Hymns57 is the recording and performance project of Ontario-based musician Steven De Taeye. Primarily focusing on electric guitar and a vast array of effects pedals to create his music, Steve also experiments with field recording and found sound from a variety of sources. The music of Hymns57 emerges from a very physical and tangible approach incorporating tape as a recording and production tool, creating a sense of warmth and depth that has helped to establish a recognisable style. After appearing on both Vol. 2&3 samplers, Hymns57 – ‘Slö Tungg’ (RTR029) will be released on Rusted Tone Recordings this coming Monday alongside ‘Blank Polaroids’ (RTR030) by Mi Cosa de Resistance. In addition to recording and releasing music as Hymns57, Steve makes up one half of the duo (ph)authers alongside fell Ontario musician, Jamie Jones (Fossil Hunting Collective) and runs the radio show and record label, Aural Tethers.
In this feature Steve talks about his introduction to ambient music, sheds a little light into his creative process, shares a wealth of new music recommendations and discusses everything that is great about the cassette tape.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
I remember the first album, the one that was the key-holder for me. It was Tomorrowland – ‘Sequence of the Negative Space Changes’. The whole album is done with guitars and loops and some minimal percussive elements. But it was the record that lead me to Slowdive’s Pygmalion and Boards of Canada. Spending time in my youth combing through labels’ discography. Like Kranky and Constellation, Warp and Ninja Tune. The idea of found sound and field recording being incorporated into compositions became appealing. It was something I was hearing in many of the releases I was discovering. I sort of hung out in that terrain till about somewhere in my latter 20’s and I began experimenting more as a musician, outside of band contexts myself. Discovering artists like Aidan Baker and solo Lee Ranaldo work.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
There’s always more than one thing at play often. Quite often, it’s my mood towards a few sketch ideas. I try to keep myself open and aware, hopefully I’ll stumble upon something, that perhaps creates a spark. Normally creating music is just my means of expression. A way to exercise my mental health. I started the Hymns57 project as a place for myself to decompress when I felt I needed alone time to unpack things in my mind or to navigate certain emotional struggles. Sometimes it’s just basic, like getting a new pedal or a new piece of gear and that’ll be enough to spawn something worth chasing. I like the idea of being able to experience my day and trying in the evening to convey it all sonically.
How do you approach working on a new release?
That’s an ever-evolving practice and I really like that it is. I spend most nights in my studio searching for sound. My wife and kids are all in bed and it’s the time of day where I can focus or test out ideas. I could be playing guitar or keys or synths. So, over the course of, say a month, I’ve collected a good pile of ideas, some more realized than others of course. I’ll then attempt to categorize them into sets of things that seem to fit together and flow. I won’t necessarily focus directly on one particular batch, but this helps me see which things are worth fleshing out further. Now I can start to see what tracks fit where like a puzzle and an album starts to form. I record mostly to quarter inch tape, reel to reel. I’ll play the pieces back into my DAW. Recording the sections is one thing, performing them with tape, in real time and with pedals attached to tell the tape machines is where the fun is for me.
But that’s all new workflow for me in just the last few years. Previously it was rather raw, live off the floor, straight takes and chance. Some of my earlier releases were live improvised tape loop performances. So, as time has gone on, I’ve gotten more comfortable employing more elements in my creative process.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
There has been many. The Home Diaries series on WLR had a bunch of strong albums. Especially the ones from Fossil Hunting Collective and Volume Settings Folder. I’ve been spending a lot of the time with ‘Literature’ by Tomotsugu Nakamura really loving the minimalism and subtlety of that album. The meanwhile.in.texas cassette ‘Heimat’ is stunning, my favourite release of his. ‘Dark Watchers’ by Bonnetta & Huizinga is a stellar work of piano and violin with textured field recordings. It’s really a special piece of gorgeousness. The Mia Gargaret self-titled release in brilliant and compelling as well as the Julia Reidy album ‘In Real Life’, a perfect blend of synths and acoustics. Sparkle Division’s ‘To Feel Embraced’ has been getting heavy rotation everywhere I go too. It’s a real trip and I highly recommend. I’m currently in love with the new release on Whited Sepulchre from Ezra Feinberg and John Kolodij. It’s this journey via blissful guitar passages and deep drone overtones stemming from distortion that hits the reds yet sits underneath everything like a hazy cloud. The new F.S. Blumm ‘In Sight’ is a treat, as always though. Blumm is such a curious human that I always love what he does. I’d tell fans of Nick Drake to give a chance to the new Florist album ‘Emily Alone’. It’s sad in the most perfect way and it holds inside it a comfort we all need to know. Lastly, I’ll say the ‘Califone’ album Echo Mine is stunning and will not disappoint. I’m still waiting on the new Idles album, but I’ll mention it anyway.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
I come from the school of Sonic Youth, mix tapes and zines. My dad encouraged me to make mix tapes from his records and off the radio. So, the love of the format started there. Now, today, I just think the format has all the right nostalgic qualities but actually has been better manufactured. So, the myth of the bad audio on tape is rubbish. It’s affordable on both sides of the fence. Production cost is low and buying tapes is reasonable. Often, I can buy off Bandcamp, 3 tapes for the same as a new LP in the record store I work at. I’m also attracted to the sub-culture of it all too. In my youth it was such a punk rock thing. It’s how we shared music; it was pre internet. So, for me to see this whole world of ambient drone experimental et al adopt the format is quite lovely. As Hymns57 I’ve only ever released on cassette. That was part of the mo. from the get-go. So, I feel right at home here on RTR.