Aby Wolf and Eric Mayson have been in each other’s musical orbit for 10 years now. Wolf sings and creates music, while Mayson plays multiple instruments and composes as well. They first met at a Japanese bar in Manhattan, when Mayson was playing with Caroline Smith, and Wolf was performing with Dessa. Coincidentally, both bands were in the city on the same night, and all met up together for a big group dinner.
Since then, the two have played together in various contexts— from a GRRRL PRTY bill in 2015 performing with Jesse Schuster and Arlen Peiffer from Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps, to jazz shows at Ice House to the large electro-chamber ensemble “Champagne Confetti.” This week, the two are celebrating their multi-context collaborative relationship with a show called SMASHuP!
I spoke with the two artists about their collaborative relationship. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Sheila Regan: How would you describe your shared musical vocabulary?
Aby Wolf: Some of that is sort of unspoken; it’s understanding how Eric works. When he shows up, he can kind of noodle around for a second, but then if there’s a moment of interest, either of us can sort of lock in on that and suggest to take it further.
Eric Mayson: We both bring a musical vocabulary to it that’s harmonically very dense, rhythmically, very hard hitting but in different kinds of ways. Aby, you have a more expansive reverb-y electronic cosmic thing and I think I maybe have a more kind of noodle-y, groovy riff based thing. The thing we established in early exploratory journeys was the process of creating stuff together. That’s where the real vocabulary lives— how we explore ideas together, how we chase things together. There’s a lot of really tight harmonies, a lot of belting happening, a lot of lyrics about trees in the universe. It’s very raw.
AW: It’s very fun. Just playful.
SR: Both of you have moved in your careers between taking the lead and supporting other musicians. Is that sort of flexibility because of who you are as artists, or because of the particular music scene you belong to?
EM: I identified for the longest time, career wise, as a support person who would make music for theaters or for dance or play in bands. I’ve always had a tremendous amount of impostor syndrome when it came to leading a band or putting my own music out in front.
I got to experience that a little bit with some solo stuff that I had released, and I enjoyed that, but I think my brain kind of lives in a collaborative world. Aby, I don’t want to speak for you, but I feel like maybe you have also occupied a similar space for a lot of your career, where you’re playing with other bands, but you also have your solo project. I think, with how we’ve spoken in the past about making music collaboratively, that’s one of the places you enjoy living— bouncing ideas off another person.
We get to do both in this project, where we’re both kind of leading. This is our music, we feel in control of and have a lot of ownership over it but also, it’s very much a collaborative project. Part of it is just the nature of a music career is that you have to just play with as many people as possible. But then also just loving being a collaborator.
AW: I spent a lot of my career learning how to support other people. We can both support each other as well as lift our shared stuff together. And also, in my experience, it’s very relationship based. It’s community building to make music with people.
What we’re celebrating with this show is our musical friendship. The people in Eric’s sphere that I’ve sort of gotten to know, and vice versa, too. These are our people.
EM: There’s something about the corpus of stuff that we’ve created together— when I play my own music, I am reminded of how I wrote the song and where it came from, and how I felt when I was writing it. When I play with other bands, I’m reminded that this is this person’s song, it feels like this person’s project. I’m lending my energy to that person’s musical philosophy or whatever.
When when I visit these songs that [Aby and I] created together, I don’t know where they came from. Part of what I enjoy about continuing to return to these tunes and making new tunes with you is that they feel like they they exist between us in this place we have to keep visiting to get to know these songs better. And they don’t really feel like anything other than what happens when the two of us meet and play.
SR: What can you tell me about your upcoming show together?
AW: It’s very maximalist. I don’t know how many lists and spreadsheets I’ve attempted to make to wrap my head around all of the people that are coming through. Over the last couple of years, I haven’t had a whole lot of shows, I haven’t had the space or the energy to put myself out there, let alone our shared stuff. We’re coming at this show with a ton of pent up explosive love and energy and music to just revel in. I want people to be there because it’s just going to be so grand and huge. We’re coming in hot.
EM: Yeah, we’re smashing it. The elevator pitch I’ve been giving to people is, ‘Aby and I play together in a million different contexts’. There’s constrictions around what we can play when we play in these different contexts that have names and, and personalities of their own. But with this, the restrictions are gone. We’re just taking all the stuff we’ve made together and all the different contexts and we’re smashing it all into one giant marathon set. Well, two giant marathon sets and one break.
Aby Wolf & Eric Mayson: SMASHuP! takes place Friday, June 30 at 9 p.m. at Icehouse ($15). More information here.