Words For The Road

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


John Maus
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

[Photo by Megan Mack]
James Ferraro
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

[photo by Aurora Halal]
FORMA's George Bennett
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

Harald Grosskopf
The problem with the first Moogs was that they were so out of tune. You didn’t just have the up and down key; you had octave scaling, which was controllable, and if it wasn’t exactly there, it sounded horrible. It was so unstable that after ten minutes, it was out again. So I would record for ten minutes, and then I would start the second sequencer, and after five minutes there would be this horrible scratch. I had to do every piece over and over again. And we had to use a light bulb to keep it warm. It was miserable. It was the Middle Ages.

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


High Wolf
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


Iceage's Elias Rønnenfelt
I hate Twitter. It has nothing to do with being in a band. And it has nothing to do with being a person either. Because the way so many people spend so much of their time giving each other useless information, talking shit, it’s just depressing. It’s not a way people should communicate. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, June 2011

[Photo by Patti Miller]
Leaving Records' Matthew McQueen (Matthewdavid)
Nowadays, all someone needs to start a label is some confidence and wi-fi. Back in the early days of punk and experimental tape culture, accessibility was through obscure, small-scale media like zines, weirdo label subscription series, and shows. We utilize the internet everyday, but we feel it is important to practice a certain distance from technology; one of our main goals is to retain a human quality in our aesthetic. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, November 2010

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


Rear House/Woodsist
“Rear House is by no means a mansion on the French Riviera,” [Woods drummer Jarvis Tarveniere] admits, sitting at his desk with a Tecate in hand. He likens the scene at Rear House-- which has hosted sessions with Woods, Real Estate, Meneguar, Ganglians, and The Beets, among others-- to "a poor man's Exile on Main Street." The studio, he says, actualizes home recording, making use of the house's entire physical space. Jarvis loops a fifty-foot cord down to the ground floor, where the living room and kitchen function as a live room. During a typical recording session, Jarvis remains in his makeshift control room, listening through headphones and running the sound from reel-to-reel to computer. "The guitar amp is in the kitchen, the drums are in the living room, and the bass player's making dinner," Jarvis says, adding that overdubs usually happen in Morby's room upstairs. "I would say that's the downside to recording here: singing in someone's bedroom." But the bands don't seem to mind. --Jenn Pelly, "Inside Woodsist's Rear House Studios," February 2011

Speculator's Nick Ray
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

Puro Instinct's Piper Kaplan
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

Pure X's Nate Grace
Most people are conned by TRICKS, and I mean that in a few ways. They are duped by VANITY into believing that HUGE, VIRTUOSO, MASTURBATORY displays of skill (and technique) are powerful, and thereby meaningful. Kids see a 30-stair 360 flip and are all, "Ohhhh my godddd." Fucking guitar jammer #9743 rips some alien surfer shit and moms around the globe wet themselves. The White House moron machine spews out Hollywood fairy tales and the masses scream for more. I'll take one beautifully timed carve on a fucking driveway. One three-line poem that lays it out clean and with conviction. A single-note guitar drone with some GODDAMN REAL FEELING. One decent, compassionate ACTION in REAL, FUCKING LIFE to a whole VIRTUAL WORLD of TALKING TALKING TALKING. --Interview with Michael P. McGregor, June 2011

[photo by Coley Brown]
Prince Rama's Taraka Larson
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

[photo by Robert Khoury]
Sun Araw
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.

Toby: When our friends went to the [Voice of the] Valley Festival in West Virginia, they were saying how almost 75 to 80 percent of the music wasn't noise, but it was the noise community. --Interview with Keith Rankin, October 2011

EMA
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


[Photo by David Black]
Oneohtrix Point Never's Dan Lopatin
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

Genesis P-Orridge
It’s been a while since we’ve been this excited. Obviously we’ve been grieving for Lady Jaye for the past three years. All things considered, we’ve been pretty productive and efficient, despite that. There’s this huge influx of energy and it’s coming from the grassroots; it’s coming from young people coming in. We’re kind of being taught at the moment by new people to reevaluate everything. Not just throw things away because we've already done them, but reassess and rebuild and extend whatever’s working. It’s a really interesting time. We’re buzzing, yeah. It’s a hotspot… And yes, we are going to get motorbikes. --Interview with Luke Carrell January 2011

Inside Woodsist's Rear House Studios

[Woods' Jarvis Taveniere and Jeremy Earl at Rear House, Brooklyn, NY]

By Jenn Pelly

It would be almost impossible to find 229 Bushwick Avenue if it weren't for the flashy, neon awning of the bodega next door. Past the front entrance of this non-descript, East Williamsburg tenement building and down a narrow, paint-chipped hall, a back door opens to a hidden courtyard littered with dirty snow and garbage bags, a ragged couch, a broken stove. Seven paces further, up a cement staircase, is Rear House, home to the recording studio Woods drummer Jarvis Taveniere started in 2007. A "Recorded at Rear House" label has since become a seal of quality for fans of ramshackle indie pop à la Woodsist and Captured Tracks.

It's a Monday evening in early January; outside Rear House, the air is strangely silent. No telling if the doorbell works; nothing about Rear House looks like it's been updated since 1970. Inside, the Vivian Girls/Woods garage-pop collaboration The Babies is tracking handclaps, finishing up a B-side for a 7" on L.A. label Teenage Teardrops. Their debut full-length, also recorded at Rear House last year, drops February 8th on Shrimper.

Up on the second floor, down a dark, tapestry-clad hall, Jarvis mans the board in his tiny production room: an 8 x 8-foot glorified closet that used to be his bedroom. He sits at his desk, within arm's reach of the tape machine to his left, a collection of 33 1/3 books on a tiny bookshelf to his right, and the '60s lipstick-red Farfisa organ behind him (an eBay gem). Nearby, Woods/Babies guitarist Kevin Morby, who sleeps in the bedroom next door, picks at an acoustic guitar.

MP3: Woods: "Blood Dries Darker"

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