Photo credit- Dani Sacco
New York post-shoegaze band Semaphore talks about the start of the band, their upcoming EP, performing a Dillinger Escape Plan tribute show, and what’s next for them
By Emily May
New York post-shoegaze band Semaphore was started by singer/multi-instrumentalist Siddu Anandalingam while attending Columbia University where he studied chemical engineering and music. As a trained jazz saxophonist, he plays over a half dozen instruments and counts Pink Floyd, Tyco, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Smashing Pumpkins, M83 and Tiger Hamasyan as influences. As a kid he was exposed to a wide range of music through his father’s record collection, which inspired him to start writing and creating music that blends alternative rock, modern jazz and ambient electronic music. After graduating from Columbia University in 2015, he moved back home to DC and got involved in the music scene there and started writing music. In 2016, he returned to Brooklyn and transitioned Semaphore from a solo project to a full band, recruiting Niko Hasapopoulos (Bass), Jay Kohler (guitar) and Emmett Celia (drums). The band will be releasing their new EP Leave With The Season next month with a sound that, while still wide-ranging, hones in a bit more to the post-shoegaze sound. They will be playing an EP release show at St Vitus in Brooklyn on February 27th that will see the band perform the EP in its entirety. The crowd will also get to experience live visuals that the band will have set up for the show. They plan to head out on some tours this year, hitting the entire East Coast and the Midwest, too. Staff writer Emily May recently spoke by email with the vocalist/guitarist Siddhu about the new album, the band’s start and what’s next for them. You can follow the band and stay up-to-date with all of their music and upcoming tour dates via the following links. Check out their video for “Unreliable” below.
iTunes/Apple Music- https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/semaphore/id75798522
You have been playing music since the age of 5 and grew up listening to your dad’s old record collection. What records/artists would you say influenced you the most? Who are some current artists you are listening to?
My favorite albums growing up were Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd, Close to the Edge – Yes, and
Kind of Blue – Miles Davis. All these albums occupy an atmosphere even if the sound varies from song to song, and they are able to be poignant without being overly busy. Currently my favorite artist is Tycho, but I also like heavier music like Gatherers, Car Bomb, and Azusa. The new Black Queen album is also something I listen to often.
You have an eclectic musical palate and a sound that combines jazz, electronic, classical, pop punk and metal. How did you develop your sound?
I feel like I am still in the process of developing my sound! Part of this comes from playing in other groups that have different styles. I also think that listening (and really appreciating) music from different genres will let those styles of music naturally seep into the music you write. It is also important to go to concerts or different genres and support the music that happens in your local scenes. I definitely don’t take an active approach in the process to develop my sound, I just make songs that I enjoy and they happen to synthesize my various influences!
You graduated from Columbia University in 2015 with a minor in music and formed Semaphore while there. You moved home to DC after graduating and then moved back to Brooklyn in mid-2016. How do the DC and Brooklyn scenes compare? What were the early days of the band like and how to you feel the sound has evolved over the years?
When I first started the band, I had to learn how to play guitar and learn how to write songs. The earliest Semaphore songs are among the first songs I ever tried writing. Now I feel more confident in my abilities to do these things and I trust myself more as a musician. DC is definitely a smaller scene than Brooklyn, and I would see the same people at every show I would go to. There is a lot of overlap in the bands that play in DC, which seemed to make it hard to “break into” the scene as a performer, but at the time, I was writing and recording, so I was not involved in the playing aspect.
You started writing songs at the beginning of high school. What inspired your lyrics? What is your process for writing songs and has it changed much over the years?
My earliest lyrics were all filled with references to movies, books, and other musicians that I enjoyed at the time. One song’s lyrics was just the titles to an early M83 album, while our first EP is all about the movie “Synecdoche, NY” which is still one of my favorite films. These days I write a lot more in general, and I always have a notebook on hand. I don’t directly reference these thoughts because I like to be in the moment and go with my gut instinct when I write lyrics for a song (which I usually try to do in one sitting), but they do provide some useful material otherwise. In general, when I am in “songwriting mode” these days, I tend to try and fully write a song, or at least the structure of a song, in one sitting, so it all speaks from one emotional standpoint and becomes a reference to a moment in time rather than from many different experiences.
With your first release, you mentioned not giving yourself time to learn what music production was all about. After you graduated, you taught yourself how to mix by watching YouTube videos and then re-mixed your first EP. What was it like for you to teach yourself how to mix and produce an album? Did you face any specific challenges? How do you feel that the experience changed your approach to recording going forward?
I think I have a process-oriented brain and was able to be disciplined about learning how to mix. At the same time, the hardest thing for me was to realize that the real process of learning how to mix takes years, and if something does not sound exactly the way you are envisioning it, you cannot consider it a failure since it’s a step in the right direction! I feel like learning how to mix has taught me the importance of capturing a good performance (and sound) on the input rather than trying to fix things “in the box” and it is also nice when I go to a recording studio and it doesn’t sound like alien-languages when engineers start referring to compression ratios and stereo width.
For your remastered And In A Blink EP, you mentioned that mastering was the toughest because you had to try to disengage from the song to figure out what would sound best to other people rather than yourself. How did you go about achieving that goal?
I am still working on getting better at listening to something from a mastering perspective. It’s really hard to not hear something that is louder as good since loudness is often equated with how good something is. The main way I try to do this is by listening on a slightly different speaker system or headphones as I mixed on, especially something with a more “flat” response. And the biggest thing to do is also make sure you take a lot of breaks, even a week off before you start mastering!
You have said that one of your favorite bands, Protest The Hero, said the only way they could innovate as players was to write music that was too hard for them to play. They had to become better musicians to play their own music, a mentality you took to heart. How do you feel that approach to music has helped you to grow as an artist and has helped the band to evolve?
As a musician, this is still my guiding voice. The main thing I realized is that perseverance and aiming big are not only related to skills as a musician, but also to all the other things that go into being in a band – booking shows, getting press, getting noticed. All of these things are overwhelming when you are starting off, and are abound with rejection, but you’ve got to have high hopes and push on!
You will be releasing your EP Leave With The Season next month! What can people expect from the album? What was the inspiration behind the songs?
The main difference with this EP is that it’s the first time that I did not do everything! All the current musicians in the band played on the EP and our drummer Emmett mixed it! I was really happy with the process, and I think by letting other people take over from these processes, it allowed me to enjoy the songs a bit more as a listener since I am still constantly hearing things that I would not have played. It doesn’t hurt that all of the other musicians in the band (Emmett, Jay, Niko) are all better at their instruments than me. Musically, the EP is still wide-ranging, though we definitely have started to hone in on the “post-shoegaze” sound. We’re still a shoegaze-y band, but now we’re a bit more in touch with our emotions haha. The influence for this album really came from one really shitty week I had. I got ghosted by someone I went on a date with, got stood up by friends and really felt the weight of the loneliness of New York pile on top of me. In that week itself, I wrote the first half of the EP. So while the styles of music range a bit, they all come from the same emotional place.
You will be having an EP release show at St Vitus on February 27th! What are you looking forward to most about the show? Do you have anything special planned?
We love playing at Saint Vitus, so any chance to play there is awesome! We’ll be playing the EP in its entirety, so it’s gonna be interesting to pull some of these songs off live. Also, our live backing visuals are up and running so I hope people enjoy them! We’re also playing with awesome bands Geometers, I/O, and Stay Inside, all bands that we have intersected with at various points in Brooklyn, and we are happy to be sharing the stage with them.
What was the idea behind the artwork for the EP cover that was designed by your friend Dani Alvarez? How did you meet and come to work with her?
Dani is a friend of the band, and I thought her character work would be a perfect way to capture the loneliness we feel when interest is not reciprocated. It’s quite a bleak cover and she really nailed it!
Semaphore recently played Mathoween in which you guys performed Dillinger Escape Plan’s ‘Miss Machine’! How did the idea for the show come about and what were some highlights? Do you have plans for similar events going forward?
Everyone in the band is a huge fan of The Dillinger Escape Plan, and we all actually met because of that band! I saw Emmett crowd surfing at one of their shows and remembered he was a drummer. He introduced me to Jay, who loved Dillinger. And then Jay and I met Niko when we were waiting to hear Dillinger’s guitarist at a talk. Dillinger broke up at the end of 2017 and we’ve had the idea since then! I also book shows under “Si Doux Productions” and after I booked Mathcore Index Fest (a mathcore festival in Brooklyn at Saint Vitus over the summer), I had the idea to put together this event. This was another thing that pushed us all as musicians, since we had to learn the whole album by ear and it’s really not that easy! Practicing until 2am every day in the week leading up to the performance was an experience, even when my amp blew a fuse two days before the performance. We only really had one practice with everyone since the singer for that performance (Logan DeFranco of Juan Bond) lives in Boston. The performance itself was just adrenaline 100%. I don’t even remember it, but I am glad we got it on video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvlzlEfjt0w). The craziest thing was the response after. Ben Weinman from Dillinger saw it and we were lucky enough to meet him afterwards where he expressed how impressed he was. We miiiiiiiight do the show again…just looking for the perfect event. Perhaps Summer of 2019!
What’s next for the band? What are your plans and goals for 2019?
This year, we’re finally going to set out on some tours! We want to hit the whole East Coast and head to the Midwest too! We’d love the opportunity to open for a bigger band, and that’s something we’re always looking out for. And perhaps at the very end of the year, we might start hunkering down to prep for album 2!