Interview: tētēma

This one feels a little more optimistic because, well, I reckon we all need a bit more optimism at the moment, don’t you?

tētēma, the project that features composer Anthony Pateras and Faith No More / Mr Bungle main man Mike Patton have just released their second album Necroscape and it’s a dizzying and intense, but definitely satisfying listen packed full of varying sounds and rhythms. Gavin Brown had a chat with Anthony to talk about all tētēma including how they started, the new album, covering Ennio Morricone on the album and working with Mike Patton as well as his extensive musical output and career highlights.

E&D: How did the tētēma project start in the first place?

Anthony: I sent a bunch of music to Ipecac around 2009, then Patton called me up for a coffee when he was next in Melbourne. It was a big surprise, and a very nice one. We originally talked about me writing a kind of song cycle for him to sing with large ensemble or orchestra, but then this happened.

E&D: What was your musical vision with tētēma? 

Anthony: I always wanted to create this amorphous mass of weird orchestrations combined with ‘rock-ish’ electro-acoustic stuff. Above all I wanted to maintain an idiosyncratic rhythmic feel to everything; getting away from quantisation while staying in time. Working with Will Guthrie had a lot to do with this in practice, as he shares similar concerns. One other thing was to create kinds of tabula rasa soundscapes; making you wonder where this music came from, and somehow having Mike as the only reference point to this ‘world’.

E&D: Who are the biggest influences on tētēmas music? 

Anthony: Anthony Pateras and Mike Patton

E&D: With the members of the band being so busy with other projects, how do you find the time to get things done with tētēma?

Anthony: This album took 5 years to make, so it was always just going to be done when it was done. Will and Erkki basically did 1 or 2 sessions, then I pieced it all together for Mike to sing over when he was ready.

E&D: Were you a big fan of Mike’s various projects when you hooked up? 

Anthony: I used to listen to Bungle and Faith No More in high school. That was pretty much standard in suburban 90s Melbourne. Bungle in particular made sense to me as a teenager, because I was basically listening to whatever metal my older brother was listening to while studying classical piano at the same time. I then saw Fantomas live in 1999 in NYC, then kind of dropped out of touch with what Mike was doing. Next thing I knew we were working together.

E&D: You just released your new album Necroscape. How did the creation and recording of the album go?

Anthony: In March 2015, I started with this idea of putting prepared piano grooves really loud through a bass amp. I recorded these at Ausland in Berlin with Roy Caroll. This session formed the harmonic basis for the development of the tunes. In 2016 I started cutting loops direct to tape, tuning and timing them to the prepared piano material in Jerome Noetinger’s studio near Grenoble. Once that was happening, I took that stuff to Nantes to work on it on the rough drum parts with Will.

Mike came to Australia and played the show with some of these new tunes, and while Will was down here, I recorded him again at Headgap for a day with Lachlan Carrick in 2017. This session included even newer tunes, plus re-doing earlier stuff. I moved back to Berlin to finish it off after doing recording sessions with Erkki.

I sent the finished thing to Mike around mid-2017, then forgot about it. A year later, I got his roughs and bounced off that with further arrangements and mixing, then sent the final back end 2018. I finally got everything from him last year (2019), then mixed the whole thing in November between touring. It’s been quite a ride; was a great feeling to finish it!

E&D: Did anyone else work on the album with you all this time? 

Anthony: No, it’s mainly my thing. Lachlan Carrick helped with the studio recordings of Will and Erkki, but this record grew like fungus on my hard-drive since 2015, pieced together from snippets here and there while on the road. I recorded and produced almost everything bar the vocals, and Erkki and Will helped with the writing and arrangements of their parts. Mike and I collaborated on the lyrics, and he wrote his parts.

E&D: Do you feel that Necroscape differs musically and stylistically from your debut album Geocidal?

Anthony: I feel this is much more a band album and less ‘project’ sounding. Geocidal was more of a flat earth/everything’s fucked kind of musique concrete vibe, although still songs. This one feels a little more optimistic because, well, I reckon we all need a bit more optimism at the moment, don’t you?

 

E&D: The first single to be released from the album is ‘Haunted On The Uptake’, what made you choose that song to kick off with?

Anthony: This tune to me feels in some ways like everything I ever wanted to achieve in songwriting. Being from a Balkan household, it’s got these odd-time things that I grew up with, plus then these brutal hooks and sing-along melodies (which I also grew up with). It’s very difficult for a guy like me to write melodically; my first instinct for years was to make things very complicated and unattractive. I’m now challenging myself to do things I want to listen to again and again, and tētēma is part of that. I learnt that things don’t have to hurt for the music to be good. Quite the contrary!

E&D: You cover ‘Funerale Di Un Contadino’ by Chico Buarque and Ennio Morricone is the final track on Necroscape. What made you choose that track and what did you bring to your version? 

Anthony: Early 70s Brazilian music to me is some of the greatest stuff ever committed to tape. This particular collaboration between Morricone and Buarque, as far as I can tell, was one of those magical things that labels actually paid to make happen at that time. The musicianship and songwriting on that record is so incredible, and the sound of it is so magnificent. When we were preparing for Tasmania I had this vision of Mike screaming the women’s chorus that features in the middle of the song, which reminds me very much of Bulgarian choral music (stuff which is also dear to my heart, Philip Koutev/Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic, and of course the Nonesuch Le Mystère de voix Bulgares records.). Thus, I thought this would be the perfect cover for us. When I heard the recording from the show, I was happy to hear that it was captured to tape in a strong and faithful way. Above all, I hope in our version we combine the urgency and elegance of the original with our own sensibilities and colour.

E&D: Did you always envisage closing the album with that song? 

Anthony: No, in fact Mike and I questioned for ages whether to include it at all, because we felt the album should exist as a world unto itself. We only decided to put it on at the very end of the creative process because we both capitulated to its inherent strength.

E&D: What has the reaction to the new material been like so far? 

Anthony: As far as I can tell, it seems to be resonating with people a little more readily than our first album. This one is much more groovy and fun, rather than ripping your head off and inverting your soul like the first one did (which is also fun, on occasion).

E&D: Are there any plans for tētēma to do any live dates in the future?

Anthony: We’re starting to get offers, we’ll see. Will has left to pursue his own musical interests, so we need to find a new drummer. Know anyone decent?

E&D: You have done live dates in the past, can you tell us about playing live and how they went? 

Anthony: We have done one show, which was to headline MOFO in Tasmania in 2017. The amount of work which went into this show was completely insane. Realising this music live is not easy, but we did it, and it sounded crazy. Much to my surprise, people loved it.

E&D: What is next for tētēma after the album is released? 

Anthony: That’s really up to Mike, he is indisposed with Faith No More and Bungle for the time being. Some raw material is bubbling at the corners of my brain, but I have a LOT of other stuff to make before tackling those impulses, if I ever do.

E&D: Your own output is very prolific, are you working on anything at the moment? 

Anthony: Thank you. I’m writing a celeste and 8-channel electronic piece called Mécanique Céleste for a building of the same designed by this amazing Sicilian architect Alberto Figuccio. It’s my first piece where I’m writing specifically for the acoustics of a particular building. That will happen in June. Also in May-June I’m touring Europe with Jerome Noetinger, performing selections from our record A Sunset For Walter, which was out on Penultimate Press last year. These will be in long-duration concerts using multiple tape machines and grand piano. I’m also thinking about a piece for female chamber choir, piano, hand percussion and loudspeakers for a project in Modena, early October.

E&D: Will you be working on any films at all in the future? 

Anthony: I may be contributing to the soundtrack of an animation called Reise der Schatten by the Swiss visual artist Yves Netzhammer. This situation is an exception. I’m very wary of the film and TV world in general, because it seems to bland-out music making into something predictable to sonically lubricate tedious upper-middle class narratives for those who can afford streaming subscriptions. Bitter much?

E&D: Who are your biggest influences and inspirations as an artist? 

Anthony: Louise Bourgeois, Chris Kraus, Iannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman, Roberto Bolaño, Gordon Bennett, Paul Verhoven, Maryanne Amacher, Thomas Bernhard, Isabelle Huppert, Michael Stevenson, Renzo Piano and my dear friends Erkki Veltheim, Rohan Drape and Natasha Anderson.

Recent things which really impressed me were The Cow by Ariana Reines, Syncope by Cathérine Clément and how Glenn Murcutt architecturally works with the Australian landscape. Also Heather Leigh performing Throne in Krakow last year was the best gig I’ve seen in many years.

E&D: What are your musical and artistic beginnings and how have they shaped you throughout your career?

Anthony: I started off as a kid playing classical piano in the suburbs. After starting some bands as a teenager, I stopped playing repertoire to focus on experimental music when I was 18. That led to becoming a composer, an improviser, and cultivating a strong interest in electro-acoustic music, underground club cultures, experimental film, and cross-pollinations of all of those things. I don’t know how it’s all shaped me, the only thing I’ve learnt is identity is both accumulative and porous.

E&D: What have been some of the proudest moments of your career so far? 

Anthony: Performing and conducting my entire first Tzadik album in Melbourne. Playing solo prepared piano at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Performing my Autophagy with the ACO at the Sydney Opera House. Pateras/Baxter/Brown at Fri Resonans. PIVIXKI at Victoriaville. Thymolphthalein at Musique Action. Writing an hour-long percussion/electronics sextet for Synergy. BBC Symphony performing my violin concerto at Maida Vale with Thomas Gould and Brett Dean. My pipe organ recordings for Sunn O)))’s ‘Troubled Air’ not being rejected by Steve Albini. Being commissioned by the GRM for an acousmonium piece. Pseudacusis at Sacrum Profanum. Life is good, because I keep good people close. That theory about your enemies…trust me, it doesn’t work.

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