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Fleeting Joys: An Interview with John and Rorika Loring

Photo by Joseph Najera
21 September 2020

Photo by Joseph Najera
Encapsulating the sheer bliss associated with the spiritual and visceral aspects of the best of shoegaze, Sacramento duo John and Rorika Loring have been the foundation of sonic stalwarts Fleeting Joys since 2006. Often compared in general (favorable) terms to My Bloody Valentine (MBV) and those on the noisier side of the genre, Fleeting Joys cherish dabbling in the nuances of sound as a means of exploring the mind & soul. Culminating in the band’s first full-length in ten years, Speeding Away To Someday captures everything there is to love about shoegaze via swirling, disorienting noise layers rooted in technical savvy, intertwined with co-ed vocals. The record features some of the band’s heaviest hitters to date in Don’t You Know the World Will End and Evil Crop yet strikes a tempered balance with the acoustic-based Come To and the record’s mid-tempo opus finale Returning and Returning and Returning. Fleeting Joys are why the future holds further curiosity and excitement about what may come from an increasingly diverse genre of music.
The following interview took place over several reciprocations going back to 2019 in the build up to the release of the band’s exceptional third album, Speeding Away To Someday. As a supplement to the short take featured in issue 86, here is the full interview. Many thanks and much gratitude to Rorika and John for the music over the years as well as their accommodating nature!

James Broscheid: Congrats on the release of your stellar third album, Speeding Away To Someday! In addition to chipping away at the songs that make up this record, what have you both been up to since your last record’s release in 2009 (Occult Radiance)? Was there ever a danger of having a world without Fleeting Joys? A very much warm welcome back!

Both: Thanks so much! Enough has happened that we could write a book, but we are always here, and working on music. Our relationship kind of mirrored the writing process, and the lyrics reflect this. It was a bit strange towards the end as we were trying to finish the darker tunes while planning to renew our wedding vows.

John Loring: I also went down the rabbit-hole of mixing and production. I learned so much and was constantly raising the bar. At the same time, I was rewriting because we had heard the tracks a million times – then, reverting back to older versions. It was classic tail chasing! So, this record has tension, and hopefully release, between older lo-fi and new skills.

Rorika Loring: Additionally, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play guitar live – or just sing – so, we kept flipping back and forth between two-guitar songs to one-guitar songs. In the end, it’s a combination.

JB: Lake Placid Blue and Kiss A Girl In Black are featured on this record having been previously released in 2018 and 2013 respectively. Why did you include those two tracks and were they reworked at all for the album’s release?

Both: Those two tracks weren’t reworked other than having them mastered. Kiss a Girl In Black was always the heartbeat of album three, even though it took a long time to finish the rest. Lake Placid Blue was next to achieve doneness. Regardless of the time, it was really important for this record to be one cohesive thing. There’s actually more songs that nearly made this a double album, but we wanted to get something out. We’re going to put the other songs out soon, either as EP’s or a separate album.

JB: Speeding Away To Someday was available as a download initially. There was a delay with the record release on vinyl. 

RL: We decided to try a new pressing plant in Canada with modern lathes for better quality production coupled with mastering for vinyl by Dave McNair – who taught me how to engineer on analog gear in Austin, and was mastered out of Sterling in NYC before starting his own studio. The vinyl is a gorgeous ruby red splatter. (Now long gone! – JB).

JB: I suppose this ties in to the previous question. You run your own label, Only Forever Recordings. What are some of the pros/cons in owning/running your label? Was starting Only Forever for the sole purpose of releasing Fleeting Joys material? Do you still envision releasing other bands at some point?

RL: Our approach to music has always been DIY. My first job was at a big label and I saw them spending artists’ money on ridiculous dinners, payola, etc. Their exploitation of the artists was disgusting. It seemed more pure to integrate recording and releasing into our daily lives so that we could do things exactly as we wanted them. It is, however, a LOT of work! But, satisfying.
When we run across someone with that extra something special, it’s really exciting, and we always want to help. We had envisioned putting out releases of our favorite bands before the industry shifted to streaming, and took our stream of income along with it! Hopefully, we will still find a way to make that happen – been talking about a few split singles that may happen.

JB: Can you elaborate on the equipment Fleeting Joys uses to achieve their sound? Any particular effects, equipment, etc. that you have the most fun experimenting with? How has technology evolved over the years and has it made your efforts easier or more complex? Is it difficult translating to a live setting?

JL: The ability to experiment endlessly is both the best and worst part of technology. Like everyone, we benefit, and suffer from it. We hated getting off of tape, but our writing process requires maximum flexibility to rearrange songs. Aside from multiple reverbs and a whammy, what’s really important is the instrumentation. I could probably replace any reverb I have with a digital delay pedal and get most of the way there because most things are smooshed up into power-tube saturation. It’s how the song is written that’s really important. We don’t really use fuzz or distortion pedals for our tones, although we do experiment with those things. Most of FJ’s guitars are recorded with a vintage AC30, Marshall, or Traynor, pushed into power tube distortion.

RL: While others are vintage wine tasting in Sonoma, we’re happy taste-testing vintage tubes at a couple of local places here! John puts the tubes in the amp without me seeing what they are. I always seem to pick the most expensive, rare ones. John sighs and pulls out his wallet!

JB: What is both your takes on the resurgence of shoegaze and its long overdue appreciation? It has seen some of the heaviest hitters of the genre reform and record again (Ride, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, etc.). I think back to the early nineties (at least in the U.S.), when radio was taken over by a small movement out of Seattle which shook the music industry in a big way. Seeing Nirvana perform in 1993 still leaves me with a tremendous sense of satisfaction because it was one of those nights the band was “on”. Do you feel shoegaze would have had a better chance to grab hold back then were it not for the “alternative” movement? 

Both: The underground stuff always bubbles up into the mainstream, and it’s interesting to us that it’s happening now. We have always thought that shoegaze was a part of the future. In 2006 people use to tell us not to use the term “shoegaze” because it was old, and we were like, but that’s what it is! We met Colm (Ó Cíosóig) from MBV when he was DJ-ing at the Hemlock in San Francisco – at that time MBV getting back together was just a pipe dream. Much has changed!

JB: Was your approach to songwriting & recording this album any different from past work? I suppose putting out the record yourselves reduced any time constraints drastically!

JL: Our writing process was consistent with the first two records The most important thing is the song writing. We love distortion, but, if we play this stuff acoustically – we still love it. We go back and forth in the song writing about whether or not to add samples because it’s more of a hassle live. But, whatever is cooler wins. Many times we will start with a great song, but then remix it to make something that has never been heard before. In many cases we will then re-record the remixed version of the song.
Lake Placid Blue was originally created with guitar tracks from the (first album, 2006) Despondent Transponder period, and was worked up to sound completely different than the original. You Want To was almost part of (second album, 2009) Occult Radiance, but was totally reworked except for the keyboards and vocals. Evil Crop was originally an old 4-track cassette recording of drums and bass from when we lived in Austin that we recorded new guitars and vocals for. Those are just a few examples. Many of the other tracks have around 2-10 different versions, with different chord progressions and vocals. Some of those will morph into new songs in the future.

JB: Were you listening, reading and/or taking in anything in particular in the lead up to this record’s release? 

Both: We love a lot of psych and drone elements, and are influenced by older music as much as newer, but have yet to incorporate some of these things, although, probably will. This is one reason we like to work on other people’s projects.

RL: We’ve actually spent a good amount of time on political activities in the past couple of years too. We wish we didn’t have too, but that’s where we are. I was is quite busy with it, and doing something nearly every day from talking to congressmen in DC to working with local activists.
We have relied on guidance from Vedic Jyotish for about a decade after visiting Amma, the Hugging Saint. It’s really helped us stay calm, focus, and plan. Matt Kahn has also been essential for clearing away mental debris. It would have been a tougher road without this kind of help.

JB: I was driving back from LA after catching Ringo Deathstarr, Tennis System, Blushing & The Meeting Places and could not stop playing Speeding Away To Someday! Tracks like Don’t You Know The World Could End, Returning and Returning and Returning and Come To blaring away as I sped through the desert back to Tucson in the middle of the night – there was really nothing quite like it. To me, the shoegaze genre has always given me more of a visceral reaction, like our connection to the natural world. Something defying logic. What is it about the genre that you prefer or excites you the most?

RL: What a great visual, and exactly how how we feel!

JL: Don’t You Know the World Could End is kind of a logic defying song in that, the words are basically about giving up on life, but the music is almost celebratory and triumphant. The other two songs you mentioned are also musically triumphant, and one actually has a fanfare, but the lyrics are very personal and subdued. Musically we’re both suckers for bashy, punk drums, raw basses and guitars, but juxtaposed against other elements. In one of the first bands I was in that achieved the visceral thing was when the guitarist, (I was on bass then), accidentally left his wah pedal on and created this pure white noise hiss. I felt like my head was in a fishbowl and I couldn’t get enough of it! On an emotional level, I like to get the feeling of “it’s so beautiful I want to die.”

RL: The first time I ever heard shoegaze, it was the only music that ever gave that feeling and sound of being inside a wave! Everything about it is like surfing – exhilarating and soothing, roaring sound penetrating your body, wrapped in a force of nature. It was perfect! When I am in a room filled with John’s guitar, I get all that again.

JB: The new record is truly a marvelous effort and comes across as a record that was a joy to make. How much do you both labor over each track while recording and when do you know you’ve reached the point where a track or album is complete? How much thought went into sequencing the LP?

JL: We labor over everything a lot. It’s not easy to catch “that special something”. There is a point in every track were it goes from something we’re just working on to “Oh yeah that’s nice!” Often, it’s the result of experimenting with a different vocal melody, guitar line, or even a plugin in Pro Tools. Lots of times Rorika will record a melody line and wake up the next morning to find I’ve re-written a new song around it. Then we choose together – is it better or just different? On a playing, creating level, it is joyful! But, then, you have to piece it together in a composition, and mix it, and that takes trying to re-live an instant of inspiration over and over again.

Both: The 80/20 rule definitely applies to us. We do the bulk of creating really quickly, then spend 80% of our time finishing mixes, coming up with song titles, and wondering if we should change our font. Sequencing was also a big consideration, and it played a part in dropping some songs from the record.

JB: Any plans to hit the road to tour this album? I for one would make the trip back to SoCal should you add a date or two there! I am loving this record!

Both: We have considered doing a more stripped-down thing without samples for live shows since it does hold up that way,. And we have thought about adding more members to make touring easier. We’ll see how things pan out. We definitely wrote these songs to be bashed out live.

JB: You both hinted at some of the darker lyrics on this record while buoyed by almost celebratory melodies. Is it difficult to be married and be in a band together? Care to share some insights into some of the tracks on this record as far as headspace you were/are both in? Will lyrics be available with the physical copies of the album?

Both: (Laughing) Hell yes! 

JL: And it’s exacerbated by the fact that Rorika and I, although we have the same type of soul, go about things in completely different ways. We get to the same point, but our processes are from opposite directions in many cases. We like to think that anything we agree on is gold. Do you have anything to say Rorika?

RL: Nothing I want in print (both laugh)!

JL: Yes, we intend to share most, if not all the lyrics to the songs, one way or another.

JB: John, I think you nailed it about achieving something being so sonically beautiful you want to die. That is exactly what the best of shoegaze is about to me. No matter how hushed or loud, shoegaze is one genre of music that, when done right, achieves that very feeling. It’s always been a challenge to describe it to those who’ve never experienced it! Is it difficult to balance/reconcile darker lyrics/themes with the, as you mentioned, celebratory, almost triumphant melodies of the music? 

RL: We’ve always favored juxtaposition.

JL: I love juxtaposition because that’s what life is. For us it’s not hard because it’s where we live, so we just sing and say what’s on our mind. Life is confusing and often at odds. 

RL: You’ve always said you’re not writing about me or anyone specifically. 

JL: Right. Sometimes it’s negative about myself and sometimes it’s negative about the world we live in. (laughs) I can also say that one song might have feelings for Rorika in the intro, my upbringing in the chorus, and politics in the break. It’s all mixed together. 

RL: It’s not literal. 

JL: Definitely not literal. It’s all about the things in life that affect you mashed together to create a feeling. I’t’s easy in the fact that you want to sing about what you find interesting, and you want that to be heard, yet you’re playing with guitars that are so loud you can’t really hear them, which is easy to do as far as writing. 

RL: The music needs to be exciting and pretty or it gets boring. Plus it’s hopeful. We’ve always been hopeful and striving for better.

JL: We’re not just complaining. We’re talking about the human condition with its good and bad, and the good part is the hopeful, and that we are creating something that at the end of the day we find beautiful 

JB: It’s obvious you labor over your art – down to the font in fact! The results are outstanding but does it ever get burdensome/tormenting? How long does it take for an idea to evolve into a Fleeting Joys song? 

JL: We don’t labor over them in a way that’s overworking. We wait for inspiration a lot. It’s a combination of waiting for inspiration and working hard. 

RL: Trying different ideas, experimenting…

JL: And being open to throw out something you’ve spent a long time on in favor of an inspiration.

RL: Which always frustrates me because I’m convinced that I could take all of my favorite things that John’s decided to pull out not use and make an all-time greatest album ever of Fleeting Joys! (Laughs). 

JL: Those ideas usually become other songs. They would if time permitted.

RL: For live we want to change things up to make it easier and funner. 

JL: Yeah, we were each having to do so much we’re thinking about adding help. 

RL: At least one, if not two members to spread the duties. But it needs to be just the right person. It’s like a family. 

JL: We also have considered a bit of a stripped down punk version, where the drummer doesn’t need to where headphones to a click track. 

JB: You mentioned sequencing the new record and the need to drop some tracks from the album. Do you have any plans for those tracks seeing release some day? How do you know when you’ve got the sequence right? Is it a matter of tracks not fitting a certain theme/energy you’re trying to achieve and/or other factor(s)?

JL: We pulled off three tracks from the album that we didn’t think fit because they were more in the psychedelic vein, for lack of a better term. The songs were very different and  they messed up the flow of the record so we pulled them.

RL: We’re thinking about using them on split singles with some other bands, or just relating them as an EP on their own.

JL: Or they may be included on the next record because we have 6-10 other tracks they are coming along nicely. 

JB: Can you both discuss the history of the band? How the band formed and where the name came from? Rorika, what kind of impacts, if any, did your work in the political realm the past couple of years have on the new record? I personally need to find a way back to a more quiet, calmer headspace after the past several years in this country. I find myself getting very angry very quickly and it is just not a healthy place to be. 

RL: I was working in a recording studio in Austin learning to engineer and an x-boyfriend of mine said that I really needed to hear this guy’s music.

JL: And I had just become his room mate at the time.

RL: So he played it for me an I liked it. Then, I offered to record it for free in the studio and that’s how I met John. During that time I broke up with another boyfriend (both laugh), and John helped move  my furniture out on Valentine’s day! We became friends and things evolved naturally so that we knew each other and trusted each other. I knew he was a good person and, at that point in my life, I had encountered a lot of crazy people in the music business – so we kind of grounded each other.

JL: I had never met anyone who had so much style, charm, warmth and intelligence to do things before. She’s basically really good at everything I’m not. She’s the perfect balance for me.  We started being more than friends during a second recording session. There was a guy assisting her that asked her out. That’s when I realized I was emotionally hooked. He never got to take her out and we recorded like 17 hours that night.

RL: One thing that made a big impression on me during that time, John said, “You spend 17 hours a day helping other people getting their music out. Why don’t you spend that time on your own stuff?” He was the first person who ever said that to me where it really struck me that I was enabling everyone else and ignoring what I wanted to do. 

JL: That’s when we started making music together.

RL: The name Fleeting Joys came from a movie we loved called Nadja, where the girl says her pain is “the pain of fleeting joys.” What happened with the political stuff was that, back in Austin when I was a freshman in college, I did some lobbying at the capitol, and quickly realized how ridiculous and corrupt the political system is. I became very disillusioned,  never voted, and ignored it from that point on. 
John pointed out Bernie Sanders when he first started running and we started listening and contributed, and we realized everything he was saying was directly affecting our lives and making it so much harder to get things done, accomplished and make music. It just opened up my eyes to how much better other countries support their citizens in living fulfilling  lives, and how we have become really like modern-day peasants in an aristocracy. It ignited me, and I wanted to help make some changes. 
Then when you-know-who was elected – I come from New Orleans and I was raised around mafia – I know mafia when I see it, and I saw that he was the worst, most corrupt, thing that could have happened to our country. There was just no avoiding getting involved. It hasn’t been pleasant – it’s been stressful . I’ve learned a lot and speaking truth to power has been a real growing experience for me. But, I wish it hadn’t been necessary. I’m looking forward to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris taking over and making it all better so I can stop thinking about it all again!

JL: Agreed!

RL: One thing that it has prepared me to continue participating that has just happened last year – the Music Modernization Act (2018), that Congress passed. It’s been put into place now and we need to make sure that the big labels and publishers don’t take it over and just split the $1B unclaimed artists royalties that are pending to be distributed to the artists that deserve them.

JB: I understand the band was in rehearsals? Are these auditions for live members or is the line-up set? With how intimate Fleeting Joys is to you both, is it difficult letting other musicians into that world? And is it a pretty trying process getting the band’s live sound to meet your expectations?

JL: We just started preparing for some live shows after a long time – the first is a Part Time Punks show on Easter (fitting for our resurrection of sorts!) – with Tennis System and Slow Crush. It’s (was scheduled and subsequently cancelled – JB), at the Echoplex in LA and Coachella will be going on nearby in the desert. 
After a bit of a shuffle, we’ve settled on a guitar player for bass, Sean Bivins, and Mitch Wheeler on drums. Both grew up in Sacramento and are part of a documentary being made about that group of musicians growing up together during a unique time in the music scene here. We all come from very different genres of bands, so, it will be interesting to see how things influence the live versions of the songs. We want to do a more stripped down versions of the songs. Besides, we don’t have truck loads of equipment and personnel like bigger bands in our genre!

JB: Going back to being a couple in music, is it sometimes easier to communicate with one another via your music?

(Both laugh!)

JL: We approach things very differently and where we meet in the middle is what we call golden. We write what we write as artists and I try to communicate to the listener – not specifically to each other.

RL: Not at all! John says that the words he writes aren’t about anyone (me) specific and I think that some of them definitely are about different times in our lives/relationship – but, probably could be said about most relationships at some point. I sometimes write about past feelings and sometimes it is just fantasy. 

JB: I was surprised to learning FJ guitars not being dependent on distortion/fuzz effects for tone. John, how long did it take for you to come up with your sound? A ton of time and experimentation I presume!

JL: I don’t use, for the most part, fuzz and distortion pedals into a relatively clean amp because I find that I prefer the richer sound of power tube distortion. Instead, I have the amp cranked, using a volume drop pedal for my cleaner tones which is the reverse of what most people do. I might use one boost pedal like the Timmy overdrive to take a cranked amp over the top. The only other pedal on my board right now is an EQ pedal for making the bridge pickup occasionally sound like a neck pickup. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a treble booster, but, not sure it will make it onto the live board.
A lot of my experimentation has been with different models of amps and which power tubes, pre-amp tubes, cabinets, speakers that I like. The 70’s Traynor that I used on most of SATD is nearly stock for that time period. The cabinet is a magical mystery given to me that no one can identify exactly who made it or what kind of speakers are in it! But, it’s the best cabinet I’ve ever heard. Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different amps – for the heavier distorted tones, I prefer the Traynor which has a JTM 45_/_Bassman type sound to it. The AC 30 that I use in stereo is a 96 UK made model loaded with vintage Silver Alnicos and Gold Lion power tubes and some vintage preamp power tubes. It adds more articulate aggression to the Traynor’s fuzzy smoosh.
The best amp I ever had was a vintage AC50 that may have been moded. Unfortunately, because it was a quieter amp and the drummer was super loud, I let it go when we lived in Austin. Should have let the drummer go instead! Luckily, I just got one like it again! It has a softer distortion than the Marshall that I had been using. In the future, I may be experimenting with some more chime-y guitar tones.

JB: You both mentioned enjoying working on other people’s projects. What other projects are you both involved in?

JL: In the last couple of years, I produced 2 albums for a French band called Dead Horse One. It gave us both a chance to write, sing and play things that we wouldn’t have gotten to do on a FJ record – flexing our Psych muscles.
Right now, we are working on a remix for a new band called Loveblind where we are experimenting with Arabic trap beats and orchestral sounds.

JB: I am fascinated by scars, hurt, Hollywood and pain in the lyrics for this record. Has this record been your most cathartic as far as laying it all out there in your music? Do you both take part in writing lyrics (kind of tying into being a couple in music I suppose)?

JL: As people go through life, they pick up emotional and physical scars that tell their story and give them a certain degree of depth. Everyone can talk about hurt and pain – it’s a universal experience that we all can identify with. Loving you scars means that you are accepting yourself where you are after all the painful experiences. Hollywood has been an archetype of success to me.

RL: The first album was pretty cathartic – as was all of them. This one may be more so because we’ve had more life experiences to purge! Hollywood was an incredibly intense place to live. I only lasted a year! But, it was also kind of like a dream – so many amazing experiences that could never happen anywhere else.

JB: How have you been since the pandemic hit? The show I was looking forward to the most this year was cancelled! I was looking forward to being your roadie …

RL: We are keeping busy around here. We’ve been isolated since March when I had all the symptoms of covid. Test was negative but, I have heard of false negatives. It took ages to get over it. Lost my voice for a while/still have deep cough. John also has been raspy sounding when he sings. We are going to get an ozone generator along with some other stuff that should make it safer to go out and about as long as you do the preventative stuff regularly. It should knock out whatever is left in our systems as well as protect against future relapses. 
Yes, we had everything in order to make the show in LA amazing – after all the shuffling of band members and drama around getting organized. Even had bought expensive inner ear monitors and wireless mixer! So discouraging to have it all yanked away suddenly. It’s hard to tell when it will be okay to be in large crowds or travel again.
I was also devastated that my death doula certification was cancelled last month. After that, I was supposed to go to Scotland to learn ancient death chants from these death doulas there to use in ceremonies. Many cultures, philosophies believe that singing or reading aloud to the dead for three days after passing helps give them light/energy to find their way through whatever they need to do. So much death right now is sudden and violent and faced alone – certainly with no time to plan anything. It’s surreal. 

JB: As if the pandemic was not enough, California is being ravaged by wildfires. How are you holding up? Any updates on the potential of playing live? I know everything is still in a stand still pretty much.

RL: We’re doing alright and working on new music. Everybody involved is still looking forward to playing live once this is all over. Most of this time is being spent working on new material. There’s been a creative explosion of new ideas and new directions recently…it’s our favorite thing to do!

JB: How did the arrangement of the band’s back catalog being made available to streaming services such as Apple Music? Any other streaming services providing Fleeting Joys music?

RL: People kept telling us that they wanted to share our music with others but, (we) were having a hard time – so, we decided to make it more available. We’ve had a lot of great support from current fans, so, thought we’d stretch out our tentacles to see what would happen.

JB: John, any new projects in the works other than the groups you mentioned earlier? Dead Horse One is fantastic!

JL: Thanks! So much going on with the new material of ours, the side projects are taking a back seat. We’ll get back to those soon.

RL: John has been using this time to really get into playing drums and learning new beats – it’s been fun and great for the creative process as well.

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