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Landing - On Returning to the Scene of the Crime

2 October 2012

Landing have been called many things, including ambient rock, slowcore, instrumental (even though they aren’t), shoegaze, Mormon (even though they aren’t) and even space rock, a tag which they’ve learned to embrace. All of these things have served them well in one capacity or another with different audiences since they began in the late 1990’s in Provo, Utah, a place not really known for music. Provo is a medium sized town smack dab in the middle of Utah that can best be described as either a barren wasteland or a conservative college town depending on where you are standing. It is home to Brigham Young University and is also the headquarters of the LDS Missionary Training Center. It’s strange to think that Landing evolved in the same place where all of those nice, clean cut gentlemen learn their craft, eagerly going door-to-door on bicycle for the Mormon church. The missionaries approach is direct and about as earnest as you could ever imagine or want. Landing is in stark contrast with that world, so much of what they say is subtle, and they way they say it is beautifully hushed and clouded.

The first time I heard about Landing was around 2001 or 2002, they toured with Yume Bitsu, a band I was (and am still) somewhat obsessed with. American post-rock at that time was in a drastically different place, the bands that littered the playing field all seemed to be doing something different and exciting. But perhaps most importantly they were all doing it themselves, taking the DIY punk ethic and turning it on it’s head by applying it in new constructive ways to entirely new audiences. Someone released an MP3 file (or was it a cassette tape? I can’t even remember) of the two bands playing live together at The Flywheel in Easthampton, MA and upon hearing this, I immediately realized I was missing out on something incredible and began searching for their records.

Since that time, Landing has gone through a series of ups and downs, releasing a slew of singles and LP’s before taking a hiatus for several years in 2006. In early 2012, Atlanta based record label Geographic North announced that they would be releasing a new Landing LP, this almost immediately sparked a renewed interest in the band. Geographic North also put out a Tarantel 7”, another incredible band from this genre that I’ve discussed on several occasions (30 years from now they may be your grandkids favorite band) but anyway I digress. Landing’s newest LP is self-titled and contains nine songs of truly introspective post-rock, no matter what label you want to apply to them. My favorite review of the record came from a fan, calling it the record of the year and “otherwordly…audio bliss”. Seems to fit perfectly.

But to a large degree, I think some critics don’t know what to do with Landing. A lot of their record reviews are just painting metaphors (specifically paint being applied to canvas) and veiled references to Slowdive. Maybe some of those people have forgotten (or never found out) how hard it is to create a layered song using basic elements like a guitar and a drum set and how hard it is to recreate that live. And then to continually recreate it again and again year after year, perhaps the same exact way, perhaps sometimes letting it evolve into something entirely new. That development (or lack of) is one of the most challenging aspects of playing recorded music, and it’s just one facet of Landing that you can explore.

After all, anyone with a multi-track recorder can layer a bunch of crap together and call it a song. But texture and depth aren’t mutually exclusive, and if you think they are, then you’ve obviously never seen a sludge metal band with three guitarists and a didgeridoo. Unfortunately I have, and believe me, they are two very different things. I guess what I’m saying is that you don’t make decent records by cramming all kinds of sounds and instruments together, (unless you’re Brian Wilson) you have to be fickle. You have to know what goes together and when to break those rules. When you slop paint onto canvas with reckless abandon, what you get is garbage (unless you’re Jackson Pollock) and I think that’s why the paint metaphor doesn’t apply to Landing. Listen to any songs in their back catalog and you will hear that their songwriting is much more complex and that perhaps a lot of restraint has gone into the individual layers and into the final mix.

Some critics say Landing is “moody”, meaning they are able to invoke a certain feelings in the listener. In my experience, the harder it is to identify that feeling and hold it down, the harder it is to rediscover that feeling again and again, the more that the meaning of those lyrics can take on new meaning over time, the better the song. And Landing is very good at writing those kinds of songs. I recently had the chance to talk to Aaron Snow about Landing, he was candid and patient and seems genuinely excited about the future of the band.

AJ – I know you got together around 1998, but I don’t know much else about your history together. Tell us how Landing came to be. How did you guys meet each other and what kind of backgrounds did you have in music?

Aaron – Our first show was in 1998, but I started recording under the name Landing in late 1997. Adrienne and I had been playing some shows in Provo, UT under the name May Landing and that music evolved into something a little more soothing and droney (May Landing was very loud and distorted- verging on noise in places), so we decided to change the name. When we moved back to Utah after a summer in Connecticut in ’98 we met up with Dick Baldwin who agreed to join us as bass player. We asked Daron Gardner to join a few months later as drummer. The original Landing line up was formed because of our existing friendships. Dick was living in our attic and we were all very very close and insular. We went to shows all the time up in Salt Lake City and that’s where we started hanging out with Daron who shared our sense of humor and musical tastes. We were always friends first, musicians second, which is probably why we’ve lasted this long. My background in music was pretty limited when we started up. I always loved music but never really considered playing an instrument until a few friends of mine started a band. I thought it might be fun to try and quickly got obsessed with teaching myself to play.
Daron Gardner was fully established in the Utah scene when Landing started. He’d been playing in quite a few well known Salt Lake City bands, including Fortynine Hudson who’d released a full length on Daron’s label (The Music Fellowship) and toured the USA. Dick Baldwin had been playing in a band called Perth Amboy but they’d broken up after freshman year of college. Everyone except myself had some sort of musical training; Dick went so far as to study music theory. Adrienne Snow took piano lessons as a kid, but never really considered performing music until I forced her into it. Finding likeminded people in Utah was challenging, to say the least, so Adrienne sort of got forced into it by default. In May Landing, she played bass but switched to synthesizer once Dick Baldwin joined the group.  

AJ – What did the name Landing mean to you in 1999 and what does it mean now?

Aaron – A lot of my favorite bands growing up had very simple names like The Cure and R.E.M. and The Smiths. I wanted us to have a name that was very flat so we wouldn’t be defined by it or get sick of it. I thought Landing seemed to fit our gentle, floaty music perfectly. Through the years, we’ve struggled with Landing’s identity as we were constantly shifting as songwriters and a little scattered thematically. We’ve considered changing the name numerous times but now we’re at a point where Landing can mean anything. We’ve stopped worrying about what other people think (not that we were ever all that concerned) and don’t hesitate to change our sound depending on what we feel like doing. Our new album “Landing” is pretty different from what we’ve done in the past in that it’s based more on rhythm and bass than on guitar tones. We’re also working on a 12” for These Are Not Records that features sequencers and drum machine prominently. We’ve always made music for ourselves, so at this point the name Landing really just means that it’s music made by Aaron, Adrienne, and Daron.

AJ – What made you decide to get back together in 2011? During the years you were inactive, did you ever find yourself daydreaming about playing again as Landing?

Aaron – Although we hadn’t played a show since 2006, the idea that we would make new Landing music was always floating around. There are tracks on the new album that were begun in 2006, but it was slow going. In 2007, Adrienne and I had a little girl who turned our world upside down. Around that same time, Peter Baumann (who had joined the band after Dick left) moved to Long Island and Daron was burned out on making music and working on his label. We hung out all the time and continued our friendship but didn’t feel inspired to make music. In 2009 we were contacted by Farbod Kokabi from Geographic North about contributing to their 7” series. He was so nice and flattering, we decided to try and get something together for him. The sessions we did for the 7” blossomed into more and more ideas and a discovery that our chemistry was still really good! Daron and I started thinking seriously about getting an album together and spent the next few years coming up with something that we felt would be a step forward for the band and worthy of release after a six year silence.

AJ – Was it hard to walk away? 

Aaron – During the six years when we kept it very low key, I didn’t really miss playing out, to be honest. My priorities had changed and playing and making music was suddenly not as important (or easy). I contemplated giving it up entirely, but decided to keep the door open. I’m so glad we took that time off because it gave Daron and I the chance to become much closer as friends without the subtext of being bandmates.  We work so much better together now that we have a tighter friendship and understanding. Adrienne was always so busy in her job and responsibilities that it was nearly impossible for her to fulfill the role she played in Landing when we were running full steam. Now we’re at a place where she has the freedom to contribute as much or as little as she’d like. 

AJ – As far as your relationship with Adrienne, which came first: the marriage or the band?

Aaron – Adrienne and I got married in 1996 after meeting in college in 1994. We bonded over our shared love of weird music… I was smitten when she said her favorite Cure song was “The Same Deep Water As You” and fell in love when she introduced me to Slowdive and Seefeel. The marriage definitely came first. Adrienne’s always been unbelievably supportive of my obsession and had to listen to all my horrible “albums” recorded on my old Tascam 4 track. She was never interested in being in a band and it took some serious cajoling to get her involved. Adrienne loves making and playing music, but it’s always been more of my thing… I just feel lucky that she’s been willing to do it!

AJ – So in terms of being married to one of your bandmates, I’m curious if you keep those duties compartmentalized. Do you and Adrienne find yourself in “song writing mode” or “practice mode”, or does it all blend together for you?

Aaron – With Landing, there are definite modes. Song writing mode is always separate from practice mode for us because our recording process is based so much on the studio. We do lots and lots of layering and experimentation, so once a song has been recorded we inevitably have to go back and convert it into a live iteration. Basically, we have to try to “cover” our own music which can be challenging since so much of it is based on improvisation or effect settings. As technology has advanced, we’re much more able to recreate the recording now, which has been fun. We’ve embraced the laptop (after years of swearing it off), so we can play songs that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

AJ – Being in a “married band” presents different challenges. About a year ago somebody on Facebook got Exene Cervenka from X talking about those challenges and she said, “If you want to be successful as a musician, don’t get married to anyone in the band.” I respect her opinion a lot, (probably more than most musicians) but we disagreed on this. How does it make you feel when you hear things like this? For me, when I look at the traditional setup of marriages in bands, like for instance, Fleetwood Mac, and how their audience and their lyrics actually fed off of their internal drama, it makes me cringe. How do you face these issues head on, especially while touring?

Aaron – I’d say that a couple better be VERY secure before attempting to form a band together. Adrienne and I have been lucky because there hasn’t been much of a power struggle between us. I value her opinion immensely and her tastes are impeccable, but we have an understanding that whatever musical decisions I make are okay with her. 99% of the time, I come around to her way of thinking anyway. That being said, we fight like cats and dogs during practice and recording sessions! It’s so hard to keep up that veil of politeness with each other because we know each other so well. I can remain polite and constructive with Daron, but Adrienne and I really know how to push each other’s buttons. Touring hasn’t been an issue for us- although the lack of privacy is difficult- because we’re all such tight friends. Also, we never did more than a month on the road. 

AJ – Landing has worked with over eight record labels in your brief existence, that’s pretty impressive. A lot of bands struggle with this, especially now in the age of DIY recording and with hundreds of record labels closing up shop. How did most of these relationships with the labels begin and did all of them end amicably?

Aaron – When we started, we released music on Daron’s label (The Music Fellowship) for obvious reasons. The stress of being label man and bandmate was difficult on Daron, so when we met up with Ben Goldberg from Ba Da Bing! we decided to work with him. Around that time we started playing in Surface of Eceon with Adam Forkner, who had released music on Ba Da Bing! and was really well known in his home of the pacific northwest. He introduced our music to Chris Scofield at Strange Attractors Audio House and ultimately to Calvin Johnson at K, who he was living with for a while. If we’ve had a patron, it would undoubtedly be Adam. He’s been our biggest booster! Ultimately, we decided to work with Geographic North because they’ve been unbelievably supportive and enthusiastic. They totally get what we’re all about and we love their aesthetic. All of our relationships with labels have been super low key and friendly. We feel SO lucky and honored to have worked with such amazing people!! We’ve never had a problem with any label we’ve worked with.

AJ – For Landing, are there any differences between playing a show in 1999 and playing one in 2012? 

Aaron – Back when we kind of dropped off the face of the earth, we still relied on old methods of getting the word out about shows and releases. We’d send an email out, put some flyers up, and just basically hope for the best. Nowadays I can post on the Facebook Landing page and the news will actually reach the people who care. It’s been pretty awesome to have direct contact with fans and see firsthand the effect that our music has had on people. So, that’s been the biggest difference by far.

AJ – Have you noticed a change in your audience?

Aaron – In terms of our audience, it seems like we’re reaching a point where we are considered “elder statesmen” or something, which is pretty neat. I still feel like the new kid on the block. Bands like Windy & Carl, Bardo Pond, Auburn Lull, and Fuxa (to name a few) still seem like the grown ups. It’s hard to realize that we’ve been around for 14 years. We’re meeting people at our recent shows who have been listening to us for ten years and have deep connections with our music. It seems like we’re playing to people who really understand where we’re coming from. In the past, I’ve always felt like it was us against the audience but now I feel like they’re totally on board. It’s been so awesome! As for actually playing the music, the difference is vast. As recently as a few years ago we never could have played some of the songs that we’re playing now. Because we’ve decided to embrace technology we’re able to do almost anything we’d like. I’ve been getting into drum programming and sequencing and have been using a whole slew of new pedals that totally blow my mind. It’s been really fun to learn how to use all these new tools!

AJ – I know that you kept busy when Landing went on hiatus. What other bands did you guys play in?

Aaron – During Landing’s break I recorded the Paper album which was my effort to start getting a little more into rhythm and bass. Adrienne was kind enough to sing on that record, which came out on States Rights Records right around the time Elise was born. Other than that, I played on Adam Forkner’s first White Rainbow album, Zome, with Dick and Daron.  Earlier in the 00’s Daron, Dick, and myself joined Adam and Phil Jenkins to form Surface of Eceon who released two albums on Strange Attractors Audio House, an EP on Three Lobed, and a live LP on Music Fellowship. I’ve also played with my friend David Lifrieri (from Urdog/Manbeard) as Factor 12, which is a musique concrete noisey drone thing. Daron has a long history of being in bands including Sunshine and The Biffs, Qishui and Fortynine Hudson, who were an amazing, explosive post rock band. He also has a solo bass drone project called Towering Giant which has released one album so far.

AJ – If someone asks you what kind of music you play, what do you normally say?

Aaron – That’s such a hard question to answer and I usually try to wiggle out of that conversation by saying something like “we’re weird and boring”.

AJ – It IS hard to answer. I hate it. It’s the ultimate “damned if you do / damned if you don’t” question.

Aaron – If I’m forced to, I’ll describe us as headphone music or psychedelic or something. Landing has been so all over the map, recording pure drone 20 minute long tryyyps and 3 minute acoustic pop songs (sometimes on the same album) it’s kind of hard to figure out exactly where we fit in. After Dick left the band and we lost his beautiful fingerpicked guitar style, we’ve become a little bit more focused and limited in scope. “Brocade” was our effort to make a monolithic album and now with the new record we’ve settled into something that’s a little less scattered.  

AJ – It seems to me that a lot of promoters these days aren’t successful when they offer a diverse bill, or seem to be genre busting just to sell tickets. In terms of playing and getting shows, has Landing ever been pigeonholed or shunned because of your style or your tags?

Aaron – There are a few tags that we’ve been branded with that are a little perplexing, like the instrumental thing or the slowcore mormon thing. We’ve always had vocals, even if they’ve been buried under delay and fuzz. As for slowcore, I always felt more of a kinship to the Michigan space rock movement or early 90’s shoegaze than anything on Chairkickers. I guess it’s an easy thing for people to compare us to Low because of the mormon thing and the couple thing, but aside from a few songs here and there we don’t really fit that mould. The whole mormon thing is cringe inducing since the three of us haven’t had any relationship with organized religion for years. We’re all avowed agnostics.

AJ – So when you’re playing live what kinds of things will you do to lift those stereotypes or win over the audience?

Aaron – We’ve never tried to win over an audience, ha ha. If we worried about what people would think, I’m sure our music would have been vastly different. We do try to represent most of the aspects of our ouvre, but lately we’ve been focusing a little bit more on increasing the volume and playing the louder, more rhythmic stuff from our new album while mixing in older songs that we’ve converted to our newer style.