Charlemagne Charmaine and Paul Korte are two of hundreds of musicians who practice at the West Oakland rehearsal space Oakland Music Complex. But if you consider all of their projects, they’re in enough bands to fill a good portion of the 160-room compound. On March 16, they started yet another group, but — as the name Drifting House implies — it came together, recorded an album, and dissolved in one day.
The two met in 2011 at San Francisco’s Temple Randolph Studios, where Korte then worked and keyboardist/vocalist Charmaine was recording a solo project with engineer Brian Davy. Charmaine and Korte quickly became involved romantically and creatively, forming the goth-pop band Catharsis for Cathedral, while Korte also played guitar in Symbolick Jews and Charmaine produced an album under the name Rose Mystics. Korte joined the popular local rock group Brasil in 2012, while Charmaine contributed to the “story-rock” collective Matt Holdaway’s Army. (Frontman Matt Holdaway tells stories while the band rocks out.) Charmaine added that she and Korte are also working on an electronic music project called Cassandra.
The couple began renting a large room in the Oakland Music Complex about a year ago, which Korte then turned into yet another new venture — Treasure Valley Studios. Having a studio has made recording easier, Korte said, but it doesn’t necessarily speed up the often arduous process of making music.
“I’m working on so many projects that aren’t done. We’ve been working on Catharsis for Cathedral’s album since April 2013,” said Korte, adding that the band hopes to release its debut full-length this summer. “Brasil has been playing the same songs for a year and we’re finally going to start recording in July.”
So for Korte and Charmaine, Drifting House presented something novel: a way to experiment with new sounds and play with new musicians without having to worry about where it would lead.
“I invited a bunch of people to jam and put a wide net out there, just to see who would come,” Charmaine said.
The session was also part of Charmaine’s birthday party, which started at Lake Merritt and ended at the studio. “I’ve always wanted to form a group that hasn’t necessarily played together,” Charmaine said. “There’s a freedom in the fact that it was so spontaneous. The pressure was off.”
The seven musicians in Drifting House included the couple’s Catharsis for Cathedral and Symbolick Jews bandmate Vanessa Robinson, but also friends they had never collaborated with before, including James Levis (the guitarist for In Letter Form) and his girlfriend Katie Spurlock.
“I didn’t even know [Spurlock] was a musician,” Korte said. Charmaine added: “She turned out to be a really big part of the sound.”
Before hitting “record,” Charmaine said the group decided to create something “Brian Eno-esque,” which would be entirely improvised and instrumental. Charmaine, Korte, Robinson, and Spurlock each took a turn on the drums, Korte and Levis shared lead guitar duties, while Phillip Villarreal stuck to synthesizer and Matt Holdaway played a West African talking drum.
The two-and-a-half-hour jam yielded 3.16.14, an album that traverses droning dream pop and krautrock, but manages to maintain a consistently dark tone and sense of drama.
“What you hear is what was played,” said Korte, who cut and mixed the session into eight songs. “The sound that came from it was because there was a mutual understanding among the musicians.”
The album, which is named for the date on which it was recorded, also acts as a document of Charmaine’s birthday. She recalled that at one point, when everyone had left to go grab her cake, she worked alone on “V (HAPPY BIRTHDAY),” a short, ambient track that sits between the album’s longer, more complex songs. “It was all about coming together and making music in that one moment,” Charmaine said.
Korte and Charmaine are planning to do another one-day recording session again soon, perhaps with some returning musicians, but also new ones who will add different skills to the mix. Charmaine wants to continue the “dark, dreamy” vibe, but said she’s open to playing with anyone.
The inaugural Drifting House members will reunite on May 23 for a house show with San Francisco shoegaze outfit Moonbell. To prepare for the live gig, Charmaine said they have scheduled one rehearsal — which will be the second time they’ve all ever played together — but will approach the show with the same spontaneous ethos they did in making 3.16.14. “We’ll just see what happens,” she said.