Anklebiter is the alterego and nickname of Tanner Volz, a portland-based IDM producer. Working with electronic acts such as ML and Thine Eyes. Besides this, he’s also an active photo and videographer for the music labels n5md, Tympanik Audio and Signifier. His soloproject Anklebiter have been released on multiple labels, Tympanic Audio being the latest, where he will release his upcoming album Raintree, coming soon. I got took the opportunity to ask him about his new album, his older albums, the studio process of them, what he thinks about IDM and much more. Tune in for this fine dose of IDM-love!
Could you tell me something more about who you are? What is the purpose behind Anklebiter, why did you choose that name?
– I honestly don’t remember how I landed on the name – I imagine it struck me as cute. Its heavy slang usage (in the US) hadn’t started, it was an old term that I thought was unique enough to be memorable. I started the project just to have an outlet for my solo music work.
You’re also a part of another group, a trio, could you tell me more about that? What have you released with them?
– ML / Thine Eyes started in the early 90s. We released some strange, fairly experimental post industrial work as “Thine Eyes,” but because that project was coined as an ethereal / gothtronic project we decided to retire it and move on to ML, as a venue for IDM work. We have released several albums as ML during the past ten years, with n5md, Toast & Jam, and Piehead. The project is dormant, but our best work remains some of my favorite work that I have been involved with; I hold out hope that we will work together again.
In what way do you think you’ve evolved since your first releases?
– Well, I’m certainly older and lazier. Otherwise, I am very self-aware; I waste no time where I have little skill, and focus instead on techniques that I am confident with, drawing on what is now a good 20 years of experience. I do try to push myself to create more accessible work, this is a challenge for me.
How much do you think your solo-project is influenced by the other projects you’ve had going?
– I adore some of the later output from ML, especially the album “Man is the Warmest Place to Hide” which was an homage to the work of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth; this album, for me, is the most successful I have contributed to, and I try to draw on its energy when I can. Analog, simple, slow, ambient. Recently, I have collaborated with several friends on remixes and new songs, and I find this work very inspiring. I am hoping to produce entire albums from some of these collaborations. I am always learning new things from friends.
Besides the trio you’re also a part of Thine Eyes, how would you describe it?
– Thine Eyes was in fact the first incarnation of ML; it was conceived in the early 90s as a goth / industrial project inspired by Skinny Puppy, Bel Canto, and other similar influences. Although this project was retired in the late 1990s, the melodrama and bombast of 80s and 90s goth / electronic projects does stick with me.
What would you say is the most fun part about IDM? What makes it different from other genres?
– Although I don’t know much contemporary IDM, what I have long enjoyed about the influential artists from Warp, Schematic, etc. were their pure, crystalline sounds and their unapologetic emotional content. I relate very strongly to unashamed melodic work; in the early years of IDM, melody was muscular and well defined. It seems to have become a bit of an embarrassment for electronic producers in recent years who feel compelled to nest all melody behind great walls of reverbs, distortions, etc. I like this big sound, but I will always put melody front and center in my work.
Could you tell me something about the labels you’ve released material on? What differs between them? Do you have full artistic freedom?
– In the past several years, my most important label relationships have been with Tympanik Audio and n5MD. With both, I have absolutely had absolute creative freedom. I have taken great care to nurture relationships with labels who appreciate what I do, even if it is not always the right material for their labels. Running labels is a tricky business; you have to make difficult decisions about your roster, declining friends in some cases when the work does not fit. I understand, respect, and work well within this model; I want to work with labels who enjoy what I do, and do not attempt to manage my work. I am happy to look elsewhere when my closest label friends are not interested; this is simply how this works.
What would you say is your number one musical influence? Where do you normally find your influence for the music you make?
– Perhaps film, and soundtracks that I relate to. I grew up with John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith scores; they were my first teachers, before I discovered the likes of Depeche Mode, Cure, Skinny Puppy.
Do you have anything to say about your aesthetics? In what way does it symbolize your work? How have it changed between the different releases? Who makes the covers?
– This comes up with visual work. I do not particularly care about rational or intellectual response to my work; I want to inspire, with visual or musical work, emotional or irrational reactions. This is a way of saying that I have no idea how to articulate my aesthetics. I appreciate subtlety, emotional resonance, and mystery. The album covers over the years have been done either by myself, Mike Cadoo, Rian Callahan from ML, or most recently for the new Anklebiter album, Bogdan Ceausescu.
Why did you decide to self-release your latest album? What did you think about Sheldahls remixes of your songs?
– The Sheldahl Mixes – ah, well, remix EPs in general, frankly, do not sell well. Laird Sheldahl – my old partner from Thine Eyes and ML and a best friend – gifted me with the mixes, and it was important to me to release them in some form, but I knew that I could not charge for them, certainly not so soon after releasing a for-sale Remix LP (“Queue”).
What could you tell me about the studio process in making the songs? Could you tell me any fun anecdotes about studio happenings that didn’t turn out as they should?
– My studio process is terribly dull: I sit in front of a laptop, work, then mix in a half-baked semi-studio. I don’t keep a full studio; I prefer to assemble instruments when I need them, at the time of production. As for the Sheldahl mixes, these were a bit more interesting – I wrote live versions of several songs in Ableton, Laird joined me for some shows, and prepared his mixed based on the live versions. His remixes are in fact quite faithful to our live performances of the songs last year.
You’ve also been quite ill, could you tell me anything about that? How have music helped you recover?
– I have a long-standing problem with fainting and dizziness related to old neck injuries; I broke my legs in 2008 after fainting, and spent my recovery writing a lot of music. Anklebiter resulted. The music has been absolutely therapeutic in helping me maintain my focus and passion for life. Mind you, it is yet another activity spent in front of a computer – I try to balance with a bit of bicycling here and there.
What have been your most satisfactory moment while being in the studio?
– Well, really, that moment when you achieve anything beyond what you’ve expected gives you that moment – I have had many moments over 20 years rocking my head in the studio, congratulating myself and smiling at unexpected successes. Perhaps recently, this would be working with my friend Ted Laderas, who records as The OO-Ray, after he contributed stunning Cello improvisations to two songs on my new album. I was incredibly satisfied with this work, and completing the mixes of these songs reminded me why I bother doing this work in the first place.
So you’re releasing a new album named Raintree, could you tell me about the studio progress?
– Painful. It took two years to complete these songs – some of them longer than others. I’ve been doing this a long time, inspiration does not come easy to me. I generally sit on songs for several months then return to them – this is quite laborious as I attempt to eliminate any weak spots. I may go through this 3 or 4 times with each song, and it hurts. 11 songs, and it took a lot of effort and patience.
Are you satisfied with the end-result? What influenced you for this latest release, and what about the aesthetics?
– I love much of it, but then I can’t really judge its success overall. I leave this to the audience. As I get older, I feel less and less able to judge how an audience may respond to what I am doing, but I also find that I care less. If I respond to it, then hopefully others will as well. I was heavily influenced by my love for antique film scores. Carpenter, Goldsmith, Bernstein – as well as peers creating more ambient and post-rock inspired work.
When your album is out, where can you buy it? Will it be a limited release? CD, vinyl or tape?
– It will be very widely available – Tympanik has thorough digital distribution and offers a CD for sale as well. I personally oversaw production of the CD and packaging production, and it is beautiful. I do hope that a few folks pick up the CD.
It seems like you’ve got a lot of things going on at the same time, you’re also a photographer and videographer for some of the labels?
– Yes, I have shot artist photos and quite a number of videos now for a few labels, including n5md, Tympanik, Signifier, and CRL Studios.
What basic tips do you have for any aspiring photographer or videographer?
– Well, I am really a glorified amateur, I don’t know that I am qualified to offer tips. Honestly, I have improvised so much of this work. I just love film and visuals, and have worked hard to create some visual pieces that I hope are memorable. If you love and enjoy any craft, work very hard at it and someone will respond to what you are doing.
Could you tell me anything about the projects you’ve worked on so far as a videographer and photographer? Do you have anything else going in the near future?
– Several projects for n5md & Tympanik and others. Standouts for me are the two projects I’ve done for Lights Out Asia, who are brilliant musicians and good friends. The first, “Currents Meet the Tide,” was the first that really succeeded, narratively, and a needed boost of confidence. The latest, “They Disappear into the Palms” is a strange piece that perhaps does not work with as many folks but the story is important to me and I greatly relate to the piece. Among the others, I’m also very proud of the weird “yarn attack” video I did for Access to Arasaka’s “Lysithea.” Concept was inspired by a dream, and I feel that as cheap as that piece was, it works. I do have some potential projects, but frankly I’ve lost a bit of creative steam for video work – I’m just not as well equipped to produce work of high quality as I would like, and this wears on me.
What upcoming albums would you sincerely recommend to the readers?
– Well, that’s easy: anything on Tympanik or n5MD. Dirk Geiger’s Elf Morgen, Lights Out Asia’s Hy-Brasil. The latter is one of the best albums you will hear this year.
You’ve also remixed a bunch of songs as Anklebiter, could you tell me more about the remixes you’ve made?
– My remixes have a creative energy that my own songs lack. I’ve done mixes for Haujobb, a couple for Dirk Geiger, a new one for Erode, a few others I’m sure I’m forgetting. I love remixing. It’s high energy and, frankly, a little easy because my demands on myself are very different. I wish I would learn something from these experiences. My original material would benefit.
What is your thought about the music industry? In what way has it affected you?
– My tiny place in a tiny niche of a tiny genre has insulated me personally. The old, mythical idea of artists who make a fat living from a well equipped label is quite dead. I have only ever cared about attention for my work, and honestly, this is all that small labels can give you. I am as angry as any artist about piracy – but it’s not because it affects me, personally; it’s because it affects my labels and friends who work so hard to distribute and promote music. I have no respect for people who feel that they are entitled to creative product without paying for it. Anything that moves and entertaining us is worth a bit of our money.
Do you have any tips for aspiring bands or artists that want to be signed to the same labels you are on?
– Work very hard to produce that absolute best quality work that you can. Do not assume that you are exceptional. Be humble. Network gently. Use the internet. Do not push. Make friends before you try to make business connections. Take it slow.
What music do you like to listen to besides IDM?
– A lot of soundtrack work. Post-rock. Shoe-gaze. Synth-pop.
So, if you’re in Portland for the first time in your life – what would you recommend doing? Where do you usually hang out? Any good restaurants or bars there?
– Ha, nice. Sure, it’s a fun town, and strangely popular right now. Ignore the hype. Find a neighborhood like Mississippi or Division. Walk into a coffee shop or beer garden or bistro and see what you can find. Portland does fine beer, coffee, art, music, and food. We’re beloved for street food – so find a “pod” of food carts and explore. It’s a great town.
What up and coming bands and artists would you sincerely recommend for the readers?
– My very favorite new find of this year is Asonat on n5md. I love c.db.sn on Tympanik.
Are you playing live in the near future?
– Yes! Although, locally only, I think. A release party in Portland for Raintree.
Where would you say that you’ve landed in five years from now? In what way will you progress, do you think?
– Honestly, I just hope that I’m well enough to still be making music!
Thank you for this interview! Do you have any last words of wisdom?
– I am not a wise man! Thank you for your thoughtful questions and interest.
Check out Anklebiters older album Man is the Warmest Place to Hide:
You can also find him over here:
Tympanik Audio: http://tympanikaudio.com/artists/anklebiter/