Craig Kupka — Crystals: New Music For Relaxation 2 (Smithsonian Folkways)
A little disclaimer: the people behind Evening Chants are good friends of mine, and I’ve had the honor of performing at their pop-up shows in pre-COVID times.
But while the growth of the label is something I’ve witnessed from the ground up, with the grunt work carried out by label owner Nigel Lopez in its infancy, there’s also very little I know intimately about the label’s behind-the-scenes activity. At least, until now.
With just three releases under their belt, Evening Chants has defied easy categorization. The duo of Nigel Lopez and Jasmine Ho, who serves as the label’s creative director, have established the label as less a distinct home for genre-specific music than a space of unfettered exploration — allowing the crystallized loops of Softman to coexist with Melting Bridge, a Taiwan-based duo whose music is a meditative and fractured reflection of the environment it was birthed from.
Handpicking music from Singapore and beyond, Evening Chants releases albums on limited edition cassettes; replete with artwork and packaging that explains why their tapes sell out so easily (aside from their limited quantities).
The recent re-release of Kwaidan, the haunting debut from Japanese artist Meitei, also marked the label’s very first vinyl release, a significant undertaking for any independent record label.
And with the year still powering through cautiously, Evening Chants have a slate of upcoming releases that signal further depths into the label’s expanding ethos.
What the heck does that mean? You’ll have to read my conversation with Lopez and Ho to find out, where they speak freely about running Evening Chants, Kwaidan’s repress, their schedule of upcoming releases, and what “horror musique concrete” sounds like.
Watch the first episode of Midnight Ambient Hour with Evening Chants on Singapore Community Radio above.
Hey guys! How was the circuit breaker for yourselves and Evening Chants?
Nigel: Hey Dan! I’ve always been a homebody, so I have to say that I selfishly enjoyed the circuit breaker. It definitely gave me some space to breathe and somewhat relax. I can’t say that much of my lifestyle changed.
Jasmine: The circuit breaker was great for me. I like staying at home and I don’t have any complaints being near my cat all day for the past three months! Been reading a lot more and having more time for myself!
Have the events over the past few months changed the course for the label’s plans?
Nigel: We were due to release the repress of Meitei’s Kwaidan in May. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the pressing plant we use in Dublin had to temporarily pause operations, which meant that we had to put our plans on hold as well. Other than that, we’re still on schedule for our upcoming releases!
Jasmine: That’s right! Due to delays in production, we took the time to pre-prepped ourselves on the release by liaising with artists and exchanging design ideas so that we can plan ahead and send them out once it was open again!
Stepping back to a few months ago, you guys handled a breakthrough release with Meitei’s Kwaidan on vinyl. For a tape label, why was vinyl added to the equation?
Nigel: I’ve always wanted to put something out on wax, but due to the costly nature of the medium, I’ve always been averse to it. However, I felt like it’s about time I took some sort of ‘risk’ and shake things up on my end, presenting the label with new challenges and opportunities.
Being a naturally risk-averse person, I only decided to press on vinyl after seeing the immense success that Meitei’s debut album Kwaidan got, and was fairly confident going into it. Now I’m hooked and wish that all of our releases can get pressed and released on vinyl. Hopefully, we’d be able to do it eventually.
Was the process different from getting your usual releases pressed?
Nigel: For sure. It’s definitely a more intricate format, which requires test pressings and intense scrutinizing before giving the green light. Moreover, the medium itself is significantly larger in size than a cassette tape, which means more space to play around with. Jasmine did an incredible job designing the vinyl artwork and layout and shaping the rest of our label’s identity on wax for all of our releases in the future. We have a very beautiful insert that will come with the upcoming Kwaidan repress that we’re very excited about!
Another difference would be in terms of shipping. Vinyl is relatively heavy and bulky, and as such, not only was it more expensive, but I had to make sure I had the right packaging materials and ensuring that it reaches the listeners safely.
Jasmine, how was the experience like doing artwork for Kwaidan’s vinyl release?
Jasmine: Evening Chants has given me the opportunity to directly communicate with the artist to find more ways to help visually translate, reflect, and amplify the experience of the music/record. I’ve always found that as one of the key responsibilities of a designer.
The feedback has been great so far and I am currently working with Meitei to do his other collaterals outside of EC. For the reissue this time, we’ve included an insert which is accompanied which a text-based commentary for the album to bring the experience even more. Meitei, of course, has helped pick beautiful Japanese artworks that captured the inspiration found in his soundscapes.
Is vinyl a format you’re still thinking about for future releases?
Nigel: Of course. As mentioned, if we could, I would press all of our releases on wax. But due to the costly nature of it, and how we are an independent label, we have to be more selective in which we choose to release on vinyl. Sometimes an album is just meant to be on tape and not on vinyl.
Jasmine: I agree with Nigel. Although I think we also look into other ways to help make the physical releases more interesting. For example, all our cassette tapes have an OBI band with a hand-embossed logo and our upcoming release includes a story booklet in the cassette.
So now that we’re entering a period for music where COVID-019 continues to rage on, what’s your take on the label’s future moving forward?
Nigel: We’ve already shifted away from the traditional record label since streaming took over, so I don’t see COVID-19 affecting Evening Chants in any way as we operate mainly online. Occasionally, we organize live shows here in Singapore, but we do not have any fixed schedule when it comes to it. I guess, when the right opportunity comes, then it comes. But, we don’t see it happening anytime soon.
One change that we do see happening is how our artists are going to tour. It is extremely unfortunate that this is the case, but hopefully, things will get better in time to come and they’ll get to share their music in the best way that they can: live.
Jasmine: On top of that, I definitely see us experimenting with different formatting. I would like to see our releases put out in more innovative ways in order to give and help the artiste reach a bigger listening audience that they deserve.
Are there certain decisions taken differently?
Nigel: We have taken into account that people are more wary of how they spend their money. Especially with this uncertainty, many people have lost their jobs or are at risk of doing so. As such, their priorities have changed and rightly so. I have to admit that it does feel a bit surreal releasing music in such times, but like myself, music will always be an important constant and it is only right that we continue to contribute to this the only way we can – to put out more amazing releases.
Do you believe it has affected the label’s use of physical formats?
Nigel: With the temporary closures of the vinyl pressing plant, it has accumulated some backlog in terms of operations, which has resulted in our orders taking longer than usual. Thus, we had to shift some of our releases to a later date.
Jasmine: I’ve got an extra soft spot for physicals — I feel that if it’s done nicely and well thought-out, people would still try to acquire them at the right cost.
Ever since the label has gained followers with each release, has it been a priority to engage with them?
Nigel: We try our best to keep them updated as much as we can on social media. We also keep in touch with them with our new releases via Bandcamp’s messaging system (which is incredible, by the way). We are immensely grateful for the support and love that we get from the community.
Could you tell us about what’s on the schedule for the label in 2020?
Nigel: It has been pretty quiet on our end since the Melting Bridge release due to personal commitments. But this year, we’re very excited to be working on a few releases that are all due for the second half of 2020. Apart from the Kwaidan repress, we have a few new releases lined up.
We have been working on one of the upcoming releases for awhile now by an incredible artist that not only dabbles in music but also art. So, we are very excited about introducing this highly overlooked artist to everyone. The best way to encapsulate the release is if the movies Midsommar and The Blair Witch Project had a baby, it would be it both sonically and aesthetically. I would also describe it as “horror musique concrete”.
Another one of our releases that we’re excited about is from a musician who has been composing music for films, documentaries and tv shows on Adult Swim, Netflix, etc. The album takes us into his own world of celestial soundscapes and personal life, completely disconnected from any of his professional work.
We also have an upcoming release from one of our familiar names, where we’ll be releasing our most “dance-iest” record so far, but of course, with an Evening Chants twist to it – keeping it weird.
12. Just to cap it off, what’s been spinning on your turntable lately?
Nigel: I’ve bought so many records during this period! But here are my more regular spins in the recent weeks:
Craig Kupka — Crystals: New Music For Relaxation 2 (Smithsonian Folkways)
Side A’s “Trombones of Lithia” is a gorgeous 20-minute composition with meditative, gentle and warm brass textures and layers. Very aptly named New Music For Relaxation 2, this album delivers exactly what it promises. A+ ambient/drone record.
Maxwell Sterling — Laced With Rumour: Loud-Speaker Of Truth (Ecstatic)
I’ve never heard of Maxwell Sterling before this release but immediately became a fan. This album originated from a “multi-channel installation commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary in 2018”. (Boomkat).
An intricate mosaic of jazz sensibilities with a strong ambient foundation, this album brews some sort of a fog throughout its 40-minute runtime. While it leaves me in an amnesiac state by the end of it, I keep wanting more and flip the record all over again.
Lamin Fofana — Dark Water (Black Studies)
I saw Lamin Fofana in Berlin last year at an old Franciscan monastery (alongside Kara-Lis Coverdale as well). He opened the evening with an ambient DJ set that instantly sucked me in and left me with a profound experience.
When I went back that night, I started doing some research on his work and have been waiting for him to release more music. Then came Dark Water, which released in June this year. This ambient record epitomized the very same feeling I had when I saw him in Berlin –peculiar yet highly intriguing synths and organic textures pieced together to create an incredibly cohesive sound. This album is not on vinyl, but really hope it gets pressed eventually.
Jasmine: I think the new Green-House and Skee Mask are great! I’ve been going back to The Depreciation Guild and Computer Data a lot too, it’s so enjoyable and always manages to lift my mood up while working.
Skee Mask — Iss006 (Ilian Tape)
Computer Data — Verlust (Lost Palms)
This article was originally published on The Analog Vault.