Let’s talk about what the concept of what “Death After Life” means, because it’s obviously a play on the age-old colloquialism, “life after death,” but I was thinking about it in relation to this idea of futurism. What’s your take on it?
“Death After Life” for me relates to being aware of now, and being very present and how hard that is. It relates to futurism and our culture now, where you’re never fully present, or it’s very hard to be in this moment, and that’s the driving force behind the concept. All the songs were created with this awareness of being tied to what I’m doing in that moment. It’s also about cycles. It’s about death being just a way of living. It’s a guiding force of all living things, and I feel like it’s a guiding force for the record — things birth and they grow and they have identities, but they all end with the same silence that goes into another cycle. I’m not embracing death fully, but not fully being afraid of it and knowing that that’s the thing that you and I have in common, and that we all have in common in this room. You know, we’re all going to die.
It’s a really human concept, although I think that a lot of people relate your music — and any electronic music — to robotics.
Well, what I’m fighting for is to break that relationship. The aesthetic is totally there, but I want to make electronic music that isn’t considered static. I want to add a bit of soul to it. It alludes to a soul, you know, “Death After Life.” It’s like, “Well… that sucks,” so you want to search for something more.
Tell me about your experience with Software.
It came at a weird time because I had finished this record (or a portion of it), put out this tape (didn’t really put it out, I put out a few copies for a show that I had), and I was feeling ambivalent about the whole process of making music in public full-time. I was kind of disconnected. I think that isolation had really gotten to me, so I made this conscious decision to quit making music in the way that I had always been making music. I receded to this… “I’ll make music on the weekends for fun…”
Was that a process thing, or did you get new instruments?
No, it was more of an emotional thing for me, because I felt like after 10 years (or something) I just wasn’t really getting what I wanted out of it. But I didn’t really know what I wanted from it; I just knew that I wasn’t getting that experience. It became more arduous for me and less fun. But I was making music in my apartment and writing to blogs and friends, being like, “Hey I made this, maybe you’d be into it, maybe not.” And then getting some good [feedback] — 20 Jazz Funk Greats wrote amazing pieces about my work, and you, actually — I love those connections. But I don’t like what it takes to be a musician in this day and age.
So I receded into this, “OK, I’m just going to make music and have it be more of this spiritual thing that I do.” And then literally that week Dan [Lopatin] wrote me an e-mail and was like, “Hey, I’m Dan Lopatin, I’m with Software, I perform as Oneohtrix Point Never, and Software would love to collaborate with you.” So it was a surreal experience for me.
It’s like that myth about single guys desperate for a girlfriend — and the second he stops looking…
It really was that! It’s so bizarre to me, because it was this weird other force that brought us together. And I don’t know how he got turned onto the music, I think that Software had been scanning it for a while and had been into it, and this guy Matt Werth, who runs RVNG International, got super into it, and… yeah, he just hit me up. The e-mail was funny because he’s so formal about how he introduces himself, and pretty much anyone working within this experimental context knows who he is, so part of me was like, “Woah this is crazy.” I didn’t really accept it as reality for awhile. But Software is amazing, man. I’ve been a fan of a lot of their work. The stuff they did with Pete Swanson, all the old Oneohtrix records… they’re so committed to their artists and so committed to the direction, which I feel like a lot of people don’t do… This record was birthed out of a series of conversations [with] them saying, “What do you want, what are you hoping to get from this, and how can we can make that happen?”
I feel like at this point my politics and my art and my identity have become a lot more subversive, which I feel is a little more impactful. It’s a little more malleable and I’m able to reach out to people beyond warehouse walls and really connect with people.
It really is a dream for me, I couldn’t think of a better group of people to work with, and everyone down to the people who do social networking stuff — everyone is committed to their artists, which is unbelievable to me. I feel like labels now just don’t have that level of commitment. Or, they do, but they can’t see it through because of financial reasons or whatever.
Well, you’re a proprietor of a label…
I know how it is. The people associated with Laser Palace are, in my opinion, some of the most talented, amazing artists ever, and I’m just so taxed to do what I can to make their releases amazing and really facilitate a good experience, but…
I think all people that run little labels like that have this dream that they’re going to make those people larger than life.
Exactly. It comes from a good place, but then you really get beaten down by the reality of how music is digested now, it’s very different. It’s also hard when you’re not all touring all the time, you know.
Do I remember right that you have a background in cello?
Yeah, I grew up an orchestra kid. I used to play violin, cello, all through high school, middle school/whatever.
Did you study that stuff in college?
I never really went to college. But I actually went to go tryout for the college symphony or whatever, and… was so vibe’d out by it, and the musicianship involved. There was no communal aspect whatsoever. It’s very individualistic and cut-throat.
Did you like the music?
I loved it. I mean, I love classical music, I love classical composition, I love the tactile interface of performance. Yeah, I really, really loved it, but I just felt like it wasn’t right for me.
Has anything from those early formal training years carried through to you now musically?
I think it guides my intuition musically. I feel very comfortable behind music, I never question it, even in my worst times when I’m playing a show or something, my intentions are always there and I’m always aware of the interface or the vibe that I’m trying to create. I think a lot of that came from being formally trained in music and performing my whole life. That’s the only consistent thing in my life, is music. I don’t really harness a lot of the theory any more… mostly because I don’t want to.
Your music’s not exactly interesting because of its use of harmony, but what I do notice is that you’re very keen to dynamics and texture, and those are such huge elements of symphonic music. My biggest problem with most bands is that they have no idea how loud they’re playing, and I would think that dynamics would be especially difficult for an electronic musician who patches in a loop and just lets it go.
I think those two things are very related. I mean, that’s what makes the violin amazing, that dynamic control over pitch and timbre and texture. It’s the process that I use to make the music that I make, all hands-on and very tactile, so I have physical control over everything. Honestly I’ve never really used a computer to make music… It doesn’t resonate with me. Dynamics come from that physical interaction, that physical engagement with sound. A lot of it is tied to time and time signatures. I think that was the biggest thing I took from playing stringed instruments [is that] you’re so aware of time and your place in a song. I remember in high school, sitting… Rests. So many rests. And waiting for your part, you know, and you had to play it the right way. I love that awareness of space, and sound, and when you fit in. And that’s what I’m trying to create with all these different elements.
You know, I do wish I was more exposed to more contemporary composers at a young age.
What stuff were you really into?
Classically, it would be standard shit. I loved Vivaldi and Mozart growing up. But I really missed the Penderecki and all those crazy avant garde people that were taught in these schools, because I think it would engage young people a lot more.
Yeah, I didn’t learn about those guys until college.
I got into all of that from Throbbing Gristle. I mean they were so poignant for me because they were experimenting. They really turned me onto Cage and everyone. Stockhausen, all these really incredible people. But I wish it wasn’t so inaccessible, because I feel like that’s what’s keeping public music education down.
I think that the standardization of Western music in general has really imprisoned a lot of those people. They have to be analyzed through this strict language code that was invented just to get a handle on it. I guess I can understand the basic human need for it, but some of the magic might have been lost.
It speaks to us culturally because we’re so confined. We don’t get this sense of so many different things — time signatures, different instruments. I think that every kindergarten kid should listen to gamelan. Because that hits so hard with little kids, man, it’s just so percussive and loud and dynamic… In Chicago, I saw this gamelan — like a 15-piece ensemble — play with Dan Deacon at Grant Park. They would do all these free shows and a lot of families would come and hang out, which was cool because they could expose people to stuff they would never be exposed to. I remember being out in this park and watching these four-year-olds dance to gamelan and thinking, “This is so perfect — this is the perfect fusion of culture, and it’s all going through this child’s mind right now,” and their reaction to it is just very guttural or instinctual, they’re just wilin’ out and being a kid. But they’re listening to this really important music. It’s crazy. That place was really cool, because they would expose people to some weird stuff, like Stockhausen pieces. But families would just hang out there because it was a free event where you could go and have a beer and be out in the sun. And they were really dialed into the experimental musicians. I saw Clarke play. For free! In front of all these families [laughs] again. It’s such a cool way to experience music because all the genres and all the hang-ups are just completely floored, level; you’re just experiencing sound, which is so cool.
I feel [that isolation] here as well, mostly because a lot of my old community left around the same time I left. Things have changed so rapidly here, and I think when you’ve had an experience and then you come back to a place with that experience, it’s very hard to translate.
How long has it been since you’ve picked up a cello?
I composed some music for a theater group out here about three years ago — The Lida Project. They had this woman Julie Rada make this play called HOT+WAX, it was a meld of politics and video game culture. She asked me to compose a piece so I did some modular stuff, some cello stuff with it. An actress actually played cello, so I had to compose for cello and then teach her how to play the notes that I was playing. Prior to that I don’t think I’d touched a cello for seven years now. I miss it.
I imagine you’re pretty busy with Thug Entrancer, so is Hideous Men getting shelved a little bit? How does Kristi feel about everything?
She’s incredible through this whole experience because she’s so much a part of it. It really is us going through this other chapter of our lives.
Is she your musical editor? Do you send her stuff?
She’s totally my word editor. I’m horrible with writing. I work in sound and I have a hard time formulating sentences or using the appropriate word at the appropriate time, so whenever I do interviews or anything I’ll usually be like, “Does this make any sense?” and then Kristi will go through and be like, “What do you mean by this?” I think that’s typical relationship stuff, too. But Hideous Men… we’ve been working on a record for a while, and the way that I view this experience with Thug Entrancer right now is that it is very akin to her grad school experience, where we moved out there, and it was really just about her digging into her love and her life, and getting into grad school and being completely enveloped by it. Coming back here now, it’s like I’m getting on this different tier of musicianship, like a different chapter in my creative life, so we kind of view it as that: “What can I do to help you facilitate this more?” We’re part of it together, but also pushing ourselves to get further into what we love. Hideous Men is always gonna happen in some form. We always make music together. She’s too busy, that’s the problem. She’s always working. She’s career-oriented. She loves it, her work is amazing, so I feel like that is always going to take priority, which is good. I think deep down inside she wishes she could be here saying this stuff, for sure… but I think at the end of the day it’s kind of exhausting.
You found a channel to reach the right people, which is so difficult to do.
… I don’t know why that is or what that is. I think people are ready to have a little bit of a different experience. And maybe I’ve just been fortunate to play shows with people who want that, but so far I’ve not had a single show where people are just like… “Fuck this dude.” People are really responsive to it.
What is your home set up like for listening to music? How do you prefer to wind down on your own with it?
I prefer not to listen to music in headphones. I like sound when it embodies a space, because I feel more connected to it. I have a record player, it’s a Numark DJ turntable, a Kyocera receiver that’s pretty shitty, these speakers… and I just put on a record and zone out. Most people watch [TV] shows or something, but almost every night I come home and put on a record and listen to it. I got a bunch of Basic Channel records, I don’t know if you’re familiar…
Really, really good German techno. Rhythm and Sound, have you heard them?
I’ve heard of that.
I listen to a lot of rap, man. I’m on datpiff all the time. There’s this blog called Fake Shore Drive that’s Chicago rap. When I was in Chicago I got so inundated with rap because it’s a very real thing up there. It was happening in our neighborhood.
It’s on the radio all the time, huh.
Yeah, the radio out there is amazing. It’s very good.
We have nothing like that here.
Nothing! Kristi and I just had this conversation.
I didn’t even realize good radio existed.
88.5, “Pride of the South Side.” We lived on the South side of Chicago which in and of itself is something, because a lot of people don’t go to the South side (there’s two cities, essentially). But 88.5, which is broadcasted out of the University of Chicago [is the] best radio station I’ve ever heard. One night I would turn it on and it’d be AACM, Anthony Braxton — just deep, deep Anthony Braxton cuts, super weird free-jazz. And then the other night I turned it on and it’s some Chicago rapper who’s taken over the studio with all his friends and they’re just freestyling over UGK beats. So inspirational. The blues — never got into blues music until I was out there and went to some legit South side blues bars. Damn, these are some of the hardest working musicians on the face of the Earth.
I remember being down in New Orleans a while ago, and the system they have for live music there is like beyond anything I’ve ever comprehended. Nobody makes anything from the door, they just make tips. And they all get together in different configurations every night and play in a different place, and just do it every single night. It’s serious dedication.
Those places are places where you could be a musician. It’s on a totally different scale, it’s peripheral of blogs or internet or anything, but it’s being a musician in your hometown.
It makes me happy that music still functions beyond all of that. And here we are interviewing and I’m going to be putting this on a blog.
But I’m happy that there’s both I guess.
Absolutely. That was the biggest thing I’d taken from Chicago, going to jazz bars. Really I didn’t experience a lot of crazy electronic shows. On the south side there’s all these old-school House dudes doing really rad parties, but you know, my focus was the free-jazz stuff, and I saw some of the best shows down there that I’ve ever seen in my life, where it was me and Kristi and the people playing the show were the only people there. But phenomenal free-jazz. It’s just so good. This sort of live music, this sort of vibe, like New Orleans you were talking about — I think it’s going to happen in Denver soon.