A Year After 100Milkteeth: An Interview with Heidi Sabertooth

It’s been a year since Heidi Sabertooth started her ambitious 100milkteeth project, a challenge she had made for herself to write, record and release one song a day for 100 days– All under the alias 100milkteeth. A title chosen to identify the songs as an organic process, like, “baby songs, not fully formed – sketches – like baby teeth – the first thing that pushes through the gum”. She started the project on March 1st 2012 and successfully completed the project that June. I wanted to learn more about that project and see how she has progressed from there to her new project tigerotika.

Chrissy Reilly: Catching up on your one-year anniversary of milkteeth. Feels like forever ago…what have you been up to?

Heidi Sabertooth: Its actually hard for me to believe it’s been a full year since the start of milkteeth. Obviously, I learned so much from the project itself — but also have learned a lot over the past 6 months taking the songs out for live performance, and have enjoyed seeing how they change and flow together within the live context. I know that I am not finished working with this material yet – there are 100 songs! But, I have decided to put them aside for a while while I launch my new tigerotika project – which is the dancier, noiser side of my music heart. tigerotika is basically an exercise in rawness for me — I’ve always been about making things a bit messy and analog — so I’m sticking tight with my machines and pedals – no computer in sight for me – but tigerotika is about beats and growls and the animal things of life. yah. I wanna pound on the floor a little. I wanna breathe hard… so thats what we are gonna do.

I’ve been doing some rehearsal recordings of the new stuff and have some shows lined up for the new material to give it some test drive before I move toward EP release, looking like Fall 2013. I’m excited, but before I turn my attention fully to that project, I’m releasing a milkteeth EP of a selection of favorites chosen by me and the folks who participated – to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the project – will be available for free digital download (yay) at my bandcamp homepage starting this month (March 2013).

CR: Nice to hear the new project is in full swing. I have been hearing your name around a lot, especially for live events driven by LOXM, for women in noise music shows… can you tell me a little about these shows?

HS:  Sure, I love my LOXM crew — Ladies of Experimental Music — which started out as an online ‘classified’ to fill a major hole in the way female experimental artists and musicians connect, share work, collaborate to make events, and promote themselves — LOXM isn’t really exclusively about noise music, and in fact there is quite a diverse range of music represented – it is more about providing a place for people who are interested in pushing music further – it is all of us together, women and men, throwing shows that highlight great new music, create connections among artists and cultivate audience. I was so happy to perform at the first annual LOXM Festival in December 2012, which was co-curated in part by Mindy Abovitz of Tom Tom Magazine and featured an amazing line-up of talented women (and men) including Snaykhunt (Thermos Unigard), Maria Minerva, Lesley Flanigan, Lazu Rite, Opal Onyx and too many more to list here.  I highly recommend joining the LOXM Facebook Group or check out the LOXM tumbler page, which are the two main ways we share information about upcoming events, etc.  



CR: Seeing 100milkteeth progress from idea to completion is it what you pictured or have you surprised yourself along the way?

HS: Doing the 100milkteeth project mainly stemmed from my desire to learn and grow in songwriting, production, and collaboration – it was a very personal undertaking, and I figured the best way to make this musical-boot-camp-of-sorts for real was to make it public, so I am accountable. That said, I wanted to do the absolute best each day, staying up into the wee hours…and then making the video! I would have to remind myself that, “these are milkteeth, Heidi.  Put the song down.  You need some sleep, or you won’t be able to make a song tomorrow at all.”  And I like the rawness these songs have because of that.  I didn’t have time to fuss too much over little details, and re-mix after hearing it through various speakers, like you would normally do.  So it forces me to do as well as possible the first time around. Each day was a new challenge, a new unknown.  I got a little excited there when I hit just over the half-way mark and it messed up my mind – I mean, I started to see the end in sight and that made me want to just reach the finish line already!!  And then I realized that I was starting to rush my songs, or starting to freak out, thinking – omg where am I ever going to get another 50 ideas from???!!  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be done with the work, it’s more like I wanted to read the ending chapter of the novel to find out what happens…so that was surprising.  And I had to stop it.  And I keep having to stop that urge.  That’s the most surprising thing.  I need to remember that each day is each day and that I need to focus on the present.  Be in the moment.  Channel my inner-Buddhist.

CR: Which piece has had the greatest response? Was it the one you expected? Have you created a piece that you never thought you would have created?

HS: It is hard to know which piece has received the greatest response, since there are different platforms – my first song, ‘Ah, the teeth’ has received the most watches on YouTube, but I think that is just because it was the first song and a good place to start if you are gonna check something out for the first time.  Some of my favorite songs are those in which I have created sounds in new ways – because I remember the personal discovery and moment of creation, for example to create ‘reaching out’ I plucked the top of the guitar above the fret board and made most of the other sounds by banging around in my kitchen. But, I can’t say that I can tell which one is the favorite – for me, they are all my babies, I pushed each one out of my body and I love them all equally.

CR: For artists, one would need just a sketchpad and a pencil to create a drawing a day. What has the process been like and how has it changed your normal day to day (in life and in the studio)?

HS: The nature of my production involves quite a few instruments – especially a project of 100 songs in 100 days, to create that volume of work, I find I need to use every available instrument, and yet I still find myself getting sick of my own sounds!  With that kind of baggage, it is a bit difficult to have as much mobility as maybe some other artist might have – I am pretty much tied to the studio.  And because it’s NYC, and space is both precious and expensive, my studio is also my bedroom.  So, I am getting pretty used to those four walls by now. But I love it!  My machines and I dream together, we sync in at night – I have a life with them, Ha!

CR: You describe your role in this series as the director, how are you adapting to this role? Do you see it as a new role for contemporary musicians?

HS: Yes, once I decided to make the collaboration aspect of the project an intentional component, I felt a natural move toward a role as director – but I see this all over the place – most musicians that I know are in the midst of directing one creative project or another – and most are directing multiple projects.  This is just the way of the day, I think – and something I want to be a part of.  I like this grassroots stuff going on – we build our own scene, make our own parties, come up with our own ideas…it is gaining momentum, and internet helps spread the word and build more following… moving away from the larger clubs, venues and institutions.. and building our own networks…we have more control, can do more, and the art is better.

CR: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it? (I see all inspirations, one song makes me think Kate Bush while the next Portishead)

HS: I am making sample-driven, acoustic/electronic music – there is some beat, some soul, some pop, and some moodiness.  I make all my own sounds from a wide variety of instruments: mandolin, guitar, trumpet, keyboard, beat machine, accordion, and many others.  I really am influenced by a lot of different types of music — I understand the Kate Bush and Portishead comparison and I love Bjork (of course) and Juana Molina, but am also deeply influenced by producers like Prefuse 73, Bibio, Flying Lotus, indie-girls like Micachu and the Shapes and Tune-Yards, all that good Detroit techno like Jeff Mills and Terrance Dixon and more recently by newer composers like Nico Muhly and ambient works like that of Oren Ambarchi.  I am interested in sounds, and people who do interesting things with sound.

CR: How is your connection different to these ‘sketches’ then how you would feel toward a completed studio song? Is it different? How do you see the completed project? (Ie: record or something more interactive on the web)

HS: As I alluded to before, the nature of a song-a-day project can produce some charming benefits – sometimes I think that there is a rawness left in the songs that might be closer to the original emotion, because you don’t have time to do a lot of overdubs and clean it all up. I am meditating a lot on this – what does the cleaning up, editing, polishing process do to a song?  That said, there are a LOT of things that I am missing out on by churning these songs out of a bedroom studio on a daily basis.  I would like to take what I have learned from milkteeth and apply that to putting out a more formal album in a studio, as soon as possible – I would really love to get more feedback about mixing, I want mentorship, I want to bounce ideas of someone else because I never had formal training in production, so I am just using my ears – and for 100milkteeth, I am mixing to how it sounds while streaming through laptop speakers – I figure that is how pretty much everyone will access it.  I plan to do a more stereo/headphone friendly mixdown of a portion of the 100milkteeth and get them mastered and then put them out as a series of releases paired with DJ remixes.  (digital for sure, vinyl if I can swing it!!) And then, I am already in the process of putting together 100milkteeth LIVE, a series of live multi-media shows featuring yours truly and various folks who have contributed to the project – that will hit NYC venues in July and August.  It’s gonna be fun!!!!  So that is a part of what the vision for a completed 100milkteeth looks like…I mean, I have other dreams too…but, these three seem good to start with!!

CR: Talk a little about how the music and art community joined you along the creation process and why collaboration has been key to milkteeth.

HS: Collaboration IS a big key in this project.  Listen, I like myself and my music a lot, but I would be so sick of just me…day after day for 100 songs….I need new influence and plus collaborating is just plain fun and I like to bring attention to the amazing community of artists I am surrounded by!   So I decided to devote about 10% of my milkteeth to collaborations, and figured if I’m gonna do this, then I want to collaborate with musicians and artists coming from a variety of different genres –jazz, diy, noise and experimental, house, techno and dubstep.  Most of the folks are people who I know on some level, and respect their work.  From there, I just started building out that idea to bring video artists and even a poet on board to make a milktooth!  I kept it to around 10% because milkteeth is still primarily about me learning about my process as a solo artist and producer in the studio.

CR: What was your curation process for the imagery in the videos?

HS: Well for video collaborations, I was actually making the song to their video – because of the nature of this project, I didn’t have time to make a song and then wait for them to get around to making a video – I did it the other way around.  So they provide me with whatever video art they wanted – limited to 3 min or under – and then I made a song to attempt to fit their video.  Besides being the only logistical way I could think to make video collaborations work on a song a day project, I thought this was good practice for making music for film – which I aspire to do someday.  On some days, I made the song and then found public domain stock footage that fits and put it all together on Imovie right then and there.  And I found out that I love making videos!  This is a completely new thing for me.  I had never made a movie up until 2 weeks before the launch of milkteeth when I decided that nobody, but nobody was ever going to hear these songs unless they were paired with video.  I made the right decision, even though it meant I averaged about 4 hours of sleep a night for the 100 days.

CR: Who or what have been your inspiration in life, music… this project?

HS: My parents, both of whom are musicians and music educators, planted the seeds for a lifetime love of music – in all forms.  I was already playing and performing when I was 5 or 6 years old – not in a scary child beauty queen pageant way – but for really small-town, every-day community events…where I grew up, the expectation was that if you have a talent, then you should diligently pursue it to the best of your ability…and do so humbly.  So this 100milkteeth thing felt a little flashy for me, with releasing a song a day and saying ‘hey look at me, check out my songs’, but I quickly got over it.

CR: Is there ever a day where you get in the studio feel uninspired? How do you get to the point where you can create?

HS: The 100milkteeth project has just confirmed something I have been learning throughout my short little life so far….input = output.  There is just no way around it.  The quality of what I put into my body and mind…music, food, art, sleep, relationships — is equal to the quality of work I will be able to produce.  So I have been careful to build in routines that help me efficiently access good input, given the restrictive schedule of milkteeth.  So in the best case, this input allows me to enter the studio with an idea for a song already.  On the days when I don’t get enough input, and I enter and stand there and grab an instrument with no plan in my head, no picture of the overall song…it ends up being a much longer more frustrating process.  But, I have also learned from those moments – how to break through that wall – ah, there are so many walls…I think I am really still learning how to get unstuck in every scenario.

CR: Just a little stream of consciousness exercise, what is the first word, thing, action that you think of after someone says…

CR: Bass

HS: My favorite part of the dance floor

CR: Define

HS: A question that will annoy almost any contemporary musician…’to define their sound’

CR: Allure

HS: Something my dad and I used to catch fish?  Haha.

CR: Pizza

HS: Something that is deeply associated with my beginnings as a musician in nyc… that corner pizza shop on Bedford was THE ONLY late night spot (before the Bedford of today) for much needed cheap food on the way home from my first studio on Hope Street, where I was making pre-pre-pre-milkteeth.  Maybe call them ‘baby gum’ songs?  No, that sounds dumb.

CR: Function

HS: In my dreams, I have a functional chair for my studio that is the right height, supports my back, ah…I could sit!  I can’t stand up every day for hours like this much longer, especially when I am triggering foot pedals, standing on one leg…Im killing my knees yo!

CR: Stoll

HS: What is this, like a mink?  I’m not sure.

Check out Heidi’s project on her site, youtube, facebook and twitter!

Chrissy’s milktooth picks: Day 02 – Chrissy (coincidentally), **Day 09 – Widest Fields, Day 14 –Simplicity, Day 39 – Play With Me (love the vintage Maypole video too), Day 45 –  Here My Heart, Day 47 – Featured video artist Jason Meeks of y/y, Day 58 – ALL LIVE RECORDING session with Bushwick-based musician/artist Smhoak Mosheein, who also lends his many talents to the duo Dub Know Dub

Heidi Sabertooth is a Brooklyn-based singer, multi-instrumentalist and electronic producer/musician. In 2005, she founded the cinematic psych-rock trio, Anima Anonima and co produced their 2008 album, ‘Mechanic Organic’. Her current solo project began in 2011 with a series of performances throughout Williamsburg and Bushwick. Her collaborative projects have included the Recent Eyes EP with deep house dj/producer Mild Bang (Mexico – Blaq) released on I Records in January 2012, as well as the100 milktooth’ song a day project, from March 1 to June 8, 2012.

Interview // Chrissy Reilly (twitterfacebooktumblr)

Portrait of Heidi by // Katerina Drury (tumblr)



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