Thursday, December 08, 2011
(this drawing is by Merry Parker)
I’m fond of saying when I realized I couldn’t actually become a super-hero I decided to become a musician. See, I’d discovered the way. The way to transform freakishness into something that benefits humankind (or at least makes me feel better ).
I think it had something to do with the dreaming, the getting lost in the dreaming, which to this day still interests me more than reality. And the dreaming actualized, the inspired dreaming baked to perfection (that is, inspiration [not flawless, but inspired]), is the dream incarnate. Which is to say, music.
Now back then, I suppose something about my reality (which I wont’ bother to go into here [fodder for a million other essays]) was not quite blissful enough to get lost in. I sought escape. And what better world to escape into than one where it’s participants wear tights and have super-powers like flying or super-strength or teleportation or telekinises or invisibility or ten million other powers that were so much cooler than school and family and boredom and people all around you you didn’t quite relate to.
This was the key you see. The ‘didn’t quite relate to.’ The powers and the inherent freaks who possessed them I could relate to. Today my love of comic books has completely faded. I tried picking up a few I had left the other day (~the other 5000 I used to have were given away by my mother to children in a cancer ward in a hospital,which, how can you get mad at? [despite having the whole original Phoenix saga from the X-men in the ‘70s]), and the magic just was not there. I found the plots pretty horrible Hollywood basic, and the talk all machismo (even from the women), shallow, and stupid. What was it I had originally fallen in love with?
In Greil Marcus’ ‘Invisible Republic’ he talks about Camile Paglia and how she made some comment in one of her sex essays on never being able to escape the fascism of the bodies, and he makes the point that, with 78s in the late ‘20s in America, people suddenly could psychicly escape their bodies, they would become just a voice or a sound on a record and exist outside of time and not only that, but whoever was listening could escape to that place, and that escape, that place outside our bodies, was the place I wanted to escape to too. (And by escaping my body, maybe I secretly hoped I’d feel comfortable within it as well.)
Now, you could argue that painting, TV, and film, all offer us this same escape, but to me, none does it better than music because music is sensual (~at least in the forms I like), and actually touches you, both mentally and physically, comes out the speakers and hits your ears and the air and caresses your body, becomes an actual erotic creature with the pressing of the play button. You can make love to music just sitting there (though if you dance, perhaps your love will be more erotic [yet psychic journeys inside the head can be just as gratifying (although some noise afficiandoes prefer to just let walls of sound whip them around, which for masochistic or sadistic reasons...well, you understand)]).
But I digress, freakishness makes escape an option only for so long before you feel unconnected. And you want (more than anything) to feel connected. So you transform your freakishness into something that fights back (i.e. super-powers). You don’t have to escape. You can transform feelings into sound, and this ability is a super-power.
Music makes mere mortals into super-heroes (or villains) by transforming them from dorks into stars or mythological beings. Often this happens through teamwork. Dorks, nerds, geeks and dweebs form like Voltron to create wholes greater than the sum of their parts. In other words, bands.
Just because in my adulthood (post an English degree which allows me to critically read the world into a million interpretations, but not much else), I no longer find comic books stimulating, doesn’t mean I don’t find what I initially found in comic books stimulating. That is to say, super-powers to this day still interest me. But once I came to the sad realization (or fab depending on how mature your point of view is) that a nuclear particle explosion wasn’t going to turn me into the Hulk or Spiderman, and that I hadn’t been born a mutant (sadly), and that I was just fairly normal, at least physically (although my vision wasn’t so hot, & my breathing was pretty crappy), I also discovered the video to ‘Sweet Child of Mine,’ by Guns‘n’ Roses.
Part II - Now, Guns ‘n’ Roses didn’t last long with me. I mean, I never seriously got into metal, and in fact prior to that had been much more into pop rap and top 40, but when Guns ‘n’ Roses came along somewhere in my pre-adolescent mind something clicked: I shall hypothesize today that what clicked in my 12-year old little brain was that Axl Rose, for all his moronic lyrics and baby behavior, had a charisma and snake-like charm (dance) which was super-human (as did everyone in Guns for that matter [sans Steven Adler]). Slash’s Thing (from the Fantastic 4) hiding behind a jungle of black curls, Izzy’s Keith Richards (who I would only later find out about, and initially, I thought Izzy was original) somewhat akin to Nightcrawler (of the X-Men, one of those sidemen who were actually cooler than the main character), Duff’s Colossas (of the X-men) or Human Torch (of the Fantastic 4), i.e. that loveable doof who kind of fell into the situation by accident, and Axl’s Cyclops (of the X-men) or Captain America or Wolverine or Spiderman or whatever.
Every band has this. People in bands play roles in the same way that people on super-hero teams play roles, so that Sonic Youth’s theoretical democraticization is kind of akin to the X-men, and Bob Dylan could be Captain America (his playing with The Band or The Dead being akin to Captain America moonlighting with the Avengers), and more fringe artists being, well, being one in a million mutants, Wolf Eyes music fitting easily into the comic book apocalyptic ambience of a world gone insane, and, well, like a bunch of mutants coming together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts (cause like any good team they compliment each other through chemistry, cover up their individual flaws, and work together to create something none of the components could come up with on their own [why The Beatles were never as good solo, as well as The Stones, or the X-men]).
And the sounds the bands made, well, one could say Basquiet or Kandinsky or Bacon or Holzer make frozen human powers but, musicians are super-powers in action. When Steve Shelly (ofSonic Youth) or Jim White (of the Dirty 3) make a room explode, this to me is psychic bombs that are actualized (through the hitting of a drum).
When I Feel Tractor makes an entire room laugh at a line in a folk song he’s singing, this to me is the psychic ability to reach into everyone’s skull and unlock something that points to something deeper. (Different from spoken word poetry, backed with the power of an acoustic guitar and a melody, the line itself [often] takes on more power. This isn’t to demean spoken word, but only to say that in my experience I have found the power of music a deeper more mystical live experience.)
When Wolf Eyes creates primordial times before the dawn of humans out of analog electronics, this is noise explosions akin to Havoc (of the X-men)or Boom Boom (of the New Mutants) or Cannonball (also of the New Mutants), or even Magneto, exploding reality or blowing up your mind out of components from reality.
These are powers actualized. And the people who have these powers are personalities, which every good comic, and every good band, has. The reason the X-men were so popular had as much to do with the myriad personalities and complexities (at least to my little mind) of its characters, as to do with their individual super-powers. In the same vein, Jenifer Hermana & Neil Hagarty’s allure in the Royal Trux, beyond their music, was their eccentric insane characters. (This is also a syndrome we call ‘the rock star,’ and it has become more important to mainstream society than the actual music.)
Kim Gordan learned how to sculpt this. Kurt Cobain never really learned how to control his image, though he was most definitely a character. Bob Dylan did. Kim and Bob both stopped letting people in, giving off an icy detachment of cool that serves as both a given in the rules (~i.e. we want more what we can’t have) and an ‘I don’t give a fuck’ aloofness which, in a world of people tearing their hair out and having conniptions and breakdowns, we love all the more for these characters seemingly easy ability to keep it together. This is what we also loved about Wolverine and his cigar.
Kathleen Hanna, like Banshee (of the X-men), can shatter your psyche and ear drums with some of her screams,and is just as effective at getting inside your skull. She’s the opposite of Kim in many ways (though took a cue from Kim in her Julie Ruin days of how to step aside herself). We love her all the more for being willing to break down and let it all out, as Nina Simone so eloquently articulated. (This is the same reason we love Rogue [of the X-men], who kept her cool until you pissed her off, and then all hell broke loose.)
When you leave punk or indie or whatever, and go to jazz, this seems all the more heroic and super-human, whether John Coltrane or Eric Dolphy, Thelonious Monk or Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler or Nina Simone, Billie Holiday or Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane or thousands of other seemingly super-human musicians who, through sheer psychic will were able out of the barest of materials to make lush worlds of incredible beauty and color. (~I don’t say complexity because simplicity is often, like minimalist painters, so much more beautiful, and complexity is a road the prog-rockers can take. It’s more pleasurable [at least to me] to go back to the basics of the primal era [for the greatest explanation of this concept read Lester Bang’s essay ‘Of Pop & Pies, the Mass Liberation of America in The form of a Stooges review,’ from the book Psychotic Reactions and Carburator Dung]).
Your Beethoven’s and Bach’s are more like Superman or Dick Tracey, ~old school and not as interesting, at least to me. (Though great nonetheless.)
Originally in comic books women weren’t as involved, and women and minorities and outcasts often have so much more interesting voices because of their very outcastness (i.e. they have something to say about the actual society [more than Led Zeplin]). So that when Nina Simone sings ‘Sinner Man,’ or when Billie Holiday sings ‘Strange Fruit,’ or when Charles Mingus recorded ‘The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady,’ or when Bikini Kill recorded ‘Pussy Whipped,’ there was an urgency to it that came out of suffering and being an outsider and wanting to scream because of it (or weep, or laugh, or off oneself, ~all, simultaneously, always).
Those who felt death as well, music gave an outlet (or inlet [& escape and understanding]), so that unacceptable behavior was acceptable on a stage. Nick Cave could crawl around and whip himself into a frenzy of screaming and shouting and violence on-stage with the Birthday Party and the audience would cheer, whereas in Australia finding his father dead, he found himself in prison for similar behavior offstage. In this same way, Sunspot (of The New Mutants) could beat the shit out of people who made him angry instead of dealing with the much more difficult psychic pain he felt from his family life.
John Coltrane is an even more poignant example. Ravi Shankar never understood why John, a vegetarian in later years and someone who practiced meditation, could still be so violent and have so many demons in his music(express so much anxiety and rage), but then Ravi wasn’t living in America through the civil rights/Vietnam/feminist/queer liberation eras either.
And John’s horn was as potent an instrument of expressing (& inducing) life, death, peace & destruction as any this world has ever seen. John was one of the super-humans super-humans, and in this way, dealt with greater realms of the cosmos than most of us mere mortals or minor super-heroes.
When Metalux expresses to me how supremely fucked our insides are right now, and how expressing that insanity is somehow soothing, I’m like ‘right on ladies, you’s da bomb.’
To come back full circle, what we’re really talking about here is escape. Whether you’re performing the music or escaping into someone else’s world (i.e. music), what super-heroes and musician have in common is they show us the blueprint for a world that’s greater than this one. A world free of the banality of existence, where everything is vital and necessary, vibrant and alive (at least ideally [i.e. in the best music]). A world where we can transcend our daily humdrum (or agony) and escape to. And escape is the key word here. John Coltrane was screaming for a world that would not come, a world free of racial barriers, which sought to transcend the mess he found himself in. He was screaming to break through to the other side. He could see it, touch it, feel it, create it with his horn (free it). Express what was going on inside him and actualize it, create a place of feeling on the outside that reflected the inside and reflected the place he wanted to be, or was. The other side is the inside, externalized that taps into the place from which we all come. This is religious experience. Transcendental music was the key that let him in. Escape allowed him to travel through, to the other side, the inside.
Musicians are super heroes, somehow greater than this world. Not their actual selves, but the mythological selves they portray. The ones you don’t know personally, that you only know through the sounds on a record and its sleeve, and maybe seeing them live if they’re still alive. (One can only wonder what type of religious experience you would have if you found Blind Willie Johnson playing on some street corner ‘Dark Was The Night.’) You can project onto them whatever you want to. You can escape into these heliocentric worlds that are somehow less dim than ours,and eyes wide open, Aleister Crowly echoing William Blake, ‘when the doors of perception are cleansed people will see things as they actually are, infinite’ and, music cleanses these doors of perception, tunes us into alternate realities, infinite possibilities, our surroundings (our insides).
This escape takes you out of this world, but also sheds insight light on this one. It’s like asking yourself, ‘what’s going to make the world seem new and fresh again, how can I see the world through new eyes?’ For me, it was some ‘ole super-heros musicians, people who had extraordinary powers beyond mere mortals. Or even better, mere mortals realizing their extraordinary powers
There’s something incredibly exhilarating in that.
When I was young I wanted to see super-heroes beat the shit out of each other and fight because I didn’t know how to express my emotions yet. I’m still not sure I do, but now, I transform these emotions into sounds. This is my super-power. Something within you transformed into something actual. That you can hear and feel and touch. Not just a drawing of the thing itself, but, an actuality of the thing itself. There are other methods for transforming emotion, but, the others all involve two steps. From head to heart. Instead of just hitting you, physically, immediately. (I know one could argue all great great art hits you on a gut level, but, I’m talking the majority of the time the way the medium hits you.)
Music, the kind of music I like, is primal. Hits you hard. You become a super-hero, a metaphysical crime fighter at war within yourself. Fighting the chaos within to transform it into a form which provides a vehicle for your emotions, something tangible, perhaps even beautiful or, if not beautiful, at least vibrantly alive. (Which itself is beautiful.)
Super-villains and super-heroes are manifestations of what’s in your head, what’s fighting within your body, and how your body (or mind) deals with what’s out there, in the world. You can transform this stuff. You can let these confusing emotions out of your body. You can transform them into sounds. And repetitive hypnotic structure is good enough, is better than good enough, serves a therapeutic, ritualistic religious thing in me that seeks to transcend all this and simultaneously, through catharsis, make me feel better (and channel the religious mythological super wooha). Super-powers weren’t going to happen, other than the ultimate one, which is the ability to transform emotions into sound, and somehow, that’s good enough.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
How does it feel? 10 Interpretations of Recent Tracks by NYC band You Should Know About - by Ben Malkin
So, I had this conversation with Jarvis years ago. At the time he said he thought Cock-Now was a really great idea (something to that effect), but that its implementation was wrong, that the focus should be more music, and especially, music that doesn’t get covered as much in the mainstream media, i.e. our community. Now Cock-Now has always been about more than just music, inclusive to poetry, illustrations, cartoons, fiction, essays, & interviews of all sorts of players. But Jarvis had a point. It is a good medium to display & record what’s going on around us, so I’m going to take this opportunity to fulfill Jarv’s recommendation so many years ago, which I’ve come to realize was a great one...But Jarv, this is Cock-Now and you know I’m not gonna play it straight. Music criticism is boring, at least to me. So, these are interpretations, visions inspired by the songs, scenes I see as the songs pass me by, how the song feels...and if the vision appeals (or if not the vision, the bands name, or their picture), hopefully the reader will seek out more info on the band, and discover these diamonds in the rough.
Song: Professor Johnson
Band: The Booboniks
Album: King Boobonik
It’s World War II. You’re a pilot in a nose diving plane. ‘Ten four, ten four Come in Professor Johnson Professor Johnson come in Mayday Mayday ’ The radio crackles & out comes a voice, the voice of a drunken preacher: ‘& y’all can get my nuts see, because I be the nigga who cuts thee.’ You hear the voice gulp, then, babbling with the conviction of the stoned, ‘And y’all can smooch up my asshole, because I am the man yo.’ Big bang boom of a million shimmies torpedoes straight out the shower, blazin’ hymns via trumpet, tom drum, & hi-hat, as you stank to the valley of the shadow of death, with the preacher, who like Ted Berrigan, is a lot more insane than this here valley...
Song: House of Cats
Album: I Was Born At Night
In the middle of the desert you race to escape the prison of your skin. You want out. Out of this mess, out of your skull, out of this life. You come upon a sphinx, or at least what appears to be a sphinx from behind. The beast towers, shimmering metallic, a hundred feet high by a hundred feet wide, at least. As you move to the front you’re suddenly surrounded. A nation of children, all racing to escape the prison of their skin, hold each other, singing ‘Don’t you let us fit in, don’t let us fit in on my soul ’ All the hairs on your arms stand up. You’re levitating. What’s going on? The sphinx is not a sphinx. It’s a jaguar made of metal, a magnetic jaguar pulling you towards it.‘All hail Meneguar ’ the children scream, and the magnetic jaguars jowls crank open, swallowing you, exhilarated.
Song: I Am the One
Band: Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice
Album: Buck Dharma
Out here in the middle of the forest, a sacred circle outlined in dirt. A bonfire rages in the center of the circle, as stars illuminate mystic night, shedding just enough light on the darkness. Dust kicks up from deer dancing round the fire, kicking hooves in the air as two notes repeat infinity, hypnotically, through an owl playing bass with its wings. Hopi Spirits hop out the astral plane, that’s how groovy. Racoons tap out sixteenth notes on silver bells as porcupines play congas, bears shake maracas & mountain lion hits cow bell, emphasizing beats tail, as her cubs clap tiny paws along. A snake slithers in & out the deers dance, till it reaches the head of the circle, where it climbs atop the shoulders of the high priestess, singing her sermon on the milk crate: ‘I am the one I am the one, I am the one I am.’ Dozens of decapitated human heads on the ends of tree branches litter the forest like silver balls on Christmas trees as the priestess wails: ‘All thingsmust pass away, good news is coming, it’s coming today, all things must pass away.’
Song: ‘Dance Party’
On a conveyer belt moving down the hall of mirrors robots spin round you. At the end of the conveyor belt sits a stage, & as you move towards it, 2 girls play, one bass, one keys, both singing, emotionally withdrawn, illuminating all the negative space in between, how it points to so much more . The entire scene spins on a merry go round, a satellite spinning in outer space. You’re disoriented, but pleasantly so. You’re falling backwards but it feels so nice. The robots poke you & you giggle. You giggle cause you’ve finally made it here, you’ve finally made it, to the dance party.
Song: ‘One At A Time’
You are being prepared to walk to your own sacrifice. You stutter, pausing for breath, and a horde of mosquitos surround you, buzzing, droning, then fly off just as suddenly. Open chords ring out, & the beat & the priests move in, serving to intensify your already not so subtle case of claustrophobia. The priests suddenly turn & break into stutter claps, stop, stare you down. Jagged bass & guitar like insects dance, sparse, give you space so you know just how alone you are. A witch doctor jumps in front of you, sings pleadingly ‘walk slowly, speak slowly child’ (one of the priests trills along knowingly ‘ahh-ahh-ahh’) ‘imperfect harvest, imperfect healing, imperfect speed, imperfection revealing new wounds open one at a time’ all the priests in unison ‘one at a time’ as he grabs at your chest & rips out your heart.
Band: Autumn Thieves
Album: The Sunshine ep
It’s 1985. You walk into a record store that catches your eye because of the Joy Division poster in the window. Molly Ringwald’s at the record counter. She’s taking stock, being the clerk & all, and she has on those super-cute glasses that make you think geek girls are the sexiest things on earth. Not sexy in a porn star way, but sexy in a cuddle-up-agus way. You coyly walk towards the E section & begin flipping through the vinyl, examining some Echo & The Bunnymen or other, whatever, as you stare peripherally Molly’s way. It’s sunset & you dosed earlier this afternoon, it being Thursday & all. Sunshine penetrates the window and you can see all the dust particles floating through the air as the world peels back in colors. You turn towards Molly & open your mouth, because you finally have something to say. She’s melting. You close your eyes & run out the door.
Song: ‘I Used to Think’
Band: I feel tractor
Album: Out Spring 2006 on Goodbye Better
I was sailing, out on the open sea, fingerpickin’ a guitar on the observation deck atop the mast. Looked down from my perch and eyed a cabin boy, tapping out a march on a snare drum. He’s drunk. So am I. The captain writhes on the floor, his limbs are spazzin’ out. He’s speaking in tongues. The wind shimmies like a moaning saw cutting my mind in two. We are sinking, slowly. The wooden mermaid on the front of bow turns to me, creaking, and opens her wooden lips: ‘You know you’ve got no head?’ I stop playing and feel the place where my face should be. Well how do you like that, she’s right ‘What will they do, they got no head to turn to.’
Band: So L’il
Album: Dear Kathy,
In the toy factory a corkscrew spits at you. It twists and opens a door which releases a rabbit which runs through your legs. Japanese elves hammer out gifts of passing. They are grabbing at your limbs, trying to pull you in four different directions at once. Candy canes in stockings dangle from the walls, silently sobbing. Santa sits at a keyboard & falls over dead every chorus, sleeping on a two note drone. He wakes during the verses, alarmed & confused, conveying this through a four note riff. A scandanavian girl sits on a swing hanging from the middle of the room. She pushes her legs in & out & swings, singing to someone who’s not there in her soft, sing-song voice, ‘Receiiiive, your sle-eep,’ again and again. A spirit floats in & smiles at the little girl. The spirit beckons her to swing higher, higher, then let go. The little girl pulls her legs all the way in, then pushes up towards the sky as high as she can & flies into the air, where the spirit hugs her so hard he goes inside her skin, his gift to her, Christmas Day, 2004.
Song: ‘In da Hood’
Band: Tiger Vomitt
In the space age dojo a little girl sits on a mushroom smoking a blunt. She’s surrounded by aliens & the aliens are all break-dancing. A camero rolls in bouncing Bounce bounce. The little girl grabs the mic & starts free stylin’ ‘Break it break it break it down, Tiger Vommitt is the baddest crew in this town, Hit it hit it hit word, T to the V is in the herd.’ Song: Fantastic Maneuver
Album: ‘We Will Gently Destroy You’
In the intergalactic satellite disco you gaze across the room & fall under the sway of a feminine feline creature. She pounces on you from across the room, leaping onto your shoulders , paws & claws catching your head in a vice grip. Forcing it to groove to the trio onstage, who assault you with dissonant noise which shimmers & strangles you & never resolves but strangely feels good. The feline jumps behind, puts a wire round your throat. She pulls, ‘think I’m sexy now, fucker’ she purrs. ‘Yes, I do,’ you say, ‘Yes...I do...’
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Cock-Now Zine has been around for the better part of six or seven years now, however, mostly in runs of very limited editions (100 to 200 copies per issue). Since a lot more people access the internet than ever see the hard copy of Cock-Now (~which to me is still a whole lot finer but, is limited in copies due to cold hard cash), I figured it was about time to start posting some of the interviews and features we’ve done with/on the dozens and dozens of fantastic bands who’ve graced the pages of Cock-Now over the years. These are mostly bands that may not yet have had the exposure they deserve, but who are phenomenal irrespective (~never confuse PR money for great music), and since there are a lot of people into these bands from across the globe who may want to read these interviews (~Cock-Now has always been about community first and foremost, so, in a perfect world we’d meet and connect with everyone who reads the zine, but obviously that’s not possible), this blog now exists as a specific reference to the music section of Cock-Now Zine.
***To see a complete listing of all the articles contained in this blog please scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the link you like.*** (~I'm trying to figure out how to put this on the top of the page. Sorry!)
It should be noted that Cock-Now Zine has always been about a lot more than just music (~and for the first half of it’s existence, contained virtually nothing on music), featuring tons of poetry, visual arts, prose, essays, collages, and artist interviews, from the documentary film maker Albert Maysles, to the poet Eileen Myles, to the brothers Berrigan interviewing each other. However this specific blog will focus on the music section of Cock-Now, in order to try and connect the bands that are contained therein, and maybe make others aware of bands they may like if they’re already here checking out a friends band.
Anyway, thanks to all the bands who took part in these interviews, and who we’ve played with on the last few Cock-Now Zine release party tours across the North East. It’s been a blast. Enjoy*
ps: past years interviews will be uploaded as we find them or type them into the computer. There’s been a lot over the years so the current 14 up are the most recent, however the older interviews will be added in the not so distant future so check back for those....peace.
pps: the painting above was done by the fabulous artist Katherine Betty Jones.
It’s like the longing for intimacy that is constantly disappointed, so shrouds itself in music to escape the pain or, builds a cathedral of intimacy where none exists in love, giving voice to the feelings one feels when we found a love in the streets but it was not ours, swinging b/w the pendulum of dramatic and subdued because were human and keep it all in, but explode sometimes when the tension inside, the tension we internalize, becomes to much to bear, and must be released, spread its wings like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the charred remains of our love, because all thats been held in and held back (& built up) must be released: Therein lie the sensual dreams which make up the music which is The Sleeping Kings of Iona.
Cock-Now: The British artist Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures cast the negative spaces of common domestic objects. In her biography in the Sensation art book they say her work "...literally solidifies the absence of the object -whether it be a room, a house, a chair, a bathtub or a hot-water bottle - making it into a tangible, material thing. With the opacity or luminescence of plaster, rubber or resin, the sculptures create an iconography of memory and loss. They are the negative imprint, both relic and residue, of something that once was, their surfaces still showing legible traces of the object from which they were cast. Twice removed from their origin, they are both ghostly fossils and physical embodiments of ossified, negative space." Although they are describing sculpture above, this description of Rachel Whiteread’s work seems an apt description for the music of the Sleeping Kings as well. The songs to me seem a very beautiful "negative imprint, both relic and residue, of something that once was..., thus serving as both ghostly fossils and physical embodiments of ossified, negative space" (~the solid object they are born from in this case being the feelings and situations that gave birth to the song). The physical embodiment of this negative space (of the feelings), i.e. the songs, becomes something quite beautiful and other worldly in this way (think side two of Joy Divisions ‘Closer’), so my question to you is do you think (the going through) pain is somehow justified when it can be reincarnated into such beautiful negative space (or songs)?
Sleeping Kings of Iona: I wouldnt say that pain is necessarily what we’re feeling. I would say that it is melancholy or even sad moments that we are translating into music. Part of the joy of the negative spaces are the positive moments that come afterwards. So, yes, we do believe it is justified.
CN: "One very strong movement in the late nineteenth century and twentieth centuries was towards music as an immersive, environmental experience...Its a drift away from narrative and towards landscape, from performed event to sonic space." - Brian Eno
And although Eno was referring to classical and modernist composers, I feel like this statement also refers to some ambiguous amorphous fact that makes the Sleeping Kings different from other indie or electronica bands, the fact that your sound worlds are so immersive, more like places or environmental spaces (spaces to enter, worlds to live in, rather than traditional songs, worlds of feelings): Do you think we create these sonic spaces to fill the emotional voids left from life, and do you think by letting the sounds ring out (by giving them space to breathe) we are somehow expressing uncertainty, the spaces between certainties (where we exist most of the time [i.e. not knowing what other people are thinking or feeling])?
SKOI: They are what we are feeling at the moment. You can’t dive into the song. The creation of these songs are to fill a void, but not for specifics. We never want to rush into anything because we understand that its important to let it breathe. We like things that are strict but we also like things to flow.
CN: Longing Longing Held back, like the moment of holding your breath, waiting for the moment to happen, & expressing all that cant be said through sensual sound. In the Sleeping Kings though, the release never is a scream; it whispers, makes epic gestures in huge grand sweeping melodies, and in its most emotional moments pleads for you to leave. In a sense its more powerful this way cause it never lets go, never loses control, even when its obviously lost control (in life). Specifically in fantastic songs like ‘Nearer’ where the ambient textures (the sound of the kick) and atmospherics reveal the afterworld rushing in. What do you think allowing the soft sounds to ring out represents?
SKOI: For us its completely a release. It’s never intended to be a call for help, its an embracing of that feeling, an invitation. Not all of our sounds are soft but the soft moments will lead you to the not so soft moments. Sometimes the building up to is better than the release. Like we said earlier, we like to take our time and not rush what we love to do.
CN: The songs all seem tinged with melancholy, a sense of yearning, a place of darkness. (Yet yearning, hope, and most important, beauty.) How do you think Buffalo has effected your music? As a place? Why do you think Buffalo seems to be so fertile for this style of music? (Vera, Besnyo, Sleeping Kings of Iona, etc.) Do you think Buffalos lack of sun (some parts of the year) has anything to do w/it?
SKOI: Buffalo is definitely more of a run down post-industrial town, which was intended for something grand that never came to fruition or if it did, it died long ago. It snows a lot, we love it. Its very pretty. It gets really cold here. The summers are hazy and really beautiful. All of these things are factors in this, things that we love and hate about the city. Luckily we have bands like Vera Lena, Besnyo , just to name a couple, that help to interpret musically what Buffalo is. As for a lack of sun, there is really no less sun here than any other city on the east coast.
CN: A lot of desperation, miscommunication, and music having the power to redeem, transcend, heal, & mend: ‘Organs song’ is just immaculate. The music, mourning yet hopeful, infusing the words with wistful nostalgic yearning for a future that will not come, utterances heard in silence, the lyrics frozen moments, the perfect accompaniment to the question: why cant you go, so I can move on... In ‘Organs Song’ the speaker keeps changing, the vocal taking on shifting perspectives of what I presume is one situation, and different ways of seeing it: do you think shifting the perspective sheds more light on the situations multi-faced truths?
SKOI: Shifting the perspective always offers multiple views of whats going on. Clearly it sheds more light. Unfortunately, Molly is not here to answer for herself.
CN: Live (and Im assuming on record) all four of you change instruments constantly. Do you think this helps keep egos in check (because everyone gets a chance in the spotlight)? Also, who writes what songs?
SKOI: We play as a group instead of as individuals. We either write on the spot or someone has an idea that influences the next to the next.
CN: You say in ‘Pheromone’, ‘I shudder to think, oh...yes, those were the days’, and in ‘Hibernian’ you say ‘badaladadada, youve never been so sure’, -almost mocking, yeah right-esque, self-deprecating and ironic but full of sadness as well. You do justice to the complicated nature of feelings, the bitterness & genuine mournfulness all wrapped up in one. Do you think theres a genuineness in sarcasm (or truths)?
SKOI: Yes, absolutely. There is always some sort of truth behind every joke or bit of sarcasm, though we don’t purposely include that sense of sarcasm. A lot of our lyrics are stream of consciousness and just sort of happen immediately. Perhaps it’s how we express those feelings of being betrayed, and we just arent fully aware of it.
CN: Like many great artists, the kings are shrouded in mystery (enigmatic). You dont say who plays what on the album, nor do you have a bio...why the mystery? Can you tell us a bit about the history of the kings, how you came together, where did the name Sleeping Kings of Iona come from, etc.
SKOI: The mystery isn’t intentional. We just aren’t really that interested in the specifics, to be honest. We’ve just been friends for a while, before the band actually started. The name refers to a bunch of dead rich guys buried on an isle off the coast of Scotland. It’s really no reference to us at all.
CN: The transformation of desperation and sadness into beauty (so filling the empty spaces) is one of the greatest things music is capable of (Keats truth is beauty, beauty is truth), & Sleeping Kings seem to personify this transformation and emotional resonance. Albums and bands that accomplish this (affect us in this powerful a way) save us in some sense, not literally, but definitely emotionally, especially at certain periods of our lives when we really need them. (Makes life worth living.)...What music or albums have held particular emotional relevance to you and, possibly saved you, at certain times in your life?
SKOI: Whenever we really, really want to have a good time, we put on some Neneh Cherry or some New Order.
CN: Most bands run into ego problems: why & how do you think sleeping kings have avoided this pitfall? Do you think changing instruments so often helps keep egos in check (i.e. everyone gets a chance in the spotlight)? Also, what do you think are the pros and cons to this type of set-up?
SKOI: We’re not the kind of people to really want to be in the spotlight. We play with the lights off. No solos.
CN: I think another great facet of the kings is how often you interact (infuse) live percussion with electronic beats. Who writes the beats and why do some songs call for electronic beats solely, some live percussion over electronic beats, and some just live drums? Also, who is the percussionist who plays along with you on much of the album?
SKOI: Sometimes you wanna dance. Sometimes you wanna fuck. Sometimes you wanna fuckin dance. Our friend Mark Nosowicz plays most but not all live percussion on the record.
CN: Your songs build in really interesting ways, often just one part repeated throughout the whole song (one beat), falling verses, descending, suspended time (frozen) through repeated melodies (pedal points) over shifting chords, choruses just extensions of verses, repetition and layering, parts changing without changing, gradually rising, celestial, up to the heavens. Sonicly dramatic tension rises, and in the building and dropping away of instruments, a journey forms that finally climaxes in the crests of the waves of your songs (sounds) crashing down, finally dropping out, and disappearing...what are your feelings towards the power of repetition & simplicity? (And dynamics.) Can you think of any role models from the past as far as sleeping kings archetypes?
SKOI: We feel that there is something classic and full of integrity about the simplicity and repetition in our music. It’s terribly unfortunate that there are so many groups that overdo and spoil all the moments in their music. You mentioned Joy Division earlier, they were very good at simplicity and repetition. They were good at that.
CN: The album truly sounds like four people interacting, rather than a studio project (& having seen you live a few times, I know this is what you sound like): How do you view live music versus recorded? Do you think about the live presentation first, or do you figure out how youre going to perform the song live once the song is already recorded? (Do you all write together?) And finally, was the album recorded live?
SKOI: We write songs with live presentation in mind. We salt and pepper them in the studio when recording. We are a live band and not a studio project. However, the album was not recorded live.
CN: There’s an air of royalty to some the tracks: Im thinking specifically of ‘Pheromone,’ Seventeen, and ‘Kildeer,’ where the epic quality of these moments become monumental, filled with meaning due to these really huge, grand, sweeping melodies reaching for the heavens: its almost like stating something, and by repeating the phrase it grows bigger and bigger (grander and grander), becomes more confident, and finally bursts, transforming into some huge majestic cosmic gesture. Do you think mounting tension and its subsequent release makes a gesture more meaningful than it actually is (and in mounting the tension, actually creates the meaning)?
SKOI: We could blow our proverbial load earlier, sometimes it works like that. Sometimes we like to go for a long time, still with that load on the way.
CN: ‘Hibernian’ has an evil undercurrent, bubbling beneath the surface. There seems to be all this pent up emotion, almost resentment, about to explode (which does explode in Seventeen): ‘Hibernian’ reminds me of butterfly wings slowly swooshing in & out (in slow motion), hesitant, but its in that moment of hesitation where the real sensualness exists (sensuality): why do you think holding back can often times be more sensual than letting go (or letting loose)?
CN: ‘Pheromone’ is the hit (to me, anyway), and was the song I first walked in on The Kings (coming to the Cake-Shop to see Dedelectric, from The Grassroots [a bar on St. Marx (i.e. headquarters)], and, walking in on that song, kind of a revelation): When I was going through a break-up that song just killed me, the ultimate line venomously whipped: ‘I swear I’d kill you, I swear I would kill you, yes I swear I would’: I mean, what better use for art is there? (Than giving vent to these murderous feelings, being able to catharsize such emotions.) Then you go on to sing in the outro, ‘I never thought that you would betray me, I never thought that you would betray me oh I never thought’ and the mood moon music turns celebratory, the sad chant in turn becoming celebratory. This is the transformation of pain into beauty I spoke of earlier. Do you feel the pain that leads to this type of emotional outlet (and breakthrough) and subsequent beauty (i.e. powerful song) couldn’t come out of joy, and that the pain is somehow worth going through (justified) when you get a song this phenomenal out of it?
SKOI: Again we can’t speak for Molly if its based on specifics or not but ‘Pheromone’ is a breakup song and is an intentional pop song, as well. Molly may actually be out there killing people if she wasn’t in this band. Breakups can make you a killer or cause you to write a hit.
CN: ‘Seventeen’ is everything music should be. It perfectly captures that sparkling uncertainty that disorients and comforts simultaneously. Like the world is exploding and everything's going to be just fine. Totally Molly waving to Ducky at the end of Pretty In Pink. That good. It’s heavy and wonderful, and perfectly evokes that feeling of nostalgia and end of the movie moment where everything comes together in going to be alright, despite life. (Yet that minor key awareness of death, or the end of things, I think captured in the melody, such a strong melody that everything circles around in this song.)Why didn’t you put vocals on this song? It doesn’t need them, of course (the strength of the instrumental melodies are fantastic) but, since all of your other songs do have vocals over them, why not this one, which ultimately / arguably could’ve been your biggest hit [but also could’ve screwed up the song]).
SKOI: ‘Seventeen’ is an instrumental and we simply felt as though it was meant to stay that way. It has this feeling of being that age with the uncertainty of not knowing whats going on. We felt that by leaving it an instrumental we achieved what we had intended to.
CN: ‘Kildeer’ is just epic, the synth line like a plaintiff cry: I love how you hold the tension to the bursting point in the song, not singing over the chorus until the third time it comes around, so that when you do sing over it, the explosion is ten times as powerful because youve built up to it. Still, why resist the urge to go pop & have this very catchy chorus come around more than once? (Dont get me wrong, I understand this urge, ~I often succumb to it myself and think it all the more special cause it only comes around once, but realize the commercial suicide inherent in such moves.)
SKOI: We already did that with ‘Pheromone.’ The way we wrote it and the way that Molly sang it the first time, we thought it was cool.
CN: What is the significance of the oriental architecture on the cover of the album?
SKOI: We liked the design. Our friend Yukiko took the pictures and we thought they were beautiful. We found a love in the streets because it was not ours, it’s foreign. The landscape, that is.
CN: The male vocals versus female vocals is one of the more interesting facets of sleeping kings, most often because the female seem untamed (emotional), while the male are held back (reserved, hushed, quiet): the contradiction leading to the chemistry b/w them (opposite sides of the coin [Tao]). Most bands would go with one or the other: why go with both, and what do you think are the advantages to such a decision?
SKOI: It’s good to have different styles, different points of view. They aren’t intentional but it is the Tao. It’s creating the feeling of having more than one point of view. We can write simplistic music and at the same time have that complicated aspect of dual vocals, male and female.
CN: Thank you*
To find out more about the Sleeping Kings or purchase their music please visit:
Cock-Now: Under your influences you put at the end "...and all those little moments that save our lives...." Do you ever see music as a way of giving eternal life (or celebration) to those moments, kind of like ancestral worship only in this case for moments and the living (instead of the dead, but also the dead)...almost like abstract photographs (snapshots of time)?
Reflectiostack: Music is definitely about celebrating little moments that normally would go unremembered. It's about capturing the vulnerability, the joy, the sadness of that part of your life you can't see, or even understand. We are constantly moving in circles in our lives, repeating patterns and painful mistakes. When we grow, and the circle turns into an upward spiral, we have cause for celebration.
CN: ‘Golden’ is definitely my song of the year (~even though I guess it came out last year): it’s just as magnificent a song as has ever been written... ‘Mist of life it coils around your tender soul’ is such a brilliant line. My question is, why is the soul inherently tender? Why a lamb and not a lion? Or has it been humbled by the world?
R: In tenderness, the soul becomes both lamb and lion. It is an emotion that recognizes our inherent need for others, and demands a certain amount of vulnerability. Ironically, then, tenderness requires incredible strength to move beyond the safety of our solitary selves.
CN: I always wanted to hear the Dirty 3 w/vocals, and you guys achieve what I’d been hearing in my head (~more than with Nick Cave or Chan Marshall or their other collaborators) more successfully than the Dirty 3! I know when I saw the Dirty 3 live for the first time it was a life changing experience. (~I’ve seen them seven times since.) I can hear the heavy (or dirgy as your site says) influence of Warren Ellis on Fiona’s violin lines, especially ‘Whatever You Love, You Are’, ‘Horse Stories,’ and ‘Ocean Songs.’Can you talk for a bit about what the Dirty 3 has meant to you and how they’ve influenced your music? Who are some other violinists who have influenced your playing? (~I also hear The Rachels ‘Music for Egon Schiele’ quite a bit in there.)
R: Sometimes influence runs so deep you cease to be able to excavate it The Dirty Three open a dialogue between melody and dissonance, between architectural layering and minimalism, between tension and release, between structure and spontaneity, which has articulated many musical possibilities for us, particularly in terms of incorporating the violin as a crucial voice in that dialogue. There is a Hungarian violinist named Felix Lajko who continues to push the limits of the instrument through his explorations of folk and gypsy music. Interestingly, the Dirty Three cover a Felix Lajko song (the Zither Player) on Cinder.
CN: ‘Silence is all I can say to you when there are to many things floating around this head of mine’ is such a great line. And then the violin (in "5 Foot Bridges") just comes in at the perfect moment to express what the words can’t (~but what you allude to later, ‘fire rushing in into your eyes’). What do you think music is capable of expressing emotionally that words fail to?
R: There is something definitive about words. Music takes words to another level. It adds a meaning through emotion and dynamics; a truth that is timeless.
CN: Q: ‘What is reality when dreams they float away from you?’
R: When hope and dreams escape life, reality becomes indifferent, an invisible cog in that destructive wheel of nothingness. To capture your dreams is to carve on the rock of life that you existed, that you could see above the trees.
CN: There seems to be this ongoing dialogue in your songs about the relationships b/w reality and dreams or illusions. In the song "Who is Yuri Popovich?" (Ed. Note: which also, re: the violin, is the most ‘Venus In Furs’ song I’ve heard by a modern band since The Stooges ‘We Will Fall’ [which was also John Cale].) you say:
"Sleep tight for these dreams, they are what's real"
and later in the song "When I run away I'm real, when I run away I'm real"
Philip K. Dick says something like ‘reality is what’s left when you stop believing in it.’ Do you think music has the power to transform reality (like casting spells)?
R: Yes. Music is a reflection of our unconscious thoughts. And that's what makes it so important. *** Music has always had the power to express hopes and fears that have not yet been acknowledged. If you look at changing musical styles, from blues, to jazz, to rock, to punk, to rap, those shifts not only express the changes and disruptions of the times, but actually shape the way that people understand their present, their reality.
CN: I love how you straddle the moment of having to confront reality, while wanting to live in illusion. Do you think music is just a series of translucent illusions, worlds of illuminations we create to escape from reality? Or can it be used to discover a deeper reality?
R: Yes and Yes. Music definitely helps us to escape into different dimensions. It allows us to simplify to the point of understanding the complexities of our surroundings.
CN: What does Reflectiostack live look like?
R: The core of Reflectiostack has always been the interaction between guitar, violin, and voice. In a live setting, this remains the core, whether we add other dimensions or not. We have played with drums, bass, trumpet, and piano on and off over the years, but always tend to return to the core. Currently, many of the songs are being performed to pre-programmed drum tracks or loops, which add a rhythmic element and a depth to the sound. Fiona layers her violin parts through a looping pedal over Kirstys electric guitar and vocals. Experimenting with loops and delays expands the potential of the music, and allows us to achieve an often surprising range of dynamics with just the two of us.
CN: How much you can do with something simple (three chords and a dream), how many places you can take & transform (through slight [minimalistic] changes) repetition (something simple) seem to be a prevalent feature (hold a prominent place) on "Music For Torching." Not unlike the The Velvet Underground, The Dirty 3, Tony Conrad (or LaMonte Young) or Neu, just how far you can take one thing [like Stereolabs ‘Jenny Ondine’, or Suicide, Spacemen 3])(or jazz, like John Coltrane’s ‘Spiritual’ from ‘Live From The Village Vanguard): how do you view the power of repetition and it’s place in Reflectiostack’s aesthetic?
R: Minimalism pushes repetition and simplicity to the limits of its aesthetic utility where the danger is redundancy. But there is much to be taken from those kinds of explorations. Repetition is a way to meditate on a musical theme; a way to play with structural elements through building up and stripping away; an extended contemplation of a possibility; an attempt to capture a moment that may otherwise go unnoticed. For us, the repetition is a way forward, though. It must be purposive and express a movement. The patterns are always shifting, and there is rarely a sense of return.
CN: You say in the song "Comfortable State of Perfection": ‘What personality will I put on tonight,’ and the emotions that lay in the lyrics (‘I’m listening to the wrong part of myself again and again and again and again’) come apart in the noise cascades (breakdown), the ‘comfortable state of perfection’ shattering apart. There’s a constant questioning and answering in the music (often times the violin and vocal interweaving and having a dialogue within the context of the song): How does the songwriting process work in Reflectiostack?
R: The songwriting process works something like this: Kirsty writes the bare bones of a song: the guitar part and vocals and a structure. Then Fiona adds her violin parts, and then drum loops if needed, and the we rework the structure and nuances of the songs as the layers build.
CN: There’s a darkness, an eeriness or creepiness, in the music (especially the violin, but the vocals as well, sweet and cutting your throat) ...where do you think this comes from?
R: Life is hard. It's better to accept that fact than to ignore it. Sometimes we can only see the light after the darkness. It's all about hope. Life is great because its all that weve got
CN: Your sense of dynamics and space is so tasteful, the breakdown in "8 Months" (at 2 minutes and 30 seconds) where you sing ‘frozen like my love for you’ is just immaculate stunning transcendent: Where does this sense of dynamics, orchestration, and arrangement come from? Do you have any conservatory training? Are you self-taught? (Somewhere in between?)
R: Kirsty is self-taught. Fiona is classically trained. We have always been interested in playing with sonic density and space within the framework of unconventional structures. In making this record, we focused on bringing the most out of each song, which often meant experimenting with the arrangements in unexpected ways. We were very conscious of creating space. When youre recording, it is so easy to add things in, but much harder to take things away. Most of the time we thought, what would happen if we did this?, and tried it. Dale Morningstar became integral to this process, understanding implicitly what we were trying to accomplish.
CN: ‘Reconnect, oh my broken song’: The album has such a great flow to it, it really takes you on a journey (~it’s not just a collection of songs, ~it’s an album). Did this just fall into place, or did you very consciously try and make it a journey from one place to another, building, bursting, then gradually dissolving away? (And on that note, what are some of your favorite albums of all time?)
R: The order of a record is so important. We tried many different orders. We would burn CDs with the different orders and listen to them for a while, trying to find an order where all the tracks sounded their best, where nothing was buried. It was interesting to hear how a song would change depending on where it was placed in the order and in relation to the other songs. When we finally hit upon this order, which seems so obvious now, we just knew that it was right. As Radiohead sings, Everything in its right place.
So Favourite Albums? (This list could go on for pages, but since were talking about album orders, here are some that got it right)
Fionas: Bob Dylan, Bringing it All Back Home Tom Waits, Closing Time Dirty Three, Whatever You Love You Are Neil Young, Tonights the Night Miles Davis, In a Silent Way Will Oldham, Joya
Kirstys: Slint, Spiderland PJ Harvey, Rid of Me Radiohead, OK Computer Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation Pixies, Doolittle Jeff Buckley, Grace
CN: ‘This golden reality’ is such a great concept (Ed. Note: I love how the violins in this song conjure memory, as if the hesitation in their quavers were a symbol of memory itself): What does the line ‘this is unreality for the masses shade all colors into one’ mean to you?
R: "Unreality for the masses, shade all colours into one." can mean so many things, it's all about perspective; Watching the world care about meaningless things, a fear masked by consumption, a homogenized society that's forgotten how to think.
CN: You say in your bio "Reflectiostack can be placed in an on-going dialogue between folk, post-rock, and electronica...". I see the folk and post-rock, but the electronica (cause the loops I guess are so tastefully disguised) is harder to find. The electronic beats and loops (or whatever you’re doing) fuse so seamlessly with the violin & the guitar, ~ I’ve never seen a band pull it off with such grace. What on the album is electronica? The drums are so amazing on "Golden", is this a loop or live drums (or live drums over beats)?
R: There are pre-programmed beats on more than half of the tracks, which are the same beats that we play to in a live setting. The beats are designed to be organic, adding texture and dynamics, and accentuating existing rhythms. For the recording, we got Blake Howard to play drums on every song. Blake is an amazing drummer, and very intuitive (showcased beautifully on San Diego Serenade). He was able to play over top of the tracks in a way that helped draw a lot of things together, and offered an added dimension to the songs. The result was that it is often difficult to tell the live drums from the electronica. Sometimes both are there, and sometimes it is one or the other, depending on how we mixed the song (see question ..12).
CN: How did the two of you meet? What is the history of Reflectiostack?
R: Our history is boring, wed rather not talk about it. Lets all just live in the present.
CN: Who sings the harmonies?
R: Its all harmony. (if youre referring to the vocals on the record: bit of Kirsty, bit of Fiona, and our friends Scott, and Don)
CN: Is First Flight Records your own label?
R: No. Its a label based out of St.Louis. (www.firstflightrecordlabel.com)They have a great roster of bands and were pretty excited to be a part of it.
CN: ‘Fade a blow to your inner reality’: What else do you do besides music?
R: Kirsty: mom of a toddler, office manager Fiona: PHD student in Cultural Studies
CN: ‘Melted into your love,’ like the lovechild of Nico and Billie Holiday and the Dirty 3, the lyrics seem lost b/w yearning, melancholy, & eternal optimism: is this conscious or does it just come out that way?
R: Nope. It just comes out this way. I know myself better after I see what I create. Thank goodness for music. I feel less lost because of it.
CN: "New York", the last track on the album, recalls the nervous tension of some of The Rachels Music for Egon Schiele, and, perfectly recalls the feeling of life closing in, becoming more and more claustrophobic and uncertain, faster and faster, the building, the cascading, kind of like a landslide. Where did this song come from?
R: The song is maybe a culmination of everything that weve been talking about vulnerability/strength, reality/dreams, the aesthetics of repetition, dynamics/orchestration. With the exception of the minimal guitar and vocals, sparse drums, and solitary double bass run at the end, the whole song is one violin track built on top of an original loop. The violin adds new parts until the original loop decays, so that the piece is constantly in transition. Creation, destruction, and change: these things are fundamental to music and to life.
CN: What’s your favorite movie with Tom Waits in it?
R: Coffee & Cigarettes
CN: Thank you*
For more info on Reflectiostack or to order music please visit: http://reflectiostack.com
CN: You say in one of your blogs, "We are a highly political band. That's what we write about and that's what we're passionate about. We can't write love songs because they'd be fake and not very sincere." How do you think the personal and political interface, and why do you use your music as a platform to express such beliefs, rather than as something entirely separate from political life and a universe unto itself (~say, the Cocteau Twins for instance (Rimbaud’s concept of self-enclosed universes ("Illuminations") unto themselves [or the Abstract Expressionists, rather than the Situationist International])?
Igor: No, art is a self-enclosed universe isolated from its surroundings. Its political impact may vary, but any powerful idea can be used for political ends. I mean, wasn’t the Abstract Expressionist movement financed by the CIA? Bleep is political simply because we believe that politics affects our every day lives. And we do care about how we live. For us, music as an art form is a vehicle for expression – both subconscious or emotional as well as political. There need not be a distinction between the results of a work of art as purely emotional as opposed to rational, aesthetic as opposed to applied. Music provides all of those things to us.
CN: You then go on to say "So, what about mathematics? Well, remember your high-school calculus and the graph of the log function? It comes very close the y-axis (x = 0) but never actually touches it. Same with socialist anarchy - it's an ideal we can aspire to and work towards, but I don't think we'll ever reach it. Which might be a good thing" What do you think a world in which socialist anarchy was the law of the land would look like?
Igor: I should have deleted that blog entry! I was bored and ranting. To answer your question, I’ll have to say that I don’t know. The anarcho-socialist experiment has been tried on a larger scale in the recent history, but hasn’t been allowed to develop. As with any experiment, you start with the initial set of ideas or premises (e.g. maximizing individual freedom within the framework of co-operative communities), then wait and observe. I don’t know what it would look like, but sure hope to experience it before I die.
CN: (Side-note: A math teacher friend of mine was perplexed at this statement of yours, because she seemed to remember it as the isotopes at y is equal to zero. To have none of this make sense to me, I found it perplexingly blissful to watch the two of you interact in relation to a problem that means nothing to me.)
Igor: I’m not a mathematician, so your friend probably knows more about it than I do. But, at the highschool level, the log function goes to negative infinity at x = 0 (however at x=1, y = 0) and the line of the graph never really touches the Y-axis. I just used this as a graphic example of a behaviour when something approaches something else but never really reaches it – maybe not the best example
CN: You also say, "Sadly, despite being a huge electronic music fan, it has never had that kind of emotional power on me.", citing Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth, and Autumn Thieves as bands that did have a huge impact on you. I’ve often felt this way as well, finding myself working within the electronic music medium, but very few electronic albums have had a big emotional impact on me. (~Maybe two non-vocal, Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume One’ and The Orb’s ‘’Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld’[which does have vocal samples] )
[ed. Note: vocal electronic albums are a different story altogether, Tricky’s ‘Maxinquaye,’ Massive Attack’s ‘Blue Lines,’ Portishead’s ‘Dummy,’ and tons of hip hop [mostly Outkast’s ‘Stankonia’, Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, KRS-1, Dr. Dre, and Wu-Tang Clan all being (in my opinion) among the best electronic music artists.))
Why do you think this (lack of emotional impact in electronic music) is (exists)? Do you think the difference is the human vocal touch, and do you think of Bleep more in terms of the bands you mentioned above because of Robyns vocals?
Robyn: My personal preference is towards electronic bands with human voice, but I wouldn’t say that emotion is lacking in every instrumental electronic track I’ve ever heard. It just seems to me that there is a school of thought, which believes that a person is a musician just because he or she has learned to manipulate a music program well enough. That makes him/her a technician, at most. Simply because you have a great pair of ballet shoes doesn’t make you a ballerina.
Igor: I suppose I was referring to the egghead-laptop combos so prominent in the IDM… Music is a form of communication (emotions, meanings, ideas) and garbage or nonsense can be communicated in any genre, not just electronic music. The problem is lack of experience – if you spend all of your time sat in your bedroom tweaking that synth, you’ll have nothing to "say". Speaking of the voice, it is the most intimate and direct instrument we have and it is perfect for communicating emotions (amongst other things). But, as Robyn said, instrumental music can be extremely powerful and emotionally impactful.
CN: Your music (to me) comes across as very uplifting, very feel good (~despite one of the sites where you sell your music describing your songs as pessimistic), especially songs such as "Coil" and "SIF", ~there’s a real sense of hope, the moment in the Olympics of the winner passing the finish line (or the special olympics, the wheel chairs and rush of hugs). The vocals are so confident and self-assured, that sense of everything’s going to be alright as the music takes you higher. In art you can reach ideals in sound in a sense, express and translate hope into music ("euphoria") so, referring back to question two where you said (re: socialist anarchy) "- it's an ideal we can aspire to and work towards, but I don't think we'll ever reach it," why do you think these places that we can reach (or achieve) in art are impossible to discover (or create) in reality?
Igor: I don’t think we can achieve perfection in art, especially not in music and sound reproduction. Physics of sound is extremely complex and thanks to psycho-acoustics, no two people hear the same piece of music in the same way. It’s all very personal and perfection looses meaning. But, we can work towards some "perfect ideal" in art and in society. The question is what that ideal is and how to achieve it.
CN: Do you think the creators of the sound worlds being able to control the elements and variables involved and force them to work (in violent, harmonious, physical ways [exerting mind force]) together is a model that can’t be transferred to the real world because no one has that much control over everyone else? [~even world leaders don’t have that much control. Does God? Does God exist? ]
Robyn: Please, let’s keep religion out of this. This question reminds me of the time when civil engineers designed roads using water around obstacles to see which way it flowed best, modelling the behaviour of traffic. What on earth made them suppose that commuters would behave like water?
CN: I once read a piece that Dennis Cooper (~the author of ‘Closer,’ ‘Guide,’ ‘God Jr.’, etc.) wrote that said when he was staying in Amsterdam it was absolutely boring because there was no struggle or strife, and he realized that the struggle and the fight in America was a major contribution to what made its art great (~think jazz or the blues coming out of complete adversity, or the Beats, or ten million other movements). In the song "Coil" Robyn sings "Is it hopeless to dream for a world more mature," which of course ideally I agree with, however it always strikes me that such a world might be boring (if everyone was politically correct). I’m a vegetarian, and some of my best friends talk about their meat eating heaven in front of me (KFC and buckets of rheingold [as Ellis says, the only thing that could make it better was if they were in Tahiti during the summer]) but, perhaps it’s these differences that make us interesting, that lead to such powerful art because opposites attract and it’s in contradiction (from protons, neutrons and electrons, to yin and yang) that we spin (and are inspired). So if such an ideal (a mature world) were achieved (like your socialist anarchy principle), do you think our art would be as powerful?
Robyn: "Coils" is about the damage that oil use is doing to the world. In my line "is it hopeless to dream for a world more mature" you could replace the word "mature" with the phrase "more likely to take responsibility for itself". I’m asking if it’s hopeless to dream of a world where people care about sustainability. Responsibility (i.e. a form of maturity) usually demands a certain amount of struggle and sacrifice, something I’m not sure this society is willing to take. No one wants to struggle or take risks, and so many things suffer, including art, which becomes bland.
Igor: I absolutely agree with you, Ben. You need struggle to create powerful art. That’s why most of the art produced in some societies (our own country, Canada is a good example) is a bit bland and inconsequential (we’re just too comfortable up here). However, we will never achieve a perfect society. There will always be struggle and coercion. If nothing else, there will always be heartbreak. I’m not worried about the human creative potential. What I’m worried about is how to finally unleash it.
CN: When you say ‘make sure there’s enough room in my mouth for both of my feet’ what are you talking about?
Robyn: The expression normally goes something like "damn, I put my foot in my mouth when I asked the Pope if he was catholic", etc. I’m just using it (slightly modified in magnitude) to say "I might be wrong but here’s my opinion…"
CN: How do you think someone from a hundred years ago would percieve your music? Do you see electronic music as any more or less futuristic than other genres around today?
Robyn: One hundred years ago we’d probably have been burned as witches. Seriously, I think it’s sad that art and culture have less of an impact on society now than it appeared to have one hundred years ago. Art Nouveau and Art Deco are still big influences today. I don’t see any radical thinking of that type being expressed at the turn of this century.
Igor: As for electronic music being more or less futuristic – we don’t believe that it is either. It’s simply another genre, a medium for expression. Perhaps the label ‘electronic’ gives people the wrong impression.
CN: Recently your songs have taken on a more organic tone (~I’m thinking specifically of the two you posted recently, ‘Flika’ and "Mittleschmertz", where more ‘real’ instruments are used, and where the tone in general of the pieces appears to be more evil, darker than your previous album [at least to me], almost tribal alien march to war [or eastern european]): why the change? Does this reflect a larger change in the Bleep aesthetic?
Igor: our new tracks are more evil and darker? Absolutely! We have become cynical old cunts!
Robyn: If there is a change, it’s not a part of some "grand plan". We just experiment each time we write a new track and you’re hearing the results. We’re currently experimenting more with improvisation and spontaneity.
CN: "Flicka" in particular seems to be the apophysis of all the promise inherent in Bleep to begin with, but at the same time such a light year leap from your previous work in the sense of sounding more raw. Space traveling (building, building) from sparcity to full on wall of sound crash over me (the phenomenal explosions all the more powerful from being built up to), also more in line with what you said were your earlier influences (Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, etc.): Insane, and joyful catharsis (release) because of it [i.e. really noisy]: where the hell did this song come from?
Robyn: Quick answer: Romania!
Igor: Our friend, Felix Petrescu from the Romanian electronic duo Makunouchi Bento, sent us a bunch of jazzy loops and asked us to make something out of them. At that time, we had just come back from New York where we were visiting Andy from the former Autumn Thieves. I guess we were under the influence of his ideas. Also, I wanted to record a song that sounded more like a jam session than a programmed electronic piece.
CN: Can you talk about your backgrounds? You’re both not from Toronto, right? And can you talk about the name of your label (TeknoStan Records) in connection (conjunction) with this? Is this your own label? Also, can you give us a bit of the history of Bleep? How did the two of you come together? Do you feel being multi-lingual effects your lyrics at all?
Igor: We both live in Toronto now, but are originally from Europe – Robyn is from the UK and I am from the former Yugoslavia. We met in Toronto in 2001 through a vocalist wanted ad. TeknoStan Records (TeknoStan meaning "the land of Techno") is our own label, thrown together quickly because we won the pressing of our first album IMM 0008 through an Internet competition called The Next Level (organized by Umbrella Music). Right now the label exists for us alone – we’d always hoped to expand to include others, but there’s no money in this business.
Robyn: Being exposed to different languages has manipulated the way I hear potential lyrics, which in turn allows me to experiment with made-up words. And being fluent in Sign Language helps me remember my lyrics on stage!
CN: The beats drop in and out all over Bleep’s songs, ~why do you think this giving the song room to breathe is so important, and what does this lend to the emotional impact of when the beat does finally drop?
Igor: I suppose I’m afraid of sounding boring. Dynamic changes in music are as important as harmonies, beats or lyrics are. Beats enable us to achieve these changes effectively thus supporting the overall emotional flow of the song.
Robyn: I think the beats build and release tension.
CN: The drums & percussion have a very world kind of vibe, off-kilter, off the beat feel, yet, perfectly in time (due to the electronic nature of the music): do you see people off-kilter dancing to your music live and do you perceive this as awkward people feeling comfortable in their skin at last?
Igor: No, we don’t see people dancing to our music at live shows. This is perfectly fine since we don’t make "dance" music really. There are many other ways to enjoy music rather than dancing to it.
Robyn: I have deaf friends who feel the sound vibrations and appear to enjoy them. It’s not really our job to make people comfortable in their skins – I’m no psychiatrist.
Igor: I actually hope that people feel uncomfortable when they watch our performances. Maybe that will make them think rather than expect cheap, easily digestible entertainment.
CN: What effect do you think all the blip bleep noises in the background do to subvert the feel goodness of the chords?
Igor: We hope they don’t take anything away from the feel goodness of the chords. I just think that the two styles complement each other.
CN: The song "SIF" glows a real sense of wonder at the universe, captures the feeling of the circling (the orbits rotation) of the solar system, that sense of vertigo and everything spinning around each other (the sun) simultaneously...is this sense of outer space something you consciously try to tap in to through your music, or does it just come out of you naturally? And in that same vein, do you think meaning is a human conception or inherent to the spinning of the universe, or as Robyn asks in "SIF": ‘Why does this mattter?’ (the emptiness of the beats dropping out at the end of the song answering its own question).
Robyn: You’re not going to like this answer much. It has nothing to do with the Sun or the Moon or the Stars. It’s one of the few times I’ve allowed myself to be self-absorbed. It’s just about how I feel on stage, vulnerable. The fact that SIF is a sweet-sounding concoction of voices swirling about is hopefully saying something positive about the inside of my head.
Igor: We don’t really over-analyze what we do and why we do it, so if there is a sense of "outer space" in our music, it comes naturally, probably through all the ambient records that we’ve heard (but, yes, I am an ex-astrophysicist).
CN: Your songs seem very structured in a calculated way (immaculately so). How do you think math has effected your music?
Igor: We don’t consciously think about mathematics when we write. We just follow the feel of the music and don’t worry about the lengths, time signatures, arrangements, etc. If they appear calculated, it’s not intentional.
CN: What initially drew you to electronic music (& electronic percussion)(more than say, a rock band)?
Robyn: It was the Fairlight CMI because it gave me an orchestra in a box. Also, rock bores me senseless – I find it very formulaic.
Igor: the adventure of experimentation and sound design inherent in electronic music did it for me. Also, the ability to work alone or with a partner, such as Robyn, was a big factor. I’ve been in many rock bands before and it’s just so tiresome working in a "collective". I’m a control freak and proud of it!
CN: What else do you do besides music?
Robyn: Crappy temp jobs when we need money. Otherwise independent music is a full time job – creating, performing, recording, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, distributing…oh how we’d love some help.
Igor: I enjoy long walks on the beach and preparing pan-asian dishes (I’m a yuppie in training)
CN: Do you feel like the politics of your lyrics gets through to your listeners? Do you think it changes anyone’s opinion (vehicles for change) or, is it just an expression of your beliefs?
Robyn: That’s entirely up to the listener. We have my lyrics up on the web site for people to read if they want to know more about a song. I find that if a song’s lyrics aren’t immediately obvious, it’s gratifying to me to be able to read them, sing along, and absorb myself more deeply into that song. It also gives me an insight into the way that musician’s mind works. I have no evidence that my politics have reached my listeners, no one but journalists ever comment on it. I can only hope I can help get rid of the general apathy I see towards politics.
Igor: It is our beliefs that we express through Robyn’s lyrics. If that changes anyone’s opinion, then good!
CN: The video for ‘Over’ is just phenomenally tripped and gorgeous and, fast effects without giving you that ‘I’m having a seizure feeling’, ~who made the videos? Do you see sound as color (and places) when you’re making the songs, and make the videos to fit your initial vision of abstract visuals, or do the visuals come later?
Igor: The video for Over was made by Mark Zarich (our first guitarist) who provided background animations, Damir Olejar on computerized effects and myself on everything else.
Robyn: We create visuals to compliment our live performances. When we’re compiling the visuals, the music dictates the colour, density and speed of movement.
CN: Did you read ‘No Logo’ and, if so, did it effect you in any way?
Igor: No, we haven’t read it.
Robyn: It looks like a good read although it took me 2 weeks to recover from watching The Corporation so I’m not sure I’m up for a depresso-fest just yet.
For more info on Bleep or to buy their music please visit: http://bleeptunes.com
Monday, April 10, 2006
Loveless Music Group brought all these people together. That can’t be overstated or underestimated: how important that was to so many peoples lives. Courtney, Andy, & Mike (Mike with a Myspace page, it all started with a Myspace page) began putting on nights at Scenic (on Ave. B) called ‘To Here Knows When’. Anyone who knew, who saw a night called ‘To Here Knows When’, knew someone else knew. Finally(!), someone had brought together all the children of My Bloody Valentine, like discovering a family you didn’t know you had, finally the children had come home.
Children as diverse as Apollo Heights, Ifwhen, Autumn Thieves, Aydin, So L’il, Soundpool, Her Vanished Grace, Dedelectric, Elika, Zelda Pinwheel, Panda Riot, The Offering, Bleep, Sleeping Kings of Iona, Diagram, Besnyo, and on, and on, and on…
Strangers became friends through the connection of Loveless.
Children of Loveless played in the playground of Loveless Music Group nights, creating Loveless universes where you couldn’t believe what you were seeing: such unbelievable music, prism blissed mystic kissed bands playing such small clubs, ~how could other people not know about this? And yet it was our little secret. Like you’re there at the beginning, like you can’t believe I’m living through this. Andy, Mike, & Courtney were the catalysts who threw gasoline on a small fire, and that small fire burst into a Phoenix .
It all goes back to that first ‘To Here Knows When’ night at Scenic, July 6th, 2005. (Dedelectric, Ifwhen, Autumn Thieves, & So L’il). Members of all the bands spoke to each other. It was weird. It shouldn’t have been, but it was cause, everyone had played so many shows before where bands didn’t really talk to each other. They were put together on bills at clubs on the same night solely for the purpose of get ‘em in / get ‘em out so we can get more people drunk at the bar (i.e. money, not music). The meat factory. But July 6th wasn’t the meat factory. This was community. People who felt alike, who came from the same family tree, the same sounds, & understood what each other were doing. I don’t think you realize how refreshing this was (for this sound). Simply by putting bands together who were on the same wave length, our wave length, Mike, Courtney, & Andy performed a small miracle, and for that we are eternally grateful.
CN: Panda Riot is Joy. And what a perfect name for a band. Tell us a bit about the birth of your name and the birth of the band?
B: Our friend was telling us one day some of the names that his band decided not to go with. He was listing all these jokey names that they would never go with; he mentioned Panda Riot and it really struck me.
R: As for the birth of the band, it started with Brian and I needing a soundtrack for this short film we made, "Dolphins and Porpoises." When we showed it, people kept talking about the music so we decided to try to do something more with it.
CN: Alright, ‘Suspense Kiss’ is like a perfect track & contains everything I love about music. I saw when you played this live you use a lot of effects on the vocals. What do you think effects on vocals are capable of saying that the human voice isn’t alone?
R: There actually aren’t any real effects on the vocals, just layers. Since we are only two people, we do a lot of looping live. I think that using loopers in a live setting allows us to combine something organic and expressive like a voice with the repetitive quality of electronic music which creates a really surreal effect.
CN: The first track on the ep, ‘Paper Airplanes,’ just kind of lays out what’s going on & kind of reminds me of the movie ‘Manequin’ for some reason (from the ‘80s, with Kim Cattrall [later of Sex in the City] and Andrew McCarthy), just that feeling of kind of laying out these secret lives straight from the get go...almost like, you can’t believe you’re getting away with it. Often I find instrumentals are so serious, and for an instrumental to convey that kind of joy is rare. Do you consciously pursue this kind of joy in sound, or does it just come naturally out of you? (Like, do you try and make yourself feel better by making this kind of ecstatic music?)
B: Paper Airplanes was actually the first song we ever made, and I think you can tell that we were just really excited about making a song. It’s the first time we experimented with all of the facets that would later make up our music. So, in a way, the structure of the song was dictated by our exploration. We didn’t have one direction to go in, so we ended up with all these parts. Basically it’s just us finding sounds we like and following them.
CN: And the joy is kind of contrasted with these almost dark lyrics (that are kind of self-depricating too, contrasting ‘hours and hours and hours and hours I walked along, but I’m still in the same place I was’ w/bapbapbada bapba choruses...): what do you think this contrast (self-deprecation and darkness vs joy and sonic bliss outs) represents? Or what are you trying to represent through this contrast?
R: The lyrics are actually written in a very unintentional, stream-of consciousness, kind of way. The contrast in the lyrics in "Plateau" was kind of a surprise to me, too. It’s just sort of what popped out. I do think, though, that in these ecstatic moments that we try to create in our songs, there is always a little bit of sadness. It’s like nostalgia or desire—it’s partly beautiful because it’s not entirely yours, you can’t quite make it fully present. It’s a sad and beautiful world.
CN: You guys seem to have some great pop instincts, which remind me a lot of the early ‘90s indie heyday (Pavement, Liz Phair, Yo La Tengo, Magnetic Fields, etc.) when we were probably all college djs: which (if any) of those early ‘90s albums albums affected Panda Riot the most?
B:…Digable Planets blowout comb, stereolab, the sea and the cake, MBV’s tremolo ep was really awesome as well.…but I really love that Shuggie Otis record from the early 70’s …its amazing like stevie wonder with primitive drum machines….
CN: Panda Riots melodies (both vocal and guitar [but really really memorable vocals]) are really strong: When you’re songwriting, what comes first? (I.e. the chord progressions, the vocal melody, the beats). How does the Panda Riot song-writing process work?
B: Usually I start with the chords and write a drum beat around that, but the sound is there from the beginning. The tone of the guitar really informs how the song takes shape; we’re not adapting a song written on an acoustic. I could never work like that. Basically after the drums and the guitar are laid down, Rebecca adds vocal melodies that later turns into words, backing vocals and keyboards… and from that we might change this section or that cause it makes us think about the song differently. We don’t jam out songs, or at least we haven’t yet, but that seems to be working ok. Sometimes I find it strange cause its like we’re both recording our parts in secret.
CN: I love that you do hand-painted covers: tell me what are your thoughts about idiosyncratic pieces of art album covers, unique & available only to that time and place? It’s d.i.y but its more special in a way cause you’re really getting a present that’s one of a kind...
R: We do it because we like to think of people who like our music as individuals who deserve presents. It’s nice to give people something unique and special, and I think it makes people value the cd more. They are also really fun to make.
CN: ‘When the ceiling has become the sky’ is just a wonderful chorus, especially combined with the keyboard line & MBV style guitars of caressing texture...what does that line mean to you?
Do you think that type of transformation (from closed to openness) kind of reflects Panda Riots turning darker stuff into joy?
R: To me, it’s not really about turning dark stuff into joy. It’s more about describing the feeling of blissful moments. The ceiling becoming the sky is like that feeling of your chest exploding because something is so beautiful you can hardly stand it. It’s not like the ceiling turning into the sky…it’s more like the ceiling exploding and BOOM there’s the sky.
B: I want to take that 8 second moment you have and stretch it out for as long as I can, like being in the moment in ultra slow-motion.
CN: Why do you think indie swirl pop keyboards sound so good through death metal pedals? What do you think it is about pedals made for death metal and sonic bliss outs that kiss so well?
R: In general, I think the abrasiveness of the distortion combined with the melodic quality of the keyboards exemplifies our aesthetic. We are also always trying to think of creative ways to make sounds that are completely unique. Rather than spend a lot of money on expensive equipment, we try to use our limitations to our advantage. This forces/allows us to come up with new ways to use what we already have.
B: Its funny, a lot of times when we play shows we’ll be doing a sound check and Rebecca will play some keyboard line with the pedal on and the sound guy just makes this face like a wire must be messed up or something…and we’re like, "no it sounds ok to us."
CN: Are you content being a duo, or is Panda Riot in its ultimate incarnation a more fleshed out band?
B: This is something we get asked a lot. It would be nice to have a bass player, maybe. It would really free us up to do more things. A drummer would be good for a song or two…but especially with the drums I think part of our sound is the fragility and the minimalism. With a drummer, I think we could easily just start sounding like a rock band. Electronic drums are more musical in the sense that one drum machine can sound a certain way and then in the chorus a new pattern and set of drum sounds are there.
CN: How do you feel Philadelphia affects your sound (or does it)? Do you think Philly is more prone to sonic bliss outs and swirl pop sing alongs?
R: Its hard to say… There are a lot of cool bands in Philly, and a number of dreamy noisy bands, but when it comes down to actually writing the songs, I don’t think we are really affected by geography.
CN: What do you feel the place of electronic beats are in your music? How important are the beats to you? What do you feel is the place of the live drummer in the 21st century? Do you feel like electronic beats live make the experience any less ‘real’, or, is it not about the beats live, but about what’s going on over the beats (leading the way)?
B: Having a real drummer would be great, but I think programming rhythms coming from a non-drumming background makes the songs take weird turns. The beats definitely influence our music…if we were to play with a real drummer, they would adapt to what we are playing. Without a "real" drummer, the beats function more as a backdrop allowing the texture--the guitars, vox and keys, to be free and expressive. We’ve recently been coming up with more break beats and jungle type rhythms as well…stuff that one drummer couldn’t play alone…we’ve got this new track that’s like that….it has like 4 drum patterns from different kits going on @ the same time.
CN: There’s a very anthemic quality to Panda Riot. What type of kids do you think are attracted to this kind of cool but not overly macho style of anthem? This kind of feminine art school appeal, ascending choruses, verses posing questions in descending melodies, while choruses populate the clouds...this lackadazical quality, like you’re just floating around...and also, what are some of your favorite sing-alongs by other artists?
R: I don’t think we really have a particular audience in mind when we write songs. It’s actually kind of weird how diverse the people are that like our music. As for the lackadaisical feeling, I guess I’m trying to express a feeling of wonderment…it’s beautiful and also dreamy and floaty.
CN: A lot of people say indie rock is about ideas: the pointing to, and those who see it, who get it, see what the bands are getting at, even if its not professionally as slick as corporate rock. Like your friends making music, and writing the best songs in the world, rather than some untouchable Led zep I could give a fuck about on high bullshit complete with hour long mega-boring solos. It’s really that idea of creating your own community. Panda Riot really embodies that to me. That ‘fuck it, we can do it!’ spirit. It’s just like all the aspects of music I love thrown into your neighbors kitchen and when they come out and hit the stage, its just this very real joyous, almost childlike way like ‘WOW! We’re playing music!’ It makes you smile. What inspired you to make music? Would you say it’s the central focus of your life or just something you do?
B: I’ve always made films, films mattered so much to me…and then I would start doing the soundtracks for them cause I didn’t really know anybody else that would be into it. Eventually, it was just like "wait a second, people really seem to be digging this music," relating to it….it was really the 1st time I considered making songs.
R: For me, it’s kind of weird because I always played tons of instruments, but I was always classically trained. So trying to write my own songs was a whole new thing for me. It was really exciting and sort of surprising when I realized that I could do it. I think our excitement definitely comes across in our songs.
CN: I was asking this of Aydin as well but, do you feel like the optimism expressed in your music has a particularly American quality to it? (Like, a lot of the British bands in this genre tend towards the mopey, whereas in Panda Riot there’s a real uplifting quality to your music that lifts the spirits instead of drowning them...[in the same way that maybe Walt Whitman or Emerson view the world (not bogged down in history [ala Europe], but with the hope of looking towards an open frontier.)
R: Although it doesn’t feel that way when we are making songs, I can see how that connection might be made from an academic standpoint. In a way, I do see that sort transcendent ecstatic moment being an ideal of American romanticism. At the same time, I don’t really see it lacking in other traditions, though. I think the desire to express the ecstatic exists everywhere.
CN: What do you do for money? How do you think this affects your music?
R: I teach piano lessons, and we do a lot of song writing and creative expression with our students. Watching them explore music for the first time is really exciting. I am always trying to open up their idea of what music is and expand their approach to the instrument. It helps to keep me open and excited as well.
CN: ‘Art school girls of doom’ is one of the best titles of a song I’ve heard. Hysterical, yet totally exemplifies the horror at the reality therein! Who are the art school girls of doom?
B: In a way I’ve always hated the whole art school thing, its like, once you’re into something like that you go in with good intentions but the whole process becomes too self –referential, it becomes about other things…its like all these guitar players who get into gear and this amp or that and the actual writing of music becomes secondary…
CN: A lot of your songs are longer than normal pop songs...they hit the five minute mark and, insofar as that, they’re more like long journeys than typical pop songs...Do you think the marine biology original documentary you wrote the soundtrack to and formed out of informed the way you write songs?
B: We come from more of a soundtrack background in a sense. You can kind of see that in the way the songs change and sections don’t repeat. I think it’s just a matter of trying to do things that excite us. It’s not good enough to just write a song that goes from verse to chorus blah blah and you know what’s coming next. We’re trying not to write something formulaic but at the same time not to go in weird directions just to shake off any emotional connection….emotional connections rock.
CN: A lot of duos have a hard time staying together: what would you say accounts for the strength of Panda Riots partnership?
R: The crazy amounts of money that we make off the band…that and the way we really relate to each other without having a "listen to me," ego thing getting in the way.
CN: What does your lyric ‘all your comedies turn to suspense’ mean to you?
R: I have to say, I have a really hard time talking about the lyrics outside of the song. A lot of times, we just go with whatever sounds right or whatever just comes out and somehow works. Brian wrote that line specifically. I think at the time we were talking about how someone can make you feel tense all the time because you never know what inappropriate or awkward thing they are going to say next, or something like that. I’m not sure I have a deeper explanation than that. I think of our lyrics as being kind of like collages of impressions. The lines have a kind of connection, but not one that is completely intentional or specific.
CN: What are the hopes and dreams of panda riot re: music? (I.e. what would you like to accomplish that you haven’t already?)
B: I mean we’re just babies…we formed back in mid July 2005. We have a handful of songs and a little demo cd that we’re really proud of….it’d be great to make some records. We want to start doing some live video projection when we play out, make it all one big thing not just people playing music with cool images, but one thing. That was actually one of the initial things we wanted to do with the band—tie everything (visuals and music) together. We didn’t factor in how broke we were though…but soon, yeah soon.
CN: Thank you.
To learn more about Panda Riot or purchase their music please visit: