Candy Claws is a band based out of Fort Collins, Colorado which focuses on the ether caught between digital and beta. They hold marathon filming and editing sessions to create a series called “Candy Claws in Dreamland,” which relies on narrative splicing of eco-focused text excerpts along with altered and enhanced footage of the natural world.
The 22 Magazine: Can you tell me a little about how the band started and how the “Candy Claws in Dreamland” project formed?
Candy Claws (Kay Bertholf): Ryan and I were really good friends, with the same type of creativity, and some early recording experiments turned into a project called Candy Claws.
Candy Claws (Ryan Hover): “Candyclaws in Dreamland” is similar to what we used to do when we first started a few years ago. We would write some melodies or chords and put them to video clips of the natural places around Fort Collins. [We were] just trying to get that documentary feel, sort of like what Boards of Canada have going on.
The 22: Your music seems highly devoted to the aesthetic of mid-century nature books? What appeals to you about these books? Can you tell me a little about what particularly struck you with [Robert] Ketchum’s and [Rachel] Carson’s books?
CC (K): Ketchum’s and Carson’s books are more poetic than any other nature books we’ve come across. The charm of the mid-century books is the hand-drawn illustrations – each page is a work of art.
CC (R): We’re fascinated by the processes of nature, the fact that all of this complexity is happening, and by the fact that we can understand some of it through science. The more we learn about the world, the more strange and beautiful it becomes. The fifties were a great time, when scientific knowledge was presented to the everyday person in beautifully illustrated books. Even the typesetting has its own charm. I came across Carson’s book at my grandparents’ house. They have shelves full of that stuff – Sagan, Attenborough, all of it. Kay found the Ketchum book at an old bookstore here in town.
The 22: Does your proximity to the Rocky Mountains influence your connection to the natural world? Do you think your aesthetic is translatable to other environments, for example the city?
CC (K): Most definitely. I think living near the mountains and the forest, away from cities, helps enhance a love for nature. Here in Fort Collins it is really easy to get away and go camping or hiking on the weekends and forget about your troubles (except if you are being chased by a bear.)
CC (R): We feel really lucky to have grown up in such a pretty place. Part of the idea behind the “Dreamland” project is to share some of that with others. I think the feeling we’re going for is nature filtered through that mid-century lens. Another environment in our future is outer space, but I’m not really sure how it would work with cities.
The 22:Tell me a little about the band members that join you for shows, are they from Colorado as well?
CC (K): I’ll talk about the girls in the band. Meghan, our keyboard player, is a music therapy major at Colorado State University. She’s also one of my roommates and we’ve known each other since high school. Mckenzie, the percussionist, is my other roommate. She is also a student at CSU and wants to work with children’s development. Mckenzie is also into sewing cool purses, bags, and other neat things. Karen, our drummer, is one of our good friends who happens to also go to CSU studying Gerontology. She loves the elderly and she also loves to pretend. All three of them are from Colorado and all six of us (including the boys) are really good friends.
CC (R): Riley, our bass player, grew up across the street from me. He has turned into a big friendly beard.
The 22: What instruments or objects do you use to make your sounds?
C (K): Live, we use a pretty normal setup when it comes to instruments. We have drums, bass, guitar, two keyboards, and some percussion. We use effects pedals on the keyboards and guitar and we have our own mixing board. Nothing too crazy. Ryan will tell you about some recorded sounds we’ve used.
CC (R): Thanks Kay. For recording, we usually sample normal instruments, like guitars, drums, and keyboards, and manipulate them on the computer. The point is to make them sound nothing like they originally did. We use a lot of pitch-shifting and time-stretching to get sparkly, swirling sounds.
C (K): What was so appealing about using instruments we weren’t trained on was the exploration of a new sound. For me it’s hard to write a new, creative melody on an instrument that I have been playing for years. My fingers just play the same or similar things over and over. It’s like my hands have memory. But its pretty easy to come up with a new strange sound when our hands feel new and strange on the keys of a piano.
CC (R): Exactly. Someone once said that creativity is problem-solving. We had to feel out the melodies and chords note by note, and that made us really focus on each detail. I think the bigger challenge was keeping in mind what it would sound like all together as a whole.
The 22: On Hidden Lands you put a sample of every other song into the next? Why did you choose this process?
CC (K): In school, I’ve learned in art that when making any kind of project it is good to have things connect and work together. That’s what Ryan and I have been trying to do with our band through every aspect. Sampling every song into every other song was our attempt to make a very cohesive album.
CC (R): She’s right, you know. I saw Daft Punk do it live. Their set was just a giant mash-up of their whole catalog, and I thought it might work for our album. Each song on Hidden Lands actually has a sample of every other song on the album. Sometimes it will be an entire melody, sometimes just a tom hit. In a way, you can just listen to one song and hear the whole album.
The 22: Why did you chose to translate lyrics between English and Japanese?
CC (K): We stumbled upon this site that translated words from English to Japanese over and over automatically until the sentences didn’t make sense anymore. Japanese was our only option so that’s what we used. I think if we had other options we would choose a language like Icelandic or Russian.
CC (R): The cool thing is, it shows the translation after every cycle, so you can watch it getting stranger and stranger, and pick out cool phrases along the way. It’s called Translation Party. Try it out!
The 22: Many of your narrator’s phrases border on haiku. What about playing with text, words and forms of communication is intriguing to you?
CC (R): In our music we tend to obscure the lyrics… It’s more about the sound of the human voice than the meaning of the words, but we do like to have interesting lyrics for people who take the time to figure them out. In “Dreamland”, we’re going for more of a documentary feel, so the words are right up front. Humans are such verbal creatures, any time you add words to a piece of art, they completely define what you’re seeing or hearing. So we try to keep Celeste’s [the narrator] phrases simple and direct.
The 22: Much of your sound relies on what you called “Dream Pop” and sort of devolving both sound and footage into a more deprecated form. Speaking from the perspective of an archival footage lover, I understand the appeal but from your perspective what about this process makes it “dream like” and the most compelling form? Do you find backwards evolution as compelling as forwards?
CC (R): To me, it gets more dreamlike when you can’t really tell what you’re hearing or seeing. You can recognize some sounds or shapes, but we like to mangle our footage and recordings to the point where it looks and sounds like something you’d find at a garage sale with no label, no reference point.
The 22: You use a narrator in your nature films which is also an interesting throwback to earlier nature shows. What are your thoughts on the presentation of the natural world as an outside observer, versus the presentation of the animals via human characteristic and traits? What are your views on the two presentations, is one more realistic than the other?
CC (R): I think it’s misleading to anthropomorphize animals because they sure don’t see themselves that way, and it gives the sense that the human passions, relationships, and basic need for meaning are inherent in nature, which they aren’t. I prefer programs that present you with big ideas and let the wonder of the universe speak for itself, like Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”.
The 22: On that note your main aesthetic seems to be surreality and the idea of transporting listeners or viewers to a more subconscious and perhaps open state. Do you think the music plays an important role as a transcendent or meditative element? Do you think enhancing the color and sound is necessary to really make people stop and take a second look? If so why?
CC (R): Where we start at is that idea that the human mind is a phenomenon that arises from the sheer complexity of the brain, which is part of a body that is just the crest of a wave of particles born inside supernovae. The whole world is a dreamland, a bizarre place that we can only really deal with by making symbols for everything and ignoring most of the stimuli all around us. Our episodes are a way to look closely at things we’d normally ignore, and although the footage is more of the external-observer type you described, the music is there to show you how we feel about what we’re seeing.
The 22: You do a weekly broadcast of “Candy Claws in Dreamland” but beyond that are there any new albums, projects or tours coming up?
CC (R): We’re about to start recording our next album, which will be about the Mesozoic Era, when dinosaurs ruled the earth.
The camera follows the rise of the heat.
Narrated by Celeste Holcomb
Download the soundtrack here: http://candyclaws.bandcamp.com/track/episode-20-catherine-in-the-sky