1970s Film Stock makes music that is both experimental and personal

TUNES-Screenshot_2017-01-22-19-40-11-1 copyWinston-Salem’s Eddie Garcia Digs Into Effects In Solo Guitar Project

Winston-Salem-based guitarist and songwriter Eddie Garcia had been playing in his band for 10 years or so when, in 2014, he started working on some material that felt very personal. His band, Jews and Catholics, was an indie-rock duo, sometimes a trio, whose songs weren’t exactly of the type that explore and excavate first-person emotion. Garcia was thinking a lot about the death of his father, and that was coming out in the music, which didn’t seem like a perfect fit for what the band did. So Garcia decided to work on a solo project. You might imagine someone in that predicament switching into confessional singer-songwriter mode. Garcia started making often abstract and cinematic solo-guitar music, sometimes he’d sing, sometimes he’d use a drum machine, but often he’d pile on the effects — echoes, harmonizers, loops and more.

“It was my version of going acoustic,” says Garcia, who met me for coffee last week to talk about his music.

Garcia, 38, now performs his solo guitar music under the name 1970s Film Stock. (See 1970s Film Stock at The Garage in Winston-Salem on Friday, Jan. 27.)  The music is sometimes ambient, sometimes jarring, sometimes melodic, sometimes abrasive. Garcia’s songs — many of which are improvised — advance from simple beginnings.

Listen to the track “Palace Number 3,” his most recent release. It begins with four notes, sort of a partial exploration of a minor scale. But those four notes get fractalized, radiating out in digital replications and subdivisions. Each note launches its own arpeggiations. The motif takes on a spy-theme quality, and then squiggly syncopations show up before the tone and color starts to shift and slip. The whole thing gets smeared and smudged at around the two-minute mark, with hall-of-mirrors echoes receding into the distance, as if the song got wiped away by some digital glitch. Garcia could have easily kept things ominous and hypnotic, but by opting to nudge the music in a disjointed direction, he gave a surprise swivel. Anyone using this as chill-out music might be startled out of their mellow zone.

It’s not that Garcia, who works as a reporter for local NPR affiliate WFDD, is against making brooding mood music though.

“If tomorrow my job could be making soundtracks for things, that’s really the end goal,” he says. “I’m as much a film geek as I am a music guy.”

The geekery partly explains the name. Garcia says he was trying to decide about whether to perform under his own name or to use an umbrella name for the project when, to help spur him along, his wife told him to make a list of things he liked. On the list was “1970s Film Stock.” The name seemed to fit the goals for the music, in addition to having an appealing enigmatic quality.

“I’ve always loved the way films from that era look,” he says. “They’re really gritty but yet somehow they’re beyond real.”

The name conjured a balance of the lush and the raw, the potential for beauty and extreme contrast. All of it seemed to relate to the music too.

The world of abstract-leaning solo guitar music is as varied as any other seemingly small sub-genre. There are artists who make sleepy ambient music that ripples and swells; there are others who use loads of effects to create hypnotic and dense meshes of layered lines with unexpected harmonies and cross-hatched patterns that relate to minimalism, and others delve into the American primitive end of the spectrum, playing raw skeletal music that might draw on raga or blues or renaissance counterpoint. Artists like Loren Connors, Tom Carter, Ross Hammond and Noel Akchote all explore different facets of the field. There aren’t rules. But Garcia complicates matters by sometimes using beats and sometimes singing.

“I sort of felt like I fell into what I was doing before I realized [solo guitar music] was a thing,” says Garcia. “I realized that I don’t fit into the mold.”

If you’re looking to hear standard songs, Garcia might tantalize and frustrate you with a couple tunes with words, singing and traditional chord changes, and if you’re looking to be lost in the instrumental wash, the arrival of a song with words and sung melodies might disrupt your vibe. That flexibility serves Garcia well in a live setting, he says, because it allows him to respond to the things that seem to work with a given audience, but on record he worries that the mix might detract from an entirely cohesive whole. He says his next release, which he’s already completed, will be all instrumentals.

Because many of the tracks are entirely improvised, Garcia is faced with the added challenge of not being able to necessarily play the same material live.

“I can’t recreate it,” he says.

There are some set pieces and established points of departure. But Garcia is working toward being able to leap into the musical unknown in a live setting.

“Now in every show there’s a part where I just go from zero,” says Garcia.

The first 1970s Film Stock release, Hand Painted, from last year, included a live track, “Sling For Skeletons,” which has a slashing metallic riff that gets extruded into biting sonic scraps. It’s almost funky, in a caustic post-punk kind of way.

“This started off much more abrasive than it is now,” says Garcia. “There’s not as much sheets of noise happening any more. I’m looking for melodies now and creating weird stuff around the melodies.”

Garcia says he’s also thinking about doing some all-acoustic recordings. And he’s also working to think of his singing — and the way he applies his voice to the music — in the same way he does the guitar.

At the same time, Garcia says he’s found a certain peace and comfort in simply playing the music, which raises the bar on how he does any singing or lyrics.

“I’m so content with the music being instrumental,” he says. “If I’m going to bother opening my mouth, it needs to mean something to me.”

Wanna go? 1970s Film Stock plays The Garage in Winston-Salem (110 W. 7th St.), Friday, Jan. 27, with the Bronzed Chorus and Ebon Shrike.