In our year-and-a-half on the information highway, we had the good fortune of witnessing what was at once a very prolific time, a very confusing time, and a very exciting time in underground music. Instead of quoting ourselves, we combed through the 100 features and profiles we've published to bring you some reflections from the folks who inspire us.
Underwater Peoples' Evan Brody
I cite this moment when Sawyer and I were sitting outside our sophomore dorm room at college. We said to each other, "Man, we’re bored. We want to do something more exciting." --Interview with Jenn Pelly, May 2011
I see politics and art as separate trajectories. There's a political dimension to music, to the extent that it would be a disruption of the regime of the sensible... but it certainly isn’t collective mobilization against the state in the name of radical equality. The protest lyric is a poor substitute for radical political thought or a new idea of politics.
AZ: Is that why you have protest lyrics in your music?
The idea there is that sums up the impetus, lyrically, of all genuine art. It's an explosion. It's a Molotov cocktail in the fuckin' police station. It's rights for that which can have no rights, to the extent that it anticipates a world to come-- not this world. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander & Ric Leichtung, July 2011
All of these things operating in synchronicity: like ringtones, flat-screens, theater, cuisine, fashion, sushi. I don’t want to call it “virtual reality,” so I call it Far Side Virtual. If you really want to understand Far Side, first off, listen to [Claude] Debussy, and secondly, go into a frozen yogurt shop. Afterwards, go into an Apple store and just fool around, hang out in there. Afterwards, go to Starbucks and get a gift card. They have a book there on the history of Starbucks-- buy this book and go home. If you do all these things you’ll understand what Far Side Virtual is-- because people kind of live in it already. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
I remember during the [Harald] Grosskopf panel at Unsound Festival, Laurel Halo said something interesting about grappling with a world that is completely and totally inundated with technology. There's something about dealing with period technology that makes us feel more human or more relatable. Something about getting the whole machine purring feels very cosmic and brings technology back in harmony with art. --Interview with Daniel Gottlieb, June 2011
AZ: It’s funny that there are indie bands coming up now that would kill to use the equipment that was frustrating to you back then.
I like the idea of it as well, but there are too many problems! --Interview with Blondes, Emilie Friedlander, & Ric Leichtung, May 2011
People like to ask me where I live, and sometimes I give different answers. There is a new 7” coming on Baselic records, and the label guy asked me what city I was from. I was with a friend, and we were talking, and he said I should say I was from Djakarta. So I did, and then it was on many websites. On the High Wolf MySpace, it says that I am based in Brazil. Many times people think I’m from Los Angeles. When you hide something from people, they really want to know it. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, March 2011
Cleaners From Venus' Martin Newell
I’m very flattered that people like my old stuff so much but really, it was me and Lol [Elliott, from Cleaners] in the kitchen! We were broke but inspired and enjoyed listening to it. But I think the biggest pleasure we got out of it at the time was that I used to make homemade beer, and Lol used to make these candles, 'cause he didn’t have enough money to pay his electricity bill. So I used to swap some of the beer for some dope that someone else used to grow, and we would make our own music on cassettes that Lol stole. And I thought one night-- stoned, drunk, listening to music by candlelight--, "We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves tonight, and it’s cost nothing!" That was sort of the epitome of anarchy for me: generating our own everything. It was fantastic. --Interview with Richard MacFarlane, June 2010
After getting a sense of his musical tastes, I finally asked [Speculator's Nick Ray] what kind of music he played (I hate to assume genres these days). "Pop," he replied, then let a beat pass before explaining. “But not in the popular music sense. ‘Pop’ is no longer defined by what’s actually popular; it’s defined by a structure. You know, melodies, guitars, catchy hooks.” --Marissa A. Ross, December 2010
AZ: Recently you’ve toured and collaborated with Ariel Pink. How has that been?
He’s one of my best friends, and it was totally effortless. I think artistically we are the same. It’s like "skillful non-skill." The greatest advice that he’s given me was, “Whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t figure it out.” --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, January 2011
The core concept of now age is we're living in “ghost-modernism.” It's not really like post-modernism; it's beyond that now. It's gotten to a point where the past is just recapitulating itself through kitsch and nostalgia. Every new gesture is just an imprint of an old gesture. We're haunted by so many other past styles and tastes in so many ways. I'm interested in the creation of a new relationship to time, where it's not being recapitulated, but instead looking into the present moment and really seeking out music, materials, structures, people, fashion, and whatever is within this lens of the present. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, November 2011
I've always had a powerful sense of the space-- physiological, emotional, spiritual-- invoked by music. I've always used music that way in my life, using it to create, augment, and enrich experiences. I don't think of myself as a songwriter at all, because what I'm after is some distillation of that effect, creating environments with certain properties and relationships. So often those moments in music that have powerful effects on me are fleeting-- like an outro, or a couple bars right before the second chorus. I'm interested in evoking those spaces so that I can stay a while. --Interview with Michael C. Powell, September 2011
NNA Tapes' Matt Mayer & Toby Aronson
Matt: With harsh noise in general we both noticed a shift in the mid '00s. Like Toby mentioned, a lot of the dudes doing the harder noise started doing ambient, which seems like a total 180 shift. It created a lot of interesting results, where the noise influence would rub off on the ambient and vice versa, creating this cool hybrid. And now where we are in 2011, it's all become smeared together.
I feel like the pendulum has to swing back at some point. I’ve always really liked lyrics, and I’ve always really liked vocal stuff, and playing a lot and going to noise shows, I’ve felt in some ways unwelcome. There’s this unwritten rule saying, "You can’t use lyrics that people will understand." I thought there were supposed to be no rules. [Noise] turns into the most codified, regimented form of music, which is not what it should be at all. When Gowns first started off, some people didn’t know how to take us. They were like, "This band might be cool if they didn’t sing." I wonder if it's something about the idea of masculine, abstract sound experiments, and not allowing a range of emotions to come through. For a lot of people who are doing experimental music, at some point it becomes like, "I built this Max patch that does this." It's about the experiment, and the set of parameters. You’re supposed to be tuning out everything but your ears. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, June 2011
Emeralds' Mark McGuire
We have always somewhat embodied our surroundings and our heritage in our sound. In Ohio, there’s a huge middle class, and a lot of people work their whole lives... there’s always a feeling of struggling, and the feeling that Cleveland's like the joke of the world... We're not a cultural mecca; it's not where all the big stuff's happening. There’s definitely a lot of people out of work, and there’s poverty: it makes people, it's a tough city. But people from Cleveland are proud that they’re from there... It's this kind of tense, dark, and industrial place that has a lot of hidden beauty and a lot to offer, and that comes across in our music. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, February 2011
I got an e-mail once after I was like, "Holy shit, I'm going on my first tour!" I put it on Facebook or something, and Dominick Fernow wrote to me saying, "Congratulations." He had just joined Cold Cave, things were happening for him, and he was like, "Best of luck to you, thank you for having the courage to succeed." It occurred to me that for so many people, it's very hard to feel okay with success, because success is not cool. It supposedly tarnishes your thing; it ruins little pockets of scenes and the self-importance that comes from thinking you're the only people in your town that are doing something. That's what stops a lot of really talented people from sharing their music and turning it into a career. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
I was first introduced to Martin Newell's longrunning Cleaners From Venus project on a drive to New Jersey during Rose Quartz's magnificent New York trip last year. Samuel Franklin and Luka Usmiani of Big Troubles were blasting "Mercury Girl," which the band had actually guest posted the previous week on AZ. It was an epiphanic moment for me-- the soft romance of the songwriting, the lo-fi production shot through with brittle, ultra-British Autumn light. I don't think his music's proximity to the semi-flawed pop of today is the only thing responsible for the recent uptick in interest in Newell's work, whether it be under the Cleaners' moniker or his own name. His early embrace of cassette and home-recording culture, linked somewhat to the post-punk movement of the early '80s, is parallel to the workings of fans like Gary War, Ariel Pink, and many contemporary American artists on the indie music peripheries. Newell's recent album under the Cleaners moniker, English Electric, is full of the same lucid poetry and jangly guitar arrangements as '80s classics like Midnight Cleaners (1982) and Songs For A Fallow Land (1985), which was recently reissued by Taylor Richardson and Gary War's own Fixed Identity imprint. The night I called him in Wivenhoe, where he is now (and has always been) based, he recalled the '80s in the spry storytelling mode of his manifold poems and memoirs.
AZ: Are you very familiar with Altered Zones?
Martin: I’ve come across it. In fact, I met someone who said, "Oh, you’ve been mentioned by Altered Zones." I’m trying to think who it was. It might’ve been Nick Nicely-- and he seemed to be think it was a really big deal. But I don’t do many interviews. It’s not that I’m adverse to them; I’m just more interested in interviewing people myself, though the kind of people I’m interested in interviewing tend to be, you know, farmers and people like that. I don’t meet many people in the pop industry these days, though I’ve known a few in my time, as you may imagine.
So glad for the recent cottoning-on to Martin Newell and his Cleaners from Venus; love for his brittle, psych pop beauty from contemporary favs like Big Troubles as well as Taylor Richardson (of Infinity Window) and Gary War's Fixed Identity imprint is cementing his status as predecessor to much recent lo-fi and hauntological-leaning balladry. This solo jam is far from the soft focused sentiments of "Mercury Girl"; ghostly and preferring a more nervous, street edge with almost "Whip It"-like inflections atop anxiously energetic shredding and an ultra-subtle and disqueiting analogue synth humming below. --Richard MacFarlane, Rose Quartz
Songs for a Fallow Land is nearly sold out, get your copy before it's too late
Among other exciting label news, we just caught wind that Gary War and Taylor Richardson (Infinity Window, Human Teenager, Purple Haze) have lauched their own Brooklyn-based imprint, Fixed Indentity-- a "labor of love" dedicated to "next-level psychedelic achievements of the present, past, and future." Kicking off this initiative, a remastering of British guitarist/songwriter/poet/author Martin Newell's 1985 limited-run cassette, Songs For A Fallow Land.
Newell-- known alternately as the "Wild Man of Wivenhoe" and "Britain's busiest wordsmith, tunesmith, and horitcultural assasin"-- is a cult legend of sorts. He began his career in the glam-rock band Plod, and released a series of solo tapes during and after his stint as frontman for '80s pop balladeers The Cleaners From Venus, which Big Troubles big-upped last year in an AZ guest post. Listen below to "Gamma Ray Blue" from this outsider acid-pop masterpiece, which, according to the Fixed Identity website, was recorded in an old stable building during a self-described period of "extreme poverty." A must for fans of Ariel Pink, John Maus, Gary War (duh), and other contemporary failure-pop masters. (Visitation Rites co-premiere)
Martin Newell's Songs For A Fallow Land will be available via Fixed Identity on February 28th (limited to 500). A Nick Nicely LP is also in the works for March