The duo known as Houses just released their sophomore album A Quiet Darkness on Downtown Records and it is an organic expression of Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina's real expressive style. Pitchfork honors A Quiet Darkness with the title of "this month's craziest concept album" in the April 2013 issue of GQ: "it’s the story of a couple separated by a nuclear holocaust and attempting to reunite along California’s Highway 10."
While the album may not be for the casual listener, the story behind Houses is full of depth and emotion beyond the music. I touched upon a darker past in my first review of the album the other week. I had a chance to interview Dexter and find out more about Houses' lives, their albums and their sound.
EARMILK: Looking back, what was your first experience with music?
Houses: I'm pretty sure it was that CHANT cd that was strangely popular in the early 90s. It's actually amazing because the cover art looks like a Shlohmo record. I remember hating it, but listening to it a lot anyways. It was around that time that a friend dubbed a Cypress Hill cassette for me as well and I remember liking that a lot more and getting in a decent amount of trouble for having it in second grade.
EM: For our readers not familiar with your backstory, can you tell me how you two linked up? When did you decide you were going to move forward making music together?
H: Me and Megan met almost exactly four years ago while working for the same company. We started dating and shortly afterwards I got fired. I convinced her to quit her job and then we moved to Hawaii for a while and I ended up recording a lot of what would become our first record out there. When we got back, I asked her to sing harmonies to fill out some of the songs, and it sounded really great. From there it became obvious that she would remain involved.
EM: What is your production process like? Is it always the same? What kind of equipment/software do you use?
H: My process changes a lot depending on what kind of songs I'm working on. For this record, I put a lot of time into sound design before any of the songs were even written. I built a lot of the reverbs first and then moved onto the synthesizer patches, trying to make sure that every sound we used would fit together as an album and remain interesting from song to song.
I use Logic Pro to record, and prefer it as a production tool to the others out there. All of the programming was done with Logic in my bedroom, and then we went into a proper studio to mix and track vocals and live instruments. We had access to a nice Neve board and some incredible effects like a real Lexicon Reverb unit and some other cool Eventide processors. The most important thing about production for me is that the sounds I'm using are my own. Unless I'm looking for a very classic sounding synth or drum sound, I will build my own patches out of my own samples, or build new patches in Massive.
EM: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
H: My inspiration comes from all over the place. I try not to take too much inspiration from other music, as I can get too wrapped up in someone else's work, and it will force my hands in certain ways. Lately I've been reading a lot of beautiful books about time and space and quantum mechanics that have inspired me in new ways. Those are things I know so little about, and so there's a lot of room to find something special.
EM: What’s behind the name Houses?
H: Well, a little bit of regret now, as I never thought this would end up my career band name. It's plain and un-Googleable and I don't even think about it now. I hadn't even considered how ridiculous it was that we recorded so many of our songs for this record in abandoned houses. I realized it the other day and was mortified. It's just too predictable. At the same time, I do sort of love the name because I was forced to choose it extremely fast, and chose Houses, and now I'm stuck with it. It's a good lesson in impulsivity and its lasting effects. When we started the band we were both bouncing around so much from place to place, that it fit. I'm sure Thom Yorke isn't sitting around loving the name Radiohead, but you get used to things like that and they sort of lose all meaning anyways.
EM: In your own words how would you describe your current sound?
H: Death obsessed and emotional.
EM: How does A Quiet Darkness compare to All Night?
H: I feel that it's as much of a departure from that sound as it is an extension of it. We traded a lot of the more obviously electronic elements for manipulated organic sounds. The album is stronger conceptually, as we had time to develop a fully threshed out idea. With All Night, it was rushed and needed to be turned in, and so what you hear on the record is this snapshot of a few months of constant writing. I think there's something to be said for that though too. It's nice to have written an album that will remind me of the summer I spent in my room smoking cigarettes and recording vocals at 3 am trying not to wake my parents up.
EM: Where did the name for the album come from?
H: I had written a short story that ended up becoming the concept of the album. It's a story about a man coming to terms with his impending death after suffering severe radiation poisoning. The last line of the story is, "The warm glow became a quiet darkness, and with it came a silence in my heart." It's about the moments before you die.
EM: Can you tell me about the recording process behind A Quiet Darkness?
H: The sounds on the record were primarily based on samples that I took with a field recorder all over the place. The programmed drums are all cut from me stomping out floors/kicking down doors/peeling off wallpaper/etc. in these deserted cabins in the desert. I also took impulse responses of a lot of the places where the samples were taken. If you're not familiar with that term, it's basically taking a snapshot of a room’s reverb. You can then go home and apply that reverb to whatever you want in your studio. For instance, you could take an impulse response of a cathedral, come home and play your guitar and make it sound like your guitar is in that exact cathedral. We live in the future.
EM: How did you link up with Cold War Kids? Can you tell me about your show with them at Webster Hall?
H: They asked me to do a remix of their new song “Miracle Mile,” and so I did it. They really liked it and asked us to hop on this tour they were doing. The Webster Hall show was particularly great. That place is legendary, and I've always wanted to play there. We had a lot of friends out at that show and it was the first time our new label had seen us play. It's kind of crazy playing brand new songs in front of that many people every night, but it's going over better than I had expected.
EM: What's the best advice you ever received?
H: "The man you are today is the man you'll be the rest of your life unless you change." - My Father