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Interview: Ray Creature
Posted November 14, 2017 by Seth Johnson
WRITTEN BY
Seth Johnson
ON
November 14, 2017
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Ray Creature is a creature of the night…eh, maybe. Their music is actually good to listen to at any time. But there is a mystique to Ray Creature – a standout dark electronic band from Bloomington that has been releasing consistent material since 2013. The group originally started out as a duo with Jon Erich Booth on vocals, synth, and other instrumentation and Natascha Buehnerkemper on percussion and backing vocals. Since then, the band has evolved to a four-piece (with that lineup also changing recently).

Musical Family Tree has also been a home for Ray Creature, and they have been an artist we have been happy to get the name out about. By listening to their discography on Bandcamp, you can track the change from engrossing and captivating lo-fi production to cleaner electronica. Though the band has not been heavy promoters or tried to get label attention, word-of-mouth allows for this creature to crawl into the consciousness of loyal listeners.

The humble nature of Ray Creature is evident on their most recent EPs, which deserve all the recognition they can get. In my interview with Jon Erich Booth, he mentions that EPIII and EPIV, released in July and October respectively, were originally created to be a part of a full-length album. It’s not too surprising considering the quality and energy is high on both EPs. That is also something that makes them work well separately. “Blame Free” is a killer opening track on EPIV that grabs you and doesn’t let go, and “Straight Forward” on EPIII is just that – a to-the-point closer.

 

Greg Lindberg: How did the latest EPs come about? Did you intend for the tracks to be part of these EPs, or were they ever intended for a bigger album?

Jon Erich Booth: We intended the songs to be a full-length album (they were all recorded during the same sessions), but we were not particularly ambitious about contacting labels or getting exposure that might lead to someone putting out a full-length. We decided to release half the songs on tape as EPIII to sell on tour. Not seeing any prospect of a full-length release, we posted the rest as EPIV. All told, I think the songs actually work better as EPs than as a full-length.

GL: To me, it feels like Ray Creature sounds clearer with an even heavier dance vibe, especially with the EPIV opener “Blame Free.” How do you think the band’s sound has evolved over the years?

JEB: There was a conscious effort to increase the intensity--to make things both more dance-oriented and heavier. I'd agree that the sound became clearer. I still like the older songs, but they're murky in a variety of ways, though maybe that's part of their appeal--I dunno. The new songs dramatize concepts that were latent in the older stuff and emphasize vocals and lead lines, which were more subdued in the past. Having more musicians playing a wider variety of instruments, and more vocalists singing consistently, helped the sound come alive in these ways. The band became a much better live act, I think. 

GL: Has it been a challenge to recapture the same sound for live shows, or has it been a smooth transition?

JEB: Definitely. We recorded in a way meant to capture our live sound--re-amping synths in the basement, emphasizing room mics in the mix, and using mostly dynamic mics to record vocals. But it's rare for recordings to achieve that goal, especially when, like us, you don't have the facilities to record the entire band at once. I do think the EPs sound pretty "live," but I'm not sure they really capture what we sounded like as a live band at the time. That being said, I am happy with the aesthetic. Nia Petrol elevated the quality by helping engineer the sessions, which happened in a dank basement with limited equipment. I think they have a distinctive sound as a result.   

GL: I like the video of the Halloween show you did a year ago where band members have wigs and masks on. Do you see the band as having a theatrical element to it?

JEB: I don't see us as particularly theatrical, but that's probably not for me to say. Maybe we appear that way. In the case of the Halloween show, we were just dressing for the occasion. There's never been any kind of prescribed attire or stage direction in our shows otherwise. 

GL: Do you feel connected with other bands in the Indiana music scene? Do you feel more like a Bloomington band, or do you feel like you have sort of crossed over to be more than a local band?

JEB: We're a local band for sure. Our exposure outside Bloomington is pretty limited. We've had only two extended tours and a number of regional shows. We're connected to other local bands in the sense that we have friends in and [we] have played shows with many of them, but I can't presume to know exactly how we fit into the local scene or its aesthetic. These two EPs have gotten a sprinkling of attention in Europe through webzines, Facebook groups, community radio, some YouTubers, and some word of mouth, but nothing really significant. Statistically speaking, it's almost no one, but considering we did zero publicity, I don't know how it happened at all.

GL: As primarily a synth-led band, do you think there’s any specific gear you’d ever like to incorporate that could elevate the sound in a direction you’d like it to go?

JEB: I've started a solo project (called Linda) using modular eurorack synths, so those instruments may weave their way into Ray Creature. I expect there will be more analog synths in general, since I've acquired a few--a Korg MS20 and Moog Sub37, which show up a lot on the two EPs. Those recordings use a mixture of analog and software synths, but analog and eurorack are much more enjoyable to use, so they'll probably become the default. 

GL: I feel like Ray Creature would lend itself extremely well to visuals. Have you been approached to have any music videos made or tried to make one yourself?

JEB: We've not been approached. I've thought of making one myself because I love cinema as much as music, but I've never had the equipment or ambition to do it. In an ideal world, all the songs would be accompanied by visuals. The most memorable musical experiences I've had were part of some kind of visual presentation. 

GL: Going back to Indiana…did the majority of the band grow up in Indiana? Being that there’s not a lot of electronic darkwave type of bands roaming the cornfields, how has being in this state affected Ray Creature’s sound?

JEB: No, not all in Indiana, but all in the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio). I think there's more music around here of that kind than you might think. That's certainly been the case in the past couple years in Bloomington. There are some very good primarily electronic acts like FIIT, Plastic Sounds, Dr. Doogenstein's Monster, Vermiculture, Hunterchild (probably more I don't know about) and bands that utilize electronics like Manneqin and Clue (probably more I'm blanking on here as well). There are also a couple of monthly events, ACID//BASE and Open Tweak, that feature electronic/synth and DJ performance. Most of that stuff tilts toward a "dark" aesthetic. In terms of place, being around good musicians, and there are plenty in Bloomington, has had a considerable influence. It sounds trite, but I think you need to watch other musicians live as regularly as possible in order to make the best music within your capacity. 

GL: Are there any personal influence, music or otherwise, that fans might find surprising?

JEB: We're all into country music. In fact, we love it.

GL: What can we expect from Ray Creature in 2018?

JEB: Well, the lineup that created the two EPs has disbanded. The project started as a solo effort and came to sound very different with the addition of other members. I plan to continue it with those who are willing, but the sound and everything else will depend on about ten thousand variables. 

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