On the heels of the release of Old Mill Park, we caught up with one half of, arguably, the most underrated duo from the Bay Area. Tidelands encompasses the pioneering spirit, channels it into an unmatched sound, and harnesses progressive independence with brilliant strokes.
After nearly four years together Gabriel Leis and Mie Araki are well on their way to success and Greg sat down with songwriter, guitarist, and flugelhorn extraordinaire Leis.
Nanobot Rock: Thanks for sitting down with me today.
Tidelands released If… in July of 2011 and We’ve Got a Map in 2012, and then two-and-a-half years later we get Old Mill Park, what was Tidelands doing between releases?
Gabriel Leis: Well we did the split 7″ with Debbie Neigher, which was pretty damn rad, and then we got right to work on Old Mill Park, which was completed about 15 months ago. It’s hard for me to explain why I waited so long to release it, but I was just waiting for the time to feel right. The past year has seen us continue to write and rehearse and try to better our individual skills on the plethora of instruments we both use.
NB: So it was completed in late 2013 and you’ve been holding out until now to release it? Why is now the right time as opposed to then?
GL: Yeah, I guess we finished up in early 2014, but it has been sitting for quite a while. It’s tough to answer that question, gimme a sec here…
NB: No rush. Band quarrel? Drugs? …I’m only kidding
At least I hope it wasn’t any of those…
GL: I’ve been at this a long time. Different bands, but putting myself out there as a singer and songwriter. Over the years I’ve probably released about 12 records in various groups as the primary writer. My thought process is changing, and this goes for live shows as well, that if the main goal is just my own enjoyment, which is what I now prioritize, then I just want new experiences, methods, and ways of doing things that feel new. I was waiting for that. I don’t think I really found it, but you can’t just sit on a record this good forever…
NB: I think that is the best reason for waiting on a release that I’ve ever heard. As you mentioned, you have a lot of musical experience under your belt, and from a Tidelands standpoint, do you see a large difference in your writing, recording, and performing process from when you released If…?
GL: Every record we’ve done represents a stage in our development for sure. Both for the writing and the recording methods. I think We’ve Got a Map is probably the closest we’ve got to what our rehearsals sound like, and in some ways whatever comes next will sound like as well. Old Mill Park was a very specific idea that steps just a tad outside our genre, whatever that is.
NB: I’m glad you brought that up. Old Mill Park does seem to step a tad outside the Tidelands sound we’ve heard up to now. It is six tracks of an over-arching reminiscent/maturing feeling, and seems to be somewhat of a departure from the intensity of We’ve Got a Map. Take me through your writing process for the new EP.
GL: I have a whole bunch of songs and ideas that have never been fully realized to the point of making a recording. I really wanted to do an acoustic guitar-based record, where the songs could stand on their own with only my guitar and voice. That was never the plan for the recording, but for us it’s a different type of song because so much of what we do requires the technology of looping. I wanted to get away from that. It wasn’t so much about writing material to fit within that framework as just picking and choosing from my personal backlog of unfinished tracks that fit this idea. From there it’s all fun and games as we chose and began working with the collaborators that make Old Mill Park so good.
NB: And for such a seemingly simple idea of putting together six tracks you guys did achieve a lot and we see some familiar faces. You’re back working with Minna Choi, and since you brought her up earlier in our conversation, and the 7” is a great piece of work, tell me about your collaboration with Debbie Neigher. Is Tidelands expanding beyond a duo?
GL: I would honestly LOVE to find an upright bassist to work with on a regular basis. Do you know any? Minna, Debbie, and pedal steel player David Phillips are all people we’ve worked with before. These musical relationships are precious to me. The talent levels are off the charts.
NB: I agree, the talent is fantastic. That steel comes out strong in Old Mill Park. Of the six tracks I could ask you about I have to bring up, arguably, the most important song on the album, “Four Strings and a Wooden Box”. 0:49 and it is over, but the EP pivots on this track. Was this one of your previous pieces coming to life?
GL: Not mine at all. That’s all Minna. We wrote it as an intro to “Hole in the Ceiling,” so it’s taking things from that track as it’s foundation, but it just made more sense to give it its own title and track listing. It is most definitely a transition piece and it really does feel like the cornerstone on this particular track sequence.
…although the title is my own doing.
NB: It is a beautiful piece. And from that the record turns from the dreamy acoustic feel to a much more real sound. Which makes me have to back track for a moment. Who is “Sexy Fox” and would we be far off thinking she has “Brown Eyes”?
GL: We’re definitely spanning two different relationships here, and I think “Sexy Fox” was more a yearning for something that was missing in the previous. “Brown Eyes” is straight up the lovely gal I’m with now, and with who, in a few short months, will be my partner in parenting. Which is pretty damn exciting.
NB: That is exciting. Congratulations!
I, personally, appreciate the fact you hold nothing back in your writing. It adds a level of real whether it is along the lines of intimate or not. How does she feel about your writing style? Do you see becoming a parent having effects on your music?
GL: In not a bad way at all, I don’t think Lora is too concerned with what I’m doing musically. I’m sure she’s flattered she’s behind “Dog Named Bart” and “Brown Eyes,” and maybe I just have yet to write the song that truly melts her heart. Gotta get to work on that…
NB: You’re not afraid to share your thoughts in your music and I think that is a very strong attribute for Tidelands. Don’t ever lose that. I’m a big fan of how you close out Old Mill Park. “Low Roller” is a fantastic finish. But seven minutes on the last track seems like you wanted to keep going. Why cap it there?
GL: First off, thank you for listening to our music and delving in far enough to even ask these types of questions. “Low Roller” is a more traditional Tidelands type of song structure, and is in fact loop based. But it just seemed to fit well into this group of songs. As for the length, what can I say, it just felt right. What’s most incredible about that track is the drumming, which has such a good feel and is so dynamic with the changes. It’s truly incredible because Mie performed that take to basically nothing; just the click and basic loop which has no structure. So she was imagining the arrangements and orchestration in her head as she played. She’s a badass for sure.
NB: That is impressive! And she is a badass. What is the relationship between you two like? Do you both write separately then combine ideas?
GL: We have a great working relationship, which I think shows. Even though we’re getting close to four years in, I think we’re both still enamored with and excited about the simplicity of working as a two piece. She’s hearing ideas of mine in their infancy, and it’s an organic process as it develops in rehearsals and in our own separate studio time.
NB: Well, I love all things Tidelands to be honest. What’s next for Tidelands? Tour? Another album in the works?
GL: Thanks Greg. And thank you so much for your continued support. We appreciate it SO much. I’m really not sure what’s next for Tidelands. We have a lot of creative momentum and I’m just going to try to keep that rolling. I do miss playing live more often, but we really haven’t found our niche within the local scene or a return audience, which is a problem when you’re art is of the performance variety. So I try to just stay within the things I can control, and I can say with certainty there’s another album coming. We’ve got a really good batch of songs that are ready, and it’d be a shame to let the current energy within them diminish through neglect, so I gotta get in the studio pretty darn soon and get some basic tracking started.
NB: And we will very much be looking forward to that! Thanks for sitting down with me to discuss Tidelands and Old Mill Park.
GL: Thanks again Greg. Nanobot rocks!