Best known as one-half of the duo A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Heather Trost has now released her first proper solo album, “Agistri.” Recorded in New Mexico, the album features contributions from Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeremy Barnes, Deerhoof’s John Dieterich and Drake Hardin & Rosie Hutchinson of Mammal Eggs. Built upon the sounds of vintage keyboards, the music is bright and dreamy with a touch of psychedelia. In a phone interview, Trost discussed the making of “Agistri” and future plans.
Previously you’d put out a 7 inch and limited edition cassette; what made you decide that the time was right for a full solo album?
“Well, I had been working on the album for a couple of years. It took me two years to finish the album, and it’s the sort of thing that I could probably work on forever. At a certain point, I just thought that I wanted to release it. Jeremy and I took a break from A Hawk And A Hacksaw so he could play with Neutral Milk Hotel. So he was on tour with them basically from 2013 until 2015. I joined them the last year, playing the violin. We took a hiatus, and that’s sort of when I started writing and recording the album.”
How did it evolve over the course of making it?
“The firsts songs I wrote were the instrumental songs, and so I pictured it as sort of a cinematic instrumental album. But then ‘Agistri’ and ‘Agina’ were probably the last two songs that I wrote, so those evolved into songs with lyrics and singing. It just evolved into something with lyrics and singing as opposed to just an instrumental album with keyboards and analog synths. ”
Were you working on other things at the time, and if so did they have any influence on the album?
“Definitely. I feel like everything informs the other things. Jeremy and I had started working on more film music. Like we did music for an Albanian TV show. Our last album was sort of a soundtrack for a Soviet film. I’ve always thought about music in terms of images and visuals, but I think that over the last few years, I’ve sort of really started thinking about music in terms of the visual aspect and imagery and stuff like that. Singing and lyrics kind of go along with that. We also have our own studio. We basically moved to a semi-rural part of Albuquerque, and so we’re able to have a studio. Jeremy and I have started collecting lots of older keyboards and stuff like that. Just having access to organs and keyboards influenced the album.”
Were there any particular keyboards that you feel had a major effect on the sound of the album?
“Well, a lot of the album I wrote on this old Casio that I have. It’s just an 80s Casio. But I also wrote a lot on a Hammond chord organ that we bought from an older lady who was downsizing. It has a really beautiful tone. On ‘Agistri’ especially I used an Italian synthesizer from the 70s called a Davoli synth. It’s a gnarly, kind of clunky synthesizer that has really neat sounds. It’s very specific, so it’s not as versatile as a Moog or something like that. But I think that it has a lot of character.”
You worked with a few other musicians on the album; what was the collaborative process like?
“Jeremy and I co-wrote a couple of the songs, but most of the songs I wrote myself. One of the ones that we co-wrote, I played one of the organs, and he played another. That’s how we wrote ‘Agina’ and ‘Agistri.’ We just started jamming with one coming up with melody and harmony. Then he added drums, and I added more harmonies on top of the vocals. My friend John Dietrich played guitar on a couple of things, and my friend Drake Hardin played on a couple of things. I had the skeletons of things, and I asked people to overdub certain melodies or chords.”
Have you been performing this material live?
“I put a band together with Jeremy on drums, and I’m of course playing the Davoli and some other keyboards. My friend Rosie [Hutchinson] who sang backup on the album is playing keyboards and singing. My friend Greg Butera is playing bass. We’re going to be doing a tour with Thor and Friends in July, so we’re planning on playing a lot.”
Going forward, how much of a focus do you see your solo work as being?
“I definitely see myself putting a lot of focus on it. I’m really proud of the album and want to tour with it and take it as far as it can go. I’m planning on putting a lot of effort into that. We’ll see how it balances out with everything else, but for now, it’s my main focus.”
Could you talk about the videos you’ve made for it?
“My friend Naomi from Damon and Naomi and of Galaxy 500 came out to New Mexico. We were only going to make one video, but we ended up actually making two, which was fun. We were going to shoot outside, and it was raining, so we decided to make a video in our studio, which is how ‘Agistri’ came out. She’s a really good director, and it was a fun collaborative process. We built the set together and worked on the costumes together. It was a creative, magical time. The other one is for ‘Blood Moon.'”
You’ve worked with Thor & Friends; what was that experience like?
“They came and recorded here; they came last year and recorded and were just here in January recording their next album. They came and stayed here, and we had a blast. I love Thor, and they are all really great people.”
Are you involved with any other music projects right now?
“Jeremy and I also have another band with Rosie called Tapered. That’s also with John Dieterich from Deerhoof and Drake Hardin, who played some guitar and bass on the album. We’re finishing a record right now as well. I’m not sure when that will come out. It started as an improvisational group.”
When you started out with music, was working with a variety of people a goal? Or did things just turn out that way?
“I think that initially A Hawk And A Hacksaw was our primary focus. As we traveled and met more people, and also as we put down roots in New Mexico, our creative and mental space opened to new things. When I first started in A Hawk And A Hacksaw, it was totally immersive, and it still is, but I think it’s led us to other things. It’s just our musical world expanding, which is exciting. But we don’t want to expand it too much! The projects all inform each other, so it’s good.”