Michael Anderson was an important figure for me in the early days of Digitalis (I talk a bit about that in Episode #2 of The Electric Rubicon). I interviewed him for the first time in 2005 (and again a few years later along with Rivulets as they were preparing for a European tour) and while so much has changed, some things haven’t. Drekka continues strong with the project celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Anderson, for his part, continues exploring new zones and finding further ground to mine in familiar areas, all of it worth digging into (special plug for the excellent Prairie spells, a ribbon wove). As long as he keeps making music, I will keep listening.
Michael and I chatted throughout September and October about Drekka, reissuing the project’s original demo, BlueSanct, and more.
Okay, you’ve been doing Drekka for 25 years, which is incredible, but I want to go back further than that. What are some of your earliest memories of music and sound? I’d love to hear about any significant albums or even natural/environmental sounds that left an impression on you as a kid…
When I was a kid, I had the soundtrack to the cartoon movie of “Return of the King” and “The Hobbit”… kind of a narrated version with a couple songs and a color comic book to follow along in. I loved the somber dwarvish song on there from when the dwarves first go to Bilbo’s house.
My dad was a hotrod guy, so I grew up hearing what is called “oldies” or what my dad called “hotrod music”… 50’s stuff. But, I never really cared about that music.
My mom was a displaced divorced mother raising me and my brother. She would go to discos and stuff, and I remember her bringing home an LP of Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message”… probably around 1982. That record blew me and my brother’s mind, and he soon got really into breakdancing. We lived in the south suburbs of Boston, so he’d go into Quincy or Dorchester to breaking battles, and I would ask the DJs if I could hang out in the booth and watch. I started to get really into stuff like Kraftwerk and the Moroder stuff and I remember seeing a picture of Kraftwerk for the first time and being surprised they were these dorky, white German guys.
From there, my cousin Darryl and I got really into new wave. I was especially into The Cure and Strawberry Switchblade by 1986… one day I noticed a boxset at Tower Records that Rose played on, featuring Current 93, Nurse With Wound, and Sol Invictus. Around then, I also bought Coil’s “Tainted Love” 12″, thinking it was This Mortal Coil. Those set me off on an adventurous path that has led me to where I am today.
Before Drekka, what made you want to create your own music?
The more I started listening to post-punk, goth, industrial, experimental, etc… the more I started to think about the DIY lifestyle. I remember my friend Jason and I would walk around our apartment complex with one of those big brick tape recorders from Radio Shack. We would hold it by our side or put it in a bookbag and go around recording conversations and stuff… around 1984 or so. We’d go back to our rooms and play the tapes back, screwing around with the buttons to make the tapes freak out and “scribble” I think my cousin called that technique.
Then, I realized that my crap stereo, which has a turntable and double cassette deck, had a mic input. So, I started recording experiments where I would record something on tape, then dub the tape to another tape, which adding a track through the mic input… and so forth.
Sort of like how Daniel Johnston recorded his albums, which was fun to find out later down the line.
So, from around 1985 through 1995 I tried out lots of different band names and styles… seeking what felt true to myself. Residents covers and blatant Legendary Pink Dots or Current 93 ripoffs.
I am starting to go through and archive, reassess a lot of those recordings… looking back now that I’ve been doing Drekka for 25 years. Some of it is pretty good… most of it is interesting, but not fully formed. And some of it is terrible and no one except Darryl will ever hear them.
And at what point did you devise the idea for Drekka and what was your original plan or idea for the project?
Around 1995, I was mostly recording demos for an abstract industrial project called 144000 and doing a lot of remixes and reworking of friend’s stuff under the name 4K. I was also doing a sort of 4AD-esque two-piece with my friend Ann Marie called Solas and a dark folk project with my friend Annie called Alizarin.
Then, I heard Flying Saucer Attack for the first time and my brain exploded. I felt like I could really say something by exploring that wall of space folk sound, combined with some of the psych folk ideas that Current 93 was exploring at the time, and the His Name Is Alive / 4AD sort of 4-tracking collage work.
So, I bought an acoustic guitar and went for it full tilt.
I recently pulled out a folder of notes and stuff from the first Drekka album and came across a sort of “statement of purpose” which I still think is accurate to what Drekka seeks to accomplish:
“A reflection of the sounds around, filtered in the mind, embellished with memories and visions, distorted, deconstructed, transmuted, and retransmitted.”
I’ve always thought of it as a way to communicate and share what the world around us sounds like inside my own brain, my own life experience.
I was reading back to an unpublished interview you did with me in 2005, and came across this answer to a similar question:
“I was changing ‘monikers’ every few months… but, Drekka has stuck and I think I will use it for my solo work for the rest of my life, I suppose.”
And here we are, decades later, hah.
What’s the story behind the name?
Drekka is the Icelandic verb “to drink” or “to imbibe”… for me, it means to take into oneself, to drink sound. It was kind of a joke initially, I tried to think of a name that would make me seem Icelandic by association, and there is a stereotype that Icelanders are all alcoholics, so I chose that. I also like the idea of “drinking experience”.
The first track I released as Drekka was under the name Drekka Kókómjólk (“drink chocolate milk”)… but, I pretty quickly dropped the milk like a child in a Tarkovsky film.
I also love the allusion to the English word “dreck”, the stuff you wipe off the table after a meal… rubbish. I love to use that dreck to create new ideas and new works.
You recently re-released the first Drekka release. When you hear it now, what do you think of it?
I have always really loved Grieve. It is an intense album that came together very quickly and at a time when I barely knew how to use my 4-track or anything about mixing… and yet, listening now I feel like I wouldn’t mix it much differently than I did in 1996. It is one of the few older recordings where I don’t struggle with wanting to “fix” things vs keeping the integrity and documentation of the original – warts and all.
But, when I listen to Grieve I think it is perfect as it is.
For a long time, I would listen to it and not be able to recall what some of the sounds on it are, esp. on the two “tonal” pieces… recently, I’ve pulled out the original 4-track tapes and read notes I took explaining what the sound sources were. There are some deep field recordings in there, hah. I won’t spoil the mystery though and let the listener decide what they are listening to.
What surprised you the most about it?
I am surprised how contemporary it sounds… after that album, I changed a lot, a few times… yet, in 2021, I think that the Drekka of today is not far off from its original intent. I went on a journey and returned home… only now I know how to record a little better and I mix on a computer, but I still love working with the crumbs from the table.
In these 25 years, how has your approach to creating and making music changed?
Besides some different hardware, my approach isn’t that different from when I started. It has always been based on deep listening to the small details in recordings; on building up a piece and then stripping it down to its essence. Less is more.
With the increased ease of digital editing, I have learned over the years how to sculpt frequencies in a more macro focused way, and so that part is always evolving. Whereas in the past I might mix a piece in an hour, these days I might spend a hundred hours mixing a piece on my laptop. But, neither is a better approach, it just depends on what the piece needs.
In that 2005 interview, I explained my initial process as such:
“When I begin recording a set of pieces, it is usually because I’ve had some melody in my head for a few weeks. That melody will progress and obsess until I have to go record it, and it will become the central theme for a set of recordings.”
How did BlueSanct come into being? It’s always felt like a natural extension of Drekka to me…
BlueSanct started in fall of 1995, as a way to release my friends and my music. Inspired by my friend Chris Gregory’s Day2 Records, I started making tapes… first by a few pre-Drekka projects, and then Drekka and other friends.
Day2 Records became Day2 Alliance, with Bluesanct and a couple other labels and projects; a loose collective of sorts formed around the idea of making home-made goods and slowly becoming friends with those who felt akin to what we wee doing.
The idea was always to do 100 releases on Bluesanct… I also started Orphanology, which was meant to release lost, forgotten, and “orphaned” recordings by artists I loved. Orphanology started the “Alphabet Series”, releasing one album from an artist for each letter of the alphabet.
25+ years later and I am nearing completion on both. I am not sure what I will do after that, as I am inclined to focus on doing music and less on releasing other’s music… but, I have a feeling I will never really stop entirely. There will always be important recordings that need to be heard.
What have been some of the highlights, music-related, since Drekka began? Whether it’s songs or albums you are particularly proud of or memorable shows/tours – that kind of thing.
My first couple tour of Europe in 2002 were a major event for me. I had never really been out of the country, aside from short trips to Canada and a trip to Iceland… so, going on the “Poor Minstrels of Song” tour with The Iditarod, Filip Ring, and Peter Scion and the “Glacial Dreaming” tour with Jessica Bailiff and Rivulets.. those were pretty overwhelming and amazing trips. Those first couple European tours are also where I met Wim And Annelies from Morc, as well as Thorir Georg; all of whom are my family now.
Playing as a member of the combined “supergroup” of Stone Breath and In Gowan Ring at Terrastock in 2000 was also one of those sort of life affirming events. Being on stage, singing backing vocals on “Dandelion Wine”… that was a dream come true.
Being picked up by Dais and releasing albums to a larger audience has also been pretty beautiful. And I am super proud of the albums they have issued.
Luckily, I still consider most of my recordings to be highlights of my work… and that feels great to keep creating and moving into the future. I am not a very nostaglic person… although I love thinking about the past and chatting with people about it, I am more interested in the future and what even more exciting things are to come.
I am really happy and always amazed by how people respond to the song “Possibilities”. It is such a simple song, but it seems to really inspire people… even twenty years since I started performing it.
Do you have another 25 years in you?
As long as my body and mind cooperate, I will never stop creating.
I just completed my first tour since before the plague times; a small tour with onewayness here in the midwest to test the waters. That was a really great reminder of how important it is for me to tour and play out to old and new friends… I am a pretty major introvert and when not on tour I am pretty reclusive and just stay at home working on music. Touring helps recharge my enthusiasm and remind me of why I do what I do.
So, I am hoping to be on tour again in January with Timber Rattle… then, hope to head to Iceland in April and Eastern Europe in autumn 2022.
And when not on tour, I will be completing the third part in the “tarwestraat” trilogy of albums for Dais.
I have also been working on doing some 25th Anniversary cassette re-issues of my first couple albums.
So, you know… the usual… too much and never enough.
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