Remix Magazine Interview - Issue 130
Translation needed, but this is the original interview completed for this article:
Q: Firstly, please tell us your background. Have you lived in Chicago for all your life?
A: Well, I was born in Chicago but spent my childhood just north of the city in the suburb of Evanston. When the time came to go to college, I wasn't quite ready to leave home and stuck around for a year, working on film production and music. Then, I went to Connecticut to study music with Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University, and finally found myself in New York City at NYU, which is where I lived for two years to complete my degree; however, through all of my travels, Chicago has always drawn me back.
Q: What is Chicago to you?
A: Chicago is so many things to me but, most importantly, it is home. I can walk around my neighborhood and just get flooded with memories: the tree-lined streets where my friend and I skateboarded as kids until we collapsed in someone's lawn; the paths along Lake Michigan's beaches where my friends and I would get high and play the drums or just reflect on everything around us; and the vibrance of the city itself, the intimate subways and streets where you'd always see someone you knew, or at least someone who looked familiar. It's a diverse and laid-back city where there's a perfect balance of concrete and trees...
Q: What kind of music have you listened until now? What was the music you were really into for the first time?
A: I'd sit on my living room floor (we had this really plush white rug that I used to love) and listen to my dad's records on speakers that seemed huge to me back then. One of my favorite records was "Headhunters" by Herbie Hancock- those synth sounds made me fall in love with music. I'd check out Miles Davis, The Crusaders, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, ELP (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Jean-Luc Ponty, Bob James... My dad would give me the record jackets to hold and I'd marvel at the artwork, you know? It was so mystical to me: these musicians with instruments I had never seen, all the colors and drawings or photographs... I began associating the sounds with the pictures, and it was the first time I ever noticed the connection between music and visual art, or a texture, or anything for that matter.
I was about five or six when MTV first aired and my parents had bought me this Fisher-Price cassette recorder, so I'd sit up close to the television and record songs, spacing out at the pixels on the screen. There's too many artists to mention, but I loved a lot of eighties synth pop, heavy metal (I used to have this Iron Maiden poster in my room that scared the shit out of me), and whatever else MTV was playing at the time. My friend Stuart got me into Hip-Hop, skate rock & punk. I got into a lot of indie rock and weirder shit in junior high school, a lot of stuff on Chicago's Touch & Go label, then fell in love with the English "shoegazer" or whatever-the-fuck-it's-called scene: My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Lush, Swervedriver, etc. I started digging Chicago house, minimal techno, old R&B and funk records, lots of jazz, experimental music... The truth is, I've tried to listen to as much as possible. I love hearing new sounds.
Q: Chicago is a place where blues or house music is and is a place where music is flourishing. Such labels as Chocolate Industries, Thrill Jockey are based in Chicago. What does Chicago mean to your activities in music?
A: Although I played music all of my life with people from Chicago, I don't think I ever truly explored the dynamics of Chicago's music community until recently- I was just too young. But, the city is small enough where artists get a good deal of exposure within the circles that want to actually pay attention, and the fact that there's great labels like Chocolate Industries, Thrill Jockey, Drag City, Touch & Go, Bloodshot and others based here means that there's a lot of opportunities for networking and collaborations between artists. Ironically (and this has been said a million times before), I do think that Chicago is cursed in the sense that many of its successful artists move to New York or Los Angeles, so Chicago becomes this fertile breeding ground for new acts while simultaneously providing the platform they use to leave it.
Q: Please name 3 rock bands you like and also the reason for it.
A: My absolute favorite would have to be My Bloody Valentine. I remember hearing some tracks off of "Isn't Anything" on the radio back in junior high and just being like, what the fuck?! Their ability to write gorgeous songs coupled with their original and absolutely brilliant production influenced so many bands, and it makes me want to listen to them again and again- not only to lose myself in the music, but to try and understand exactly what they were doing in the studio!
I love Stereolab- their album "Dots & Loops" made me buy almost everything they've ever done, and I think it is because all of their songs hold such a familiar and comfortable feeling for me, almost like I had heard the melodies as a child and etched them in some hidden crevice of my mind. Laetitia's voice is beautiful, and their electro-acoustic palette and experimentation with time signatures and harmony is lovely... I just want to daydream or be in love when I listen to them.
Finally, and on a completely different note, Minor Threat has to be one of the greatest hardcore bands of all time. Their music has undeniably raw energy, the songs are almost all under two minutes long and still express a complete thought or mood, and you have to love how their sound evolved into Fugazi!
Q: Same question but Hip-Hop group you like and the reason, please?
A: De La Soul & A Tribe Called Quest- man, the entire Native Tongues family: conscious lyrics, eclecticism, a sense of humor (something pretty rare in mainstream Hip-Hop), and just one classic track after the next. I had listened to Hip-Hop since I was really young, but I think it wasn't until an album like "De La Soul is Dead" that I fully appreciated how far the art could be stretched but still remain true to the culture that spawned it.
Company Flow! When I moved to New York, I'd wear my headphones everywhere and listen to "Funcrusher Plus"- it captures the essence of New York City in such a visceral way... People's faces I'd pass on the street, the grafitti on the walls or train cars, the pure noise and sensory overload, and that heightened sense of being in the chaos was on that magnetic tape in my walkman- that album is just sick!
There's so many people I want to mention, but I'll just say one last crew I am really excited about is Quannum: Latyrx, Blackalicious, DJ Shadow... They take the feeling of listening to old school and transplant it into a new shell, like an adult stepping into a child's body and experiencing those warm memories again- this time from a more mature perspective. They got me excited about Hip-Hop again.
Q: Are there any other musicians who you like or got influenced by although they do not go to the answer of above 2 questions?
A: I'm influenced by everything I listen to, but I think I am most influenced by Miles Davis, Anthony Braxton, and John Cage.
Miles Davis redefined his sound and thus the sound of jazz as the universe knew it over and over again, incorporating new styles of composition, instrumentation, and a bold sense of experimentalism. His music encompasses so many musical, political, and social influences of the changing times, but he always maintained his unique and personal voice as an artist.
Anthony Braxton, with whom I had the great pleasure to study, allowed me to notice languages of music and the intricacies of space in which they're spoken. His systems of notation used drawings on the staff, reinforcing connections of an art's concurrent impact on multiple senses.
John Cage was just so absolutely paramount to most anything done in the twentieth century and, for me, ties together the aesthetics and mindset of experimental music, hip-hop, musique concrete & sound art, and spirituality/non-being in music.
Q: When did you start making music? What kind of music were you making then?
A: I started making music as soon as I was able, really. I had a drum set when I was three that I loved to bang on in my basement, a Casio PT-80 keyboard, and a piano. When I got my first guitar in 1984, I started making recordings with my neighbor Stuart Bogie (now a saxophonist in Ninja Tune's Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra). He'd freestyle over the Casio's pre-programmed beats while I plugged away at whatever I could. Around the same time on my own, I'd record people talking, toilets flushing, toys, whatever. The music just evolved from there.
Q: I have not yet got "Initial Experiments In 3-D" but please tell us about this album. What is this album like? How did you come to release this album?
A: I bought a sampling workstation the summer of 1999, and this album chronicles all the material that came out of me sitting and experimenting with knobs and buttons for the first time (May through December of 1999). I hooked up with Toshoklabs' label head Nate Harrison through a friend from New York, and what was going to be a twelve-inch quickly turned into a full-length album! Thinking about sound as environment, I tried to make pieces of music that would evoke multi-dimensional space just as Anthony Braxton had, but I wanted to allow those dimensions to eventually be determined by the listener: height, weight, length, color, temperature, texture- most anything he or she would want to imagine from the music. The title, "Initial Experiments in 3-D" is actually quite literal, and I attempted to make the album coherent thematically by using motifs from old recordings I had made, sounds of children (in this case, either old recordings of myself or my little sister and her friends), and even full interlude-style songs recorded years ago. The first song, "1984" was recorded on my trusty Fisher-Price cassette recorder in my basement when I was six, with Stuart rapping and me on the Casio...
Q: Like "Mint & A Hospital Watercolor," "Red Sunshine" (I personally like this song the best), I got the impression of peace throughout "Stars On My Celling". What is the concept of this album? If there's no concept, what was it that you mostly cared about?
A: "Stars On My Ceiling," I suppose, is an extrapolation of the first album's concept. I had begun experimenting with these very personal spaces and tried my best to flesh them out for someone else to experience - but now I feel more comfortable with the music and feel it connecting to the world outside of my head a little more. The title refers to a constellation of glow-in-the-dark stars I created on my bedroom ceiling compared with the real ceiling of stars of our sky: I often feel there is no difference between any of these dimensions we imagine or are told exist. There's no boundaries to demarcate: life feels like one fluid dimension where there's nothing to really symbolize anymore... Symbols become what they signify.
Q: What situation hit upon the idea of "Red Sunshine"? Please let us have your comments on this wonderful "Red Sunshine."
A: "Red Sunshine" refers to the type of LSD I took the first time I ever tripped: there were these cute little smiling red cartoon suns on the blotter paper, and it was probably the best trip I ever had... The first time we experience something is sometimes the most beautiful, you know? So, it was a typical Chicago summer day - hot and humid- and my friends and I dropped at a friend's house and went walking all over Evanston. The song mirrors the experience (albeit condensed from 12 hours into about 5 or six minutes, however long that song is), and takes the listener through the afternoon, sunset, and night time when we started coming down. It definitely isn't a glorification of hallucinogens; it's just a celebration of a beautiful summer experience underneath a smiling and glowing sun.
Q: Is DJ Shadow an important artist to you? If so, please tell us the reason.
A: It is funny you should mention DJ Shadow - "Endtroducing" is classic. DJ Shadow & DJ Krush made me want to buy a sampler...
Q: KID ACNE who took charge of designing the jacket, what is the relationship between you two? His album was great as well and also TTC's Big Dada jacket was great. Is it just me who feels that you three have something similar in your music? I'm sorry to ask you this but could you tell us about the sub-culture, which is behind For instance, the skaters, graffiti writer etc.
A: Actually, I hooked up with Acne through Seven @ Chocolate Industries; he showed me some sketches the guy did and I was blown away. I had seen his Plaid cover (for "Restproof Clockwork"), and was excited to work with him. To be honest, I haven't heard "Rap Traffic" or TTC's EP yet, but am definitely hyped to hear what they're like.
As far as the sub-culture of skaters or graf writers goes, I have been out of both for so long that whatever it was when I was involved has surely changed a million times, just like most everything else. I mean, I started skating when I was six. I had a board that weighed a ton with Independent trucks and I could barely bust an ollie until I got an Alva years later! I wrote graf for a minute, but haven't gone bombing in years... I still love both arts, still watch skate videos and check out new pieces in Chicago or in magazines, and still have friends who are involved. I think like all cultures, skating and graf attract certain kinds of people, and like-minded people are always going to have a bond no matter what other interests they share.
Q: Please let us know you favorite movie and the reason also.
A: If I tried to think of all my favorite movies I'd probably list far too many, but a few are "American Beauty," "Memento," and "Gummo"- those are the first that came to mind. I love movies that offer an intimate look at someone's life and thoughts and, in seeing them, make you become a little more confused about your own. Movies that are sensual, emotional, disturbing... But, at the same time I always love a good and cheesy love story or something to make me laugh. Any of Richard Pryor's stand-up comedy rocks!
Q: Who is your favorite author (book) and the reason please?
A: I have always loved Langston Hughes' poetry. His writing is so musical, and focuses a lot on everyday moments and thoughts but evokes an eternity...
Q: Who is your favorite cartoon writer?
A: I have to admit I love "South Park." Cartman and Kenny are my favorite characters- at least the ones I love imitating the most. I like politically-incorrect and just downright offensive humor most of the time, and seeing cartoon characters do lewd and bizarre shit (even die every episode) is brilliant.
Q: Please tell us your favorite TV show (programme).
A: That's a hard question because I rarely watch television... When I was younger, I loved watching the cartoon "Tom & Jerry" every day after elementary school.
Q: Let us hear your comments on Anticon and cLOUDDEAD?. I personally thought there is something in your music that connects with their music.
A: I am a fan of Dose One but, to be honest, I haven't heard much of Anticon's stuff, not even the cLOUDDEAD album.
Q: Do you get influenced from Alternative Rock? If you do, please name few.
A: I am definitely influenced by rock, yet I'm not sure what to even classify as "alternative rock" anymore... In high school I loved Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr., the Cure, the Smiths, Joy Division, and the bands on the Creation label like I mentioned before. Bands I dig within the rock and "post-rock" scene today are Tortoise, Stereolab, Radiohead and, most recently, Coldplay.
Q: Your music is totally opposite comparing the masculinity Hip-Hop and Rock have, but if you were to liken "Stars On My Celling," would it be a rock album or Hip-Hop album? My opinion is it is a rock album, which absorbed dance culture naturally.
A: I have a lot of trouble thinking of my music as being part of any specific genre per se, but it certainly is influenced by rock and Hip-Hop- it's influenced by everything I hear. I would have to say that "Stars On My Ceiling" is more rooted in Hip-Hop than "Paint" was, but it surely isn't a Hip-Hop album.
Q: Tell me techno, electronica artists you like.
A: I got into electronic music through Hip-Hop, house and techno, so people like Kraftwerk, Cajmere & a lot of Chicago house, Carl Craig, Plastikman, and Aphex Twin brought me in. I love newer stuff on Mille Plateaux, specifically SND & Vladislav Delay, and stuff on Thrill Jockey like Oval and Mouse on Mars. I love Jan Jelinek's album "Loop-finding Jazz Records" on ~scape, and a lot of minimal electronic music. Warp artists like Boards of Canada, Squarepusher, Plaid... I love older drum & bass and jungle- Metalheads, Good Looking, etc.- and still listen to my Deee-Lite and Opus 3 albums.
Q: Some people I know compared "Stars On My Ceiling" with Prefuse 73. If there is any artist you empathize with, please tell us.
A: The Prefuse comparison doesn't make any sense to me to be honest, but I am a huge fan of his music. A lot of the music I get most excited about and feel closest to is stuff my friends are doing here in Chicago. DJ Lok and k.kruz, Diverse, Freebasic, James Hayford & Jordan Lieb, Isotope 217, Matt Bauder (he's putting out an album with Matt Lux of Isotope and Mike Candell on a label they're starting up), and a collective of musicians my friend Stuart Bogie started named Egyptian Brain Surgery. We're all close friends, and bounce ideas off of one another and collaborate; my friends are my biggest influences.
Q: Let us have your comments on the major music scene in U.S. now, please?
A: Major record labels- for the most part- focus on what they feel the masses want to hear and therefore what will make them cash. The ironic thing is they created the commercial norm they service and in essence have birthed a monster they are forced to feed the same food over and over again. I respect independent labels in America and abroad that release records they like- records they see as art rather than commodity. When the music is good, the public catches on slowly but surely. Yet, I feel that for whatever reason, most cutting-edge music receives a larger and more supportive audience in places like Japan & Europe while many Americans seem to like what they are force-fed.
Q: I get the image that your music is pure but at the same time there is some darkness or loneliness. It sounds like you are trying to tell there's some things you just can't simply be positive about dance culture. I felt that your music is reflected to your mental feelings towards the scene. This is just my opinion but what do you think? Is this so?
A: My music is a mixture of what comes through me as ideas or feelings and my conscious editing of things I am trying to escape or improve- either in my music or in the sounds all around me. I am a very happy & positive person in general, but I think a large part of being an artist is trying to find a balance between complete immersion in the world around you and keeping a safe distance from it- turning inwards and reflecting on the present, past, or future to eventually express that experience to someone else. That constant struggle can make someone lonely or lapse into dark thoughts, or at least make them feel kind of crazy once in a while or- in my case- quite often. I think it's hard enough trying to create music that reacts to the world around me and my experience in it... If I thought about writing something in reaction to the music scene, it would alternate between utter love and complete hate, consonance and dissonance, a sine wave and white noise. Maybe that's why I love the sounds of static and distortion, or things that just don't sound quite right. I want to give the listener something beautiful, but fuck it up just enough to make them think about where it fits in to their world or, in another way, how they fit in to the world around them.
Q: There are some titles which present colors or landscape like "Ultra Vivid," "Red Sunshine," "99 Cent Garden." Through your music, what is it that you're trying to express (the color or the landscape etc.)?
The process varies song to song, vacillating between a clear-cut picture of what I want the song to say before I compose it, and the picture emerging as the song progresses. More often than not, a song title will come to me somewhere in between, and will either explain what came to me or take the structure of the piece in a new direction. More often than not, a song title is what I got from the music, or an inside joke to myself. For instance, "Ultra Vivid" was written this past autumn. I had the opening melody looping in my head when I went for a walk in a forest preserve near my house. All the reds, oranges, and yellows of the leaves were so bright, the leaves looked so angular and sharp on the maple trees, and the sounds of them crunching underneath my feet made imprints on the music in my head- I wanted to make the music reflect that vividness. Whether someone understands what I meant is not the point: the song title then becomes either pure utility (they can refer to a song by its name rather than by saying, "hey- you know the song with the ride cymbals and guitars and blah, blah, blah?"), or it becomes almost a prescription they can choose to take… Maybe certain ideas, colors, feelings or things the listener could keep in mind that would bring our experience with the music closer in common. Personally, I'd rather they imagine things on their own.
Q: Lastly, do you like Chloe Sevigny? I think she is one of the greatest actresses in our generation but what do you think about it?
A: Ha, yeah- I think she's great. I first saw her in Harmony Korine's films and was happy she started getting some roles in movies like "Boys Don't Cry." She was great in that.