I absolutely adore the string quartet format, so I was eager to hear this EP, which features songs for string quartet and vocals written and sung by Siffert (whose voice reminds me of Oliver Sim from The xx). The first song opens with the moody “When Is It Gonna Be Me?”, followed up by the Gogol Bordello-vibed “Two Women at Once.”
“Show-Off” shows off Siffert’s composer chops, his simple vocal line laid over a very atonal sounding string quartet. “October” is a shimmering texture piece, and the EP closes with the subtly high-strung “Figures from Your Past.”
MW: Why use a string quartet and not the more traditional rock band set up?
MS: “My highest priorities as a songwriter-composer are creating clearly defined characters in my songs — i.e., is this song told from the perspective of an angry person? a sad person? — and then building a musical backdrop that illuminates the nature of these characters. When I finished the songs for ‘Cold Songs,’ I realized that all the characters lived on a dark, austere wavelength. They had energy and passion, but in a more formal, muted way. I felt the sonic qualities of the string quartet better matched this emotional landscape than that of a rock band.”
I know you study composition at Juilliard: Why write indie songs? Do you feel like you live two musical lives?
“I write songs and instrumental music for the same reason; to explore. I never know what I’m getting myself into when I sit down to write; it’s my job to pry open my subconscious, discover what’s happening in it, and then pass it on in a way that is thoughtful, creative, and clear. This duty is the same when I write songs vs. instrumental music; therefore my musical life is quite singular.
“More broadly, the relationship between songwriting and instrumental music, indie vs. classical, etc. is more plastic than people often acknowledge. It’s really about figuring what you’re trying to say and then developing the language and configurations to articulate it most clearly. I’ve written songs and said, “This is actually better as a woodwind quintet with no vocals,” and written pieces for solo electric bass and then decided to turn them into songs. Or, as is the case here, written songs and realized that they were best served by string quartet accompaniment. So, the less inhibited we make ourselves by conventional musical boundaries, the closer we can get to authentic self-expression.”
Check out Cold Songs on Friday, February 1st, 8pm at Zirzamin, 90 West Houston St. in the West Village. (Admission is free.)