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
Nick Ray of Speculator says:
I came across this video by chance sometime in the past last year. This guy, "RC Storm," a.k.a YouTube user ''MeAndTheV," has built what I'm guessing is the world's largest Flying V-style guitar. The guitar itself is not what really caught my attention; rather, I was struck by the sociopolitical statement which can be inferred. It's not a subtle piece, as the relationship between the size of the guitar and his rendition of our national anthem is an almost too obvious articulation of the cliché, American, "bigger is better" mindset. I won't insult your intelligence by discussing the transparent phallic imagery.
Watching a few more of his videos (he has 12, a loaded number in itself), I realized that this man simultaneously inspires and scares me, because I identify with him. I personally don't think the guitar he has built sounds very good. I guess it's cool that it's so large; the gimmick value is not lost on me, and I can appreciate how difficult it must be to play. His version of [Black Sabbath's] "Iron Man" sounds shitty. Still, you can tell by the expression on his face as he lays into that juicy riff that he is in ecstasy playing that thing. To him, it sounds awesome. It's not just the sound that he is getting off on; it's the sense of accomplishment he has from having created that unique reality.
Speculator's Nice LP is available now from Underwater Peoples
On Nice, Speculator's Nick Ray expounds on his Lifestyle repertoire to craft a perfect blend of '80s memories and low fidelity slacker pop. The slurring vocals and reverb-laden, grandiose atmospherics of the twelve track LP is evocative of VHS tapes, particularly those centering on coming-of-age storylines set in a time where babes wore shoulder pads and acid jeans were all the rage. It doesn't matter that not even one lyric of Ray's distorted wailing is discernable, because the sentiment is obvious. Wistful, backward-looking, and youthfully irreverent, Nice is the sonic counterpart of the Brat Pack.
Says Nick Ray:
"My last release, Lifestyle, was conceived and produced as a cassette LP. I tried to create and include as many analog recording artifacts as possible, in addition to samples of other artists' work recorded using a variety of methods. The title, "Lifestyle," was meant to speak to that type of music consumption: mixes made by friends or strangers, blank tapes purchased from dollar bins, recording over any type II cassette you can get your hands on. Nice was recorded using exactly the same equipment with a much different intent. Only two songs on this record use samples. With two exceptions, songs begin and end without editing. This is my first vinyl LP-- with the exception of a 7" b-side remix of Weekend's "Coma Summer," this is the first time my music has been pressed to vinyl. This has been a dream of mine since I was a little brat listening to punk records and combing the bins at Exile on Main St. in Mt. Kisco, NY. The record is called "Nice" because I tried to make it a more concise articulation of the kinds of songs that I am interested in writing. Still though, it is not an entirely "easy" record. There are pop songs as well as more abstract moments. Lifestyle required a certain degree of "active listening," which I believe is also present on Nice. I am very proud of this record, and hope you enjoy it." --Jasmine Zhu, Altered Zones
Scoop the Nice LP on vinyl on August 30th via Underwater Peoples
Speculator's first album, Lifestyle, was a fantastic cassette release that dropped last year via Leaving Records. According to Nick, his goal was not only to sample from a plethora of artists using various methods, but to also create his own analog recording equipment to archive the project. Now, with his first vinyl release from the inimitable Underwater Peoples, Speculator's Nice strays far from the samples (only two tracks on the record include them), yet still includes all of the artifacts used to create Lifestyle. With this record, he seeks to give us the songs he was interested in writing, and while he admits that it's not an "easy" listen, this first peek at the album is proof that if given the time, there is plenty of beauty to be gleaned from Speculator's brand of fuzzy pop. --Jheri Evans, Get Off The Coast
Make sure to pick up Nice August 30 via Underwater Peoples
A while back, Speculator's Nick Ray sent me what he called an "intervention" on Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 You." That word seemed pretty apt for his take on the track; it wasn't changed up enough to be a "remix," but was coated in enough tape static and muffled cosmic-ness to almost be his own. He takes more liberties here on "Coma Summer," a lead single from Weekend, which is one of his favourite bands. Nick shreds over the top after dunking their sneery garage in whatever weird gunk he has down in his LA basement, pushing their signature Summer sunset vibes into an orange skyline zone, with post-stoned satisfaction. --Richard MacFarlane, Rose Quartz
Weekend's End Times 7" is out via Slumberland on May 17th
I’ve learned many things in my whole twenty-four years on this Earth, and one of the more important things I’ve learned is that nothing brings people together like music.
And Nintendo 64.
Luckily, Nick Ray felt the same.
And of course he did. Ray, better known as Speculator ‘round these parts, has a knack for taking grade school milestones and turning them into music. And I’m not talking about really vibing on some nostalgic lyrics; I’m talking about making carefully composed full-lengths that feature the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, tap the essence of the '80s Top 40, and capture the sentimental haze that grows with age-- without sounding like some dick in a basement. From that description, Ray could very well be some dick in a basement. But he’s not. His music is not a chop job from between college classes; it’s a well-produced piece of our collective minds.
Settling in on the couch with Sapporos and New York-sized slices, we dove into two of everyone’s favorite activities: listening to records and blasting muh’fuckas on GoldenEye 007.
We're used to Los Angeles' Nick Ray road-tripping around the peripheries of hypnagogia with his Speculator project, but this new Lifestyle cassette on matthewdavid's Leaving Records is literally "next level." Its hiss-covered freeway transcendence and pitch-shifted samples of '80s/'90s pop bliss hint at some stoned (or not) sense of the higher, filtering infomercial miracles and newer age into his own scruffy alleviation with layers of guitar wailage, blown-out sampler beats, and reverberant vocals. This one turns an extended sample from Janet Jackson's "When I Think of You" into a fuzzed-out four-track jam. (Rose Quartz co-premiere)
Lifestyle is out soon on Leaving Records
Dark nights spent swilling Mtn. Dew and eating stuffed crust pizza while stuck in a 16-bit coma of Sonic 3 have metamorphosized into music on the new Speculator cassette Century Select. The tape kicks off with "Century Select Pt. 1," a spiraling death bomb that conjures images of the blue hedgehog barrel-rolling down Space Mountain before blowing up and soaking onlookers in chemical fire.
Century Select finds Speculator roaming through various hues and fx, producing pixelated-print-out-like collage-pop, and making good on his main influences: ctrl+c & ctrl+v. It's so engaging that when a screwed (and pitched-to-the-heavens) version of Boyz II Men's "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye To Yesterday" sails in, four guys from Philly in matching khakis and cardigans is the one thing furthest from your mind.