Will Wiesenfeld is Baths, an electronic artist from San Fernando Valley, California, whose loop-raised atmospherics are pituitary hypnotica. The cyclical and padded beats are a ganglion of nerves. Each scheme an endocrine creature with cathode, compound eyes, drinking what it sees in an endless geometry. Vocally, Wiesenfeld surprisingly possesses a Reggie Watts/Cursive/soul-type falsetto. Baths' instrumentation and sounds are diffused. Tones are distant, warm, and worn. It's the biochemical sound that could run through your head as your brain approaches death and releases dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Baths captures that sound—our lobes' last fired voltage as we head through the portal toward the light. Connected but out of body.
By 12 years old, Wiesenfeld had tired of the rigid classical confines and needed time away from music. Since his return, he's produced a constant stream of quality material, seven releases under the name Post-Foetus and 11 as the ambient Geotic. Cerulean is his first album as Baths and his first on the anticon label. Wiesenfeld spoke, the night before heading to Tokyo for shows. He sat where he's recording Baths' next album.
What's the closest you've ever been to death?
Lassen Volcanic National Park. I climbed Lassen Peak, and there were some extremely steep, narrow, winding sections of the trail. One step in the wrong direction, and you don't fall off a cliff, but you roll miles to your death. It's a slanted plain. I had a misstep, and thought for a second I was going to die.
I hear your song "Animals" running through someone's head as they're having a near-death experience.
I wanted something light and airy with samples of children. I use Ableton Live to record. The music is me playing piano, guitar, and singing. It's a lot of messing around until I find the right thing. Making music in the past for me has been a much more particular process. But for Cerulean, I wanted to not think too much and just make the music the second I felt like it. It was a very off-the-cuff type thing.
How did you go about not thinking?
The way I make music is normally very meticulous. I'll take time to flesh things out. It's funny, Cerulean is thought of as my debut album, because it was the first one that was picked up and got press. But it's kind of a departure for me, and a departure from the way I normally make music. I hope the next album isn't too off-putting, because I think I may actually lose some fans, but I'm comfortable with that. I just want to make music the way I was making music. I want to get back to that.
You were getting away from meticulousness, but I hear a meticulousness.
Well, there's a lot of layering. When I say not thinking about it, I mean more that I didn't have ideas going into the recording. Usually I have lots of things already worked out.
Electronic music gets a bad rap. People say, "It's just button pushing."
It does sometimes get a bad rap. I think what's great about this era of music making, with the internet, is that electronic music is playing a bigger and bigger role. Almost every remix from every major pop artist is by an electronic musician. But for the more experimental stuff, it's still getting a weird rap.
French writer Arthur Rimbaud disinfected himself from convention. He did drugs, got drunk, and put himself through paces to write from different perspectives and create newness. How do you disinfect yourself from the conventions of electronic music?
The only real methodology for me, the only way I've ever thought about it, as stupid as it may sound, is to just try and be myself. There are so many things that I personally want out of electronic music. Things that I won't hear in a song that I really like, that I wish could be there. When I'm making music, I like to think that I try some of those things. Maybe they don't come out as well as I'd like them to, or maybe they don't sound like the idea originally was. That's what drives me—to make something I find intriguing that I feel like I haven't heard before.
What's an example of something you wished you'd heard in a song?
There are things musically. A chord change, or the way a chord arrives in a song, that I wish would happen, but I won't hear. Or there's the reverse of that, where there's something I'm hoping to hear, that all of a sudden makes itself apparent. And I become obsessed with it. When I was listening to the Sigur Ròs album Takk, there's the song "Andvari" that has a pretty string outro. The first time I was hearing it, I thought, "Oh my God, this part is gorgeous, I wish it would go on forever." And it's exactly what happened. The outro goes on for about a minute and a half. It's mildly predictable because it's Sigur Ròs, but in the context of that album, it caught me off guard. And it was the best feeling.
I hear Prefuse 73 in your sound.
The Warp label is definitely a huge influence on me. Elements of Prefuse, Aphex Twin. Yes.
Do you work with producers?
No. It's completely me by myself. I'm not even showing new stuff to people as I'm making it. I want to finish the entire album before I let anyone hear it. I think with Cerulean, I had a couple people's heads in the process a bit, and it got a little crazy. I'm going to try and detach a little bit.
You started playing piano at a young age.
I was about 4 years old. And then I had a big falling out with it and classical music when I was 12, when I stopped taking lessons. After a long break, I came back to it, and when I did, I only wanted to play my own stuff and create. I've made like 20 albums. Most of them are terrible, until pretty recently. But it was a lot of good practice.
When you were 12, what was it about classical music that turned you off?
What I was playing was so mechanical. I didn't feel attached to it at all. Once I took space from it and came back, it was a total reawakening to everything.
During your time away from classical music, you got heavily into Bon Jovi.
Definitely [laughs]. No. I got into Björk. That was the big thing. Björk was what inspired me to sit down and start making my own music. I got Vespertine first, but Homogenic was the biggie, it was so different than anything I'd ever heard before. In my own weird middle-school way, I wanted to emulate that.
When you play live, what is your setup?
I have a laptop running Ableton, an external audio card, and an Akai MPD32. I'm singing along with it and running it into the computer. And a tiny little keyboard that I toy with that also runs into the computer.
Your falsetto is so good. There's this funk and soul element to it.
Björk was such a big influence on me, in terms of what I liked vocally. But I realized it would be a ridiculous notion to try to sound exactly like her. That's not what I wanted with my own music. I wanted to find how I sounded on my own. It took a lot of listening to other people and hearing how singers identify themselves in their music. Björk is a big one. Kate Bush is another one, you hear her voice and instantly know it's her. The thing I'm attracted to in other vocalists is when their voice is able to move through different characters, or different emotional realms. Singers who can be really quiet and sincere in one moment, then totally crazy, outlandish, and loud in the next. I've always loved vocalists with that range. Singing is something I'm working on. I've been recording my vocals a little flat in some cases. I want to be able to convey a broad emotional range.
There's range with your music as well. The way the loops and the veins of the sounds wind and grow back into each other. It's like they're fanning out, but then your ear finds itself back where it started.
I'm definitely attracted to repetition. Especially in the mode of electronic pop. But I try to use it smartly—so that it's only repetitious when it needs to be, when it's driving a point home, or driving a sound, or an atmosphere. There's lots of repetition in Cerulean, but I tried to make it sound not brutally repetitious by making them bleed into each other a little better.
Who are you listening to?
I listened to a lot of Toro Y Moi and Washed Out around the time I was putting Cerulean together. And I think parts of their sound meshed in there. I'm still passionate about Björk and Kate Bush. I also was listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins then as well. Lali Puna always play a big role for me. Very smart and meticulous electronic.
How does Baths get experimental?
The Geotic stuff that I put out isn't so experimental, but it's more ambient. It's simplified, and very easy on the ears. I don't know if I get way too experimental. I have a thing about the word experimental, because it often just means bad. Or that someone is just pressing all of the buttons. When there's smart experimentation, and it ties into a smart, pop aesthetic, it's some of my favorite music in the world. It sounds like something completely new, but extremely listenable. There's a group I'm listening to a lot right now called Azeda Booth. It's that perfect meld of electronic music, experimental sounds, and live sounds. I can't help but try and deconstruct their songs when I listen to them.
Sean Horton in Seattle with Decibel Festival has helped make electronic music an exciting thing here.
I was really sad I had to cancel Decibel this year, but I was extremely sick.
You will redeem at Neptune Theatre.
I will try.