Tim Hecker “I really wanted white neon and white horses and weird fabrics blowing in the sun to be my kind of conceptual guidance.”

Photo: Todd Cole

Tim Hecker’s been breathing rarefied air for the past few years. Among his peers in the modern avant-garde, Hecker’s music has become increasingly difficult to pin down, expanding beyond the trappings of what we might think of as “drone” or “ambient” musics and into something far more obscured. And yet, with each successive release, he’s swelled more and more in notoriety, so much so that heavy-hitters 4AD signed him to put out his latest astral-traveling missive, the gorgeous and enigmatic Love Streams.

It’s a dense, vivid, laser cutter of an album that sees Hecker continuing to question the boundaries of composition across realms both human and other, and toying with press release statements that name check Yeezus as a key influence (lol). Yes, we at TMT can’t contain our excitement about it either, so we hopped on a call with Hecker to discuss his views on negotiating counter-culture with commercial success, coming to terms with Michael Bay, and what it’s like to continue making art in the age of cultural overproduction.

I remember when I first heard that you had signed to 4AD thinking, ‘Dude, I totally bet this new record is going to have this violet vibe to it,’ and lo and behold it totally does. What do you think about that interaction between 4AD’s history and Love Streams?

To be honest, the album was actually written before the label was decided; it was kind of an open question when I was writing this material. It’s a good synchronicity, but it wasn’t tailored with that in mind — but it is nice that that makes sense to you, cause that’s what you want out of a record label, right?

You’ve definitely reached this point in the public sphere where you’re one of the bigger names making really out-there, abstract forms of music. How do you feel about that space between making counter-cultural forms of art while still being a commercially recognized figure?

I think it’s a couple of things. It’s really an amazing blessing to be able to make music that people care about, and that you can make a living at. It’s very rare. Like right now, I do music full-time, and I have for quite a while, and there are very, very, very few people that are given that opportunity. It’s rarer and rarer, and the lifespan of someone that makes a go at music is shorter and shorter, and the margins are slimmer and slimmer. It’s something that’s really difficult to do, and I have great empathy for musicians trying to make it work. I think it’s a really difficult thing, and I feel blessed to have been able to keep doing this. It’s surprising. But I also don’t cater to the commercial aspects of my music. I don’t think about an audience, I don’t think about sales when I make work. I’m just trying to make work that satisfies myself, and that is making an object that’s discreet and that has its own internal language, and that hopefully maybe is beautiful or strange or weird. Just offering something to the planet, or putting something out there into the world that you feel good about, or feel like you put enough time into, or that makes you feel like you’ve tapped out, or that you’re spent in an impossibly good way. There’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of doubt, there’s a lot of weird mental spaces when you work on something for four months, or six months, and commit to a direction and an aesthetic and a set of instruments, and that sometimes goes against zeitgeist. Sometimes that goes against trends, and you have to just swallow it and be strong. It’s a difficult process putting music out into the world I’d say. As the stakes the get higher, it’s something I try to break free from, I try to negate, that voice, because it’s a voice that doesn’t yield anything good.

I must say, on a tonal level I feel like Love Streams is one of your more accessible albums, but melodically it’s extremely elusive. There aren’t any immediately obvious semi-hooks like “Black Refraction” or “I’m Transmitting Tonight.” Are you tired of writing melodies right now?

You get to the point where you’re like, “What is a melody?” Like melody, rhythm, texture seem kind of like basic categorizations that I try to break down and implode or invert, so that the texture is the melody, or the melody is the rhythm…every song on the record has a hook in it, for me, that gets me excited, that would function for other people as melody. But for me that might be two or three notes that bubble out of nowhere, or some bass feeling, or some type of textural fabric feeling, or some interlude or something.

Your music isn’t really the easiest to draw any kind of overarching sonic trajectory to, but I would say if there’s anything that I could pull from it, there has been this steady introduction of acoustic instrumentation, especially on this one and Virgins. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s kind of coming to peace with abstraction. You can bathe everything in this synthetic gauze of distortion and disfiguration, but at some point I decided to just relax and let an instrument breathe, and realized that that is as interesting as burying it in four iterations of distortion and wet hall reverbs and recording things in acoustic space or whatever. There is a certain potency to having an instrument sit against something that’s de-natured also, so that the two function in a kind of ghostly dance or something that doesn’t make sense. That’s what I’m partly interested in, or have been.

What are you thinking about making this material work in a live setting?

I think I’m just gonna probably approach it with a bit more of a baseball bat I suppose. [laughs] Yeah. I’ll probably pitch these little pieces into the air, and then hit them with a baseball bat, and grab those fragments, and make that the beginning of a live set I suppose. I’m not sure. I’m working on that right now, actually.

In your Rolling Stone interview, you mentioned the need to stay away from going into Michael Bay Transformers territory. And I totally know what you mean, but at the same time…

I wanted to condition that actually, and say that that’s a legit zone for some people. Like chromium morphing spaces and things that sound like cash money, I think that’s legitimate. It’s just for me at that point I wasn’t fully into the total absorption of that idea. But go on?

[laughs] No it’s just, you’re totally predicting my questions as I’m asking them. I was just going to say that even if those movies themselves aren’t transcendental, there are ideas in them that do seem like they’ve taken root in this more transcendental way, you know what I mean?

Yeah, at a certain point all this tech and all these approaches to visual or audio technology…CGI and two-dimensionality is now so liquid and lifelike and seductive — and audioscapes are the same thing. It’s like this great data-stream of a sculptural dream. That is a viable workbench of exploration, and I’ve been functioning in that zone but using cruder tools for 10-15 years, just shittier computers, shittier ways of trying to do some of these things. A lot of people have been, and now it’s in another state, but I think it’s more popular and more acceptable and easier to use, and that makes it interesting.

Do you feel like more spacey, ambient forms are meaningful to you, specifically? A lot of electronic music being made right now has these sharp edges to it, stuff like Garden of Delete or NON, but your work still feels pretty cloudy.

Yeah, for sure. I guess it’s just a point of using similar tools in some ways, but dissolving the edges and just giving some bend to it. I don’t know, it’s a difficult subject, and I don’t know what the answer is to that. I think I’m just interested in hypnotic spaces that I want to return to, things that yield repetitive listens, things that show their age and the date in which they’re made but also transcends those date markings, do you know what I mean? That confuse whether its 2016 or 1976 or, whatever, 2036. That the origins of its source, in terms of the techniques, the tools, the brush and paint, whatever you want to call it, are an oblique reference. That for me is the most interesting thing.

There are so many ways you could go about approaching instrumental or dronier music, but I do feel there’s this very real streak of darkness at the heart of your discography. Is one of your goals with your music to achieve a kind of therapy or exorcism of that?

Probably, yeah. I would say generally, like today, I had a pretty relaxed day. I went to the Whole Foods, I rode my motorcycle in the sun, it’s like 70 degrees in L.A. My life’s not very brooding, and I find that music has a therapeutic aspect in that if I don’t make music after a while, I feel something is missing in my life. That legitimate end-of-expression is one that definitely bubbles something out. And I don’t know if making heavy music is something I’ve done as a therapeutic thing, I think if I’m sitting in my studio I need to really feel something for it to be viable, you know? I need some kind of presence of some material, having affect, or having some weird space that you feel is compelling. For me, intensity, sometimes, has done that in terms of sound pressure, in terms of tonality. I find that making music that’s been heavy sometimes — and I really don’t consider myself an overarching heavy artist, compared to a lot of people I like, this is like gray scale, I would say — but those types of spaces make me feel lighter, and make me feel some kind of joy, through making them. I don’t know why, but yeah.

I actually didn’t know until recently that you were splitting your time between Montreal and L.A. Do you feel like you’re part of a larger community or do you feel like an outsider?

Well L.A. makes everyone an outsider, by definition. It’s the city that’s also a non-city, it’s a space where there is no center. It’s a space where you create communities that happen over time and they’re kind of de-centered by nature. But having said that I feel like I’m part of the city for sure, and I live in it and definitely am as much a part of it as I think is healthy.

Are there any personal experiences that had an impact on you deciding to make this specific album?

Nah, it just came from the time in my life, what was happening, just the need to make something lighter, for me, that pulled back from this plodding, endlessly morose thing that sometimes I feel like was at risk in my music. And this record’s not exactly like unicorns and white neon, but I really wanted white neon and white horses and weird fabrics blowing in the sun to be my kind of conceptual guidance in doing that.

Cool. Last question: what do you think of The Life of Pablo?

You know, I find it like…the last couple records, I’ve only listened to three or four out of like, 15, but I find it’s increasingly like… mental illness? I find the ego in the narrative of the text just literally screams the need for therapy, or something. And I find it musically interesting, but my favorite part is probably the layout of the album cover, you know, the Belgian influences. And then down from there I’d say I don’t know. No comment [laughs].

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