Alvin Row is a Pittsburgh artist whose experimental compositions range in style from tactile, insular guitar meditations to squiggly synth jam sessions, maintaining a spirit of off-kilter outside-the-boxness throughout. His new release, Kosher, drops tomorrow. To mark the occasion, Alvin was kind enough to answer some questions for Bored In Pittsburgh; check it out below:
First off, how are you holding up during social distancing?
Hey, thanks for asking! I have been holding up alright. I graduated from school in April and have just been trying to keep myself busy since then.
Who is Alvin Row? A tagline or catchphrase, if you will.
I took the name from a song, because I was sorta self-conscious of the idea of making music under my own name. Outside of the name itself though, I never really thought about it really, just trying to make music that is true. I make and listen to a lot of different types of music and the thing that unites all of this is this sense of feeling genuine and honest.
Cliche question out of the way early; who/what are some of your influences, musical or otherwise?
The album that got me really interested in sampling was Person Pitch by Panda Bear, supplemented a lot of J Dilla’s work and Step in the Arena by Gang Starr. For this project, I really wanted to try to capture the aspects of more free art that I am really emotionally impacted by, but putting them into these smaller morsels of sound. Like Karma by Pharoah Sanders or Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk.
Was your creative process for Kosher different than it was for Vignettes and other Alvin Row releases? If so, how?
The newer release was really influenced by a friend of mine who encouraged me to take more musical risks and also have fun with it. Most of these songs began with some sort of groove or sample that I was really enamored with from another song; then I tried to pile on sounds and my own playing to not only make something new of the sample, but also interact with the music. I had played with some sampling before, but I really pushed myself this time… at first it was really just a desire to perform live with just two samplers, without stopping, and I just wanted to see what I thought it would be like. I really like electronic music but the aspect of performing and feeling human-ness in it is sometimes lost, something I really wanted to focus on when using the kinda rudimentary tech that I have.
In a more technical sense there were a lot of firsts, though. This was also the first project I decided to try using my computer for mixing to make a sleeker final product. Since I put a lot of work into the mixing, I also ended up getting it mastered. My two friends also added some cello and trombone parts toward the end, so this was my first collaborative venture that I’ve released, too. The tape is going to be coming out on a label called Warm Gospel as well.
Vignettes reminds me of a melancholy little jellyfish swimming through the ocean, while Kosher seems to have a more upbeat, irreverent, sample-heavy sound. Was this a conscious choice?
I definitely tried to play around with samples this time around, probably 90% of the sounds are sampled. The feelings that came out on each are really just a product of the emotions I was feeling / trying to feel when I was working on all the tracks. The jellyfish/aquatic thing was definitely not a conscious thought but that’s pretty neat.
Your music seems very tied to the visuals that surround it (album art, light shows when performing live, etc). What are your thoughts on how sound and images complement each other?
I really like the idea of having music with visuals! I have only gotten to do it twice live really, but I would really enjoy doing it more consistently. When I perform I try to make it a fluid set with some elements of improvisation, and I feel that having the visuals makes it easier to immerse yourself which is cool.
I made a few little animations of repeating images in the month leading up to the release, and I felt like it made a sort of trance that made taking in all the sounds going on in the music even easier which was cool. My friend Nate from growing up has helped me with a lot of visual art stuff and he has really been helpful in trying to capture the vibe I’m going for with the releases with a single image.
Is there an Alvin Row track that you’re especially proud of? If so, why?
Hmm. I think the closer on this album (“david”) incorporates a lot of the elements that I was using the whole album which I really liked. Listening back to it now it’s really funny to think that I made it because there is just so much going on it’s crazy it really coalesced into something listenable. The last track on my first project (“the cool grass”) also kinda seems like where I was headed next even though it was just a voice sample over acoustic guitar, it’s always sorta fun to look back at that one.
Who are some other Pittsburgh artists that you’d recommend?
My friend Angelo makes really fantastic house-adjacent music over at angelog.bandcamp.com (it is pretty hard to find just looking up). He gave me a lot of the first electronic albums I listened to and a ton of support, so I owe him big time for both I think. The quantity and consistent quality of what he creates is also super inspirational to me. Also, my friend Merce Lemon makes some of the most soul-touching music I have ever heard and their new music is so amazing I can’t wait to see them succeed in every way.
Some people I have also gotten to know this year and was so thrilled to play my last show for awhile with them all there: Ky Vӧss, Sneeze Awfull, Pat Coyle, Thousandzz of Beez and Sam Cope. All of them made me feel way more comfortable in my own skin as an electronic musician in Pittsburgh.
Is there anything that I forgot to ask or that you’d like to let people know about you, your music, or anything in general?
If anyone in the Pittsburgh area and wants a tape I can drop one off on your porch just shoot me an email or message. Thanks for doing this interview and I hope you and everyone else are staying safe. :~)