Chicago product My Gold Mask burst onto the scene last year with the release of their self-titled cassette EP, featuring “O My Soul,” one of my top 50 songs of 2009 (stream and order it here), and carried that through to 2010 with the release of the stellar “A Thousand Voices” EP. Band members Gretta Rochelle and Jack Armondo combine haunting and fuzzed out guitars with one of the most effective uses of one of the most bareback drum kits seen in a two person band, and back it all up with Rochelle’s smokey vocals to create some of the more eerily ethereal music coming out of the Chicago scene. I caught up with these two to check in on the progress of this on-the-rise band.
How long has My Gold Mask existed, officially?
G: If you consider our first show, it would be 8/30/08. But I’d say the “birth” of My Gold Mask would be a little earlier than that when we started recording demos in our bathroom of new voices and guitar riffs that we were experimenting with.
In your songwriting process, what comes first, the lyrics or the instrumentation and melody? What goes into the birth of your average My Gold Mask song?
G: We tend to start with the instrumentation and melody first. Our lyrics are usually written out of an emotion the song invokes in us. We are very passionate about our songs and that definitely comes through when we are songwriting. For the most part we are usually on the same page when writing but every once in a while we hit a snag and that passion gets released on a whole different level haha
You’re a Chicago band, I’m a Chicago music devotee, yet I heard you guys from our site’s founder when he was living in New York. You also stream much of your music online. Do you feel that the digital age of music has helped you gain a more national fan base than you otherwise would have without depending on lengthy touring?
J: Of course, music can definitely travel far and wide online. We give away mp3’s and stream our albums because we just want people to hear our music. It allows us to connect with people who might appreciate what we’re doing but might not hear us otherwise. But that said, we are more excited to travel and tour and connect with people in person.
What’s the weirdest compliment you’ve received after a show?
G: Um, I don’t know if there’s been a weird compliment so to speak, but we do get “you guys sound like you’re from Brooklyn” a lot. I don’t know what that means exactly but I take it as a good thing, I guess. We love playing Brooklyn but we do love our Chicago too!
I read in your interview with Chicagoist that the bands you had been in previously were very different than My Gold Mask. In what ways do you feel that your previous musical experiences helped shape My Gold Mask? Are there influences that crept in, or maybe influences you purposely tried to distance yourself from?
J: I would say the experience of playing, recording, writing songs….all that stuff can carry over. But as far as the sound of the music itself, not much carries over because we have grown through the years and are not in the same place personally and artistically. We are more interested in continuing to evolve and grow as musicians and not repeat what we’ve done in the past.
What’s better, waffles or pancakes?
J: Do I have to pick?
What was your favorite new release of the past year that wasn’t by a band that rhymes with “Shmy Shmold Shmask”?
J: We kinda hate questions like this because it’s really hard to pick. Our favorite release of last year, or any year for that matter, can literally change on a daily basis depending on mood. But since you asked today, it’s maybe: Girls – “Album”. We’ve been listening to that lately.
What was the largest challenge in balancing the musical limitations inherent in a two person band with creating a sound that’s still large enough, and with enough scope, to still translate from your recordings to the stage without much change?
J: When we write a song, it starts as something that is played by just the two of us and has to work in that context before we even get to the recording process. Once it’s in the studio, we may add overdubs and other sounds to it, if we get inspired to do so, but because it starts with just the two of us we know that it can stand up on it’s own when we play it live. It may sound a bit different on the recording than it does live, but we enjoy that.
G: If anything, we’re more concerned with capturing the energy of the live show on record as opposed to worrying about making the live show sound exactly like the recordings.
Your debut, My Gold Mask, was put out on cassette, with a digital download card. What was the reasoning for using a cassette as the physical medium to put out those songs? Do you ever envision repackaging it as a CD?
J: We just think cassette tapes are a unique listening experience. It’s like you found a long lost album lying around somewhere that no one knows about. And realistically it was what we could afford to do at the time.
G: Who knows, maybe we’ll release a Cd of it if people are interested in that. But since we just released the new EP on Cd i think vinyl would be great for whatever we put out next.