Tabs Out | Drongo Tapes Interview and Tape Roundup

Drongo Tapes Interview and Tape Roundup

12.26.21 by Matty McPherson

Seattle, WA based one-person machine Elliott Hansen has been casually pulling out a unique odyssey of tapes. Their releases are communal as they come, esoteric as one would hope to see, and cover a huge swath of noises circulating from anywhere from a basement under the house to astral heavens. If I’m showering praise like that then it means I really like their tapes. And Elliott’s label and curatorial prowess is one to watch. Since starting Drongo in 2018 with the Wow and Flutter compilation, Elliott has beget us with over 30 releases that continue in real time to expand upon their own influences and little world. Most of the label has found itself through friends and personal relationships, and in 2021 Drongo Tapes even had releases that cracked the Tabs Out top 200! 

I caught up with Elliott months ago before meeting them in person at a release show for Eyecandy (who played with Sprain, a band we are rather fond of). This transcript has been edited and modified and includes a handful of reviews at the bottom.

How’d the day been?

It’s been good. I’ve been in the middle of a long series of driving. Currently, I’m in Eugene, OR right now at my partner’s place; although I live and run Drongo out of Seattle. I was planning to go down to Berkeley (they got two baby kittens as a surprise!) Then on top of that, a band I’m working with, Eyecandy, booked a little release show with Sprain in Ventura, CA–and so I’ll be traveling down to the Central Coast for this.

With the amount of travel and regionality presented by Drongo Tapes, I’m wondering how you’ve handled submission or found artists.

It’s mostly just my friends! My partner, who has family in Santa Barbara, has mutual friends who’ve shown me projects I’ve been more than happy to put out on Drongo. Beyond that, it’s very much on a case-by-case basis. Lot’s are my friends! It’s not like the masses are lining up to sign to Drongo, but I’ve found a few email submissions make their way to my inbox.

One of the bands I’ve felt luckiest to work with is “The Big Nest” out of Vermont. They’re the only ones who are definitively “not my friends living down the street”. My bandmate knows Ethan from the Big Nest online. We did a blind collab for one of his other projects called Live Brut–that’s a crazy two and a half hour noise guitar album that’s near and dear to my heart. Me and Cameron hadn’t heard any of it, and we were pretty amazed by what was given to us.

Also, a specific shout out to Kyle from Drowse. We haven’t worked with him directly, but he has connected me with artists like Being Alone from Portland. Kyle also mixed the album of another artist I’m working with, The Exit Bags out of Alberta, Canada. We’re trying to do a co-release of that with Joyless Youth Home Recordings as I exclusively do tapes and Mike wants to put his project into other formats.

Why did you start doing tapes in the first tape? Did it stem from your Skunk Ape project?

I love tapes because… well they are so easy to make! They’re cheap and easy to pick up at random! Even if you lose $5 on a tape, YOU CAN RECORD OVER IT! I discovered when I was 17 I could plug my computer output into an RCA and just record a tape, and it was fucking awesome! I was getting into K records, specifically the well-documented Beat Happening. Now that’s a completely different sound than Drongo, but that idea of “You can just make tapes. You don’t need that budget and you can just buy and make tapes for your friends/give them away for free.”

I messed around with a couple of pronto drongo tapes; it’s just me and my friends dicking around on Voice Memos in High School in a basement. I decided to take it a little more seriously in 2018 when I moved to college and made the first comp tape (“X”–I imagined it would be more tracks, but 9 tracks was impressive)! I like compilation tapes and with that idea I just wanted to make something cheap where if you didn’t like the first band…well, I got other bands on here! It was my way to put my foot in the door and start working with a litany of people and possible avenues to explore. Yeah, no one had heard the label or who I was hyping up. 

How many artists did you continue to work with from that release?

3 originally, although I cut ties with one artist. Thus I work with two artists from that comp–myself and my partner! The rest are friends.

Sonically, Drongo’s been potent enough to host Serpent Season AND Layanah, two diametrical ends of the label’s sound. How do you contemplate the sound?

I didn’t go into Drongo with an idea of a sound. Now, I do have an internalized idea of the Drongo Sound®, but I don’t think about it super actively. I think it kind of creates itself–people who want to release on Drongo do have a consistency. Generally, the tie-in is “hazy, messy, and ambient”. It’s a catch-all, and that’s really a personal tie-in to the music sound I personally find most exciting.

Are there any labels you collect?

Well you put me on the spot! But I do love the Flenser. They’ve always got something interesting going on. Yes, they have more of a sound than Drongo, albeit with a lot of range that the dark atmospheric stuff they put forth allows. Personally, I would love to achieve that with Drongo! 

Joyless Youth Home Recordings (who would go on to co-release the Exit Bags) are making cool releases and I appreciate what David is putting out.

Drongo’s tape runs have often been limited affairs, each stylized differently and uniquely. How do you know how big a tape run will be

I make mistakes with the runs all the time! Sometimes they stick around for years or other times they sell out immediately! I wanted to give these to stores n’ stuff. I originally priced my tapes at $3 just to break even, but I’ve upped it to $5 to pay out Drongo artists at least a little something for their time!

Are you dubbing them yourselves? And what is the process like? 

I do buy blanks from duplication.ca or DeltaMedia, especially the latter for those early releases; DeltaMedia only does multiples of 25 and so I’d pick up 25 tapes and then try to sell ‘em. A handful of people also signed up for the Drongo Street Team subscription program! Now I’m autosending out like 10 tapes to people who autopay me monthly! A couple of them are based in Seattle and I literally just drop ‘em off at their house 🙂 Having those guaranteed ten sales increases the quantity of these runs, for sure. 

I self-dub myself, because I don’t want to pay for pro-dubbing.  When it comes to this process, I tell myself “I’m saving money!” and then go to record or thrift stores and buy like 5 tape decks. They all break on me and then the cycle starts anew–well I’m exaggerating a bit, but I think you get it. Like I did a tape run of 100 for the latest Warble and Fuzz compilation and that STRAINS a tape deck. An acquaintance from Seattle gave me a Pioneer double deck that has a six cassette changer mechanism. I could use that for dubbing and swap between six tapes quite efficiently. I used that for five runs at the start of the year until it started to have some high end frequency issues. The deck that I used for that run basically pooped out as I was looking to dub Ground Hums. 

What is your highest hope for cassette culture (in general) as we push forward through time?

More people buy tapes! I’d like physical media culture to be more about having the music and not “the commodity fetishism”. Physical media is in a weird place in 2021 and digital media is always weird (streaming is bullshit); digital media lends itself to file libraries. That isn’t an invalid way of listening, it just feels radically different from physical media. When an album arrives in the mail it imparts a good feeling. I just don’t want to spend $20 on a vinyl consistently, when I can hold it in the palm of my hand for $5. I want tapes to be accessible, and not locked behind discogs markups.

SOME GREAT TAPES / FUTURE CULT CLASSICS DRONGO HAS SENT FORTH!

Skunk Ape – Ground Hums

Utilizing a myriad of tools, pedals, friends, and locales, Elliott’s own Skunk Ape project hit a dreamy, yet frigid sphere with Ground Hums  A soundtrack for destitute locales, from snow-drenched fields of barren waste to misbegotten motels where the TV is all static; it’s a most apt title that even the liner notes’ minimal design parallels quite well. Elliott’s nine compositions hold a low-flying level of feedback and dronery, functioning lullabies for decepid machines like motel radiators or rusting water heaters.

The noise-damaged ambient does not evoke pure rage though; it often feels curious, scanning for a sign of life. Side A may carry no words, but it evokes one holding out on a voice on a shortwave shortwave radio in the midst of a destitute snowstorm. The glacial qualities allow folksy guitar to pass through and distill a warming, thoughtful bend that just happens to tie this release towards slowcore. At its most harmonious, Ground Hums becomes a reminder to those that they are not alone, which becomes elaborated through the tape’s back half. Here we find greater guitar play, alongside crescendo style drones that swirl and melt. The frigid qualities of Side A begin to dissipate, and what unfurls is a sparkly, crystality that takes hold slowly, but surely over this side. 

Eniks Cave – The Holy Holy Noisemakers

The one known as Eniks Cave has been a longstanding, upstanding fixture at Drongo HQ! Naturally, many of Cave’s projects have slinked through the label’s catalog; with a trusty synthesizer baseline and a knack for ambient droney zones. Nevertheless, Cave is always shifting focus, ever changing and pulling out more ends to explore–2020’s The Mirror Phase saw shoegaze being woven into the fold for example. Cave’s latest release for the label, the Holy Holy Noisemakers, is a euphoric reset. Opening with a burst of noisy sax and guitar, “Zohar” proudly declares Cave’s latest exploration is towards the most transcendent corners of free jazz, a welcome exploration and further dive for Drongo into territories unknown.

The synths are more angelic, the guitar work more freaky-deaky, and the saxophone is in full punchdrunk mood. It’s a recipe that Cave doesn’t wear out over the C30. In fact, he finds ample space to craft atmospheres reminiscent of mid-90s post-rock odysseys. There’s Tortoise style-lounge dub on “Supernal Meters”, alongside the O.Rang tinted spaced out drones and dub drumming of “Devekut”. Meanwhile, Side B’s explorations find ample space between the ethereality of early Dif Juz, alongside Bitchin Bajas and even Landon Caldwell. The piece “Subliminity” stretches and lashes and yearns, immaculately.

It’s an impeccable piece of bedroom recording.

From Elliott: 

My friend/housemate Zac! He just records a super crazy amount of music that begets projects from indie rock to black metal. I met him at the University of Washington on the bus after a noise show. Both of us realized “wait you go to my college and listen to noise/tape music? And you’re from the bay area too?” All of his pals listened to indie rock and at that point, he had an album, Looking Through Shattered Glass, done and was looking to put it out. I was super lucky, as this was two months after the first compilation. 

For the Holy Holy Noisemakers, Zac was practically recording two albums at once; one noisy and then these ambient saxophone compositions that became the album. I was daily pressing him to finish recording it because it sounded so good! But maybe the next Eniks Cave will be a black metal album. We’ll have to flip a coin to find out.

Archival Image – Exo

The figure known as Archival Image is shrouded in anonymity. Although that does not mean hermitude and isolation necessarily birthed these recordings. Recorded across september 2019 to june 2021, from finland and eugene, OR to territories elsewhere, Exo reunites a litany of Drongo collaborators (Elliot contributes guitars and post-production, while arius ziaee brings out guitars n’ synths) and practitioners towards exciting advancements in “bug pop”–tapes do come with an insect inside afterall! Exo’s miniature “bug pop” compositions mumble and bubble, inviting you to stay low to the ground, as if to hear something coming from a crevice right below the dirt. Tracks like Drone, Depth, and Cynipid play with minimal, skeletal structures, crafting melodic hums that invoke plant grass as much as molecular anatomy. Side B offers the dark underbelly of this bug pop, opening with the lumbering industrial fight epic, “Sequence”. Even when the synthesizer is turned towards a louder, more industrial-damaged frequencies, Exo can’t not radiate a degree of warmth; a fascinating solace.

From Elliott: Archival Image is my partner (Ari of Lanayah) and they’re a huge bug nerd–lyrics are about bugs and taxonomy, but it’s so delayed and reverb’d you can’t hear the lyrics! I don’t think I’ll be doing runs of 25 anymore unless its something special like the Archival Image; we put bugs in those tapes and it was a (good) pain in the ass! They all had to be glued. We’d been talking about that idea for a while, and it was a great bug season when we did it in June. We kinda borrowed that idea from an Amulets tape tbh.

Serpent Season – Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The baklava shrouded Randall Leong was an early Drongo stalwart, coming out of the gate with this piece of doomy neo-folk that helped to further strengthen the quality control and possibilities of what a Drongo Tape could, would, and should be. Teetering between the blasted transmissions that dominated the Kranky era of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Patrick Shiroishi continuing acoustic dirges, “Hiroshima and Nagasaki” is a ghostly wandering through an abyss. Over the three tracks (each one taking its name from one of the three words of the title), Leong tests just exactly what a droney aberration could reflect, wading through reverby guitar, rural-tinged folk melodies, while integrating small quips of seafaring insects and birds, as well as spoken word.

From Elliott: He was the first person I got a submission in my email box with! Randal reached out through a mutual friend of Layanah!

Lanayah-Forever in May

Is this a cult black metal classic by now?! I can remember pre-COVID catching these fellows hit an absolutely gnarly droney riff that quickly dominated my winter. Layanah may humbly denote themselves as “”fairly unclassifiable blackened screamo” worthy of three (“???”) question marks. Yet, Forever in May is a lucid summation of their 2016-2018 halcyon era. The crux of their polyglot sound on this album is revealed through gorgeous longforms expeditions. Sure, there are quick outbursts like “Three Javelins”, yet its on “Soft, Vanishing”, “Wind Chimes”, and “Soft Transition” where Lanayah teeter between the kind of post-hardcore that paralleled mid-2010s post-rock and sudden scramo outbursts from the 00s that hit like a walloping smackdown! Meanwhile, tracks like “Pine Sun Orange” the ten-minute  “Alone Year”, invoke cathartic, amber-tinged drone metal.

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