Project: Maple Seed (10/22/21)
We are happy to be interviewing Odem Medo about their most recent release with Tsunami Sounds, Maple Seed. Today's Interview finds the Ambient-Folk artist from Bend, Oregon deep-diving into the creative, technical, and methodical processes of writing and recording this gorgeous 14-track masterpiece, an album of cinematic folk, soundscape, and acoustic vibes that we find breathtaking, subtle, and just plain wonderful. Follow along with the music below!
Odem Medo, thank you for joining us today!
Something I’m struck with right away is the sense of place in Maple Seed. We hear birds and nature sounds in the opening track, “Pollen,” and in other songs throughout this 14-song album. Tell us about this part of your music.
Thank you, I think the place, vibe, and the place’s vibe are all very important when I write music. So, I’m glad you got that. That ambiance is a variety of field recordings from nature spots near my home base. This album has been a sort of love letter to Northern Arizona.
“Crescent Moon Ranch” - There is a raw, unpolished opening to this song, like a few friends are just sitting down around a fire or a boombox and playing together. But soon, a rainstick sound ushers in bass guitar, violin layers, and various percussion elements, providing a rich setting for the melody. Nature sounds - birds in a field? - shine through the music near the end to remind the listener that this song happened somewhere. Can you talk about the recording process a little bit?
It’s not quite as cottagecore as friends around a campfire but I usually like to record songs the same day the idea was made. If I’m doing a collab then I send over a big file of preformed songs they then can build off of. Sometimes I give a few suggestions like an instrument choice or part but they largely just choose to perform on whatever songs they like most, then I chop it up. Sometimes I change it a little, sometimes a lot. But with all that said, Maple Seed is intended to feel like a singular place or an area experienced at different times. Quick shout out to all those who collab’ed! Jake on cello, Ellen on violins, Jonny on drums, Jazmine on winds, and Stephanie on keys! My name’s McKenzie I’ll be here for the rest of the interview!
On “Find Your Way,” you bring voices into Maple Seed on this track. They surprise, comfort, and alert the listener to a wider picture of what Odem Medo’s music is all about. It’s really wonderful to hear human voices in the midst of the rich instrumentation - a very nice touch. Did you know this song would go that direction? Are those your words (“I know, I know you’ll find your way”) or did your collaborators bring them?
That was me! My words, my voice. It was already such an upbeat song I wanted to put in a nice mantra of encouraging words for everyone.
The middle section of this song features a string arrangement - violins & cello - did you have plans for that, or did your collaborators bring that idea to the table? And were these parts improvised and stacked during the recording process or were they written out?
It's funny, I originally asked them to leave this song as is and most everyone agreed it was fine but Ellen, the violin player for the entire album, liked the song so much she wrote that entire string section for and had Jake record the cello part. And that is everything I love about Odem Medo, I get to experience first hand what my songs can do. Inspire and transform.
“Verde River” - Again, the sense of place is prominent: The song opens with the curling, rolling sound of river water and birds doing their thing in the distance. Then again, at the end of the song, a bird gets center stage and gives the listener nature’s best music. But in between these nature sounds is a song with a lilting melody and feel, somewhere between an Irish folk song and 18th century church hymn. Can you talk for a minute about what sort of stuff you listened to growing up and where your melodies and musical ideas come from?
It’s a feeling, it’s a chord, it’s a mood, it’s a vibe. That’s all I can be sure about for where my ideas come from, or rather, those are my intentions when I write music. Other than that, honestly, I like a lot of music but I think most musicians do. I grew up listening to metal and jazz at the same time. And before Odem Medo I was in a funk band playing bass and before that a psychedelic math rock band but acoustic music has always been special to me. But I can’t deny that I have some major musical influences like Fleet Foxes and Bibio.
You say in the liner notes for Maple Seed (on Bandcamp) that ‘Every track started off as a busy guitar or Bouzouki melody. Then is organically interpreted by my friends. Each adding beautiful and unique layers that brings new life to the project.’ This seems to describe what we’re hearing in “Cyser”. I love the false start moment at the beginning of this song - the voice going, 'hmm' in pause or reflection - then starting over again, introducing the accompaniment to your OG Bouzouki track. Did you debate editing out that little vocal thing?
Ha! Yes! A little humor there. I also had a silly ending of Jazmine saying ,”Is that it?” but I felt like the abrupt end of "Cyser" was silly enough.
Nice. We hear a clarinet in this song for the first time on the record. Was this recorded on location, or at a later date?
Yeah the clarinet, flute, bass and keys were all recorded much later all at different locations by different people. Jazmine recorded the flutes and clarinets at a friend's studio in Lake Elsinore, CA. I enjoyed the recording on its own and solo’d it at the end of “Cyser.”
Process question: How are you recording all these instruments? On location (outside), in a studio, in your living room?
This album was recorded in parts of California, Washington, and Arizona by my friends and I. I hope to expand that list on future albums! Everyone has their own studio or a studio set up or a studio they go to. I personally have a set up in my oversized music room. But the process for each of my friends was very different. After the album was released we got together on a group chat to celebrate everyone’s amazing effort and I got to hear a bit about how they approached the music. Some of the musicians like Jake and Jonny, would go into the session with an improvisational approach while Ellen would meticulously write down and score her violin parts. Where as Jazmine would see if there were any phrases or melodies that she heard and would send over a huge variety of takes.
"Embers In Snow” starts out a little dreamy, languid, just a nice vibe. Then the flute comes in, bringing the melody. Do your collaborators create these melodies when they are ‘organically’ interpreting your OG tracks? Tell us how this song developed.
Another funny one! Sort of the opposite story of ”Find your way.” Everyone found "Embers in Snow" all wrapped up but I really imagined a string section. I was able to convince Jazmine to make an attempt to add some wind instruments and just a week or two before the album was intended to be released, Ellen sent over 2 layers of violin and suddenly the song’s completely elevated to something I could have never imagined without the outside talent and vision of other musicians.
On “Stepping Stones” we get crickets - nothing sets a mood like crickets chirping. Full voices enter early on this song, a real group effort. Were you all together during the recording here? Again, so much of my fascination with this record revolves around the recording & creative process. “Back to you” is a refrain at the end, do you want to talk about where your lyric ideas come from?
True, it’s hard not to overuse the cricket wav. These crickets and cicadas in particular are from our yard. I had a last minute opening for a song so one morning I wrote Stepping Stones before Stephanie got back her morning shift baking. I showed her my new song and asked if she would make it nicer with her voice but because this song was made in the beginning of autumn and the bugs were very much awake by the time Stephanie came home and recorded. So I just decided to embrace it and add a good recording of them outside as well.
The lyrics I make are intentionally vague most of the time but this song was sort of a personal song about Stephanie and I and our life path together. The song wraps up with ’Following stepping stones back to you’ in reference to the literal path I would take to see her and metaphorical paths we take for each other.
“Red Damsel” starts out as a rather mournful, slightly melancholy song (awash in nature sounds) featuring acoustic guitar, banjo, and keyboard, then gives way to an upbeat, resolute anthem that feels bright, active, and alert. What if feels like to the listener is a mix of emotions - is this something you’re aware of in your own music? Or, again, is this an effect that is inherent in the “Odem Medo” process of music creation - an openness to where the song may go according to the musicians who are in the room at the time?
Melancholy is usually the Odem Medo way, but I’ve been trying to use it in a more “western-movie-arch” like story across the album. Start it off a little dark, then some exciting moments, then some peaceful ones… yunno, real story time imagination music. The flow of the songs is where my hands are in post recordings. I do leave it to my collaborators to interpret their parts of music but I’ll guide these parts to the larger sound of the song.
What can you tell us about “Maple Seed” (track 9) and why you chose to name the album after it?
Maple Seed aka samaras, "maple keys", "whirlybirds" or "polynoses". The seeds that fall from the trees like little helicopters! Fall always brings them around and I always liked how they fell so gracefully and playful. This album resembles fall and descent. As well as, growth and peace. This could be encapsulated by the majesty of a falling maple tree seed. It was also the very first song I wrote on a Bouzouki (Irish tuned octave mandolin).
And it set the tone I wanted for the whole album. I never really liked how I made the recording and ended up spending way more time on it than I usually commit to a song, but after Ellen added her violins I was satisfied with the outcome. And honestly maybe we should be interviewing her too.
Yes, your collaborators are deeply ingrained in your creative process! Like on “Ponderosa.” Flute layers open this song up, and it brings a whole new lush, breathy texture to the record. What is your working relationship like with these other instruments / musicians? Do you ask them for something specific when you start recording, or do you push record and let them run with it?
I always let them run with it! Very occasionally do I ask for something specific from one of them. Otherwise, it’s like getting personal presents from my friends but way 100 times more than that!
Some producers are driven by a sense of perfectionism, and others work to capture the feeling of the moment. Where are you on this continuum? Do you like first takes of parts, or do you like to record repeatedly until you get a part “just right”?
Oh, I’m all about the moment. I record immediately after figuring out the tune I’ve plucked out. Usually always starting with a guitar, or in this album's case, mostly the Bouzouki. I don’t need perfection but I do make sure it’s enjoyable to me.
Tell us a bit about your mindset during the production of Maple Seed. Did you envision it as an entire album when this project started?
I always have a vision or theme for albums. This one was about my feelings for Fall. I will usually end up scrapping a ton of songs because they don’t fit the mood right. I had 37 song files at the end of this album and only went forward with 14.
“Mingus Mountain” - is this a place where you live? I’m thinking Charles Mingus, the jazz bass player. Any connection? And there are some nice, trippy vocals on this song. Sonically, this song feels a little more “produced,” with effects on the vocals and some pads & swells going on in the background. I think this added layer of production enhances and expands upon the understated quality of acoustic / organic sonics that the rest of the record has at its core. What are your thoughts?
I do currently live on the Mingus Mountain in Jerome, Arizona. Its old west architecture and surrounding red mountain beauty fueled a lot of inspiration for this project. Odem Medo has and always will have some trippy aspect to it no matter how acoustic we get. I hardly see it as 'production' as it is playing for me because I have the most fun here. The whole process is very fun and I can easily spend hours and hours working on songs.
“Atlas” is a real tapestry of style and musical eras, I feel. Clarinet, acoustic guitar, foot stomps (?), flute - all these instruments echoing a similar melodic phrase. Then, finger cymbals and saxophone announce themselves, followed by layered harmonicas and slightly spooky violin tremors. It sounds like this song went from a chill meadow somewhere in the Pacific Northwest to a black-and-white Lon Chaney movie soundtrack from the 1930’s. A wonderful juxtaposition of styles and moods. Can you tell us about how the production of this song unfolded?
Another example of why it’s Odem Medo and not McKenzie Rice. My friends and collaborators get to bring their take on the track and I get to find a way to put it all together as one interesting story. I feel like it really gives it potential to be anything. Jake and Jazmine did great on that track. It brought the story to a completely different place. “Atlas” is like a gloomy suspenseful build up with a dark unresolved ending. And that adds to the whole story of Maple Seed. This song is everything I like about this project.
Track order. How are you with this? What’s your process like for determining track listing sequence?
I go back and forth a lot but it’s all with the intention to have a story-like arch textured with different emotions throughout the album.
“Wildflower” feels undone. Were you tempted to develop it more? Funny, though, it still works in its place on the record. Near the end, announcing the close of this vast artistic statement which is Maple Seed. Thoughts?
“Wildflower” is definitely an interlude but I love doing that stuff like that to my listeners. I want to make them go, 'What? Oh!' Shake them up a bit. But I wanted a good short transition into the last song.
Nearing the end of the record, the listener gets “Juniper Tree” - This song feels like a celebration, a mellow acknowledgement of the end. Sort of like a glancing-over-the-shoulder of a loved one as they are walking away, it’s sweet and present, but has a distance built into the flute phrasing. Also, I hear a person breathing in this song - rhythmic inhales, possibly the flutist? - were you deliberate in keeping organic elements of the recording process like this intact in your final mixes?
That was a very sweet metaphor, thank you! I couldn’t agree more! I wanted this to be a love song with a sort of romantic feeling, like looking at a picture of somebody you love or the moment you realize you're happy. I like to have songs that represent little things like that. And the breathing you hear in the song was fairly unintentional. It started with a zoom field recorder, a grip of acoustic string instruments, and my computer and me. So, I’m constantly just rolling with what I got.
Odem Medo, your album Maple Seed feels so personal, so deep and introspective, yet encompasses multiple artists with admitted freedom to express themselves within the structure of your original musical ideas. Was there ever a moment in the process of recording this project that you wanted to cut back on the collaborative aspect of these songs, and make something that was just you?
It’s absolutely mind blowing, breathtaking, awe inspiring seeing how perfectly my friends were able to pick up on this album’s vibe. It seems like they all put a lot of themselves into this project as well and it shows as a collective personal album. Even if I originally wanted this to be a folky, autumn, mountain living album it's evolved into so much more.
Well said! What are some lessons you learned while working on this project? As a producer, musician, collaborator, business person, human, friend - any thoughts on this?
Guitars really don’t like the dry, desert heat. And don't do your recording around hungry or playful cats.
You decided to release this record with Tsunami Sounds. Was this something you had in mind early in the project, or did this partnership come about later?
I was introduced to Tsunami Sounds by someone else under their label and while I was in production of Maple Seed. I had accidentally sent them my previous album Somber Sylvan and Tsunami Sounds ended up liking the old project so much they decided to do their first ever re-release. After the re-release, Tsunami Sounds’ efforts helped me gain a bigger following. So, of course, that made it very easy to want to release Maple Seed with them as well.
So many talented, sympathetic musicians on this record - Are there any stories or moments from the sessions that you’d like to share?
Not as many fun stories as I would like as we all live so far away from each other. But Jonny and I will link up over the phone or video games. He’s an extremely impressive drummer and is able to do any rhythm even from my awkward beat-boxing examples.
What’s next for Odem Medo?
Oh geeez! Too much, but not enough! I’m doing a pirate video game soundtrack. There’s the dark classical guitar dance-y album of which I’m partway through. Then there’s that tonne of spillover from this album that might find a home on another album.
Odem Medo, thank you so much for chatting with us today! Do you have any closing thoughts about Maple Seed? And what’s the best way for listeners to engage with your music updates - Instagram? Facebook? Discord?...or should they just keep an eye over the horizon for campfire smoke issuing from an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest...
Thank you! I mean, now I gotta do it with campfire smoke too, but I definitely recommend checking out bandcamp or any popular music platform to listen to Maple Seed. Check out our Instagram bio for all the links!
Maple Seed is a 14-track album of cinematic folk, soundscape, acoustic vibes released on October 22 on Tsunami Sounds record label, California USA.
Artists appearing on Maple Seed include:
Ellen Schloff - Violin
Jake Ingalls -Cello, Harmonica
Jazmine Alameddine -Clarinet, Flute, Saxophone
Jonny Model - percussion
Stephanie Tomlinson- Keys, Vocals
McKenzie Rice - Guitar, Banjo, Bouzouki, Vocals
Date of Interview: November 2021
Find the remix submissions here.