Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Records Of The Year, 2011

OFF!- First Four EPs (Vice)
As close to Keith Morris-era Black Flag as you could reasonably hope for, 2011 brought the release of the first OFF! records. Featuring Keith himself (and former RFTC drummer Mario Rubalcaba) OFF! deliver with the short sharp brutality of primitive LA hardcore. There's plenty of referential humour intertwined beyond the title of this release - the band are also named after a flyspray and Raymond Pettibon is on graphic duties once again. The existence of OFF! voids the last 25 years worth of Black Flag indebted false punk.



Tom Waits- Bad As Me (Anti)
Dog-eared bar-room poetry from the 61 year-old, on his 17th album. As focused and game-changing as anything he's ever done.



Real Estate- Days (Domino)
Hopefully the dawn of a new C86 era, the shimmering delights of Real Estate have been delighting audiences over the world since their moved to indie-major Domino. Spotless pop-melancholy oozes from every groove of this, their second full length album.



Roedelius/Schneider- Stunden (Bureau B)
Piano-and-electronics post-ambient experimentalism, from one of the genre's founding fathers and a modern master. At once clever and playful, music for an open mind in an empty room.



Wolves in the Throne Room- Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord)
Transcendental, relentless black metal in the truest sense; the sound of a rain-drenched spectre looming on the edge of a foggy forest. Witness new constellations coalesce...



Zomby- Dedication (4AD)
Smart, synth-y soundsystem psychedelia. Post-everything piano electronics for the discerning rudeboy.



Vittorio Mazzoni - Geografia Della Campania (Not on label)
The soundtrack to a vintage future of disjointed voices, lost guitars and haunted dub. Vintage modernism on cassette.



Git- Imagination (BBE)
Party in your head to the Pete Rock flavoured Bay-Area hip-hop like it's 1995.



Peaking Lights- 936 (Weird World)
Psychedelic kosmiche-dub with other-worldly analogue electronics, but pop.



Gang Gang Dance- Eye Contact (4AD)
New York art-dance-pop of the most fun and experimental kind. A necessary, modernist advancement of dance music.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Tarwater

The release of the eleventh Tarwater album, 'Inside The Ships', finds the Berlin duo drawing reference from 1950s sci-fi, kraut-minimalism and experimental cinema; even eliciting the atypical circumstance of a film being made around their album- rather than the other way around. While the voice, effected guitar and analogue electronics of Ronald Lippok (also of To Rococo Rot) and Bernd Jestram seem rooted in an entirely post-modern space-age, it is inevitabley borne of their country's kosmiche heritage, flickering B-movies and their 1990s 'post-rock' contemporaries. Inevitable comparisons to Tortoise, Sonic Youth, Neu! and Stereolab abound, yet Tarwater are time-served alumni of this school, and continue to explore the furthest reaches of their (Forbidden) planet of sound. Their new record is clear testament to this, so I thought I should ask them a bit about it. This interview took place when they played the 'Eastern Promise' festival, at Platform, in Glasgow's Easterhouse.

                                                         Tarwater. Photograph by Christoph Voy

The album, Inside The Ships, took two years to finish. What happened during those two years?
R: We were working on stuff like film music, theatre, and radio plays and so on. When we started doing the album in the beginning we didn't have any idea. A friend of ours was working on a space opera- a science fiction space opera- and that was the kind of initial inspiration for the album. We thought that was interesting, and we started listening to space rock, to the Ladbroke Grove scene, and to old science fiction music from the GDR- East German science fiction film music. Actually, it was meant to be a space opera radio play. That was the initial inspiration for the album.

How much of the two years was writing, how much was recording, how much was mastering?
B: Because I'm running the studio, it's always one process. We don't compose at the beginning... We just say "Today is a Tarwater day, let's record something", and we start from zero.
R: We start to do something, and it's not very strategic. We don't write songs in the classic way where you start with an instrument- it always starts with sound, soundscapes... that's the best way for something to happen. When you never know.

The album has inspired a short film. Tell me about that.

R: There was a guy who said to us "Let's do it the other way around. Don't write music for the movie, give me the music first and I'll do the movie". We wanted to see how the video developed, based on the tracks. It's not like a video clip really, it's longer- it's 35 minutes- and it's based on Tarwater tracks. It was good doing it the other way around, because when you work on film music normally, you do the music when you have the pictures and this time it was the other way around.
B: We were recording and making the album at the time, so he got tracks that we didn't put on the record.

Tracks that were meant for the record?

R: Tracks that died!


What did you think of the film?
R: I really liked it it. It was done on Alexanderplatz in the centre of Berlin. Since we were children we've known this place, but looking at the movie we didn't know it was made on Alexanderplatz. It was interesting seeing a place that we're so familiar with, and not noticing it. Imagine going to the most famous spot in Glasgow, and you shoot a movie, and people don't know where it is...
B: It was shot at nighttime, just using the light that was coming from the surroundings.
R: They didn't bring any extra lights, it was just the lights that were there.

So if this guy approached you while you were making the album, did it change the way the album was created?
R: Hmm. Good question. Actually, I don't think so. Working on the album was taking quite a while, for us, because albums have their own needs. It's like when you try to attract an animal, and you go "Come! Come! Come!", we were waiting for the songs to come. To come together. We'd think one was good, then we'd think one was fantastic, but the album had no 'face'. Then when it started to come together, then we thought "OK, let's tour, we've got an album". Recording an album should be a microcosm. It doesn't necessarily have to be a concept album, but you should be able to listen to the whole album and see that this is a little world in itself. You never know when this is going to happen.


The press release for the album says that it definitely isn't a concept album.
R: (Laughs) I know... Science fiction was just an inspiration, but if you listen to the tracks there is a certain theme. Like 'Radio War' is about Orson Welles and the whole story about his radio play (War Of The Worlds) when everybody went nuts about the martians coming to Earth, and how at the time there was this big fear of communism. 'Do The Oz' is like a science fiction dance- "Put your left wing in, take your left wing out"- even though it was inspired by Oz magazine, because Oz was going to stop, and we wanted to support this underground magazine. Science fiction was an inspiration, but I think a concept album has to have a weird story going through it.

Like a Soft Machine album.
R: We love Soft Machine.Soft Machine was one of the inspirations for the album. We did a DJ mix for (excellent music website) The Quietus that you should check out. It's a one-hour mix of science fiction music.

Were you watching a lot of films when you were making the album?
R: Science fiction was always interesting to us, but we were watching a lot of Russian films at the time. We weren't doing 'research', science fiction is always around, it's to do with our lives. It's not like fantasy that puts you someplace completely else, with science fiction you still have a connection.


The science fiction that comes to mind when I listen to the new record is the science fiction of the 1950s and 60s. Stuff that was set in the year 2000. It's this vintage future that never existed.
R: That's a good way of putting it. When I was a child I expected to be living underwater by the age I am now. When you listen to 'Forbidden Planet', it's a very interesting soundtrack, made electronically. When you listen to a science fiction movie from now it's very boring. It's just standard. In the olden days they thought "OK, how could music sound in the future?" That was far more interesting than what science fiction music is now. I think it's a pity that people don't try harder now.

People like Delia Derbyshire, and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, who did the Doctor Who music, don't exist anymore.

R: Doctor Who is a very good example. That's fantastic, frightening music. With science fiction there's so much more in the 50s, 60s and 70s than there is now.

Is there any music out just now that you like?

R: I really like the last Kreidler album. I'm not saying that because we're on the same label. I really appreciate that a band like that can make a statement with a record like that. Is there any other stuff?
B: I quite like the new Wire record! I've listened to it several times now, and I like the songwriting, and the singing. I was really impressed. I've been a Wire fan for so long, but the new one just made me say "Wow!"


How has the Tarwater sound developed over the years? The first album was quite beats-based, but do you think your music has begun to merge with the soundtrack work you do?
R: It's hard for us to say. I never listen to the old albums, unless I'm really drunk. Although I was listening to an old track today, for the show, and it sounded quite different to the version we play live. If you work for a long time things will change. With 'Dwellers On The Threshold', we had an interest in folk music. Like psychedelic folk, and soul. I think that changed the sound in a way. But we have always worked in Berlin. We've never worked in, let's say, the countryside. We're always in town, and we're out listening to DJ sets. We're always surrounded by people doing stuff that has an impact on our music. It's not very strategic. We don't go "The next record should be more song-based, or have less guitar" or anything.

Each album seems like a new sound.
R: I like that some people only know the new album, and some people only know the old albums. Some people will only like the albums from the mid 90s, with the singing and electronics. This curious mixture of sound and song. It's hard to say as a band. We don't ever plan anything. For our career that might not be good, but that's the way it is.


Are you touring the new album in a big way?
R: Tonight, we're playing the songs for the first time. It's a special night- it's an adventure! We've been rehearsing at our studio, but we don't know what they sound like through a sound system.

When you're writing a song, do you think about how it'll sound live?
B: No, never. When we're in the studio we just record what we like. We never think about live. So later on we sometimes have massive problems. Like, "How can we play this song, it's not possible".
R: Or we'll have something that we just can't repeat, from an old Korg or something.
B: We can't play all the instruments with just two people.
R: Playing live is like a parallel process to doing the album. We have to think "OK, what can we play live? How can we translate this?" And then we find out.

                                                         Ronald Lippok, me, Bernd Jestram


Tarwater - Inside The Ships sampler by Bureau B

Check out Tarwater's mix for The Quietus here- http://thequietus.com/articles/06987-tarwater-mix

Monday, 12 December 2011

Real Estate

Now signed to the mighty Domino label, New Jersey's Real Estate have just released their second album, and what a beautiful piece of shimmering, melodic, lo-fi indie pop it is. Drawing comparison to Felt and Television, the Strokes and The Stone Roses; they owe as much to the UK's C86 sound as they do to New York new wave. With greatness and mainstream success beckoning them forth, we caught up with frontman Martin Courtney for an interview as he prepared to take the band on a world tour.

        Real Estate. Alex Bleeker, Matt Mondanile and Martin Courtney. Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

So you've just signed a worldwide deal with Domino. How's that working out for you?
I guess it's been a really big change, but it's nice- everybody's really cool. I guess it was kind of a goal of ours to be on a bigger label. The different thing with Domino is that it feels like we now have a career or something! There's like a team of people there to help you out with stuff. They're just excellent. For us to just be doing what we're doing, it's great.

Was the new record recorded with Domino in mind? Even subconsciously?
We'd already decided we wanted to go with them when we started recording, and to be honest, we wouldn't have been able to record in a studio if we didn't know we were going to be getting some money from a label. We didn't actually announce that we'd signed to Domino until a couple months after we did sign. We just wanted to have the record done. We started talking to them about November- pretty much a year ago.


Had you already started writing when you were speaking to them?
Yes. The album was about half-way done. We'd been touring so much over the last couple years that we didn't really have time for writing. We did a tour with Deerhunter which finished in early November, then we just spent three months writing the album, and February was when we started recording. I spent January waking up every day and trying to record a demo or something, like it was my job, which was pretty cool.

What's the difference between the Real Estate that recorded the self-titled debut, and the Real Estate that made this new album?
We definitely have more of an identity formed as a band. Some of the songs on the first album were recorded before Real Estate was even a band. The first record was much less of a group effort, more like just trying to get some songs down. Almost like demos, y'know? And then we sort of coalesced into a four-piece rock group, and we toured a bunch. Right before we recorded this album we lost a member. We recorded this album as a three-piece, without a solid drummer. I played drums on some of it, Matt played drums on some of it and our friend Sam who plays in Big Troubles played drums. He was just helping out, so we didn't even know who was going to be our drummer live.


Yeah, I've heard you described as a 'jam band'. To what extent is that true?
I guess we like to 'jam', extend sections of our songs, or have them not be as planned out as maybe some bands. Our songs aren't always the same length! But it's only certain songs where we do that. With some songs we can be "We're gonna play this section for a long time" and maybe just improvise a little, but it's mostly because I really like repetition. I really like playing something over and over again until it becomes sort of hypnotic. On the new album we do that on the last song. It's a seven minute song, and the last four minutes are just the same thing over and over again. It's kind of like a Krautrock kinda thing.

Metronomic.
Yeah, I guess as part of our identity as a band we always did that. That's what people latch on to and call a 'jam band' I think. Our bassist is like a closeted hippy. He likes to go and see Phish and stuff, so he's actually into jam bands. And we all the the Grateful Dead.

What were you listening to when you were putting the record together?
When we were making the record we were listening to a ton of Television. Television has always been a favourite of ours, and Felt was one we were listening to a lot.


If you're on Domino you're going to be obliged to listen to Felt.
Yeah! Definitely. This thing Cleaners From Venus was one that we listened to a lot.

Who? Spring Cleaners From Venus?
No, no- Cleaners From Venus. They're great. I feel like Guided By Voices listened to Cleaners From Venus a lot. Robert Pollard probably listened to them a lot. His voice sounds like this guy. They're cool. They're this home-recorded thing from the eighties. And we were listening to The Strokes a lot. It's funny, I was kinda reminiscing about high school. I dunno if that came through in the music, but we were going through this weird obsession with The Strokes. But I don't think you can hear it. Hopefully not (laughs). Stuff like Cass McCombs too...

Who's on Domino too.
Yeah, sure. That's what was funny about talking to Domino, they put out so much music that we really like. We were talking to a couple other labels too, but we thought how great it'd be to be associated with these acts that we love! Now that we're on the label I'm listening to all this other music they put out that I'd never heard before. Like Robert Wyatt. The re-issued all his older stuff, it's great!

His new stuff's good too.
Yeah, I don't think I've actually heard any of his newer stuff. I've only really been listening to 'Rock Bottom' and 'Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard'. But yeah, anyway- I'd say that probably the two biggest things for us was Television and Felt. Not that we were trying to sound like anything. With Television- we're a totally different band- but I do idealise the way that their arrangements were so melodic. Everybody's playing something different but it all fits together so well, and it's so rhythmic.

                                                     Real Estate. Photograph by Shawn Brackbill.

Your first album was extremely well received. Did that put pressure on you, or do you think that helped?
There was definitely a little bit of pressure. It was a different experience. Recording the first record, I wasn't expecting that anybody would hear it. That was definitely in the back of my mind. I tried to not let that ruin it for me, but it was definitely there. The fact that the first record was so well received almost made it easy for us. It's not like we didn't try with the first record but it, it wasn't like it was hard to make and people really liked it, so I was like "Well, if people liked that..." All I can hear is mistakes when I listen to it, but if people really liked that they're gonna love this one. When I listen to the new album I feel really good about it, so I'm not too worried I guess.

The track 'Out Of Tune', which was a single last year, is on the new album. Did you not want people to miss that one?
That's the only track on the record that wasn't done at the same time as all the other ones, and it's the only one that still has our old drummer on it. We thought about redoing it, but it was really hard to get someone to replicate his drum track. That drum track was like his crowning glory, and we can't figure out what he was doing there. We can't replicate it, and the recording sounded really good. I don't like to re-use songs, but everybody around us said we should put it on the record, because not enough people heard it. It was really just released as a seven inch, and it never came out outside the US. And I like it.


The album's coming out on CD, LP and cassette. Did you have a format in mind when you were making it?
We were always recording with vinyl in mind. And CD obviously too, but we were sequencing it for vinyl, because of course you can only fit a certain amount on a side of vinyl. We toyed with the idea of doing a double LP...

A bold move for your second album.
Yeah, yeah, so I was like "I guess we can't do that!"

The Stone Roses did it!
Haha, yeah. But it would've been a stretch! But with the cassette, we were excited about it. It wasn't really our idea, it was kinda Domino's idea. It's obviously gonna be a bit more limited, I think they're only gonna do 500. I doubt more than 500 people are gonna buy the cassette, but I know a lot of people who still listen to cassettes in their cars or fetishise it or whatever.


Your guitarist player Matt will be known to a lot of people through his Ducktails releases. Did his work there inhibit the making of the album at all?
I guess in a way... When we were mixing the record he had to go on tour. He couldn't be around for certain things that maybe he would have wanted to be around for. When we got the record mastered, he had just come back from tour. We went to this really nice mastering studio in Manhattan. The guy who mastered our record mastered Marquee Moon, and he did Born To Run. He had a note from John Lennon, because he mastered Walls and Bridges. This handwritten note from John Lennon with his phone number on it.

How did you get hooked up with this guy?
Our producer knew him. He did the new Titus Andronicus album, which our producer did, and he did the new Kurt Vile record. He does indie stuff as well, y'know? But they're this big famous mastering studio called Sterling Sound. His name's Greg Calbi. He did some amazing stuff. But yeah, Matt couldn't be around for that, and he wishes he could have been. But we factor it into the band. We schedule it, almost. Like we know when for the next couple of months Real Estate is going to have to be a focus. Like now we have to tour, but Matt's working on an album now, so that'll probably come out when we take a break from touring. Maybe when he's doing that I'll have time to write material for the next record.


Do you find yourself drawn to a certain an era of music? A certain time and a place?
Not really. I dunno. Yeah, late sixties, early seventies music... I mean I love Television but I don't necessarily love...

Patti Smith?
Yeah. Or like the New York Dolls or something. It's not like I'm obsessed with that area of New York music. I went to school in Olympia, Washington, and I was really excited to go there- although it wasn't the reason- because I knew that in the late eighties, early nineties, it was this really great place for indie rock. Like K Records and all that stuff. But pretty soon after I got there I realised that that's not what it's like anymore, it's just like any other college town. Except you seen Calvin Johnson around now and again. I don't find myself drawn to a particular time or place. I just like the music I like. I think that's probably the same with most people.

Your press release described New Jersey as one of America's "less cool states". What do you think of that?

It gets a lot of shit from people in New York. People in New York like to pretend they grew up in New York, even thought they're probably from Ohio or something. New Jersey is close to New York, but it's not New York. It's like the suburbs, so it's not as cool. There's a lot of industry there, so it's ugly. The highway, the I95, runs through New Jersey and it runs through this industrial part that just smells bad, 'cause there's all these oil refineries there. There's this huge swamp there called the Meadowlands that they've never been able to build on, and it releases this natural gas into the air, and it just smells bad. It smells like farts. People just get this bad impression when they drive through New Jersey. But there's some funny people that come from there. Like the whole Jersey Shore thing. Those people do exist, but it's a very small aspect of what New Jersey is. We were lucky where we were, because we were able to go to New York for shows and stuff.

Was there a show you saw that stands out? Anything you look back on that meant a lot to you?
There's a lot of them... I saw Television, which was kind of amazing. They reunited for a couple of shows, and I saw them when I was 17, which was kinda cool. I was even thinking recently, "Did I imagine that? Did that happen?" but it did! It got really bad reviews, but I remember it being incredible. If anything it's probably that we saw so many shows. I saw Built To Spill three or four times, I saw Yo La Tengo a bunch, we saw the Pixies when they got back together, but we became aware of this other scene in Brooklyn, all these loft shows that this guy Todd P put on. He's this DIY promoter guy who's put on shows for years. He really helped us early on in our time as a band. He booked us for a lot of shows. I think if you grow up in a place where you're not really exposed to a lot of live music you don't really think of it as a reality, or as an achievable goal.


What are your plans for the band in the next while?
We're doing a lot of touring. We're coming to the UK. We'll be touring all of November and a little bit of December. I'm writing some songs right now, and we're planning on doing an EP when we get home. I really want to get back in the studio and try to fire off a couple more songs.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Hans-Joachim Roedelius

The electronic pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a legendary figure in modern music. He founded the seminal bands Kluster (who later became Cluster, and now Qluster) and Harmonia (where he worked with a young Brian Eno), and he made music using the world's first drum machine- Drummer One. His work is considered across the world to be the blueprint for electronic music. He turns 77 this month, and rarely gives interviews, but Bite My Wire managed to trace him to his house in Austria for our conversation. He's just released his collaboration album with Stefan Schneider (of post-rock pioneers Kreidler and To Rococo Rot) and it's one of the most beautiful things you will ever hear.

                                                                  Hans-Joachim Roedelius.

How did you meet Stefan? How did the collaboration come about?
I met Stefan a long time ago, when I was playing somewhere. He invited me to one of his concert series in Düsseldorf, and that was the first time we played together. Now that's four years ago, I think. When we did these concerts we said "Let's do a record, and let's try something else". We needed about one-and-a-half years to get this thing on tape.

Did you have any idea how you wanted 'Stunden' to sound when you started working on it?
I had no idea which way it would work, so it was very surprising how it came out in the end. The rhythms came out really nice, because of what Stefan Schneider did to it. I'm more the abstract, melodic part of it.

                           Stefan Schneider and Roedelius. Photograph by Fabian Schulz

You've always done a lot of collaborations. Do you find yourself to be more productive in the company of strangers?
I think it gives a lot of new ideas, it enriches my own work and my own type of working. It's a challenge, especially to work with people who are almost half my age. It's a good challenge for me because I don't want to fall asleep whilst I'm still on Earth. I'm 77 now, and it's good refreshment, this well of youth. It's good to get together with young people and work with them. It's only young people I'm working with at the moment- the youngest is a girl from Pakistan. She's living in Croatia, and is a bass player and a computer specialist. She's 30. Onnen Bock, who I'm working with in Qluster is in his 40s... I think I'm only working with the younger generation! 


Your music has appealed to people for over 40 years, without you ever having to try, and without changing your sound. Why do you think this is?
When it's a collaboration, it's always about friendship. I think that's the main ingredient- my love to work with other people. Sharing the same values is basic, for being able to collaborate with people. With Moebius, it was 40 years we were working because we were good friends, but we stopped at a good time- because we ran out of ideas. Especially with the live stuff. It was like we were always doing the same thing. People appreciated it- and they loved it- and it didn't get boring, but I think it was a good idea that we split after the last work. It was a good swansong for a group that existed for 40 years.

So how important is playing live to you? Has the way that you present your music changed over the years?
After I found out that music is my thing to do, it was of great interest to me to work live. It's a different quality from studio work. Playing live in front of the public- who expect to be entertained- they can get into it, get something conscious from it, find themselves in it... find their own reality in it. 

                                              Cluster. Photographer unknown.

What inspired you to start making music?
I had a different approach, I was never bound by music theory. I always wanted to practice, I wanted to find out how I could express myself and my values in life, my being in life, musically. That was the main thing. Since the beginning I just wanted to express myself via music or via text, because I am writing as well, you know?

Of course.
So how would you describe your music to somebody?
It's more or less philosophy in sound, or a cinema in sound, what I'm doing. But I'm always telling people, "Don't look at it as if it was music, in the general meaning, it's something else". It's something else. It's like writing a diary. Every piece is a part of a diary of my life, and it's a joy to do it. It's the way I have to work- to express my respect of nature, of creation, of whatever you call it. To give back what I'm getting. It's a gift what I'm getting. If it comes, then I'm doing it. I don't go "Oh, now I have to do a piece of music that is ten minutes long, to express this", if it happens it happens, and then there's a piece. And then I have to find the right name for it, which is the second creative process, to explain what I am thinking of that piece to make it easier for people, perhaps. But a piece of art speaks for itself. If you listen to my music you don't need an explanation about why I did it or what for. If it's ready, it's something that has a certain value.

It's said that before the artist paints in the abstract, he must master fine art. What do you think?
I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I think it's up to the individual. People like me, who had a different profession before... I was a physiotherapist and masseur, so I got together for a long time- for about ten years- with many, many, many people and I touched a lot of bodies and listened to a lot of voices. That was a totally different way of approaching life and of approaching art, and that made a big difference. People who really want to study an instrument, and study music, it's a totally different method. I'm privileged to be able to express how I feel, and my existence, and so called 'reality', and I'm happy to do what I'm doing. Especially because I can really do what I want to do. There are many people who aren't able to do that, because they are not allowed, or they don't allow themselves.

                                             Cluster. Photographer unknown.

When you started making music, the technology you used was new. Now that pretty much everybody is able to make music at home on their computer, how do you think music has changed?
I really had to practice, to find out which sort of sound, which sort of tone, which sort of complex composition would fit my ears first so I could allow the piece to get out to other ears. It was not a problem that we couldn't use the machinery. We started with really simple stuff, and I think that's a good way to practice music. If you learn about noise, if you learn about tones and structures by just trying to find out if it fits your ears. Something different from learning an instrument or being able to read scores or write scores, which wasn't what we did when we were starting, and it isn't how I work now.
With technology, it's nice that it's easier to transport the microKORG (analogue modeling synthesizer), and to transport material to make noises, than it was in the past. It's good that it's easy to compose on a computer, but I'm not really doing it. I'm still very analogue in my mind, and analogue in my whole existence, so I just use what I'm able to. Little instruments. Presets in keyboards, and piano now of course, because my main interest is in piano sounds.

You don't compose on a computer at all?
With Stefan, we composed on a computer. He took everything we did here in my studio on to his computer, and he produced everything on his computer. He brought it to me and we listened to it together before we agreed to release it. When I'm playing my piano I put the digital recorder on, and I put it on digital tape, and if I like it afterwards I'll possibly put it on my computer. I have a very easy computer program, it's called 'Reaper'. I'm not even able to use a computer with eight, or ten, or even 24 tracks. I always have friends who can help me to do it! 


Stefan in this case.
Stefan in this case, and Onnen Bock in Qluster. These guys are really able to handle the material. Onnen Bock really is a genius in every field he works. I'm very happy to have him as a colleague in Qluster!

You've put out a tremendous amount of work in the 21st century. What's inspired you to be so busy over the last ten years?


I have to take care of a big family! I have three kids, and two grandchildren. I'm hoping I am taking care of the house. My wife is a teacher so she gets regular money. I'm promoting, and taking care of my career myself. It's not a long time ago that I got an agent, in Berlin, who takes care of my concerts. My day is full of work. I'm cooking for when my wife is coming home. It's all part of my art, because my life is not divided into an 'art part' and a 'living part', it's all together.

 
                                       Hans-Joachim Roedelius. Photograph by Camillo Roedelius.

Do your children, and your grandchildren, listen to the music you do?
My children love what I'm doing. All three, and my grandchildren- the oldest is 11 and he likes very much what I'm doing! He's sometimes in my studio, playing piano and trying to find out if he ought to want to be a musician. But that's not decided yet. He has to learn. He has to go to college. I think because I'm so in love with my art, everybody around me is infected by it!

Are you impressed by any modern music?
The only time I have to listen to music is when I'm driving my car for some distance, and I'm listening to the radio. But I'm not listening on purpose to modern compositions, I have no time. I have masses of CDs to listen to listen to but I can't do it because there is no time to do it.

With digital distribution and file-sharing, all music is now available to everybody. Is this the end of an era or the beginning of a new one?
It's very nice that every bit of music that's been done in the world is available online, so people can make a picture for themselves of what's going on in the world of music, or in the world of art. For me, online distribution is good because now it's feeding me! Just a few years ago it started that I get some money for my work. If my wife hadn't been there I would never have done such a lot of work, such a lot of recording. She allowed me to do it. Also, in Austria I'm privileged to get support from the state, and by many institutions, so if they wouldn't have helped me I wouldn't have done it. All gifts. When I came to Austria in '78 the institutions and people enabled me to work easily and freely, and with restriction. I could do what I wanted to do.


How did Harmonia come about? What was it like being in two groups at the same time?
Michael (Rother) came to us when Cluster had been five years on the road, and we settled down in the middle of Germany. I think he was a little bit bored with the work with Klaus Dinger in Neu!, so he tried to find a new situation, a new feel to work with, so he found us. Because we liked him and we liked his guitar playing we said "OK, let's try a second project beside Cluster". And it worked out.

Did he come to you wanting to join Cluster?
He came to join Cluster. I think the idea- which we didn't know about at the beginning- was to create a kind of 'supergroup'- Neu! and Cluster, under a different name, but it just didn't work out. So he stayed with us, and Dinger stayed in Düsseldorf and created La Düsseldorf instead of continuing working further with Michael Rother and Neu! So we tried to do a different thing with Harmonia, being influenced by Rother's guitar playing and by Rother's ideas about how to create music. We thought it could be a little bit more successful, because Cluster at that time was not very well known. It was well known, but not very successful money-wise. So we tried, and in the beginning it was fun to do it, but we couldn't really afford to rehearse the same piece of music every day, so we left it. It was not our aim to re-do the same stuff every time, all day long, so we left Harmonia after two albums. We had a last shot with Brian (Eno) when he came to our place to work with us. So we had three albums. The last one was 'Harmonia '76' with Brian. We did this when Harmonia had already split, but we still didn't get together anymore afterwards. This came out twenty years later, or so.
With Cluster we continued to work, and everybody did his solo stuff. There was a lot of solo stuff. I'm really glad that Bureau B is re-releasing so much. They're doing good, good work.


They're a fantastic label.
They're fantastic, and it's so noble. The quality of what they're doing is just perfect.

Do you think Brian Eno took a lot of your ideas when he went solo, or were these ideas that he already had?
Brian sent Cluster into the spotlight. He came because he loved what we did before, and he wanted to support us, in a way. And that's what he did with 'Cluster & Eno' and 'After The Heat'... It kept us alive for the next five years, the success of these two albums. Brian was more or less an ambassador for art, and he came to us to give us advice about how to work, and about how to get deeper into what we did. Not to be produced, just to do our thing. He still supports us in many ways. He wrote the foreword for the book, he wrote forewords for my new records, we've just been interviewed by him in London for a little festival in Austria. So he's still on our side because he's a big fan, and he's a good friend of ours.

Anything you think the readers of Bite My Wire should know?
Well, first of all, that Bureau B is doing splendid work. Not even just the re-releases, but all the new stuff they put on the market, like the 'Stunden' record. And they're taking care of the legacy of Conrad Schnitzler (contributor to Kluster and Kraftwerk who died in August). They're bringing out some music we did after the band split, and they're bringing out the first three Kluster records, which I'm very happy about. Please say hello to Brian Eno (laughs)! I've been invited to play Moogfest in Asheville at the end of October, in the states. I'm playing there as a soloist as with Tim Storey as party of the Lunzproject. So I'll see Brian there. Say hello to everybody in Britain. I hope I can come there again soon. I played a solo show at the Vortex Club in May and it was very nice. People liked it a lot.



Friday, 28 October 2011

Vittorio Mazzoni

Like a hypnagogic soundtrack to a retro-future of disjointed voices, lost guitars and haunted dub, the Vittorio Mazzoni cassette is the one thing I would urge you to purchase this year. They're a two-piece, and they create their music hundreds of miles apart. Dan lives in London, and Josh lives in Cumbernauld- a town recently voted the worst place to live in the UK- yet this geographical juxtaposition seems to suit their creative process perfectly. This interview took place on the afternoon of Josh's 20th birthday.


If you got reviewed in the Wire, what section would it be in? Assuming they're going to change it back to the old catagories...
J: Possibly somewhere inbetween 'Avant Rock' and 'Outer Limits', I'd like to think. 'Avant Rock' just because it's so guitar driven and influenced via not-just-guitar-playing but offcut noises, and the tape experiments used. 'Outer Limits' mainly because I like to think that the project of the tape we made was more of a one piece thing. We used a lot of field recordings and noises and voices ripped from films and whatever else we could find. We didn't want there to be any silence unless it was intentional. In the same mind, we put all the pieces together so that it was like a smooth trip through various atmospheres or imaginings. 


Have you ever met each other?
J: Yeah, we hung out in the summer and did some rioting... We tried to do some music then but it's hard to force stuff out, especially when we mainly only had a mate's Jen SX1000 synth which makes mostly terrible noises. But we had fun trying to make Eurotrance on it anyway. Plus it was easier to get distracted by dodgy mixing and drinking Rubicon. 

What were you listening to when you started making music? Have your influences changed?
J: Probably a lot of Not Not Fun records. And Ghostbox releases interested me, and made me want to explore that sort of aesthetic. The warped atmospheres that still had an interest in being pop influenced.
D: I love really drums-based music so with everything I make I'm always trying to jam in loads of different percussive elements. So I guess people like Sabu Martinez, Art Blakey and people on the Hessle Audio label might have all influenced me in some way.
J: Plus when we started doing this we were both really into lots of French and Italian library records, mixed with the score work of Ennio Morricone and Piero Umiliani. Which we've sampled a few times, and obviously been influenced by in the name... In terms of 'have these influences changed much since then?', then no, probably not that much. We've actually thought about trying to go deeper into our jazz influences and trying out what Underground Resistance and James Stinson could do with electronic jazz, but still mix it up with our previous influences and some sick Grant Green guitar lines. Haha! 


Kaiser Chiefs just won a Q award for 'Innovation in Sound'. Pretty cool, don't you think? What's your favourite era of Kaiser Chiefs?
D: I'm so chuffed for them. I can only see them as modern-day prophets after so accurately predicting this year's riots. Ricky Wilson is something of a messiah. 

Josh, how the fuck do you cope with life in Cumbernauld?
Ahaha! I don't. Although it has the best undercover skatespots in Central Scotland in my opinion. 

Do you get a chance to see much stuff live?
J: Yeah, as much as I can afford anyway. Lately it's mostly been clubs, the recent highlight of which has been DJ Stingray. He pretty much just played solid 140BPM bangers all night, was crazy. Gig wise it's been sort of quiet this year for some reason... Thinking back, the best think I've seen has- surprisingly- been Ducktails who was just unbelievably tight and super fun. Mega hyped for Actress soon.
D: Since moving to London I haven't been going out too regularly, but I got to see Ben UFO play all night at Plastic People the other night, where I really got my groove on. He started off playing Herbie Hancock on Blue Note and ended several hours later playing some pretty hype dubstep and grime. I like eclectic DJs. I also saw Trim recently, which was a laugh. In terms of live music I havent seen anything recently, but there's lots on. I should go out a bit more. Oh, and over the summer I saw and really fucking loved DJ Stingray too, that was something special, I'd never really heard much Detroit electro like that before.


Practicalities aside, do you have any plans to play live?
D: I think we would both love to do something live together, even to DJ together would be fun.
J: Yeah definitely, I think it could be a lot more impressive live too if we worked it out right. A lot of the sounds- and the general vibe- of a lot of our stuff lends itself to a more volume-expressive and bassy environment than it does within what we can record.
D: Yeah, It's just a logistical nightmare, but it's definitely something I've always wanted to do, and we will figure out a way of playing somewhere, sometime, be it in London, Glasgow or Manchester. 

What's coming up next from you?
J: We're both chilling on working together right now, but with winter incoming we'll probably get going again.We seem to work together most then.
D: Yeah, plus we're both working on other projects just at the moment. Hopefully sooner or later Josh will be able to move down here for a bit and we can do some stuff in one place.
J: Hah, yeah. I just need some of dat cash.

Tell us about that your solo stuff then.
J: Well I'm always doing little bits on my own, but I struggle to fully get into something that way too. The band I'm getting going with some friends is gonna be a sort of 60s/80s/90s sort of indie pop affair, mostly based on guitar jams, which I'm gonna try and make as weird as possible but it's hard when the other people ain't into doing that stuff as much as you. I'll see what can be done whilst mostly trying to jack Felt tunes anyway.
D: I've been trying to make dance music for quite a long time now. I've only just started to put out a few things I like onto my Soundcloud, and I'll be self-releasing a CD-R very soon. Haven't been trying to nail down any particular sound with this stuff, I'm just making stuff I would dance to myself, so it's all quite rhythm based. (Listen to Dan's stuff at http://soundcloud.com/bacarybamba) 


Anybody you'd want to collaborate with? Who do you think is on the same musical wavelength as you just now?
D: I'd love to do something with Konono Number 1, they seem to have a pretty amazing array of homemade instruments. It'd would be a dream to have access to all those sounds.
J: Umm... We're open for collaborating with anyone willing to send us stuff to be honest. Even one of the tunes we made, it was all based on a song we liked by another friend of ours. I'd like to think it's a pretty open project that anyone can get in on. Although if you want a highly masturbatory fantasy level probably Actress who is pretty much the best dude in the world. On a slightly less fantasy level maybe Moon Wiring Club, or anyone who's released something on Housecraft Recordings.
D: Yeah, I'm also pretty open to collaborations, it's fun seeing what other people can do. On a realistic level I'd love to do something with Panabrite, that stuff is really deep and textured, plus they have some lovely synths.
J: As for wavelength, I'm not sure, we take inspiration from lots of stuff so we're hyped on anyone trying to pan over several influences with no money. 

Where can people get your tape?
J: http://vittoriomazzoni.blogspot.com/ Gis ya money please.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Dark Captain

What with having been compared to the likes of Stereolab, Fleetwood Mac, Nick Drake and even a 'folk-Fugazi', Dark Captain's (formerly Dark Captain Light Captain) music probably holds something to intrigue most of us. Having recently scored a number one on the US iTunes chart, they prepare to release their second album, 'Dead Legs & Alibis' on the always-excellent LoAf Recordings label. Moving onwards from the alt/psych-folk label they earned with 2008's debut LP 'Miracle Kicker', we're expecting big things from this London five piece. We arranged an interview with guitarist/vocalist Dan Carney to find out more.

Tell us a bit about the music you make.
It's quite folky, a bit dark, psychedelic but hopefully without too much of a 'retro' feel, bit krautrock-y with electronic tinges. Lots of smooth vocal harmonies, like butter dripping down your face. And hopefully hooky and memorable. 

                                                                         Photo by Will Morgan

Who was Light Captain? Did he leave or get thrown out?
No, nothing like that. We just felt that the name Dark Captain Light Captain looked good written down, but was a bit lengthy and repetitive to say out loud. We always referred to the band as 'Dark Captain', and so did loads of people, so it seemed like the obvious thing to do really.

When were you skating?
From about 1988 to 1998, a good solid decade of throwing myself gleefully at, or off, concrete and wooden structures. I wasn't very good, but I could do quite a lot of no-comply variations! We could usually be found at Wanstead High School, near the north-east London suburb where I grew up, Romford or South Bank. Skateboarding is an extremely noble art- I still keep up with what's going on in the skate world a bit, although nothing like I used to. Skaters who had a big effect on me were Ray Barbee, Gonz, Neil Blender, Ricky Oyola, Tom Penny, Jamie Thomas and Rodney Mullen. 

What do you remember about the music you were listening to then? Did the stuff in the videos influence what you do now?
I remember reading in the old 'Skateboard!' magazine about all these hardcore punk/indie bands with exotic, slightly nihilistic-sounding names, and realising excitedly that there was a densely-populated musical world beyond Metallica, Guns & Roses and the like. Back when I started I remember skating as being more synonymous with that type of music (the hip-hop thing, as far as I'm aware, was more a 90s thing), so my being involved with it led me to investigate things like Black Flag, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Sonic Youth (still relatively obscure at that point) at a much earlier age than I would naturally have done had I been into stamp collecting, snooker or falconry. So skating and music listening were two pretty inseparable activities when I was young.
As far as musical moments in skate vids, nothing I would say really 'influenced' me as such, but there's a few classics. That Aerosmith song to Rodney Mullen's part on that Plan B ('Dream On' in Second Hand Smoke) vid is always one I remember. And after seeing 'Public Domain' I remember covering 'My Weakness' by Chuck Treece's band McRad in a number of pre-pubescent punk bands I was in. And Toy Machine always used to have great music on their videos - isn't it 'Welcome To Hell' where it goes from the Misfits into a jazz-fusion/funk cover of one of the songs from 'Jesus Christ Superstar'? Marvellous stuff.


How did you get hooked up with LoAF?
The old 'put CDR in envelope' trick. Early on we didn't really think much about gigging, but were quite adamant that we wanted to put records out pretty quickly, and not just drift along. So we thought of about 20 or 30 record labels that we really liked, and were hopeful might like us, and sent them a few demos and bits and pieces. We had about five offers come back, which I was amazed about, but chose to go with LoAF as they seemed really into what we were doing, or trying to do at that time, and are clearly doing it for the right reasons, coming from the right place. They've consistently shown faith in us, and have trusted us to do good stuff without interfering with the creative aspect, so we're well happy with that. 

What's the new album like? How is it different from 'Miracle Kicker'?
It's more of a full band sound; some songs are a lot more full-on, or full-on by our standards anyway! But there's still a couple of whispery ones like we used to do. When we played in the Czech Republic earlier this year someone told me that they thought the new songs sounded happier, so maybe that's a difference as well!

Why did it take so long?
Well, it's a cliche, but when you make your first album you can pick from all the best songs you've ever written. Once the second album comes around, you've inevitably used all that stuff already- we had a couple of bits kicking around, but were pretty much staring at a blank piece of paper when we started. We were also a bit stricter - as we were mainly recording at home this time we weren't so time-pressured; that enabled us to follow various creative whims to their oft-unsatisfying conclusions, but that in turn meant quite a few songs didn't make the cut, or got ditched along the way. So the set-up this time definitely helped from a quality-control point of view. There's a couple of songs on the first album (won't say which ones) which wouldn't have made it on there if could do it again, but we didn't have the luxury of time the first time round. And then with this one we weren't sure who was putting it out, who to have mix it etc... The actual writing and recording of about fifteen songs in total (album, b-sides, couple discarded) took about nine months, which I don't think is too bad! And we've got 14/15 new demos on the go for the third one already! We're quite prolific and work pretty quickly when we get going, but we also want to be sure that what we're putting out there is the very best we could have come up with at that point.
Also, I was doing my PhD throughout the making of this one, so that was pretty time-consuming, as you can imagine!

What were you listening to when you were making it? I'm hearing some kosmiche stuff in there...When we're knee-deep in lyric sheets, chord changes and overdubs I try not to listen to anything, as I find I get too easily swayed by anything which I'm significantly impressed with. Like, "I want to sound like this, now!" But in general, German 70s/psychedelia is never far from the equation. Also lots of folky/acoustic stuff (as I guess is obvious), bit of drone and soundtrack stuff, Canterbury stuff like Soft Machine and Robert Wyatt, as well as no small amount of questionable heavy metal! But I'm just as likely to be found listening to grime or hip-hop as Pentangle, Neil Young or Elliott Smith.

What are the best and worst bands you've played with?

We've been lucky enough to play with lots of great bands in the last couple of years. Highlights were maybe touring Germany/Austria with Sophia (the current project from Robin Proper-Shepherd of God Machine fame), who also featured Adam Franklin from Swervedriver on guitar. Also playing with Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab) this year. And in London we've put on shows with people we know and love- Jess Bryant is an amazing singer-songwriter- kind of dark, swirling and beautifully unusual folk-pop with a voice which can silence a room in under two seconds. Check her out!
As for worst bands, I'm too nice to single anyone out here! Just because I don't like something, it doesn't mean there's no value in it. This is an outlook I'm forcing myself to adopt as I hurtle towards middle age. But I don't think it's nice to be negative about anything, or anyone, in print.


The Lo labels are known for their amazing artwork. How does the design process work out? How much input do you have?
Yes, that was one of the things which made us want to go with Lo in the first place! Shallow lot, aren't we? A company called Non-Format are the ones responsible for the LoAF "look", although we get quite a bit of input. Our drummer Chin did the last album cover, while this one, which features a parachutist, is a collaboration between Chin and Giles (other guitar player).

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Mark 'Fos' Foster

Simultaneously the brains behing Landscape and the evil mastermind behind Heroin, Mark 'Fos' Foster has always had a lot going on. In between filming for the next Heroin video, working as Art Director at Altamont Apparel and regular trips from his native London to Japan; Fos is still endlessly enthusiastic about the music he loves. Naturally, we wanted to find out what he had to say, so we hassled him for an interview. Now pay attention.


What's your favourite video section track?
Oh man, probably that McRad track 'Weakness' on the Rubber Boys (ams) section of Public Domain. Just 'cause when you see that for the first time when you're a kid who grew up in Lancashire and you hear that jam and see how much fun they're having skating down the street then it kind of sums up all the reasons that you skate. That's closely followed by Andrew Reynolds part in Stay Gold (Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros- 'Om Nashi Me'), which I think is possibly the best video part ever made.

What's your favourite video overall, for music?
Hard to say. I grew up in the 80s so stuff like Santa Cruz Wheels of Fire, Streets on Fire and Speed Freaks introduced me to bands I'd have never heard of otherwise, so they were influential. I liked the early Consolidated videos too, they were all great for the skating as well as the music. I actually think that the video I have watched the most times is Scarecrow 'Disturb Not the Sleep of Death'. They have Slayer, the U.S. Bombs, Nerve Agents and even Patsy Cline.


How do you go about choosing music for your videos?
I grew up listening to punk and metal almost exclusively, but when you start making videos you need to listen to a lot more music, 'cause not everyone wants to listen to that stuff, so I started listening to way more types of music. As far as Heroin music video choices, me and Alan Glass just usually argue about stuff or try and find stuff that either takes the piss out of the teamriders, or makes 'em look good. Like Pulman sent us loads of weird stuff for his Live from Antarctica part- some of it was kind of ridiculous- and in the end he just said, "I trust you guys, use whatever just as long as it's not the Smiths or Morrissey", so of course we used Morrissey. It's just what we feel works for the rider an has good bits to edit to.

What's your favourite album of all time?
The one I always go back to is Minor Threat, 'Complete Discography'. It's just amazing, pure energy. It's hard to say one, can we say it's closely followed by 'Scumdogs of the Universe' by Gwar?

What was the first album you bought with your own money?

I'm pretty sure it was Iron Maiden, maybe 'Killers', and definitely on tape.

What's your favourite album art?
I loved all the Iron Maiden covers when I was growing up. They were always rad. I'm gonna go with 'Killers'.

What's your favourite band t-shirt?
A Bootleg Tom Waits tee from the Edinburgh show in 2008. I wanted to buy a real one but the merch there was total crap, it was like skinny fit tees of artwork that he'd done with oil or something, so I got this one outside for a tenner and it's amazing.


What are you listening to just now?
I saw the Black Angels play just before I left L.A. recently, they're amazing. Stoked on them right now, I saw Thee Oh Sees recently, they were sick, I'm trying to see Grinderman this year, and I've been listening to the latest No Age album a lot. Mainly those four bands with a smattering of Tom Waits and some Japanese Pop thrown in there.

Anything coming out soon you're excited about?
Well, I'm working on a new Heroin video, so we're just filming for that at the moment. Had a few ideas for songs I wanna use for my part if that comes together, but everything else is still up in the air, we're all just filming.


What was your first gig? How was it?
I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1990 in Manchester. I was 17 and obviously first gig is always amazing, but the fact that it was seated and it was a bit weird, and the Chili Peppers were still really a punk band back then.

Favourite gig ever?
Tom Waits in Edinburgh 2008. Tickets were £100, I had to buy 'em for both me and my girlfriend at the time, plus plane tickets to Edinburgh, then hotels... That was basically my holiday for that year, but it was incredible. I feel lucky that I've been able to see him perform live, he's such a legend.

What gig in history do you wish you could have been at?
Any of the Sex Pistols shows would have been amazing, early Tom Waits shows, wish I'd have seen the Stone Roses or Joy Division, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, or the Rolling Stones at Altamont when the Hell's Angles beat the shit out of the Hippies.


Do you play any music yourself?
Yeah, I was the singer in a punk band with a load of crazy Japanese kids, called Doku Dango, for a while. They kind of tricked me into joining the band it's a long story, fun times though!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Ian MacKaye

This Ian MacKaye interview was a long time coming. Interviews with him are scarce, since he is not in the business of self-promotion, and throughout his time in Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Fugazi and now The Evens he has steadfastly refused to speak to the music press. I'd starting exchanging emails with him about six or seven months ago, trying to figure out a good time to call. He's endlessly busy all the time, running every aspect of Dischord Records - as he always has. Even during our conversation I could hear him working away. The label does not employ a lawyer, a press agent, an accountant or a booker - Ian does everything himself, down to driving the tour van. Another thing that held this up was the death of my father, and despite such opposite lifestyles, I'm pretty sure he and Ian would have got on. 

Fugazi with Jem Cohen. Photo By Michael Ackerman

What are you up to right now?
There's always lots of crazy administrative stuff going on, at all times. At this point Dischord has a fairly vast catalogue, and we keep all the records in print in one form or the other, and we pay royalties on all the records so we're always looking after everything - keeping records in press, and right now we're re-issuing some things. Like a Faith re-issue that has their first demo on it, and a Void demo record that's going to be pretty mind-blowing. It's a demo that nobody's heard and that the band doesn't even remember making. It has 20 songs on it, it's pretty crazy. So I've been working on that, and on trying to work out what we're going to put out in the fall. I guess just digging around, but digging around means me going into my archives and for the last couple of years I've been working on organising that, and that's a huge job still.
I've also been working on this Fugazi live series website which we're hoping to start up in December, which basically, eventually - we have about 850 recorded shows - we're going to put them all up by the end of it. That's an enormous amount of work. We've created a massive database with all the shows, all the opening bands, all the information we can get about each show. We've created a page for each show. We've played about 1,100 shows so we're going to create a page for every show and post as many photos as we have for each show, flyers, anything like that. So we've been building and building that. It's huge. 

Will people viewing the site be able to contribute?
Yeah, that's the idea eventually. Eventually you'll be able to post photos and whatever, but that's still being built. Now we're just trying to get the basic frame of it up, but every page will have a comments section and a scrapbook where you can post photos. 

Ian MacKaye. Photo by Amy Farina

There's a massive amount of bands reforming just now to play their so-called 'classic' albums. What do you think about that? It seems to be happening at every festival now.
I'm not too interested in that concept. I actually just read an interview with Barry Hogan, who does ATP, and he was saying that people want to hear bands play the albums. He might be right, but I don't really care if that's what people want. It's not something I'm interested in. Actually, I saw Devo do their first album and it was nice to see tham play such great music. It's always nice to see these people play, these geniuses, who've created something that's so good, that it couldn't not exist. Depending upon your relationship with the music. A lot of the music... they're just like perfect songs. All these bands and musicians have created things that are somewhat forever and so it's always nice to see the people, but I was very struck by this idea of sticking to the format of the album. An album format does not jive with live music. When Devo made their record for instance, it was vinyl. It was two-sided. You would start your record with songs that were strong, and the middle of the side was songs that were slightly less strong - especially into side B. The songs at the end are not necessarily songs that are the real corkers. But if you see a band play live, at the end of the show you want to kinda come out swingin'! So it was interesting to see them play the last couple of songs. They're good, but you could tell that the emotional arc of the show was an uncomfortable one because it wasn't related to the audience. To Devo's credit they did the whole album except for the last two songs, and then they came on and did the last two songs as the encore which was just weird because they're not the strongest songs. But then, because the crowd was unsatisfied to say the least, and the lights came up and the music came on, people kept screaming "More, more", and then they started chanting "Bullshit, bullshit" and Devo came back on. They did a couple of their other songs and it was great. Suddenly you saw that these are people, not actors. 

Minor Threat, 1980, by Susie Josephson Horgan
Right.
I saw maybe one other band do that 'album recital', but it just doesn't mean anything to me. I'm not interested in that. I can always listen to the records. I kinda think that if bands want to play music- and they want to play music with each other- then that's great! And if the audience wants to go along with the journey, then great! If the audience doesn't want to go along with the journey, that's great too. But if it's a matter of getting together just to do these particular albums then I have to think that a central driving factor has to be economics. A fiscal rationale. No band I've ever been in has ever played music for money, so the idea just doesn't appeal to me. People listen to Minor Threat now and are like "You could make so much money from Minor Threat!", but Minor Threat never played a show for money, so why would we start now? Same as Fugazi! Fugazi never played a show for money, ever. We played a show to play a show.

From Jem Cohen's outstanding 'Instrument' documentary.

How do you feel about the maleness of hardcore music? Every time I saw Fugazi there would be people drunk, beer going everywhere and a lot of aggression in the crowd. If this is counter to all the things you stand for, did it not demoralise you? Was any of that what led to the Evens?
People who are drunk, and going crazy, do not represent everything I'm against, you know? What I'm against is war. That's what I'm against. You know - war and murder! People's perception of me in Minor Threat, people's idea was that I was a fundamentalist, that I wanted everybody to behave themselves - that's just not the case. That wasn't the case with Fugazi shows. What I wanted was to be at the table with everyone else. If I'm part of a band, and the band's playing a show, then we feel a responsibility to our guests. I don't care if people are drunk or if people are going wild. As long as they're not going wild on other people. If people are drunk, I don't care. I think you and I can both agree that alcohol is a toxic substance. That's just the reality. It's obviously a matter of how it's applied, but ultimately it's a toxin. Obviously I'd prefer if people didn't put poison in their bodies, that's just me, but it doesn't mean that people who do are not welcome in my life - they are, and they're around me all the time. They've always been around me my whole life. What was far more discouraging for me, and what was far more compelling about the Evens' approach was the business of it all. When you get to a certain level as a band, you end up being corralled into a really specific type of venue. Where do you live?

I'm in Glasgow.
So we'd be like "Hello Barrowlands!" That's the venue that we would play. And that's where we did play. Generally that's the room. In any given city there'll be one or two rooms like that. They're venues, and on any given night there's music being presented, or every other night or something. If you look at the upcoming shows there's like a hardcore band from 1987, then some band from Black Rock Arkansas in the seventies and then there's a trip-hop band. It's like you're just in this circuit of bands, and it's hard to transform those spaces because those spaces are process centres. Every night they process whatever sort of music it is. By and large with those venues their economy is based upon self-destruction because they're bars! This is not about drunk people, this is about the business of selling alcohol. There was something for me that was deeply discouraging, for me, that this form of expression that I got can only be presented in these specific kinds of rooms. It's very discouraging for me because I don't think of music as self-destructive, I think of it as self-constructive. It bothers the fuck out of me that you have to have alcohol at every gig. With the Evens, we did a show at the Canterbury UCA. and with the Evens we have our own PA and our own mics, and we've played all these galleries and all these museums, and we can play anywhere. We were invited to play this art college so we think "Great!", and we go down there and there's all these giant empty gallery rooms, just perfect for us. Perfect rooms. But we had to play in the pub. The pub, of course, is a noisy affair, with folk slingin' beer around. It's loud. A lot of people don't go to the pub to hear music, they go to talk.

The Evens, live in London at Regent Hall on April 7 2006

And to buy alcohol.
Right. And right next door there's this beautiful, empty, quiet room that we could fuckin' make magic. That to me was such an indication of this deeply perverse notion that music- popular music- must have alcohol. I think that people, by and large, have swallowed this hook, line and sinker, and that's why when people go to see shows they just have to have a beer in their hand.

That's why you get brewers sponsoring venues now.
Of course.

Over here Miller do a weekly 'showcase' for unsigned bands, and all they sell is Miller. I can only presume that if any of these bands were to actually make it, they'd very much be under the control of Miller.
That's the thing. You know Kathmandu in Nepal? It's a city that's buried in the middle of a bunch of mountains, but it's an active city, and people have lived there for thousands of years. But at some point, the British decided to pay a visit, and take the fuckin' joint over, and they're like "What, you grow food on the mountainside? You do terrace farming? Here's a can of beans. Eat these instead." And then they start just flying food in, so people start eating the beans out the cans 'cause it's easier than farming. Then at some point they realised they forgot how to farm, and now the planes have to come in every day. They've become dependant upon that. I think it's the same in music. At one point people were playing music, and it was just a reality, and then the alcohol industry got involved and they thought "We can make this more lucrative, we can do this for you", and at some point the bands just forgot that they can do it without them- they've become dependant upon that industry. And that's exactly what they wanted. Precisely what they desired. And they got it. 

Fugazi. Photo By Michael Ackerman

Dischord releases are on Spotify now, whereas they were not before. Did something change in the Spotify model to elicit this change? Or in your own thinking?
Spotify is not really a known quantity here. I know it's huge over there, but it's not really made its way into America. How people want their music is endlessly baffling to me. I'm not a 'formatist'. I remember when cassettes came into demand. When 'Repeater' came out, I think we sold more cassettes than we did vinyl. We sold 150,000 cassettes or something, right off the bat. We were like "Jesus Christ!" Cassettes are just the worst format, in terms of quality. But I've always believed that if people want cassettes, we'll make cassettes. When CDs came along, we made CDs. We're never cutting edge, we always let it go for a while and see what the people want. When downloads had been around for a few years, and the bands said "We want downloads", we did downloads. Our basic premise is that we'll make it available, but there always has to be an option- an alternative, another way of doing it. So for instance if people have an issue with something like a Spotify service, then they can always come to Dischord and download from us. There's a guy we're working with who's looking after music services in Europe and I think Spotify fell into that. I can tell you from a label's point of view that it's absolutely mind-numbing the number of services and the different ways that they work, the different ways that they report, the different ways that they pay - if they pay - and so on. We're just trying to get our minds around it. With Spotify, I'd never really heard of it, but somebody was saying that it's absolutely massive in Europe. I'm assuming it's streaming?

Yeah, it's a streaming service. It's £10 a month for unlimited music, which I think is pretty reasonable.
I think it's reasonable. This is a thing that at some point people are going to have to make a decision- everything that's ever been recorded, in theory, they can listen to for free for the rest of their lives. If they're not interested in supporting the arts at all, if they're not interested in paying for anything or feel they shouldn't have to pay for anything, then they are going to risk not ever having new music again. There are actually costs involved with recording, you know? Even for me right now, I've been so busy dealing with the commerce of Dischord, and business stuff, that I don't have any time to write. Amy and I practice three times a week, but I have no time to write at all. I can't just sit down and finish a bunch of songs because I'm always working. People have to make a decision. I think if people didn't want to buy our records at all, then I'd be really screwed. The populous is going to think "We want new music!", and if that's the case then fuckin' stop thinking everything is for free all the time! There's two things going on. One is that people think they're patrons of the arts, and these are all billionaires who've just dropped off a $100,000 ranch or something. Another thing is advertising, and people assume that that's how you make your money. People say nowadays that the only way you can make money through music is to "have your music in ads". I think that's a load of fuckin' bullshit. The fact that that phrase has been repeated so often makes me think that in fact the advertising people themselves have planted that notion. It's not true! People become lazy. It's like "You can't get there unless you buy a car", and that's not true, you can fuckin' walk! You know? But if people just repeat something often enough it becomes true. I think that this thing about 'the only way you can make money playing music is making music for ads', that's just not making a living. That's just a bummer.

Minor Threat skateboarding, and Steppin' Stone live 1982

Do you ever feel like you've become some kind of underground legend in spite of your approach? To what extent do you think you can control what people perceive you as?
I don't try to control anything. So I can't control how anybody thinks about me. I can't control all the mis-information that gets handed around. There are so many things that people think about me that are so wrong, but who cares?! As important as you or I might thing Fugazi was as a band, 99.99% of the world will never even hear of us. At all. If Fugazi was to simultaneously explode, and every record disappear, the Earth's rotation would not be altered at all. It's just not that big of a deal. People who are obsessing about me, or about the band, or about the label, who are trying to steer things are irritating to me. But I don't care really. Ultimately it's a manifestation of their own power issues, their own control issues. When people try to steer you, or tell you what to do, that's because they are at a loss in their own lives.
You might say "What about at shows, when you're telling people not to jump on each other's heads?", and that's me being a good host. Asking my guests to not stab each other with forks at the dinner table. And I think that's fair enough.

The Evens- Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina. Photo by The Evens

Despite being the home of the White House and of Congress, Washington D.C. doesn't have a senator, and its citizens are the only ones in the country without the right to vote for one. What's it like living in a place like that?
Well, I've only ever lived here so I don't really have any sense of what it's like to live elsewhere. What's maddening about living in the District, is that we are essentially under the control of the Federal Government, and we are- as a city - a very liberal town, so the conservatives always try to make an example out of us. So for instance, the District had a handgun control. In D.C. there are laws that you can not have a handgun. The Republicans were trying to get money for the City, and came up with a rider, basically, saying we'd get money for the City if we agreed to waive the handgun law. The people in the City don't want to have handguns, but the Republicans want to make it OK for us to have guns. That's frustrating, and it happens all the time. Just being told, "Oh, that's too bad. That's what's going to happen". D.C.'s people have to come up with creative ways to navigate these new laws. For instance, our court system here is Federal, because we're a Federal enclave, and the Federal guidelines about cocaine and crack are really, really strict. People are getting busted all the time for these things. The judges don't agree with the Federal guidelines for these things, but, by law, they have to follow them. So what they do, they way they navigate it, is that they change the charges. So instead of the charge being 'Possession Of A Controlled Substance', they might change the charge to 'Loitering'. They'll do something to get it away from these Federally mandated sentences. The people are still guilty, but they won't have to go to jail for something as ridiculous as having drugs.
I think living here has played a role in the way Dischord is operated. Washington D.C. is a bureaucratic town, and you never ask for permission, because the answer's always no. That's how bureaucracy works, because if you ask to do something, and they say yes and something goes wrong then they're in trouble. If they say no, then nothing goes wrong!

And everybody's safe.
Right. In this town I've always said "Don't ask for permission, because the answer's always no". If you think about our work, when we started Dischord we didn't register the name, we didn't copyright the name- we still haven't. We didn't get a business licence, we didn't get a lawyer- we've never had a lawyer. We didn't have contracts, we just made records because that's what record labels do. We didn't ask for permission, we just did it. If we had asked for permission, and we tried to do it formally, then I don't think we'd be having this conversation now. Being 18 years old, starting a record label and asking someone how you do this and they give you the formal structure? That would have taken the air outta that fuckin' thing right away! I would have quit immediately. But instead we just went in and did it. With Fugazi, we just played so many shows in D.C., and with the exception of the shows that we did on Federal property- the park system, where we had to get permission from the park police- by and large we never asked for permission or a concert licence or anything. We just did the shows. It's not hard to do! You need to learn that lesson- don't ask, just do!

Is there anything on Dischord that you think the readers in Europe should know about that they might not be aware of?
I always encourage people to listen to Lungfish. Lungfish to me is like a spring, a beautiful body of water that everybody should take a swim in. But nobody seems to know they exist and if they come across it they don't know if it's a safe place to jump in. It is fuckin' safe, jump the fuck in, people!

                          
Lungfish - Love Will Ruin Your Mind

Big thanks to Radio Magnetic for letting me use their Skype computer to record this interview.