Local Artist Spotlight: Eastern Souvenirs

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photo by Tyler Coray

Leading up until the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, a Northwest regionally focused festival with over 300 acts, KEXP will be featuring a new local artist from the lineup with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. Today’s post features electronic-pop project Eastern Souvenirs, performing Friday, May 12  at 7 p.m.

Electronic music and acoustic instruments have always been able to coexist when merged with capable hands and Seattle producer/songwriter Brian Fisher has struck that balance with his project Eastern Souvenirs. What started as bedroom recordings using Nepalese, Indian, and Sri Lankan instruments gifted to him from his mother-in-law has grown and embellished into the dynamic project it is today. Earlier this year, Fisher released Eastern Souvenirs debut album, Green Valleys, on Big Bldg Records – further establishing and evolving the projects sound. We caught up with Fisher to talk about the instruments he’s collected to build his music, defining “electro-organic pop”, and how he translates all the moving parts into his live performance.

Prior to forming Eastern Souvenirs, you were fronting the indie rock group Us On Roofs. What inspired you to make the sonic shift to the blend of electronic and folk music that you’re doing now?

I noticed with Us On Roofs that my tendency was always to write music on my acoustic guitar and then translate it to electric guitar. I also had a growing interest in different kinds of rhythms and beats that didn’t fit in that band. I think this project in many ways followed my natural tendency’s and carried them out. Of course, there’s a big learning curve when you pick up different instruments and make a sonic shift like that. I feel like every new song is a step closer to that sound I’m aiming for in my mind’s ear.

You call your style “electro-organic pop”. Could you describe a little about what that means? From what I understand, you use a lot of acoustic instruments and percussion instruments from around the globe.

What got me really hooked on the idea of pursuing electronic music was a producer called Binkbeats. He’s a classically trained percussionist who reproduces electronic sounds with acoustic instruments. I love that idea. I wanted to follow that path by sampling the eclectic collection of world instruments I have (most received as gifts from my mother-in-law who lives in Dubai and travels to India and Nepal often for work) and also by creating a more “live” experience of electronic music on the stage. I feel like more and more people are figuring out ways to take electronic music beyond the knobs and faders and make it more tactile – I’m trying to do that as well.

Given the nature of the project, do you spend a lot of time traveling for inspiration? How do you find the instruments you end up using on your record?

I have been fortunate to get to visit my in-laws in both India and Dubai, but I don’t try to overemphasize my own travel experiences in my writing in a literal way. Those inspirations have a place in my lyrics, but I think this project is more about evoking a feeling and a vibe. I’m not trying to directly import a particular cultural style into my music but I use unfamiliar textures to create a transportive mood.

Eastern Souvenirs is essentially a solo project, but you bring in Nick Blodgett on drums for your live performances. How would you say the music changes from the record to live performance?

The music has to be reverse engineered from the recordings, so it ends up being longer and with more repetition and slow builds. Because I choose to do a lot of live looping, the songs have to take a different and more simple form. Nick really helps add the energy and dynamics on the stage. My static drum loops can only do so much, so Nick helps me capture the power of the rhythms and add nuances that are completely unique as well.

Earlier this year you released your debut album, Green Valleys, on BIG BLDG RCRDS. As your first fully-formed project under this moniker, what artistic vision did you want to put out with this record?

I wanted to capture a lot of sonic variation in this project, but still keep the basics at the forefront. The basics to me are the percussion loops and the nylon-string guitar. They add that unique piece of human error in the midst of perfectly tuned synths and beats. Overall I wanted to make a record that had enough layers and complexity that it could hold up after many, many listens and not get boring. I also strived to make a record that wasn’t too gloomy. I want this project to be fun. Too many things I’ve done in the past have gotten stuck in that gloomy, overly-introspective place and I think it’s important to lighten up sometimes.



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