Sam Wenc’s Post Moves project creates moments of stillness while never actually sitting still. His engaging approach to composition and, especially, his use of pedal steel builds unseen connections between expression and reflection. If this music imagines sonic spaces for us to look inward, the result is a bridge to some unknown place. Recall the Dream Breath, Post Moves’ latest album, expands the palette and drifts deeper into imaginary landscapes.
Recall the Dream Breath is out now on Moone Records.
What are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?
My initial relation to music was a way of relating to my brother. He was two years older, and we both got instruments at the same time (me, a guitar when I was 6; him, drums when he was 8). We just started making noise, making bands, buying used CDs, and going to punk shows. I felt I was entering a whole other world.
Feedback was one of the really formative sounds that blew my mind. I got my first distortion pedal, and I just remember moving my body and guitar in relation to the amp, all the angles you could play with, and the mixture of excitement and fear that would come from the rising amplitude. I was making sounds that I didn’t understand; it wasn’t about a note I played or a chord I strummed. Experiences like that have underlied my curiosity about sound, the not knowing, the discovery, the release into something you can’t control.
Was there something specific that pushed you to start creating your own sounds?
I was writing songs from a pretty early age, playing in punk bands in Western Mass, but for most of my teen years and early twenties, I always felt like more of a complementary musician. Once I left the band I was in during college, things started to click into place. I worked as a graveyard shift bagel baker, so I’d be home during the day, and all my roommates would be at work. Though in a hazy half-woken state, I began really making music that I felt proud of during those hours.
Fast forwarding to the music I have been making over the last 5-6 years, I started to unspool my songwriting practice, draw things out longer, and become curious about more intimate sound relationships. Once I realized there weren’t any rules, I stopped feeling bound by any particular form of making sound. I remember hearing Yo La Tengo’s “Green Arrows” in high school and thinking about how I wanted to make music like that; it was almost like it was a piece of music that was uncovered, not written; it just existed. It felt so environmental; it made me begin to think about sound as environment rather than any particular fixed song unit.
Did you always want to be a musician?
I remember being called upon in our school’s D.A.R.E. class and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “a musician,” and the school officer scolded me and told the whole classroom that being a musician was a surefire way to drugs and alcohol. As I got older, I wrestled with how to be a musician. The models of musicianship or artisanship that are touted as viable, acceptable, traceable ways of understanding someone as a musician or artist can feel really narrow and self-sacrificing. Over time, it’s been clear that whatever it is I do as a musician, it will have to be defined in my own terms.
When did you first pick up the pedal steel, and what drew you to the instrument?
I began playing in 2011; a friend had started playing but left town for the summer and asked if I would look after it for him. When he came back to town, I was hooked and sought one out on my own. The sound always registered as something warm and familiar while also confounding and haunting. This line from Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music sums up my feeling, “Not knowing the name of what haunts us in sound. I ceaselessly devote all my attention to the sounds I have trouble grasping”. After many years of playing in accompanying roles in friends’ bands, I began to grow curious about the scope and range of the instrument. Finding Susan Alcorn’s work became a guiding light; her curiosity in the instrument is so present in the way she approaches composition, improvisation, and interpreting others’ music.
I still feel like I am learning about the instrument and how I relate to it. I never want to settle into one particular mode of working with it. I think the music I’ve made to date with it has covered a spectrum of sounds and styles; hopefully, whatever is next feels new and fresh to me.
I’ve always wondered what was if any, the story behind the name Post Moves? It’s such a great project name.
It’s a basketball reference. Basketball has been a big part of my life, and something about it clicked with the style of songs I was writing when I named the project. The project began as the name for my songwriting practice, which eventually became a 3-piece band. Once I started moving away from songwriting and exploring more solo making sound ventures, I wanted to feel like I was forming a contiguous path in my music-making, no matter the divergent stylistic changes. I decided to keep the project’s name going because it felt like it could be this home for whatever music I was making. I hope it can grow into group efforts at times and shrink back down to just me. Also, I think David Berman said somewhere that he never wanted to name a project after himself because who would want to buy a t-shirt at the merch table with someone’s name on it.
Let’s talk about the new record, Recall the Dream Breath. Not to keep asking questions about names, but that title captures the spirit of this record so well, and it’s so evocative. It puts me in a frame of mind that’s not nostalgic but perhaps aware of a distant, maybe even an imagined, past. I’m curious about what the title means to you, though?
I really can only understand this album in relation to the prior one, Heart Music, which came out in April 2022. That album became so dense and layered and left me wondering about how I was finding spaciousness in my work. In the pieces I was working on for Recall, I was concerned with locating my breath, finding moments where it would constrict, tighten, and release. I started to think how sweet a breath is, what an offering it presents when, at its best, it’s like touching another tract. To paraphrase The Hatred of Music again, Quignard talks about how we define the narration of our resting state as “dreams,” but we don’t really have a way of defining the narration of our waking state. I relate breath to the sound of us narrating our waking state and how it is contiguous with our resting state. A way of getting onto that other tract, where perhaps the “dream” state can tell us about our present state.
The album is attributed to Post Moves & The Sound Memory Ensemble, which is an interesting idea since it’s still primarily you playing on the record. I know you talk a little bit about this in the liner notes – I really like this passage: “I wanted a listener to perhaps get the feeling that there was a larger group at work.” I’m wondering if you can expand on that a bit, and how do you think that plays with the perception of the record, or at least how you hope listeners approach it?
The more I remind myself that there aren’t any rules to this thing, the more free I feel to try out new ideas. Attributing the album to “The Sound Memory Ensemble” was both a playful way of imagining some new interpretation of the project while also being a sincere gesture toward the music. As I was recording it, it had the feel of a group dynamic, and I wanted to honor that. I could imagine “The Sound Memory Ensemble” becoming a larger project where I step back from any sort of compositional role and instead operate more as a collective. I don’t have an overly prescriptive way for how I want listeners to approach it. Sure, they could take the hint of a larger group at work and buy into that, or they could look at the liner notes and call it all hooey. But I hope what comes across is a spaciousness and patience, where the music unfolds in a generous way and can maybe draw listeners into that process, one that feels made possible in group settings.
How did the piece with Kyle Field come about? The piece he wrote, and his delivery of the text, add such a specific, wonderful, sort of wistful element to the piece. Did the text or music exist first? Because they’re so perfectly matched, it’s fantastic.
Kyle has been one of my favorite artists for so many years. I would see him fairly frequently when I moved to Portland, OR in 2008. His lyrics and poetry are a major inspiration, a truly unique set of eyes on him. For me, this album came together unlike others, where Caleb (of Moone Records) and I discussed a vision for the album, and he brought up the idea of bringing in collaborators that had been part of their sphere. I had inquired about Kyle reciting a poem, and he sent along “Lorraine’s.” It was really a perfect piece, and I knew just where to place it in the music. Some of his lines, “a petite delicious hot cup of coffee, and another,” just hit so deep. I’m very grateful for his contribution.
And you’ve got the great John Dieterich on one of the songs. How’d you make that happen?
Likewise, this came about due to John working with Caleb before and Caleb putting us in touch. It was a total delight to work with John. He really displayed great care and consideration for the track, and his contributions helped bring it to a totally new place. Similar to Kyle, I had been a longtime fan of Deerhoof and John’s other collaborations. John has such a delicate ear and a knack for finding the right sounds and textures at any given moment. Truly thankful for his work on this piece.
More generally, how important is collaboration to you, and how does working with all these great musicians help push and inspire your work?
It’s really flattering to work with musicians I’ve admired, like John, Kyle, (& Caleb on his solo record!). Another collaboration that was part of this album was a split release between Moone Records and Lobby Art Editions, the label I co-run. It was so special to be able to shape this record alongside Caleb & Micah at Moone, two people who really care intimately about sharing music and bringing people together. I hope to continue collaborating across a range of musical endeavors – making it, releasing it, making artwork, planning shows, and thinking about how community is cultivated through all these efforts.
What was the most surprising aspect of making Recall the Dream Breath? The biggest challenge?
It was really hard to keep it pared down. My impulse was to make these pieces much grander, with more manipulation, more instrumentation, and more fussing around generally. It was a challenge to restrain myself and try to let the pieces be as simple and straightforward as possible (at least to my ears). I knew I wanted to present something that differed from Heart Music, but I still lacked a lot of confidence in feeling like the material was enough as is. It also was written and completed in a short time frame, about 1-2 weeks, which was a new experience. By keeping the conditions of the recording and the sounds of the record rather limited, my hope was to allow myself to let go of what I thought I had known about how to make an album a rich and deep experience. Hopefully, I can continue to create work that can arise and move through my system quickly at the same time as making work that I finesse over a longer period of time.
And lastly, to wrap things up, since it’s still pretty early in the year, what are your hopes for 2023?
I’ll have a new album coming in the spring of 2023 with Sweet Wreath, one of my favorite labels going, which features more guitar-focused pieces. Then I have two other ones wrapped up that I’m figuring out what to do with: an album of full-band songs, my first since 2017 of that nature. And then another focused around vocal collaborations with friends.
Aside from my own music, the label I co-run with Ximena Bedoya has a few new releases coming. A new one for Henry Birdsey’s Old Saw project and then one for NYC-based vocalist Isabel Crespo Pardo; very excited about both of those.
And generally, just trying to find ways to keep music and community in my life.