Loscil: The Camp Wavelength Interview

Purveyor of: Submerged, icy, low-end ambience, minimal techno and drone.
File next to: Tim Hecker, Tycho, Stars of the Lid
Playing: Camp Wavelength, Sunday August 30 @ Artscape Gibraltar Point. Get your ticket here!

Synonymous with the element of water as it is with isolation, Scott Morgan’s deep, desolate soundwork as Loscil provides an almost too-perfect complement to the setting for the inaugural Camp Wavelength festival on Toronto Island. The former Destroyer drummer and guitarist, based in Vancouver, has found an apt home for his work on the lauded Chicago-based Kranky label, whose roster is heavy on emotive, ambient electronic music, much of which feels washed over by its proximity to Lake Michigan. Loscil’s most recent album, Sea Island, takes the theme to an even darker place, often feeling like the soundtrack to a foreboding, midnight adventure across the murky depths. Jay Pollard spoke with Scott via email about the project and where it might be headed.

As suggested in the title of your excellent album Sea Island, your music feels very tied to the sea and the element of water in general. Living in the Pacific Northwest, how would you say that that setting influences your music?

Yeah, I’m certainly tied to it. I’ve grown up near the ocean and find it inspiring at times but also intimidating and threatening. The sea has this ominous power that I find strangely alluring in a very dark way. I think this feeling is something I was trying to have lurking throughout Sea Island.

It was recently brought to my attention that many of your albums and song titles are derived from actual areas in and around Vancouver (i.e. “First Narrows,” “Sketches from New Brighton,” etc.). How does that city inspire your music and where are your favourite places to go to gain inspiration?

Sea Island is a place in Vancouver too… It’s technically what the airport is sitting on. These are the places that I’m drawn to the most, the ones where industry and nature collide. Beautiful places that humans tarnish in their own oddly beautiful way.

You have previously performed as a member of Dan Bejar’s Destroyer project. What made you decide to branch out on your own with Loscil? Is being a component of a band still something that appeals to you?

Destroyer was one of many bands I played in as both a drummer and guitar player. I also played some saxophone on a couple Destroyer records. There is basically a group of friends, including Dan Bejar, who I’ve just played music with since as long as I can remember. We still work on projects together when we can. So I didn’t really branch out from Destroyer — I floated in and out of Destroyer, and still do on rare occasions. I really enjoy playing with other musicians. Making solo music can be so insular it gets a bit claustrophobic at times. But I’m not sure I will ever return to full-time drumming. I’ve surely lost my chops by now.

In this day and age, we’re seeing a massive influx of artists who are creating seemingly incredibly complex albums using little more than a laptop. What are the challenges you face when attempting to reproduce this music live? How are you able to make it interesting for the audience so that they remain engaged?

Yeah, some people just appreciate the music for what it is and don’t get too caught up in the performance aspects. I guess those are the people I’m appealing to the most. I often present my works with integrated video to try to add a visual element, or bring in live players to make it feel different, but really, there’s not much else you can do to please the critics who don’t want to shut off their eyes and escape within the sound. That’s where the real rewards are.

Overall, your music has a very cinematic feel to it. I’m often listening to your albums on my headphones and suddenly feel like I’ve been transported into an intense, foreboding scene from a movie. Have you considered delving into soundtrack work at all?

I have done some soundtracks and bespoke works for dance and installation and such. I love scoring. It comes with its own set of challenges, but it’s definitely something I can see myself doing more of.

Later this month you’ll perform at the first Camp Wavelength outdoor music festival. I was very pleasantly surprised to see your name listed — traditionally, I wouldn’t have expected an ambient artist to be one of the top-billed performers. Do you have a preference for a particular type of venue when you’re performing live? What are your expectations of the audience, especially in a festival setting?

I like playing in well-equipped theatres or clubs with excellent sound and a large projection screen, and mostly at night. I think this is ideal for my work. But I’ve played some daytime outdoor things as well. It’s definitely harder when you’re making very textural, subtle music. I’m not a rock band. Festivals run the gamut. There are the very electronic ones like Mutek and Decibel where the audience totally knows what to expect, or the outsider ones like Big Ears where the audiences generally are super open-minded. No real idea what to expect at Wavelength, but hopefully it works.

You’ve recently toured with Kranky label-mates and Stars of the Lid-affiliated project, A Winged Victory for the Sullen. What’s up next for Loscil?

A European tour this fall and some special projects, including a collection of endless music pieces presented as a custom mobile app.

Loscil plays Camp Wavelength Sunday, August 30 at Artscape Gibraltar Point (Toronto Island). Get your single day tickets here! Or better yet, join us for the whole weekend and get a Festival Pass!