BANDSPEAK, Music, Upcoming Boston Hassle Shows

Interview with Omnivore’s Glenna Van Nostrand


Glenna Van Nostrand is a Providence-based solo artist who, under the name Ominvore, uses vintage telephones to create intricate yet catchy tunes. Enabled by more up-to-date technology (email), I interviewed Glenna last week about vintage telecommunications, the Providence art scene, and mythical creatures.

Boston Hassle: Why the telephone?

Glenna: As an object, it’s so loaded, historically, culturally, socially, etc…. Performing with them feels very theatrical, like a working stage prop. Sometimes there’s an element of talking to someone on the other line. Gossip. Coquetry.

BH: When did you get the idea to use looped telephones to make your music?

Glenna: I wanted to work with telephones since high school, and then, back in 2005, I had the opportunity to take a class at Mass Art called Electronic Projects. For a semester I worked at demystifying the ins and outs of antique telephones.

BH: Walk me through your setup and how you use the loopers and telephones.

Glenna: My set up is pretty straightforward. I have two telephones and a CB radio mic running into my loop station. The telephones are circuit bent from the phone wire out into a quarter inch output, that plugs straight into the input of the loop station. I use a Boss RC-20 XL for looping vocals. From there, it’s just one mono out to the PA, or an amp.

BH: Do you consider your music acapella? Or do the telephone sounds make it at least somewhat instrumental?

Glenna: Yeah, I would consider my music to be acapella. Electric acapella? Haha. It’s vocally driven for sure. A chorus of people could sing the music in several parts. Although I think the telephone is an instrument unto itself.

BH: You’re using some seriously old phones. Is transferring your voice through vintage technology an important part of your sound?

Glenna: Yes, no doubt, the telephones add a specific kind of distortion to the voice. It’s endearing and old-timey. It has become a part of their signature sound in my music.

It is also extremely limiting, because it is a sort of filter through which only so much of the sound spectrum can be expressed. When I started using real microphones again, I was amazed how much detail in subtle fluctuations could be heard. Even words and lyrics were so much clearer.

BH: On every song you have so many loops going at once. Is it difficult keeping all the tracks straight?

Glenna: My sister and I always loved singing rounds growing up. I suppose that made looping second nature. When first learning the looper, it took a while to get the hang of it. Mostly it was finding my intrinsic bpm for each song. Each set is always a bit different in timing. It feels very organic, when making loops with your own timing, to listen to your own internal metronome.

BH: Your music begins with a simple phrase and builds over time. Does this allow you to create fully formed atmospheres as opposed to just songs?

Glenna: When I first starting making music, it was very additive. Well it is still very additive. But I have been playing with structural details more during live sets. Sometimes it’s instrumentation with beats, synth, or sampling, and sometimes it’s building a vocal phrase, deconstructing it and then reconstructing it.

In the last few years, I have been doing much more improvisation for live shows. In the past, that would have felt uncomfortable to me, to not know exactly what I was going to do for a set before performing live. It’s been nice to loosen up a bit and just jam in front of people. I still feel like I swing back and fourth between song and atmosphere.

BH: Do you play any traditional instruments? If so, have you considered adding them to your music?

Glenna: I play guitar, from time to time I’ll pick up my dulcimer and ukulele. I have a couple side projects where I’ll make beats or mess around on some synthesizers. My sister and I play music together, it’s kind of folky. We’re still naming it, so we’ve just been calling it The Van Nostrand Sisters. I have a project called Communicator, with my boyfriend. That one is more electronic and synthy. Both are up on le interweb. And I have some newer music with beats and synth that I’ve been referring to as Talisman.

BH: You have a song called Gnarwarbler. What is a Gnarwarbler? Should I be scared of it?

Glenna: A Gnarwarbler is a cryptozoological creature. The song is intended to encourage the listener to visualize his/her own interpretation of what a Gnarwarbler actually is. Personally, I’ve always thought it to be part bird with talons and wings but also maybe with, feathers, scales, and fur. Maybe part feline, like a reverse Griffin. A bird’s body, with the head of a cat. It was partially inspired by the Jabberwocky from Alice in Wonderland.

BH: How are the music scenes in Boston and Providence different?

Glenna: Oh, Providence. I moved back here in 2008 after college. I grew up just a few miles away. I really missed Boston when I left there. It feels so much more like a real city and the music scene is much more dynamic. There was also this super positive-enthusiastic vibe that I really missed from the Boston scene. It took me a while to find it here. But I suppose that can be true whenever you move somewhere new.

I think the music scene here has expanded for the better over the last 5 or 6 years. The folk and 90’s indie scene has grown a bit, which is great. When I first moved here it was metal or noise. It’s a small town, at first I thought it was really stuffy and pretentious. Big fish in a small pond sort of thing, haha.

But I will sa,y Providence is a wonderful place to have space and make art. Great for starting your own business or saving some money. It’s really cheap to live here. On the other hand, it can be challenging to find a job, especially outside the service industry. All that being said, there are lots of wonderful people here doing really awesome work. The Columbus Theatre Collective has been bringing some great acts into town.

BH: Any great Providence bands our readers should check out?

Glenna: I love Gym Shorts, Tapestries, House Red, The Rice Cakes, the list goes on… Lots of new and exciting projects keep popping up.

BH: What’s coming up for Omnivore?

Glenna: I have so much music to put out. One album is more like ethereal pop songs, and another is 1- minute samples based on basic principles for sound healing. Come this fall it’ll all be available on Sound Cloud. I’ve been working on lots of live-visual work too — very colorful video manipulation.
During the spring I’d like to travel across the country and back again. It feels high time.

Come see Omnivore Thursday August 20 at the Lilypad for LISTENING, an evening of music, poetry, and radiophonic art.
8/20 LISTENING @ Lilypad… A BRAIN Arts and Boston Hassle effort: An irregular evening of music (Omnivore), poetry (Shane Dupuy + TBA), and radiophonic art. 10pm – 1am All Ages $5-10 sliding scale

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