Kurt Feldman is one of the busiest musicians in New York. Although his chiptune-flecked dreampop project the Depreciation Guild broke up in 2010, he currently drums for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and produces bands in his apartment-based studio.
Feldman is also a rabid fan of obscure new-wave (favorites include Danish electropop act Gangway and noted cult figure Bill Nelson), Japanese synthpop and shoegaze bands — all of which inspire and inform his new project, Ice Choir. The group’s debut, Afar, could have fit on ’80s commercial radio next to Johnny Hates Jazz, ABC and the Blow Monkeys. Mixed by Jorge Elbrecht of Violens — another band that’s no stranger to plush synthpop — the album boasts breathy, pristine keyboards and ice-glazed hooks. Feldman’s smooth falsetto vocals (which most often bring to mind Tears For Fears’ Curt Smith) are heavenly, especially on the standout “A Vision Of Hell, 1996″ — a song which feels appropriate for an ’80s rom-com’s pivotal moment.
On a recent night, the multi-talented Feldman took a break from some studio work to chat about Ice Choir and his influences.
On how Ice Choir started:
The first song was toward the end of 2010. It was called “The Ice Choir.” I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it. I had another band before Ice Choir called the Depreciation Guild. It was much more guitar-pop, and I was writing all the music for that. There were certain limitations and aspects of that music that I didn’t really want to incorporate into my writing anymore, so I decided to do something new. That’s when I started Ice Choir — literally, the name.
On the unique way he constructed Afar:
I did want to do something that was primarily synthesizer-based. The funny thing is, I don’t really play synths, so 90 percent of this album isMIDIprogramming, which I did. It was a really interesting experience making this record, because before doing this one, I had only ever written stuff for guitar — I had some experience with this very obscure form of electronic music production which is known as trackers. It’s closer to programming than it is actually interacting with a keyboard instrument.
It’s pretty far removed from actually composing, which I guess helped me get over the learning curve of MIDI. It was kind of easy for me to do it, but it was definitely a weird approach. I think most people don’t understand that I didn’t write these songs on a piano. They’re always like, “What do you mean, you ‘typed in the notes in’?” I’m like, “That’s kind of what I did — I heard an idea in my head and put the chords on the screen.”
On working with Violens member Jorge Elbrecht:
It’s interesting for me to talk about working with Jorge now, because we’re such good friends. We’re close to each other now; we hang out all the time. I would have considered [working with him] a dream come true a couple years ago. It’s not less of a dream come true [now], but he’s also my good friend. He’s got a great ear for situating all the parts into the right places and cutting away all the holes that needs to happen for everything to fit in the right place. He was definitely a good guy to collaborate with on this record. I’ve been filling in on bass in Violens recently; I just went on tour with them. I’m even less removed from them now.
On how he got into obscure synthpop:
The gateway band for me going down that route is this band Gangway. They’re a Danish band, and they produced records from ’82-’97; they put out seven or eight records. They’re one of my all-time favorite bands. They’re a huge influence on me for this project. They were a gateway band for me for other sophisticated pop stuff, like Scritti Politti and Prefab Sprout.
Gangway made this really well-orchestrated and almost classically-influenced, lush pop music. It was also really dreamy. I’m always into things like shoegaze, but they had elements of dreampop, and it was also really quirky and funny, and the lyrics were really brilliant. They were everything I really wanted to hear out of that type of music.
On what his heroes taught him:
I’m mainly a guitar player, that’s my main instrument. When I spoke to Henrik Balling of Gangway, it was really inspiring when he told me, “Oh yeah, I wrote all that stuff on the piano and on a computer. I’m a guitar player.” [It made me] wonder if I could try to do something similar.
On how his dad inadvertently inspired his career direction:
I actually got into Bill Nelson through my dad, who had a bunch of his older records. When I was first getting into pop and new wave stuff, maybe seven to 10 years ago, he gave me some music — and it was like, Ultravox and Bill Nelson. [The latter's] stuff really stuck with me, and I’ve been collecting all his stuff since then. [Nelson is] another big source of inspiration for me. Similar to Henrik, he’s a guitar player. And he’s a brilliant guitar player — he played in Be-Bop Deluxe and is a total shredder. He started this other band [Bill Nelson's Red Noise] which went in a totally different direction, for sort of the same reasons I did.
On what’s fed his fascination for Japanese synthpop:
I’ve been to Japan a bunch of times. I always go over there looking for music, and I buy tons of records while I’m there. I’m at the point where our liaisons can recommend stuff, because they have history with Japanese AOR; they’re older guys that remember that stuff. They know the offshoots, like YMO [Yellow Magic Orchestra] projects and all the things Ryuichi Sakamoto produced. That’s the stuff I’m really, really passionate about now.
And also Patrick [South] — he plays on this record — he’s my roommate and we’ve been really good friends for a while. And he’s an absolute enthusiast about this stuff. He has an insanely completist, historical knowledge of all the techno-pop stuff fromJapanfrom the ’80s. He has an insane collection. He’s recommended some stuff to me, which I’ve ingested over time and it’s definitely seeped its way into our music, too. I have a pretty good collection of Japanese synthpop stuff now.
On how producing other people has affected his own work:
Doing the production work hasn’t influenced me so much as it’s been a way of leaving my footprint on other people’s stuff, which is kind of cool. That’s always what I’ve admired about some of this ’80s synthpop stuff. One of the biggest aspects of it I’ve been drawn to are the sounds and the methods of production. A lot of that stuffâ€¦if you research it, you can do it yourself in a small studio. I just work out of my apartment; I’ve got a computer here. It’s nowhere near some of the studios that this music would have been recorded on in the mid-’80s. It approximates that sound in a more modernized way. That’s the sound I’m going for.
The people that have been interested in working with me have all heard Ice Choir and been like, “Whoa — would you be interested in producing my stuff?” It’s been a challenge to see if I can somehow leave my sphere of influence on their record.