Eben Hoffer ’10 spends most of his time behind soundboards. That’s where I found him in the MainStage, where we had a late-night discussion about his upcoming CD, Urban Growth Boundary.
So, tell me about this project; I know you had a band with your brother in Oregon.
The first year my brother Isaac got back from college, the first Christmas that he was firmly back with us – well, he used to be to be a cellist, but he had stopped playing classical music, and he’d always wanted a bass guitar, so I thought, well, I have a few hundred dollars in my bank account – I bought him a bass guitar for Christmas and I asked my dad for a bass amp. So we started our band, and we’ve been playing together for five or six years since then. We had a couple different bands; our band was named Emperor Norton back in high school, and then that broke up because everybody went to different schools. Then Isaac and I started our own acoustic project called Urban Growth Boundary, because there is one in Portland, and there isn’t one anywhere else.
What’s an urban growth boundary?
A limit to which commercial and industrial growth can happen inside a city, so it forces you to build upwards instead of outwards. It’s what they need to do everywhere. So Urban Growth Boundary was always a recording project – we had a bunch of songs that never worked for the band, and we started writing some new stuff, and we were experimenting with playing more classically based music, and with doing more sampling.
Sampling of what?
Sampling of – well, the idea of Urban Growth Boundary was that we did a lot of recording sounds from around Portland, and two winters ago when we were trying to finish this up, we were also working on a theater project, “The 64 Names of God.” It was my Winter Study project that year, so we started doing sampling for that and I folded it more and more into my music.
So, what kinds of urban sounds?
Well, there are bridge noises, train noises, trucks – I’m going to dance, I’ll be right back.
Hoffer takes a three-minute dance break to “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Where were we? Ah yes. We wrote most of the songs on the album that winter and the summer before it, so we’ve been working on it for about a year and a half. As we went on, it became a production project for us, because the idea was to do it ourselves. Over the course of making the album, I learned everything I know about recording. We started at a point where I was just beginning to learn, so the equipment and methods I was using changed so much that most of these songs are now in their 13th version. As we got further along, we tried to make the whole album kind of – one song and one idea –
Not really? Just – feel the same. It’s not a concept story album, but more like a theatrical sound design, where it’s all about one feeling and one idea.
So, are these songs with words?
Yes, they all have words.
Do they all have a unifying theme or feel? How would you describe it?
It’s an album about wintertime and adapting to loss. It’s – it’s an album about getting over it.
I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that!
I’d say – And that’s mostly Isaac, because he writes all the words.
And do you primarily write the music, then?
We write the music together: he writes the bass parts and I write the guitar parts. Most of the songs on this album were originally his. I added the guitar part, and then we workshopped them. I did all the production. These songs are all, at this point – you’re hearing them in ways that they couldn’t be performed. They kind of can be, but they’re different, they’re meant for speakers. There are songs and then there are four or five interspersed tracks that are kind of holding it together and there are parts of the last song on the album weaved through here and there. Bits of it pop up in different places.
Could you characterize it? I hate to tell you “Characterize it in a genre! Who do you sound like?” But could you give the readers more information?
We sound a little bit like The Books – we sound a little bit like Sufjan Stevens, a little bit like Elliot Smith, some of his early stuff. Our album is really soft, really literary.
Eben is holding a CD release concert featuring Nathaniel Basch-Gould ’11 and Michelle Rodriguez ’12 on Sunday at 7 p.m. in Perry Library.