Josephine Wiggs has, in recent years, been back with The Breeders, but she has also found the time to create a fantastic new solo release, “We Fall.” The primarily instrumental album juxtaposes a variety of styles, including ambient, rock, classical and experimental. Atmospheric yet highly melodic, the compositions instantly draw in the listener. Wiggs has truly created an album that sounds like nothing else.
Multi-instrumentalist Wiggs had been in The Perfect Disaster before joining The Breeders in 1989 as bassist. The Breeders went on hiatus in 1995 and returned with a new lineup that Wiggs was not part of. She began playing shows with them again in 2009 and officially rejoined in 2012. Other projects Wiggs has been a part of include the Kostars (with Luscious Jackson’s Jill Cunniff and Vivian Trimble), Dusty Trails (with Trimble), Honey Tongue (with Jon Mattock), and The Josephine Wiggs Experience (also with Mattock).
You’ve been involved with many projects over the years, and you have returned to The Breeders. What made you decide to do a solo album now?
Josephine Wiggs: I had been on Cape Cod and went with the friends I was staying with to an art museum. They were showing a 20-minute trailer for a documentary that an architect was making about modernist houses in Wellfleet. I really liked the little clips of the film and the story. So, I got in touch with the filmmaker and asked if he needed music, and that’s how it started. I was making music for this documentary film.
How did that music evolve from what had been done for the film to the album?
Josephine Wiggs: It’s very, very different because the pieces were literally like 20 – 30 seconds for the film. I knew as I was doing it that it could be developed into longer pieces. It was something that I kept coming back to and working on for a while and then putting it away and then working on it again. One time, when I was in England, and my friend Jon Mattock had come over to visit, I was playing some of it, and he said, “What’s that?” I explained what it was and he said, “Oh, it’s really good. I really like this. You should do something with this.” That’s when I got a second wind and started to work more thoroughly on it, expanding the pieces and adding layers and making them longer.
My friend Sebastiaan Bremer, who is a painter in Brooklyn, organized a multimedia art event called Sanctuary 2017. There’s a whole website about it where you can read about it. I reconfigured it as a kind of multimedia installation. It was an audio-visual art installation. From that incarnation of it, a friend of Sebastian named Paul Parreira, who was setting up a record label, asked if I would be interested in working with them and turning it into a record. So that’s how it became a record.
Going into it, did you have a sense as to what you were looking to do stylistically?
Josephine Wiggs: I think the mood of it is definitely rural as opposed to urban. Partly because when I was writing it, the origins of it were from being up on Cape Cod where it’s quite wild and untouched, unspoiled. All the piano was recorded in the UK at my house, which is out in the countryside. So, it definitely had that kind of bucolic pastoral feel to it. I think in terms of where I was and what I was thinking about at the time. And then indeed when I was making videos for the three tracks, again I was out in nature, and that kind of informed the material that I was using to make the videos.
You’ve made vocal-driven music in the past; was it obvious that you wanted to make this a primarily instrumental album?
Josephine Wiggs: I actually really like listening to music that doesn’t have vocals. I find that as soon as you add vocals to something, there’s a tendency to only listen to the vocal and then the music just becomes a kind of a support for the vocal. I like something that’s more like chamber music, such as a string quartet where everything has its own voice, or you’re not necessarily listening to just the top melody. You’re listening to all the component parts. I personally find that more interesting to listen to. In fact, it would have all been instrumental. It was just a bit of a fluke that I ended up adding a vocal to that one track. And in fact, now I can’t even remember how it came about. I’m more interested in the orchestral feel rather than having that melody line. I often think that people don’t pay attention to what’s happening with the rest of the music if there’s a vocal on there; they are just listening to the vocals,
Have you performed this material live, or do you have plans to?
Josephine Wiggs: I don’t have plans to perform it live, partly because I don’t have the time and the space to put that together. I kind of feel like it could be done, but you’d have to do it with quite a high production value and a lot of people. I also think that it would need a multimedia-type thing, and I don’t currently have the resources to do that. But I think it would be great. Actually, what I would really like is for somebody else to do it. Do you know the versions of Radiohead that were done by that guy, Brad Mehldau? He did Radiohead cover versions, but for like a jazz piano trio and they’re really nice. I think the ideal thing would be if somebody else, some small orchestral ensemble, would take on the job and perform it.
What was the overall time frame of making this album?
Josephine Wiggs: It was a couple of years, partly because I was very busy with The Breeders at the same time. We were recording the “All Nerve” album and then we were on tour just about all of last year. So I had to switch back and forth. That’s partly why it took so much longer.
Did going back and forth between working on it and working with The Breeders have any impact on how “We Fall” turned out?
Josephine Wiggs: No, I don’t think so. The contrast was interesting. There were all sorts of contrasts. One of them was just the music. It’s different from playing rock music and doing something more atmospheric. So there’s a contrast there. There was also the contrast of playing, of working with other people and it being just me. There was that contrast of working within a group to then doing something where I had the final say on everything, which sometimes is really nice and sometimes it’s a little bit hard, actually. When it’s just you who’s got the final say on everything, it’s like there’s nothing to push back against. I find I’m much more opinionated about other people, things that other people are doing. It becomes very clear to me. “Oh yeah, that’s really good. Do that.” Whereas if it’s just me, I’m like, “Well, it could go like that, or it could go like this.” I think it just takes longer. Ultimately, I ended up overworking things that I wouldn’t if I had somebody sitting there saying, “Oh yeah, that’s great, do that.” Things would go faster. Whereas I tend to sit with an idea and then go off down some other route and then maybe circle back around. That’s partly why it takes so long as well.
To what extent was Jon Mattock involved with making “We Fall”?
Josephine Wiggs: He was involved to the extent that I would have tracks and take them to him and then he would kind of improvise over the top of them. Both in terms of the drum stuff and also the electronics, like all the weird sound. He’s got a thing called the Korg Electribe that he puts through an analog delay pedal. He’s really good about making weird noises and experimenting with them and twisting. Whereas I actually don’t like doing that sort of thing. I always think I’m going to like doing it, but then I don’t. I think it’s partly because it’s too chaotic for me. He just gets into it, and he’s much more free form, enjoying whatever is happening at that moment. Whereas I’m always like, “How am I ever going to replicate this? I don’t know what these knobs are doing. I don’t know how to get the sound back.” He doesn’t care. So I’m a bit inhibited about doing that kind of thing, but he is he just happy in the moment to be making whatever sound it’s making, and I’m just recording it all and then I have to go through all later.
Do you feel that you have a particular writing process, perhaps in terms of what parts tend to start composition?
Josephine Wiggs: It’s hard for me to think about what the very beginnings of things are because it’s nearly always the case that something comes out of something else. It’s very rare for me to start with nothing. I’m nearly always playing around with some little snippet of something. Whether it’s a rhythm or a little melody or a chord progression that I’ve found from something else that I’ve been working on and put to one side. I think, “That could be the beginning of something else.” So it’s nearly always something like that where I’m making something new out of something that already exists and then seeing where it goes and adding to it.
It’s like the videos turned out to be as much work as the music almost. It didn’t take it quite as long because I had a deadline, so I had to finish it. But I could see that in terms of manipulating images and making them go with the music, it was pretty all-consuming. I spent two months making them.
Could you talk more about the videos?
Josephine Wiggs: Well, it’s a similar sort of thing where I started off with these little clips of film I’d made and was trying to make them work with the music. In actual fact, the clips I started off with, I ended up not using. I started gradually filming more stuff, and the oldest stuff got culled out as the idea progressed. It was a process; instead of knowing what I wanted to do in the beginning, it wasn’t until I started working on it that I kind of got an idea about what I wanted to do. It’s a very time-consuming way of working, I think. But I have to just admit that that’s how I work.
Do you have anything coming up that you’d like to mention?
Josephine Wiggs: I’m working on a remix of one of the tracks from the album at the moment. I’m overdubbing some stuff on it. We’re doing a 12-inch remix, of three or four tracks, which will be out in a couple of months. That’s the only thing that’s coming up at the moment.