Warren Hildebrand’s Radiant Orchid Tapes
ABOVE: WARREN HILDEBRAND. PHOTO BY BRIAN VU
For Canadian expat Warren Hildebrand, life changed with a move to Brooklyn. In 2012, approaching two years after his debut release under the banner of Foxes In Fiction, Hildebrand had hit a wall. Creative frustration with his long gestating follow-up to 2010’s Swung From The Branches and momentary stagnation of his burgeoning cassette label Orchid Tapes left him at a loss, so he crossed our north border and settled down in Bushwick, a physical transposition that seems to have been just enough to jostle both of his creative endeavors back into working shape.
Hildebrand’s 2013 was modest, but sprinkled with successes. Orchid Tapes took off yet again thanks to popular releases from the likes of Coma Cinema and R.L. Kelly, as well as a series of concerts (which, to date, have occurred as close to home as Hildebrand’s rooftop and as far off as L.A.). That alone would have been a cause for celebration; but Hildebrand also found time to finish up his second collection of ambient-indebted bedroom pop, due out this fall. 2014’s been even kinder to Hildebrand and his fellow labelhead Brian Vu, with the label’s first vinyl release (Ricky Eat Acid‘s Three Love Songs) still fresh in the rearview mirror and more still ahead. Just days before Hildebrand’s next landmark (the label’s fourth showcase, celebrating the release of their vinyl compilation, Boring Ecstasy) we trekked out to Hildebrand’s Bushwick apartment to discuss the genesis of both Foxes In Fiction and Orchid Tapes, as well as his forthcoming Owen Pallett-aided new LP.
COLIN JOYCE: Foxes in Fiction is the window into all of the stuff you do, so how and when did this project start?
WARREN HILDEBRAND: Foxes In Fiction started officially in April of 2005 when I was still in high school. I had a lot of friends who were a little bit older than me who all had their own musical projects, and I looked up to them in a big way. Everybody was introducing me to music that I’d never heard before, and I was just starting to take my own recording sort of seriously. I wanted a name that could represent it, and I found the name “Foxes In Fiction” at the bottom of a Wikipedia article about foxes. It was a link to another page, and I thought it’d be a great project name. Since 2005, there’s been a lot of different versions of the project, but the current version, in both style and intention, has been ongoing since about 2009 or so.
JOYCE: And you were making music before 2005 as well?
HILDEBRAND: I had been making music before then. I started working on recordings around 12 or 13, and I’d make tape recordings on this shitty little tape recorder that I found in the house. That’s where I first learned to start writing music and making my own songs. Foxes In Fiction was the first solid, concrete project. I just sort of stopped dicking around and took it a little more seriously.
JOYCE: What were the first recordings you were making like?
HILDEBRAND: They were weird, abrasive tape collage stuff. I was recording snippets of field recordings and radio recordings and collaging it all together in weird arrangements in 2005 simple audio editing software. They weren’t really songs, it was more of a sound art thing at that point. I was just getting stoned a lot, and it sounded really pleasing to my 15-year-old brain, anyway.
JOYCE: If you started out doing really abstract music, where did the impulse to delve into pop structures come from?
HILDEBRAND: I’ve always had a natural attraction to pop music and melody, and making that early noise stuff was just an excuse because I didn’t have that pop sensibility. The intention to create that stuff was always there, but I just didn’t have the tools to do it. As time has gone on and I’ve had different experiences, it has just made arriving at that goal much easier. I’ve become interested in pop music as a vehicle for carrying heavier things, like aspects of healing or a deeper helpfulness with music.
JOYCE: You said that 2009 was when the project became what it is today, was there anything that sparked that change?
HILDEBRAND: In 2008, my younger, 16-year-old brother passed away. I had a really rough and incredibly stressful year following that. In early 2009, I had this really terrible mental breakdown that lasted maybe four or five months. One of the only things that really helped with the grief and extreme stress was listening to a certain kind of music that I found helpful or healing. A lot of that was Brian Eno and Atlas Sound. It was probably the most helpful thing through that entire situation, so emerging from that I knew that I wanted to make things that had a degree of helpfulness to them and I wanted to make things that I found to be healing music. I’d been making music in a really directionless way before that, but that was when I realized exactly what I wanted.
JOYCE: Is that healing focus thematic or sonic?
HILDEBRAND: It’s both, but it’s predominantly sonically. It’s things that I deem are made from a really honest or pure place with the intention that people can really connect with that and bond with it. It’s just my filtration of the idea of healing. I don’t know if it works all the time. It’s still just an experiment. I think all music is healing to a certain degree, but I try to remain cogent of it.
JOYCE: Is there anything else that you feel exists in a similar vein?
HILDEBRAND: There’s a lot of ambient music and other things that focus on cavernous and atmosphere based things that are really easy to get lost in. A lot of times its in places you’d never really expect it to be found. The last record I really connected to on that level was the Balam Acab record [Wander/Wonder]. It’s such a dark-sounding record, but there’s so many parts of it where you feel uplifted in a deep spiritual way. I try to remain conscious of the effect that ambient music can have, and I try to inject it in pop structures. I did ambient music for a really long time, and I still really enjoy composing it, but I’ve changed my focus on where I want to bring that effect from. Right now it’s very much structured pop music.
JOYCE: On the other side I’m curious about the start of Orchid Tapes? That came as a mechanism to put out Swung from the Branches, right?
HILDEBRAND: I think initially it was to serve to self-release my music. The thought of other labels releasing my music wasn’t even on my radar at the time, so I just thought it would be cool to have something that I had total control of and that I could do from my apartment that I wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else for. It was 2009 or 2010, and there were a lot of other tape labels popping up. I thought it was inspirational that people were doing these little releases from niche bands. I got into the idea of making it an actual functional label and put out releases from my friends. As time went on, I got more and more serious about thinking about it as an actual label instead of just a vanity project or something that I could use to self-release my own records. I mean, I haven’t put out any of my own music in almost three years. It’s been nice to do in the downtime between my own records. Things have moved along pretty steadily for the past three years. It’s given me the tools to handle everything in a professional way. If we had just started the label last year and tried to take on something like the Ricky Eat Acid record, I feel like we’d be kind of screwed. We know so many people and we have so many dedicated listeners and supporters at this point, everything runs like clockwork now. We’ve never lost money on any of our releases. We’ve never had any overall trouble with a release. Everything has been very meticulously planned and executed in a way that I feel like we can both be really proud of.
JOYCE: It’s incredible that you’re able to sell out every release.
HILDEBRAND: It’s crazy. It’s not anything I ever anticipated. It’s something I wake up every morning excited about. It feels like an anomaly, but lots of people have been with us from the very start and they know that we’re picky about the stuff we choose. For whatever reason, they trust our taste in what we release. There’s a lot of people that buy our releases before even hearing it or hearing any tracks off of it. Maybe they just trust our instincts. We just try to be on top of “customer service” stuff and be nice and professional. You’re dealing with these faceless and personality-less entities on the Internet, and it can be really sketchy giving them your money, and we try to remove that anxiety any way we can.
JOYCE: It’s cool that you can build that trust, because it’s not like you’re only releasing one genre.
HILDEBRAND: It’s really cool. The overall idea that we try to go for is releasing music by people who are really dedicated and put a lot of themselves into their music and don’t try to follow any passing Internet trends or anything. I think the people that buy our releases can sense that. It’s people who really care about their craft; and people who listen to it can tell.
JOYCE: The album you’re putting out is coming out on Orchid Tapes too, but you mentioned there was some other label in consideration too. How did you end up deciding on doing it yourself?
HILDEBRAND: A part of me always wanted to do it myself, but there was a different, bigger label that was going to release it, and we’d been in talks. They’d been courting me for the better part of about three years, but when I handed the album off to them they weren’t interested or had obligations to other projects. I tried to see it more as a blessing. I have this perfect vehicle to do a good job of it myself. It makes sense. I’ve spent so much time on it. I may as well.
JOYCE: It seems like it’d be weird, with how personal Orchid Tapes is, to turn over the other personal side of what you do over to someone else.
HILDEBRAND: It would be weird. Seeing how hard we’ve worked to put out these records and other, higher profile releases. I’d be really excited about it, but it’d feel weird afterward to not do it myself and strengthen the Orchid Tapes core. It’d feel like I was abandoning my baby or something.
JOYCE: Can you tell me a little bit about the making of the new record?
HILDEBRAND: I started in fall of 2011 on the first song, which is the last song on the record. I just did a rough first take on a VHS camcorder microphone. That was the conscious beginning. It’s been through so many weird forms. For the longest time it was going to be an EP, but halfway through it grew to 33 minutes and it officially constituted an album. All those songs have been reworked so many different times. I’m trying to search out really specific feelings and I’m not a great home recorder. It took a lot of tries. I thought I was done at one point, but then I found out that Owen Pallett was going to do the strings, so then it took another half year.
JOYCE: How did he get involved?
HILDEBRAND: We both lived in Toronto at the same time, and he ended up following me on Twitter. We’d say hi to each other at shows, and when it came down to it, I worked up the courage to ask him over Facebook to do strings, and he emphatically said yes. I went up to Montreal for a few days and we talked about what I wanted, but I pretty much gave him creative control over the entire aspect.
JOYCE: I feel like both you and Orchid Tapes are at an interesting spot after a couple big years; do you have any goals going forward?
HILDEBRAND: We’ve become a lot more goal-oriented about the label after experiencing some recent successes. We hopefully want to legitimize Orchid Tapes in a lot of ways. We want to set up some channels of distribution to get our releases in actual record stores and take some steps to not be seen as exclusively a tape label. We want to do all of this really organically, just to continue on the level we’re on. We just want things to go the way we’ve been going basically. There was maybe a point where we didn’t know if we wanted to go beyond the pace we’ve been going at, but now that we’ve had some successes, we can see it’s not that scary. It’s actually really exciting.
A NEW FOXES IN FICTION ALBUM IS DUE OUT THIS FALL. ORCHID TAPES’ COMPILATION BORING ECSTASY IS OUT NOW; THE LABEL WILL CELEBRATE WITH A SHOWCASE AT SHEA STADIUM TOMORROW, MARCH 29. FOR MORE ON ORCHID TAPES, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.