Berkeley post-punks Naked Roommate: “Knowing when to stay minimal and when to get maximal.”

Original photo: Polaroid by Katie Beata Bryan. Mixed-media collage by B.

Creatives Amber Sermeńo and Andy Jordan (from beloved Oakland band, The World) are behind Naked Roommate—a project with punk spirit, a dance heart and progressive post-punk thought. The band also features Michael Zamora (from Bad Bad) and Alejandra Alcala (Blues Lawyer and Preening). Their record Do The Duvet is on our list of most played releases at Gimmie HQ for 2020. We interviewed Amber and Andy.

Naked Roommate are from Berkley, California; what’s it like where you live? Can you tell us a bit about your neighbourhood?

AMBER SERMEŃO: We got a high walk score of 91, 8th highest houseless population in the country and great sandwiches.

ANDY JORDAN: We live right on the border of Oakland/Berkeley, so we have both NIMBYs and regular people.

How did you first find music?

AJ: Or how did music first find me, right? I’ll say that the first music I was into was The Wild Tchoupotoulas, an LP of medieval Andalusian music and Mekons, or so my parents report. That’s when I was three, in 1983.

AS: For me, it would have to be cruising in L.A. with my ma. There’d always be C&C Music Factory, Ace of Base or Prince on the radio.

What excites you the most about making music?

AS: When something that could’ve just been a fart in the wind gets caught and turned into something that makes people dance. Seeing that is incredibly gratifying

You both started the band; how did you first meet?

AJ: On a deserted dance floor in San Francisco, surrounded by unsavoury types.

AS: Haha, oh god… Yeah that was back in 2007. Anyway, that was silly. Years later we bumped into each other at a bookstore his dad worked at. I guess he was a little more charming in that setting. That’s when we really started hanging out.

What’s the best thing about making stuff together?

AJ: I guess the question answers itself, or I’d rephrase it to say: the best part about making music is doing it together.

AS: I’m not gonna lie and say it’s a wonderful experience. It’s pretty hard sometimes. We’re both hard headed so it’s a process. When barriers break and he sees what I see or vice versa it feels well worth it. A more permanent manifestation of our struggles and growth. I think it’s special to have somewhat of a record of that.

I know you had band The World; how was Naked Roommate born?

AJ: I had been working on a bunch of recordings at home and rather than contaminate them with my confused vocal approach, I had Amber sing over them.

What’s the story behind the band name, Naked Roommate?

AJ: No story. It was as simple as might be expected: we were the naked roommates one day, and upon referring to ourselves as such, we paused and said, “ha ha”!

Can you tell us about the recording of your album Do the Duvet? You recorded over few months, right?

AJ: We took our time. We recorded where we practice, in the studio behind Michael’s house. Our bunker-clubhouse. Although now we practice outside the bunker, in the bricoláge garden. To record, we used analogue tape plus digital. The initial performances were done in a few takes, ‘(Re)P.R.O.D.U.C.E.’ was just an improvised thing we did while the tape was rolling. We liked it so it ended up on the record, with a few overdubs and some editing here and there. The recording and overdubbing process helped us form the songs. We experimented with everything, figured out what worked and went with it.

AS: Clubhouse is a good word for it. It got filled with books and various objects to prompt ideas and we got into our habits. That being everyone forming songs while I hung out outside with Michael’s partner Katie smoking cigarettes. Once they had something I’d hop in there, riff some gibberish, and sometimes even words. Then we’d have a song.

What were some things that you tried doing on this album while recording that you think worked really well?

AJ: Knowing when to stay minimal and when to get maximal.

Amber, can you tell us about writing the lyrics for the LP; what’s your writing process?

AS: I just “bleee blahhh blooo” until words start forming over the song. What comes out is sometimes surprising but often not. I know my brain fairly well by now. Interesting though, how gibberish and non-sequiturs can form a solid theme and you’re like, “oh so this narrative has just been waiting to come out of me from somewhere in there. Had no idea.” Sometimes it works out well. But my favourite lyrics have happened when the rest of the band helped form them too, like in ‘We are the Babies’. And you know Andy wrote the lyrics to a couple of songs on there. ‘Repeat’ and ‘(Re)P.R.O.D.U.C.E.’. I think he has the opposite approach to mine but it all works.

How did you approach the vocals on the record? Did you have an idea of how you wanted it to sound before you started?

AS: I’m better at knowing what I don’t want to sound like and avoiding it. Whatever else comes out I’m open to. I guess what I admire more is honesty, at least in a vocal delivery. You know, embracing idiosyncrasies rather than striving for technicality. So yeah, I’m not scared to show my weaknesses as a vocalist. What would be more terrifying is sounding bluesy.

What feeling do you get from playing live? Do you miss it (since everything’s been locked down with the pandemic happening)?

AJ: When things go well, it feels great. I just saw a YouTube video of us performing in February, it feels like much longer ago. That made me miss playing very much indeed.

AS: I’m actually a pretty anxious person when it comes to public speaking. But I must like the torture or else I wouldn’t find myself fronting bands so often. So, I’d say the tension and relief. Having the endorphins and calming them outside with a smoke. Am I turning this interview into a Marlboro commercial? Well now I have. But really the best is seeing a crowd move. That’s elating. So, when shows become a thing again y’all better get movin’. It’s about the only payment we get besides a couple of drink tickets.

What bands/albums/songs have you been obsessing over lately?

AS: Chronophage is one of my favourites right now and Chano Pozo’s percussions are timeless

AJ: I’m 40 now, so I only listen to Jazz, Dylan, and the Velvet Underground. As far as new stuff goes, I haven’t been paying enough attention but Natalie from Nots has a new band called Optic Sink, and I dig that. 

Do you have any other creative outlets? When not making stuff what would we find you doing?

AJ: I’ve been known to do some origami. I have four different dragons and three dinosaurs memorized. I also draw and design the records I make. When not making stuff, I’m reading stuff. Or biting the Big R, which is beatnik slang for working.

AS: Yes, the house is FILLED with origami. I for one do everything, half completed in my corner. So yeah, I really need the discipline of collective projects to make things happen. You’ll actually find some clay sculptures I did for First World Record in the insert and on the cover. That’s one thing I completed besides music.

Please check out: NAKED ROOMMATE; on Instagram. Do The Duvet via Trouble In Mind Records.

Lithics On Forthcoming LP Tower Of Age: “The fortress you build up within yourself… tearing those walls down and the process of letting go”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Portland’s Lithics first came to our attention in 2016 with their debut post-punk album Borrowed Floors. June 2020 will see the release of a new LP, Tower Of Age, both a continuation and evolution of their art-punk, with hints of no wave, sound we’ve come to love from them. Think a mix of Wire, Bush Tetras, Pylon, Erase Errata and Contortions.We spoke to Lithics’ Aubrey Hornor (guitar, vocals) and Bob Desaulniers (bass, guitar, tape loops) to find out more.

How did you first come to making music?

BOB: I’ve been playing guitar since I was twelve or thirteen and started my first band not long after. I had older friends that were in punk bands and played shows and I wanted to do that too.

AUBREY: I started playing drums when I was sixteen and my first band was in college.

Why is it important for you to create?

AUBREY: I enjoy the collaborative aspect and the creative process itself. Seeing an initial idea come to fruition through improvisation and group dynamics is gratifying. It’s a form of communication with music as the language.

BOB: When I was younger, music primarily appealed to me as an emotional outlet. While that’s still the case, in recent years I’ve become more interested in aesthetic or organizational considerations. My motivations are always evolving and I think that’s part of what keeps it an interesting activity for me.

In June you’re releasing your new LP Tower Of Age; how did the record start?

BOB: It takes us about two years to write a record. We’ve been playing some of the songs on Tower of Age live for a long time now. Recording the songs is only half of it though. Editing and sequencing is where you give the album its character.

Lithics uses a lot of cool wordplay in your lyrics; do lyrics come easy for you or do you have to work for them?

AUBREY: Sometimes it comes easy and sometimes not. It’s usually the last piece of the songwriting process. I work from notebooks of observations and poetry, and sometimes the words come from ideas I have for phrasing.

What are some things that were inspiring the writing for Tower Of Age?

AUBREY: I drew inspiration from everywhere-nature, literature, my personal life. It’s mostly hidden in abstraction in the final form.

What’s the significance of the album’s title?

AUBREY: It refers to the fortress you build up within yourself over time and the walls you erect to protect yourself. And personally, it’s about tearing those walls down and the process of letting go.

Lithics recorded with Evan Mersky (and Molly his dog) using tape; what kinds of things did you try during this recording that you haven’t tried before?

BOB: This was the first time we tried tracking instead of all playing live in a room. Wiley and I recorded the rhythm section parts first and really took our time getting takes we were happy with. It’s really difficult for everyone to get a good take at the same time and usually somebody is forced to compromise and leave in something they would rather not. This new way was less stressful.

 We also took a cue from our 2017 tour tape Wendy Kraemer and decided to be a little more adventurous and include practice recordings, tape loops, and weird audio fragments. I regret not taking this approach for Mating Surfaces.

Were there any challenges making the album?

BOB: Songwriting felt like it took a long time. We wanted to challenge ourselves and let our sound evolve without resorting to older formulas or making any major aesthetic shifts. Physically recording the songs is always a challenge as well, with many emotional ups and downs.

What’s one of your fondest memories from recording?

BOB: It was really nice to have Evan’s dog Molly running around the studio lightening the mood.

You’ve released a film clip for the first single “Hands” where was it shot? The location looks pretty cool!

AUBREY: Desert Christ Park in Yucca Valley California and Joshua Tree national park. The indoor scenes were filmed in our friend Carole Anne’s studio here in Portland. I went on a trip to Joshua Tree with some friends and we happened to find the Desert Christ Park at sunset when we took a wrong turn. It was really beautiful.

What’s your favourite thing about your new record?

AUBREY: I like the two improvised tracks the most: “The Symptom” and “Half Dormancy”. They are unique performances we were never able to reproduce and I’m glad they made it onto the record.

BOB: The band very graciously gave me a lot of leeway with editing and as a result the whole record feels more personal. I’m glad it didn’t end up as just a collection of songs recorded in a studio.

Outside of making music what would we find you doing?

BOB: I am not very well rounded so it’s mostly music for me. I recently started studying classical guitar, which has been an exciting and humbling experience. I am not much of a visual artist but I enjoy working with collage as well.

AUBREY: I spend my time looking at birds when I can and I’ve been getting into gardening. I also occasionally work in ceramic sculpture.

Please check out: LITHICS. Lithics on Instagram. Tower Of Age out June 3 on TROUBLE IN MIND Records.