The story of Illuminea is really a story of friendship, with the initial friendship dating back all the way to 1995. This is when a 14-year Marc Alan Goodman (vocals/Guitar) met a 12-year sonic youth fan named Peter Angevine (drums). The two became friends and recording partners. However, the magic did not happen until Marc was in college and met Minna Choi (vocals/keyboards) and Jen Appel (vocals/guitar). Marc and Jen began recording together and knew there was a special musical connection. It is while Marc was mixing the duo's first demo that he heard R.E.M.'s song "E-bow the Letter" and mistook the word aluminium for illumina. A band name was found, and they quickly expanded to include Minna and Peter. It was at that time that Minna emerged as the third singer/song writer, and brought a new style to an already diverse band. Over the next few years the band grew and recorded their self-released debut Lp, Nightlight. The album received quite a bit of press in Philly and across the country.
Now, in 2007, the band has changed its name from Illumina to Illuminea, signed to the wonderful Philly label High Two and released their sophomore effort "Out of Our Mouths".This album is ever shifting between the three singer/songwriters, yet the feel is consistent throughout and the focus is on the theme of sorrow leading to hope. Sonically powerful and wide-ranging, their sound has been dubbed chamber-pop, but it shifts fluently from dubbed tinged, slow reggae grooves to high energy orchestral rock and gracefully covers the space between.
Recently, Jen Appel and Minna Choi of Illuminea took some time to answer a few our questions.
Orange Alert (OA): The original spelling of Illuminea sprang forth from a misinterpretation of a Michael Stipe lyric. What were the chances that another band would also call themselves Illumina? How was the decision made to alter the name and not pursue or contact the other Illumina?
Jen: Apparently, the chances were high, as there were two other bands with that name in different parts of the world, as well as a record label and a genetics company. We decided it was probably easier to come up with a new name rather than stirring up some trouble with the other illumina's. We're definitely not into trouble making. Well, not all of us.
OA: I have read that one of the goals of the band is to utilize as many instruments as possible. Is there an instrument that you wanted to use on this album, but were unable to fit in? Besides Air Guitar, what is the most unusual instrument you have used in a recording or while performing on stage?
Jen: Yeah, I wanted to use an autoharp on "I Can't Wait" and i bought one from a guy on Craig's List for $40, however he neglected to give me the peg required to tune it, and so we couldn't get it to play in, well, any key at all. Other than that, all of our deepest instrumental dreams came true on this record. I think the most unusual instrument we've used while recording has been the marxophone. Everyone should have one of these if you can find one. It sort of sounds like a depressed rusty mandolin.
OA: With three distinct singer/songwriters, how is it decided which songs from which songwriter make the final cut of the album? How many were originally brought by Jen, Marc, and Minna? Does this process ever lend itself to conflict or do the long standing friendships allow the process to be purely creative?
Jen: We recorded about seventeen songs for this album and ultimately came up with a sequence that determined what songs would be on it. With seven people in the band, everyone is going to have a favorite, and everyone is going to have a song they don't want to be on the record, but the key to being in a band with a large group of people is learning the meaning of the word "compromise" immediately. We never say "Oh, we need x amount of Marc songs" or "Hey, we should have more Jen songs" -- we really focus on the collection of songs that we feel goes together best, even when that means they are vastly different in style/approach. Seven people with lots of far-reaching influences are always going to come to the table with different ideas of what the record should be, but I think we've really mastered the ability to meet in the middle somewhere. And to throw tantrums.
OA: It may just be who I have been focusing on lately, but I seem to be continuously mentioning Philly lately. What is your opinion of the current scene in Philly? What was it like to be able to sign to a local label like High Two Records?
Minna: I'm the one person in the band who's never lived in Philly, so my view of the Philly scene is probably a little biased in that i've only been exposed to the good side of the Philly scene on our show weekends. When I think Philly, I think of R5, bowerbird, of really stringent tastes, strong opinions and extremes, which is not a bad thing. The musicians and listeners I've come across in Philly are really knowledgeable because they took the time to listen to it themselves.
To sign to a true Philly label like High Two felt like a really natural extension of what we were doing all along. Half of illuminea lives in NY and half lives in Philly but if you look at our shows, we really thrive in Philly, and I think signing to a label like High Two was a perfect fit.
OA: In conjunction with the current mixtape/playlist contest, if Illuminea was to make a mixtape of their musical influences what would it look like?
Minna: Bjork. Chavez. Tom Waits. Weezer. Whitney Houston. Phil Collins. Mark Kozelek. Normal Love. The Book of Knots. It's all bands and artists who are extreme versions of themselves in the sense that they do exactly what they want to do and do it better than anyone else. Something I think is kind of a Philly trait, from an outsider point of view anyway...
OA: What's next for Illuminea?
Minna: I think we are still getting used to being on a label, it's such a luxury to have someone care on your behalf, we're still kind of pinching ourselves. We have new songs which have yet to be recorded but we are going to continue to play more shows and hopefully will start playing in cities we've never before, Pittsburgh? Baltimore? LA??? The possibilities are exciting.
Out of Our Mouths
In Retrospect/Living In Sin/Homewrecker (mp3)/Build Your Own/Sugaring (mp3)/To Lose You As A Friend/Sleep it Off/New Walk/Done by Hand/I Waited Too Long to Tell You How I Feel/Out of Our Mouths/I Can't Wait
For more information on Illuminea please visit their website or check out their myspace page.