Mike Rheinheimer would rather not tell you about his band on the Internet. The singer-songwriter behind Rochester, NY’s Attic Abasement has certainly utilized the Internet to its fullest as a means of distribution (he uses only Bandcamp and local shows as a way of disseminating his tunes), but a reluctance to self-promote leaves him absent from most forms of social media, letting his music—when he chooses to release it—do the talking. So it may come as a surprise to those who’ve followed the foursome’s career to date that after nearly four years of radio silence in the wake of 2010’s Dancing Is Depressing, Rheinheimer and co. are poised to return with new tunes (in the form of a split LP with Rochester scene legends Nod) at the end of this very month.
Attic Abasement material to date has largely been composed of contemplative and abstract folky tales descendent from the likes of Bill Callahan and David Berman. Drawing on a period of, as Rheinheimer put it in a 2011 interview, “isolation, heartbreak, and the dread of working a straight job” the aforementioned Dancing Is Depressing was a compelling document of a tumultuous life. Never too direct or self-serious, Rheinheimer condensed a moment of turmoil into a brilliant and tremulous picture of a period of struggle. Now that he’s out of those emotional woods, the seven songs that make up this new split look back at similar themes—but with the careful distance that comes along with making it through heavy times. Over the phone from an antique mall in Salamanca, New York, Rheinheimer detailed his early musical life and the life circumstances that spawned these new songs. Check out the first taste of this new record, “Will This Give Me Cancer Or Not?,” below.
BAND MEMBERS: Mike Rheinheimer (vocals/guitar), J Repp (guitar), Keith Parkins (bass), Darren DeWispelaere (drums)
HOMETOWN: Rochester, NY
“YOUTH”: Growing up my mom encouraged me to take piano lessons, and I did, probably when I was eight years old or so. By seventh grade, I was playing guitar and taking guitar lessons and getting into Nirvana and Weezer. I started with a little acoustic guitar and then I got an electric—I went from there to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors. I was just trying to learn as many songs as I could. I was always trying to come up with things of my own here and there; it wasn’t anything very good. Through high school and my early years at college it was just kind of bullshit. It was probably around 2004 or 2005 that I started writing stuff that I was happy with.
FALSE STARTS: I was just messing around with Windows Sound Recorder trying to figure out different effects. I was really into Pavement at the time, so I was jamming with friends and those sorts of songs are very easy to imitate. [Before Attic Abasement], we had a band called Science vs. Witchcraft based here in Rochester. It was a sort of noise rock band, I played guitar and there was keyboard and bass and drums. We had a couple of self-released CD-Rs. It was a lot fun, it was how I met a lot of my friends in Rochester was through music and I think it’s how I met everyone that’s in Attic Abasement now. We’re still playing shows at the same bars we were playing then.
PROPER BEGINNINGS: [Attic Abasement started] at the other end of the extreme from the noise rock. My previous band was mostly instrumental and abrasive, and this was sort of the other side of things. I’d always been into more mellow song structures, so this was the other side of me that started to boil up. I was still in that same band and I started recording the self-titled EP on a digital eight-track. Swim Through the Dirt was recorded while I was still with Science vs. Witchcraft as well. That band got kind of stale, and we stopped practicing and writing songs and playing shows. We eventually broke up, and then Attic Abasement came into bloom even further. I was always recording in our attic or some random basement, and that’s sort of where the name came from. I was always living with someone that had a drum kit, for better or for worse, so I was always hanging microphones from the rafters in the attic, recording the drums that way.
WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW: The lyrics are getting less personal and more observational. It’s more character based. None of these newer songs are straight narratives, but there are characters that pop in a song and then go away. I don’t draw a lot of inspiration from my life as it is now, but the way that my life was a few years ago—I still find some inspiration from that. I was a mess, I was going through a lot, and I had a lot of bad habits. A lot of these newer songs are about that era still and about coming out of that and looking back. I’m really comfortable now. I bought a house, and I have a decent job and I get to play music. I’m staying busy beekeeping and gardening and playing hockey. I’m just staying busy and living. [During the making of Dancing Is Depressing], I had an okay job, actually, but I just wasn’t happy.
ON ABSTRACTION: The lyrics that I admire tend to steer toward the more obscure. You can tell what they’re talking about, but it’s not very direct, or it’s not clear at all what they’re talking about but it’s still very poetic. I like things that can be taken in a number of different ways. Smog and Silver Jews do that, and Jeff Tweedy is really good at that too. I’ve listened to them for a while. I’m not really listening to them anymore, but they definitely made an impact on the way I like to write songs. Even going back older, I’ve been getting into the Grateful Dead, actually, and they do a lot of that. A lot of the lyrics I hear these days are just sort of… it’s almost like nobody cares. No one is really trying that hard. The focus is on a different area of the music.
ON HIS (LACK OF) INTERNET PRESENCE: It’s just something I’ve never been very good at. I’m more of a lurker on the Internet than a commenter or activist or anything. I just sort of sit back. I don’t like self-promotion. I understand that to be successful you have to do those kinds of things but I’m happy just sitting back and just letting it happen—if anything is going to happen anyway. When I get an email from somebody or someone buys a CD or shirt and leaves a comment, it means a lot more to me than if they just stumbled across it because I said some stuff on Facebook or something. I don’t get a lot of traffic, but I feel like it means a lot more because I’m not all over the Internet spreading it. It sort of comes along with the people that really want to dig deep. They’re really looking for something, and if they found it with my music then it’ll mean something special to them because they’ve been looking so hard. That’s one of the benefits.
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