Naarm/Melbourne-based musician and songwriter Michael Beach is back with new song ‘Out In A Burning Alley’ from his forthcoming self-titled EP. Beach is intensely cool and has become a master of writing and harnessing beautiful melodies, creating a spontaneous feel in his songs, wrapped up in a lively, elegant squall of garage rock n roll and swirls of distortion. Beach’s work is always engaging and vulnerable. ‘Out In A Burning Alley’ reminds us of what makes him an excellent songwriter.
How are you? What’s life been like lately for you? You’re currently in the US spending time with family.
MICHAEL BEACH: I’m well, thanks! It’s been real nice to get back to California after too long away. We came over to visit my parents but my mom got COVID the day before we got here, so we’ve had to improvise a bit. Life was pretty busy before I left…a ton of work to do with the new record coming out, but Goner and Poison City have helped so much, so I feel pretty lucky. Off to Big Sur today, plus a visit to Robinson Jeffers house in Carmel. Stoked!
We’re premiering your new song ‘Out In A Burning Alley’ the first single from your up coming 12” EP that will be out in September; were there any specific influences for this song?
MB: Thanks! I recall wanted to cross a Saints-style guitar tone with a Peter Laughner rambling narrative—not sure why but I think those were my compass points for this one.
What’s one of the biggest things you’ve learnt about while songwriting for your new EP? Do you have any rules for yourself?
MB: No rules ever. Keep it wild and free. Ha! The old ‘serve the song’ maxim is a good one. Otherwise I’d say the more time goes on, the less I know. ’m gradually unlearning everything. My brain is decaying nicely by this point.
What was the experience like of recording ‘Out In A Burning Alley’?
MB: It was a grand old time. Andy/Poison City offered up his family’s country house for us to record in. I moved my 8-track up there and we spent a couple winter days recording, eating, and drinking. Excellent memories with excellent friends—it was a totally enjoyable recording experience.
You’ve been making music for some time now; who or what helps you trust your instincts in relation to your creativity?
MB: As far as trusting myself, I think friends help a lot, and I’m lucky to have such excellently creative friends. Time and experience have helped. I enjoy the process of creation so that’s enough most of the time.
You’ll be touring the US in September/October and play this year’s Goner Fest; what is something that you have to do before a performance?
MB: Yeah, can’t wait to be back in Memphis! Before a show…stay connected to the band, connected to the audience, connected to spirit of the thing I’m trying to get across. Keep it connected!!
What’s something that’s been bringing you a lot of joy of late?
MB: Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. Anybody out there wanna book me some shows in Scotland?!
Meanjin/Brisbane band Guppy don’t sound like anyone else. It’s post-punk, it’s noise rock, it’s No Wave, it’s art-pop, it’s guitar-less, there’s wild saxophone, but saying all that only tells part of the story—it’s a dizzying array of cool. There’s an accidental alchemy formed from the simplicity and joy of friendship and explorational, experimental jams. After seeing Guppy live earlier this year, we loved them so much we interviewed them and put them on the cover of our print publication of Gimmie Issue 2. Those that have seen their hectic live show can attest to their magnetism. Guppy features members of some QLD’s most exciting bands of the last decade Clever, Cured Pink, Per Purpose, Psy Ants and Come Die In Queensland.
Today we’re premiering their DIY debut video and song ‘Lipshitz’ from their forthcoming highly anticipated first album, 777antasy . We spoke with Guppy’s vocalist, Pam, who represents a new kind of thrilling frontwoman.
We’re excited to be premiering Guppy’s debut clip for song ‘Lipshitz’ from your forthcoming debut album in the works; why did you choose this song for your first video?
PAM: We’d been tossing round ideas for clips we could put together ourselves and in the process of spitballing one night we decided to demo this lip-syncing idea, thinking we could use some green paint around my mouth and key it out and it would look a bit like that Mulligrubs show. Because this song’s full of attitude, it made sense to try it out with this track. We did a bunch of takes that progressively became more complicated, with little cameos from Jack [saxophone-vocals] and Callum [drums] interweaved between closeups of Mitch [bass-vocals] and I, but in the end, the best take was basically our first one. I guess the choice of song wasn’t so deliberate, it was just meant to be.
How did the song initially get started? What’s it about?
P: As usual, the music came first. It had a real tense, unnerving undercurrent that held lots of space to drag out the tension. Jack wanted to make a lovemaking song. When it came to writing the lyrics, I knew it wouldn’t start with a melody. The gups joked that I should approach it like a rap. So I did. I was thinking more about words with bite, phrasing, repetition. It was like a word collage, guided by this book I got from the lifeline superstore Thugs and the Women That Love Them by Wahida Clark. It’s titillating stuff. And subconsciously it was helping me express parts of myself that I usually keep to myself. She snake-charmed the rude outta me. It felt good. Next prac, it came out in a blaze and I thought it was done, but I think Mitch could see the potential of more narrative if he were to voice the male perspective. And it made it even better. He’s not afraid to be tacky but also vulnerable. I think we get a real kick out of both our characters.
What do you love most about it? We love the co-vocals and attitude in the delivery, along with the hectic energy sonically.
P: Yeah I think you’re onto it. For me it’s less about the story and more about how it feels to deliver it. I step into the part of myself that doesn’t give any fucks and it’s completely liberating in a sexual hyper-feminine way. That’s probably what I love about it most, that it’s so fun to play live. Everyone’s so animated. Like, Mitch chugs this heavy bassline along with Cal who’s holding it down, holding the tension, and then Jack comes in at the end of every line with some sass, punctuated by this squealing skronk. Everyone’s suddenly moving more as the song builds. Yeah it’s got good energy.
Can you tell us a bit about recording it? What do you remember from the session?
P: We recorded in this little studio tucked away in Stafford just across from the Stafford Tavern. The roof was covered in egg cartons and Callum was propped up on this platform with what felt like a huge drum kit covered with mics. The drums really filled the room. We were so close together but listening to each other through headphone sets. It didn’t take long for us to get the final take.
We recorded vocals on a different day. For most of the day I’d recorded vocals alone but for this song Mitch and I recorded together and I remember it felt like I was properly hearing his lyrics for the first time. It just poured out of him, enunciated in the way that only he can do. It was so natural to him. It was cool, I remember him coaching me through my parts trying to get the gold outta me.
What is the symbol that appears at the beginning of the clip?
P: Well we decided to call the record 777antasy, like ‘zan-ta-see’. We were humouring ourselves with shit like ‘we belong to the fantasy genre’, ‘with roots in karaoke’ and a ‘smack of funk’, etc etc. Anyway, it stuck. And Jack came to practice with this symbol she’d fashioned at work, cut out from lino. It was perfect. If you look closely in the circle it reads 777antasy without being too obvious. The sevens cut down the centre and into each other in this angular way. Then I extruded it and warped it in cool 3D world. We’ll be using the symbol in slightly different incarnations across other videos and the record.
You made the video yourselves. What went into the making of it?
P: Well I feel like we almost lucked out with getting a one-take-wonder that night we were mucking around. Jack just got on my phone and started filming, fixing weird things to our heads that she’d rummage out of her car, giving us directions. She’s super resourceful that Jack. A few beers later and it’s as if the video made itself. It felt like the hard part was done cause we had the raw footage but little did I know how painstaking the video editing process would be. Feels like new territory. Lots of fun but lots to learn. I edited the clip in After Effects and used Blender to animate the opening sequence. The pain was worth it though, that 3D opening puts a big fat smile on my face everytime.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you learnt making the clip?
P: Just cause you have a million effects doesn’t mean you’ve gotta use them all.
What’s happening next for Guppy?
P: We’re working on a band website and album art so we can launch it early next year with the help of Gimmie (THANK YOU!). Also working on ideas for more videos… We like the idea of producing them ourselves so that we can put our own stank on it. There’s something about the way we work together, jamming and editing ideas that feels magical and we want that to come through in our videos, everything that we do. Plus, we’re gonna have more downtime so we can work on new songs and prepare for the 777antasy launch. That should be a hoot. I want it to be over-the-top larger-than-life, an extravaganza! That’s if I had it my way.
Cook Craig returns with Pipe-eye release number four, Dream Themes. The record is adventurous and playful, crafting stories without needing words, in the tradition of the greatest soundtracks and Library Music, but with his own twist. Gimmie chatted with Cook in-depth for an hour about Pipe-eye’s beginnings, songwriting, his creative process, new passions that emerged in lockdown, finding a love of jazz in his “twilight years”, we get a little peak into his home life, and of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard touring. Today we’re premiering the song and clip for first single ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ along with an extract of the chat; the full interview will appear in our next print zine, Gimmie Issue 5.
Where did the title of your new album Dream Themes come from?
COOK CRAIG: I had the idea that all of the songs on the new album would be theme songs, instrumental. I wanted to match them with the song titles, that they were weird dreams; they weren’t real TV shows. I thought it just sounded cool too.
It does have a nice ring to it—Dreeeammm Themmmes!
CC: [Laughs] Yeah! And, I googled it and there weren’t many things called dream themes.
Did this collection of songs come from dreams?
CC: Kind of. Just wacky day dreams. Day dreams about my cat and my dog [laughs]. ‘Detective Dogington’ is about my dog, Homer. He’s really snoopy and walks around investigating things. ‘Martina Catarina’ is about my cat, Martina. She’s real crazy, she’s like a kitten.
Are all of the songs on the album from something in your life?
CC: Yeah, or things like current events, like ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ is about deadshit conspiracy theorists [laughs]. I usually write the music first and then try to think up titles and themes that I think match the vibe of the music. It’s what naturally comes out when I sit down. I wasn’t going for an overall theme or vibe for the album. In terms of the titles, they’re not particularly linked.
For you are the songs linked musically?
CC: Definitely. I pretty much wrote all of the songs at the one time, within a week. It was actually on my honeymoon.
Is that where ‘Let’s Get Married’ comes from?
CC: Yeah. We got married in our backyard the day before the very first Covid lockdown. We did that because we had an overseas wedding planned, but had to can it. We went to an Airbnb for two weeks and were locked down, and that’s when I wrote all of those songs. The Airbnb was really isolated in a costal country town, we didn’t really have that much to do, so I’d sit down for a couple of hours every day in the morning and wrote a song at a time.
I’m guessing just having got married and being on your honeymoon you would have been in a really great mood and that might have helped your creativity and productivity.
CC: I definitely had some gusto! Normally I’m not like that, I usually take ages to do anything. When I have an idea, it doesn’t take me long to write a song, but it takes me a while to get started and to get motivated.
Is there anything that helps you get motivated?
CC: I have to just sit down and force myself to do it sometimes, I’m so busy with my other bands, with Pipe-eye I find it hard to get the time to sit down and write a song, or I don’t feel like it because I’ve been at band practice all week and I’m mentally fatigued or musically fatigued. Sometimes I’ll just sit down for a week and write a bunch of songs, and that will last me for the next six months.
How did the song we’re premiering ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ come together?
CC: I made a lot of the songs on the album to drum machines that I had programmed. Later on, I got Cav (Michael Cavanagh the drummer who plays in King Gizz) to drum on it. I was going for a fast afro-esque groove, looped that a heaps of times, and it turned into a song from there. The title was inspired by the History Channel, it’s really funny now. It’s all about Ancient Aliens [laughs], it’s all about that crummy, really trash kind of TV.
Ha! I remember watching the first couple of episodes of Ancient Aliens thinking, ok, maybe there’s a little something here, but then as the series continued on, it just really, really started to stretch things and make some wild claims.
CC: Yeah. I was sold on it! Still am I reckon! [laughs].
Was it a conscious choice to make this album instrumental (of course besides the song ‘Chakra’ that has the part where the word is said over and over)?
CC: I started it without any intention of doing that and as it went on, I thought a lot of the songs were strong without vocals. I thought it would be cool to take a different direction for a change and focus really hard on the music itself, rather than… I normally make songs then I write the lyrics, the vocals as an afterthought. I wanted to change it up.
Was there a freedom or relief that came from not having to write words for the songs this time around?
CC: A little bit. I like writing lyrics, but making the music is definitely my favourite part.
What’s the first song you wrote for this album?
CC: ‘Let’s Get Married’. I wrote it when I was engaged.
Awww. How did your partner feel when you showed her?
CC: She liked it. She likes it when I sing though, and I don’t think she quite got the whole instrumental thing [laughs]. She was still appreciative.
‘Oakhill Avenue’ was the last one I wrote. I wrote it to fill a gap in the songs in terms of vibe, another slow kind of chill vibe song. I wanted to do something in a different time signature that wasn’t in 4/4.
Most of the songs are fairly in my comfort zone. I feel like when I do Pipe-eye stuff it’s never that challenging, because I’m writing everything myself; I don’t’ necessarily write hard parts. In general, it was challenging to find sounds that I hadn’t used on albums before. I’ve done keyboards and synths a lot, I tried to push that a fair bit more on this record.
I noticed that. Do you ever bounce your ideas of someone else when you’re working on Pipe-eye material?
CC: It’s pretty much just me. Sometimes it’s good to get Michael, who drummed on it, I’ll send him a song and not really give him much instruction on what kind of drums to play, which is good because sometimes he sends it back and it’s completely different to what I would have thought of, and I’ll roll with that.
As the album progressed and evolved where there many other changes you noticed in the songs?
CC: The main one was just deciding to make it instrumental. I was halfway through when I decided to do that. I just plod along and slowly do things.
No stress! I assume with other projects you’re a part of it could get real hectic. With Pipe-eye you have control over everything yourself and no urgency to do anything, you can just take your time.
CC: Exactly! I don’t play live with Pipe-eye, it’s just a recording project. There’s less stress to do albums by deadline. It’s not like I have to do an album to do an album tour and promote it. I take my time and do it as it comes…
When I first listened to Dream Themes, I was wondering is you’d be listening to a lot of soundtracks and Library Music?
CC: Yeah, 100%, I always listen to that kind of stuff…
There’s also a film clip to go with ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’; what can you tell us about it?
CC: It’s made by a guy called Jake Armstrong, he’s from The States. I learnt about him because Ambrose hit him up for a Murlocs clip; he did the ‘Skyrocket’ clip. I hit him up out of the blue and he was keen. It’s animation. His stuff is pretty kooky and playful, but there’s an underlying vibe of darkness, I guess. With this clip, he’s never done anything like it before. He fully went animation, they kind of look like PlayStation 2 graphics! It’s real cool. It’s kind of got a storyline, there are these two aliens fighting and it’s in a cityscape. It looks like the old kind of not-quite-there graphics, that PlayStation 2 kind of graphics.
Yeah, I remember those and Sega and Atari and all the games!
CC: [Laughs] Yeah. I still game a bit. I got a PlayStation 5 recently! There’s not too many games out on it yet, so I haven’t got to play it too much. I was playing Ghost of Tsushima where you get to play a samurai, it’s a bit like playing open world. Pretty nerdy!
At Gimmie HQ we’ve been bumping the new Cong Josie album Cong! hard since it arrived in our inbox. We loved it so much that we ordered the hot pink limited edition vinyl version. The album is officially out Oct 22 on It Records (home of our favs – New War and Atom). It’s a fabulous high energy clash of minimal synth, EBM (Electronic Body Music), rockabilly-ish vocals, punk attitude with a whole lotta throb and thrust, along with some heart tugging surprises.
Today we’re debuting the electrifying song ‘Cong The Singer’ along with its video, a guerrilla D.I.Y. ode to the Naarm/Melbourne suburbs that spawned Cong! We chatted with the man, the myth, the legend himself, Cong Josie alter-ego of musician Nic Oogjes.
In your heat beat ensemble NO ZU you play instruments; now as Cong Josie you’re just singing?
CONG JOSIE: Yeah. It was a really deliberate choice, a really arrogant choice [laughs], that’s kind of what the song ‘Cong The Singer’ is about. Arrogant in that I’ve never been a singer. I love singing; I love singing in the shower. I’ve always loved singing along to Roy Orbison, trying to sing ‘Crying’. Very ambitious targets! All of the “Bobby Movement” like Bobby Darrin; there was a lot of guys called Bobby in the 50’s that did rock n roll ballads. Elvis. All that kind of stuff. It was a deliberate decision not to carry around instruments anymore.
I keep going through these things with each new project. After my first when-I-was-becoming-an-adult-and-start-taking-things-seriously band, I was like, ‘I don’t ever want to have to carry around a drumkit anymore!’ I would be up front playing some rototoms so that I could stand up, and that led into NO ZU. I was only going to carry standup percussion, but then it expanded. It grew to a point where I didn’t want to carry all this stuff around; trumpets, all sorts of stuff. There was lots of clothes for each band member too, I’d carry around to each gig. Our baggage loads on planes were crazy!
I was like, ‘I just want to be a singer!’ Even though I can’t sing. That’s really arrogant, but I have always had the belief that anyone is an artist and anyone can make something interesting if you have the drive and ideas. In fact, most of my favourite singers, that I just mentioned… even Roy Orbison, sings off key, which makes his voice really interesting and intriguing, where he often has to bend into a note. There are a lot of notes that aren’t quite right.
I love singers that are non-singers, I find their voices really interesting. There’s this Greek singer Márkos Vamvakáris, who was one of the biggest rebetiko stars; they call it the Greek Blues, it’s a lot about hash dens and sordid activities. It was real people’s music, real working-class music. His voice is like a chainsaw! It’s not good, but I love it, it has the most edge to it. Obviously, that throughout punk and post-punk as well, it’s like that. It’s from that background that I thought I could at least make something interesting. I can sing these two notes, kind of, if I’m in this register [laughs].
[Laughter]. What else is the song about?
CJ: It’s about playing with that idea of a singer. It’s a fantasy tale about being a hero of the suburbs. I’ve never really understood why everything has to be so city-centred, and why everything has to play into these references of what’s cool and what’s happening now. In my fantasy dreamworld, there would be pockets all throughout the urban sprawl of Melbourne and beyond, where amazing music is happening. And, there’s this one singer that plays around the Eastern suburbs, around the R.S.L. and chicken-parmigiana-pubs, that are actually really creative and great but for whatever reason in our culture (in the 80’s bands would go out and play those places), it’s just not a thing now. It’s about that, because it’s just an impossibility.
The other layer is that actual baring of childhood and real-life things. As I was saying before, it’s amazing to hear yourself in music. I haven’t heard other people mention the Eastern Freeway in a song before! It’s a pretty good road [laughs]. It also expresses that driving was a form of freedom when I was younger. Going to the city, to places for “culture” and discovering different kinds of music was really important to me. So, that road means a lot.
Even my suburb. I’ve actually moved back to my teenage house, that’s where I am now. I bought it off my mum, which was very strange. I remember living here when I was younger, I remember this Australian rapper called Bias B, he talked about the trainline here. Aussie hip-hop around 2000 was the first time I ever heard specific areas mentioned. He talked about the Burra to Eltham train! Growing up here in a leafy suburb having nothing to say, but it’s not true, hearing things like that, I loved it, and that’s probably how it fed into my work.
The video clip we’re premiering for ‘Cong The Singer’is really fun! What do you remember about filming?
CS: We only shot it two weeks ago, so I remember all of it [laughs]. And if anyone wants to know, we did do it Covid safe, I’m even wearing a mask in one part. I was actually saying this to Nick [Mahady] who filmed it with me…
He did your ‘Leather Whip’ clip too!
CJ: Yeah. This is kind of like ‘Leather Whip #2’. The first song was set in Greece because we happend to be there before Covid. Nick is a really great friend and talented artist; he did the portrait artwork for my releases so far and the Cong! cover. He’s an example of someone that is so open and creative and sensitive. We have a really great relationship, since I discovered more about myself and valued that aspect in people even more.
I was saying to Nick, that this video and ‘Leather Whip’ mean so much to me and are so close to me, because we literally went out with a camera and a few sketched ideas. We saw a rabbit, so we filmed a rabbit. We saw a bin chicken… or we decided to go to the river, which felt like minus thirty degrees! It was all very spontaneous over two days. It was nerve-racking also.
The first shot we did was Footscray Amphitheatre. We got there and it was so quiet. It was a Saturday morning, beautiful weather. A couple of people were sitting in their Northface jackets drinking coffee. There were two groups of people looking down at exactly where we were filming. There were people jogging. Being in a cowboy hat, add to this debaucherous music, which we knew was going to be loud for a moment; I had my little Bluetooth speaker to mime to. It was scary! We actually started talking to each other, “Oh maybe we can do this other shot” [laughs]. We started setting up and one of the people there made a joke to me, he said, “Are we going to get an organ performance?” Because he saw my pants underneath my long jacket I was wearing and that broke the ice. I was like, ‘Ok, this is alright’ [breaths a sigh of relief], and then I started performing. I was like, ‘This is the best grassroots campaign ever, I just made three fans!’ It was me and Nick, and Johnny Cayn(Cayn Borthwick) was there.
The clip is very direct and real. It’s very D.I.Y. This is going to sound really bad, but I can’t stop watching it. My band The Crimes that are in it, can’t stop watching it either. There’s so many funny bits. They’re like, “Why are you presenting the Westgate Bridge?” [laughs]. I’m like, ‘I don’t know?!’
Do you have a favourite moment from the video?
CJ: In one of the first musical breakdowns, I’m on the Coburg Lake stage and there’s people having picnics, bemused by what we were doing – I’m either clicking my fingers or combing my hair – and there’s a rollerskater behind me twirling. That was a guy we met while we were packing up. Initially there were two boxers on stage. They said they were happy to be in the video and they had the music cranked, they were big beefy guys; then they told us they didn’t want to be in it. As we were packing up one of the boxers were like, “Hey, get Tony! Tony is amazing. Get him in it.” We introduced ourselves and asked if he wanted to be in it. He said, “Ok.” Then he started doing spins and we pretended music was going on. It’s one of the most beautiful shots, because he’s really great. It’s a great juxtaposition.
That’s one of my favourite shots too! His leg movements are perfect, such finesse. It works so beautifully.
CJ: There’s another one second shot of us with a beautiful white dog.
That’s my other favourite shot!
CJ: There was a mum and daughter walking their dog. I was doing the shot where I comb my hair near the car, obviously people were looking at us a bit strange. I said ‘hi’ as they walked past and thought maybe I should ask them if we can get a shot with that big gorgeous dog. They were really happy to, and they gave me treats to keep the dog in the vicinity. You don’t get shots like that otherwise. I wanna keep doing it. Maybe it’s a great way to build my fan base [laughs], very slow and labour intensive.
[Laughter]. We’re so happy to be premiering the song and video, it’s right up our alley. We really love your whole album Cong! It fuses so many things we love together – it has a kind of rockabilly vocal and then it’s got an EBM feel and a punk spirit.
CJ: Yeah, cool! It has all of those things. I really dug into a world of the Norton Records label, they do some really great outsider rockabilly like Hasil Adkins. Those wild rockabilly/rock’n’roll/country fellas: Jack Starr, Stud Cole, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Terry Allen are some of the sleezy cats that have been an influence. Also, a lot of the artists that The Cramps were inspired by, they called them wild men, and apparently some of them really were—that’s a big influence on who Cong is. Cong is the wild rockabilly artist but in a suburban Australian setting, so he’s also gonna be a bit different.
In terms of the electronics, I was never able to focus on the throb, as I call it, the throbbing rhythm. In NO ZU everything was still mechanical and awkward funk, a bit more danceable in a different way. It’s a big clash of those things.
I love Johnny Cayn’s guitar on the track. It’s probably the most slide-y, rockabilly thing on the record. It’s just wild and out of control.
Yes! It’s very cool.
CJ: I really love Simone aka Mona Reeves’ voice with the “Saturday night” part on there too, which is inspired by the Elton John ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ track. Just that idea of being really excited by a Saturday or Friday night is a musical trope that was really fun to explore!
Ed’s note: We spoke with Cong Josie for over a hour, this is a small extract from a more in-depth chat exploring the entire album, growing up in Melbourne, toxic masculinity, Nicolaas Oogjes musical evolution, creativity, getting through life’s challenges, and creating your own world to heal and grow. Read it in our next print issue (#5) we’re currently working on.
Damo Suzuki is a sound carrier that communicates with an assembly of other sound carriers (local musicians from whatever location he happens to be playing, that he meets just before their performance) and the audience to engage in “instant composition”, creating a free space outside of the systems of daily life and restraints of society to experience freedom and truth. He believes that energy and communication is an important part of life and that when there is true communication there is no violence; he uses his music as a weapon against violence and to spread positivity. Gimmie spoke with Damo from his home in Cologne, Germany.
Hi Damo! Thank you for speaking with us.
DAMO SUZUKI: Sorry, I haven’t spoke English for about half a year, I have been talking more German. I haven’t had any concerts; last time I spoke English was when I had concerts in the UK. It takes a bit of time to use the English. It’s ok though, no problems.
I don’t make any concerts right now because organisers don’t like to make anything because they can not make money. Another thing is, I said to organiser, if audience is made to wear a mask then I don’t perform. I don’t like things that people are supposed to do, when it is commanded from somewhere, because the only system that exists is the system from God, not human systems. I don’t need anything… especially now, people are being forced to do this kind of stuff, it’s absolutely not like a human being, everybody can’t live how they like to…
…I have to know myself because I have to know my truth. I have been talking to you about my truth, that’s not your truth, it is important to find your truth; that’s why I make music. We don’t have any kind of concept what we will play, we don’t know what’s coming up and audience doesn’t know what we will play; “what is Damo going to sing?” Audience can make their own story; everything is their own truth. Being at a concert is better than listening to a CD or something like that, being there you meet new people and atmosphere. It’s a totally different thing than if you are listening to music in the studio or at home with headphones.
I use the space to make live music, live music is no system to me and together with audience we are creating new platform—this is my music. My music is not so I create every day the same piece that’s maybe four of five minutes, no, now I create one piece for one or two hours without any stops because I think this is my music and I like to live together with nature, nature never stops. If you have a product there is always a stop, radio stations like to play short singles, they want you to make short pieces, I am against this; I am against any kind of stop [laughs]. I like to only have system from God.
I don’t know the musician I play with; I don’t have any information from them, I don’t know how technical they are; the thing that makes me happy is they like to make music together with me and audience. They are coming and spending their time, this is a very happy moment. I am not making music right now because if they have to wear a mask that is not freedom; if they want to wear a mask then that is OK, though.
What else makes you really happy?
DS: Speaking with you. Communication is the best part of social life. Everything starts with communication. Music is communication. I can play guitar, I can make music alone but for me music is communication, a social thing much more. That’s why I was so happy this morning to speak with you.
Have you always known that energy was important? When did you become aware of the importance of energy?
DS: Energy is coming, if you are curious about anybody or any things and you have the possibility to research then, energy is coming. Energy is not always geographically; energy is a place that you create and develop yourself—this power that is pushing you is energy. Also, energy is feedback you can get from other people, this exchange exists and another energy is coming. It is understanding. It is communication. From communication also started energy. This source is a kind of spiritual food. If you have positive energy, you share it with people then they are sharing it with other people and then they share it with other people. Positivity starts with, as you said, happiness, and communication.
I love how it’s important for you to put out positive energy! There’s so much negative energy in the world I feel like it makes sense to counter that with creating and communicating positive energy.
DS: Yeah, this is how I have lived for a long time. The only thing I have a problem with is lies, I care about the truth.
Truth is the most important thing, also creativity, communication and love.
DS: Information is kind of like a good food. Many war and many hate family or friend, it is coming from missing information, not communicating. Full trust is the most important thing in social life, if you don’t have trust, you cannot have communication and be together in this.
I am quite happy making music. Music for me is a process. If you go to studio and make a hit, you make money, you plan, plan, plan; it is not the music that I like to do. Having a plan is not creative for me; creative things for me must start at zero, a place of emptiness, a place of nothing—this is creativity for me. Real creativity is having no information. If you have information you go a particular way. At home I don’t hear any kind of music, I don’t play any musical instrument, I do nothing musical. I cook, I really like cooking. Every night I like to see a movie. I buy so much books too; if I am on tour and at the airport, I will buy books. I generally read them at my desk. Maybe we might have 10,000 books.
Wow! That’s a lot. I love books too! My day job is working in a library.
DS: That’s a good job to have.
Yes, and working in a community service and helping people find information and knowledge rather than trying to sell people things they don’t need.
DS: That is so good you are enjoying your job, it is not something that everybody can do, this kind of life. Many people are doing things they don’t like. Reading books is quite special.
It is important to have your own ideas of life. Now days so many people don’t read books they just go to YouTube for information. After that, if you have questions, you can decide by yourself—this is important. Einstein said something about having questions… if you have questions you can develop. Like, many people are Catholic because their family were Catholic and they don’t prove it to themselves. It’s important to prove things to yourself and educate yourself and to know yourself. If you take everything from information from everyone, you cannot go anywhere because you are stopped… It’s the same with the spiritual or creativity. Many people make mistake because they take in so much information, before they did something, they already had the answer, this way you cannot develop yourself. I wish everybody is developing and finding their own way to live and can be a free person.
Everyone has a mission in their own life but the majority of people don’t find it. If you are developing yourself and are trying you can find it because you are trying something. If you are trying something you are movement. If you take information from everywhere else you can not find yourself.
Everyone should have their own goal, own opinion, own experience and find their own lifestyle, because everybody is unique and everybody has a talent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come automatically, you must find it; if you don’t move nothing is coming. Everybody is individual, you don’t have to compare with anybody, just compare yourself to yourself.
We adore NOLA-based musician, artist, puppeteer, zine creator and all-round creative Miss Pussycat! She’s a true original, one of the most individual, loveliest and happiest people you’ll ever meet. She creates her own world full of colour and magic and brings a whole lot of that, as well as joy, to ours. Along with her equally amazing creative partner Quintron (read our conversation with Q here) they’ve released a banger of a new record Goblin Alert. Gimmie got an insight into her wonderful world.
MISS PUSSYCAT: Hi Bianca! How’s it going?
Really great! It’s wonderful to speak with you again, we first chatted in 2012!
MISS P: Yeah, it’s been a little while! [Laughs].
I’m excited there’s a new Quintron and Miss P record! How have you been?
MISS P: I’ve been good, all things considered. I’ve had a lot of projects to work on through the whole pandemic, I’m pretty good at entertaining myself. I guess Quintron told you we’re in Mississippi, it’s so beautiful here now. We’re on a little trip.
What did you do today?
MISS P: Today we just walked around, it’s soooo beautiful! As you know, everyone’s been cramped up in their houses, us too. We met our friends Julie and Bruce Webb from Waxahachie, Texas. We’re just getting out of town.
Lovely. Why do you love to make things?
MISS P: I like making all kinds of things! Lately I’ve been doing a lot of painting, oil paintings of my puppets doing things like camping or playing in the snow. I’ve been making a lot of ceramic statues of my puppets too, it’s really fun to do. I can’t do live puppet shows right now.
I saw that you had some art shows happening.
MISS P: Yeaaaaaahhhhh!! One of them is at the Webb Gallery, that’s why we’re meeting our friends Bruce and Julie, so we can give them the art for the show, it’s their gallery. I just had another one open in Pensacola, Florida at the Pensacola Museum of Art. They’re different shows.
The one in Pensacola, I made maracas—I’ve always wanted to do that! I made maracas I shaped them out of brown paper and wood glue, it was very intense glue it turned my hands yellow! It looked kind of gross for a while. It was worth it! My favourite maracas I made are Mr & Mrs Circus Peanut. There’s one that’s a witch. I made nine maracas; I call them ‘maraculas’. I put aquarium rocks inside of them to make the rattling sound, I think they’re going to work really good but right now they’re in the museum for the art show. I made them all little satin pillows ‘cause they’re resting because they can’t do a rock show right now, they’re doing performance art, laying down on a little stage in a museum [laughs].
That’s so cool! I remember last time we spoke you were just making the covers for them, the little outfits. Now you’re actually making the maracas.
MISS P: Yeah, that’s new, I did that in the summer for the first time. I’ve made the covers, the little outfits for my maracas for years and years and years and I always thought it would be so fun to make the maracas, so I did it!
Where did you get the idea to use aquarium rocks for the insides?
MISS P: I was just like; I wonder what would sound good? I’d taken some of my maracas and cut them open last year to see what was inside and the best ones had little seeds inside, it looked like gravel, like an irregular shape. I looked around our house and I had these speckled aquarium rocks and they sounded good. I had to try things out.
You mentioned you’ve been doing a lot of painting; have you always painted?
MISS P: I haven’t painted much in the last few years but I used to paint a whole lot! My grandmother taught me how to paint, she didn’t start painting until she was a grandmother. She was a nice country lady; she liked to sew and cook and play piano. She took a painting class and started to paint pictures of barns, flower bouquets and meadows. When I was growing up, I’d go hang out with her and she’d show me how to paint. I think anybody can paint really, you just do it and then you’re doing it. But she showed me her tricks.
This year being home so much and having all this time I thought I’d paint, it’s really fun. I thought, ok, I’m going to paint pictures of my puppets doing all these funny things like having a campfire in the woods and roasting marshmallows or going to the beach. It got really hot in New Orleans this summer and we don’t have very good air-conditioning in our house so I thought I’d paint puppets in the woods and it’s snowed [laughs] they’re having snowball fights; it was a way to pretend that I had air-conditioning. It’s like a fantasy, I want to think of something that will make me really happy and paint that.
What’s one of the best tricks that your learned from your grandma about painting?
MISS P: That the sky changes colour the closer it gets to the horizon; you can make it go from light to dark or dark to light. Another one is that you can take a sponge and put a little paint on that and dab it on the canvas, that can make really good tree foliage or bushes [laughs].
Do you have any favourite colours that you like to work in?
MISS P: Well, one of the fun things about painting is that you can make any colour you want and colour combinations are really fun. In general, I like a combination of warm and cool colours. I have a whole thing about colours, I like pink and red together and I like pink and orange together but I don’t like orange and red together. Cambrian yellow is a good colour, straight out of the tube it’s an intense yellow.
You’ve been making things for so long and have lots of experience making all kinds of things; what’s one of the best things that you could tell someone about creativity?
MISS P: First of all, go have fun of course! The more fun you have the harder you’ll work. Always when I have something that I am working on I say: this is my secret project. I keep it a secret and that makes me feel like I’m getting away with something, like it’s a caper, that makes it a fun secret. I don’t talk about it much until kind of the end, I think that’s good advice.
I love your new record Goblin Alert, it’s super fun.
MISS P: Thank you! It was really fun to record with our friends and do the record in Florida. I always wanted to record in Florida.
Why is that?
MISS P: I just like Florida, it’s one of my favourite states. Different parts of Florida are different but I just thought it would be fun to record in Florida.
Like I told Quintron, one of my favourite songs on the album is ‘Block The Comet’.
MISS P: We were in Oklahoma – that’s where I’m from – in the summer and there was this big meteor shower called the Perseids meteor shower, we were laying in the backyard at one in the morning watching the shower. The song is inspired by that, it’s literally about comets/meteor shower [laughs].
All the songs on the new record are pretty fun and upbeat for the most part. You think about how people might react to it and I always want people to dance and have fun—I just want to make party music!
What was the inspiration for the album cover idea?
MISS P: In the picture Quintron is a chef and I’m a crawfish… [coughs] wait a moment let me have a drink…
MISS P: I’m outside and I think there must be a lot of pollen here. [Clears throat] We took that cover picture, our friend Tony Campbell did it, he’s also took the picture for the Organ Solo record cover. We took the photo on Easter Sunday in his backyard.
Before that on Madi Gras, Quintron and I had a show in the French Quarter and we pretended it was a crawfish boil. We dressed up like on the cover. A bunch of my friends played maracas with me and we had backup dancers and everyone dressed like crawfish or the ingredients that go in a crawfish boil like potatoes and celery; my friend was an ear of corn and her outfit was sooooo good! Quintron dressed as the chef. We made these pots out of aluminium foil and carboard and they had fake flames on the side, so it was like we were being boiled alive while we played the show!
We made a video, someone taped that show, we never have people tape our shows. You look at the footage now and it’s so great, people all close together at a show and they’re dancing and sweating and that’s something that can’t happen right now. The video is for the song ‘Goblin Alert’
Are there any ways that ideas come to you most often for your creative projects?
MISS P: I always carry around a notebook and some pens and pencils. I feel like I’m just waiting for the ideas. Sometimes they come to me in the middle of the night and sometimes in the morning, I feel like I’m there and I have a net, that’s my notebook, and I’m ready to catch them. I feel with really good ideas, you don’t have them, they have you. It’s like they’re a ghost that’s haunting you and you have to do what it says. I try to just make myself available [laughs].
I asked Quintron this next question too when I spoke to him because you have a song on the album called ‘Teenagers Don’t Know Shit’; what were you like as a teenager?
MISS P: I grew up in a really small town, in Antlers, Oklahoma. I was a pretty angry teenager because I was so weird and living in a small town, you had to act tough because you were different from everybody else. I was a real loner. I was a typical teenager in the angry-rebellious-teenager-type way.
What was the first creative things you started making?
MISS P: As a kid I painted with my grandma but I didn’t take it too seriously it was just something really fun we did. I liked to write, I always liked to write stories and plays. Growing up in a small town, I didn’t study art or go to shows because none of that was available. I was in marching band and played tuba [laughs], that’s how I learnt about music. I sewed because my grandma would sew some of my clothes, probably the best clothes I ever had was sewn by her and homemade. That’s how I learned to sew and crochet, that’s just what you did. So, I had a very dorky approach to the Arts [laughs], I guess it wasn’t very cool. I still sew, I still crochet, I still paint and I still play music!
I started doing puppet shows when I was a kid ‘cause I was in the Christian Puppet Youth Ministry through the church [laughs]. We told Bible stories with puppets. We’d go to other churches to do this too. I’m still doing puppet shows; I’m doing all the things I used to do.
I noticed you’re doing a zine called Camelot about puppeteers.
MISS P: Yeah, I’ve done one, I want to do another one! It was a kind of secret project [laughs], a caper, so I could interview and talk to some of my favourite puppeteers. I thought if I had a zine, I could interview them, and it worked! One of my favourites is Peter Allen, he lives in Missouri now in a small town and there’s not a whole lot written about him; his puppet shows are mostly in libraries and places like that. He’s such a good puppeteer! I thought if I interviewed him, I could ask him all of these questions and find out what his secrets are! [laughs]. That interview ended up being over 9,000 words long.
I also interviewed Nancy Smith. She has a puppet theatre in Arizona. I’ve known her a long time but more like, oh, she’s this great puppeteer, one I really, really respect but because of this project I got to sit down and ask her lots of questions. It was so great. A zine can really open doors! [laughs].
Totally! That’s why I’ve made zine for over two decades. I know that feeling of seeing people make really cool stuff and it gets you curious like; how did they even do that? How does that exist? They’re doing something you think is so cool and awesome and you just wanna know everything about it.
MISS P: Yeaaaaah! You totally get it. Transcribing interviews can be very hard work though.
It can be, but I’m one of those weird people that actually enjoy it. It’s part of the process and you learn lots while doing it, things that can’t be taught in a classroom or from a book. It can roughly take around three hours to transcribe and edit a one-hour interview. I like transcribing interviews and putting them out there in that format because I love to encourage people to read, I think reading is important.
MISS P: Oh my god! [laughs]. I bet you’re really good at it now and faster than most.
Yeah, this year alone I’ve interviewed over 100 people already and like I said I’ve been doing it for over two decades, since I was a teenager.
MISS P: Who’s the craziest person you’ve interviewed this year?
I would have to say maybe Damo Suzuki from Can.
MISS P: Oh whoa! Cool!
I did the interview without any pre-planned questions and we spoke for a couple of hours about creativity, freedom and of discovering yourself through doing all these creative things and the importance of not taking on other people’s information and of tapping into your own and the things that spring from within yourself.
MISS P: That sounds like such a great interview to do.
Out of all the people you’ve interviewed for your zine, was there anything cool or interesting that you learned?
MISS P: There was! I don’t know much about Punch and Judy. Peter Allen is this Punch professor, that’s what they call it when you’re good at doing Punch and Judy shows. Do you know what a swazzle is?
MISS P: A swazzle is like this little reed that you put into your mouth and that’s the voice of the puppet Punch. It sounds crazy! It’s amazing. You have to learn how to do that and he showed me how to make a swazzle. You put it in the back of your throat and you have to learn how to talk through it, and not swallow it [laughs]. The joke is, if you swallow two then you’re a professor [laughs]. You’re supposed to tie a piece of dental floss to the swazzle and tie it to a button on your shirt, so that if you’re choking or swallowing it you can pull it back out. I’ve never swallowed one but I can see how you could, they make such a crazy sound that just makes me laugh, then it would be very easy to swallow it.
How did you get into making ceramics?
MISS P: Ceramics is soooo fun! When I was in college, I did a lot of ceramics, then you get out of college and you don’t have a kiln or all of the space to do it. Two years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and I was like, I have to do ceramics again—an idea had me! I thought I want ceramic piggy banks that are shaped like my puppets, it would be so funny. I found a community ceramic studio and have been making ceramics of my puppets, I haven’t figured out the piggy bank thing yet though. I will though. I made one and it wasn’t very good. It’s such an intuitive and earthy thing to do, I think it’s really healthy.
I love the mugs you made with the lion on it.
MISS P: Oh, you saw Mr Lion! They’re fun. Mr Lion is a stuffed toy that was Quintron’s mother’s and now we have it. It’s this big stuffed lion that’s at the foot of our bed.
What are the things that make you really, really happy?
MISS P: A whole lot of things make me happy. Things like working on a secret project and the feeling of working on that project, of it being so fun, that’s one of my favourite things, just being inspired.
My cat Coco Puff makes me really happy. She’s a Siamese and loves to wear hats.
Quintron makes me happy, he makes the best things like The Bath Buddy. He’s just so funny and so good! Seeing what he does makes me very happy.
Live shows are really fun but it’s the building up to the live shows too that’s really fun for me.
What is it about the build up?
MISS P: It’s exciting! It’s terrifying! It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s like an adventure movie and things come up and you have to overcome those things.
That’s a fun way of looking at it. You seem like such a happy, positive person; do you have days when you’re feeling down too?
MISS P: Sure. I’ve had times when I was really sad. I try to avoid being sad because I can get soooo sad, so depressed. I try to ward that off by always having bright colours, like every room in our house is painted a pretty colour. I try to be really careful not to go down that dark road [laughs] because it’s a looong dark road that just never ends. The best way is to just always be happy… of course though, I’ve been sad.
Is there anything in particular that helped you in those times?
MISS P: Getting busy. I think I’m the saddest when I’m not busy or not working on a project. Having secret projects to work on makes me not sad.
I won’t ask you about your secret projects your currently working on then because if you told me they wouldn’t be secret anymore but, is there anything you’re really excited about right now?
MISS P: A lot! The things that I feel like I’m at the harvest fest point of, all these secret projects all at once. The art show in Texas, I’m excited to show things to people. It’s a weird time though because people aren’t really going out. When my friends have come over, I shut the door to where I’m working so they can’t see it, so I haven’t showed anybody yet.
Anything else to tell me?
MISS P: I’m really excited to do puppet shows again, for the longest time ever I haven’t really been working on one. I have some idea for one I want to work on for sometime next year.
The songs on your new record are each like little stories; do you have a favourite story?
MISS P: One of them is ‘Weaver Wear’ and it’s the theme song for a puppet show that I’ve been working on for years but I really haven’t done the show or not in the way that I thought I would, I thought it would be a puppet movie. I made all these little shows for it; it’s about puppets that are fashion designers.
MISS P: They are multi-generational fashion house, they’re The Weavers. They’ve been fashion designers since the middle ages, they started out during the plague and made these capes that could either be a cape or if there was a dead body you could through it over that so you don’t have to look at it [laughs]. They had their own sheep that they grew and they made wool from the sheep called ‘Weaver Wool’ which is patented. In the ‘60s they come up with these really high fashion designer jeans. There’s a grandfather names William and the grandmother Betsy was a model but now she’s really elderly, she only models for charity events [laughs]. Their grandchildren live with them but are in their twenties and there’s one being groomed to take over. Mindy is the youngest child but doesn’t look anything else like anyone else, she might be illegitimate, she does all the work and she’s going to go blind because she sews all the time. The grandfather goes missing but they find his finger in a letter and they think he’s been kidnapped by their rivals, who make everything in China and they want to get Home Economics out of school so nobody knows how to sew… Betsy and Mindy and the family need to come up with a new Fall line, so they come up with shoes ‘The Weaver Walker’. Shoes for dancing. For some reason I haven’t made the movie yet though; Hollywood didn’t come knocking at my door yet for that one! [laughs].
I did the live puppet show just about Mindy. It’s about Mindy and a moth, the moth wants to eat all of her clothes she’s making. They make a deal that the moth will help her sew and then she’ll give it all the wool scraps after the fashion show. I wrote a theme song, that’s ‘Weaver Wear’! That’s on the album. There’s a lot behind that song [laughs].
I really love how you completely create your own world! It’s amazing.
MISS P: It’s all just so fun! That’s the most important thing.
Here at Gimmie we’re big fans of Quintron and Miss Pussycat! The New Orleans-based creatives have recently released new album Goblin Alert, a rollicking good time of organ-driven electronic rock n roll done as only they can do. For this record they ditched the drum machine in favor of including musicians Sam Yoger (Babes, AJ Davilla) on drum kit and Danny Clifton (Room 13, Jane Jane Pollock) on hollow body guitar. Gimmie interviewed both Quintron and Miss Pussycat; today we share our chat with Quintron, with Miss P’s chat coming next week.
QUINTRON: I released a new product of this invention I’ve been working on all through the Covid times called ‘The Bath Buddy’ it’s a water conservation device. I just put an infomercial out for that.
What inspired you to create The Bath Buddy?
Q: Check out the informercial. There’s a website for it bathbuddy.space. I don’t know what that ‘space’ is all about but it’s the cheapest website I could buy.
In our house we have three or four people and no showers, only bath tubs ‘cause it’s New Orleans and everybody has those big clawfoot tubs. They take a while to fill up, you turn the water on and you go check your email or do something and you forget about it then the water goes into the overflow drain and you start wasting tons of water; we’ve left them on for way to long sometimes and flooded the house downstairs a couple of times. I was like, why isn’t there this thing that alerts you to when your water is at just the right level that you want it? I invented this thing for us and our roommates, I made us put them on all of the tubs and it totally worked. Our water bill started going down, a lot! I thought it would probably be something that other people would be interested in so I built some, letting people check ‘em out. Farmers and people who have livestock, horses especially, where you’re filling up these giant metal tubs of water, hundreds of gallons. You put the hose in it and leave it for a while. I was talking to people that would forget overnight and they’d really waste thousands of gallons of water; those people are into what I made too.
What is it that interests you about making things?
Q: That one was to solve a problem. As long as mankind has ever and shall ever exist there will always be gaps between problems and solutions, there’ll be voids there and that’s usually what interests me in making something. Usually, it’s that there’s a thing I want to do or problem I want to solve and there’s nothing that I know of that’s available to solve it or do that thing.
In the case of the Drum Buddy, it was a musical thing where I mostly play by myself one-man band style and I wanted to do something with my right hand that made a certain type of sounds like cylinders, like scratching a record but playing an analogue synth at the same time, where I could still play with my left hand with the organ, that’s how that project got started.
You’ve been making things your whole life; what’s something valuable that you’ve come to know about creativity that you could share with us?
Q: It’s something that everybody kind of knows but it’s that nothing is ever done, at no point will civilization be able to kick up their feet and say, ‘Alright, we got it licked’ and read magazines and play video games for the rest of eternity. There’s always going to be whatever you’ve built to solve whatever problems is going to become obsolete in that it’s not sustainable anymore; it is suddenly in the world wasteful or too expensive to operate or too big or heavy or whatever. The main thing that occurs to me over and over is that everything is a prototype, everything is just getting ready for the next, for Mach 20.
The first track on your new album Goblin Alert is called ‘Teenagers Don’t Know Shit’; what were you like as a teenager?
Q: I didn’t know shit! [laughs]. I was a pretty lonely, insecure, confused teenager, that probably describes most teenagers but some hide it better than others. I was super-duper insular, brooding, moody and private; not confident, not good in school, not a good relationship with my parents, pretty unhappy honestly. The song is by no means a diss on teenagers either or some political statement at all, it’s something else though, I hope it doesn’t come off like that.
No, I don’t think it does. How did you first discover music?
Q: Everybody discovers music by living in a musical world, it’s all around us, especially growing up in the South. I think people are surrounded by music, no matter what culture or no matter where you are.
Who were the first bands or artists that really spoke to you?
Q: There’s like your childhood musical curiosities. Children’s music is really special in its own thing. Then music turns into this thing where it represents the type of person that you’d like to become or the dream that you would like to dream or the fantasy that you want to perpetually have or the escape pod that you want to get into. A lot of the music I liked when I was really little were these dramatic… I was really into story songs like ‘Dark Lady’ by Cher and ‘Half Breed’; songs that were little mini-movies. Then the energy and the excitement of punk rock, like every other person that got into that [laughs].
You started making your own music when you were a teenager?
Q: Yeah. I started building instruments. I started out as a drummer. I built trashcan woodblock kits in the garage. I was always fooling around with tools, my dad’s an engineer so I always had toolkits and wood to build stuff and I had a garage because I was a suburban nobody kid. I was building big junky homemade trashcan drumkits in the garage.
What drew you to making your own music?
Q: I sort of did right away as a pretty young teenager started having bands and playing covers of songs that we could learn and stuff. It was something to do that I was kind of good at.
Do you think making music and inventions helped you with your confidence?
Q: Yeah, for sure, fooor sure. If you’re a creative kid or an artsy kind you might try a bunch of different things and I did. I tried Art class because I liked the art teachers and I liked the other kids who were into art. I liked Drama because I liked the drama teacher and the other kids that were into drama. I thought I liked them but then they were just so outgoing and something else that wasn’t my thing and then I found the brooding, angry behind-the-dumpster music kids and was like, okay! I’m good at this thing and I like those kids better [laughs].
Why did you feel it was time to make a new Quintron and Miss Pussycat album?
Q: Well, to be perfectly honest, we had the songs, a good batch that were mostly, except for a couple, that were road-tested. We hadn’t made an album for a while where… a lot of bands get stuck in a rut where the first album is really great because it’s road-tested and the lyrics, it’s your life on the page, then you make another one and you start recording it and maybe it’s half-baked. We didn’t make one for a really long time because we wanted the next one to be baked fully. We spent a real long time baking it and it was time to put it out and we had a great opportunity to go into this new recording studio in Gainesville, Florida; one street from Tom Petty’s boyhood home! We were the guinea pig band for this very fancy new tape studio called Pulp Arts. They let us have almost free recording and the engineers got to learn their way around a tape machine, the new equipment and the room. It was a great situation.
How do you capture your energy on record?
Q: I think most of the time we’ve failed to be honest [laughs]. This album gets pretty close. We had a live drummer and live bass player; we’ve never had that before, that makes a living breathing human musical experience a lot easier to capture. Being a first-time thing for us, it was really exciting. We’ve never toured with a live drummer, so it was all new and the excitement of the new keeps everything popping for everybody. For the most part though, I would say that we’ve always been better live than anything we’ve put out on record, with the exception of the more abstract experimental records that are made to be on record, those stand on their own. As far as capturing the Q & P live experience, I’d say it’s more misses than hits.
I know that you like to invent your own sounds and that your music often comes from hundreds of hours of experimenting; what experimenting did you try with this batch of songs?
Q: I had a new Mellotron at my disposal, so there was lots of messing around with that. I just made a solo Mellotron record and I’ve really been getting into that instrument, I’ve been exploring what it can do, playing it through other things and using it with a Talkbox. It’s usually finding new pathways through new sounds and new instruments and the fun of going into a big fancy recording studio and they’ll have amps and weird stuff laying around, your ideas come from the things around you, also the people you’re with.
Do you and Miss Pussycat work on the lyrics together?
Q: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. There’s definitely songs where it’s all me written, I have all the lyrics and I’ll present them to Miss P and she’ll be like “I don’t like that word, why don’t you change it to this” and it will explode my head in a whole new direction! I’ll change a word here and there; she’s like a final look editor sometimes.
Then there’s songs that she writes completely. I’ve pretty much been the one that writes all the music but sometimes she comes with a set of lyrics and it always has to do with puppetry or some crazy story that she has. With ‘Goblin Alert’ we sat down at the kitchen table while we were in the studio and wrote the lyrics together.
Were any songs a challenge to write?
Q: ‘Goblin Alert’ was the biggest challenge because it was so last minute. I’m not the fastest draw in the west when it comes to organ, I’m more of a slow, nod-your-head- jamming kind of guy; that song was really fast! Getting the riffs down the way I wanted to, I had to do a lot of takes, it was really hard. We were stuck on the lyrics almost to the last day of recording and we had some brainstorm epiphany between the producer Greg Cartwright and me and Miss P sitting down to write the lyrics. That was a tough one.
There’s a song on the album called ‘Where’s Karen?’ that was written about a girl the went missing at Mardi Gras.
Q: It was actually a friend of ours. It was a friend who… it was Mardi Gras day and he was off in his own world, if you know what I mean being Mardi Gras and everything, and he kept talking about this girl named Karen that he was worried abut and where she was. We didn’t know what or who he was talking about and we had to go out. It’s how the song describes it; it was freezing rain. We went out into the day and we locked him in this apartment so he wouldn’t hurt himself but I left the tape recorder in there recording to see if he was going to spill the beans on who this Karen was. That inspired the fantasy of the song, it’s not a direct from life narrative telling.
So, you kind of made a field recording of him?
Q: Yeah, and the whole day walking around Mardi Gras I was thinking this is going to be a song. When we get back, he’s going to tell us what he is talking about and we’ll find out who this is. It’s such a great line for a song, this was way before the stupid meme, it was way before that was a thing that this was going to be the name of the song.
One of my favourites on the album is ‘Block The Comet’.
Q: That’s a collaboration on lyrics between me and Miss P.
What’s something that you’ve learnt from Miss P? Last time I spoke with her she told me that one of the best things you’ve taught her was to make a marshmallow casserole.
Q: A marshmallow peanut casserole!
What I’ve learnt from her is how to be happy, honestly, that’s the god’s honest truth. How to ignore other people’s negativity and to be happy, to walk through life in a dream of your own making, how to make that purposeful and helpful. That’s kind of oblique but that’s the biggest thing I’ve learnt from her. Miss P is just one of those people that… it’s scary sometimes when the world kind of cracks through the shell, sometimes it does for everyone and it’s like, hey, the devil is out here and sometimes the sky is falling and sometimes people die. When you’re so intent on just being happy and spreading joy, sometimes those are the people that get hurt the most when that bubble gets cracked a little bit, which can worry me but I have seen it’s a better way to be than to be constantly aware of that and ultimately playing to it, it’s more cynical.
What drives you to create so much? You have the Weather Warlock invention, you put out a book, lots of different kinds of records. You always seem to be making things.
Q: I don’t know. Anything I could say would sound corny. It’s just to keep from going crazy, I suppose. I get ideas and I become obsessed with them becoming reality.
Is it satisfying once you make it reality?
Q: It is! I’m not one of those people that are depressed when a record come out. I like results. I like finishing things. I like putting the stamp on it and putting it in the mail, saying that is done, that is ready for primetime! Then moving on to the next thing. Really the joy is in the creation. I’m proud of having records out and it’s nice when people say they like them, but the real joy in life and the most time that you spend as a living organism is in doing the actual things, that’s just fun, right?
Q: It’s not saying thank you very much and taking a bow—it’s doing stuff.
Yeah, it’s the process, those moments and it’s the connections you make with yourself or with someone else you’re working with, it’s an experience you’ve had together.
Q: Yeah, that’s the essence of friendship and relationships. In order for me to become intimate with somebody or become friends even with somebody, we have to work together or we are just not on the same page, it’s not going to happen. Everybody that I really end up spending a lot of time with or becoming friends with or having relationships with, it’s only through work. That’s when your facade is gone, that’s when your ego is gone, that’s when you’re chipping away at something that is not you. It’s the only way to produce a really truthful communication between people.
Do you learn things about yourself when making songs?
Q: I can’t say I’ve ever stopped and said, hey, Quintron, that’s not your real name is it? No. Did you learn something about yourself today? [laughs].
I read an interview with you in Popular Science magazine and it said your name was David.
Q: Ah-ha. I’m named after my father. I’m a III. Even my dad calls me Quintron. It’s been a nickname for so long. It just sort of happened because the first album is under that name, it’s something that people just started doing and journalist started doing because they thought that’s what I wanted to be called or that it was my real name or something. It’s been so long and I think it amuses my family enough that they have adopted that.
Q: Yeah, when your parents participate in your rejection of reality! [laughs].
Michael Rother has been making music for most of his life—he is a sound pioneer that is always evolving and very passionate about his work still to this day. Rother is a founding member of Neu! and Harmonia, as well as an early member of Kraftwerk. His latest album Dreaming is lush with a fragility and beauty that can only come from being vulnerable and opening one’s heart, as Rother does here in this very personal piece of art. Gimmie spoke with him about its creation, of creativity and freedom.
How important is it to you to have tranquillity and solitude when you create?
MICHAEL ROTHER: I can concentrate better when I’m on my own but sometimes it’s good to be in a group of course when playing live, this is also in a way being creative, maybe not the same as when you’re working on new material but tranquillity and absence of noise are really important factors for me. The place where I live – now I’m actually in Italy with my partner – in Germany is a perfect example of tranquillity because there is no big city nearby, no autobahn, of course now in Corona times there are even less airplanes in the sky. There’s a big river in front of the house and fields and hills in the distance, this is an environment I started loving when I first moved there in 1973 to work with Harmonia.
Yes! That’s when you built a recording studio.
MR: Yes. I started a professional recording studio. We always had a room we called our studio which was filled with the gear that we could afford, for the first Harmonia album it was simple stereo recording devices, a very simple mixer and our own sound creating gear. In the late ‘70s I started with my professional gear because I was so successful [laughs], strangely with the three solo albums, that I could afford to buy the same gear Conny Plank had in his studio, that’s the old analogue 24 track 2-inch, which is in the studio. Now days, for quite a few years I have a living room studio which I especially like working in. It’s always been my dream to not separate the music from my life, the other life, daily life. I always had this idea of one big loft, but this is being immodest because I have such great opportunities, it’s wonderful to have a studio like the one that I have. That’s the problem with wishes, you always get more wishes, one wish is fulfilled and the next wish is born.
The last album I recorded and worked on in my living room studio with mostly the gear I use when I play live, it’s small, a computer and some effects and of course the necessary hardware and monitor system, which I don’t carry around. It’s the best state for me, to come from the kitchen corner and sit down and listen to the new mixes I’m working on when I’m around the corner. Are you a musician?
Yes. I’m not one for labels much but I do like making noise and sounds!
MR: I can relate to that! You can call everything noise. I would like to know how cats hear my music! So you will know the situation, that it’s very different if you sit in front of your monitors like ears straight-ahead and listen intensely to what’s happening or you go five meters away around the corner and you let the mix play, then you suddenly have a totally different hearing, listening possibility. You notice somethings are maybe too loud or just get drowned, you have to maybe work on better to keep them listenable. Anyway, this is a situation I have been enjoying working on Dreaming.
Dreaming is such a beautiful album there’s a real intimacy to it, it’s very dreamy.
MR: The history of the material on Dreaming goes back to the late ‘90s when I did a recording session with the British cello player and singer, Sophie Joiner. When I worked on Remember (The Great Adventure), I had so much material, much more than I could put on that album and I left it unfinished, some of the material were only sketches with some voice material; I knew that I would always come back to that material. In the years that followed I very much enjoyed playing live around the world, I was in Australia twice, after that also Japan, Russia, China, Mexico and all-around Europe. I did some film scores and other music, that kept me very busy and I enjoyed being on the move and being in a live environment, enjoying the music with an audience in front of me instead of working on my own and getting feedback months or years later, which is nice. That’s why the material was sleeping all these years and when Corona hit us in spring this year and suddenly all the concerts were cancelled, I had time. I had so much free time that I thought, this is the opportunity to pick up that material, it was some kind of duty that I felt. It sounds a bit strange but it was not only the joy of going back to that material, it was also some kind of duty because I felt that it was so beautiful. Sophie Joiner’s voice is unbelievable.
I talked to the label and they were very happy that I could record a new album to also include in the second boxset, which was released a few weeks ago—time just flies, it’s crazy! I had a plan and a purpose. It wasn’t a total lockdown but we had restrictions in Germany which were in no way as bad as in Paris, Madrid and Italy for instance; the situation now as I’m talking is actually exploding again, the situation is frightening. It’s troubling just today the child of my partner received a test result, fortunately there was no Corona.
That’s great news! When you were finishing Dreaming did you have an artistic vision of where you wanted it to go?
MR: I’m not always fully of aware of the motives and where the music is leading me. It’s actually the material that also makes me follow. It’s not having a wish and forcing the music to become as you would like it to become, it’s more the other way around, I guess. A track like ‘Quiet Dancing’, this was the original sketch then I reacted to the basic idea. When I recorded the melodies those were reactions, they weren’t premeditated. Especially because there was this time gap of maybe nearly twenty years with some of the sketches, I had a new start—everything was still deep in my system though. I remembered every moment – it’s strange how music stays so fresh in the system – I remember every second.
Artistic vision, it’s not some kind of formula that I develop on a storyboard then put into music. I work with material, some artists would use clay or paint colours, I work with sounds and melodies. It’s not a theoretical thing. I’ve never been someone that is interested in discussing theories about music, like when Brian Eno was in force, he was full of theories; he’s a very interesting person. It was the same with Klaus Dinger in Neu! or with [Hans-Joachim] Roedelius and [Dieter] Moebius in Harmonia—we were always musicians who worked on music and that was the result. It was different from the Kraftwerk people that maybe had a vision, some kind of idea; let’s make an album that has this vision of a train running through Germany or Europe and make Trans Europe Express. It’s always connected to sounds. If you ask someone who is capable of analysing the ingredients of the music, the deeper connections they find in the music, they will probably be able to explain some theory to my music but I’m not that theory guy.
What is the significance of the title Dreaming?
MR: Dreaming has been an important element in my life for many years. I sometimes have very great dreams, not always but I’m often travelling at night and dreaming, also meeting people that are no longer there, this happens frequently. I’m not any different from any other people but for me the state of sleeping and dreaming is important. I enjoy when I have the chance to wake up slowly and remember what happened at night, what I was dreaming about, to think about those impressions and how they came about. The album Traumreisen that came out in 1987 was already an indication, that was a word game because traumreisen in the German language is an expression used by travel agencies, I sometimes do that although it’s not very wise because people get it mixed up and don’t understand the joke. It’s like a dream voyage, mostly known as an expression of travel agencies. For me of course, it was something I did at night, travel at night in dreams.
Wow! That’s really cool.
MR: Yeah. I sometimes like to play with titles, with double meanings. I have noticed that quite a few people just stick to the surface, the first meaning, they don’t even expect a second meaning to be hidden or beyond that. Also, my album Katzenmusik ‘cat music’ was an example. There were comments from fans saying: why does he call his music cat music? It’s not screeching like cats fighting! [laughs]. It’s not very wise of me but I enjoy it and playing with language.
With the album title Dreaming this was very clear though. I don’t know when in the recording sessions I thought, that was so magical the way she uttered that word. To be honest I wasn’t sure if it was too sweet but then I stuck to it. Now I am totally happy that I didn’t waiver.
I think it really fits the music. Where does the cover image come from?
MR: That’s a family photo. It’s my brother, my mother and me. My father took that photo when we were in Karachi in Pakistan. It is very personal. It’s actually the same with music, music is also, how personal can you get? It’s connected to my person and my history; it actually means a lot to me. This photo is wonderful, I enjoy looking at it every day.
It’s a beautiful, emotive image. I get the feeling that you are very fond of water too? You seem to have a connection to it.
MR: [Laughs] Oh yes! I really do. I don’t’ know if that’s typical but if you see little children they also enjoy running into the water at the beach. I feel very at home in water. Thinking about it, I’ve lived next to water all my life. I had the opportunity of swimming in the Mediterranean in the summer and it’s wonderful. I like waves actually, so Australia would be great. Although I’m afraid of sharks, I must confess.
Same! Me too.
MR: [Laughs]. People talk about fears of flying, I don’t have that. I tell them just look at the statistics and yeah, hmmm… with sharks it’s the same, more people die falling off ladders or hit by lightening than from sharks. It’s just something from the subconscious. I wouldn’t want to hurt a shark but I wouldn’t want to be attacked by one either.
I remember once when I was in California, I was staying at Flea from the [Red Hot] Chilli Peppers’ beach house with friends and they took me on a canoe trip on the water and I remember looking suspiciously at the water [laughs]. I felt quite vulnerable. It’s crazy. I am very, very much into water and water activities also. I hope to still have the chance one day to learn to surf, real surfing, maybe when I’m ninety! [laughs].
In Karachi we were at the beach every weekend, Saturday and Sunday. I was in and out of the water all day long. I remember there being nice waves and doing bodysurfing. It was so much fun!
Living next to the river like in Germany now or in Munich, we also live next to a river in Hamburg and even when we were in Winslow near Manchester in the UK there was a little small river, which I was in a lot. I don’t want to say this is more pleasure for me than other people, but it is a real pleasure to be in this element. Also, to look at the water surface, the mystery, you don’t see what’s below the surface and the imagination of how the sea bed develops—that’s something that drives my imagination.
Yes, and we are composed of a lot of water and water can be so many different forms liquid, frozen and it can be rain or perspiration, so many things.
MR: Yes [laughs]. Very good!
I really loved the film clip for your song ‘Bitter Tang’. It contains footage from your archive of when you were young.
MR: That’s right. You see my father; he died many, many years ago when I was fifteen, he died in ’65. And my mother… it’s also a very personal piece of work the video. My friend Thomas Beckmann edited it in collaboration with me. I will use his expression, “We did a great job!” [laughs]. Thomas did a wonderful piece of work with the video; I am very happy we have it. Some of the footage I filmed. Thomas was also with me when we found Sophie Joiner in Hamburg.
I know that, in regards to your creativity, you enjoy total freedom and in your music you like to create a feeling of freedom; what does that freedom look like or what does it mean to you?
MR: That’s an interesting question. Freedom is like for a cat, a cat needs to be free, if you try to hold a cat, she’ll go crazy. The possibility of deciding upon your own personal wishes, not being forced by some problems regarding money, being independent, artistic freedom is of course a part of that. I was fortunate from the beginning, it was the same for Klaus Dinger and my Harmonia colleagues, we were in the same spirit. We wanted to be free and we accepted the downside of this freedom, although we expected the best; I am always very optimistic because I love music. Being independent of the record companies, of their decisions and decisions made by other people, this I think was one of the most important elements.
At Gimmie we’re big fans of Landowner! We love their clean guitar, repetitive rhythms, and sharp, socially conscious, thoughtful lyrics. They’ve taken punk and stripped it down to its barest bones making for an impactful, unique twist on the more traditional sound listeners expect from punk. We chatted to vocalist Dan Shaw about latest album Consultant, his journey into music, job as a Landscape Architect and his exploration of the similarities of designing landscapes and of making music—interesting stuff!
How did you first discover music?
DAN SHAW: I have parents that are really musical. Growing up they listened to classical music mostly, that’s how they met, and they bonded over that. My older brother is twelve years older than me and he’s also a musician, he got into industrial and grunge. When I was a little kid I was hearing Skinny Puppy and Nirvana, more kind of rock music that my parents weren’t listening to. I ended up hearing a big diversity of stuff. Later in middle school, getting into music on my own and learning how to play guitar was kind of planting my little flag in the ground and saying, this is what I’m into! This is my thing that I’m all about! It took me a little while to discover it and to be doing it on my own but once I did, I never turned back—it made a lot of sense to me. I’ve been obsessed with making music ever since.
What kind of music did you find that was your own?
DS: What I first started paying attention to, which I think a lot of people do, is the stuff that is easiest to hear with little effort because it reaches you. Like I mentioned before, the grunge bands like Nirvana, they were my favourite band in 8th grade. It didn’t take too long to seek out the stuff that influenced them, the more obsessed I got with that band the more I started to learn what influenced Kurt Cobain. Luckily he was really vocal about all the underground stuff from the ‘80s that inspired him. By the time I was in high school I was discovering The Meat Puppets and Fugazi, who quickly became, and still to this day is, my favourite band. Once I discovered that Washington D.C. and Dischord Records scene, that’s when I really started to find music that resonated with me a lot, that post-punk thing. Then I started learning about the British post-punk bands too like Wire, the Fall and Gang Of Four. Those were big discoveries that got me the most excited and that have stuck with me to this day.
The next major step shortly after that or during that, was discovering local underground music right around me. Going to shows as a teenager and discovering that, oh, you don’t have to be a big famous person on T.V. to be doing this. It could be that I’m in a basement and the person standing next to me turns out to be the lead singer in the punk band that’s about to play, that basic thing just blew my mind the first time I went to a basement show.
I had a similar kind of revelation when I discovered my local scene. It gives you a sense of, hey, I could do this too! I think that’s part of the beauty of punk rock, that anyone can do it.
DS: Yeah! As a result of that I kind of put aside the idea of needing to be a big famous musician that “makes it”. I achieved my goal the first time I played music in front of twenty people at a house show. It’s like, there, I did it! It’s great! I’m grateful every time I’ve got to do it again.
Was your first band Health Problems?
DS: I was in a few other bands before but Health Problems was my first band that started touring more seriously and really released albums. I’d always been striving for something like that, it took until my mid-twenties when I started that band to really link up with the right people and circumstances to get out there a little better.
As well as playing music, you’re also a Landscape Architect and you design public spaces as well as other urban planning; what got you interested in doing that kind of work?
DS: Initially it was the creativity aspect of it. I was in college, in my first year doing general education, then I had to pick a Major. I learnt about Landscape Architecture and it seemed like a good way to do something creative that requires artistic skills but was also a safe practical thing. The more I got into it, the more I fell in love with it and realised you can make a difference in the world around you, in society, by doing public work; that’s why I’ve worked with public sector clients in the professional sector—working with communities and helping them envision the future in places where they live. It’s very fulfilling.
I know that fulfilling feeling of working in the public sector, I work in a community service in my city’s libraries. I prefer a job helping people rather than selling them something they don’t need.
DS: Yeah, this work can give you a sense of purpose. It’s still a job at the end of the day and can be frustrating sometimes certainly but, for me it’s a good path to be on.
I understand that you did your thesis in grad school on similarities between the creative process in designing landscapes and composing music as an analogy, for better understanding your own creative process;I’m really excited to hear more about this and to hear of what you found out about your creative process exploring this?
DS: I did a graduate degree in Landscape Architecture and for my thesis project it occurred to me, really no one reads your thesis except you and your advisors, so I decided to take a more personal deep dive on what makes me tick as a creative person. Because I think musically and I work as a Landscape Architect; could the two creative processes inform one another? If they could that would be a pretty cool, productive thing in my own little way that I operate. I ended up looking at a lot! The nature of music, how it’s different, every time it’s performed, the performance is different from last time and in the case of jazz, where it’s improvised off of a rough basic composition, that to me is more similar to how I design landscape, compared to something like architecture.
To make a musical analogy, designing a building is a very engineered predictable thing, that would be like a composer writing a score of sheet music and it’s all done very precisely to a tee… something that makes designing landscapes so fascinating and challenging and interesting is how the designer isn’t fully in charge of the outcome of a design landscape. You’ll design a park in your neighbourhood and in thirty years the vegetation that I planned is going morph and evolve into its own ecosystem; the way people use the park is going to be hard to predict and it’s going to take on its own ownership by the community. The designer’s role is to nudge it in the right direction and then the improvisation takes over, with society, with ecosystems and things like that.
A lot of my thesis used musical sketches to diagram the process and change over time that landscapes all have. To better understand what the role of the landscape designer is, it’s like the jazz composer that comes in with the basic theme but then the group improvises on it and takes it in a new direction from there.
What were the things that you found out about your own creative process exploring that?
DS: I’ve found that adapting to unpredictable circumstances is really a core, important thing. When I was doing that thesis project I had a practice space where I was making my rough musical sketches and I was trying to make sense of it all… I spent more time making the last Landowner album then I did on this thesis, it was really just a capstone on my schooling. I’m trying to cram in all these ambitious, burning questions in a short amount of time, in the middle of it my practice space got shut down and we all had to leave because the building closed. I suddenly had to adapt my way of working in this thesis project to a new circumstance where I didn’t have access to my music space anymore. What I ended up doing was, I had the jams that I had made, hours of stuff that I had recorded earlier in the semester and I turned to editing those sound files and creating sound diagrams and improvisations out of what I had previously recorded. Adapting to the circumstance is something that I have carried forward… the band Landowner exists because it’s something a lot like that.
A few years later where I lived in an apartment in Massachusetts, I had landlords right through the wall and I couldn’t rock out really loud, I was like; how can I make music that sounds really cool without the space to be loud? I was like, I know! I’ll make this clean, dinky-sounding version of punk with a drum machine and a practice amp, and that lead to Landowner’s sound. I deliberately embraced the creative constraint that I found myself faced with. That’s something I was forced to reckon with during the thesis, utilising a creative constraint that was forced upon me. Ever since then I’ve always found that that really yields focus and deliberateness. In the creative process you can just become paralysed because you have infinite choices, I’ve found that actually having restraints placed on what you can do, forces a really focused kind of creativity. That’s usually more consistent and satisfying to me.
Previously you’ve mentioned that when doing your thesis you felt kind of crazy; why?
DS: Because of what I alluded to a second ago of how, I was in my early-twenties, I went to grad college and I had this feeling that I was just going to crack the code, I’m going to figure it all out… I was trying to connect all the dots at once in the way that I operate. When you’re in grad school and you’re doing a thesis, it ultimately is a pretty limited time in your life, you can’t necessarily tackle the most grandiose ambitious things in a thesis. I’ve learned in retrospect that a thesis is the thing that kicks you off to bigger and more ambitious projects that you’ll do more long term. At the time I was trying to condense it all into one action-packed, nutrient dense two months! I almost felt like I had lost my mind doing it just because the students around me were pursuing more button-down “here’s an innovative way of harvesting stormwater in landscape architecture” and it was very concrete; then here I was saying that maybe music and landscape architecture is somehow creatively the same if you really look at it from a certain way. Once I had committed to it and I was half way through the project I couldn’t turn back. I was like, god, now I ‘m forced to make sense out of this madness… and I did. I felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew though [laughs]. A little bit over-ambitious, hopeful and grandiose!
I like the idea that you were exploring between creating a physical environment and then making a place you mentally inhibit with music.
DS: Yeah and that is a conclusion that I came to when doing that project. I thought maybe I could make a representation of the park I’m designing, musically. But then I thought that wouldn’t make sense. I could draw a picture of the park or a diagram, visual media, or I could make a soundscape representation, I could take a field recorder and record what the birds and traffic sound like, that could represent it in a literal way… but then I realised that music and creating a physical real space that’s built with shovels, concrete and plants and sticks, in reality are two completely different things and I had to accept that. I realised that I cannot represent Central Park with my piece of music better than any other park can represent Central Park, they’re just different places. Then I was like, ah-ha! Music is a place mentally, it’s a space. If I think of it that way, that by composing music I’m designing a space that people mentally inhabit… that might yield clues of how the creative processes are linked but it’s not that music represents landscape. We’re getting really, really deep into the tunnel here of the particulars [laughs].
I’m fine in the tunnel, like I said, I found the ideas you were exploring fascinating. Since I was a kid I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about music. When you record a record and your music gets pressed onto vinyl and then I buy it and put it on my turntable and then the energy you made the record with fills my room and transfers to this space I’m in—that just still blows my mind. I love that in Landowner’s music there is a lot of repetition, then all of a sudden you’ll get a transition that’s kind of jarring…
DS: I’m fascinated by repetition in music. My other favourite band is Lungfish and they’re pure repetition. With a Lungfish song you’ll hear the first riff and then that’s all you’ll hear for the next four minutes except the lyrics change continuously throughout the song. The idea of music being a place you inhabit, that comes especially to me with repetitive music because you start to trust that the repetition is going to continue after a few passages have been the same, in the space that is created there I find that the only things that’s actually changing is my own thought patterns during the passage of repetitive music and brings a kind of self-awareness to the forefront—it’s meditative. It feels like an environment for the listener to be themselves, instead of trying to keep up with spazzy changes in more busy music, which can be good too, that’s a whole different thing. There is a hypnotic aspect to repetitive music that I really like.
You just said something too, which is important to me, if music is really repetitive it brings all of this attention to places where there are transitions, those transitions become all the more important because of that—all the more striking. You put your trust in the music when it’s repetitive and then when something happens it catches you off guard, it wakes you up! I like being surprised by music and waking up several times during the course of a band’s set during a show or during the course of listening to a record… like as soon as I have it figured out something a little bit surprising happens.
There’s a punk band here in Australia called Arse, when they play live there’s this one song they do and there’s this part in it where they just play that one note over and over and over for a really extended period; after a while it’s almost as if it makes people in the crowd feel uncomfortable and uneasy because they’re not used to that, they’re waiting for a change. It’s really cool to watch the band do it, they have the biggest smiles on their faces.
DS: My old band Health Problems used to do stuff like that. We didn’t have a rule of using repetition all the time per se but, we would try to be aware of the psychology of watching a show and how to mess with what makes it interesting. We’d do stuff like that, one note ‘til it makes people feel uncomfortable and right when you find that limit, you change it. One of my very favourite bands that opened the doors to me of the power of repetition was an Australian band called My Disco. Have you ever seen them?
I have. I’ve interviewed them many years ago.
DS: Cool. Their stuff from the 2000’s. Their recent stuff has departed in a more experimental direction, their first three albums though were a big revelation to me when they came out.
Lyrically there always seem to be a lot going on in your songs, there’s a lot of layers to them. When you’re writing lyrics, do you have an idea of what you want to write about and then build around it? Or do they come in other ways?
DS: Most successful times I have writing lyrics is when I‘m carrying around, almost all of the time, a pocket sized spiral bound reporter’s notebook. When an interesting little phrase just pops into my head, I might not even know what it potentially means, I just write it down. At the end of the month the notebook is full and I read through the composite of interesting, evocative phrases. Some will be more developed lyric concepts too. I develop things into lyrics for a song or draw on those. I try to be ready to catch ideas during the day that are inspiring to me. The other half of it is work, time spent sitting in front of the laptop with a word document opened trying to type it all out into an arrangement that means something and makes sense. It’s a balance between the mysterious inspirations of an evocative phrase that has some potential coupled with then trying to tease out some real world meaning from it.
I’ve hit my head against the wall trying to sit down and write a song from scratch about a topic, for me that’s a lot harder and it ends up sounding preachy and annoying; I’m usually not as satisfied with those efforts. If I trust the mysterious lyricism of words and follow the trail of things that seem intriguing to me, that usually leads to something more worthwhile. With the Landowner stuff I try to resolve it into something that does has some kind of statement about the world that we live in.
A lot of phrases that I pick up on are little expressions you hear people say and the musicality in speech and refrains in conversation; things that sound ordinary that we hear over and over again catch my ear. Something like that might spark an idea for an entire song.
Is there a song on new album Consultant that has a real significance to you?
DS: I was thinking about this today, the lyrics that are the most concise and satisfying to me on the new LP are the song ‘Being Told You’re Wrong’ [laughs], which is so ridiculously brief. It captures a lot of what I’m trying to say in such a short, ripping little song. The lyrics are basically saying that; if you’re such a tough guy, why can’t you handle being told you’re wrong, without kicking a tantrum like a child. The sound of Landowner’s music is trying to tease the idea of what tough music is, instead of being all thick and heavy with distortion it’s clean and dinky-sounding but still aggressive and fast. The lyrics to the song also call out what it means to be big and tough and strong, if you’re a big muscly tough guy but then you dissolve into a childish fit if someone questions your opinion about something and you can’t handle being told you’re wrong! It’s expanding the idea of toughness that it needs to include self-reflection and critique, which it so often doesn’t. “Being told you’re wrong” is a phrase I’m really satisfied by, it’s one of my favourite ones.
What about the song ‘Stone Path’?
DS: I like the lyrics to that because it is about something in particular but I let myself be a little loose with the writing in it. The song is basically about racist housing policy in mid-20th century United States where Blacks weren’t able to own property, they were denied mortgages… that’s multiple generations of people of colour that could only rent and couldn’t capitalise on selling it. The first lyric on ‘Stone Path’: now that it’s on your radar, you recognise it everywhere; that’s the culture becoming aware of the messed up dynamic of something like that more and more. A hand tipping the scales, that’s the hand of law makers sixty years ago, eighty years ago, unfairly tipping the scales in the favour of whites arbitrarily just inherited out of hatred. The song is about, my belief is, when we inherit the results of racist policy we can’t undo those injustices by trying to be colour-blind and turn a hopeful blind eye to it, deliberate racism can only be undone with equally deliberate justice. That idea is at the core of the lyrics of ‘Stone Path’. The title has nothing to do with the lyrics, that was my working title when the song was an instrumental and it just stuck. In this case it’s almost suggestive of what the song is talking about, the idea that we get stuck in these grooves in society, it sounds like it’s a well-trodden path that no one questions that they have just been on for such a long time.
Like I was saying before, sometimes I don’t worry if I don’t know the meaning of the words right away, it can all come together by just modifying some of the words here and there, just pointing things in a consistent direction. Things can make sense after the fact. That song title is a fun example that.
On the song ‘Confrontation’ your good friend and your bandmate from Health Problems,Ian Kurtis Crist does guest vocals!
DS: Yeah. When we play the song live the bassist of Landowner Josh Owsley normally sings that part. It was a mistake in the studio when we were recording ‘Confrontation’ with the band all together, I gave Josh the wrong note. I asked him to sing the backup line in a ‘C’ but it was supposed to be a ‘G’, he recorded the whole thing an octave below my lead vocal. I listened to it after and realised I made him do the wrong thing, it was a little too late to go back in and set up the microphones and redo everything, and maybe it’s a fun opportunity to send it to Ian and get him to do it. He’s one of my best friends, I like the sound of his voice and thought it would be well suited to the song. He recorded it in his home studio and we mixed it in and it sounded really good.
Is there anything you find challenging about song writing?
DS: The most challenging thing for me has been writing lyrics, I get hung up on lyrics. Since words really mean one thing or another in the brains of human beings, whereas the meaning of music is a little more forgiving, it’s a more abstract thing. Words are so loaded, if you chose just the wrong synonym or express it a little different then how you meant it, people are going to interpret it differently. I feel bothered by the drafts of the lyrics until I know they’re just right and they resonate in me. I spend the most time on the lyrics. One of my goals is for it to sound spontaneous and conversational, with a few exceptions, it’s the part of the song that takes the longest.
The last song on the album ‘Old Connecticut Money’ I think I wrote 90% of those lyrics in one go. My pen was moving, I was at work on a break, I had this idea and I wrote it all down. I could almost read it out of the notebook and it just fell into the song, but for me that’s pretty rare. Lyrics are something that I toil over.
On Landowner’s previous album Blatant there’s a song called ‘Significant Experience’; have you had a really significant in your life that you could share?
DS: That song is another good example of where I wasn’t writing about one particular thing, I was trusting the overall mood of lyrics and ability to evoke thoughts with that combination of words.When I was putting those lyrics together, I was thinking about how the most significant, moving experiences that people live through in their lives tend to be those things that shape their political outlooks and beliefs in the world. When you come to an impasse in a political argument let’s say, usually the reason you can’t get through to the other person or the other person starts to shake and get in a rage and can’t even get words out, it’s usually because there’s some really significant thing that they lived through that’s welling up, it’s important to realise that all people carry things like that around with them. That’s what’s often behind dysfunction in how we communicate. Right now, that’s the most I’ve intentionally thought about those lyrics or put it into words like that. I just let the lyrics be the lyrics and just try to get them across, I’m not decoding them most days.
*NOTE: more of this interview can be found in our editor’s upcoming book, Conversations With Punx. Featuring in-depth interviews with individuals from bands Ramones, DEVO, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Fugazi, The Stooges, Crass, Misfits, Bad Religion, The Clash, The Slits, Subhumans, Descendents, PiL, X-Ray Spex, Adolescents, Agnostic Front, Operation Ivy, At the Drive-In, The Avengers, Youth of Today, Night Birds, Cro-Mags, Gorilla Biscuits, X, and more. Coming soon! Follow @gimmiegimmiegimmiezine for updates.