Mike Shiflet has been a central figure in the Ohio noise and experimental music circles, since the late 1990s. For much of that time he created music out of squalls of feedback and avalanches of noise, but recently his work has taken a more melodic turn. With Llanos, his most recent full-length release, Shiflet has shifted gears, creating an album that is blanketed in static-filled haze. He still operates at the sonic extremes, but these are fashioned into almost dreamlike structures that are at times unapologetically pretty. As he puts in the online liner notes to Llanos, “The noise and the music have made peace.”
This Thursday, June 23, Mike will be my guest in the studio. He’ll perform a special live set. The following night he’s headlining a show at the Aviary Gallery in Jamaica Plain. He kindly answered a few questions about his work and what inspired the change in musical trajectory.
When did you first start making music and what first attracted you to the noisier side of the sonic spectrum?
I consider myself very fortunate to have had my early teen experience shaped by Nirvana and Sonic Youth. I played in a typical-of-the-time high school band, but was tinkering with effects and the noisier possibilities of the guitar from the very beginning. While recording with that band I met Aaron Hibbs of Sword Heaven, who is from my hometown, and we started getting deep into the noise underground together around 1997.
With Llanos, your work has taken a somewhat more melodic turn. What triggered that shift? Was it the result of picking up the guitar again or was there something else that inspired you?
I initially started to reincorporate the guitar in a purely tonal manner, hoping to compliment some synthetic sounds which I felt were falling a little flat. When work began on Llanos, I had the artwork and concept prior to almost all of the recording, so the decision was part of an attempt to audibly recreate that visual image. I was fortunate that it worked so well and I’ve been able to sculpt it into something more definitive.
Do you have a single basic set-up that you currently use, or does it vary based on the particular song or project?
A bit of both. The shell is almost always the same and at this point the pool from which I draw is pretty much defined but, that said, it is a fairly vast pool and any number of programs, instruments, or noise boxes could wind up in or out of the mix.
What effect did your time in Japan have on your music? It seems like a fairly significant point of departure.
It was a perfect combination of elements at the best possible time. Finding myself in a remote area and in a situation where I didn’t have to seek employment afforded me the opportunity to seriously evaluate my work, consider a more deliberate approach, follow through on the inspiration that I found all around me. I recently described my work as a soundtrack for turning your head and taking inventory, and Japan is definitely where I started turning my head.
What projects (recordings, concerts, etc) do you currently have in the works?
Albums for Type and Under the Spire should be out this year. I’m wrapping the UTS recordings after this East Coast trip. The only other concerts planned at this point are a few performances with Jason Kahn in September.
Are the new albums on Type and Under the Spire in the same musical vein as Llanos?
The Type albums — there are two, Sufferers and Merciless — were recorded before Llanos and provide a bit more insight as to how my approach seemingly went from Point A to Point B out of nowhere. Many of the same elements are present, but they are featured individually from track to track as the ideas for combination and layering hadn’t come to me yet. The Under the Spire album is the first major continuation in that vein.
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