After Tape Op's online editor Geoff Stanfield interviewed both Noah Lennox and longtime collaborator Pete Kember [#46] for the Tape Op Podcast about their work together, and their recent album Reset, he wanted to dig a little deeper into Noah's musical beginnings and process. Geoff dropped editor Larry Crane a line, who decided wanted to then interview Pete Kember, and catch up with all that's happened in his interesting career over the last couple of decades.
We last chatted with Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom, way back in Tape Op #46, about his years in Spacemen 3, his Spectrum and E.A.R. projects, and more. Since then, he's kept busy, including producing MGMT's Congratulations and Beach House's 7 albums, mixing Moon Duo, and producing and collaborating with Panda Bear on a number of projects, notably the recent Reset album.
We both worked on Moon Duo's record, Stars Are The Light, a few years back.
You did the recording for it?
Yeah. We tracked drums, vocals, and such to their synth tracks. Then they added to it.
I asked, "Is this record going to be a slightly different Moon Duo?" Ripley [Johnson] said, "I was thinking stoner disco." I was like, "I'm in!" He and Sanae [Yamada] were staying here, and it's a fairly psychedelic environment. Of course, we're trying to make this stoner disco. They then went and stayed at their manager's, Paul Carlin, flat. He Airbnb's a lot, so it was super neutral. They said when they listened to the music in that environment, it was shocking. Here it seems normal, but in there they were like, "What have we done?" It worked out for them. I thought that was a great record, and it was awesome to work on it, both sonically and musically.
I had fun on my end too. You're in Portugal now?
I'm in Sintra, outside of Lisbon. It wouldn't look unfamiliar to some of the places around Portland, probably. Lots of trees.
What brought you to Portugal?
I was working with Noah on the records Tomboy and then [Panda Bear Meets the] Grim Reaper. I was coming here to rehearse with him. We recorded Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper in Lisbon at Namouche Studios. It's a nice studio, with old-school gear. Neves and Neumanns. I liked the vibe here a lot. I'm not sure if every Portuguese person would necessarily agree, but many of them recognize that it's quite old-fashioned here, for different reasons. Both Portugal and Spain had fascist dictators. Both of them decided to keep their countries out of the modern world. I'm sure none of it was by design, but the spin-off was that they became a little bit of a backwater to the rest of Europe. The commercialization happened much later and at a slower rate. Whilst elsewhere one can drive down the highway and find big, modern, multi-story strip mall-type places, on the whole, it isn't like that here. The center of Lisbon doesn't have all of that. It might be starting to happen a little bit, but it's a beautiful old city.
England, where you grew up, has certainly got its problems these days.
Yeah. I left before the Brexit vote happened, and I was so happy to be away from that. I always felt more European than English. I always liked continental Europe a lot, and the short distances you travel. The culture, the language, and even the money used to change. I like the diversity and the different views.
Let's get back to something equally beautiful, like music. I'm amazed by your career. I knew Spacemen 3. In the '80s I'd listen to those records and loved those textures and the sound that your band had back then.
How did that shift into producing, recording, and working with others after the band broke up?
Well, for the first Spacemen 3 album, Sound of Confusion – which might be the least popular in general with people – we worked with a producer. We went to a studio and the guy was the producer. I didn't like the experience. I don't think he understood what we were trying to do. One of the biggest lessons I learned from that guy was if he thought something was right, he expected us to go with it. I think the band is always right. We can lead a horse to water, and if they don't want to drink, that's fine. In my production, I totally like to adapt to what each band or person is looking for. Everyone works differently. I did not see this in that guy. He wasn't a bad guy. Not at all. He was just more of a product of that era. After that record, when we realized the demos that we'd done were better than the re-recorded songs, we decided that we'd rather do the producing ourselves. Maybe we wouldn't be the best, but we'd always work with engineers, of course. I guess we wanted to learn through...