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Riede Faires is a native of Paris, Texas, and a senior at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He played in several Fayetteville bands before starting the solo project Voodoo Phaser in late 2014. The first Voodoo Phaser record, "Tropical Scenario," released earlier this year on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, was self-produced by Faires on GarageBand using two guitars and an old spinet piano. Faires' second full-length, "Retrograde Oscillations," was released on Dec. 14.
Faires' music is mostly informed by psychedelic rock, but his one-man approach makes for something a little more intimate: He sings in a distant falsetto, over tracks filled out with textured layers of lush guitar and piano. It's homemade pop music filtered through one man's imagination. From a recent interview:
First off, I love the new project. It hasn't even been a year since "Tropical Scenario" (plus the "Fang Magie" EP in between), so you've had a pretty productive 2015. Do you work on music every day? How are you balancing that with school?
Well, I work on music almost every day. School keeps me pretty busy, but I usually get to work about two days a week. Lyrics are a more, umm, sporadic type of thing. Lyrics can happen on the bus, on my bike, in my apartment, at a party, at work, or anywhere in between. I think that's what makes lyrics so magical to me. I've actually done quite well balancing school and music — I sacrifice a bit of both sometimes. It goes both ways.
What are you studying?
I'm a senior studying English Literature. Right now I'm interested in studying the Romantics — Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, etc.
When did you start playing in bands?
At around 17 I formed my first band, Breakfast Blend, and then there was Mount Olympus, and those were both in Paris, Texas. When I got here I formed Cambridge with my cousin and a few friends, then after that followed Water Walk and Jungle Cycle. I'm also an honorary member in an Austin, Texas, band called Empire Kid.
Why did you start recording as Voodoo Phaser? What's your recording setup like?
I started doing Voodoo Phaser late 2014 as a creative outlet for stuff that didn't fit the mold of my other projects. My recording setup is really sporadic — it's really whatever I can get my hands on and when I can work with it. Sometimes I'll record big vocals in a bathroom with sounds bouncing everywhere. I use a couple of pedals for my guitar. I also use a Betsy Ross Spinet piano, which I'm quite proud of. I use GarageBand for recording and a mastering program that I got from a developer online. The drums I program and mess with. I also try to use background sounds for sonic landscape and atmospheric effects. Especially on the new stuff that I've been working on.
We're seeing a lot more "bedroom" or "laptop" artists that are essentially studio-only acts. Why do you think this is?
I think it's obviously the way the world is changing. More people are spending time indoors, trying to make their schedules contour to their personal interests. Also, I think people are more comfortable with being introverts than maybe, say, 10 years ago. It's more practical (and beneficial) for artists to take their own time to use the vast technology at their fingertips, rather than write a song and let it ferment until they get studio time. There's also a connectivity and community to producing and creating in your bedroom. With outlets like Soundcloud, artists have the immediate resources to collaborate and share ideas and talents. If a rapper from Little Rock needed a beat, he or she could easily find someone to help in a matter of minutes with a couple of Google searches.
Did you have any collaborators on the project, or is it still just you? Have you discovered any new recording methods lately?
Right now, there are no collaborations. I've considered doing some stuff with other artists, but it's going to take some time for me to be comfortable with that — I want to get more sophisticated equipment before I even consider it seriously.
The main change I've made with recording: different methods for vocals. As many of my vocals utilize falsetto and/or head voice, I've started recording vocals in my bathroom. It's a reverb-y bounceback sound that I've come to really enjoy.
What about psychedelic rock speaks to you?
I love psychedelic rock for the same reason I love studying astronomy. There's a vast vision before me, something sublime, but time reveals what is to come. And everything seems to react very spaciously, building on the self-awareness and self-consciousness of the human. To me, psychedelia is about the voyage, not the destination.
You have a lot of older influences, but a lot of contemporaries as well. Is there a reason that psychedelic rock is in the zeitgeist again?
Is it in the zeitgeist again, Andrew? [Laughs] I'm not sure. Being partial to psychedelic rock, I believe this is where the loners belong — the non-belongers. I think today's psych-rock is putting a modern spin on the great sounds we all know and love. MGMT and Tame Impala are making music that is as accessible as the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd. In art history terms, I think psychedelic rock is a kind of neoclassicism, [as opposed to] the other genres we're seeing emerge.
Your music is definitely a progression on psychedelic ideas. How do you view your work as distinct from what a jam band does?
Mainly, I have to go a bit insane to do my work. It's almost like a schizophrenic process. A jam band is typically a bunch of dudes soloing for 30 minutes. The work I do is based on meditation-like songwriting, where the jam-band environment is still present but I'm drawing on different versions of myself. This is a blessing and a curse simultaneously, which I think is why I do it. With music it's better to play two contrasting roles — the inner and outer spheres.
Is there an overarching concept to "Retrograde Oscillations"? When we talked earlier, you said you often enjoy making music "too obscure to be widely loved," but you also described the new album as sounding like Ariana Grande and John Lennon wrote an album together. Why do you think you found yourself gravitating toward sweeter pop songwriting?
"Retrograde Oscillations" began while I was recording "Tropical Scenario." I didn't intend to write the songs and I didn't even know where they came from initially. One day I was sitting down at my piano in Paris, Texas, and just played the chords and rambled some lyrics that hours later became "Syriacus." Now that I've finished it, I've kind of realized that I wasn't thinking a whole lot while writing it — I tend to overthink everything that I do, but "Retrograde" seemed to be more heart than head.
This is how I used to write songs when I was in high school — I let emotions kind of flow with no filter. The album for me is about looking forward with one foot in the past and one in the present, two worlds that didn't necessarily belong together, but seemed to happen for whatever reason.