissued on LP and CD by Couple Skate. He'll be at Amoeba Hollywood for a performance June 18 at 6 p.m. I caught up with Vidal before the show to find out more about his writing process, Instagram art and the new album he's working on.

Are these mostly newer songs or did you originally write them with the intention of using them for Abe Vigoda? Is there a difference to how you wrote your parts of the songs with Abe and solo?

Vidal: The songs on Dream Center were all written for this new project, but many of them were written in this period of limbo and I wasn’t really sure what this new project was. It was kind of unclear what was going on with Abe Vigoda, but I had to keep writing and playing out. I knew these songs were different and were for me. The writing process of Abe Vigoda was extremely collaborative, incidental and kind of chaotic. I can’t write that way on my own. I write slowly and carefully now, which sounds boring but is actually way more fun.

We’ve seen a lot of growth in your songwriting from Abe Vigoda’s more aggressive early days through now. Did you consciously shift how you approached songwriting or did that happen gradually?

Vidal: This change happened gradually. I view music and art in a completely different light than I did at that age. I feel like really aggressive, bombastic music, as effective as it may be, can also be really stiff and suffocating. I write music that is a little more breezy these days. I also went from being really angry to just being really sad. Haha.

What about playing solo versus now playing with a bassist and drummer again? Several songs on Dream Center seem to be built on looped guitar parts/live sampling, is that still something you want to utilize in performance and arrangement?

Vidal: Looping is an easy way for me to quickly achieve a more complex, harmonic sound. Emphasis on quickly, because sometimes you see people loop and it’s so painful. The majority of the song shouldn’t be someone building whatever loop. Sometimes it feels cheap, even when I do it. I’m very conscious of this, and I try to keep it low-key. But there is some magic to be found though, definitely.

On Dream Center, there are drums and bass guitar on five out of seven songs. It’s very much a part of what I do. I’ve been very lucky to find the players that I work with. I love being in a power trio. We’ve talked about adding a second guitar player and cutting the loops, but I don’t think that will ever happen. We are Rush. We can’t mess that up.

One thing I’m always struck by in your music is its lack of any sort of affectation or sarcasm. The songs feel incredibly genuine and emotional, yet they also feel cerebral to me, perhaps because of how they’re constructed. Is that a balance you aim to strike, or does it just come out that way?

Vidal: Ogres are like Onions … haha. I’m super deliberate about all this stuff. I write and rewrite lyrics and guitars constantly. I try to find this kind of symbiotic balance between beauty and austerity, with each informing the other. They aren’t mutually exclusive anyway. It’s weird how you can make more chilled out music, but feel like you are being way more subversive by just saying a few words in a certain way. There is some humor to be found in the work, but I have a really strange sense of humor, and I feel like it’s lost on everyone but me. It’s hard for me to talk about this kind of stuff, because it is the most sacred.

The guitars are treated so texturally at times on Dream Center that they sound like synthesizers. Do you usually start with sounds that you like or do you write in an old school, like acoustic-first way, for lack of a better term? 

Vidal: It really depends on the song. Some songs definitely were written in a more “traditional” sense, and others were seemingly pulled out from my amp by some invisible hand. I definitely work backwards sometimes. Its like some days I get home and I just want to play acoustic, and other days I just want to do more ambient, or incidental stuff. There was a review recently that said the record was “synth-driven”; there aren’t any synths on the record. It’s literally a $12 digitech multi-effects pedal.

Your guitar playing gets compared to bands like Felt and Durutti Column, is that something you relate to? I know you covered Judee Sill recently. What else are you listening to or inspired by that falls outside of the post-punk realm?

Vidal: I love Durutti Column and Felt. I listen to a lot of different music. There is no bad music, and everything is valid. But more specifically, and relating to my sound, I feel like I’m really inspired by the way house producers will treat guitars, that cyclical and buoyant clean tone. It’s this masticating and evolving thing.

Judee Sill has been a huge influence on me and my friends for a long time. Her dedication and the clearness of her vision is that of the greatest writers. We cover this song called “Emerald River Dance,” which was just a home demo that was released posthumously. The sentiment of that song embodies what I do entirely. Our version will be included on the next album.

Outisde of music, I’ve been reading Peter Brooks’s book The Empty Space. It is a book about theater, something I have no real interest in now, but I feel like his statements are broad enough to apply to all forms of art. I highly recommend!

You had a show a while back with prints from photos you took and put up on Instagram, do you want to talk a little bit about your photography and any other extra-musical activities you do?

Vidal: Ahhh Yes. The show was called “Tragic: The Gathering.” It featured photos taken on my broken iPhone 4. I had them printed cheaply on 24x24 inch vinyl banners, the kind you would see at a car wash, or burger restaurant. I also had a large projection of snails having sex. The whole night was soundtracked by Smashing Pumpkins MIDI files, and also my album time-stretched by like 500%. I would love to do something like this again. Visual art is not my main, but I feel pretty strongly about it. I recently got a decent camera, and have been taking much better photos lately. I’m in the process of making a website. URL to come!

Now that Dream Center has been reissued, are you looking toward the next release? What else are you up to?

Vidal: We are in the middle of recording the next record, and it’s a sprawling mess—lol. I’m really excited about this one. I think it’s my best material yet. Tabor Allen, who has played drums with me since the beginning of this project, is also producing this next one. He is going to insane lengths to make this record sound as good as possible. I want to say that we will have a finished record in the next month or two, and I want to say it’s a more varied, dense and a little more intimidating piece of work, but I really have no perspective on it yet. It’s been a joy making it thus far.

Watch the video for "Dreams (Come Back to Me)" below:

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Michael Vidal (4), Abe Vigoda (14), Amoeba Hollywood (876), Interviews (31)