Mark Iosifescu is admittedly restless. Since he began recording Insaniac in a Living Hell, his first full-length record as Farewell My Concubine, he has moved three times, applied to graduate school, studied Chinese, studied German, and fled whenever possible while writing songs about cars and movement. This spring, he’ll be on the move once again as he tours with Father Finger.
That feeling of intransigence makes sense when considering his compelling synth music. It’s mesmerizing and delicately layered, varying from haunted pop songs, strictly choral tracks and aching ballads that could have worked on the Twin Peaks soundtrack. We met up at a bar after a snowstorm left him stranded in New York when he should’ve been in Los Angeles. We settled into a few beers before being interrupted persistently by an announcer inviting us to play bar trivia. We almost left, but fuck it, we stayed, joining the game and spending the rest of the evening trapped in a trivia K-hole.
NOISEY: So this is the first full length that you have released since your band Angels in America?
Mark Iosifescu: Yeah, the only [Farewell My Concubine] release before this was a split with Horsebladder, which was a tour tape that we put out in October of 2012. Insaniac In a Living Hell is pretty much everything that I have been working on since.
I saw that you mention that the record was recorded in three separate locations in the liner notes. Where are these places?
Those are houses. One is in Western Massachusetts, where I lived when I started the project. The others are in LA and Providence.
So you lived in all three places while working on the project? Do you tend to be a little restless?
Yeah, and because the release comprises such a long period of time, each part of the release is very evocativeof a certain place and time for me. It helps me to think about it. In order for the release to be meaningful, I had to acknowledge where the release came from. Where and how it all happened is tied up inpersonal shit, for sure.
Is this your first time having a solo project?
I did one tape that was similarly almost a compilation of several years of work. It was under the name Laura Workaholic, which I worked on from 2009- 2011. It was just a little tape that was really different from the band I was doing [Angels In America] so it was important to differentiate it. I felt like the book closed on that project, and Farewell My Concubine was the next thing.
Has it been difficult to move away from Angels in America or has the movement towards working alone been pretty fluid? I feel like singing in your own voice and doing everything yourself is so incredibly revealing, especially if you are used to being able to “hide” behind collaboration. Esra Padgett’s voice and presence was such an integral part of Angels In America. How are you feeling about everything being you?
It’s insanely hard. I am not entirely sold on the benefits. Angels In America is completely organic in terms of its style and how it all works. Farewell My Concubine has come together in a really different way. I had to use different muscles. It felt unnatural. It was really hard and full of uncertainly.
It is nice to offset your own perspective with another person who you really trust. Without that, I felt a little bit lost, but I felt like I had to do it. It was an important exercise for me and the results are whatever they are and I am happy to have a document of it.
On the one hand this project is about expressing something that only pertains to me and only works in context if I am working on it alone, but putting that into practice is difficult. I really like playing in bands.
So Farewell My Concubine is the name of a popular Chinese film-—I assume there is a relationship between the project’s name and this film?
I have actually never seen the movie.
That is so insane… I felt so bad like I was going to be a horrible interviewer because I tried to watch the movie before we met and did not have a chance.
I mean, I have watched part of it and it seemed really good but I have never seen the whole thing. The same thing actually happened with Angels in America, people always wanted to know what we thought about the play and the movie and everything.
I feel ambivalent about naming my stuff after something else, especially if I don’t have a relationship to it. But I also think that it has a built in evocative quality- even if it just makes you think of a movie that you think that you have heard of… For people that harbor significance to Farewell My Concubine, maybe they can draw from that. For me, it was just something that was in the air. More importantly to me, it was a Chinese Opera before it was a movie. I had and continue to have an interest and fascination with Chinese Opera and it’s tropes. I am fascinated by Chinese music. In my own ill educated way, I am trying to figure it out without drawing from that tradition in particular.
There was an Angels in America song called “A Dream in the Girl’s Room” which was a Chinese opera video that we used to watch together on YouTube. It is so personal that it’s laughable if you want to assign lofty significance to the title but to me, it is as real as anything else. I don’t want it to seem like I am making a huge statement about an acclaimed and probably beautiful movie. That is the shitty side of calling yourself after something you have never seen. But when I try to think of a band name I just gravitate towards things like that.
Almost seems like you are drawing on the idea of the collective unconscious. In any case, I think it is also natural for any artist to have a contentious relationship with whatever they have named a project no matter how they came to it’s final name. Taking something that sounds good to you could be better than trying really hard to name yourself something that you strongly identify with only to find that it loses it’s meaning or isn’t quite right.
I can’t think about in a year, still trying to figure out some name for something that fits its contents perfectly. But at the same time, I feel stupid when people want to talk about the film. But at this point, though, I think that watching the movie would fuck up my whole relationship that I have had with the name of my project.
I think there is an inherent value in a network of names and words that are floating in a cultural cloud that we have access to. I took Chinese for a while last year too. I don’t want to blindly draw from culture that I don’t understand, it’s important to have context. Well, this is complicated and contradictory. Could have talked myself out of naming my project Farewell My Concubine, but I didn’t.
You mentioned that you attended school in Massachusetts, earlier.
I went to Hampshire.
What did you study?
Creative Writing. I am applying to go back to school to get an MFA in creative writing. It is so twisted. I have no idea what is going to happen. I am waiting to hear back.
I understand that you help run a small run publishing company, Pleasure Editions. Tell me a little bit about the press.
It is me and two and sometimes three other people along with other friends as helpers and contributors trying to put out as much material that covers as many little bits of interest that we have. We have a journal that comes out every year but we are trying to put out every six months. It’s called ‘Pleasure’ and it contains articles, art and comics.
It’s a good opportunity to corral people who we know and are inspired by to contribute. I am working on the next journal right now. I also have a fiction thing that I write that is a long, serialized novel. That has a much more direct connection to the music that I make. I have drawn so many lyrics from that writing. I also like to use concepts that I have arrived at through music in my writing. They are both totally different and I need to switch off one creative zone to activate the other one but surprising connections always emerge and I think that my writing is better because of the music and my music is better because of the writing.
What is the serialized novel called?
Ill Tomb Era. It is an insanely lofty thing to attempt, but I have been writing it since high school in one way or another. I have put out four chapters as little pamphlets and I intend to keep going. It is a major part of my life creatively.
Is the album supposed to come off as a story in any way?
I want the album to come across as an experience. I want to approach this project in a long form way and so I think it naturally adopts the tendencies of other mediums, like writing. It is linear and relies on how it flows through time. So much of it was listening to the album on headphones walking around but the biggest thing was listening to the album in my car.
I guess this ties back to location. I love driving. I only learned how to drive like two years ago; I have only been doing it for a little while. Listening to music in the car is important. There is a song on Insaniac in a Living Hell called “Secretly Ride” and it is… about being in a car, for sure. And a lot of the music is tied to being in a car. I listened to everything in the car, countless times.
I miss driving so much if only for the feeling of driving alone at night on the highway listening to music. I still sort of feel like it is the best way to listen to music.
I always thought driving was really stupid, maybe because no one I knew drove when I was growing up in New York. Bit by bit, by being in peoples cars and listening to music… You realize that the best part of being in a car is listening to whatever you want in this private space that isn’t private.
It’s really private and serene but also inherently intense because there is also the sense of danger. Being in a car just feels bizarre and unnatural and whenever I used to drive I felt like it was something I had no business doing, even though I had a license. It’s really heavy to me. I am terrified of cars, probably because I grew up in New York also.
It’s so sick. My friend made fun of me once for saying that driving is the ultimate ride. Gliding across the surface of the earth. I was being sincere. It is the extreme of human experience, it is so dangerous…
Being at the mercy of other humans, as well. Not just yourself.
Of course. I barely trust myself. I crashed within a week of having my car. A good, big crash. I don’t think driving is practical if you want to live for a while. It is a rough concept and probably a bad idea but it is so vital. My car is under six feet of snow in Providence right now and it makes me sad. I wish I could drive around New York right now. Everyone is a monster, it is amazing. Any insane thing can happen, and you are so helpless. It is beautiful to let go of control.
It is nice that it has become such a banal experience. Going 80 miles an hour in a giant piece of metal. At this point though, I have written so many songs about car related shit. Writing a chapter about cars right now for my fiction project. It just feels so right because it is such a mainstay in my day to day life and I think about it so often.
Tell me about your decision to cover “Jetzt Will Ich Ein Guter Junge Sein” by Hermann Kopp. I am a big fan of Galakthorro. Haus Arafna is one of my favorite band of all time. You seem really able to pull off the German, too.
Oh, no. I’m glad that it seems that way. There are a lot of fuck ups for sure. Someone along the line, someone gave me a comp of Hermann Kopp soundtracks mixed with some sort of best of, called Mondo Carnale…I had an idea for a while to try and cover all of Mondo Carnale. I recorded the cover and was exploring new gear bit by bit. Learning how to sequence and program. I know how to do it just enough…
It is a spot on cover, especially if you were just learning how to do that stuff!
That was the first time that everything worked and it felt right. I also studied German in school, I tried to learn it. I know what the song means, but I had to have my friend help me with the lyrics. Singing it was a nightmare because my accent sucks.
It does not come across that way, at least to someone who doesn’t know German. I was wondering if you lived in Germany as a kid or something.
I tried really hard. Once I heard that song, it was stuck in my head. It hit on something really fundamental. Musically it contains things that I wanted to explore stylistically. I wanted to play with genre, look at synth pop and synth music in a way that I was never able to before.
I thought that you may have been aligning yourself a little with the German noise scene, but it seems that you are attracted to Hermann Kopp sort of separately. What are some other bands and labels that you admire right now? The easiest hard question.
So easy and so impossible. I don’t feel particularly connected to that much, besides my friends.
Providence seems like a really good place to be making music right now… So many great experimental projects are based there and it seems like people are moving there all of the time.
That is just it. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by genius artists. I go to shows and look around the room and feel intoxicated. I don’t have a wide view of things. I go through long stretches where I don’t even listen to that much music and I feel kind of dumb about it. My friends are always showing me things that are perfect that I needed that I didn’t know that I needed. I guess I don’t have a good way to sniff it out.
I go to shows but as great as Providence is, it is also a little but insular and I see a lot of amazing artists but I see more or less the same group of people play over and over with a few exceptions, which is a little stultifying. Despite how much I love Providence, it can feel draining, so I just relay on happenstance when it comes to finding new music.
Mostly I just get into it through people showing me anything. I like pop music. I like VVAQRT. Ryan (Secret Boyfriend/ Hot Releases) gave me their first LP when we met and I was lazy about listening at first but then I saw them play at Savage Weekend and realized that I was a fool and that they are the best band on earth.
I feel the same way—love them and can’t wait to hear their new album when it is ready! One last question though, before we succumb to this trivia game: Now that you have finished your first record and are about to go on tour with Father Finger…. Are you excited and what are you working towards next?
I am insanely excited, and I heard her new record. It’s incredible; It’s crazy. It’s going to be good. I am also just excited to go on the road again, which I have not done in a year and a half.
Other than that, I am about to finish up recording this Angels in America radio play… It is a sequel to one that we already did. It is so stupid, but it is unbelievably sick. It’s called XILF: stikklemuzick. It is an extension of an accident that has become an alternate way of expression for us. Then we are going to do a music record. A normal music record, in the spring.
That is so awesome! I didn’t realize you guys were still active, I love you guys.
Yeah. We play shows insanely rarely because we live in such different zones. So I am not sure how it is going to work, but it will. I have another Farewell My Concubine tape that I am trying to finish before my tour with Father Finger in March, but it might be too soon.