Uni Ika Ai: Dystopian Dreamscapes and the Paths to Salvation
Uni Ika Ai, the Brooklyn-based dreampop collaboration of Maia Friedman, Peter Lalish, Tom Deis, Dan Drohan, and producer/engineer D. James Goodwin, just announced tour dates for December following the release of their debut album, Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind. Ranging from unearthly dystopian electronica to melodically poignant arias, Uni’s LP could be described as a soundtrack for lucid dreams. Tracks such as Zen Squid come off with the ecclesiastical undertone one might expect from a futuristic religious ceremony, a paean for faithful robots, while others, like Make You Better offer brazenly fluid vocals environed by a cacophonous backdrop both familiar to dreampop and unique to Uni Ika Ai. On the whole, the group’s initial album explores themes of paradox and complement, real and unreal, straddling the border between tangible and illusory in a way that cuts through the ethereal mist with surreal truths. We had the opportunity to chat with Maia and Peter about their album, upcoming tour, and navigating the ether.
PTP: As each of you have been musically active for quite some time, either with other groups or individually, what brought you together to form Uni Ika Ai?
Pete: We had all been circling each other for some time musically. Tom and I have known each other for over a decade and have made music in different bands since college. It feels very natural that we finally get to play in our own band together after so many years.
Maia: I met Peter 5 years ago through our mutual friend Danny Molad, who Pete currently plays in a band with and Tom played in Via Audio with. I'd been wanting to make music with Peter for many years, and when the window opened we both jumped through. I'd been hearing tales of Tom Deis for years, but we didn't meet until this band started to come together about a year and a half ago. Lucky me!
PTP: I’ve gotta ask about the name. What does Uni Ika Ai mean?
Pete: Uni Ika Ai is dish that Maia grew up eating with her father. It's sea urchin (uni) and squid (ika) mixed together and served raw. It's a celebration of the sea. It's smooth and slimy and melts in your mouth. Some people might see that as repulsive and some might enjoy the strange pleasure that it offers. Most band names pretty much suck. We chose this one after eating uni ika ai and rattling off some haikus about our love for it. We were in the beginning stages of starting to make music together and dreaming up band names. This one stuck. We started to grow into it and found that it actually had a nice, slightly abstract connection with the idea of the band.
Maia: In the music we have made so far, there is a sense of sweetness. There is also an embrace of sourness - sometimes in dissonance and sometimes in lyrics. The music encompasses both ends of the spectrum, just like the dish does.
PTP: From where did you collectively draw inspiration (groups/movements) for your first album?
Pete: A lot of these songs started as improvisation - sometimes as loose voice memos from Maia or just getting together and starting from scratch without any musical ideas or words and not stopping until they came. It was a very free-form record. Maybe only one song was actually written lyrics first, with a pad of paper and a pen in front of us.
Maia: There are endless sources of material to draw from; films, photographs, friends, enemies, our environments. But much of this record was really expressed first and then examined much later, as to where the songs came from and what they meant. I think when people talk about what dream pop might mean to us, it's exactly that. Drawing inspiration and gleaming meaning from our dreams and subconscious. There are a lot of dark themes and lyrics on this record, but they came out as beautiful musical ideas. Looking back and examining them we realize they often came from dark feelings or dreams we were having at that moment.
PTP: To me, some of your tracks seem to have an almost electronic hymnal feel. What would be some tenets of a UIA-based religion?
Pete: The voice is the most awesome instrument. Synths are great. Guitar pedals are fun. Making noises in the recording studio rules. But really nothing is more expressive and capable of a wider range of sounds than just the human voice. I think if we had a religion it would center around singing outside surrounded by nature and honoring the gods that watch over us always. Sometimes those gods are loving and show up as a breeze in the woods and sometimes they are vindictive and ask more from you when they know you are being disrespectful. It would be a religion where you wander around in a group singing to trees and waterfalls and asking the gods not to drop lightning bolts on you from the sky or to not jam your fingers when you are shooting hoops with your buds.
Maia: I would have given a different answer but I like what Pete said, and actually now that I think about it our ideas of a UIA-based religion have a lot of overlap!
PTP: Any bands you’ve recently gotten all the way into?
Both: YES. Robert Stillman, Sam Evian, Pavo Pavo, You Won't, Zula, Big Thief, Luke Temple, Nao, Rokenri, Anawan - the list goes on and on. There will always be great, new music to discover.
PTP: Your sounds and inspiration for the album title relate to dreams and the unconscious. What are your thoughts on the role of dreams in understanding self?
Pete: Dreams, both happy and frightening, have so much to tell us. They are great, entertaining narratives and also endless insight into our lives. It's up to us to choose to go deeper and try and find a meaning or connection to our conscious lives.
Maia: My mom is a Jungian Analyst and a scholar of Carl Jung. I grew up surrounded by books about dreams, the unconscious, myth and fairytale, and conversations about abstract ideas were the norm in our household. I feel very fortunate that dream interpretation and connection with the subconscious feels very natural and comforting, because that was the dialogue I grew up with. I record my dreams and spend a great deal of time thinking about them - they help me understand experiences in my waking life, and I use them as a tool to get through the crazy rollercoaster of life.
PTP: What’s the most bizarre dream you’ve had recently?
Pete: Last night I had a dream that I went with Wayne Shorter to see a live taping of SNL. Justin Timberlake was the host and musical guest. He and his band played a cover of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" that just sounded just plain awful (no offense JT!). Wayne Shorter walked up onstage during live television and said to Justin Timberlake, "Nope." And then returned back to his seat. The band stopped playing on live TV and they cut to a really awkward commercial break. Oh also, in the dream I asked Wayne Shorter if he would want to play music together and he said yes, and told me three words of inspiration before we played: Quiet, Slow, Hymn. We played really beautiful music together and I woke up realizing that I just wrote a piece of music called "Jammin' with Shortie."
PTP: Over the next month, you’ll be touring New England. Any plans for the 2017 schedule?
Maia: Yes! We love touring on the East Cost, our home coast. But really when you tour, everywhere becomes home. We plan on touring as much as possible next year, and have plans to make it down to SXSW. These certainly are tumultuous times, and what a better way to celebrate our differences than to get together in a room with people and share in a musical experience.