“I’d rather grab a crappy guitar and be like how awesome can I make this sound, you know? Instead of having this really awesome new guitar and I just feel like, well, whatever,” said the musician Liz Godoy, over our tiny table at Little Skip’s in Bushwick recently.
Liz’s latest musical endeavor is a new LP under the guise of The Tablets, songs written by her, and co-produced with partner and collaborator the musician and producer Brenden Beu (Male Bonding, Pissed Jeans, o’death). This mélange of 60s garage infused new wave noise shoe-gaze sounds like a lot of things you want to hear, all at once. The complexity of tastes involved in their new LP defies expectations of another electro-infused Brooklyn band. They even have a farfisa.
The Tablets will perform at Brooklyn The Borough’s upcoming ladycentric rock n’ roll show at the Acheron, May 25, 8pm, alongside Claire’s Diary, Bad Behavior, Tiny Tusks and short films by Itziar Barrio. You should come, maybe?
“My new project, the tablets, the fearsome sparrow,” Brenden followed up from across our tiny table at Little Skip’s, “a lot of the idea behind all of this – because she and I think about this a lot – is to combine what is basically disparate elements and make them work together in a way that sounds new. Those drums sound just like something you’ve heard before, and that guitar sounds like something else you’ve heard before, but you’ve never heard those two things put together. But I think a lot of people hear that and they’re like, I don’t understand what this is, and I’m afraid to listen to it.”
Brenden and Liz have been together since they first met in the San Diego noise scene in 1999 and subsequently formed the bands Tetsunori and the fearsome sparrow. The latter played this website’s first anniversary party way back in 2009.
Their earliest effort, the noisy Tetsunori, pressed an EP mixed by Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf, Tristeza and The Locust related work, and the band shared the stage with acts like The Blackheart Procession. Tetsunori had fit into the noise scene in San Diego at the time and had grown a local fan base for a band named after a Japanese Locust fan they befriended who excitedly visited San Diego “to see punk shows” in the ‘90s.
“We just hung out everywhere together,” explained Liz, of early days in San Diego, “and then when we were trying to come up with a name for the band we were like, hey Tetsunori, we’re going to call it Tetsunori! And he was like, no, no don’t do that, Tetsunori is not a good name.
“And we were like – no, it is! Is that ok? And he was like, ‘fine, but you have to let me do the art for all the material you put out.’ So that was the deal and that’s what happened.”
They put out three seven inch records before disbanding and moving on to collaborate as the dream pop duo the fearsome sparrow, far less loud, far more embraceable, one would think. “The funny thing, it’s not like we were ever huge as Tetsunori, but we had a pretty loyal fan base.
“It was an interesting time to be there when we were doing our fearsome sparrow thing because it was a huge noise scene,” Liz continued, her gorgeous long red hair swirled around one of her many collected vintage ensembles to meet her high-waisted trousers in the middle.
“We had more credibility as Tetsunori,” Brenden chimed in as Liz explained.
“We still had people who appreciated it, but I don’t think anybody who loved Tetsunori liked the fearsome sparrow, it was a little weird and frustrating,” she said, adding, “we were always pretty secluded, so it was like, oh well, we’ll just move to New York, and just see what happens there.”
So they packed up their van, booked a few tours back East and eventually settled in Brooklyn, where they now have an awesome Bed-Stuy basement apartment with a garden three streets over from Liz’s sister, the artist Melissa Godoy and her boyfriend, Juan Pablo (Cabe) Cristerna, who plays in Brenden’s new project, Bookmarks.
Melissa Godoy will join the duo’s performance on May 25 at the Acheron, contributing visuals from vintage projectors she has assembled as a visual complement to her sister’s work. She’s also working on opening the restaurant Calaca, on Putnam Avenue in Bed Stuy this spring.
The fearsome sparrow’s second full-length album, Shimmer, was nominated by the Deli Magazine in their list of the best new bands of 2009 along with acts such as Talk Normal, Sleigh Bells and The Dirty Projectors. But with The Tablets, Liz is putting her range on display, alternating frenetically between her origins in the Mexican pop music of her youth, noise, dream pop and meshing them with her love of a good beat.
“I want it to have grittiness and sound loud, like the beats on The Tablets are pretty straightforward and I purposely want them to have a really strong driving beat because I also love electronic dream pop that’s very mellow and mild, but right now I just don’t find myself in that place, it’s like aaahhhh,” Liz roared, balling up her fist in angst.
That angst shines through on the LP, an eleven song line up whose urgency in the keys pairs well with soothing vocals layered over danceable beats and intricate and gritty guitars. Though Liz and Brenden appear with up to seven musicians on stage for their performances, their normally nimble presentation on the new LP defies expectations with a deep and expansive orchestral sound rooted in Liz and Brenden’s dual skills of musicianship and engineering.
“In college, one of my composition professors said, the limitations of your instrument tell you what to play, and with no limitations there’s no feedback from the world outside your head,” said Brenden, well coiffed, with thick glass frames and a dark Don Draper-like slick, who attended San Diego State and got a degree in electro acoustic music composition.
We had gotten onto the subject of analog versus digital and this musician slash producer slash jack-of-all-tech-trades surely had a complex and thoughtful opinion on the balance between the two mediums. This duo certainly started in one world and landed in another – the art for their early records was shipped from their Japanese friend by mail, not emailed and doctored in Photoshop as is more common these days. Brenden even knows how to splice audio tape, but he tends not to be precious about the analog process.
“It’s about the right tool for the right job,” he offered, and for most people that means the right tool within a budget. For that reason – the high cost of studio space specifically – when it comes to recording, he’s built his own mobile recording rig to bring to living rooms and practice spaces across the borough to record local bands using a compression box to mimic a recording studio. Then he mixes it all down in pro-tools. He’s going to do that for the live recording of our Acheron show on May 25.
“I have this really old guitar that used to be my dad’s,” Liz explained, “and I’ve been trying to write some demos on it, but with garage band and pro-tools and some effects it sounds really awesome. I’ve been even working with a couple of apps on the phone just for demos and I think they’re being used in a way that people would probably be like, that’s not what its for, you know? With the fearsome sparrow, it was just the two of us, and a lot of people would say it sounds really big, and it doesn’t sound like two people doing that, and I guess we kind of thrive on that, we like that.
“A lot of people don’t even know for example The Tablets is mastered in pro-tools and it’s mostly done with digital a lot of people think everything is analog and oh everything sounds so fuzzy and so warm, and it’s like yeah but we worked with a lot of digital technology and with some of our vintage equipment but the way we blended it, and mixed and mastered it, that makes a difference. I think a lot of people had really bad experiences with people working with pro-tools so they say ‘oh digital sucks.’”
But digital democratizes the industry and is what most people can afford these days, and those people are abundant. “It’s like kids everywhere, bands everywhere, all the bands play shows together, like ten bands,” Liz said, of Bushwick’s music scene.
And the reversion towards analog is strong in Brooklyn. It’s a credibility thing, mostly, and The Tablets duo takes a middle of the road position on the analog versus digital question.
“There’s such a debate about it,” offered Liz, “There’s the purists and there are the people that embrace technology then there are the people that are like, no just technology. Honestly, I’m not one way or the other. I think – especially being someone that has very limited resources – I think whatever works to get what you need to get, and to get the sound that you want it to be, it’s all fair game.
“I am a big fan of vintage keyboards, vintage equipment, antique furniture, vintage clothing. I’ve always embraced it, but I can’t be stuck and be like no, it has to be that way or nothing, because then you’re just not going to get anywhere.”