Airiel’s Heavenly Noise

Jeremy Wrenn has been creating compelling music for over 15 years, starting Airiel Project One in 1997 after the demise of his former band Black Olive. Airiel contains elements of many of the bands Wrenn was inspired by in the late 80’s and early 90’s, combining his love for treated guitars and heavenly vocals, melodies that stick in your head like a pleasant dream and a sense of wonder that floats out of the speakers and into your soul. After numerous EP’s and one full length, Airiel return with more determination and focus than ever on Kid Games.

Your music is moody and melodious, full of texture and beauty. On Kid Games, Funerals has a dense fuzziness reminiscent of The Cure’s Disintegration CD. What are some of the bands that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Do you hope to create music that music fans will remember for years?
Disintegration is an outstanding record. It’s safe to say that The Cure is near and dear to everyone that’s ever been in Airiel. I suppose the bands that really blew me away on my first listen were Slowdive (Alison), My Bloody Valentine (Only Shallow) The Cure (Just Like Heaven) and The Kitchens of Distinction (Drive That Fast). I was lucky to grow up when MTV’s 120 Minutes was at its peak. I would sit with a pad of paper and a pen and write down all the bands that blue me away and then go out and buy their CDs that week. I still remember the goosebumps I got when I saw the video for Lush’s Superblast. Oh, man.

There is much going on in your songs. What are some of the effects and treatments used to achieve Airiel’s sound?
Reverb and lots of it. I’ve been a big fan of the Boss RV-3. The plate reverb and the mix level on that thing are terrific. I always have that turned on. I get a lot of use out of the Digitech XP-300. I actually sold that pedal once. The buyer sent it back because they couldn’t get it to work. Call it fate, if you will. I recalibrated it and then realized how much I use it. I like to have multiple takes for each guitar track using a combination of effects levels. During the Winks & Kisses EPs, we always had a guitar in every song that was completely dry. It made a big difference when it was mixed properly.

Are there bands or guitarists that you took notes from to create your set-up?
I’ve never paid much attention to other guitar setups. I used to go through all the setups at guitargeek and find Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver, etc. Somehow, none of that ever impressed me. I had more fun trying to recreate other sounds by using my own combination of pedals and then move on from there to make it my own sounds. I was really bummed out to find out that a lot of Slowdive and MBV came from one Yamaha half space rack unit. The defaults, even.

What are some of your go-to combinations that you heavily rely on when performing live? I’m a layman, but I’m sure there are plenty of people trying to decipher your sound like they would a MBV song.
That Boss RV-3 I mentioned earlier is great but sometimes it’s just too muddy. Lately I’ve put a Boss RV-5 in front of it. The modulated reverb on that is gorgeous but it doesn’t have anywhere near the decay time as the RV-3. So, they go hand in hand. One of my favorite pedals live is the Sound Saw from Death By Audio. That let’s you punch through the mix for solos and loud parts. I have a custom pedal from DBA called the Full Range Fuzz Wall. It’s a modified Interstellar Overdriver on one side, followed by the right side channel from the Sound Saw. The Digitech XP-300 is still great live. I love being able to mix the saturation level. Plus it has a gain knob, to make things bark a little bit.

Who is your female backing singer on the Kid Games EP? Is she the same one that has appeared on past recordings? Her voice adds so much to the Airiel sound, complimenting and as counterpoint to your vocals and especially on You Against The Rest of Us when you layer her different vocal approaches together like a heavenly chorus.
We’ve been lucky to work with a few great singers. Stella Tran sings on the Kid Games EP. She sang with us years ago on Firefly off the Melted EP. Stella was super easy to work with on Kid Games. We didn’t give her much time to put things together. We just set up the mic and left the room. When we came back, she was done. Just like when she recorded Firefly, we didn’t know what she was going to do until it was all done. I actually never met her in person until years after we recorded Firefly together. She came to see us when we played San Francisco back in 2007.

In my early twenties I got into bands like Moose, Lush, MBV, Chapterhouse, Ride, Verve and Swervedriver. What are some bands that you’ve looked to for inspiration and entertainment?
I adore all of those in your list but I can’t say I’ve heard Moose. We were insanely lucky to have opened for Chapterhouse when they got back together a couple years ago. That was a dream come true. Kitchens of Distinction were huge for me. I was convinced they had a keyboard player until I read the “no keyboards were used” line on their artwork. Pale Saints and Cocteau Twins were big inspirations for me as well. The Manchester scene really shaped me as a musician too. The Charlatans UK drum beats off of Some Friendly were what I modeled lots of my drum patterns after. The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays all had such fantastic rhythms. I guess I try to mash those two worlds together. Lots of reverb-soaked guitars with dance beats.

Who are some of the more recent bands you are listening to?
Violens, Burrrn, Serena Maneesh, Lama, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart and also Me, You, Us, Them.

As an independent band member, you surely understand the necessity of keeping your business end straight. What have you learned in your years about the business of music that you might tell your fans?
It’s pretty difficult to make it out there. I’m not doing this to make loads of cash, although that would be a happy accident. The digital aspect of music these days makes it super hard but it’s so tempting all at the same time. I don’t know. Eventually this will all implode and maybe we’ll all go back to releasing on cassette. Right now you get caught up in the idea that you’ll have your music heard all over the world, thanks to the Internet but everybody wants a slice.

While keeping your head above water as a band is even more important today than ever before, with gas prices, lower income, etc., what are some of the reasons you keep Airiel going? What have some fan responses been like that let you know you are making an impact on peoples’ lives?
The 2 things that keep me doing this are that weird desire to see what I can do for another album, what songs are going to solidify while I’m strumming a guitar in a room with lots of pedals. The other thing is when people reach out to you to tell them how much a song means to them, that it really fills in a hole somewhere and makes them happy. So, if the fans keep that up, I’ll keep playing. Gas prices are a drag and the USA is really huge. I wish we could tour more than we do, honestly. Not sure when we’ll get overseas again. The dollar really stinks right now.

Will we see a West Coast tour anytime soon? I know you tour the East and Great Lakes area, but please come to Los Angeles!
Oh we’ll be back out west, don’t you worry. It’s just a matter of planning. Got another EP in the works. Believe me, I want to get back to Los Angeles, pronto.

If you’re a fan of any of the bands mentioned in the interview above, I urge you to seek out Kid Games and all of Airiel’s previous work. Thanks to Jeremy for the thoughtful and informative interview.

(by Bret Miller)

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