Sound of Ceres aims to mesmerize. The New York-via-Colorado synth-pop quartet brings its dreamy music to life with a unique live show, full of choreographed laser lights, reflective handmade costumes, and illusions inspired by early 1900s magicians. Founded by husband and wife Ryan and Karen Hover of Candy Claws, the Marina Abramovic-approved, outer space-bent group will perform at Alphaville for three shows this month in a residency for AdHoc. Each night will have an opener hand-picked by the band: performance artist Sarah Kinlaw on September 7, composer Dondadi (aka Connor Harwick of The Drums) on September 14, and a yet-to-be-announced “dream” artist for the final show on September 21.
Ahead of the residency, Karen Hover spoke to AdHoc about their psychedelic stage productions, touring with Beach House, and recording their latest album, The Twin.
You just finished a U.S. tour with Beach House, and you’re due to head back out with them to Europe soon. How was it playing with them?
It was great. We went out with them in May and we just did another chunk of time in August with them and it was great—really crazy venues that are way bigger than we’ve ever played before. It was kind of a unique experience to play in pretty opera theaters and ballrooms. [Beach House is] very light-oriented like we are so it was a very fun pairing. Basically we’re both very into visuals, but their set is a little higher-end because they have the budget to do that, versus ours, which is very homespun. It was fun seeing the two side by side.
You started a GoFundMe recently to offset some of the losses you incurred after somebody broke into your car in Oakland. What happened there?
Just after our show one night, we had some stuff in our car; luckily, not everything was stolen, but it was roughly $4,500 worth of stuff. Everyone lost their computers and stuff like that, which is really hard for an electronic band like us, where a lot of lights and music are run through computer programs.
It was a really big panic for a day; [we were] trying to figure out how the set could still happen with computers being gone. We were supposed to play in Canada two days later, and our passports, IDs, and wallets were stolen. [Beach House’s] whole team was really awesome; their manager was helping us get everything into place. It ended up being nine hours at a passport agency in San Francisco.
It was a crazy whirlwind, but we were able to keep playing. People are so awesome. [The fundraiser] was up for less than 24 hours, and we got more than we had asked for. The donations from fans and friends and stuff is really inspiring.
How would you describe your light show to someone who has never seen it?
We really like to incorporate a visual experience into our show. Our show is very choreographed, so we love having things very timed with the music. We love to incorporate things like illusions and magic tricks. We’re really inspired by old stage productions from the early 1900s, how they would do visual effects live on stage before technology really existed. We incorporate a lot of these early illusions into our set. Someone who [is first seeing it] would feel like they’re at the theater more than just a concert. It’s really about dance and movement and projections and light to kind of add to this experience.
How did you develop the illusions in your show?
It’s been kind of growing for a little over two years now. We started [out] using liquid light, which is very ’70s-inspired and psychedelic, which is not totally our style and wasn’t really pairing well with our music. [So] we found projections and holograms and things like that, which were more suited to our space theme, and started adding a light at a time. Over the past couple years, every month one new light gets added. The shows in September at the residency [are] different from the one we did last year. It’s an ever-changing experience.
You make your own costumes for your show, too?
We build everything ourselves. We incorporate fiber optics and mirrors into our costumes to be more playful with the light and visuals. We hand-build them all and sew them, so they fit well and work for what we need. Jacob [Graham] is the main kind of designer of the clothes. He has a puppetry background, and he’s generally very creative and good with his hands. All of us are not trained on anything we do; as far as the music and lights go, it’s self-taught.
Let’s talk about the residency. Did you choose all the support for the three shows?
We did. The third one hasn’t been announced yet. The first week is with visual artist/performer/dancer Sarah Kinlaw; she has some very interesting work. The second week is with our composer friend [Dodadi]. I think it’s really important to have the residency feel like it’s a complete experience, and not like we just picked a random band to play. We tried to focus on people who do visual or interesting work to make it a special night.
Will you be playing the same set every show?
It will be the same set all three nights. Live music is kind of different every night, [but] it’s intended to be three solid weeks of this performance that we’ve been building up toward for the last couple of years.
Your sophomore album, The Twin, came out in October of last year. Can you tell me about the recording process for it?
We wrote a lot of it back in the States, throughout New York, Colorado, Kentucky, and various [other] places. When we started working with Alex Somers, who produced it, he started adding some new sounds, [and] wanted to change some stuff around. We flew to Iceland and we were there for about a week or so, and we went through songs with him and worked on things together. The last song on the album, “Eden,” is our most collaborative work with Alex, because we were in the studio [together] the entire time and he was working on that song. That’s our favorite on the album, because it really was a true collaboration between us and Alex.
Had you been to Iceland before?
We had been, but not in a personal sense, I guess. We didn’t see any friends when we were there on our own traveling. It was neat to have that local experience and to meet Alex and his family and friends.
Sci-fi author and astronomer Alastair Reynolds wrote the story of “The Twin” after hearing your final mixes for the record. How did you connect with him?
Our first album, Nostalgia for Infinity, is named after a spaceship from an Alastair Reynolds novel. We weren’t in communication with him when we made that first record, but we were inspired by his books, so we decided to name our first record after one of his creations. He found out about that and he contacted us and was interested in working with us.
We thought it would be fun to have him write a story to accompany The Twin. On the back of the album, there’s a whole story written out, and there’s also a tiny book that we’ll release with the story. Ryan loves reading sci-fi, and Alastair is one of his favorite authors. Alastair found out about [the album] through a tweet.
Has he ever seen your live show?
No—he lives in Wales and we have yet to play over there. But hopefully someday.
What’s it like creating music with someone you’re married to?
This really started out as a duo project, and we kind of intended it to be us traveling together as a family. We realized pretty quickly that if we wanted the show to be what it is, we needed to add two more people to kind of help make that a reality. This was back in late 2015, when these conversations [started]. I’m sure if we didn’t add [guitarist Derrick Bozich] and Jacob, the project would look very different at this point. It totally feels like a group project now.
Sound of Ceres originated in Colorado. Do you all live in New York now?
Everyone does except for Derrick; he still lives in Colorado, [though] he flies out here every other month. Jacob lives in Brooklyn and Ryan and I live in New Paltz. [New Paltz] is the best place we could’ve found in New York. We didn’t even know much about it before we moved. We were literally looking for a house on the Hudson River on Craigslist. One that we liked came up, and it ended up being in New Paltz. How lucky did we get? It was a crazy thing.
Do you prefer living surrounded by nature?
Yeah, it’s great being close to the city and having access to do shows, but being able to retreat into the woods is kind of nice for us. We’re really into hiking; I think hiking is our biggest passion outside of making music. That was really important for us when we moved.
After the residency, what’s on deck for Sound of Ceres?
We’re definitely going to be playing more shows this Fall. We’re playing the Adult Swim festival in October in LA. It’s their first-ever festival they’re doing, and we have a really close relationship with Adult Swim.
The performance artist Marina Abramovic came to your last residency at Alphaville in 2017. What was it like to see her there?
She stayed afterwards to meet us. She was invited by a friend. A month later, she was talking to the BBC about us, so the BBC reached out and wanted to do an interview
. It opened up more opportunities for us, which was awesome.
It was a surreal thing—her being there. She basically wanted to know how we did things and where our inspiration came from. She said she’d seen other bands over the years, not too many, but she’d never seen something like [our show]. I think she maybe thought we were 20 years old or something, because she kept saying “the children” and [was marveling about] “what the children could make and do.” It was so funny. It was such an honor to hear her be so blown away by the stuff we do with what we’ve made.