It would be far too daunting to do a proper introduction to Psychic TV or Genesis P-Orridge. The originator of industrial music as we know it, pure magic, mentor, thinker and speaker, pandrogyne, visual artist and humbling humorist who often challenges people to re/think the world around them and the possibilities that lay therein. I was pretty beside myself when I was given the opportunity to go to their apartment to sit down and talk to both Genesis and Edley Odowd (long time collaborator, drummer of psychic TV and art director for Psychic TV for over a decade) prior to their apperance at the Bezerktown festival in L.A., where they are set to perform Psychic TV’s first record Force the Hand of Chance in it’s entirety.
This conversation sort of starts in the middle. I plopped myself on their couch and pet their dog, and we started to converse immediately. I began recording before the interview was even formally addressed. Genesis was telling me that a piece from her most recent art exhibit at the Ruben museum was going to be displayed at St. John’s Cathedral. We exchanged some formal questions and before too long, I felt like I was in a therapy session. In a good way. Genesis and Edley were able to pick up whatever wounded vibrations I was sending out into the world. I left feeling high. I was given glorious guidance by two people who I respect immensely and I planned on putting it to work. It has only been a week and this interview has already changed my life. I have started to ‘do the opposite’ and think about myself differently. So, fair warning, this gets a little personal. The questions veer from the plan. But I believe there is a great deal of wisdom, possibility and love within.
JANE PAIN: So “Try to Alter Everything” at the Rubin museum ended today, how does that feel for you?
GENESIS: A little bit weird, I kind of got used to going there three times a week.I have to write something for you next (points towards Edley)
J: What will you be writing for Edley?
G: He’s got an art exhibition coming up in Los Angeles.
Edley: Yes, with a book. September 1 at lethal amounts gallery.
J: What will the book be composed of?
E: It’s the art of Psychic TV for the past twelve years. I have pretty much been the exclusive graphic designer, but the show is about iconography translates to everything, so it won’t just be a bunch of flat pictures on the wall, there will be a lot of objects and textiles and why not make a bed spread out of it? Why not make curtains out of it? So, you know the reason we are playing Berzerktown, right?
J: I don’t, in fact that was going to be my first question! I guess not so much why you are playing, but why you chose to play Force the Hand of Chance in it’s entirety.
E: We are going to perform Psychic Tv’s first album, because we want to but also because I spent four years going up against Warner Brothers to license the rights back, and they have finally decided to work with us. So, we will also have a special limited edition of the records that will be sold at the concert.
J: I will absolutely be picking one of those up, there are a lot of goodies in there!
E: A lot of goodies, an alternate cover from the shoot of the head that Gen made back in 1982. So Berzerktown is happening at the same time as this is being released.
G: And we will be performing with some very interesting guests.
J: Do the guests have to be secret until the show?
G+E: I don’t think so…
J: Then I have to ask, who will be performing with you guys?
E: Well, Margaret Cho…
J: I didn’t expect that. Have you seen the video of her talking with Jerry Seinfeld about Genesis?
G: Yes, it turns out she is a fan. You never know who is a fan. We didn’t know Marc Jacobs was either.
E: We are going to have her as well as Ron Athey, who we are both really excited about. He is not a musician, he is a performance artist.
G: Do you know about Ron Athey?
J: I don’t, I plan on googling him as soon as I leave.
G: Google him! He is famous for doing very, very intense ritual performances about being HIV positive. He has been dong more conceptual things, but he is a nice guy who does very pure stuff. What he is doing is the real thing, not fake performance art.
E: The closing track of the record was originally spoken by Mister Sebastian, who is no longer alive, so we needed a new groundbreaking person.
G: He [Sebastian] used to do body piercing and tattoos and at that time he was the only person in Britain who did body art and tattoos.
E: We will also be having Sean from Cult of Youth performing with us.
J: Ah, my friend! Gen, I actually saw you conduct his wedding service!
G: I Married him. It was a nice ceremony, wasn’t it? You got lucky Misses, they are not normally like that.
J: I have only been to a couple weddings, but that one seemed unusual… I would like to revisit your show at the Ruben. I was really interested in your decision to invite guests to make offerings to the show [many of which were exhibited] and know that you interacted with people though the exhibition via performance, curating events and even answering the telephone periodically. Why did you decide to engage with the gallery audience in this way and in retrospect, how do you feel about the offerings made and their interaction with your exhibit.
G: Well, we got more than 1,200 gifts or offerings, which is pretty good. Filled every single space we had designated with some left over which were stored. We don’t go to art exhibitions that much any more… We used to go a lot more with Jaye. We felt that galleries are usually so elitist and sterile and removed from people’s experience that there is no warmth, embracing or welcoming into the art and into the stories… and that is because most of the art you see doesn’t have a story. It’s all just ‘look at me, I’ve got a formula and I can do it twenty times and sell it all’. That is of no interest to us.
The point of the show is that everything can be sacred and that everything is potentially special and every person is too. Having people bring gifts was one way that we thought we could express that, and make it simple and not too intimidating to people off the street who didn’t know anything about me or it. It really resonated with people, even people not far off from my age but people from high school to people in their seventies came and talked to me about giving things.
A couple of people said ‘well that section just has a bus ticket in it’, but how would you know what the significance is of that bus ticket? That might be the ticket that they got to go to the funeral of their mother. Or the one that took them to the person that they are in love with. Or it could be the one that took them to the hospital when they discovered they had cancer. You don’t know what the significance is, and that is the whole point, that everything is potentially significant and that everything has a story.
We used to work with a Shaman who would tell us to go out, come back in a half an hour and tell him what the streets told us. Let him know what you learned from what you saw. You would look at the world so different straight away.
In the eighties, we used to go on tour in a school bus, and it broke down in the middle of the salt flats in Utah, miles and miles from anything and it was 110 degrees. We had the kids. Tom was our driver. We had stopped right before we hit the desert to fill the tank with gas.
So we said, it should work. Why has it stopped? Our first question to him was, ‘Did you definitely fill the tank up?’ and he said ‘yes, yes, of course I did’ I said that it didn’t make sense, and he said that it was a piece of shit bus, and that we should just get rid of the bus.
We got someone to hitchhike to the nearest town with the kids so the kids could be safe at a diner. While he was gone and looking for a mechanic, we walked out to the desert and squatted in the desert trying to descend into my head. As we were squatting, looking at the salt flats, we see ants. There are littles holes that are their nest, they are going off and coming back with bits of food. Going back out, coming back with bits of food. We thought ‘that is their fuel. He was lying. He didn’t put the petrol in, that is what is wrong with the bus. No fuel.’
By the time we walked back to the bus, he had reappeared. I asked him again if he had out the petrol in and he stuttered and said ’no, I was scared to tell you.’
I asked him if he realized he suggested throwing the bus away and breaking the engine down. I made him hitchhike away again to get some petrol. But that was an example of when that excersise worked for me in a particular way.
E: And you have used this excersise in your classes.
G: Yes, we use this when we do workshops with people. It makes people stop and think, which is always a good thing. To hesitate. What have I got in my purse? This is what a lot of people did, [when they attended “Try to Alter Everything” at the Rubin] they looked at what they had and thought ‘what do I have that means something to me?’. Instead of thinking about how they only have six dollars left and one ride on the subway. Just on that level alone, it is a great way to reprogram people into looking, perception. We have this saying ‘Change the way to perceive’, if you can change your memory you can change the past by perceiving things differently. That is what all art should be doing, encouraging people to perceive the world differently, more completely, more meticulously. There are always ways to rethink our senses and the information that we receive.
J: What do you mean about reevaluating the past and interpreting something differently, do you think that is it healthy to look back at something negative and grab something positive?
G: Well, that’s not really how it works. What happens is that you develop wisdom, and knowledge, and as your way of living life changes you’ll look back and realize the flaws in what you have done and maybe why it failed. And then, when something becomes a crisis again, you can do things differently.
J: That is happening to me right now.
G: There you go. If you don’t remember the past, you are doomed to repeat it. There are a lot of different ways that you can take that phrase, and again, it can be taken as a way to remind you but the literally re/mind you, to give you another mind. Look back and re/think how you are looking at the world, how you are reacting to the world, what you are giving to the world, what you are receiving from the world around you. Constantly analyze are you doing something out of habit? Are you doing something because it is what is expected of you? Am I doing this because I am afraid? Why am I doing this? Why am I choosing to do things in this particular way in this particular time. All those things can be rearranged once you start making little maps to your past to keep alert.
J: What if you are super scared of making the same mistake that at sometimes feels out of your power?
G: There is a really easy excersize for that, which we have used. We had one long relationship with Cosey Fanni Tutti, then we had one long relationship to the children’s Mother and both times when it started to fall apart, we tried to rescue it. It was just more miserable that the painful part lasted longer. So when it happened again, we just thought, well, whatever it was that happened the last time, we will just do the exact opposite, because it didn’t work the way we were doing it the last three times.
So if we rang up and said ‘please, please’, we won’t ring. If we tried to justify why they should love me, we won’t say anything. And it was like math. What did we do before? We will do the opposite. And not only did it end the pain really quickly, it saved the relationship.
J: That’s good to hear.
G: But you have to be really strict with yourself, because it is in your nature to do your mistakes again. And sometimes we would sit there, fidgeting.
E: I think it is also helpful to take the stance of having nothing to lose. Then, nothing can harm you. I was single for twelve years. I would never take that leap, and just not give a shit, and just do it. A year ago somebody walked up to me and said ‘will you go on a date with me?’ and I said yes, and we are engaged to be married now. There you go. Do things differently.
G: Do things differently and consciously.
J: Things are really hard for me because I keep making the same mistakes, I am stuck in a loop. My mistakes keep rippling into my relationships with the people who are closest to me and worsening my relationship with myself. For me, right now, it isn’t about not calling someone, it is about calling someone when I need them.
E: Gen used to say that I was stuck in a loop. I would do the same thing over and over again.
G: The other thing is, as Lady Jaye would say ‘be fearless’. Edly just said yes. He jumped off. Not ask ‘what if’.
E: After I said yes, we were living on separate coasts. I realized I had nothing to lose. I asked them if they wanted to get a job transfer, if they wanted to live with me. And they said yes. There is nothing to lose by seeing what happens.
G: Unconditional surrender. Once you’ve done the unconditional surrender, you can’t fail. There is nothing complex. There are no games, no secrets. One hundred percent unconditional surrender is the only way anything can work in the long term. After people watch the film The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye a lot of people have told me that they have always been scared of being hurt so they have held back a bit, but they have still gotten hurt. We say, of course you do, because you hold back a bit! You’re probably going to get hurt any way, so why not just say fuck it and jump. A lot of relationships can’t work in a really long term way, but there can be so much joy from a fully committed unconditional love.
E: Nothing is guaranteed. You know what is really interesting about Jane? When I was working at Trans-Pecos and you and I were texting during that noise fest… There were people everywhere, hot and sweaty. When she walks into a room, she really shines. I instantly noticed her in this room of people. I made a point to connect to you at the bar. Asked you ‘did you get your synth fixed?’
J: I couldn’t even fanthom why you remembered or cared.
E: I felt compelled because of the energy that you gave.
J: That makes me feel really nice. Especially as circumstances of that fest had me feeling on and off again rotten.
E: You should know that about yourself. You are putting compelling energy out there.
G: We remembered you straight away.
J: This is so flattering.
G: There you go. Start looking at yourself differently.
J: This is so interesting also, because of how I need to absolutely surrender/ jump off the cliff right now is to learn to love myself and to commit to living my life without alcohol.
G: How old are you?
J: 28, turning 29 next month.
G: Oh wow, you look much younger.
E: You do… Yeah… I know this sounds so old manish to say, with a cigar hanging out of the side of my mouth but… You’re young. Wisdom takes time and experience. That is why it is even more important to embrace and to let things happen when you are young. It will help you achieve and akrew wisdom. I’ve noticed that everything changes every ten years, in a major way.
J: Since I am looking at 29, I hope that this year brings on a very positive change in myself.
G: Well, you are going through your saturn return, aren’t you? 27 is very hard, that is why so many people die at 27.
J: I am thankful that I didn’t, now. I flirted with it.
G: New York is very easy to get sucked into. We’ve all been there. All of us have, in different ways. Do you have any more questions, my dear? Otherwise it is going to cost you a hundred dollars.
J: I feel like I am getting a full therapy session here!
E: You’ll put out a very thick zine with your psychologists, Genesis and Edley.
J: Well, there is evidence in our conversation. You have a lot of people who look to you for answers. How does this feel and do you feel good about giving people answers. Both as Psychic TV and as individuals.
G: In all honestly, with the phones at the museum… People rang up and said that we got them through the worst part of their life or changed their life or inspired them or they wouldn’t be who they are without what we have done… This happens, there is no way to deny that. In my case, it just gives me an ever deeper sense of responsibility to be more truthful and to keep on giving back however we can. Sharing what we have found or what we have experienced. It used to make me feel embarrassed. Why are they saying that to me? I know nothing. We still don’t think that we know anything particularly important, but at least we have a bank of experiences. A lot of these experiences are more extreme, intimate and scathing. That is what we have as a currency that we can share, and so we share it as much as we can and as clearly as we can. Trying to say things more clearly each time is the difficult part.
It’s hard not to say things the same exact way every single time. Sometimes we fall into that. We get asked the same questions ‘when did you name it industrial music?’. We have been asked this seven thousand times. In any way, it is good to know that we have been helpful to people.
E: Gen can tell you that I have spent most of my adult life mentoring people. Particularly younger people, and that is how I intend to spend my sage years.
J: And do you think that Psychic TV has helped to facilitate this mentoring?
E: Yes. Gen and I both share a sense of compassion. Mine might be a bit more extreme. I’ll go too far to try and help another person, and Gen will say ‘I’m going to bed’. But s/he has earned that
J: Sometimes you do just need to go to bed. You can’t help someone if you’re too tired.
G: Jaye did help me to become more compassionate. And vice versa, really. We were really good for each other in that way, and it got more positive as time went by, which is unusual and wonderful. We feel it is a responsibility to share anything that can be helpful and that all bands should be thinking that way, as well as all artists and writers. ‘How can what I do make this world a better place?’
Psychic TV is unusual in that way, I am sure you have noticed. A majority of our fans are really nice people, really caring people who really think about what it is to be alive and existing in this world, and what was it can both be bearable for them and hopefully more rewarding. So their is a spiritual and familial side to Psychic TV. The band it’s self, we get along so well. We are like a little family. It sounds corny but it’s true. Not like a family of little boys who get drunk every night and try to find girls but an actual family that loves and cares for each other.
E: We look forward to going on the road together and doing things together. It’s hardly a job in that way.
G: When things happen to any of us… Negative, awful… We’ve got each other to support us through it. When Lady Jaye dropped her body, everyone rallied around immediately with full love and compassion. When Alice lost her son… We have had tragedies happen to our band, but we take care of each other. We try to look after each others emotions as much as we can. I wish everyone were that way, instead of trying to be famous and rich. That is not on our agenda. At all.
The important stuff is to try and make the world a better place and help people to be less afraid. Less afraid of being generous with each other, sharing with each other, loving each other. All those things people hesitate over. I want to leave a legacy of less fear.
The fifth and final installation of Summer Scum took place at Trans-Pecos July 9th and 10th, yielding over 50 15 minute sets from some of the world’s best noise artists. Summer Scum was curated and organized by Justin Lakes (Shredded Nerve) and Christopher Hansell (Ligature/ Warthog).
While I usually try to keep my photo updates seasonal, general chaos and disorganization prevented me from doing so this past fall… and winter… and spring… I am still in the midst of organizing negatives and reviewing work from the past six months but here is some in no particular order.
Follow me on instagram @JaneChardiet
DePace :I think we are the best we have ever sounded, frankly.
Yow: The only time I saw Flipper before I joined was in 1982, and I never really saw em again until I was a part of us.
So, one of my favorite bands of all time is Throbbing Gristle
Yow: Yeah, I saw that Lisa Suckdog shirt, her mortal enemy is Genesis.
Well, I heard a rumor that you guys played the last ever Throbbing Gristle show, and I was wondering how that went down?
DePace: We did. It was 1980 in San Francisco. It was their last show until a reunion many, many years later. It was super loud. Around 2006, 7, 8 we played a show up in Portland Oregon and whatever configuration of their band that is was at that time marched into our show carrying a gigantic crucifix. It was bizarre.
Do you feel any affinity to weird, freaky electronic music like Throbbing Gristle?
DePace: Sure. I like anything that is good.
Are there any electronic based bands that you are particularily down with?
DePace: Well, it ain’t got that swing if it’s played by a thing. And that is just the codger in me. Early stuff like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream or ambient stuff I thoroughly enjoy. I have not heard any newer electronic stuff that really does it for me.
It’s so weird to me that you would be more into ambient stuff as opposed to hard hitting, fucked up stuff!
DePace: Nah, nah. I listen to Jazz, Psychedelic rock, David Allen Coe, Miles Davis.
Yow: Sleeping is just about my favorite thing. I never get to do it, at all, but I like it when I do. Cooking.
DePace: Have you head of a band called Barbed Wire Dolls?
DePace: There are this punk band from Greece and they moved to LA about ten years ago. But they are so punk, even in their lifestyle. They are like nomads, always playing, always touring, constantly making records, for like ten years straight. They have played 45 countries and 600 or 700 shows. They are pretty amazing. I appreciate that, as far as bands go. That is sort of how it should be done.
Do you think less people are doing it right?
DePace: Yeah, I get bored easier. I have seen so many bands and so many shows.
What about playing them though?
DePace: Shows are still exciting to play, as long as it is a great venue, a great crowd, great energy. I’ve been bored at shows… Usually it is when the staff doesn’t care and the audience doesn’t care. But that doesn’t happen very often. I have to say that over the thirty plus years that I have been playing shows there have been very few bad shows.
What was the worst show?
Yow: The worst one for me was not when I was playing with Flipper, but when I was with Jesus Lizard. We played in Boise, Idaho at a place called the Zoo. It was an all ages show, fairly big room for the youngsters and a room in the back where the minors were not allowed in. I guess most of the audience was back there, but we couldn’t see them. There were three people in the room: a drunk Eskimo and two drunk frat dudes who would not stop heckling us. I don’t care. Usually I laugh at hecklers and am down for a challenge but it was humiliating. It was the only time I ever turned to the guys and said ‘why are we here? We don’t have the finish this’. I mean we have played shows before to two people or eight people but those three dumb-asses…
How did crowds compare with Scratch Acid?
Yow: In the old days, with Scratch Acid, people were more complacent. People seemed to give a shit about the Jesus Lizard. But we are not here to talk about that
[I spill my beer]
DePace: It’s okay. Nice beer smell. I have smelled worse, I am ready.
Alright, since I already spilled a beer on you, can I just go for the real dickhead question? So besides being pretty irritated by his music, Moby was a thorn in my side as an annoying costumer at a Vegan spot that I used to work at. I need you to confirm that he is lying about being a singer for Flipper.
DePace: No, he did! He sort of made it out to be like he was the Flipper singer for a while, but it was one night! He got up on stage with us for one night and sang. It was in his hometown in Connecticut. He just jumped on stage and sang with us. He knew all the words, he was a big fan. I think the singer at that time was passed out or high or arrested or something. For years he had it in his bio that he was one of the original singers of flipper. For years! This girl I know who ran a club in Germany called me and said ‘Moby is coming through, and we got his press kit and it says he was the original singer in Flipper, what is that all about’. I read it and thought, well, he embellished a little bit. But that’s okay, I like him.
Yow: Well a couple of years ago for Halloween I sang with Shellac as The Sex Pistols, so I was actually the original singer of The Sex Pistols.
Check out my weak stage dive at 20:50
I sat down with Daniel Stewart, known to most as DX on a midsummer’s afternoon to sip on some cheeky frozen margaritas. The courtyard of Mexico 2000 seemed appropriate,we were alone save a few kids screaming and running around in Minion gear. It was sunny and cheerful but decorated with fake plastic flowers. The place feels secluded and a best kept felt secret in a neighborhood where there are no secrets left but was not immune to the elevated J trains incessant rumble, a reminder every ten minutes of where you are. DX and I had corresponded through email a few times last year. Though Total Control’s Typical System was one of my favorite records of 2014 (probably tied in First place with Amen Dune’s Love), I never anticipated a chance to speak to anyone in the band for an interview. Despite fan’s expectations of a tour after the stellar album dropped, the Australian group decided against it and there were seemingly few transmissions with the public afterwards. I was utterly delighted at the opportunity to speak to DX, while he enjoyed some time in New York City before a few U.S. Total Control shows this past August.
Typical System felt like a grand leap from Total Control’s freshman full length, Henge Beat. That is not to say that Henge Beat is not stellar, but Typical System transcends genre, expectation or any hint of redundancy. I can’t forget the first time that I ever heard it; I grew exceedingly more excited with each track, completely enamored. It is very rare that you listen to anything for the first time in that way, hanging on every note and word, floored, wondering where things might go but unable to cheat yourself and skip around a bit. Typical System is mysterious, sexy, smart and completely hard hitting.
Spending time with DX is a interesting because he is uniquely aware of himself, his world and his intentions. He can revel in carnal pleasure one moment and dissect philosophy the next, not that these two things should be considered inherently opposites. We had a chance to talk a bit about some books, about his bands and about the utility of a bad trip.
You have made yourself known as a loyal fan by publishing your own art and music zine, Distort as well as addressing your relationship to the Kinks later on with your zine Life Stinks I Like the Kinks. As a fan of yours, I was wondering what your personal relationship is to fandom?
I first started listening to punk music in a small industrial town outside of Sydney. For a town that small, there were about twenty straight edge kids and about five or six fanzines going. I just considered that part of being into punk was contributing to it, straight away.
So a natural expression of fandom took on a very participative role?
Just part of being interested in music was wanting to make a band and part of being interested in the appreciation and criticism of the music and the building of the scene was making a zine. It was one of those unique moments in a scene when everything was accelerating rather rapidly and it was an exciting time, and I wanted to be part of it. I realized immediately that if I was interested in something that I might as well explore it to the utmost. The obsessive fanatic aspect of music appealed to me.
How do you respond to people who are massive fans of your bands? Do you ever feel alienated by fandom while also participating in the culture of fandom yourself?
It doesn’t happen very often. I am a big fan of what I do as well though, so I appreciate other people who feel the same way.
In terms of music writing- I started off doing it for myself. After doing it for a while I realized that there were opportunities to perhaps pursue music writing as some sort of career path. After attempting that, I was really disappointed by the realities of freelance writing. I hated how many people who are writers are only writing to make a quota or make some money and have no passion for what they are producing at all. I notice that you do not publish Distort online. I was wondering if there is a particular agenda to keeping your work exclusively in a physical realm or if that is just the way that you are accustomed to doing things after all these years.
It is a bit out of force of habit and having a work routine that I am comfortable with. I also feel like the physical side of the publication is really important to me. I do not read very well online. It is hard to pay attention. I read an article about the way that people tend to read online and it matched my behaviour exactly- you tend to read the first paragraph and then skip around from there on, grabbing information as it pleases your eye. It is hard for me to stay solidly focused on an entire block of text online with the exception being the Paris Review Interviews. I could spend hours or days on end reading every one that I could.
I went pretty crazy digging through the Paris Review archives finding interviews with Joan Didion, Hemingway and Faulkner. That is one of the only times that I find myself being an online reader. Even when I am reading something from an individual that I find quite interesting, I find it hard to get anything from them online. When I have a physical product I read it better and I absorb the information better, and I feel like all the extraneous information that comes with it- the introduction to it, the photos that come with it… the product then seems to encapsulate a moment. You can put it down and five years down the line you can still see this moment that someone sweated and put it all together. So the way that I read is how I want to present the work that I make in the end.
I agree. I think it is kind of funny that I present most of my work online. On the other hand I am happy to give access to my work for free to anyone in the world if they care to look at it.
That is very important. I think that it can be done well, I just don’t think that I can do it well- from reasons that range from a strange almost Luddite suspicion of online culture to an apprehension of what is does to my brain. I do not want to present myself as a person who is hostile towards the internet though. There are parts that I think have damaged my life, social media in particular, circulating drama but I do appreciate the access of information. I can find music that I could never have listened to otherwise, or be at a party and instantly be able to share a song that I love so much. I am not anyone who wishes that they grew up without the Internet, which is not my sort of scene. I do have a way of working and I do not see the benefits of becoming entirely involved with the online world.
Speaking a little more about books, I purchased the Institute Zagreb 1986 / The Air of Conquerors novella split by S.T. Lore off of your distro last year and thought that it was exceedingly brilliant. I was wondering what your relationship was with the author and if there is any sort of underground literary scene in Melbourne like there is in New York City.
I lived with him for a couple of years and he is a really important person in my life. When I moved in with him he was working at a sleep hospital. He worked there about one night a week doing the overnight shift and that was enough to pay rent and get by. The rest of the time, eight to ten hours a day, he was writing. Watching someone that devoted to their craft was really inspiring to me. We would have conversations as he was coming out of two or three days of intense writing with the need to talk. Watching him go from an isolated place and then sitting down with me and reengaging with the world was so inspiring but there were things about his craft that I knew I couldn’t do. I was prioritizing music over everything. I love writing and I definitely reserve the future years of my life for becoming that single minded about writing after I have all this band stuff out of the way… but he was also a little older and had reached a point where he realized exactly what he wanted to do. It was very exciting to be around.
He wrote that book sort of while I was living with him. Our friend Helen published the book. She is an art theorist, she does an art journal called Discipline named after the Throbbing Gristle song. I took some copies on with Distort because I just knew that people would like it.
After the book was published, I had just done Life Stinks I Like the Kinks and S.T. asked me to do a reading at the launch. I had never done anything like that before. I had been publishing Distort for years but there was no reason to ever launch it or do readings from it. So he was also the first person to put me in front of a group of people and have me explain what I do. Because of the way that I operate I almost treat Distort like it is a secret life. I very rarely even give someone a copy physically or invite conversation directly. It was the first time that I had to explain myself and it was really uncomfortable and nerve racking but also really rewarding. In many respects S.T. Lore has been a pivotal figure in my life. And I am really excited about the book and I am glad that you brought it up because I really urge people to check it out.
I loved it completely and it was right up my alley, but I never would have heard about it if it were not for your distro.
It is a strange, absurd experience of reading and it is very well done. He has been writing more and living in Sydney. S.T. is a great hustler with lots of great stories. Like once he was living in Canada and walked into a restaurant that said that they needed a chef. He wasn’t a chef but he immediately got the job and went back into the kitchen. The chef asked him to cut something and he was up front and told the chef that he didn’t know what he was doing. The chef hated the boss enough that he just sort of took S.T. under his wing and let him fake it and after about two months of making chef wages- pretty good- the boss came around and saw him cutting carrots. The Boss was like ‘you’re not a chef, are you?’ Simon was like ‘no’ and he was told to leave immediately. But he’s got so many stories like that. A wild character who has endured psychedelic mishaps. He has traveled extensively. I sure whatever he is working on right now will reach a wider audience and I would urge anyone to track down S.T. Lore and become involved in a very strange world.
Do you consider yourself a book lover? What are some of your favorites?
I really like Michel Houllebecq. I had read everything that he has written. He is a pretty divisive person. He has been condemned within the media for making pretty divisive comments about Muslims and religion. He went to court because he said that Islam was a stupid religion and was on the cover of Charlie when the magazine got shot up. He doesn’t reserve his ire towards any religion in particular but he is not afraid of being confrontational.
Overall… The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, the Carson McCullers’s book. She wrote it when she was 23. Everything coming to mind right now is Southern… Flannery O’Connor… OK, Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal. I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus. [Kraus] started Semiotext(e). I Love Dick is a great exploration of fandom and obsession. She becomes obsessed with this guy but also talks a lot about art theory and the female experience of desire and obsession. Susan Sontag.
But my favorite experience with literature, and I have been talking to Elias [Ronnenfelt] about this a lot is Henry Miller. He was the guy who threw me into everything head first.
I am reading Tropic of Cancer right now and it was on my coffee table one morning after Elias slept on my couch after a heavy night. We got talking about the book and spent the rest of the morning watching Henry Miller interviews online.
I have been talking to him a lot about it. Henry Miller has a reputation of a misogynist and a crude individual but his books are so full of life. I really like books that writers write about other writers, also, and he wrote a book about Arthur Rimbaud that is phenomenal.
Ha! I am reading Edmund White’s book about Rimbaud right now as well!
Edmund White wrote a book about Genet as well. It is a brick. It is the biggest book I own.
This book is easy! I just love Edmund White’s writing. I don’t want to talk too much about myself but I wrote my thesis on the evolution of queer language in literature from a historical context, exploring certain queer staples and experience and how time allowed for different narratives and language. I wrote a lot about Edmund White’s A Boys Own Story and while I loved the book, it is so repressed. I have just started his book on Rimbaud and I love it so much because his style is so present but the content allows him to be more open about his own life using parallels about this other writers life and the effects his writing many years later. He seems to find strength through Rimbaud, which is why he is writing about him, but he is also older and able to look back and is no longer than young man writing about his life at that time.
Rimbaud, at the same time as Miller, was one of the first experiences I had with writing that really blew my head off. But I try to read all the time when I am not drinking too much. The list that I am giving you is mostly recent obsessions but I think that most times that I have had a massive shift in thinking it has been because of a writer. I think the biggest shift was when I discovered Nietzsche and properly engaged with it. That was when my life fell apart, because it was much too powerful. And that was when Total Control started.
That would make sense with most of your lyrical content. You paint a modern dystopian landscape with many of your lyrics and I wonder if there were any general themes that come to mind regarding that bleak moment when you were starting Total Control?
At the time that Total Control started was about the time that I started getting into psychedelics. Phillip K Dick is an important thing to mention because he was instrumental in my curiosity of psychedelics. I hadn’t taken drugs in over a decade but when I read him as I was getting further and further away from a hardline mentality towards drugs but he really pushed me. I realized that I have always been attracted not towards the brilliant, shimmering good trip but the bad trip. All the cultures I am attracted to and all the moments within culture in the last fifty years were all of the bad trip moments. Punk to me was the bad trip after the hippies.
I love the hippie vision but punk, industrial, hardcore and metal always seemed to be the point in which…
The hippie possibility had ended…
Everything was closed down. Everything around you, instead of looking delightful seems horrifying. When I started Total Control I had a few bad trips and I was interested in music that spoke of the psychedelic experience but instead of focusing on the eye opening wonder it confronted reality and un-shifting horror seemed far more potent to me. I guess that would be the primary place that Total Control came out of, as well as our influences from the start- which was a lot of punk and post-punk stuff like Rikk Agnew… Christian Death always sounded like a bad trip to me.
Gary Numan also. He never sounded psychedelic but has very dystopian lyrics that referenced Phillip K Dick and stuff. All these things came together when Total Control started. I always had this dream of writing a sort of utopian novel as a response to all the dystopian novels of the fifties and sixties, because we are just living in that dystopian reality now. We are in the hell that visionaries painted. I dream of writing the utopian response to all of that, but I just can’t.
I don’t think that the time that we are living in is any more or less horrifying than it has ever been or that we are any closer or further away from the apocalypse than we have ever been but I think this is a thing that every generation and every life is just forced to deal with. When I look at what I am doing with Total Control and I look at all the bands or writers or artists that I like I think they are all battling similar things. I just think we have far more awareness of how horrific we are as a species but we’ve always had a suspicion about that anyway.
I kind of want to go back to the beginning of Total Control. I was looking up old interviews and saw Mikey talking about why you guys decided to expand from experimenting with a couple of synths and a drum machine to a full band and he said that ‘full bands are more fun to watch’ yet it seems that you guys are pretty selective about playing shows live and choose not to tour after releasing Typical System. You are about to play a few shows, including a couple shows in New York and L.A., however. Can you explain what role live shows play in the band today?
We are a really strange band when it comes to these sorts of things. Every step that we have taken has had no real planning behind it. Most of our decisions are incredibly spontaneous and just allow ourselves to align together. We all do other bands and stuff. At first it was just a project of Mikey, I and James. When we were offered a show, we took it. That is when the band came together. With the coming together of records, it has always been the sort of thing when we have enough songs to do a seven-inch, we do a seven-inch. When we have enough songs to do a record, we do a record.
Part of it comes down to Mikey being really busy. He works from home doing mixing work and mastering work and make movie scores. He is far more occupied with his living where as for the rest of us, we all do bands but we are working jobs at the same time. For us, touring is an escape from drudgery. For Mikey, it is still music and it is still part of his everyday life. I think that is part of the reason it takes us a while to get us to do stuff.
I also think, that as a group of people that our band has a really good dynamic. Not like any other group of people. I guess in many respects we must take things slowly while the expectation most people would have is that we should be accelerating. Whenever it seems that we are at a point that it would seem to be to our advantage to put a record together we don’t, or we go on tour. We have intentionally put ourselves in a position where we are not beholden to anyone. The label that we are on does not have any great expectations for us. Personally I would like to pressure us to get stuff done but the pace at which we work is our own. It’s not the normal thing where you put out a record and then you go on tour and shake everyone’s hands and build the next record to excel to some other place or a whole new level of exposure.
This sort of interview is really ideal for me; I prefer to talk to people face to face. Phone interviews and that sort of promotion have worn me down. Our exposure will probably shrink as we become more interested in doing things like this and decide to to talk to people from another world that we don’t have access to. We are a difficult band. We are a pain in the ass.
How about your relationship to live music?
I go and see bands live all of the time. Melbourne is really busy, there are shows going on all the time. A lot of my friends play in really good bands, I am fortunate. I suppose the bands that have been really impressing me lately are not rock bands. I guess that sort of explains what Mikey said about our band: there is an excitement to rock music. The best band that I saw last year are called Armour Group, they are a power electronics/ industrial band. I have not seen a phenomenal rock band in a while, but rock music will always be what I gravitate towards.
I try and play shows in small venues. I try to play shows inside because I hate being outside. I try not to play festivals because I hate festivals. I guess the ideal place to see anything would be a place where the PA is burning out, and it’s really loud. I’m not too smashed in there, but there are people around me. We can feel that we are part of something.
It is interesting that you approach your band at your own pace and there is also a sort of music machine that you guys have managed to avoid. The whole make a record every year, tour after every record, talk to pitchfork and all of that. There is nothing wrong with the system, really. But it is funny to be on the other side of your decision not to participate- after I fell in love with Typical System I just sort of assumed you’d tour the states to support it and I was incredibly bummed that you were not. It’s funny that fans do have certain expectations…
We’re not contrarians at all- we didn’t try to fuck with people’s expectations. There was no plan to it. But us doing this tour is as weird as anything else that we have done… It just happened.
I had finally gotten rid of the immense anxiety that I had when the record first came out. I spent most of last year wanting to play the new songs. I was sort of treating the record with a sort of reverence that was borderline horror. It was an object of complete horror. I would play the songs and want to play them so much but knew that we couldn’t. I am excited.
We played a party recently in Melbourne, and it was pretty much the first time that we had played there in a year. Hearing the songs come together felt good. Since we are not incredibly active enough time had passed that I was excited to hear them.
That is really nice. I feel like half the time that something finally comes out that you grow sick of it or feels passé in your life. I had a tape come out recently with Ascetic House but the recordings were mostly a year old, from when we just started playing. When I first listened to the tape I wanted to run away with my tail between my legs and hide under a rock.
Typical System took a really long time to come out. I was ready for the elation of the record coming… It just didn’t come out for months and months and when it finally did come out… All of the themes and feelings had really soured and I was worried that if I listened to it that I would have a massive panic attack.
I defiantly feel that. The tape I was talking about starts with this embarrassingly raw song about a person who broke my heart and I can’t listen to it without feeling really stupid. Anyway, do you feel comfortable talking about some of those themes of the record?
The most direct thing that makes me feel uncomfortable is that there is a love song. The two main themes of the band have always been sex and death. I want to make records that would sound good to listen to when people are being intimate together, but a lot of the songs are also about death. It’s good; a lot of my favorite records are like that. The Stooges… They are one of my favorite bands and that has always been my experience listening to them. I can listen to them and think it sounds like really sexy music or if I am not in a good place listen to it and think that it is really dark and scary.
I never wanted to flirt with romantic sentimentality and this record stroke those themes at a couple of points. There are songs about a relationship that fell apart before the record came out. I felt a little apprehensive about it. That was just me being afraid for no reason though, romanticism is not going to burn away or fade. Its just part of me. Now I think it is sort of charming that I was able to write a love song, which is really hard to do and beautiful when it is done right.
Which song on Typical System is the love song?
Flesh War is a love song. It is a song about love, but obsession as well. There a couple other ones that could be considered love songs but they are about other things as well and I wouldn’t want people to listen to them and think of them as love songs specifically.
Flesh War was intended to be a great pop song and a lot of great pop songs are love songs as well.
Typical System is the record that elevated me from a Total Control fan to an utter fanatic, but I think my favorite song still endures… “Carpet Rash”. It always registered to me as one part long distance longing for someone… something built up between two people but also dystopian sci-fi imagery.
I am not sure if I had heard the Roxy Music song “Every Dream Home a Heartache” or the song came afterward… but in that song the singer is in love with a latex doll. Anyway, I had a dream about someone having sex with a robot. It was a really erotic dream. The person having sex with the robot didn’t seem to have a gender. So they were just two blobs, one of them metal and the other one flesh. That inspired one of the images in the song. But that song was a song about direct intimacy with no connection in the end. I guess it was in many ways about me struggling with issues of intimacy and sex myself.
I would consider “Carpet Rash” to be one of the sexier songs but I suppose I morphed the lack of connection as being a result of space or circumstance and didn’t realize it was a misfire.
I suppose I also thought that I wanted Total Control to be arousing to incredibly asexual people and objects. I imagined if there were ever robots that were capable of communicating with us that we could write songs that would turn them on. That song falls into that idea. Songs with a real electronic pulse with real human feeling to them. Typical System, “Glass” in particular aims to arouse things that have never been aroused. There is another song that I am thinking of but people always think it is about something else- so I don’t want to say. I am entertained by that. Sometimes when I read interviews with bands I feel sort of betrayed because my idea of something was much ricer or more exciting than what some idiot made meaningful to me. This seems like a situation where I should take a step back.
I think this is important. I was talking to Mose (Institute) about this. I don’t present my lyrics to the band. Thankfully my band just trusts I am not singing about anything especially perverse or potentially racist or whatever. They just trust that I am not a dickhead in that respect. But every once in a while they will question what I said… and I will cross out my lyrics and write in what they thought. I like the idea that someone can mishear something but slam the idea home in a way, add to the absurdity of it. Absurdity is important to me- I am Australian and we don’t take things very serious at all.
As an entire nation?
Yes. We are frying under a horrible sun on inhospitable land and we have a queen that lives on the other side of the world… It just doesn’t make sense. We need a great sense of humor. I think that is why we can get along well when we travel.
Back to lyrics… Elias (iceage) pointed out your nearly autistic ability to remember every lyric to every song.
He was the first to confront me with that. But I have always loved singing. I used to write down lyrics as a kid in notebooks and sell them to kids at school. I’ve always been one to sing along to songs. I am happy now because I am doing what I have always wanted to do: sing for a band.
Back to recording, you mentioned in passing that you are interested in dabbling with auto-tune. I was wondering what possessed you.
One of my favorite records that came out in the past couple years was Burial’s Rival Dealer. I had only really heard auto-tune via American hip-hop. I was entertained when Cher did it. I was a bit attracted to it when Daft Punk used it. It just never sounded like something I would want to fuck with until I heard Burial.
Burial is a UK guy who was introduced to me as ‘post dubstep’ and at the time I didn’t even know what dubstep was. I was getting into UK techno at the time though…
Post dub step sounds a bit rough…
Yeah sounds great, post dub step that dabbles in auto tune. But I think that Burial is one of the most important artists I have discovered in the past decade. He has put out a series of phenomenal records and he is very thoughtful and composed about it. He put out a statement about Rival Dealer, which really made me check it out. He uses a lot of samples of someone speaking about trans identity and he wanted the record to give people who feel marginalized or bullied a feeling that they are being watched over or protected. The record is meant to make people feel strong.
Anyway, when I read his statement about the record I thought it was one of the most beautifully un-cynical and un-modern things I had seen written by an artist. It seems like the sort of thing that people are just going to laugh at because it is so naïve, it’s really lovely. It made me check the record out and it blew my head off. That was the first time that I heard auto tune and realized it was something that I really wanted to fuck with. I then got really into getting heaps high with my roommate and listening to Young Thug and Rich Gang and Atlanta stuff. Ultimately it is just so strange and alienating and none of my friends are doing it. That being said I don’t know what I would do or how I would fuck with it. I should not have said it until I had done it because I am setting myself up for an atrocious failure. But you should check it out, there are some songs that might take some time but I think there are moments you would like. Loke (Posh Isolation) is the only other person who I can connect with about Burial though. Other than that, I have not come across too many burial fans.
Well to continue on with studio tricks- last night we were talking about Black Sabbath and you told me that the band recorded the music slower so that they could speed up the recordings to have Ozzy’s vocals sound higher. You called it ‘cheating’ yourself and then when I acted a little bit disappointed you told me that Total Control had pulled off similar maneuovers with electronic songs in the past. I am a musician who only uses synthesizers, so I am in no way adverse to ‘faking it’ or doing what you have to do in the studio to make things sound better. I just wonder if you think that sort of manipulation affect the integrity of the music at all?
Not really. My first experience with this sort of thing was with break beat and hardcore techno when I was younger. Especially Austrian stuff like Bloody Fists used tape cutting and computers to make things glitch and strange. I think there is power in the production of that stuff. In many respects somebody like Sabbath… who are presented as a straight rock band leads you to assume that they are recording thing in a straight forward way. The physicality feels so important. But with electronic music there are no limitations to what you can do. With rock music there is sanctity in the studio. You want to think that they just fuck with the levels a little bit.
It seems especially strange though with rock music when is seems like someone cheating at a contest- other metal bands singers were singing higher and higher and they wanted to achieve that in a way that comes across as a dupe.
I also think it reveals the sort of religious revere that people hold to rock music, it is meant to be sacred. Profanity in electronic music seems like the intention. I like that when the code is cracked in rock music, that you feel a little bit betrayed. You believe that they can play that fast or sing that high.
After years of playing electronic music I have been growing increasingly nostalgic towards playing in a punk band again. Do you ever feel the same way? Do you miss Straightjacket Nation?
No, because it is still going!
Oh man I didn’t realize that!
We just recorded a new record, because Emily is pregnant. That meant we only had a little but of time to record our tribute to the Boston straight edge hard rock sellout record. But when we actually came down to write the record we were all doing so much other stuff outside of hardcore. I feel like a lot of hardcore bands who wrote those sort of records did it because they wanted to explore ways of playing other kinds of music, but we already had that experience so when it came down to recording, we realized that we just wanted to play hardcore. The new record is an 8 song 12”, which is being mixed right now by Mikey.
Sometimes I miss doing hardcore when I wasn’t so into drugs and alcohol, when it was the only experience of ritualistic mental derangement that I had was playing that music. I sometimes miss the purity of feeling like I am tripping just from fast hardcore music, but I prefer doing it when I’m fucked up, it’s a lot more damaging to the mind and the body.
You make a lot of references to intoxication in your songs. After we had a chance to go swimming a couple times, and we were speaking of how some simple pleasures bring on a sort of appreciation for the animalistic aspect of our being. Certainly, that is an intoxication of a specific kind. I was wondering if you think chemical intoxication is a more cerebral way of achieving animalistic pleasure. Other animals seek the alteration of the minds, naturally. But I was wondering if you think that intentionally intoxicating yourself as something that is carnal or a more far out cerebral experience?
I think intoxication makes you reevaluate your ego. You can become more thoughtful. I have had trips where I think my critical thinking was accelerated that that felt very rewarding. I felt that it connected me more to myself. But there isn’t really a separation of the mind and the body. The mind is always affected by the body and the body is always affected by the mind. Depression is a bodily feeling for me that the mind responds to and anxiety is always a bodily experience. Happiness, anger, these are all bodily reactions that trigger the mind.
In the most banal level, intoxicants allow you to relax your body. I rarely try to have mystical journeys with drugs anymore. It is all about just being around people and having conversations with your guard a little dropped. It is always about contact, intimacy, egos mutually dissolving.
It is good to let go of the tyrannical impulse of the ego to assign rational order to every single thing that happens to you. That can be dangerous. I have had horrifying experiences when doing that. It’s usually when I am apart from other people and forget that I am a body and just become entirely mind focused.
I read about the way that the brain functions. We act, our brain tells us that we have acted and our ego tells us that we were the ones who decided to act. Impulse and action comes first and then reasoning and explanation afterwards. It really fucked with my idea of who I was. It removes responsibility and accountability. We can’t exist as a species without the ego, but that is not actually how our brains work. Social structure enforces that we must be accountable for what we do, because we are a body, and we need a reason why we don’t just tear each other to pieces.
It is strange then to think about our concepts of creative ‘inspiration’ also. Often when artists talk about inspiration, it is like something that just comes to you…
That is why I attempt to not impose too much structure at first. I like to allow images to dominate along with visions and dreams and fragments of conversation. I try to come from a place of confusion and bewilderment and then narrow it down to something more structured.
I feel like I work the opposite. I start with an outline, worth from a structure and then need to pick it apart.
Well, you’ve been in New York for a week. What has been your favorite experience of your trip so far?
I have not traveled since I was in Copenhagen last year. I need to do this because when I am home I am very focused on working, Distort, the bands. It’s winter in Australia right now, so I couldn’t spend much time outside. But being here and swimming and sitting on the roof, Coney Island. I love this city and I always have. I went to see the King and I, the musical. The best thing about traveling though is meeting people and through a mutual lack of expectation being able to have insightful nice conversations. What you expose to people and what you hide from people when you are not around your everyday friends. When you discuss intimate things with a friend, they know your history and they can give you advice or impose their expectations. Even though I have met you before along with a lot of people here in New York, no one knows who your ex-girlfriend is or where you are from. Sometimes people can tell you what you need to hear- people can be a bit more frank with you. That is my favorite part of traveling, getting to know people in that very moment without having to drag the past with you. New York city is great, though.
I’m tempted to say that it is the best city in the world, but that is probably a lie.
I was hanging out with this old man from New York who was fascinated by Australia and asking me a lot of questions about it. I told him that New York was the greatest city in America and he was so proud of me. I said I would say that it is the best city in the world, but I love Copenhagen and Krakow… and he got grumpy about it for a second. Probably what I love most about New York is that no matter what social class people are from or what atrocities they must face everyday living here, no matter how much they hate it, everyone is fucking proud to live here. Endure here. There are people who have never left Brooklyn, but they know it is better than anything else.
New York Attitude.
I love it. It attracts me. From watching Sesame Street as a kid or Taxi Driver when I was a teenager. It’s a whole country of it’s own.
We should secede.
Totally! Except you have nowhere to grow food, so you’ll need to have people send some food. That story you were saying last night about when your sister was being born and your father looked out of the window and saw the car getting stolen…
Our pride stems from simply surviving. It’s part of the reason I had to move back here. Everywhere elsewhere feels false, in a way. I have a real ‘fuck you, you don’t understand’ sort of mentality towards other cities. Wanna live other places before I die, but I know I am going to die here.
To live and die in New York.
I met Damon McMahon at my favorite Greenpoint dive bar- but his timing was a bit unfortunate. McMahon narrowly missed an elderly couple slow dancing sweetly to Patsy Cline as they head off into the January cold together. “I Fall to Pieces” is still blaring from the jukebox as he arrives, so close. Moments like that are why I wanted to bring him here; instinctively assuming that would be the sort of scene that he might appreciate.
I work on my gin and soda, a little shy to start the interview, worried that somehow I have gotten his music all wrong. Amen Dunes has had a grip on me since I first heard his latest full-length, Love. His music touched me on some supreme level; I find it truly moving, rare, altering. Finally speaking to McMahon gave me insight into his world. His songs are his children. He cares about his music and is masterfully meticulous to every detail. He does see music as a sort of drug, a tool that can detach you from the world or connect you more to it, take you to other places inside your self. As a musician who has worked over ten years on his project, he has learned a bit about himself and has had some strange encounters along the way. Amen Dunes most recently released the Cowboy Worship EP, which includes alternative cuts of previously released material along with a hypnotizing cover of “Song to the Siren”. After both of us spent a few months on the road chasing that cowboy dream, I’ve finally had a chance to share our conversation, which spans everything from fantasy and survival to one man’s attempt to convert him to Islam on New Years eve in Lisbon.
I know that you just got back from tour a couple of days ago. It seems like you have been touring a great deal in the past year. This might feel like a sort of vague question, but what was your most recent experience on the road like?
I did so much touring this year. Seven tours. Four European ones and three US tours. My relationship to the road kept changing. I used to be really excited by touring and being in new places… But to be honest, I just got real tired of it. I try to give off a lot of energy when I play and there came a point that I just didn’t want to give off any energy anymore. I am appreciative that people wanted us to play so much this year and I was appreciative of the chance to play for so many people, but at the end, I was just trying to survive. I was just trying to get through and function.
So it is not quite as romantic as believing that today’s touring musician is the closest thing that we have to the modern cowboy?
You are like a modern cowboy, but that it is a kind of monotonous existence in itself. The romantic thing about being a cowboy is persevering. That is what is cool about it. They sang songs about monotony. So that is an accurate parallel.
So is that what life is? Monotony? If you have a 9-5 job in an office you succumb to monotony but also if you are out on the road it’s also monotony… Can we escape that in our lives and manage to feed ourselves?
That is part of life. But I think what is different about being on the road from everyday existence is that you lose yourself. It is difficult but kind of cool. Sometimes I would have to play this Amen Dunes role with people and that would just sort of evaporate my identity. You are in a different city every night. You forget where you are, you forget who you are. It’s like normal life just a little more strange…
Is it strange to be disconnected from yourself, in this way, while playing music that is so strictly yourself?
It is weird. But I think total honesty is not my everyday self either.
Yeah, I don’t think that is anyone’s everyday self.
My music is personal, and it is tapped in to something, but that is not exactly me. It is a parallel me. It is the multi-dimensional, cosmic brain me.
No! There is a curated element to some aspects, but the music is authentic.
Amen Dunes is 100% authentic?
Fuck yeah, it is! But of course you have to dress it up. And you can give it overalls or you can put it in a policeman’s outfit. The core is authentic, and it is me, but it is an elevated me. I guess that is what I mean. A higher self. So in that way, it is not the normal me. I definitely have multiple selves, especially when it comes to music.
Do you find that music is close to divinity for you?
Totally. It is my way of exiting this world. It is one of my methods.
There seem to have been a lot of instances of fearless abandon in your life. Do you believe that these were moments of bravery or recklessness? Is there a destructive streak in your willingness to abandon everything to do whatever you feel that you need to do?
I wouldn’t say it is bravery. Bravery is something noble. But maybe it is brave because sometimes in that way of living you need to have the willingness to give yourself up to really extreme circumstances, and that takes a little bit of fearlessness I suppose. But my whole life I have loved to be subjected to extremity. I’ve always love extremity in music, behavior, circumstance. I have always treated myself like a lab rat.
I feel like I do that to myself. There are only really specific circumstances that I feel comfortable seeking the extreme. But being in actual danger, for instance, makes me very, very nervous. It sort of seems like you have put yourself into literal war zones…
I used to be more like that… When I was younger, I was a whole different animal. That period of my life spilled into the first couple Amen Dunes records. I think the whole cowboy analogy is not as reckless a way of existing. To me, if is more about stoicism, loss of self. Some sort of calm. That is more of my current vibe, more so than recklessness or danger.
I mean, a cowboy always keeps his cool. That is what is attractive about them.
Yeah, they deal with hardship in a stoic way and I find that really compelling. My whole life I have looked up to these figures because of their ability to deal with hardship.
In dealing with hardships recently, do you think these figures that you looked up to helped you at all?
Because you write about all these different characters that are all you, I was wondering if you have a favorite character.
They are all different aliens. They are also not characters in a traditional sense. I was talking to a writer friend recently and she said characters just come to her fully formed with their own lives and she just documents their existence. These characters of mine are not like that. They don’t have faces or personalities. They are non-entities.
I guess I am coming from a writer’s perspective and assuming that “Lonely Richard” is a clear vision of a person.
No, my characters are about as close to a formed character as weather patterns are. All the characters are kind of like parts of me, but they are also just spirits. They have names, but the names are not that important. For example, I think “Lonely Richard” is a stupid name for a song, There is also a song named Diane. I think that is the worst name. But I just had to use those names because they were what came to me, those were the names that embodied the spirit. Sometimes the words I use are important, but sometimes they are just abstractions that carry energy. The only way I can really explain the characters is that they are a way for me to sing to me. This other me is an elevated and less human self, and so he uses abstracted ways of singing to me. The characters come to me in that voice, and that is why they are half formed. When I sing and write songs, it is coming from a person other than the day to day me.
Beyond this lack of traditional narrative… Your music has always struck me in a very cinematic way. There are certain records that I only listen to on record or on tape, in my room, really loud and when I am alone. I felt like Love was a record that I had to listen to on headphones, out in the world and walking around. There was something about the music that allowed me to step outside of my body. Instead of feeling how I was feeling in some straight forward way, I could look at people and time and space in this very removed and movie like way. It is difficult to put that feeling into words, but it made the record very special to me. I was wondering if you think that your music possess this quality? Also, do you think that your music has acted as a score to your own life?
Do you mean in the sense that I am a passive participant? Or that it is representation of my life?
I suppose both, but more so a representation. Album to album.
I suppose these records represent different states of mind that I have been in as I have gotten older and have certainly represented different periods of my life. There was stuff that was happening to me while I was writing the different records over the course my life, but I don’t think I was really singing about those circumstances, it would seep in abstractly. Each record represents a time in my life more broadly, but the last record was largely about other people specifically. That was new. Overall the albums have been used by me as tools to survive. Also so much of my music is about revenge. The older records were more overtly retribution records. Love was the first record that had a partial shift, on that one I felt open to other people for the first time. I have always kind of disliked people, ha. But I worked on being generous to other people and it was recorded during the first period in my life that I felt open to other people and humanity.
You finally broke outside of yourself?
Yes! And the other records were all just about me, very inward. The other records were survivals tools, or survival pills. Little tool kits. Love was more open, and I wanted to make something that was more open. Even if coincidentally.
I think it is interesting that you would think this is an album about other people when I related to the album as a way of escaping myself. I would be going to work really tired on the subway and looking at other people’s faces and … It may seem simple, but it didn’t feel simple to me. I can’t describe what it felt like for me to be in public and listen to Love. It allowed me to float through my experience and observe and write my own little stories… It always felt outward. But I felt connected to the public, which is an experience I don’t normally feel.
That’s good, that is what it is for. When I write songs or listen to rough versions of my songs or overdubs, the way that I checked the music to see if it was working, was to walk around in public and see if it made things look good. That is how I write songs. I walk around and look at people and if my songs make the world and people look cool, than they are working. If my songs don’t make the world look better, they are not working.
Are there other artists that have informed your particular way of looking at an album?
At this point, I am inspired by so many different things. For me, I think I approach music through my own little world, somewhat in isolation. I only think about other bands really subtly and abstractly when making my music.
I guess I am asking if my experience with Love reminds you of your own with other artists?
Ah, totally. One of my my favorite records of all times is Illmatic (Nas), and it has that effect on me that you are describing with yourself.
I definitely have a really scratched up copy of the Illmatic CD somewhere in my collection…
To this day, I listen to that… almost more than anything. I go through periods that I listen to that record at least once a week and it will insulate me from the world. Allow me to reflect on the world. My relationship with the world changes when I listen to that record. All of my favorite records make me change in the world when I am listening to them. The number one artist who really affects me in that way is Bob Dylan. He is my holy grail. I have a really abstract relationship to him that it is no longer even about his music. Certain periods of his music hit me like intravenous medicine. When I listen to him while out in the world it changes my nature and my biochemistry. When I listen to Bob Dylan, I become a different person and so he is a prototype to me…
In relation to different selves, you are back in New York City and there has to be a reason you have returned. What is the best thing about New York City?
Hands down, I know, right away: Delis. I think about this all the time: what is actually good about New York? Since- to be honest- I am not crazy about New York. Cheap Bazzini nuts, one dollar Poland Spring water and Orbit gum. Number two is driving. I have thought about this before. I used to hate New York so much that I would think about what keeps me here and it is pretty much Delis, driving and then pizza. Those are my favorite things about New York. And I really like Film Forum.
Ah, yes. I used to work a couple blocks away from Film Forum and IFC and whenever I had a shit day at work and couldn’t bear to do anything else I would just go there alone, all the time.
It feels good to go alone.
I know it took you about two years to record Love. Are fans going to have to wait that long until the next record?
How are you approaching the new material?
I think this one will be quick. I think it will be out by this time next year. The plan is to record it all in the late spring in New York and mix it this summer. I hate to hear myself say that, as it’s a tight schedule,but that is what I am going to do. I normally like to move really slow. But now I have to choose the final songs in the next two weeks and then I have a month to get everything ready… I have the album title, I have the sound. It is going to be very different. I want to make every record very different. My vibe on the next one… is like a spiritual punk record. Maybe some distant Amen Dunes version of Warsaw (pre-Joy Division). I have been listening to Warsaw on repeat for some reason for the last month or two. I have always loved them, their music, that general world… but have never been able to release anything of that nature.
OH MY FUCKING GOD I AM SO EXCITED.
My goal is… A country, American… mellowed out version of Warsaw, for about 60% of the record. Then a couple pretty songs. But a lot of electric guitar and bass. I’ve always wanted to be in a band. I am so sick of not being in a band. Next thing will be a four piece, with electric guitar and bass and drums. The new record will be more lean, muscular.
So do you think the new record will be recorded closer to your anticipation of live shows?
Yes, totally. I am ready for a band. I have always wanted to be in Husker Du Or something like that. Guitar, bass and drums. That has always been a fantasy. Like just ripping, free… The other thing I have been listening to on repeat is Nirvana. I want to be in a poppy, melodic and heavy band. The other analogy is a record that sounds like country Nirvana. I want to do my version of that world.
I was really pleased to hear that you like your voice. I believe that you should but I am wondering if you think the best artists don’t have to love themselves but know they are good. Do you consider yourself a confident person?
No. I am pretty insecure in general, in the world. I’ve never felt comfortable with humans. The only thing that I am confident about is my music. But I am at the same time surprised when anyone likes my music. At this point, I don’t even know what my own music really even sounds like. Sometimes my perspective or sense of my musical self is so abstracted, I don’t even know how to really talk about it, in a context like this.
But is your own music what governs your life?
Yes, it is my main purpose on this planet. I think of my songs as my children. So I am confident in the sense that making music is good for me. I am confident in my music because I know it is good for me, I know it is what I was put here to do.
But it is true that you tried to stop making music, but it didn’t work?
Yes, I was so burnt. I felt empty. And when I came back to New York to do Amen Dunes in 2009 I felt scared to re-enter the world of ambition…social media, Et cetera. Still to this very day I am reluctant to have to enter that world and yet I have to. It makes me happiest to just listen to my songs on a voice memo on my phone. I still prefer that to anything.
Do things become less pure when you press it to record?
Sort of, since it rubs up against business, ambition, people’s online spouting of opinions. But one thing I like about pressing records is people accessing my music and feeling good as a result. The fact that people feel good in their lives when listening to my music is amazing.
You hit other people and change their lives…
I’m so grateful for it. I feel like I may be of service to some. I don’t know how many people but I love that element of being active in the world. But when it comes to the core pleasure of being alone and listening to what I do in a private scale… That is when my music feels the best, the purest, like straight drugs. Something is lost when it enters other contexts.
Well, to me, when I saw that you were covering This Mortal Coil…Covering Tim Buckley… I thought of that as an incredibly bold move. There are few voices that I can compare to Elizabeth Fraser’s voice. It made me wonder if you are intimidated by your aspirations or just do what you want to do?
I was also considering covering “Knocking on Heaven’s door” and I was going to do it unironically. I wanted to do it because I thought it was beautiful. I don’t think in terms of whether I can do it or not, but just… do I like it?
In that sense, it seems that you are willing to try. Has that always been your inherent personality, or have you had to work through things to find yourself at a point that you are willing to try?
I’ve had to work through it all. I’ve gotten kicked in the balls so many times with music and I developed a thick skin. I had a band with my brother when we were younger and it was kind of a disaster and it was hard on my self-esteem. It is hard to be yourself in the public and be criticized. Then I did a solo record and it was brutally destroyed, If you ever feel badly about yourself you should read the reviews of my first solo record and you will feel better about yourself. I had my ego so crushed that the only thing that was left was to make music, in that case the D.I.A. record, for myself to comfort myself. With Amen Dunes, I began to comfort myself. By virtue of this band comforting me, it seems that it has comforted some other people too. But it’s all meant to comfort me, really. It all starts there. You just have to love yourself and make music to help you go to bed at night. That is what it’s all about. That is what I do it all for. No one can hurt me or take me down when that is my intention. But I am a human, and I am a Virgo, ha, and I have to participate in the world. So it hurts part of me when people don’t understand.
Well, it’s funny because someone might be capable of understanding your music while also misinterpreting it. I remember first hearing “Lilac in Hand” and having my own understanding of what was happening and then reading you say that quite frankly it was “obviously” about copping drugs, and I never would have interpreted the song that way. After knowing that all, it was obvious, but I sort of imagined that song as some sort of first date romantic gesture or a grasping at straws for a deep relationship gone sour. It all made more sense afterwards, but I felt sort of silly.
I didn’t mean to say “obviously”. I was just saying that ‘that is what it is about’.
How does it feel to be misinterpreted?
Well, maybe I have unfair expectations of people. It is not realistic of people listening to something on their computer once to…
Ugh, that is not fair to you also but…
True, but I just can’t except people to know what I am on about. I can’t except people to understand, but it is sad to me. I put so much thought into every little aspect of what I do and it is partially because I am emulating music that I loved as a kid that had that same detail-oriented approach. I find that people often don’t listen to music that way, sadly. I put a lot of care into what I do. I know, big deal, but I really care about all of the elements of the pie.
No store bought crust!
Ha, yeah! No store bought crust! And so every detail means a lot to me, and one of the biggest things is lyrics. Especially on the last record, and I think that no one notices them, which bums me out, to be honest. I wouldn’t expect anyone to know what “Lilac in Hand” is about, but I wish that people would ask, or at least read them to find out. When I had records as a kid, that was all I cared about. What do the lyrics mean? What does that photo mean? Why did he choose to wear that shirt? I come from that sort of place and I try to replicate that but people often don’t seem to care or approach music that way anymore.
At the same time, I am so curious about lyrics and love poetry and am preoccupied with language and elements of your message are lost on me. Does that say more about the artistic process or about people receiving it?
I need to remind myself that everyone processes thing individually. When people love something it becomes really particular or attached to their own experience with it.
How do you feel when someone cares about your music but does not interpret it how you imagined?
I guess ultimately I just want people to care about it in some way. I can’t have it all my way, with everyone totally “getting it”, though that is my dream…but mostly people don’t give a shit at all. So if someone thinks “Lilac in Hand” is about marriage, then that is beautiful too, even though it is about copping in New York. As long as they think about it in some way, because I think so much about it and it is thoughtful music.
What are you most proud of?
In general, I guess I am most proud of trying to have a good attitude and trying to be loving and positive despite whatever the reality is in my life. I am most proud of being grateful of things in my life and loving to people and to be able to make music that comforts me. Proud is maybe the wrong word for that but… I would say I’m proud of my records. I love them and I think they are special. Like someone would love their kids. In particular, I was really proud of that song “Love”.
What about “Love” makes you proud?
I spent a lot of time writing that song, the lyrics are basically my best, I would say and it hits on an emotional level that I am proud of. Also, I am really proud of the vocal delivery. The other songs just came to me more quickly and felt immediate. I suppose I was a little more lazy with them, and impatient.
I love the fact that it took you two years to do the last record and talk about songs as “just coming to you”.
I’m pretty obsessive. I spent two weeks revising the lyrics to Love. It is hard to talk about though, because it is so subconscious, and I don’t have much of a sense of “my” having done it ,if that makes any sense.
You don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to, but you allude to drug use pretty constantly in your work and in interviews. I was wondering if drugs were still a part of your life and creative process.
Drugs will always be a part of my life. I think drugs are amazing and through my life they have provided similar feelings to the feelings that music has provided. There has never been that much of a distinction between music and drugs for me. Music and drugs are intertwined and I have never been able to separate them, my whole life. I have profound respect for both.
If you use music as a way to get to know yourself better or bring yourself outwards, I am just wondering if that is how you have used drugs?
With Amen Dunes, it is a loss of self thing… I have always had an unspoken purpose. I needed to make music that felt like narcotics. That is always what I have wanted: to make music that sounded and felt like narcotics have felt. I don’t feel like anything is beautiful unless it is gnarly too. I think drugs are beautiful, but they are gnarly too. Beautiful art is beautiful, but it is also a bit gnarly too. Life is beautiful but it also has a little but of a nasty side to it. That is what I find profound and good and inspiring and awesome. That is why drugs and music are related to me. I never want anything to be too pretty, even when it is beautiful. It has to be balanced. If something is beautiful it also has to be sad and it has to be tough. Songs should be an emotional full meal. That is why music is like drugs to me. Even when you feel really good on drugs, there is always a come down, there is always some sickness in it, and I love that.
When you alter your reality, it can never be a fully positive experience yet there is a human need to alter our realities to survive.
The musicians that I was into when I was growing up were either into drugs or their music felt like drugs. You can get high on music. That explains my relationship to drugs. They are weirdly the same. Sometimes I sing about drugs, sometimes my words metaphysically feel like drugs.
People try to find a euphoric and drug-like alternative to their reality even when they stop doing drugs. Like surfing or fighting…
Some people have a profound need to get outside of themselves, and I am one of those people. Some people have a death wish. And I have a death wish. So I always want my music to have that death wish blended into it’s emotion as well, it has to be the unspoken message behind it all. If people listen carefully or are hip to that kind of thing in general I think they can hear it [in my music].
Aside from music, how do you get outside of yourself?
These days, I just grow more and more outside of myself. It’s just happening, in a good way. Last year in particular, I was working on extinguishing myself.
Do you think that people could survive without fantasy?
No. Noooo. I guess that some people do? But the truth is that fantasy is a detriment to my own life. I have too much of it. I guess some people have no fantasy?
You think that there are people who never get outside of themselves?
I think there are people who are really straight . I don’t understand it at all. Black is black, white is white.
What, do they do just go to work and go to the bathroom?
I guess they just want to have sex with a person and make money. And I think a lot of people are like that. They have small fantasies. They just want to go on vacation. Other people have heavy doses of fantasies, and I am like that. Too much. But I think that fantasy is fun to play with.
Do you think that fantasy is fun? Or more of a coping mechanism?
Well, obviously fantasy is a way of coping with reality. I try to stay away from fantasy though.
Because I think that I can get higher off reality than fantasy if I remember to try.
What in your life is the most poisonous? What poses the biggest threat to your being?
What is the most pure?
I can’t talk about it. [Thankfully, we were interrupted by someone offering us pizza]
This feels like a corny topical question but I am governed by the seasons… and we just entered a new year so I inherently become incredibly reflective. I don’t know if you feel the same way; but what was something about last year that made you happy? What do you wish for yourself in the new year?
A lot of people that I know died last year. Some of the deaths were sad and unfortunate and some of the deaths were beautiful. I have been thinking a lot about these people. I was also just proud that I toured so much, that people wanted us to play all over the world. I was just amazed. For me, it was quite a lot.
Was that the first time that touring happened to you on a large scale?
With Amen Dunes, yes. When I was a kid I had some bands that were IN a whole weird world that was artificially inflated. This feels like it happened naturally for Amen Dunes, and I am thankful for that. When it comes to touring, and looking into the new year, I need to connect to people more. I am a loner. I have a hard time with people. I spend too much time alone, I am trying to learn how to open up to people more. I also want to play with a bass player and I want to play louder, that’s another goal.
How did you ring in the new year?
I was in Southern Portugal, out in the country side. I was in this really bizarre, beautiful, mountainous part of the country. I was with some friends. We cooked dinner and played music all night. My Christmas Eve was insane…
How was that?
I met this Sufi musician in Lisbon and it was so far out. He was singing and playing harmonium in this club…he was totally checked out, but in a good way. I introduced myself, and we became friends. On Christmas Eve, I had nowhere to go and he invited me to go to his house for dinner. He and his friend from the Mosque down the road cooked me a traditional Bengali dinner. We sat on the floor and ate dinner together, and when we were done he said it was time for music. He sang all these ragas, and taught me some ragas as well. We sang together late into the morning. Until Christmas day, and it was amazing. His friend just sat there with his eyes closed on the ground next to me while we played, just nodding out. Then when it got really late he started talking to me about God and Islam… And I began to realize that he was really directing it at me, like he had a goal. He gave me a Quran and he told me to wash my hands and do the abultions and we could read it together and I could say that Allah is God and so on, and he wouldn’t let me leave, he tried to get me to sleep there… It was pretty heavy…He was trying to convert a Jewish kid to Islam on Christmas at one in the morning in the suburbs of Lisbon, Portugal. That was about as good as it gets for me.
The following is an interview conducted by Tamara Santibañez.for her newest zine, Ugly Dirty Nasty Noisy Vol. II. UDNN Vol. II is a series of thirteen interviews conducted with artists whose work deals with the human body.
Your recent solo show, “How I Use My Body”, featured photographs of a number of women engaging in a range of actions from choking to vomiting to cutting. Can you elaborate on the show title? The word “use” feels powerful and intentional, versus “abuse” which would put the participants in conflict with their own bodies.
“Why I Use My Body” was a series that depicted all female models engaging in self-inflicted corporal punishment as a response to trauma. I wanted to explore how self-harming behaviors have shaped my relationship to my gender and to myself. The definition of abuse is misuse. I believe in the purposeful use of my body and I think that self-harming behaviors can provide pleasure and clarity for some, and I happen to be one of those people. Being in pain or being uncomfortable is often a vital step in healing, even in cognitive therapy. When I look back at the photographs I took for “Why I Use My Body” I see transcendence, not misery.
Your photos feel like discovered snapshots- like you stumbled across a cache of photos you weren’t meant to see when cleaning out your dead relative’s house. That look conjures up ideas of a different, private world. Is this an intentional storytelling or do you prefer your subjects to feel more contemporary and present?
Until very recently, I identified only as a writer and not as a photographer, even though I have been taking 35mm photography on a regular basis since I was eight years old. I only took pictures for myself for a very long time. Photography has always been an extension of my diary and of the storytelling of my own life. Any photo that I take that is premeditated is also directly autobiographical. I think all my photos have strong narrative, even when I am just taking a picture of kid I know at a punk show.
The private quality of your work can often make challenging subjects feel tender- giving violent or sexual subjects a sweet “secret life of girls” voyeuristic feel. Do you think this is largely because of using female subjects? Or because of the intimate nature of the acts themselves?
I could never achieve the photographs that I take with strangers. In the very least I could not work with a person unless I felt that I had a true connection to them. I’m always striving to capture intimate moments. I think my very best photographs are the ones that only I could have taken. I suppose that a voyeuristic feeling would be what I am aiming to achieve, in that sense.
I am closer to women in my life but I have very recently started photographing more men. Of course I make them wear makeup and piss on each other, but I am trying to do new things. I have been considering attempting a male counterpart to the female “Why I Use My Body” series.
There is definitely a punk feminist politic to using your body in a way that is disgusting and repellent as a female. Do you have a greater politic to staging scenes like this and asking women to do these things in a public way?
For sure. Apart from the childish joy that I get trying to just shock people and question conventionality, I am striving for a bit more. I think that documenting very truthful and private moments can be transgressive in the sense that capturing those moments can be very meaningful to people who feel alone in their experience. Giving vision and voice to feelings that are largely perceived as wrong and perverted gives the message to others on the outside that they are not alone.
I feel that this project has allowed me to be a documentarian of human experience and subculture that may not been clearly documented or defined quite yet. This was an important aspect to “Why I Use My Body”, as it was a direct response to womanhood and use of the body and performance. I believe that my whole life is a performance and I want to take control of my life and my body in a meaningful way. Because I consider myself an artist and because I consider my life a performance, I strive to live every moment of my life artfully and intentionally. In some way, these photos give purpose to events in my life that would otherwise be hidden and shameful. It is more a reclaiming of experience and a way for me to work out my own past so that I can move on. Because I asked models to perform in acts that they felt connected to, I hope that they felt the same way. When speaking to many of the models during and after the shoot, it was clear that they did.
How do your subjects endure throughout the process of staging these photos? Did some find it challenging? Empowering? How does it affect your perception of your own body to be able to control it in these ways?
I sent out a public call for models within my own social circles online but only responded to people that I knew very well personally. I sent out a manifesto for the series to each model who expressed interest along with a list of the photo shoots that I wanted to take place. Part of that manifesto asked that each model only respond to prompts that they personally related to. When models responded to the manifesto we had an open dialogue about their relation to the prompt and how we could make each prompt work for both of us.
Staging the photos did not feel strange. In many cases the photo shoots became an opportunity for me to get to know my friends in a different way and share a really special experience of opening up about parts of our pasts that would never come up in conversation usually. I went to each models home when I could, so I would loose a little control by being in their preferred environment and they could be comfortable, even if that meant I had no idea what I was walking into or how I would shoot a photograph. Some of the shoots were more challenging than others but overwhelmingly I was taken aback by my friends’ willingness to participate. I somehow found the right women who wanted to do what they were doing. Everyone seemed to be smiling afterwards. I believe it was a needed release for many of the woman involved.
My perception of my body has not changed much since the shoots apart from feeling less alone. I am working hard to try and take better care of myself and my body but it is really challenging for me. I’ve spent so many years doing bad things that at this point they all feel good. Or at least normal.
Why I Use My Body was originally displayed for two months at Mata Gallery in Los Angeles. UDNN is available here. Special thanks to Tamara for including me and allowing me to repost her interview, it was an honor and a pleasure to be included. You can view her splendid work here.