This Ain’t the Anteloper That You Know

Photo by Tim Saccenti

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When jaimie branch sings, “We are not the earthlings that you know,” on Anteloper’s new record, Pink Dolphins, a whole constellation of stars align. The duo of branch and Jason Nazary has always explored fertile ground in the outer rim of free jazz, noise, hip-hop, and punk (among a host of other tendrils), but on “Earthlings” it’s as though the temperature is cranked up a few hundred degrees. Working with the inimitable Jeff Parker in the producer role, Pink Dolphins is an intricate, spiraling sound system filled with heavy emotional undercurrents and pure sonic joy. It rides the highs beyond the atmosphere and chews through cavernous gravity when the mood gets pulled under. Throughout, Nazary and branch speak their own musical language, bouncing ideas, arrangements, and general fuckere off each other until it coalesces into a bright burning core. 

Anteloper is kicking off a North American tour today in Keene, NH at Nova Arts and continues on from there. Pink Dolphins is out OUT NOW on International Anthem. Grab it HERE and stream below.

June 17 Keene, NH @ Nova Arts
June 18 Portsmouth, NH @ Press Room
June 21 Washington DC @ Rhizome
June 26 Vancouver, BC Canada – Vancouver Jazz Festival @ Iron Works
June 27 Edmonton, AB Canada – Edmonton Jazz Festival @ Night Club 9910
July 06 Toronto, ON, Canada Tone Festival @ Baby G
July 07 Detroit, MI @ Tangent Gallery
July 08 Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall – International Anthem ‘In The Round’ Event
July 09 Columbia, MO – Dismal Niche @ Stephens Lake Amphitheater
July 10 Iowa City, IA – Feed Me Weird Things @ Trumpet Blossom Cafe
July 11 Rock Island, IL @ Rozz-Tox
July 12 St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club
July 13 Madison, WI – BlueStem Jazz Presents @ Bur Oak
July 14 Louisville, KY @ Decca
July 15 Pittsburgh, PA @ Collision
July 16 Brooklyn @ Public Records – Official Record Release Event

August 01 Lisbon, Portugal – Jazz em Agosto Festival @ Gulbenkian Music
August 26 Nantes, France @ Festival Rendez vous de l’Erdre
August 27 Strasbourg, France – Festival Meteo @ Motoco
August 28 Cambridgeshire, UK @ We Out Here Festival
August 29 London, UK @ Cafe Oto
October 08 Milano, Italy @ Teatro dell’Arte
October 19 Ludwigshafen, Germany @ Kulturzentrum Das Haus

What are some of your earliest music-related memories? An experience that hit a bit harder and made you realize that music was going to be an integral part of your life.

jaimie branch: When I was a little kid about three years old I would sit and watch my older brother play the piano for what seemed like hours… probably tens of minutes in retrospect, I caught the bug early on and started playing the piano we had in my home. Since then I’ve had many moments of wonder spread out over 30 + years. The first time I played trumpet in front of people I thought my knees would shake outta my pants, but when it was said and done I got a big thrill out of performing. When I was 14 I started playing punk rock shows at the local rec centers and that’s probably when I knew I wanted to play music for people for the rest of my life. For real, music’s been integral the whole time!

Jason Nazary: In high school, I went to see Mats Gustafsson at an arts space in Atlanta called Eyedrum (incidentally we just played before his Fire! trio at the Jazz Is Dead festival in Torino, Italy) and it was one of the first times hearing an improvisor deal with this language that was drawing more from a punk rock energy, noise & texture rather than a traditional ‘jazz’ language. Definitely not my first musical memory, but one that put me on the path to exploring the weirder side of what music could be.

With Anteloper, you are both creating a lot of killer sound with electronics and conveying so many ideas with that aspect of the project, but obviously trumpet and drums, respectively, are integral parts of your music practice. So what drew you to those instruments and how’d you end up first starting to learn them?

jaimie branch: I started playing the trumpet when my family moved from New York to Chicagoland when I was nine, I didn’t have many friends in my new location and so when they said school band would be starting that year I was super excited, I couldn’t wait for October when they would let us start picking instruments. They wanted me to play oboe or clarinet but I was drawn to the saxophone and trumpet. I ended up choosing the trumpet after spilling my dad’s red wine all over the saxophone sheet and his white shirt… It seems almost like it was on a whim but I think maybe it was some kind of cosmic intervention becuz once I started playing, I learned that both my brothers had played trumpet and that my father had played trumpet and so there’s a rich history of my family with the horn – even my little sister picked up the trumpet a few years later. I was missing NY a ton and spent a lot of time in my room working on the horn, trying to make it make sense.

Jason Nazary: My dad is a drummer so when I was younger I would mess around a bit on his set. Then once playing an instrument in the school band became a thing, I knew I wanted to play the drums. He gave me those first building blocks when I started to take it more seriously, but it really didn’t take long for it to become an all-consuming obsession. 

Photo by Tim Saccenti

There are a lot of mentions of Live Evil in reference to this project and this record. What is it about that Miles record in particular that hits you?

jaimie branch: I mean I love all eras of Miles Davis but the electric miles season which started around 1968 with Bitches Brew really changed the way I thought about music – period. I listened to Live Evil again just the other day and I was struck by the individualistic interplay between all the musicians – so many personalities that coalesce in this beautiful way and Miles is basically at his strongest ever. Also the rhythmic freedoms, cyclical not quite lining up and yet perfectly fitting – when Jason and I get cooking that’s a zone we head to often.

To be a fly on the wall during those sessions…. I guess another reason I’ve been thinking about that record is Miles had his long-time producer Teo Macero who sculpted tunes out of large swaths of playing, and on Pink Dolphins, Anteloper has the great Jeff Parker in the producer role, who carves out these tunes from long improvisational sessions. I’m not making direct correlations on the way things sound but it’s a different way to go about making a record and that definitely had a big impact on the way Pink Dolphins sounds.

Miles is a huge influence, for sure (I would like to think everyone is touched by his sound!).

Jason Nazary: For that electronic Miles period it’s just the one that resonated with me the most. Jack’s [DeJohnette] feel on it grooves so hard but is still somehow unpredictable & chaotic, a balance I’m always trying to find in my playing. And Airto’s [Moreira] percussion work makes the groove sound like it’s from another planet. With my synth set up, I’m definitely aiming for some of those cuica & shekere layers that Airto is doing.

You also call out the punk and DIY undercurrents on Anteloper, jaimie, and that’s always something I’ve felt when I hear you play. And Jason – that record you released last year with Travis Laplante – I still have this note I scratched out when I listened to it that says, “is this sort of a punk record?” Something about that first track especially… Ha! Anyway, when you say you all are coming from punk, can you expand on that a bit? 

jaimie branch: My first experiences with “Punk” were playing in punk-ska bands in the late ‘90’s early 2000’s. I became pretty immersed in the culture of punk rock and I guess the big takeaway is that punk is not a fashion or a music or a scene, it’s a way of life. D.I.Y., take care of others, have fun, and really live, you know? That’s all stuff I still am with and definitely bring to the music I make.

Jason Nazary: For me, it’s about the energy behind the sound, definitely aggressive at times, but also embracing the chaos inherent in creating music from nothing & trying to always be honest with our intention on stage – keeping things raw & unfiltered.

So how’d you two first meet anyway? And how does your friendship and the close proximity to each other and where you all live inform Anteloper’s approach and sound?

jaimie branch: So J and I met years ago in music school but didn’t play much and were friends on the periphery but not hanging all the time. It was years later when I moved to New York in 2015 that J and I started playing together in Jason Ajemian‘s band the Highlife and later Folklords (one band, two names). From there we started chillin and playin a lot more in NYC. We started Anteloper in 2016 after I was asked to put a band together to open for the one and only Jeff Parker! 

Anyways, we both live in South Brooklyn, so being close to each other in proximity and close friends allows us to have a lot of freedom when we play. Being close by each other, we can play a lot and this allows for an evolution of language that you can’t really get to without putting in the time. We started as acquaintances, became friends, and now I’d say we’re damn close friends and getting closer all the time because the more you play with someone, the more you travel with someone – the more you sit on trains and planes and in cars with someone – the more you learn about that person. We’ve had the deep convos, tough convos, and a lot of funny ass conversations. I got real love for Jason and all of this feeds into the expression and musicality of Anteloper. Sometimes I’ll do something on stage just because I wonder what Jason will do in response and sometimes I slip into something or I think I know what he’ll do and he surprises me. Implicit trust is a key ingredient. “Ears and Trust: the Anteloper True Hollywood Story”

Jason Nazary: We first met in Boston where we were both studying at New England Conservatory but we didn’t play much at all then, we were in different years & had different crews. We really connected when jaimie moved to Brooklyn. She had an opportunity to put together a band opening up for Jeff Parker at Nublu in 2016 & asked me to join. We had a rehearsal before where it was gonna be a trio. The third didn’t show and anyway, with each of our synth setups it seemed we had plenty of sound to work with anyway. 

I love the explanation on the title and the connection to your Colombian heritage (and I love those pink river dolphins. My kid learned about them in school one year and couldn’t get enough of learning about how amazing they are). You all talk about being adaptable, but what are some sonic spaces you haven’t explored yet but want to get into?

jaimie branch: It’s always about getting deeper into the sonic abyss – gettin into the Aquadelic shimmer splash, but on the technical side, I would like to explore more keyboard playing. Real deal keys stuff like laying down montunos and stuff like that… I can fake it a little bit but I want to get deep with it so I can hold down a section for minutes at a time. I also wanna push the words more. Get more comfortable with improvising with language – I’ll have some real simple phrases that I work out before a hit but 80% of the time I don’t get to it on stage, so I want to get a lot more comfortable in that zone. 

I think maybe we’ll write more songs coming out of Pink Dolphins… since we’ve started we’ve always started with improvisation first, sound first, and maybe that won’t change but in preparation for these tours we got to learn our song “Earthlings” which was made in post-production and that experience was a lot of fun, so I think that’s an interesting side of each other that we could explore a lot more. 

I could gush about Jeff Parker forever, but I won’t. Can you all just talk a little about what it was like working with him as a producer and just generally on this record and the ways his presence comes through on it?

jaimie branch: Let’s gush about Jeff! I mean I was a huge fan of Tortoise starting in high school and then found my way to a lot of the Chicago Underground recordings that he is on and his solo records and so it’s a real honor to be working with Jeff. Making this record was unlike anything I’ve done before mostly because it was done during the pandemic except for the initial recordings that were done in 2019. We had some preliminary discussions and then sent Jeff a lot of music… too much music actually! So then we all talked again and Jason and I went back into the lab and edited stuff down for Jeff to make it more manageable. When he got the songs back to us I immediately knew that we had a record on our hands. Jeff plays guitar on some tracks and so on those, his presence is immediately felt because his guitar playing is so personal. But on some of the other tracks, his presence is more subtle. He’s really able to get inside of our sound and lightly carve out these tunes and then supplement the tracks here and there with a synth line or a bassline or harmonies on the drums or by asking Chad Taylor to play Mbira. I mean Jeff is such a sensitive musician – he doesn’t force his vibe on top of ours, it really feels like a smooth connection.

Jason Nazary: Jeff has such a distinct voice. With his guitar playing, with his production aesthetic, it’s so unique and unmistakably him. We really had no idea what he would do, just that it’d dope. And he really came through with it. A couple of tracks where he flipped the source material into a new vibe or like “One Living Genus” where he kept the performances as they were in the studio, but gave it that special Jeff Parker thing with his mixing and editing decisions (and with his guitar playing of course). 

jaimie, can I ask real quick about how you know Jason Ajemian and got him into your other band? I put out this album of his in 2004 of him just playing the bass and singing these love songs, and have loved that dude ever since (guess the songs worked!). I’m so excited to hear him play anytime and was over the moon when he turned up in Fly or Die…

jaimie branch: Yeah Ajemian is the shit! We met in Chicago in 2004 when I started playing out in the scene there and became fast friends. I played in his band, Smokeless Heat, a little bit when he did the expanded version of it, and I also played in his breath orchestra Who Cares How Long You Sink – we had a bunch of different bands together. He’s an amazing musician and human, and now a PILOT! Wild shit man. 

There were some years that I was having a real hard time keeping my life together and most of the folks I knew in Chicago stopped calling me or taking me on tour, but Ajemian would take me out on the road so he’s got the bass chair in my band till he doesn’t want it anymore. I’m loyal like that. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a motherfucker of a bass player either. I spent a bunch of time with Jason in Alaska during Covid in 2020 and I joined and made a record with his (now our) Alaskan Bush Funk band, Artificial Horizon. That’s awesome that you put out a record of his!

Alright, so y’all just finished up a couple of weeks in Europe – how did it feel to get out there and take this material on the road? I can only imagine how well it all translates into a live setting… And what were some especially memorable moments?

jaimie branch: Europe was dope. We debuted a new show where we are playing with a video that was created by artist Kim Alpert. This is our first time touring with a video and I think it’s allowing people another entry point into the music, so things are really translating well and lifting off. It’s also been fun performing “Earthlings.” This is my first time singing with Anteloper and it’s fun as fuck.

I mean the whole tour was fun, but our shows in Italy in Torino at the Jazz is Dead Festival and in Forli at Area Seismica were definitely standouts. The crowds in Italy gave us a lot of love. But maybe my favorite show was the first show of the tour. It was a double bill in Brussels with label mate Alabaster DePlume. Jason and I joined him during his set with some beautiful players and took off into outer space! I love seeing the homies out and about on the road. Playing with the homies is next level!

Jason Nazary: It’s been great to bring out our first ‘song’ on the gigs so far. Getting into and out of “Earthlings” has been different every time and even within the song, we’re finding new ways of stretching it and getting to something new. And, of course, the rest of the set sticks to our usual MO – fully improvised and fully energized

Now y’all are about to head out on this North American tour for a month – anything, in particular, you’re looking forward to?

jaimie branch: Chicago of course – I love going home and seeing the crew. But no, there’s not one show in particular – DC will be fun at Rhizome on June 21, and we start the tour in Keene, New Hampshire on the day the record drops (also my birthday) – June 17! We are hitting a bunch of spots in Canada for the first time with this project and returning to the Vancouver Jazz Festival on June 26th which is one of my fave festivals in North America. Columbia, Missouri and Iowa City will be dope. I mean at this point let me shout out all the spots we are going to cuz I’m looking forward to it all… I love playing music and I hope to see some of y’all out there!

Pod up and Evolve! Oh oh oh, and we wrap up the tour in NYC not far from my crib at Public Records on July 16th – “HXH” AKA Lester St. Louis and Chris Williams will be playing up top. I have seen many shows in the sound room, but this will be our first time rocking that system. IT WILL GET AQUADELIC, see ya there. xoxo.

Jason Nazary: Our Chicago show is gonna be insane! A three-way International Anthem bill with homies Marta Sofia Honer & Jerimiah Chiu / Dennis Villareal at Thalia Hall – July 8th. That’ll be a special night for sure.

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