Whettman Chelmets talks new album Eli Chen, reminisces on snapshots of his past, and delivers an eclectic hour of music that runs the gamut from drone and metal to weird pop and synth abstraction.
Hometown: Joplin, Missouri. It’s a small town of about 50,000, but it’s about 2 hours from Tulsa/Kansas City so there’s places for shows and we had a fun small punk scene in the ’90s when I was a teen.
Current place of residence: Same! Hard to leave sometimes.
Home away from home: Northern Arizona. I spent my summers with my dad and dad’s side of the family. Beautiful part of the country. Haven’t been there in 20 years and need to get back.
Last book you read?
Last night was a double feature of A Monster at the End of this Book and Another Monster at the End of this Book. Personally, I’m very bad about reading for pleasure anymore. Last book I finished was Man in the High Castle and that was years ago.
What instruments, gear, etc do you like to use most when making music?
Depends on what I’m doing. I still like good old sheet music to keep certain ideas grounded in basic counterpoint. If I’m “playing” music, my go to is guitar. I don’t really have the best improv skills on anything else. Beyond that, software. Been using Ableton since 2012, and I can’t think of another way to work out ideas. Favorite soft synths right now is Softtube’s Modular and Madrona Labs’s Kaivo. Those take samples and things to such fresh and different places that still feel grounded in organic music, which is what I think I work with best.
One band or artist you love that more people need to know about?
That’s tough, as there are a lot of artists I admire that a lot of people don’t necessarily know about. A lot of the music I find most inspirational to me is from these corners of the world not really being covered by any major outlets.
As far as a group that seems on the cusp of something, I’d say 9T Antiope. They are a duo of Iranian musicians that have been together since 2014. I’ve known of them since 2018 and every release of theirs is just crushing. It’s such intense music, but it’s not noise. It’s not even really drone, per se. There’s movement. There’s change. There’s wonderful voices that carry a lot of the music. It’s just been really inspirational to me over this last year in terms of arrangement and organizing sounds and stuff. Their release Placebo deserved to be on more 2020 top album lists, but I think 2020 screwed a lot of artists in general.
Your EP from last year, 1000 Faces, deals with Jungian archetypes and the idea of the call to become a hero (it’s been a wonderful soundtrack for my reading of Lev Grossman’s The Magician King). How did this idea first come about for you, and how does it manifest on your latest release, Eli Chen?
Ah, thank you! After college I had a pretty intense existential period of self-reflection, spirituality and Carl Jung became part of that. I fully believe there are deep aspects of humanity and the essential nature of us that has to be expressed symbolically and you find that in all cultures. I’m not a religious practitioner per se. Music is probably the closest for me of touching that.
I like exploring narratives in my work. It doesn’t happen consciously. It’s usually 2/3s of the way in and groups of tracks bring different ideas to me. Eli Chen was like that. It’s just a name drawn into the concrete of a local grocery store, and its been there for like 25 years. My friends and I, in less than clear thinking, drew up elaborate scenarios around this name, but none of us really knew who he was. I had this live, one-take recording I did for a streaming event that I wanted to add to, and the more I listened to it, the more it felt like this after-this-world type of journey. I drove by it one day to work, took a picture, and just put two and two together.
Can you tell us about your recent contributions to the Strategic Tape Reserve split Theme Variations? How did you get paired up with Qualchan?
We both did releases with Eamon (Strategic Tape Reserve) in 2019 separately and just found each other in social media and had a mutual appreciation for each other’s work. He approached me as he did a huge number of splits with all kinds of wonderful artists last year. I initially created this idea of using a melody from a song he had done and made many different variations of that melody, like running through counterpoint or flipping the melody or just using all these classical composition techniques with more electronic synth type work. It seemed a good juxtaposition for what he does.
What else do you have lined up for 2021?
For certain, I have a release coming out in just two months with Drawing Room Records! I didn’t exactly plan to release different things so close together but it’s just the nature of releasing sometimes. Eli Chen was more freeform and live and guitar texture based. This next one is more classical guitar, more delicate, exploring cyclic nature and all that fun stuff. Beyond that I have a vaporwave pseudonym thing finished without a home and a lot of other finished tracks that are just sitting there waiting for a narrative and a fit. We’ll see how the rest of the year plays out.
- Aidnq – “Sifted Sand” – Slow Notes for Enright (broken20)
- Ataşehir – “Leaving the Cinema to an Empty Food Court, We Believed the Word was Ours or at Least Could Be” – AVM (Sumatran Black Records)
- Fire-Toolz – “ER = EPR ~ (EP Δ P = ER)” – Rainbow Bridge (Hausu Mountain)
- Abhasa – “६” – १ (Mystic Timbre)
- Petridisch – “Beat 2” – The Minidisc (Fish Prints)
- Space Afrika – “wanna know” – hybtwibt? (self-released)
- Greg Nieuwsma – “Morocco 2015” – Travel Log Radio (TQN-aut)
- Leaaves – “Elanor” – 12 Worlds (Strategic Tape Reserve)
- The Kendal Mintcake – “X” – (always a straight line, from center to edge) (self-released)
- Vylter Industries – “s u b t w e e t a n e a n” – I (holoJamz)
- FRKTL – “Rhododendron Forest Rescue” – Excision after Love Collapses (self-released)
- Jeremy Cunningham – “Return These Tides” – The Weather Up There (Northern Spy)
- Lucy Gooch – “There is a Space in Between” – Rushing (Past Inside the Present)
- More Ease – “highly organized, motivated” – Mari (Orange Milk Records)
- Eye Measure – “Salt Resist” – Dark Blue Vault of the Sky (Cherche Encore)
- Hamed Mafakheri – “Fourth Duration” – Durations (Flaming Pines)
- Jackie McDowell – “Sacral” – Color + Sound (self-released)
- Jordan Reyes – “Lost Man” – Closer (self-released)
- Perlevaus – “Anabasis” – These Things Below with Those Above (self-released)
- Twin Columns – “Plane Crash” – Pulpit (Hairs aBlazin’)
- Valyri – “.gm_basil” – Pronouns in Bio (Euphonium Records)
- Meroitic – “Brought Up By It” – Jovilabe (Fallen Moon Recordings)
- Mattlikestapes – “Hello (Hello Again)” – DiscThology Vol. 1 (self-released)
- Dvanov – “Август” – Подполья (Third Kind Records)
- Tapes & Tubes – “Tape Deck” – sugarbushey (TQN-aut)
- Whettman Chelmets – “Guarded Threshold” – 1000 Faces (Fish Prints)
- Caroline McKenzie – “For the Days to Come” – For the Days to Come (self-released)
- FRKTL – “Peak Experience” – Excision after Love Collapses (self-released)