Arachnidiscs Recordings is happy to officially announce the release of the first batch of our Extra Limited Run (XLR) series. The XLR releases will run a mere 5-20 copies per title (usually ten), C40s, yellow-backed box, hand-labelled, dubbed at home in the arachnid’s lair and possibly blessed with incense (only because the incense holder happens to sit beside the tape deck).
Already the first edition of Heraclitus Akimbo‘s A Part of My Inheritance is sold-out, but another (final?) run being dubbed. Stay tuned. Final copies of the other releases are still available right now…
Louis Law: Hirudinea
Psychedelic, Beefheartian lo-fi blues from an Englishman in Utrecht. Bombastic and compelling.
Analog synthesizer and space echo meditations on the red planet and the god of war. Retro sci-fi soundtrack vibes for lucid dreaming.
UPDATE: SOLD OUT
Heraclitus Akimbo: A Part of My Inheritance
As mentioned, the 1st edition of this ambient/drone/minimalist composition masterstroke is sold out. But a 2nd edition is in production to coincide with the Zine Dream fair in Toronto on August 16th. Keep an eye out for announcements and in the meantime check the album out below—it’s pretty fantastic.
UPDATE: Two copies from the 2nd Edition are in the store!
While still seated on the patio of the Victory Café after chatting about their grunge-era regrets, it was suggested that Jakob Rehlinger (BABEL) and Heraclitus Akimbo (better known as sound archivist Joe Strutt of the esteemed Mechanical Forest Sound blog) should interview each other about their respective releases in Arachnidiscs’ new Extra Limited Runseries. BABEL’sMARTIALIS and Heraclitus Akimbo‘s A Part of my Inheritance are both forty minutes long and both involve loops and keyboard-based music, but they are coming from pretty different places. These are the questions that they had for each other…
Joe Strutt/Heraclitus Akimbo: Tell me about the Extra Limited Run series.
Jakob Rehlinger/BABEL: As the name suggests, it’s very limited runs of albums or split tapes — five to fifteen copies per release. I decided I just wanted to get some blank tapes made with the pad-print of the label logo on it so I could just do limited runs of things sorta cost effectively, but still look kinda official. Honestly, for some releases, ten copies is all that’s needed. When I do a run of fifty of something, I give the artist twenty copies and maybe I sell fifteen pretty quickly. But the remaining five or so sit in my basement forever, slowly dwindling down until it sells out years later. Sometimes I think, “well, maybe I should have only made ten copies.” And this way, if need be, make another ten copies. That’s kinda the philosophy behind it, less waste.
[As it happens, the first run of A Part of my Inheritance has alreadysold out in pre-orders before the July 27th release date. Naturally, second run is planned and Jakob is wondering if he should’ve done it as a regular release.]
I think it’s very important that an album has some form of physical release, but does it need to be fifty or a hundred copies? Or does it only need to be ten copies for the real die-hards and it can have a digital life after that, but still with the legitimacy of once existing as a physical copy? Which is something I cannot let go of. I have zero interest in turning the label into a digital label. That’ll never happen — I’ll quit before that happens.
Joe: [exaggerated table-thumping for emphasis]
Joe: Turning to your tape, I guess I’d start by observing there’s a fair number of BABEL releases…
Jakob: There are! There’s probably too many. But they’re each unique, I think. They’re each a different facet. Some bands, on their bandcamp page there’s this huge grid of a hundred releases and you start going through them and they’re all exactly the same. And you go, “Why? Why do you keep making music?” Whereas I think for the BABEL releases — to pat myself on the back — each album is quite different. I go through phases: percussive prepared guitar, synth, the earlier postrock phase…
Joe: And the same sequential variation is happening in this recent burst? Why have there been so many?
Jakob: I’m always recording. But in October, for no good reason, on a whim, I started recording a thematic album a month. It goes OCTAL, NOVUS, DECIMA, JANIFORM, FEBRIS, MARTIALIS, APRAXIA, MAZE, and then JUNIPER.
Joe: The code! Unveiled! So if you line them all up, it’ll show this long-term musical story of your development? Or decline…
Jakob: Musically, it bounces all over the place. JUNIPER is an American Primitive guitar album. Mini-album or EP. As yet, nobody wants to release it. [laughs] So it might be an Arachnidiscs release.
Joe: You can send that anonymous submission off to Revenantand see what happens.
Jakob: That’s probably a good idea. Maybe I’m aiming too low.
Joe: How many months is it going to go?
Jakob: I haven’t recorded anything in July yet. Since Mandi’s away in Europe right now, I thought I would have a whole album recorded by the time she got back. Maybe two albums. Maybe a double July album, but no. So this might be the end.
Joe: Does MARTIALIS just happen to come along at the time you’re doing the extra limited series, or did you think, “this is one that ten people would want to listen to instead of fifty?”
Jakob: That’s kinda what happened. ‘Cause lately I’ve been going out and hassling other labels into releasing BABEL material to what I think is a shocking amount of success. That they’ve agreed to put these out. OCTAL, I got Kevin Haney to release on Inyrdisk. I did NOVUS myself. DECIMA‘s gonna be released by a sub-label of Jeunesse Cosmique. JANIFORM is on Assembly Fieldin the UK. FEBRIS just came out on Tymbal Tapes. I think I have a label lined up for APRAXIS. So for MARTIALIS I thought this is maybe one I should release myself, as opposed to trying to get an ambient new age cassette label to put it out. It just felt like one that would be good for this series as opposed to shopping it hard on another label.
Joe: There was no one else in that “heavy Vangelis” niche that you could find?
Jakob: Well, there’s a ton of labels in that niche but I think there’s so many other people doing that I felt like it would be a harder sell… I feel like it’s one of my least unique BABEL recordings. It has the least, “that is definitely BABEL, I can tell right off the top,” whereas some of the other ones have a bit more of a unique artistic slant to them. This one, it was a bit more… it’s a good one for me to do as ten copies and see how it goes.
Although as I was dubbing the copies of all these [Extra Limited Release] albums I really got to enjoy each of them more and more, which I didn’t expect — I thought I’d hate them all by the time I got to the tenth copy. By the end, I was thinking, “wow, I really should have shopped this album to another label to do something more substantial with.” I dunno, just Stockholm Syndrome probably.
Joe: I reacted favourably to it.
Jakob: [laughs] I do think it’s good, but it’s very much a retro-synth album, which is what I was going for. Using space echo effects in a looping style. It’s definitely an aesthetic I was playing with that is well-tread ground.
Joe: Yeah, I said it jokingly a minute ago, but it seems like you’ve torqued the [early period] Tangerine Dream sound of the OCTAL stuff into a more airy Vangelis thing. But then there’s a couple little abrasive moments to wake you up.
Jakob: Yeah. I think it really works well in that aspect. As opposed to just being straight mellow new age pabulum. I think I intentionally added enough stuff that would give it a little more grit. But I feel like it’s kind of an anomaly, at least when I recorded it in March I felt it was an anomaly for BABEL. But then in April I recorded another synth album that was very pointedly synth-oriented, so I guess it’s more of a phase.
But speaking of drone-y/synth-y music based on loops, your album is definitely in that genre. Was this your first stab at it, or is it something that you’ve been secretly doing all along and now you’ve suddenly made this stuff public?
Joe: No, I’ve had other bursts before. I spent a lot more time noodling around with music before I was going to so many shows. And that tailed off once I had the blog and was recording stuff.
Jakob: Which must take up a lot of your time.
Joe: Yeah, so noodling — or recording — has been something that just hasn’t been happening for quite a while. But if you dig back, if you go on my bandcamp, there’s an ambient album there that I recorded about seven years ago. And it’s kinda the same, since I don’t know too many tricks. But instead of the loop pedal, that one was made with this toy I bought from a guy I worked with, a Mixman DM2. It’s like a DJ controller that you could play tracks with and “scratch” on like a turntable. But I accidentally found a way to use it for ambient music, by playing around with the samples that you could load onto it. I generated all these synth tones from an Electribe — an old one, the first version — using it just as a monophonic synth instead of a sequencer. So I had all these synth tones on the Mixman and “played” those to create these drones. So I always liked doing that stuff. I own three Buddha Machines, and sometimes I’d just like to crank them all up at once and live-mix them together. I tinker. Playing with the cheap, low-end gear I have laying around, like the Realistic Concertmate-500, which is the Radio Shack knock-off version of the Casio SK-1.
Jakob: That’s one thing on your album — that keyboard sounds so good. ‘Cause I definitely made a lot of recordings with that. I used to have one of those and I could never make it sound as good. I don’t think I had the know-how at the time. I was probably too [sheltered] to really have witnessed how people do this kind of stuff. So, I’d put a reverb pedal on it and expect it to sound good.
But anything that produces a tone, you can you can make an amazing-sounding synth or ambient album if you just know how to tweak the signal properly. And have the taste to be able to do it. Right? Having an innate taste, as opposed to a talent… [laughs] Taste is the most important element, I think. My problem is ego. I always insert way too much of my own ego into my music. I always want to impress somebody; that’s, way too much of a motivation for me.
Joe: It’s probably not a bad motivation.
Jakob: It’s a good one to be able to push yourself, but I think good music isn’t made when there’s any kind of ego involved… whereas I wanna impress somebody.
Joe: I’d say mine isn’t that ego-driven, except in a backhanded kind of way. Obviously you want people to be impressed by it, but my assumption is, “why in the hell would they be?”
Jakob: It’s because it’s very nice to listen to.
[When Joe transcribed this interview, he apparently deleted a paragraph around here where Jakob tells him how, when Mandi overheard Jakob listening to it, she raved about how much she loved the music not even knowing it was Joe. And how that’s even more significant because she rarely has anything positive to say about music Jakob listens to. It appears Joe is uncomfortable with praise.]
Joe: I think because I’m pretty aware of my limitations I wasn’t doing stuff that would clash. Most of what I recorded, you can just mix all of it together because I was just playing, what’s the word, diatonically? Just on the white keys. And then when I had little melodic moments, it would just be two or three notes in that scale. it’s hard to come up with something that’s an audible clunker like that.
Jakob: I can achieve that. I can go on just the white keys and somehow manage to make the most horrible, discordant racket. So, a lot of people, when they’re getting into this kind of music, they don’t try for any kind of harmony or resonance, they seem to instantly go for the noise end of the genre, as a kind of safety net. “Okay, I’ll just make things discordant. I’ve got this analog synth and I’ll just go blee-oo-wee-oo and nang-nang-nang-nang and make horrible noises.” But you seemed to avoid that altogether and you’ve definitely gone for something that’s very serene and still interesting in that Philip Glass-y, minimalist composer kind of way. Is that a conscious thing you did?
Joe: Well, I have done the opposite. I have distortion pedals and so on. I certainly enjoyed doing that when I played guitar more. And when I had my four-track I’d do that, just layers of abrasiveness. But for this stuff? Not that I dislike noise, but I wanted to make something I could listen back to…
Jakob: You were consciously creating something you wanted to listen to, as opposed to, “I’m going to do something to get on the weird drone scene.”
Joe: I’d say maybe the most immediate thing that was in my head was a piece called “Watermusic II” by William Basinski. It’s an hour long, and pretty minimal and soothing, with textures gently rubbing against each other. it’s one of the things I keep handy to listen to when I’m trying to go to sleep. I think that probably would have been in my head as much as anything else. And I was successful, inasmuch as I find my recordings quite pleasant to fall asleep to.
And I love the infinite malleability of this kind of music. I’d record eight or ten minute “takes” and then mix and layer them together afterwards in Audacity. The funny part with this stuff is, you don’t have to line it up in any particular way for it to align in a way that works.
Jakob: In this kind of music, for sure.
Joe: So there was very little effort…
Jakob: …there’s that happy accident element. You have your take or whatever, and then you line it up with some other stuff, and you realize, “well, I never would have ever consciously thought of doing this, but wow, that works really great.” I think it’s kind of a thing musicians don’t talk about when they work in this field: how much of their music is a happy accident? Literally throwing it against a figurative wall and seeing what sticks.
Joe: For the two-and-a-half hour version of Variation and Variations, I had ten sections, so I made a chart: one through ten on the left channel, then ten through one on the right, and then randomly fill in the opposite channels. And then I just went and copied and pasted that all into Audacity. Move things around so the sections line up and that was the finished product.
Jakob: That’s basically what I do with a lot of BABEL recordings, but I don’t even bother to make a chart. I just organically start doing stuff. What works, works and what doesn’t, doesn’t. I tried doing a thing where I was just recording random synth notes, thinking that I could just put them into the stretch filter in Audacity and it would all work out beautifully. Didn’t work at all. I realized I have to put a little more thought into it at the beginning stage, you can’t just randomly make noise and expect to stretch it out and edit together and have it be this brilliant disaster of an accident that turns into art.
Jakob: When you shared the picture of the tapes I posted today, your caption said something like, “I’m a little uneasy about this, I don’t want people to think I’m passing myself off as a real musician.” So, how uneasy are you about putting your own foot into the pool?
Joe: Well, I spend a fair amount of time around people who are so good at music. So to me it just feels like sheer dilettantism to say, “hey, I’m a musician too!” And worse to say it to someone who’s put their heart and soul into it, and played every day for years and worked their chops out. Even for — or especially for — people who are good enough to play freely in a way that doesn’t sound like they have chops, but who have an amazing amount of musical knowledge to fall back on. So for me to put myself in any way on their level just seems too pretentious.
Jakob: But that would be like saying, oh I dunno, Einstürzende Neubauten should never have made a record or something like that. I mean, there’s a certain period in any musician’s life — and I will, against your wishes, call you a musician — there’s a naïve period, where you’re creating something that is really spectacular. ‘Cause I think your album is really good. I was actually a little upset about how good it is, cause I was like, fuck you, this is the kind of stuff I’m trying to do with BABEL all the time but it just sounds like weird noise or something when I do it. In the art world they call it “naïve art” and when you get a certain amount of chops you can’t create like that anymore. You can’t do it — you over-think things subconsciously. About knowing why what you’re going to do isn’t going to work — that kinda ruins everything. And then you have to get to another level to be able to pull it back.
Joe: When I was thinking about what name to put on this, before I posted the stuff online, I actually had on my list of names this German word, Laienmalerei, which basically translates to “lay painting”, which is basically the same concept as you’re talking about.
Jakob: In the early ’90’s, I was a Joe Satriani shredder kind of guitar player, and I consciously un-trained myself to not ruin everything I played with hair-metal lickage, horrible tapping solos, and whammy-bar divebombs and everything that would just come out subconsciously. Un-training my actual ability to play the guitar was a very conscious thing, but I can also fall back on that technical knowledge if I need to. But I kinda purposely don’t practice very much. Always trying to get back to that naïve period.
But speaking of band names, what is the story behind “Heraclitus Akimbo”?
Joe: Way back, in the time before I was even playing guitar, maybe 2002 or so, I worked at an office job and I’d shoot the shit with a friend of mine who was also really into music. One day, we were talking about what our punk names would be. And we spent the lunch hour or whatever just coming up with lists of punk names. And one of the ones that I came up with, and that stuck with me somehow, was Heraclitus Akimbo. Lingering shades of my big crush on the Presocratics as a youthful philosophy undergrad, probably. But it’s a great punk name: it sounds both awesome and a little goofy.
Jakob: It makes me think of that Kim Mitchell album, Akimbo Alogo.
Joe: I’m not burdened by knowing that specific album.
Jakob: It’s the one with “Go For a Soda” on it.
Joe: Ah. I was just a singles guy for Kim Mitchell. So anyway, once I bought my guitar and wrote all my bad songs, Heraclitus Akimbo was the name they were under. I’ve told this story before, but to recap:
In anticipation of the terror of turning thirty, I bought a guitar. My friend at work, who I had all those list-making rock conversations with, he had a guitar and played a little, so he went with me when I bought my Strat. And we jammed a few times and stuff. He was an English major who was always secretly writing a novel he would never tell anyone about and I thought, “this is great! We’ll start a band and he’ll write the songs, ’cause he was an English major!” So after a little while, once I’d learned four chords, I started asking where the songs were. But there were no songs. So I just started pulling things out from my notebooks — all those pithy bon mots that I was collecting — and cranked out a few songs. And when I made crappy recordings of them I needed something to put on it to make it look like a fake “real album”, so Heraclitus Akimbo it was.
So that was the origin, and it had really passed out of my mind. But then, earlier this year, my father passed away. I was out in Manitoba for the memorial service, and cleaning some of the stuff out his place. And in his office, where he had all of his music, he had this whole separate pile of all the CD’s I’d sent him, set aside in their own place. So it was nice to see he had some affection for my music. We weren’t always the closest, but we’d bonded over music, and I guess he liked the fact I was doing this stuff. And I also ended up with his guitar and his Boss RC-2 loop pedal. And it was in playing with the loop pedal that I ended up sorta accidentally creating all this music. So that’s why it seemed like the logical name to put on it.
Jakob: It’s not nearly as bad as a lot of names that bedroom recordists choose for their projects. But I wondered: where did that come from? It seemed so random. What is this alter ego? So you had a conscious decision not to put it under your own name. Because in the Toronto underground scene, most people know who you are, or know your blog at least. You’ve got a lot of good will, as evidenced by the response when you posted the photo of the tape… you could just use your name. Like, why not?
Joe: Bandonyms are just better than real names. Always. Even if my name sounds a bit like a fake, made-up stage name…
Jakob: True. if I was going to make a movie about a hair-metal guy who was trying to make it, like a Rock of Ages kind of musical, “Joe Strutt” would be an awesome name for that guy.
Joe: Or a Dickensian rock novel, where your name is your character: “Strutt”.
Jakob: In high school I used to jam with a guy named Clay Caesar, and my dad would say, “he’s got such an awesome rockstar name!” And he did, it was like there was no way that name was real… Clay Caesar! [laughs]
[What Jakob neglected to tell Joe about Clay was how, shortly after he graduated high school, he went into the wooded area behind the tennis courts near his house and shot himself in the heart with a rifle.]
Joe: But yeah, I guess it never occurred to me to put my own name. To use one’s own name just seems boring. If it was, like, singer-songwriter stuff, maybe you put your own name.
Jakob: I started using the name BABEL around the turn of the century, sort of a semi-gothic electronic noise thing, and then I sort of abandoned it for a while to do Moonwood. And [around 2010] when I started re-visiting the type of stuff that would again be called BABEL, I was putting it out under the name “Rehlinger”, as if I were a composer of some renown: “Mozart… Brahms… Rehlinger!” And that lasted for about two months and a few MP3’s I posted somewhere and I realized, “I’m going to start calling it BABEL.” I’m not comfortable using my name at all, and even though I knew for a while that there had to be a lot of other people out there using the name Babel — it’s too much of a common word to be unique — it just seemed like a better route to go.
Joe: Are you familiar with the “other” Babels? Do you keep tabs on their career arcs?
Jakob: I don’t really keep track of them, but I definitely discover a new one every time I sign up for some internet service as Babel: “that name is taken.” And then I have to find some weird spelling, like “Babelmusik” or something like that because there’s a “Babelmusic” already. They’re usually techno artists, though. Oddly, I have not found a single dub artist named Babel. I feel like the Babel/Babylon thing… too obvious? How is there not a dub artist named Babel?
Joe: That’d be like evil dub, right? Babylon Dub.
Jakob: It doesn’t have to be a good Rastafarian. It could be the Satanist version of Rastafarianism. He’s totally for the cops.
Joe: He gets a haircut regularly.
Jakob: He’s a skinhead! [laughs] Lotta techno artists named Babel. Lotta flamenco, and an Italian neo-classical sort of thing. There’s an Italian metal band. They posted a video where it’s just their singer screaming into the microphone. You can’t hear the band, just an isolated vocal track, fifteen seconds of him shrieking. I was like, “Wow, this is great!” When you go into youtube, the first hit under Babel is this guy screaming and probably somebody’s gonna think that’s me. And it’s awesome.
And then, also, the Brad Pitt movie, when you google “babel” it’s all Brad Pitt movie for two pages before there’s anything resembling me. I mean, for branding I should have gone with my last name and just stuck with it and persevered and not felt awkward about it but it felt like at the time it was too hard for people to remember or even pronounce correctly. It bothers me when people say “rell-in-jer”.
Joe: Oh shit, I always have. Until two seconds ago.
Heraclitus Akimbo’s A Part of My Inheritance and BABEL’s Martialis both release on 7/27/15 along with Hirudinea by Louis Law. You can order any or all of them HERE.
Joe Strutt of the Mechanical Forest Sound blog sat down with Jakob Rehlinger, of (BABEL, Moonwood, Reverend Moon and also) The Urbane Decay to discuss the ’90s, personal identity, mercurial nature of memory, grunge typography, and Canadian nerdcore.
In a moment of admirable modesty, Jakob realized that he probably couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) interview himself for this column on the release of his Urbane Decay EP, so he asked me to pinch hit. Intrigued as I was by his liner notes (and, I suppose, the music as well) I agreed to meet up with him on the patio of the Victory Café. Jakob had some manner of fancy beer in a goblet-like glass. I had a radler and was not mocked for doing so, which I thought was a good start.
For those of us who know Jakob in his latter-day bearded/hooded weird-music making manifestation, it takes a bit of adjustment to realize that a younger/beardless*/hoodless version of him had a fairly straight-ahead grunge-inspired (and occasionally new wave) band. (* though there might have been a goatee involved) The “mainly maudlin and mopey” Urbane Decay was mostly active between 2002 and 2009, and its bandcampoffers a slightly-baffling variety of releases with a variety of Young Jakobs emoting furiously in various degrees of earnestness and glumness, his piercing gaze almost daring you to just fucking feel the depths of his angst and heartbreak.
A comeback singlefor the project last summer has now lead to a new EP. Unsurprisingly, this is the work of a different musician and songwriter, exchanging heart-on-sleeve emotion for a more refracted (and dare we say mature?) recherche du temps perdu. Is it nostalgia? Yes but no — there’s a nestling here into the past’s warm bosom, but at the same time also an intense awareness that our idealised reconstructions of the past are not at all like the past itself. This is something that I used to think a lot about, and this is where our conversation begins…
All right, we’re chatting about the Cellophane EP. So, besides the musical element, the philosophical basis of this release is: “identity is a lie”. Correct?
[laughs] Do you mean, like “the concept of the EP”? It’s not really the concept of the EP, it’s just how it ended up.
You got to that by accident?
I got to that by accident. I didn’t intend for that to come across as an artistic statement.
Maybe just because I totally engaged with that…
You’re referring to the liner notes, where I talk about going back to my late teens, early 20’s, and being like: “this is all the music I listened to and I’m paying homage to it.” Then I realized: no, I actually listened to Barenaked Ladies and Crash Test Dummies and MC Hammer at the time. I had Hüsker Dü tapes and stuff, but none of the majority of my daily listening is mirrored on the tape. So it ended up becoming a lie, trying to make myself seem cool. [pause] Street cred and all that.
So, you really need a tape that shows your Barenaked Ladies and Timbuk3 influences.
I guess I could record that… or maybe I did! Maybe that really comes through as well. In my mind, this sounds like a really bitchin’ kinda Sugar meets Bleach-era Nirvana/Chapterhouse thing but maybe it just sounds like a slightly-distorted Timbuk3. [laughs] Or like Chad Kroeger fronting Barenaked Ladies or something horrible like that. At a certain point, my conception of what my music actually sounds like to other people is completely off… like, I completely missed any kind of Bob Mould influence on that tape until Ken fromEverything is Geometry said, “yr Urbane Decay tape is very Bob Mould. I dig it.” And I was like, “yeah, you’re right. It’s all Bob Mould riffs!”
Grunge will out.
Yeah. I intended it as grunge with a little bit of Madchester and all that stuff from that period that I still enjoy listening to. As opposed to what I was literally listening to on a daily basis. There’s not a lot of Pogues in there. I listened to a lot of Pogues. But there’s no tin whistles.
And so is this just something that was just dying to be pushed out of you? Or was it a theoretical exercise?
It was a complete whim. Last summer, I was going back to B.C. and I knew I’d be seeing Ken [from Everything is Geometry] and we’d been part of an indie-rock scene together, so it just got me thinking about that kind of music. And then I just had this urge to write and record some of that music. So over two weekends, I recorded the EP. With five or six other songs I abandoned, ’cause they were horrifically bad. I didn’t sit around and come up with a concept, just “I feel like recording some late 80’s style indie rock.”
Did you get into a specific mind-state to do this? Did you just sit and play riffs, or did you have a grunge notebook with ideas for these kinds of songs?
From being in grunge bands and stuff back in the day, I just knew how to play the riffs. And from all my other previous attempts at shoegaze or whatever, I just knew what kind of chords to use. For the music, I’d sit down and write some riffs and the more immediate and the less I thought about it the better it would work. Some of the lyrics were stuff that was left over from the Reverend Moon album and I just sort of tweaked it a bit to be a little less apocalyptic and a little more…
Well, there is a sort of… not quite a worldview, but a world-sense to it, ’cause “taste” comes up in almost all the songs…
I suppose. I didn’t really think about that. But there were a lot of references to pizza and vomit. There’s a sort of extra set of liner notes that are going in a cheaply photocopied fold-up, sorta of the time, and I was writing some pretty pretentious liner notes for each song as if it was a re-issue thirty years on, like Lou Barlow looking back to a Sebadoh album talking about what inspired his songs, and after I was like, “wow, it’s all about food!” Food and cars or something. Weird things that pop up that I don’t know are important themes to me, but somehow I associate them with those times. I dunno.
And sound-wise, did you have specific effects and stuff that’s different then your normal setup?
Well, the guitar sound is definitely very different than what I would do with Moonwood… I tried to make it as not-psychedelic as possible, but retain a little bit of that psychedelia that alt-rock had, the tracings… all grunge guitars have a bit of a Hendrix sound, or a Tony Iommi sound, just de facto by their influences. With Moonwood, I generally try and blow that out and make it as psychedelic as possible, so I tried to strip it back. I tried to make it sound lo-fi without it actually being lo-fi. That was probably the most contrived part of it, making it sound like it was recorded on a four-track cassette though it’s actually a digital recording.
You didn’t wanna go all the way back?
Considered it. But I wanted more editing ability. There isn’t a lot of editing I ended up doing, but I wanted the drums to not be all on one track and be able to have them sound… good. [laughs] I’m not really a fan of lo-fi. Mid-fi I like. Lo-fi, except for the times where it really works well… there’s only a few true masters of lo-fi sound out there. Maybe Lou Barlow.
And there’s a lot of crappy, crappy Lou Barlow.
Yeah, on the writing end and the recording end. I guess it was more when Sebadoh went more into that mid-fi range, before they went hi-fi, there was a lotta magic there, and that’s the kind of area I was trying to re-create, if anything.
I had some era-specific regrets about some Sentridoh stuff I bought.
Yeah, I don’t think I ever found a single Sentridoh album I could get behind. And the worst part about that is I feel like it spawned so many people who felt it was totally okay to do that, and it just killed lo-fi as a genre.
You talked about the idea of coming late to the cool stuff. I know I got into Sebadoh a little later. I never heard III or Freed Weed when they came out, but I was into Harmacy and Bakesale.
Bakesale is definitely the one I came in on. And I was resistant to get into it. I can’t remember why… I think I thought the graphic design looked so shitty… that intentionally cut-up bits of National Geographic ’90’s graphic design… the intentional slacker we-don’t-care aesthetic bothered me for some reason. But once I got over that, that album is amazing. And Harmacy is kinda bad.
I haven’t revisited it, which maybe is good. I remember it was still a fairly big deal at the time when it came out.
It’s not bad. In retrospect it’s kinda lackluster where Bakesale and the three before it really hold up.
[laughs] I don’t know. I think I kinda got over that. There’s such a nostalgic pull toward the really terribletypography that’s on Superchunk records. I really like it in its own way — the poorly-kerned used of Helvetica, and stuff like that… stretched type, like on a Mother Love Bone tape… it’s horrible but I have such warm, nostalgic feelings for it. What I didn’t do for the graphic design for this tape that is very 90’s is like a black box with reverse type on it. I was going for more of a shoegaze look for the graphics.
The British stuff I was mostly not into at all at the time. I somehow just missed out entirely.
In Vancouver there was a radio station that played almost exclusively Britpop and Madchester stuff, in ’89 to ’91 when they went off the air, I think. Maybe ’92. So yeah, I was totally into it, ’cause I turned on the radio and you’d actually hear it. This was actually a commercial radio station, which was a weird thing… that was where I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and stuff, just played as part of their top 40. Way early on, super-early adopters, it was bizarre. If I didn’t have that experience, I certainly never would have heard Stone Roses, probably. Just wouldn’t have been something that would have been on my radar, ‘cept for some reference I saw in a fanzine or something. But it was getting played all the time on the radio. And I was, “wow, here’s this great new band from Britain.” And I sorta got into that whole scene through them, and it was, like, all I would listen to. When I wasn’t listening to Crash Test Dummies, of course.
It was particularly resonant when you talked in the liner notes that the Barenaked Ladies being the true face of Canadian DIY, ’cause that was so huge…
Well, totally. That’s what made me believe I could put out my own tapes, and that that would be a viable option… At seventeen, I was so anti-major labels and getting signed, I had this idea in my head that if you were going to be on the major labels, first you had to have your own Yellow Tape. [laughs] And if you got a record deal that way, that was okay, but otherwise… [pause] I was seventeen. I was crazy. I had no idea how the real world worked at all. So my band had our Blue and Red Tape.
At that time, they had distribution at HMV, so even in Winnipeg — or B.C., I guess — you could go and buy this independent tape…
…which was on this shitty, photocopied yellow card stock. It was horrific, everything about it. What was the graphic, like a hot dog? A hamburger? Some sort of shitty, hand-drawn graphic.
They were a band with the worst graphic design sense ever. I mean the Gordon cover…
Well, that 3-D, CGI graphic of a bouncing ball? That’s amazing. [laughs]
…which is actually really good. It’s, like, the height of their actual artistry. Maybe because they didn’t write the song. But also far, far better than a lot of stuff than Bruce Cockburn’s ever done.
And they had legit cred! Billy Bragg was covering them!
The worst thing about them, though was… I was a fairly big, without thinking about my motivations for it, Housemartinsfan for a little bit. And I was driving a friend somewhere, and she goes, “is this Barenaked Ladies?” And I suddenly realized, “oh my God, Housemartins sound exactly like Barenaked Ladies.” Where in my mind, Housemartins were like The Smiths, but jauntier. But really, they’re like a happier Barenaked Ladies. And it just destroyed that band for me. They’re like Barenaked Ladies with good graphic design, maybe.
And a socialist agenda. But the real worst thing about Barenaked Ladies was that they opened the door for Jian Ghomeshi.
[laughs] Yeah. That Moxy Früvous tape is another thing I didn’t put in the liner notes but that… I mean, I had the triumvirate: I had Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies, and Moxy Früvous in heavy rotation in my car. As were N.W.A. and Nirvana, but I had a solid Canadian nerd-rock element in my listening, with no trace of irony. I thought it was bad-assed awesome. “King of Spain”, what a great jam! [laughs] “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors”, that’s such a clever song!
That was where I drew the line. I did not fall for Moxy Früvous. I must have just had the right mix of other random influences.
I also had the misfortune of having a girlfriend at the time who also loved that tape, and I think maybe I could have skipped over it or had a passing fancy without her influence, but I think I kinda gotta own the fact that I enjoyed Bargainville. [pause] A lot. [pause] Probably wore that tape out. It’s… horrific. [pause] In my defence, I didn’t know who Jian Ghomeshi was, I didn’t have foresight or even know he was in the band when he was the host of CBC’s Play and I started hating him immediately. But there was no Moxy Fruvous shame in my hating him. It was genuine — I just disliked that man from the get-go. Except for Moxy Fruvous, which I apparently thought was delightful. [laughs]
And it comes out in the EP.
I think some of the lyrics are just as goofy as anything those bands wrote. I mean, I probably can’t get away from that. Or I dunno, maybe I did do a reasonable facsimile of cynical slacker lyrics. I find the lyrics on the EP quite hilarious myself, but it’s supposed to be more deadpan hilarity.
It’s also just the sort of hilarity that is also something that a nineteen year old could take so seriously.
And anyone else would be like, “dude, just take off the black shirt already.”
Jakob never did take off that black shirt as can be heard on Cellophanewhich releases via Arachnidiscs Recordings’ NO LOVE imprint on 07/24/2015. Order it HERE.
Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Joe Strutt.
Louis Law is a British songwriter now living in Utrecht, Netherlands. Most of the music on his Arachnidiscs Recordings cassette, Hirudinea, was recorded on his laptop, some on his girlfriend’s slightly better one. He doesn’t own a microphone. He is perhaps best known as a prominent expert on Tommy Cooper and the occult, as well as the author of several books on the subject (Spoon Sigil Spoon available internationally for a reasonable price in all good stockists), and as the co-host of TrousersDown FM, an exciting and irreverent independent radio show broadcast to a select audience from the pits of West Somerset in the late 90s/early 00s. We sat down with our respective computers and phones to discuss life in The Netherlands, racism, socialism, classism, leeches, the occult, lo-fidelity and the blues.
Arachnidiscs Recordings: You’re living in Utrecht, which has been in the news over here lately as either a bastion of progressive social policy or a socialist hell-state depending on the media outlet. So, are you going to be living large off of that guaranteed income money?
Louis Law: This was news to me. As a non-citizen who only gets to vote for which water provider my city has, the local stories that interest me tend to just be the ones in which someone has died in an interesting or amusing manner, so thanks for telling me. I would only have found this out if I picked up a tabloid and read about a hard-up family suffocating under a deluge of unearned banknotes.
Good to see there wasn’t a public outcry about it. Maybe people here think they’re fucking scroungers, but if they do, they keep quiet about it. It’s a fairly left-leaning city, Utrecht, albeit in that slightly smug matter-of-fact continental way that I’m both in awe of and irritated by at the same time. It’s a boring, trite, cliched thing to say, but I find it odd as an English person to live in an essentially socialist society in which there’s virtually no discourse around class. It exists, of course, like it does everywhere, but everyone’s convinced themselves it doesn’t. To a Dutchman, being working class means nothing more than listening to Smartlap and drinking Heineken from a tiny glass. To be middle-class means nothing more than keeping a bunch of books you never read and not owning any curtains. As a Brit, I’ve spent my entire life constantly waiting for a class war to break out, but people here seem content to just keep calm and carry on. It’s confusing and infuriating.
ADR: That sounds not entirely unlike Canada. We like to pretend we’ve eradicated racism and classism and smugly point fingers at the USA, as if we’re doing any better. But while they seem to be actually acknowledging and fixing their social problems of late, we just passed a law that literally makes immigrants second class citizens.
LL: The national dialogue here around immigration is conducted in a way that’s completely alien to me. The UK sensibility has an isolationist bent, I don’t know how it makes the news across the pond but our membership of the EU is increasingly unpopular and was a major talking point during our recent election. That’s virtually absent here in Holland, but it’s entirely acceptable to blame every societal ill on the immigrant population. Second, third, fourth generation immigrants are referred to by their ethnicity, white people consider Zwarteschoolen (“black schools”) places their kids shouldn’t be… all sorts. The veil was just banned. All this seems racist to my ears. It’s like anywhere, vast swathes of people just want to stick to their own. Saying that, my perspective will always be as an outsider, I’m not convinced my observations should be taken all that seriously. There are many things I like about this country, and I’ve always been accommodated. I’m just drawn to speak about the negative aspects because they’re the things that are most readily different to what I grew up with. I like it here.
ADR: How out in the open is the “Zwarteschoolen” thing? I definitely see all those attitudes here in Toronto, but it’s all very hush-hush. People pretend they put their kids in predominantly white private schools because they claim, as a whole, the public school system is shot. But I think that’s just a rationalization for an attitude they don’t want to publicly voice.
LL: Very open. It’s something that you’d bring up at a dinner party or something. The attitude is that kids from a non-white Dutch background can’t speak the language, so their nice white kids will be dragged down to their level. Goes without saying that that’s untrue. The structure of the Dutch language facilitates a very blunt and honest approach to conversation, which is something they’re very proud of. I still speak around everything in that English way when I speak Dutch, which they find very amusing. I don’t think the attitudes you find here are all that different from other places, but people are happier to say it. The British public (which means private) school system is no better in practice. Very similar to the Canadian one, from what you and others have told me.
ADR: A difference between Canada and The Netherlands would have to be I have no idea what Smartlap is. Google isn’t helping. The Wikipedia entry is even in Ducth! From what I can tell by the humorously poor Google translation is it’s something akin to the Dutch version of Edith Piaf or Jacques Brel?
LL: Smartlap is the Dutch version of Schlager music. Very simple, catchy pop tunes about drinking, losing the love of your life and partying. The word smartlap means a handkerchief that you dry your tears on. Andre Hazes would be the most well known of these singers. To a foreigner it’s hard to take seriously, but Dutch people either adore it or are ashamed of it. Nothing in between.
ADR: What brought you to the Netherlands? Work? Romance? Treachery? How does it differ?
LL: I moved here to be with a woman. I don’t have any particular fondness for, or interest in, Dutch society or culture, and will probably never be able to fully integrate. That’s fine though – I speak the language, walk amongst them and have figured out how to act like I’m engaged. It feels like I’m deep undercover, basically. Whenever I feel like I’m becoming enamoured to the Dutch way of thinking, someone will say something about Moroccans or something and I’ll realise I’m not one of them. It’s nice enough though, and I enjoy living life from the outside looking in.
ADR: Would you consider your music ‘The Blues’?
LL: Ralph Macchio in Crossroads has more of a connection to the blues than me. It’s not something I know enough about to be able to expound on in any kind of intelligent or informed way – if I were to try and talk about what I think the blues is, I would be about two sentences in before I said something that’s probably racist. I don’t generally play the identity politics game as a rule, but blues does seem to me to be a form of music that’s intimately tied to the experience of black people in a very specific period of time in American history. I grew up in a shitty town on the Southwest coast of England. It was depressing enough, but I can’t say I’m anything other than influenced by the blues as a genre. There are about five or six blues figures I could name as people that I spend any real time listening to. John Lee Hooker, Robert Belfour, Junior Kimbrough, Blind Willie McTell. I would have said Howlin’ Wolf, but in all honesty I haven’t listened to any of his stuff in years.
ADR: Crossroads, for better or worse, was a huge influence on me as a 13 year old learning guitar. That Ry Cooder soundtrack affected my playing immensely. It’s pretty horrific, though, when you put it in the context of the blues, as you described it, being “intimately tied to the experience of black people in a very specific period of time in American history.” I mean, it’s a story about middle class white kid on a quest to become a “real” blues man. Who thought that premise was okay? Anyway, I’d agree your music is more influenced by the blues genre than anything anyone would immediately identify as the blues. But what I wouldn’t be surprised is if people name-drop Captain Beefheart. Is he an influence?
LL: I’d be more than happy to be compared to Beefheart. Doc At The Radar Station is the only record of his I own, but I’m familiar with his stuff and I’m a fan.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint a list of musical influences on these songs. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d find it easier to talk about the literary influences. I sweated over the lyrics, but the structure and music of the songs just kind of sprang out of that. I was reading Arthur machen, as I said, and also had just gotten into Harry crews. A feast of snakes. Watt by Beckett. I was reading a Dutch translation of Pound’s cantos as I wrote the lyrics. I don’t really remember what I was listening to. Alasdair Roberts? Charlie Louvin, I remember. The Scott Walker and Sunn O))) record.
ADR: Bish Bosch is a masterstroke, but I could only listen to it a total of one time. And I only got as far as watching that infuriatingly pointless video from the Sunn O))) collaboration. Too intense and intentionally alienating. And I say this as, like, an Einstürzende Neubauten fan. But now that you mention it, I can hear some similarities between your album and Walker’s. I did, however, listen to yours ten times in a row when I was dubbing the copies and I enjoyed it more and more each time. It’s certainly not “easy listening” though. Was the aggressive sonic attack intentional, as an artistic statement, or is it just how it came out?
LL: I definitely wasn’t trying to sound abrasive. It came out that way, due more to my lack of access to quality recording equipment than anything else, but I liked how it sounded. What similarities can you see between me and Scott Walker? I would never have made that comparison.
ADR: Not a comparison in any kind of carbon-copy way. More of an overall tone, maybe? Like, perhaps, the same aesthetic but approached differently. And there’s some bits where you’re doing a sort of demented crooning over those abrasive sounds.
LL: Well, I’ve always loved crooners. Mario Lanza was what you could call a formative influence, back in the days when I was first getting into music. Arch japester and master of tomfoolery Jimmy Fallon wasn’t lighting up the airwaves at that point, so I wasn’t put off by their eerie resemblance. These days, I probably would be, which is a real shame. Much like the fact that I can’t watch professional tennis because my father looks too much like Andy Murray for it to be a coincidence, these kinds of things can ruin a young man’s enjoyment of great art. I’m told I look like the singer from the Wombats. Same thing.
ADR: I know when you first pitched me your recordings I was a bit reluctant thinking, “Well, it’s a bit low-fi, innit?” But now I think it wouldn’t have worked as well any other way. And it’s not nearly as lo-fi I initially thought. It sounds really great. Not that I wouldn’t encourage you to, you know, actually buy a good microphone. But the grit really adds to Hirudinea in the way people like to think the lo-fi DIY approach is instantly magic. This is one of the rare cases I’ve heard lately where I think it’s true.
LL: I’m a big Bill Callahan fan, but I didn’t listen to those early Smog albums until earlier this year. That whole lo-fi aesthetic, particularly on Julius Caesar and Forgotten Foundation, is something I’ve only really recently begun to appreciate. Before that, anything I liked that people called lo-fi was stuff I liked because it was good, not because of the way it was recorded. It did make me think that there can be something, as you say, magical about using shitty recording equipment if everything slots together properly, which is something that seems completely counter-intuitive and probably infuriating to a whole sector of the general populace. I’m not the guy to explain why it works, but it definitely does.
ADR: I think the problem with lo-fi, as a genre, is people heard the great records Smog and Sebadoh recorded with limited equipment and then thought “Oh, I can just record onto a surplus tape recorder and it’ll be good enough too.” Eventually shitty just became acceptable. Which it’s not. Anyway, my point is your album sounds raw but not shitty. In the notes for Hirudinea you claim to be an expert on the occult and a scholar on the subject. Is this true? Does the occult enter into your music?
LL: I do have a keen interest in the occult, it’s true. I would say any infiltration it makes into my music is unintentional, but it’s quite likely to be there. Literature probably had a more conscious impact on this bunch of songs than anything else, although of course there’s a heavy crossover between literature and the occult, particularly in some of the stuff I read. It’s interesting, actually – I hadn’t thought of it before you asked me this, but I re-read The House of Souls at around the time I recorded these songs. Listening back to a couple of them (Fourth and Hide in particular), I can detect a real influence that was completely unintentional at the time.
ADR: What is it about leeches (hirudinea) that fascinates you? Or do they? Why did you name the album that?
LL: I love leeches, and I love Latin names. I don’t know how interesting it is for anyone to hear this (I fucking hate it when musicians try and explain themselves), but when I was recording the songs for this thing I started to feel like I was transferring something, and that the recordings were holding some kind of residual energy. The tape is a leech, it’s not a two-way thing. I don’t think anyone can genuinely take that energy back from it, they can just watch it writhe and crawl in a jar like I used to with leeches when I was a kid. That’s what music is to me. What pretentious twaddle.
We don’t think it’s twaddle at all. Nor is Hirudineawhich releases as an Arachnidiscs Recordings Extra Limited Run cassette on 07/27/2015. Order itHERE.
Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.