Kyle Bates has never shied away from writing about his own experiences in his long-running musical project Drowse, whether he was processing a mental breakdown (on his 2018 album Cold Air) or contemplating the contradictions of survival (on the 2019 record Light Mirror).
But the final song on the most recent Drowse album—Wane Into It, released in 2022—is so overtly autobiographical, it reads like an early chapter in a yet-to-be published book about Bates’ life and creative path.
Guitar met computer,
obsessed with Replica by Oneohtrix Point Never.
MDMA, mood stabilizers, whatever.
I moved home to Portland,
wrote a comic and songs to sleep on.
Sometimes it feels like I’m done:
I was Drowse
Bates is now 30, and living in Los Angeles—not Portland—though he hopes to move back to town after he earns his doctoral degree from the prestigious California Institute of the Arts. He already holds a master’s in recording media from Mills College, in Oakland, and his doctorate will officially be in composition and performance—though that doesn’t necessarily, accurately describe what he’s doing.
“You can basically tailor it to whatever you want,” Bates said. “So for me, it’s just, like, weird electronic sounds.”
Weird electronic sounds are all over Drowse’s catalog, where they sit alongside somber drones and overcast tones, unhurried tempos and unexpected noises, sighed laments, shoegaze haze, spoken-word clips, field recordings, folk undertones, and DIY vibes descended from notable Northwest home-recording enthusiasts like Phil Elverum (the Microphones, Mt. Eerie) and Liz Harris of Grouper.
“It’s super dark, like all my music,” Bates said, speaking about Wane Into It. “The jumping off point for that record was my uncle, who killed himself after hosting a living wake. He basically had us all come to his funeral before he did it, and he told us about it. That was really intense.”
[Just a brief pause to mention the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline hotline number is 988. Oregon also maintains a free 24/7 Crisis Text Line, just text OREGON to 741741. -eds.]
Bates continued: “That got me thinking about the idea of self-memorializing, or constructing this version of yourself that you want other people to see. He was really trying to do that, and a lot of the lyrics on that record are about that, but also how we are all doing that on a daily basis with social media, and even more so during the pandemic.”
Over the past few years, Bates has spent most of his time studying, recording songs (and getting better at recording, he said), touring and participating in residencies in places like Iceland and Japan. In between, he found time to explore a new-ish creative avenue, recording a two-song, 31-minute album called A Matinee with Lula Asplund, an experimental sound artist from Chicago and a fellow student at Mills. Together, the duo makes long, warm drones that wobble and buzz into eternity, or at least until they break down and shift into another direction entirely, like 10 minutes of twinkling chimes, vocal oscillations and gently strummed acoustic folk.
“We basically improvised sections. We’d use a stopwatch and say, ‘Within this section, we’re only going to play these notes’ or ‘we’re going to use these two instruments.’” Bates said. “But otherwise, there are no rules.”