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.
Deniz Tek is best known as the guitarist and primary songwriter from pioneering, influential and rule-breaking Australian rock n roll band Radio Birdman. He’s packed a lot into his life thus far, not only has he lived many musical lives creating in various incarnations – TV Jones, The Visitors, Angie Pepper Band, New Race, Dodge Main, The Glass Insects, The Soul Movers and more – but he’s also saved lives as an ER doctor and ex-navy flight surgeon, and these days he’s also a coffee farmer living in Hawaii with his own blend of Kona coffee, Tekona.
Gimmie caught up with Deniz recently to chat about his latest project, album Two To One, a collaboration with long-time friend and Stooges’ guitarist James Williamson.
How’s your morning been?
DENIZ TEK: Good. Very productive so far, I got a lot of work done this morning. It’s been a good day! How about yourself?
Very good too! I think every day is a good day though, your day is what you make it.
DT: Yeah. At our age every day you wake up should be a good day, time is limited and you have to make the most of every minute you’ve got.
You’re at The Tek Farm in Hawaii at the moment?
DT: Yeah, I am.
Is that a special place for you?
DT: Yeah, my parents started it about forty years ago, when my dad retired from his job at the University of Michigan. They moved out here to Hawaii and started this farm. My wife Ann and I are out here taking care of the place, we took over running the farm. After my dad died my mother needed the help so we moved out here about three and a half or four years ago, we had been living in Australia before that. She’s now gone into a nursing home for about the last year. We’re just going to stay here and take care of the place for the time being.
That’s lovely of you both. Do you enjoy working outside, outdoors in nature?
DT: Oh yeah! Absolutely. I enjoy it so much better than working inside.
What attitude and spirit do you approach playing the guitar in?
DT: It’s just part of my life. I’ve played guitar since I was twelve years old. I’ve been in bands since high school. I approach it as part of daily life. It’s like eating, drinking, breathing. I play most days, occasionally I don’t play but typically, I’ll play every day.
Does it give you a particular kind of feeling?
DT: Yeah, time disappears for one thing, you stop being aware of the passage of time—you’re totally in the process. Time goes by and it’s very involving, it’s something I can really focus on without any effort involved. When my attention is focused on that, I don’t have any outside distractions.
Is it like a meditation for you?
DT: I suppose you could say that. I’ve tried meditating and I’ve never been very good at that because I keep thinking of too many things but, when I play guitar that’s not an issue so, I guess it is my meditation in some ways. I’ve never really thought about it like that but I think you’ve right.
I understand that having commercial success from your music has never really been a big a motivating factor for you; what are the things that motivate you to create?
DT: The creative process itself is extremely rewarding, it’s not a financial reward but, it’s more of a spiritual reward you get from that. Especially if it’s something that you create that other people can relate to or if it resonates with other people and they like it and it makes their life better in anyway or happier, it helps people forget their problems for a short time—what better reward could you ever hope for.
When you’re creating, whether it’s writing a song or painting; where do you find the most magic in the process?
DT: Whenever there is something new happening that’s going really well its magical. That can be just sitting with a guitar at home or in the recording studio or it can be at a concert. When you’re playing live to people that are throwing energy at the stage and we’re recycling that energy and giving it back to people; also doing it between ourselves in the band, band members giving energy back and forth between each other, that’s real magic—that’s transformational. It works with some higher powers that I don’t’ understand. It’s pretty amazing!
On the new album – Two To One – that you made with James Williamson from The Stooges there’s songs like “Take A Look Around” and “Climate Change” that speak to environmental issues; are these things that are important to you?
DT: Oh yeah! Yeah. These songs are not necessarily meant to be protest songs or political propaganda but they are observational. These songs were holding up a mirror and saying, this is what we’re seeing and this is what you may be seeing as well; maybe to increase awareness in certain ways.
Previously you’ve said that The Stooges album Raw Power helped shape your path as a young guitar player; in what way? What resonated?
DT: That was in 1973 when it came out. I was living in Sydney, I was a student. I was in a band called TV Jones, about a year before [Radio] Birdman started. I already had great inspiration from many other guitar players that were well-known but, I think the guitar playing on Raw Power brought a new element to it. The tone was so brutal and the playing was so aggressive and hard and I hadn’t heard anything quite like it in some time. To me it was wonderful to hear that, it was an affirmation for me that rock n roll music that is very high energy and aggressive was still alive, that The Stooges were able to do that. It was inspirational!
You’re good friends with James now and you’ve worked together before; have you ever had a fan moment with him in any way? Like, this is the guy whose guitar playing resonated with me as a youth!
DT: Yeah, you can’t push that too hard but, I enjoy it when I can get him to tell Stooges stories [laughs]; when he tells me stories that nobody else knows, it’s good to hear that stuff. I love that! That’s being a fan, to want to hear that stuff. Of course I was very curious as to how he got that guitar sound. He’s very happy to tell me about it and show me how he got this or that guitar sound. A Gibson Les Paul through a Vox AC30, cranked up loud with no effects pedals. It’s a balance of being a fan and being a partner in the work we do together AND being a friend. We hang out a fair bit together too, we play tennis and us and our wives go out to dinner together and do things like that.
Nice! Why is writing songs important to you?
DT: I don’t know. I guess it important to me because I feel like I’m contributing something and I have an impulse to create, that satisfies that for me. I have a hope that the songs I write will also benefit others, that people will hear it, like it, dance to it or it will help their day go better. That’s what I hope.
You’ve mentioned before that you’re not quite sure where songs come, that they just arrive, that you have to be tuned into their frequency in a way to find them; is there anything you do to tap into that frequency?
DT: The best thing is to just have a guitar in your hand and be playing, you don’t have to be playing anything specific, you could just be tuning it up, and just have a clear mind, not being distracted. When songs come you grab them out of the air, they come out of you or through you, and then the challenge is to remember it when it happens. You have to try and get it down right away, you write it down or record it. That’s what’s nice about our modern phones, you can record straight away. When these ideas come, if you don’t save them somehow you never remember them the next day. I suppose they float off and someone else gets them [laughs].
Maybe! [Laughter]. I love the storytelling in all of the songs on your new record. One that really stood out to me was “Small Change”.
DT: The thing about “Small Change” was James presented the music for it and a friend of his, Frank Meyers, had written words for it as well. The story for “Small Change” was suggested by Frank’s lyrics but it didn’t quite gel with me, so I took his basic idea and re-wrote it. I turned it more into a story of a woman who decides to become free and leave the small-town single mother existence that she was stuck in, that she’d go off and do something else. The story of how it would take a lot of courage to do that. Sort of like a mini-episode of a movie.
I love the lyric from it: It takes a little bit of change and a great big heart. I think a lot of people can resonate with that. Has there been moments in your life where you’ve done that yourself?
DT: I suppose leaving home when I was sixteen or seventeen years old was sort of like that. Leaving the country at eighteen and just going off overseas with nothing but a backpack and a guitar.
Do you have favourite track on the album?
D: Not really. After it was mixed I didn’t really listen to it. You work so hard on these things and put so many hours into it and you hear it over and over and over again so many times when you’re finishing the production on it that you don’t want to hear it again for a while. I’ve actually put it aside and haven’t listened to it for about a month. When it comes out on vinyl and I have a copy of it I’ll listen to it again. I like all the songs, if I didn’t like them they wouldn’t be on there, I have a different favourite every day.
Why did you decided to call the album, Two To One?
DT: It was a big struggle to find a name for the album until we found one that we could agree on and that hadn’t been used. We’d decide on a name, look it up on allmusic.com and find out there were already thirty albums with that name so, finding something that hadn’t been used before was the challenge. My wife Anne came up with it. It’s an old blues expression and it’s a lyric in a Blind Boy Fuller song from the thirties. Two To One sounds good and it’s two guys doing one thing together.
For both you and James playing guitar is expressing your emotions; is it hard when you have to work with somebody else to get your vision through to fruition?
DT: It can be! It wasn’t in this case. We pretty much agreed on everything. When we first started writing for the album there were come ideas I presented that he didn’t like and likewise, there was a couple he presented that I didn’t like. We didn’t pursue those and we tossed them out early on and focused on the things we both agreed on and both felt were good. Once we had decided on that it was straightforward.
Are you working on new songs now yourself?
DT: Yeah, I am. I’m putting together songs for a new album now. It should have been recorded already but because of the coronavirus we couldn’t travel. Basically, I have another album written and arranged and ready to go. That will be a solo album.
You’ve been working on songs with your wife?
DT: She’ll play guitar on that album as well, when we finally get around to recording it.
Is it nice to have someone so close to you to bounce creative ideas off?
DT: It is! I’ve never had that in that way before. I’ve usually been the only guitar player in the family [laughs].
As well as your music I know you love to do art as well, you paint; is painting for you similar in any way to writing a song?
DT: It’s pretty similar. I’m a much more experienced song writer and guitar player than I am a painter. I’m just getting started with painting and figuring out how to do it. It’s just as much fun. It’s one of those things like I was saying, where time just disappears.
Over the years has there been any advice you’ve gotten I regards to creativity that’s really stuck with you?
DT: Not directly but, I read something that Keith Richards said when he was asked about creativity and he said that the thing he would like to have on his grave would be the words: he passed it on. In other words, you take from your influences in music and then you add something to it of your own and then you pass it on to the next generation. If you can form a link in that chain, that’s the greatest thing that you can do. I always took that it heart. I thought it was a really cool idea and that it was something that I would like to be able to say, I also did that—I formed a link in the chain and passed it on.
I think that you have done that, many times over!
DT: [Laughs] Thanks!
What makes you really, really happy?
DT: Not thinking about happiness but just being, existing in the world and being part of it—that’s what makes me happy. The minute you try to be happy, it just all goes away! [Laughs]. Just being makes me happy!
** Coming soon on Gimmie we also have a chat with The Stooges’ guitarist James Williamson**
Los Angeles-based musician John Dwyer likes to make stuff, he keeps busy making inventive and interesting records as well as outta this world paintings. Gimmie’s editor recently spoke to John for her forthcoming book speaking with underground musicians on creativity, DIY, navigating life as a creative and life in general—coming soon! We wanted to share a little of the chat with you.
JOHN DWYER: I’m with my girlfriend down in Joshua Tree, rather Twentynine Palms, it’s hot as fuck and we’re sitting in the shade by the pool.
Nice! Are you just having a little holiday?
JD: Yeah. It’s a two-hour drive from where we live. We’ve obviously been at home quite a bit, so we had our friend Shannon come over and watch the dog, and just rented a small little house down here with a pool for three days… just to take a break from being around each other constantly in a different environment.
Touring is such a huge part of what you do; how do you feel about not being able to tour right now?
JD: I think it’s shit [laughs], but there’s also not much that can be done about it. It’s a big part of our income, luckily we toured so much last year that everybody is well set for a minute. I think the band is collecting unemployment as we speak; it’s for freelance workers and that’s essentially what they are. I 1099’d them meaning, they’re contractors for my band.
Mostly it’s just the psychic bruise of not being able to travel. I love playing shows, I love travelling. I love going to all the same places; we play the same places because I love them, it’s nothing outside of, we play the same clubs because we like the people that work there. We like going to the same cities, eating at the same joints and seeing friends—everything seems very distant right now. It seems like things are getting worse, so we’ll see if there’s any sort of light at the end of tunnel for music. It’s a real fucked time to be a performer.
Why is music and art important to you?
JD: It’s all that I want to do. I don’t surf or anything. I don’t have anything else. It’s what I wanted to do since I was kid, outside of drugs, it was my first real interest. Watching other people create their own show spaces and doing whatever the fuck they wanted with music meant that I could very much do the same and I followed in their footsteps. Then you work together with other people in DIY scenarios and it becomes a network or dare I even say, a scene. I love it, I still love it. I love writing. Right now I’m writing a ton of music! I have so much shit coming out this year it’s going to be nauseating to anybody who likes to complain about that aspect of my career.
I don’t know why people would want to complain, it’s as easy as, if you don’t like it, don’t listen. It’s so weird to me that people fixate on things they don’t like.
JD: Oh, yeah, I tell people to fuck off all of the time. Lots of areas of the internet are just a psychic toilet. That being said, I catch myself all of the time wanting to talk shit, and constantly have to reprimand myself in my head. I’m trying not to do that more and more as I get older because it’s just exactly it, it’s worthless. The world is so fucked up right now we don’t need any more of that shit.
This year I’ve had a really high output of interviews/work and I feel that some “friends” rather than support and encourage me they kind of give me a hard time and try to make me feel guilty for being so productive. I like being busy.
JD: Oh, Bianca, fuck ‘em! The classics are always right: haters are always gonna hate. I learned at a very young age, which I think you’ll agree, is just to live well. Don’t take the bait on shit like that. The more work you do the better. You’re doing it to keep the wolf from the door [laughs]. It’s good. You should make as much of your work and art as you can. You’re only here for a short amount of time!
My girlfriend yesterday just heard the old cliché phrase: opinions are like assholes, everybody has one. [Laughs]. It’s absolutely true!
After making music for so long; what still makes it interesting and enjoyable for you?
JD: Growth and change. Oh Sees in particular are always interested in innovating on our own sound, or trying new stuff, not necessarily genre-flipping or that; moving more where we are uncomfortable or outside of our wheelhouse.
I’ve been watching a lot of tutorials on guitar playing, with all the shit that’s been happening I’ve finally had all the time to do the dumb shit that I’ve always liked to do but never get around too, like watching guitar tutorials on YouTube. One of them was John Abercrombie, a jazz guitarist. He’s really sick, I love his playing. Him and John McLaughlin, are the greats of improve ‘70s era freakout guitar. Jazz guitar is tough for me, I don’t like a lot of it. These two guys were interesting to me. I was watching him and he was a very uncomfortable character and the way that he talked about it, it’s an hour long interview of him talking about improv but really the gist of it is—don’t play anything that you always play. [Laughs] …which I really took to heart!
It’s really interesting to not go to your typical standbys for things that you always do, because with guitar playing in particular that’s really easy to do, to just fall into the same formula, patterns that work for you. I’ve been trying to follow his very basic rule of exploring new territory intentionally. Letting go a little bit too… very fluid and strange so it was very interesting to hear that from him.
What do you value as a creator?
JD: Lately I’ve been doing a lot of improvisational stuff with players that I’ve brought together. It’s nice to be inspired by people, all the time that happens, we wear it on our sleeves pretty hard. For instance, I heard a guy down the street playing drums when I was out for a run two months ago. I’d heard him a couple of times but I stopped to listen and he was this really strange frenetic jazz drummer. I left a note on his car. I’ve never met him, I don’t know him, and I’ve never even seen what he looks like. He hit me back and I had him send me some tracks and brought in all these players one at a time into my studio and just had them do one take with their instrument over this drum track. We started with bass, then I did keyboards, then I did saxophone, and I ended up doing some of my own shit at the end.
It’s really interesting though that right now, I really particularly at this point in my life, appreciate people’s ability to run with an idea without thinking about it too much. I’ve been, and can really dig, surrounding myself with people that can do that and work fast.
I brought in Laena from Fields to play violin on some of my stuff, a record I have coming out soon. She was great! There was also a French guy I brought in to play saxophone. With the two of them we smoked that much weed in the studio that… I mean, I smoke weed pretty much every day, these two smoked so much dope I can’t understand how they were formulating sounds, it was perfect! I really love that right now. I’ve been searching for people that fall into that category, relaxed and quickly inspired and moving forward. There could be so many different answers for your question but that was what was just in my head right now.
Do you smoke weed mostly to relax or is it just for fun or something else? Does it help your creativity?
JD: Right now, it’s to keep from being depressed, honestly. I don’t really consider myself someone who gets depressed, I have pretty primal east coast America emotions [laughs]. Right now it’s a really tough time for the whole world. Regardless of anybody’s bulldog front they put up in this shit, it’s really exhausting and grating, it wears you down right now.
A good approach for a healthy psyche is to stay busy, throwing yourself into work is pretty typical. Music and art – I’ve been painting a lot too – that kind of stuff has its own natural high. When I was a kid, my parents were happy that I was playing guitar and painting, which they thought would keep me out of trouble. I think it kind of did.
Do you ever surprise yourself with the songs you make?
JD: Occasionally. I’m used to myself, I’m bored of myself completely at this point but, every now and then we’ll hit some new stride. With the new Oh Sees record [Protean Threat] it takes a sort of a left turn, I think it’s a bit different to the direction we’ve been heading in, while maintaining some semblance of the same sound. We’ve got some new ground gained this year, this was all done before everything thing went down, so it will be interesting to see how this sits afterwards.
You’ve recently released a new Damaged Bug record Bug On Yonkers which is you covering songs by musician Michael Yonkers. I know that you met him; what was it like?
JD: He’s great, he’s a real cool cat. I met him actually years ago and we stayed in touch but, I’ve only met him three times. I saw him play in Seattle, we played with him. He’s an incredibly positive person, especially with all of the shit that’s gone on in his life, his story is insane. He’s a genuinely nice guy. In my opinion, I hold him in really high regard in terms of his innovation and creativity and his creation out of nothingness, he even makes his own instruments. He was so great the night we saw him play.
Did any of his positivity rub off on you?
JD: Always. When you know someone like that… it’s always great to have people in your life like that. I have incredibly negative friends too, people I love that are just like dark clouds, y’know, that have a very pessimistic view of the world. You have to balance your whole life. I also think it’s ludicrous to be positive all of the time! I have some friends that are so positive that I think there must be something wrong with their brain [laughs]; a dopamine serge or a serotonin overload, that’s not realistic to me. We need a balance. I envy people that can maintain a positive outlook all the time though. I don’t think Yonkers is one of those people that is insanely positive all of the time though, he’s a genuinely nice person, which I can’t really say that for myself. It’s cool to meet someone you look up to and them be fucking cool and not a dirt bag! Although I do like some dirt bags too, it’s a real mixed bag [laughs]. Yonkers is a good guy, there’s a lot of power packed into that strange mind of his.
Is there something you’d really love to make but haven’t yet?
JD: I would love to do animation. I have a lot of ideas for animation, I think it would be within my grasp to do it. It seems very time consuming. I have a thing I wrote which is an episodic feature length animation that’s based on all of the stuff form when I was kid that I’d love to do. We’ll see if it’s in the cards.
Do you feel like you’re doing your best work now?
JD: I’m always doing my best work now, I don’t give a shit about my old records, I don’t care about my old bands… I have very fond memories and I’m glad I did them but… I’ve done Coachwhips reunion trips and stuff and it’s just boring to me at this point. We have fans now that really like that stuff but for me it will always be about the people that were actually standing there in front of it when it was happening. I always want to move forward and I’ve always been looking forward to the next thing.
You’ve been working on painting inspired by sci-fi novel covers you loved when you were a kid for an art show?
JD: Yeah, I’m about two paintings away from being done for the show that I’ve been working on for three years. They’re really big intricate paintings. The problem now is that there probably won’t be anywhere to show them so I’ll just keep painting [laughs]. They’re inspired by sci-fi pulp covers and are very colourful. They’re 6ft by 4ft, about the size of me. I’m very close to being done with the run of specific paintings I wanted to do.
Have you been working on anything else?
JD: I’m tying up a bunch of records I’ve been working on. I have a whole other Damaged Bug record that’s just sitting there waiting to be finished, which I’ve been procrastinating on forever; it’s all my own songs not covers. Then there’s about three records full of improv stuff I’ve done in my studio with all kinds of different players, more jazz, instrumented stuff. I have one I’m working on now with Nick Murray my old drummer, everything is recorded, I’m just editing it, because it’s improv there’s a lot of material to go through. Then there’s the record I finished with that guy that I met down the street, that’s getting mastered next week, I’m putting together the artwork for that.
I’m just trying to stay fit too. I’ve been doing a lot exercising and I’ve been hanging out with my dog and girlfriend. We’ve been growing a lot of marijuana. The guy who grows my favourite weed gave me a bunch of his plants because he’s going to stop growing. I’ve been growing them and cloning them and keeping the strain alive. They’re doing so well because Los Angeles is so fucking sunny! [laughs]. Lots of gardening.
With your Damaged Bug songs I understand that at the end of last year you had about 40 songs but couldn’t finish them?
JD: Yeah, I had a huge pile of songs… that’s why I did a covers album. It was a little break from the actual record. I have 40 songs all on tape, spooled up—I’ll get there! It’ll be done before the end of this year. We still have shows booked in September through December. I refuse to cancel anything early. We’ll see. I’ll just keep chipping away at my projects, there’s no reason to stop. Once a week I’ll take a day off and do absolutely nothing, just sit on my ass and enjoy the day. I try to be in the studio as much as possible though.
New York art-punk band Guerilla Toss make fun, interesting, super cool, cosmic, synth-pop post-punk! They recently released two new songs – “Human Girl” and “Own Zone” – as part of the Sub Pop Singles Club. Gimmie chatted to vocalist Kassie Carlson from her home on a farm in Upstate New York as they work on new music.
How have you been Kassie?
KASSIE CARLSON: I’ve been good, I’ve just been quarantining here. I don’t live in New York City, I live in Upstate New York, which is two hours away from the city. I’m on a bunch of land, I’m able to not be around people. New York City is pretty crazy right now!
The area you live in has a lot of woodland, a lot of countryside, right?
KC: Yeah, wilderness and farmland. I live on a 260-acre farm, but it’s not a farm anymore it’s kind of… mow the grass and make hay. There’s a lot of open space, we go hiking a lot up here.
You go hiking with your Chow Chow dog, Watley?
KC: Yes, definitely [laughs]. He’s actually outside with me right now as I chat to you.
Do you have a favourite spot you like to go?
KC: There’s lots of different places to go. The other day we hiked to a place called the Balsam Fir Fire Tower, which is an old fire tower that they used to go up to the very top and look over the whole forest to see if there was any fires. That was really cool. It was a really warm day and we hiked all the way to the top of the mountains and at the top there was snow and all of these Balsam Fir trees, it looked like a fairy tale!
That sounds beautiful. I love natural places and just being outside in nature.
KC: Yeah, me too.
Do you ever get inspired creatively from nature?
KC: Yeah, definitely, how could I not!
Have you been doing anything creative lately?
KC: Always, every day I’m doing something… working on music, some days it doesn’t always pan out… just working, writing, reading, stuff like that.
Why is music important to you?
KC: Oh, I don’t know? I guess I’ve always been a fan and then I started making music. I started off young singing in choirs and playing violin, but I was always really into rock music. My brother was a musician in punk rock and metal bands, I thought that was kind of cool. Haphazardly it happened for me, it didn’t happen right away, it happened when I was older. As a teenage girl I was kind of just observing music but then as I got older I became a part of it.
It’s great when you can finally get the confidence to give something a go yourself.
Is there anything that’s helped shaped some of your ideas about art and creativity?
KC: When I say I entered the music world being in a band, it was kind of because the entryway was easy, it was paved out… I don’t know if they have these in Australia but, here we have a lot of underground shows, basement shows; I lived in a house that had basement shows every night. It was easy to just try something out, the atmosphere was very supportive. I hung out with a lot of people that went to art school and music school. There was a lot of room to experiment in a way that I think a lot of people don’t necessarily have, I was lucky in that sense. I had a really supportive audience.
I read that when you were younger you liked to listen to Mariah Carey, TLC and Destiny’s Child…
KC: Yeah, of course! [laughs]. Did you?
Yes, sure did! I grew up liking those artists and then punk and hip hop and all kinds of things, I had four older siblings that all liked different music and my mum and dad too, I kind of just absorbed everything. I love stuff from doo-wop all the way through to noise stuff.
KC: Yeah, same.
I saw a photo of Watley online and there was a big record collection in the background; is that yours?
KC: They weren’t my records, they’re the drummer from Guerilla Toss’ records. We have a lot of records in the house that’s for sure.
Is there an album that you’ve listened to more than any other?
KC: I’m all over the place. I’m always listening to a million things. I’ve been trying to find new things lately, I’ve been going through things and just picking random shit to get my creative ideas flowing. I have a lot of cassette tapes too.
I used to find a lot of new music through trading tapes with my friends.
KC: Yeah, I feel like that’s how I discovered a lot of new music too. I grew up in Cape Cod, which is kind of like a beach town in Massachusetts. They have these swap shops there at the dump so it’s basically like a free store and you take whatever you want, sometimes there’s really good stuff there; I got my first guitar amp there and a bunch of cool clothes. I got my very first cassettes there too, they were mixtapes that somebody had made.
That’s awesome! I love going to thrift stores and the dump shop near where I live here too. It’s good for the environment too reusing items rather than putting them in landfill; people can be so wasteful.
KC: Oh yeah! People don’t want to take it to the second-hand shop and they just leave them at these places and it won’t just go to the trash. So much clothing gets thrown away.
Totally! Basically my whole wardrobe is made up of clothes from thrift stores. You find so much cool stuff, and its stuff that not everyone else is wearing. I find it so hard to go the regular shops/mall to buy stuff. Before you started playing in a band; did you express yourself creatively in any other way?
KC: I’ve done some painting but nothing major really. [Laughs] Sewing, I guess.
You mentioned that you started singing in choirs; did you jump into bands from there or were you making music yourself?
KC: It was kind of like hot and cold, off and on. I didn’t really play in bands until I was in my twenties. I’d mess around on the keyboard and make little guitar songs… I was kind of in a metal band! Then I made my own music.
Your solo stuff was the Jane La Onda stuff, right?
KC: Yeah [laughs].
I understand that you have a real love for words and enjoy reading; what are you reading at the moment?
KC: I’m reading a lot of magazines. I’m reading Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino. They’re really cute, interesting, whimsical Italian folktales with a cerebral twist. I really like the way he uses words and meaning. I started reading The Water Dancer [by Ta-Nehisi Coates].
One of your favourite books is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse?
KC: Yeah, yeah. I like him a lot. I like the way he uses words and perception. He takes you on a journey with words.
I wanted to ask you about your writing; do you ever have a vision for a song before you sit down to write it?
KC: Not usually. Usually I’ll be listening to sounds that could become a song and those sounds have a meaning in them that I like after listening to it over and over. Sometimes I write little things before but it’s more that I hear the music and the words are already in there, the pattern is in there somewhere and I have to find it by listening to it over and over again.
What kinds of things have you been finding yourself writing about lately?
KC: Honestly, I’ve been writing a lot of political stuff in a way. Coronavirus isn’t as crazy in Australia, right?
That’s right, we’ve been pretty lucky compared to a lot of countries.
KC: New York is crazy. I haven’t worked for a whole month because I have a heart condition. I’m usually working a lot and keeping busy being out and about talking to people, but I haven’t really gone out much. It’s interesting writing in this time.
Do you feel lonely living away from your band members Upstate?
KC: Oh definitely! The drummer is up here and the guitar player is up here right now too, we’ve been working a new music. It’s kind of like a reprieve though, we played over 100 shows last year and toured all over the country as well as going to Europe. To be in a city too is really taxing too.
I feel that when I go into the city too, I live in a costal beachside town that’s really laidback. I’ll drive to the nearest capital city that’s an hour away from me and after being there a half hour I’ll get too overwhelmed!
KC: Yeah, it’s like chaos!
Previously you’ve mentioned that when you play live it’s like a deep meditation for you; do you do meditation in any other areas of your life?
KC: Yeah, walking meditation when I’m walking through the woods with Watley. Anytime really, doing anything. Even washing dishes, like feeling the warmth of the hot water on your hands or pausing in any way; looking at a plant; or even driving is a meditation in a way, I think.
So for you it’s having an awareness of what you’re doing and being in the moment?
KC: Yeah, awareness and a pause, remembering that you’re in a body. It can be resting for a second.
In isolation do you have a typical day or a routine you do?
KC: Yeah. I wake up around 9 or 10am and then I make some oatmeal and coffee. I take a shower. Then I’ll work on music from 11 to 7. Maybe have a snack somewhere in there at around maybe 2pm. At 7 I’ll make dinner. After that I’ll work on music again until 10pm. At 10 I’ll watch a movie. That’s what I do every day. Maybe in the middle of the day I’ll take a hike or two.
Do you learn things about yourself when making music?
KC: Definitely. Writing lyrics is like going; what’s happening in my brain? How am I feeling? What is my current experience? What do my past experiences mean? Even the lyrical process beyond writing the lyrics initially, when I’m performing, the meaning of lyrics singing them over and over again for many years, eight years now in some cases, the meaning of the lyrics change. I feel like I’m constantly learning about myself, it’s like a constant self-awareness and the awareness of people around you and what’s happening on the Earth and how you interpret that. I’m a pretty high anxiety person, so the profession of being a frontwoman in a band is a weird choice; it’s also not a weird choice because it’s a process, the process of me coming out of my shell and me interpreting my anxieties and dealing with them and dealing with trauma. I would definitely say that I am always learning about myself and other people [laughs] and those interactions.
So by your showing those parts of you and you trying to work yourself out, because it’s honest and really looking at things, that resonates with others and might help them in their life?
KC: Yeah. I hope someday you can see us perform because I think our performance brings the music to a different level. I can act things out and you can see different accents on things. The music recordings are great but I hope you can see us perform.
KC: When I first started touring we would be the only band with a girl on it on the bill. It was crazy and so weird. Now there’s a lot more women and all different types of people. It felt like; do they just like us because I’m a girl? I want people to like us because it’s good music.
Another thing I love about Guerilla Toss is the art work for your albums, I’s always so colourful!
KC: Yeah! [laughs].
Is there any thought behind making it so colourful?
KC: I guess to make it fun and interesting. We’re doing a release for the Sub Pop Singles Club and that one is actually not colourful.
What songs will be on that release?
KC: It’s actually two new songs that no one has heard.
I love that Guerilla Toss’ music is all so different.
KC: I always think it’s weird when someone’s like, ‘I like your older stuff’; if we were to make stuff that sounds the same all the time that wouldn’t be very genuine.
Is sharing your music with others important to you?
KC: Yeah. I hope people listen to it and have fun or have some kind of experience, even if it’s, ‘oh god, this is intense!’ and they think it’s awful… at least they had some sort of reaction and experience with it [laughs]. Or if they see us and go, ‘oh, that was really harsh’ or ‘wow! That was softer than I thought it would be’.
Ok, last question; have you ever had a really life changing moment?
KC: Yeah. So many. When I had heart surgery, is an easy thing to say. I had open heart surgery two years ago. I had an infection in one of my heart valves. It was crazy, really intense. For the first time… I usually feel my whole life that I’ve been kind of like a tank: I’m super strong, I don’t really get sick, I feel strong-willed and do what I want. I was really floored by this sickness. I didn’t really feel right until kind of recently. It took a long time to recover. The recovery was so abstract that I didn’t really feel like I could relate to anyone. It was a multi-faceted recovery. I felt alone in it but I really am glad that I am where I am right now—in a beautiful place in nature and still writing music and still alive! It’s cool to have Watley too, he’s a great dog!
Is there anything that you’d really love to do creatively or in life in general right now?
KC: I really just want to travel more. That’s probably my favourite thing about touring. It wasn’t until more recent years of touring that we started to be more tourist-y, like going to national parks. We went to Yellowstone National Park! That was always my dream to go there. I remember having a National Geographic magazine when I was a kid and seeing all the geysers in it and the buffalo—I love animals and nature! Another time we were in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and we went to this amazing place and went on a river raft ride. In San Diego we went on this kayak ride, we were ocean kayaking through these sea caves. It was super epic! That’s what I really want to do with the rest of my life, I don’t need to be super rich or super popular with my music, I just want to see the world and see amazing shit!
At the heart of Canadian punk band Red Mass is Roy Vucino and Hannah Lewis, though since its inception the band has welcomed over 100 artists and musicians into its unconventional fold forming an ever evolving creative collective. Red Mass’ creation process is inspired by automatic creation techniques and Chaos Magic, openness to pure potentiality and limitless possibility—a desire to create art for art’s sake. Their latest album A Hopeless Noise is an ambitious concept album crafted as a loose modern day retelling of the literature classic Don Quixote but with a female lead, in character Diamond Girl. The LP features Mike Watt, King Khan, Mac DeMarco, Rick Froberg, members of Black Lips, God Speed You! Black Emperor and more. Gimmie spoke to Roy and Hannah to find out more after they had to cut the album’s European tour short due to the recent pandemic.
Why is music important for you?
ROY VUCINO: For years I had a darker time, it helped me get my life in order. I dropped a lot of bad habits and I really concentrated on music, not only as an escape but basically as a way to channel all of my energy and creativity into something that was more positive.
HANNAH LEWIS: I moved a lot when I was a kid. My dad’s a professor, he’s actually a theologian, and we ended up moving all over the world when I was younger. I really, really, really had an affinity for music at a young age, I really explored that, especially because a lot of the places that we ended up moving were pretty remote. We lived in Cape Breton which is a small island off Nova Scotia and Iqaluit which is in the Artic, I was there for my high school; in these places I was able to explore my mind and I think music really helped me do that and was a way for me to express that exploration.
When did you each start making your own music?
HL: I started quite young. When I was very, very young I used to just walk around and sing for hours, whatever came into my head, in the countryside or in the tundra. When I consciously started writing music I was probably thirteen or fourteen.
RV: I started music really young too. I used to play in restaurants and stuff like that. I did classical training. I started writing when I hit mid-teens. The first band I did was more of a dancehall reggae band, after that I started playing in punk bands, initially more garage-based, the rawness of it appealed to me. Skill-wise with the punk stuff it was so easy to record, I could do it with my friends in our basement on a 4-track, that was a big part of the appeal. That’s when I started recording and writing my own music.
Together you’re a really amazing creative team; how did you first meet?
HL: Though friends of friends. I’d moved down to Montreal for school to go to university. I went to see a couple of Roy’s bands before I met him. I started my own punk band and we ended up dating… we were doing Red Mass…
RV: We’re married now. I went to the Arctic to see if I could live there and open a little studio there, it was way too much The Shining for me, too isolated, so she came to Montreal and stayed here. At the beginning we weren’t doing music together, we had our bands; I had Pypy and CPC Gangbang which are more psych bands, and she had Hiroshima Shadows. I played for her band first, filling in on bass and when that broke up she pretty much came into Red Mass.
What’s something important you’ve both learnt from punk?
RV: When I was younger I’d think of it as more rock n roll based punk that had more of a party vibe that would tie into bands that had more of a nihilistic outlook like the ‘70s L.A. punk. When I got older my taste started varying, I’ve always liked all sorts of music, I really found post-punk opened up that door for me and I started exploring all the genres in that subgenre, that was really what got me! In essence the idea of punk comes from art movements like Dada, which was more of a rebellious and innovative form of creation—that’s what drew me to punk, the innovative side. I still love the wild rock n roll bands though!
I grew up in the suburbs and I listened to a lot of experimental music because of a radio show called Brave New Waves with Patti Schmidt. She would play garage to avant-garde music, you would hear from Derek Bailey to Thee Headcoats, which really blew my mind! When I got into punk, the bands that I really appreciated would be the ones that I considered were trying to innovate in the genre.
HL: For me, punk really opened up the world of music and connections with so many different people. When I started getting into the punk scene, especially in Montreal when I moved down here, it was so varied. You’d go to a show and there would be a noise band, a country-flavoured punk outfit and so many genres crossing and communicating with each other through shows and art. It was really incredible. It taught me not to limit art to any one thing and to accept anything to be art if it’s presented so by whoever is presenting it and to not just go with the concept in mind of what that’s supposed to be.
RV: Montreal was also a really fun city for punk, because there were different scenes. Bands from here achieved a certain amount of international recognition like, Godspeed You! Black Emperor; they’re all punks, they started to work with Constellation Record, and you have this whole avant-garde scene based on Americana, bands that were really influenced by that, the cinematic sound. Then you had bands like The Sainte Catherines, buddies of ours that signed to Fat Wreck Chords, so there was that skate-punk scene. We were playing more garage-punk. All these different bands co-existed and that was really great. Then there’s bands like AIDS Wolf and the noise scene. It was fun because we all had the same sentiment but we didn’t get bored because things were so varied. Someone would be on a bill doing power-electronic and someone from the country scene doing something…
HL: There would be no rules!
That’s the punk I like the best too, real varied stuff. I think genres are pretty flaky and now everything’s so blurred anyway, if you’re just playing and stuck in one style it’s so boring, to me at least. In the beginnings of punk everyone sounded different.
I’ve read that Red Mass incorporate automatic creation techniques into your creative process. Is that like automatic writing?
RV: Yes. It’s based on a lot of ideas put forward by Grant Morrison the comic book writer as well as Austin Osman Spare; he was the first occultist, spiritualist, to bring forth notions of automatic writing and letting your intuition and subconsciousness take over, which also the Surrealists did. We use a lot of sigils and elements of Chaos Magic in our art and in our music but also in our lives, we tie it all in together. A lot of our [album] covers have sigils. We really make music and art for art’s sake. We’ve done a lot of improvisational releases and shows. I find it interesting and important to be able to communicate with people through improvisation, it’s something we try to bring into a project.
How did you first come to Austin Osman Spare’s work?
RV: I’ve read quite a few books on Chaos Magic, I’ve read Phil Hines and Grant Morrison, and some of the more recent authors, so through there I would have discovered Spare. I used to read a lot of [Aleister] Crowley, then I gravitated more to the Chaos magicians, and Austin Osman Spare is one of the originators of these techniques.
Chaos Magic is often misunderstood, from my perspective I feel it’s more of a DIY approach to spirituality and focusing on channelling your own thoughts and energies; what do you think?
RV: It’s exactly that. What you just said is exactly what it is. It’s a DIY approach to spirituality and you create your own belief system around your own iconography and your own symbolism.
I think that’s pretty cool. In a lot of religious texts, for example the Bible, it says that the kingdom of heaven is within you and everything you need is within yourself, it’s all just about tapping into that—living in your truth and trusting yourself.
RV: Yes. There’s elements of all religions and beliefs that tie into that. A lot of these beliefs systems have similar plots, if you want to call them that. Everything with Chaos Magic basically makes it so you don’t have to abide by a specific type of ritual and belief and you can morph it to your own needs.
What are some of your rituals you use to tap into your creativity?
RV: I really like sigil magic so I use a lot of that in the music. I use rituals in the bands, we’ve done performances with rituals, we use them more in our day-to-day life though. It comes and goes, they’ll be points in my life where I really delve into it but then there’s times I’ll have other creative outlets. It basically runs side by side with my artistic development.
What does spirituality mean to you?
HL: I really connect to nature heavily. With my father being a Theologian, I grew up with him teaching at university, it really knocked down thinking of spirituality as any kind of institution of any sort that’s for sure. Spirituality is connecting with yourself and surroundings and other humans and really finding joy and peace with who you are and what you’re putting out into the world and how you’re affecting it or not, or finding whatever you are looking for in the world.
RV: Spirituality is something that’s a way to tap into the oneness of life and the greater force at work. I used to dabble more in elements of dark arts, occultism but with time I definitely prefer a more positive kind of energy, Chaos Magic gave me that. My spirituality is really open. I think every religion has its truth in it, spirituality is more expressed to oneself how we can cope and situate ourselves in that, that sometimes overwhelming sense of confusion which we may have in front of that, the interconnectedness of everything. Spirituality is a way to give oneself answers or to explain to oneself things that aren’t clearly explainable, maybe more on a metaphysical level.
Previously you’ve mentioned that playing music is a way that you can connect with people and that it’s part of the reason why you do…
RV: Totally! We’ve never approached the band as a regular recording project, we’re talking about being free in our creativity and we’ve always wanted to push our own boundaries and innovate. We decided to approach it differently than you would an art project, we choose not to have a fixed line-up, not to have a fixed genre, to throw it all out the window. What we consider was something fresh for us, was to innovate in the format of the creativity and the bands structure. Instead of innovating with a certain type of music signature or instrumentation, we thought the way for us to move forward was to throw all that out and have a very open project that in itself was…
HL: The only restrictions we had were making music that was it. Every song we were doing was approached as its own thing. We were working on a project but we weren’t restricting ourselves to sound, we really wanted to make it as open and fluid as possible by principal and see where it went.
Your latest album A Hopeless Noise is in a way a modern day retelling of the story of Don Quixote, right?
RV: Yeah, it started like that.
What sparked the idea for it? Were you reading Don Quixote at the time?
RV: Literally I was reading Don Quixote. It is an amazing novel. I wanted to touch on the idea of illusions of grandeur. We had been writing songs around a Diamond Girl character who falls from grace and we thought it will tie in. We were also into Bret Easton Ellis’ work at the time so we added these elements of decadent glamour. We threw it all in a pot and it basically gave the flavour of A Hopeless Noise.
Where did the character Diamond Girl come from?
RV: It’s so old I honestly don’t remember…
RV: It’s actually one of the first tracks that we recorded. One of our friends Sebastien Perry used us as his final project for school and we needed a song. I had the song ‘Diamond Girl’ that I had written around ten years ago and we just sat on it, the idea not the character [laughs]. We decided to revisit the character and had been writing a few songs like ‘Sharp’ that’s on the record and ‘Howl’. One thing that I thought was interesting is that Bret Easton Ellis had a crew of writers with him when he really exploded, all of the stories and the plots were in the same universe, different writers would be writing around the same fictional school. I always thought that was pretty neat. Their art lived and went on these adventures and pop up in somebody else’s art. It blew me away!
HL: The fictional world is from many people’s world not just one mind.
I read it took five years to make the album, but from what you’re telling me it’s been an idea and in parts for much longer.
HL: It took us a while because we were writing songs and we thought, we should do the guitar like this… eventually we thought if we want to have a bass line sound like Mike Watt or something… Roy was like, ‘I’m going to write Mike Watt and see if he’ll do it’. Mike Watt wrote us back and sent us a bass line the very next day. We thought; why don’t we approach things like that? If we think of people who would fit the part of the song best, let’s ask them! The only thing was that it took a while to get some tracks back from people.
RV: I’d say it took maybe ten years if anything. We didn’t want to rush it. It was a weird one. We’ve had a slew of labels interested at different times and some of them dropped the album because it was taking too long, some of them ended up not understanding it, but we never gave up on it! This record is also something that we have been working on in our relationship, basically we started seeing each other and then we started writing on this. It’s really mirrored our lives because we’ve been working on it so long. We ended up having to go back and work on some of the earlier tracks because we weren’t as happy with some of them as we were with the later tracks, it was a little bit of an endless circle for a while, but after a while it came together. Initially it was meant to be a double album. We ended up going back and taking out songs that had spread a little far from the theme of the record and the concept and story behind it. Once we cut down everything that was superfluous we got what we think is something solid and that we’re proud of.
HL: One of us always had a problem with it and then at one point we were both like—this is it! We left it on the table and didn’t touch it after a certain point. It’s pretty crazy that it’s out! It came out when we were in Austria recently. We were going into the studio from 9 to 1AM every night for years… any idea we had we tried. It taught us so much in the studio and so much about creativity and how we work together and separately.
RV: We really indulged. It’s really important to indulge sometimes, I often see it mentioned and it’s seen as a negative thing but I think it’s fun to be able to enjoy yourself working on something. We gave ourselves zero deadlines. I took a few months to back away from it and get a little bit of perspective and when we came back for a few months, we listened to the whole thing and knew that is was done.
HL: We were also working on other projects at the time. It was interesting how it affected how we both worked with other people and how we were expanding our skill sets.
What was something that sticks out from all the things that you learnt during this process?
RV: To work with people. Often we’d push musicians we worked with out of their comfort zones and have them do different things from what they were used to. It worked sometimes but sometimes it backfired.
HL: Because we were spending so much time in the studio we were also able to push ourselves out of our comfort zone pretty heavily. We made a concerted effort to see how far we could go with things. It was interesting to see and work with another person when they were out of their comfort zone and make them feel comfortable with you and navigate that and trust in yourself and whoever is in the room with you. Eventually we were able to access that with people we worked with because we worked with so many and had been doing it for ourselves too. It’s super fun!
RV: Most things worked well but sometimes things flop, but that’s ok because it’s part of the process. We have a follow up record coming where we’re exploring a new idea it’s, 111 Songs, which is an angel number, a magic number… songs are divided into eleven chapters, each chapter representing a type of personality. As the Diamond Gilr’s psychological state deteriorates because of her multiple personalities, we explored the idea – which is something that comic book writer Grant Morrison put forward – that we should live with a multiple personality complex. If the Diamond Girl would let all her multiple personalities co-exist, sometimes you can avoid a psychosis like that; you can also apply that on a societal level. We used some of the songs that didn’t work for the specific record of A Hopeless Noise and attached them to certain personality traits of the character. The idea is, if you let the personalities co-exist in you, you find a certain harmony.
So you’re still working on 111 Songs?
HL: Yeah, we’ve been doing it since just after we finished A Hopeless Noise. We were living in such a great apartment where we had such a great setup and were recording every single day for two years. Roy came up with the concept pretty early into working on that.
RV: We’re 90% done.
Nice! I can’t wait to hear it. It sounds really interesting and exciting!
HL: It’s certainly weird hearing my twenty-year-old voice [laughs].
RV: Yeah, some of the material is so old. We really hear ourselves’ age on some of it.
Are you working on anything else?
HL: We’re working on another project…
RV: It’s called Birds Of Paradise. It’s a little classic rock and there’s some country material. We’re working on a kid’s book. I’m writing a short novel. I’m also working with Pypy, which I do with musicians from Duchess Says. I do FUBAR… I have a band called Nightseeker, which is basically the Canadian Spinal Tap, we actually did a TV show for Vice; we play exaggerated metal versions of ourselves [laughs].
HL: FUBAR is like a mockumentary.
RV: It’s a mockumentary that turned fantasy into reality though, we go out and we play real shows. Hannah’s worked on a few documentaries too.
What’s the best thing about working with each other?
HL: We definitely have worked on working with each other [laughs], it was kind of difficult at different periods of our relationship because we’re living together too. We’ve found a really good groove with one another and we’ve been able to sit down and produce a lot together. It’s nice to have someone around that every single day you can put your heads together and get stuff done. You’re constantly really in a good work vibe and productive.
RV: For me travelling together is number one. We’ve been all across the US and Europe. That’s a big plus being a married couple and playing music and making art together.
HL: Yeah, you don’t get lonely on the road.
RV: I’d like to think we really get along, I think that’s the magic, I really love it! We definitely have similar tastes, I remember one of the first times we met. I went to her house, she was way younger than me….
HL: I’m still way younger! [laughs].
RV: [Laughs] Well not way younger but younger, she was ten years younger than me, she was in her early twenties and me in my thirties already. I came in and she was listening to Captain Beefheart and that blew my mind! I was like, oh my god! Oh my god! Who is this person?!
RV: She came to see me to do a little weird bluse-y set at some random place…
HL: It was a place called The Cop Shop.
RV: Yeah. After that I went to her house and she was watching Planet Earth and listening to Captain Beefheart I was like, oh my god! I need to marry this person… and we did! Our tastes are very alike in certain ways, I listen to cornier pop stuff though. I think I’m a bit more…. [*pauses to think*]
HL: Ohhhh, careful now [laughs].
RV: …I have more of a tolerance for stuff that might be a bit cornier. We listen to all kinds of stuff, we find a similar ground in the music that we like.
HL: It’s really great to be able to introduce each other to different art constantly! It would be really difficult to live with someone that you couldn’t do that with.
RV: We both know the other and we listen to anything. We both gravitated towards punk because…
HL: The ethics!
RV: Yeah, the ethics and the creative process behind it, that’s what led us to do this band. Punk’s been done for forty years now, we thought; how do we do something different? We just decided to do what we want, when we want and just indulge and have fun—only for the love of art and music. For me it’s totally been a life saver!
HL: It’s cool to be in a place where people come and contribute what they want to contribute and not feel intimated…
RV: Or obliged…
HL: There’s never an intent or expectation of anyone during it. We keep ourselves open to keep it going.
Is there anything you guys are doing in isolation to keep on top of your wellbeing?
RV: I learnt how to cook!
HL: [Laughs] He was terrible at cooking.
RV: I’ve become a just above average cook, before this you could consider me as someone that would make everything into dog food [laughs]. I had no patience and no love for it, I didn’t understand… like food was very functional for me. I’d eat standing up in my kitchen just shoving in whatever, now I cook!
HL: I used to work in kitchens. When I was really young I really wanted to be a chef. It used to be appalling watching him in the kitchen, up until very recently [laughs].
RV: We share the chores so I was always cooking and she would just be very polite and eat it. Now it’s good! I can sit down and actually enjoy a meal, so that’s been one of the big changes for me. I’ve been working a bit on my novel. We’re going to do some videos. We’re working on our country record…
HL: Yeah, we’re really starting to look at doing a country record so it’s fun looking through all the old country music and trying to figure out how that side of things work in music. I’ve been looking at different vocal styles, stuff like that. I started exercising, so that’s… interesting! [laughs]. I’m very out of shape!
RV: For the first whole month of this virus pandemic, she was also not here, she was in another province, Ontario, about an hour and a half away from here. So I spent that first month of this thing alone… I really feel for people that are alone because you kind of get loopy a little bit. I was starting to go dark and get depressed but she came… playing music also helps, you can only watch so much and read so much. We have all our guitars and amplifiers here so we have a good little setup and make music, which has been a bit of a life saver for me.
That’s the same with my husband and I, we both make art and do music, we’ve been together over eleven years. It’s nice to create together and just be around each other and like you were mentioning before, you can show each other new art and music. I think that’s really inspiring and special.
RV: That’s awesome! Yes, when it works! [laughs]. I’ve seen bands with couples and I’m like mmmmhmmm, I don’t wanna be in that band!
Last question; have you ever had a really life changing moment?
RV: I had to really flip my life around, I had two heart attacks, I was doing a lot of hard drugs when I was younger. I had to have an epiphany. The first version of my epiphany was me becoming a “Born Again” for like a minute, that faded and I found myself more in Chaos Magic, that spirituality. I definitely had a moment where I had to make a rift with my previous life and start from scratch. It really coincided with the beginning of this project. Before that I was playing in more nihilistic punk bands, whereas Red Mass has a very positive outlook—it’s very much about the love and creativity. What about you Hannah?
HL: My dad was drinking a lot and I had to go pick him up at one point and he was really ill, that was a real game changer for me, in the way that I attack life… kind of breaking away from feeling responsible for things that I am not in control of and accepting that—that has been a completely freeing experience for me. To know that I am able to love and care but also not be in control of something. That was a year or two ago, but that was a really big game changer for me.
I love hearing stories of growth and how people deal with experiences in their life and come out the other side. Life can be so rough sometimes and challenging. Sharing experiences can help others who might be reading or hearing it realise that they’re not as alone as they may have thought.
RV: It really allows you to get more perspective and have more empathy. For me, that’s a little bit of why I’ve liked to work in the manner that we have because it allows us to meet people on their terms. To try to relate to someone on a different level and to try to understand their passion and what makes them tick, is really cool. We’re all more similar than we think, we just have little variations. The communicative aspect of collaborating and working with people and the learning is really a driving force for us.
HL: It’s interesting to see how you can musically get along with someone that’s coming from a completely different thought, but then you can play with someone who has practically the same taste and it just doesn’t gel.
RV: It’s the alchemy of art! Sometimes it’s still fun when it doesn’t work, because it is just for fun. If you’re not putting an expectation or an end goal on it, it’s the experience of creating the art itself, the process, that’s enough to be fulfilling.