My Gold Mask
When you hear them, you'll know almost instantly: This is the swirling quicksilver dream, the thin wild mercury music of legend, the sound of the Delta bottom and the jaunty din of the cabaret. Theirs is a sound of vision - a recondite vision to be sure, but such is the essence of My Gold Mask.
Despite the buzz already building around the Chicago duo, a collaboration between drummer/vocalist Gretta Rochelle and guitarist Jack Armondo, My Gold Mask is less a means to an end, than the end itself. A deep wellspring of personal and musical experiences shaped their direction, and My Gold Mask is a culmination, a fulfillment, of a long artistic road.
For Armondo, that road began as a child, leading a schizophrenic, bi-coastal existence. "My parents separated early on and my mom lived in L.A. while my dad lived in Brooklyn, which is where I was born," says Armondo. "My friends in L.A. all listened to metal while in New York I was surrounded by hip-hop." Navigating between those two cultural extremes, Armondo would develop his own set of influences, a wildly varied muse that fitted between surf-rock supremo Dick Dale and the Goth-pop of Depeche Mode, and much in between. Having been split between coasts for much of his life, Armondo spent time in Albuquerque and eventually gravitated to the middle of the country, landing in Chicago.
Like the Dixie Flyer of yore, Gretta Rochelle emerged from her native Louisiana amid a cloud of smoke and inertia. her young imagination fueled by exoticism of Hindi films and Japanese literature, and the sheer liberating force of Riot Grrrl culture, Rochelle separately found her way to Albuquerque before landing in Chi-town as well.
A chance meeting eight years ago between the pair at a rooftop party in Chicago would serve as the flashpoint for their musical partnership, which first took shape in the form of short-lived, but fondly remembered, guttersnipe rock combo Bang! Bang! While the group dissolved, an even more intense relationship blossomed between Rochelle and Armondo - and it's that bond which serves as the psychic and aesthetic foundation of My Gold Mask.
"When we're writing songs, Jack doesn't have to finish an idea before I get what he's doing, and vice versa," says Gretta. "We know what each other are thinking - it could be a small look, a chord progression, or a shared joke, that takes a song into a new direction."
In the tradition of the great artistic couples (Fred and Ginger, Gram and Emmylou, Kinski and Herzog) Rochelle and Armondo conjure a mood rather than a simple sound. Their music is part art-pop, part sonic poetry, and part personal chemistry. Sometimes dancy and always moody. Rochelle's seraphic vocals and intuitive percussion cut against Armando's nylon string guitar, a single instrument constantly revealing a symphony of ideas.
The songs off the group's debut self-titled cassette-only release, and follow-up EP, A Thousand Voices, have moved critics to fulsome praise. "Art-nouveau pop-rock flows out of this talented duo with an eerie sense of ease," noted blogger Sheena Beaston, while Big Stereo praised the "...delicate balance between alternative rock gestures and futuristic gypsy tribe shit." If Venus Zine "had to pick one act who'll break big in 2010, [their] money is on My Gold Mask" and Pitchfork is also keeping a close eye on MGM: "...the bottled lightning of "Violet Eyes" make My Gold Mask a band to watch..."
The group quickly seeped into the consciousness of Chicago's music scene. In 2009, Windy City mash-up duo the Hood Internet offered up a glorious treatment of the band's "Bitches," splicing it with some vintage Roxy Music and turning into a prefect tag team. My Gold Mask's horizons continued to expand. The buzz on the band's EP was strong enough that it reached the ears of internationally renowned designer Phillip Lim - who promptly used the pair's music to soundtrack the unveiling of his new collection during Fashion Week. A second collaboration happened with the designed in September 2010, another Fashion Week even - Fashion's Night Out.
With more singles to be released in the fall, it's clear that the ranks of the band's admirers will be swelling. For Rochelle and Armondo, that's of little concern; it's all a continuation of the journey, and they're content to go wherever the music takes them. "It's about the adventure and the challenge," says Rochelle. "The challenge of creating and expression ourselves and the adventure of new experiences. As far as how we fit in Chicago or the national music scene or the cultural world at large...that's for others to decide. We just concern ourselves with making the sounds we want."