Photo Credit: Daniel Kopton
Social butterflies often regard people like myself and the mastermind behind bdRm, Jeremy Wilkins, as a little odd. Just because we grew up embracing our imaginations alone in our bedrooms and later found solace in solitude more often than not. It’s not odd, just the norm for people like us. We talked a lot about Jeremy’s time alone, before and during the current state of the world, his affection for pop culture, what’s to be found on his latest release, ‘Are You Alive?’ and so much more in this back and forth between two homebodies on the west coast.
Kendra: When one works in the arena of ambient and soundscapes, words aren’t the necessity. Have you always found yourself expressing yourself in a manner that consists of little to no words? Like were you drawing pictures instead of writing notes as a kid? Things like that?
bdRm: Actually, no, I was quite the opposite. I have always been very into words and writing. I write short stories and in my other band, We Are Parasols, while I’m not the vocalist, I am the primary lyricist. When I was young I wrote poetry and was completely obsessed with The Cure. I originally wanted to start a band to be the singer, but I was not a particularly talented vocalist and happened to have a friend who was. So, I started playing keyboards, studied production, and tried to always collaborate very closely with vocalists.
I did eventually spend some time as a singer-songwriter in a band a few years ago, but I didn’t find it as appealing as an adult as my teenage self imagined it would be. Once I reached the point where I finally felt confident and competent as a singer, I lost all interest in doing it. Maybe because I’d spent so many years developing as more of a background player, producer, mixer, all-around technical person, I now feel happiest in that role.
Kendra: With any type of creative career, you have to have that initial motivation to feel like your skills and talent make you a great candidate for it. Do you remember when you had that initial thought, like hey – I could do this? I can make this happen for myself?
bdRm: Honestly, I’ve never had that much confidence. There have been a couple of points where I found myself thinking, “Wow, maybe this is gonna take off!” One being my first live show ever, at age 19, when we had an A&R rep from Atlantic Records talking us up backstage, another being when Chris Vrenna (the original drummer from Nine Inch Nails) was hired to produce my second band, underwater. But I’m not well-known or commercially successful and I still split my time between two different creative careers, music and photo-retouching, to make ends meet.
So, I never really thought I could make it happen as much as I knew I needed to make music, or I’d be miserable. It’s really about just making sound. Whether or not it sells or anyone listens has taken a back seat to the act of creation. Amongst all the artistic things I do producing music is the one that is consistently fulfilling and I know I can never stop. It’s like my therapy…or maybe my addiction. I do question the nature of the relationship.
Kendra: This Spring you’ll drop your new record, ‘Are You Alive?’ How would you compare the headspace you were in while writing and recording to the one you were in back when you were creating 2016’s ‘Identite’?
bdRm: ‘Identité’ was a pretty massive collaboration, it’s a 20-track album with a lot of vocalists and guest musicians. The record was about exploring and understanding identity. I was in therapy at the time and trying to wrap my head around my childhood and recalibrate how those early experiences were influencing me as an adult. I happened to know a lot of people going through similar things so my goal was to channel this incredibly personal experience into something communal and collaborative. I guess you could also say I was trying to get better at “playing with others”, which was something I haven’t always been good at.
Making ‘Are You Alive?’ was a much more isolated process. My only collaborator, aside from the vocalists on the last track, was Alec Yeager, my bandmate from We Are Parasols. But he lives in Atlanta and I live in Portland. So, we weren’t even in the studio together. We’d send ideas back and forth through Dropbox.
The record about being isolated from the agreed-upon concept of reality that our society has thrust upon us. It’s about questioning your place in that reality, or if you even have one. So, the process mirrored the concept. It was a very, very long process for six songs and it was mostly me alone in the studio combining various musical ideas to see how they fit together, like assembling a puzzle. I’d combine a synth line from four years earlier with a piano part from two weeks earlier with a drum loop Alec sent me. It was like collage art or writing a story from scraps of notes you’d left lying around a room for years.
Kendra: Perhaps you knew what was going to happen because there is this eerie feeling, at least with “Why Not Another?” that does sound like it would fare well in “The Walking Dead” or even a post-battle scene in “Westworld.” Are you at all influenced by pop culture and where your music could fit in when it comes to TV and film?
bdRm: I am massively influenced by pop culture – TV, films, books, etc, and particularly science fiction. My first EP as bdRm, ‘Are You Friendly?,’ was all solo piano pieces inspired by the movie ‘eXistenZ’ by David Cronenberg. The title of the new EP, ‘Are You Alive?’ is taken from one of the opening scenes of ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ and the next We Are Parasols’ record will be titled ‘Body Horror’ and is heavily influenced by the cult film genre of the same name.
I used to work at a video store and have always been interested in film, film culture, soundtracks, and sound design. I’ve had songs used in TV shows before and I did the soundtrack for an independent short film years ago. But so far haven’t had the opportunity to do many soundtracks or sound design work. I would love to, of course. I’m available if anyone wants to hire me!
But—ugh!—regarding knowing what was going to happen, I certainly didn’t see this coronavirus coming, but I am a somewhat agoraphobic introvert and I think that’s expressed in most of my music to some degree. It’s not debilitating agoraphobia, but I do tend to view new people as a threat until they prove otherwise. Yeah, that’s something I learned about myself in therapy! So, now we’re all living in this new, hopefully temporary, world where everyone feels a bit like I always feel. It’s awful and I hope the social distancing works and a vaccine is developed and eventually we can get back to a world where my music doesn’t make as much sense.
Kendra: Speaking of “The Walking Dead,” everyone has that on their mind with the current climate of the world, staying inside to flatten the curve and whatnot. For you, you’re sort of already comfortable working from home as that’s where your studio is. With some not fully grasping how to stay motivated when working from home, do you have any universal advice for staying on task?
bdRm: I’ll try, but to tell you the truth I think I’m just inherently suited for working from home and healthy doses of isolation. Even as a child I absolutely loved playing alone in my room and I don’t think how I work and function now is much different.
Still, I do have a few practical rules I stick to. I get up at the same time every day, shower, and get dressed. I don’t work in pajamas. Most mornings, when the weather is decent in Portland I take a 30-minute walk before starting to work. I have a sit/stand desk which helps the body not feel awful. I will sit for a while then spend a couple of hours standing but doing either for too long is bad.
But I’m not even sure that some amount of lack of focus or productivity is a bad thing right now. Most people working from home aren’t doing essential jobs that will have a direct impact on the crisis so I think we should give ourselves some slack. We’re all so worked up, stressed out, looking at new numbers and new warnings and new rules everyday. Maybe we should all get whatever work we absolutely need to do taken care of and then use this unfortunate situation as a chance to slow down a little. I just don’t believe that the all-consuming economy is more important than the physical, mental, and emotional health of the people. That “economy first” ideology has already contributed to this crisis in so many ways.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
bdRm: Yeah, all of our plans are up in the air. Alec was supposed to come out to Portland last month so we could shoot a video for “Why Not Another?” and then our main band, We Are Parasols, was going to play a bunch of shows around the Pacific Northwest. At the moment that is all tentatively rescheduled for June/July but I’m not feeling exactly hopeful about that new timeline either. For now, Alec and I, along with our singer, D, have decided to focus all of our creative energy on the next We Are Parasols’ record, ‘Body Horror.’ We had been working on demos for a few months and all of a sudden the subject matter seems eerily relevant.
Most of the music I’ve been listening to lately is pretty unsettling. I’ve been submerging myself in the weight of this moment, so I’ve either been listening to fairly dark music or nothing at all, silence. But the other day The Church came on shuffle and anything Steve Kilbey sings feels calming and reassuring to me even if he’s talking about drugs, murder, or aliens. So, I’d say “Under The Milky Way” is a good, very nostalgic, song that helps me get through. I find something comforting about the ambiguous chorus, “Wish I knew what you were looking for / Might have known what you would find.” Also, the production seems simple but it’s not. I still manage to notice new things about it as I get older and listen in different ways. There are a lot of cool synths and guitar textures going on in the background. Plus, it was in ‘Donnie Darko,’ which is a movie that helps me get through when the world is a mess!