Local Music Spotlight: After-Death Plan
Columbus musicians Lesley Ann Fogle and Constantine Hondroulis fuse their expert instincts on the band's excellent sophomore album, "Psycho Social Sexual"
Columbus duo After-Death Plan is the enmeshed talents of Lesley Ann Fogle (Mal VU) and Constantine Hondroulis (Earwig, Our Flesh Party, Salt Horse), which they’ve poured into their recently released sophomore album, Psycho Social Sexual, a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Literature.
Described by its creators as ‘American Gothic nous rock,’ Psycho Social Sexual is rife with delicious textures, weaving together the macabre (“Killed In Days”), the sensual (“The Sinner”), the ethereal (“Starlight”), and the coltish (“You Play Adult”). Fogle’s smoldering vocal and Hondroulis’ thick bass lines play off one another with effortless chemistry and satisfying contrast.
A long stretch of past collaborations brought the two veteran musicians together.
“I would make frequent trips to Chicago to record songs with Lesley in Mal VU,” Hondroulis explains. “It was the opposite of what I played at the time in Our Flesh Party and Salt Horse, which focused more on loud guitars and riffs. The Mal VU songs were more sensitive, more about vocal melodies and creating a mood. When she moved back to the area it was a lot easier to write songs together. The original idea was to continue the Mal VU trajectory, but these songs took on a unique identity and life of their own, so it only made sense to carve out a new project.”
Today, After-Death Plan has given Columbus Underground the exclusive debut of their new video, “Walking,” filmed last year with some rather familiar Arch City landmarks as its backdrop.
Last week, Fogle, Hondroulis and I had an opportunity to discuss Psycho Social Sexual and its conception.
You’ve worked together for a significant amount of time in various capacities. When you eventually became a twosome to write and record, in what ways did the both of you gel easily as a duo – and conversely, were there divergent perspectives or points of difference that you’ve had to work out as you meshed?
Constantine: “We are each other’s biggest fans and have always gelled musically. My style is more traditional ‘pop’ structures, while Lesley’s approach to songwriting is more fluid and almost classical, but we are both influenced by a wide variety of music. We struggled a bit with freer bass lines on artsier songs like ‘Body Is The Clay’ or ‘In The Garden,’ but it was more like a breakthrough. Part of why we like to collaborate with people is to get into challenging situations.”
Lesley, as an engineer, what were you specifically focused on in the booth to realize this batch of songs? What do you believe is your unique touch from that production standpoint?
Lesley: “I approach songwriting as a lyricist. From there I hear melody or go straight to writing drums around the vocals. Tempo maps are a work tool but not with ADP because we don’t aim to write popular songs. I like some amount of hook and relatability but formulaic themes of conceit, shallowness, or objectification are not where we’re at though I’ve a back catalog that already touched on lovelessness, self-pity, and misplaced anger. Love is always on the table. From there I generally look to collaborative input. We both try not to hog the individual songs we take the lead on. Props if things change course and something unexpected grows. I tend to score and sound design. My strongest suit might be arranging sound like Tetris around the lyrics. Sometimes things fall into place and sometimes we take the elements and restart the song. Then we practice and aim to track things in one take.
Mix-wise, mine is an earthier style with healthy levels, minor compression, reductive EQ, textures, and clarity. Twenty years ago, when I did not know what I was doing, I hid behind effects too much. Most musicians will know what I am talking about here. The last album was deliberately open and some called it indie folk. I use more effects on this record but not to correct or mask things. I’m always concerned when I hear a big flat note on an album. Was there an overwhelming cue mix? Was the engineer afraid to ask the artist for another take or to punch in? What the hell?”
Constantine, your multi-instrumental abilities are supplemented by a lot of incredibly talented musicians. What was the process of achieving the sound you wanted by weaving in those individual sonic pieces into the overall landscape of the album?
Constantine: “We both play several instruments on the record but felt like others could play parts better or add something unique. For example, I’d recorded a guitar ‘solo’ on the song ‘Psycho Social Sexual’ that was…eh..fine. But I really wanted it to be a musical centerpiece. I’ve been friends with Milan Karcic for many years, having played bass with him in Salt Horse, and I knew that he would be able to conjure that sizzle we were looking for. I still get excited listening for when his solo comes up in the song.
Everyone who collaborated is a heavy hitter who delivered musical home runs. Jay Gasper added the astral guitar on ‘Starlight,’ Bob Ray Starker’s silky sax redefined ‘You Play Adult.’ Tom Boyer’s gritty analog synth lines on ‘Killed In Days’ punched it up in unexpected and exciting ways. Henning Nugel blasted out a completely dramatic interpretation on ‘Emma Nation.’ My brother, George Hondroulis, is a renaissance man who contributes regularly to our cause, and ‘Neil Harvey’ spilled out with his steady drumbeat as the framework against the back rhythm of the chord progression of the song. I play bass in Earwig and have become close friends with Lizard McGee. He’s extremely creative and always on board with bold ideas. His fearlessness is inspiring. Naturally, he’s on speed-dial for collaborations.”
You’ve called your songs ‘cinematic,’ and I agree that “Walking” has those great touches that hit you at different points in the song. In your minds, what are the important elements of a song that add compelling drama and surprise?
Lesley: “It’s a score. The lyrics works with the music to tell the story in melody and tone. Rhythm supports the pace but usually follows the story. Other instrumentation agrees or talks of surrounding phrases while filling in the frequency spectrum where it’s open. In ‘Walking,’ when the volume dynamic changes, it is the emotion of loss in the present moment. The more surreal part of the song is the moment of choice in the walk to the afterlife, just before everything we’d learned about communication unmaps itself. It’s a moment of pure consciousness, and in the video, two people meeting across the quantum field who also walk in parallel and pass in the imprint of a memory.”
The “Walking” video is a great tribute to Columbus. For each of you, what makes our city a meaningful place for creativity – especially when it involves music?
Lesley: “All of those locations are places we go to re-energize. Greenlawn with its 300-year-old trees and romantic notion of the cyclic connection between nature and death. The Statehouse with its beautiful architecture and fossilized steps, Glen Echo’s natural beauty and tender bird tunnel, the Scioto Bridge and underpass, the lighted steps at COSI. Great collective minds came together to make this landscape and we are fortunate to freely walk through it. It’s work to adopt a state of mind where we make our own reality and the good outweighs the bad. Re-energized, we find the strength to work on what needs righted. Art, design, and music are important to Columbus and it shows. We are just another voice in the cultural landscape.”
Constantine: “We are super proud of our little burg. We are consistently surprised by the number of creative people we encounter who are putting out world-class work. Whether it is music, visual arts, spoken word, or performance art, we are blown away by the artists in our community. I’ve been on this scene since the late 1980s, and it has always felt special. It seems like people in other towns who are ‘in-the-know’ realize that Columbus has a certain something you don’t find everywhere. It’s that precise idea that we wanted to highlight in our video for ‘Walking.'”
After-Death Plan‘s latest album ‘Psycho Social Sexual’ can be purchased via their official website. Local copies can be found at Lost Weekend Records in Clintonville. Follow the band on Twitter and Facebook.