Forces At Play: Floating Room

Portland lovers Maya Stoner and Kyle Bates (of Drowse) are the driving forces behind one of the cities preeminent shoegaze / dreampop outfits, Floating Room. Together, the two write a gloom-tinted bedroom pop perfect for a dark and rainy Northwest winter. With an intimate and melancholic charm, on their 2016 release, Sunless, Floating Room take on issues of lost love, heartbreak, past insecurities, oppressive systems, and finding resilience within those experiences.

Ahead of their performance at Holocene on Wednesday, Oct 18, we spoke with Maya and Kyle about their influences, the vulnerability of writing intimate music with a lover, their creative process, what’s next for the band and more.

What were some of your earliest musical influences? Are they still relevant to what you’re creating now?

Maya: I feel incredibly fortunate to have gone to the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls when I was in middle school. There I had mentors who not only taught me guitar but also burnt me CDs and took me to see shows like Sonic Youth and even Lady Fest in Olympia. As a girl it was huge for me to be able to see bands like Sleater-Kinney, Mirah and The Gossip. I’m still friends with all the other (then) teen girls I used to go to these shows with. We would all cry at every Sleater-Kinney concert, haha. Other artists I dug were the Microphones, Thanksgiving and Little Wings.

While one might not immediately make these connections when listening to Floating Room, I think they’re still relevant to the work I create. Earlier this year my mom sent me the sweetest mom text. She said she read this line about how Corin Tucker (of Sleater-Kinney) “turns melancholy into energy” and she said I do the same. Is it cool to cite your mom in interviews? I also feel like the lyrics I write nowadays are way more concerned with feminism than ever before but in a very personal way, so there’s that link too. 

Kyle: Many of the bands I was into at an early age are still huge influences to this day. When I was younger my gateway into underground music in general was metal and hardcore punk, so when I started getting into “indie rock” in high school I gravitated towards the darker stuff: sad and slow(core) music like Low, Bedhead, Red House Painters, and (sort of similar) Sparklehorse alongside classic bands like MBV, Sonic Youth, and Slint. Maya and I have both been heavily into the work of Phil Elverum (The Microphones/Mount Eerie) since our teens. Deerhunter was a band that came out when I was in high school that has a pretty big influence on Floating Room. 

When I was in middle school and early high school I was obsessed with black metal bands like Xasthur and Weakling–the focus of that music is largely on creating an immersive atmosphere which is something I try to do with all of my projects. 

Is the whole songwriting process pretty collaborative? Where is the line drawn between working on songs for Floating Room and Kyle’s personal project Drowse?  

Maya: The way Floating Room’s first album came together was very different than the next album that will be coming out. Floating Room wasn’t totally a band when we were recording it. Originally the idea was that Kyle was going to teach me how to use Ableton to record my own solo music by producing a few tracks. Long story short, while I play guitar, bass, program drums, beats, synths ect. on the first album, Sunless, Kyle also added guitar or synths to almost every song and Alec ended up joining about half way through and playing bass on a lot of the songs.

The way we wrote this next album was a lot more straight forward. I brought the songs as vocals & guitar to practice and everyone wrote their own parts. This process along with recording in a studio and having a real life drummer (the amazing Sonia) really changed the game. I’ll just let Kyle talk about the Drowse… 

Kyle: Maya writes the majority of the music for Floating Room and all of the lyrics. On Sunless she programmed all of the electronic drums, made synth patches, loops and recorded the majority of bass and guitar. I mostly helped with composition, layering sounds and mixing as well as writing some parts. On our new album we recorded as a full band at a studio so the process was a bit different. Sometimes we wrote collaboratively as a band, but more often than not Maya would bring a finished song to practice and we add our own parts. In Drowse it’s bassically the reverse–I write all of the songs and Maya adds to them. 

It seems like there might be a particular vulnerability in writing songs with a lover, especially if writing songs about heartbreak and the dissolution of previous relationships. Has this been a challenge at all? 

Maya: I try to not think about what others will think of my lyrics when I’m writing them because that seems like a total creative roadblock. When writing Sunless my wounds were still fresh so it wasn’t easy to talk about my experiences. I was abused and traumatized. Some people interpreted it as a woman crying over heartbreak but really I was processing trauma. Unfortunately processing trauma is a long process. I don’t think Kyle gets jealous or anything because he’s seen me get triggered and how much that stuff effected me and realizes that those songs are more about the pain of abuse rather than forlorn love songs about an ex. 

Overall, I think the fact that we are partners is a strength for our band. We’ve been playing guitar together since our first dates. Writing is very intimate, but we’re used to being intimate around eachother. 

Kyle:  I think writing songs together makes us closer. We can engage with each other on a vulnerable plane that we might not otherwise be able to access. Working together on creative projects is an incredible part of our relationship, it keeps things from feeling stagnant and allows us to communicate on an artistic level; artistic, creative understanding is just as important as any other aspect of a relationship. I never feel like I’m being stiffled by our relationship–a common feeling for an artist (or at least for me)–because we are both working together towards a shared goal and supporting each other in our creative work. The challenge is not letting disagreements on sound or other aspects of being in bands carry over to the relationship. When we write our lyrics we do so alone. I don’t know what Maya is singing about when we first learn a song–we usually only describe song meanings to each other when we feel totally comfortable. This keeps us from feeling self-conscious and limiting how open we are willing to be in what we create. 

Is there a piece of gear you can’t live without in the bedroom recording process? Anything you’d love to bring into the fold? 

Kyle: For Sunless we used extremely cheap recording equipment so there is nothing in particular I would recommend–an essential part of the sound on that album was using the computer to make guitars sound like something other than guitars. Maya used a “throat mic” made from a contact mic strapped to her throat for some of the vocals, so I guess that would be a piece of gear that was essential to the sound. We recently got an analogue synth that we are going to start using live. 

Maya: My dog whines a lot when we record music in my room. Sometimes we keep it. 

Lyrically, sonically and thematically (at least on Sunless), there is a bleakness (in a good way!) to the music of Floating Room. In our current state of social and political discord, do you find it difficult to stay positive and productive, creatively? Or is it more fueling to the creative process?

Kyle: When things get dark I create. Turmoil is central. I honestly have a very hard time feeling motivated to make art when I feel good so in that way the stream of horrible news is fueling in that it fuels my depression (I’d much rather this country not get more and more fucked each day)? The lyrics in both projects (Floating Room and Drowse) are not explicitly political, although there is something intrinsically political in the act of intense self-examination that we engage with. Deep self-questioning–working towards an larger awareness of who we are and how we impact the people around us–is a practice that I feel should be an obligation for those who share my privileged position in society. 

Maya: I find it really hard to stay positive but that doesn’t make me less productive music wise. Sometimes I start to feel self conscious about the overwhelming bleakness but even when I set out to write something more upbeat and poppy the lyrics end up pretty dang dark. This political climate certainly doesn’t help. To be honest, I feel angry and sad all the time. This is usually what fuels me to write lyrics though. 

What’s next for the band? New music in the works?

Kyle: We have a mini-LP finished that we recorded with Nich Wilbur up at the Unknown in Anacortes, WA. The studio is in a decommissioned church and is owned by Nich who plays in an amazing band called Hungry Cloud Darkening and one of our musical heroes, Phil Elverum. We are still working out the details of the release. 

Maya: We are also already writing songs for the album after that! I’m going to college again and all this learning is inspiring a lot of creative ideas. 

Anything musically or otherwise that you’re excited about that you think folks should check out?

Kyle: Being Awone/Wilt is an incredible project from Portland that I don’t think enough people have heard.

I just read Sarah Manguso’s newish book and she is great, read her if you haven’t yet! 

Maya: Hate to toot my own label’s horn but Black Belt Eagle Scout and Surfer Rosie are also killing the game. I could watch those bands over and over and still be filled with emotion and inspiration. I know the exact point in a Surfer Rosie set where I get the chills every time. Also, Planet Damn doesn’t have recordings yet but if you get a chance to see them live you will not regret it! 

Catch Floating Room at Holocene on Wednesday, October 18 with Mini Blinds and No Aloha.