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Songs Not Soundscapes

By Dakota Parks for Inweekly

Armed with his electric guitar and loop pedal, local cinematographer and musician Doug Stanford has made a name for himself creating repetitive, hypnotic ambient music that allows listeners to make nostalgic imprints on the soundscapes. Now, he’s ready for a change.

Stanford started making music in 2013 under the name YNICORNS as a solo, ambient, post-rock experimental project. YNICORNS has since evolved into an instrumental post-rock band consisting of Doug Stanford, Destyn Patera, Nick Fury, Mike McDonald and various friends. YNICORNS is preparing to release a new album breaking away from strictly improv, ambient music, aptly titled “Break Break Break.”

“YNICORNS started as a solo project for nine years, until July 2022, when we got the offer to open for Noiseheads at Vinyl Music Hall,” Stanford said. “I didn’t want to go up there alone and improv with my pedal board, so I recruited some really talented musicians. We have four core members and a collective group of additional people who play or fill in for core members when they’re not around. Playing with them made me really excited to start writing composed songs, not just soundscapes.”

Stanford’s prior albums consist of ambient soundscapes using his loop pedal as an instrument to distort guitar riffs and playing around with experimental techniques, such as strumming a guitar with a screwdriver to create intentionally weird noises that sound nothing like a guitar. After playing a few shows and releasing several albums, Stanford got creatively burnt out on ambient music and started to encounter writer’s block.

“I had a few improv shows where the energy in the room was, at its best, thoughtful, introspective intrigue,” Stanford said. “But, I wanted to make music that people have fun listening to, while incorporating melody and a hook and all of the challenging ideas that ambient music has. It was a major red flag for me when I realized I wasn’t interested in recreating ambient songs or performing them live. So, I dove head-first into composing music.”

“Break Break Break” was written and recorded on Pro Tools by Stanford, who then taught the songs to his fellow bandmates. In the future, he hopes to incorporate the core group of YNICORNS into the writing process to have more creative voices and experimentation.

Stanford channeled the same experimental process into writing the new album—starting with an idea or a sound heard through a wall and trying to recreate parts of it like a game of musical telephone.

“I can really only competently play guitar, so I have always used my guitar to make weird sounds,” Stanford said. “Two of the older songs on this record, which are untitled tracks, were written before I ever thought they would be performed live with bandmates. It wasn’t until forming the band that I began to write knowing I have two guitar players, a bassist and a drum kit, and that it’s okay for the drums to sound like drums and so forth.”

Musically, Stanford is influenced by a diverse group of artists from post-rock bands, such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Midwestern emo bands to minimalist composers Steve Reich and John Adams, as well as Pensacola staples in the punk scene. One track from the album, “Seiche”—which is being released as an album teaser June 15—was an attempt to write a song that sounds like Pensacola’s Faux/Fox.

“‘Seiche’ is probably the loudest and fastest track on the album, and I really wanted to write a song like Faux/Fox that would be fun to play, with big percussive moments and drums that sync up heavy with the bass, but still make it a little weird with YNICORNS flair.,” Stanford said. “Another track, ‘Kyiv,’ was inspired by trying to recreate something my neighbor was playing through his wall, and it progressed into an interpretation of the war in Ukraine with a piano section that explodes into a screaming guitar like an unexpected war.”

Another track on the album, “Untitled 1″ juxtaposes a voicemail layered into the middle of the song. This voicemail comes from an experiment back in 2019 when Stanford was playing improv ambient shows and leaving prompts on social media for followers to call a Google Voice number and leave a message responding to the prompt.

“A woman I went to college with called and left a voicemail talking about her divorce and break from religion, and I really latched onto what she says—just the parallels between the life reboots and changes she went through with the ones I went through,” Stanford said. “It helped me feel less alone in a very weird and unpredictable time in my life.”

For Stanford, it’s impossible to separate the music from the musician. Much of the YNICORNS discography parallels his personal life experiences—with album covers incorporating his children and tracks capturing nostalgic moments, the loneliness of the pandemic, civil unrest and war. This album ties directly to his family.

The title “Break Break Break” comes from an Alfred Tennyson poem about a man reflecting upon the loss of someone close to him while watching the water breaking on rocks along the shore. Stanford’s elderly father recited this poem to him recently and the time spent together resonated with them.

“My father is 87, and he has been quite sick recently,” Stanford said. “I unexpectedly drove back to Virginia to see him, and that’s when he recited this poem to me. It’s reflective on death, remembrance and grief, and I know he’s dealing a lot with being in his late 80s and being very conscious of his mortality. Toward the end of the trip, it was a beautiful sunny day, and I was sitting next to his wheelchair, and he described the day lovingly using the last line of that poem, ‘Today is the tender grace of a day that is dead and will never come back to me.’”

In an effort to capture the essence of this memory on the album cover, Stanford chose an image out of his extensive photography catalogue. The image was taken on Pensacola Beach, using a Holga medium format camera, renowned for its inexpensive construction that often leads to light leaks and distortions. It resulted in a blurry image that reminded him of waves crashing on rocks.

Stanford has photographed all the album art for his music using a 1970s Yashica rangefinder film camera, often incorporating images of his own children—interweaving the personal into his creative expression.

“I can’t separate the music I’m making from the point in my life in which I made it,” Stanford said. “That’s why some of those songs feel like songs from relationships I was in when I was writing them. Similarly, my kids are tied through every bit of it, because I record and practice so much of this with headphones on after they’re in bed. They’re always there, this present part of my life, so it only feels right to include them [in the album art]. My kids have helped me grow in ways that I was lacking—emotional understanding, compassion, responsibility. Just like music, it’s a constant growth.”

You can find YNICORNS’ music on Spotify, Apple Music, Soundcloud and YouTube. YNICORNS is set to release its single “Seiche” on Spotify on Thursday, June 15, followed by the highly anticipated full album “Break Break Break” on Wednesday, July 5. Stay updated and learn more about YNICORNS by following @ynicorns.wav.


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