“I have carried this music inside me, like a dream, since I was fourteen years old,” musician Daniel Munkus reflects. “For twenty-four years, I struggled and failed to bring it to life, until one night I woke from a literal dream. In that dream, I dreamt of a stained glass spider. It was crawling all over the walls of my darkened bedroom. It illuminated everything it touched with a technicolor web. The room was translucent and magical. I stood in the dream, marveling, and thought to myself that we all have the right to do what this spider is doing. We all have the right to weave our own creative web. When I woke from that dream, I shook my wife awake and told her, ‘Honey, The Spider and the Spectator, it's real.’ That moment of acknowledgment, and my embrace of the irrational, became the seed of transformation for both myself and the trio.”
“In the end, we found ourselves in a kind-of reverse space…a place where every idea, every instinct we followed, was the opposite of what tradition dictated. After five years of living in that space, I think it’s safe to say that we’re committed to it.” Munkus states those words with a particular glee when describing the newly invigorated sound trio Old Robes, of which he is one-third. His enthusiasm comes from years of banging his head against a locked door, only to discover an open one standing directly behind him.
He goes on to say, “The idea was to do everything in the ‘wrong’ way. We wanted to make this album for ourselves, to satisfy every creative impulse we had, and to do it on our own timeline and according to our own tastes. We wanted to always be outside of, and beyond, what we knew how to do comfortably, and we wanted to actualize the music we dreamt of, not approximate it…and to do that takes time.”
The “time” Munkus is referring to, is the five year period of incubation, reflection, and transformation that began the moment singer Rachel Epp and violinist Heather Sommerlad joined him onstage in 2012. It was in that moment that “Old Robes” stopped being a stage moniker for Munkus, and began to symbolize what would become a fully formed sound trio boasting three equally creative partners. Since that first performance together, Munkus, Epp, and Sommerlad have developed an instinctive, and deep, musical and personal bond, one evident in both their work and onstage demeanor. Onstage, pre and post-show hugs are oft to happen, as well as fits of laughter and familial banter, sometimes mid-song. The trio asserts in unison that their friendship has not only become the core of their creative process, but also the force that binds a sense of meaning and purpose to their music more broadly.
Between 2012 and 2017, the trio experimented with every aspect of their sound and technical format, finally arriving at the conclusion that they were most creative when not limited to instrument-specific musical roles. Munkus began employing the use of basic looping technology, old drum machines, and bass synthesizers, while Sommerlad plugged her violin into an array of effects pedals and stretched herself to play instruments she was not classically trained in (cello, saxophone, mandolin, and harmonica to name a few). Rachel Epp emerged as a lead singer and lyricist within the band, and transformed her gospel and folk-inspired voice into one which sounds completely at ease in dense electronic soundscapes. Like Sommerlad, she also committed to the use of effects processors and the broader musical implications of abandoning the “singer-only” role in the group’s music-making. In short, the farther afield the trio got, the more they began to think of Old Robes not only as a collective built on collaboration, but one set free by shunning the traditional musical expectations that burdened them.
On April 20th, 2018 the trio proper will release the result of their years of experimentation, an LP called The Spider and the Spectator. The album was completed across state-lines with the band ritually reuniting and recording in New York, Vermont, and Virginia. Creatively, the LP is a rich work that prioritizes collaboration over solitude, energy over carefulness, and a maximalist sound over one of restraint. Musically, the album features clusters of looped electric guitar and synthetic sounds merged with classical chamber instruments, and tight vocal harmonies. The Spider and the Spectator will be released digitally and on vinyl, with an initial limited edition pressing of 300 records. Alongside the music, the trio (in collaboration with a wide variety of video artists) will release nine successive music videos establishing a visual vocabulary for the band. The album is self-recorded and produced.
Old Robes is an electronic looping trio founded in 2012 in Brooklyn, NY by Daniel Munkus, Heather Sommerlad, and Rachel Epp. The name "Old Robes" is taken (with permission) from a song written by California's virtuoso post/prog-rock band From Monument to Masses (now disbanded). Old Robes takes that mantle seriously in their attempt to not only honor the impact of FMTM on their own music, but to connect it meaningfully with other band influences. As such, their music combines the structural sensibilities and energetic sounds of 20th-century minimalist composers like Steve Reich with the electronic song-scapes of more experimental bands like Radiohead and Junip.