Exploring the stylish, soulful soundscapes of Bugs in the Basement

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 8/3/20

The pursuit is their pleasure. 

For local experimental ambient music duo Bugs in the Basement — Sequim/Port Angeles residents Germán Pina and Justin Pollak — there is no …

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Exploring the stylish, soulful soundscapes of Bugs in the Basement

Posted

The pursuit is their pleasure. 

For local experimental ambient music duo Bugs in the Basement — Sequim/Port Angeles residents Germán Pina and Justin Pollak — there is no final product, no completed composition. They craft “exploratory soundscapes” in their basement studio for the sake of the process, recording and publishing their weekly improv sessions online as much for themselves as any audience. 

“It’s for our own personal growth,” Pollak said. “Our intent is not to be mainstream or recognized.”

Still, despite their best efforts (or lack of) Bugs in the Basement has acquired admirers. Among them is Scott Schaffer of Right Brain Records, a Port Angeles-based label that focuses on improvised and unorthodox approaches to music. Recently, he released the second Bugs in the Basement album, appropriately named “Vol. 2.” 

Released it and, in a way, curated it. 

“Even though all of the music we make is available free online, we appreciate being part of this community of very talented and eclectic musicians,” said Pollak. “Like the curator for a gallery, we decided that Right Brain Records could select what they wanted from our library to feature to their audiences.”

Response, thus far, has been positive. But what do things like “reception” and “popularity” mean for an avant-garde outfit decidedly content to remain underground? 

“I would like the art value of it to be appreciated by other artists,” Pollak said, comparing the duo’s creations to paintings or sculpture.

“The process for me really comes down to making art,” he said. “The process is the same, the shadow that is cast is the same.”

The pair’s compositions, productions, and performances are all improvised (and sometimes include homemade instruments) and recorded during live sessions in their studio — no second takes, no fixing things in post — then published, likewise unedited, online. 

“Neither one of us are pushing our agenda, so we ended up kind of accompanying each other. Every week there is an obstacle in front of us,” Pollak said, like a new technique or instrument to experiment with. 

“We get together and try to overcome that.”

Even the idea of recording their sessions was born more out of self-interest than concern for validation. 

“We started recording more to analyze and discuss what we were doing,” Pina said. 

“It’s not everybody’s cup of tea.”

The music of Bugs in the Basement is varied and turns many of the “rules” of music production upside down. The two multi-instrumentalists produce their soundscapes and musical “journeys” with an array of tools, ranging from vintage and handmade instruments to modern technologies.

“It’s an analog approach,” Pina said. “You might not be able to recreate it.” 

“There are no presets or formulas,” he added. “We’re just constantly building little things and unbuilding them.”

If it sounds easily frustrating, that’s because it is. 

“We put ourselves in that place of tension and live with the consequences,” Pollak said. “It’s never really that rewarding. Personally, I’m always left with the feeling of I could have done better or I could have made better choices.”

On the other hand, sometimes it goes too well. And in that instance, like Pearl Jam looking askance at “Better Man” for being “too accessible,” Bugs in the Basement pumps the brakes. 

“And I think, ‘We almost became a band there for a second!” Pina laughed. 

Maintaining zero structure, it seems, is harder than you might think. 

But, then again, that’s half the point. 

“There is no chord structure; we don’t even talk about what key we’re going to play in before we start,” Pollak said. “There is no agenda, no lyrics telling you how you should feel politically. It’s all very open to interpretation.”

It’s music, Pina and Pollak agreed, to explore by, to mow the lawn to, made for meditation and exercise. 

“I’d like to think you can do whatever you want to do with it,” Pollak said. “You can choose your own level of involvement.” 

Learn more and listen at www.bugsinthebasement.com, or see additional offerings at www.rightbrainrecords.com.

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