It was in a German class, talking with a Serbian classmate, that Aaron Hemphill stumbled across the perfect album title...
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It was in a German class, talking with a Serbian classmate, that Aaron Hemphill stumbled across the perfect album title for the debut of his solo nom de plume Nonpareils; his first recordings since amicably departing Liars in 2016. The classmate told him about collecting ‘scented pictures’ as a child, and Hemphill imagined her as a child, taking photos and scenting the prints with spices; gathering multisensory memories.
“I later found out that in Serbia they made the equivalent to baseball cards targeted for girls that were basically cheesy landscape cards with really strong artificial scents added,” Hemphill explains. “Then I thought maybe this is even better! These still have this strong connection to memory precisely because they’re so artificial. It forces your brain to connect something that doesn’t fit with all the things that fit around it.”
The songs on Nonpareils’ debut album Scented Pictures were directly inspired by these concepts relating to memories, or more accurately the sensory experience of memory. They brim with poppy ideas and lush colour, yet their structures aim at defying logic, filtering the songs into strange new psychedelic corners. Hemphill believes that encouraging the brain to fill-in the gaps in something—be it a piece of music or a specific memory—leads to an amplified, more vivid experience for the listener. The snippets of sound and image inside Scented Pictures’ songs were mostly culled from the musician’s own memory, and tinted by his entry into a new solo phase in his career.
“It became the title because I wanted to make something equivalent to either version of a scented picture—whether it’s a cheesy perfume-drenched baseball card, or a hand-assembled photograph.”
Based in Berlin since 2015, Hemphill started working on Scented Pictures by recording stacks of acoustic instruments while, in his words, “doing the silliest things”. He played drums without click tracks, encouraged his engineer to distract him, and played the piano while allowing poorly set-up microphones to fall away from the body of the instrument. Ultimately the sound palette grew out further, taking in a vast array of virtual instrumentation too, all glitched and processed into off-kilter pop music.
While Hemphill’s relationship with the technical nuts and bolts of the recording process stays intact from his Liars years, going solo has had its inevitable effect. The song writing displayed on Scented Pictures is metaphysically restructured pop, the wealth of sounds and sonic processes at Hemphill’s disposal having diversified and warped since Mess, his final studio album with Liars.
Having played as a core member of the unpredictable and constantly evolving Liars right from the group’s inception at the turn of the millennium up until his departure in 2016, Hemphill’s no stranger to reinventing his approach. As part of Liars, Hemphill spent a decade and a half finding oblique new angles on the rock band format along with the group’s other key songwriter, Angus Andrew.
When the album was completed it sounded more to Hemphill like an album made by an obscure group rather than a lone producer, imagining a bunch of people being responsible for the sounds rather than a single person in an office chair. Hoping to further emphasise this idea the name Nonpareils was preferred over simply Aaron Hemphill, the first and most obvious in cheap and hopefully effective tricks employed to fool the listener. The confusingly written and pronounced Nonpareils in fact refers to (pronounced "non-perils" in American-English, known as Hundreds and Thousands in the UK) candy dots sprinkled onto cheap candy—”to make it more exciting” as Hemphill says. Notably, the French translation of nonpareil is ‘unparalleled’, “which I found quite nice for such a cheap candy,” jokes Hemphill.