(Music) BRASS BOX
“I hope for the music to reach the listener on an emotional and visceral level. Communication in general is difficult and much of it gets lost in translation. At times I feel like the only way I can communicate is through this feeling of cathartic release.”
Los Angeles-based band Brass Box immerses listeners in an atmospheric hybrid sound of shoegaze and Goth. In this interview, singer and bassist Ammo Bankoff talks about her creative collaboration with musician Neil Popkin, the band’s new full length album The Cathedral, and their June residency at the Echoplex in L.A.
Interview by Tyler Nesler
You've known Neil Popkin for many years, but I've read that Brass Box is your first major creative collaboration. What was the impetus for you both to finally start working together?
We ran into each other one late night in Echo Park and questioned why we never worked together. We set up a time to get together to play some music and ended up writing a few songs together fairly quickly. Then I played him some of the demos I had been working on and right away he said “let’s do this!” Haven’t looked back since.
How did the name Brass Box come about? Does it have any distinct meaning related to the kind of music you produce?
Brass Box was pulled from the book Forced Entries by Jim Carroll. I saw it written out in text and wrote it in my note book saving it for a special occasion which turned into this project. Coincidentally, the name fit the sound or maybe it’s the sound that made the name fit?
What do you think Brass Box is going for conceptually, in terms of musical style and the overall mood and tone of your sound?
Personally, I hope for the music to reach the listener on an emotional and visceral level. Communication in general is difficult and much of it gets lost in translation. At times I feel like the only way I can communicate is through this feeling of cathartic release. The concept of the band presents itself as we work through the music and I want to take those who listen on a journey to explore those emotions.
What is the creative rapport like for everyone in the band? How does each person contribute individually, and how do you think all of those contributions add up into a working creative formula?
The guys pretty much let me do what I want when it comes to the concept of the band, which helps with keeping things consistent. Neil is 100% involved in the recording process, with us both producing and him engineering. He has a really great ear for arrangement, tone, tempo, etc. Everyone adds their own magick to the band. I don’t think it would have grown into what it is now without any of Neil, Matt or Pablo’s contributions. We give each other the space needed to explore and contribute what our strengths are. We are all passionate about the project, but we respect each other and I think that is what keeps us together.
What was something unexpected during the making of your new full length The Cathedral, in the sense of the process itself, or the final outcome of the material?
The name of the album…I was trying to come up with the album title and it was the hardest thing. Which was really difficult for me. When I write lyrics it comes out naturally, so I was a bit frustrated. Neil suggested The Cathedral and it fit perfectly. It means completely different things to both of us while simultaneously making sense personality-wise.
You are also a photographer and filmmaker. In what particular ways do you think the visual side of your creativity influences the band's visual aesthetics (album art design and videos)?
Everything about my film and photography knowledge influences the writing, music, artwork, design, etc…All of this influences my entire life. With Brass Box what you see is what you get. This is me. I’m not trying to create an image. I just let it come out and it all seems to work. It’s the first time I’ve let go in a band and not pressured myself to make something to fit a certain look. Don’t get me wrong, I do edit things for flow, but really it’s just part of the artistic process.
I used to keep everything separate. My photography and filmmaking one thing and my music another. One day I decided I was tired of the fashion industry (I used to shoot a lot of fashion), completely burnt out and wanted to focus mainly on music. So now to get my photography and filmmaking fix I pour it in to the band.
Who have you collaborated with on the visual design and videos for Brass Box?
I do most of the design and video work on my own…the video teasers, flyers, etc. I also shot and edited the Tragedy (A Prayer) video. But I really do love collaborating. I have my eye on some people around town who I’d love to work with though.
The first video we did was for “Waves.” I shot this with long time friend Marco Vera (who now runs the video department at Fender). He used to run an art collective in Mexicali called Mexicali Rose that helped bring art and music to kids who didn’t have access. We’d been friends for many years (he hosted one of my early bands there several times) and I can’t recall how we decided to do the video together, but we did. We went to Tijuana and shot around the entire city. I think we hit every cemetery in town bribing the caretakers with money for cheeseburgers and booze. We had such a great time staying with friends in Playa De Tijuana.
Then we did a video for the song “Moonlight Desires” with my friend Joey Halter who does this quirky dark web series (http://therailroadbillshow.com). He is one of the most creative people I know. It’s well worth checking out his work, you will not be disappointed.
What's been your personal favorite Brass Box video so far? Which particular filmmakers do you all often have in mind as influences when you're developing a video?
I don’t think I have a favorite video. They’re all different. To list my favorite filmmakers would be insanity, but to name a few…Wong Kar Wai, Aki Kaurismaki, Jim Jarmusch, Agnès Varda, François Truffaut, Lars Von Trier (even though it’s known that he is definitely not the nicest person), Guy Madden and Woody Allen. The list really could go on. I plan on working on some videos in the near future for some of the songs on the record.
Brass Box has a month long residency in June at the Echoplex in Los Angeles. What are you most looking forward to about these shows? Does the band have any plans to do anything different or experimental for this residency?
I’m excited to share the stage with some really talented artists. I know so many amazing musicians and wish I could have added them all to the bill, but I am very happy with how everything turned out. We will be playing songs off the LP that we’ve never played live before. Other than that you’re just gonna have to show up to see. I like to change and add things last minute, so you never know!
How do you think Brass Box will evolve in the near future? Do you see the band trying out any new or surprising musical forms?
I’m really into Middle Eastern music and we slightly touched on that with the song “Latency,” which is on the record. I love percussion and repetition, it’s something I’d like to play around with more. At this point though, the band has taken on a life of it’s own. I just kind of steer the ship in a direction that feels compelling.