With only a few weeks of the New Year behind us, Neal Calvin Peterson has already delivered one of the most intriguing concept albums of the year. Performing under the name Infinite Religions, Peterson’s new EP Duality explores contrast in an inventive new way: By composing two separate and completely different songs, each running exactly 3 minutes and 46 seconds long, and then piling the two songs on top of each other to create an enveloping third movement.
The result is title track “Duality,” which hearkens back to the experimental pop of early Cloud Cult cult material and clashes the distorted feedback of a nightmare and the twinkling guitars of a fantasy dream sequence. When pulled apart, the two opening tracks are appropriately titled “Life” and “Death.”
To learn more about this fascinating new endeavor, I met up with Peterson in the Garden Cafe of the Walker Art Center to talk about his journey toward Infinite Religions and how he decided to put together such a labor-intensive and imaginative little EP.
Local Current: So, who are you? Where did you come from? Tell me everything!
Neal Calvin Peterson: I grew up in North Dakota, so I’m a transplant. But I’ve been in Minnesota a long time, because I went to Moorhead State. I was living in the Cities for a while, and I went to grad school in Duluth. Musically, I played in a band called Curious Yello for years in Fargo, and after that I started releasing albums on my own, and I’ve done three albums. They were more singer-songwriter stuff, which I liked at the time, and it was a creative step, but after writing those three albums—the last one came out a couple years ago—I just felt a little burnt out on that format. I wanted to do something a little more artistic.
So this whole Infinite Religions thing—it started a year and a half ago. I was working downtown at a corporate job, and it was a great job, but I wasn’t really feeling fulfilled. I decided to resign, and I went to India, because… I don’t know, India. I ended up traveling there for a while, and I ended up in Nepal, and I went to these islands called the Andaman Islands and spent a lot of time there. I wanted to remove myself from the preconceptions I have here, and just be in this different context of language and culture and food. So I spent a lot of time there, and I didn’t know anyone, and I met some really cool people and travelers, but ultimately I was there on my own and I didn’t know the language, so it kind of required a lot of alone time and pensive thinking. I think that’s where some of the ideas started to formulate.
When I got back, I moved to Tennessee. I got into another grad program down there, a one-year fine art program. And I decided that when I went there, Duality—I didn’t know it was called that at the time—was going to be the project that I would work on for this year. And I kind of lucked out, because my apartment was right next to these hiking trails in the woods. So I would go out all the time and go hiking in the woods, and it’s just such a great place to clear your mind and think creatively. I called it my Walden.
How long were you in India?
Probably a month. I didn’t have much of a plan, but I really wanted to explore different areas. So I flew into Delhi, and my first night there I ended up staying in this area called Old Delhi, which unbeknownst to me was a really gritty part. I had three days there, and I showed up and my bed was just dirty, and I was like, oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into? But I progressed through this journey of this travel, and you get to the end of it and it’s like you have this great new love for it. I was in Nepal for a while, I went to Kathmandu, just getting a lot of the religious influences, the cultural influences, eating food when it allowed.
Did that experience influence the “Religions” part of your new name?
Yeah. I certainly don’t consider it a religious album, or religious music, in the traditional sense. But I think coming from a part of the globe that has X, Y, and Z religions, and going to a different part that has completely different ones, and being exposed to cultures and even the architecture, the way that it differs; I remember going, in Kathmandu, they have this thing called the Monkey Temple, and to get to the top you have to climb this massive staircase. And it’s already elevated, so you get up five stairs and you’re just out of breath. It’s called that because there are monkeys literally playing around, and they’ll run up and down the stairs. So you get to the top and it has this view over the entire Kathmandu valley, and when you get to the top you find that it’s not just for one particular religion, like Hinduism or Buddhism, but they actually share this space. And you’re sitting there and there’s monkeys and there’s pigeons and there’s all these stray dogs, and they’re all just cohabitating in this weird, spiritual space, and I remember thinking, ‘That’s a nice vision.’ Seeing all of that come together.
It reminds me of the inverse of John Lennon’s “imagine no religion.”
Oh yeah. Lennon, he’s one of my heroes. Yeah, absolutely. So I imagined it for a little bit, and it looked good. [laughs]
I saw that you had a Kickstarter for this project. When did you first start piecing things together and knowing that you wanted to do a crowdsourcing campaign?
I finished the first part of the project, the bulk of it, in May. And I decided that I really wanted to press these records, and vinyl records can be much more expensive to press. You know, after years of releasing CDs, or releasing music digitally, you kind of get conditioned to think that it’s disposable. I wanted to create something a little more special, and a limited edition. So we did a Kickstarter campaign, and I was so grateful to have friends and family that stepped up and support it. We already pre-sold half of the records. I’m only pressing 99, and part of that is just to keep it limited edition. The inserts are letterpressed, and I’m hand-writing all the lyrics on each record—which has become a questionable undertaking. But I think of the scribes who used to copy Bibles in their scriptoriums, and I have no excuse not to finish these 99 albums.
Where did you get the idea to layer the tracks over each other?
I have no idea. [laughs] I’ve been wanting to do it for so long. Four or five years ago I was going to put it in another album, and I couldn’t find the right conceptual thing. So when I started creating Duality last year I started researching other instances of it, and I couldn’t find any, except for one really awesome one by the Flaming Lips. They did an album called Zaireeka. And I was like, oh crap, I didn’t think of this first. I think though, when you’re making music, from a production standpoint, you’re layering tracks. So it’s just a matter of organizing tracks in a certain way, and thinking about it in that way. I guess art is like that too; any piece of visual art you’ve gotta think of the layers, the background, any kind of typography, the paint, whatever.
Was it challenging to layer and split apart the tracks in that way?
Absolutely. It was an incredible challenge. Because you have to do it from a technical standpoint, like is this kick drum going to mess up the kick drum on this song, and how do they link? And then conceptually I wanted to have a tone or a vision for each song, especially because they have such a contrast. “Death” is almost like a funeral procession; it starts slow and it starts dark and it churns along. And “Life” is more like this developing, birth-like journey.
Will there be a release party?
You know, I love parties and release shows. But on all my previous albums, I took this very standardized way of doing things, going through the steps. And I decided none of that applies to this project. So Duality is the first in a series, and right now the series is three records. And they’re all going to sound different from each other, but they’re all going to be part of a unified whole. So the first record, Duality, is kind of like the creation. Then the second album will be an odyssey for the listener, to go on this journey and come out the other side, which will essentially bridge to the third album, which is the coda, where it all comes together and resolves how this whole process worked. So what I decided is, since I’m going to do something different, I’m going to think of it as building up in movements, and then at the release of the third album, that’s when live performances will happen.
So will there be other layers on the trilogy?
The other albums won’t have that format. There’s definitely going to be some interesting layering going on, but you’re not going to get a song that splits into two songs. It’ll be a different idea or concept for each album. I did it once, I’m happy with it, and now I’m going on to the next thing.
Learn more about Infinite Religions and purchase the vinyl, CD, or mp3 versions of Duality on Neal Calvin Peterson’s website.