Delving into the Lights and Shadows of Emotions // An Interview with GALÁN / VOGT

WL//WH Interview GALÁN / VOGT 

GALÁN / VOGT is a collaboration between Málaga born, Spanish ambient experimental composer and EL Muelle Records head, Pepo Galán and Australian-bred, Paris-based singer and co-founder of the dream-pop duo Heligoland, Karen Vogt, who finally have dropped today their long-awaited first album“The Sweet Wait”. Stirred by shoegaze, dream-pop and post-rock ripples, neo-classical and hazy ambient modulations combine seamlessly in an emotional-ridden winding, shifting array of lights and shadows, where the diverse emotive sound sensibilities reverberate and harmonize organically in a dizzying and immersive alchemy of mesmeric drifting rarefactions, blinding glares and the agony and ecstasy of beautifully awe-inspiring vocal melodies. 

  • What are some of your earliest, most formative memories when it comes to music and sound?

P: My most formative memories go back to the early ’90s when I used to play with some older musician friends who had enough equipment to record themselves. I was very enthusiastic about anything related to music and I was eager to just play and learn. In ’95 I joined a rock band as a replacement bassist because the band were in the middle of recording in a studio belonging to the prestigious producer Sergio Cascales. It was from this moment that I feel like my musical initiation began as I would then go on to play and record with various bands of different musical styles.

K: Simple memories come to my mind, like the distinctive crackling sound of the radio and the thrill of recording songs from the radio onto a cassette. I especially remember the almost magical, immersive feeling like a teenager when putting on my walkman and these memories are ones that we all have as music listeners.

I remember plucking a guitar string and realizing how similar it felt compared to the sensation in my throat when I would hum. I taught myself to play the guitar and sing because this fascinated me so much and also gave me that same feeling of being in my own private universe.

  • In the early period when you were working out what your sound and voice are, was there someone who you kind of you had as an example?

P: I always looked up to composers like Craig Armstrong, Ryüichi Sakamoto, Arvô Part or Joe Hisaishi. The way that they created and composed their music was a huge part of why I loved and appreciated their music. I would never want to imitate them, but it’s sure that listening to their music has influenced me at the compositional level.

K: I just wanted to sound like me and I always felt very embarrassed if someone told me that I sounded like another singer. With the voice, you’re looking to express yourself in a highly individual way and so if you sound like someone else then it almost feels as though you failed in being yourself. Of course, there were voices that I loved listening to, but it didn’t make sense to me to try to emulate those. It made sense to find my own voice and to develop that in my own way.

  • How was the project born and developed and what were its aims?

P: I met Karen through the Thesis Recurring project that is curated by artist Gregory Euclide. Karen had contributed with a work to that project and this is how I first heard her voice. I immediately fell in love with it and I felt that we had to do something together. At that time I was reworking a song by the composer Benoît Pioulard, and I decided to invite Karen to try something for it. She agreed to record some vocal ideas and this went on to become the track “Try To Be (More) Realistic” with me, Karen and Benoît. From that point, I kept giving her material and she would try some vocal ideas for it. This is how we began working together and writing songs. It felt very natural and fluid for it to develop in this way over time.

K: Pepo generously opened up his cupboard of musical ideas and let me have a look around. I immediately connected with his music because it’s so warm and rich. I heard space for my voice to fit inside the music. Some songs Pepo made a few adjustments to, and others we built together. But he already had some very strong and well-developed ideas that really appealed to me. Our aim was to just try stuff and see what would happen. Maybe we would have one song, maybe more. But it quickly became clear that it was very easy for us to work together and that we could just keep going and writing songs. At one point we decided we wanted to invoke an emotional response and that this should be the goal of the songs, and so this became one of our main goals.

  • Pepo, how did you begin and develop your relationship with electronic ambient music? Why did you choose this genre to express yourself? How do you produce and make your music?

P: I’ve been listening to ambient music for over 20 years. But I became interested in starting to create experimental and ambient music around the year 2009. At that time I had a shared rehearsal room with a group of trombonists and only played Post-Rock music with some friends. Some days I would go there with other guitarists, and we’d jam with our guitars, pedals and some synths. From that moment on I began to compose and record fictional soundtracks for films. At the end of 2012, I met the Paraguayan musician Lee Yi and we founded the Dear Sailor project; fusing Pop music with Ambient. But these days I write and record music from my home. This allows me to work more deeply on my sound and also to explore other sounds…I don’t want to be tied to a specific sound. The way I like to work is to improvise and record spontaneously – letting my heart express itself, depending on how I feel at the time.

  • The voice moves in rarefied territories through often harmonious sounds, and subtle droning and obscure dissonances as a frame, in a suspended atmosphere, pervaded by an ethereal contemplation as in a sort of sublimation of the unconscious and inner catharsis. Tell us about this organic voice/sound harmonisation.

K: When I am singing I feel as though I go somewhere else, the same way as when you meditate or watch a movie. You go into a kind of “state” and a different part of the brain takes over. I guess this is the intuition (or instincts) and over the years I have had to learn to trust this and allow myself to let go a little bit more each time. What was interesting about working with Pepo is that I was mixing and producing my voice throughout and so I felt as though I could go even deeper into this state to really find the sounds I was looking for.

  • How important is the concept of reverb and delay to you and your music?

P: Can you imagine ambient music without reverb or delay? Try to imagine artists like Brian Eno, Harold Budd or Robin Guthrie without these two effects. I don’t even want to imagine it. Although these effects are not essential, if you took them away the music would lose most of its magic and appeal. These effects are pure magic! So I think I can say they are very important in music.

K: I personally don’t like reverb so much and try to use as little as possible when I can. It drives me crazy when a singer drowns their voice in reverb and you can’t hear them, or they become the effect. But I absolutely love delays because I think this is when some really interesting things happen with layers and the timing. So delay is much more important to me these days

  • Your music is seamlessly cloaked in nostalgia and melancholy. Do you have a particular relationship with these feelings?

P: Most of the time yes! Memories and nostalgia are closely linked to the way we write music. It’s a very strong feeling that can make the music speak for itself and really feel like it is trying to express something that is beyond words. Other times, although we are happy and optimistic about the future, the music is built with melancholy. But it’s in a natural way so that it’s part of a whole.

  • Do you programme/create from your interfaces /instruments like a painter, by choosing the appropriate colours around the voice? Is it your emotions or your voice that shapes the sounds?

P: I rarely use programs to create music. I’d say 90% of my music-making process is done through my guitars, bass, or piano. I process the music after, but the first sounds come through the instruments and are played live so that I am feeling something as I am playing it. I only record it if it sounds interesting and if I can hear some potential.

K: With most of these songs it was my voice responding to the music. This way of writing feels very normal to me as I come from a band (Heligoland) where this is how we write songs where the music comes first. You play, you jam and then you find a set of chords and start singing stuff to see if a melody comes. If nothing interesting comes, then you move on to something else. So the music is very important to me and I prefer that it comes first so I can react to it.

  • Atmospheric music like yours has a strong “cinematic” quality. Have either of you ever composed for a film or other project, or if not, would you consider doing so?

P: I have had one of my songs included in a short film. I have also made music to accompany the dance works of the artist and choreographer Sita Ostheimer. I’ve always dreamt of making movie soundtracks and I would love very much for this to happen one day. I’d be delighted if a filmmaker hired me to do a movie’s soundtrack. I’d love to experience that, but I think it’s the kind of thing where you will be asked instead of going out looking for it.

K: I have really been enjoying making some videos for this album, and also working with other video artists and filmmakers on this album to have videos for all of the songs. Combining audio and visual is very powerful and you can really draw peoples attention to certain aspects of the music and the video. So I am used to doing it this way – making or finding videos to fit the music instead of making music to fit the video. But I am always open to doing new things.

  • Your lyrics are full of poetry, metaphor, and keen human observations. Can you take us through the writing process?

K: The first step for me is to feel and respond to the music. The melodies and the notes come first, along with the general shapes of the sounds and the vowels. The words are the last thing I work on. Although sometimes there are some words that just appear as soon as you start singing the melody. My lyrics are very impressionistic and ambiguous, but that’s intentional because I like to leave space for interpretation and for the listener to insert themselves inside the song. If four different people hear four different meanings in one song, then it’s perfect. But my writing process is to just do it and try not to analyse or overthink it too much.

  • Elements of shoegaze, dark-ambient and post-rock echoes intersect with neo-classical reverbs. the LP does not rely on basic ambient and dream-pop elements but employs a wider expansive palette of sounds is it a conscious choice or a spontaneous development?

P: This was a completely spontaneous development. In fact, we have almost twice as many songs that appear on the album that we could have included. At one point we decided to develop some of those songs later. The songs that we chose to put on the album were shuffled around until we found ones that worked together well. We could have easily just continued writing but we saw certain themes developing with the types of songs and wanted to put some of the more electronic ones aside for what will most likely be our second album that we will make in 2022. We also chose this selection of songs for the album so that there would be a lot of different styles and feelings. We wanted to avoid monotony on this album and for the listener to find different nuances in each listen.

K: This album is very much the sound of us trying out lots of ideas without any plan to sound a particular way. to just be ourselves and allow everything to get mixed up. But the result is this almost refined kind of sound that was surprising to me because it still had a raw, sketch-like feeling to it at the same time. When I was trying to write the press release for this album I chose not to describe the music, but instead, I asked others to do that because I really didn’t know how to describe it. Also, I struggle with genres and I find it so confusing. I just want to make music and let the listener or a reviewer categorize it and figure that out.

  • The album is full of precious contributions from Akira Rabelais, Achim Farber, Jolanda Moletta, Mark Beazley, Simon McCorry. What did each one bring to the general opus?

K: It makes me so happy to have these artists and friends on the album. We didn’t set out to have this many guests, but we felt that the songs would benefit from some outside contributions. It makes me especially happy to have dear friends such as Akira, Jolanda and Mark on there. Akira’s involvement was very precious to me because he really transforms the sounds that you give him. Sometimes you know you want to have someone involved, but you don’t want to tell them what to do. You just want them to try some things, play and explore. So I gave Akira some tracks and just told him to play around. He came back to me with these first few cool little one minute segments and these lead to the idea for him to make 2 codas for sides A and B of the vinyl. This just felt like the perfect way to give each side of the vinyl this beautiful moment where it just changes direction and melts away so that you have a “where am I” moment, and then the side of the vinyl is finished.

  • What other creative interests do you have and how do those things influence your music?

K: I just try to live creatively in as many ways as I can because it all nourishes your music in the end. Writing, daydreaming, food appreciation (especially studying dessert menus), watching sunsets, knitting and some cat worship.

P: I love photography and abstract painting. In a way, this has a lot to do with transmitting and expressing emotions. Occasionally I will create sounds that are inspired by my own photographs. When I do this, I guess I am trying to breathe life into the still pictures and to give them some movement.

  • Both of you have extensive experience, are there still things in today’s music that make you wonder or surprise you?

K: I feel simultaneously bored and excited by music today. It feels like a sensory overload and I never really liked the shock value or political charge that lots of music had. I wanted the music to be an escape and a pleasure. I much prefer to dig into the past these days because then I have the personal memories associated with certain music and this is the stuff I will be able to remember in years to come – when I can’t even remember my own name! I tend to just listen to a mixture of friends music and older stuff.

P: Of course. Every day I listen to musicians who surprise me and make me curious. I wonder how the hell could they have made that music? If we are talking about Rock music or similar genres, right now I would have to say that I have not found anything new that moves me. But if we talk about the Environmental or Neo-Classic genre, we may be in the best moment yet.

  • Which are the treasured albums that struck and possibly defined each of you as musicians?

K: Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man‘Out of Season’ ** PJ Harvey‘Rid of Me’ ** Low‘When the curtain hits the cast’.

P: Craig Armstrong‘The Space Between Us’ ** Arvö Part ‘Tabula Rasa’ ** Radiohead ‘Amnesiac / Kid A’.

  • What is currently on your stereo?

K: Robin Guthrie’s new EP and album, Ben Holton’s gorgeous new audio calendar and always something from the past – maybe some of the Durutti Column or Depeche Mode. It depends on what mood I’m in.

P: On my stereo right now is the new album by Markus Guentner and the two new works by Akira Rabelais.

  • Thanks for being our welcome guest, will this collaboration continue further? what will be the next personal plans from each of you

K: We are both very active with our solo work and collaborations. But it’s clear that we have so much more to explore together with album remixes to organise and album number two to make in 2022. Thanks so much for giving us this space to talk about our music.

P: We will certainly continue working together, for sure. We are currently working on a remix album of The Sweet Wait, and will also resume recording the second album very soon. I am also recording a solo album and other albums in collaboration with other musician friends. Thank you very much, it has been a pleasure!

GALÁN/VOGT debut full-length LP “The Sweet Wait” is out now, Digital & Vinyl 12″, through the GALÁN / VOGT Bandcamp with an exclusive BC only bonus track, called “Engrama”, that includes samples from James S. Taylor (Swayzak). The Vinyl edition is also available to order now via Norman Records (UK) and Rocksteady Records (AUSTRALIA) with more international vinyl stockists to be announced soon. Digital album is available on all digital streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music etc) too.

Keep up with GALÁN / VOGT:

GALÁN // | Galan FB | Galan Instagram

VOGT // KarenVogt.Music | Vogt Facebook Vogt Instagram |