GChatting with Ghost Orchard and Foxes In Fiction

The friends and collaborators talk “song building,” fireflies, and Ghost Orchard’s new record Bunny (plus, stream the title track here).

Foxes In Fiction is the project of Toronto-native/New York-based artist Warren Hildebrand, who’s also the founder of the label Orchid Tapes; Ghost Orchard, aka Sam Hall, is releasing his new album Bunny via Orchid on August 23. The friends and collaborators had a conversation over GChat about the album (along with the merits of pulling an all-nighter to record music and the fireflies in Warren’s local park), which you can read here. 
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Associate Editor 

Warren Hildebrand: OK, so, I wrote out a few questions or like… conversation prompts for this. The first one being: What was the process of working on this record like and what does it mean to you to be working on releasing this together through Orchid Tapes within the context of us knowing each other for this long?

Sam Hall: Well, this record took a very, very long time compared to anything I had really made before. It started off with this idea that I had of wanting to make a body of music that felt like memories in fast motion, kind of how they say your life flashes before your eyes in moments close to death. So I spent a long time trying to capture those feelings and colors of the most significant feelings I was feeling at the time, which was feeling deeply in love, unlike I ever had before. Love is unlike any other feeling in a lot of ways, but it’s literally intoxicating when it’s right, and capturing that feeling sonically is a whole different story. It started off as a collection of songs on my tape machine, closer to my past music. This was a lot to do with my absolute adoration of Julia Brown’s to be close to you. My goal was kind of to make a body of music that made me feel similar to how I feel listening to that. 

So time goes by, and i continue to make song after song, version after version. I remember one of these songs — I rerecorded the entire thing on tape, over and over for five days straight until I had it. I think by the end there were eight different versions. And then I didn’t even use the song on this record! I scrapped at least three full records before I started to work on Bunny as it is now, and that’s a story of its own too! Hahah.

Warren: That’s so interesting and just so wild. It’s been really illuminating hearing earlier versions of some of these songs over the past couple years and seeing how they developed into their current incarnations. Also, your process sounds a lot like mine when it comes to reworking things over and over so I really empathize with the amount of time and the energy you put into this album, lol.

Those feelings/notions really translate too. I’m still picking up on a lot of new things after having listened to the record so many times, but I dunno, it’s hard for me to not get emotional when listening to it.

Sam: Yeah, some of the old songs mean so much to me! I’ve wanted to get them out eventually for the people who like the more tape-centric sound. You and I talk about it often, but letting a song go into the world is like… the most stressful thing sometimes. If I didn’t stop myself, I would probably work on something infinitely. I’ll listen to Bunny next week and be like, “damn, really wish that kick hit a little harder,” hahah. But you gotta put that work into the next song and do it even better next time.

Really so relieved that the feelings transfer for you and others I’ve shown it to! It’s a tricky balance trying to showcase the most intimate and specific parts of your life in a way that isn’t oversharing, but also resonates. Feel like that was the whole reason I used tape in the first place, it does a lot of that work for you without saying anything.

Warren: Ya, I think having those rules about not working on things eternally becomes really important. That’s also something I suffer from that I’ve been trying to be a li’l more in control of.

Sam: Switching to digital record was like learning to ride a bike without training wheels, hahahaha.

I think you did a really great job with learning when to call it with what you’re working on! Deadlines and, like, literally having to turn something in are often stressful but, man, sometimes you really need it.

Warren: I think that can be a good thing though. Utilizing aesthetic stuff like tape-effectedness can really add something, but when you don’t have that feeling of having training wheels I feel like it really forces you to confront and focus on your technical abilities as a songwriter. You really need it! When those things aren’t in place and it’s just you working by yourself you really can let the process go on forever. 

And thanks for saying so! I had to be pretty hard on myself towards the end but I think it was worth it.

Sam: That’s exactly what ended up happening. The songs on this record take a much different route as far as songwriting goes for me so far. I would kind of loop something and continue to build on it over and over until I had 80 or so layers and kind of reverse engineer a song out of what I had. So there were never verse chords and chorus chords — it was just making the most out of what was in front of me. I peppered bits and pieces of those tape songs throughout the record as a way to look back at it all and try to recapture that “memory in fast motion” idea. At the end of Carousel is a demo of a recording from 2016 that meant the world to me. Seeing the transformation between everything has definitely been crazy! A lot of it was done unconsciously. 

you were going so hard! I was both worried and in awe, hahah. I’ll never forget when we were talking and you had mentioned that you just bought a case of Red Bull and had been up for, like, 24 hours straight.

Warren: Ah, that’s so crazy, my process is really similar. It feels less like songwriting and more like ~song building~.

Yeah, I had a lot of 24 work periods where I would just go through the night if I was chasing a really good idea or if things were flowing really well. I don’t think I can do that again, but I did what I had to, lol.

Sam: Heard that. I used to catch a feeling at, like, 1AM and just record until four or five. Used to work, but I need sleep now! Hahah. I know I’ll end up doing it again, though.

Warren: Yeah, I work the same way. I know that kinda thing horrifies a lot of people, but it’s hard to plan those really productive work periods sometimes, especially when it comes to something as weird and intangible as making music you’re happy with.

Sam: Yeah, exactly. Best thing to do that I’ve found is to just let it ride and do the most outside of it to take care of yourself the best you can. If it’s not working, let it not work for a bit and give it another shot, and if it is working, do it until it isn’t and pay for it later!

Warren: Sorry, if my replies become a little more intermittent, I’m out jogging before it gets too dark, lol.

That clearly worked for you. You made such a beautiful record and I’m so happy to be helping release it through Orchid Tapes. Especially this phase with the label, it feels really right and makes a lot of sense to me on a deep level. 

Sam: I’m so glad! It’s crazy how time works and how long our timeline has run. I remember booking Foxes at Witch House in Grand Rapids and having to leave before you played because I had high school in the morning, hahaha. That was, what, 2014? I must have been 16.

Warren: Ya, that was fall of 2014! That’s so crazy, I remember you having to leave but I didn’t know it was because of high school. I think I maybe just assumed you were older, lol. Also that show was the most incredible ~house show~ style show I’ve ever played. I still think about it so often.

I’m very thankful it’s cumulated into this moment and [we’re] putting out this record together. It sorta feels like we’re at different level of confidence and ability with both of our things compared to when we met.

Sam: My eternal curse! I’ve felt 18 for the past five years, hahah. Witch House was a really special thing during that time. Pretty much everyone I’m currently in contact with stems back from those initial shows where no one really knew each other and just did stuff for the sake of music, which is more rare than I’d admit nowadays, lol. 

You’re so right! It’s like, time was taken to kind of bring it all in and grow, and then to come back and be like, “Hi again! Wanna see somethin’?”

Warren: Ya, I feel like that kind of community is a lot more of a rare thing lately. And ya, you’re right, I think downtime or incubation periods can be a really import thing in music, but that’s never really expressed or encouraged. 

Sam: Sometimes you just gotta drop off the face of the earth for a bit and come back a better version than before.

Warren: Also idk if you can see this very clearly, but I’m at the park that I run to and the fireflies are out in full effect for the first time this year and it’s beautiful. 

Sam: Holy crap, this is gorgeous. 

Warren: It’s so crazy, they’re literally everywhere in that same density.

Do you feel like you’re more confident as an artist after making this record? If so, do you feel emboldened to push forward with new ideas/skills that you picked up during the making of Bunny?

Sam: I think I’ll always be hard on myself about everything, but I definitely feel more purposeful with the ideas I make. Less happy accidents these days and more moments where I have an idea and am like, damn, I know how to do that now. It feels really good. I always want to continue to move forward, albeit the jump in fidelity between Bunny and the last one [2016’s bliss] is gonna be tough to replicate, hahah. I’m finishing up the demos for the next record and it feels like a refinement of the Bunny sound. Wanted to live in the space a bit more before I moved on to something new.

Warren: My roommate Eric and I talk about that idea all the time, that the biggest or most important part of becoming a more competent producer is being able to do the thing you did in the past through experimenting or accidental discovery in a much more direct, quick and streamlined way. Growth is cool. It’s fun when you can notice it. 

I’d be very interested and excited to see you explore that sound some more. I feel like there’s a very deep well of ideas to venture into that you’ve maybe only scratched the surface of. 

Sam: Truly! It’s been such a fun ride. Always have been a proponent of using whatever is available and using your knowledge to push you forward above anything else. That has only proved more true as time goes by! Learn about what you do and it’ll be smooth sailing. The moments stumbling through mean the world for me too. 

Hearing those old songs, even poppy is so strange now. They’re so thin! All I had were my laptop speakers. But the imperfections are the key to it sometimes. ***lofi***, hahahahahah.

Warren: Yeah, same with me. I think it’s really important to start out that way and let those things develop through repetition and hard work, It’s like with any craft or skill. I totally feel the same way when I listen to Ontario Gothic. I think I’d rather feel alienated from it a li’l bit and more excited about my current abilities and projects. 

Sam: Always gotta look forward, but important to remember the rest too. What I’m trying to remember to enjoy lately is the moment itself! Just tryin’ to soak it all in and be here now.

Ghost Orchard, aka Sam Hall, is a Grand Rapids, MI-based artist. His album Bunny is out August 23 via Orchid Tapes.