Performing as thisquietarmy, Eric Quach may start softly, but his performances soon rise to an epic symphony of sound. With dozens of releases in the last five years, Quach may get the gold medal for modern guitar overachiever, but in this crazy market his game plan seems to make sense. His interview too offers quantity, as well as quality.
What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?
Even though I grew up listening to guitar-based music, I was never attracted to picking up the instrument during my teens. I couldn’t identify with the generic notion that guitars were solely used for extroverted rock music. It was only in college/university, when I first discovered the likes of spacerock, shoegaze, indie, dreampop, slowcore, post-rock, and experimental bands, I realized it should be about the music, and it was okay to play sitting down, motionless. It was then that I picked up the guitar and figured out how to play with those sonic inspirations in mind.
I quickly learned about the world of effect pedals, which grew into an obsessive phase of “GAS” or Gear Acquisition Syndrome (luckily, I had a good job by then). I actually learned and experimented with pedals before really knowing how to play anything. I also formed my first band Destroyalldreamers shortly thereafter (2002). The first songs I learned to play were the ones we wrote and performed, which were heavily inspired by the aforementioned genres—we called it “post-shoegaze” at the time. For four years we practiced bi-weekly, played tons of local shows, did weekend tours, and recorded a couple of albums. I guess that’s how I became somewhat proficient, but in all honestly I still don’t think of myself as a guitar player.
What led you to create more experimental (non-mainstream) music?
I guess some would consider Destroyalldreamers as more experimental than the average band because of our non-standard, instrumental song structures covered with a wall of effects, but in the end, it was a pretty basic and straightforward standard four-piece rock band. thisquietarmy is more experimental in the sense that it can be a lot more abstract if needed; it explores and combines many more different styles, and it’s essentially a solo project.
The band’s relationship was got heavier; the writing became more collective and became more compromised. It came down to needing my own vehicle to create, and thus thisquietarmy was born (2005). There were aspects of my guitar sound I wanted to explore further to see where it would lead. I was developing ideas that didn’t fit the band’s direction; nor did I want my ideas to be affected by others. I wanted to keep pushing the boundaries of the instrument; to make more use of loop samplers, which made me start to think in terms of repetitions and drones. The concept was to transform a piece of music by playing over it until it became something completely different and to hold an orchestra in my hands. There was quite a focused period of sonic exploration around the idea of trying to steer a wall of sound like a train, trying to shift it into unexpected directions. With that came the ambition to learn how to record and mix; to acquire the tools to further my creative flow; to be self-reliant in general. At that point, I was on a personal creative path, which was exciting and freeing to me.
Whose music inspires you?
The basis will probably always be in the lines of Flying Saucer Attack, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Arab Strap, Low, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Silver Mt. Zion, Set Fire to Flames, Mogwai, Tarentel, Boards of Canada, Aidan Baker, Tim Hecker, Spiritualized, Joy Division, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Brian Eno, lovesliescrushing, Cocteau Twins, Swans, Merzbow—the list goes on and on, way beyond these genres, from one extreme to another. It is also ever changing. I’ve found through my own music there is more and more genre crossing between different scenes—not always done on purpose. People can come from different backgrounds, start at opposite ends, have different cultural references to anchor themselves, and from completely different paths end up listening to or creating pieces of music that have a lot in common. Discovering new bands while on tour, or chatting with people who’d tell me that some elements of my music reminds them of a genre I may not be familiar with or into, leads me to find out where they’re coming from. In turn, that might influence my output. In the last few years, some elements of black metal, stoner, doom, psychedelia, krautrock, kosmische, noise, musique concrete, or minimal cold wave have been creeping up into my music due to these exchanges. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being more open to the sounds I stumble upon with my guitar, and then finding use for them in new ways.
How did you get better at your current style?
I spent a lot of time with the pedals: trying out new ones, buying/trading/selling on eBay, craigslist, pawnshops or small online communities—seeking interesting but discontinued pedals, reading a lot of guitar forums, experimenting with different set-ups. Once I figured out the right combination of effects to create the sounds that spoke to me, I forced myself to freeze my setup and stick with it, in order to optimize their potential and go forward. For me, it started by experimenting with a single looper pedal, which led to using three of them at the same time, either in symbiosis or for completely different uses, to create as many options possible for myself. This led to being able to craft more complex structures and unique textures in real time. I’ve stuck with this set up for five or six years now. There’s a basic instinct to want to switch things around, but to create and master something I needed to stop tweaking and make use of what I had.
What are you trying convey with your music?
Anything, as long as it’s something—it’s all opened to interpretation. I channel a certain emotion or atmosphere as soon as I start playing, but I’m not trying to impose it in any way. Part of it is meditative, to get people hypnotized and in a trance; for them to open up, react and participate in their own way, within their own capacity. I create a lot of build ups in my music to elevate the tension; sometimes it can be peaceful and serene while other times it can be anxious, uncomfortable, dark, and heavy. I alternate between dreams and nightmares. In the end, there might be enlightenment, cleansing, hope, satisfaction, relief or a need to shake it off—I’m not sure. As for me it’s a self-serving release.
Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?
I use a gunmetal red (with matching headstock) Japanese Fender Jaguar with Dragster humbuckers. I also use a black Fender Blacktop Jaguar (replacing my Godin LG). I play directly into the venue’s PA, so I don’t really use amps live anymore. I practice with headphones (sometimes with flat monitoring ones) so I can feel confident how it will translate on different systems—but most of the time I just have to adapt. I own Traynor Guitar Mate, Traynor Guitar Mate, Mesa Boogie Mark III, Roland JC-90 and Roland JC-120 amps, which I occasionally use for some gigs and practice. I’ve also been known to use borrowed bass amps such as a Sunn Concert Bass or Ampeg SVT into an 8×10, I might use in conjunction with the PA.
Photo by by Meryem Yildiz
Pedal wise, I use a Baja Tech custom DaMoaf, a highly versatile analog fuzz/distortion (replacing the previous Zoom Ultrafuzz); a Digitech EX-7, used mostly for the Space Station sounds but also for optional wahs and other effects (replacing the Digitech XP-1000 for better reliability); a DOD Bi-Fet for a cheap clean boost and tone control; an EHX Micro-Pog, mostly for octave bass sounds (replacing the EHX POG for touring for it smaller footprint); a Boss PS-3 Pitchshifter for eerie sounds and an occasional third delay option; a Boss PS-2 Delay/pitchshifter for lo-fi delay and oscillation; an Ibanez DE7 Delay pedal (replacing the Digitech Digidelay because of footswitch failure on the second unit I bought); an EHX Small Stone Nano (replacing the clunky Small Stone for a smaller footprint); a Boss PN-2 Pan/Tremolo, used after the delays for helicopter tremolo; a TC Electronics Ditto X2 for looping (replacing the Line 6 DL4 for a smaller footprint and better reliability; a Boss RC-30 looper (replacing the Digitech JamMan, mostly for drum samples and overdubbing); a Digitech PDS 20/20 tweaked to around eight seconds, as a lo-fi noisemaker; a Boss LS-2 line selector pedal, to separate the RC-30 and PDS 20/20, a Digitech Digiverb, an Alesis Microverb, an Alesis Microlimiter, and a four channel Mackie mixer (replacing the 8-channel Behringer mixer).
Other pedals I have in the studio that I use often on recordings, or for occasional live performances are the EHX Memory Man with Hazarai, Digitech Echo Plus PDS8000, DOD Digital Delay/Sampler DFX94, Alesis Bitrman ModFX, as well as all the aforementioned pedals I’ve replaced. There are probably tons of other pedals that came and went, and others I probably forgot about.
I’m not into using software, plug-ins, and laptops for live performances—mainly because of reliability issues and digital sound quality. For recording, I use Mackie Tracktion, with some plug-ins from the Waves bundle and T-Racks for mixing and mastering.
Photo by by Sandrine Castellan
Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?
These days, I associate recording with the first half of thisquietarmy’s history, while the second half was focused on playing live. My relationship with both has drastically evolved. Back when I had a day job music was a hobby and an escape, but it was such a relief to be able to create and record whenever I could find spare time. Like model planes, I had a pile of parts and would take time to carefully craft them. Silence was a blank canvas and, at the time, it seemed limitless, until the paintings are starting to feel a little bit too like each other. Fast-forward 30-plus releases, it’s hard to not feel the pressure to avoid repeating myself, so the process has become slightly less enjoyable and freeing.
Playing live is a different beast. The impact of live music is so much more direct, and every performance is different. If I was to play the exact same set in the exact same venue to the exact same crowd every night, it wouldn’t be very far from an office job. But even with rehearsed structures, my live set is still based on real-time improvisation and real-time mixing of the different loops I play. There are so many variables to tame I never really know exactly what is going to happen and where the set might lead. At the same time, my sets are quite recognizable as a whole. The context of the performance also affects the set; I have to adapt to different atmospheres, acoustics, monitors, and space. In the end, it’s about how I feel in the moment and what will trigger certain aspects of what I choose to translate into sound. I also get to play in very different venues: professional clubs, theaters, pubs, art centers, small galleries, churches, squats, or even wagons and boats. It’s great to play for different crowds in different cities and countries where there are different expectations and levels of excitement.
How have you built up an audience for your music?
In 2005-2006 I created my own label—TQA Records—to release my first EP Wintersleeper, and Orange, collaboration with Aidan Baker (Nadja). Both were limited to 200 copies. I promoted the releases myself and managed to catch the attention of various local and international writers who wrote kind reviews, which created a momentum early on. There were also distributors such as Tonevendor (USA), Norman (UK), Aquarius (USA), and Linus Records (Japan) who were interested in carrying copies. Meanwhile, my band was still active and we also had a few releases on Where Are My Records (Canada) and Claire’s Echo (USA); this helped the marketing, as my solo record was first being spread as a side-project.
In 2007, with the band over, I finished my full-length debut and sophomore records Unconquered and Blackhaunter, which came out on Foreshadow (Poland) and Elevation (USA) in 2008. In 2009, I lost my job before embarking on a three-week tour in Europe with Nadja. When I returned home, I took the opportunity to work full time on music. I worked on new collaborations: A Picture of a Picture with Aidan Baker, released on Killer Pimp (USA), Death Valley, with Yellow6, released on Basses Frequences (France), and Meridians, with Scott Cortez (lovesliescrushing), released on three:four records (Switzerland).
On top of that, I finished three more solo records: Aftermath, released in 2010 by Basses Frequences, Vessels, released in 2011 by Aurora Borealis (UK), and Resurgence, also released in 2011 by Denovali Records (Germany). A second European tour was done in 2011 with Aidan Baker, and a third with AUN in the spring of 2012. By then, the travel bug caught on. After every tour, I would come back home to book the next one while working on new music. European festival offers and interest generated by word of mouth and past tours increased the desire to get back on the road.
Photo by Owen Cherry
From the fall of 2012 to this summer, I went on four more European tours and one Brazilian tour. Denovali Records released two more new albums Exorcisms and Hex Mountain. I put out three re-releases with Consouling Sounds (Belgium), released 4 collaborative/split albums (with Year of No Light, Labirinto and Syndrome). There were also various releases such as cassettes, CDRs, DVD and 7″s on Destructure (France), Dead Vox (Switzerland), Land of Decay (USA) and my own TQA Records. Finally this year, Tokyo Jupiter Records (Japan) and TQA Records co-released Rebirths, and Shelter Press (France) released Reveries, a collaborative album with Noveller. https://www.guitarmoderne.com/artists/spotlight-noveller
I’ve now played close to 300 shows around the world and I’ve had more than 30 releases out there—most of that happened in the last 5 years. I’ve been fortunate to have great label support to promote and distribute my music while I’ve been setting up DIY tours mostly by myself, without proper management.
With whom would you like to collaborate and why?
Since I’ve done the drone collaboration duos a lot and played about 300 solo shows, I’ve been more into collaborating with bands lately. Earlier this year, I collaborated with USA out of Vietnam, and lately with Squalor. I’d like to find various musicians such as a drummer and others to maybe hash out some thisquietarmy tracks as a band and see where that could go. It might bring out the full potential of thisquietarmy, or completely destroy its essence—an exciting and frightening idea.
What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?
I’m about to leave on my eighth European tour this fall as I’ve been invited to play Incubate festival in Holland . I am also doing some dates in France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. I’m also doing a two-week Japanese tour in the middle of it all. My latest release, Rebirths, is composed of new recordings of selected and previously released studio tracks. Over the years they have been adapted for live performances, which either makes a perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with my work, or, for fans, a portrait of thisquietarmy’s sonic evolution. It’s out on CD via Tokyo Jupiter Records and LP via TQA Records. Reveries just came out on LP Shelter Press.
Coming up is Hypnodrone Ensemble, a new krautrock project with Aidan Baker and three drummers, coming out on Consouling Sounds on September 15th. We’ll be performing it at Incubate festival in Tilburg. Also coming is Altar of Drone, a new cassette on Midira Records,. It is a recording of my improvised performance from last fall at Christuskirche, a tall church in Bochum, Germany.