— TELEPATHY, YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THAT ? — Plus:
DUM DUM GIRLS MALACHAI ZOLA JESUS THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN FANG ISLAND JAMIE LIDELL BLANK DOGS CRYSTAL STILTS ARIEL PINK XASTHUR WASHED OUT SMALL BLACK
Editor-in-Chief / Publisher Andrew Parks, Pop Mart Media firstname.lastname@example.org Art Director / Senior Editor Aaron Richter email@example.com Managing Editor Arye Dworken firstname.lastname@example.org Photo Editor Sarah Maxwell email@example.com Staff Photographer Travis Huggett Contributing Writers Kory Grow, Michael Tedder Contributing Photographers Shawn Brackbill, Lucy Carr-Ellison, Emir Eralp, Brian Sheffield, Turkishomework, Alexander Wagner, Elizabeth Weinberg, Tom Winchester Contributing Stylist Kim Johnson Advertising, Submissions & Other Iquiries Andrew Parks / self-titled 685 Metropolitan Ave. #1 Brooklyn, NY 11211 718-499-3983 firstname.lastname@example.org
Display through foreverâ€”weâ€™re digital, remember? Published by Pop Mart Media. All self-titled content is property of Pop Mart Media. Please do not use without permission. Copyright 2010, Pop Mart Media.
the 17 best comments on self-titledmag.com — I thought the days of producing work for assholes was over. — That left me breathless, literally one of the most seductive things I’ve seen. — RAWR, me wants song. — Does anyone happens to know who I am looking for? — He knows that the female voice on “Time Stands Still” is Aimee Mann, though, right? — Fucking hilarious. — This mix is like unto a perfect piece of meat, a rare powlonia in full bloom, or an ever expanding popover in my brain! — I like Ralph’s oriental rug. — Ohhh, was wondering what all the ruckus was. — To all the bombers, walk far, don’t mind if the paint drips and spray free with the breeze. — Legalize it! — I love you guys. (Northern) California needs you. — “Frank Zappa lives around the corner.” Good drugs. — No wimps allowed, indeed. — I make way too many dumb faces when I play drums...and it can’t be stopped. — I’m really glad that Obama passed that legislation saying that if you’re a fat dude in a band you must take your shirt off. — Those gold teeth are sick. In a bad way.
Photographer Lucy CarrEllison’s images frame the provocative lure a youthful spirit has to offer, with an emphasis on fashion and feeling. Her priority as a photographer is to create an entire character in his or her natural setting through deliberate choices in location, wardrobe and props. Shoot with film, the photographs mirror the high degree of honesty and ease Lucy values in real life. Here she shot Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato under tough orders from self-titled’s art director to “make him look like a pussy.”
Kory Grow is the senior editor of Revolver magazine and contributes regularly to Guitar World and The Village Voice. For this issue, we tasked Kory with uncovering the man behind LA musician Malefic, of Xashtur and bellowing-from-within-acoffin renown—in what very well might amount to one of the black-metal legend’s final interviews ever. Kory’s career has allowed him to play violin in Ornette Coleman’s living room and spend too much money on wine with Gorgorath in a cavelike bar in Bergen, Norway. He has never worn corpse paint.
Adopted by Mongolians at birth, photographer Turkishomework moved to NYC at 17 in hopes of mining valuable ores for her tribe but instead created a Web site of photos to show her parents the ways of the Western world. Since then her parents have disowned her, though she continues to document this strange land called Brooklyn— at least until her illegal yurt hideout is discovered and/ or she runs out of Ag2S. The self-titled editors enjoy sending Turkishomework to shows we’d rather not attend ourselves (read: the sweaty, gross ones).
350 WORDS OR LESS
Andrew’s “Getting Shit Done” Playlist 1. Zola Jesus, “Manifest Destiny” 2. Can, “Mother Sky” 3. Moon Duo, “Stumbling 22nd St” 4. Gonjasufi, “Sheep” 5. Fugazi, “Strangelight”
From the Editor: An Ungodly amount of sunshine and delicious tacos aren’t the only reasons we’ve thought of moving self-titled’s main office to LA. There’s also the issue of the city’s indie-music scene. And not just rising stars like No Age, Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast. Los Angeles’ most consistent group of musicians has nothing to do with guitars, actually. Samplers, laptops and synths are what propel its rich history of producers, ranging from the twisted beats of Stones Throw’s deep roster (Madlib, Dam-Funk, J Dilla) to such new-school crate diggers as the Gaslamp Killer, Daedelus, Ras G and Samiyam. The latter crew has been led by Flying Lotus (born Steven Ellison) for a couple years now, from his defining LP, 2008’s Los Angeles, to his recently released Cosmogramma record (both via Warp), an album that actually feels like one. Frankly, I didn’t get it at first. And I’ve been a fan since I first heard Flying Lotus on a random 12-inch called The Sound of L.A. Volume 2 in 2006. At that time, he fit the Madlib-Dilla mold that many critics attached to his debut full-length, 1983, though the producer’s loops and layers had a restlessness that hinted at his oft-overlooked drum ’n’ bass background.
Cosmogramma takes all of the above and applies Ellison’s Coltrane connection (his great aunt Alice, and his cousins, saxophonists Ravi and Oran) to a record that’s rather masochistic in many ways. Our cover story delves into how and why this happened, from the LP’s in-the-red mixes to the deeply personal effect the passing of Ellison’s mother, Tammy, had on the artist and his music. And then there’s the part when the hypeworthy producer is visited by a shadow person and some sort of...beings. As for why we can’t seem to shake our lust for Los Angeles, Daedelus had this to say about their scene: “NYC has amazing producers but rarely a single flag to wave above them all. Perhaps NYC has too many distractions, too many neighbors making their indie-rock racket at all hours?” Yep, that sounds about right.
Andrew Parks, Editor-in-Chief / Publisher PS. Get an iPad or new iPhone yet? Read self-titled’s entire archive, fully optimized for your iPleasure.
WASHED OUT Life Of Leisure
THE BLACK RYDER Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride
THE YOUNG Voyagers of Legend
THE SAMPS The Samps
TAMARYN The Waves
Also Available: Real Estate, Kurt Vile, The Bitters, Pearl Harbor, TK Webb and Dimples. Coming Soon: The Mantles, Ramases, Linda Perhacs, VLADRM and The Alps WWW.MEXICANSUMMER.COM
A Library Is on Fire fan / Brooklyn, NYC / 03.19.10 Photography
Dum Dum Girls / Lower East Side, NYC / 02.21.10 Photography
Malachai / (Le) Poisson Rouge, NYC / 03.24.10 Photography
MtyMx / Monterrey, Mexico / 03.20.10–03.22.10 Photography
SXSW / Austin, Texas / 03.17.10â€“03.20.10
Zola Jesus / Austin, Texas / 03.19.10 Photography
The dillinger escape plan Words greg puciato Photography lucy carr-ellison
The band’s frontman riffs on the significance of mortality. We’re all messed up in our own way. This isn’t very rock ’n’ roll, but I did very well in school. Computers are already better at doing math than us, so how much longer will it be before we’re a worm compared to them? Who knows? It could go either way. I wish I could wake up and say, “Oh well, this is all out of my control!” But if you really think about it, we have no reason to think we’re a part of anything special. The Stranger is a good start. It’s a little tough because nothing really happens for half of the book, but by the end, you realize that’s kinda the point. Sometimes when you dig things up, you can’t put them back away. Writing the record caused me to evaluate how I live my life, from why I’m not a better person to why I’m not a completely immoral person. You can do two things besides kill yourself: adopt a religion or learn to deal with the anxieties that come with the fact that our lives are inherently absurd.
That’s the other absurd thing—there’s no such thing as one wrong or right religion. It’s so bizarre to me that atheism is considered such an evil thing. Morality and religion have nothing to do with one another. Most people have to [believe in something] at some point...just to keep yourself from being terrified. Maybe when you and I are old we will change our mind about it all for that very reason. What I’ve resigned myself to is the idea that I’m here and it’s not a good or a bad thing. It’s a complete accident, and unless I want to kill myself, I have to live here until my time is up, whether it’s me getting hit by a bus at 40 or dying of cancer at 89. I’ve always felt like I need to learn something. What I’ve been trying to figure out lately, however, is why. Why do I have an insatiable need to know what’s going on when you can’t possibly know? We were all born with a death clock around our necks. You can’t make a song that’s kinda depressing; you have to be ready to kill yourself when writing it. For the same reason, you shouldn’t make music when you’re kinda happy. You should feel ecstatic. I’m not gonna die peacefully; I’m gonna die screaming, violently trying to hang on to life and scaring all the people around me. The answer is there is no answer. The Dillinger Escape Plan’s fourth LP, Option Paralysis, is out now on Party Smasher/Season of Mist.
T re n te m Ă¸ lle r
Recording Under the Influence Photography tom winchester
The Danish producer explains what really inspired his latest album, Into the Great Wide Yonder (In My Room). 1. The Night
I make almost all of my music at night. It’s the space where the city sleeps and nothing can disturb me—no telephones ringing or e-mails to answer. It’s reassuring to know that while the rest of the world is closed down, the night has its own life just outside my studio window. Making an album is a very lonely process for me, but I like it that way. I don’t involve other people in the music until late in the process, when I am about to finish the songwriting and start practicing with my band. Which is a relief in a way.... Playing my music for others helps me hear my music from outside, and I can clearly see what is working and what’s not.
2. Feeling blue
Feeling a bit “blue” is not the same as feeling sad. This melancholic vibe often triggers something creative in me and ends up in the music. There are many more layers to dive into creatively with those feelings compared to just a happy-go-lucky mood. I had a broken relationship just before I started working on my debut album, The Last Resort, and it helped the creative process in some bizarre way.
It feels clichéd to mention David Lynch, but one movie that really did it for me was Mulholland Drive. The “plot” is so layered, with so many great flashbacks and visuals. While I only had a hazy understanding of it all, I felt a deep sense of fulfillment watching the movie. The way subconscious images flows through all of his work inspires me.
I went to Iceland several times during the making of this new album. This dramatic feeling of being very close to nature—the open places and desertlike moon landscapes—I love it!
My favorite time of year—when I’m the most productive. I love the colors, the stormy weather and sitting indoors without feeling guilty because the sun is shining outside. CLICK HERE to read about more unexpected inspirations from Woven Bones, Ellen Allien, Adam Green and more.
The Brooklyn five-piece reviews Times Fang Square’s finest island caricaturists.
In our first sketch encounter, we came across a focused, determined artist who managed to capture each member’s personnalité en vivre. Most excitingly, we got to have huge muscles, which each of us has always desired. Similarly to the character works of his peers and influences— such as Chuck Close and Rembrandt—the artist has defined a style that speaks volumes. To summarize, we feel fortunate to be captured by this master’s pen.
Give this man his bejeweled scepter. New York’s new art king took his time and not only captured the physical characteristics of the band but also their personalities: (clockwise from drums) the cucumber cool of Marc, the bad-boy attitude of Nick, the badderboy attitude of Jason, the baddest-boy attitude of Mike and the 45-year-old mother that is Chris. Most of us have never felt the heat of a flame-engulfed diablo as it whips around our shirtless bodies, but everyone knows what it’s like to beat the tassels off a pair of devil sticks in the woods behind your grandmother’s house after she’s just caught you trying to smoke oregano in some white lined paper; this might be the closest we can come to describing how this work has made us feel. Go to hell, grandma; you’re not my dad.
Did someone slip me a dose of MDMA? Because my balls are in a tizzy, and I’m feeling this! Artist No. 3 rips through his drawing with speed and precision, paralleled only by the frustratingly glorious paintings of two-pump chump Dale Chihuly. This artist’s keen eye picks up on the delicate and mostly overlooked details of his subjects, and hones in on our thin and mostly elusive upper lips, the six or seven really thick hairs on some of our chins, and a nearly unseen look of absolute horny desperation in each of our eyes. Bravo! Is it obvious that we have been up all night smoking cloves and chugging chocolate milk? No, but that’s what makes this man an artist. Real talk.
Who are these people? Can I juxtapose them? I still have a pair of really nice JNCOs that I wear to bed every night. Does this image come right out and tell you that? No, but I just did, and that’s exactly the point—the inescapable truth about identity and what is beyond the images that our eyes see. Artist No. 4 seeks to expose that which is hidden in his subjects and what becomes important in this work is not what you can see, but what you cannot. Seek it out!
The pursuit of a perfect black, a black so deep that to gaze upon it is to see the far wall of hell’s longest cavern, can lay waste to even the most skilled and agile mind. Yet in this horrid skirmish, Artist No. 5 stands alone as the victor. Even Sir Robert Longo, the self-proclaimed “Patron Saint of Darkness” himself, recently described this very drawing (via e-mail) as such: “Please forgive this automated response. I will be out of the office from April 7th–April 28th to attend the opening of my recent retrospective, ‘A Longo Time Ago’ in Moscow. Kind regards, Robert.” Fang Island’s self-titled breakthrough album is out now on Sargent House.
Photography Travis Huggett
THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES Words arye dworken Photography turkishomework
Blank Dogs and Crystal Stilts tell the stories behind their record collections.
The music you associate with your youth
nside his Brooklyn living room, Brad Hargett, the pensive frontman for the band Crystal Stilts, sits in the dark and stares out the window. He looks like an actor who’s just been told to “imagine something profound.” We’ll never know what Hargett is thinking, though, because once self-titled begins chatting with the Crystal Stilts co-founders (the other being guitarist/ producer JB Townsend) and their roommate, Mike Sniper, of the brooding coldwave band Blank Dogs, Hargett beelines for his bedroom and closes the door without so much as an “excuse me.” And with that, Hargett leaves Townsend to detail their extensive record collection. After a couple of drinks and nearly a pack’s worth of rolled cigarettes, the musician speaks measuredly about his love for music, starting with Bon Jovi and turning sharply at the Velvet Underground. As we talk, Sniper, exuberant and accommodating, name-checks obscure 7-inches like a geeky recordstore clerk. In fact, Sniper was a geeky record store clerk—at the vinyl-centric Brooklyn shop Academy Records—a job that had a hand in uniting the three roommates. Sniper stumbled upon Crystal Stilts’ self-released EP, and the musicians bonded over their shared love of “bipolar pop”—seemingly cold songwriting with a warm, hook-heavy underbelly. Pouring drinks at their makeshift bar, Townsend and Sniper spend the next few hours pulling records from their over-burdened shelves. Here are their stories through songs.
Mike Sniper: My dad was a classic-rock kind of guy. He was into the Rolling Stones, Motown and Neil Young. Strangely enough, he was only into Neil Young when he played with Crazy Horse. He never played Neil Young’s solo recordings. But my first favorite record was probably Prince’s Purple Rain. I heard “When Doves Cry” on the radio, and it just hit me. JB Townsend: When I was eight years old, I listened to Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. In Florida, I didn’t grow up in a cool scene. That’s just how it was down there. You listened to the radio and bought some cassette singles. I’m pretty sure that nothing that I listened to then influences me now. At that time, I didn’t know what good music sounded like. I heard a guitar playing, and I felt like, “Wow, that would be good enough for me.” The closest thing to alternative [music] in Florida was the bad hardcore scene, but I absolutely hated that.
The turning point LPs that taught you to know better
Sniper: I used to shop in this record store where they put all the better records in the “skate/college rock” section. [Laughs] The Cure had the largest collection there, so I had naively assumed that since they had so many records, they must be great. I picked a random cassette of theirs—The Top—and I listened to it over and over again. It’s not their best record obviously, but it was something I spent a lot of time with. It was their best to me. But aside from my self-discovering, I think I have to attribute a lot of my tastes to my older sister’s boyfriend. Townsend: I made some older friends who had some pretty good taste, and they were listening to indie rock. We called it “alternative” then. The music that they passed on to me and that I felt changed the way I listened to music was Pavement and the Fall.
The albums that actually inspired you
Sniper: I made my own mixtapes, and I would listen to them over and over again. When I was in high school—in the ’90s, on the Jersey Shore—I was in the minority of people who listen to cool music like Joy Division and a lot of Factory Records stuff. When CDs were just getting popular, they would discount the cassettes, and I bought whatever I could: Throbbing Gristle, the Chameleons, anything on Mute. The Chameleons were never popular, but they were great. They were epic in their own way, and they were sincere but not in an ironic, Smiths way. I don’t think the Chameleons get enough recognition, honestly.
“Things can’t be too dark, or too poppy.” —mike sniper
Townsend: The album that really hit me was The Velvet Underground & Nico. I heard this record when I was 19, and I think it was the first time I heard something different, something otherworldly. I think it’s an obvious choice for me because we get a lot of Velvet Underground references in reviews and articles, but I can’t imagine any other band to be compared to. I mean, that’s a compliment. The best record of all time, basically, is used as a reference in our record reviews. Sniper: When I was a senior in high school, I listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain first, and I heard about the Velvet Underground through them because it was such an influence. I bought—it’s ridiculous now—but I bought a best of the Velvet Underground CD, which was strange. Like do they have a best-of? How would you qualify their greatest hits? At the time they sounded too rock ’n’ roll for me. I was listening to post-punk, so it didn’t really resonate with me.
Music people would be surprised you own
Sniper: I like reggae. Like the weird ’70s stuff. We actually both like reggae. Townsend: You know that song “It’s So Tough to Be a Baby” by Jordy Lemoine? I think that I really like it in an ironic kind of way. I DJ sometimes, and I like buying ’60s R&B singles, which I think is pretty poppy and unexpected for a guy in the Crystal Stilts. I find that stuff in the basement of Academy Records or when radio stations get rid of their 45s all the time. There’s some really great finds in the stuff people want to throw away. Sniper: We love finding more obscure records from the ’60s. Digging this stuff up is pretty inspiring only because it’s the foundation of everything that’s coming out now. Like this record by a band called the Equals. They were kind of like Love, but led by Eddie Grant. Yes, the guy who wrote “Electric Avenue.” And there’s a band called the Outsiders from Amsterdam. They were like the Pretty Things—really bold stuff for the period they were releasing music in. To me, it’s so much braver making this music at a time when no one else was. Everything feels so redundant now.
The records you hold your respective bands up to
Sniper: For me, my recordings always fall short to what I want them to sound like. I play by myself because when you’re a band and you have specific musicians playing specific instruments, they’ll always have their part, and it will always be slightly predictable. You know, Prince recorded himself, and if you listen to a song like “When Doves Cry,” there’s
no bass. Maybe I hold my music up to Prince-like standards... [Laughs] I mean, he recorded everything himself. Townsend: I want the Crystal Stilts to sound as classic as it can sound. I think the new record is going to be way less weird than the first one. But the first one was also very simple, and there’s a drum machine under the songs, and I recorded drums over it. This one has more of a poppy sound.
The one album you would put in a time capsule for future listeners
Sniper: Oh, no. How do you do that? One record? I dread questions like this. All these records I own do different things. When I was 14, I found Abbey Road really comforting. It may be my own favorite personal Beatles record, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best one. That’s not the answer to the question, but it’s a record that came to mind. Man, it’s such a tough question. Townsend: I have no idea how to answer that. I feel like I’m constantly listening to new things...and it’s probably boring to say something by the Velvet Underground. [We jokingly suggest a Def Leppard record] Townsend: Sure, let’s put Hysteria in there—just in case the kids forget them.
One of the more obscure records in your record collection
Sniper: I found this Raymond Carpenter 7-inch from Texas, and I know nothing about it actually. It’s probably his only release, but this is the best kind of stuff—these random obscure records that no one knows about and no one listens to. I have a hard time believing that anyone else owns this record...but it’s so incredibly charming. Townsend: You hear how the bass is trying to keep up with the snare in the song [“First Love”]? I’ve never really heard a song do that. Sniper: We’re also both very big fans of this Rheingold record [titled Dreiklangsdimensionen]. I was so into this, like, commercial interpretation of Krautrock that I actually bought the drum machine that he uses on this record. It’s a weird record, but it’s also trying to be a new-wave record. I think there were a couple of hits on this one. Townsend: I think we both like to have something that sounds really sugary but also brings in some of the darkness. Sniper: Things can’t be too dark, or too poppy. Townsend: Our musical tastes are bipolar. //
riel Pink has spent most of his life making the sort of self-recorded psychedelic pop songs that make critics use terms like “hazy,” “halfremembered reveries” or “murky nostalgia for a time that never was.” But in conversation, the 31-year-old Californian is significantly more direct. After years of scratchy home recordings for Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label and critically panned live sets, the songwriter says that he formed his band, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, once he realized that live shows were the only way he could make money as a musician. “I had to figure out a way to make it so I don’t feel humiliated all the time,” explains Pink, sitting at the 4AD label’s Manhattan offices. “I could probably stand up onstage and just not give a shit about it, but I didn’t feel good about having so much contempt for the audience that are there to hear songs that they
Words Michael tedder Photography ELIZABETH WEINBERG
like on the record.” In its current incarnation, Haunted Graffiti includes musicians Kenny Gilmore, Aaron Sperske, Tim Koh and Cole M.G.N. (Nite Jewel’s husband and collaborator), but the bandleader admits that the outfit is malleable to whatever he wants it to be. “It’s still loud and proud as a solo act,” says Pink as he signs a stack of tour-only vinyl singles. “I think being in a band without the songwriter’s name in it is a little disingenuous to the band members. They come aboard amidst false pretenses, and then later on they realize they’re the hired hands, and it causes a suicide pact....The band isn’t writing the material, suffice to say, so it’s just better if I just call it for what it is, and then I get to do all the interviews, and they get to stay at the hotel.” Here, Pink gives us a track-by-track tour of his latest album and 4AD debut, Before Today.
“HOT BODY RUB”
“That’s an apt place to start: It was played by different musicians than the rest of the album and has a different feel. Essentially the [recording] situation was set up that I was going to Dallas for a few days, and [the Mutant Sounds people] were like, ‘We have a violin, we have a sax player at your disposal.’ I didn’t even ask for these things; they kind of just threw them at me, and I was forced to come up with something on the spot. It was interesting and liberating—I felt like a real bandleader. “I came back with four songs from those sessions and thought “Hot Body Rub” would be a great opener for the record, which by then I had decided was going to be this Broadway-looking thing. Ergo the album cover—us in some kind of Detroit landscape. I didn’t want any of the Californiasunshine bullshit; it makes me sick to hear about it. Putting [this song] at the top and then adding that cover gave the whole thing an appropriate context for me because otherwise...if it didn’t feel like Broadway, I felt like it was going to be a bad record.”
“Bright Lit Blue Skies”
“That’s a cover song; it’s a cover of a cover, actually— the Rockin’ Ramrods—and then another band from the ’60s covered that called the Rising Storm, and it was re-released on Arf! Arf! Records. [Rising Storm] was a band of high school students. I got hip to them because I read that Unknown Legends of Rock ’n’ Roll book by Richie Unterberger a long time ago. They had a CD in that book that had one of their songs, and I fell in love with that song. We rocked it on tour sometimes and learned it as an afterthought; it became a staple of our sets.”
“L’estat (According to the Widow’s Maid)”
“I demoed this on my own years ago, and it also became a staple of our sets. The band’s gotten really good at reading my mind or listening to stuff exactly as it is on tape, and just figuring out what the instruments are doing. We wanted to bring the song out of its dilapidated-sounding, hazy-memory thing and expose it for what it was: a really weird song. In terms of what’s it about, it’s non-literary, stream-ofconsciousness writing. It’s just bullshit. I suppose there’s a story line to it. I was picturing a Sound of Music–type scene in the Bavarian mountains, and a lake and some sort of Victorian drama playing out between an indentured servant and the gardener and the queen of the estate, and she kills them when she finds the servant in bed with the gardener.”
“Fright Night (Nevermore)”
“I didn’t demo this song with anybody, so the band really showcased its new form on it. That was a fun thing for me to discover, as we’d been playing for two years and still hadn’t really come together. Having them was the perfect substitute for me distancing myself from the old works—a dream band that was telepathic to my needs at the same time.”
“Round and Round”
“Part of it was demoed, and the other part of it, I came up with later in the same way that I came up with ‘Fright Night.’ The band more or less tracked those [two] songs without having a reference to hook you off, which makes things easy for everybody. When a song is demoed, there’s no discussion other than being able to play the stuff by note. But me actually trying to tell everyone what to play and also not sitting down to learn everything myself was a refreshing change for me—and a good sign of things to come.”
“There’s a demo of it already in circulation, and we wanted to bring it out of the muck. There’s a sample of Beverly Hills Cop in there—[starts singing] ‘Peaches / Plus / Oranges / And bananas.’ It’s got weird sounds; some of it was the engineer Sonny. He had added bomb-explosion noises. Usually those sounds are me just pretending to be atmospheric—vocal yelps and swooshes; that’s kind of my trademark.”
“I didn’t even tell the band about my demo of this. I had the whole thing written out, and then everyone added their own spin on it. I changed the whole song toward the end. It used to be a song called ‘He’s Dumb.’ But then I changed the chorus to ‘She’s Dumb,’ and I changed the whole melodic verse and layout of the song and the structure; I just did a whole different vocal thing over it. In terms of a theme, it’s the misogynist side to me—the very male side to my androgyny. You know what I’m saying? Because I feel pretty androgynous in general.”
“Everybody played that one a million times as a band, so it felt like a natural fit. After hearing the demos, 4AD wanted to keep the record to 12 songs. They insisted on it. I was ready to have a sprawling, triple, Joanna Newsom–type deal and just throw everything in, but I actually think that was a good choice. “The song is about daddy. I’m picturing some sort of corporation, and there’s nepotism involved with the CEO’s daddy, and the son is up there in
management, but he’s not the bigwig. He’s the little wig. That’s kind of how I feel about daddy. In the end, it’s what I feel about dads in general.”
“Can’t Hear My Eyes”
“That’s a cleaned-up version of a song that I cut with the band. It had previously been recorded on an 8-track, and it sounded way too shabby. So I thought we may as well gloss it up and give it the real spicy, soft-rock treatment. I wrote that song when I was eight years old. I have a whole catalog of songs that are just in waiting. They’re pretty much all from the first years of my life, when I would just write down the lyrics and I had the composition arranged in my head. Of course, I didn’t know how to play an instrument back then, so I just learned how to write songs and have the vocals congeal for me in a way that I could hear it in my head. “In 1988, I was eight, so I was listening to what was on the radio. I’ve always listened to oldies and stuff like that. Well, not always. Back then I listened to the radio with an uncritical ear, and I was just trying to participate. That song, I get the feeling it was a Simply Red kind of thing—Foreigner or something like that—but I didn’t think about it like that. That was the fourth song I ever wrote.”
“That’s the only song that the band and I had recorded prior to us going into the studio, so we didn’t even have to touch it. We first released it on the Flashback EP through our Cooler Cat imprint, a label that presses things up in small quantities for tour.”
“I demoed it just to convey to the band what I was expecting and what it could become, but it was pretty basic in song structure and easy to translate. Lyrically, I was trying to discuss things that I actually think about for a change, which is the hardest part—writing lyrics about what I feel as a person rather than just creating a new fiction or some character. It’s a personal song for me. That’s the less misogynistic, more transgendered side of me I would say.”
“Revolution’s A Lie”
“I wrote this when I was 17 years old. I recorded it through headphones into my stereo onto a cassette tape. I have tons of cassettes from around that time, and it’s probably the best shit that nobody’s ever heard. It’s just a total riff and garbled lyrics, but I kind of like it. It’s an easy song to teach the band because it has so many different faces, and it can be arranged in different ways; it’s more like an exercise in intensity.” //
Flying Lotus pours a couple years of pain and a lifetime of growing up Coltrane into his greatest LP yet.
W Words andrew parks Photography Emir Eralp Styling Kim Johnson
omewhere, hidden among the battered bookshelves and ash-covered albums, in Steven Ellison’s Los Angeles apartment is a lockbox that always puts the producer at ease. “Every time I open it, it smells like her house,” he says, referring to his great aunt Alice Coltrane. “She was really into Nag Champa, you know?” Ellison, better known as the beat conductor Flying Lotus, lets out a hearty laugh and says that no amount of incense could erase the pot smoke embedded in the walls of his house. High Times humor aside, a sense of melancholia lingers in his speech. The “Auntie” he speaks of is a jazz legend—not to mention the wife of saxophonist John Coltrane—and yet, Ellison’s regard for her and his own extended family is much more ingrained in his character than that; it’s a source of strength as well a sign of weakness. “Sometimes I wish they weren’t so important to me,” he admits, “that I could be chill. But yeah, whenever something happens with my family, it motivates me in ways I don’t even understand.” In the case of Alice Coltrane’s death—the result of respiratory failure in early 2007—Ellison snipped a lock of her hair and sealed it inside the incensescented box. A year later, the artist also channeled his aunt’s mind-expanding music on his breakthrough album, Los Angeles (Warp)—namely through the literal harp samples of “Auntie’s Harp,” and the lean, pulsedriven pop of “Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum,” a feathery, frothy listen that’s one loop away from drifting off into space completely. The start of Ellison’s latest LP, the overwhelming opus Cosmogramma, isn’t quite so gentle. Album opener “Clock Catcher,” for one, is like a pressure cooker that just exploded, spilling brutalized beats, watery synths and windswept harps—plucked by Rebekah Raff—all over the studio floor. And Ellison doesn’t let up there; he guides Thundercat—a bassist for Suicidal Tendencies and Snoop Dogg—through a minefield of distorted melodies (“Pickled!”) and fires off a frantic sample about insomnia (“’Cause I can’t sleep!”) in the same breath as a dizzying array of dagger-like drums and cauterized keyboards. It’s as if Ellison can’t sleep either, as if he’s funneling his frustrations into every last layer. Which makes sense: On October 31, 2008, Ellison’s mother, Tammy, died of sudden diabetes complications, leaving the producer so numb that he cancelled a major European tour and dove right into Coltrane’s discography like never before.
One Alice Coltrane record that Ellison pored over in recent years is Lord of Lords. As he sees it, the 1973 LP is “the story of John Coltrane’s ascension—his journey in death.” Considering that Cosmogramma includes field recordings from Tammy Ellison’s hospital room, a question becomes clear when self-titled meets Ellison at Manhattan’s Ace Hotel: Did you have a musicguided memorial in mind, as well? He says yes, describing “Galaxy in Janaki” as Tammy’s “ascension song.” (Janaki is a deity from Hindu lore that loosely translates as “mother.”) The track is only two and a half minutes long, but it’s no wonder why Ellison saves it for the album’s summit. From the melodramatic strings of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (OutKast, Erykah Badu) to the producer’s prickly drum programming, “Galaxy in Janaki” plays like a march to something more—not necessarily heaven (Ellison doesn’t identify with any particular religion), but more like a place where his family can feel at peace with the loss of yet another loved one. It goes without saying that Cosmogramma is heavy and, from Ellison’s perspective, a definitive artistic statement. “I don’t want to mess with it at all,” he explains. “I just want to leave it and move on, to respect the space and time it was created in.” Los Angeles engineer and Alpha Pup Records founder Daddy Kev—who’s worked with such artists as Busdriver, Mix Master Mike and Daedelus—has mastered every major Flying Lotus release since the artist’s Warp debut, 2007’s Reset EP, and was originally brought in to both mix and master Ellison’s latest effort. “It was the biggest clusterfuck of a session that I’ve had in a minute,” says Kev, who was removed from the mixing process after only a day in the studio. “I’m not used to resistance like that.” Despite red-lined levels that were turning Cosmogramma into a mangled pile of masochistic melodies, Ellison kept Kev’s hands off the mixing board. “It wasn’t like he was just asking me to turn the bass down,” says Kev. “He’d be like, ‘Alright, at three minutes and 22 seconds, there’s this sparkle thing happening, and there’s something wrong with it.’ Or everything would be perfect except for, say, the volume of one 808 [synth line]. He’d feel like it was off by 0.5 decibels.” Such attention to minutiae isn’t the sign of a blossoming egomaniac, however. Ellison, who attended San Francisco’s Academy of Art, was simply applying his film-school background to an actual album. And since Ellison was always an arty filmmaker—one of his favorite self-produced shorts, “Use Me,” was as claustrophobic and creepy as Mulholland Drive—you could say that his music comes
“I feel myself slipping into this state where everything is black.”
On the cover: Suit Simon spurr Previous spread: Blazer Against Nature Tie Trovata Shirt His own
from the same clouded headspace, a highly specific set of sounds and scenes only he could possibly understand. “It doesn’t matter how expensive your stereo is,” Kev says. “No one would think anything’s wrong with that kind of thing but Flying Lotus.” Mastering the album—a job that, according to Kev, normally takes four hours at the most—spanned five months. “Cosmogramma is so experimental that it practically exists in its own vacuum,” says Kev, who often played the tracks for his year-and-a-half-old daughter (she’s a fan). “And every single sound means something to the overall message of the record. The whole thing was an expressive process of healing—a very sad record, really. I feel like you’re hearing him cry on it.”
Ellison’s career was truly beginning to break when his mother died. As is often the case with mid-stream electronic records, Los Angeles took the summer of 2008 and several follow-up EPs (unreleased tracks, and remixes by such close friends as Ras G, Take and Samiyam) to reveal itself as one of the year’s best records. And right around that time, everything for Ellison—the touring, the remix requests, the one-off singles—came to an abrupt halt. Back at his modest hotel room, we ask Ellison about the effect his mother’s passing had on his creative outlets. “It was easy to just be like [makes sobbing noises],” he says without hesitation, “but then
other times, it was just like, ‘What the fuck am I doing? Why are we even [here]?’ You know? And that made me work even harder because if people are gonna be paying attention to what I’m doing, let it be for something good.” He pauses and scans a cluttered desktop for rolling papers. “It was definitely therapeutic, man,” he continues. “I’m glad I had music to go to when things got weird.” Ever the truth-seeker, Ellison also dove into his subconscious by inhaling three hits of DMT a couple months after his mother died. A naturally occurring psychedelic drug, Dimethyltryptamine is extracted from plants and used by South American shamans as a cranium-cracking form of spiritual healing. Unlike, say, mushrooms, the high hits you within minutes and fades within 20. “I’ll put it to you like this: With mushrooms, you’re very much in control of your situation,” explains Ellison. “The walls may be dancing around a little bit, or you’re seeing some patterns, but [DMT] is a gateway to some alternate reality—a parallel universe, possibly. It’s the most alien experience I’ve ever had on earth, and I’ve done everything. This whole thing”—Ellison points around the hotel room— “gone. There’s no chairs, no music, no construction sounds, nothing.” “Did you learn something deeper about yourself?” we ask. “Honestly, it isn’t a vision-quest kind of thing,
Suit simon spurr
“It felt like a championship bout, like I had to fight Mike Tyson to keep my belt.”
where you confront your ancestors or whatever,” he says. “It’s a glimpse into something that is not here— something that is not based on this experience. There are entities that are way beyond my comprehension, man. That’s the funny thing about it.” “You were actually talking to ‘something’?” “They communicate to you telepathically. These things speak to you in the most basic form to them— like, ‘Telepathy, you didn’t know about that?’ ”
ALL THAT JAZZ
It’s easy to imagine Ellison thinking the same thing— “Telepathy, you didn’t know about that?”—each time he steps onstage. Although some laptop musicians find themselves tethered to plug-ins and effects pads, Ellison wags his tongue, swings his arms and bangs his head more than most bands. And he doesn’t just sling samples, either. He completely reinvents what it means to be Flying Lotus at every show, whether he’s revisiting his drum ’n’ bass roots (as diametrically opposed as they are, jungle and G-funk were Ellison’s favorite high school finds) or taking a stab at free jazz. The latter happened this past May, as Ellison marked the release of Cosmogramma with a special hometown show called “Infinity.” A celebration of the record’s live elements, it featured such special guests as Atwood-Ferguson (violin), Raff (harp), Ellison’s cousin Ravi Coltrane (sax) and one of the producer’s recurring collaborators, singer Laura Darlington. “There was a lot of energy onstage with some very, very good musicians, which can be disastrous,” says Darlington’s husband, Alfred, better known as Daedelus, one of the many LA underground icons who attended the “Infinity” show. “It takes a lot of leadership to guide that kind of flight and a whole different set of skills to see the pitfalls. “Many fans weren’t feeling the raw jazz of this first show—and probably won’t for other ‘Infinity’ outings. It was largely a triumph, though. Steve has these different identities to start playing with, and once they are on even ground, it’s going to be tremendous.” Adds Warp co-founder Stephen Beckett, “We’ve only begun to see what [Flying Lotus] is capable of. I see him as an artist that could be as important to the label as Aphex Twin.” Considering all the “next big thing” pressure—as well as a fan base that includes Thom Yorke, one of Cosmogramma’s shadowy guests—we ask Ellison if he felt like he had something to prove with “Infinity.” “It definitely felt like a championship bout,” adds Ellison, “like I had to fight Mike Tyson to keep my belt. A few people were like, ‘What’s going on here? I came for some beats.’ But even the people that didn’t get it, wanted to get it. They wanted to get into that headspace and believe what’s happening, which means everything to me.”
“I’m glad I had music to go to when things got weird.”
Suit simon spurr
THE RED PILL
Before he can slip away to an interview with The New York Times, we ask Ellison about a post on his MySpace page that detailed his experience with a “shadow person” in his early teens. “I woke up one night, and my desk chair was facing my bed,” he explains. “In that chair was this shadow entity, this thing with no features. It was all black, and when it saw me look, it was basically like, ‘What the fuck?’ and ran out of the room. “Trust me, I’m that guy,” he continues, “the dude
who’s skeptical about shit like this. But I can’t write this one off.” Ellison says he’s not sure whether what he saw was a ghost, but he regrets never speaking to his Aunt Alice about it. “Now more than ever, I feel myself slipping into this state where everything is black, this Matrix-like world,” he says. “I would have loved to talk to my aunt about this stuff, but unfortunately I never did. As spiritual as my family is, they’re skeptical about this shit, too—like, ‘What are you smoking?’ ” //
the self-titled interview Words kory grow Photography bryan sheffield
inging always felt like a concussion, and I got a lot of migraines from doing it,” says Malefic, the mysterious man behind the atmospheric black-metal group Xasthur (pronounced “zas-ter,” like disaster). “Sometimes I wonder if it has caused some damage to my head and my memory. If there was any right or wrong way of doing this, I’m sure I did it wrong.” As of this past March, Malefic has stopped worrying about his art affecting his physical health. He has decided to end Xasthur after 14 years—releasing a final record, Portal of Sorrow (Disharmonic Vibrations), and returning to life as suburban Los Angeleno Scott Conner, former black-metal musician. “I’ve been saying I’m sick and tired of [Xasthur] for too long...and now, I’m going to back it up,” he explained in a blog post. “There are or have been literally 18,000 black-metal bands; it does not matter if there’s one less.” Xasthur was considered one of the United States’ few black-metal pioneers, with Malefic’s avant-garde approach earning him respect. After splitting with most of the band’s members early on, Malefic created music alone, using drum machines and layers of guitar to paint haunting sonic murals of despair, marked by an echoey scream so fierce it would leave the artist with those pesky headaches. He was in the right place at the right time, too. In
the mid ’00s, when many of the scene’s European founders had quit, gotten incarcerated or died, Xasthur’s music began getting positive reviews and word-of-mouth mentions in the underground. He then cofounded the black-metal supergroup Twilight alongside members of other American bands like Nachtmystium, Leviathan, and Krieg, and toured and recorded with critical darlings Sunn O))). Adding to his legend, Malefic often refused interviews, and his public feuds with labels like Moribund Cult and Southern Lord (addressed in open e-mails to the press) gained him notoriety. Success aside, Malefic grew frustrated with making music. Nonetheless, his final album is one of his most experimental yet, featuring the bleak but beautiful melodies of Marissa Nadler, and swan songs that have more in common with Sergio Leone and Bernard Herrmann than Darkthrone or Burzum. That’s the way he likes it, too, judging from his comments in the following Q&A, which was culled from a lengthy e-mail interview (the only way he talks to the press, in the rare event that he does). As with Portal of Sorrow, this interview is meant as a goodbye, a final look at the man once known as Malefic. “Please pardon how long and ‘self-indulgent’ my responses were,” he says. “I might as well make up for all the interviews I never did and all the ones I won’t be doing.”
What initially attracted you to black metal? Hate. Why have you decided to stop doing Xasthur? Because I’ve been doing it for years and I just got sick of it, and rebuilding became too much of a struggle. I have made tons of albums already, maybe even too many as is. If I continued, I realized I was far too “over it” to make anything worth listening to, and it wouldn’t have met my own standards. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone who listened to the music hoping the next album would be better. The time, effort and energy are not worth it because in the end, no matter what I do, I know the outcome and what to expect after an album is finished. I just need to start over [and find] a new style— another way of writing, a new way of thinking and a better way of conducting myself. Making other kinds of songs has come more naturally to me than I had ever thought. Just before ending things, I began to realize that if I were to do another kind of metal or “different” style of black metal that it wouldn’t be enough of a change, both personally and musically. That’s only half a change.... This is more about reinventing the self and not trying to reinvent metal music or Xasthur, for that matter. The only thing that makes this a “story,” to me at least, is because I wonder why these things don’t happen to more people and more often. Besides that, this probably just sounds like some guy shooting the breeze excessively about himself... yawn. Doing black metal never felt like much of a feat; it was rarely something I could hold my head up high about or feel proud of. But the good news is…being probably one of the most hated bands has helped me find something else to do, so I see that hatred as a way of helping me instead of hurting me.
On your blog, you said, “I’m not able to make it work anymore.” How did you come to this realization? I wasn’t able to make it work anymore because it was becoming too difficult to write all the music myself. I was having difficulty with song structure. Sometimes that doesn’t bother me at all, and sometimes it does, but either way, I think that’s an obstacle that someone can run into when they make music on their own for a long time. That was a bigger hassle than recording it all, which wasn’t much of a problem. At the same time, it was like a catch-22, because it was really up to me to make the music; it was mainly my responsibility. How did you meet Marissa Nadler? I saw her performing live about five years ago, totally by accident at some festival, and I really liked her voice because I don’t think she sounds like anyone. At the time, I only caught her first name, and then I rediscovered her music a year or two ago, again by accident. After that, I made up my mind that her voice was what I needed on the album, and it was a risk that I was going to take, so I got in touch with her through her bassist. Some months later, I met her in person at one of her live shows and then a couple months after that, she moved to the LA area but only for a month and a half before returning to the East Coast. How has she inspired you? By what she has done on this album, she has confirmed to me that I can trust my instincts when it comes to sound. Her music itself has been leading me toward discovering some other similar artists, present and past. I wonder, Who are these people she’s opening for, people opening for her? Who are some of these guests on her albums? And if I like what she does, what else might I want to hear? It’s sort of like when you’re young and you buy a Death tape; soon after, you start wondering who Morbid Angel or Autopsy are. So, I guess I met her right around the time where, if I’d been looking for something else, I would have found it.
“What were you expecting, an alien?”
What are your post-Xasthur plans, musically? For a while, I’m just going to take a break and when I resume doing some music, I’m going to take it slower and only worry about having a few new songs at a time. I’m in no hurry; I have plenty of time now. I’m not going to give the music I do a genre name, and I’m not intending to dive into a particular genre either, just acoustic-guitar music, sad and dark with
“Music is all I ever really had to live for.” some other twists and a small lineup this time. I do not plan on using the name Xasthur to help my future musical projects be heard; I want to count on the music for that, and I will! I will leave Xasthur out of it so I won’t be leaving any “Stay tuned for my next project called such and such” type of plugs. Have you accomplished what you had hoped to when you started the band? It was a struggle just to get that first album out. My goal was to have one real CD. When I realized that I had the opportunity to accomplish all that I could, I tried to do that to the best of my ability. Since you won’t be performing as Malefic anymore, what does that name mean to you now? Not much… The name Malefic becomes even more meaningless when Malefic has to buy groceries or when he has to go to the gas station. Supposedly, that isn’t very misanthropic, and I can’t seem to back up the name if I do things like that, can I? Maybe I can ask a question: What were you expecting, an alien? If I treat someone with respect, if I tell a joke or breathe air, then the name Malefic seems to go right out the window. I prefer to talk to people with respect and some reality when I do; it’s not “Malefic versus Fill in the Blank.” I don’t need a nickname for whatever it is that I do, and I’m not in some gang either. Xasthur was more of my identity than Malefic ever was. What does wearing corpse paint mean to you? There was a time when it helped me in some ways; it not only helped me forget who I was, but it covered up my face. I also thought it was an expression of hatred, death or a transformation into another spirit. I could have just worn a mask, a veil, a sheet over my head or dressed up like a clown if I didn’t feel like presenting myself. I washed it off. I’m already starting to roll my eyes at the thought of “corpse paint.” I can only imagine what I’ll think of it when I’m 60. How do you describe Xasthur to your parents and family? I don’t. I just don’t talk about it. They know I “play some kind of weird music,” and that’s about it. I usually don’t care to talk about it with other people,
either. I have a hard enough time explaining it in this interview. So in my day-to-day life, most people have no idea that I make this kind of music, and that’s fine with me. You’ve often sung of death and suicide. Those are heavy subjects. How close have you ever come to the latter? Before I started Xasthur, and before I ever heard the stupid term “suicide black metal” or DSBM [depressive suicidal black metal, both terms the press has used to describe Xasthur’s music] I came sort of close a couple nights a long time ago, but since, a lesson learned... If you’re going to do it, then do it; don’t attempt it. For you, what makes life worth living? Nothing! Fuck life and everyone in it; if you want to begin the real journey into the abyss, you must die! End life now! No, I’m just kidding; I’m just joking around! I can’t give you an amazing or “deep” answer, but I’m not in the mood to give a negative one either. Again, I suppose music is all I ever really had to live for, one of the main things; it’s been the only thing I’ve ever been dedicated to or able to do right, even though a lot of people say I do it wrong, but whatever. I like to travel; it makes me feel better. It is something I can appreciate, and it makes life seem more full or enriched; quality of life has always seemed at its highest when traveling, so yes, I must live for that. I take long trips to the forest whenever I can, and that is very meaningful and fulfilling to me. If I can accomplish anything I possibly can, it doesn’t matter how small or big it is; that will make life bearable, and it’s the only thing I can do with my life besides completely wasting it or sitting around waiting for it to end. Anyway, I never thought this would be one of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked. I gave you too long of an answer, but who’s to say if I really know? You record your music at home. What is your home like? I live in a house that’s about 90 to 100 years old. There is a strange atmosphere and vibe at the house because it has a very separated-from-the-outside feeling, and in certain rooms, it’s difficult to get a sense of north, south, east and west; that can be disorienting. And no,
“There are other people worthwhile to remember.” it’s not all in my head; some people who have visited have felt the same thing. Over the years, not just the decay sets in but also time, a lot of hard times and bad energy; I believe in things like that haunting a house more likely than any kind of spirits, in case that’s what you were getting at. For the music’s sake, I’m glad that I live where I do. It makes for a great place to record. That’s all it’s really been to me and the reason I have stayed here, but aside from that, I’m not glad. It’s nothing to be proud of. Maybe it complements the kind of music I made, but it doesn’t complement anything else; it doesn’t make for much of a home. You’ve been very vocal over the years about how you have felt that labels have exploited you. What are some examples of those? How did you address them with the people involved? This would only stir up a big mess, and I’m done naming names and pointing fingers because it’s still not going to solve things, and in the end, I’ll be the one looking like an ass. I will tell you this, and it will be the truth; it would blow your mind if you knew precisely or even vaguely how much money some of these motherfuckers made off of me, how little they gave me in return and how many lies they told me. Keep in mind, they didn’t only do it to me; they’ll do it to anyone they can and have, and that is what they are looking for in bands—naïveté and something that sells! Look, I’m not going to “whine” about this and go on and on into detail because the book on this is closed now! The book on Xasthur is closed, as well. The last way I will try and sum this up is by saying that if some band was on my smaller unknown label, I guarantee that I would take care of a band’s needs better than mine had been taken care of in the past by “bigger labels.” That also makes me feel that if I can do that or afford that for a band, then anyone can! What have people misunderstood most about Xasthur? First of all, people thinking that just because someone
labeled it “suicide black metal” years ago that my songs or lyrics are about me feeling sorry for myself or are threats to kill myself. It had very little to do with that as far as I’m concerned, but people want to interpret things the way they want to, and that’s all right I suppose. It’s better to think of, feel and imagine many things when hearing music or looking at art than it is to only picture one thing or only one thing that we’re supposed to think of. Music was the way I threw all the hatred back or into something that was thrown at me. To get a better understanding, the way I look back on the music is that I view it as “art therapy.” The music was more personal and from within more than it was about being a part of something; that’s the best conclusion I can make of it. People get the idea already, and if they don’t, then they never will, so there’s no use in making several more albums. Second, another misunderstanding was about the way I recorded the music. I never used any software, laptop or computer to make any of the songs. It’s easy to tell that I didn’t. If I did, then I would have copied and pasted everything together, and I would have been accused of having the great song structures instead of lousy ones. But whatever—I did a lot of things my way. Third, people have said things about how I hated the people who listened to the music I made, how I hated the “fans” or how I was fucked up to them. This is not true at all, and I was grateful for any fans I had. I appreciated anyone who listened to it—or even liked it—a great deal. I prefer not to spoil the music with my interaction, and I usually like to keep to myself, if that’s the problem. There were a lot of people who turned on the band for no reason, and maybe those people were getting the idea that I hated fans. How would you like Xasthur to be remembered? I don’t really care. Maybe it’s best forgotten. There are other people worthwhile to remember. //
Words Andrew Parks Photography Shawn Brackbill
Ernest Greene and Josh all Kolenik black chat about two of the year’s most anticipated albums.
he members of Small Black look stressed. And they should be; they’re late to their load-in time at Webster Hall—the biggest venue they’ve ever played in their hometown, New York City. Tonight, the guys will help perform the songs of Georgia musician Ernest Greene for half of his set as Washed Out. Since a string of successful Mercury Lounge shows this past March, Small Black and Washed Out have collaborated onstage—mostly on shared bills that celebrate their sepia-toned approaches to pop music. Greene, who only began posting songs on his MySpace page a little more than a year ago, is opening this evening’s show for headliners Beach House, in part thanks to his act’s substantial, Web-
catalyzed buzz, which, as he says, can sometimes feel overwhelming. “I already have this reputation of being really bad about responding to people,” says Greene, who’s unsigned—despite offers from noteworthy suitors—and without a proper publicist or manager. “I’m sure I missed out on some great opportunities already because I couldn’t keep up with it all.” “People actually contact me to get to Ernest,” adds Small Black frontman Josh Kolenik as the two burst into laughter. As Greene—ever the Southern gentleman— finishes helping the musicians haul in their gear, self-titled corrals him and Kolenik to chat about their collaboration and what’s in store for both groups throughout the year.
self-titled: How have your shows been? Are kids showing up in neon, thinking they’re at a rave? Ernest Greene: Well, it definitely felt like kids were on drugs at the first five shows. In a good way? GREENE: It seemed pretty positive. It was just surprising; plus that lends itself to another level of craziness, especially at college shows. Josh Kolenik: Yeah, like Bates College was complete mayhem, with crowd-surfing and people on each other’s backs the entire time. People were so excited. GREENE: It felt like Bon Jovi was playing. Girls were screaming [Small Black co-founder Ryan Heyner’s] name, literally saying, “We love you!” in between songs. Seriously? KOLENIK: Seriously. Ernest, are you getting any of that attention? GREENE: Yeah, I just kinda do this [shows his wedding band]. Tell me about the first time you guys met in person. You only had a couple days to rehearse before your first show, right? GREENE: Yeah, we had been e-mailing back and forth. I think it was your [motioning to Kolenik] idea to do the tour together and back me up a bit. But when it first came up in January, I wasn’t sure if I was going to tour at all. I just didn’t know how it would come across. [The guys in Small Black are] great musicians, and they’ve been doing it a lot longer than me, you know? Both of your sets have improved a lot in the past year. KOLENIK: Thanks. [With Small Black] we did a lot during a month break to fix some things. Things will be even more different once we’re touring behind the LP in the fall. We’ll probably strip things down a little more. Have you decided what’s going on the Jagjaguwar album yet? I heard you’d recorded about 20 tracks. KOLENIK: Yeah, we’ve split them up so we have enough for the follow-up record already. And they’re both of equal quality? KOLENIK: I think so. The second batch is definitely less developed, but there are good ideas there. And what about you, Ernest? That CD-R you put out during this tour was just song sketches right? GREENE: Yeah, that’s older stuff, and it’s all over the place stylistically. It’s what led to my current sound.
sound re I’ve been writing some; any time I have off is spent working on the live show. When did the two of you first get into electronic music? You’re both in your late 20s, so was it around when electronica was getting all that attention? KOLENIK: I was really into rap music first, actually. That’s what I grew up listening to. I really liked the Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep... GREENE: I was the same way. For a long time, dance music was what I heard on MTV—stuff like Moby.... I was more into weird, dramatic stuff like DJ Shadow. That style definitely informed how I wrote early on,
“We wanted to make something shitty eally beautiful.” —kolenik from the bass lines to the sort of textures I’d use. I didn’t start using vocals until the last couple years. Was most of your material sample-based in the beginning? GREENE: There’s definitely a lot of sampling, although I don’t use records for samples that much. I mostly get things off the Internet. Well, that’s the thing about making music today, isn’t it? You’re all consuming as much music as the rest of us, and whether or not you realize it, you’re being influenced by it all daily. It must be hard to process ideas.
KOLENIK: How people generalize your sound is interesting, as it leaves you wondering how close you should stick to that. Like, “Is this a Small Black song?” GREENE: Yeah, I was working on some material in January, and it was interesting stuff, but it didn’t sound like Washed Out. Your records have such a specific mood. It’s more about maintaining that than being a part of some scene. KOLENIK: If there’s one similarity between all of our projects, it’s the process behind them—nonlinear songwriting and not being married to certain instruments.
“I can be as loud as I want there.” —
GREENE: It’s not about just playing a guitar... KOLENIK: ...and writing a song off that. That hasn’t changed as Small Black went from a duo to a full-on band? KOLENIK: No, it’s not like that at all. We can’t even remember who played what on the record. It’s more like, “Oh, you want to try playing that bass line? Okay, do it. Whatever sounds best.” There’s no egos or defined roles, and every song’s different. GREENE: All of those guys bring different things to the table. Since you’re the outsider, Ernest, describe each of the Small Black guys to me. GREENE: Jeff [Curtin] knows exactly what he’s doing technically. That’s what he does for a living; he’s a live sound technician. Juan [Pieczanski] knows Pro Tools and Reason really well... KOLENIK: He’s a super tech head and just attentive to rhythmic details. GREENE: I’m pretty naive about mixing, so we talk about that a lot. Ryan’s tastes are the most like mine— lots of ambient sentimental jams. KOLENIK: It’s funny—when I heard Ernest’s music for the first time, my immediate reaction was, Ryan is going to really like this. [Ernest laughs.] GREENE: As for Josh, he knows how to write a hook. Maybe that’s from listening to all that hip-hop. KOLENIK: I guess I’m more of the idea guy. We all contribute to the songwriting, but I try to be a little more conceptual about it all. What was the original concept behind Small Black? KOLENIK: We were really into that Casio [SK-1] tone. We really love how that sound breaks up in a speaker and wanted to focus on that as a general aesthetic. I don’t know—we wanted to make something shitty sound really beautiful. The basic concept came out
of Ryan and I messing around in the attic of his uncle’s house, just trying to get as far away from our old music as we could. Our last project [Slowlands] was super ornate and grandiose, and this was more like, “Here’s this crappy beat, and I want to be forced to make it sound good.” We tried to set limitations, which is pretty invaluable in the world of Pro Tools. Ernest, how did you arrive at the Washed Out sound? GREENE: It was a natural progression, just spending the last couple years trying out different effects and approaches. It didn’t happen overnight. As far as the fidelity thing, I’m probably most influenced by Boards of Canada—how they mixed rough elements with clean ones. They definitely have some darker songs, although I was listening to The Campfire Headphase the other day, and it’s actually pretty light. Yeah, it has a sitting-by-the-beach feel to it. GREENE: I definitely gravitate toward the more positive material. KOLENIK: I feel like that band was a logical follow-up from listening to DJ Shadow. A lot of people connect those two because they’re sample-based music that isn’t so over-the-top or about dancing. It’s mellow, with a pop edge. GREENE: Going back to that fidelity thing, it’s easier to work with electronic music and then add different layers of distortion later. I’ve just started to use real synths now, too. [Ed. note: Reason, a program that emulates synths, had been the basis of Washed Out’s records.] I definitely want to move away from the laptop thing live, as it’s hard for me to work that way. You guys have a decent lighting setup now. GREENE: That came out of doing a lot of research in a DJ lighting magazine. It’s just an LED ring... KOLENIK: You know, the demo video for that has got to be the worst video ever.
“Bands miss out on that six months they need.” —kolenik GREENE: The demo video actually has four of them set up in unison. After seeing that, I definitely said, “That’s fucking incredible. I gotta have it.” [Laughs] But yeah, I like it, especially when I’m doing the solo thing. KOLENIK: I think it’s great, especially night to night. It’s nice to not have to deal with stage lights. It’s blinding, actually. GREENE: Well, you know how My Bloody Valentine ends their set with a wall of sound? We’re taking people to another place with lighting. I saw you play Santos Party House in New York this past October, and to be honest, I felt really bad for you. You clearly were still figuring things out, and you had to do it in front of 600 people.
GREENE: Yeah, I was testing the waters there, for sure. I was concerned with getting the music right first. The performance aspect came later. So at that point, I was just glued to what I had to do, not entertaining anyone. That’s been developed along the way. KOLENIK: With the Internet, bands miss out on that six months they need... Well, Small Black had some time to figure things out in Brooklyn, didn’t you? KOLENIK: Totally. We started by throwing shows in Bushwick with our friends. That was an amazing way to figure out how we wanted the music to come across live—less moody, and more like a dance party. We definitely had time to develop, but there’s still so much work to do. And the new stuff you’re working on still has that separation between the stage and the studio? KOLENIK: The music will be more danceable and clean. We’re definitely better at recording now. If there’s one thing we should still talk about, it’s how people are so fixated on the idea of nostalgia these days—as if that’s some sort of new concept—which I think relates to your music quite a bit. KOLENIK: Yeah, well, look at all the rock records from the past year, and how fixated they are with the ’60s and ’70s. Is digital better than that? I don’t think so. It’s just as good—taking that old sound and making something new out of it. All of you are also at that age where you start looking back at your childhood more. KOLENIK: I just think that everyone’s always pulling from older music, from older sounds. I mean, the keyboard we use on our [EP] is the first keyboard I ever owned. I got it when I was eight. Did you actually make songs on it then? KOLENIK: I definitely used the sampler function and tried forming a band when I was nine or 10. Ernest, do you think you’ll be staying in Georgia? GREENE: We’re actually homeless right now. [My wife] is here with me. We’re moving to a lake house in June. Her family has this really nice, secluded place in Georgia. That’s where I’m going to write most of June and July. So you’re really going to be living the sitting-on-thedock-of-the-bay dream? GREENE: Yeah, I hope I can get work done that way. I can get writing done anywhere, but this weekendgetaway spot is more practical. I can be as loud as I want there. //
The image opposite this page was created by Future Islands— whose debut album, In Evening Air, is out now on Thrill JOckey—while listening to Gayngs’ Relayted (JagJaguwar).