Everyday ambience

Villages’ sprawling ambient landscapes are haunting and otherworldly, the kind of thing you’d expect to hear in a sci-fi thriller. But they come from a surprisingly natural place.

“I like to walk around alone a lot and capture found sounds,” says the project’s mastermind Ross Gentry. “I lived right on Riverside [Drive, in the River Arts District] for a really long time; it was routine to walk down the train tracks for miles and miles and get a lot of really harsh graining metallic sounds and things like that mixed with nature.”

And while the sounds may come from everyday life, the result of Gentry’s manipulations is anything but ordinary. Run through a series of processors and combined with guitars and synth, Villages’ atmospheric textures create the eerie sensation of floating through space or sinking to the bottom of the sea. To enhance that feeling, Gentry’s live performances are supplemented with visual installations by local video artist Megan McKissack.

“It’s just such an integral part in everything that I’m doing now,” Gentry says of her work. “We’re pretty much a band at this point. I don’t feel like it would be anything like it is without her presence. And it’s not just straightforward linear video work. It’s more dissolved, abstract images. It’s mainly black and white and it just slowly shifts, more like a really amazing light show.”

This weekend, he’ll celebrate the release of Villages first proper release, The Last Whole Earth double-vinyl LP. The stunning jacket features the artwork of local artist Lisa Nance. The project, he says, would have never been possible without Harvest Recordings, who will issue the record simultaneously with Brooklyn-based guitarist/songwriter Steve Gunn’s previously out-of-print Sundowner.

“It’s been a goal met, for sure,” says Gentry. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time, and these guys have made it happen for me.”

They’ll mark the release with a party at the Bebe Theater downtown, where Gentry and McKissack will join Gunn to perform material from their respective efforts before departing on a weeklong mini-tour booked by Harvest’s Matt Schnable and Mark Capon.
      Though they’re no strangers to promoting one-off local shows, this was the pair’s first attempt at booking a tour. 

“It actually fell into place relatively easily,” Capon recalls of the endeavor. “I feel like if we tried to do it again it certainly wouldn’t work out like it did. But all these places that we contacted are low maintenance. They aren’t huge rock clubs or anything. So it’s easier in that way.”

But don’t let his humility fool you. Coordinating a record release and tour is no small feat, especially when you own and operate a thriving local business. Between getting the album mastered, choosing a pressing plant, coordinating artwork and packaging and finding distribution, logistics can be overwhelming.

“That’s the daunting stuff,” Schnable says. “Because we don’t really know what we’re doing, Per se. And the way we operate, we’ll have a day where we do a lot of stuff for the label and then we don’t work on it for two, three, four days or a week because we’ve got so much other shit going on. It’s all in clumps. That slows it down a little bit, but we still get it done.”

Schnable and Capon, too, are realistic about the scale of their operation. They’re the first to admit that Harvest Recordings was never designed to be a get-rich venture. It’s just an extension of what they love to do.

“I don’t think that our plans for the label are to sign up-and-coming bands and take them big,” Capon explains. “It’s more like, ‘This is already recorded; it should be on vinyl. Lets do that because that’s a project we can take care of and it won’t turn into some other thing.’”

“I think we’ll just continue to put out our records in limited quantities and leave another label to pick the bands up and give them a 100-thousand-dollar advance,” Schnable jokingly adds.

That said, nearly five years into operations there is an increasing focus on the venture. In addition to this weekend’s releases, Harvest Recordings has plans for at least two more vinyl issues within the year, more than doubling their catalog. Capon acknowledges a desire to increase the label’s output, but says the focus will remain on small-scale releases. 

“There’s still only so much time in the day,” he cautions, “but that’s certainly become more of a priority. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know more and more people, and now we actually have friends whose music we’d like to put out as opposed to just contacting our favorite bands and saying, ‘Let us put out a record.’”

And, he says, as long as they continue to operate the record store, why not?

“I think it’s just another branch of what we’re involved in and what we’d like to be a part of. And it’s fun. Even if I won the lottery, I’d still do this because it’s what I like to do.”

who: Villages and Steve Gunn
what: Record-release show
where: Bebe Theatre
when: Saturday, Oct. 9 ($8. 9 p.m. harvest-recordings.com)

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