An interview with Lost Tribe Sound’s Ryan Keane.

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In the first in an occasional series bringing light to those that are responsible the physical release of music, I sent off some questions to Lost Tribe Sound boss Ryan Keane. Ryan is responsible for releases from William Ryan Fritch, The Green Kingdom, Graveyard Tapes, Western Skies Motel, Part Timer and others. There will be more reviews of the LTS catalog to come, but in the meantime please enjoy this interview.

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Please introduce yourself. Why did you start Lost Tribe Sound? Did you have experience with music before starting the label? Is it a one man operation?

Hi DAF, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I’m Ryan Keane, owner at LTS. Lost Tribe Sound originally started as a way for my buddy Andrew Sanchez and I to release the music we made as Tokyo Bloodworm back in 2007. After one self release we decided it was a better idea to release with a more established label, so we reached out to Andrew and Craig at Moteer to release our next two albums.

In 2009, I had the crazy notion I could take on releasing music from other artists. Enter William Ryan Fritch’s Vieo Abiungo project. And yes, I am technically a one man operation. Of course all the musicians, visual artists, and fans play a big part in keeping me busy. But I am the PR team, the art & video department, the packing & shipping division, manufacturing and the complaint department.

From the outside looking in you and William Ryan Fritch have a close relationship. How did you meet/come across his music? How important to Lost Tribe Sound is he?

William and I first met in Tempe, AZ where I was living at the time, he came down from Flagstaff to play a show that my musical project Tokyo Bloodworm was also scheduled to play. I ended up backing out of the show, but I’d become interested in his music from some of the samples online so I decide to attend. William and I hit it off almost immediately, discussing our similar taste in music for artists such as Muslimgauze, Manyfingers and Bonnie Prince Billy to name a few. At that point, I mentioned it might be fun to release some of William’s music he had posted from his experimental ethno-centric project Vieo Abiungo. It immediately struck me as the sound I had been hoping someone would create for years. Deep drums, modern classical elements, textured as hell, and it dipped in the realm of world music without coming off as cheesy or contrived.

It’s easy for me to say, that without William Ryan Fritch there would be no Lost Tribe Sound. He has definitely been the most crucial and central artist on our roster. His talents as a multi-instrumentalist are unparalleled. The rough-hewn and organic approach Fritch delivers on all of his releases, speaks so perfectly to the central vision I had for Lost Tribe Sound from the beginning. The fact that we still speak almost daily, and that he’s trusted LTS to release 26 of his albums since 2010, I realize is an unbelievable privilege. Fritch is my closest ally, a best friend, and the most talented individual I ever had the opportunity to work with. I always remind him he needs to remember the little people when he is famous one day.

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You also do publishing/licensing with Settled Scores. How did this come about? Do you represent other artists than those on Lost Tribe Sound?

Settled Scores is the licensing arm of Lost Tribe Sound. It has been a slow burning project since 2013 or so, spawning from much of the work for film that William Ryan Fritch was bringing in. We expanded the licensing end to include other artists from the LTS roster and beyond in 2014, working with clients like GoPro cameras and an ever-growing list of indie film makers and forward thinking companies. Including the LTS roster, we represent catalogs for a select group of artists who approach making music in a similarly rustic and unique way. The goal behind Settled Scores is to show commercial, tv and film makers that we offer a great alternative the highly overused and often times drab music that seems to dominate the industry. I personally love seeing a high action scene set to music that is more contemplative and out of the ordinary, it adds a tension and interest to the shot, that no canned “action music” could even touch (example).

I’m hoping that more directors move in this direction, as there is a big beautiful world of experimental and extraordinary music out there that deserves their attention. Our Settled Scores roster outside of the LTS catalog currently includes works from Christoph Berg, Skyphone, Aaron Martin, James Murray, Anne Garner, Wickerbird, Glacis, Kyle Bobby Dunn and Mid-Wife to name a few.

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What quality do you look for in a release for Lost Tribe Sound? Do you accept demos?

There is no set genre or style I hold a LTS release to. I am more attracted to the vibe and mood the music offers. Usually, LTS releases tend to be less electronic, with a focus on real instrumentation. Not to say they can’t feature electronic elements but it is more about the nature in which they are treated. I love music when it is hard to place a time or region it may have come from. Of course rustic, dark, pulsing blends of folk, classical and ancient sounding rhythmic oddities always hit the spot, yet I feel like we also managed to created our own intriguing take on pop, indie and rock music as well. I’ve tried to get in the frame of mind of gathering more seasons within the music, yet the winter and fall toned music always seems to have the biggest draw for me.

Not opposed to receiving demos if the artist has really checked out the music we release and really gets it. Most LTS releases come by way of a friend of friend type situation, but every now and then I come across an artist and fall in love, enough to reach out to them and see if they are interested in releasing on LTS. It’s just hard releasing all the music I enjoy on the label. Just because I like an album doesn’t mean it is the best thing to release on LTS. I have to really love it, usually listening to it over a period of month, to make sure the music stays with me emotionally. Running a small operation I have to be overly picky, since one or two poorly received physical releases can really make or break my budget.

How important is the visual identity of packaging and format to the label? It’s a pretty huge part of label. I’d say the artwork is the second most important part of the release, outside of the music sounding amazing and carrying the right impact. Keeping with the vibe of the music, most of the artwork we choose fits that timeless, rustic vibe I am a sucker for. Sometimes the artist brings the art to the table and other times, I get to work on the artwork and design from scratch. This happens to be my most favorite things I get to do running the label. We’ve had the chance to work with some of the most amazing visual artists over the years, like Joao Ruas, Gregory Euclide, Jamie Mills and Sail. They’re some of the most exciting illustrators and fine artists in the modern-day, so blown away by the depth and detail they bring to their art. I always try to treat each LTS release like a piece of fine art, from the cover design to the music within.

Sometimes I creating handcrafted packaging to give it the feel it deserves, hopefully coming off like a precious artifact. For example, the new panoramic CD editions for this year’s Prelude to the Decline (Subscription Series), I wanted to design a case that felt substantial and provided a much larger canvas for the artwork than standard CD packaging provides. I tested a lot of materials and different paper stocks in the design, also figuring out how the metal screws would work into the design. The end result feels and looks amazing, so hopefully when fans hold them in their hands they will get a sense of how much love went into them.

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2017 is a pretty ambitious year with the great Prelude to the Decline series. Have you looked beyond the year or are concentrating on the releases from that schedule?

It has been an ambitious year with the series, perhaps too ambitious, as I’ve barely had time for anything else.  I’ve already hand-built over 600 CD cases, hand-numbering them all, along with the hand-numbered the vinyl editions. Oddly enough even with the generous deal the subscription series offers, the response to subscribe to it has been slow.  Not sure if it’s just the uncertainty times we are living in or what, but I stand behind it as perhaps the greatest thing the label has managed to pull off.
We are still looking to the future with Lost Tribe Sound, we have a few amazing releases lined up for next year already from a couple of my favorite artists Skyphone and Spheruleus, along with a brilliant new release from a lesser known artist, Phonometrician, that should have fans drooling. Fritch may go into a slow down period in 2018. He’s been on such a rampage of releases over the last few years, we figured it might be a good idea to put some distance between them. Perhaps this will help folks realize his brilliance and better appreciate his work. That said, we may still have a surprise or two from him in 2018.  We’ll see how many more years of LTS I have left in me. I treat each release like it was my baby, so it is not always easy on the psyche when a release does poorly, or is just not well received by the public.  If I am no longer feeling useful to the artists or the music community any longer than what’s the point.
I think a lot of labels face concerns of adequacy, I rarely mention it publicly with regard to LTS.  But it is always in the back of my mind. Pushing to get real press for a release, selling enough copies to have a physical edition make sense, and being able to pay our artists something decent always stresses me out. My main love has always been the music, but not being able to create a beautiful physical edition anymore would really make me lose interest. The fans we have are very supportive, and send some great encouragement (usually when I need it the most), but it still bums me to see those waste-of-space download sites passing around our artist’s releases for free like they’re worthless.  Moaning aside, I think real music fans know to show their support through buying the music from the labels and artists they love.  It’s so vital to continuing to bring high quality music into the world.  So in that, I have hope for the future of LTS.

 

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Many thanks for Ryan talking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about the label via the following :

Losttribesound.com

Losttribesound.bandcamp.com

Soundcloud.com/losttribesound

https://www.youtube.com/user/Losttribesound

William Ryan Fritch x 2 – The Old Believers & The Sum of the Parts.

If there ever was such a relationship between a label and its artist that is responsible for such a wealth of material as there is between Fritch and Lost Tribe Sound, I would be surprised to find one. 2015 saw the “Leave Me Sessions” series which saw a total of 11 albums (over six and a half hours in total, spread over CD, digital and vinyl) released to subscribers. Lost Tribe Sound has released over 20 of his albums including those under the Vieo Abiungo moniker.

“The Old Believers” and “The Sum of the Parts” were two soundtracks that were part of the aforementioned “Leave Me Sessions” and sees them gain a wider release with both releases getting new artwork and “The Old Believers” having an additional 8 tracks from other works that compliment the original album. With such a wealth of material , I have selected tracks from each release to focus on.

Lost Tribe Sound boss Ryan Keane has this to say about these albums: “It should be noted, that calling ‘The Old Believers’ and ‘Sum Of Its Parts’ soundtracks paints an incomplete picture. Too often the genre or classification of “soundtrack” brings to mind sloppily arranged carbon copies of a film’s cues; often just a few main themes and a collection of one minute tracks that, when not set to picture, fall short of an overall worthy listen.”

This last statement is noted when listening to these albums as while short in length (length ranging from 1:14 to 4:06), the pieces don’t seem to be vignettes or have a different musical style to represent different moods. You would be none the wiser if you did not know of their soundtrack status.

“The Old Believers” is a documentary short film that tells the story of a group of Russian Orthodox Christians who are attempting to preserve their 17th century way of life in 21st century America and coping with surrounding modernization and internal conflicts.”

“Of A different time” opens the album with violin drones and cello that cut a mournful feel and also one with a hint of nostalgia laid over the faintest fielf recordings. Shimmering strings lead into a section of isolated percussion while violin repeats a fast rhythm that drops out to return to the original mournful cello and an ambient sounding string section to the fade out.

Acoustic guitar with gentle tones comes into the mix on the track “Clouded Was Every Prospect” (not on the original album) which becomes the bed for a variety of string sections such as cello and violin to attach themselves to and veer the piece between such styles as folk, modern classical and ambient. There is deft texture and layering of instruments that give both depth and feel to the piece. Judging by the title of the track but not seeing the film, it’s for a section of the film presumably where no decision is ultimately the best one. This could be heard in the musical territory covered.

“Left to Wander” sees percussive guitar that is roughly plucked and strummed with some minimal bass drum beats woven into an alt – folk tapestry with different speed of instruments as strings such as cello and violin with some clattering, while others are gently strummed. Sounds like something that could come out on the Constellation label.

“Still and Dense Solitude” (not on original album) sees layered classical guitar with a slight Spanish feel accompanied by the bass rumbles of cello and soaring violin with all instruments propelling in the same direction and speed. As opposed to other tracks that see the instruments and their sounds juxtaposed, these sounds compliment each other and they all build up with the same pace in the second half of the track.

“Who fell the Last Tree” (not on original album) fuses a lush Ambient intro alongside picked and scratchy violin with field recordings and a haunting multilateral drone and percussion. The field recordings which sound like someone walking through snow are paired with a shaker like instrument that gives the impression of an axe being swung into a tree. The Ambient touches, the first for the album give the track a much different feel than others while still retaining the core instrumentation and overall theme.

“By the Letter” is a beautiful interlude with gently played acoustic guitar with a lead element played over the rhythm that has a feel of distance , while a near silent drone slowly increases in volume from the shadows to be the feature element as the guitar almost abruptly stops. When listening to this track I am visualizing a scene where images of the past are superimposed overprotect times.

“We Fear Change” is a multi layered piece with at least five different things going on at the once – from the likes of delicately finger picked guitars, bass drones,violins and percussion elements (but maybe not traditional percussion instruments). A highly layered and textural piece that while packed with elements is not stuffy or claustrophobic. The layered guitars propel the track with the elements like violin providing the mournful quality like the title would imply. Possibly the standout track on the album.

“The Last Frost” is pure drone piece where a central drone emerges at a slow pace that is vibrating while accompanied by a lighter melodic one which is mimicing its texture, while a more celestial drone starts creeping in trying to come through which it briefly does just before the track finishes.

“The Old Believers” features a similar motif to that of “We Fear Change” and “Clouded Was Every Prospect” in respect to the guitar playing which has the natural unadorned picking style. It doesn’t take long for other elements to come in such as bass drum beats, violins, drones and very sad sounding cello. Fritch gives each instrument its chance but also gives the track the space to breathe with elements such as the cello and drones retreating and the focus being brought back to the rhythms created by the acoustic guitars. It is a well measured track with sections that overlap give depth and continuation.

“‘The Sum Of Its Parts,’ the feature film from award winning filmmaker/editor Fiona Otway’s introduces some of the world’s foremost robot researchers alongside tomorrow’s future leaders in robotics. This film explores the messy front lines of the crusade to make robots part of our everyday experience. From initial sketches, to soldering wires, to programming actions and performing experiments “in the wild”, scientists, high school students, and artists obsessed with bringing robots to life are shaping a new era in our relationship with technology. Yet, by observing their successes and failures along the way, what becomes clear is that robots actually have a lot to teach us about what it means to be human.”

The obvious idea for composer when writing for a film that is about robotics and future technology is to do a futurist (or retro futurist) electronic soundtrack. Fritch doesn’t take that approach, instead he ops for making the music more orchestral, large scale and sounding epic.

“The Sum of the Parts” has a radiant drone opening this string driven mini opus with the quality you would expect from a Clint Mansell soundtrack. Cutting strings, bowing cello’s and drones wrap around each other, building up each layer with a driving quality. The feel is reminiscent of a scene of a movie where the central or climatic part of the movie is happening. Subtle bass drum keeps the pace while the strings build up speed.

“Idling” is a short track with an ambient loop leading the intro makes you think it will remain in this genre, but it becomes a string driven track with a ‘glassy’ ambient feel. The combination of cello and violin mixes with the prominent ambience and acoustic guitar to a very light and summery feel. Is like a modern classical track without the austerity.

“Mechanized” You get the feeling of wonder when listening to a track like this at how one artist can come out with such layered pieces such as these. With violin strings sawing over the thump of a cello accompanied by a swarm of strings that’s literally at least 5 or 6 different sections all working together in support if each other. Time is given to let each instrument shine with elements being tge focus before retreating into the background to reveal itself once more.

“Gnashing Metals” starts with a thump of cello before entering a section of a series of violin pieces, presumably prepared piano with a toy like sound and picking or scraping sounds of string instruments to create this motorik piece that has a driving nature and falls in this almost bleak apocalyptic alt-folk sound with its clanging instruments.

“Unfounded” the return to the cinematic soundtrack as mentioned in the title track is the hallmark of this track. All encompassing ambience with classical strings that move in a glacial pace and have a haunting mournful sound to them. The strings lilt and waft before xylophone heralds in the low timbres of the cello to add bottom drone that is almost entirely droned out by the strings as they gain in intensity and and total domination over the track till towards the end where just the ambience, xylophone and bass drum remain.

Throughout these albums Fritch shows his musical chops in the form of composer, musician and recorder. His strength lies in his ability to construct multi layered pieces with an attention to, structure and how the instruments work together. If I were to chose between these two albums Would pick “The Sum of the Parts” purely because my taste leans more to the cinematic feel than the more rustic Alt-Folk that his is familiar with. However, both albums are recommended.