Q&A with Brooklyn’s electro-acoustic duo Live Footage
by Andrew Shilling
Dec 30, 2014 | 11452 views | 0 0 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Classically trained musicians Mike Thies and Topu Lyo have been developing their sound since they first moved to the city nearly 10 years ago.

Together the experimental and electronic-inspired duo has spent years practicing the art of improvisation and live looping.

Whether it be through the foot pedal of Lyo’s electric cello or Thies' unique style on the drums and keyboards, Brooklyn-based Live Footage has taken to the stage every Sunday at Apotheke in Chinatown to showcase their work.

Since they started, the band has played on the same bill as Emily Wells, Pharaohe Monch, Robert Glasper and Dan the Animator.

I spoke with the both of them to discuss their music and their plans for 2015.

How did you two get started?

Lyo: We got started back in 2006-07. We were scoring a 45-minute modern dance piece called “Freedom Happening” together. It was a multi-disciplinary with visuals, art poetry and dance.

At that time we were both in different groups and I remember we went to a rehearsal for it and the rehearsal went good. We came over to my house and we were listening to music and I was shocked at how much music we had in common. There were these pretty avant-garde artists that I thought I only knew of because of the record store I worked at.

So after the performance, you decided to start your own band?

Thies: After that we sort of informally just played music here and there. Then we quickly found that we had something going, so we decided to make it a band and really push with it.

After the initial dance performance a year and a half went by. Then we recorded our first record, which included a song called “Freedom Happening” that was also included in that dance performance.

Lyo: To add onto that, when we first started out, we were just jamming. We used to jam with a sax player and a trumpet player, and it was pretty avant-garde. Then it just slowly started cultivating.

Thies: The first record was about seven years ago now, and then a year after we came out with our second record called “Willoughby.” Following that, we did a cover album of all J. Dilla songs. He is a hip-hop producer that largely didn’t get much credit when he was alive. He died of a blood disease and now everyone is starting to freak out over him.

It was a cover album, but our covers tend to sound a little different since we have an electric cello and drums and keyboards. A lot of those songs sound a little different. The latest record we put out just about a year ago.

We performed outside of this speakeasy in Chinatown and we’ve had that for about five years. There we developed a good vocabulary and repertoire, and we wanted to document where we were at the time. Then we went into the studio and started recording records.

How difficult is it to cultivate your craft in an saturated place like NYC?

Lyo: I think that it’s extremely hard to do and it was a rare opportunity that we were given in the beginning. At that spot, we were able to do whatever we wanted and we still are. They never told us what to play, they never told us to turn down the volume and they never told us we had to cater to the crowd. I would say it has been an artistically free environment for us and we take advantage of that a lot too.

Sometimes we go on these long ambient sets and just cater to the energy of the room. If it’s high-energy we will play some more beat-oriented stuff and if it’s late into the night it becomes more artistic stuff.

Thies: Since we play three sets every Sunday, we don’t necessarily play our songs every week. We naturally will get a little burned out on this song or that song. Both of us came from an improvising background and we developed a great repertoire of improvisation. When we recorded we improvised in the studio like we do at the bar we play at.

What was your musical background that brought you to New York?

Thies: I’m from Boulder, and I played a lot of jazz growing up, that’s basically my foundation. When I moved to New York about ten years ago, I wanted to finish up college. I went to The New School, but mainly I moved to just be in New York. Whether you’re classical, rock or jazz, New York is the place to be.

Lyo: Yeah, I’m from Albuquerque from a highly classical background. I was always in orchestras and studied classical cello performance in college. I was also interested in a lot of jazz, improvised music and rock music so I was in rock bands and stuff then, too. I had these pedals from playing in those bands and at some point I decided to incorporate those pedals in with my cello.

I think every biography that I ever read on jazz and classical musicians, everyone spent some time in New York. So, I always envisioned living in New York at some point.

How has Brooklyn changed since you started playing here nearly 10 years ago?

Thies: There has been a lot of changes in the music scene here. The area itself has been really great. I’ve basically been based around here, and there are just a lot of resources, record shops and art is prevalent. I think it still is and it’s just starting to change with all of these new condos and stuff. Now with places like Glasslands and Death by Audio are all shutting down, but it’s just been inspiring to see the whole rock scene around Williamsburg.

How do you write your music?

Lyo: I would say our process for writing is always changing. At first maybe one of us would come in with a tune and then we would both work on it. From there it would naturally progress with improvisation. We went through a phase where we were recording every one of our sets, so we just had three hours of music every week that we would listen to and be like, “Oh that was an awesome idea, let’s retrace that.” That’s how we did the last album, but the new record we’re working on is kind of an extension of that. It’s very ambient and I would say it’s a progression of that idea.

Thies: You have these written out songs and sometimes we’ll come in with a fully formed song. Anything is fair game for us.

What are some misconceptions you had about playing in New York?

Lyo: For me, before I came here, everything I read I just imagined that since there were so many people here you wouldn’t have to fight so hard to get a crowd at your shows. I just remember coming here and really having to promote hard to get people to come out. I thought there would be so many people they would be naturally inclined to come.

There is so much competition with so many good bands that so many people leave before the next band comes, so it’s a strange culture here. It’s not really a night of music, people just come to see that specific band and then leave.

Thies: If you think of a music festival – SXSW for example – when I was down there it was crazy. Every place that normally has music had music, and every place that doesn’t normally have music had music. Then I look at CMJ here and it just kind of feels like a normal night here in New York. All those clubs normally have music here at night. There will be crazy good bands playing down the street all the time.

When I first moved here, especially with my jazz mindset, one misconception was that you have to go to jam sessions, hand out your card and struggle. That is true to some extent, but I found it’s pretty warm here too, especially when you start branching out from jazz.

Check out Live Footage this New Year’s Eve at Humboldt and Jackson, located at 434 Humboldt Street, starting at 8 p.m. And look for their new album in 2015.
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