Reveling in the Ambiguity

The one-man electronic act Baths would like you to assign your own interpretations to his music

Yes, in fact, when electronic musician and composer Will Wiesenfeld has the time, he prefers to take a bath rather than a shower.

Showers are expedient and utilitarian. Baths offer the chance to relax more deeply, to immerse oneself in the ritual of cleansing. That also sounds a bit like Wiesenfeld's music project, Baths, of which he is the sole member.

"I guess I take (baths and showers) in equal measures in my life. But if I have the opportunity for a night of relaxation and winding down, I definitely prefer a bath. I have to get prepared for it and have a time and a place determined in advance," he said during a recent interview.

Wiesenfeld, 24, spoke on his cell phone last week from Philadelphia, as he simultaneously played instruments during a sound check. And he's on his way to Tucson; Baths will play a gig on Tuesday, June 25, at Club Congress.

Baths has released two proper albums—Cerulean in 2010 and this year's Obsidian—with the tour-only, odds-and-ends collection Pop Music/False B-Sides coming in between. Wiesenfeld composes and plays all the music himself, with the exception of some strings on the new album. He also performs all the vocals on his recordings, even those high, fluttering falsetto parts.

Wiesenfeld has studied piano religiously since he was four years old, and he has taught himself every other instrument—guitar, bass, viola, etc.—he has come across since then, including electronics.

The music of Baths explores contradictions and hidden meanings. The sound can be pretty, but sometimes jarring. It's based on analog instrumentation but often dripping with electronic effects that wheeze and groan. It can be melodic and downright gorgeous, but its soft underbelly exposes dark undertones. Some listeners might compare the music of Baths to the chillwave of Toro y Moi or Washed Out.

Wiesenfeld revels in the ambiguities. He said the band name Baths is meant to draw on any connotations inspired in the listener, and he chose titles for his albums that are alternate names for colors, but which hint at multi-faceted hues rather than simple solid colors.

"I hope that anyone who listens to my music can appreciate it as something pretty or that sounds nice, or any of the surface values that come to mind. But, also, I hope that if they listen to it more closely or deeply there will be real substance. I designed it so there is definitely more there beneath the surface if people are looking for that."

Wiesenfeld started making Obsidian after returning from a concert tour in 2011 and while bedridden for months with an E. coli bacterial infection. He said he indulged his darker feelings while making the album, but that it doesn't really reflect his general outlook on life.

Some of the songs explore a noir-ish landscape of brutal sexuality, black humor, the Dark Ages and the bubonic plague, Dante's Inferno, the Bible and illuminated manuscripts and paintings.

"I'm definitely not the person I might seem to be if you judged me solely on the lyrical content of the album," he said. "But it was definitely stuff I wanted to tap into. And it became really fun to explore that world, sort of in the same way you allow yourself to be enthralled by the world of horror movies. It was thrilling."

And it may be that Wiesenfeld exorcised a few demons along the way.

He acknowledged that musicians who sing in the first person are assumed to be speaking their true feelings and perhaps not given as much artistic license as, say, an author or a filmmaker to create a narrative that isn't specifically about them.

"But I want it both ways. Sometimes I write and sing something personal from the heart, and sometimes I just totally make it up. But even then, it's coming out of you so maybe it is a reflection or a dimension of who you are. I have to leave it up to the interpretation of the listener most of all."

So when Wiesenfeld sings "Where is God when you hate him the most?" or "(I'm) scared of how little I care for you," it's up to us to decide whether that's a reflection of him or one of his characters.

Wiesenfeld was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, over the hills from Los Angeles, and he noted that the predominant opinion of the area remains that it is a cultural wasteland. Although he can't compare living there to living anywhere else, he thinks the Valley did affect the music he makes.

"I think it's true that there is a lack of things artistic there, and that it is a white-bread environment. I went into Los Angeles and sought other things in my life. I wasn't satisfied with our Top 40 music, or the regular television we got. So I took it upon myself to explore—that's when electronic music and Björk started to come into play in my life, as well as a whole world of music and film and literature and visual arts."

Wiesenfeld often has mentioned the influence of the music of Icelandic pixie Björk on his music, but some of his music also recalls that of eccentric pop priestess Kate Bush, especially her monumental '80s work. "That's true," he said, obviously delighted that Bush came up. "Hounds of Love is one of my favorite albums."

Baths is only one of Wiesenfeld's music projects-since he was in his teens, he has also recorded under the names (Post-Foetus) and Geotic.

And even though Wiesenfeld plays all the music on his albums, he's joined onstage on this tour by his friend Morgan Greenwood of the Calgary-based band Azeda Booth.

"It's still very electronic. He's playing guitar and singing and I'll be playing piano and singing. We'll have two laptops on stage with us, and we'll both trigger the drum machines."

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