Electronic artist’s latest EP takes on exploitation on illegal fishing boats
2020 may not seem like a particularly good year for one to become a full-time musician.
But that’s exactly what Los Angeles-based and Santa Barbara-born electronic artist Scott Korchinski, who goes by the name Houndtrack, has done.
This month saw Mr. Korchinski, who’s almost 30, release his latest EP “Ghostly Lives.”
The three-song record shows Mr. Korchinski using his experimental, electronic sounds to convey stories from New York Times bestselling author Ian Urbina’s book “The Outlaw Ocean,” which details the lives of men who are tricked into working on illegal fishing boats. They think it’s an honest venture, only to be dragged into a life of suffering and indentured servitude.
A graduate of Santa Barbara High School and then UCLA, Mr. Korchinski started out in music by playing drums and played shows with several bands, which he greatly enjoyed.
When he was about 15 years old he started casually creating electronic music on the software Ableton Live, but he didn’t start getting serious about electronic music production until three years ago. Mr. Korchinski explained that while he loves improvising and playing live music with a band, corralling bandmates for gigs can be a challenge if not everyone’s schedules align.
When making electronic music on the other hand, he is only dependent on one person, himself.
“Electronic music production was a way for me to always make music regardless of whether my friend was in the mood to play guitar on that particular day,” he said.
Because he only needs himself and his software to make electronic music, COVID-19 hasn’t impacted Mr. Korchinski’s ability to work and generate new music like it has musicians who have to get together in a room and play.
Because little else is going on due to the coronavirus, the pandemic has actually been helpful to him creatively.
“For me it’s actually been great because I can focus. There’s no parties happening, there’s no events to distract me,” he said.
Since he has produced electronic music as Houndtrack, Mr. Korchinski has gained a fan in investigative reporter and author Ian Urbina. The writer reached out to Mr. Korchinski via email inquiring if he could translate stories from his 2019 book “The Outlaw Ocean” into music.
Mr. Urbina sent Mr. Korchinski a copy of his book along with instructions to pick whichever chapters jumped out at him and write a song about each of them.
Upon reading the book, Mr. Korchinski learned about illegal poaching and fishing that happens on the oceans and often escapes public attention.
When reading “The Outlaw Ocean,” Mr. Korchinski was particularly struck by the human suffering of people from countries like Thailand and The Philippines, who are tricked into participating in illegal fishing ventures thinking that they are legitimate jobs.
As they work tirelessly on these fishing boats, the shadiness of the venture they’ve been dragged into becomes apparent as they’re forced to pay hidden fees for things such as the food they are fed while working. These fees pile up until the recruits are left indebted to their employers and in worse financial shape than when they started.
Sometimes, those recruited for illegal fishing boats wind up dead. This is what happened to Eril Andrade, one of the subjects in Mr. Urbina’s book and the inspiration for the first song on “Ghostly Lives,” “Voiceless.”
A man from a small village in The Philippines who hoped to find work that could provide for his family, Mr. Andrade was duped by a duplicitous recruiting firm that promised a life of adventure at sea. He wound up indebted to his employers and worked on a tuna fishing boat where captains regularly beat crew members for dropping fish or working too slowly.
Mr. Andrade only worked on the boat for seven months, as he died and was sent home in a coffin with a vague description of his death that led his family to wonder about how exactly his life ended.
In an Instagram post for the song “Voiceless,” Mr. Korchinski wrote that he “aimed to pay homage to Andrade and others living in similar situations” by using “raw chanting recordings, fragmented melodies, and rushing percussion.”
The EP’s second and eponymous track “Ghostly Lives” features melodic lines that sound like they’re coming from a string instrument, but it is actually Mr. Korchinski’s voice pitched up to give the song the “ghostly” quality its title suggests.
The title track is based on how those deceived into working on illegal fishing boats sleep on the vessels, on hammocks suspended off of the ground. This is done in order to stay away from the rats that crawl around on the floor at night.
Whenever Mr. Korchinski read a passage in “The Outlaw Ocean” that struck a chord with him, he would immediately get to work on music.
He said of the high-pitched melodic figure in “Ghostly Lives,” “it just seemed like such an awful way of life, and it hit my soul and this melody came out.”
Because the people suffering on illegal fishing vessels are little known in the western world and their lives have lost meaning due to them being exploited, Mr. Korchinski likened them to “ghosts on the ocean,” hence the title “Ghostly Lives.”
The EP’s third and final track, “Lang’s Escape,” is based on the life of Lang Long, a man who got trapped in an illegitimate fishing venture and got shackled to the end of the boat for some indiscretion like disobeying the captain or putting the net wrong. He was ultimately freed when a crew member from a supply boat that met the illegal fishing boat saw him tied to the front and arranged for his release.
Because most of the music that he makes is instrumental, Mr. Korchinski said it’s not difficult for him to translate stories into music that doesn’t have words. The stories that he uses as the basis for his music are very specific, and he utilizes their titles to give something of a hint as to what they are about.
Even if the inspiration for the music isn’t obvious from the music itself, Mr. Korchinski doesn’t mind too much.
“I like leaving things open to interpretation a little bit.”