Anathallo Interview by As the Fall Breaks for Indie Vision Music
Bret Wallin of the band Anathallo was awesome to me and took the questions that I sent him for an email interview. This band truly amazes me and am honored that he took out the time to do this.thanks Bret!
1) State what you are in the band and how long you have been in
My name is Bret – and I think! – for interviews over e-mail, I always
like to read where the questions are being answered from. So, to
clarify. I am in a van. I am with the band. We are somewhere in New
Mexico (it looks dry, it looks flat). Andrew is driving, Seth is
sitting shotgun and staring out the window, Erica and Dan are both
sleeping, Matt and Jeremiah are both reading. We were just listening to
Wolf Parade, but now the van is quiet except for the open windows. We
found out a couple hours ago that our show tonight has been cancelled –
we’re in the middle of a tour with The Format and their singer is sick!
– so, understandably, the venue in Albuquerque didn’t want a Format-less
tour coming through. We will still get to see friends, though. It will
still be a nice night.
That, also, was a long way of saying, “hello, I’m Bret. I play the
trombone and bass drum and floor tom and shaker and glockenspiel and
have been in Anathallo for five and a half years.”
2) Could you give a brief history of the band? How did it all start?
Weren’t some members in the high school marching band?
Well. In 1998, Matt was a freshman in high school and had started a
punk band. He wanted to do some ska covers, though – and knew I was in
the marching band. We’ve been playing together since. A year later,
Matt also started playing guitar in a hardcore band… along with Danny
(fellow guitarist) and Erica (on the bass). Eventually, their band
parted ways and the punk band slowly evolved into what you know today as
Anathallo. We’ve always kept it around seven members… and going
through both high school and college, it seems like we’ve had more than
a few lineup changes (people move, people get married, people get job
offers). Seth has been the Anathallo bassist since day one. We met
Andrew in college – he was the lead singer in his own band at the time-
and agreed to play flugal horn (as well as nearly every other
instrument) with us. Danny joined the band a couple of summers ago – a
completely natural fit – as he was finishing school in Chicago. We
tricked Jeremiah, our drummer, into moving up to Michigan from Georgia
this winter… and Erica joined us at the same time, providing vocal
help on our newest songs… as well as lending a hand with all the other
instrumentation needs we’ve had. So that’s it. Sorry, though! That
wasn’t so brief.
3) How long have you played your instrument?
I’ve played the trombone for ten years. Which seems like a really long
time. The instrument itself isn’t holding up so well, actually…
Andrew and I were recording some horn parts last weekend that might end
up on the new mewithoutYou record… and before we started, I noticed
that the horn had sprung a leak… the tone sounded terrible and I could
feel the air escaping. Our first solution, chewing gum, didn’t work!…
but fortunately, their producer – Brad Wood – he had modeling clay. And
that is what I have been using since.
4) Your new cd entitled “Floating World” is amazing. Could you
describe the concept of the cd and the general theme of it? Also, what
does floating world mean or refer to?
Sure. Sorry if a lot of my answers sound vague… I just think, when
talking about the record – a lot of the themes… it will be a lot
easier for me to speak about them personally rather than for the band.
The concept, to me – when we started writing, it was a time in college
where… Matt and I were taking a few literary theory classes, a lot us
had taken some religion courses… most of us went to the same church.
Floating World, to me, is an attempt to reconcile, to learn to live
in… the gray areas of life. I feel like there’s a sense of hope
throughout the record… but also an attempt, I think, to not brush
aside the barriers of everyday life… how confusing it can be to
attempt to see the world how other people see it, the frustration…
maybe at times, the isolation… of having different lenses for the same
events. There are elements of the story of the prodigal son on the
record… a feeling of going away, a desire to return… and I feel that
the Hanasakajiijii folktale served as a vehicle for a lot of the wonder,
hope, and frustration… even pleading… that end up being conveyed
throughout the songs. The term “floating world” itself… it refers to
an old Japanese arts community that endured through, maybe even was the
result of… being looked down upon as a lower class. Beauty emerging
in the face of frustration.
5) It seems like everything for this release was to revolve around the
concept of the cd. The artwork, for one, is amazing. Could you
describe the whole idea of the booklet that you guys had? Like, how it
ties in with the whole concept of the cd?
I think that the booklet… really, it’s just the lyrics and a retelling
of the Japanese folktale. The presentation… the case itself is really
delicate… and I think what the designer was imagining (I hate to put
words in his mouth) was… an ornate and fragile presentation of the
music… letting the lyrics and story stand by themselves as an
accompanied guide. Even the cover, in the laser cut – hints of the
folktale… flowers, ash, snow, a dog – those were all meant to slowly
bring the listener into an experience… maybe making for a less casual
6) Who did the artwork?
Greg Leppert of Quiet Design. We really… the moment where we first
saw the finished case, unwrapping our copies of the cd… we owe him so
much. He took so much time crafting the themes of the album together
and I think there’s been a sense of appreciation in how the artwork has
been received so far… people seem really glad that he was so careful,
so thoughtful, in how the record was to be represented. Greg also plays
trumpet in the band Foxhole – friends of ours – who we’ve played more
than a few shows with.
7) The song titles are very cool. The ones that stuck out most for me
were the Hanasakajiijii songs. Why are they out of order on the cd?
Any reason? Each one has a short little story by it in the cd booklet.
Could you tell how the short stories are related to the lyrics and also
how they are related? (as in, all 4 connected to the story?)
I think the order of the songs… not to speak for Matt… but for me,
the order to the songs speak to the problem of perception. What’s the
most important part to the story? Is it near the end of the recorded
retelling, where the dog’s ashes serve to cause the old man’s tree to
bloom? Is it at the end of the folktale, where the greedy neighbor
brings about disaster on his town? What do those mean? Is there even a
“most important?” What importance do we put on “order?” I think these
questions relate to… how do we perceive ourselves? Our lives? How do
we narrate ourselves? It sounds, maybe, like I just jumped off the deep
end! But those are some of the ideas that we talk about among ourselves
(long van rides, long van rides) quite often. And I think that, for the
most part, what you think about is what you write about. The stories –
all four as a whole – relate to the lyrics and to each other. The songs
are simply a musical retelling.
8. A lot of the songs have a different language in it. Is it
Japanese? Also, does anybody in the band speak it fluently?
Yes, the languages being sung on Floating World are English and
Japanese. Seth grew up in Japan… spending ten years of his life
there. Matt has taken courses at the university to study the language.
Erica joined Matt and Seth last spring when they traveled to Japan…
spending a month crossing the country, having adventures, making
friends, interacting with the culture. It felt pretty natural, then, to
use both languages while creating the record.
9) I have heard that you guys use many things to create some of your
music. What were all the instruments or objects used on the cd?
Here goes: guitars, bass, drums, piano, flugal horn, trombone, melodica,
bells, harp (thanks, Timbre), meltron, bazuki, shakers, the wonders of
the human voice, stick clicks, ratchets, velcro, a deck of playing
cards, bike wheels, and a children’s musical toy… from Andrew’s
youth… a collection of plastic heads with bells in their mouths….
and when you press the corresponding keys, the different heads open and
bells shake. The Big Mouth Family Singers!
10) Your sound is amazing. What are some of your favorite
bands/musical influences you look up to?
That’s tough with so many members! Here’s what we’ve been listening to
in the van lately… old Modest Mouse, Regina Spektor, Sunny Day Real
Estate, an occasional Ida record… the Kinsella brothers have made a
nice home in our van stereo… Ecstatic Sunshine, Colour Revolt, Page
France… except Page France gave me nightmares. For real.
11) While working in the studio, what was it like writing with seven
different people with all of your influences?
I think that, by the time we made it into the studio, most of our songs
had already been crafted to a point of completion…. maybe except for
Kasa No Hone. Instead, one of the main challenges in the studio was
finding ways to keep ourselves… like, each member… mentally with
it. When we travelled down to Atlanta to work with Matt Goldman… I
think that was on a Monday… and I didn’t touch an instrument until
late Friday afternoon. So the challenge was, how to keep your ear
active… how to keep your mind alert… how to encourage your friends
with the music they were making. And we talked about this afterwards –
after going back home to finish the recording, we spent a month of 12
hour days in Danny’s basement trying to find the right sounds, piecing
together the right parts… it became such an all-encompassing
project… we all felt like we were going crazy… going to our homes
and having nothing to say to our friends and family! Because our minds
were all just set on, “recording… recording… recording…
recording.” Just staring blankly off into space at the dinner table.
It was a really bizarre month.
12) Do you guys ever do any warm-ups for clapping and stomping, either
before practice or shows?
No, not really! Although Matt once stomped a hole through a wooden
stage!… maybe if we had warmed up, we would have had a better sense of
the stage’s structural capacity. You live and learn?
13) How do you guys go about writing a song? Does everybody have input
or does it come from a single idea and branches out? Do you start out
with the lyrics, music, or the clapping and stomping? (as you can tell,
I’m a huge fan of the clapping and the stomping)
For better or worse, we’re a democracy when it comes to songwriting…
everyone gets a say… which! Well, as you can imagine, we generally
take a long, long time putting a song together. Some friends were
visiting from the south and were nice enough to make us dinner while we
practiced (southern hospitality! southern charm!). Only later, though,
did I overhear an explanation of their night:
“We had started on the spaghetti and toast and went about waiting for
the boys to be done… and after, maybe an hour had gone by and we could
hear them all downstairs… they were still running through the exact
same ten second part they had began the night with… over and over and
over! We even waited another hour and they never moved on. We just sat
staring at each other in disbelief. ‘Are you kidding me?? This is
And that probably sounds ridiculous. But I think we do take some
satisfaction from being so meticulous. None of our songs start the same
way – they’ve begun from lyrics, a melody, a chord structure, a
feeling… it always starts up as a different process. I don’t think
we’d have it any other way.
14) How does your faith influence your music and your everyday life?
I think that, you know – I am only speaking for myself again. But
faith… like before, what you think about is what you write about. In
that sense, music-writing comes about fairly naturally… what else
would we write about? But it’s more complex than that. When we were
younger, I think we all put a lot of pressure on ourselves… if you’re
a person of faith and a musician… that means you have an audience.
And if we have an audience, this is our best opportunity to share our
beliefs. Which! I still understand that sentiment. But I also think –
if anything – our faith now gives us…. there’s a sense of comfort and
rest in that… there’s a freedom to write about what we want to. Dead
dogs. Slugs and bugs. That faith and art intersect… that faith
doesn’t demand our songs to be blunt objects. In the same way, our
everyday lives… it was easier, I think, when were younger… it’s
easier to set up black and white arguments… easily demolished
arguments that made us feel stronger in our faith. How we’re trying to
live now, trying to live with a better understanding of the gray…
there are less individual triumphs (I hope that doesn’t sound terrible)
and more of a steadying trust.
15) What does the word Anathallo (to renew, to cause to grow, to bloom
again) mean to you?
It’s a reminder of… that life isn’t stagnant. That, in a sense, that
I haven’t made it… that I’m still a very young person and that… when
I feel like I have all the answers… there’s renewal on the horizon.
There are still dead things in me that need to be dealt with. Maybe
that sounds terrible, too. Or that, I could imagine someone reading
this – it sounds like a very shaky faith. But what I mean is: people
our age, I think, make a very large mistake in thinking we know it all.
And we stomp through the forest, shouting our solutions, tearing
branches, trampling through with zero sensitivity. So, instead – the
question was about everyday life – I would like to propose a complex
faith. Not “shaky” – instead “carefully handled.” We are young
people. There is a lot to learn and live through. There. I realize I
have gotten on top of my box and I think I will come down now.
16. What is Anathallo’s purpose as a band?
Or! Here. Out comes my box again!
No no. I think, though – again, hopefully this doesn’t sound terrible –
but I think our purpose… I think of other jobs… an electrician…
his job is to install and repair electrical circuits. I feel that our
purpose as a band is to write, record, and perform songs. That’s what
we enjoy doing! And how our faith intercedes… how we perform, how we
record, how we write… how we treat each other in the band, how we
interact with the communities we find ourselves in every night… those
are what are transformed by how we see ourselves, how we see others, how
we see God.
17) Any final thoughts or comments?
Well! I think I’ve written more than enough! Our e-mail is
firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be travelling until the end of May… and
then again from July until September. Hopefully we can meet sometime.
And also – I think that an interview implies that I have something to
say, something that other people would be interested in reading.
However! I am not so sure if that is the case with this interview…
so! My apologies if this read as too self-important. Like, really.
Okay! I think that’s all I’ve got.
end of interview