Solilians: An Interview

Solilians are a band of musicians from New York.

Dreamy, psychedelic, swooning. These are the words that were made to describe Solilians. I had a chance to chat with three of the band members recently about songwriting, collaborations, and getting ethereal.

Weirding: I was listening to A Planet of My Own from the I Heart Noise GB3 compilation and at some point discovered myself waking from what felt like a dream. You know that feeling like when you are listening to something and everything just sort of disappears and five minutes later you feel like you must have just taken an 8 hour nap?

Neptune (Jenn): For Planet, I laid down the vocals after the music was already created. The music is so ethereal and dreamy. It's like landing in a cloud of cotton candy. As with most music I work with, I typically do the vocals after the music is pretty much done and let the sound speak to me and inform how I will approach the vocals and lyrics. Music is very visual to me. It's not synesthesia, but pictures and stories do present themselves to me. In the case of the music for Planet, this vast expanse of the solar system popped into my mind with a suitless astronaut floating weightless in space. Nothing but stars and puffs of interstellar dust drifting by coalescing into the mystery.

Gabe:  This was one of the songs I started measuring by the “drool quotient”. I could tell what was working by how utterly spaced out I got during the tracking and mixing. Like Jenn, I’m watching a little internal movie with each track and the more detail I can see with a particular sound or treatment the better.

Weirding: So how do you choose sounds? Is it a methodical thing, or does it just happen?

Benjamin: With that song in particular, Jenn had come out to the Island from the City and we all went to the beach. They recorded me playing the Juno-1 and at the time I was very into Stars Of the Lid — particularly the space between the notes. Also Earth, always. So for me it’s actually the space between the notes that creates the space. 

Later John from The Stargazer Lilies came in and did his bow guitar thing through 50 million effects pedals, so there’s that. And then Gabe saw the bass missing and came in with some subaquatic woofing. That did the trick. And then of course Jenn takes it to outer space because that’s how she rolls.
Weirding: Tell me about how the band came together.

Neptune: This is all Ben, but we've known each other for years and I would do guest vocals on his various iterations of So L'il. I think we initially met through the group of shoegazer musicians that would play shows together. Although what I was doing at the time I called electro-organic, not shoegaze. 

So yeah It must be I was booking a show for my old band and invited Ben to play on the same bill as us. Wow, that was a long time ago, I might not even be remembering it correctly. It could have happened in a totally different way. Was it all a dream? Maybe I'm still dreaming.

Gabe: Ben and I went to college together. I met Jenn and Sharon at Ben & Sharon’s wedding. We brought on Mike to get a little more loud. I’ve always loved Ben’s stuff and getting to hear him with Sharon was even more of a treat. Jenn is also an inspiration. I'm into producing and tech stuff which works with the whole sci-fi thing.

Benjamin: These have been my friends forever. I feel so lucky to know them. Gabe and I have been friends since college, and Jenn and I have been playing music together for some 15 years. Jenn and I had our third gig together before we realized we lived down the street from each other in Brooklyn. 

At the time, I was making a comic and we had a successful Kickstarter so we decided to do an interstellar / haunting 7-inch to accompany it. Afterwards, we decided to make it a real band cause it went so well. 

John was too busy with The Stargazer Lilies, but Jenn, Gabe, and I have been playing ever since.

Weirding: How does where you are compare to the original idea? Do you feel like you've changed as musicians over the years?

Benjamin: Sharon joined and that became the ambient affair. The idea was to take klezmer and Mediterranean melodies and slow them down to glacial speeds. 

Mantras and minimalism were and still are a huge part of it. So far it’s worked pretty well. Then there were the dual female vocals with Sharon singing in Hebrew and Jenn singing in Djinnglish. Gabe brings the sci-fi and is the production mastermind behind the whole thing. 

At that point there was a Stereolab slowed down to Stars Of the Lid vibe. And there was a point where we were touring with Landing when the sound, particularly the noise, started going crazy mostly via Gabe. Suffice to say the gigs got a lot more exciting. 

Enter I Heart Noise. The slow and heavy, eyes steady, came later when I started playing with Mike. Him on drums and me on bass in a doom duo. I Heart Noise super graciously asked us to do a split with Skyjelly (who became our sister band in every way). We reformed like Voltron, with Gabe on guitar bringing the gaze, the rhythm section bringing the doom, and Jenn turning into Iggy. At this point it definitely took a turn for the hazy drone rock. The heaviness Mike brought cannot be underestimated in this transformation. It gave it the whole the head nod we'd been searching for. 

Subsequently this has continued to evolve into the Doomgaze we’re working on now for the new album. It's in the vein of — but not sounding like — Boris, HOLY FAWN, Gena, Earth, Bardo Pond. And it dives headfirst into the psychedelic cosmic lands of Deep Space 9.

Weirding: How do you know when things are going right? Like in the studio or just getting together to work on ideas? How do you know when it's on?

Neptune: Intuition plays a huge role in whatever I work on. So for me, I just go with that feeling. I remember some early recording sessions and Ben was always on about the first take — or maybe I made that up. Well anyway, that's how I recall it. But I just play the track over and over and sing along until something starts to gel melodically and lyrically.

Benjamin: Yeah I’m a first or second take man. Like Thelonious Monk and the Dirty 3 say: the energy is just always best and most alive there. We do occasionally go back over things but overall that’s pretty much how we roll. There’s an improvisatory element — but we have skeletons. We know it’s happening when we don’t have to think too hard about it. 

Gabe: Ben and Sharon usually write the songs together. He kinda walks us through the “zones” of the song and then we improve to that. The latter stuff with Mike has been more structured — but the word structured is obviously only an internal comparison. It’s all still mushy.

Benjamin: When we get into overthinking mode it’s usually not happening. The best stuff is just magic and rolls right out, like you’re tapping into someplace else. Our expanded quadratic unconscious merges. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts and the chemistry sets in big bang like — kickin' off the cosmos.

Neptune: And it's done when Ben says it's done since I give him my vocal takes to use however he thinks they sound best. It's all about the vibe and for me it just happens — but then Ben and Gabe are really putting in all the work on the tracks so I've got it easy.

Weirding: The Sisko is a tremendous song. When that bass comes in around the 4-minute mark towards the end of the song, it creates this absolutely phenomenal sort of resolution both to the song itself and to the whole split with Skyjelly. What was it like working with them on that song? How did the process work?

Benjamin: Thanks! The Sisko is an interesting song. First off it’s named after the greatest, Avery Brooks’ Captain Benjamin Sisko from Deep Space Nine (who was also the prophet). Secondly, it was initially a failed song. Mike and I recorded the rhythm tracks with him on drums and me on bass at Gabe’s studio during the same session as the rest of the songs from the split. Jenn and Gabe couldn’t figure out what to play on it at the time and instead we ended up using ‘Planet (Live)’ for our third track on the split — a live track from our set at I Heart Noise Fest in 2019 at AS220. 

Neptune: Oh yeah, Sisko! The first time around on that song I was at a loss. Nothing would come to mind, I had a whole mess of not very interesting lyrics and melodies so I didn't have any vocals to give Ben at that time.

Benjamin: Both the split and the artwork kept getting comparisons to Konkurrent's In the Fishtank series. I Heart Noise suggested it be great to have a collaborative track between Skyjelly and Solilians in this vein. That got us thinking. 

Weirding: It makes so much sense to have the bands represented on the split do a song where the bands combine to form one band.

Benjamin: It was also I Heart Noise’s brilliance to bring together a Jewish Space Rock band and a Lebanese Psychedelic band in the great coming together. Rick worked on it for a while and finally made sense of it through the lens of his fabulous psychedelic prism.

Weirding: Huh, so you all had originally cast it aside. So what happened? How did it reappear and take the form that's on the split?

Neptune: It showed up in my inbox, resurrected, with all these amazing sounds on it and those vocals from Skyjelly!

Benjamin: Gabe and I had started talking and two things came up. One was this skeleton of failed rhythm tracks from the initial session called The Sisko, and the other was an electronic track Gabe had made entirely by himself. I suggested — why not both?

And we put them together and handed them off to Rick "Skyjelly Jones" Lescault himself, who was definitely the missing ingredient. 

The bass was already in the middle eastern scale and Rick brought his guitar and vocal genius in and weaved just the perfect tapestry out of it. We were already talking about having traditional classical Arabic vocals on it, and Rick is one of the few insanely gifted people in indie to be able to pull that off — also featured on a number of Skyjelly jams. 

Then Jenn worked off Rick and added a beautiful vocal to the entirety — especially epic over the end at the 4-minute mark you refer to. Sharon also made her return on this track with some fantastic Hebrew vocals as well. 

Gabe completed the mix with his magnificent harmonium — which of course he did because he has a magic hat that he just pulls whatever’s needed out of and makes it like a zillion times better. Also, the outro to the song that you are referring to is musically all Gabe. Gabe is our very own Wizard of Oz and it is a testament to his vision — just the perfect part to next level the shit out of it.

Neptune: Something in it really resonated with me. Especially the Middle Eastern vibe. That scale really trips something in my brain. There was so much to work with sonically in that track. I started with the wailing as a kind of call-and-response to Skyjelly's vocals and it just snowballed from there. So that track was a whole epic movie playing in my head. The mixture of all the elements with Sharon's vocals in Hebrew added in — a very trippy hybrid track. 

And that harmonium! A song I didn't think was going anywhere somehow managed to take flight.

Gabe: I remember when I plugged Rick, Jenn, and Sharon’s vocals in. I hadn’t heard anything quite like it before. My immediate thought was to cut the ending that I had grafted on as the whole mid-east peace process was going so well. But when the ending came on with the vocals, I changed my mind. The key change seemed to give a nice release.

Weirding: Last thing, if you could, tell me about Spots the Cat and Bobby the Cat to whom the split was dedicated.

Benjamin: This dedication is actually from Ilya at I Heart Noise and Thor from Petridisch. As far as I understand, it’s Thor’s cat, and Thor tweeted at the time that he wasn't doing so well.

[Ed. — Ilya confirms: Spots and Bobby were cats that belonged to Petridisch / Thor and Cody / Cryostasium, respectively. Had a chance to meet both and I'd describe Bobby as shy and Spots as super-affectionate.]

Neptune: As for Spots and Bobby it was all just a dream to me.


Solilians are:

Neptune Sweet - Vocals, Stylus
Benjamin Malkin - Bass, Keyboards
Gabriel Walsh - Guitar, Synth, Harmonium, Producer
Mike Margulis - Drums
Sharon Malkin - Vocals, Omnichord

Newest split (with Skyjelly), In the Running 1 from I Heart Noise:

First full-length, Shin: 

This is the Binah's Dream 7" version from GB3: 

Twitter: @solilians

I Heart Noise artist page:

Here's the label we run, Goodbye Better:

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