Author: Rob Albanese
06/20/2004 | | | Album Review
"I just really like making stuff...and I've never been the kind of person to sit around and hope something happens." This is what Joel Petersen, aka Broken Spindles, cites as the constant theme running through what is growing into an impressive musical résumé. Though he's likely best-known as the bassist for Omaha, Nebraska's synth-punk outfit The Faint, he's kept himself busy making chilling industrial soundscapes as Broken Spindles.

The temptation to throw the word "cinematic" around is strong and, in this case, appropriate, since Petersen also incorporates his own narrative video work into Broken Spindles' live performances. On this year's fulfilled/complete, Broken Spindles has also expanded to include vocals and string arrangements toward hauntingly beautiful ends.

Junkmedia recently caught up with Petersen as he was in the middle of, well, making more stuff - namely The Faint's next album, and told us what we should know about Broken Spindles, past, present and future.

I read that the Broken Spindles name comes from an earlier group project you were involved in. What was that project like?
It was a revolving band that was an improv band, essentially. We just played somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty shows, mostly around Omaha, and I always just enjoyed the spirit of the group and I thought it was an awesome name, so when I was trying to do what became Broken Spindles I just contacted everyone involved and said, "hey can I use that name," and everyone said, "yeah, carry on the tradition."

Do you see a thematic connection between what you did with that group and with your solo work?
I think some of the mindset is the same, I mean coming from an improv thing. But with [the current] Spindles, all of it is programmed, which is very different from improv. But I was trying to approach it with a little more of that spirit, going with the flow and just seeing what felt right, rather than paying so much attention to the detail at first. It was like, "I'm going to get this idea down as quick as I can, and then go back to it, get anal about it." So I think the spirit was intact.

I take it that there wasn't as much laptop or electronic work involved with the earlier Spindles.
Absolutely not. Everything was played on acoustic bass instruments. Occasionally there was a synth involved, but it was not programmed at all.

Do you enjoy being able to pretty much commandeer the show as Spindles or do you like giving up some of that creative control to a collective, as with The Faint?
I definitely appreciate both aspects. I'm not going to say any idea that I have is right, or the best. So it's nice to work in a group where everyone has opinions and everyone respect everyone's opinions. I think it might be easier to get better in that [environment], because everybody's getting interested in one thing or another, and that means that ultimately everybody gets into that and learns from that. But at the same time, doing something on your own and going all the way with an idea to its completion is pretty different as well, rather than coming up with a basic idea and having it evolve through someone else's head. And the end result isn't what you were thinking. It's a totally different process, the two different sides of the creative process.

How did bringing in the string quartet on fulfilled/complete change your work process from the first record to this one? Did you play composer in that arrangement, or was it more collaborative?
That was very much collaborative. I kind of had it in my head that I wanted to have something a little more - not necessarily traditional but more acoustic-based. And I've always loved the sound of strings.

And the strings are great on this record...
Thanks. So when we were in the studio I was working with [Omaha producer extraordinaire] Mike Mogis, and we just came up with a plan for what we each thought would be a great use of strings. He had some great ideas, and I had some things that I had not necessarily written for strings, but I had written the songs with the intent of someone coming in and adding strings to that. So I left plenty of space in certain areas, and I said, here's where I want strings and all that. And [Mike] has been working with a guy who does string arrangements who also plays in Bright Eyes sometimes, and he's just an awesome dude. So we had him come here and he worked out whatever ideas we had and wrote all this awesome stuff and wrote all the sheet music for all the string players, had them come in, and they played that stuff in about three hours and that was that.

The covers to both Broken Spindles records depict blank human figurines in what I think are really sterile domestic settings. Is that indicative of a theme running through the project?
I think it's very much indicative of a basic mindset that I have with Broken Spindles. It's kind of hard to explain - as you said, there's some element of sterility as well as elements of an underlying narrative that might not be clear from just one particular image. Those are just a couple things that interest me in music as well as in the visual art of the cover. That kind of clashing between the human drama and what could be essentially just sterile or programmed things. How all that relates is very interesting to me.

I understand that, the first time around, the decision to create visuals for the live show came after the record was completed. What was it like recording the new album with that visual component already in mind?
Well, it definitely played a bit of a role. I had it in the back of my head, well, what's this going to look like when I want to play it and do video stuff for it. And I don't think it influenced the music so much, as it just influenced the video stuff. I knew I was going to do it, so as I was working on music, I was able to come up with video ideas at the same time.
The last one was a loose narrative and this other one is a little more specific, and a little more in-depth... just a lot better. Kind of weird to say, but I feel like I learned a lot from the one I made for the tour I did, and I just made another one for some local shows and whatnot. Essentially, this is my third complete thing for a video, and I think I've learned a lot with weeding out what sucks. And this next one I'm really excited about. I'm about half done with it, so that's where my mind is.

Do you have other filmmaking ambitions separate from your musical work?
Possible. I'm definitely interested in film. I'm probably more interested in something like scoring films, because that is the process that I haven't gone through, seeing a visual and responding to it musically. I think that seems really fun.

You've said before that right now you're at a very creative and motivated point in your life. How do you fend off or manage the day-in/day-out shit and find time to take advantage?
That's always the challenge. I guess for the first two hours that I've been awake, I've been doing business-y organizing things for Broken Spindles and The Faint. I'm about done with that for the day, and then I'll work on some video stuff for a while. And we're in the studio right now, so something will come up and I'll have to do something there. You know, just do it, day-by-day. I make a lot of lists of what I've got to do.

Especially given the indie press' fascination - and my personal obsession - with geography, can you talk a bit about the influence of location on your music, both in terms of the personal/creative level and also in terms of the Omaha "scene," as it were?
Yeah. I've formulated a theory about Nebraska's location, and how it relates at least to the music that I try to be involved in. And that is, it's essentially in the middle of the country, Omaha is, and I think being away from the coasts, which to me seem to be a little more trend-oriented; things are totally hot, then they're totally dead. And that stuff doesn't really affect here.
Basically, anything that is popular on the coasts will make it here a year or two after it was totally awesome, or totally hot. So it kind of gives a little perspective on things. It means we're a little less influenced by that second, as far as what's the biggest thing right then. When it gets to us in a year and we see that it's kind of already over with elsewhere, we can take whatever knowledge from that that we can. I think we can look at things like that with a little more objectivity since we're not so caught up in certain scenester things and all that. So I think it's cool that we live here, as outsiders, but right in the middle. I think that has affected what is called the Saddle Creek Scene or whatever quite a bit, because we were all just sort of forced to do what we all wanted as a group of friends. Everyone went off in different directions, but it was more just centralized, just all here. We were just taking off on things that were happening elsewhere, like Bright Eyes started doing what they were doing, and Cursive started doing what they were doing, and The Faint started doing what they were doing, and yeah...

How do you want the project to grow as it continues?
I just want to keep getting better at doing anything that I do. I do think that probably the visual side will start getting a little more involved in the writing stages of music. And maybe in the future I will be creating a video and making music at the same time, rather than making the music first. That's something that's probably going to happen. I just want to play shows and keep writing music.


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