The East Coast duo Endless Endless Endless create sprawling, mesmeric layers of looped noise. Their name perfectly describes their intent: to capture in long-form compositions the paradox of simultaneous infinitude and repetition. They explore their sonic territory in patient, meandering patterns that emerge, retreat, and coalesce at seemingly serendipitous intervals, but then combine, puzzle-like, into great bursts of noise and rhythm that reveal an intentional artistry.
While old-school synth sounds are prevalent and the production is cloaked in hazy atmospherics, Endless Endless Endless defy easy categorization into any of the much-discussed genres for which these are often markers. They have more in common with the experimental thread of New York electronic groups (think early Excepter, middle-era Black Dice, and more recent Growing) than Toro y Moi or Washed Out.
Endless Endless Endless comprises Brett Renfer, from Brooklyn, who plays guitar and sings, and James Tichenor, from across the river in New Jersey, who plays the Korg DS 10 for Gameboy DS. So far, the duo has only released music on micro-labels like Tired Trails and Kimberly Dawn Recordings at runs of around 50 cassettes at a time. However, they also offer many of their albums for free download at their website, www.endlessendlessendless.com, including ones that were sold out in their original physical release. Here, Renfer and Tichenor discuss their approach to songwriting, recording, releasing music, and playing live.
How did you guys meet?
Brett Renfer: We met at work, actually. We sometimes play music in the office, so James and I found out pretty quick that we had a lot of similar music interests. I think we first bonded over a Scott Walker song.
Your set-up is pretty unique. How did you decide to play as a two-piece, with a guitar and a Gameboy?
BR: James and I just decided to try jamming together, and brought what each of us knows how to play best. The DS was super convenient and quick for us to just sketch ideas and go.
I hear a lot of current New York experimental bands like Excepter and Growing in your sound. Are you influenced by any New York bands in particular?
BR: I think we're both influenced by a lot of new bands, a lot of which are from New York. The stuff that people like Ducktails and Julian Lynch put out has been an influence for me recently, as well as [Oneohtrix Point Never] and Emeralds.
The advantage of living here is that you get to see a lot of bands perform, which is my favorite source of ideas. Seeing firsthand how people construct their sound is something I really enjoy. Another positive part about playing in New York is that it's also a place that's a little more forgiving of bands that have just two dudes in them...
James Tichenor: Less current but I was very influenced by seeing [No Neck Blues Band] a few times live in the '90s. The unpredictability of the show and the chance that you would see them and it would be a bad show was fantastic to me. New York noise music shows when there are less then 10 people just helps me to keep faith that music is not about what other people like; it is what you like so have fun with it.
Your songs have a very improvisational feel to them, but there are times when everything clicks in a way that seems like it had to have been planned. Where does your songwriting process fall on a scale of one to 10, where one is Ornette Coleman's free jazz and 10 is the New York Philharmonic?
BR: I think we're a three on a scale from fully improvised to hyper composed. When we record, James just brings some loops, and I bring some sketchy ideas. Most of the time, James starts out a basic groove, and the two of us just weave around it until it feels finished. The most improvised element tends to be the vocals and the lyrics, but I'm working on that.
JT: The ideas of Pauline Oliveros about deep listening are a big influence on how we work together in that our ability to improvise is in our ability to listen to each other. The hope is to rehear the music and that will allow the unexpected to happen.
You take a very minimalist approach to recording, with little or no overdubs or editing. Is this a product of the songwriting process?
BR: To be honest, right now it's just a product of how we recorded all of our stuff so far. I think it's interesting to see what is essentially just a mixed-down live document. In the future I'd like to do some overdubs and some more constructed pieces, but the our process now just seems right for what we've been making.
JT: I am much more naïve about music and songwriting in general than Brett, and so I am influenced by a story I heard about the Ramones and how they developed their sound: that they wanted to sound like 1950s rock music but didn't have any idea of how to write a song, so they ended up with something unique. I will just start by thinking of some musical idea that I have no idea how to create, and I won't tell Brett. Then after my first try, I'll listen only to what I have and forget how we started.
One of the most common criticisms of bands or musicians with a minimal set-up is that their concerts tend to lack visual appeal. How do you address this problem for your own shows?
BR: It's definitely a broad generalization. I've seen shows where an artist just played on just a laptop that were great. It's still just about stage presence. As far as our shows, I think James and I have a funny mix of "visual appeal." The stuff James plays on is really compact, whereas all my gear is bulky and spread out. So, James is just sitting and concentrating on tiny buttons while I scramble all over the place like and idiot. I guess if people still seem bored by that, we'll have to get some matching outfits or haircuts or capes or something.
JT: Totally sounds like we need capes or maybe a food element. I was thinking we could have some shows where people eat while we play.
So far you've only released music on micro-labels in runs of around 50 cassettes or CD-Rs. Why did you decide to go this route instead of self-releasing your physical releases?
BR: I almost always prefer having someone else put out stuff for us at this point. It's way easier… and other people have proven way better than us at dubbing tapes.
I think the micro-labels are super important right now. A lot of people are putting out a lot of music. The Internet is loaded with songs, but there are plenty of people who still value holding a tape or record in their hand and there aren't enough labels in the world to put out all the stuff that's out there.
JT: We are interested in how small runs on micro-labels allow a split of how people experience our music. That a large number of people can experience though digital means and a smaller number who want to own a physical copy get a truly special physical copy. Plus the ability of micro-labels to focus in on creating unique artistic ideas and aesthetic experiences. And we have had great experiences working with micro labels and plan to continue to do so.
You first posted music on your website just over a year ago, but in that time your sound has already evolved fairly drastically. Do you approach each album with a goal in mind? Is there a goal that you're ultimately working toward?
BR: It's sort of a mix. We sometimes approach a session with a nebulous goal in mind: more acoustic instruments, less minor-key focused, et cetera. But, it's more about recording the sound we're into at that point then moving on. I don't have any goals for us besides trying to let things come out naturally. Both of us listen to a lot of different kinds of music, so hopefully as we keep playing weird things will continue to pop up.
JT: Brett and I have musical reference points and backgrounds, but the Endless Endless Endless's sound really evolves out of listening to the music that we are creating rather then aiming to create a specific kind of music. Our sound really grows from us not having preconceptions of how we need to sound and just chasing down ideas while we are playing rather then building up criteria of how we are going to sound.
What bands are you excited about right now? Any albums you've been spinning regularly?
BR: I've been pretty caught up in older stuff lately, particularly Galaxie 500, Scott Walker, and the Talking Heads, and have for some reason been listening to Yo la Tengo's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One a lot. As far as new bands, I'm psyched on the new Mark McGuire, Julian Lynch, Forest Swords, and Frankie and the Outs. I've been spinning that new Books record a lot as well.
JT: I listen to the Talking Heads just about everyday, recently I have been listening to some Shalamar High Wolf, and Astral Social Club, some dubstep, wobbly mixes from Flux Pavilion. And I love highlife music especially the classic danceband highlife. I love E.T. Mensah and Celestince Ukuwe. And I love palmwine music as well.
What's on the horizon for Endless Endless Endless?
BR: We have a tape coming out super soon on this sweet label called Skrot Up. We just got word that it's shipping really soon, so keep eyes peeled for that. This release is a cassingle, the first in a series, some of which will be physical and others that will be digital. One of the upcoming singles is going to be in a digital record club that we're really excited about. Other than that, we've mostly been back to recording. We've got a totally new setup, so we're looking to put out some fresh, different stuff really soon.