Zones: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: organic decay grooves
File next to: Sun Araw, Mystic Triangle
Playing: NXNE: Tim Hecker + Fresh Snow + White Poppy + Twist + Zones @ The Great Hall.

Zones surround us — you may be moving though one right now. Zones will similarly engulf you if you enter their field. Derek McKeon’s musical project is perfect for any hazy, drifting excursions you might find yourself on. Joe Strutt spoke to McKeon via email.

The project is based in a certain “psun psoaked psych.” How did that emerge?

Haha. When I was reflecting on the record and wondering how to describe it, that made the most sense at the time. I guess I see it as a mid-point between psych-pop and more texturally based drone music. The project began in the summer of 2012, which was a really fruitful summer in terms of creative energy. I just finished university and was feeling liberated and free after focusing on art for four years. All the tunes offReal Time came out of marinating in those summer jams.

There’s also some other things in the mix. I keep catching a sort of New Age vibe in the (very awesome) “Sneaky Mist”. Is that deliberate?

I’ve always been interested in ambient sounds and creating sonic landscapes. That’s actually what I was doing before Zones, so that was me digging up my roots a little bit. I was just making the music that resonated the most with me, but yeah I have a collection 80’s New Age tapes and I’m also really into bands like Cluster/Harmonia, Terry Riley, the early Kraftwerk records and other kosmische sounds. That track was one of the last to emerge on the Real Time record, and it was a very improvised type of recording. Looking back on it, there was certainly some sort of spiritual energy present and I’m not sure if I could ever re-create the recording of that track.

There’s also a certain fluid-y wobble to the music that makes it ideal for cassette listening. Are you a big tape fan?

Oh thanks man, of course! Magnetic tape is such a fascinating medium to work with; also I’m very much obsessed with the quality. Since producing Real Time, I’ve acquired a new tube reel-to-reel unit that I’ve been using on everything, it’s fantastic. I keep some reels around that are all worn out and crinkled, I keep recording over them just cause I love the inconsistencies with ridiculous amounts of wow and flutter — very appealing.

Through bad luck, I haven’t caught Zones live yet. Should I expect it to sound different than the album?

I like the idea of treating the live shows as a separate entity; all of the sounds are re-worked for a live environment. I’ve isolated the essential aspects of the songs and use a lot of loops and samples to help build up the tracks. My friend Kathleen plays the synth parts and does vocals live which really helps bring the songs to life, and also allows for more improvisational energy. I’ve also accumulated some new gear that will be on the new record but I’m really excited to rework the old tracks with them.

You’ve also got some very cool stuff going on with your visual art. For you, does that come from a similar place as your music?

Yeah absolutely, both processes very much mirror each other. At the end of the day, music is just another mode of expression. Zones has kind of turned into an outlet for me to channel all of my artistic explorations, whether it’s video, visual art, music production etc. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very fulfilling to have everything be 100% self-produced.

It’s cool to see you bringing it together, ‘cuz we sometimes tend to silo different approaches off from each other — I know that sometimes I get caught up in music to the detriment of other media. Is there anyone doing visual art/video art in T.O. right now that I should be paying attention to?

Oh yeah, there is so much cool stuff going on right now, it’s crazy! It’s really incredible how show organizers these days are always making it a multi-media experience with visuals and environment installations – Feast in the East have been killing it for years now. The Analog Preservation Network is a fast growing collective of super-talented video artists that do live visuals as well. We’re actually playing the APN’s HYPERLINK v1.0 release show, which is a VHS compilation of local video artists. There are so many fantastic people on board to possibly name right now, but it’s going to be wild!

And speaking of visual art, I caught a sneak peek of the cover you did for the upcoming Mimico album, and it’s entirely “wow”, like a page from an atlas designed by Hipgnosis. How did that come about?

That’s awesome! I had a lot of fun making that one. When they played our release show we got talking about artwork, and how they thought I would be a good fit for their album. I’m really excited for that record, it sounds amazing. I knew I had to make something that stood up to it, so I just listened to it a lot and tried to visualize what it sounded like to me. It actually inspired me to experiment with different painting techniques and kind of hybridize a whole bunch of different mediums I’ve been working with lately.

Cool! Thanks for your time, and looking forward to feeling the vibes at the Great Hall.

No problem, thanks Joe!