Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.
Brooklyn picker D. Charles Speer has spent years traversing various avenues of the transcendent — he’s been a member of art-folk avant-pileup No Neck Blues Band, Southern-fried strummers Suntanama, and spectral twang-rawkers the Helix (whose third record is due in April). But his second solo record, Arghiledes (due March 15 via Thrill Jockey), takes his penchant for sunburned licks, raga-centric drones, and airy pluckery deep into his Greek roots. Raised by a Greek mother (but only developing this new musical obsession within the last decade), Speer combines an almost academic fascination with turn-of-the-century Greek music with a Brooklyn improv-rocker’s “grab a bouzouki and go” spirit. The result is a stark, smoky album where fingers blaze across strings, tired moans shoot from the murk, and the resulting “hashish songs” make low and mournful vibrations. Speer says leadoff track “Markos’s Cave” borrows material from both Ioannis Halkias’ “Minore Tou Teke” (a 1932 cut known as one of the first bouzouki records in history) and “Sto Phaliro Pou Plenese,” a song from Halkias’ contemporary, Markos Vamvakaris. But modern Thrill Jockey jockeys may be more comfortable glomming on to the psych-addled drones, dubbed-out finger percussion, and Fahey-esque flurries. Your choice.
What is “Markos’s Cave” about?
This song is a musical representation of some smugglers hiding in a seaside cave while the authorities cruise by in a motorboat. After they pass by and the waters have calmed, our heroes return to their clandestine sailboat and enjoy a mirthful dance as they float back to the port.
How did you make the drones and noises in the background?
I did a couple of passes with an accordion to give the song a rich harmonic background. The drone track I left alone, but for the more melodic wandering one I put a phaser on to create a greater sense of motion and depth. The recurrent feedback swells are manifested by taking isolated hits of percussion and sending them into a tape delay set to eventually self-oscillate.
What do you remember about this recording session in particular?
This session was one of the first I did after acquiring a new bouzouki, one that was of a higher quality than my previous one. This instrument was also of an older style, the trichordo type that was the original form and tuning, in contrast to the later tetrachordo layout, which is tuned in a guitar-like fashion.
Where did your appreciation of Greek music begin?
My mother’s side of the family is Greek, so I was exposed to the sounds of the secular and sacred music of Greece from birth. I began to seriously investigate the history and important figures of the tradition at a much later date, around 2000 or so. In time, I became obsessed with the earliest styles, namely café-aman and rebetika. These were both highly influenced by Turkish music traditions, as some of the most important artists of the era were refugees displaced by the annexation of the city of Smyrna by the Turks in 1922. I also enjoy laïkó, ’70s Greek progressive rock, traditional and folk musics of the islands and mainland, and many other forms that do not sound like the Eurovision song contest.
Do you find a connection between bouzouki music and bluegrass?
Well bluegrass, with its mandolins, also features lead instruments that have doubled strings, traditionally added to increase volume for an instrument with lesser natural sustain. But with the octave string courses of the bouzouki, you get a different effect of shimmer and stacked harmonics. Bluegrass is resolutely acoustic, whereas Greek string music was not averse to electric extensions. So they have points of commonality and divergence. But I definitely fell for both of those styles around the same time in my life, when the pure immediacy of acoustic music asserted itself, commanding my attention . . . Just pick it up and go, nothing to plug in or turn on.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York (in any band)?
Probably the most memorable gig for me tonight is when No Neck played at the Mercury Lounge opening up for Royal Trux. The Alien was to be found in the basement of the backstage area. Then we got up on stage to witness Chet moaning and shrieking in the audience as a critical stance against our musical musings. I think he lost his pants partially for a sec and then proceeded to lose some cheek after getting into a face-slapping contest with Michiko. We played the backward funks from Neptune, and all was right in the ear.
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York City?
Fette Sau is still pretty damn good for eating and drinking! Although Egg’s fried chicken is the top treat for me. In Manhattan I used to like Meskerem on 47th, but I haven’t been there in many a moon.
There’s a lot of chances to catch this dude:
Sun, Mar 6: Speer Solo @ Barbes w/Zachary Cale
Sun, Mar 13: Speer Solo @ Mercury Lounge with Arbouretum
Sat, Mar 19: Speer Solo @ Ding Dong Lounge with Ed Askew, Gary Higgins
Tue, Mar 22: Speer Solo @ Bruar Falls with William Tyler
Sat, Apr 16: The Helix @ Bell House with Eleventh Dream Day, Come
Thu, Apr 21: The Helix @ Glasslands with Endless Boogie