2010 marked major steps forward for Brendan Angelides, a.k.a. Eskmo. Last July, news emerged that the cerebral electronic musician signed to Ninja Tune, and in the fall, the influential indie label released a self-titled Eskmo record. Established around 2000, Eskmo is Angelides’ forum to explore places constructed out of crackling dubstep beats, trippy effects, and field recordings of incidental sounds like branches breaking and metallic cookware being beaten, often adding his vocals to the mix. The A.V. Club spoke to the SF-based Angelides (who is knee-deep into designing a new album as Welder, his ambient music-oriented persona) about elaborating on his ideas, what that name means, and what he finds important about hauling around a recorder in advance of his Feb. 26 show at the Fillmore with The New Deal and Ghostland Observatory.
The A.V. Club: You’ve repeatedly mentioned before that you want Eskmo to espouse a certain vibe and themes. What ideas specifically come to mind?
Brendan Angelides: A lot of it was really based around the idea of personal transformation—different aspects of the kind of human condition, whether it’s about family, relationships, or any idea of sound as a representation of metaphor. [It’s about] the idea of alchemy as a metaphor for personal change.
AVC: Do any Eskmo tracks specifically explore that concept of alchemy?
BA: I’d definitely say “Cloudlight” [and] “Gold And Stone.” “My Gears Are Starting To Tremble” is probably the most [realized] narrative on the album—a shorter track talking about the idea of the creator creating something and bringing it to life. In creating that thing, it comes to life, and by it coming to life, the creator comes to life. “You Go, I See That” or “Communication” [have] to do with social or personal relationships in the sense of the idea of loss or coming back together. The idea of alchemy—the real potency—is in the simple things we experience daily.
AVC: How important is it to be familiar with those concepts to absorb the record properly?
BA: I always appreciate if you try to make up your own stories with whatever the artist is saying. Any band I used to love when I was younger, I could create this vision in [my] head. Any tidbits you can get from the artist help solidify that vision. I don’t really listen to them anymore, but Tool really nailed that idea of creating themes and deep symbolism in their music, lyrics, and artwork. A huge percentage of Tool fans had no idea they were trying to go for that and, to be honest, didn’t really care, but ultimately, [Tool was] doing it just for the sake of doing it. It doesn’t matter if everybody gets it, as long as [the artist is] able to have a vision and have some people grasp onto it.
AVC: How fleshed out is the Eskmo character? Does he exist in a different space in your head than Welder?
BA: Yeah, absolutely. Each persona plays its own thing. This Eskmo character dives a bit into some dark areas. It’s not overly easy listening music. I made Eskmo the name and concept because I was inspired by actual Inuit Eskimo shamans—just the idea of them using sound to battle spirits, going into the ice, and coming back up and using those tools to help their neighborhood and tribe. I’ve always gravitated toward that idea that there’s a lot of healing power in sound and music.
AVC: You carry around a recorder so you can capture sounds to add to your work later. What does the ideal field recording accomplish for you?
BA: [It’s] anything that creates an environment. Old John Cage from the prepared piano stuff was actually my first introduction to that idea of abstract-type sounds. I remember my teacher putting that on and I stopped in my tracks. In “Chocolate Jesus” by Tom Waits, you can hear a rooster in the background and that really puts you in a place. Any field recording that brings you to a vivid environment is the most effective.
AVC: Have you plotted out anything long-term as to what you want to explore with the Eskmo persona?
BA: Who knows what’s going to happen down the road, but this next chunk of live performances [will] encapsulate a whole bunch of themes. A lot of what I’m doing is trying to translate messages and concepts about social dynamics or the interplay between people and society. I do that in my performances in subtle ways, adding vocal samples of authors or lecturers, integrating that with churning, bass-y stuff. I just really want to dive into solidifying my vision.