"We are super sleazy," Midday Veil drummer Chris Pollina says, "but also super spiritual." Gathered at the Capitol Hill apartment of Midday Veil vocalist/guitarist Emily Pothast and keyboardist David Golightly, we are talking about whether their members view music as a sacred, mystical experience or purely an aesthetic one—or both. Pollina's response aptly sums up the Seattle psych-rock quartet's appeal.
On the night of this interview (the two-year-old group's first), Midday Veil learned that their new self-released album, Eyes All Around, had entered KEXP's Northwest chart at number eight. Strong support from DJs Alex Ruder and Kevin Cole leveraged this unlikely development. Maybe this means that Seattle is finally ready to have its mind expanded, ever so smartly, possibly even during drive-time hours.
Such attention speaks highly of both Midday Veil's talent and their networking savvy. They've positioned themselves at the nexus of the Northwest's psychedelic-music movement through their involvement with the Portable Shrines Collective and its annual Escalator Fest, and via their Translinguistic Other label. (The latter will release an 18-band, double-LP compilation, Portable Shrines Magic Sound Theatre Vol. 1, in January.)
Midday Veil—the handle derives from an anagram of Pothast and Golightly's first names—formed in 2008. The couple met a year earlier at a German-expressionist woodcuts exhibit at the gallery where Pothast—a visual artist and incisive critic—worked, and found that they had dynamite chemistry on both a personal and creative level. Pothast had recently emerged from a terrible phase during which her parents died in a car accident and her marriage ended. Meeting Golightly—who grew up in a family of church musicians in Kentucky and studied music composition at University of Louisville—helped to spur her creativity, and they started making music as a duo. They issued a CD-R titled End of Time and enlisted guitarist Timm Mason and drummer Chris Pollina, who both play in the hedonistic funk troupe Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme.
"There was this really human, organic element and then this modulating electricity," Pothast says about Midday Veil's early incarnation. "There was a shift in scale between things that sounded really epic and things that sounded really intimate."
That aesthetic has become magnified and honed to potent, psychotropic dimensions on Eyes All Around, produced by Mell Dettmer (Sunn O))), Boris, Kinski) at the analog-centric Aleph Studios. It begins with a ritualistic procession ("We Are You"), then segues into harrowing drone swirls ("Bardo"), before concluding side A (on vinyl) with an emotionally fraught power ballad ("Anthem"). Side B alights on the languidly gorgeous, Mazzy Star–like ode "Divide by Zero," then shifts into the two-part "Asymptote," the album's gradually ascending, hardest-rocking section, which glistens in deep Pink Floydian space before it paraphrases and inundates the riff of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" in orgiastic crescendos. "Eyes All Around" closes the album with a glamorous glimmer of a cosmic consciousness, topped by Pollina's dazzling percussion solo in 9/4 time, ending with a decaying Tibetan bell chime. Listening to Eyes All Around feels like a highbrow roller-coaster ride through hell and heaven.
"The album's conceived for vinyl," Pothast says. "The first side is about my personal experiences. Everything's kind of frantic, it's pretty minor, and it tracks this underworld confrontation with death and the abyss. The second side, everything's major, everything resolves itself much more fully. It takes on this healing, redemptive property. After you go through this underworld thing, there's this death and resurrection show."
Adept at both improvisation and songcraft, Midday Veil forge their spacious, enveloping sound from disparate influences. Golightly immersed himself in avant-garde composition in college (Stockhausen, Ligeti); Pollina and Mason pledged allegiance to Tool and then broadened their outlook to include funk and myriad underground genres; the Iowa-born Pothast's roots are in "storytelling folk and blues singer/songwriter musicians like Leonard Cohen and Odetta, who both wrote and embodied songs that were eternal and much older than they were. It's like performing sacred music for a secular time."
Pothast and Golightly are as fascinated by old religions as they are by synth inventor Robert Moog's desire to create sounds that had never been heard before and Stockhausen's "idea that you can have music that reflects all of the properties of the cosmos through sound," as Golightly puts it.
"[Moog] talked about his desire to create instruments that directly interact with electricity," Pothast says. "Electricity is magical because we didn't understand how to embody it until pretty recently. Moog sees it as spiritual, not in a supernatural sense, but in the sense that... you're physically interacting with the unseen forces of the cosmos. You're building an interface for an individual to channel what's already there."
"We're cyborgs," Golightly concludes. Sleazy, spiritual cyborgs...