(Music) PUBLIC MEMORY
Public Memory is the latest project of musician Robert Toher. He was formerly a member of the band APSE, which had a distinct take on postpunk and post rock, and his subsequent project ERAAS rooted that moody propulsive rock sound into a more electronic-based realm. Public Memory continues in this dark and lovely musical direction.
After your more rock band-oriented work with APSE, you segued into an electronic sound with projects like ERAAS. What ultimately drew you towards more self-produced electronic music? Do you miss the collaboration of a band compared to working solo?
I think for me I just wanted to explore different ideas. I wanted to put myself into a place I wasn't already comfortable with and see what happened. New tools, new ideas.
Presently, I'm happy writing and producing on my own; I'm not particularly interested in collaborating, though I think I would be open to it. Right now I'm enjoying rehearsing with a live band and what everyone brings to the table. I'm excited to take that on the road.
Public Memory’s sound seems reminiscent of 80s industrial and dreampop groups such as Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil. How much of a direct influence are groups like that on your work? Is there any one group from that era that is a particularly strong influence on your songwriting?
Hmm, I don't want to outright say no, but they're not a direct influence. Of course I like all three of those bands, and I've spent time with them, naturally, among others of similar ilk. But I don't think Public Memory sounds like Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins or This Mortal Coil. It's completely okay with me if that's what you're hearing however. In turn, I could also tell you some other bands that I do think I sound more like.
Anyhow, these bands are an influence if for no better reason than because they had an impact on me at some point (and I still enjoy and cherish some of the records by those bands). It's in my musical DNA or whatever you want to call it - so there is an influence there. But when I'm working on Public Memory songs, I wouldn't say anything 80s industrial or dreampop has been a direct inspiration thus far. I'm not chasing after those sounds. It could be a fun experiment to try, because if it's approached the right way, you usually end up somewhere else anyway.
I think that the 80s industrial and dreampop acts come to my mind when listening to Public Memory because those groups are essentially embedded in your musical DNA, as you say. Their influence can be heard in Public Memory, but I agree that your music doesn't quite sound like any of that. Which bands would you consider to be more of a direct inspiration on Public Memory?
I'm not sure I should say what bands I think I might sound like. But I will say that some music that I draw inspiration from would be Krautrock, dub, ambient music, a bit of psychedelic music - but more in the Pink Floyd sort of sense of psychedelic. Then there's trip hop and experimental electronic music as well. I feel like all of those things have a definite role in my sound as it evolves, and they will continue to.
Contemporary classical also seems to be an influence on Public Memory. For example, in the song “Heir” there are clanging bell chimes similar to the composer Arvo Part’s ringing bells, and many of your songs contain the atmosphere of tintinnabulation that he cultivates in his work. How much of an impact does “mystic minimalism” like Part’s music have on the way you approach and structure Public Memory songs?
Bells, and especially chimes, are sounds that I'm really fond of. They have so much depth, emotionally. They have dreamlike qualities and I doubt I'll ever tire of them.
Contemporary classical and classical in general are very influential. My music may not sound classical at all, but I am inspired by the space in that music, the cadence, the way things move and change, the atmosphere, the romance. The way the timbre of different instruments come together.
It will probably always be a wellspring of inspiration. Speaking of which - Frank, a member of the live band, and I, collaborated on a classical playlist, which can be found on the Public Memory Spotify. It's called "All Farewells Are Sudden" which is a title taken from an A Winged Victory For The Sullen song from their first album. The playlist is on the darker side but I mostly think of it as romantic. Crossfade playback strongly encouraged.
Most of the words in Public Memory vocals are difficult to discern, yet they are still permeated with meaning and emotion. The overall effect is similar to glossolalia. Is it at all important to you if any specific words or phrases are understood? Or are you more concerned with the ways in which the vocals are mixed and integrated into the overall atmosphere of a song?
I usually write with glossolalia. I work on a track and when I feel I'm ready to do anything regarding vocals I do some rough takes just singing syllables and sounds, melodies, that feel right and come naturally. "First thought, best thought." It doesn't always apply, but in these circumstances it does. I'll figure out lyrics later by listening back to the more improvised takes and then re-record similar parts but with the actual lyrics that fit into the patterns of the glossolalia. Most often it'll be a new take. Sometimes I'll include both the glossolalia take in some regard with the new lyrical take at the same time. In the case of a song like "As You Wish" from my album Wuthering Drum, I simply kept the glossolalia by itself. It felt right to leave it as is.
The name Public Memory evokes shared myths and the collective unconscious. How did you come to choose that name for this project? How is the name connected to the music itself?
I knew I wanted to have a project with the word "memory" in it. I wasn't sure of the other word/s. One day I was walking and I saw a sign for "notary public" and then I thought "memory public" and then I reversed it and it made "public memory."
I will say that I am not necessarily trying to say something dystopian or very Black Mirror with the project name. I'm nostalgic to a fault, and of course memories can be something shared between two or more individuals, or say, between members of communities - as well as something that is just completely personal and can be singular, too. Passionate and at times abstract, bitter-sweet, romantic, conflicted, and so forth. The way you feel a feeling from some years ago and you feel it so deeply and in a way that's so large but also hard to convey or pinpoint - but sometimes you can, and you experience that on your own or with another person before it escapes you again. There's an intimacy there, but it's also so ephemeral. I really love that.
All in all I think for me it's just a very simple name for a project, that has a kind of depth to it which is open to interpretation.
Public Memory also has a singular visual aesthetic. Your album covers and promotional images are comprised of heavily pixelated and distorted black and white images. What are some of the visual art influences for Public Memory? Did you create these designs yourself, or do you work with someone?
Samantha Pease, who was part of the live band for a year and is my friend, is responsible for much of the artwork. She has worked on all of the album and EP/single covers, including the new album. Photographs for the new album were shot by my friend Heather, who goes by 'hevx' and the photo on the cover of the Veil Of Counsel EP was shot by a photographer who goes by 'Light Is A Better God.' I really enjoy the work of these photographers, and I really enjoy Sam's aesthetic in the way she edits and manipulates images. As for the typography, I like setting that myself.
It is difficult to find many clear photos of you, or to find any substantial biographical information. You remain essentially cloaked within your music. Do you feel that having a more anonymous profile fits best with the overall aesthetic of your work?
It's strange because I haven't made this a thing. It's just ended up that way. I'm not trying to be particularly mysterious. I haven't put my face everywhere on social media because this project isn't about having an aesthetic regarding my appearance, style, how I look or dress. It's just about the music. Call that pretentious, but I think self-promotion has gotten a bit nutty. No sour grapes toward my friends or anyone else that promote their endeavors like crazy, but I think for me this is a case where less is more.
What other current acts working in the “dark wave” style or similar types of current electronic music do you find yourself admiring and listening to the most?
I have to say it's HTRK (pronounced "haterock"). Particularly the album Work (Work, Work) - if anyone reading this is not familiar, please listen to this record. I'm crazy about that band, and while they're more well known than my project, I feel like they're much too unknown/under celebrated in relationship to how good they are. One of my favorite bands of all time.
What’s coming up in the near future for Public Memory? Will it continue to be your primary focus, or do you have any other projects in the works?
I am releasing an LP in November. I'm doing a short west coast tour with the live band, which is a 3-piece, including a drummer. I'm excited about that. I'll probably focus on playing live and touring for the better part of 2019. I hope we'll go to Europe at some point. I hear from a lot of folks over there, including some promoters - but we don't have a booking agent at the moment. I've been playing around with the idea of just booking a tour directly with promoters myself. Then, another record by 2020 or so? I have a few side projects going. A just for fun krautrock-ish project based here where I live. But I'm working on something more ambient under a different name which I won't disclose right now - I may not ever intentionally connect the dots between it and Public Memory. I also have a handful of other ideas I've been wanting to explore. But for right now the focus is Public Memory.