Interview: Maria Chavez
Photo: Olimpia Dior
Gold Dime’s Andrya Ambro and Maria Chavez sat down to talk. They knew each other from being New York-based artists (they get into that connection below). As artists they are connected as through their unique relationships with sound that are not limited to vocational titles like a drummer (in Ambro’s case) or D.J. (in Chavez’s). Instead, both artists seem to approach the sound in all its many incarnations and wavelengths as their subject matter, unconstrained by the limits of genre or noise.
In the interview, Chavez talks to Ambro about her sideline as a sound engineer, getting right down deep into what type of noise cancellation techniques both women use; surprising things slip out, like the origin of the name Gold Dime as well as the advantages of having a “3-word name.” They get into early punk stuff and Ambro’s beginnings in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. They also touch a little on the Talk Normal years, and of course, there are some major insights into Gold Dime itself.
MARIA CHAVEZ: How did we meet? I guess the first time we met was at the Kitchen.
ANDRYA AMBRO: That’s correct.
MC: And you were the sound lady.
AA: I was the sound lady at the Kitchen.
MC: Are you still there?
AA: I’ve worked there freelance for eleven years.
MC: Oh cool.
AA: There was a period of time where I wasn’t working as a sound engineer for like three or four years. I guess when my old band had started to tour a lot I stopped doing sound.
MC: It’s hard, yeah. Once you tour, it’s really impossible to make anytime. I really respect people that can find work; I wish that I had that safety net because I don’t. Do you have a degree? How did you get into sound?
AA: I just had an interest. Initially, I went to school for jazz performance. That didn’t go very well. So I was always taking music technology classes. I had an interest and I always wanted to learn for myself for my own independence. So I took one a lot of technology classes. I graduated with a bachelor of arts, not a bachelor of technology.
MC: I’m a dropout, so I don’t know.
AA: I always had a skill, but I was like, “I need to make money.” First I started cocktail waitressing, but I kind of hate talking to people, so I started working at venues and started stage handing at the Bowery Ballroom. Then I did sound at the Mercury Lounge and worked at Tonic the last three years. Someone I knew at Tonic worked at the Kitchen, so I started working there. The Kitchen is another world that is not strictly music, and I get paid decently and can observe another creative process. That’s why I really like working in that world: multi-media, downtown theater, sometimes dance. Sometimes I’ll work with artists.
MC: Does it influence your work at all, your music side? Because Gold Dime is your main project?
AA: That’s my main project. Of course, it influences me in the sense that I’m experiencing another creative process, and I take little things from those other processes. Also, I still operate within mostly musical realm and I like kind of being an outsider where I work
MC: Besides Gold Dime, what other projects have you’ve worked on that you started yourself. Are you always the starter of a band or do you find yourself just constantly collaborating with groups of people and it just evolves into a band?
AA: I used to be in a band called Talk Normal, and that was a duo scenario, and that was both of us[starting the band]. I think I was a pretty strong creative force in that. I’m not very good at being in bands where I’m not the creative force. I don’t last very long. I was once just a drummer in someone’s band. I’m glad I did that. I learned a lot, but that didn’t last very long for another reason.
MC: There’s always some kind of drama, right?
AA: That was full of drama, but out of that came Talk Normal with a very good friend of mine, Sarah Register.
MC: And so the Gold Dime project, is it related to Talk Normal?
AA: No, it’s not. Talk Normal was kind of stopping, but I thought it would be cool to keep writing songs, so I just kept writing songs, and I thought it would be cool to play them live, so I found some people and we played them live. And we kept doing it. The line up rotated a bunch and I wanted people to collaborate, but — I don’t want to say nothing was gelling — it just wasn’t the right scenario with those particular people. So I just kept rotating members, and because of that, I was the only one cranking out the songs. There’s a gentleman on bass [Adam Mariewicz] who just stopped because his previous band the Dreebs started going again.
MC: So who is Gold Dime comprised of now?
AA: A young lady named Jessica Ackerley from the jazz world and is getting more into weirdo stuff.
MC: What does she play?
AA: Guitar. And then a fellow who I work with at The Kitchen, so he’s an engineer, too. His name is Ian Douglas-Moore. He is playing bass these days.
MC: I wish I had a three-word name.
AA: I just think of him as Ian, and then I mentioned him to a friend and I was like, “Oh, I’m friends with Ian Douglas-Moore,” and I thought I was talking about someone else. It sounds like he should be knighted.
MC: When you have three it makes it sound more important. So the band is a trio?
AA: Yeah, it’s a trio. I play drums and sing. I have written a lot of the parts. I am open to other people writing parts, but that’s not the way it’s gone down so far.
If anything I subscribe to the Eno-Bowie way of doing things where they just kind of made shit up on the spot to get the core of things to find out what words feel good within the core of things and then frame it out from there.
MC: And what inspires you to write lyrics. Have you been writing since you were a child? Is that just something that just naturally comes? Did you learn it in school?
AA: I write the lyrics last, first off. I think how someone uses their voice I like more than what they’re actually saying. The words have to be a part of it. If anything I subscribe to the Eno-Bowie way of doing things, where they just kind of made shit up on the spot to get the core of things, to find out what words feel good within the core of the song and then frame it out from there.
MC: Sometimes words can have too much of this driving storyline narrative that’s intense and that that feels like it’s more of a pop way of explaining something. Whereas when you talk about Eno and Bowie…
AA: I have a hard time when people assume that I wrote a song about this experience or I wrote this song about me, And I think that’s so strange; I had a feeling and I just elaborated on it. It’s super strange to me.
MC: Who are your influences? Who are your favorite lyricists?
AA: Laurie Anderson. Johny Lydon, PIL days, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, Mark Perry from Alternative TV…
MC: They seem like poets.
AA: Which ones?
MC: All of them. Always feel like the punk is stuff is like Dada poetry. Do you know that book “Lipstick Traces”?
MC: It’s this really great book and they made an awesome CD compilation comparing Dada poetry to punk rock. It’s really good.
AA: Were you really into punk rock?
MC: No, not at all. I just like it when odd things are being compared to each other.
AA: Sorry I misheard you, I’m deaf a little bit.
MC: Were you born that way; what happened?
AA: I just lost a little bit of hearing in the high mids. I had this tested in 2005. It’s not terribly abnormal, but I’m pretty sure it’s from the metronome. People say it’s because I’m a drummer, but I always listen to the metronome super loud. For some reason, I always put an earplug in this ear [left ear] but not in this ear [right ear], then put the headphones on with metronome. So I feel like that constant, 1k to 2k made me lose it.
MC: We have to protect our hearing it’s really important.
AA: Yes, absolutely. I get furious when I see young children without protection.
MC: So you have an upcoming album, speaking of hearing, do you have any other projects that are linked to the album? Did you have some videos coming up with it?
AA: There’s a video. It should be coming out in the next couple weeks I think for one of the songs on there [the album].
MC: Who released it?
AA: Fire Talk. A fellow named Trevor runs it; he’s wonderful. Two singles have come out already. The song with the video is called “All We Have to be Thankful For.” It’s a cover of Anne Clarke whose lyrics I love. Do you know her?
MC: The English singer. How did you know of her?
AA: I had heard of her because I used to work at a place up the street called Troost; a gentleman who worked there played a lot of great music. We’d always swap stuff — he played her [Anne Clark]; I don’t know how it came to him, but the first time he put it on, I was like, “I love this.” So yeah, when I heard that particular song, I knew I had to do something with it. But when I cover stuff, I want to turn it inside out. She [Anne Clark] speaks it; she does spoken word mostly over dance beats. It’s really stark and brooding. I love her words. I love the world weariness that she creates. That’s always been attractive. But, yeah, I turned the song inside out. I love that song.
MC: Have you done covers a lot?
AA: I don’t do it too often. The only other one I did was with my old band Talk Normal; we did a Roxy Music cover…I love Brian Ferry. There was a box set of theirs that my friend gave me years ago, and we would watch it all the time before you watched these things digitally. There’s that one song called “Psalm” where someone throws him the tambourine.
MC: And how did the video come about? Why did you pick that song?
AA: A friend of mine, also my roommate, he had done a lot of short videos that I really liked. I asked him if he would be interested in doing a video and I let him pick the song because I don’t want anyone to work on something that they’re not into. There were three songs that I wanted a video for, and I wanted to see if he would pick one on his own. He did! So I was like, that’s “pretty cool, do that.” His name Kameron Neal. It’s [the video] pretty intimate to a degree.
MC: Do you guys act in it or is it something more abstract?
AA: It’s more abstract. There’s a lot of moving tangible things that create weird focus points; there’s a lot of saran wrap, paint dripping on cellophane. It’s really cool. I’m really impressed and grateful.
MC: Does the imagery reflect the rest of the album as well? Do you feel a connection with it?
AA: It’s all a little intense. I feel like that video does convey the band and the music very well.
MC: What do you think drives the intensity of your work?
AA: I think that I’m probably intense. I’m an intense live performer too. That’s why I like playing in Japan.
MC: Do you play Japan a lot?
AA: I did with my old band. I always say I feel less like a freak in Japan. I feel like they’re more accepting of intensity, which is nice.
MC: That’s interesting too because they also have the demeanor about them that’s like don’t get too deep.
AA: But when it comes to the arts because that “don’t get too deep” aspect exists, it seems the polar opposite exists for them when they express themselves. They seem really serious about expression and you can be intense. Also, these are all sweeping generalizations.
MC: Did you just do a regular all over Japan tour or did you go to one city in particular?
AA: We — Talk Normal — played a few shows in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. It was cool. The label there, which was also a production company, put it out. They also set up the tour. It was crazy and wonderful. I had been there before as a sound engineer for someone I worked for. I went there three times with this artist, so I’d been there a lot, but it was cool to go there and drive around; they would take us places, and they spoke Japanese so that was incredibly handy. Plus with Talk Normal, we were there for a long stint of time.
MC: Do you have stuff coming up tour-wise for the album?
AA: We just have a few out of town east coast dates in June, but I’m going to try to set up a longer tour in September.
MC: In America?
AA: Yeah, America. If something happens abroad that’s great, but I think I have to tour America first.
MC: And how is the album going to be distributed besides your tour?
AA: Fire Talk goes through a distributor, so it’ll be hopefully in stores. And there’ll be vinyl. 300 currently.
MC: How many albums have you made that were released on labels?
AA: 3 and then an EP. I’m a slow writer. In Gold Dime and Talk Normal too. It took us [Talk Normal] a while to finish a song.
MC: And the name Gold Dime, does it come from something in particular?
AA: Oddly enough it was the title of a Talk Normal song
AA: It’s funny, that never really comes up. No one ever really asks me. But I kind of like that they don’t.
MC: Oh Sorry.
AA: No no. I’m almost amused by it. People who have been in the band don’t even know. It was kind of a noise jam that Talk Normal did, and I loved it, but we didn’t have enough time to finish it for an album, but it did exist on a split with Thurston Moore.
MC: And you just liked the name so much that you kept it?
AA: I like the words next to each other. I like the lyrics that the words came from. They kind of just happened. It [the Talk Normal song “Gold Dime” ]was just kind of a monologue about not having money. It sounds cheesy, but the hook was “I ain’t got no money; I ain’t got no time; I ain’t got no Jesus; Gone done slipped my mind; He ain’t got no money; And he wants all mine; Gotta find that Jesus; And a big gold dime.” It’s about having a little piece of the pie as well. That was its overachieving meaning at its initial inception. Plus the words against each other had a little bit of a mystery and obsoleteness to them. And gold dimes do tangibly exist.
MC: Do you think that the times have influenced your work at all?
AA: Of course, but nothing that is conscious.
AA: I remember feeling things through the times that went into a song or two. Sure, how can we not escape the times? If you’re going to make things, it’s impossible.
MC: It’s hard to avoid.
AA: I feel bad when I don’t know everything that goes on in the day. Whereas I used to feel okay going a few days without knowing things. But it all changes so quickly now, everything, which is a little unnerving.
MC: Where did you grow up?
AA: Wilmington Delaware.
MC: That’s where Uncle Joe lives. Is it fairly liberal?
AA: Delaware goes mostly Democrat. Because most of the population is Wilmington, which is north and it’s just outside of Philadelphia. Lower Delaware is kind of like Maryland, I don’t want to say backwoods, but more suburban rural, so they’re a little more red down there.
MC: Did you go to school there, too?
AA: I did. But I grew up hanging out in Philadelphia.
MC: What was Philadelphia like?
AA: Philly was great. I don’t remember too many musicians necessarily coming out of Philadelphia, but I was always into D.C. bands. These bands would sometimes play in Philadelphia. Or sometimes teenagers in bands that were from the suburbs of Philadelphia would play at all ages-spots I can honestly not remember who they were now. I always played in weirdo bands even though I was classically trained in percussion, so I was in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.
AA: I was way into that, but I always played in weirdo bands, so I would always have random things that I would go see with friends that were all-ages in Philly. But no one really came to Delaware.
MC: Delaware doesn’t really have a scene?
AA: I would say we’re a little identity-less in the sense of states having identities. I feel like we always go to the surrounding states for that kind of cultural thing. We have one university in the whole state. I don’t mean to diss Delaware. I grew up in suburbia. It was fine.
MC: That’s nice to have suburbia. Do you have a favorite city that you like to go visit when you’re touring?
AA: Glasgow. Though it’s not my favorite. It felt industrial in a way that’s familiar but a little bit foreign enough. I really like the people there. It also depends on what bands you played with, and the vibe of the evening, and did it go alright, and where did you sleep–was it horrible? Maybe all of that lined up, but the couple times that I’ve been there I really liked the vibe. Edinborough was a little sterile, so maybe that [Glasgow]was my more real experience in Scotland.
MC: I heard the color green there is really different?
AA: It’s fucking vibrant. Even on overcast days, it’s just like my eyes hurt. Talk Normal did a 3-week tour of the U.K. I don’t think I’ll ever have such large amounts of time there. It was really cool.
MC: To drive around and plays shows and just see everything…
AA: Even just driving from place to place was good enough for me.