The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

The Not-So-Dark Personalities Of My Gold Mask

By Veronica Murtagh in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 8, 2010 9:30PM

Photo by Jim Newberry, via My Gold Mask's MySpace
Arresting vocals from Gretta Rochelle complement her minimal percussion and balance the guitar backing offered by My Gold Mask bandmate, and husband, Jack Armondo. Icy vocal edges slice through moody instrumentals that alternate with notes of black pop on the duo's sophomore effort, a new EP slated for release tomorrow titled, A Thousand Voices. We sat down with My Gold Mask in advance of tomorrow's release party at The Hideout and got to know the people behind the dark echoes and hollow riffs. Candid, gregarious and prone to finishing one another's sentences Rochelle and Armondo want you to know that they're not sure where they'll end up, but they're going to get there making music they like, on their terms.

Chicagoist: Fill us in on the history of My Gold Mask. What are your musical backgrounds, where did you meet and how did you come to make music together?

Jack Armondo: We both played in bands before, but very different bands than this, new wave and harder music. We met on a rooftop in Chicago some years ago at a party and we just started talking about music. We actually decided to play together the night we met. We've played together for awhile now, but we never really found what we wanted to do until recently. Not that we didn't want to do the other things we were doing, but they evolved into this. My Gold Mask is the first time that Gretta and I have made music with just the two of us, which has been a really cool thing.

My Gold Mask started as an experiment at home. I was playing guitar, just fooling around and trying some stuff I hadn't done before, playing on a nylon string.

Gretta Rochelle: …and I was taking a bath, singing in the bathroom. Jack said, "Hey what are you doing and I replied, "Well what are you playing?"

JA: She came walking out and just started singing and it eventually became O My Soul, the first song on the self-titled album. That song opened up a whole new thing because I had never heard her sing like that before. We decided to just take it from there and started recording ourselves at home, testing it out. If it was possible, we wanted to do it with just the two of us, but we didn't really know how that would work.

GR: We were at our practice space which we share with a couple other bands. There was a kick drum in the room and there was a pedal from another kit, so I put them together and I borrowed a tom. I had never really played drums before. I was playing with broken sticks I found in the room from other drummers. We took the recording to our good friend, Balthi (Balthazar de Ley, La Scala) and asked him to make an electronic beat that sounded like it. He asked, "Are you doing this and singing at the same time?", and we said yes, and he said, "You should just do that."

JA: We thought about it and it sounded cool, but it wasn't intentional. Everything that happened with My Gold Mask happened organically. Happy accidents, but out of necessity. By forcing ourselves to do stuff with only the two of us, we found what would become our sound.

C: Your music feels very inspired by the sound of the early darkwave artists, while still tapping into some of the current trends in music. Who are some of the musicians whose work has had an influence on the development of your sound?

GR: My favorite band of all time is The Cure.

JA: What's funny is that when writing we try to make a conscious effort to separate ourselves from influences.

GR: I think it's a much more interesting creative process to remove yourself from influences and see what happens, but what I'm attracted to with The Cure would be the dark emotion.

JA: There is a dark undercurrent in what we do, even when it's poppy.

GR: I tap into that when I'm singing. I had some people come up to me at the last show and say they had seen me previously and were drawn to me because I was so passionate. When I sing it's raw. I feel vulnerable.

JA: As far as direct musical influence goes, I personally try to not even think about it. I don't want to hear anything before I start writing songs. I like to have a gap away from it. Obviously we listen to music, but my point is that I almost don't want to because I'm afraid I'll do something subconsciously that I'll be able to pinpoint later. That's almost a fear for me.

C: My Gold Mask comes across as much an artistic project as a music project. I would say the songs have a persona all their own. Is that something you deliberately set out to achieve?

GR: I think it happens as we start playing. Take this EP for example, we're calling it A Thousand Voices. When I sing and when we write lyrics, there's not one personality involved.

JA: She's like a folk singer in the sense that she's telling stories, but she actually changes her voice with the stories and with the people.

His guitar will evoke a certain emotion and out of that emotion will come a certain personality which determines which kind of voice I'll be using. There's a handful I'll pull from.

JA: She confuses me sometimes. We'll be recording and all of a sudden I'll hear a completely different voice. She will change it in the moment and even live it changes a little.

GR: It depends on my mood too. Different voices come out with different feelings.

C: Your music is the perfect soundtrack for this time of year in Chicago. The cold, the icy landscape and the endless gray days all feel reflected in both your lyrics and instrumentation. Does the backdrop of Chicago inspire your music?

JA: There's no way to not separate yourself from your environment and that goes into what Gretta was saying about the mood. At the same time, in anything you do, it's hard to escape Chicago.

C: It's interesting that despite a renewed interest in dark-themed music being a trend in 2009, your sound still feels very niche here in Chicago. How do you tackle musicmaking and promoting yourselves in this city with a sound that's difficult to classify under a single genre?

JA: You don't do anything. You make your music. You put it out there and you hope that whomever is going to be interested in what you're doing latches onto it. Which has worked so far. I hope it broadens, that would be great, but if it doesn't, that's fine too. All you can worry about is making the music you want to make and putting it out there. You hope the people that would enjoy what you're doing find it, but if you try to tailor yourself to something, or worry about who isn't catching on, you'll just drive yourself crazy or sacrifice the artistic nature. It's not worth chasing that ghost.

GR: All the music that we make is simply to satiate our Id, it's for us.

C: Have you seen that the trend towards dark-themed music has proven fruitful in terms of gaining recognition in the larger music community outside Chicago?

JA: I do believe in the internet as a means of finding your own audience. It used to be there were so many gatekeepers between you and that audience. We're just interested in finding the people who like our music. Whether you're doing something dark or you're doing something light, whatever that mood is, the internet makes it easier to connect with those who will appreciate what you're doing. That has helped more than anything.

C: With the increase in these digital music outlets, does securing a strong foothold in the online music community offer greater benefits than cultivating a local following?

JA: Again, the most important thing is finding who's interested in what you're doing. Whether that person is in the town where you live, or they're in Malaysia, is not important. You put it out there and if people in your local area are interested they'll find it just like anyone else will.

C: The Hood Internet had their ears on My Gold Mask when they put their mashup spin on your track Bitches last summer. Who are some local acts that you all have your ears on?

GR: We just played with Shapers and I thought they were really awesome, which is funny because that's Steve Reidell from The Hood Internet's band.

JA: I'm partial to La Scala. Balti has recorded our material and he's a very good friend. I think for me as someone who plays music and goes to a lot of shows you wind up connecting to your friends' bands.

GR: You understand someone's music on a different level when you connect with them personally.

JA: It gives you a different insight. You see where the music's coming from in a different light.

C: You've played a few shows at the Empty Bottle now. What are your favorite Chicago spots to play as musicians?

GR: The Empty Bottle I feel very, very comfortable with. Every time we play there it's home away from home. We know the people there, it feels warm.

JA: I do have to say I'm really excited to play The Hideout. If there was one place where we really wanted to play, it's The Hideout.

C: In closing, we're curious, what are your personal music resolutions for 2010?

GR: Playing percussion is still so new to me. To be able to sing and play is challenging, which I like. The whole time I'm playing I'm multitasking. I'd like to add a cymbal, that's my resolution. I still want to keep it minimal.

JA: Expand my palette. Continue doing things that I haven't done before…and you can hold me to that.

A Thousand Voices, the new EP from My Gold Mask, is available as a name your price download here. Physical copies on CD in digipack are also available.

My Gold Mask play The Hideout with support from The Bitter Tears and Violetness tomorrow, January 9 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8 and the show is 21+.

MP3: My Gold Mask "Circle Mass"