Compression & Color: The Lentils’ Luke Csehak in Conversation

Anna Fox Rochinski

the lentils

I first met Luke Csehak in South Shore, Massachusetts. It was 2009, and his group, Happy Jawbone Family Band, shared a bill with mine, Quilt. It was probably our first time playing outside. I’ll always remember the sensation of hearing our sounds float up into the ether, rather than reverberate between club walls. Happy Jawbone Family Band’s set had a similarly airy feel. It conjured a sense of wonder, despite how jaunty and percussive they were. One Jawbone member handed me a homemade necklace with a dangling plastic swan. I wore it for the rest of the summer.

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Luke and I hung out many times over the years due to our bands crisscrossing in the netherworld of New England’s underground folk/psych/garage scenes. Luke, who grew up in New England, relocated to Brattleboro, VT in 2008. Happy Jawbone Family Band started the year before and dissolved after a seven-year run, which gave rise to The Lentils. They possess a more inward and melancholy spirit than Jawbone while maintaining the unmistakable racket Luke willingly imparts to all of his projects. I spoke with Luke from the perspective of a fellow artist in the wake of The Lentils’ latest title, Brattleboro is Flooding, which is out now on BUFU Records.

Tell me more about the cult of eggs. 

The cult of eggs is no good. No one wants to lose a loved one to a cult. But with Scientology at least you can rest assured your loved one will be financially secure. With the Hare Krishnas you can be sure they will eat healthy. The cult of eggs gives you nothing—just a lot of empty egg terminology and songs without bridge sections.

Sometimes at Waffle House I feel as if I am visiting a cult of eggs. Breakfast culture in America is definitely a thing. In Europe they just give you some bread and a few slices of green pepper and an itsy bitsy espresso and that’s that. I am now recalling this one time you made cheese grits for me in Vermont and they were so good. What’s your deal with breakfast on the road?

I’m glad that you bring this up and I wish people talked more about the relation between food and music. I can’t relate to music that doesn’t feel like food in some way. Don’t you think breakfast is a lot like a rock show? They’re both shared pleasure experiences where bonding occurs. People cooperate in a goal. They’re sort of like rituals of interdependence. When news gets around that you’re into breakfast and that you’re hookin’ up bands with bangin’ food, people respect that. You get hooked up when you’re on the road. It makes everyone feel like they’re part of some big extended family.

Songs are really not that greedy for recognition. They only need to connect with a few people and then they are happy to fade into oblivion.

Do you believe in the “song bridge”? What’s the nature and the purpose of it to you? What does your perfect bridge lead to?

I like bridges that lead to different songs. Also bridges that change the way you look at the other parts. Maybe it messes with your interpretation of the song.

I really like the saying, “Build a bridge and get over it.” What’s something you’ve had to “get over” recently? 

Recently I’ve gotten over a lot of expectations around musical success. When I was first making music in Happy Jawbone I felt this vague pressure to succeed in some way, like to represent the scene or bring some integrity to the music industry. Luckily that band fell apart and now I don’t have to worry about that stuff. It’s better for the songs. They are freer to surprise. Songs are really not that greedy for recognition. They only need to connect with a few people and then they are happy to fade into oblivion. Somebody told me that Brattleboro Is Flooding was helping them deal with the death of their friend and I felt relieved, like now I don’t worry about that album.

Do you utilize time signatures purposefully, or intuitively?

I’ve written so many songs and not one has been quite on purpose. I guess I’m just the sort of guy that assigns most of the agency to the song itself. The song knows what’s best. The only thing I do is I pick the parts that give me the most intense ASMR and I find interesting ways to put them together. That’s one way in which I’m not a Libra.

I am really interested by the repeating guitar line in “Madeline” and how it relates to the singing melodies. I mean, that melody you sing breaks my heart—it’s so beautiful. If it weren’t for the strange mood of that guitar line and how it offsets the beating of my heart I would just cry every time the song came on. The guitar line is rhythmically one of my favorite things I’ve heard in ages. Who is Madeline? Also, what is ASMR?

Ha thanks! ASMR is good stuff. They should teach it in school. It’s this weird tingling sensation some people get in their spines and scalp when they hear things like high-pitched clicking sounds and whispering, but also social stimuli like direct attention and acts of empathy. I’m into ASMR rock. It’s good clean music.

I think Madeline is probably three or more dorky women and also me. Guess I was really getting in touch with my feminine side with that one! That song was easy, it just sort of fell out. I recorded that guitar line just as something to keep a rhythm while I got this melody down. I was gonna get rid of it, but it somehow ended up fitting the song-structure so it stayed in. I think it’s in six while the melody is in four. I still don’t really know how that works but I like it.

How do you know you’re not a Libra?

I guess you’re right. I don’t know. All I really know about is music production values.

Everyone thinks about balance and harmony when they think of Libras. But I think the dark side of balance can morph into Chronic People-Pleaser Syndrome. Which, at best, is gonna manifest in strange and subtle ways in the soles of the feet, and at worst, will demolish your sense of self entirely. If only it were 1979 so I could write a self-help book where all the hyphenated personality traits are capitalized to lend them validity. But anyway, do you know what I mean? 

Hm. Demolishing your sense of self and strange foot energy actually sounds like my sorta thing. Maybe I am a Libra after all! I’ll have to look into that.

Brattleboro was sorta the real deal there for a few years. Honest and deeply idiosyncratic people, challenging each other.

What is your favorite new music production value you have learned about and/or used?

I’ve started making my tracks different colors. Like in the recording software I use, I finally figured out how to make the tracks different colors. It’s a game changer. Now I think in blocks of colors. Compression has helped with this too. I’ve been going crazy with compression! It makes the colors clearer and closer to the face. Recently I’ve gotten into a philosophy of compression in which compression is a basic psychological function. That’s what I got from recording the last Happy Jawbone album with Jarvis Taveniere and Al Carlson. Two things: compression and colors, and I thank them for that. Then I took what I learned to my bedside studio and pushed it as far as I could. Luckily this time I had the privilege of knowing that nothing I created would be successful in any way. I was free to make truly terrible decisions.

Tell me more about compression as a basic psychological function.

The mind is always compressing information. Every conceivable moment, the mind takes in vast amounts of data and then compresses it into such a small fragment, which we can more easily assemble into awareness. With compression, you can further refine the information of a sound to its most basic color.

How many times in life can one make themselves “unsee” terrible things, whether they are real or just thoughts, before one becomes desensitized to it all?

Are you trying to tell me that I’m desensitized? Do you think I could’ve done things differently?

Yeah, you probably could have. So could I. Shoulda-woulda-coulda. I mean, I don’t know if you’re desensitized, but you probably are to some things. In my case, I let myself look at roadkill more and more so I can become more comfortable with that kind of shit. But I ultimately think being “sensitized” is good.

Yes, I’m just getting more and more sensitized as I go. But it’s cool. Cry-babies have more fun.

If you had a “mini-me,” what would you warn him about?

Possessiveness in love and drugs, staying hydrated, backing up your hard-drive, you know, the normal stuff.

Your lyrics about hard drives suggest a preoccupation with memories and storage. Is it wise to preserve life through fragile means? 

I would say it’s more about the fragility for me. I have a list of all my favorite, temporary gods that I keep hidden from my mother. I love the way they fall apart into smaller and smaller parts and there is never a part too small that can’t fall apart more. My mom, she just doesn’t get it, but that’s OK. I love her anyway. I’m staying with her now that I’ve moved out of Brattleboro. Don’t worry, it’s just for a month before I move to California.

At this point in said life, does Brattleboro feel like a “dream deferred”? If not, which classic poem might come closer?

The Wasteland comes to mind. But maybe that’s a little rude. There’s still great people there but the thing is Brattleboro was sorta the real deal there for a few years. Honest and deeply idiosyncratic people, challenging each other. But you can’t fight certain currents. Although, now there is the Brattleboro diaspora spread over the country. That’s why I’m moving to California. Maybe it will continue in a new way. Maybe it’s gone for good. Who knows. Maybe I’ll give up music and get into social work. Music’s pretty stupid in a lot of ways.

Are long-distance relationships stupid?

Of course, but I like that everyone knows this and people still do it.

What is your favorite under-used musical trope? What is your favorite over-used musical trope?

I like when, in techno, the DJ makes everyone disappear just for a second. I’ll never get over that! But I don’t know, is it over-used? Can you really say? Does it distract from the music?

What distracts you while writing? How do you reel it back in?

What doesn’t distract me! Insects, issues of the day, drugs, etc. The only way I get a song done is it has to be a distraction from something else that’s more important, like work or loved ones.

There may not be a way to measure cruelty, but can we quantify love?

Quantifiable love is over, if you want it.

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