Whettman Chelmets is a unique artist who blends ambient drone, post-rock, even jazz elements. His latest release is Long Read Memories which was recorded using guitar, software, semi-modular synth and field recordings. The album is a chronicle of his feelings about the arrest and conviction of his brother. Herein Whettman presents an album that is as stylistically dynamic as the conflicting emotions surrounding the circumstances of his chosen topic. We’d like to thank him for his time in this interview.
Hello and thanks for the interview. You’ve got a release that is both deeply personal but yet touches on universal concepts. Can you talk about the general idea or inspiration behind the album?
It’s a subject I’ve wanted to tackle in some way for a while now, if anything just to reconcile these feelings within myself. Art for me has always been about getting this kind of personal expression out. Not all art has to be so explicitly autobiographic, but I feel like every artist puts there lives and their experiences into anything they create. In that way, all art is “personal”. With this, I felt like there was a story I needed to share.
You have a very intriguing mixture of influences going on. Who do you cite as your main musical influences, if even from different genres?
Oh man. I’m just as inclined to site Eno as much as Def Leppard, to be quite honest. The first record I ever had was Queen’s soundtrack to the movie Flash Gordon. I don’t even remember buying this record — I was so young. I just remember listening to it over and over again. I think this concept of electronics and sounds as a way to push narrative probably came from there.
For this particular release, I’d say it’s equal parts Frippertronics, Ben Frost, Tim Hecker, Tangerine Dream and Ólafur Arnalds’s theme to “Broadchurch”.
How long did the album take for you to complete? Was it something you felt you “had” to?
I conceived of doing this album really in the summer of 2018. That’s when I wrote things specific to the autobiographic themes (“The Devil DoubleCrossed You”). I’ve done a lot of recording over the years, like hours of CDs that only I’ve really listened to. Music for me is very much in spurts. I’ve released a number of things in the last year, but I’ve had stretches of years where I barely work on anything. So this is very much an arrangement of sounds spanning almost 20 years. But the more I arranged it, the more it took on this certain arc for me. So really, arranged between July and November of last year, additional mixing and mastering in March-April, but a lot of the songs are from different phases of recording for me.
Did I have to do it? Yea, I think so. I tend to be a person that bottles things up too much, as I hit middle age, I see better how these tendencies play out in my day to day life, and the need to change things for myself. Confessional stuff. Everybody has to in regards to their own demons.
You have a track called “Miller V. Alabama.” I’m assuming this refers to a court case?
Miller v. Alabama is a US Supreme Court case decided in 2012 that juveniles cannot be sentenced to mandatory life without parole sentences. It’s that “mandatory” part that the courts are still fighting about, but the main thrust is that children are different, and should be entitled to specific sentencing schemes that take those factors into consideration. US courts have begun to lean this way since the early 00s when the courts ruled the death penalty for juveniles unconstitutional. My brother was a juvenile when he was sent to prison, and in that time, he’s taken Buddhist vows and helps to facilitate a class teaching the effects of crime on victims. There wasn’t any hope for a release before this court ruling, so in terms of the album, it comes as the first track of Side B. It’s the “now” as opposed to the tracks that came before, which are more about “then”.
Do you use any kind of field recordings?
There were a number of places recorded significant to my childhood and the events in place. This album needed a sense of place, and I think there’s certain sounds, certain conversations, that kind hang there and give it a sense of place.
There are moments in this album that seem to be dense and free-flowing but then there are some like in “The Devil Double Crossed You” where it feels very impulsive and angry. Do you feel that’s accurate? How much of the album was improvisational and how much was “thought out” beforehand?
All of my music is some combination of improvised and composed. A lot of chord voicings I work out on sheet music first. “The Devil Double-crossed You” is honestly probably the most composed, in that it started with a graph of quiet to intensity that I worked from. I had it worked out how I wanted this track to hit and slam across your head and come back to this really mournful type sound afterwards. Nothing on that track is really improvised. Other tracks are built on one-shot guitar loop improvisations. “Miller v. Alabama” has a lot of improvised guitar built-up. If there’s guitar, there’s a good chance it’s done on the spot there. I can’t do the same solo twice!
You released a video for “The Devil Double Crossed You.” What can you tell us about the video?
An impulsive decision made maybe 2 weeks before I knew I was going live with the track. I follow this artist, Temple Ov Saturn, on social media, and she incorporates a lot of video in her work. She through out a post asking for work, and I just gave her the track and a rough outline from a Geraldo Rivera prime-time special from the 80s I wanted to use. She really captured that kind thing with memory where things cut in and out and don’t quite play in sequence. Couldn’t ask for a better video, honestly.
You have some intriguing samples in different locations like in “Superpredators” and “I Still Miss You When Thanksgiving Comes.” Can you talk about the sources of some of these?
Both of these tracks come from when I first got a loop pedal and an e-bow in 2002. I have hours of just looped guitar playing and discovering the possibilities of building things like a pyramid. These two tracks always struck me as having a type of emotional resonance. The samples from “superpredators” came from scouring YouTube videos from news reports on juvenile crime. There was this kind of matter-of-factness and “Dateline” like quality that I liked against the guitar loops. Often times, these crimes get treated as prime-time television entertainment, and there is always a family behind these people.
“I Still Miss You When Thanksgiving Comes” was recorded with AM talk radio recording at the same time. It was me genuinely sitting in the bedroom of my apartment in 2002 on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving just recording. The recording reference the DC sniper case that involves a juvenile offender as well, and just the weight of having a similar mournful type motif — it just seemed like excellent bookends.
What plans do you have for the coming months?
I’ve recorded lots of music over the years that I mess with. I may seem prolific but I’ve got a baby daughter to take care of and a teenage son to watch over. I really only record maybe once every few weeks and arrange things about once or twice a week. But I’ve already got my next release finished and ready in a few months! Working out other ideas too. No reason to slow down if the quality is there and each release gets someone new to hear.
What’s your advice for people who have suffered through dealing with a family member serving a long term in prison?
My mom was good about us keeping together all these years. Family can transcend so many things, and can be so powerful and life-changing for you. I love my brother. A lot of who I am as a person comes from my brother. A lot of my musical taste. A lot of my desire to help, frankly, comes from him. He’s a good person. There’s always a good person there, regardless of the decisions made by a person. I’m a fan of Christian theology and evil in that regard, in that evil is literally non-existence. Evil has no being of its own and is always buoyed by a being whose ontology is pure Good. Good is always there.
And communicate. Phone calls are recorded. Visiting rooms are guarded. You feel like you can’t say what you want to really say. Fuck all that. Just communicate.