FM DUST ARCHIVES: SKYMALL Vol. 1- Benoît Pioulard​/​Campfires

2005/6: I was living In Ann Arbor in a filth-pit apartment with no living room and a nonsensical floor plan. For much of the year lease, five people were sharing four bedrooms. One of my roommates built a front porch out of plywood and milk crates, which surprisingly stayed up for several months (even after said porch attracted police attention when it was extended into a runway for a drunk, raucous “fashion show”).

It was a good year for Catherine Street. About five blocks from the heart of town (and, by extension, U of M’s campus), Catherine Street is an archetypal student ghetto promenade, lined with poorly-kept old houses that are never worth the rent but nonetheless always overfilled with transient students and hangers-on/out (I was the latter). Catherine is also usually about half-full of meatheads who aren’t socially advantaged enough for fraternity life, but 2005/6 was a banner year for “cool kids” on the block: everybody knew each other, most people were dating within a four-block radius, and there were constant parties. It was like a giant, open-air Cheers, except with way more beer and attractive people. It was in this milieu that I became friends with both Thomas Meluch and Jeff Walls (of Benoît Pioulard and Campfires, respectively).

I’d met Thomas around 2004, when he was playing drums in a sort of “post-rock” band whose name I can’t recall. For the first two years or so that I knew him, I assumed that he didn’t like me, because he was SO quiet. We were both DJs at WCBN, the University of Michigan’s college radio station, but our playlists were pretty different at that time. Weird, then, that when we finally bonded, it was over music. It’s a testament to our mutual shyness that our first particularly friendly communications were via mail (he sent me his first 7” for review in my zine) and e-mail, talking about each other’s music. The first time I remember having an extended face-to-face conversation with him, it was in shared praise of fellow SE Michigan weirdo Cotton Museum. After that, we were fast friends, and have remained great pals thereafter.

Around 2006, Thomas started to garner some attention for his lush, quietly intricate recorded solo work as Benoît Pioulard, via some scattered compilation tracks and an LP on Kranky, Précis. These recordings received strong reviews, but he was really nervous about playing the material live. I coaxed him into playing an intimate show at the Dreamland Theater in Ypsilanti, but his set that night was devoted to a vocal-free, moody electronic drone piece that sounded precious little like his releases. He only looked at the crowd to signify that his set was over, and maybe not even then.

Once Thomas came out of his shell as a live performer, though, he never came back. Thomas now tours the Benoît Pioulard material all over the world, and the sets feel confident and strong, yet still fragile and intimate.

Somehow, I ended up borrowing a glow-in-the-dark tambourine from Jeff Walls for several months in 2006, and possibly even took it on tour with me, but he never seemed bothered by that. I’m pretty sure he was out of town for a significant chunk of that time, but still, it was a chill move on his part.

Jeff and I lost touch for awhile after moving to different cities, aside from a run-in here and there. One day, though, Jeff e-mailed me a link to some music of his that he was really excited to share, which he’d recorded under the name Campfires. Those early recordings had this hazy summer bedroom sound, the kind that makes you misty-eyed for a misspent youth driving through back roads with half-forgotten friends, blaring carefully-constructed but dreadfully-recorded mixtapes. I’d bet it evokes that even if that wasn’t your youth, but it was most certainly mine.

The original cassette release (second printing).

Loving that old friends spread far and wide (at the time, Thomas was in Portland, and Jeff was in Chicago; now Thomas is in Seattle and Jeff is in Portland) were both making such cool-sounding homemade pop music, I immediately proposed a Benoît Pioulard/Campfires split cassingle. Thomas and I had talked about working with each other for a long time (some day, we might even let more than ten people hear our band, Beach Druid), and I figured that it’d be cool for Jeff to share a split with someone more “established”, especially someone who’s already a friend.

Little did I know that I wasn’t the only one moved to swift action by Jeff’s first recordings: the much more well-known (and well-distributed) Mexican Summer label had already offered to put out a single by the time I made my offer. I don’t think Jeff had even played any Campfires shows at that point; the recordings were just that cool, nostalgic and timeless but still gloriously in the moment.
I called the FM DUST split cassingle series “SKYMALL” for two reasons:

1) I’m endlessly fascinated/revulsed by the Skymall catalogs found in the pockets of airline seats. My original intention was for each cassingle cover to feature my illustration of a different item from said catalogs, but I was going through a weird period as an illustrator and, sadly, ran out of steam on this plan.

2) Each split contains work by two performers/bands that lived a considerable distance from each other, at least far away enough where it would make most sense for them to fly to each other to meet. I had some kind of idealistic reason for this (“bridging gaps in a global friendship village” or some bullshit), but I’m sure that I came to that reasoning only after I was looking for a way to justify the series name.

This first Skymall cassette was not just an auspicious start to the series, but also the second-best-selling tape FM DUST has ever put out (the gold medal goes to Thomas’s Valley cassette, long out of print but available for download on the Benoît Pioulard Bandcamp page), requiring the release of two separate editions with totally different cover art. Both editions are long gone, but I’m happy to facilitate its continued availability here.

Dustin Krcatovich is a cartoonist, writer, designer, founder of FM DUST, and a collector of certain curios and ephemera (with a focus on 20th century "junk culture"). His writing and illustration work appears frequently in The Quietus, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Esquire's Culture Blog. He is also a former editor and contributor to Secret Zen Garden,Saagara's illustrated mindfulness/wellness blog for young people. He currently resides in Portland, OR.