No Sound Is Out Of The Question – A Q+A With The Abstract Nostalgists of Sneeze Awfull

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Sneeze Awfull are an experimental Pittsburgh duo whose musique concrète compositions, assembled using cello and all manner of samples, are by turns melancholy, frightening, head-scratching, and beautiful. Cellist Eric and sonic collagist JF were kind enough to answer some questions for Bored In Pittsburgh. Check it out below:

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Who/what is Sneeze Awfull? An origin story, if you will.

Eric: Me and JF started playing together after meeting each other at a free improv music series called Crucible Sound hosted by Anthony Levine-Decanini. We played in an experimental 4 piece pop band called IT IT for a few years following. When members began to part ways we unified our sound into what is currently Sneeze Awfull. 

Cliche question first: who/what are some of your influences, musical or otherwise? 

Eric: For this project my main influences are the sound scapes JF finds and organizes. I think the way bands like Deerhoof and The Books have found a home for the avant garde in a pop context has been very influential for me over the years. Aphex Twin is an infinite wealth of percussion and texture for me as well. Basically any contemporary music that includes dissonance and texture driven soundworlds is what keeps me excited. I’ve currently been obsessed with NYC based composer Eric Wubbels and Bassist/composer Florent Ghys who i’ve extracted a lot of my cello influence from as he creates incredibly polyrhythmic looping string based pieces. 

JF:  I don’t listen to a ton of music usually but I really like watching movies and imagining music that would play during a movie or story.  Like, most John Carpenter soundtracks, or Shane Carruth. We just saw The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover and there’s one love song that’s nested up inside my brain currently.  Oh yeah, also, Hunter made me a b-day mix and it has the Ryuchi Sakamoto’s theme song from Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. It’s soo gooood! 

I guess.  If I had to choose music, I would say currently I’m really enamored with Giant Claw, and Kate Bush, and the Eurythmics.  Oh! And this album Reid showed me by Alessandro Bosetti where it’s like sampled guitar playing over sampled voices from different languages.     

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I usually think about classical or chamber music when I think about the cello. How did the cello come to play such a central part in Sneeze Awfull?

Eric: The cello is a self taught instrument that I’d been fiending to work my way into a project that could allow me to play it like a bass, keeping it groovy while also processing it to meet the low and high end spectrums of any synth/electronic instrument. I think of the cello as a texture tool in this project and use it to blend with the human voice so at times it becomes hard to distinguish instrument from voice.

JF:  Yeah, I dunno.  Eric plays cello and I was like, hey, you should play cello over these sequences I’m writing n such.

Sneeze Awfull’s music makes heavy use of dialogue, spoken word, samples of people singing, etc. What role does the human voice play the multitude of other voices playing. 

JF:  I guess, we use a lot of vocal samples because they are the most available from the things we sample from.  But also, we try to find people who have interesting ways of speaking. There’s a lot of musicality under the hood of someone who talks in a particular way.  Rhythmically with the way they space out their syllables and tonally in the way they emphasize various ideas they’re trying to get out of their head into the world.  Whatever the world to them might be. So. Really it’s just another part of the song like anything else that isn’t explicitly a human voice.  

Eric: Yeah I agree with JF. I think we both share this value that no sound is out of the question which broadens our sonic spectrum and gives us a very texturally and rhythmically rich way of approaching our songs… within our structure of abstracted pop music.

Sneeze Awfull songs tend to feature several musically diverse passages situated back-to-back with each other, almost like an imperfect jigsaw puzzle. How do you conceptualize individual songs? What is your songwriting process like? 

JF:  Ha, it’s very incremental.  Like, one of us starts with one part.  And then we work it out to be a full thing.  And then we’re like, so, what should come after this?  And then just start trying to work on something that comes after it.  So, it is a lot like a puzzle in that it’s like trying to coerce a bunch of separate ideas into being a complete narrative.    

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Eric: Yeah. It’s absolutely a puzzle and we do move one section at a time. So JF will usually present a new sequence that I then riff over and we talk about the structure as we are composing the thing. 

Please talk a little bit about the artwork for your self-titled album.

JF:  I like to make collages.  So we’ve been using different collages I made for the artwork.  But, we did have our friend Adrienne Cassel make a music video for us and it’s amazingggg!  They specialize in CGI-types of media so the whole thing is CGI and it follows this entity floating around in the sea and then sinking to the ground.  And. There’s a car under the water. And sometimes they’re in the car and sometimes they’re not. And sometimes it’s falling apart or bouncing about like it’s dancing or, sometimes they’re lying on the ground with giant extraneous veins pulsing out and about into the water like a tree blooming.  It’s great.  

Eric: JF is an amazing collagist, sonically and visually so it’s cool to see the cross over of mediums. It really inspires me to combine and contrast unlikely sounds/images to create new feelings and perceptions. My friend Asia once described our music as “abstract nostalgia” which I really like because it’s always estranging the familiar.

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Who/what are some other local artists that you’d recommend to people that like Sneeze Awfull’s music?

JF:  Ohh, I dunno.  I can think of so many people to list but it’s mostly because I really like their music.  And just thinking about that list is making me nervous because then it’s like. What if I forget someone and then they’re gonna feel hurt about it!?  Hmmm. Ok. So. I’m gonna restrict this question for my own sake and just say. Hey, we’ve been playing a lot of shows doing a combined set with our good friend Thousandzz of Beezz.  Where we play songs in kind of a round-robin order. And we think it’s really cool because putting our two styles side by side continuously kind of makes the whole set feel more like a narrative and something that grows. And also Thousandzz of Beezz is amazing in so many ways musical or otherwise. So I’m gonna restrict my answer to just them for now.  

Eric: I guess I’ll just mention a few  folks who are doing the work to create a diverse and inclusive music/performing arts scene in PGH. Samir Gangwani curates a performance series called Hodge Podge that is a multimedia sanctuary seeking to connect artists from different backgrounds. Slowdanger is a dance/music duo who teaches, curates and performs and is absolutely a gem in PGH. AND one of my favorite humans period is Azzizy who is a noise/performance artist who has really put PGH on the map for a lot of DIY touring artists and curated some of my favorite shows I’ve seen in PGH.

Is there anything that I forgot to ask that you’d like people to know about Sneeze Awfull, your music, or really anything at all?

We are very eager to score a movie or tv show. If anyone is interested please dont be afraid to contact us. 

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Thanks to Eric and JF for contributing to this piece. Make sure to check out more from Sneeze Awfull and to follow them on their various social medias.

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