It’s Usually Music: International Debris on Autism, Spotify, Music Curation, Self-Loathing and What Life’s All About

30/04/2018

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Exteriors (released April 27) is the second release by International Debris on Arachnidiscs, though the first under that moniker. Ross Baker previously provided a side of a split-tape with Tranzmit under their own name. The UK-based genderqueer musician has worked in various styles over various aliases, but generally falls into the category of sound collage, tying together acoustic and electronic instruments with field recordings and samples. Baker refers to their sound as ‘horizon music’, signifying a recurring theme of open space and a fascination with that which we only know from a distance. In an attempt to lessen that distance and get to know them better, I asked them spare some time for a chat.

Ross Baker: Feel quite tempted to answer every question with ‘yes’, ‘no’, etc., just to be awkward

Jakob Rehlinger: How very Jesus and Mary Chain of you.

RB: Did you ever see that Sigur Ros interview?

JR: I don’t think I ever have.

RB: It’s worth five minutes of your time at some point*.

JR: I’ll watch that later. Speaking of music history, Exteriors is an album that collects a bunch of your own musical history, from 2002-2018, as well you’ve just embarked on a reissue campaign. Why is keeping your past alive important to you?

RB: I really like chronology, I think. I think the best art, whatever medium, has to be able to stand up in its own right, but at the same time it’s also really interesting to hear things in context. It can be fascinating to compare an album with the two albums found either side of it. So that’s something I want to represent in my own catalogue.

I’ve also been through a long period of self-doubt that’s caused me to continually reassess past releases and change their tracklists and such, countless times in some cases, and having come out of that and made some peace with my past, it’s nice to be able to present ‘definitive’ versions of the albums I suppose.

Exteriors came together because I basically released I had a bunch of tracks that never found a home. The bulk of them all had a similar theme which never became an album in its own right, and I thought it was about time I actually made that album. I kind of feel like I owe it to my past self, the me who made these tracks at various points over the past fifteen-or-so years.

JR: I do a similar revisionist history thing with my own music for similar reasons. Sometimes I’ll create a new project name to suit the music. Often I only release, or reissue, these as digital files on Bandcamp. You’ve made your reissues physical CDs. Is having them exist as physical objects important to you as well?

RB: I don’t listen to music on my computer. I tried for a while, and I ended up just not enjoying it as much. My CD collection was on the other side of the country so I was restricted to my digitised versions. I was so happy when I finally moved house and got my CD collection back, I just listened to more stuff and enjoyed it more. So I was basically planning a way to make my own copies of my own albums in a way that I could listen to and enjoy, and that basically set the whole thing in motion, gave me a reason to finally make these definitive versions.

As with just about everything, I have a fairly polarised view on it. I’d actually really like to be able to just have a digital collection—it’s cheaper, more space efficient, more environmentally conscious—which is why I like to ensure all my albums are available digitally, because anybody who wants to just have the download version has my blessing! But yeah, I can’t get out of that physical thing. I’m sure my autism comes into it a lot, 25 years of doing something is a hard habit to kick for anyone, but given how rigid my thought processes are, it’s next-to-impossible I think. And I know a lot of other people like having physicals, something to hold, artwork to look at, so I want to offer that to those who want it. But I’ve done it through an on-demand service, which means I don’t end up with a load of unsold copies, and it also discourages people from buying it purely for its ‘limited edition’ collectability, which is something I really dislike. I’ve been thinking of putting my stuff on Spotify, but that’s another can of worms entirely… [The first run of Exteriors sold-out on the day of release. There are still a few copies of the ‘limited’ second edition available.]

JR: My attitude on that is people can stream it off Bandcamp if they want.  Maybe Bandcamp needs to tweak their app a little more to make it more appealing to Spotify users, I’m not sure. But I feel like it’s there already and people can go stuff themselves if they want my own or Arachnidiscs artists’ music basically for free on the platform most convenient to them.

RB: I suppose the thing Spotify has is a wider audience. It’s more streaming in general that I have a weird relationship with, because—ignoring the financial side of it all—the one thing it’s doing is killing the idea of a record collection. If you have a paid Spotify account, or whatever service you want to use, then you effectively have access to most music, and it cuts that idea of curation out. I’ve never been that much into music ‘culture’ in a lot of ways, but one thing that’s always appealed to me is the curation of a record collection and how it reflects a person. You can look at someone’s shelves or iTunes library and it’s full of memories, associations, reflections of their personality and quirks… with Spotify, you effectively ‘own’ your favourite album alongside ones you hate.

 

 

 

[CDs from Ross’s curated collection via Instagram]

JR: You mentioned your autism. Obviously, you’ll have no perspective on what it’s like not having autism. But how do you think it informs the way you, as opposed to  neurotyptical musicians, make music?

RB: How does being autistic inform my music… I suppose I make my music to soundtrack places in my head. I have a very, very detailed geography in my head of where the majority of my albums are ‘set’. This imaginary world is made up of places I’ve been, dreams, things I’ve seen on TV / film and stuff from my own imagination, but it feels very, very real to me. It’s a place I like to retreat to when I need a break from the real world and other people—which is a lot of the time!—and I suppose most of my albums are a way of trying to paint a picture of these places to show other people.

That and my utter lack of ability to collaborate with other people. I’ve done collabs, but the only ones that have worked remotely well are ones where I’ve been given a bunch of material and allowed to take complete control of the project, or where I’ve sent over material and let the other person take control. I can’t do anything halfway because I can’t really comprehend what the other person is thinking. My girlfriend and I have a project and every time we do something it ends up in a row, haha.

JR: I have a similar relationship to collaboration. I’m on the spectrum too, but far, far closer to the center than you are. I either have to be the ringmaster or take a completely subservient role in the jam, to the point I feel like I’m not even contributing anything. Or maybe I’m just a narcissistic asshole. I’ve spent probably over 20 solid years trying to learn how to play empathetically with other people. I think I’m almost there.

RB: Haha yeah, even when I was a kid making tapes with my friends I had to say what the song was about and if anybody deviated I’d get really angry. There’s one song I always remember which has loads of bits where the tape is stopped for me to shout at my mate before pressing record again. It happens about eight times in the same song.

JR: A drummer in one of my bands used to do a good impression of the sideways glare I’d give people when I was unhappy with what they were doing. I never yelled, I’d go very silent and very still.

When you were talking about ‘soundtracks’, that sounds very familiar to me. I can’t imagine anyone not approaching making music that way, but I suspect they do. What’s more interesting to me is your talking of it being an escape. Do you find music, listening and making, an effective therapy?

RB: Music as therapy… listening definitely. It’s always been a way for me to lose myself and just be in the moment, to forget about a lot of my issues. The soundtrack thing doesn’t just go for instrumental music, I also associate a lot of song-based stuff with places in my head. Usually more ‘normal’ ones. A lot of indie records make me think of suburbia, people living normal, balanced lives, having normal relationships, and it’s nice to get lost in that and pretend it’s the life I’m living sometimes. There are some bands who have such a specific sound to me that I can actually picture specific streets and houses that their music sounds like.

Making music can be therapeutic and it can also be a massive nightmare. I go through periods of hideous self-doubt and often end up in the worst moods because I absolutely loathe a track or even several weeks or months worth of output. Most of it I make my peace with at some point, but it can be really, really difficult at times. I’ve actually been using music making as part of a routine recently, though, just working on some every day regardless of how it comes about. Having that structure in my day has helped me cope with anxiety.

JR: Getting back to Spotify and the idea of curation. I think the average person has never historically been into the idea of curating a music collection. It just used to be owning records was the only way to access your favourite songs. I think the average person secretly resented it, and that was proven to be true with Napster and now Spotify. And that’s fine. I just bristle when someone, who hasn’t bought a download or cassette emails me to say my music is important to them, and when am I putting it up on Spotify? I bristle, I tell you. Curation, though. My CD collection is definitely fueled by a mild OCD. It definitely comforts me to collect discographies. It’s something that also causes me anxiety and I have to monitor myself.

RB: I agree with you about the average listener, but I think there are a lot of music fans who would be the sort to curate a collection who use Spotify instead. Again, I have contradictory views. I have huge respect for people who are able to cast off possessions, who are able to live happily with as few things as possible—it’s something I try and do myself— but at the same time I do think what we collect over the years can also become part of us in a good way too. If all we do is rent then at the end of it we end up with nothing.

I’ve spent the last six or so years battling with some horrible OCD, my brain starts telling me I’ll never be happy with my CD collection the way it is, which stops me from enjoying music at all, so I’ve ended up selling stuff only to regret it and want to buy it back again. It’s been really bad at times—I’ve ended up in hospital—but I’m gradually getting on top of it. I think that’s how these anxiety conditions work, they latch on to the most important things. At one point I went from owning about 1,500 CDs to about 200. Then I had a moment of enlightenment and this huge “What the hell have I done?!” feeling. I sort of reacted against having complete discographies, partially inspired by what I was saying about not owning things you don’t need—why the hell would I actually want a copy of David Bowie’s Tonight?—and that got out of hand until I was just getting rid of anything I didn’t absolutely love at that exact moment in time. The human brain is absurd and I have no idea how we’ve lasted this long as a species sometimes.

JR: I’ve done that so, so many times. I mean, I have gladly not owned a copy of Tonight for years. But I’m back up to 3000-ish CDs from 200. It’s that owning objectively terrible albums by your favourite artists that gets you. Now I just accept, yes, I do need to own Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s second album that I’ll never listen to again. But not Tonight. No. Never again.

RB: After Bowie’s death I thought it was time for a reassessment of his catalogue. I’d sold everything but Low and Outside at some point, despite liking a considerable number of them. So I bought them all back, and then Tonight, Never Let Me Down, Black Tie White Noise, Hours, etc. All got sold about a week later. I try and think “Can I genuinely see myself listening to this in five years time?” when purchasing an album these days. None of those Bowie albums would have passed a ‘five minutes’ test, let alone five years.

JR: Oops. Wait a minute. I was confusing Tonight with Never Let Me Down. I actually quite like Tonight. Well, the singles from it anyway. But not enough to own it. Up until The Next Day and Black Star, singles collections are generally the way to go for his post-Scary Monsters period .

RB: That feeling of doubting your own music taste though, it’s absolutely horrible. I’ve never known anybody else who had it, so it’s strangely relieving to know somebody else has been there.

JR: I never exactly doubt my musical taste. I’m too egotistical on some level to deeply doubt my convictions. But I sometimes fall into a tailspin of wondering what is the point of owning music at all. That maybe the idea that any of it ‘matters’ is just an illusion and I feel like a fool for devoting so much of my life to it. It’s more that because I’m bored of something in the moment erroneously assume I’m over it for good. I always over estimate my own judgement.

RB: Yeah, it can be easy to confuse ‘I don’t like this’ with ‘I’m not in the mood for this at the moment’, especially if you’re not in a great place and looking for stuff to sell. I’ve applied a similar inaccurate thought process to my own music, which is how I ended up re-structuring my own albums in the past, and why the whole definitive version thing seemed so necessary. There are albums of mine like cer and Eyebrook which I realised are actually pretty damn good, and yet at one point I didn’t even have them on my Bandcamp.

JR: At the moment of creation, everything I do is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done. Some previously ‘brilliant’ things are the most embarrassing and are now hidden in a vault permanently.

RB: There are a number of releases conspicuously absent from my definitive reissues series for the very same reason hahaha.

JR: It’s always great when you can see the brilliance in your previously perceived failures though.

RB: Making peace with an old album I thought I hated is always a really lovely moment. If I had to make a ‘top 5 of my own albums’ list I’d definitely put Eyebrook in there now. It’s probably the one I’ve listened to most in the last year or so. Funny how these things happen.

JR: It’s a pretty good allegory for life too.

RB: Yeah, I try not to judge too much these days, I’m happier just letting things be, and letting myself gain pleasure from them as and when it comes around. Be that music or… whatever else. It’s usually music for me.

JR: That sounds like a good note to end on.

RB: And there was me waiting for the “why did you utilise that particular synth sequence in track 7” type questions.

JR: No one cares about that.

RB: I care about that! I always get excited when an artist mentions a particular song in an interview. It’s something to get nerdy about. “Oh wow, that song was written two years before the rest”. That’s what life’s all about.


Exteriors is available now from the Arachnidiscs Recordings store.


*Note: This Sigur Ros interview which Ross mentions above is the exact reason I try not to ask questions about writing process and recording technique.

 


Try ANYTHING with ANYONE: A chat with Samuel Goff of RAIC

16/03/2018

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To celebrate our release of double-disc boutique edition of Richmond Avant Improv Collective‘s third and fourth albums, Communion and Il Delirio E La Mortalità Di Amore respectively, I got drummer and co-founder Samuel Goff (bottom-right) to set aside some time for a chat.

Jakob Rehlinger: I need to start with an important, serious question. Scented candles — Overrated or underrated?

Samuel Goff: Haha. I mean it depends on the scent. Like a Yankee Candle Apple Grove might be overrated. A good sandalwood? Underrated. I approve of the product as a whole.

JR: So, you have the new Arachnidiscs edition of RAIC’s third and fourth albums out. So my ears they sound interconnected. Was that in any way intentional?

SG: Well, yes and no. The Il Delirio E La Mortalità Di Amore album was sort of put together as things that didn’t quite fit elsewhere. But a lot of that was recorded around the same time. And of course the actual song “Il Delirio E La Mortalità Di Amore” is included a total of three times over the two discs—live, studio and remix—so that could be some continuity right there. We are always in the process of recording three or four albums at the same time and I have plans outlined for the next four which are in various stages of completion. A good example is the song “Midnight” which we recorded with Brooklyn guitarist Lucas Brode, we recorded two tracks that day, the other one will be included on album number seven called Multiplicity which just got finished last week. I’m currently shopping that one around to labels.

JR: With the opener of Communion being the free-jazz “First Strike”, and the closer of Il Delirio… being the similarly toned “Ouroboros”, titled after the snake that eats its own tail, there’s a nice circular quality to the two albums together.

SG: I never thought about that but you are right. I had an idea to close each album out with one of the members doing a solo track. So Zoe did hers on Communion which was beautiful. But gosh we had to go through s lot of takes for that one. Zoe is obsessed with baroque music and she wanted to do this song from like the 15th century and I’m like, “Well it’s not really improv, but fuck it, let’s go for it.” So me and Richard coached her on and we finally got some good takes and then Richard layered her voices together and it came out beautiful. So to date that is our only “composition.” We are improv like 99.2 percent of the time. So at the end of the second album that was Erik’s solo track, which yeah, now that you say it, sort of is a full circle type of situation. Next time I’m going to say we meant that, haha. Erik is such a gifted performer and improviser. Usually when we play live I focus on him and his energy and sort of play off that.

JR: Speaking of “Plaindre L’ennuy De La Peine Estimee”, Zoe’s baroque track, and say, “First Strike” or a track like “Midnight”, stylistically you’re all over the map.

SG: That’s exactly how this group was intended. I work a job where I work about 55 hours a week and I’m also in Among The Rocks And Roots and I have a fiancée that I devote a lot of time to, so I don’t have time to devote to being in 4-5 different bands. There used to be a joke here in Richmond where you were not taken seriously as a musician unless you were in four bands. But I have always been interested in a very wide assortment of music so this is sort of a way of getting to do that noise track or that baroque track and then we move on. It also gives us the opportunity to work with a myriad of performers who are also busy but don’t necessarily have the time to devote to another band. But they can devote 3-4 practices and maybe a studio date. It’s painless for everyone involved. We are about to get even more varied with there being two black metal tracks on our album Multiplicity where Abdul makes his RAIC drumming debut and I switch to vocals. It’s a weird life… if I ever write a autobiography I want to call it “How I became a black metal vocalist at the age of 42.” Also on our album Gestalt which is about 50 percent complete we are working on a 50’s style country song with me and Laura Marina on vocals and a hip hop noise track with local MC Black Liquid. I just love music and I have been obsessed with just about every genre at one point in my life so why not have a group where you can try ANYTHING with ANYONE.

JR: Since you bring up Richmond, as a long-time fan of Pelt, I’ve had this, probably somewhat unfounded, idea the city is a hotbed of improv music. Is this the case?

samSG: Hmm. Yes and no? There was a vibrant noise scene here that had died down a lot. Also there is the New Loft which blew my mind the first time I saw them. It’s an improv group with mostly veterans of the Richmond music scene, guys that have been hitting it for over 20 years. We have now worked with most of the people of that group most prominently with Tim Harding who in addition to being in the New Loft also is still going strong with his Afropop group Hotel X. He’s also in a great band called Zygmot with sometime RAIC collaborator Vlad Cuijuclu. Also Jimmy Ghaphery and drummer Sam Byrd from The New Loft has played with us as well. To me, when I saw them I thought they were the best improv group I had ever seen not just in Richmond but anywhere. It was an epiphany for sure. Being in this scene for going on 5 years now it seems, just like with anything, it’s cyclical. Sometimes it is vibrant and groups come and go and sometimes it is stagnant. It we will always be here. This is the music I intend to play when I’m 70. I also make it very clear that when you become an official member of RAIC you are not joining s band but a family. And we treat each other as such. Sometimes dysfunctional, but a family nonetheless. We all love each other and respect each other and their abilities so much. I just love being in this group.

JR: Any plans to buy a run-down farm property and make it full-fledged cult?

SG: Ha! I thought it sounded cult like when I said that! Good call!

JR: Cults are much more profitable than ensembles. Just an idea I’m throwing out there.

SG: I mean, yeah, our Bandcamp sales are holding strong at 99 dollars so I’m sure. The cult thing might be something worth looking into. Erik always talked about starting a cult. Was he kidding or…

JR: I imagine RAIC isn’t a touring proposition. But if you were, what would be in the van tape-deck?

SG: John Coltrane. The soundtrack to “Signor Rossi” Swans. Art Ensemble Of Chicago. Eyvind Kang. And whatever black metal Abdul brings along, haha. Oh! And Sun Ra!!!!

JR: If RAIC were hosting a movie night, what would be on the screen?

SG: We just recorded a movie soundtrack! I will say a silent film called The Seashell And The Clergyman, no hesitation. We have scored that live and in the studio now and for whatever reason it really speaks to us. We do that one really well!

JR: Though not exactly different than some of the sounds on these two CDs, I have to ask you about Among The Rocks and Roots and the absolutely punishing noise rock sounds you and Abdul create. Where does that come from?

SG: Years of having a lot of different emotions that we tried to deal with through the use of substances. We are both recovering addicts and, in fact, I met him my fourth day of sobriety. It’s a lot of just raw emotion. Sort of like improv we play off the energy of each other. How we set up live is indicative of that energy harnessing. I set up in the audience but I am facing the stage and him. And we face each other the whole performance. My back is to the crowd and really all I can see in the whole room is him. This is not some “fuck You” to the audience in any way but a way of getting us into the correct mind-frame in order to lock into each other emotions and energy. So because we are so locked into each other we can really let out everything that is going on inside of us. The room melts away and really it is just me and him there. Volume and intensity also play a part. I first stepped onto a stage at the age of 38 so I swore since I had to wait so long I was going to give every thing I had every performance. And Abdul does as well. We had a motto for awhile where we said “We play like our lives depend on it, because it just might.” It translates to a live audience as well, it’s a very intimate display and the audience feels that. Some people love us and some hate us but no one who sees that ever forgets us and I like that.

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JR: That certainly comes through on the record. Though it might sound simple, it’s really tough to pull off.

SG: You mean the philosophy or the actual music?

JR: The actual music. The minimalist heavy noise thing. Like free-jazz, people tend to say “Aw, anyone can do that” but few who try can make it sound convincing.

SG: Oh ! Haha that stuff is not easy to play I promise. There is a good part on the song “Raga” where it’s quiet and I am doing a roll on the toms and if you listen you can hear me wheezing cause I’m out of breath. We recorded those songs live in the studio because I can’t play “cold” in a room by myself. Like I can’t even play that at all without feeding off his energy. These are 20-30 minute long songs where there are few stopping points and yeah the physicality of it is exhausting. Anything I do with RAIC is much easier than ATRR. I can be fat and do okay free jazz but to play ATRR you got to be in shape, haha.

JR: Last question. You mentioned a finance. Wedding dream band — who is it?

SG: RAIC is playing.


RAIC’s two disc compilation of Communion and Il Delirio E La Mortalità Di Amore is out now on Arachnidiscs Recordings.


Hardcore ’18 and Rupert the Toad: A chat with Gad Whip

12/03/2018

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I recently had a trans-Atlantic chat with visual artist Pete F. Davies, ex-label runner, as well as ranter-in-chief and sometimes drummer of the West Yorkshire post-punk band Gad Whip, who just so happen to have a new cassette out on Arachnidiscs Recordings. We talk about the West Yorkshire music scene, DOA, Mark E. Smith, John Cooper Clarke and Brexit.


Jakob Rehlinger: So. West Yorkshire. What’s the music scene like there?

Pete F. Davies: Pretty good to be honest, Leeds is only 20 minutes so I tend to go there for the majority of gigs. There’s some good venues, Wharf Chambers being my favourite which is a run as a cooperative, so you get a good bunch of promoters using it, plus they do excellent food at very reasonable prices. Huddersfield is even closer, like five miles away, and the scene there is pretty good.

Jakob: What kinds of bands are forming in that area? Similar to Gad Whip or are you on your own?

Pete: All kinds of stuff really, straight up punk, garage punk — Nosebleed are really good. There seems to be a lot more crossover of post punk / psyche / experimental stuff going on. Leeds has a long tradition of DIY, so very kind of band you can think of, there’ll one in Leeds. Cowtown and Cattle are another couple of favourites, then of course there’s Hookworms.

Jakob: Oh yeah, those guys. Not a lot else seems to make it over here. Are people happy enough in their local scene?

Pete: I think so, there’s always the problem of bands not being paid enough, you know. If you’re lucky enough you get to go over to Europe where they treat the bands a lot better. Two sides of the coin and all that haha!

Jakob: Yeah, it’s the same for local bands here too. Would love to get treated right in Europe but can’t afford to go.

Pete: A lot of bands seem happy enough just to get the chance with a decent crowd and to play.

Jakob: Is Brexit going to make that harder to get over to Europe as well?

Pete: Not sure with Brexit, personally I still don’t think it will happen, but then I’m the eternal optimist! It could make it more difficult with the possibility of needing visas and making travelling between countries more difficult.

Jakob: Brexit appears to have already made it tougher for Canadian bands to play in the UK. I know a woman who was detained for 51 hours and turned back and she had a valid visa.

Pete: Wow that’s crazy, is she a musician?

Jakob: Yeah, had a tour booked and everything.

Pete: Blimey that was a bit tough on her, I’ve heard of UK bands being refused entry to the US. I know some who do it as a ‘tourist’ thing as well.

Jakob: Ironically, if she’d snuck in as a tourist probably she’d have been okay. I believe she raised money for another flight and it all worked out in the end. But I wonder if there’ll be more of that kind of thing.

Pete: Glad it turned out OK in the end. Yes possibly there will be more of the same thing.

Jakob: You say you’re hoping Brexit won’t happen. What’s the feeling on the street? The news we get about it seems like no one wants it. But, of course, being part of my progressive internet bubble, all the Brits I know online are against it.

Pete: The majority of people I know are against it, the whole Brexit referendum ‘Out’ campaign was built on lies and fake news. Everyone was shocked when the result came in, and I think the current government don’t really want it. It just drags on and on like some soap opera!

Jakob: It sells papers for Rupert.

Pete: It certainly does, the old toad that he is!

Jakob: That’s unfair to toads.

Pete: Yes, sorry to all toads!

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Jakob: You mentioned to me before you’re working on a new album. Trapped In A Pin Hole Camera is a lot different than the 12”, can we expect a change in sound/direction again?

Pete: It’s going to be the same line up as the 12″ — although all the demos that we’ve done thus far for it have the Trapped In A Pin Hole Camera sound so it will be interesting to see how that translates over. Back to the four-piece so the idea is playing the songs live should be more straightforward.

Jakob: I can see that. I feel like a happy medium between the two could be perfect. Do you play drums as well as sing live?

Pete: Yes that’s what we’re hoping! I do sometimes. We’re recording the album at Lee’s , he’s converted part of his house into a fully functioned studio. He played drums and  guitars on the 12″. So we’re going to have time to try a few things out, like we’re both drummers so why not try two drum tracks? We may have to draft in another guitarist for live stuff (that would be Jim who played on Pin Hole) but it keeps it all sonically interesting.

Jakob: Like Pigface!

Pete: Yes, Pigface! Are they still active?

Jakob: I think Atkins is still using the name. Or something. I followed him on twitter and he sent me an automated reply about buying his eBook. So fuck that guy. Two drummers live would be a great show. You should do that.

Pete: Yeah, we’re planning to do that. It gives the whole thing a lot more edge. Cattle, the band from Leeds I mentioned have two drummers and it’s so great to see.

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Jakob: Way better than a guy with a laptop holding a lager.

Pete: Haha, oh those Sleaford Mods comparisons never go away! I agree with you!

Jakob: Well, you’re all sons of John Cooper Clarke. Is it a thing over there now? A John Cooper Clarke resurgence?

Pete: Yes indeed, the bard of Salford. Yes maybe, he seems to appearing on more mainstream TV shows and did that covers album with Hugh Cornwall where he actually sings. Did you hear that? I was quite into it, it’s all the stuff that influenced him in his early years. I think that stuff stays with you forever.

Jakob:Sings? I dunno if I want to hear that. I actually assumed he was dead! A man that skinny surely starved to death years ago.

Pete: Ha, yeah I was put off initially then heard some on the radio. He likes his drainpipes!

Jakob: I did read an article about your influences. But what records stayed with you forever?

Pete: Minutemen – Double Nickels / No Means No – Wrong / DOA – Hardcore 81 / Big Boys – Lullabies Help The Brain Grow

Jakob: That’s a lot of music from my hometown, roughly! NoMeansNo and DOA. I suppose that makes sense, in a way, since Manchester music is so important to me. Wrong is certainly one of the finest records ever made though.

Pete: You’re from the Vancouver area? What Manc stuff are you into?

Jakob: Vancouver Island. An hour and a half north of Victoria where NoMeansNo were from. Just the usual old Manc suspects. The Fall, Smiths, Joy Division, Stone Roses, etc.

Pete: Ah cool, my daughter is a big Manc band fan, Joy Division being her favourites! Yeh The Fall, always difficult to pick a favourite album of theirs. Took me a few years to get into them initially.

Jakob: Me too. Once they clicked for me I realised The Fall are the best rock’n’roll band to ever exist. Hex Enduction Hour is my nominal favourite, but how to choose?.

Pete: I agree and I think the line up of the last ten or so years was actually one of the best I’ve seen. Imperial Wax Solvent is currently top of my list, but yeh that’s always changing.

Jakob: An unprecedented consistency. I’d love to have a discography like that. But then you’d have to be Mark E. Smith. Probably not worth it.

Pete: Yeah I think so, guess you can’t have one without the other.

Jakob: I think I’d mellow too much after the first 15 years of being drunk and miserable.

Pete: Absolutely. I gave up drinking almost three months ago, even the thought of it makes me feel sick.

Jakob: I managed to not drink for about six or eight months about a decade ago. That was a good time. But I haven’t gone back to binge drinking since. I can’t even fathom being properly “drunk” now. Plus at my age more than two pints gives me a hangover.

Pete: Yeh I don’t miss it one bit and I feel a lot better physically. No beer gut! Also have a lot more energy which means I can get more stuff done.

Jakob: I think it’s definitely worth the trade-off. Plus not having to be Mark E. Smith.


Trapped In A Pin Hole Camera is out now on Arachnidiscs cassette.


Interred Views: Sister Ray

31/08/2017

Sister Ray performing at the &Loan Gallery

Nanaimo BC’s Sister Ray were a band that shouldn’t have existed and shouldn’t have ceased to be. Circa 2007 the local underground scene was, as so many such scenes perpetually are, obsessed with loud, fast, punk-inspired indie rock. Mel Mundell and Jakob Rehlinger were both in reasonably popular loud, fast bands (The Sheds and The Clap respectively), and wanted something different. Something slow and quiet. Something the audience could lay down on the floor and nod off to. That is, if they dared lay on any of the grime-covered, pre-gentrification floors of Nanaimo’s decaying downtown venues and DIY spaces. Intended as either a challenge or an affront to their audience, Sister Ray’s somnolent tempos and soft-spoken whispers tamed the beast for a short time, earning them a loyal following and respect as one of the city’s top talents, destined for greater things. Like many bands full of promise, they broke up too soon when life tore the duo in opposite directions and different parts of the continent (Jakob to Toronto and Mel to Portland). Sister Ray left behind one album, several unrecorded and forgotten songs, and a lot of unrealised plans as their legacy.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary expanded reissue of their seminal album on Arachnidiscs Recordings, Jakob and Mel reconvened via Facebook to reminisce about the rise and fall of Sister Ray.


Jakob: It was ten years ago we started the band in Nanaimo [a small city on Vancouver Island]. What are you memories of that time and place?

Mel: I remember us both having Internet girlfriends that we were pining over. I remember walking to your apartment for practice and Nanaimo feeling vaguely desolate.

Jakob: It was a wasteland we both wanted out of. Those were the peak meth epidemic years. So much boarded-up commercial space. Between the skeleton of the abandoned Malaspina Hotel and the giant pit that would become the convention centre, downtown looked like Syria.

Mel: And I remember us playing a show at the Queens and the stage seeming ridiculously high up for some reason and it altogether being a ludicrous venue for us.

Jakob: Yeah, the Queens show was ridiculous. Probably a Tuesday or something too. I think only Adrienne and Breen showed up?

Sister Ray at The Queens

Mel: Yes, we could always count on Adrienne and Breen, our super supportive fans. I remember you being in lots and lots of other music projects, ha. Is this the case still?

Jakob: I am still in a bunch of projects. I actually just put an end to BABEL which I guess was becoming my main solo project back then. I’m in Moonwood with my wife and two nice dudes and somehow I might be currently playing bass—the one you used in Sister Ray!—in a band called Stargoon with some of the same people. And I always have too many solo studio projects, like King Pong Dub System which is credited with one of the remixes on the reissue. What about you? Have you been keeping up with music?

Mel: I played in a surf-y low-fi band Bushtit for four years or so but members moved away and I haven’t done anything since. Yikes that was like three years ago! I miss it but I don’t drink and smoke anymore, a.k.a. go to bars, so I tried joining a community choir as my new band last year. And then we sang Grease songs and I had to leave.

Jakob: Ugh. No doubt. I’d heard of Bushtit. Though did I know you were even in Bushtit? Anyway, you guys were great! I don’t actually remember how Sister Ray even came into existence. Despite being fond of each other, the idea of us just getting together to make music seems absurd to me in a way. Yet, it was a serendipitous, magical pairing. Do you remember how it came to be?

Mel: Once we formed Sister Ray I wondered why we hadn’t played music together sooner. But when did we make a set plan to do so? I have no memory of the actual logistics and I too find it hard to believe. Did someone else suggest it? Did we connect over a particular band?

Jakob: Well, Nick Cave was big for both of us. Huge. The first Grinderman album had just come out and we liked it. But, no, I think that came out well after we were playing together. We were both into Swans, I think. You got me more into Teenage Jesus at the time. But nothing that really sounded like Sister Ray, exactly. We never talked about Low or slowcore bands I don’t remember. And I don’t think we were like, “Hey what if Kim Gordon or Lydia Lunch had fronted Mazzy Star?!” Do you remember being into any bands like what we were doing?

Mel: Not really. I was definitely into all of the above, including Low to some degree, but the darkwave-y stuff much more. I think Sister Ray was derived from the mood of all the music we liked in common stripped and slowed way, way, way down.

Jakob: Way down. One of our initial intentions was to be slow and quiet, which we definitely were, at least compared to what everyone else in town was doing at the time. I think I wanted to chance to play guitar a little more atmospherically than my other bands had allowed.

Sister Ray at Fascinating Rhythm

Mel: I agree, the goal was to play music as slowly and atmospherically as possible. I wanted us to play shows where the audience was laying on the floor, I wanted us to play while laying on the floor. I wanted to be able to take a complete deep breath in between notes. I remember feeling a deep sense of calm after our practices.

Jakob: I remember us both almost falling asleep by the end of practice. We’d rate it as a success if one of us was nodding off. I’ve played a few Moonwood and BABEL drone sets that almost achieve that. In some ways I keep trying to go back to Sister Ray. Have you listened to the songs recently?

Mel: I hadn’t listened to the songs recently, but I listened to the reissue all last night finally and although I cringed at times at my own timidness, it sounded better than I remembered.

Jakob: Ha! Yeah, I think you we purposely trying to not scream like in The Sheds. I guess it could come off as timid, in a way. But I hear more tender or delicate or… a better word I can’t quite place.

Mel: Ha, it’s true! There is an understated quality to the whole project that allowed for a lot of intensity I think. The bass playing is basic beyond belief, but l hope I’ve improved since then.

Jakob: I liked the super basic almost brutalist quality to the bass playing.

Sister Ray news paper clipping

Mel: I’m glad. I liked it too just think it needed to be rougher and more defined with effects maybe. Playing with you was a dream come true. Sister Ray is my favourite project I’ve ever been in. It’s the music I’ve always wanted to make.

Jakob: . It’s one of the most pure things I’ve ever done. We were really making music for ourselves, no concessions to genre or popularity, almost throwing two fingers up at everyone else at the time playing uptempo punk-inspired music. But everyone loved it. I often wonder if we’d have kept it pure or what would’ve happened if we’d carried on. I know you wanted to put down the bass and start playing guitar and I was really nervous about that. I think now, it’d have been the right choice. Get rid of the drum machine too. But will we ever know?

Mel: I wonder that too. Sister Ray was a very healing project for me and playing that way did feel more about a personal need and a lot less about popularity or accessibility. In terms of where it could/would have gone? I honestly feel like we had 10 more albums in us, ha. I can hear the drum machine holding us back at times, but I also think it kept us awake at others. I think more confident bass playing or guitar on my part would have worked. Your playing, for me, is guitar at its best and we would have needed to keep that. Reunion show! I need a project like Sister Ray in my life again. Now wish me all the luck finding a Jakob in Vancouver.

Jakob: Good luck. I’m one of a kind! As are you. Hopefully we can work together in some capacity someday.


The reissue of Sister Ray releases on 9/11 2017.

 

 

 


Interred Views: Andrew MacGregor of GOWN

27/11/2015

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Interview by Jakob Rehlinger

Along with his own sizable discography, Nova Scotia-based Andrew MacGregor, who records as GOWN, has played with several high-profile psychsters including Thurston Moore as half of The Bark Haze. He’s also toured and collaborated with with Sunburned Hand of the Man and other similar folks (including our own Partli Cloudi as the duo New Yakioccasionally made a trio by my own presence). His solo recordings have received critical praise from internet taste-makers from Pitchfork to Weird Canada. After a period of self-imposed early-retirement from the outsider music scene, MacGregor has decided to return with Sound of Time. Unlike a certain Genesis ex-drummer, no one has started a petition to stop this.

Fifteen years ago, you would’ve found me sitting in a green vinyl chair beside the listening station at Blackball Records, a store Andrew and Jack Tieleman opened in Nanaimo, BC, on Vancouver Island. During a nervous breakdown-induced year of unemployment, I spent almost every day there talking to Andrew, Jack and the parade of misfit toys who’d wander through. It was where I was first introduced to the ideas like: Downloading was going to change the music business forever; saying things like “That’s so gay” is a bad idea; the capitalist system is on the brink of failure; that maybe I was unhappy because I preferred adolescent drama to a healthy adult relationship.

For better or worse, that lost year hanging out at the Blackball clubhouse would shape and change me in ways I was unaware of at the time. It was there that Andrew introduced me to Six Organs of Admittance. At the time I was on a strict New Wave, Goth and Post-Punk diet and didn’t get “hippie shit” like Six Organs at all. I adhered to a misguided and misunderstood punk ethos that “the only good hippie is a dead hippie” and all psychedelia is just for old fogies.

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Blackball Records probably circa 2004, L-R. Unidentified guy actually shopping, beardless Jakob, Ken Holiday (Everything Is Geometry), unidentified guy (sitting in the green chair) and Andrew.

This introduction to the so-called “New Weird America” planted a seed that would one day grow into the tree that is everything I’ve become. It’s quite true that without Blackball, and knowing Andrew, my band Moonwood wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t have wanted it to. I was always a closet psych-head but Andrew was the one who helped me understand this truth about myself. Bauhaus, PiL, Siouxie and the Banshees, The Cult, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth—all my favourite bands were essentially psychedelic rock bands, updated for their era. Immediately obvious or not, what I was drawn to in the band’s I loved, even something as straight-up rock’n’roll as The Cramps, were the psychedelic elements. I’d already dropped-out, now I was tuning-in.

He also introduced me to cassette culture, which at the time baffled me more than the much more prevalent cassette culture baffles people today. We’d just gotten rid of tapes in favour of the higher fidelity and easier track-cueing of CDs! Why are we going backwards? When Andrew moved to the States a few years later, it was before he would’ve seen me begin to embrace these things. The following year, he came home for a visit and he noted that my guitar playing had completely changed. I’d fully turned-on.

The conversation below is something like you would’ve heard if you’d been a fly on the wall at Blackball Records.


A few years back, after a seemingly steady upward trajectory, you quit the music business. What prompted that move?

I don’t think I quit per se.

Perhaps you didn’t quit music, but I have a vivid memory of you clearly stating you didn’t see any purpose in continuing. Not that you weren’t going to ever touch a guitar again but specifically recording and playing gigs. This was probably five or six years ago.

I could have said that. I say many things and you likely have evidence of lots of things I have said, very few of them correct. It is more based on a combination of opportunity, desire and quality of work. I think that I achieved all that I had hoped to achieve in a certain direction with The Old Line on Divorce Records and had to regroup to find a clarity of vision in order to move forward. If opportunity had arisen following the release of that LP then perhaps a direction and purpose would have come from that opportunity, however without that driving force or purpose one must dig deep and look inside, hence the time between apparent outward activity. That being said the lack of outward activity doesn’t imply that there wasn’t inward activity.

So you were still working in the music business, but behind the scenes?

I’m not sure I was ever in the business of making music. Making music or art—or most labours of love—are rarely a break-even financial equation hence the business of making music is something I know very little about and likely would be fairly useless at. I don’t understand how most folks make a living making or playing music. And I would imagine that, in terms of financial return for time/energy invested even at the higher ends of success, it’s way worse than I could ever fathom. I got lucky with some opportunities and whatnot but the process was never that different than playing at home. I’ve made music on a continuous basis for over 20 years or so and have really always made it in the same way. I’m able to express my ideas in a more concise and fully formed way and am very lucky to feel that way after 20 years. I feel the music I delivered to you is the best I’ve ever made.

I’m inclined to agree. Does the probable lack of financial return inform your decision to make art?

I’ll always make art or something that I think of as art. I don’t really think that I was ever closer to that financial windfall than I am today. That said I believe it to be virtually nil. I am constantly moving forward with ideas, thoughts and whatnot and feel that my mind is working with ideas that stand a chance of being better constructed and more fully formed than they have been in the past and hopefully that trajectory will continue. I believe The Old Line was the apex of a certain trajectory and is a solid representation of a journey that continues. Where it leads is unknown however it hasn’t and won’t stop as far as I know. Whether the “art” exists in the world beyond the sphere of my being and the beings of a few others is less important to me than it was in the past…. that being said we all like to be validated.

So, is validation part of the motivation for coming back with Sound of Time?

I guess this comes down to opportunity. We’ve known each other for over half our lives and you offered—which you may regret at this point, maybe you were just being polite?

Putting out your tape is a real expensive way to be polite. Even by Canadian standards. No, I genuinely think your music should continue to be made available and promoted, even on a small scale like this.

You are one of the people who has to endure me periodically sending you my art for validation and you offered. If you didn’t offer you would still receive things at likely the same clip and be forced to validate me in some fashion. I can’t help it. I can’t explain why I have come back because I am neither sure that I went away, nor am I sure that I was there.

You and I have a long, strange history of sending each other stuff for validation when I think we both kind of don’t quite “get” each other’s music on some level. Not that we can’t objectively appreciate each other’s talents. It’s sort of like we’re positioned on the same table, but at 90-degree angles. You know like how the only record we both could really agree on back in the day was Love by The Cult. 

I guess the question is does anyone really get another human… truly? I mean the past is littered with musicians at 90 degree angles, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, Sonic Youth and the Swans, you know what I mean. That’s sort of what leads to something else, participating but not totally understanding might lead to some sort of growth. I try to source different opinions from different sides of the fences and I very rarely agree with everything anyone says, however I believe I am more informed. I don’t really believe in one single set of rules or one reality, everything is possible and nothing is the whole truth, the whole reality. If everybody liked the same things as all their friends or peer group shit would be boring and uninteresting, plus there would be no exposure to anything new just the same old shit recycled. Sort of what occurs now to some degree.

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Yeah, it seems like we’re either living in a time of complete creative stagnancy—mass conservatism where people only adhere to the fixed ideals of existing forms, be they jazz or post-punk or psychedelia or hip-hop or any genre really—or possibly it’s the brink of a new renaissance age. Where do you see the pendulum swinging?

I’m really not sure where the pendulum lies at this point. Based on what I hear on satellite radio, it’s totally messed up. Lots of the stuff on XFM, which is supposed to be the underground, alternative, whatever, sounds like Michael Damien’s “Rock On” and Taylor Dayne or some shit might be the next song in the playlist. I really don’t have much knowledge of what is going on now, especially in the underground. Most of the things I hear [that are] new are on satellite radio [are] pretty bland and really makes older stuff more interesting. Or at least the popularity of bands I didn’t previously enjoy more understandable and likeable.

I honestly don’t think it matters, I am sort of generally disinterested in “our generation.” Myself included to some degree. We as a whole have continued on the path set by those before us and are leaving a bigger mess behind than what we came into across the board. Here is where we go down the negative rabbit hole, however it isn’t bad to realize reality and call it out for what it is…

The negative rabbit hole is where I live. I mean, I am of the grunge generation.

In 1991—that was the “year punk broke”—I was 16 you were 18, there was so much opportunity for revolution and change, instead in the 25 years since, those opportunities have become commodities and packaged so they could be sold back to us, or our children, or the following generations, in a timely fashion. The internet is completely counterproductive in terms of change, as it is controlled and monitored to the point that by implying any sort of actual change in the way things are done, you are likely to experience a knock on your door and worst case scenario… disappear.

Personally I very much doubt there is reason for doing much anymore in terms of culture other than removing oneself from it as much as one can. The commoditization of almost everything is fairly incredible really and that has cut into all activity that used to take place on the margins as far as I can tell. The margins have been pushed further out as all sorts of sub cultures have been packaged and sold in little packages so people can easily feel part of a group.

I am certainly rambling here and will likely regret most of what is said…

Expect that knock on your door. But speaking of mass surveillance and NSA-style data snooping, you spent a few years in the States. How do you find the underground music scene in Canada differs from the one you were involved with in Northhampton?

I’m not sure of what makes up any scene at this point. I’d say that in general there’s a number of good people who work hard to make sure something exists for others to enjoy. This is likely the same for almost anything really, food, sports, art, business regions, politics on a grass roots level, almost anything really. I’d imagine that passion drives most people involved. I think in Canada the [geographic] space in combination with the lack of population makes things a challenge in terms of reaching a level of involvement that’s easier to reach in Europe, the States, etc. I would imagine you would find much the same thing if you examined most grass roots community groups. Although “scenes” are far less organized in terms of rules and positions but often no less hierarchical.

Is there a scene in your part of Nova Scotia  that you’re just blissfully living outside of, or does it not really exist?

Blissfully outside. There are folks I respect and admire in the region but the time of active involvement has long passed me. I very much doubt my opinion is needed, nor would it be appreciated…

I somewhat doubt that.

I feel like I am a bummer, although I don’t personally feel that way. The talk of having a peer group or a number of cultural touch stones with whom to identify has made me wonder where I am in that mess…

This morning I was listening to Mark Maron’s WTF podcast—I listen to a lot of podcasts, baseball, football, gambling, exopolitics, economics and Maron—and always find it brings a smile to my face. Not because he is funny. He is a comedian, but I don’t find his stand up that funny, sometimes it is, but not overall. But the joy in which he approaches each interview and general excitement in the conversation.

I enjoyed his Thinky Pain stand up movie a lot. But I can’t really listen to WTF. He’s too enthusiastic for my tastes. Even when he’s talking to another famous curmudgeon like Steve Albini—too enthusiastic.

Anyways, he seems to get flack for being a downer, bitter, but I find it quite the opposite. Maybe I am being marketed to, led to identify with Maron.

We both are. Middle-class raised, plaid-wearing, 40-something, neurotic white dudes.

Again I am not saying I am any better at this shit… just sort of pointing out the obvious that somehow in the last 25 years the margins have become commoditized and marketed to us on almost every level. Think: foodies, farmers markets, craft beer, coffee, indie movies etc… Again where is the revolution? Where is the underground? Maybe just so far out that I can’t even recognize where it lives anymore, maybe it is in hiding so it can’t be sold…

I don’t know if I am trying to make a point or not, or if I should just avoid all the references to revolution…

I don’t really think there’s going to be a knock on your door if you say the word “revolution” here.

Intrinsically I believe that music, sound, is a gateway to change. As teenagers our minds got expanded by exposure to new approaches, new ways of having dialogue, new ways of existence through sound.  Unfortunately maybe those doors close at some point or maybe those things don’t happen for most people—now or then—with or without music.  I guess that Sound has always been commoditized. It might be the speed at which it happens now that I find alarming… and maybe once it enters that realm it doesn’t provide the same opportunity for change because by become a commodity it intrinsically becomes part of the system and therefore the problem.

Maybe listening to Jefferson Airplane combined with the recent world events has finally blown me into a reality where I’m incapable of coping with the current overwhelming narrative.

My main point is that I’m wondering whether the underground—and other non-mainstream expressions and activities—has been neutered by the fact that all culture that exists on the margins can quickly become a commodity.  I wonder if that coupled with the fact that most methods of communication can be monitored, recorded, preserved and held against individuals as evidence of crimes or thoughts which are against the “greater good” has stopped any chance of a needed “revolution” both cultural and societal.  My disappointment lies with the fact that it has been our generation which has come of age and relative control during this time.  Maybe by stepping outside the systems as much as possible that is a revolutionary act… don’t know

At this point I would clearly say that I have no role in any scene, really the only scene that I played a role in was the “scene” or number of scenes in Nanaimo where we’re both from.

That Nanaimo scene of the late ’90s was oddly fertile. For such a small group of people, it seems like an unlikely high percentage of us carried on to varying levels of national and international notoriety. Be it in the form of Apollo Ghosts or Tough Age or Elfin Saddles or Brodie West or you or whoever. What do you think it was about that scene? 

It’s conceivable that it was fertile to a point, as the “notoriety” you speak of was achieved after leaving for the most part.

Yeah, none of it happened while any of us were still living in Nanaimo. 

Perhaps it was a fertile incubator. In many ways it was a safe place to experiment, find ones footing but didn’t really lend itself to reaching for that “next level”… or whatever you want to call it. Maybe leaving was reaching for the next level. Maybe now with the internet being what it is that next level is a little easier to achieve with higher levels becoming more difficult. It’s hard to say. To me the reason that the Nanaimo scene was fertile in someways is the lack of homogenization, the fact that the town was marginalized to some degree and so were a lot of us. That led to lots of support for lots of things that didn’t really make sense to the folks that were supporting them. Of course everyone had a different reason for being involved but basically all you had to do as an artist or whatever was to create something and you were likely to find support for a certain period of time.

Another thing that made it work at a point was infrastructure. A good and supportive record store  [Fascinating Rhythm, still one of the best record stores in Canada] with a good staff, who had liberties from the owner to take chances on stock. A number of people who laid the groundwork for shows and later venues which allowed shows as long as folks drank…

Ha! I was just talking with someone about how they can’t put on noise shows anymore because the audiences don’t drink. They just go in the alley and smoke pot. And the music drives everyone else away. Scenes need supportive spaces.

One major part of me staying in Nanaimo before Blackball opened was the Jazz Vanguard which was sort of mythical when I was in high school [The Vanguard was a firetrap in the basement of a hotel on the waterfront. Piled to the low ceiling with old furniture and debris, it was the home of free-jazz and experimental shows. A place of magic.] and later was a great practice space and venue that really fostered the stranger side of things for a period of time. Having a space to practice and whatnot. Without that, my level of frustration might have bubbled over and led to me being a stockbroker or some other silly thing in my early 20’s.  I wonder if things would have developed in such a way if one of those things was missing?

I think any scene is probably an organic system reliant on all the parts. 

I know I am likely missing something, someone—because I historically have—but I wonder if enough credit is ever given to those who exist before things happen, and I say “happen” very loosely.

The people behind the people behind the scenes rarely get credit. Anyway, not to keep harping on this theme of you leaving and coming back, but I’m going to touch on it again. Something I’ve noticed myself is each time Moonwood or BABEL or Arachnidiscs reaches another milestone on the road to success—whatever the hell “success” might be in the scenario—the feeling of pride and accomplishment lasts about five minutes. And then I’m back to feeling like I haven’t achieved anything and it’s all been a waste of time. Or that none of it really matters and reaching the next level is also meaningless. That it’s all smoke and mirrors. Like the very idea that “culture” is seen to be worth something is itself a capitalist construct. That none of this so-called culture humanity has created has intrinsic value and we’ve been duped into believing it does so that it can be commodified and sold to us. Anyway, where I’m going is: was achieving a certain level of success a similar experience for you?

Even now over 25% of my lifetime—in terms of years—my identity was derived from music and my involvement in music. As what could be determined as the last half of my life enters its first decade I have a far more healthy relationship with sound and what I need from it in order to feel a purpose in my existence. I’m not sure as to how to describe certain levels of achievement. In retrospect I am very happy and proud of what I produced in the past 20 years. I am not sure that any group of events, releases or milestones are the focus of that pride.

Touring, the act of playing a number of shows in a row, leads to a level of exhaustion which is very much part of the experience, however that really puts a haze over the whole elation with playing shows that in retrospect seem wonderful. But how much of that was pure mental and physical exhaustion, I can’t say. I think that playing a show in a city in Belgium is much the same as playing a show in a youth center in Nanaimo, it’s a love/hate sort of thing and I find it somewhat satisfying that if I had to list my 10 favourite shows, I would put both those events on my list for different reasons. After one particular show in which I was in at my worst. Not musically but attitude wise. I am sure you know that mood from me…

Oh, yeah. [memories surface of a gig at the university SUB where I was playing bass in Andrew’s band and he leaped onto a table to harangue the audience for not paying attention to us, and possibly the way they were living their lives, while I tried to fade into the back of the stage area].

And a veteran of the music scene came up to me and said he has been watching his friends play “that kind of music” for years and never quite got it, but after watching me something clicked. That felt good, not good enough to turn my mood around at the time but now I’m very proud of that. What I do is a little different it would seem than what people expect even amongst a certain crowd. I guess even at the time I knew how lucky I was to have any level of success, you know standing in front of a crowd and doing exactly what you want, what comes into your mind exits through your actions and into the eyes and ears of a crowd… That is an amazing feeling. Creating something in the moment and having an audience respond is truly joyous feeling. I remember another musician having concern for me because I appeared angry…

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I don’t know if you’re referencing the same person, but Kristjanne (of Everything is Geometry) once said to me, “Whenever I see Andrew play, I feel like he hates me. Like he wants me to go away.” You had that kind of aggressive intensity. Mesmerizing, but also uncomfortable. Like you were pure bottled anger.

When nothing could be further from the truth about roots of my sound and performance.

It’s something I always appreciated. 

Perhaps it’s the reason we both felt marginalized and could recognize that in each other’s work—and of course the fact that The Cult are pretty great.

They’re the best.

SOUND OF TIME releases on Dec. 4, 2015 and can be ordered HERE.


Interred Views: Erm + Nickname

25/09/2015

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Erm & Nickname‘s Woodland Ritual fits into that oddly obscure-yet-pervasive niche of outsider music lodged in between free-jazz, early Faust-ian experimentalism, ambient electronics, primal therapy, and neo-pagan psychedelic rituals. It boasts a rich darkness as well as an ephemeral light, not unlike the campfire in the East Sussex woodlands it was recorded around. I chatted with the duo about their unusual, magical recording experience, which just happens to be the latest release in our Extra Limited Runs series (order it HERE).


Arachnidiscs Recordings: Tell me a bit about Erm & Nickname. Who are you and what’s up with this recording?

Nickname: Erm & Nickname are Andrew Newnham and Nicholas Langley. We met at the age of twelve and almost immediately chose the aliases Erm & Nickname for making radio-style tape recordings and comedy videos. We were both enthusiastic owners of recorder-Walkmans so we eventually accrued hundreds of hours of improvised radio, comedy, songs and general silliness, most of which will never see the light of day.

Fast forward about twenty eight years and the Erm & Nickname personas can become a useful psychological retreat for us. We escaped into the woods of East Sussex for four days armed with only battery-powered gear and the sole intention of making music. Not to record an album or work on a cohesive project, but to immerse ourselves in the therapeutic music process. We recorded rock songs, funk tracks, comedy numbers, but sooner or later the wood spirits always took over. They enveloped us, spoke through us. Our thin electronic sounds became one with the crackle of campfires and the wind through trees. The constant activity of arachnids, birds, insects and worms seemed to transmit both the life voice of creation and the deadly sirens’ call into the ground. The song cycle ends with Hope.

There’s this Buddhist proverb “Living without hope is like burying oneself,” which should be the album’s tagline really. It was truly an unintended deep, personal, musical and lyrical experience for both of us….

ADR: You say the cycle ends with “Hope” but it literally ends with a scream. Is “Hope” to you a primal scream in the wilderness?

Nickname: That’s not really a scream, just a thing we do at the end of recordings to make each other jump. We love to unsettle ourselves.

ADR: It definitely unsettled us every time it came around during the dubbing. EQ’d perfectly to sound exactly like someone standing on the walk outside our front door.

Nickname: A primal scream in the wilderness though? Sure that can symbolise hope. Screams for help, mating calls — making sound always involves some form of hope, I’d not really thought about it, but maybe that’s the main function of making music, to hold onto hope!

Erm: It’s almost that there is hope; getting through tough times and challenges… But around the corner something new rears its ugly head. Just when u think its all “gonna be alright” for a time it is… then the dark comes. It is like a cycle… with hands held; with support of others it is conquered for a time…

ADR: I’ve always wanted to record something in the woods but haven’t organized it. Tell me a bit about how you found it affected the recording experience as opposed to recording in a studio setting or at a jam space or something.

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Erm: Didn’t feel influenced by life surroundings. We were shut off with no other human contact. Within the three days all life distractions faded. The only thing left was our subconscious. Working in solitude with limited equipment and resources allowed a more relaxed and spiritual result. Those limitations allowed us to let go of ourselves…within time our woodland surroundings, crackling fire, played it’s important part. We allowed the woods and our emotions to take over.

Nickname: Definately. It was good to be away from a computer. Limitations are really positive for songwriting. The play-to-work ratio improves.

ADR: I’m a big proponent of imposing limitations to spark creativity. So what is your usual musical modus then? When you say “good to be away from a computer” is it all Ableton Live and VSTs?

Nickname: Ha, God no, sometimes I think I should try that as I’ve only done three or four tracks that way. I used to just use internal ‘sequencers’ on synths and hardware, and quantised everything. No computers at all. Then I got bored with electronic music and stopped for five years. Since then I started using a computer to record mostly live stuff, as well as sound processing, mixing and mastering.  But for this project we were using just a portable recorder, which is how Erm and I always used to record actually.

ADR: When you pitched the album to me, I noted what I sort of thought was a Coil “unplugged” vibe. When I was listening to it over and over and over doing the dubbing, I began to notice perhaps more of a Nurse With Wound feel, perhaps specifically the vocals from their collaboration with Stereolab, actually. You said the Coil comparison was interesting because Erm doesn’t know them, though you of course are a fan, as are most people you make music with. Over on your side of the pond is there a large groups of people who are into the whole Coil / Throbbing Gristle /NWW / Current 93 scene?

Nickname: I really don’t know. Whenever I’ve met someone that I wanted to do music with, it’s turned out they’ve been really into Coil. That’s happened with at least three of my longest-running and significant collaborations anyway. Now it’s happened in a different way, it’s the first time someone made the comparison I think. Other than my own particular kind of music-people though, nobody I meet seems to know who they are. I’m not that familiar with Nurse With Wound but I love what I’ve heard. They seem to be interested in some similar areas to The Vitamin B12. And I do music with somebody who’s friends with members of NWW too so I should pay more attention really. I know I don’t like Current 93. I guess there are thousands of very keen fanatics rather than millions of fans. Coil were just so inspirational. I think that anyone who hears them is compelled to create with sound. It’s the overwhelming freedom of possibility in their music. They were very generous and kind with their time — with their fans — too. I know this for a fact.

ADR: NWW have a pretty vast catalogue that can be hard to delve into. Results may vary. I definitely am not a fan of Current 93 either. They sound like Jack Black doing a goth parody to me, though clearly many would disagree. But I was asking about Coil precisely because of how you put it: “Other than my own particular kind of music-people though, nobody I meet seems to know who they are”. I’m fascinated by that odd mixture of their being a seemingly pervasive, universal influence for experimental musicians of, shall we say, a certain age, yet remaining almost entirely underground even with—or almost in spite of—all the Trent Reznor connections.

My question here is, with your own particular kind of music-people, do you think its hearing music like Coil’s that compels them to create sound or that a band like Coil appeals to a certain kind of music-person? Who’s the chicken, who’s the egg?

Nickname: I’m pretty sure they were all doing music before hearing Coil, but it’s very encouraging to hear music that is outside of genres that can also be very moving and intimate. Not sure if young people are interested in Coil at the moment, but they will be at some point I think, it’s quite prophetic, or futuristic, in some respects. Technological folk music, which is where the music-making process is headed I think. So, not so much chicken and egg as chickens watching one of their own fly over the fence.

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ADR: I hope you’re right about their music enduring—it does have a timeless quality to it. Though I wonder without anyone in that camp still alive if anyone’s in charge of their catalogue. I’d almost expect there were clauses in their wills to burn all the master tapes [*during the course of conducting this interview we excitedly learned their lost mid-90’s album Backwards is being released by former—and still living—member Danny Hyde].

Anyway, you mentioned The Vitamin B12, which is another of many projects you’re involved with. Are these all different “nicknames” for you or are these actual bands?

Nickname: Not me. The Vitamin B12 is an umbrella term for a wide range of artistic projects that nearly always include Alasdair Willis. Mostly, it’s a free-improv group. I’ve done 14 complete albums with them but that’s basically piss in the ocean of a really huge body of work. Hz is just me. Babylon was also Erm & Nickname.

ADR: You mentioned Buddhism earlier. Is Buddhism something that informs your creative process?

Nickname: I don’t think so.

ADR: In that case, what does inform your creative process?

Nickname: For this project it’s very loose. It’s playing in the sense of children playing rather than instrumental playing. You could say the process is informed by our long history, reverting back to being kids. We also do a lot of jokey stuff which is the other side of this.

Erm: Working with Nickname for over two decades makes improvising more possible. We seem to know how each other are going to play. I find that starting songs by improvising can allow my inner self to come out. I’m quite spiritual; so allowing my inner self to flow into music seems to work.

Nickname: Spiritual yes, but you might also say witchy or seer-like. I think you described the lyrics as almost channeling at one point. It certainly felt like we acknowledged some ‘demons’ out in the woods. I think your stream of consciousness took a life of its own?

Erm: You’re right there! It certainly was music therapy in the woods…. [laughs] Well, maybe just for me. Maybe I/we needed to face the demons in order to move on? Whatever it was… it was a great escape, a good time out; and its inspired me to do more!

Woodland Ritual released on September 25th. You can order it HERE.


Interred Views is an interview series with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.


Interred Views: Lero

21/08/2015

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Based out of Hamilton, Ontario, LERO (aka Ben Dyment) is a solo project in operation since 2012. Shiftless, transient – secret gardens, slow drones and static hiss/hum, influence into expression. Plain hymns honest with pure truth airs. We’re releasing his album Trichomes on August 28th, 2015, so we had a chat about The Hammer vs. The Big Smoke, inspiration and suede desert boots. You can order the limited edition CD HERE.


Arachnidiscs Recordings: Trichomes strikes me as having a ’90s bent. Perhaps not in the way many people think of ’90s music, but in the  abstract dream-pop style of a band like His Name Is Alive or Labradford’s ambient post-rock. And, to me, “Cattleya” has bit of a Mellow Gold era Beck feel.  Are you influenced by that era or those kinds of bands?

Lero: Not at all, but I find it really interesting that you’d make that connection. A lot of my influences from that era are probably closer to that general assumption of ’90s music, actually — bands like Unwound, Royal Trux, Joan of Arc, etc. I think I get where you’re coming from with Mellow Gold on “Cattleya” though, but for what it’s worth at the time I recorded that I was listening to a lot of SMiLE-era Beach Boys.

ADR: I’d be pretty surprised if Beck wasn’t listening to a lot of SMiLE-era Beach Boys back then, actually.

Lero: That’s a good point, yeah. I think everybody goes through a SMiLE phase at some point.

ADR: I’ve never gone through a SMiLE phase. Or Pet Sounds, even. I don’t get the Brian Wilson worship at all.

Lero: I think if you strip Brian from the band identity and really view his work during that mid ’60s period, you see someone with a lot of the same ideals that you find in current tape culture/weird music scenes. All the improvisational and avant methods that say you or I might employ in our work, he was doing in a studio setting with a full group of professional session musicians and a major label budget at his disposal. He tried to advance pop music into a higher art, but it was too complicated — his audience wasn’t willing to move with him in a way he understood, and I don’t think he even fully understood where he was looking to end up. What appeals to me about his music is that sense of abandonment; he’s pushing as hard as he can to get somewhere further away from his origins and closer to his ideals, and when it works it’s fantastic.

ADR: See, that’s what people always say. I’ve tried to listen to his music from that angle for years but just don’t hear it. It makes me feel like part of my brain is missing. Because all these people whose opinions I respect can’t be completely off-track, right? I think it’s something basic like I just don’t like his chord progressions and melodies.

Lero: I know what you mean. I think with Brian and musicians of his stature most people insist “you HAVE to like them!!!” which is the wrong approach.

ADR: Any other ’60s musicians you particularly respect?

Lero: There’s a lot of people [from that era] that I like. I listen to a lot of East Coast and West Coast bands from that period on an equal level, which is still seen as taboo by some people — the whole ‘if you like the Velvets you have to hate the Airplane’ bullshit. It’s my favourite decade for jazz, too — people like Pharoh Sanders, John and Alice Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler. Impulse is one of my favourite labels, and almost everything they put out then was great, which is a pretty impressive track record.

ADR: I didn’t know I was supposed to hate Airplane. That hip-hop feud goes back further than I thought. But yeah, that 1966-72 period for exploratory jazz is pretty infallible — whatever the record label. It’s hard to go wrong just randomly buying a jazz record with that copyright date on it. The profile photo on your Bandcamp is a picture of your guitar with an Impulse sticker on it.  I noticed because I have one on my guitar too.

Lero: I was actually going to bring the sticker up — I saw yours when I was looking up Arachnidiscs online a while back.

ADR: We’re like sisters. I don’t hear a lot of actual “jazz” on your recordings. Does it represent more of an approach for you?

Lero: I think it represents more of an inspiration and influence on my thinking than my playing, and usually when it filters through it’s in a way that no one else would probably notice. Jazz makes up a large degree of my daily listening though, and the exploratory approach that you find in a lot of those records is something I try to always follow in my work, even if I’m not playing in an overt jazz style. “Ayler” is one of those tracks for me, how it sort of moves without a clear path and doesn’t wait for you to pick it up right away, hence the title homage. “Trellis” on Eye Hospital is another of those. I do want to get into a stronger jazz area with my work at some point, but I’d have to do it with other people—I wouldn’t be able to fully express myself in that way right now on my own.

ADR: When you’re recording, how conscious of influences are you? Is there a target you’re aiming for or do you just throw stuff against the wall?

Lero: I’m really conscious of influences when I’m recording, because I derive a lot of direct inspiration from whatever I’m soaking up at the time. There’s very specific targets, though I let them evolve as the process grows. I do try to keep each album fairly specific in its intent. If I come up with an idea that’s strong but really dissimilar to the other tracks, I’ll save it for a later project rather than force it in. I hope that the albums I’ve done carry the same sense of individuality in them that I feel when I’m making them.

ADR: Your Bandcamp displays a prolific output. In fact, you’ve released three albums since Trichomes. Are you one of those guys who’s never far away from a recording device?

Lero: You got me [haha]. I like to maintain a steady stream of output when I can. I’m the type of person who gets pretty obsessive with their interests, and I get inspired pretty easily, so I try to get as much as I can out of each area and see how I can adapt it into my own identity.

ADR: How do you see your identity?

IMG_0144Lero: I see identity as being something just slightly out of grasp, you know? If you reach too far it becomes intangible, but if you let it be it can surprise you with its strength. I hope that my music comes across as possessing some inherent traits and a healthy sense of personality at its core. Whenever I have to put down a genre I say ‘left-field folk’, which for me is a point of reference to the pure, weird sounds of Early American music. Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music compilation that he made for Folkways is an eternal well of influence for me, and it’s arguably the best source for what I’m talking about. Listening to those songs, you can hear everything filtered through the strange introversion of each performer. Each person sounds true to their own spirit, and that’s an element that I directly take as a guide for my own sense of self. The ‘left-field’ comes in with everything else that surrounds my music; you’d have to have a pretty obtuse sense of humour to take my lyrics as protest songs, and a lot of where I’m coming from is more Saturn than rural America, but that feeling of inward sustenance is what I strive for, no matter where I seem to be pushing the music towards stylistically.

ADR: Speaking of the American Folk tradition. In Canada it’s been an inescapable shadow since the 1950’s. Do you see there being a distinct Canadian musical identity?

Lero: Somewhat. I think it’s purity is usually either exported and distilled or else turned into a niche. I’ve never really been sure how to determine it, honestly. Do you see a clear identity?

ADR: I think it used to be more of a thing. Like Great Big Sea sound really Canadian. There’s no mistaking them for an American or UK band, even playing sort celtic music, they’re super Canadian sounding. And someone like Bryan Adams sounds distinctly Canadian somehow compared to his American counterparts Springsteen or Mellencamp or Tom Petty. But now it ‘s harder to pick out a Canadian artist out of a pile of new releases. So I don’t know anymore. I think that’s why I asked.

Lero: I agree with that a lot, yeah. A label like Arbutus is distinctly Canadian in its roster, but Braids or Grimes or anyone on there never really sounds ‘Canadian’.

ADR: No, Braids don’t sound Canadian. They sound Icelandic to me. Specifically, they sound like Björk.

Lero: Yeah, that’s an immediate relation to my ears as well.

ADR: Since we’re on the topic of geography, you’re based out of Hamilton, Ontario. For a few years now The Hammer’s been hyped as the “next Portland”, a sort of artistic oasis on the rise for creative types from Toronto who need to move somewhere less expensive. Does it live up to that hype yet?

Lero: I don’t think anyplace can really live up to its hype, especially when it’s coming from outside. To me there’s a clear delineation between the mindset of most people directly involved in the arts community here, and those just outside or far removed from it. The first group is focused on simply maintaining a level of creation/creativity, while the latter is eager to capitalize on it but a bit misguided (like when you have people proclaiming James Street North as an ’emerging arts scene’ for nearly 10 years now). It’s like any other city of its size, really — there’s a handful of good venues and good artists and a dedicated community to keep it going. I have noticed an influx of Toronto influence seeping into the general environment over the last few years, which can be a bit of a grey area, but then again there’s always been a bit of a complex relationship between Hamilton and Toronto.

ADR: Yeah, anywhere there’s always the capita-A “Arts” and then everything else that’s actually going on. In Hamilton is the scene the sort that allows for anyone who’s interested in taking part by just getting out there an doing it? As opposed to, say, Toronto where due to the sheer amount of competition in a huge city it can be pretty hard for a new band to get gigs when they start out. Is Hamilton a tough nut to crack?

Lero: No, nowhere near what Toronto seems to be like. Anyone can generally get something going here pretty easily, and people help each other out on a regular basis. What’s great is when the ‘weirder’ bands play bills together out of necessity/overlap and you get shows with a lot of diversity, rather than seeing 18 hardcore bands that all sound identical.

IMG_0147ADR: The other problem with Toronto—here’s where I inevitably get on my negativity soapbox—is there seems to be about a pool of 200 people into the weird music scene (perhaps more for the bands that skew punk). Recognizable faces you see at all the shows. But any given night there’s no less than three great shows drawing from that pool so everyone ends up with 17 attendees. Especially if you have the bad luck (or lack of foresight) to have your show booked the same night as something like Feast In The East. My feeling about smaller centers is maybe there’s fewer heads in the scene but you get them all out to your show because it’s the only thing going on that night. Or maybe I’m looking back at small-town life with rose-tinted glasses.

Lero: It’s true that with a smaller area you tend to get a higher concentration of people to each show, but there’s still a lot of times I’ve been at shows with 17 people here too. I think all those little factors that have nothing to do with the music, like the weather, day, venue, hype, etc, have more of an influence than we’d like to admit.

ADR: I don’t know about Hamilton but the slightest bit of rain in Toronto means you go down from 17 to 10 or less. But I wouldn’t know. I try not to leave my house for anything so I don’t go to shows if it’s raining. I’m pretty ecstatic if it starts to rain. “Yes! I don’t have to go!” But maybe people congregate to get out of the rain. So, I guess I wouldn’t know.

Lero: Yeah, there’s a bit of that here too. I get that excuse mentality sometimes when I’m going to Toronto for shows, when distance is an added factor. Rain’s good once you accept it, or if you’re not wearing suede desert boots.

ADR: Having grown up on the west coast, I actually kinda love rain. I just use it as an excuse. But speaking of desert boots, what’s on the near or distant horizon for Lero?

Lero: I just finished up an album last month entitled In Sunset a Glow Glory that’s largely improvisational/instrumental and plays as a soundtrack of sorts. Beginning work on a new album called Sapid Origin that might bring out some new sounds to the melting pot. There might even be some live Lero on the horizon too, which could be pretty interesting…

ADR: Live is life.


Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.


Interred Views: HERACLITUS AKIMBO vs BABEL

20/07/2015

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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 Run series. BABEL’s MARTIALIS 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…


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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 already sold 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]

Jakob: [laughs]

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 Revenant and 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 Field in 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.

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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.

First Three XLR


Interred Views: The Urbane Decay

17/07/2015

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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 bandcamp offers 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 single for 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 from Everything 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…

Slacker?

Yeah. [laughs]

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.

As a designer, you must have essays to write about the evils of “grunge typography“.

[laughs] I don’t know. I think I kinda got over that. There’s such a nostalgic pull toward the really terrible typography 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]

Amazing’s one word.

“Regrettable” is another.

But that was all such a big deal! The Yellow Tape, and then, at the same time, that “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” video

…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, Housemartins fan 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.

Yeah.

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 Cellophane which 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.


Interred Views: Louis Law

09/07/2015

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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 Hirudinea which releases as an Arachnidiscs Recordings Extra Limited Run cassette on 07/27/2015. Order it HERE.


Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.


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