Oh, La Gaule: An Interview of French 'Gaule Wave' Band Faire

text by Agathe Pinard

photographs by Kealan Shilling

FAIRE are very serious about not taking themselves seriously. Their shows are infused with a raw improvisation that makes every performance a completely unique experience. They just play with the vibe given by the audience and then do their best to push the limits of that relationship. The images from their shows speak for themselves, filled with overflowing energy and rage. Romain, Raphael, and Simon make up the French trio Faire, a band emerging from the Parisian underground music scene. Self-labelled as “Gaule Wave,” the band mixes opposing sounds, from ‘80s synthesizers, to punk power chords, to the lyrical stylings of pop chanson.

We had a chance to chat with Faire just before their highly anticipated second show in Los Angeles. They play tonight at Madame Siam in Hollywood, catch them live at 10:00pm for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

AGATHE PINARD: First of all, how did you all meet?

FAIRE: We met at school, we were about 12 years old. There we were, the only guys listening to rock, wearing leather and boots. So we easily found a subject of discussion. 

PINARD: What’s your first experience with making music?

FAIRE: A basement in the center of Paris where we experimented with lots of anger, love, a few cries and lots of laughs. We took it very seriously, being musicians. We were rehearsing between class at least twice a week and started playing live shows pretty early on. 

PINARD: Have any of you ever had any ambitions outside of music?

FAIRE: Not really, except the fact that we love to customize/make clothes, and making videos, drawing, painting and writing. 

PINARD: What’s the meaning behind the name Faire? Did you have any other names you were also considering?

FAIRE: First we thought about “la GAULE” which is the old name for France and it also means to have a boner. It ended up becoming the name of our music: “Gaule Wave.” But we wanted to explore a maximum of different musical horizons. We thought that with FAIRE (meaning “to make” or “to do”), we could mix all kinds of music that we like, surfing between rock, yéyé, Eastern music, trap, techno and more. Also it’s a simple way for us to make music without thinking too much, and just go with the flow of our spontaneous ideas, like a manifestation of sorts. 

PINARD: Do you have any major musical influences?

FAIRE: Yes! We started playing music together while listening to Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf… and the Motown Records really inspired us when we were younger. Later we let go of the stigma that we had of drum machines and were really inspired by ‘80’s cold wave, and especially Martin Rev of Suicide. French Pop culture influences us too, think Michel Polnareff, or all the old ‘50s songs with those incredible lyrics. Swinging by the US, people like R. Stevie Moore just transcend us. But for real, the list is really long, we’re not even talking about all the African, Indian or South American influences!

PINARD: Are there any non-musicians who inspire your work?

FAIRE: We met the incredible Charlie Le Mindu, the French hair designer who also does exhibitions of clothes made with an infinity of hair. His work is absolutely amazing. 

PINARD: What’s your personal process of creating an album like?

FAIRE: We like to be really isolated in a countryside or on a rooftop in Mexico, as we did with “Le Tamale.” Notice that we never really put out any albums, it was only EPs that we self recorded in our computer. Now we are preparing the recording of our first album, which we want to record live with someone capable to catch our live energy, because that’s where our potency lies.

PINARD: You seem to like using old women’s names as titles, Mireille, Sisi, Christiane, Marie-Louise, is there any particular reason?

FAIRE: We just love our grandmother’s stories and the era that they lived. 

PINARD: You released a very psychedelic video clip of Noizette a month ago, what’s the story behind it?

FAIRE: Some student from l’ECAL, an art school in Switzerland, asked for a song to do a video clip, then pitched the idea and we liked it! For the first time we just let them do what they wanted and received 6 different versions. We had the luxury of choosing the one we thought was the best. This battle between our faces and the Prince was exactly the kind of trip we liked.

PINARD: Is there a show you gave that you will remember forever?

FAIRE: Wow, when we released our EP « Le Tamale » in a Parisian bar people were so excited, and it was so overcrowded that the public was making waves falling down every two minutes on the little three-by-three-meter stage that they kept us from playing long. All our machines got disconnected and fucked up at the same time (it was also because of some spilled beer.) And we had 20 kilos of confetti flying around everywhere. It was two years ago, but we still have some in our synthesizers. It was definitely the best show/non-show. 

PINARD: You’re all super wild and insanely energetic on stage, how do your rehearsals differ from your live performances? 

FAIRE: (Laugh) that’s a good question. We take it really easy and chill, the exact opposite of our live shows.

PINARD: How do your audiences affect the performances?

FAIRE: We started being crazy on stage after some shows in Mexico where people were getting totally crazy, and thanks to them we took that energy, and it morphed us into these uncontrollable beasts. Now even if the crowd is really chill we get into them with all our passion and love, and push them to dance by jumping into the pit.

PINARD: What was it like to play in LA for the first time?

FAIRE: Really great, people were really into the fact that we got the mosh pits going. They weren’t accustomed to it or prepared for it at all. So we were kind of exotic with our craziness. 

PINARD: How was your experience with the city of LA, the American culture?

FAIRE: Pretty interesting, lots of cool vibes and a beautiful mix of various world cultures over there. People were lovely with us, and we met great artists there. Also Simon’s dad is from LA so we had a good introduction to the city. 

PINARD: It’s been more than a year since the release of your last EP, C’est L’été, what are you working on at the moment? You said there is a new album in the making?

FAIRE: Absolutely, we are now preparing new songs to record our first album. It will be released next year, but the date is still a secret. 

PINARD: What are you listening to right now? What was your summer ’18 soundtrack?

FAIRE: Escape-isms, HMLTD, Lil Pump and les Charlots.

Go see Faire play tonight at 10pm @ Madame Siam in Hollywood. You won’t regret it!

Pointless Prophet: An Interview With Joe McKee On The Occasion Of His New Video Premiere

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text by Summer Bowie


Joe McKee might have been everyone’s best friend in a past life. He’s full of charming witticisms, unexpected humor, moments of sober pontification, and there’s always a little light in his eyes that let’s you know he’s really listening. To hear him play music is a little bit like a secular religious experience. There’s no call to worship, but something about his sound is invariably transcendent. All of that thoughtful articulation in his discourse gets shrouded in a layered veil of sonic silk. It’s much like listening to a song in a language you don’t speak. You might be able to make out a word here and there, but you can never tell if your interpretation of the song is correct, or if you’ve just projected your own story onto it. McKee’s second solo album, An Australian Alien tells the true story of the artist’s journey through the loss of a best friend, the birth of a daughter, and the experience of processing a major life transition while being processed as an immigrant. Now five years an Angeleno, McKee is feeling much more at home geographically, but he’ll always be an alien of sorts: daringly vulnerable, abnormally modest (and not just for an Angeleno), and uniquely eloquent. I had the chance to ask Joe a few questions about the album and the pleasure of premiering his latest video  - and maybe, just maybe, I’ll find myself in someone’s living room some day, enjoying a private performance by the alien himself.  

SUMMER BOWIE: I want to start by talking about the title of your new album, An Australian Alien. You’ve been in LA for about 5 years now - do you still feel like an alien here in the States? Having been born in England, did you feel like an English alien in Australia? 

JOE MCKEE: I've always felt a little bit alien and I probably always will. I suppose that comes from being transplanted, as a ripe young chap, from the grey kingdom of Londonium to the outback of Australia. Everything was familiar but strangely different, like a bizarro world where Burger King is called Hungry Jacks and so on. I spoke the same language, but I was still the "other." I was probably quite self conscious of this growing up, but I learned to celebrate those subtle differences as I got older, I suppose. 

So, that 'alien' word was bandied about all over the application forms for my permanent residency to remain in the United States. An Australian Alien had a nice ring to it. It's musical, and it's playful. Prior to living in the US I was vagabonding around Europe, sleeping on peoples couches, outstaying my welcome wherever I was performing. Always a tourist, even at home. I feel like I've finally found a place to reside and plant some roots in Los Angeles. This is mainly due to becoming a surprise father here.  

BOWIE: So you’ve always felt a bit extraterrestrial? Do you still feel extra-Angeleno? 

MCKEE: Living here in LA? Somewhat, but I feel more at home here than I have for a long time. The album was written primarily during that transition period, when I was still in this state of flux. Living in-between. I'd alienated myself from my previous life by moving here, which was difficult and freeing at the same time. I could reinvent myself in a new place and shed all that old scabby skin that was weighing me down. So I think I just feel more at home in my fresh flesh-suit.

BOWIE: This album was recorded in a number of different locations, including a cargo ship sailing the Pacific, friends’ homes, and a marijuana plantation in Northern California. Have you always been very nomadic while recording, or was this choice made specifically for this album? 

MCKEE: I definitely come from nomadic stock. My family has moved countries every generation for as far back as we can trace. We're all running from something! Or seeking something perhaps. One of the lovely things about making music is that it's weightless. You can do it all inside your noggin' while you're galavanting around the globe. You can hum a melody into your phone, or you can write a lyric on a napkin. I don't have to lug a roll of canvas and my paintbrushes around to create something. 

Having said that, recording this album was a particularly scattered process. I really didn't have a community in LA when I first arrived, nor did I have a cent to my name, so I had snatch moments to write this record amongst all of the madness of becoming a father, moving to a new country, going through my Saturn's Return yada yada yada. I relied on the generosity and kindness of strangers really. People like Derek Brambles, Ethan DeLorenzo, Paz Lenchantin, Chris Nelson. Good humans, those.

BOWIE: If I’ve ever to known anyone to experience Saturn’s Return it would be you.  Do you subscribe to this theory, or have you gained any deeper perspective on the chaos of your late twenties? 

MCKEE: I think the Saturn's Return concept is a poetic way to understand any turmoil or life-shift. I think there’s probably some truth to it. I know what I went through was a mind-bending and ego-crushing experience. I was ruled by my ego in my twenties and I was increasingly dissatisfied with what was happening in my life to be honest. Things had fragmented and life seemed like a labyrinth. So the universe came along and obliterated my concept of reality. It dealt me a cataclysmic hand. My best friend passed away and I was becoming a father with a virtual stranger on the other side of the world. The only thing you can do when the universe, or God, or whomever or whatever deals you that kind of hand is to relinquish control. To let go. This was a drawn-out process, like untangling a chunky dread-lock, but eventually I freed myself from my warped concept of myself that I'd created. Like I'd birthed a brand new slippery, shiny version of myself. Being a father helps you reconnect with a clean slate, a tabula rasa! It helps you get back to this place that you were before all the conditioning and confusion. Before the ego takes hold! Then you can start anew, but with the knowledge that you've accrued along the winding way. Y'know? 

BOWIE: You delivered your best friend’s eulogy on the same day that you met your daughter, Juniper. Did you start composing the album very long after? 

MCKEE: I began writing the album prior to this actually. I wrote a song on the album that is sung from the perspective of an unborn child in his mother's womb, before knowing I was becoming a father. Some weird prophecy. I keep having these prophetic dreams that are absolutely useless to me. Pointless prophecies. I'm a pointless prophet. 

Anyway, Juniper's birth and Matt's death were interconnected. He was also becoming a father at the time of his death and he actually introduced me to the mother of my child. My psychic friend called me recently and told me that I was Matt's mother in a past life. I don't know what that means but I think I understand. 

So to answer your question, the album was written, before, during and after those events. So it tells the whole story in some warped and mangled way.

BOWIE: This is the second solo album you’ve released since parting ways with your former band, SNOWMAN. Would you say that your personal growth has been an analogue to your growth as a musician, or do you feel like music has acted as a sort of constant in life that helps you navigate the rest? 

MCKEE: That’s a good question. I suppose you might be onto something there. I suppose my music has become more like me in some sense. I’ve been following a thread for long enough that I'm in a place creatively that I don't know if anyone else is at. It's just a little nook somewhere that feels like home. Don't get me wrong, we're all just regurgitating our various influences, but at some point you get to a place where you've forgotten what they were and what you are making feels like it belongs to you and only you. I'm a less frightened and significantly happier person than I was in my SNOWMAN daze. I don't think it's a coincidence that my music has become less frightening and more colorful as time has passed.

BOWIE: Do you find the composition process to be very fluid and organic, or does it tend to be very labor-intensive?  

MCKEE: It's both really. There is fluidity in the conception of an idea, but the execution is laborious. The most enjoyable part of making music is when an initial spark becomes a flame, and hey presto! a song is born. The rest is quite a painful process and it doesn't come naturally to me at all. It's work. The song "I'll Be Your Host" is about the birth of a creative idea, and the eventual letting-go of that creation. It no longer belongs to me after the initial burst. I'm not terribly interested in touring these songs live and playing them ad nauseum to vaguely interested drunk people because that seems so far removed from that "first spark" moment that I'm talking about. Perhaps I'll just play private one-on-one performances for a person in my garden. Then it still feels sacred or something. Perhaps I'm rambling.

BOWIE: Your lyrics and song titles have a certain cryptic vulnerability to them. Is this intentional?  

MCKEE: hmmm... It's inherent, I'm not sure it's intentional. It sounds utterly trite but music really is a form of catharsis for me.... but I'm not particularly fond of that confessional style of song writing, so there's always a veil of some sort. I have to wrap metaphor in pataphor in metaphor to feel as though I'm saying anything in a way that feels unique or unburdensome. Is that a word? I don't want to burden people with my crap. I want to sort through it, turn it into something magical and share that, y'know. It's digestion! Songwriting (or creation in any form) is like a digestive process. The final release is the turd that I've presented to you! All the garbage that I need to release! Flushing it into the world. Magical crap. Perhaps childbirth is a nicer analogy. 

BOWIE: “A Yolk He’d Never Seen” is about people getting their comeuppance and feeling the karmic consequence of behaving like a jerk. Can you elaborate on that? 

MCKEE: Yeah that was the first song I wrote for this record. I was living a life of sin! I was genuinely trying to do things purely for myself even if they hurt other people. I made a conscious decision to do this. Madness! Of course the universe dealt me the hand that it did, and I learned my lesson. So that song is about cosmic/karmic repercussions. I won't go into too much detail, but I hurt someone, and in turn, I was hurt. Egg all over my face. 

BOWIE: Can you talk a bit about the first track you released, “I Want to Be Your Wife,” and its significance to the album? 

MCKEE: I sung it from the perspective of a woman in an unhappy marriage. I was a stay-at-home dad in a peculiar marital situation, but really it's based on every relationship I've been in and that crippling fear of losing oneself to another person. Terrifying stuff. It's a funny song, you should listen to the lyrics. You devote so much to these beings (songs/children) and at some point they have to leave the nest and you're all alone again! Then you die. 

BOWIE: Let’s talk about your use of reverb. How long have you been experimenting with the effect and do you remember what inspired you to develop this signature? 

MCKEE: Oh yeah, it's another veil, like the cryptic lyrics, it's a way for me to hide behind something. It's just like clothing for me; it feels natural to wear a suit made of reverb. I'd like to thread a sound suit together and wear it, but sound is still invisible, so it'd only ever be a representation of a sound. But imagine that! Joe McKee and his Technicolor Reverb Tracksuit. It'd be like the Emperor's new clothes. I'd be wandering around in my disgusting naked body. People would say "put some goddamn clothes on you pallid creep!" and I'd simply reply "oh you can't see the reverb? whats wrong with you? 

BOWIE: Can we expect any more music videos for the album? 

MCKEE: Yeah one more!

BOWIE: Performances? 

MCKEE: In some capacity. Not in bars though. It just doesn't really make sense for these songs to compete with the alcohol industry. I don't want to be at battle. Being on stage just feeds into this ego-worship thing that I don't think is very healthy for me. So If I play, I'll play on the floor, eye-to-eye and you can have a cup of tea. And you'll bloody well enjoy it.

Rebuilding the Model: An Interview of Contemporary Choreographer Chris Bordenave

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text by Summer Bowie


How could anybody forget Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings of Loie Fuller at the Folies Bergère, or Picasso’s myriad costumes and set designs for the Ballets Russes? Even if they've become less household over the years, those images made an indelible mark on mainstream society. Then there's the almost completely forgotten gems, like the stage set that Jasper Johns created for Merce Cunningham’s Walkaround Time, a pastiche of images from Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped By Her Bachelor’s” in clear plastic pillows. The 20th century offered a spoil of fantastic collaborations between the visual and performing arts: Eadweard Muybridge’s iconic photos of Isadora Duncan, Léon Bakst’s costumes and set design for Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, or Isamu Noguchi’s set for Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring  – just to name a few. Unfortunately, I find myself hard-pressed to find any similar contemporary examples, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to discover Chris Bordenave.

A classically trained, multi-disciplinary choreographer, who is one of the 3 founding members of a dance company called No)one. Art House., Bordenave has recently been working with a number of musical artists, such as Anderson Paak, Mayer Hawthorne, and more recently Solange and Kelela. He has also been creating site-specific works for institutions such as the California African American Museum, Hauser + Wirth, and Solange’s SAINT HERON House. I caught up with the young choreographer at the Annenberg Beach House, one beautiful autumn day, where he was rehearsing. We discussed his early training, the current state of dance affairs, and dance’s ceremonious relationship to visual art. Whether this current century will bear witness to dance and art finally renewing their vows is still a mystery, but if it is the case, Bordenave is one choreographer making a clear gesture that he's ready to meet in the middle.

SUMMER BOWIE: I want to start by asking you about your performance this past weekend at the Hollywood Bowl with Solange, how did it go?

CHRIS BORDENAVE: It was good. She brought me on to help with coordinating the additional performers that she had. She had twelve or fourteen extra horn players and she had a full string arrangement. I was just helping out with getting their choreography and their entrances and exits together. Just kind of helping out with whatever else she needed.

BOWIE: Is that your first time choreographing musicians in their movements, or is that something you’ve been doing?

BORDENAVE: I’ve been doing it. I’ve worked with Mayer Hawthorne, Anderson Paak, Empress Of, and a few other artists, just choreographing them in music videos. It was my first time doing a live performance — actually no that’s not true, I did Anderson Paak on the Ellen Show.

BOWIE: What are you rehearsing for right now?

BORDENAVE: Right now we are doing a performance at the Bootleg Theater. It’s going to be me with a vocalist and she made some songs out of these old black poems about the Great Migration. So this performance is one man’s journey through these songs, dance, theater, and projection mapping. It’s about their experiences moving from the South to the North during that time, what they went through, and how layered the experience is.

BOWIE: Since founding No)One. Art House, you’ve been performing and collaborating with a wide range of musical artists and art institutions. Is that bridge between musically driven work and performance-art driven dance what you were originally aiming for with No)One.?

BORDENAVE: Yeah, we knew that we wanted to educate and also challenge audiences in LA, because LA is a bit new to concert dance. We figured bringing it physically closer to the audience would impact them a bit more. Doing it inside of a proscenium stage doesn’t really connect, especially with contemporary dance. So, we found that when we do it in galleries, or unconventional spaces where we can physically get closer to the audience. They feel more connected to the work.

BOWIE: On the music side, you’ve been working with everyone from Solange, to Kelela, to Mayer Hawthorne, to Anderson Paak. How do you approach those kinds of commissions from a choreographic perspective?

BORDENAVE: First it goes off of their original vision. Right now I’m working with Kelela, and it’s nice to be working with her at this point because it’s really the first time she’s headlining shows, and it’s going to be her first album. It’s kind of a new arrangement for her, it’s very fresh and very new. So, it’s nice because I’m able to bring my concert dance art sensibility to this kind of commercial, mainstream element.

BOWIE: On the art side, you’re going to be presenting work at Hauser & Wirth in LA, the California African American Museum, and the SAINT HERON house. Does your approach change dramatically in accordance with the different types of venues that commission you?

BORDENAVE: Totally, it’s all about the space. It doesn’t really benefit anyone if we keep doing the same thing in different spaces. We want people to feel connected. We want them to feel like they are the work, that their role is as vital as that of the performers.

BOWIE: So, let’s go back to the beginning, you started dancing when you were about nine. What was your training like at that age?

BORDENAVE: I started at the Lula Washington Dance Theatre here in LA, and we did a lot of modern, African, jazz, and hip hop. Kind of everything, she wanted us to have a lot of tools under our belts so that we could work and do whatever we were asked to do. Then I went to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy once she opened up her school. When I graduated from high school, I moved to New York and went to the Ailey school, then I graduated from the LINES Ballet BFA program in San Francisco.

BOWIE: So you went to Ailey then came over to Alonzo King and finished your education?

BORDENAVE: Right. I was part of the inaugural class for their joint program with Dominican University. That was mainly contemporary ballet and I danced with the LINES company for a little bit after I graduated. Afterwards, I danced with Morphosis in New York, and then Luna Negra in Chicago. I moved back here because the state of affairs with dance companies in this country is failing. A lot of the most prominent contemporary dance companies have closed because people don’t care anymore about dance and they don’t want to give money to it. I basically started this new company with some friends as a way of rebuilding the model, because the old model clearly isn’t working. We thought that LA would be ideal, not only because it’s our home, but because it doesn’t really exist here. There’s definitely a void, but concert dance in LA is quickly becoming more popular.

BOWIE: It seems like your dance practice itself has been moving stylistically as well as geographically. From the examples you just gave, you’ve gone from ballet, to latin-based contemporary, to contemporary, to gaga-based movement…and I’m sure you’ve done a whole wealth of work in between. Would you say there’s a single motivating factor behind your overall trajectory?

BORDENAVE: The direction. It was always really important for me to work for someone who I knew could change a dancer. Every time I would go and see LINES, I had no idea how the dancers were doing it. I wanted to learn from whoever was directing. Gustavo Ramirez Sansano (who took over Luna Negra before it closed), he really trained me how to dance and how to work with different choreographers; to not only be true to what they’re doing, but also to be true to myself.

BOWIE: When we look at dance history, at least from a Western perspective, dance and fine art really developed in tandem, especially over the 20th century from the avant-garde movement, to modern, and finally the postmodern movement. Then we get to contemporary, and it seems like contemporary art has gone in a very conceptual direction and contemporary dance has been very commercially driven. Do you have any theories as to why that phenomenon may be occurring?

BORDENAVE: I think contemporary jazz dance has gone commercial for sure. But true contemporary dance, I wouldn’t say that it’s gone commercial quite yet. I think people just get confused about the differences between the genres. A lot of people think what they’re doing on So You Think You Can Dance? is contemporary dance, and it’s not. It’s contemporary jazz dance, which is very different. A big aim for me, and the reason why I always try to perform in these fine art institutions, is because that’s the only way that people will understand it’s at the same level as fine art, as visual art. In this country, unless you’re doing ballet or commercial dance, there’s no funding. The level of what you’re seeing on stage is usually very basic because the funding isn’t there. But when you go to Europe or when contemporary companies tour here, you see the scale is so large, and so much more than what we’re doing here. It’s sad that we have to bring outside companies from around the world to show us what the next level of dance is.

BOWIE: Do you think that academically, our institutions are doing justice by American dancers?

BORDENAVE: No! I’ve found that the institutions that have dance programs usually keep the same faculty for decades. Decades upon decades upon decades. People who have not worked, people who have not been in the field for years. So, of course, if you have this outdated information that you keep perpetuating to your students, they’re not going to know what’s going on. I would say there are about four conservatory programs in this country that can compete with companies outside the U.S.

BOWIE: Which would you say those four are?

BORDENAVE: I would say they are USC, Juilliard, San Francisco Conservatory, and SUNY Purchase… and LINES. So, five.

BOWIE: Do you have any predictions for what the future of dance will look like, both academically and commercially?

BORDENAVE: I think people are starting to wake up to contemporary dance for sure. It’s becoming more prevalent with people like Ryan Heffington. They’re bringing it into fashion and music videos and to film. There’s definitely a slow progression, it’ just... slow.

BOWIE: What do you think is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as a performer?

BORDENAVE: That it’s important to see dance, to see all forms of art, to let it inform you, to be influenced, and also to copy. I feel like I’ve only been able to be so versatile because I’ve been able to really observe and listen and then copy and then let it influence my work. People are always scared like, “Oh no, I can’t be like them.” But Michael Jackson stole the moonwalk. All these influential people steal. Beyoncé steals... she does. It is a form of flattery. I don’t see why people get so upset when Beyoncé steals their work. Their work would never have been seen by that many people unless someone like her was to do it. Of course, there’s artistic integrity and all of that, but I still think that there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s okay.

BOWIE: Finally, I feel like we see a lot of young people who’ve fallen in love with dancing but then they don’t know how to continue the practice as adults. Do you have any advice for young adults who struggle with feeding that passion?

BORDENAVE: That’s a great question. As soon as I moved back here, people came up to me like, “Oh are you still dancing?” You know, of course. It’s what I am. It just goes back to arts education. I know USC is definitely teaching them the business side of it, because that’s a reality. Especially now with social media, you have to be able to market yourself. You have to be able to know what you look like, what to post, you have to know the avenues you can go down. You can be an arts manager, you can be a publicist, you can be a gallerist, you can do so many things within the art world even if you’re not the one performing or creating the work. I taught myself how to curate, how to reach out to magazines, how to do all of these things just by seeing what other people are doing and trying. I think it’s important to know that you can’t just dance anymore. You have to be able to promote yourself, promote your work, promote every aspect of what you’re doing. Even if you’re not that good.

No)one. Art House will be performing at 8pm November 9 at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, as well as 7-9pm December 19 at the California African American Museum. Follow Chris Bordenave on Instagram @chrisemile, follow No)one. Arthouse @no_one.arthouse, follow AUTRE @autremagazine. Look out for this interview, as well as interviews with Yayoi Kusama, Agnes Varda, Harmony Korine, Judith Bernstein and many more in the Winter 2017 issue of AUTRE. Available for pre-order now! This is a limited-edition issue, get your copy while supplies last!

An Interview of Julian Klincewicz

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Text and Photographs by Adam Lehrer

The 21-year-old, San Diego-based, multimedia artist Julian Klincewicz lives within an interesting dichotomy. In some ways, the lanky, curly locked and minimally dressed creative is a pure embodiment of the millennial artist mindset: his work is informed by a preternaturally vast exposure to a plethora of pop culture (punk, hip hop, celebrity culture, movies, and lots of skateboarding), he is indifferent to antiquated Generation X “empire” notions of “selling out” and is open to branding when he admires the work of said brand, and he is of a deeply open-minded disposition, putting his hand to any creative medium that interests him. At the same time, Klincewicz’s work is the antithesis of what has come to be understood about millennial culture. Though he hasn’t been alive long enough to actually remember the analog world, the tired cliché of “an analog man living in a digital world” applies to Klincewicz tenfold. As a genuine creative “polymath,” he counts published author, photographer, musician, and fashion designer amongst his various job titles. But Klincewicz discovered his artistic spirit through a medium that now seems anathema to the ultra-polished aesthetics of digital media: behind the lens of a VHS camcorder that his aunt found in his Grandma’s attic. “I started shooting because I was interested in videos, and I had a VHS Video camera,” says Klincewicz. “And then I had some conceptual ideas because that’s the way I think. Impulse and intellect complement and inform each other.” 

It’s hard not to feel envy towards Klincewicz having cultivated such a unique aesthetic and interested audience at such a young age. But it became clear to me, through exploring his work and communicating with him, that he is an undeniable talent with a singular voice and a powerful method of communicating that voice to the world. I had to speak with him. 

ADAM LEHRER: Your early video work and VHS work straddles the line between nostalgic VHS aesthetics and the immediacy of digital culture. When you started shooting these videos were you ever conscious of a conceptual or philosophical idea driving it, or did you just really love shooting video?

JULIAN KLINCEWICZ: With video, and specifically my early VHS videos, I’ve always had some conceptual ideas behind them, but I also enjoyed the process of filming and editing. The first video I ever made was intended to make the viewer uncomfortable, which, in retrospect, was a very naïve way, or a very young way, of understanding the concept that through art you can emphasize and create human emotion. I took a lot of influence from Ray and Charles Eames, and their idea that you can create an overview of a given experience, giving the viewer all the tools to create their own connection with it, and complete the work themselves if they want to.

I identify with you and your work quite a bit. Like you, skateboarding was my original obsession and everything else bled out from that initial interest: photography, fashion, art, writing, video. Why do you think so many artists in 2016 had roots in skateboarding culture?

I think that skateboarding is this really unique “sport” in that it’s a place where everyone is rooting for everyone else. At the skate park or spot, you’re excited when someone else lands the trick they’re trying, and that creates this unique understanding of what individual growth and community can look like. Skateboarding inherently supports creativity and DIY ethos. 

I think having the experience of going to a spot and knowing you’re going to get kicked out and knowing most people view your passion as destructive or dangerous gives you a greater sense of self-motivation, which is something you absolutely need in pursuing arts. 

When you decided to be an artist, how did you come to the conclusion that you would be a multimedia artist dabbling in everything, as opposed to a painter, or a sculptor?

Again I think that’s something that’s a mix of a gut impulse that later took on a more conceptual approach. Being an artist is a way of being in the world. I identify as an artist in the same way I might identify with a gender or sexual orientation: I couldn’t not be it. It’s very much the way I see and connect things, and make sense of the world and myself. 

Do you think that as millennial artists start to come into their own, the very existence of traditional painters and sculptors might be challenged? Is the creative polymath to 2017 what the abstract expressionist was to the ‘50s or what the pop artist was to the ‘60s?

Oh boy (laughs). Let’s start by defining what the “millennial mindset” is: anything is possible, we have the potential to achieve anything, we have to be doing more and we have to be doing it now.  Because if we don’t, firstly, someone else will. Secondly, having seen the generation above me prove that university education does not guarantee job safety and that the three generations above me failed to act in the interest of my generation in terms of sustaining our planet and mental health, there is no option for us to fail. The world we live in today may very well not exist tomorrow. That awareness essentially creates a hyper anxious and excited state of emotional and mental flux, both good and bad.

When did you first become aware of the power of style and fashion to define one’s self? 

I didn’t understand style or fashion at all. I still don’t really think I do. I can see it in other people, but when it comes to myself, I don’t know a damn thing. I like wearing all black. Dylan Rieder [recently passed pro skateboarder] influenced my perception of the relationship between style and the self; in skateboarding and life. He taught us that you can either do an ollie impossible over a bench, or you can do an impossible over a bench and look better than River Phoenix while doing it. Dylan changed everything.

The designers you’ve shot videos for, which range from the heavily art informed Eckhaus Latta, the cult-y and conceptual Gosha Rubchinskiy, and the conceptual meets pop culture massiveness of Yeezy, don’t share that many aesthetic similarities, but do propose a way of dressing and all interact with both the art and pop culture worlds. What do you look for in designer collaborations? 

I try to work with people that I feel challenged by. There should be something in the brand that I identify with and understand, but that I also can learn about. Gosha, Kanye, and Eckhaus Latta all have that in common. They’re people that I’m inspired by and for whatever reason I feel like I can contribute something to what they are trying to say. So when I get the opportunity to actually work with them, I try the best I possibly can to contribute everything I have to their worlds, and learn as much as I can.

In your fashion show, ‘Hey, I Like You’ did you approach this as an art project, or did you approach this as a designer making products (albeit art and culture referencing products) that you hope to sell? Should there even be a distinction between these two ideas? 

The runway show installation, 'Hey, I Like You,' was very much an art piece. It was about using a runway show as a medium to express a feeling or atmosphere. I tried to create something special and unique for a specific audience that would get to see it in real life, but with the understanding that a chunk of the project would live online as well, and be received as a “collection,” versus an art piece. I embrace that as well. The medium of the runway show is tied to fashion and products. They’re all integral parts of the piece.

I’m curious about your series of zines that explore the human relationship to objects. To me, digital culture has enabled an interesting dichotomy in our relationship to objects. Though we are increasingly less dependent on objects, the objects we choose to surround ourselves with become increasingly more important. Is that what this series is trying to express? 

When I’m on my phone because I’m bored for 30 seconds in line at the grocery store, I feel fine and I feel a bit lonely even though there’s people all around me. When I hold my favorite book, I’m transported to another world. I’m connected to a specific thing. Human beings are not digital. I think a lot of people in my generation are forgetting that and it’s creating a sense of isolation.

I’m bored of the Internet. But with my guitar strings I can bend and touch and make sound or silence with them. We need connection, we need reality, and we especially need people to function as people. 

Love Comes in Spurts: An Interview of Richard Hell

Text by Oliver Kupper

Portrait by Douglas Neill

Archival Photographs by Roberta Bayley

RICHARD HELL is a pastiche, a collage of wedded epochs crashing down onto him, the rubble shredding his clothing and chipping his teeth. Many don't realize that Richard Hell was and is, and forever will be the first "punk." If it weren't for Hell, the Sex Pistols may have dressed and sounded drastically different. And Hell is the perfect nom de guerre because Richard Hell is a firestarter. His intellect is incendiary and sharpened by the ghosts of poets like Rimbaud and Lautremont alike, and philosophers like Spinoza and Plato. On a blazing hot summer day in Los Angeles, we met up with Hell at the Biltmore Hotel to discuss literature, music and his enduring legacy of beautiful revilement. 

OLIVER KUPPER: We were talking about your relationship to LA [back in the lobby]. Maybe we should start there.

RICHARD HELL: I have this nagging interest in the battle of LA. I get to come here for a few days every couple of years. When I get back to New York, I have this urge to try to get a grip on LA. Then, when I return, on a trip like this, I am re-horrified. 

What is it about LA that's horrifying? The people?

It's just this feeling that the whole thing is a dream world. All of a sudden, everything around you could just shatter into dust, devastation, and death. This is a pretty common perception about Los Angeles. It’s classic, but it's very powerful. On one hand, it’s this earthly paradise of hedonism and glamour. There are the avocado trees. You can take a dip and catch the rays. You can do your substance of choice and just lounge around in lush intervals. But, as we know, materially, this is all taking place on this thin surface. At any moment, there’s an earthquake that destroys everything. Water goes missing. Riots begin. The first day or two that I was here, I didn’t know the town that well. We would go out for a walk, trying to orient ourselves. Somehow, even though we felt we were taking different routes every day, they would also take us to the most horrifying, hopeless manifestations of squalor. The homeless people and the urine in the street, all the filth…

It’s intense.

When you turn right at the door, two blocks away is The Grove. All this ease and entitlement. For me, the place is scary that way. It feels like its own illusion.

One of the best portraits of Los Angeles is in Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust.” Have you read that book?

Yes. I think it’s the best book about Los Angeles. It’s really funny that Homer Simpson is in it. Yeah, that book is brilliant. He’s kind of my ideal for style. I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. I take him over Faulkner. [Laughs.]

I want to go back a little bit. I want to talk about rebellion, because I think it’s an important part of what you’re about. Growing up in Kentucky, where do you think that rebellion came from?

I’ve been wondering. I don’t usually wonder, but I have been wondering lately. Mostly because of the [new] book.

That inspired the question.

Clearly, there is some impulse to be completely unacceptable. I don’t think of myself as being that way, but I keep finding myself in that position. I don’t know where it comes from. I would like to overcome it. It seems like a reflex rather than a conscious choice. I would rather have more control over it. For me, the reading last night was really significant. I do a lot of readings. I’m pretty comfortable with it, usually. I get nervous and uptight, but as a rule, when I hit the stage, the instincts take over, and it works. But last night, I hated everything about the presentation. Period. It made me realize that I have to put this book aside. On the subject of your question, I wanted to be as ugly as possible. And why would you want to be as ugly as possible unless you want to do what people don’t want you to do?

I thought your presentation was great, though. And the writing was great. I understood your perspective. Maybe there are people who don’t understand that kind of writing.

That’s the way I justify it to myself. I’m trying to write well, you know? Ultimately, I am kind of hopeless. I don’t have a lot of hope. The human condition doesn’t seem very good to me. [Laughs.]

Especially lately.

Yeah. But that’s an issue, too. These times are so dark. You don’t want to reinforce it. I don’t want the work to be affected because I don’t think it’s relevant to current events. But at a certain point, you can’t help it. Do I want to contribute to the despair? If this was for real, I should just kill myself. [Laughs.]

Be a martyr.

Yeah. That’s the way I would justify it to myself: the underlying horror of everything can be the substance of the content. That’s balanced with this intention to write as well as possible. That can be a counterweight. In a way, you’re still affirming something. But there’s quality in the “aesthetic” experience. Doing the book has been intense. It’s not easy to put yourself in that place, to deliberately indulge this feeling of meaninglessness.

In terms of your process, do you feel like an actor when you’re writing? Is there a voice in your head that is not you?

It’s always struck me that there’s a little bit of the writer in the writing. You have to present situations that you cook up. But it has to be conditional. I really love doing nonfiction.

It has to be easier.

It is easier in that you have the situations and the ideas to get to the bottom of it, to be as perceptive as possible. Then, when you’re doing fiction, that’s when the acting comes in. All you have is your own experience. You have to draw on that as vividly as you can in the moment of the writing. The actors talk about “being in the moment.”

Method writing.

Method writing, yeah. But I’m not very good at that. My memory is really bad. I’m really bad with dialogue. That’s a place where the acting thing is significant. Everybody is an actor, given a situation, and you have to make it real. I don’t have that skill. You see writers who can. When you read the dialogue in their books, everybody basically speaks the same way. While in real life, everyone has a distinctive voice. It’s rare for writers to be really good at that. My fiction doesn’t rely much on plot, or dialogue, or even structure.

When did you first discover the written word? 

I think it precedes reading, in a way. In my autobiography, the title of it — I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp — came from a paper that I wrote when I was seventeen years old. When I discovered this paper — my mother had kept it in her files — I really identified with it. It was still me. That doesn’t always happen. I was doing a lot of research for my autobiography. That sounds odd, but I did. I gathered all of this evidence. I found a letter that I wrote shortly after I arrived in New York after having left home. I was probably seventeen when I wrote it. I literally did not recognize the person who wrote that. It wasn’t that I didn’t remember writing the letter. It was that I would have never guessed to have been the person who wrote it. It was a meaty letter, too. It had a lot of description of experience. I had no idea who it was. But this thing from when I was seventeen, that is different. I’m still that person and that person is a writer.

Film, too, is a big part of your interests. 

I had a real education in film working at a shop in New York. It was called Cinemabilia. It was all film literature, but also paraphernalia—posters, stills, scripts even. That was the last day job I had. It was definitely the job I held the longest in that period of my youth. I sure liked movies, but everybody likes movies. It was there that I really got exposed.

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That’s a great education to have. And did it keep you afloat in New York?

Well, that was at the end of my time there. I had twenty other jobs before. Usually, I was a meaningless clerk or delivery driver. I worked in a post office or drove a cab. At that time, in New York, it was so cheap to live. There were so many jobs and so many apartments. You wouldn’t have a problem quitting and getting another job. I probably lived in twenty apartments. I wanted to work as little as possible, so I had very little money. You could go three months without paying rent without getting evicted, so I did that over and over. There were so many apartments. I had a friend who recently had to get an apartment in New York and I was shocked by what she had to go through. They needed all her bank records. I had no idea it would come to that. When I was a kid, it was totally the tenants’ market.

I want to talk a little bit about The Sex Pistols because I think that’s an important part of the lineage of things, in punk especially. Did you know that they were ripping your style?

You know, I don’t want to rehash those things but it comes up so much. I write about it in my autobiography and I touch on it in the book of essays. It just seems kind of pointless to repeat stuff like that.

I’m just curious about your reaction to that, if there’s something other than shock or something other than anger.

It was funny. There was a certain level of resentment. Once I got to England and I saw how the punk bands were doing everything they could to conceal their debt to New York. I wasn’t about that because punk was supposed to be about honesty. But those bands were good and people don’t own ideas. 

Cultures can cannibalize. It’s how culture spreads. 

Sure, I stole plenty of stuff. 

You talk a lot about heroin and sex in [your new book]. Do you think it’s hard to be a libertine in the 21st century? Do you feel like it’s hard now to be a punk?

You associate heroin with punk? You associate sex with punk?

No, but I could associate it with being a libertine. 

There wasn’t very much sex in punk. That was something to me that was unusual in the history of rock and roll. There was this sort of rejection of sex. It was partly, I think, the desire to reject the hippies. 

But that sort of ethos, that punk ethos, can that exist in an authentic form in this century?

I don’t know what “punk” means to you. I don’t know if we’re talking about the same thing. I don’t like using the word. I’m so accustomed to it for convenience now that I use it all the time because it’s necessary. But to me there’s not much overlap with people’s conception of what punk is. I mean that’s what that whole lesson last night was about. 

I think a lot of people are confused by it and I think it’s been commercialized...

Well, just like any rock and roll. The general idea of it in the whole culture is extreme, youthful self-assertion of other qualities that adolescent kids have. Projecting in an adult world and trying to have fun despite it, and trying to be honest despite it. It’s just an explosion of that which is what rock and roll was about then. But you’re right. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of those values in music at present. 

Yeah, what about music today? 

It seems to have become completely accepted that the aim of music now - and it repels me - is to manipulate formulas in such a way as to plant a song in your head so that you can’t escape it. It’s inserted into your brain and you’re helpless because it’s this formula of how many beats a minute do this and where the hook has to come and what comprises it. It’s like creating a disease. It’s like manufacturing a virus that is impervious to any resistance and that will take over your brain. Rather than coming from any drive to communicate something or any kind of actual excitement, it’s just this manipulation of electronics in such a way as to enter and dominate you. 

It is a virus. It’s a form of torture, I think. 

I hardly listen to music at all anymore because I have just worn everything out. But maybe it’s also because I am old enough now. A lot of times a fuck ton of music, pop music, tries to affect your mood almost like a drug. You want to listen to a certain kind of music because you either want to overcome the way you’re feeling at that moment or you want to reinforce it. I don’t have much need for that anymore. Some music does date and we have just become so accustomed to it that it has no power anymore and I haven’t been able to find anything to replace it. There’s so little music there that really stays fresh. 

What are some examples?

The exception that really comes to mind is James Brown. 

I agree with that, one-hundred-percent. Soul music in general is so powerful. 

Yeah, but I can’t quite listen to Al Green anymore. I used to listen to more Al Green. It just didn’t saturate me at all. But James Brown still works. 

My remedy for that is to find a really great record store that sells soul 45s and then dig really deep and then find something that still makes you feel that feeling you had when you first listened to James Brown.

When I first discovered that Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Series, I think I lived on that for like five years. But even that, I am just too familiar with now. 

What about Bo Diddley?

I can’t remember the last time I played Bo Diddley but I should try him again and see.

Do you scour the poetry section when you go to the bookstore?

No, I used to. When I was a kid I would always be looking for what was new and try to find somebody. But I’m kind of out of touch now. I don’t haunt the bookstores and look for something surprising and new. I know people I can rely on to recommend stuff and I find good new stuff that way. But I do enjoy a good poetry book when I find it.

The book that you are working on now, after last night, you are deciding to maybe rethink it?

I am trashing it. As I said, it’s been pulling teeth writing it. I’m finally accepting that there’s a reason for that. Maybe I’ll find a way to rework some portion of it into another structure. But I am not going to keep forcing it. I am bailing on it. 

I thought it was gorgeous, like “the pendulum of goo” line.  There’s some great lines. 

Yeah, there are some passages that I really like. Maybe I’ll be able to salvage some of it. 

I like that it’s a noir theme, but it’s set in this mysterious, post-modern environment. 

I had ambitions for it and I feel like after this amount of time, wrestling with it, I have to acknowledge the impossibility. 

Was your name “Richard Hell” inspired by Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell”?

It had nothing to do with it. It occurred to me later but just because Tom [Verlaine] was taking blame. We decided to change our name because we decided our name was just too pedestrian and we wanted everything to have a message. I suggested he take the name of a 19th century French poet because he loves him. Mostly it was kind of a fantasy ideal of who they were. We didn’t know their work that well but we liked the vibe that we got about them - Baudelaire and Verlaine and Rimbaud. So I suggested why don’t you take one of their names and the first name that came into my mind was Gautier. That was partly because he was obscure, so it wouldn’t necessarily make any connection. But I realized it would be a little bit of an issue of pronunciation. So when that happened I thought oh fuck, hell, people are going to make these associations like Season In Hell. I chose stuff just because I like the ring of it, you know, I liked all the associations. I felt like it described my condition. 



Unholy Union: An Interview Of Lydia Lunch and Weasel Walter

text by Adam Lehrer

Of all the great unions of underground music, rock and otherwise; Bowie and Eno, Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld, Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin, John Cale and Terry Riley, Sonny Sharrock and Peter Brotzzman, and so on; the union between No Wave icon, transgressive artist, and spoken word warrior Lydia Lunch and free jazz, noise, and no wave musician Weasel Walter is perhaps the most harmonious and unquestionably the unholiest. When considering their respective biographies, both full of moments of sticking the middle finger in the faces of conventional standards of taste and decency, it’s difficult to believe that these revolutionaries didn’t find each other sooner.

Lydia Lunch is the closest thing that American transgressive art has to an icon. Lydia finds herself a symbol of everything that society doesn’t want her to be: loud, intelligent, brash, lewd, angry, righteous. First moving to New York in the late ‘70s to take on spoken word, she ended up the lead singer and guitar player for seminal no wave band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (and appeared on Brian Eno’s No New York compilation alongside contemporaries Mars, DNA, and James Chance & The Contortions). The band was short-lived but influenced countless bands that would use rock instrumentation to explore chaos, atonality, and cacophony: Sonic Youth, Harry Pussy, and Magik Markers among many others. After the band split, Lydia continued making music solo and in collaboration with artists including Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, Michael Gira, J.G. Thirwell, Oxbow, and all manner of sonic agitators. Her band 8-Eyed Spy followed and brought in a sense of funk to the dischord. All while these projects were happening, Lydia found herself a pivotal figure in the ‘80s New York cinematic movement, The Cinema of Transgression, that would use extreme shock value and black humor to shatter societal taboos. Lydia directed, wrote and starred in films alongside the likes of Nick Zedd and Richard Kern. Photography, collage, painting (Lydia had an exhibition last year at HOWL! Arts that surveyed her multi-media output), Lydia has engaged in all manner of media throughout her career but defines herself primarily as a poet. Her spoken word is raw and confrontational, often inciting violence, uncontrollable tears or both.

While Weasel Walter is not a poet or a visual artist, his music shares characteristics with Lydia’s output. He has employed a multitude of musical styles throughout his career but has consistently maintained a brazen disregard for the rock n’ roll and cultural status quo. Weasel started his first band The Flying Luttenbachers in Chicago in 1991. He drew upon elements of free jazz, noise, extreme metal, modern composition, and prog rock for an angular approach to dissonant sound. In the process, Weasel re-popularized the term no wave reignited interest in the ‘70s no wave bands throughout the ‘90s with his record label, UGexplode. Weasel is interested in the extremity of sound in whatever style it may come in: modern composer Iannis Xenakis, free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, death metal band Obituary, art rock luminaries The Residents, French conceptual prog rockers Magma and Black Flag all make sense in his diverse but aesthetically unified sonic tastes. He’s played in metal bands like Burmese and Lair of the Minotaur while drumming for jazz and improv gigs. He’s neither a free jazz drummer or a metal drummer, but applies his own peculiar approach to both equally and plays his ass off. Recently, Weasel has been playing in Cellular Chaos, a New York-based no wave revival band with Admiral Grey, Ceci Moss and Marc Edwards and the band’s second LP, Diamond Teeth Clench, came out over the summer. Also this summer, Weasel released Curses, a solo LP of electro-acoustic strangeness and warped beauty. Weasel’s tireless work should embarrass the herd of underachieving underground rock musicians.

Lydia and Weasel, both pivotal figures during their respective no wave eras, had been in each other’s orbits since the ‘90s, but Weasel had to hustle to gain the attention of his hero. “No, we’d run into each other over the years but she runs into hundreds of thousands of people and I was just some skinny twerp,” says Weasel.

In 2009, Weasel landed his noise metal band Burmese onto a reunion bill for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. He made an impression on Lydia. “They were amazing, they were absolutely great. And so, I took notice,” says Lydia. “You know, he was smiley and cute...I was like, “OK, buddy.” He “weaseled” his way into my existence.” Lydia had an opening for a guitar player for a one-off gig playing old music and Weasel stepped up. “What started as a one-off turned into a multi-national conglomerate,” says Weasel.

Weasel and Lydia formed the band Retrovirus along with bass player and band leader of New York noise mongers Child Abuse Tim Dahl and former Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore drummer Bob Bert. The band plays modernized numbers from Lydia’s archives: Teenage Jesus, 8-Eyed Spy, Queen of Siam, and more. Lydia also uses Weasel for spoken word projects: their project Brutal Measures finds Weasel drumming in unison with Lydia’s rhythmic verbal gymnastics.

Building on the Brutal Measures project, Weasel and Lydia will be collaborating with poetry icon and original Last Poets member Umar Bin Hassan on a project entitled No Wave Out. The project came into fruition when event producer Some Serious Business’s Susan Martin facilitated a meeting between her long-time client, Lydia, and UCLA. When UCLA skipped on the idea, Martin put NYU record engineer and subsequent Lydia Lunch fan Phil Painson in touch with Lydia. Painson had a direct line to Hassan, and eventually set up a meeting between the two poets. In No Wave Out, Weasel will be playing guitar along with Dahl, percussionist Don Babatunde, and drummer Shaun Kelly drawing upon no wave, funk, hip-hop, noise, and free jazz to create a chaotic swirl of sound all while Hassan and Lydia trade poetic philosophy and revolution. “[Lydia’s] a natural wordsmith,” says Hassan. “Once we got in the studio I knew there was something interesting there.” The No Wave Out performances will take place on November 2 and 3 at Joe’s Pub in New York.

I hung out with Lydia and Weasel at the Roxy Hotel in TriBeca to eat breakfast and talk about their various projects, art, music, and destroying society.

ADAM LEHRER: I hate this culture of nostalgia that we’re living in. Why are people ignoring the music of their own time despite not having been old enough to have experienced what they are nostalgic for in the first place?

Weasel Walter: The internet sort of put everything on an even keel and everyone’s too intimidated to make their way through the morass of stuff now.

LUNCH: To me it doesn’t matter, I’d rather see a fucking reunion of the Jesus Lizard than most bands now.

LEHRER: Yeah, I would too. I love David Yow. But my point is more that people are letting their lives slip by because they’re mad they’ll never see Cobain or something. It’s almost laziness to me. You can experience any music you want. It’s there for the taking.

WALTER: Most people are overwhelmed by the amount of options. I’m a music head and I have a hard time finding new shit I like.

LUNCH: That’s why I look to architecture. A lot of kids in their twenties come up and they’re like, “oh, there’s nobody in my generation.” I’m like, why don’t you look to fucking architects, chemistry or science. Why does it always have to be the lowest common denominator, which is music? But music is still the universal language, and it can be brilliant. But why does everybody have to revert to base elements? My favorite quote about architecture is that it’s “music frozen in space.”

WALTER: Your answer is: people like music.

LUNCH: Of course they do. But look,  our band Retrovirus is a retrospective because nobody heard it the first fucking time. I wouldn’t call it nostalgic though because it’s still the most brutal shit going. Well, not the most brutal: there’s also Cellular Chaos and Child Abuse but, I mean, it’s still pretty fucking brutal. Everything Weasel and I do brings a sense of urgency and brutality to the stage.

WALTER: We don’t do any trigger warnings before we start.

LUNCH: Yeah, when there’s a trigger warning I’ve already shot you in the face. Warning, my fingers on the trigger. No warnings.

LEHRER: So, did you two meet when you moved to New York in 2009 or have you known each other longer?

LUNCH: He met me in his dreams when he was fourteen. I really noticed him was when he was in Burmese and forced their way onto a Teenage Jesus reunion. I was very impressed by that band.

WALTER: There was a job opening and I stepped forward.

LEHRER: And that evolved into all of these projects: Retrovirus, Brutal Measures, No Wave Out, and so forth?

LUNCH: We’ve gone to Colombia, Brazil, Australia and mainly Europe. I would like to do more shows in America but it’s different. I mean, it’s hard enough for me to just get solo spoken word shows. We don’t even have managers. I book most the shows. Weasel is so unappreciated, and underpaid. I want to show him off.

LEHRER: How did the No Wave Out project with Umar Hassan come into fruition?

LUNCH: I met this really straight looking black guy [Phil Painson] (and I don’t have many black fans, I don’t know why, being half black myself) and he’s like “hey, you’re Lydia, Teenage Jesus is the greatest band, I’m an engineer at NYU.” I just told him the concept and he goes, “I’ve got two unreleased albums by Umar Bin Hassan.” I thought he was fucking shitting me, I didn’t know that there were any Last Poets still alive. So, after many meetings with him, we set up a meeting with Umar. Now, imagine somebody goes to vet me...

LEHRER: Yeah, things will come up in the background check (laughs).

LUNCH: Who knows what they’re going to see. [the 1988 Richard Kern-directed film is a prime example of the New York cinematic movement entitled The Cinema of Transgression of which Lydia is often considered a muse to-ed] Fingered? But, I met with Umar and explained how influential he was to me. They were the first, and best, protest artists. How’s he going to fucking know what I do? It’s off his radar. I cracked a joke and won him over. We were just talking and he said, “yeah, I’ve been married three times and I got ten kids,” and I said, “well you did that wrong, son, didn’t you.” And he goes, “yeah, I did” and I said, “have you ever been with a white woman” and he said, “no,” and I said, “well you’re not going to be with none tonight ‘cause you’re looking at Biggie motherfucking Smalls” and he laughed and by then, he got me. I had to break down my ghetto into his. We started swapping stories. Then the day after my opening that you saw at HOWL! I had slept twelve hours. I usually sleep four so I was sick with sleep and Tim and Weasel had slept four hours after doing acid so we were on the reverse schedule and they were like, “you’re going into the studio with Umar.” It was an instantaneous, improvisational, spoken word throw-down.

LEHRER: I read that you are trying to boil everything down to the spoken word.

LUNCH: It began and will end with the spoken word. It’s not boiling down, it’s all spoken word to me.

LEHRER: It’s a volatile political and sociological era. Do you think that the spoken word is the most direct way to express yourself in that sort of time period?

LUNCH: Just go back and listen to (Lydia’s 1989 spoken word performance) Conspiracy of Women twenty-five years ago. I’ve been talking about this shit since I opened my mouth. My first big solo spoken word show, called The Gun is Loaded, which was under Reagan, would have been considered treason today. But the names remain the same, the fucking problem is the same. Hence, why Last Poets are still valid. Hence, why spoken word is valid.

LEHRER: I feel like people who criticized your work most likely were just uncomfortable with feeling emotion on some level.

LUNCH: Or intelligence.

LEHRER: Or intelligence. Your art is very raw and emotional.

LUNCH: It was never meant to be liked. Those that originally came or still come to the spoken word show didn’t know whether I was yelling at them or yelling for them. And it was only two years ago that Weasel and I did a show that I actually had to slap somebody in the face. Two guys actually, which hadn’t happened in decades. They were drunk as usual; it didn’t help that one was a Senator.

LEHRER: Weasel, your music has always been narrative but it’s wordless, usually. It approaches narrative through sonic intensity. How is it different for you composing music to be laid under spoken word poetry?

WALTER: I’ve worked in a lot of bands but the approach is almost always [musical approach conceived by late free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman] harmolodic. It’s about rhythm. It’s abstract music that has a pulse. I’m the un-funkiest white man in music but there’s a duality. For example, Tim Dahl, the bass player, is influenced by funk and R&B and it’s an intersection between the melodic section and these No Wave elements.

LUNCH: Also, I don’t like rhythm under my spoken word because my voice is rhythm. So, for instance, when we do our “duolet,” as I call it, or Brutal Measures, Weasel isn’t drumming under my spoken word because he doesn’t know what I’m going to say (not that it’s all improvising because a lot of it is orchestrated). I don’t need music under my solo spoken word. When I’m doing my spoken word, the less music under it the better because my rhythm drives itself.

WALTER: The No Wave Out thing, so far, has just been improvised. We’re all improvisors. I think there’s a unique tension you can achieve by really reacting to the moment.

LUNCH: I know, with my stuff, less is more. He’s a maximalist, I’m a minimalist. So, I like to surround my minimality with maximum impact. When we do Brutal Measures, a lot of my spoken word is much more on the down low. It’s quieter. He provides machine-gunning and I bathe your bruises with my tongue.

LEHRER: Will No Wave Out release music?

WALTER: [No Wave Out] was supposed to be a whole album but it doesn’t have a home yet…It’s sort of in production.

LUNCH: I would rather have an album recorded live. I think live is where it’s at. Do you have the Retrovirus stuff?

LEHRER: I have a few of the tracks on my computer. I have tons on my phone right here: 8-Eyed Spy, Teenage Jesus, that solo album you did with Marc Hurtado.

LUNCH: Oh, I’m glad you have that Hurtado, it only came out in Spain. I composed that whole album, people don’t realize I do some composition. Hurtado just dumped like a hundred industrial samples. It’s composition appropriate for the words that need to be said. He’s a compositional and mathematical genius. Photographs and compositions are the same. Some women knit, I make a fucking montage. I have no idea how I do it. But I do it really quickly...any of those tracks are composed in like an hour. And those photographs are composed in five or ten minutes. His shit is composed by an algebraic compositional mapping. I saw some of the sheet music and just wanted to tattoo my whole body in it so one day I could uncode it. This is what’s interesting about working with Weasel. We’re completely in synch together but we have such completely opposite methodologies.

LEHRER: That’s what I find so compelling. Teenage Jesus was one of the first no wave bands, or whatever they were calling no wave then, and then they labeled Weasel and The Flying Luttenbachers “new no wave” or “Chicago new wave.” But Teenage Jesus and the original no wave bands all sounded raw and falling apart almost, where as Weasel’s work with The Luttenbachers and other ‘90s no wave bands like U.S. Maple all sound quite composed and angular.

LUNCH: Last year, Weasel compiled the ultimate Teenage Jesus live LP, and Nicolas Jaar released it [on his label Other People]. It’s amazing. Weasel was sitting on his favorite Teenage Jesus compositions. Teenage Jesus was quite different because I didn’t compose much of the music in most of my bands. Other than Weasel, nobody can play that shit. A lot of guitarists have tried, but there’s basically no set tuning to Teenage Jesus so it’s difficult to try to figure out what I’m doing. We practiced every day for years but the only notes I knew were hand-written, the only chords I knew go around your fucking neck. And then we did one show last year, just to squeeze all the money out of the record label. Weasel played bass and he broke the bass string. Tim Dahl played drums and here’s a rhythm master and you’re trying to teach him beats that make no sense. It was very difficult for a really accomplished musician, like Tim, to understand. It’s not about music, it’s about brutality.

LEHRER: Even for you, Weasel, I always found your most brutal shit always had some sort of progression or structure to it.

WALTER: I can see the structure in [Teenage Jesus]. It is concise and it’s minimal, but it’s also very shrewd because it’s more sophisticated than people think it is. And there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. You can’t make anyone play that material and get it right. There’s certain pauses in that music that aren’t metric. In some ways, It’s really irrational music. it’s got this asymmetry. It’s weird, to me it’s got this duality - the most nihilistic music ever, but totally positive. It’s extreme black humor where it’s so unfunny that it becomes hysterical.

LUNCH: When I did the Teenage Jesus reunion, the metal dudes were like, ‘Woah we love your guitar.’ I just started laughing in their faces. I know you do. It’s amazing that these serious dudes, like Glenn Branca, who I was never friends with or a fan of, dropped to his fucking knees. I’m like, get off your knees. Please.

LEHRER: I just saw him do Ascension and he got all these kids to play with him. Like famous modern underground rock kids.

LUNCH: Was it good?

LEHRER: I think the setting made it pretty interesting. It was at the Masonic temple, so it sounded thick.

LUNCH: How many kids? Dozens?

LEHRER: I think like 12 and some of the musicians I liked, some I didn’t like. The kid from Liturgy was there.  I can’t stand that band. And some other kids, who were pretty good.

LUNCH: (laughs) Hunter’s (Hendrix, of Liturgy) poetry is really good, I will say. I gave him some spoken word lessons. The writing was really good though. It was very surrealistic.

LEHRER: Really? That’s interesting. I didn’t hate hate the first Liturgy album, I hated the second one that came out where it sounds like early 2000s rap metal.

WALTER: What Liturgy stands for goes against the original black metal aesthetic enough that purists despise it. The music is neither here nor there.

LUNCH: I don’t give a shit about his music. His words were good. We actually did a show for Brutal Measures in Hunter’s backyard. He paid us. It’s the only way we’d do it.

LEHRER: I don’t know why I find their music, in particular, so jarring. Because some hipster black metal bands, like Deafheaven, I like.

WALTER: I think metal should be made by people with bald heads or long hair. There’s nothing in the middle for me, really.

LEHRER: Weasel, I was wondering if you were into [Missouri-based musician Adam Kalmbach applies 20th Century composition to black metal noise in his project-ed] Jute Gyte?

WALTER: Yeah, I like them. I don’t listen to it that often because it’s so clinical. It has elements of modern composition. I’m too insular to get into the politics of black metal. ‘90s death metal bands sound like classic rock to me.

LUNCH: I just produced Pissed Jeans’ new album. The vocalist asked me to produce it. It was really fun. It’s good, it’s chunky, it’s fat free. The lyrics are fucking hilarious. The topics are outrageous.

WALTER: I think Teenage Jesus was one of the original death metal bands. I never stated it that way, but thinking about it, the whole aesthetic is there.

LEHRER: Teenage Jesus sort of has an association with downtown New York art. Were you are aware of the association?

LUNCH: I didn’t give a shit about the art going on at the time. I hated most of it. I came to New York to do spoken word.

LEHRER: I’m always interested in the stories that journalists attach to certain movements and art. They’re sometimes so different than what could have actually been contextualized by the people making the art.

LUNCH: With Teenage Jesus, someone gave me a broken guitar. We started writing the fucking songs. I found an abandoned building. I started living there and we started practicing until it was tight as possible. Then we got a few shows. Then we got a place on Delancey. And then I found a way to take it to England. I was very focused and it was never more than 20 people at any fucking gig. Why would there be? This music would drive people insane. People would run out before our short sets would end.

WALTER: The shortest set was seven minutes. The average was about 10.

LUNCH: Why do you need more?

LEHRER: I go see Swans every time they play around here and the first hour is like, “fuck this music is so good,” and then the next hour, you’re like “damn my legs hurt, my shoes hurt,  my boots are fucking dirty. People are stepping on my feet.”

LUNCH: We never played more than like 15 minutes. Brutal Measures, we don’t even time it. It’s got to be more than 20, but I don’t like to do more than that. Spoken word shows were ten minutes. Ten minutes back and forth.

WALTER: We would play most of the songs and it was less than 20 minutes.

LEHRER: I think brevity in general is one of the things that may be has pushed mass audiences away from rock’n’roll. I mean I do have an affinity for electronic music and I think it’s just because you go to rock shows now, it’s like 50 disaffected kids staring into space, nodding their heads, feeling self-conscious. Then, you go to an electronic show, it’s kids taking drugs and losing their shit. It’s way more rock’n’roll in some ways, at this point.

WALTER: For most people, a gig is an excuse for other things: Sex, drugs. That’s what rock’n’roll used to be. An excuse to do that stuff for most people.

LUNCH: I prefer people sit down. I’ll tell you why. If the words are important: fucking listen. I want them to be in the room, focused in. When I do a solo show that has visuals and music, there’s this room you can disappear into. I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me. We’re having a very direct and intimate experience. I like to look into everybody’s fucking eyes at my shows.

WALTER: I never look at the audience.

LUNCH: You don’t even look at me. Unless I’m in your face.

WALTER: I’m focusing.

LUNCH: He’s gotta do his own shit. It’s so elaborate, what he’s doing. I have to go deep and go in. I’m more about penetration. If you’re there, you’re gonna get impregnated and it’s gonna be from my dick. That’s my tongue.

WALTER: That’s why she gets the big money.

LEHRER: Lydia, You lived in Berlin in the 80s?

LUNCH: I didn’t live there.

LEHRER: You just hung out there?

LUNCH: People think I lived in Berlin. People wanted me to live in Berlin. I would just go there.

LEHRER: You were hanging out with Nick Cave then too?

LUNCH: I saved him from OD’ing a few times, so yeah I guess that’s hanging out.

LEHRER: It’s awful what happened to his kid.

LUNCH: It’s awful what happened to his career. He became mega rich by selling ballads.

LEHRER: I still think he has a couple beautiful songs here and there.

LUNCH: He’s another one who conned the cons. I don’t know how he did it. I was thrilled to be on tour with The Birthday Party. They were absolutely one of the best bands ever. I loved the lyrics. I didn’t love The Bad Seeds. In his case, he had like three good ideas and he rode them forever. People release too many albums with the same musicians. I’m a conceptualist, he’s not. Weasel is a conceptualist too. One of his latest albums, Curses, is so different than anything else he ever did. It’s on his bandcamp, you can hear it.

WEASEL: Curses is this electro-acoustic piece.

LUNCH: It’s one of my favorites. Women really like it.

WEASEL: A lot of my music is not very feminine (laughs).

LUNCH: The album is very witchy. Women really respond to it. It’s such a different elemental force that he’s dealing with. This is one of our connective tissues. Whether it’s just the intensity, the focus, or that we’re two fucking weirdos that are outside of everything and don’t give a shit about anything.

LEHRER: Both of you have been involved in so many projects, so many different amazing types of art, just as a general piece of advice, what keeps you excited and reinvigorated to continue making more?

LUNCH: Well we cry a lot. You should hear our cry fests. Last night I was having one. We’re stubborn. It’s in our blood. I’m prolific. He’s far more prolific. I can relax more than he can. I think I am my best creation. I don’t need to be constantly working on projects, but I always am. The burning in the blood overrides everything else.

WALTER: I’m always trying to articulate things that I think are lesser in quantity in culture, especially if it’s elemental. I don’t like to make redundant art. That’s why I was never in a straight death metal band, for example, because there’s like 8 million of them. I think sometimes in certain time periods, there’s a need for me as a fan and listener for certain kinds of music that people are making. That motivation is almost like a negative motivation. What is everyone not doing? I need to do that.

LEHRER: So not out of a contrarian sense, but that something is missing.

LUNCH: It’s contrarian.

WALTER: It’s two sides of a coin. A lot of my bands were conceived because I hate what’s going on and basically I want to destroy it with my own voice. I’m always trying to articulate my disdain.

LUNCH: I’m trying to express the condition I’m in and what I’m trying to get over. I’m not just lashing out at the universe. My priority in creating anything is to get over whatever the obsession is now, to try to get to the next place of pure existence. I know other people are suffering the same insanity.

Purchase tickets for No Wave Out here. Text and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Patron Saint Of The Impossible: An Interview Of South African Hip Artist Dope Saint Jude

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text by Keely Shinners

Who is Dope Saint Jude? For one thing, she is subversive: a self-produced black queer woman from South Africa who is breaking into the cis-male dominated hip hop scene. She is cool: tattoos, leather, glitter on her lips; she has guys on gold chains in her music videos, and next week she is flying to France for the second leg of her tour. She is revolutionary: using hip hop and mad aesthetics as a means to talk about queer visibility, the politics of the brown body, the radical act of self-empowerment. Dope Saint Jude drinks coffee with you, talks about going back to school to legitimize and expand her political consciousness. Days later, you are sharing a joint and dancing at a party for which the theme is “70s DISCO, BLACK EXCELLENCE, and INEVITABLE SHINE.” In essence, Dope Saint Jude resists clean definitions. She is multi-faceted and she expands to include narratives we don’t normally read together.

Catherine Saint Jude Pretorius and I sat down to talk about making art that is radical and dope, political and accessible, impossible and, as it turns out, possible for those with the courage to love themselves.

KEELY SHINNERS: Who is Dope Saint Jude? Is she a persona?

DOPE SAINT JUDE: Dope Saint Jude started out as a persona that embodies everything that I want to be: powerful, bold, unapologetic, zero fucks to give. But Catherine and the character Dope Saint Jude are slowly becoming one person. Dope Saint Jude is the epitome of everything I want to be. Performing as Dope Saint Jude, in itself, is such an incredible process. It’s changing my life. It’s changing the type of person I am. It’s made me more confident. Maybe I would have wanted to travel. Before, it was just a dream. Dope Saint Jude is worldly. As a girl coming from the Cape Flats, the prospect of traveling was a very far away idea. Now, it’s a part of my everyday life. Like, next week, I’m going to France.

SHINNERS: That’s amazing. 

SAINT JUDE: It’s also been such a cathartic and therapeutic process, performing as Dope Saint Jude. The persona is not just a persona. It’s become a tool transforming my reality. Even going back to school has informed me. I listen to my own music, which is about being bold, being excellent, and pushing the boundaries of your potential. So I listen to my music, and I think, “I have to live my best life. I have to study. I have to be excellent.” 

SHINNERS: The imagination is becoming a reality. That’s really hopeful for enacting change.

SAINT JUDE: It’s not just an empty persona that just exists for the performance. It’s actively transforming my reality and realities of everyone I work with. I place a very strong emphasis on collaboration. The whole spirit of Dope Saint Jude is not just limited to me. It’s not selfish. It’s growing. I’m working with other young creatives who are doing inspiring things. We’re motivated and inspired by each other. It’s an explosive thing.

SHINNERS: Young creatives in Cape Town are doing really amazing things. Talking to people, it seems that some people are really disillusioned by the art world in Cape Town, while others are really inspired. Where do you fall?

SAINT JUDE: I feel quite inspired by it, but I understand why people feel disillusioned. I reclaim space, don’t give any fucks, and make my own reality. If there’s no space for me to showcase, I’ll create my own. In that spirit, that’s why it’s important for us to create our own art, to collaborate, to create space when people don’t want us. Being a queer artist here in Cape Town, there’s not really a platform for me. I’ve made my name overseas. Unfortunately, that’s the reality. I can’t earn a living here. But I’m exciting about developing the art and music scene here.

SHINNERS: So you’re doing a little bit of both, going abroad and making your own space here? 

SAINT JUDE: Exactly. I think you have to do a little bit of both. We live in an international community now that we have the Internet. I meet you now, I might bump into you in a different country. That’s the lifestyle we live now. Or that some of us are afforded; not everyone is that privileged. You’re in the global sphere; you can’t contain yourself in Cape Town and South Africa. But at the same time, we’re in a weird space here. Everyone is looking for Cape Town artists, but there is no tightly-bound Cape Town art community. It’s a divide and conquer mentality. Everyone is doing their own thing separately, trying to make money, instead of us coming together and working as one. It’s because we’re poor. If we had money and resources, we would be able to create without having to make a living. When you have the luxury to make art for the sense of art, you can make money easily.

SHINNERS: And you can’t blame people for that.

 SAINT JUDE: So I’m trying to be in the middle. I also need to eat. I don’t come from a wealthy family. I come from a poor family. I need to make my own money.

SHINNERS: You’re from the Cape Flats? What is that like?

SAINT JUDE: It’s a historically colored area. I come from a mixed-race family. We aren’t very wealthy. For me, it’s a big deal to be able to do what I’m doing. Creating art as a black South African is a privilege. To even dream that kind of lifestyle, that you can make a living from art. “It’s not real work.” That’s what people say. It’s a luxury that I’m aware of.

SHINNERS: You got started on the Internet. What about having access to the Internet informed the work that you made?

SAINT JUDE:  I can’t talk about anything of these things without talking about the socioeconomic struggle in South Africa. My access to the Internet is because I was afforded the privilege of the Internet. My parents made sure I went to good schools in the age of the Internet becoming a big thing. I became an Internet-savvy person at a young age. A lot of artists in Cape Town are doing dope things, but they don’t have Internet access. They don’t know how to use the Internet the same way I do. So, how the Internet impacted my work… The Internet gave me information that I wouldn’t have had access to. As a queer person here, the queer community is very small and racially divided. Having access to the Internet made me feel like I was a part of a bigger community, something that I call Future Queer. It’s not just gay, lesbian, whatever. It’s fluidity; it’s anyone who redefines that way of thinking.

SHINNERS: On the flipside, as you’re putting out your work, you’re putting it out on Soundcloud and YouTube as opposed to looking for a label. Is the accessibility of the Internet important to you?

SAINT JUDE: Because of the stuff I’m creating and the climate in South Africa, which I think is quite conservative for queer people, you’re put in a box. I hate when people label me as a “queer artist.” I hate that type of thing. I feel like I’m accessible to a lot of different audiences. The Internet gave me the platform to be able to communicate that. I just say, this is who I am. Different people take away their own ideas. As soon as you associate yourself with any kind of institution – a label or whatever it is – you’re automatically branded and given a type of audience. I like that the Internet opens the audience to anyone. My music has interest from an academic audience, as well as a “black girl magic” audience because of the strong brown girl power messages in my music.

SHINNERS: You said that you don’t want people to put you in a box. Still, a lot of the interviews I read say, “Dope Saint Jude, a queer black artist.” To me, it seems fetishizing. Do you feel that way? How do you deal with that?

SAINT JUDE: I do! I don’t do “queer hip hop.” That’s part of my identity, and I’ll never deny my ties to the queer community. But saying you’re a “queer artist” is so limiting. Like, we don’t say, “He’s a white guitarist. You should listen to his music.” It’s bullshit. I feel like my music has so many different elements. I’m influenced by Dr. Dre and girls chilling in the hood, Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj stuff. But I’m also woke. Don’t limit me. That’s the thing the media is guilty of. We want to fetishize people. It’s too complex to comprehend, so you want to put it into a box. That’s why I’ve called my EP “Reimagine.” I’m constantly reimagining. I hate it when people do me the disservice of limiting me to one narrative. I have multiple narratives. Also, it feels racist when people do that. They limit your narrative to your struggle, and that’s all. No, I’m joyful. I smoke weed with my girls. We ride in the car and go to the beach and party.

SHINNERS: And the media spins it in a way that sounds like, “You will be edgy and cool if you know about this queer underground artist.”

SAINT JUDE: To an extent, it’s nice. I do exploit it. People want to box me into whatever, but that clickbait can open me up to a new audience. I have to deal with it. I also can’t be upset about it all the time. It’s important that I’m visible as a queer artist. There are so many young, black, queer people who are scared and insecure. For me to actively identify with that, it’s cool. But when big, big blogs do it, it upsets me.

SHINNERS: Being a self-made artist – making your own beats, collaborating with people who want to work with, making your own visuals – seems very important to you. What is the thought process behind doing everything on your own?

SAINT JUDE: One element is that I don’t want to be a rapper who raps over other people’s beats. I see myself as an artist. I want to be involved in the creation of every aspect of my art. I don’t exclusively want to work on my own beats, but it’s important that I use that language because it gives me power in the process. It’s important that I feel in control of my own process. And it just makes the art better, when you’re in control. As a woman, I don’t want guys making beats for me, telling me, “This is how you need to be on this beat. We would prefer it if you were sexier.” As soon as someone makes a beat for you, they feel like they can direct your process. I don’t like that. There are so many male rappers who do that. No one ever credits female rappers on producing and rapping themselves. It’s a powerful thing. Also, in terms of the visuals, it’s important for how I communicate as an artist. I don’t want videos that other people direct just because being hot in front of a car looks cool. If I want to be hot in front of a car, I must know why I’m doing that. I want things to be done in my terms. As a female artist, it’s revolutionary to be in control of your process. 

SHINNERS: What, to you, is the relationship between hip hop and activism? 

SAINT JUDE: Hip hop is really cool because it was the music of oppressed people. That’s where it comes from. It’s cool to explore different struggles in hip hop. Not only rapping about it. You don’t want to rap about problems all the time. It’s cool to communicate using hip hop visually and in terms of the sound. You can throw in things subliminally. It’s accessible. You can talk about things in a cool way. I like to exploit the cool. Young kids and teenagers watch my videos and aspire to that because of the look. But it’s a buy-in to get them into a revolutionary way of thinking. Hip hop is a really cool medium, but it has its limitations. Some people think hip hop and queerness don’t go together, because hip hop is historically quite patriarchal and leans on masculinity. But I think that hip hop is a tool for oppressed people, not just black men. There are other people who are entitled to use the music to express their joy and their pain and their power.

SHINNERS: How do you balance making music that is political, revolutionary, and confrontational towards people’s ideas about blackness and queerness while, at the same time, making music that is accessible?

SAINT JUDE: I think that the idea that the two can’t exist together is a fantasy. In the past, people imagined conscious music as music to sit and think, to blaze and go on a trip. And then there was Lil’ Wayne, turn up music. But I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. That’s something we need to debunk. Like, I find Kanye West’s music quite revolutionary, but it’s also cool to turn up to. It’s small things, like having good beats, that make is accessible, incorporating other facets of cool. For example, if you are a revolutionary thinker and artist, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to go to the club and smoke weed and drink. I want to talk about both sides. 

SHINNERS: We can have a multi-faceted idea.

SAINT JUDE: We’re not limited to one thing. I also like to utilize cool things visually, like fashion. Fashion is revolutionary, but it’s also cool. It’s nice to use that as a tool to bring people in. When teenagers see the fashion, when they see sexy people, they are drawn in. The listen to the music, and it can be informative.

SHINNERS: It can lead them to other avenues.

SAINT JUDE: There are so many things you can do. Shooting dope videos. Messing with the art design. Having interesting-looking people. And if you’re art is good, it’s cool anyway.

SHINNERS: You are a very powerful woman, both in your music and outside of it. But we have two conversations about power going on. We have the “dismantle power” conversation, and we have the “embrace your power” conversation. How do you navigate undoing power while championing your own power when making art?

SAINT JUDE: In embracing my own power, I’m dismantling other structures. My power is valid, and it’s just as important as yours. Also, it’s reimagining this idea of power. Me being powerful doesn’t mean the next person isn’t powerful. The patriarchy and white supremacy champion exclusive power. But the power that I’m embracing is power for all of us. It’s not limited to me and my experience. Also, I try not to focus too much on dismantling all of those structures. It’s draining for me. Why do that when I can empower myself? I happen to be a part of all these disenfranchised groups: black people, queer people, women. It’s exhausting to say, “Fight the patriarchy. Fight this and fuck that.” It’s exhausting on your spirit. I’d rather celebrate that pure joy then perpetuate that “Fuck you,” energy. It’s not helpful. It’s necessary to be angry, but I don’t want to cultivate that in myself. You grow so much from celebration. That’s the revolutionary act. Actually celebrating yourself. Self-love is a radical act.

SHINNERS: When you imagine self-love, what do you imagine?

SAINT JUDE: Small things. Not being hard on yourself for stupid things. Being your own best friend. Promoting yourself. Having you own back. It takes courage to believe you are worth something and that your voice is valid. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t like what you’re saying. The fact that you’re saying it is important. It starts even with just putting lotion on yourself everyday because you love yourself and you’re important to yourself. There’s no shame in buying yourself something nice to wear. For conscious hip hop people, we’ve been taught that it’s selfish to want to indulge and do nice things for ourselves. That’s counterproductive. We need to be kind and gentle to ourselves. Self-love is making your dreams a priority. It’s not far away, wishful thinking. Love yourself to make your happiness important. I think about where I come from. My grandmother cleaned houses and sewed things to make a living. My mom became a teacher. She loved her job, but a lot of women, particularly black women, spend their lives doing jobs that weren’t their first choice. At this point, self-love is allowing yourself to do things that make you happy. You don’t have to suffer. We’re not limited in that way. Structurally, some people are. I’m privileged enough to be able to do art. But self-love is opening your mind to that possibility, that you deserve it. Love yourself enough to work hard and transcend your circumstance.

SHINNERS: That goes back to what you were saying first. You imagined this persona that carried all these desires that seemed unattainable. Now, your life is catching up. 

SAINT JUDE: It’s all because of self-love. If I didn’t love myself, I would have been stuck working for some job that I hated. I didn’t think I deserved to travel or live the life I wanted to. People are in mental prisons. They can’t even imagine being happy. People are so used to suffering because we come from generations of suffering. We accept that as the norm. When you start to love yourself, you can start imagining that it could be a reality. Your life can be enjoyable.

SHINNERS: You just came to the US on tour. Why do you think your music speaks to an American audience?

SAINT JUDE: My point of reference as an artist in terms of pop culture in media is American. That makes me accessible; I can speak that language. Even the humor, the jokes, the sass. It’s informed by the American media I’ve been consuming my whole life. Also, I feel like the US and Europe have a more progressive queer community, and a more progressive art community. To an extent, I was very surprised. There’s a lot of Cape Town slang in my music. People still fuck with my music even though there’s a lot of shit they can’t understand. 

SHINNERS: In Catholicism, Saint Jude is the patron saint of the Impossible. What impossibilities – in work or in life – can you identify? How are you overcoming them?

SAINT JUDE: It’s such a fitting name. My mom named me Catherine Saint Jude because she had four boys, and I was the only girl. She thought it was gong to be impossible to have a girl. I’m glad I chose the second name my mom gave me as my performance name. Everything I’ve done is kind of impossible. Before I was Dope Saint Jude, I was a drag king. I started Cape Town’s first Drag King troupe. Put up a wall, and I will only see it as a challenge to overcome. I grew up in a strict Catholic home. I was super involved in the church. But I’ve felt excluded from the world because I like girls. Now, I’m reimaging and reworking my relationship with my creator. That’s an impossible thing to do, but I’m doing it. If I think about what Christianity is really about, it’s about embracing people who are different. Jesus would have been hanging out with me and my girls. 

You can download Dope Saint Jude's latest album, Reimagine, here. She will also be performing at Festival Les Escales in Saint-Nazaire, France with Iggy Pop headlining. Text, interview and photographs by Keely Shinners. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Pop Music Is Not A Dirty Word: An Interview With Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor

For the past 16 years, the quintessential British electronic group Hot Chip has been releasing album after delicious album, with a bevy of catchy tracks that are pop magic at its majestic finest.  At the core of Hot Chip is a singular voice that is longing, soulful and demonically angelic. That singular voice belongs to Alexis Taylor, who this month released a new solo album, simply titled Piano, that is perhaps best described as antithetical to the grand pop balladry of Hot Chip, or even his own past solo records, but still maintains that signature wistful expressiveness. If Hot Chip is music to get high to, and to dance the night away to, Taylor’s newest album is music for reflection, introspection and soul-searching. The entire album, recorded at Hackney Road Studios by Shuta Shinoda, is simply Taylor at a piano and the reverberating notes – notes that are politely infused with his delicate, intimate vocals. Each refrain is a love letter to past mistakes, spiritual burdens, regrets and lost love. There is also a stunning cover of Elvis’ Crying In The Chapel that blends so well, it is almost in disguise. And if you hear religious incantations in the songs, you wouldn’t be so far off – Taylor calls it an “atheist's gospel album.” Nevertheless, it’s an important album that deserves a full listen – all the way to the surprise, untitled bonus track that crackles like a warbling 45 on an old phonograph, until it fades out and simmers on a low heat in your brain’s limbic system, even after the song is completely over. We caught up with Alexis Taylor at the Ace Hotel in London to ask him a few questions about pop music, Hot Chip’s place in British musical history and what he enjoys doing when music is not on the menu. 

FLO KOHL: What was your musical diet growing up? Was there a certain style of music that was always on repeat, or was it all eclectic?

ALEXIS TAYLOR: Definitely very mixed. A wide-range selection of music. I grew up in the 80s. I had heard all the massive records that were on chart rotation: Peter Gabriel, Prince, Dier Straits. Pop singles. I had two older brothers who were really into music, and my parents were really into music. My childhood was soundtracked by music, all the time. My oldest brother, Will, bought quite a lot of interesting music. I think he had good taste. He was into hip hop in the late 80s, early 90s when it was coming through. He had all the Prince records, one after the other as they were released. It meant I was paying a bit more attention to things, rather than music being this background.

KOHL: I don’t think that’s sort of normal. My parents weren’t into music at all. I didn’t become musically aware until I went to school. At home, there wasn’t always music on.

TAYLOR: With me, it was records playing, tapes playing. Both my parents occasionally played the piano. Never professionally, just as a hobby. But they could read music a bit. It wasn’t like being brought up to do music. It was just around.

KOHL: You’re often called “the soul of Hot Chip.” Did it take you a while to embrace the unique vocal style? Other electronic bands have to sample to add that soul.

TAYLOR: Maybe they do. We weren’t really trying to be like other electronic bands. We weren’t scratching our heads like, “How do we put soul into this music?” It just came out the way it came out. I don’t think people thought it was soulful in the beginning. But we were interested in soul records. That was a big influence, those older, more classic bits. But more pop than R&B or soul: Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston. Things that were produced by Timbaland and the Neptunes. That was a new, very exciting phase of pop music that was, to us, soulful. To some people, they didn’t get it. I wasn’t the same as that northern soul. People came around to it over time. It’s still a major influence on pop culture.

For us, it was a combination of wanting to completely do our own thing, and also wanting to make records in the spirit of those people. People like other indie rock bands, hiphop artists, electronic producers, classic pop people. We weren’t able to study what they did. We just took a little but of inspiration from them and came out with something else that felt pretty far away from sounding like those. We’re not very skilled at copying. Some people are, and that’s great, but it doesn’t lead to original music. It does mean that people get where you come from. Whereas, with us, people are just confused.

KOHL: You have the DJ culture right now, these musical curators who might be very good at grabbing things and putting them together, but might not be creating something.

TAYLOR: We were influenced a lot by sample-based music: DJ Premier, Public Enemy records. We were sort of sampling ourselves, as it were. We would play loads and loads of hours of music, and then we would chop and edit, taking the best bits. It was a way of sampling. There were so many rediscoveries of little phrases that you didn’t know you played because there was so much improvising. Sometimes, I have a song that I’ve written and exactly how it goes. Other times, you’re literally just improvising things over a beat. You realize you’ve got some good things later on.

KOHL: When you first started making music as Hot Chip, where do you think music was historically in the UK?

TAYLOR: Honestly, we weren’t thinking about the state of electronic music. Maybe with hindsight, you might look back and do that. What I remember is that we seemed quite at odds as a band. We started out playing small gigs. Nobody else had five people and a drum machine, no drummer. That was a weird lineup. We didn’t intend for it to be so weird. It was just what we wanted to do. It was a way of learning how to play what we recorded. It all stemmed from recordings. We were thinking more about those R&B pop records that looked nothing like the performance on stage. We didn’t have the production value to do a Destiny’s Child-style show. And yet, that was the music that was exciting to us. We weren’t referencing the tradition of New Order or Depeche Mode. We were ourselves. I don’t know what state it was in. I know the more genuine dance music we had grown up. Joe was really into grime. I was more into UK garage. Some of the drum programming was influenced by that stuff, like a sticky record. We didn’t’ try to comment on electronic music.

We kept thinking about pop music. Maybe we went out on a limb. Pop music is kind of a dirty phrase. It came back in vogue, with Justin Timberlake when he was no longer in a boy band. It was taken more seriously. Where I was, there was a lot of resistance to that, initially. I used to work at Domino, the label that we’re on. I used to listen to all these different albums: Smog, Scritti Politti. But when I put on the Justin Timberlake album, some people were like, “We can’t deal with this.” They were form a very indie mentality. I just liked it.

KOHL: It was the sound at the time. Pop music wasn’t boy band pop music anymore.

TAYLOR: It’s funny, talking about it now. Everyone takes it for granted. That music was at the center of culture, and it has kind of drifted away since.

KOHL: Was there a community in electronic music?

TAYLOR: Gradually, we met people. Generally, they were from America. We met the DFA label, and through that James Murphy and Jonathan Galkin. I was in New York, visiting my girlfriend at the time, who was a student. I went to this talk at her university, and in the same building, there was a talk with James Murphy, Trevor Jackson, a member of Public Enemy. I just happened to bump into Jonathan who runs DFA outside the building. I was wearing a Hot Chip badge, and he didn’t know how I could have heard of that band. I said, “Oh, I’m in the band.” We ended up signing with DFA and going on tour with LCD, Black Dice, and Chk Chk Chk. At that point, there was a community of people who were interested in performing dance music live. You could see their influence, years later. Every band had a drum machine on stage. We were an indie band, but we had one token synthesizer. It began to have an impact.

KOHL: What makes the perfect pop song in your eyes?

TAYLOR: Honestly, don’t know. Still struggling to find out, after all this time. I suppose I’m interested in the song and the production combing together in an interesting way. The song could feel hooky and immediate, but it still have a strangeness to it. Like an ABBA song. There are so many things going on melodically and harmonically that are easy on the ear but interesting. Then the production will be glossy, but at the time, kind of adventurous. Those records still stand out now. A different kind of example would be a Neptunes production from the early 2000s. It may have very little in the way of long flowing melody. It will be more in the rhythm, and the hook would be something incessant or interesting in the keyboard parts. A lot of people talk about the classic pop song coming through on the acoustic guitar or piano. I don’t think that’s really true. I think it’s built on the way it was produced, the construction in the studio.

KOHL: When you aren’t in the world of music, is there something really far removed from it that you like to indulge in?

TAYLOR: I do spend a huge amount of my free time traveling around flea markets and garage sales, looking for bargains and bits of musical equipment, records, all kinds of different things. It’s not always to do with looking for music. 

Click here to download or purchase Alexis Taylor's new album Piano. Photographs and interview by Flo Kohl. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Very Little Bad Vibes: An Interview With Cult Comedic Hero Tim Heidecker

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Most people know Tim Heidecker from his brilliant Adult Swim series ‘Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!’ and ‘Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories.’ While it’s easy to use colorful adjectives to describe his brand of humor, it’s even harder to define it. Whatever it is, he’s developed a massive cult following. He’s an everyman that blends a sort of slobbish machismo with the mind of a stoner philosopher, but there is also something sinister about his wit and irreverent spin on, well, everything. Like every great comedian, Heidecker doesn’t identify himself as one. His role in Rick Alverson’s 2012 film The Comedy proves Heidecker is a brilliant, natural actor with an ability to show a haunting, dispossessed vulnerability that encapsulates a very distinct ennui and disillusionment belonging to the comedown between youth and middle age. As he gets wiser, Heidecker exudes a certain suburban boredom – a boredom that he makes seem exciting in his new album In Glendale. It’s a true ode to the singer songwriters, like Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman, who wrote about their surroundings and life with a beautiful banality. Because it’s Harry Nilsson or Zevon or Newman, it works, and just like that, Heidecker can pull it off too. I got a chance to chat with Heidecker about comedy, music, getting stabbed in the back and dream projects that haven’t materialized yet. 

OLIVER KUPPER: The new album is great, by the way. I really enjoyed it.

TIM HEIDECKER: Thank you. That’s a good place to start.

KUPPER: Yeah, compliments are a good place to start. This is your first somewhat earnest album, right?

HEIDECKER: Uh huh, whatever that means.

KUPPER: What’s it like writing songs versus writing comedy? Is there a different wavelength you need to be on?

HEIDECKER: I don’t know. Songwriting is a little more meditative. Obviously, it involves an instrument usually - singing, playing guitar, playing piano, noodling around, finding phrases and subject matter. It’s something that I’ve done for years as a hobby or a way of clearing my brain of other stuff. It can be spontaneous; you can be sitting in a car with other friends and start singing something catchy. Comedy is generally driven by a project. What are the ultimate goals of this? It involves a lot more people, a lot more collaboration. I’m very productive when I’m in collaboration with comedy. I don’t sit around and dream up amazing ideas all day long. It generally involves getting lunch or going on a road trip. It’s doing something where there’s a conversation with a buddy – Eric, Gregg [Turkington], or Doug [Lussenhop]. Someone I’m close with. Music is more singular.

KUPPER: Were you craving that singular, cathartic experience?

HEIDECKER: Not really. With this record, I had always written lots of music. Certain songs would end up in a folder on my computer. Like, I don’t really know what this is. It might not be appropriate for comedy. It’s not really funny; it’s sort of sincere. I was reluctant to share that publicly. But once the first couple of songs on the record starting coming out of me, I thought, there’s a theme here that kind of works. It might be nice to put a record out without it being couched in a joke or a character.

KUPPER: How did you team up with [Jonathan] Rado from Foxygen?

HEIDECKER: Through Chris Swanson, who runs Secretly Canadian. I had known him for a while. Those guys financed the movie that I was in, The Comedy. We were friendly. He was a big fan of our work. He knew I was doing music, and he nudged me to take a stab at making records in a more current or straightforward way. He was curious to see what I could do if I did something outside of parody, if I could be a pop music guy that was doing interesting stuff. Rado and I connected on very similar interests in music - 70s singer/songwriter stuff. I love talking about the process, how those guys got the sounds they got, and getting back to that straightforward songwriting. He just wanted to help and be involved.

KUPPER: He’s super talented. That band is really great. Who were some of the singer/songwriters at the top of that list that you would talk about?

HEIDECKER: For me, it’s Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson - the greats, the big ones. I’ve been really enjoying them for the past several years now.

KUPPER: I’m obsessed with Harry Nilsson. When you decided to go in and make this album, did you feel like you had enough songs? Did you throw yourself in the studio and see what you could come up with? Half and half?

HEIDECKER: The process by which this record was made may be interesting, maybe not. Half the songs were written in a period of a month or so. The other half were songs I had written over the years; they didn’t fit into any one category. I had my little home recording studio. I would try to build up the track. You know, not just me and the guitar, but drums, bass. It’s a fun way to work, to build tracks, and getting it to sound good, but never that good. I’m not that good at it. I made a demo version of the album at home. It was in the order of all the songs, with a couple extras. I took this home demo to Rado and his garage, and we started making the songs from scratch at his place. He’s such a great piano player and drummer. We recorded on tape, and we had four or five demos out of that. But they were still demos; they weren’t what we both wanted, which was really clean studio, major-label-sounding recordings. So we took those demos, and I gave them to my band that I play with live - City City. They learned the demos, and then we went into a real recording studio. In the course of a week, we laid everything down. Very quickly, because we knew all the sounds and what we wanted to sound like. We wanted the level of professionalism and the clean sheen that those 70s records had.

KUPPER: You work with a lot of musicians. It’s like a ten-piece band, right?

HEIDECKER: Yeah, there’s a ten-piece band that I put together. It’s mostly that band, City City, and a little horn section. It’s a little bit extravagant; there’s two background singers, two electric guitar players. I could probably shave that down if I needed to. But right now, everyone just gels. They all came in and brought their own talents to the record. I’m very grateful.

KUPPER: Do you think the audience for your music is different from your comedy audience? Your comedy following is big. Will the same people come out for your music, do you think?

HEIDECKER: For right now, a large percentage of my fans will find me through comedy. With this record, we’re trying to present it to the largest group of people possible. I think some people who are coming on board either didn’t know or didn’t care for my work, but they like the music. It’s not intended just for the fans; it’s intended for people who like the music. I get a lot of, “Oh, this Tim Heidecker record is actually pretty good.” They’re surprised. Some fans who have been following me a little closer aren’t surprised because they know that I am a big music lover and music maker. That early music might be sillier, but it has the same core qualities.

"I don’t necessarily identify myself as a “comedian.” I do comedy, I do standup and sketch comedy. I make all kinds of stuff. But I don’t concern myself with what to call it or how I should be perceived...I think it’s unfortunate that we expect people to stay in their lanes."

KUPPER: It’s interesting. Not a lot of comedians can bounce between these different mediums and be taken seriously. Especially when it comes to acting. Your role in The Comedy was a really serious role. There are certain actors, like Robin Williams, whose acting is so good that you don’t necessarily think of them as a comedian anymore. Do you ever think about the implications of being too serious?

HEIDECKER: It’s a thing that’s put on us by journalists and certain people that have perceptions of what people are supposed to do. It doesn’t affect my decision making when I decide to do something or not. I generally try to do something based on the desire to do it, whether or not I think it will have quality and be successful. I don’t necessarily identify myself as a “comedian.” I do comedy, I do standup and sketch comedy. I make all kinds of stuff. But I don’t concern myself with what to call it or how I should be perceived. If anything, it’s more interesting to have different facets and abilities. I think it’s unfortunate that we expect people to stay in their lanes. Actors, musicians, directors, whatever - most of us started out just wanting to make stuff, to do something creative. There was more of a push towards doing comedy, for me. But I still have interest in lots of stuff. As long as there’s a market for it, I want to pursue those things. I also understand that there is context. There’s a challenge when someone who is usually a country singer comes out with a rap album. It’s going to be hard. But some people can do it really well. I admire Steve Martin. He can be silly, very serious and intellectual, he can play music and go on tour. I just hope that you can place this record of mine in the context of my larger body of work and say, “This guy has ideas. He has an interest in expressing himself in different ways.”

KUPPER: There’s a lot of freedom in that. If you see yourself as an artist and not specifically in one lane, you can do anything, even if there’s not a market for it.

HEIDECKER: I want to have that reputation, that you don’t know exactly what to expect when I present something. It should, theoretically make you more interested in what I’m doing next.

KUPPER: You still maintain the cult comedian aura. Is that something that you try to hold onto, or is it a natural progression of you as an artist?

HEIDECKER: It’s all just been fun, playing with identity and the media, trying to create work that leaps the dimensions of television or linear video. It’s been more fun, for On Cinema, to let those characters have a life outside the show. This record, though, is really straight. There’s really not an angle for me to be anybody but myself. If there’s something stupid, like something from the Tim and Eric Show, the work speaks for itself. Let’s just party.

KUPPER: Do you feel like you get a lot of stupid questions? Do you like doing interviews?

HEIDECKER: It depends. It’s interesting to see the spectrum of people who are interested. Our publicist works very hard to get as much press as we can. My attitude has always been, do as much as you can. You never know when someone is going to read something out of the blue, and it turns into their favorite thing. But there are so many young people doing this who don’t seem interested. Like, I had a kid come to the Decker screening, and he ran out of questions for me in, like, a minute. I don’t know if this is the best career choice for you if you can’t think of any questions. He’s like, “Yeah, my editor wanted me to talk about Trump.” He asked me three questions about Trump, and then he got tongue-tied.

KUPPER: They want clickbait.

HEIDECKER: Yeah. But generally, if there’s someone like you, someone thoughtful and interesting, I think it’s pretty harmless. It helps me figure out what the hell I’m doing. You can make stuff, but you don’t really analyze it too much until you start talking to someone about it.

KUPPER: It’s interesting how that works. That’s why real criticism is important, too. People are too focused on clickbait, and they don’t think that the most interesting thing is to analyze the work and talk to the artist to find answers.

HEIDECKER: I think some criticism tends to be very quick, not thoughtful, not researched. The negative criticism I’ve gotten has usually come without a frame of reference to me or my work. It’s a very easy, “This is just Dad rock.” I’m insecure with that person, who doesn’t know the context. It’s safer and quicker to go with a buzzword that they just heard.

KUPPER: You’re premiering Decker next week?

HEIDECKER: Yes, Friday the 17th.

KUPPER: And you’re working with Gregg Turkington again, which is great. What’s that experience been like?

HEIDECKER: Gregg and I have known each other for about 10 years now. I was such a huge Hamburger fan. I roped him into doing our show. Our wives get together. We’ve got kids who are the same age. We just share a lot of common interests. Once we started doing this On Cinema thing, it seemed like we found this endless well of material that we could keep feeding and growing and developing. We established these two characters that are so fun to write for and behave as. It keeps entertaining us, this world. And it keeps getting bigger, because we keep adding fuel to it. Also, he’s just a nice guy. I’m so grateful to do this. On the TV show, we were able to elevate things a little bit. We were doing it as a full time thing. It was one of the most stress-free, joyful experiences. Everyone doing it loves it. It’s an easy thing to make. It’s so shitty. It’s not like you’re doing tons of takes and waiting for the perfect light. There are very little bad vibes in that environment. At my age, you want to be around that kind of energy as much as possible.

KUPPER: Especially in collaborations.


KUPPER: It’s been ten years since you had that famous interaction with your neighbor [where he stabbed you in the back]. Do you still think about that, or is it ancient history at this point?

HEIDECKER: Strangely, I’ve been thinking about it lately. Not to pat myself on the back (and not to be ironic), when that kid did that to me, I didn’t want to press charges. It felt like such a futile thing to do. He was 19 or 20 years old. He was on some insane drug. If he was going to go to jail for a significant amount of time, he would end up way worse. He’d be a bigger problem to the world. He ought to be given another shot. Those with white privilege are treated with more leniency, and that’s not fair, but it shouldn’t be, “Let’s throw this kid in a dark cell for the rest of his life.” It should be, how can we give disadvantaged kids better opportunities? We need to look at the prison system as not the answer to our problems. It’s a heavy thing. When you’re actually faced with the choice to punish somebody, it’s a hard thing to do. If you know anything, the prison system is designed to fail. It doesn’t make any sense.

KUPPER: You have to rehabilitate.


KUPPER: Do you have any dream projects that haven’t materialized yet?

HEIDECKER: We’re kind of doing it all. The more of an audience you have, the easier it is to do all these things. That’s the challenge, to get the word out, to get people to tune in. The futility of that is I know I don’t have a lot of power there. It either connects with a larger group of people, or it doesn’t. To answer your question, the next record I want to do, we want to bring in some of the guys that actually played on those old records who are still around. People like Jim Keltner, those guys who are still doing sessions and available. I would love to go in with Murderer’s Row and the people who made that, just to do it, because you can. I think that adds a whole other level.

KUPPER: I look forward to that, for sure.

[helicopter-like sound]

HEIDECKER: Cool. My helicopter is here, so I guess I got to go.

Tim Heidecker's new album, In Glendale, is out now on Rado Records. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Cara Robbins. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Craving Danger: An Interview With Strange Names' Liam Benzvi On His New Solo Project

Soft Ethnic is the brainchild of 25-year-old, Brooklyn-based Liam Benzvi. In what sounds like an amalgamation of queer no-wave and r&b of the late 70s/early 80’s, the melodic insistence of Benzvi’s songs feels original in delivery, and familiar in musicality. The name “Soft Ethnic” comes from a type-casting term that was given to him during his years of acting school in Minneapolis, cheekily attributing his skin tone to his ability to be cast as a variety of “ethnic” characters. Turning to music, Benzvi co-formed new wave-pop outfit Strange Names. Their debut LP, Use Your Time Wisely, came out last Spring on Frenchkiss Records, and a second LP is on the way. Benzvi says Soft Ethnic is an experiment, mostly in its performance: “a means to over-saturate the city with my feelings.” Soft Ethnic's debut EP will be out in the Spring of 2016. Today, Autre exclusively released Soft Ethnic's Memphis Milano inspired music video for the track Prints, co-directed by Jarod Taber and Alex Rapine, with set design by Marki Becker. We got a chance to catch up with Benzvi to discuss Soft Ethnic, type casting and his new music video.   

Autre: When and how did you start making music?

Liam Benzvi: I was more invested in lyrics for a while because I didn’t need any kind of musical vocabulary or skill to quantify what I was making. I’m a product-oriented songwriter, so even if something isn’t done, I’ll say it’s a finished demo as an exercise of my full authority over the song. When I got my first computer in college, composition was suddenly a very user-friendly experience for me. The bounds of the software ended up pushing me to seek out real musicians to collaborate with because I was dissatisfied with the computer sounds, and still didn’t think I had any capacity to learn anything myself. It was getting into a room with real musicians—my best friends—that ultimately allowed me to make the music I wanted to. When I was in my first band in college, I semi-stole my band mate’s DD6 pedal, and would make really expansive vocal loops that crafted the majority of my first fully formed songs.

Autre: I understand that your name, Soft Ethnic, comes from a type-casting term that you encountered quite a bit while acting in Minneapolis. How did you get into acting and what kinds of characters would you play?

Benzvi: I went to performing arts high school in Manhattan, followed by a conservatory acting program in Minneapolis. I got into it because I loved the backstage culture of theater. My friends, talking in class, talking about what we liked/disliked—these were my people. I really wanted to get into my body and be as self-realized as I could be by the time I had to move out of my parent’s house, and being on stage was the best way to do that. I was always cast as villains—I had the most fun when I had to be old or monstrous and grotesque in some way. I was told I was “soft ethnic” by a bunch of casting directors that would teach us workshops about being the “CEOs of ourselves” and understanding how we would be perceived at first glance, walking into an audition room. It felt shallow, funny, and very real all at once. And I always knew I’d take the term and turn it on its head—not necessarily to be political, but to make it more personal to me if that was indeed how I was “perceived”.

Autre: Do you plan to continue acting or are you focused exclusively these days on music?

Benzvi: I’m committed to music right now, but I always intend to make it as performative as I can. I think I’ll act again, and I’ll be much better than I was, because of what I’m doing now.

Autre: Each character you play in this music video is distinct from the next and represents a clear embodiment of the melodic components that comprise the song. Are they all separate sides of yourself, or is there one that feels more connected to your true identity?

Benzvi: My friends that have seen the video like the drunk character the most, and they say that he is my true essence. It’s probably true because I’m more unhinged. I also like the archetype of the dude in the band that’s just really excited all the time about everything. That’s the character in the flamingo pajamas.

Autre: How did you discover Ettore Sottsass and why did you choose his Memphis Group aesthetic for this particular video?

Benzvi: : Marki and Jarod had just birthed their film/design group Wash & Fold, and they brought me a bunch of paint swatches. At that point I had no real idea of what Marki was going to design and build. I just knew that I wanted it to look like a baby’s bedroom—she took it from there. When she came back with a design, she had gravitated to the Memphis Group for the playfulness of the shapes they used in the 80s. The personality of the Memphis objects allowed them to be read as set pieces but also added a layer of continuity to the video and gave me fun shapes to interact with for each character.

Autre: There are some very clear parallels between this new sound and that of your other group, Strange Names. Although, with Soft Ethnic you take a clear shift toward a much more mellow drum line, which makes for a slower, more contemplative groove. Was this a conscious choice, and are there any other ways that you intended to branch out from the sound you’ve been crafting with Strange Names?

Benzvi: I approach all my writing with a uniform simplicity. When I write for the band, I always keep in mind that whatever I make alone is only a third to half way to the finish line—it’s really liberating. With Strange Names, I fundamentally trust Francis and Fletcher with their unique creative authorities and I can allow myself to let go of ideas when they’re not necessarily a complete demo on my end. In the last year or so I had been listening to a lot of no-wave electronic stuff. It didn’t feel very flashy, and it was kind of bizarre, but all the hooks were there. It felt like pop and jazz and funk at once; totally achieved with not much more than a drum machine, some synth chords, and a very up-front, grandiose, indiosyncratic vocal. To name a few—Indoor Life, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Patrick Cowley, Tuxedomoon—verging on punk, but still a little too weird/queer for it. This kind of not-belonging theatrical energy was something I wanted to experiment with on my own. I knew that I would do it in my own way, and if it sounds like Strange Names a bit at the onset, it's only because it’s my voice singing and it's my melodic instinct in the writing. As far as execution, the simpler construction is definitely intentional. I like that it sounds like a demo. There’s some spoken word involved—kind of in a Jarvis Cocker kind of way—and for the live show, I’ve begun collaborating with dancers and devising choreography and that’s been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.

Autre: I’ve read that Strange Names has constantly been restraining its avant-garde tendencies in order to make the sound more accessible. Is that something you feel you need to do with Soft Ethnic as well?

Benzvi: You could say that. With Soft Ethnic, I want to be unapologetically myself in every way, from start to finish—I suppose that could form a window to potential avant-garde tendencies. Making something accessible is in reference to the hustle of being in a band, trying to get picked up. We were in Minneapolis and we were listening to all sorts of music, reading all the blogs, trying to methodically figure out how we could be successful. It was and will always be exhausting, but when we moved to New York that all changed because we really sat down and made the record we wanted to make. We realized that our collective admiration for anthems came from the inclusive feeling it evoked—not talking meaningless and vacant American Idol-penned anthems, but Human League hooks and B-52s summer-of-love type music. I think we’ve stopped giving a shit about people turning their noses up.

Autre: Strange Names came out of the Minneapolis music scene and has since made its way to New York City. Can you talk a bit about how those music scenes differ and whether or not this has affected your sound?

Benzvi: I think that in New York it’s really easy to be alone, and because I have a lot of alone time here I’m more inclined to make things alone. Since Strange Names has been a New York band, when the band gets together, we’ll all have made something alone and bring it into the room and have to make collective sense of it. Is this something we can all attach ourselves to? And great results always come from that kind of dissecting. With Soft Ethnic, I have no idea how something is being received because I keep it completely to myself and then perform it and see what happens. I crave that sort of danger so that I can keep working hard at all times. I want to be the most resourceful performer I can be, and I always want to be learning about how I can be as compelling as I can on stage.

Autre: When you’re not making music how do you spend your free time?

Benzvi: I’m trying to collaborate with as many people as I can lately. Making friends. Drinking. Writing. I’m not really sleeping that much.

Autre: How would you like your sound to evolve over the next 5 years?

Benzvi: If whatever I’ve made is aggressively of my doing, I’ll have probably evolved in some way.

Click here to watch the music video for Soft Ethnic's track Prints. Photograph by Charlotte FergusonInterview by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Romantic Funk: An Interview of Harriet Brown by Astronauts, Etc.'s Anthony Ferraro

Ahead of their national tour, which kicks off tomorrow night at Club Bahia in Los Angeles, Autre has exclusively premiered Harriet Brown's cover of the Astronauts, Etc. track "I Know." Helmed by Oakland-based musician and songwriter Anthony Ferraro, Astronauts, Etc. was a bedroom project that blossomed and found him playing in places like Tokyo and Australia. Ferraro also found himself in the role as touring keyboardist for Toro y Moi and is close friends with singer Chazwick Bundick. The track covered by Harriet Brown, an up-and-coming Los Angeles based musical artist, can be found on Astronauts, Etc.'s latest album Mind Out Wandering on the Hit City U.S.A imprint. In the following short interview Anthony Ferraro talks to Harriet Brown about the unique rendition of his song, the responsibility of music, Sade and more. 

Anthony Ferraro: Can you give us a brief description of the parallel universe that you pulled this cover out of?

Harriet Brown: A glass of red wine. Late, quiet nights on the beach in southern Mexico, ocean waves accompanied by the muted thump of bass drifting in the air from the half-empty reggaeton clubs down the shore. 

Ferraro: What is one responsibility of your music?

Brown: Sending a transmission out to beings and places (geographical/emotional/spiritual) I might not otherwise be able to reach, and hopefully in the process communicating at least little bits of truth with which others can resonate. 

Ferraro: Would it be at all accurate to say that Harriet Brown represents your anima?

Brown: Sure, in some way, but Harriet Brown is also just me, subconscious or not. Although I guess my anima has never been very closeted to begin with.

Ferraro: Who is your biggest woman hero?

Brown: Sade.

Ferraro: We met in music class around four years ago and were both making very different music back then. On a scale from free will to determinism, how much agency would you say you’ve had over the direction your music has taken? I.e. how inevitable was it that Harriet Brown would become what Harriet Brown now is?

Brown: I think it was 100% inevitable, but still up to myself to undo the latch and allow Harriet Brown to emerge in full. The seed had been planted as a boy, but I had at one point become ashamed of the desire to express myself with such bold, deliberate, passionate, careful intention. That time has passed, and I’ve never felt more true and natural about making music, and really just about myself as a person, than I do now. 

Ferraro: What is the main reason you have to be optimistic about the future of music?

Brown: Humans love music — it’s everywhere you go, even in the most sterile of places. The industry is always changing, always with both pros and cons, but regardless, we humans continue to desire music, and I don’t think that desire will ever die. 

Click here to purchase tickets to see Harriet Brown and Astronauts, Etc. at Club Bahia. Click here to listen to the cover of I Know. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Transcending the Blues: An Interview With Legendary Record Producer Daniel Lanois

Daniel Lanois lives and breathes music in a very literal sense. As a true audiophile, he seems to be marinating in centuries of sound waves, honing in on some of history’s most visceral musical compositions. It’s as though he pulls rhythms directly from the ground and resonant frequencies from the stratosphere. This description may seem over the top, and while it comes from a place of genuine reverence, I can say that over the 3 hours that we spent together, I witnessed this phenomenon with my very own eyes and ears. When he tells a story, it doesn’t suffice to tell it in words. His life story wouldn’t make sense unless he sang it to you, played it for you, and punctuated it with his signature, “yea, man.” Which is why I had to compile all of these bits in an audio file to give you a real feel for who he is and how he communicates. It’s really quite elevating.

Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, the steel capital of Canada, he was raised in a community that was directed by the shifting of the harsh seasons. A community that gathered to play traditional French Canadian folk music; the true salt of the Earth. The melodies he heard as a child stuck with him and he felt that he needed to capture them, so he made himself a recording studio in the basement. Pretty soon he was recording music with the likes of Rick James and was determined to find the roots of the American soul. He gravitated south to the Mississippi delta where he found the guttural rhythms that live in your hips and the pain and the suffering that gave birth to the blues. But when the Mississippi River spills into the Gulf of Mexico most people stay put, singing their woeful stories of yore. Nevertheless, Lanois took those symphonic lessons and synthesized them with his Northern roots to produce music with some of the 20th century’s most groundbreaking artists: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Peter Gabriel, U2, Brian Eno, Sinead O’Connor, and the list goes on. He’s been nominated for 7 Grammys, 4 of which he was awarded, and yet, his humble beginnings are invariably evident in his unpresuming temperament. 

These days, he’s making music with the free wheeling musical outlaw, Rocco Deluca. They have a friendship that is bonded by their two major loves, music and motorcycles. Together they create a sound that is at once arresting in a way that makes one feel buoyant and unencumbered. When you spend time with the two of them, you get a sense that their lives are filled with nothing but positive, creative vibes, and it seems impossible to abate the longing to just tag along and pretend this is a normal day for you too. We met them at a café, followed them back home, and continued the night with several friends who tagged along and indulged in the privilege of a private listening party. Here’s what we took away.

AUTRE: You were just singing a gospel song, and I’m not familiar with it specifically, but it seems like it comes straight from the slave trade.

LANOIS: Yeah, “Once I’m taken away, I will not fold” is the message.

AUTRE: I think that is the roots of this country. Everything that this country has been built off of has been the elbow grease and the blood and the sweat and the tears of the black community. So for that to be the source of our strength is no surprise.

LANOIS: For that church music to reach the top of the charts in the early 60s. Sam Cooke was not a pop singer, Sam Cooke came from the soulsters and from church. It was that beautiful church harmony that made its way into popular music. We were just talking about James Cleveland who is from the LA area, he’s not from Chicago.

AUTRE: And Bo Diddley, I mean he invented Rock n’ Roll. And Big Mama Thornton.

LANOIS: All that. Well the Bo Diddley beat is an old African beat. But I’m Canadian. So for a Canadian kid to come south of the border - I went to New Orleans and made a great record with the Neville Brothers - for me to actually work with the Neville Brothers? As a white French-Canadian kid? That was the cherry on the cake of my PhD.


AUTRE: Absolutely. It seems like you’ve had an autodidactic approach to music. Or have you?

LANOIS: Without any doubt, every day I learn something new. And I hope it keeps coming my way. I never went to school for any of it, I’m self taught. But when I was a kid I got to work with Rick James in my mom’s basement. I didn’t have to come up with any tuition money. For Rick he came in by himself, and in 20 minutes there was a fully flourishing piece of music coming out of the speakers and I was practically in tears. Oh my goodness, I could not believe this was happening. I was in the presence of a Beethoven.

I was talented, I knew what I was doing, but I had never before been exposed to anyone like Rick. He came in, and I recorded him some demos – mindblowing. I realized that I needed to go somewhere where the bass was good, so I went to New Orleans. I got to work with the Neville Brothers and George Porter from the Meters. Leo Nocentelli, perhaps the funkiest guitar player out of America. To be in that place, to hear the parade bands, where so much music had come from – that was amazing. The music of the North was so stiff. The music of the South had funk.

AUTRE: Going back to the beginning, what was your initial experience with making music?

LANOIS: As a kid I played slide guitar and I played woodwinds as well. I started a little recording studio at home, so that was the basis of the whole thing. I was in and out of bands up in Canada. I got to be a good player as a teenager. But I always had my recording studio and that was the mecca, the crossroads for so much. I was connected with a gospel music association in Canada, and they brought acapella groups in from across the world to tour Canada. One of the touring stops was my studio. So I made acapella quartet records - dozens of them.

AUTRE: Oh that’s amazing.

LANOIS: They had great singers too. So imagine this white French-Canadian kid sitting there and hearing the four-part harmony. Tell me that’s not an education to hear all that, and then that related to all other four parts of any other genre. Funk music has four parts, you know. The intertwining of these four parts provided me with a really great understanding of how music communicates. How significant the harmonic interplay is. That was kind of it. Plus on top of that, the Pop music on the radio was the best stuff.

 AUTRE: Back then, yeah.

LANOIS: You heard Sam Cooke on the radio, you heard James Cotton, The Jackson’s. Psychedelic stuff. It was kind of amazing. We didn’t hear any fluff, you know we had to listen to some of that British music, but I didn’t mind that.


AUTRE: Yeah, that was before they had found the algorithm for selling commercial products with pop music.

LANOIS: The force was certainly different, it just belonged to that time. It was a cultural revolution on the rise. The Poet’s Society, rebellious Rock n’ Roll, psychedelic. It all came to a head - how special is that? Plus, also the front end of a medium, not everybody had a camera so if you shot pictures it meant that you were involved with something special. You know, you look at photographs from the late 50s and 60s and they all look significant, because people were discovering something. Not to criticize modern times or anything but there are so many pictures now. Now we’re not at the front end of the medium - but when you are at the front end of a medium, things are more special.

AUTRE: I think that’s a good point you make though about the fact that we didn’t have an image associated with the music. There wasn’t a music video for every track. So when you listened to an album, you had a listening experience - just listening. Now musicians have to sell themselves as more than just a sound. They’re a sound and an image. Plus, their social lives are on blast through their social media. So, you have their personalities to judge as well. There is so much less focus on creating amazing music and leaving it at that.

LANOIS: The other concern is including merch. You know, “how’s your merch going?” Merch?!

AUTRE: Exactly. You have to boost your T-shirt game.


AUTRE: You’ve worked on some incredible records. And it seems like you’ve always been innovating your sound. This music you make with Rocco - you sit there and if feels like you’re floating in sound.

LANOIS: We try and break new ground on every project. I didn’t come up through a referential time, so coming up as a kid everything was new. We didn’t think jeez let’s try to make it sound like a 1948 tune, that would be a cool sound, no everything was new. So I’ve never bought into the referential aspect of music making. Even in these modern times where it’s easy to say - the grunge and the punk thing in the 90s, that was cool, lets adapt that look and that sound - well no I’m not interested. I’m glad that it happened and I respect that it did, but in regards to anything we’re going to do from here on I want it to be original.

AUTRE: Who are some of your Rock n’ Roll heroes?

LANOIS: I’ll always appreciate pure forms, sometimes I go to the Thirsty Crow on a Monday night and there’s a guy there who plays a lot of old records. We always appreciate hearing Electric Mud from Muddy Waters. They play a lot of 70s R&B on that night, a lot of stuff from San Francisco. That era of the 70s where things were getting funky but experimental.

And you know we have modern day heroes as well. I listen to some of the Hip Hop out of the Long Beach area. And the D’Angelo record that came out a couple years ago, I enjoyed that a lot. Any pure form. Anything strong that qualifies as soul music ultimately. And we’re not talking a genre of R&B particularly, but something that seems to exist for the right reasons.

AUTRE: There seems to be this reemergence of soul music, of traditional 60s soul music coming in through a lot of newer pop music these days. It’s being revisited, which is really interesting. I talked to a young woman who I really respect and she said “you know, in some ways I feel like maybe Hip Hop is coming to a close.”

LANOIS: Maybe a certain aspect of it.

AUTRE: A certain aspect of it, yeah. But in the same way that Soul music had its own era through the late 50s, the 60s, and a little bit into the 70s but then it kind of veered into Funk. Which then veered into Hip Hop. I feel like it is kind of coming back, and that there is an urge to find its roots; to get back a little bit of that heart that was really pulsing through it originally.

"Miley Cyrus naked with her bare cunt on a cannonball – is that all you got, baby? You know go up the flagpole and back down, bare cunt. I’ll throw some confetti. So, I kinda like that whole thing that’s happening in America right now where the girls are just in charge of fucking pop. I say, take more clothes off, have more hits, own the fucking country, get to the top of the charts and I’ll be eating popcorn."

LANOIS: You hear it a little bit with Alabama Shakes, their recent record is pretty adventurous. I hear some shades of 70s experimental Soul, but I wouldn’t offer a lot to support the theory. But I’m ready to be educated.

AUTRE: Where did your love of motorcycles come from?

LANOIS: Since I was a kid I just loved everything that went with it - freedom, and to feel that wind on your face. When I was a kid I got my first Harley and me and my brother rode from Canada all the way down to Florida.

AUTRE: That’s a long trip! How long did it take you guys?

LANOIS: Oh it took a long time. We could only ride so long because it was freezing, but by the time we got to Kentucky and Tennessee it started getting warm. I love wintertime riding.

AUTRE: You grew up in Ontario right?

LANOIS: I’m French-Canadian but I came up as a teenager in a place called Hamilton about an hour from Buffalo on the Canadian side. It was a steel town and a real working place.

AUTRE: Do you go back much?

LANOIS: Yeah! I still keep a place there; my mom is there still. I have a soft spot for what I call the Great Lakes of Culture.

That part of the world is very harsh in the winter. The harvest comes in and the root vegetables will keep all winter. And I love that - you wouldn’t dilly dally through the fall. You cut your wood in the summer, make sure you can and jar in the fall. That way you can have some fruits through the winter. That’s sort of long gone now because of the coming of Whole Foods. You can get a tangerine in Toronto in the winter, that wasn’t the case at one time.

AUTRE: So how long have you been living in this house?

LANOIS: 14 years. Nobody wanted this place 14 years ago. At the time I was working with Melanie Ciccone, Madonna’s sister. Madonna looked at this place, and Melanie knew about it and she said “well my sister doesn’t want it but you should get it” and I came here on a rainy day and I loved it.

AUTRE: It’s beautiful.

LANOIS: I came up with a mix today I’m very excited about. The performances for this record were all done here, and I took them back to Toronto and I manipulated them and added some new ways of looking at the works. Some of it is very pure form hand played, and some things are more built. It’s not a point of bragging but I’m a sonic specialist so I get in there and I build things. One of the things you’re going to hear that was built is one called “Low Sudden” and it’s more of a trance. It visits some of what I was doing in the early 80s and touches on some of those sounds you’ll hear in a minute.

AUTRE: We’re excited to hear it.

LANOIS: Some elements are a little crazier and symphonically driven - I’ve gone into harmonic places that I’ve never known before. Now this is significant because you might think “well we’ve done it all, and same old chords” but there are a few turning points in this music that provided me with a glimpse into the future.

AUTRE: So where do you think that inspiration came from?

LANOIS: Perhaps, I might have gotten disillusioned with the usual chords. It’s not a rhythmic record; you’ll hear the strangeness of the chords and the textures. It will conjure up feelings you’ve never had before. One has a very Italian melody – things that I would never come up with, because I see myself as a rocker. To bump into this whole way of looking at harmonics has really opened up a new side of my imagination. Crazy ass shit.

AUTRE: The devotion you have to music is astounding. Your collection here is amazing.

LANOIS: I have a couple of comic friends. Jim Carrey is one of them. He is so smart; he could do a routine at the drop of a hat. He walks in here and says, “This is how to live! Close to your passion! What are you passionate about? You can’t take that to the grave! You could take this to the grave!” He gave a whole sermon to justify the mess I made in the front room.

AUTRE: Well it seems this is your living room, and this is how you want to live.

LANOIS: It’s better than buying yachts and going to St. Barth’s.

AUTRE: How did you get a hold of this piano?

LANOIS: If you’re lucky enough to have an acoustic instrument that sounds beautiful, you can always restore it back to its former glory. Even if it gets funky or messed up, you can always return it to the sound. It will maintain the sound. When we found this barrelhouse of a piano, it needed refurbishing, but we could tell it had heart. We resurrected it.

AUTRE: There’s kind of a similarity to motorcycles in that.

LANOIS: Yeah, a little bit. It’s nice to respect a tool, to imagine what it was like in 1915.

AUTRE: Going back again to your beginnings, how did you get into music?

LANOIS: In the beginning, my father and my grandfather were violin players. They played some of the traditional music of their French Canadian culture. There were no nightclubs back then, so people would gather around their houses. They would whip out their violins. There were piano players. All my uncles sang. I was exposed to that as a kid. The melodies really got in my brain. There was nothing popular about them; they were just old songs.

AUTRE: What was your first introduction to rock and roll music? 

LANOIS: [Sings.] “You’re so young, and I’m so old. This, my darling, I’ve been told. You and I will be as free as the birds up in the trees. Please, please stay and be mine, Diana.” That’s the guy who wrote the theme song for the Tonight Show. A guy named Paul Anka.

Where we lived was between Detroit and Buffalo. We got great broadcasts out of those cities. I got to hear all the great Motown stuff on the radio. We had some cool DJs in Toronto. They were stoned out of their brains. This was a time when they let disc jockeys do whatever they wanted, late nights especially. And they were beat poets, spinning some yarn, playing an entire side of an album. Back in the day, there were no pictures of anything. I would sit in my mother’s basement, listening to the crazy music on the radio, imagining what it would be like out in the world.

AUTRE: Was there anyone in particular who really influenced you?

LANOIS: Rick James.

AUTRE: Were you invited down to New Orleans, or did you go there to seek out music?

LANOIS: I saw a piece in Life about the architectural significance of New Orleans. So I thought, I think I’m going to go down there to finish my record. I took a train from New York down, going through all the backwaters of the cities. I got to see industry in America. I got to see its decay, the decline of manufacturing and the steel industry. I was practically in tears – there is so much poverty. We grew up in North America thinking everything is great, but I saw the opposite when I went down there. It was a real eye-opener for me. It was a musical journey to go down there, but I was just as interested in everything else that was happening culturally.  

AUTRE: What was it like being a Canadian kid down south?

LANOIS: Amazing. You would hear stories about this crazy river, the bloodline of creativity. It’s called the delta, where different influences come in from different parts – blues, bluegrass, Texas swing. All these different forces. What did it add up to? Rock n’ roll. I got to work with the greats. I got Rockin’ Dopsie to play on a Bob Dylan record. Are you kidding me? I’m a dumb French Canadian.

AUTRE: How do you feel about music now?

LANOIS: It’s fine. You’ve got Maroon 5, force-fed rock. I kinda like the thing that’s happening in America where girls are just fucking in charge of pop music. So, Miley Cyrus naked with her bare cunt on a cannon ball – is that all you got, baby? You know go up the flagpole and back down, bare cunt. I’ll throw some confetti. So, I kinda like that whole thing that’s happening in America right now where the girls are just in charge of fucking pop. I say, take more clothes off, have more hits, own the fucking country, get to the top of the charts and I’ll be eating popcorn. I won’t make records like that, but I’m kinda glad somebody else is.

AUTRE: You keep coming back to real, pure form, for the experience of music rather than whatever movement you might be a part of.

LANOIS: We have a responsibility in these referential times. It’s easy to be spot-on with style. I don’t want to make a referential record. There’s nothing stopping me from sampling a song, but will that fill us? I don’t think so. I don’t want to do referential. I don’t care if I’m penniless. I want to do new things. I want to see the future of music. I may not get there, but I’m going to damn well try. 

Autre will be releasing Daniel Lanois and Rocco DeLuca's track The Resonant Frequency of Love with an accompanying short film on Valentines Day, 2016. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper and Summer Bowie. photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Leading The Hip-Hop Renaissance: A Conversation With Viper Magazine Publisher Lily Mercer On The New Golden Age of Hip-Hop

I’m one of those weirdoes who actually gets excited for the weeks when new magazines drop. I get my art fix with Juxtapoz and ArtForum. Politics get imbibed with the New Yorker and the Atlantic. The need for weed is expressed through Heads. Fashion frenzies with Purple and Arena Homme+. Rock n’ rolling with Mojo. Freaking out in experimental music with the Wire. But it wasn’t until this past summer when I discovered a thick UK-based magazine called Viper that I’d get to read about hip-hop in an intelligent and creative manner (the Source isn’t really doing the trick anymore).

That issue, the Spring/Summer 2015, immediately spoke to me. A fantastic block letter logo emblazoned upon a cover depicting two of the best MCs on the planet, Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples. On the inside, I found a magazine that was creatively akin to much missed culture and fashion magazines like Index and the Face. It isn’t just about the music; it examines hip-hop as a culture and a lifestyle. There was an ode to the late A$AP Yams. There was an examination of the cultural and fashion impact of FILA. A photo series documented the migrant crisis of Greece. Not to mention, articles on some of hip-hop’s most under-praised and creatively fertile artists: Milkaveli, Earth Gang, and the aforementioned Earl and Vince. Here was a magazine that gave life to the love that hip-hop inspires. This magazine, revolutionary in its impact to the culture it targets, is the brainchild of the young North London-hailing music journalist Lily Mercer.

Mercer was studying fashion journalism before growing disenchanted with the industry, generating a knack for interviewing rappers. Quickly she found herself generating bylines with respected music rags like Noisey and Clash. Noted for her taste making talents, she was given her own radio show through Rinse FM, The Lily Mercer Show, that airs Monday morning from 1 to 3 am where she breaks grime artists and Chicago MCs on a regular basis. Viper Mag was unleashed upon the world as a 50-page zine in 2013. It was born out of frustration. Mercer wanted to read the magazine that the hip-hop community deserved. So, in a naively punk manner, she did it her fucking self. “I was trying to find a magazine that I enjoyed reading, and there were none,” says Mercer. “So, I made my own. And we are all the luckier for it.”

The magazine is now 150 pages deep and holds an accompanying website that is updated daily. Mercer also keeps a personal blog where she espouses on all manner of her ideas and beliefs. It is no small feat becoming a personal brand in the world of journalism (I should fucking know, believe me), so it’s all the more impressive that Mercer has become something of a celebrity in her own right. She has done so through buckets of knowledge, insane enthusiasm, and an unbridled work ethic that flips millennial stereotypes on their heads.

Holding my Earl/Staples issue of Viper, I gave Mercer a ring on Skype. We had a wonderful conversation spanning her career in hip-hop, fashion and hip-hop, hip-hop culture, hip-hop politics, and lots of other things hip-hop. Enjoy.

Adam Lehrer: We always talk about Golden Ages of hip-hop—, late ‘80s, mid-90s. But people never seem to realize that they’re living in a Golden Age. Do you think we’re living in a Golden Age of hip-hop right now?

Lily Mercer: I do. For me, it started in 2010. Now, I look at the artists I listen to. The only thing I would wonder about is the longevity. I don’t know if they are lyrically better artists, but for me, there are way more interesting artists now.

AL: There are your Kendricks and your Earls, but hip-hop has gotten more adventurous sonically. I like shit from the bottom up—from Dr. Yen Lo on the underground, to the stuff that Future put out this year in the mainstream. The pop artists and the underground artists are all good.

LM: I agree. When an artist like Kendrick gets to the level where he is now, that’s when you realize how many new artists are out there.

AL: Do you remember the moment you fell in love with hip-hop?

LM: Yeah. There were two songs. One was “Wishing on a Star” by Jay-Z. Weirdly, that’s the Jay-Z [track] that no one thinks of. My mum had grown up playing Motown, so there was a soul connection. It was hearing a song that was accessible but also quite deep. To me, those songs were quite profound at eight years old. After, when [rap] became an obsession, was when Eminem came out. That was a gateway drug. He’s a white rapper with middle class parents. I was a middle class kid, so it was the kind of hip-hop that was acceptable.

AL: There was an interview the other day with Vince Staples and Mac Miller, talking about the difference between white rappers and white guys who rap. White rappers come with all the stereotypes. White guys who rap are the guys who do it and respect the culture and the history.

LM: I’ve always said I’m quite racist because I never liked white rappers much. I didn’t actually listen to Mac Miller until recently. I do like his music now. I don’t know why I don’t listen to white rappers as much. This might sound weird, but white people in the industry don’t like other white people in the industry. There’s only one person around in this clique. You sit outside; I’m in this crew. They get cold towards you. I never understood that, but maybe that’s why.

AL: How did you realize you wanted to be on the editorial side of the industry, as opposed to making music or working in publicity?

LM: I’m musically disabled. I can’t read music. I can’t count beats. You would be surprised how little I know about the technical side of music. The business side can be shady, so I didn’t want to get into the business side of the industry.

As a five-year-old child, I was collecting magazines. Then, I ended up at fashion school doing fashion journalism. As soon as I finished, I thought about how much you could spend on a handbag, and I fell out of love with fashion. I graduated, then, literally a month later, I started interviewing rappers. I could create the images and the writing with authority.

AL: That’s interesting that you fell out of love with fashion. What was your relationship to fashion before?

LM: I always loved fashion. At age 5, I was dressing myself. My mum taught me how to sew. I always wanted to be a fashion designer. I met Alexander McQueen when I was about 14. I was out drinking one night (the drinking is 18, but we used to get away with it much younger).  I just went over to him and said, “You’re my favorite. I love you.” It sounds weird, but if I had become a fashion designer, I would want to be better than Alexander McQueen. And that’s impossible. There was nothing I had to offer the fashion world.

AL: Fashion is weird for me. I come at it from more of a music angle. I didn’t know about it brand-wise until Kanye West lyrics, to be honest.

LM: It’s funny, I used to dress like A$AP Rocky before A$AP Rocky. I thought, “These rappers are getting into fashion.” I think it’s a good thing for the fashion industry. The fashion industry benefits more than the music industry does.

AL: It’s crazy. You see men wearing Rick Owens’ dresses because A$AP Rocky said they look cool in a song.

LM: Especially with the whole skinny jeans thing. it was so skinny, then it went to baggy, then it was back to skinny. More than fashion, I’m really into street fashion and street culture. In London, we have a very large Caribbean community. Growing up in East London, the best-dressed men were Jamaican. If you asked me my fashion icon when I was growing up, it would have been Ghostface, with the gold, the Wonder Woman bracelet.

AL: Ghostface is my favorite MC of all time.

LM: Me too. He might as well be number one, because he’s all around—lyrics, interests. His imagination is cool. The way he speaks to people is amazing.

AL: It’s interesting, he’s hyper-literate with his lyrics, but in interviews, I can’t always understand him.

LM: One of my worst/best interviews was with him. It was in a caravan before he went on stage. He basically said I had two minutes. And I thought, “What am I going to do in two minutes?” He looks at me and says, “Are you going to start?” As soon as he said that, I snapped at him and said, “No, you’ve given me two minutes, what the fuck am I supposed to do?” He started smiling, and went from being in a really bad mood to being happy. Two days later, my friend saw him in the airport, and he said, “Oh, your friend was that cool blonde girl.” I can die happy now.

AL: You clearly are internet-savvy. How did you start to learn the power of the Internet? When did you realize how powerful it could be?

LM: It was all in building my own website. I’m not totally [internet] literate, I’m still figuring things out. It took me years to figure out how to use the Twitter handle properly. I’ve never tried to get followers out of anything. I’ve always been quite natural about it. Being a broke journalist, the Internet has made my career in London. If I were into rappers ten years ago, I wouldn’t have anywhere to go. The blog and Twitter have given me a bit of a following.

AL: How did the Lily Mercer Show, your radio show, come into fruition?

LM: It’s funny, I never thought I would do radio. But I was living in Queens. I got a DM on Twitter from this girl asking, “Did you ever think about having your own radio show?” She really knew about the artists I was playing, when no one else knew about them. These weren’t big people yet; they were really just my friends. She thought that would translate well into a radio show. I thought about staying in New York, because that’s where a lot of new things were happening. But when I got back to the UK and started working with Rinse, they asked me to do the show by myself. That was the summer of 2012. The show has been weekly since February 2013, which is crazy.

Nobody knows how big Rinse is in the UK: dubstep, grime, jungle, garage—all these really significant movements that were happening in the UK were broadcasted by Rinse when it was illegal. It was an illegal pirate radio station. They were literally climbing up random rooftops to get it broadcasted. That’s the most rebellious thing in the world. I love being on a stage with that history.

AL: Do you find that it was just really good timing, and that the show came into being just as Skepta and Novelist and all these guys were taking off?

LM: It was. You could hear people like Wiley and Skepta all over when it was still illegal. A lot of [grime artists] are managed by the station, actually. I was playing people Chance the Rapper and Tinashe two or three years ago. I started playing Kali Uchis on Rinse in the beginning of 2014, and she was on the Viper cover. Now, she’s got an album deal.

AL: I am a huge fan of Viper Magazine. What were the magazine’s origins?

LM: Basically, the first issue of Viper was a 50-page zine. That was our way of showing the world what we were going to do. Then, the next issue came about six months later. It was a full print magazine with 150 pages. It took me about nine months to plan it all out. I spent a lot of time figuring out 1. how to market it, 2. who I would want to put in the magazine, and 3. the actual logistics of it. It was ridiculous. When I did it, I was quite naïve. I didn’t realize how much work it is.

AL: You kind of have to be, right?

LM: Oh, yeah. I never would have done it otherwise. I made the magazine out of frustration.

AL: It reminds me of what The Face was for the fashion world, but for hip-hop. It’s writing about something that people might not take seriously, but in the culture that it exists in, it’s taken very seriously. But it’s still fun and enjoyable to read.

LM: The dream was to have it like that. I was buying Face in the last few years of it. That magazine killed itself well; it ended as one of those legendary magazines. Unfortunately, we’ve fallen into a bad state of journalism. Viper is as much about lifestyle as it is about music.

I remember reading about the crack epidemic and homelessness in hip-hop magazines. For the very first issue of Viper, the zine, I wrote a piece called “The Sound of Chiraq.” This was the end of 2013. It was basically asking, “Why are we so focused on the violence and not the incredible music that’s coming out of that city?” There were really poor documentaries that came out about Chiraq after that. Yesterday, I interview Saba, who is from Chicago. He was saying, “I don’t know why people don’t pay more attention to the music.” It’s still such a relevant topic now.

AL: Vince Staples was asked if people take hip-hop too seriously. He was like, “are you kidding me? Hip-hop isn’t taken seriously enough.” He said it’s the most important popular art form in the world right now. I totally agree. It reaches the most people and still says the most things.

LM: I agree. Vince is one of the best. He does something that’s really difficult—managing really difficult things in between things that are quite funny. You might not understand what he’s saying, but you’re aware of it. Earl does it really well. In “Hive,” he says something like, “It’s lead in that baby food,” and I thought, he’s talking about that thing in India. I recently watched a documentary on Tupac, and he says some things that are so explosive. He’s the last revolutionary musician we’ve had. He’s the last Bob Marley. He was the last guy to say something against the government. Kanye tried to do it. Somebody is going to stand up. Maybe it’s Vince, someone with the balls to say the things he does.

AL: It seems like the better fashion, art, and music journalism is coming out of London. There’s Viper for hip-hop. You have i-D and Dazed. In the US, everything is just a print version of Buzzfeed. Why do you think you guys are still able to maintain business models while writing about things that are interesting?

LM: I will say one thing: Rupert Murdoch bought Vice, and then he bought i-D. It’s genius. He can control the next generation. Young people go to Vice to feel intelligent, but they have no idea it’s owned by Murdoch. That’s not to say it’s going to become totally right wing. Besides that, London doesn’t have conglomerates. It’s easier to be independent.

On the other side, the English mentality has always been quite revolutionary and anarchist. I feel we have so much revolutionary history in our country. And a huge part of that is immigration. That’s what made the country. London is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. I’ve spent time in New York and LA, and they are still quite segregated cities. London is not like that.

The music scene is really exciting in England. Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix—they all lived in London for certain parts of their life.

AL: Hendrix became Hendrix in England.

LM: There’s something about this tiny island that’s in the middle of everything, but at the same time, is entirely its own. As close as we are to European cities, we don’t have the same lifestyle. I do feel that growing up in London, we have a real chip on our shoulder. You get these people who are really tough and moody, but who also have a sense of humor. There’s something about British culture that’s quite rebellious.

AL: Is there a single article you’re most proud of at this point?

LM: Oh, that’s hard, because I also wrote a really great article on the sexualization of men. It wasn’t a huge feminist statement, but I just wanted to write a piece that balances out the double standard. It started when a friend of mine didn’t believe that women watched porn. Like, women can be really sexual people, but at the same time it’s like, “You can’t touch me. You can’t say sexual things to me.” My friends and I will be like, “Oh, look at that guy,” but if a guy did that to us, we’d be offended.

But the Mick Jenkins article, I asked him, “What’s the biggest conflict in your life?” He said, “White people saying the N word at my shows.” Immediately, that opened the floodgates. We talked about really crazy things. He actually went in on Vice, about the Chiraq thing, and the way the mainstream media focusing on the (Chicago] violence. I don’t know why it’s my favorite. He made me feel like I could contribute a lot of my personal opinion on things.

Outside of that, I think probably my Nas cover interview for Clash. One, it was my first ever cover story. Two, there was so much room for me to say what I wanted to. I told his entire backstory.

AL: Rappers can be rather prickly. Do you have any interviewing tricks that you use to disarm a subject?

LM: Method Man and Ghostface were probably the hardest. I interviewed Method Man and Masta Killa at the same time, and then U-God and GZA that same day. I previously interviewed Rae and RZA, so I had done almost the whole Clan. That was sick. The first was Method Man. The people who had come in before me had given him books, so the entire time he was reading through a book. It was the worst thing in the world. I found him to be really defensive. I said something about the origins of the gangs in Staten Island, and he was saying, “We weren’t a gang.” Finally, at the end, we talked about his film How High and how everyone thought they were high and not actually acting. Finally, he looks me in the eye and says, “Yeah.” That was it—I got on his side.

I also think eye contact is the most important thing in the world. If I can’t make eye contact with someone, I’m not engaging.

I also find that a good question to ask anyone is, “What’s your favorite animal?” I never open with it. But when you ask disarming questions that aren’t about music, people open up a little bit. They become more human.

AL: Top 5 rappers?

LM: I would say in terms of legend figures, Ghostface is number one. Nas has to be in there, because he’s Nas. I really like Sticky Fingaz, which is a rare one. MF Doom. I’m not even going to say B.I.G. and Tupac, because that’s a given. The fifth one is really fucking hard. I might say Big L. He was so slick.

Learn more about Lily Mercer at www.lilymercer.co.uk and read Viper at www.vipermag.com. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Flo Kohl. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Aarhus Is On Fire: An Interview With Danish Band On The Rise, Liss

Put a ‘B’ in front of Danish band Liss’ name and you have the perfect description of their unique, blissed out sound. Comprised of four teenagers from Aarhus (which is a little bit like the New Orleans of Denmark), Liss sounds like an amalgam of Arthur Russell angst and 90s R&B.  Currently, Liss – who are on the Escho label (known for introducing Iceage and KLoAK to the world) – is making waves on the international music scene, and it is only a matter of time before they blow up in the States. In the following interview, Søren Holm, Vilhelm Strange, Villads Tyrrestrup, and Tobias Hansen chat with Autre about musical upbringing, their unique sound and their new single, which will be released at the end of this month. Also, listen to their incredible track, Always, at the end of the interview. 

Autre: How did all of you guys meet each other and did you know right away that you wanted to make music together?

Tobias: Villads and I met each other at a music school we went to. Since that we've been playing a lot together. I knew Vilhelm a bit and had heard some music he had made with Søren which I really liked and we agreed to meet in me and Villads' rehearsal space to try something out. So I guess so. 

Autre: Growing up in Denmark, how did you gain access to music and what music were you listening to that inspired you the most?

Søren: By my older siblings, who introduced me to, for example Björk, Massive Attack and Prince - All the classics… And I guess that those are the ones who still inspire me the most musically today, but there is a lot of new music that also inspires me… I like all sorts of music. 

Tobias: My dad is a music teacher and he always played me a lot of music, so I think mostly through him. Also when I was little one of my dad’s good friends who lived in our neighborhood used to burn CDs for me with all kinds of music I should hear. It was music like Beastie Boys, Sex Pistols and Daft Punk - I remember listening a lot to that stuff. 

Vilhelm: My father was a big jazz fan back in the day, but he kind of gave up on listening to records when he got kids I think. I learned to play guitar through my brothers, and when I was around 13 I bought my brother's Stratocaster. I think the biggest musical influence I've had was when I discovered Radiohead and Portishead years ago. It kind of introduced me to pop music in some way...

Villads: Pretty similar for me. My dad is a music teacher and he played me a lot of his records. 

Autre: Do any of you have musical backgrounds….I know that in some countries, musical training is required in the curriculum?

Villads: I had quite a lot to do with music in school.

Søren: No, I started playing piano a few months before I met the other guys. 

Autre: Your sound has been described as “Nordic soul” – what is Nordic soul in your own words and would you use any other descriptions to define your sound?

Tobias: I don't really think we are Nordic soul. It's difficult to put a stamp on your own music but I guess we make pop in a way. 

Vilhelm: I think it’s always pretty hard to define your own music, it’s always easier for the observers of course. I usually tell other people we play pop music if they ask. Pop is such a broad concept - in my opinion it has no limits.

Autre: Are your parents supportive of what you are doing – it seems like they would be with all the attention you have been getting?

Søren: Yes, they are very proud, and they have been supportive from the start.  

Villads: My parents have always been supporting me musically

Autre: Most of your lyrics are in English…was their a conscious decision to sing in English versus Danish?

Søren: I've mostly been listening to music with English lyrics, so it just felt natural. 

Autre: What are some of your favorite things to do in Aarhus?

Søren: Aarhus is great because when I’m in town I get to visit my friends and girlfriend. 

Villads: I like to cycle.

Vilhelm: Hanging around the parks in the summer. Aarhus has some really great parks.

Autre: What do you want American fans to know most about your band?

Villads: That we really want to play for you all, and we hope it’s gonna happen sometime. I guess for all musicians in Denmark playing in America is a really big thing.

Autre: Where do you see yourselves in ten years?

Villads: I see myself in a bigger city but I don’t know if it’s Copenhagen or somewhere else. And I hope and think Liss will still exist at that point. 

Søren: Hopefully still evolving musically.

Autre: What’s next? 

Tobias: We are working on an EP right now, which will be out soon, hopefully. And then continue to write songs and do concerts.

Vilhelm: We’ve been using a lot of time finishing songs for the last few weeks, so I can’t wait to get back to writing new stuff.

You can preorder Liss' limited 7" single here with tracks Always and Try. You can also purchase digitally here. Keep up with tour dates here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Folk You: An Interview with Imri Vasale

Imri Vasale follows in the same familiar tradition of other American folksingers, like Guthrie, Seeger, or even Buckley - Tim Buckley that it is. With his banjo, his songs remind you of the familiar burden of a soul that is blowing in the wind like a white sheet let loose from a clothesline. His Americana spirituals of love and loss will require gentle reflection. It is true, though, that Imri's debut, self titled album, produced by Decadent Wreckords' Ethan DeLorenzo (who Imri met while working on goat farm in Sonoma County), shows considerable promise from an artist that is still in the process of cutting his teeth. We got a chance to catch up with Imri to ask a few questions about his songs and his first album. 

When did you first start making music? 

The memory has become a little fuzzy. I have always sung to myself, usually when I was alone. My dad would sing me traditional songs from the British Isles, as well as 1960’s folk revival tunes when I was younger, he also played and still does play guitar; I think I might have given it a go literally a handful of times. It was the latter part of High School-maybe 2008-2009, when I started picking up the guitar lightly, learning several chords and a rudimentary strumming style to keep the neighbors awake with. Two of my closest friends and I created a little punkish folk band, where I aimed at playing washboard and then eventually washtub bass and musical saw. I bought the banjo I have now-my first and only-at some time around senior year of high school, shortly after having picked up an accordion. I just let the dust collect on the damn thing, up until a year and a half ago when I realized I should use it. Without a doubt, the banjo has just quickly become my instrument, it’s here to stay.

Who were some musical artists that really inspired you – is there one artist that really blew your mind? 

I’m going to put it plainly, two people directly in my lives: my father and my good friend Kalei Yamanoha. I could go off and start listing the musical artists and groups that I listen to now, but I have to mention these people. As I said, my dad sang me tons of folk songs and the like as I was growing up-he has a library of music, a lot of the materials that I’ve come to enjoy are field recordings in the Smithsonian folkways compilations, as well as more ‘contemporary’ portrayals. With my father, I was exposed to the mastery of folks like Doc Watson, Mike Seeger, Dock Boggs, Frank Profitt, Bruce Molsky, and Dirk Powell. Oh, and Adam Hurt is worth noting, prodigal clawhammer work right there. Kalei was one of the guys in my jugband, and he can play anything he picks up. He was the sole reason I bought both an accordion and a banjo, and when I see him play today, I still get ear-loads of inspiration. And fuck, there are few things more special in music than finding motivation in the folks closest to you.

Where did you grow up and how did that environment influence your music? 

I was born in San Francisco and raised in the North Bay area. Santa Rosa my whole life. It’s a big town, definitely, but there’s near visually pristine countryside surrounding it on all sides, so I have been given the means to escape the suburban expanses. this is one of the greatest motifs in my music, or that’s what I’m aiming at, the natural world. Or, everything other than humans, as we have clearly learned to ignore everything other than ourselves. I have been blessed to have grown up in proximity to undeveloped land, some of which still has functioning ecosystems. It is even in our language where we try and delineate between ‘human’ and ‘nature’. Any promise to longevity and stability is to no longer ignore our whole selves, this is a massive part of my music.

How would you describe your sound?

Unrefined, but I’m working on that aspect, as well as my timing. But that can be ignored to an extent for now. I’d call it just old-time music with modern chord progressions and tonality, and minimalist. I’m big on the lyrics, I pour everything into those words until there’s nothing left in me sometimes. It’s a good way to exude self-destructive and overall negative thoughts. Yeah, neo-old-time-post-folk [chuckling]. Music is just the sound of organized emotion, and I want to capture that.

You are currently working on an album - can you talk a little bit about your debut album and what we can expect from it? 

Initially it was going to be a four or five track demo, but we have ended up recording 10 or more songs, many of which now need to be re-recorded. Now we are stripping it back down to a 4 song demo. I’ve never worked with someone before on anything like this, but even with that said, Ethan [DeLorenzo] has been the most patient and encouraging person I could ever have come across. We’ve slowly been recording everything that I spat out in the last 2 years, but having not done that before, now I can listen back on my progression and refine my emotions and the way I share them.

You met Ethan - who produced your record - on a goat farm in Sonoma, can you describe that meeting? 

No, well I was working on a particular farm while he came on up with my sister from LA. She became his housemate the year before and had shared some goofy garageband recordings of my banjo with him, and I guess he liked them. We met at my parents’ house, and he told me he’d be interested in recording. Nonchalant and homely. That’s the best meetings can get.

What's next? 

I want to keep playing music, practice more, write more material, keep sharing it with folks. My one great ‘ambition’ with music would be to have some folks cry with joy or pain and then remember that song, and with that memory fuel actual positive change in their lives. Even if it’s one other person, even if it just ends up being me, I don’t care too much any more about what’s next because I do have faith that nothing goes as planned.

You can purchase Imri's self titled album here. You can also stream the album on Spotify. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper