Circular Sounds is the fourth LP from San Francisco’s home recording auteur Kelley Stoltz. Its 14 songs are a stereophonic advance on the lo-fidelity psych-fuzz of Antique Glow (Beautiful Happiness, 2004) and the mid-fi piano-rock of Below the Branches (Sub Pop, 2006): two modest masterpieces which, by a curious coincidence, both made #24 in MOJO magazine’s “Best Albums” list for their respective years.
Kelley has also been praised by such esteemed publications as Uncut, Rolling Stone, Q, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Time Out London, The Independent, and Ptolemaic Terrascope. In Australia he is a bona fide cult sensation, having scored a radio hit with “Underwater’s Where the Action Is” (off Antique Glow), while “Birdies Singing” (off Below the Branches) established him in Sweden after it was used to soundtrack a TV commercial for Volvo.
Glide Magazine recently had the chance to shoot a few questions to the vinyl enthusiasts’ way following the release of Circular Sounds.
Below the Branches was a piano based record, while Circular Sounds involves more guitar jams, was there anything in particular or a creative theme that allowed you to grow into more straightforward guitar jams?
-I bought a new acoustic guitar, an old 1940’s small body Gibson and that sort of reinvigorated me to write on guitar… having something new to play with. Also I didn’t want to be known as solely a piano man, as I really always played the guitar more – that’s (BTB) just the first record and first impression that got out there to people.
What songs on Circular Sounds are most definitive of where you as “now” as an artist and why?
-In a way there are none that are definitive of where I am “now”…that was recorded since 2006 and finished early in 2007 so , that’s like ancient history now. Im playing space rock fusion boogie these days. But that’s the way it goes, your always presenting something old to people who are hearing it for the first time, so ya gotta try and make it fun, it seems best way to do that is play some shows and let the songs change up a bit in the live setting, take some chances with the arrangements.
You record at home and regarded as a home recording auteur. Obviously it provides a bit more financial freedom, but what kind of creative freedom does it allow and do you feel your sound is limited by your recording practices?
-You don’t have to wait on band peoples schedules or pray that the 6 days you’ve booked at a studio are the time that will be most in tune with your life to conjure magic and make up good songs. I write as I go, I don’t write songs and sit on em for months improving them (or messing them up). Plus I get to play all the instruments which is fun, but I am limited by my ability – I can only do drums in 4/4 time so its always got a pop element.
Your influences run deep and diverse from David Bowie and the Beatles to Echo & The Bunnymen and Joy Division. How did you develop your own sound/voice and how would you most personally describe it?
Some folks say they’re still waiting for me to find my own voice…I finally drop the English accent and reviewers say i sound like ray davies… ! im still working on it – im sure recording at home and playing all the parts has something to do with developing those things.
What contemporary artists are you most inspired by today?
Local SF ones as they are the ones I see the most…thee oh sees, citay, bart davenport, vetiver, the moore brothers, borts minorts & some great Australian bands – eddy current suppression ring, the uv race.
Otherwise white stripes, dr. dog, fiery furnaces, Jennifer gentle.
You are no longer considered a marginal lo-fi artist but rather a hi-fi artist with Circular Sounds. As a musician what does the difference in those distinctions mean to you and what do you truly consider yourself?
-I called myself mid-hi…it just means I had a little cash and bought a mic preamp and a nice old Neumann mic. Ive learned to record myself with 10 years with headphones on… just gotten better at it.
What is the greatest misconception that listeners and critics alike have about your music?
Sometimes critics want more of “me” on the album they say they don’t know who I am, that I am just a compendium of influences. Im working hard on original statements on one hand and the other I could care less. I write and play what i like..
Explain your popularity in countries like Australia and Sweeden and what’s the most crazy act of fandom you’ve witnessed over there?
Australia is big cause they just caught on to my antique glow record and were the first people to care, I think its cause my album was in the hands of the hip folks on Melbourne’s music scene – they passed it along, the songs were good and there ya go.. Sweden – am I popular there? I had a song in a commercial but not many people came to my shows there…mostly just the bar employees.
As a noted vinyl fan/record collector, what are your five most prized vinyl albums and are there any albums that you are still looking for?
The Monks – Black Monk Time
Love – Forever Changes MONO
Kinks – Lola Powerman UK PYE
Big Boy Pete Miller – Baby Ive Got News For You 7”
Morning Echoes of Detroit – Gospel LP
What do you most want people to say or feel after listening to Circular Sounds?
Hey that was fun!