Even before i met Anna Cuevas, her project Dès Vu was enshrined with a sort of mythical presence. My partner first turned me onto her work when we were sourcing bands and projects for a benefit show to combat the racist and xenophobic US border crisis, which has denied safe entry for thousands of asylum seekers to the US, we reached out to several acts and the first one to respond with a resounding yes, almost instantly, was Dès Vu. Benefit shows can be tough, as underground music shows usually have a razor thin margin financially for paying artists/performers as it is, without even taking into consideration money for the space/promoters, never mind extra money to donate to a cause. The financial logistics of running a small to mid sized DIY show and coming out in the black are often next to impossible without a big crowd, sponsors, and a hefty amount of press backing the event.
“Dès Vu means the the awareness that this will become a memory,”
For many micro scenes benefit shows often require the artists and space to donate their time, money and resources to be able to raise enough money to make a big enough financial impact, with the artists donating their time, talent, and resources for free. Putting together (last minute) or any benefit shows often cuts down the choices of performers, as many simply cannot donate their labor for free or discounted artist fees, so the fact that Dès Vu not only agreed to play our show, and immediately stated that she didn’t need payment, and we’re excited to participate was just the boost we needed to get the benefit show rolling, only later, and still at the time of this interview am I figuring out that activism is a big part of the work of Des Vu, so it was no surprise that she were our first ally in bringing together a solid lineup. We sat down and spoke with Anna about her creative process, education, and future creative endeavors.
Welcome to Decaycast Interviews, please talk a little bit about the origin of your current recording and performance project Dés Vu?
Dès Vu (day voo) quickly manifested early 2018 in Birmingham, AL, my hometown. After a long writer’s block, one day I played one of the synths of my now-producer, and what became the EP’s “cycling affect” flowed out. That breakthrough compelled me to transform sketches I’d been writing on my synth into full songs. Dès Vu means “the awareness that this will become a memory,” and that all feels like a dream now that my musical path pulled me to the Bay.
How is the Bay Area different from Birmingham based on your experience within music artists and activist circles?
I’m really grateful for my Birmingham roots helping me bloom into who I’m becoming, but I see and hear myself far more in the Bay Area creative communities. Here there’s a lot more music in the spirit of what I make, and I don’t get questioned about being racially ambiguous, which has been really refreshing. In many ways I feel more comfortable performing here despite not knowing nearly as many people as where I grew up. Birmingham has a strong DIY community and network of grassroots movements, but those circles were pretty separate. Here there’s much more overlap which really resonates with my music. There’s also more people and resources for more radical organizing and direct actions, but the movement in Birmingham works as hard, just in a different way. They are such different places and I’m still adjusting to what initially felt like culture shock but in a good way for me. One’s preference just depends on what one is seeking and wanting.
Can you talk a little bit more about radical Organizing and the connection to your work if any?
Though not an inherently political project, my music instinctively weaves some radical anthems among more prominent ballads centering mental health. I consider those themes deeply connected; one way being how racism and capitalism shape the climate of modern society.
In Alabama I did a lot of grassroots work with workers’ rights, immigrant justice, prison abolition, reproductive and gender equity, and police brutality. Despite no longer having the stamina to continue frontline organizing, solidarity will always be a part of my work as I feel compelled to embrace the movement In my platform. However, while the EP’s “decolonize” and the single “for Rojava” highlight anti-imperialism and anti-fascism, my music primarily strives to create a world beyond this one.
So more of a vision of a different future than responding to the current one?
I like how you put that – it does respond to the current one but is also pushing for something more in a healing way.
Also knowing you’re a teacher In Oakland, had this affected your work at all in any way ? Have you ever we shown your students your music?
Actually yes, I recently had a music idea come to me about when public schools close for good and all the dynamics that entails. It’s not something those outside of education probably hear much about and discuss even less but through music, I can highlight that disparity that branches beyond schools and seeps into our communities, and yes I have shown my students my music.
Do you think social distancing has had an impact on your practice so far? Have you been in the mood to make music / art or not so much?]
Social distancing has had a big impact on my practice so far the first nearly three weeks (at the time of this interview) of quarantine, I really struggled with maintaining a creative focus. At first, I started feeling imposter syndrome, like why was I not using this extra time to churn out new material. . Then I realized that the change to working remotely in education was not only not allowing as much free time as many who sadly lost their jobs, but was also taking an extra emotional toll with the urgency to prioritize mutual aid for our school’s families. Parent conferences by phone prefaced academic updates with asking what basic needs, if any, the families lacked. Some weren’t sure how they were even going to get more diapers diving in to a bit of mutual aid outside of my job, looking to social media more to stay connected, and feeling the need to stay updated with news deeply affected my headspace for a while before I noticed how much it had negatively impacted my basic self-care. I felt kind of selfish for wanting to work on my music more than usual during these times, but now i’m reminded how crucial our own healthy wellbeing is before helping others so much embracing that notion now, i’ve started naturally practicing, writing, and recording fluidly again. As a solo artist with a bedroom recording setup. my imposter syndrome was exaggerated since i wasn’t even having to adjust to virtual group practices like many I know. Creating feels more like medicine than it ever has as it’s helping me process our new collective reality. My practice feels even more purposed now; though still very much digging inward, i’m projecting outward a lot more, like sending energy instead of staying in my own head so much. This will likely be a permanent shift as it will be impossible to ever completely forget these times we’re currently navigating.
Any future projects you’d like to discuss or general things to let our readers know about anything?
My producer is nearly done mastering the re-release of my EP, though unsure when I’ll be able to tour on it. My music video locations are also currently on pause, but I’ve been working on new songs for about a year and am learning to produce it myself
I do have another music project I’ve started but haven’t announced more details of yet and am not rushing it.
Generally, I encourage those who are financially able to donate to Bay Area mutual aid efforts: some that come to mind are houseless aid through :
DECAYCAST Interviews: A Deep Look Into Collective Grimalkin Records.
We stumbled across VA based label collective Grimalkin Records on the internet, and this discovery proved the internet still occasionally can surprise you in the best way. Here’s a in depth look into the label and collective as told by, and questioned by their own collective members. The best interviews often feature little of the interviewer, so we went one step further and removed ourselves entirely from the discussion, enjoy and make sure to buy some of their fantastic music here! The label varies aesthetically however the overall presentation is unified and concise, yet sonically there’s something for everyone on their bandcamp, so take a look!
Nancy Kells (Richmond, VA), founder and leading facilitator of Grimalkin Records, also creates music as Spartan Jet-Plex.
Elizabeth Owens (Richmond, VA) is a musician and visual artist and helps with various logistical and design work for the label.
Liz (to Nancy): What are some big plans you have for Grimalkin down the line? Any specific projects you have in mind?
Nancy: I would love to put out a collective member compilation. It could benefit a specific person or organization or whatever we want to do. It would be nice to do some other compilations with various members curating different ones or members collaborating on curating it together. We could also do one as a collective where we each pick a song of someone else- we each ask one person/band we know for a song for it. I would love it if we could grow enough to do releases of 100 where proceeds from 50 could go to a non-profit or cause and the half could be given to artist to sell as they want at live shows or on Bandcamp or their website. It would eventually be great to have a setup to dub and do all j-card printing work. I hand dub them now, but it’s a small setup where realistically it would be too much to do runs or 50 or more. I’d love to have a community recording studio and do workshops on how to home record, do releases on your own, play music, whatever people were interested in hosting and attending. I love collaboration and would be interested in putting together small projects with others. I love that kind of thing. Maybe we could do one large mega-collaborative song with all of us? That would be very cool and probably a lot of fun.
Liz: In what ways do you hope Grimalkin differs from other labels?
Nancy: In comparison to bigger labels, even some smaller indie labels, we aren’t a business. If we were to grow and could get grants and be non-profit to support people on a larger level with stipends and then also in terms of raising money for organizations and collectives but also individuals in need. I personally admire Virginia Anti-Violence Project and the work they do. I would love for GR to be a place were we could do workshops and educational things but also support on learning things and how to be creative and play music- and then also individual support for people and even counseling. I also really admire Nationz and what Zakia McKensey has done for RVA. I see Grimalkin as a collective group of musicians who can help organize the community through music and in doing so can organize with others in the community as well and support other organizations and individual people.
Liz: How do you find new artists and decide who to approach about doing a Grimalkin release/joining the collective?
Nancy: My hope is that collective members will naturally know people or have friends who’d like to release- just building a community and support our talented friends. The people I’ve asked to join or release with us are people I’ve seen play live or from playing with them in Womajich Dialyseiz Mainly from being out at shows in Richmond.. I have met a few people on Twitter or through organizing benefit compilations as well which is great. So Kate is from Guayanilla, Puerto Rico and Berko is from Baltimore, Mabel is in Philly and Quinn is from Springfield, MO. It’s really cool to have people elsewhere and that our collective is branching outside of RVA.. I envision Grimalkin one day as supporting small music communities in various places. I know that’s lofty, but I can dream. We encourage people to reach out to us though.
Liz: If someone wanted to support or join Grimalkin, what are some of the biggest needs of the org in terms of labor right now?
Nancy: We want people to join us who feel like what we are doing is right for them. You don’t need to be in collective to release with collective so it’s more about just collaborating in various ways. Having people join us who feel like they have something that the collective would benefit from but at same time, it’s a no pressure thing. No one has to do anything specific, but if you want to contribute, that’s welcomed and encouraged. Everybody in our collective now contributes in various ways- graphic design, artwork, recruiting new people to join us or release music, social media promo, mastering songs- and we could help with mixing and recording as well, helping book shows and organize benefit shows. Also, just being a supportive friend to others is being part of the collective. Sometimes support is just showing up when you can. To me, that is important and I have a lot of respect for everyone in collective. And each person cares greatly for the world and all of the injustice and wants to do better and I think that ’with music is what brings us together.
Liz: Where you you like to see Grimalkin go?
Nancy: I’d like it to be a place where people can come to for help with their music and for support but also without expectations and strings. Like a home away from home or place you can come and be creative and help others and collaborate but a place you can come and go as you please. I’d love it if eventually we had enough money where we could pay people stipends to help them create their work or take care of themselves. Get paid for shows or creating artwork. Just a positive community where we raise one another up and help people when we can. Being around creative people inspires creativity and collaboration and support. It would be great if at some point we had a recording space people could use with equipment. It would be great if we eventually had a proper printer setup to do j-cards completely on our own. I’d like to get two of my tape decks fixed and try to have a much better dubbing setup. If we ever grow to doing larger runs, that would be wonderful. Maybe we could dub albums for friends then as well which would help a lot of people. I’d love more people to join the collective but at same time don’t want people to feel they have to join to release or collaborate with us. I’d like Grimalkin to support other people’s collectives and projects. And on same hand, would love to see us grow with people who really want to contribute every now and again or as much as they want and be part of the collective. I want us to be this network of people basically and we do what we do when we want or can to work with and help others
Nancy: I think benefits of creating music might be similar for both of us. We’ve both talked about how music is a way to process life and channel a lot of dark emotions into something positive. When did you know creating and writing your own music was important to you?
Liz: I started writing music as early as 7 years old, and knew it was important then. I used to get punished a lot as a kid and as a result ended up spending a lot of time in my room with nothing but a pen and paper and a lot of feelings. Before I knew how to write my own music I would just put my own lyrics to other songs (an early favorite of mine was the Harry Potter opening theme…). I’ve always used poetry as a way to work through my feelings and putting the words to music helps solidify the message in an emotional way for me. It didn’t really occur to me that my emotional/mental health largely depended on making music as a therapeutic device until about 5 years ago, though. I think I’ve gained a lot of clarity and healed a lot as a result of that insight.
Nancy: How has your personal sound changed over the years?
Liz: I think most of the change in my sound has come from collaborating with other musicians and challenging myself to think differently. My dear friend and musical sister, Micah Barry, has had a huge impact on my sound because we flow really well when we write together. She’s an incredible guitarist, so challenged me to write more complex and fluid guitar parts for Coming of Age, for example. Access to weird instruments has also shaped my sound a lot; Dave Watkins, who helped record Coming of Age, lent me a bowed psaltery which I learned to play and used heavily on the album. I also just acquired and fell in love with a lever harp. So curiosity and a love of learning new instruments has a lot to do with it, too.
Nancy: How did you meet the people who play in your band? You all really seem like you fit together when you play live like perfect puzzle pieces. Your music solo is wonderful. Growing Pain is particularly beautiful. I love that EP and all of those songs except the intro are on Coming of Age. The intro is this beautiful ambient and vocal piece that you can also hear ideas that end up on Coming of Age. Perhaps you think of Growing Pain as sketches for Coming of Age or maybe they sit separately as two entirely different things or a bit of both. I wonder how you view them in relationship to one another and what you think your current band brings to the songs on your new album?
Liz: First, wow thank you! Regarding my band mates, we fit really well together because I was friends with everyone before we started playing together. They’re all kind, perceptive listeners and I think that’s the key to making a band work really well. We have fun together. Regarding the EP vs. full album, I definitely think of the EP as a sketch of Coming of Age. It helped me lay down an intention for the record and feel out the sound before committing to a full band and recording plan. It also helped me realize that the songs were begging for added instrumentation and a spirit that could only exist with more people present, hence the band. It was really difficult to hand over these extremely personal songs to other people at first, but I’m so glad I did because the record wouldn’t be what it is otherwise, and I wouldn’t be where I am otherwise. Working with a band has done amazing things for my depression.
Mabel Harper (Philadelphia, PA) has a variety of music and writing projects including their solo project Don’t Do It, Neil, and helps with recruiting bands, artwork and graphic design, and mastering releases. She has a new album, B/X, out with us late June 2019. You can view her first video and single, Strawberry Cake, below.
Nancy: Your new album that you’re working on has a newish sound for you. What do you think inspired this change? I actually think your sound varies from listening to your Bandcamp. I think experimenting and trying new things is great and important in growing as a musician. I think it’s really exciting that you’re trying new things. Is there anything that stands out to you about doing things differently than you have previously?
Mabel: K-pop inspired the change. People shit on boy bands and pop music and stuff, but I think, when it’s really good, it’s good at crystalizing emotion in an accessible way. I basically see Don’t do it, Neil as an experimental pop project—not experimental as in, I wanna make something alienating, but experimental as in, I don’t wanna limit myself. It gets boring if you do the same shit over and over! I really believe that you can’t grow as an artist if you just keep doing the same thing over and over.
Nancy: You collaborate on a web serial through Form and Void. How did you get the idea for that series? You also have some music collaborations as well. How does your music collaborations differ from the writing and how to you see them in relation to each other? How does writing differ creatively for you from music and from your various collaborations?
Mabel: We got the idea for Form and Void after a long time of not collaborating and then one day just being like, “Maybe we should do something?” And, from our mutual interests in the historical practice of magic, queerness and identity issues, and stark human fucking darkness, Form and Void arose. I see writing as totally different than making music. Writing for me is something I find naturally collaborative, while I find that hard as fuck to do with music. I’m just so into my particular vision, that I find collaborating on music really frustrating. Of course people have their own ideas, but, if I feel strongly about something aesthetically-speaking, that’s it. That’s the way that shit’s gotta be.
Molly Kate Rodriguez (Guayanilla, Puerto Rico) makes music as kate can wait, and helps with recruiting new artists and collective members.
Nancy: Kate, I think you said you just recently played out solo as kate can wait for first time or first in a long time. I played my first ever solo set as Spartan Jet-Plex a month ago which was very scary. Just guitar and vocals is really intimate and kind of intimidating to do in front of people, at least it was for me.How did you get prepared for your show and how did it go? Do you have any advice on how to prepare and for getting your head in the right space for it?
Kate: It was my first time as kate can wait but it was the 3rd solo show I’ve ever played. My first 2 shows were me singing over a backing track but this one was the first time it was just me and my guitar. I practiced a lot,more than I ever have and the show actually went well. I’m a very indecisive person so I was still choosing songs for the setlist the day of the show which added a lot of stress to an already stressful occasion. My advice would be to not think about things too much and just have fun with it. People react positively to honesty and passion in a performance so just go for it.
Nancy: Kate, Out of everyone in the collective, your music is probably most similar to what I do with Spartan Jet-Plex. What is your writing process usually? And do you usually write lyrics and guitar simultaneously or which usually comes first for you?
Kate: My writing process involves me grabbing my guitar and playing around until I’ve found a chord progression I like,then I sing over it and if I like the vocal melody enough then I decide to make it a full song. Sometimes I end up recording the first thing I play and sometimes it takes me a long while until I come up with something worthwhile. I almost always write lyrics after the music, I find it super difficult to match up music to pre-written lyrics though I do it on rare occasions. I don’t like to spend too much time working on songs because I enjoy my first reaction to the music so my writing process for the most part coincides with the recording process. Sometimes I’ll go back and add or subtract things here and there but I normally spend a day on each song,2 at most.
Nancy: Kate, You mentioned that kate can wait and this current style of music for you is fairly new. I think you mentioned doing ambient and noise type music projects previously. How were you inspired to switch gears and write the kind of songs you’ve been currently writing? And do you ever miss doing ambient and noise and do you feel like there is room within the kate can wait project to bring those other sounds into it or how does that work when you’re writing music?
Kate: I made ambient and drone music from 2010 to 2017. I also dabbled a bit with instrumental hip hop,meditation and noise music and while all of those things were very exciting to make I’ve always wanted to make singer-songwriter type of music. Experimental music is very gratifying to make but sometimes you just wanna work on songs with verses and choruses and the like. I never felt confident enough to do it and my access to recording gear has always been limited so I always saw it as a pipe dream. I’d like to mix both things in the future but at the moment I have no real desire to go back to that sound. I feel like I ended those projects off on a high note and I’m ok with that.
Berko Lover (Baltimore, MD) met founding member Nancy Kells through organizing one of the compilations we put out as Friends For Equality. She’s been supportive of the work we are doing and helps with recruitment as well. Berko and Nancy just released their collaborative project, MERGE, this month.
Nancy: Berko, what is the music scene like in Baltimore? What are your favorite hangouts and places to see or play music there?
Berko: The music scene in Baltimore is very vibrant and and eclectic. There’s something for everyone.i love it and I am very proud of my peers. I love playing anywhere where the sound guy really loves to mix. That’s hard to come by but it’s a magical night when you sound like you want to sound.
Nancy: You created a food show. I loved how you edited it together with the different restaurant visits around the city and also the music. How did you come up with the idea to do your show and how do you view it in relationship to your music and other collaborations you do with various people?
Berko: I use my show as a vehicle to drive my music. I shot a bunch of footage but lately have been in a weird creative slump. I’m working on getting mySelf out of it and am pushing myself to get my show back up. I love food so coming up with the idea was easy. The execution and discipline to continue on hasn’t been as simple.
Nancy: I know we collaborated and I am excited to finally release it. I love So Nice Yesterday. Whenever I do a collaboration, the other person is bringing something unique and different to the table and it’s fun to see how you can bounce ideas and mesh with someone that works and possibly sounds different than you do. What is your motivating factor for working with Cazre? You both sound great together musically and vocally. You also were in another collective a while back and have collaborated quite a bit. What do you think makes it work?
Berko: Cazre is my best friend. Working with him is easy and the friendship motivates it. However, working with someone is always difficult when your both inspired in spurts. Getting on the same page can get challenging but once we do it feels and sound gorgeous. But our mutual respect for the talent each brings to the work is what works. I know that I perform my best in collaboration with him & I know that also does in regards to working with me. We bring out the best in each other musically and understanding that is what we focus on.
Sarmistha Talukdar (Richmond, VA) is a scientist, visual artist, and musician, and founding member ofWomajich Dialyseiz, a queer improv noise collective. They help with organizing benefit shows and designing artwork for releases and events. Their solo music project is Tavishi.
Nancy: Sarmistha, why did you form Womajich Dialyseiz and how to you think Grimalkin can support the goals of WD? My favorite times playing with WD were when it was just a get together and not a show. Liz and I have talked about scheduling one seasonally. Emily R said she would be down to host at her house. We could not only get together for an improv session but also share what we are all working on outside of WD.
Sarmistha: Womajich Dialyseiz was formed to create a safe(r) space for women, non-binary and trans artists to improvise and collaborate artistically. I think Grimalkin can continue to support the goals of WD by continuing to support and provide platform to marginalized artists. It makes me happy to see members of WD having and organizing cozy musical get togethers!!
Nancy: What types of benefit shows, events and people do you think we should organize a benefit show for this year?
Sarmistha: I feel we could host fundraisers for ICE out of RVA, Southerners on New Ground (Black Mama Bail Fund), Richmond Food and Clothing Initiative, Advocates for Richmond Youth, The Doula Project, these organizations tend to not get enough funding or visibility even though they are really doing great work. We can try to support undocumented immigrants who have taken up sanctuary in Richmond (ex Hands off Abbie campaign), there are many community advocates in Richmond who are struggling but hesitate to ask for help, I would like to fundraise for them as well. For example Maria Escalante has been trying to help migrants in Southside through Richmond Conexiones, but has been going through a lot in her own life. There are several QPOC folks who need money for hormones, gender-affirming surgeries but do not have the means to do that, we could try to fundraise for them as well. We could potentially even fundraise for a small scholarship for QPOC folks who might need a little help with their work/studies/creative efforts.
Martina Fortin Jonas (Portsmouth, VA), who makes music asMELVL, helps with recruiting bands and musicians and organizing benefit shows. They also serve on the board ofThe Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia.
Nancy: Martina, Your music sounds both ancient and new. What are your inspirations?
Martina: I am a classically trained instrumentalist and have been an early music enthusiast for most of my life, so ancient music, medieval music (shout out to my girl Hildegard von Bingen!!), renaissance music, and generally just music before 1750 A.D. have a huge grip on me. Some of my other favorite composers include Leonin, Machaut, Josquin, Mealli, Uccellini, Marais, Handel, and of course, Anonymous. Other artists I love that influence my work are Enya, Sade, early Grimes, Alcest, Pink Floyd, Treha Sektori, Csejthe, Araphel, Batushka, Atrium Carceri, Endvra, Coph Nia, and more.
Nancy: You teach at ODU? I think that is correct. What do you teach there? How do if at all does your teaching impact or influence your music? I was a special education teacher and taught middle school math, algebra and English. I always felt like my work was directly in relation to my music. I feel the same now too as a vocational counselor. I think my job always affected my art or music but it has had a more positive impact as I felt like what I was doing was meaningful to me outside of a paycheck.
Martina: I have taught at ODU before, but currently I teach Intro to Linguistics, Written Communications, and German at Hampton University. Usually I keep my music and teaching pretty separate from each other, but over the years I have found that it is teaching that helps me the most with the stage fright I deal with in my musical endeavors.
Quinn Wolf(Springfield, MO) is a musician and podcaster who recently reached out to Grimalkin about joining via email. She plans to help with recruiting and planning future podcasts.
Nancy: How did you get involved in the video game project Transhaping? Can you tell us about your experience working on the project and how you came up with songs for the soundtrack and what attracted you to the project?
Quinn: Unbound Interactive put out a call on Twitter for trans musicians to contribute to the soundtrack. A friend of mine sent me the link, and I just sent them a quick DM with some SoundCloud links and forgot about it until they messaged me back. I really wasn’t expecting anything, since I hadn’t done any paid work of this scale before, but the Unbound team were both super cool and committed to telling their trans story with trans talent. I let them know the genres I’m used to working in, and they gave me the task of making a handful of short songs to play on in-game radios. I naturally sketch out short musical ideas with different synths, so making these tiny tracks came easily to me. Unbound Interactive is a fantastic group of folks with some real business smarts, so I’m looking forward to watching their next project take shape.
Nancy: Tell us about Luminous Studios and how you got involved in that podcast team and what your goals are with that and some of the main topics you like to discuss on there?
Quinn: Where to start? The founding members of Luminous Studios – myself, Cole Shepard and Jack Grimes – decided to form our own network after discovering our love for podcasting on a now-defunct podcast arm of a vaporwave music label of all things. Originally the three of us wanted a space to create more serious works of analysis and criticism about media, but instead the network became more of a place to showcase new and experimental audio content. We have a large group of friends from our past creative endeavors, and Luminous Studios became a great way to introduce a lot of them to podcasting and vice versa. Right now, we’re pushing forward with this idea of honing our craft and trying things without worrying too much about being commercially viable or anything like that. To be honest, we’re somewhere in this weird middle space between podcast network and publishing co-operative and art collective. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Nancy: Tell us about your music and what inspired you to reach out to Grimalkin and what you hope to gain from working with us, how you hope to contribute to the collective and how the label can help you personally but also what you would like to see us do for others and communities?
Quinn: Music has always been a bit of a lonely pursuit for me. I grew up around church music and school bands and choirs, but I’ve never had friends who were into pursuing music independently. […]
Osser Smith (Richmond, VA), a.k.a. Peter Pierpont, is a visual artist and musician and helps with various aspects of the creative work Grimalkin does (i.e. posters, merch, promotion, etc.).
Nancy: Similar to me, you just performed live for the first time. I find that exciting but it was also very scary to me but I felt like it was time to push myself to do not only for me personally to grow as a person and musician, but also as a way to give myself some kind of validation that my music is worthy to share with others in a live setting. I guess I never really felt like I was good enough or valid enough to play in front of people. I was really holding myself back and fearful of failing and falling flat on my face. What are your thoughts on this and what drove you to finally take the plunge? Did you have to psych yourself up for days, weeks? How did you prepare and overcome any fear or reservations you may have had?
Osser: Oh my gosh I was terrified. I told all my friends I would never perform my music because it’s too scary. But a couple nights before Kosmo, my friend running the show, asked if I would hop on. I practiced a couple hours before, hoping I would remember all the words. I remembered most of them! I think I just really was driven to share the feelings I got making those songs.
Nancy: Tell us about Peter Pierpont. Where did you come up with that name and are you taking on a persona when you do your music or is that just a band/project name?
Osser: Peter Pierpont is actually a character from a narrative I’ve been working on for some time. I decided to use his name for my music project because he sort of represents the positive sides to being overly emotional and mentally ill for me. In my narrative, Peter lives a very similar life to mine in the beginning, dies in his early 20’s then comes back from the dead some time in the future to sing songs about his past life and find a new path to plunge his heart and soul into. Metaphorically, Pete’s death represents killing the happy parts of myself early in life and slowly picking them back up. I don’t know what my future holds but I hope Pete can bring myself others empathy and aural elation!
As for the name, Osser is actually the origin. Osser was the original “Peter” persona. He was actually called “Ossy” and his character design was based on the sad clown, Pierrot. At some point in my late adolescence I was too embarrassed of how queer Ossy was so I created Peter from him. I used “Pier” as a starting point then. Peter and Pierpont both mean “stone” in some way.. (and that’s a whole other story) Peter was a more gender confirming character for me even though I was still years away from coming out. I started to miss the old Ossy and brought “them” back in my art and via myself. Their name changed to “Osservalten” in a car ride one day and it just stuck. Peter lived through the narrative for sometime gaining more and more relevance. Now I happily serve as a vessel for Peter’s musical numbers he writes about his past life in his new life. We are all much more comfortable with ourselves now.
Nancy: Osser: I know we’ve talked about the Legendary Pink Dots together already. I mentioned how your live set (my first intro to hearing your music) reminded me slightly of them and your voice of Edward Ka-Spel. When did you discover their music and is there anything you’d like to share about your music and them? I know you mentioned Edward is a music idol of sorts to you.
Osser: LPD is my biggest inspiration! Back in my teen years I was very angry and listened to lots of Skinny Puppy. This one time I was watching some tour footage and one of the band members pointed out “The Legendary Pink Dots” was written on the wall backstage somewhere. I didn’t know anything about LPD til one day soon after that I walked into Plan 9 records in 2007 and found their album “Your Children Placate You From Premature Graves.” and bought it on impulse. I thought their sound was fantastic then slowly discovered more and more… (and I’m still finding things I’ve never heard by them) One of the most inspiring moments in my life was watching Edward Ka-Spel perform “Salem” live in DC. I’ve looked everywhere for a video of my favorite part of the song where he screeches “YOU??? I MEAN YOUUU?????” Ka-Spel is a compelling story teller and I will always aspire to follow a similar direction.
Nancy: I believe you are also an artist? Can you tell us how you see music and art in relation to one another and specifically your creative relationship to both music and art? I made artwork and drew and painted and then got into sculpture long before I tried creating music so I am interested in how people relate the two who do both or have done both. I always had a love of music throughout my life but drawing and painting seemed more natural to me creatively when I was young and then overtime that flipped for me. I feel like artwork was limiting me to what I need to get out of myself and so I think that is where the change came for me.
Osser: I’ve been having a very similar experience as of late! I grew up in a musical family but didn’t really take interest in playing an instrument or learning anything about music because I was always more passionate about my drawing ability. I watched my mom participate in choirs, my dad play music with his friends every thursday night, and my brother pick up drums and electric guitar at an early age. I was excelling in art and it was the only thing I really cared about growing up so I stuck to that for the longest time. As I grew older though I began hanging out in different Richmond music scenes trying to find my place. I’ve always been an audience member because I didn’t want to share my narrative with anyone. But one day in late 2018 I opened GarageBand on my computer and just started obsessively piecing together some heavy loops to sing over. And I haven’t been able to stop ever since!!! It definitely took me a while to even want to take that first step away from the pencils and paintbrushes. I didn’t think I could make something that sounded decent but thanks to modern technology I can focus on narrating and create a digital piece as a catalyst for my stories. Together with art and music I want to create a complete work. I’ve thought of making a comic book with soundtracks to go along with them but that seems very involved. We’ll see what life throws at me.
Heaven Imanchinello. Richmond, Virgina.
Heaven IImanchinello is involved in several community projects that help people in Richmond. includingGreat Dismal,which hosts and books benefit shows and supports local and touring musicians. They help with recruiting bands and musicians and with organizing shows and with giving us general advice. Heaven is also in Womajich Dialyseiz and curated ourlive set release. They also will be curating an upcoming compilation Grimalkin is putting out of collective members & friends hopefully this fall. They were unable to participate in this interview this go around due to life getting in the way.
Backxwash helps with promotion and recruiting. We met her throughher Twitter and discovered her killer music and checked out her music video forF.R.E.A.K.S. and you should too. We asked her if she would be interested in releasing and/or joining and we’re so glad she’s a part of our collective. Look for a release from her in July 2019. Backxwash just joined the collective this week prior to conducting and submitting this interview.
The discography of California based imprint Deathbomb Arc spans across rap, noise, experimental, noise rock, abstract electronic music and more boasting releases from experimental rap group Clipping, and rap/noise crossover Death Grips to the dense lush pop soundscapes of Fielded, to the noisy chaotic percussive assault of Foot Village, but none of these releases seem to masterfully weave so many seemingly disconnected genres into such a dense, queer, volatile, explosion of hybrid-styles future music than one of the the labels newest release, “Spirit Realm.Final” from non binary CA based rapper SB THE MOOR. On “Spirit Realm.Final”, SB takes the extremes from “Pillows” and “MNFST.dstnii” and a swarth of self released cassettes and mix tapes and pushes them even farther into the psychedelic netherworld that is their mind. This record truly defies categorization, it’s at once both haunting, beautiful, chaotic, poised, explosive and contained, seamlessly bridging hip hop, post rock, noise, industrial, and avant garde. These terms seem to contradict each other but upon opening your ears to “Spirit Realm.Final” and the work of SB THE MOOR, you’ll find beauty, chaos, anger, confusion, and even peace in the complicated dichotomies of our very existence. Moor has been on an unrelenting tear of touring, recording and collaborations and we needed to know more! We chatted with SB about their newest record, released on Deathbomb Arc, what it means to be a queer working artist, collaboration, touring and how this impacts the creative process. You can order their new record from the label HERE.
Dr. Decaycast: Thanks for talking with Decaycast! Can you talk a little bit about your project SB The MOOR? Do you consider it more of a band, solo project, or concept?
SB The Moor: hmm I guess when I started, Signor Benedick the Moor was just another name/alias. I think I already finished an album (which ended up being El Negro) and that was just another weird name I picked to call myself. I didn’t expect it to take off. Now, it’s a bit of a mix of all three. SB is sort of a persona, or alter ego with which to experiment and make art with.
DD: You have a new record out on Deathbomb Arc, correct, titled “Spirit Realm.Final”? Is this record a linear continuation of your sound from the previous Deathbomb releases, and if not how has your sound changed?
SB The Moor: This new record…. well I never really know what’s going to happen when I go into album making mode. Even after I’m finished it usually takes a couple weeks of downtime before i really understand what it is. In a way this new record, titled “spirit realm.final” is a continuation of “Toybox”,“cybr.pnk”, and “MNFST.dstniii“. Those records were like…me figuring out how to make spirit realm.final. Sonically, texturally….and figuring out my music making process….as well as how to mix to my liking…those last three records trained me in all of those aspects. Thematically this record reminds me a lot of El Negro, too. It’s almost like a spiritual successor in my mind, because the album was born from a very dark place. This time though I’m experienced enough to identify the darkness and use it purposefully, instead of being used by it. Tbh, El Negro attracted a lot of attention from people I really didn’t want to be associated with haha.
“Representation is everything! Even on this tour ….. non binary kids have been tellin’ me how much it means to them. ….. But, y’know, seeing artists like Mykki Blanco just tear shit up was crucial for me.”
DD: You’re currently on tour, correct? How does touring affect the writing and recording process? Do you record and write ideas on the road or are the two unique and individualized parts of your process?
SB The Moor: Being on tour and being “in the studio” are really yin and yang to me… I find out what works live, what my vocal and performing abilities are. This really fuels what I decide to do when making a record. Then, having leveled up on stage, I make something with new ideas and abilities in mind. I’m not usually thinking of one while I’m doing the other, so connecting the two is usually a learning process in itself, and another way to level up. I do think broadly about recording when im on tour, like what themes I want to explore and what sounds/textures/genres I might use, but I usually only write when I’m actually making a record, working on a collaboration, or of course, working on a commission.
DD: What is the most misunderstood aspect about your work as SB, or rather of nothing comes to mind what would be one thing you would like to share with your supporters that they perhaps don’t know at this time
SB The Moor: I think I felt wildly misunderstood around 2014-2016. 4chan is apparently a big reason for my success early on and I hate 4chan lol. A lot of sweaty racist white boys, proud to tell me about their obscure music tastes, simultaneously putting me down and looking for me to give them a proverbial cookie. Maybe most artists just ignore them but I felt hurt that by these dorks, I’m sensitive damn it! And I also thought about what that meant about me, what part of myself is being reflected here? When I released Toybox, which was pretty much a pop punk record, a lot of people were actually angry! And I’m like wow I’m way too un-famous and broke for these clowns to be getting under my skin…and where were they when I needed support??? Lol. So now….idk speaking plainly where I need to is a bigger part of my music haha.
DD: Might you talk about the zines and other visual art you’ve been making, are these a direct extension of the ideas and concepts your exploring with SB, or do they exist on their own as well, both physically and conceptually?
SB The Moor: Even before music, I wanted to draw comics and make cartoons. So making the zines is more like a childhood fantasy come true haha. The first one I made was with my partner, Marcosa (@multosa on Instagram) who paints beautiful colorful landscapes and puts poetry on top. I thought putting my cartoony, punk-esque drawings in the same magazine would be a cool contrast, so we did a zine! Then I realized I could take what I learned and make my own little comics, which I peddle on my patreon. Both of the mini comics are extensions of the record. One is titled “Sexuality in the Digital Age” and the other “What are Feelings For?” which are themes directly lifted from spirit realm.final. I don’t really know where I’m going with comics but a lot of my favorite musicians also work in comics so I figured I shouldn’t let anything stop me haha.
DD: I think the 4chan thing you brought up leads into something else I wanted to talk about. Has your experience as a Black, queer artist affected how you’re treated within experimental music circles? Also, I have heard people talk about on how your work as an expansive and eclectic, radical mixed-genre, queer rapper has helped give them a voice as a queer or non binary artist themselves. How important is visibility to you as an artist living and working within a world largely controlled by racist, sexist and transphobic systems of oppression?
SB The Moor: Representation is everything! Even on this tour (Legendary tour with milo, we just played our first date in Denver last night) non binary kids have been tellin’ me how much it means to them. And tbh the first time someone mentioned it I was surprised! But, y’know, seeing artists like Mykki Blanco just tear shit up was crucial for me. And I can understand how I might be something similar to others, especially as I grow more and more into myself. Idk what 4chan thought I was about, I never asked…lol. But the minute I got gayer and poppier, despite becoming arguably MORE experimental and confirmably more skilled at music making in general, I think a lot of 4channers realized I was not for them haha. The contrast between people showing up for my shows back then to now is great, and I look forward to my crowds getting gayer and browner as I grow. Haha
DD: Do you see the politics of representation changing for the better or for the worse within music communities for queer people of color, disabled people and marginalized communities in general?
SB The Moor: Tbh I….idk if I’m qualified to answer in an intelligent way lol. I know it seems to be easier for me and others like me, but this game is still a lot about privilege and I wield mine like a sword. I don’t have kids, I have a great support system, I’ve been lucky enough to work on my mental health with professionals…I’m tall and scary looking…haha. But many of my friends do not have these advantages, and even just working a full time job can really drain you when you’re black/brown, trans, and disabled as many of my friends are. How can they tour, or find enough time to finish projects for themselves? And of course, some do anyway, but….idk I’ve drifted from the question haha. I’m not political, or rather, I’m a political skeptic. Like the police, politicians just aren’t our friends. And as more people like us make music that people can’t deny, then yeah certain things get easier.
DD: Can you elaborate on your (apparent) affinity for collaboration ? You also accept commissions on occasion and can you talk a bit about that process and how you started to be so open and prolific with your talents?
SB The Moor: I love collaboration for a couple reasons…I love to experience newness. It’s a great way to train your brain. I believe if you can look at something new and just accept it, even if u don’t like it, you will never be stuck in your ways. And that leads to learning faster and reaching a certain level of mastery faster. And I accept commissions as often as I can, it was a large part of my smol income last year and it was fun to do, fun to see who is listening and who wants a piece of the pie I’m baking and what kind of weird underground shit is out there. Once I conquered my fears it seemed like the logical step. Honestly I was inspired by Lil Wayne’s prolific output too haha. Saturate the market and have fun widdit. I still have songs poppin up on spotify and bandcamp and I be like, oh damn I made this??? I’ve done like 150 commissions so I really be forgetting lol!
DD: Future plans for SB the Moor ?
SB The Moor: future plans:
keep bein’ dope
stay in the dojo
upload to the spirit realm
DD: OK, Finally, any shoutouts, closing statements etc
SB The Moor: Shout out to milo, the ruby yacht, Randal bravery, Pink Navel asleepin like a angel beside me, my Taurus Moon Sweetie back in Port Orchard, our families, my big little brother and my little little brother, the ancient ones, the future ones, shout out ratskin for the continued and future support, and lastly shout out to myself cus I couldn’t have done it without me.
Sound artist Derek Piotr is releasing a new record coming out in late September on the DSPR imprint, titled “Grunt”, so we decided to have a short conversation about Piotr’s work as “Grunt”, specifically on their new record.
“A grunt. That most primal and animalistic of utterances. The new project by Derek Piotr, his eighth solo record and a set of short-form brutalist shards of human-digital noise, is
named for this sound. Had Xenakis bought a laptop in 1999, he may have produced something comparable to Grunt and its post-human #voicenoise aesthetic. Yet this is a wholly unique piece of work. As with Xenakis, Piotr takes recognisably analogue sounds – particularly the voice, but also drawing on acoustic instrumentation and found-sounds from nature – and reconstructs them into 21 intricate ‘electroacoustic’ miniatures. Yet
Piotr is less interested in dissolving these boundaries between electric and acoustic than he is in hybridising the organic and the digital. Grunt is subversively queer in its post-human composition”
Dr. Decaycast: “A grunt. That most primal and animalistic of utterances” would you say that this quote sums up the Ethos of the Grunt project perfectly?
Derek Piotr: Grunt has a separate meaning in Polish which is “earth” or “ground”. In general this project is trying to remind people of awareness of the physical body and reconnecting with nature in a really direct, almost clumsy way. I feel society has totally gone ethereal with apps and phones and I wanted to hit listeners lightly over the head with this project.
DD: Can you talk a little bit about the strategies of creating the sounds on this new record?
Piotr: Granular synthesis and heavy edits. In my earlier work i did a lot of very klobig cut and pastes, just lines and lines of small repeated glitches, then got further and further away from that idea as I moved on in my work. I wanted to return to some of the earliest ideas I had about sound, but in a way that is closer to my own vision than it was before…it always takes many tries circling around something before you reach the center.
DD: Would you consider yourself a concept based artist? If so, How does this record differ in concept from your previous seven full length albums, if at all?
Piotr: I think every record does fit into a concept. Drono was about drone music, Forest People Pop was of course more of a Pop record. I think I need a fence to work in or I would just be utterly lost. It would be interesting to me to create an album with no borders, every track a different flavour or feeling, but I feel ultimately that may result in a very uneven album. Something close to this happened with my fourth record Tempatempat. I tried many different sonic environments and, to me, that effort is my weakest. Consistency is important. I think grunt may be my most thematically consistent record. Most of the tracks are within the same parameters of length, and very similar processing is applied to the sounds across the entirety.
DD: Xenakis was mentioned in reference to this album. Can you talk a little bit about the impact his work has had on your process and aesthetics, if any?
Piotr: Xenakis is amazing, the press release was not written by me, but I definitely suggested that visual “if Xenakis had a laptop” to the PhD who wrote the liner notes. I think a lot of Xenakis’ work is very rough and direct in a way I tried to be on this album. I was not thinking of Xenakis when writing, more after I had the record done I tried to tie touchstones to it. Some of the work on this record sounds like Xenakis chamber music. Some of it sounds like Stockhausen. Some of it sounds like Pita. Some of it sounds like Kit Clayton. But I only drew those threads together after.
DD: The last track on this record is a reworking of a Kevin Drumm track. Can you talk a little bit about that collaboration and how that came about?
Piotr: I’ve known Kevin for years and we’ve emailed back and forth. We’re on the same label with some of our stuff. As I did with Drono (where I collaborated with Thomas Brinkmann for the last track), I invited Kevin to edit some of the material I was working on for this noise album. I sent him a bunch of demos and he chose Redirect to work with.
DD: Any collaborations planned for the future? Did you learn anything from that particular collaboration with Drumm?
Piotr: Didn’t really learn anything from Kevin, we work pretty similarly…that said I do have more collaborations coming in the next few months…
DD: What is some of the best new music (noise or other that you have heard)
Piotr: AGF – Dissidentova
Dirty Projectors – Lamp-Lit Prose
anything from Don’t DJ
but i am bad to talk about “new” music, I mostly lately listen to Jean Ritchie and old Thai music on youtube.
DD: Do you think queerness plays a big enough role in noise?
Piotr: No. It’s very much a boys club still. I wanna wag my finger a bit: many successful noise artists feed into boys club energy; use guitar and have kind of a postrock shoegaze situation going on. I think it pulls in people and feels like stretched out major power chord business, just made slightly weirder or dilute. Then you have harsh noise which is almost mosh-state sometimes. Definitely macho-ness going on, at least with some of the noise scene figureheads. I wish for more alertness sonically, use of differing tonal systems, general freakiness, softness and sensuality.
This interview was conducted as the first official interview by Decaycast aka NERFBAU jsun Adrian McCarty and Michael Daddona interview experimental music underground stalworts M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniels of Matmos, in their then SF Mission District Studio/apartment.
We did this a long time ago, but i think many of the questions and content holds up really well and also it’s nice to hear Jsun’s voice as a distant snarky beckoning to the past and future Matmos was a rather big influence and Jsun and my early work as Nerfbau and later as Styrofoam Sanchxz and Coral Remains and were without a doubt monumental in the formation of Ratskin so I thought it would be nice and fitting to re present this. We stayed up all night the night before, myself on speed and dope and Jsun chain smoking cigarettes to prepare for this, arguing over
questions, prepping cassette decks withpre recorded hidden questions on time travel and the sound of dreams, we ended up hiding several cassette recorders throughout Martin and Drew’s studio oinged with questions which interrupted the normal interview. In our early morning franticness and nervousness (we approached the interview more like a performance / collaboration than a traditional interview ) we even managed to spill coffee into a tape machine which housed some really important master audio tapes containing interviews with Drew’s mother before she had passed We told that story for years, how if it was our studio and some high kids came in to interview us and nearly ruined a priceless historical document we would’ve kicked them out and dragged to no end, but they didn’t do that, we were welcomed, as peers, collaborators and family. One of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done. Enjoy.
-MD for Nerfbau, 2018
For one of her newest releases on Bedlam Tapes, Angel has offered a nearly forty minute offering titled, “Interbeing” which was released this November and today we are beyond excited to be premiering a video for the track, “Passageways To Meeting Areas “, which is a masterful work of aural and visual assemblage, oscillating between dense electronics, noise, industrial, smooth jazz and other more esoteric, less definable physical, visual, and aural points of reference and strategy. We are very proud to be debuting this video here and honored that Angel took time to talk to us more in depth about her processes as an artist, influences, and scoring weed on the internet. Here’s the video, and interview below! Please support Angel and buy her music, looks like the cassette version is sold out but you can cop the CD Version and a free digital download of “Interbeing”HERE!
Hello Angel. Thanks for chatting with us over the panopticon that is Facebook messenger for Decaycast, first off how is your day going today and second, how deep does the internet go? Is it a weird portal? Just data? Productive? Evil?
My day has been pretty good. I was at work for a while, which was a good time. (No sarcasm, I swear.) Then I came home, fed the bears, scooped their shit into a bag, and started making the final tweaks to an LP slated for release next year.
About the internet’s depth…all I can say is that if you go deep enough, you can get fantastic weed for good prices. As a self-proclaimed hermit, ordering anything online is a blessing.
I remember we used to have to wait in the dumpster behind McDonald’s, now you can order weed online. What a trip? It’s a rare case when someone has a good day at work, so this is off to an odd but wonderful start already. Do you want to talk a bit about the LP you’re recording?
It’s a Fire-Toolz record, and it’s called Skinless X-1. Only about 30% of the music has vocals in it this time. I wanted the melodies and textures to have a little more space to breathe and say their piece. There is an even heavier 80s/90s new age & jazz fusion influence on this album. I still can’t seem to get away from heavy four-on-the-floor beats, though. With the exception of one eccojam, the occasional sample is only used as a brief brushstroke. I tried to write music that sounded the way my dreams did when I was young, living at home, in a peaceful part of town, surrounded by trees, grass, swamps, and various wildlife. This isn’t to say the album doesn’t have plenty of abrasive moments. I will say that there is no anger on this album. I’m still exploring personal challenges, but they’ve been a little neutralized.
This album’s message is more observational, more curious about things, and frankly more empathetic and compassionate toward a lot of the things I’ve expressed mind-numbing rage for on previous releases. This album expresses a deep appreciation for things, and an outlook that is a little more neutralized. The album is floaty. And the few times it lands, it really pummels into the ground. The mess it leaves is intricate and colorful. Am I doing your job now? I’m starting to say some weird shit.
I love the idea of it smashing into the ground and leaving this colorful mess. Can you talk a little bit about some of your previous releases or projects that stood out to you or hold a certain place in your scope as an artist/ person
Most of the releases in my backlog that stand out to me are ones I didn’t think were going to stand out the way they do. A lot of times my favorite releases aren’t favorites of others. Which is fine, but interesting in it’s own way.
I had a CDr/6″ lathe/cs release called “Solar Activity & Civil Unrest.” It was massively conceptual. There was a pretty wide variety of experimental electronics, tape manipulation, found objects, voice, etc.
There was another release called “Journey To 0.004”that had several editions. It included an hour long sound collage. Also a concept release. I think these types of long releases can be exciting for the artist and overwhelming for the listener.
Both of those releases are available for free download and were released under my old birth name, “Justin Marc Lloyd” on my old label Rainbow Bridge.
Lastly, my music as Power Windoze didn’t really get much attention compared to some of my other work, but I believe it to be very special. It was my first attempt at making electronic music entirely on the computer. I released a few albums and an EP. The second album may come out on vinyl. I just started talking to a label about it. It’s about 3 years old now and needs a remaster, but I’m excited that the album might reach a wider audience soon!
I need to dig into that PW stuff. You also run a Netlabel, Swamp Circle? Care to talk a bit about that and the benefits / limitations you’ve experienced as owning both physical and digital imprints?
I started Swamp Circle for two reasons. I wanted to release my music and other people’s music without financial limitations (on my part or theirs). I also wanted an outlet for my own digital artwork (Rainbow Bridge was mainly a xerox-on-colored-card stock label). At first I wanted to release 5 albums at a time. Now I just sort of release them when I can. Most of the albums in the queue right now are other people’s music. We are waiting on me to finish the artwork. And since my priorities have shifted, it’s been challenging to find time to do this artwork. I made a rule for myself that all art on Swamp Circle would be done by me. This was cool at first, but now I’m mega behind because I gave myself another hefty job to do. I’ve been thinking about changing the format but I’m not sure yet. It’s rare a donation is made so it’s not financially lucrative, but it was never really supposed to be. I wanted these releases to be free.
Well we hope you keep Swamp Circle and Rainbow Bridge going, they are both fantastic labels. Care to talk a bit about your influences as an artist; bands, songs, routines, strategies, etc?
This past year I’ve been infatuated with jazz fusion-tinged new age music from the 80s and 90s. Shadowfax, Jonn Serrie, Patrick O’ Hearn, Dan Siegel, Elements, Richard Souther, Interior. You can hear some of that influence on Interbeing, and it will be even more apparent on Skinless X-1. Orange Milk releases are always in regular rotation. Euglossine, Nico Niquo, Seth Graham, Giant Claw, and Loto Retina are all especially inspiring artists to me. BT’s “This Binary Universe” was a recent rediscovery that kind of knocked me off my feet and provided a huge boost of creative juju at one point in the Skinless X-1 writing process. When composing sound collages, I’m reminded of my roots in Sickness, Gastric Female Reflex, Jason Lescallet and other noisers that are incredible at keeping you confused and overwhelmed. Fear Factory, Nine Inch Nails, and KMFDM have been there for me since I was a child, perpetuating my tendency to make heavy electronic music even when I don’t want to. John Wiese and mid 2000’s Prurient, although vastly different artists, taught me a lot about harsh textures and their unique aural impact. Also, tinnitus. Tinnitus influences me as an artist.
My routine usually starts with an isolated idea. Never an idea for a whole song. That idea is usually recorded or assembled, and then blindly built upon by living in the moment and just doing whatever comes to mind naturally, or sounds good when I do it. But, I also have to go to work sometimes. So, I transfer works in progress to my phone, listen to them on decent headphones at work, and brainstorm. A lot of times I take notes. Then I go home and make changes, or re-record stuff, and it just kinda goes on like that. I am very grateful to have a job that facilitates zoning out completely while still performing effectively.
My strategy is to take extra care of my ears because I didn’t used to and now I’m sorry.
Can you talk a little bit about this video we’re premiering? How different is your process for creating video works than your audio practice mentioned above? Do you see them as one piece or separate pieces complimenting, or perhaps being at odds with each other?
This video is for the song “Passageways To Meeting Areas”. It deals with the concept of ’emptiness’ from a Buddhist perspective, and the concept of Interbeing, which is a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh that describes the inherent interconnectedness of humanity, or the universe. In this song I’m sort of projecting a desperate plea to other humans, specifically those hateful and oppressive, to find common ground with me. In doing so we find that we are all generally good at our core, underneath our illnesses and compulsions. We all want to be happy, and we all want to be treated with love. It was difficult to come up with ideas for this subject that would go along with this message and still look like a Fire-Toolz video. It took a really long time, and I had this video sitting unfinished for months while I sped through four other videos. It wasn’t until Interbeing was days from being released that I finally finished it.
On one hand my videos are much more complementary to my first album and what I was making before I changed the name to Fire-Toolz. My latest material, and my sloppy, pixelated, shitty green screen footage and heavily processed VHS rips of ancient CGI demos, can seem at odds with each other. I strive for a complex precision in the composition and sound design of the music, but that approach doesn’t show itself very often in the videos. I haven’t much training in animation, 3D rendering, or illustration. However there is an overwhelming amount of similarities that transcend that dissonance. The juxtaposition of genres and textures, glitching, processing, re-contextualizing, absurdism, conceptualism, surrealism, nostalgia triggers, representations of modern technology. There is even the occasional humor that erupts from perceived absurdity. Such as black metal style vocals over a sample of a sensual jazz fusion track from 1986, or heavily glitched animations of a broken ATM machine over generic HD stock footage of a beautiful sunset on the water. I see the potential for humor, yet in my mind, all of these things are made for each other.
I usually keep the imagery consistent with lyrical themes. Literally, metaphorically, or analogically. I also sync the activity in the video to the dynamics and changes in the music. The videos are a lot of work. Lots and lots of processing and editing, rendering, re-importing, processing and editing, rendering, re-importing, etc. The music style demands many visual elements and layers. Many of my songs shift moods drastically within them so I think the work needs to be done.
I create the music as something that can stand alone. I create the videos so that they can complement the music very closely as well as act as a live performance enhancement. I don’t move around much live. Part of the reason is because the equipment I use isn’t mobile. But I have little to no stage presence. I never look out toward the crowd and I rarely talk to the audience while I’m “on stage.” If I have my videos projected for everyone to see, I think it makes coming out to the show more worth it for everyone. I feel like I’m much more effectively expressing myself through a video projection than whatever dances and antics I can come up with using my body.
Do you consider yourself a plunderphonics or sample-based artist? How do you choose your samples/why do you sample other artists?
I don’t consider Fire-Toolz to be plunderphonics or sample-based. Having the vaporwave tag in the string of associated genres is partially to blame for this confusion, because most vaporwave is sample-based. I’m just incorporating a sample-based genre into some parts of my songs. Fire-Toolz is no more vaporwave than it is harsh noise. I think sometimes when an artist samples another artist, some listeners then tend to wonder what is a sample and what isn’t when listening. People have asked me what metal vocalists I’m sampling and are surprised to hear that I’m recording them myself.
Interbeing (and Skinless X-1) incorporate far less sampling than my earlier work. It’s not that I’ve tried to get away from sampling as if it’s a bad thing. Sampling is sick. I have several on-going projects that are religiously sample-based, and I will never break those rules. It’s just that I’ve been less interested in finding the perfect sax pop verse to layer in or build upon, and more interested in composing all these melodies and progressions from the bottom up. Fire-Toolz was always original composition and instrumentation-based, but samples were sprinkled all around as part of the process and theme. At this point, the rare sample is even more intentional, and thus a more special moment.
If I’ve taken a little chunk of someone else’s music and integrated it into my own song, then I adore that artist and listen to them on the regular. If it were safer to be more open about the samples, I’d be listing their names in the credits. There has been one exception to this, and it happens to be on the song of mine that’s gotten the most attention so far. It’s the Billy Idol sample on “All Deth Is U” from the Drip Mental album. I’m not a huge Idol fan! He was good in The Wedding Singer, but I was typically turned off by his music as a kid. I do love the song the sample came from, though. It’s probably because it sounds like other bands I like who were big at the time. I’ve always figured Billy was pissed about that. I bet he thought Depeche Mode and Duran Duran were a bunch of posers. The thing is, I kept hearing that fucking line “Eyes without a face…” in my head whenever I worked on that song, so I just did it.
Ever since Drip Mental my sample palette has been primarily jazz that’s come out sometime between 1984-1994. A few snippets of early 2000s metalcore and second wave emo can be spotted throughout the discography as well. My sample usage is meant to be a juxtaposition and re-contextualization, so I don’t sample “experimental” or techno or industrial or anything like that.
I would really love to just contact the great artists that I’ve sampled and show them what I’ve done. That could quite possibly yield unfavorable results. See, if it were me, even if the song was really bad, I would be like “OMG that’s really cool, thanks, I’m glad my jams have touched your young soul in such a way that you found the inspiration to re-contextualize them in your own way!” But these are old people now, you know? They may be more old fashioned. They may get angry and think I’m trying to profit off of their labor. They might even call me a bad word, and I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to cuss or feel anger if you’re on Windham Hill Records. I think my dream would be for one of these artists to contact me and ask me to collaborate on some music!
I did email Zenju Earthlyn Manuel’s camp about my sampling her guided meditation in the track [CODENAME_BONKERS]. I didn’t expect a reply but I’m sure someone has read it by now and decided to leave me alone. The sample is from a public YouTube video, but I chopped up her phrases a little and still credited her, so that made/makes me nervous. shrugs.
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