Max Reinhardt's Late Lunch Show
Jan 8, 2021
Michael was a guest on Max Reinhardt's Late Lunch Show on Soho Radio London. Listen to the show here: https://www.mixcloud.com/sohoradio/max-reinhardts-late-lunch-show-08012021/
Limbocast/ SLE Radio
Dec 23, 2020
“If there were ever one group permanently etched into my heart it’s Bipolar Explorer. Christmas last year was no bueno but the ray of light in that darkness was Bipolar Explorer. The album Till Morning Is Nigh is brilliant. Michael and Sylvia are brilliant people. Tune in.” -Joe, Limbocast (Canada)
Sylvia and Michael gave an hour long interview to Joe of Limbocast and SLE Radio. Listen to the show, Bipolar Explorer, The Eve of Christmas Eve
Sept 22, 2020
“The announcement of a new Bipolar Explorer album is always, to us, a surprise as formidable as it is pleasant. Indeed, this project, which we’ve been loving for several years now, has never tried to do the same work twice, slow rock movements on which Summer, Sylvia and Michael lay their spontaneous inspirations. Drawing ideas from the realm of dreams, as well as the deeper, more refined confrontation with reality, through a softness full of wisdom and contemplation, Bipolar Explorer is a call for renaissance, a refusal of passivity, without any futile anger. An introduction to the inner and spiritual dream, the first excerpt, ”Santa Barbara”, with its hypersensitive contours, goes beyond our hopes and dreams, while found sounds from an indescribable place and the musicians’, pure and unique, meet. All that we need to know before DEUX ANGES gets released on November 13 is on the special SITE designed by Sylvia, as well as on the Facebook and Instagram pages of the French-American trio.”
Editor in Chief Punktum.fr
April 11, 2020
Michael sat down for an hour-long interview with Canada's Limbocast. Listen to the podcast and read the transcript:
An Afternoon with Michael from Bipolar Explorer (.pdf)
The Sound Projector
Ed Pinsent (editor) June 02, 2019
(Written Feb 2019, posted online June 2, 2019, awaiting print publication, excerpt):
...An unusual and touching album of songs and spoken word from Bipolar Explorer, a band in NYC calling themselves a “dreampop trio”…Til Morning Is Nigh: A Dream Of Christmas (SLUGG RECORDS) offers their versions of various old and obscure carols and Christmas songs from England and France, all sung in an extremely low-key DIY fashion not too far apart from the school of Sebadoh.
I’ve never been keen on the term “shoegaze” for this sort of introverted music, but Bipolar Explorer happily embrace it and wear it as a badge of pride. The album is interspersed with spoken word elements and recitation, all in French, all similarly unassuming – telling the Christmas story, in tones that are reassuring and sincere. The entire album is programmed to “segue”, meaning all 23 tracks are delivered in a continuous rush, and the aim is to create an impression of a radio broadcast “drifting over the late night airwaves”.
By now you may have formed an impression of the romantic and poetical sensibilities of Michael Serafin-Wells and Summer Serafin, plus their French protégé Sylvia Solanas (who joins them) with this new record that beguiles rather than overwhelms the listener. Enchanted by dreams and dream-worlds, the themes of the oneiric life of slumberland and night visions regularly surface in their work. Indeed the album before this was called Sometimes In Dreams.
There’s a tragic dimension to the band’s history too, since band member Summer Serafin passed away in 2011, leaving partner Michael to carry on the project; and he’s pretty dedicated to preserving her memory, through photographs and texts – and even recordings of her voice, which continue to appear; she’s on this record. He bears this tragedy with humility and acceptance.
Maybe tragedy is one of the hallmarks of Bipolar Explorer’s music; Michael himself nearly joined the angelic choir recently, suffering heart failure outside the hospital he’d just been released from, after being hit by a car.
Let’s hope he sticks around long enough to keep making music, as this album is a tiny gem; its simplicity can’t help but win you over, and its sincerity pours out of every moment. The record becomes mesmerizing and fascinating through repetition. In sum, voices, instruments and production all come together with lashings of heart and soul.
Intended to be heard all the year round, but now I’m looking forward to playing it at Christmas...
Editor, The Sound Projector - London
Raphael Duprez February 20, 2017
[Interview] Bipolar Explorer
by Raphael Duprez
February 20, 2017
Far from any actual rock cliché, Bipolar Explorer’s music takes time to set its bases in order to better change themes through slow, well-thought and obsessive sound waves. As their new record, ‘Dream Together’ (available since January 1) is offering us a new insight into the band’s inspirations and talent, its members also prove that they cannot stop exploring the most intimate elements of their own musical language, where inspiration remains intact and creation is inevitably linked to passion and tragedy. Let’s go back to the basics with Michael Serafin-Wells, in order to discover, thanks to his kindness and confidence, what Bipolar Explorer desires and wishes upon an enlightened daily soundtrack they manage to perform, somewhere in a world where beauty and pain often collide.
Hi Michael and thanks for answering a few questions ! First of all, can you introduce us to Bipolar Explorer:
Hey. Bipolar Explorer is Summer Serafin (vocals), me - Michael Serafin-Wells (vocals, guitars, bass, percussion) and Jason Sutherland (guitar, backing vocals).
When did the project start?
The band’s sound as we know it began when I met Summer in late 2007. We’d already put out a debut album (“Go Negative” - Slugg Records, 2006) the year before, but everything - music and my whole life - changed after I met her. We wanted to do everything together and her influence was enormous on all aspects and every front. My guitar sound changed, the way I wrote, and the way we recorded. I always thought my demos were somehow better than the studio recordings (I’d made two earlier albums with my first band, Uncle, in the late 90’s) and Summer was the first person I met who thought that too. She thought there was an immediacy to our recording here in our own studio at home. Sometimes you just need someone you trust to tell you you know what you’re doing and believe it for yourself. Summer gave me that. And a thousand other things.
I had I guess what you might call a more straight up indie rock band in the 90’s (Uncle). We played CBGB’s a lot and all the other NYC rock clubs that sorta are no more. We put out two albums and then called it quits around 2000. The first Bipolar Explorer record came a few years later but it was really still that same indie rock aesthetic - just me on everything but drums, with Uncle’s third, last and best drummer, Yves Gerard, playing and co-producing. It wasn’t until I met Summer that Bipolar Explorer became was it is. The band began in earnest and in the way we know it now once Summer and I met and she joined the group. It was a kind of a total re-set. More minimal but simultaneously richer sonically. And purposefully without full drums. We didn’t fire anybody - Yves left the city, bought a house with his wife upstate a few hours away, concentrating on session work up there, so he just wasn’t around. We decided we’d just go on with this new sound without a drummer, at first just to see if we liked it. I think it made us tighter. And, now, that’s just a part of our sound, who we are. Ya know?
What were you aiming for when you started it?
Summer brought a different aesthetic to the band and to me. She made me think differently. And I think my writing got more personal and the sound bigger in a different way. Not just louder - (ha! we do play loud, but…) more, I dunno, lush, I think, and emotional. Eight or ten years ago when we set out on this course we used to say that we were “not quite ex-punkrockers who decided to play not so damn loud and without drums, partly out of necessity and partly to see if we liked it” but I think that wasn’t entirely accurate. I think we just started to play more like we felt. Summer was the bravest person I ever met and could never do anything half-measured. She threw herself at life and she opened me up. When I think of what we were listening to when we started, it was all kind of epic stuff. I mean genre-wise it was diverse - Bon Iver and The National and Goldfrapp and DCfC and Fever Ray and Radiohead and Low (who we owe a huge debt to) - but regardless of the different styles of all of that stuff, even if it’s minimal sonically it’s still epic emotionally. And I think, even if you can’t hear any of those people in our sound, that’s what drove it.
Let’s talk about your new record, ‘Dream Together’. The whole album could be considered as one single long piece of music, but also, intends to reveal numerous movements and waves. How did you manage to record it, and what ideas did you want to develop through it?
That’s such a great question! We really try to think of an album in those terms still, as something that has a flow and takes you somewhere, not just a random collection of tunes, ya know? We usually have the sequence figured out even before we begin recording basic tracks. We literally had the sequence on the wall in the studio before we even began recording and as we worked on the songs in practice, we’d often play the whole thing in sequence, just to see how it flowed live. Four of the songs are instrumentals - you actually mentioned all four of them in your review, Raphael, I thought that was interesting - and I knew from the beginning where they should go in the sequence. The record opens with one of them (which we remembered Bob Mould did on “Workbook”), kind of easing you into the trip and then the three others sort of float in at transitory points through the album. Which kind of gives it air, I think.
And just a word about that - I found myself listening to a lot of post-rock instrumental stuff in the last few years - Qualia and Loscil and this great record by Bass Communion called “Ghosts on Magnetic Tape”, as well the sort of sweeping sounds of Lanterns on the Lake (who aren’t solely instrumental, but Hazel Wilde’s vocals and lyrics remind me so much of Summer and they actually released their album “Beings” on her birthday - November 13) and even how Brian Wilson used instrumentals on “Pet Sounds” - and I think that’s found its way into what we do.
We started making longer records with Of Love and Loss, which was a double-album. And both Dream Together and its immediate predecessor, Electric Hymnal are 60-minute plus albums. I personally like long albums and a lot of the post-rock instruments stuff I mentioned - Qualia, Loscil, Bass Communion - work really well in that long form.
But another record that I wanted to mention because it’s gotten so under my skin that I almost forgot about it this double disc compilation that came out about 2001 - A Rocket Girl’s Companion. A London friend, Ras Terifa, gave it to me for Christmas the year it was released. Each disc is maxed out, like 72 minutes or something. They’re long but they also have the greatest flow - long fades and silences - like a perfect mix tape for the car, ya know?
Sequence is really important to us and so is indexing. That Rocket Girl record with its long silences and fade ups and fade outs - to say nothing of its exquisite moodiness - really got into my bloodstream. It’s affected how we put albums together. And it’s so a part of me that I nearly forgot to say. Big ups to Rocket Girl.
You asked about how we record, so just briefly - it’s pretty live. With most groups you usually start recording with everyone playing live to get the basic track down. That’s usually to make sure that the drums are locked in and that the vibe of the song seems about right. Then you can go back and overdub and fix guitars and vocals and stuff. We don’t play with drums but we still do basic tracks like that - Jason and I playing guitars and me singing the reference vocal - all of it live. It locks it in. And we use all of that. It stays pretty live because we get a lot of sound out of the live guitars and I don’t think there’s a single track where we don’t use my original guide vocal. I play bass and pepper some of the tracks with percussion and we record the backing vocals and spoken word and most crucially, fly in Summer’s vocals - but it still stays pretty live. We listen to playback, get an idea and bang it out. That’s the way Summer liked it. And we always put that in the liner notes “recorded live, noisily and in a hurry at The Shrine - New York City. ”
You mention the thing about “waves” - WFMU’s great Irene Trudel once called us “great, beautiful drifty pop” - I think people hear that sonically through the delays I use in my guitar sound but we hope, too, in this idea, like you say, of the album taking you on a journey, as one long piece of music on its own, rising and falling, trailing off and lifting again, reminding you where you’ve been and pointing you toward a promised destination.
What do you need to express through these walls of reverb and echo ? Is it like a signature for your project?
That is definitely a big part of our sound - both delay and trem. From a purely technical point of view it replaces the drums. Ya know? We kind of ride those “waves” like you said. The rhythm is in the echo and delay and tremolo and we float on top or cut back against the tide, channel or go under with it. And I really have to say something about Jason here. He just intuitively brings something so perfectly counter-pointedly with his guitar lines. He’ll answer or underscore or ride along whatever I play in a way that I wouldn’t think of immediately. Lou Reed said something about Sterling Morrison. How it’s incredibly difficult for a guitarist to break out and have a signature sound but that Sterling had that. And that he couldn’t imagine The Velvet Underground without him. Jason is like that. I can’t begin to describe how important he is to us.
Mixing reverb and distortion is quite a challenge, but you manage to perfectly deal with it. Is it a way, for you, to show two sides of the same music, or both sides of mankind?
That brings Jason to mind again because his guitar is often the overdriven one. And on a purely pedantic, overly technical note, we both tend to use overdrive as opposed to distortion. Jason also is a huge Pixies fan and I think anytime you use that sorta loud/quiet/loud - or in our case, quiet/loud/quiet - thing, you have to thank The Pixies.
I’m really glad you like how we mix the two. And to your larger question about two sides of the music and/or both sides of humanity, yes. I think we like finding and expressing that. We like playing with feedback, too, and sometimes, like in the last track, “To The Other Half of The Sky”, you can get both the quieter and more overdriven things happening at once. The whispery vocals riding over feedback and sort of melting together. Ya know? Along those lines of the band, once Summer joined, of trying to sound like we feel, I think this is what drives us toward expressing that duality. In the way you can feel more than one thing at the same time.
’Dream Together’ explores the continuous themes of love and eternity, and the possible ways for them to melt. How do you find inspiration to express these particular emotions?
I think love, real love, true love, is eternal. And I think - without getting too super theological - that the essence of us is eternal, too. Summer isn’t in the room with me in a way that I can touch her, not mortal. But she touched me so deeply and profoundly that her presence lingers. And that moves and inspires and drives me. To express both what she means to me and how she still is. There’s a law of science about energy, once created, cannot be destroyed. I think the essence of us remains. The essence of our beloveds remains. They’re there. Nearer than we can imagine, unseen because we’re still mortal. But there if we quiet ourselves and listen. That’s just what I believe. I can only say for me. But art is important that way because for a thousand people who say, “well, that’s rubbish”, one other person might come across it and say “that’s me, too”. And not feel so alone.
The booklet of the album is a visual masterpiece. Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Natalia Drepina and Audun Grimstad?
Thank you so much! We know that most people, if they actually buy music and don't just listen on Spotify or something, tend to grab it on iTunes. But we still love making CDs because the artwork and actually having a physical object is important to us.
We’ve been super fortunate to work with some amazing artists and I have to name them here. Alex Alemany let us use his wonderful painting (“Mediterraneo’) for OF LOVE AND LOSS. Elizabeth Gadd took the amazing photo for the cover of ANGELS. And, yes, Natalia’s breathtaking work “Drowse” is the cover for DREAM TOGETHER. They’re all totally far-flung - Alex is in Spain, Elizabeth in Vancouver, Natalia in Russia. We found each other’s work online. Thank god for the internet, no?
Audun is from Norway but is closer to home for us - he’s at the New York School of Visual Arts. We wanted him for the album between ANGELS and DREAM TOGETHER - our album ELECTRIC HYMNAL - but he wasn’t avail. I had this idea to do a booklet for DREAM in the style of a Victorian book of verses. It’s 20 pages and has the song lyrics, vintage black and white photos and narrative poems I wrote especially for inclusion. Audun put all that together for us beautifully. It’s, as you say, included in the CD. But we’re also doing a limited edition of it twice as big - like 9 1/2 inches square - right now. It came out really well and a few people asked for it, so we’re doing it. I want one, myself - ha!
Seriously, we have an enormous respect for visual artists. We love playing out in galleries. We’re really keen to keep working with Audun and everyone I mentioned and to seek out collaborations with others.
The other thing, we allude to this briefly in the booklet for Dream Together is that more than a few of the songs came to me in actual dreams. Summer was always in the dreams. Often the song would be something we were listening to on the radio in the dream. Suddenly I’d wake up and realize it wasn’t a song on the radio but was a song she was sending to me from The Forever. I’d sing what I could remember into my phone right there still in bed in the middle of the night, listening back later, figuring it out on guitar and filling in the missing bits. If you ask me, I might be able to remember some of the dreams. I can tell you that “Dream 3” , “Listen” “She Hears You Calling” and “Tail O’er Fin” all came partly or fully from dreams.
What were people’s reactions after listening to your new album?
It’s been really good so far. We’re totally indie and DIY on a small label, so it’s not like we have some big PR thing behind us. It always knocks us out when our stuff finds its way somehow to people - like you guys!
DREAM TOGETHER is our sixth album, so I think we’ve been slowly making our way onto people’s radar over the last few years, like cumulatively. OF LOVE AND LOSS (our double-album for Summer) is a hugely important record for us. It came out late 2012 but didn’t really start finding its way into people’s hands until the next year. Ground Control Magazine really liked it (OF LOVE). They did a feature on us and named it to their Top Ten Albums in 2013. And they’ve been really supportive ever since. Our follow-up, ANGELS, was the one that first started to get radio play on WFMU and online.
So, I think all that helped when DREAM came out on New Year’s Day. Liz Berg and Irene Trudel at WFMU have both championed it and it’s been on the charts out in Cali on KDVS for five weeks now. Also, USC’s Alexandra Dennis-Renner wrote an amazing piece about it on her blog the day it came out.
I think it’s finding people and striking a chord. We’re really grateful for that. Like I said, it always really knocks us out when people let us know our stuff resonates for them in some way.
I don’t want to interfere in your personal life, but you told me that you went through a terrible loss back in 2011… But also, that Summer’s presence was the main reason for Bipolar Explorer to exist and keep going on, year after year. Can you tell us how you managed to endure such a tragedy and use it in your music?
You’re not interfering. I love talking about Summer. She means the world to me. All of this is entirely for her. I often say that our music, each album, is of, for and about her. It’s my way of telling people about her and talking to her myself. That’s the “for’ and “about” parts of the equation. And Summer remains an integral part of the band - not only as its inspiration but, because I have lots of her isolated vocals from other recording sessions - as her voice, both spoken and singing, graces each record. I’ll write songs and fly in her voice.
She’s always with us in so many ways. Her passing is entirely tragic. For anybody out there who wonders how you endure, I can only say what a friend told me when I said I didn’t know how I was going to go on or what I was going to do now. He just said, “you’re doing it.” It’s always there, grief. Like if you even breath a little too hard. I think possibly you learn to carry it. I can’t tell anyone out there that it’s something you ever get over. For myself, I don’t even see that as some goal. I don’t want to “get over” anything that has anything to do with Summer. Not even the most painful parts. I want all of that. I welcome her, ask her to be near me.
I used to say to her all the time, even if she was just going into another room for a minute or only just shifting her weight to grab something from the other side of the bed, “don’t go too far away,” I’d say. I still say that to her all the time. Whether it’s in a quiet moment when I suddenly sense her presence or we’re in the middle of a session and a lyric I wrote for her hits me as we come to it. Summer isn’t the main reason BPX goes on, she’s the only reason. She is the reason. And I think I can trust that I’m doing things for the right reason if I always know the reason for it is her. Not out of any ambition other than to honor and conjure her. She’s my conscience.
Can you tell us more about the live art installation piece you are about to perform?
Sure. It’s a piece centered around our double-album, Of Love and Loss. Dream Together is conceived for performance in a similar way - but most immediately we’re working in this vein with Of Love and Loss. Briefly, the back story to this project is that I’m also a writer and some of the people I know in that world wondered if there was a way I could bring that and the music from Of Love and Loss together. I thought maybe the way to do that would be to write a narrative female voice, like a spoken word narrator - the kind of narrative voice you’d find in a novel or a hear off-camera in a film - and have her perform with us live. So I wrote something like that and we brought in a friend (Kim Donovan, who subsequently voiced spoken word on Dream Together and Electric Hymnal) from California and did an initial performance of it in this funky artist’s loft in Brooklyn.
We like playing in non-traditional venues and in galleries and this was kinda both - a converted industrial space with exposed electrics and big windows overlooking the city as we played at sunset.
That went really well and we had the idea to take it a step further by seeking to collaborate with someone who would help give it a strong visual signature. We started talking to artists. And it could be anything - film projections or something more tactile and immersive. We don’t think there’s only one way or one definitive way to do this. It could be different in every different collaboration and, maybe especially, every different venue.
The next iteration of that should be in the spring. And we hope to get some video of it. Because I think it’ll give people - people who haven’t seen, but only heard about it - a better idea of what we’re talking about. Help them visualize it.
Who will support you with it?
That’s a great question. Any ideas? Seriously, and we may have an idealized preconception about this, but there’s not the same sort of network of arts support in the US as we imagine there being in Europe. Not state support, anyway. So, it’s kind of like everything over here, you have to create it for yourself. We’re working with a couple of people on different tracks - one artist who works with projections and another who works with light. They each bring different things and the possibility of very different venues to the idea. I think one leads to the other. We’ll definitely learn a lot. And I think sometimes when you just get something rolling, more people are exposed to it and further collaborations get forged.
I think this is largely how we’d like to perform these pieces now - in their sequence and entirety as live arts installations in collaboration with a visual artist. We came to that idea, like I say, after we’d already released and were playing Of Love and Loss out. But we actually went into the recording of Dream Together with the idea that that was how we’d like to go forward. Some of the spoken word is voiced on the album and the booklet is meant to give you an idea of the visuals. And we mention all that in the credits. So that maybe someone listening to the album while leafing through the pages of the booklet or even someone reading this right now who finds the thought intriguing - an artist or someone with a found space or something - might give us a shout. Seriously, get in touch. Who knows? We’ve got passports, we’re good to go…
What do you need to express when you are on stage?
I think, I hope, there’s some kind of life to each song, ya know? I think we live it from its inception. I think, I hope, maybe you can even hear that in the recordings. That’s why we put such a premium on recording as live as we can. I think when we’re on stage we’re there to celebrate that and live in it together with the audience. If that makes sense. The spark of the song, of writing it, comes from somewhere and that’s where it lives inside you. You just go to that place when you play it. And the added bonus is that other things come along for the ride in the moment. Somebody catches your eye or you hit some note sideways. Things happen in the moment that can only happen in that moment and it makes it special. You can’t make a mistake - as long as it’s truthful - it’s just what is really happening right now. And that’s what makes so special.
How do you manage to share your intimate, precious music in front of the audience?
That’s also a really good question. My old band played every conceivable club and bar and anything else you can think of many years ago. When BPX started playing out, I kinda didn’t wanna do that. We did play some clubs around the city - a handful. But it became apparent pretty soon that this was music that needed a different kind of venue. That’s what led us to art galleries and non-traditional spaces, even before we hit on this live installation idea.
Also, I spent time in DC and the music scene there when I was a kid had this DIY tradition, very punk rock, that was outside of the bars and clubs and centered more around house parties and church basements and just community. So, it’s not that foreign. For a year, we did shows once a month right here at The Shrine. We’d cook and people would come over and eat and drink and then we’d plug in and play Of Love and Loss in its entirety. We called them “couch concerts”. Literally surrounded in an intimate (if loud!) setting. I think that’s largely what inspired people to suggest to us bringing that kind of immersive, emotional experience to the galleries. So, that’s what we’re doing. Ya know? No barriers.
What are your plans in a close future?
Well, most immediately we’re still kinda rolling out Dream Together. And getting ready to do the live Of Love and Loss. Alexandra (the USC filmmaker I mentioned) is planning to write and shoot a documentary about us. I think it’s called “Sonic Prayer”. She started interviewing us while we were making “Electric Hymnal” and when she’s back in New York I think we’ll be getting together on that some more. We like to put out a single or two between albums and I’ve got an idea for one. We’ll likely release it mid-March. Man, that’s soon. That’s next month! We’ll be ready tho’.
Anything else you want to say?
Yes. Thank you!