The sepia-toned distortion behind Hexa’s electronic phantasmagoria is something both comforting and disquieting. Carrie Gillespie Feller’s voice conjures a brume of perforated memories. The hushed echoes, disembodied vocals, and reveries of reverb create a strange and pastoral landscape. In wanting to dig a little deeper, we interviewed Carrie about everything from her Bata Motel EP to the state of music in San Diego.
Rob Patrick: CityBeat reviewed your EP, Bata Motel. They likened your sound to PJ Harvey. And while that may be true, your sound is all your own. There’s a contemporary darkness, a sort of nighttime introspection that flows throughout the record. It feels of San Diego. How important is the fabric of this city to your music?
Carrie Gillespie Feller: Well, I was born and raised here, I grew up listening to and going to see Three Mile Pilot, Boilermaker, Crash Worship, Pinback, Clikitat Ikatowi, and many more. So the influence is there, though I wouldn’t say I was aiming for a particular sound. I joined the bands ILYA and Lunar Maps, and between them I’ve worked with a lot of people who are pretty established in San Diego music, and I’m sure that has influenced the way I’ve approached Hexa. I would also say the proximity of San Diego to LA was important for me growing up. I used to go there almost every weekend to see all my favorite bands, from the time I was about 18-23. San Diego suffered from not having enough all ages venues, and there are even fewer now, sadly.
What is your take on the current climate of music in San Diego, and what do you think its trajectory looks like going into the future?
I think the current climate is very diverse. San Diego is becoming much more accepting of weird, dark music. I hosted this experimental noise musician from Brooklyn recently, and he was very concerned about finding a venue and crowd that would be receptive. I didn’t think that was an issue at all. These types of shows may not draw huge crowds, but this is San Diego, and hardly anyone is drawing huge crowds. I am much more interested in drawing an attentive and engaged crowd.
There’s a lot of great, interesting compositions going on in the EP. What did you and Hunter Levy discuss when putting the sound together?
We discussed how to translate what I do live into a recording. I do everything by myself when I perform, with looped vocals and keyboard tracks and a drum machine. But I wanted the recording to have a fuller sound. I had a lot of guests come in and play, people who have a particular sound that I wanted to incorporate into what I do. Overall, the recording went so well. I was very lucky in that I hardly had to explain anything to Hunter. He seemed to totally understand the sound I was going for and how to achieve it. He’s stuck with me now for any recording I do, so I hope he’s cool with that.
In your mind, how important, modernly, do you think social media is to musicians?
There is plenty to dislike about social media, but I appreciate that it can help you create these networks, not just with music fans or musicians, but with a larger artistic community. I’ve been able to work with some really amazing visual artists, photographers, writers, film makers, etc, and I think social media can help foster these connections. I like the idea that a bunch of weird people doing creative stuff can find each other and support each other.
The cover art of Bata Motel is minimalist, mysterious, and somewhat spectral in its colors and subject. How did the photograph come about?
Social media! A photographer friend of mine posted the photo on Instagram and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It captured everything I wanted. I love that the subject has her back turned to you. She’s there but you can’t see her. I took the title of my EP from the song “Bata Motel” by Crass, a song having to do with the ways we see, and completely fail to see, women. So the image worked in that way, and I loved it aesthetically. The dark swimming pool at night, it all feels very unsettling.
Would you ever consider scoring a film, and if so, what director would you want to work with?
I would love to score a film but it would be a challenge! I think it would require some subtlety that I would really have to work at. If I could work with any director in the whole world I would love to work with Wim Wenders. The music in his films always stands out to me, whether it’s the score or the songs played in his films.
“Enyo” is such a gossamer, ethereal, and hauntingly beautiful song. It takes its time rowing through the fog. What was the genesis of this particular track?
I was really fascinated by the idea of writing something where the vocals were the main foundation of the song. I was using this harmonizer vocal pedal and looping several different vocal harmonies, then singing over it. The vocals sounded so ethereal and delicate, so I wanted to contrast that with a lot of ugly things. I looped several tracks of distorted organ sounds, then added the driving percussion, and the sample, which is a reading of a really gruesome passage from the journals of Amerigo Vespucci. As far as the lyrics go, I think I was inspired by a general feeling of hopelessness, like all we are capable of as humans is reacting to events. We aren’t capable of creating or sustaining a path forward, or even thinking in that way. You know, fun stuff.
Your lyrics are confident, confessional, and yet cryptic. Who are some of your favorite songwriters, and how have they influenced you?
I tend to like songwriters who approach dark subject matter without going off the deep end and becoming over dramatic. I’ve been listening to Marissa Nadler a lot lately. She has this song about getting ready for a date in a rest stop bathroom. It’s a really simple song but it captures an experience so precisely, and the details are so crushing and sad. I admire John Congleton of The Paper Chase and The Nighty Nite, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, Neko Case, Leonard Cohen. They are honest and clever, and have a dark sense of humor. Important things in songwriting, in my opinion.
Finally – and most inconsequentially – what’s your favorite Mexican food spot in San Diego?
Oh that’s tough, but probably a place in Rancho San Diego called Las Parillas.