The tape rolled in brief three-hour increments, with each friend—and musical guest—allocated a precise amount of time to contribute, be graciously thanked, and then shown the door. This is how Brent Knopf directed the recording process for Intuit, his glorious solo debut under the pleasant moniker Ramona Falls.
"I feel like people were incredibly generous with their time," explains Knopf, primarily known as a member of the collaborative trio—and arguably the finest band in Portland—Menomena. "If I took more than three hours then I'd start feeling uncomfortable and I'd want to pay them, but I didn't have any money."
Leaning on the friendship crutch is commonplace in the "it takes a village" procedure of recording an album with limited capital, but few villages could come together and create something as texturally precise and tonally ambitious as Intuit. The recording swells with a bevy of rich sounds—a not-all-that-unfamiliar premise given the Menomena pedigree—that showcases both Knopf's effortless gift for complex art-pop arrangements and a Rolodex overflowing with friends/musicians on call. It's as much a statement of the artist, as it is the city he resides in.
"This project was an excuse to cold-call my friends and ask them for three hours of their time," he explains when discussing the cameos from members of the Helio Sequence, 31Knots, Talkdemonic, Nice Nice, his Menomena bandmates, a choir in New York, plus countless others. "I worked with Loch Lomond, that's 27 people right there," he jokes.
"It started to make sense to record this Ramona Falls project once it became clear that the recording of the next Menomena record was taking much longer than any of us had anticipated," Knopf explains.
This confirms the outsider belief that the entity known as Menomena—in all its genre twisting, decadent glory—is a lumbering beast that weighs heavy on the shoulders of all three members. Seemingly the act of writing, recording, and finishing a Menomena recording is a Sisyphean task anchored by periods of deep frustration, constant compromise, and most importantly, time. As it should be. The three respective components—Knopf, Danny Seim, and Justin Harris—are all multi-instrumental artists with an active role in the song-developing process and each song they individually pen is initially presented and offered, as to a deity, to Menomena for approval. The material deemed unfit (for whatever reason) tumbles to the wayside, or one of the band's various solo endeavors.
Yet, that said, digesting Ramona Falls never feels like feasting upon Menomena's discarded table scraps. Given its deep headcount, Intuit is large but never unwieldy, as tracks like "I Say Fever" open with a muffled shake of ghostly percussion, only to unfurl into a catastrophic collision of boisterous noise and voices, neatly capturing the album's community feel in a period of mere minutes. The following track, "Clover," flies the closest to the Menomena mothership, as all that separates it from becoming a missing Friend and Foe B-side is the concise blasts of Harris' saxophone, and the deep-voiced harmonic foundation laid by Seim.
Of course, now all that is left for Ramona Falls to do is actually play a show in public, which, as of our interview, they had yet to get around to. "No, we've never played a show yet," Knopf admits. "We're playing at a place called the Crepe Place in Santa Cruz first. What some call a test market, I call delicious crepes."