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The Heavenly Sounds of the Choir – A Conversation with Kurt Feldman of Ice Choir

I took the day off today. I’ve been fighting a cold since yesterday and it got me thinking about what causes a cold. Ironically, the common cold has nothing to do with temperature and everything to do with groups of people and viruses. It’s generally understood that the virus that causes the common cold can be passed along just by being around someone, touching them, breathing the same air. In that setting, a cold is quite good at getting in your head.

On a more positive, similar note of irony, an up-and-coming group of guys from Brooklyn have been becoming quite good at getting inside your head with their infectious brand of shimmery pop under the name of the Ice Choir. Ever since the release of their first two-song single, Two Rings, myself and fans alike have caught the bug (I promise these sick jokes will stop soon) and have been keen with anticipation for more from the band lead by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart drummer, Kurt Feldman. This past Monday, the wait was officially over with the arrival of the highly anticipated full-length album, Afar.

Ripe with pristinely mixed vocals, guitars, and digital/analog hybrid synthesizers alike, Afar shimmers like an icicle in the sunlight. While the album calls to mind your typical 80s fare the difference is in the meticulous execution of how the songs are arranged and performed, all well-encapsulated in its icy aura. If you’d never known who the Ice Choir were, you might mistakenly deduce that this is a lost 80s pop record. Despite the clear similarities that exist on this record, Feldman and the rest of the Ice Choir manage to create something modern and unique.

I was able to reach out to Feldman and pick his brain about his intentions with his band’s latest record, his influences, and what to do if I’m ever stranded in Brooklyn.

There are so many artists popping up nowadays who claim their music is heavily inspired by many of the same elements that you claim to draw from, namely 80s pop and R&B. However, listening to Afar, the music seems so much more “on the nose” and could even pass as a lost record from the 80s if I didn’t know any better. Can you talk about what inspired you to create a record like this? Was it intentional to recreate so vividly moods and sounds from the 80s or was the intention to only utilize certain elements of that era?

All of my esoteric niche interests and music influences… free time… dejection… I wasn’t thinking about that, although the 80s thing probably happened because I love a lot of those production values and sounds. I wrote this record mainly to challenge myself as a songwriter and a producer.

Who were some of the bands that you were listening to around the time the music for this record was written?

It was a while ago, but probably stuff like Taeko Ohnuki, Yukihiro Takahashi, Sophie and Peter Johnston, Gangway, Kissing the Pink, Bill Nelson, Tatsuro Yamashita, etc.

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The artwork for your releases so far have been really amazing. They have a distinct futurist feel including a lot of geometric shapes and bright bold colors that were so popular in the 80s. How involved were you in providing direction for the artwork?

I presented D.V. with a concept and sent him a folder of inspirational ideas and pictures and he nailed it on the first try. It was a similar approach with Alejandro Cardenas (the guy who did our 7″ art and logo).

Any favorite artists or designers?

Peter Saville, Hiroshi Nagai, Eizin Suzuki, Eric Chahi… To be honest, I was only recently introduced to D.V. Caputo’s work recently but when I found him I knew he was the guy for the job. He’s now one of my favorite contemporary designers so I guess we really lucked out with that one.

For those who may not know, you also retain a drumming role for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Now that The Ice Choir is poised to make an entrance and is gaining some steam, do you still have an active role as TPOBPAH’s drummer?

Yeah, I’m definitely still drumming in The Pains [of Being Pure at Heart] – we’re working on new stuff now.

What’s the biggest obstacle that you’ve had to overcome transitioning from being “the guy in the background” to leaping forward and becoming the frontman?

I’m not a frontman nor do I aspire to be. I want to be the guy you’ve never heard of but if you look me up on Discogs I’m responsible for a bunch of other people’s shit you think sounds awesome.

Can you talk a little bit about choosing the tools and equipment that you used to create your sound and record your record?

I did this record on an iMac from 2006 running Pro Tools 7 with a modded Digi002 as my interface. It wasn’t optimal, but it was what I had and so I made it work for this record.

The synths were mostly hand-me-downs from my dad or friends who didn’t need them anymore and were just looking to give them away, but a few were purchased specifically for the album.

Patrick, who mainly played fretless bass on the record, helped work on some of the patch sounds for a couple songs and lent his OB-8 for the recording which was a great piece of studio gear. I also used a bunch of soft-synths. It was a learning process and thankfully, I’ve gotten better at what I’m doing and I’ve upgraded some of my recording methods since then.

What fueled the decision to utilize gear that, at least some today, would argue is near-obsolete when so many sounds today could be accomplished by modern computer software and virtual instruments?

I’m pretty sure this stuff is obsolete and no one cares if I used synths or not. The whole record is the result of both hardware and software synths. I think they both sound cool and both serve their own purposes. In the instances where I was using hardware synths I did find it inspiring to create sounds on the fly and modulate filters by hand.

So you’re from Brooklyn. Do you feel like the culture or environment there affects your music in any way? What do you love or hate about being a recording artist in one of the world’s largest cities?

I’m not really going to credit Greenpoint with inspiring any ideas on this album, especially considering that I wrote most of it when I was in a van touring with The Pains [of Being Pure at Heart]. I’m thankful that I have a studio here and that I can work on my own music and collaborate with others when I’m around. It’s great to be able to work with other musicians that I really respect who happen to also live in close proximity.

What are your favorite three albums of 2012 so far?

Violens – “True”
Chairlift – “Something”
Test House – “Bitemarks” [12″]

Okay, so lastly, I’m stranded in the middle of Brooklyn for a day. I’ve got $50, a sandwich, and a penchant for a little trouble. What do I do?

Brooklyn is pretty big, but if you’re in Williamsburg or Greenpoint, there are lots of good record stores (Academy, Co-op 87) and tons of shows happening all the time at Glasslands and 285 Kent, etc… I’d probably do that. or maybe get a nice hamburger at Five Leaves or some Thai Food at Amarin. But I see you’ve already got a sandwich there, so scrap the food idea. And if you’re looking for trouble you could always start a fight at one of the shows or steal the records from the record store(?)

The Ice Choir’s latest record, Afar, is now available through their record label Underwater Peoples. You can currently stream the whole record in its entirety at Stereogum’s website.

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