On Sunday, October 14, Paul Scheel (the father of Alex Scheel, Pop Pistol singer and guitarist) passed away at age 56. "My biggest hero," is how Alex described him in a moving tribute on Facebook. "The music I create is dedicated to him."
I never met Paul Scheel, and I don't know what happens after death. But judging by his fruits (his son) and Alex's words and photo posted on Facebook, he must've been the coolest dad ever. I do know one thing: if my daughter ever records an album half as good as Animal Prisms, I'd be a damn proud father.
Simply put, Animal Prisms is the best Pop Pistol album to date (there will be a listening party at 7pm Wednesday, October 24, at Hogwild Records, 1824 N. Main). It has the band's usual atmospheric electro indie pop textures, Alex's trippy vocals, and rock-solid rhythms by bassist George Garza and drummer Jorge González, all taken to a much more sophisticated level. It is also the first 100 percent Pop Pistol recording.
"I didn't have to negotiate with anybody about why I think what I was doing was right," Scheel said. "I just did. Far too often people try to give you their opinions about what your art should be and it stifles everything you think is beautiful about the world and about why you do what you do."
So this time they turned their usual rehearsal space (a laundry room) into a studio made up of equipment Alex had collected and invested in through the years. The idea for the album, in Scheel's mind, was clear: 13 songs of a concept inspired by some animal characters he had hand-drawn representing "different states of the human psyche, mirroring our animalistic nature," according to Garza.
But, at one point, things weren't running as smoothly as they expected.
"Halfway through, everything sounded wrong and everything was shaky and the timing was chaos," said Scheel. "I couldn't figure out how to do many technical things and I couldn't make the songs shift how I needed them to." To add to the problem, so confident was Scheel about the album he felt he couldn't back down.
"I had already told everyone I was going to make a 13-song record that connected science, spirits, love, and magic," Scheel said. "I couldn't lie to people, so it had to become real."
Real it became. The album's pleasant, yet edgy flow is only broken at the half-point mark by an abstract Native-American electrobeat adorned with a magic Scheel vocal jam that allows the listener to breath before resuming the journey.
"I was trying to make a Sonic Youth song with stretchy white noise and heartbeats, but it had no frame, it lasted for 15 minutes, and had only a few sounds in common with the song that exists now," Scheel said. Eventually, the final take was created in one night with one vocal take, and I can only compare the song's power and magic to the first section in Pat Metheny's "As falls Wichita, so falls Wichita Falls." Will they be able to reproduce that magic on a live setting? Up until now, the band has been using a sample pad and a laptop to add extra layers of sounds during concerts.
"Its not a math equation," said Scheel. "Many purists detest the idea of samples or pre-recorded parts on stage, but I think we do it because we don't want to press keys on stage. We like strings. They resonate. The samples are the environment where the strings and voice and drums swim in. The soul lives inside the things with chaos vibrations, while the concepts live inside the constant digital samples."
With or without samples (and there will be samples), Animal Prisms (available on CD and vinyl) is the ultimate Pop Pistol album, the type of work made-to-order for an intense concert.
"I worked and thought and worked and felt and worked and dreamed and worked and freaked and worked and played and worked on this record every day," said Scheel. "So if it's not our best music yet, then I should do something else."
Stick to it, guys. Y'all doing just fine.
$10 (includes copy of Animal Prisms)
8pm Fri, Oct 26
3030 Thousand Oaks
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