Friday, September 16, 2011

Kid Creole interview

Back in the heat of the New York summer (remember when it was hot out? Me neither), I spoke via Skype with August Darnell, a/k/a Kid Creole. I worried that the distance of thousands of miles might create a real distance in the dialogue as well, but the moment Darnell opened his mouth, I was put at ease. This might've been the easiest interview ever. Darnell is a raconteur without parallel. My prompts were few and I just let the man rap.

When were you last in New York City?

It’s at least ten years since I lived there, but I was just there two months ago. Got grandchildren there. I can’t tell you how many I have. You can’t print that. I still love the city. The best part of it is that I can get out of it in a week. I live in Sweden now, far from the maddening crowds. I’m loving it. The album was cut here in my home studio. I’m in south Sweden now.

How do you deal with the Scandinavian darkness?

You don’t deal with it. You hibernate or get out of town. We tour and don’t get stuck in the snowstorms.

Why’d you leave in the first place?

I got fed up with NYC! I was fed up with traffic. I cracked one day when I had to go to my dentist ten blocks away and it took two hours to get crosstown. And I said, I don’t need this. I’m getting out of here. I lived in England, Denmark, Stockholm and now I’m here in southern Sweden.

You have the same inspirations there?

Hell no. Without New York, there’d never have been Savannah Band or Kid Creole. NYC was everything. I love the city for what it gave me but when you reach a certain part of your life and you find you want life to be easier, rather than an everyday struggle. There’s no town that could give me the power that NYC gave me. My favorite line from my songs was “Going Places”: “When you leave New York, you go nowhere.” I’m a New Yorker for sure.

What's the biggest change you notice now?

The biggest change is Times Square. There’s nothing like Times Square. My brother and I used to just go down there for the thrill, because 42nd Street was dangerous. On every other corner was a prostitute, a bordello, a porn cinema, and people on every corner hustling. It’s so clean they should just rename it. Big business has taken over Times Square. I thought the greatness of Times Square was it was the Theater District and its rich patrons pouring out to the street and they’d mingle with the lowest dregs of society known to mankind. I used to get a thrill out of that. The danger, the edge of it is gone. Prices have gone up, but you still don’t get more for your money. You still have traffic jams, cabbies trying to kill you, but it’s still the greatest city in the world.

In the summer, I always think of you, because everyone wears fedoras.

I noticed the fedora was making a comeback there. It was amazing. You don’t have that in London, Paris, and you don’t have it here. It’s great. Fashion is still great in Manhattan. There’s a pulse in the city. I think Brennan mixing in Brooklyn an album recorded in a forest in Sweden made a juxtaposition. The juxtaposition between my forest here in Sweden and Brennan Green’s urban jungle in Brooklyn is poetry in motion.

Why did you make an album after all this time?

It was not my idea. Strut had the idea. They wanted to put me together with Andrew Butler of Hercules and Love Affair. I Googled him and went okay, he’s definitely influenced by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and Kid Creole, so I thought the combination would work. I knew he was popular in the underground dance clubs, just like we were. I trusted it. 
The original plan was to write 50/50, but it didn’t turn out to be as simple as that. Our schedules conflicted and we were never together in the same part of the world. We were never together in the same room. I’ve never met the guy! I only saw him on Skype chats. We were never in the same room, which is uncivilized and ridiculous and that’s modern society for you. He sent his songs to me, I sent mine to him. A hundred and ninety-eight emails later, we’d be saying: “Can you change the bassline on the third bar of the fifteenth section of the fourth verse and can you mute the triangle on the third verse…” It became ridiculous. All the things we were doing we could’ve done in one room. That’s when technology works against you.
It took too long to do the album. If we had been old-fashioned about it, it would’ve been out two and a half years ago! To be honest with you, I got frustrated with it but I’m sure glad I did. I love the results. I’d never do it this way again though.

Speaking of Andys, did you ever hear Coati Mundi's album?

I listened to it in the car and it was spectacular. Andy came a long way and I love him and his humor. He was the zaniest character I know. I miss having a comic foil onstage. Sometimes the shows get too serious. I’m singing “Mister Softee” and the audience is taking it seriously?! He was like a Marx Brother. 

You have a song on the new album that unpacks what happened with the Savannah Band.

Tommy Mottola said to me: “Savannah Band had the potential to be one of the largest bands in America back in the 70s.” It was like Rome, we fell from within. The Savannah Band self-imploded. Our sibling rivalry destroyed it. My brother and I couldn’t take it to the next level. We were huge and had a hit record, wrote well together, and we had a great songstress, a chanteuse Cory Day. We had everything going for us. We destroyed ourselves. I wrote “Stony and Corey” as tribute to my brother and the songbird, they were the two most influential people in my life in terms of being a music personality.

How does it feel to be sampled like you are?

Being sampled was a great feeling, man. M.I.A. and Ghostface? And then Cee-Lo covered “Hard Times," too. I get my royalties and I’m flattered. Artists get annoyed by samples and downloads. To me though, it’s flattering when a new artist comes along and utilizes your music so that new listeners can discover the original.

What do you listen to now?

I have my old favorites more than explore new things. I have children and they always keep me abreast.  What I also miss is that you never have to leave the island of Manhattan, you just travel your block and the islands come to you. The music of every nation can be found there. 

I like Rihanna right about now but my favorite is still Beyonce. She’s a goddess. She’s up there with the likes of Diana Ross, Tina Turner, those larger than life female vocalists. Beyonce is a goddess. I love her stuff.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kid Creole

Today in the Village Voice is my feature on the return of Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Such a pleasure to chat with the man (my full transcript will appear before long) and revisit his body of work. Watching some of these videos --with these two posted by former sidekick Coati Mundi-- makes me pine to see the group in their prime:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

“It was a strange year that year and it is a strange year this year. The blue of the sky looks rather black to the eye.”

In a friend's water closet reading stack sits a book by William Cooper. I don't believe I have seen that name since 1991, the year that punk rock broke, when I religiously read Flipside Magazine. That newsprint rag not only told me about folks like Beck, Unwound, Fitz of Depression releasing seven inches, but --if memory serves-- it used to run Cooper's missives as well as those of someone named Jolly Roger. The latter's monthly columns went beyond the joys of The Anarchist's Cookbook (which was always behind the counter at the bookstore, next to Madonna's Sex) explained how to create new identities for yourself, how to make your marijuana seeds sprout, as well as how to make homemade napalm (it involved dissolving styrofoam peanuts in gasoline). I may have made half-assed attempts at all three in high school.

Cooper's most famous book (or at least, the one that would one day wind up as toilet reading) is Behold a Pale Horse, a hodge-podge of UFO sightings, government cover-up memos, and secret society cabals running the world and installing a New World Order. Thumbing it some two decades after its publication date, I was struck by a line that went: "The numbers 3, 7, 9, 11, 13, 39 have special meaning to the Illuminati." For a book published in 1991, it's easy to have a few of those numbers stick now. Wondering just what such a figure might make of this "post-9/11" world we now inhabit, I instead learned that Cooper was shot dead by sheriffs in November of 2001. Squirting some homemade napalm on the fire, Cooper purportedly hinted in a radio show from June 2001 that an attack on the US would be blamed on some disgraced Saudi prince.

I wonder why it feels relevant to even mention this here. Perhaps its that underground thoughts go hand in hand with underground music. Perhaps paranoia and punk were always entwined for me, like The Anarchist's Cookbook and Madonna on that same shelf. Perhaps it's because I'm with this book hundreds of miles from Ground Zero (along with New York's 9/11 double issue) and for the first time in ten years, I won't be in New York City on this day. And I won't call it by those two numerals. It's always September to me.

And so I am trying to re-remember what it was like, newly arrived to New York, to wake up in the city on that September day, to climb up on my roof and watch the two towers burning, smoke billowing into that immaculate blue sky. Trying to remember who I was then, when I woke up extremely hungover, when my roommate knocked on my bedroom door and told me to wake up "to witness history," it was hard to fathom the events of that day. I remember that September 10th was an extremely late night for me and my friends, one where we stayed out until the wee hours of morning, inhaling and imbibing the substances necessary to remain up until that darkest hour of morning. Sleep that night was tumultuous and fraught. I was restless in a way I had never been in my life. I thrashed through the sheets and just barely fell to sleep before that knock came.

A few things remain in my mind upon waking up: First was a news item from the week previous was about an ultralight plane had been flown towards the Statue of Liberty. So when I thought of a plane striking the Tower, a harmless little fly of a craft is what came to mind. The other is that just a few weeks prior, the city had detonated the two water towers that loomed over the Williamsburg skyline, erasing them from the sky in a matter of seconds. So I stood on my rooftop and saw those two buildings, their concrete pluming into the sky up above.

Technically, I never went inside the World Trade Center in my first months of living in New York City. But I did go into its basement. A temp agency scheduled an interview for me at WTC 1 and so I went downtown one July morning, where I was soon ushered into the basement of that building. I had been without work for three months and my funds were depleted. I needed a job desperately. I was fucking broke. And yet...

Before I left Texas, I worked in a government building, one which also housed federal judges. They constantly received credible death threats. One had to go through metal detectors to even enter the building. The windows were so darkly tinted that I never knew the sun was shining until I left at the end of the workday. Being in Austin, but a few hundred miles from where the Oklahoma City bombings had taken place, that pall remained over the place. How could it not? I wasn't just working a job out of college (so as to save up for a move to NYC), I was working at a place that was a target. And I swore to myself when I moved that I would never work in a target again.

So sitting in the basement of the World Trade Center, hungry and broke, I threw the interview. Walking down the hallway after, my guide not only pointed out where the bathroom was but also where the bombs had detonated back in 1993, pointing out both in a casual way that was nauseating. How could you carry on with your work knowing that someone had tried to destroy the place? I left as quick as I could and never returned their phone calls. I remained willfully unemployed. My family and my roommates thought I was crazy to not take that job.

It would be another month before I had a real job and years before my present occupation, writing about music. In reading some of the remembrances of that day, like those by Hua and Mark, I wonder what I might have listened to on that day. Such sounds escape me now. Instead, I recall carrying out mundane tasks like doing my laundry and buying an extra can of Goya beans and two gallons of drinking water, all under two strips of black smoke. 

Somewhere on the web, I recently found a list of my top albums of 2001. I wonder at who that person was who listed and listened to such albums. Of greatest relevance for that time was of course the unreleased Wilco album, with its lyrics about tall buildings shaking and voices escaping, not to mention the paranoia-inducing samples from the "number" stations. I wonder what Bill Cooper would have had to say about The Conet Project

But the only sound I still remember came at night. It was not music. We all convened, friends and strangers and neighbors, on the Williamsburg waterfront to commiserate and hug one another, to down whisky straight from the bottle and stare at the sirens silent and shining across the black water of the East River. Ambulances were in a line like an unclasped ruby necklace, flaring their incandescent red lights and snaking up and down the FDR in a long procession, both north and south. I don't recall their wails reaching me. Instead, I remember the heartbeat of hand drums all around me, somehow giving meter to the black night.

Ten years later, a quote I affixed to that record list remains the most resonant, more than any of those albums. It came from a Gertrude Stein book I was reading at the time and it worked as well at that moment in time as it does now, ten years and a lifetime ago: 

"It was a strange year that year and it is a strange year this year. The blue of the sky looks rather black to the eye."

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

school's back

Nothing says welcome back to school like this series of photos from an Iggy and the Stooges gig at a high school, circa 1970.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yoga Records interview

The last of my New Age interviews (finally) and one of the most insightful. Douglas Mcgowan is the force behind Yoga Records and a spate of reissues that have appeared through Drag City and Important Records, to name but a few. You shouldn't miss albums he's brought back into the world, such as Matthew Young's Traveler's Advisory, the self-titled Ted Lucas album, or the supremely twisted soundworld of Dwarr. Yoga also just reissued the stellar third Bobb Trimble album and I've recently learned that the first Dwarr album is due soon as well. But Douglas's forte remains New Age music and beyond just appreciating the music, Douglas grasps its wider socioeconomic implications as well, tying its rise to the re-election of Reagan in 1984 and understanding its current renaissance as part of cassette culture.

I was trading records and one collector broke out a record by Jon Bernoff and Marcus Allen called Breathe. It has the cheesiest cover I’ve ever seen and I thought they were putting me on. The idea of putting a frame around this music and saying it had validity as a genre was as weird to me as it is for just about any person on the street. Seeing someone else excited about it, who I respected, put it in a different light. It brought my attention to the fact that there’s all this sort of music that is psychedelic if only you are willing to look past the label.

For myself, New Age comes with some much baggage on it.

New Age is a thoroughly discredited term. Part of why I like the term is because of how much it bothers people. It’s reclaiming it. for me, calling it ambient or downtempo or all these other things that you hear people try to call it is sort of disingenuous. It’s repackaging something. I like it in its original state. It was at its zenith when it was called New Age and there wasn’t anything else that anyone called it in the years between 1975 and 1985.

Is the fact that this stuff was for the most part outside of major labels and doing private pressings of their music part of what appealed to you?

Absolutely. It’s one of the very first completely amateur-driven genres. It’s one of the first modern private pressing phenomenas in music. It was almost entirely a private-press phenomenon. That makes it really interesting from a sociological perspective and from looking at the history of the business of it. It was a genre founded by entrepreneurs and guys who were looking at Stephen Halpern’s success and trying to emulate it. It was never a creation of major labels. The major labels came in and ruined it. It’s not as simple as that, but by the time the majors arrived on the scene the best work had already been done.

What was the tipping point of it?

I think Steven Halpern founded the business of New Age music and Windham Hill perfected it. it basically became commercialized and digitized around the same time and it flowed perfectly into Reagan’s remaking of America, where something that started as a counter-cultural hippie movement was completely co-opted. Why it all happened at the same time, you can’t point to one particular thing. But people were looking at the massive sales that Windham Hill was doing and how easy it was to do and wanting to have a piece of that action. 

It’s not dissimilar to people calling themselves “screenwriters.” It’s people chasing after an easy and massive payday. It’s a thing for amateurs that amateurs convince themselves that they can do. Sometimes they’re right. It also just attracts an element of people going: “I’d like to make music and I’d like to make money doing it. I can put a fishing weight on a synthesizer and modulate the pitch for twenty minutes and I’ve got Side A.” That was incredibly attractive to a lot of guys who were coming at this with less than pure musical motives. It was a genre that attracted amateurs.

Which is its best and worst quality.

It was definitely a double-edged sword. The amateur element is what makes all the best releases so charming because they are often handmade and have the beginner’s touch in a good way. Then you have subsequent waves of imitators. Each wave was less concentrated and powerful. The earliest people like Paul Horn and Steven Halpern were true originals and it’s easy to forget that because when you look back at it now, it seems like such simple music. they did invent the ideas of what they were doing. JD Emmanuel is a good example of a second wave of people refining it. after that, it’s just diminishing returns.

What was the impetus behind Yoga Records?

I chose the name Yoga because I wanted something simple to the point of absurdity, like Apple Computers. You wouldn’t be able to forget it. I wanted it to have a meaningless quality. A lot of people hear that word and feel a sense of revulsion. Just this year is the year where it’s reaching critical mass and convince myself that there is a market and that it won’t be out of context like the way the Dwarr project would be. It was met with indifference. It was too far out of context. I’ve been waiting five years for people to get more into it.

What do you think is responsible for this shift back to respectability?

I think the reason it’s booming in popularity is because it’s good (laughs). The good stuff is good. All things being equal, I think it’s more fun to enjoy something that is frowned upon. There’s a rebelliousness to embracing something that has been discarded and deemed worthless by the culture at large. You could see the same thing happening in the mid-90s with lounge music. everybody knew lounge music was stupid save for well, Martin Denny and Esquivel, these guys were great artists, they were timeless. The act of sifting through that stuff and figuring out what’s valuable about it helps the people who are really engaged as listeners become a part of the story of the music. They get to say: “We were early adopters” and that’s always fun.

The other part of it is we are in such deep need of chilling out these days. Popular culture doesn’t leave you with any room for meditation or space. There’s nothing slow about popular culture. There’s nothing reflective or even humble about popular culture. There’s no pause in anything. Especially for people who are 16 years old, who literally have never known the world before cell phones or internet, it’s something entirely new. That revolutionary thought that something so simple that runs counter to the speed and intensity of popular culture can have value and utility in their lives. It’s something that actually helps you come down and ground yourself. It’s like an antidote. Sitting and quietly listening to a New Age record is the opposite of checking your Facebook every two minutes. It’s as far from that kind of mentality as you can get. People are excited by that.

It has a mental effect like that for me.

There’s not really any room for irony to operate within New Age music. I think it appeals to people who have very evolved sense of irony for whom something where irony can’t exist is a good thing. I think also there’s the matter of the imagery, styling, and packaging and all of the handmade elements of it are super attractive to people. In a weird way, it’s a precursor to the way indie music is packaged now. The creativity of record covers today echoes the creativity of the visionary art of old New Age packages. When people see the cover of Breathe, it’s like…yeah, these are all of my favorite pastel colors!

Does the cassette culture play into this as well?

Definitely. New Age is a cassette medium. The length of the tapes, the ability to do short runs yourself, the fact that tape doesn’t pick up noise over time, which has a big effect on quiet music. I’m completely for cassette culture. I wish we could have the enthusiasm we have for records about cassettes. Cassettes are much more readily recyclable and to be honest, it’s heresy to say, but cassettes sound better than vinyl when everything is being done right. JD Emmanuel very forcefully told me that. Cassettes were good for the counter-culture. Cassettes kept it alive and they’re the democratic sound medium. You could say the same thing about CDRs, but they’re ugly. Tapes can be re-used.

In these New Age articles that come around of late, I always think of those bullshit ‘comics aren’t just for kids’ stories that accompany graphic novel magazine features. I’d love to see the discussion move past that. New Age isn’t just crap. I’d like to see it move past that really quickly. I’d like to see more new artists get into it. It’s really exciting that people aren’t just looking with nostalgia but that they’re innovating within the form.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Animal Collective New Age interview

The peg for the New Age story stems from a Zamfir sample that Animal Collective used for their Fall Be Kind EP from 2009. Yet their love and appreciation for such New Age fare extends beyond that. The Geologist hepped me to Claire Hammill's ephemeral all-vocal album Voices a few years back and even amid their pop noise scramble, there remains a focus on tone and sustained sound that hints at much deeper listening practices. It was crucial to have their input for the piece and both Brian and Dave Portner obliged:

Brian "The Geologist" Weitz

I came to new age music through drone and ambient records that would be considered more experimental or minimalist than new age. I did a radio show on WKCR in New York that went from 1-5 AM and some nights I would just choose 4 long pieces to play. Things like Alvin Lucier and Charlemagne Palestine were big for me. This was in college and during those years I spent a semester living in the desert in Arizona which had a big effect on my music listening habits.

 My pace of life slowed down a lot from when I lived in New York and it was easier to notice the subtle changes in the natural day, which required a certain amount of patience and willingness to concentrate on small details that unfold over longer periods of time. I wanted the same kind of feeling from records I was listening to. I'm not sure I'd describe the effect this has as relaxing. I suppose it is, but it's more the hypnotic quality of it that I find appealing.

Eventually, I came to hear some private press new age records that weren't all that different from something like Terry Riley and the boundaries started to disappear for me. I think the reason there is a stigma attached to a lot of new age music is because of the personalities associated with it. I don't have a problem with it, but I think there is sort of a naive optimism to the aesthetic. It's the same thing that turns a lot of people away from hippie psych records. I like those too though.

I think the recent popularity is similar to the popularity of a lot of hippie psych folk stuff from a few years ago, but I'm not sure I know why it's happening. Maybe it's a distance thing. Those personalty types typically associated with those music styles aren't as prevalent and people who have a more punk attitude don't have to interact with them and feel the need to push back. In fact these days the people making experimental music that sounds a lot like new age stuff have a more underground punk aesthetic, which maybe makes it easier to swallow.

Dave "Avey Tare" Portner

Where did that Zamfir sample come from?

I came across it because I was getting more into Eastern European music, Bulgarian, Hungarian, etc. that melody on the record stuck out. The flute stuff is really crazy. It was tough to work into a song.
It didn’t dawn on me that people would have the reaction that it was a New Age flute thing. It seemed normal and something that would work.

I know Zamfir’s music because of those infomercials in the 80s.

I didn’t even associate it with that; I just stumbled upon that record.

I think Gang Gang Dance goes for that kind of stuff as well, the cheesier the tone the better.

There’s a side of me that really loves this ambient space-out music. A few of us trade these ambient records every now and then. Like Iasos, just music like that. That record I suggested to you, Syrinx, I think those guys even played with Zamfir. To me, the world treads the line between…you look in the New Age section, the experimental section, similar records fall into either one.

They’re both into suspension and drones.

My love of New Age music comes from me liking drone and minimalist music, things with microtones. But there’s also this side of me that comes from my mom, who listened to a lot of New Age music when I was growing up. We used to go to Miami a lot, and there was this New Age store that had all these tapes. I remember looking at the covers with dolphins on them. I remember my mom bought Deep Breakfast by Ray Lynch. I love that record. That’s the side that’s super cheesy to me, adult contemporary. Yoga videos my mom used to watch with people sitting in front of waterfalls doing yoga poses. I associate it a lot with certain childhood things.

I guess people are getting into it. A lot of it is ‘out there,' if you get into that kind of thing. Ambient music has gotten more popular. People are into the peacefulness and it’s good music for being calm. I listen to that kind of stuff around the house and on tour. I have things on my iPod. Being on tour and listening and playing loud music, I want to listen to something that’s going to calm me down.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Greg Davis interview

Researching New Age music and its reincarnation, it became imperative to chat with Greg Davis. (As introduction, I had to come clean on writing this review of his work.) While gaining renown as a musician/ composer, Davis has also curated the incredible Crystal Vibrations blog. There's too much good stuff tucked away in there, but you'd be remiss in not aligning your skull with albums like Laraaji's Essence/ Universe, Steve Roach's Structures From Silence, and more.

Greg Davis

I’ve been a big record collector for years and years (probably since I was about 14-15 years old). And in the past 6-7 years I started to buy and try to find good New Age records. They are often the cheap records at the store and so I've bought alot over the years and just slowly weeded through them to find the gems and the good music.

A lot of the best New Age albums, to me, are the ones that are an outgrowth of the hippie / psychedelic scene of the 60s - 70s. People had been living in communes for years and digging into alternative spiritualities and lifestyles and getting blissed out and started making some amazing music. It seems that New Age music really got its start in the late 70s (although there are a couple of isolated earlier examples). Some of those first Stephen Halpern records or the first Iasos records are often cited as the original New Age records. Halpern's 'Spectrum Suite' especially has all of the trappings of New Age: The New Age speak on the back cover, chakra zones, sound healing, sonic incense, all that good stuff. And it was released by Halpern himself on his own label. Halpern, Iasos, Joel Andrews and others were part of a California scene that probably started in 1973 at the festival to honor the Comet Kohoutek, it kinda started there and blossomed and that coincides with the following...

It’s really hard to say what the first New Age record is. There was stuff coming out of the German music scene like Ashra, Deuter, Cluster, Peter Michael Hamel and others that might be considered New Age. Paul Horn goes back to the late 60s with 'Inside', but I see him coming more out a jazz background then into hippie / eastern mystic vibes. 'Inside' was a very successful record and he mined that for all it was worth. Along with Horn, people like Vangelis, Paul Winter, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, Harold Budd, etc and others helped lay the foundation and groundwork for New Age.

It really was an outsider music, made on private press labels and distributed to local gem shops and New Age bookstores and things like that but like any genre or style of music, it eventually becomes commercialized --especially given the climate of the 80s-- and New Agers started to see $$$$$ in their eyes. And I think by the mid 80s, the soul and the original inspiration for New Age music died out and left and now it’s become this big huge business (even for many of the original artists). So my main window for good New Age music has been from about 1975-1985.

It wasn’t too hard for me to work past the baggage of the New Age genre. I'm always interested in giving any kind of music or sound a chance even if it’s totally maligned. Plus I seem to resonate with core New Age ideas and beliefs in some ways so it doesn’t always turn me off. And being a big fan of drone, ambient, cosmic and psychedelic musics, all of this can be found in the New Age world.

I started the Crystal Vibrations blog in 2007 because I wanted to share GOOD New Age music and try to give it a better name again and show some people that there are some really great records out there that are considered New Age. To me, good music is good music, I really don’t care what the label / genre / style is. Also, when I decided to start a music sharing blog, I wanted to have something unique. I didn’t want to just make another jazz blog or African music blog or psych blog or something like that, there are hundreds of those out there and they do it well already. So I felt this could serve a little niche and turn some people on to some weird old record and cast them in a new light.

I think people are gravitating towards it because of what has happened in the cassette underground in the USA. There was a very prominent noise cassette / show culture bubbling up again that was becoming the hot new thing for awhile, but then bands like Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never started to come out of this scene playing a different kind of music using synths and pointing back to kraut rock / kosmiche / Berlin school / New Age styles. And then eventually many folks in the noise scene started shifting from making harsh noise music to making placid ambient spacy droney musics over the course of a few years. 

It was a remarkable transition to watch (I've also been loosely a part of it with my own music). And I think this movement into a softer, more spacious music has fueled an interest in some older New Age musics that share some similarities. All of the lines get blurry as you know...(I won’t take the time to talk about new bands / musicians that have co-opted New Age fashion and ideas just to be cool or different, I'm more interested in how New Age music has influenced the music of today)

I think New Age music can serve as a remedy for ADD music listening habits or help people cool and calm their minds a little bit. And especially with longer pieces, it gives you time to get immersed in a space and chill out. I think the ubiquity of drone music (New Age or not) was also a response to the internet / information / cell phone / Ipod age.

I've been able to move my threshold for liking pretty cheesy New Age music pretty high at this point. But I feel like I still have a perspective on what’s good and what isn’t. I think the cringe worthy stuff is the New Age music that is all talk and no play if you know what I mean. There is a bunch of New Age rhetoric / jargon and then the music is lousy or tossed off. Mostly the music where the artists just seem to be in it for the money is the ones that turn me off. I wholeheartedly love the spirit of New Age music (when its right) and I really gravitate towards the synth side of things (I tend not to dig strictly instrumental New Age, although there are some fine exceptions).

I do get a bit of feedback from the blog. It has quite a few followers if that means anything. And people really dig the fact that I'm curating and unearthing these musical treasures. Its not an easy job but someone's gotta do it. I've noticed since I started my blog that some other share blogs have started posted some of their favorite New Age records too. My best story about the blog is one guy got in touch with me who I think used to own a New Age bookstore or something and he said he had a box of like 200 New Age cassettes, so he donated them to the blog, I just had to pay shipping on them. So the majority of the posts in the near future will be from that collection. There is a lot of great stuff in there (and a lot of bad stuff!).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blues Control/ Laraaji interview

This fall, the RVNG Intl. label will release another entry in their highly ambitious FRKWYS series, this one documenting a studio meeting between experimental noise duo Blues Control and one of the godfathers of ambient/ New Age music, Laraaji Nadabrahmananda. Once known as Edward Larry Gordon, Laraaji released the seminal Ambient 3: Day of Radiance on Eno's label and continues to create some of the most transcendent music around. So it made sense to talk about this collaboration for the New Age story, so I reached out to both parties:


Were you surprised that a new band like Blues Control they reached out to you?


Were you familiar with their music at all?


How did you feel about the music you enacted together?


Do you ever worry that younger listeners might not take the time to be more contemplative and receptive in this culture?


Or has there always been such a struggle for higher consciousness through each age?



How did you become aware of Laraaji's music?  What did you think about it?  Were you into other "New Age" artists as well or did that type of music not appeal to you?

We first became aware of Laraaji's music when we bought Ambient 3: Day of Radiance.  That release seems to be the usual gateway to his music.  We loved it so much that we started including it in gifts to family and friends for a while.  We had already been listening to other new age artists by that time; Laraaji wasn't our first trip into the genre.  This was in the early 2000s when our interest in noise music was waning, and consequently we started exploring different types of psychedelic music more avidly, including new age, krautrock, synth and electronic music.  

We started our own new age band Watersports in 2003, and we were looking for new age-related lps/cds/tapes wherever we could find them - from dollar/thrift stores and used lp stores, to big chains like Target and Virgin Megastore cutout bins.  Thankfully always cheap!  There was a Barnes&Noble near Russ' dad's house in the suburbs that had an awesome new age CD section in the early 2000s.  Every time we visited, we'd pick up anything that looked interesting or old.  They eventually downsized the store, but for a while the new age section was extensive.  We always joked that we were dying to meet the new age buyer and find out who this person was.

When we started Watersports in 2003, we didn't know anyone at all who was playing new age music, and we only knew one person who listened to it (our former roommate Joel St. Germain).  I remember playing new age records at our house for friends around this time and getting fully laughed at.  People would shake their heads, and just say "I don't know, man."  We bought an Envirascape fountain at the Fulton Mall, and we included it in our early shows, mic'ing the water and nature sounds, and using it as a visual focal point.  People ridiculed us for that too, hah.  Our influences when we started out were Deuter, Golden Voyage, Environments LPs / Nature sounds CDs, Paul Winter, Klaus Wiese, Henry Wolff/Nancy Hennings, Wendy Carlos - Sonic Seasonings, Shadowfax, Georgia Kelly, Steve Hillage, Vangelis, Eberhard Schoener, Jade Warrior, Synergy, Messaien organ works, Charles Lloyd, and many more.  

As Watersports evolved, we explored a lot more new age/kraut/synth/electronic music and also got deep into our classic rock/blues/hard rock interests, and that's how the idea for Blues Control started.  The influences for BC are diverse, but we still include a lot of new age in what we do.  I remember a review of an early BC show compared us to Kitaro, which was meant to be a diss at the time.  Musically, I took it as a compliment.

Who's idea was it to collaborate, RVNG's or yours?  What made you think that Blues Control would be a good fit with him? What was it like improvising with him in the moment?  Did you do his deep listening meditations as well?

When Matt invited us to do a FRKWYS collab record, it didn't take long for us to suggest Laraaji, and Matt was all for it. Aside from loving Laraaji's music, we had already communicated with Laraaji in the past and always got a good vibe from him.  The first time we went to see him play live was in 2004 at an in-store benefit for Tribal Soundz in Manhattan. His set that night was amazing, and I had a pleasant conversation with him afterward when I bought a CD. Then in 2010, I emailed him to see if he would play with Blues Control at an ESP Records in-store. He declined due to previous travel plans, but my communication with him via email was great - he was and still is a really open, joyful, down-to-earth person.

I had no idea if he would be interested in the collab idea, but his response turned out to be very positive.  We scheduled a phone call to discuss details, and it all came together quickly after that.  The only things he wanted to work out beforehand were instrumentation and key, so as to encourage a spontaneous and inspired improvisation.  We met at Black Dirt Studio in upstate NY in December 2010.  The first serendipitous sign was when everyone started setting up gear in the studio, and I realized for the first time that our setups were incredibly similar. Laraaji brought along a musical friend, Arji Cakouros, who joined in occasionally, and we all improvised for 4 hours on a single day.  The jams frequently went as long as 45 minutes, and Laraaji deftly moved between very different soundworlds with ease.  Everyone, including the engineer, was marveling at Laraaji's coordination, timing, and musicality.

Improvising with Laraaji was an emotional, spiritual, positive, healing experience.  I really can't convey the immensity in words... It's rare that I cry from sheer joy, gratitude, and awe of beauty, but I was holding back tears at one point during the session.  The experience affirmed my initial love and understanding of music and the inscrutable/infinitely beautiful/meaningful universe, and made inconsequential a lot of negativity I had come to associate with modern life and modern music.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Oneohtrix Point Never interview

As Oneohtrix Point Never, Daniel Lopatin has staked out a previously uninhabited/ inhospitable ground between bracing electronic noise and the warm washes of New Age. With albums like Rifts and Returnal, OPN was one of the acts that drew what it needed from the New Age aesthetic while leaving the rest behind, and sure enough, Dan waxed eloquently on the subject (though he later apologized for being too intellectual).

Can you tell me how you first got into New Age music or what got you to see beyond the stigma of such sounds?

A lot of new age is slightly more watered down kosmische musik made with very specific purposes in mind, like I remember certain Michael Hedges records came with instructions. Although I doubt they'd ever admit it, some of it was made by otherwise legitimized kosmische musik legends like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. The only difference is there's no discreet new age rhetoric, although Vangelis was very much into glorifying epic terrestrial landscapes and that is very new age in its own way.

I always enjoyed the idea that somehow certain striated musical textures (kosmische, krautrock) are considered high brow and how smoothened (new age) textures signal something more pop. For a while I was into seeing how you could take something smooth and make it more striated via synthesizers and samplers and loopers. Because I mostly listen for texture, new age was is a huge resource for all kinds of non rhythmic texture that can act as a sort of jumping off point.

Does such music have a mental effect for you when you listen to it?

It does but it's not very relaxing. It often stresses me out in the sense that I think about how strange it is that an artist would feel that relinquishing their role as composer and letting music just freely float and just be would ever be a good thing. There's a superficial dissolution of the ego in both new age music and western mysticism that I find amusing. It's also very creepy in a sexual sense. Deuter, Andreas Vollenweider and even 80s Vangelis to a certain extent make perverted sounding new age music. They introduce this smooth jazz sexiness that is like some weird form of headphone molestation. It's uncomfortable. 

It's contested whether or not my favorite new age records are actually more pure "ambient" records but often I can't really tell the difference other than the wrapping. But I love Steve Roach - Structures From Silence. For me it's on par with Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol. II in terms of emotionality. A more obvious and actual new age record that I love and don't find sexually creepy is Iasos - Elixir, whose title says it all.

Do any of the other aspects of New Age music (be it vegetarian lifestyle, yoga, crystals, etc.) resonate for you at all?

Not at all -- I'm pretty pedestrian in terms of my lifestyle choices. I think people love the sounds because they heighten or color reality in an interesting way that music on FM radio or MTV2 or whatever doesn't really do. At least not at the moment.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The New Age of New Age

This past Sunday, I wrote a large piece for the LA Times about what I dubbed "The New Age of New Age," the wave of new artists and producers drawing on the soothing, chakra-massaging sounds of New Age music for their own purposes. For the story, I talked to artists like Animal Collective, Blues Control, Oneohtrix Point Never, Laraaji, and Greg Davis, as well as Douglas Mcgowan of Yoga Records. lots of interesting insight was offered, so over the next few weeks, I'll be posting their interviews in full here.

Monday, July 04, 2011


So good that I have to re-post and re-crank this song for the 4th of July.

And some 7 1/2 minutes into this is the official video for it:

Friday, June 24, 2011

RIP Peter Falk

"I'm a helluva guy. I think yer a lovely lady."

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I just reviewed the recent reissue of Paul McCartney's half-baked (take that in many ways) solo album, McCartney II, for Resident Advisor. What's funny though is the adverse reaction from the RA readership, deeply offended that "rock" was held up for inspection over there. At first, I thought their xenophobia was strong. But then I realized that when I wrote reviews of albums by Augustus Pablo, Keith HudsonRoy Ayers, and Terry Callier back in the early aughties for Pitchfork, they were greeted with similar disdain by the readership. Though in hindsight, that was just racism, right?

Monday, June 20, 2011


This is yet another Father's Day that I did not celebrate. And when Emusic pitched its writers on songs about fathers, I bristled at the idea, trying to push it far from my mind. And yet, I wound up writing about two for their Father's Day feature. One is on Ras Michael's "Don't Sell Daddy Any More Whiskey" as "The Drunken Dreadlocked Dad" and Riley's bittersweet rocker "Daddy's Come Home" as "The Parolee Dad."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Shaggs

Today I have a story on the off-Broadway musical based on The Shaggs. My tone might be slightly acerbic, but in no uncertain terms, I have --if not loved-- then admired the music that the Wiggin sisters made under duress.

Fifteen years ago, I was in a Half-Price Books in Houston, Texas, trying to find the bathroom. Instead, I happened upon a backroom filled with merchandise that wasn't on the floor just yet. Staring back at me was a copy of The Shaggs' lone 1969 album, Philosophy of the World. No, it was not the original, but the 1980 Red Rooster reissue. Still, it was $3 well-spent.

I only wish that in the piece today I could have included composer Gunnar Madsen's explanation on how the Shaggs put their music together:
Dot wrote the songs and she wrote the melody to go with the lyrics and didn’t really know much about 4/4 time and tried to fit the lyrics into regular phrasing. What she ended up creating were mixed meters: 3/8, then a 2/2 bar, and then a 5/8 and then a 4/4. Meanwhile, it sounded like her sister Helen got drum lessons because she knows how to do basic 4/4 beats like “The Twist” but she can’t follow the shifting meters that Dot does. So in each song, you’ll hear Helen try to stay with her sisters but then just go into 4/4. So she’s going off in one direction while Dot and Betty are singing their melodies in mixed meters.   
I was also puzzled by the recording of “Philosophy of the World.” The vocals are one bar behind the guitar but they’re in unison. And I realized they must have overdubbed the vocals because it’s one beat off. The sound pulls your mind in two different directions!     

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ford & Lopatin

From the band formerly known as "Nails on a Chalkboard" (as well as Games), I did a brief chat with Ford & Lopatin's Joel Ford about jazz fusion and the like for The Voice blog. Check it here.

And while I'm at it, I will be posting another interview with Dan Lopatin about his love of New Age music here before too long...

some new jams

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Robert Pete Williams

It came out a minute ago, but since I finally received my copies over here, I should state that I wrote a brief set of notes about the alien yet intimate blues of Robert Pete Williams for the reissue of his Louisiana Blues album. Every so often, humans like Captain Beefheart and Black Keys take a crack at Williams' uncanny blues "Grown So Ugly." His other songs though, remain well out of reach for most folk. That said, people who own a set of ears that connect to their heart need to hear the man. You can pick it up here.


Oh right, my profile on Brooklyn's Mountains ran this week at the Voice. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Story Collider

This week, I wrote a feature for the Wall Street Journal about The Story Collider, a variant on The Moth storytelling model that involves peoples' interactions with science. Lots of talk about critters, dinosaurs, and  being locked up in a Hong Kong Zoo with monkeys, some of which can be heard via their podcast.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011


                                             Two Big Boys

My ATP wrap-up ran at Spin earlier this week. And it's taken almost another week to unravel from what was simply an exhaustive ecstatic music marathon. Here are some extra notes and observations that got left out:

Black Dice: what my original text said before the edit was that the Dice sounded like "a rave on a landfill." Can't clean up the cultural trash element in Dice's aesthetic.

Eric Copeland: Papua New Guinean dancehall? Yeah, but that's denying the familiar-yet-alien rhythmic structures that the man concocts. It's beyond belief that for all the mind-boggling amounts of ideas that go into Black Dice sets, Eric still has plenty left at his disposal for his own purposes. And he makes it sound like pop, too.

Mick Barr/ Orthrelm: Too easy to call what Barr does with a guitar "shredding." In fact, I feel now that it's the exact opposite: he is intricately weaving tapestries instead with it. One of the festival's highlights was to watch neophytes approach the stage and stare agog at his playing before walking away with this heartbroken look on their faces. His solo set made me think of what an opera comprised only of a guitar solo might sound like, deeply moving and melodically unfurling for what seemed like hours. He later said that his solo set stemmed from his aborted attempt to score for a string quartet, so he did it all with his guitar instead.

Big Boi: At the end of "I Like the Way You Move," the man also dipped into 2 Live Crew joints like "Move Something" and "Throw the D." As if playing a dozen platinum hip-hop classics weren't enough, he also nodded to Queen's "We Will Rock You."

Spectrum: My dark horse favorite of the festival. It was uncanny to walk into their show and realize that I knew all these songs. It was like I had unearthed a lost crypt from my musical past, realizing that I had spent hours with the Spaceman 3 catalog, yet had forgotten all of that music over the years. Or that I had perhaps heard it all while submerged in a dream and now I was awake with such knowledge recovered. I'm hoping to approach a piano soon and re-remember that I know how to play "The Blue Danube Waltz."

Grouper: How does Liz create a synesthetic sound that is the eerie vision of moonlight obscured by clouds?

Group Doueh: The greatest Sunday morning ever consists of downing a cup of black coffee and then watching Doueh elevate the room. "The golden shred" someone quipped afterwards and it's true that Doueh nonchalantly pulled off the most relaxed guitar pyrotechnics I've ever witnessed. Avey Tare later told me that Doueh has a specially built Strat with a built-in flanger on it, which must be why every note sounds like the opening snake lick of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)."

Halima from Group Doueh, Micachu, Khaira Arby, Lizzi from Gang Gang Dance: I still can't put my finger on the electrical current from Sunday that was these powerful female vocalists, but it coursed through all these sets, and they all seemed to build towards Gang Gang Dance's penultimate set of the festival. In years past, I might have copped to admitting that maybe her voice was the weak link in the band, but that's absolutely not true. She made British and Malian voices all make sense flowing out of her throat. Transcendent.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

new jams

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Friday, April 29, 2011

titus a

Two months ago, I went on tour with Titus Andronicus through the Garden State as they shot a video for "No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future." The results premiere today and the video was well worth the wait. If you don't blink, yours truly makes a brief appearance during the New Brunswick basement party concert.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dog Eat Dog

In this week's edition of the Village Voice, I wrote a brief story about Dog Eat Dog, the short-lived (in dog years) no-wave group who only just recently had their sprightly music reissued.

Monday, April 25, 2011

my fins are in the air

Last night, I capped a day of lamb and Cadbury creme eggs (and Peeps and SweetTart jellybean eggs and Cadbury milk chocolate eggs) with going to see Neil Young and Bert Jansch perform at Lincoln Center. It was a sweet night.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Michael Chapman: Fully Qualified Survivor

Having worked with the label in the past on titles like this and this, I've always loved and supported what Light in the Attic does, from reissuing Karen Dalton and Kris Kristofferson's earliest demos to unearthing Jim Sullivan's singular U.F.O. But I'm grateful for the label releasing UK folk guitarist's heady second album, Fully Qualified Survivor, which I've listened to as much as any new record in 2011.

For all my love of Mick Ronson-era Bowie, early Elton John, British string-benders like Bert Jansch, and anything that features Paul Buckmaster's strings, somehow Chapman's work (which is a nexus for all of the above) slipped under my radar for years. From its mulch all of the afore-mentioned folks arose, with Ronson's searing electric leads intertwining with Chapman's acoustic lines and catching the ear of Bowie as he was about to record The Man Who Sold the World, and producer Gus Dudgeon's deft mixing of folk and rock leading to future work with newcomer Elton John. And Buckmaster would soon be working with everyone from Harry Nilsson to Miles Davis.

You don't need to respect or revere the above names to fall for the album though. Chapman veers from the majestic (on 9-minute opener "Aviator") to the whimsical ("Naked Ladies & Electric Ragtime" afterwards) to snarling prog-punk ("Stranger in the Room") and back (on one of the finest moments in UK folk-rock, "Postcards of Scarborough"). The sticker says to enjoy it with a joint on a lazy afternoon but it really creates its own high. And it shreds. That the man is playing two shows this weekend in New York City will make him as relevant as ever.

Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for my Halo

Kurt Vile's latest album neatly coincides with the purchase of a car. And it really sounds like our old car as well. It idles in fits and starts, is slow to get going, equally slow to come to a stop, has smoke residue inside the windshield, seems to be shaking apart at times, has rust spots along the faded paint, empty coffee cups rolling along the floorboards. At times it barely works, seems like it might breakdown, but it does get me there.

Our car would be a teenager at this point, as old as I was when I got my first car. And this disc has been my driving soundtrack for most of it, echoing what I would drive to as a teenager myself: Sonic Youth, Royal Trux, Dinosaur Jr. If there was a rap album dropping right about now that sounded like Bizarre Ride II tha Pharcyde and Dare Iz a Darkside I'd probably be all over that as well.

Woo: It's Cosy Inside

A friend at Other Music suggested I check this out, namechecking albums I've been obsessed with recently: Penguin Café Orchestra, Cluster's Sowiesoso, Jimmy Giuffre's Freefall, Durutti Column's Vini Reilly. It slots in along these without a doubt. But when I passed it on, I told a friend that Woo are the Sparks of New Age.

They are two brothers (Mark and Clive Ives) who cannot help but inject their sense of humor into their music. They anticipate things like chillwave but really exist outside of such genres and considerations. The warped and delightfully disorienting miniatures that comprise this album bear titles like "No More Telly" and "Purple Pussy" and their sense of play runs through every note. Most of their output came out on cassette, so check out their own Woo website for more of their music.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

more vacation jams

It was a long vacation...

Monday, April 18, 2011

vacation jams

Been a minute since I updated here, mostly as it took an extra week for my brain to turn back on after a week of vacation, mostly soundtracked by Balearic tracks like these:

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

James Murphy interview (re-run)

In light of LCD Soundsystem's final show this weekend at MSG, I thought I would pay tribute and re-visit and old dialogue I had with the man back in late 2007 about a piece I was writing about the return of disco and how it related back to punk rock.
Do you think disco is the new punk rock?

It depends on what strata or circle you travel in. For me, disco has been a big part of my musical landy-scapey for along enough time that, it’s not really the new anything to me. That make any sense? So it’s weird.

Talking to folks like Thom and Morgan, 13-14 years...

Rightrightright. You know, jerks like me ruining it for everybody. Nah um, I don’t know, it’s just a pretty weird definition. For most people, language is defined by usage. Most people use it to mean something I don’t like very much. Studio 54 which was the one disco that wasn’t music-driven, the only disco that wasn’t music-driven.

Yet it’s what everyone thinks of.

Hanging out with Liza Minelli, shit like that.


Right. That was not a music...that doesn’t seem like a very music-driven story. The disco that I think is germane and still pretty interesting is the idea that it really came from a gay, black and Latino scene, which is about as punk as it fucking gets. When punk means college kids…


Well, just like...privilege is a weird word. It still recalls preppy. It’s just like punk rock in the 90s got so straighted out.

It’s very mall culture now.

There’s always going to be punk rock that’s interesting. It’s a much easier thing to commodify and sell to kids. Warp tours and stuff. Extreme sports wear. Disco is very difficult to sell to a high school football player. It gives it some sort of distance.

Gay, black, and Latino is never going to become a selling point.

Also, disco now, they think of it as That 70’s Show, feathered hair. Disco was a weird time in history where if you DJ’d on Saturday night at a straight club, you had to play boring dumb shit. The only place you could music where people knew their fucking music was gay clubs. A very different conception now. Oh, gay clubs, you just play, they’re always there for the music. It’s such a weird misconception of that scene.

When I talk to the Europe guys about it…

Oh. Very different. Disco is very different over there.

What’s so weird is it became so maligned in the states.

Right. A racist and homophobic backlash to a certain degree. When they did the “Disco Sucks” record burning it was mostly just black music. None of those records had anything to do with disco.

When did the tide start shifting?

There’s two or get PBS about it. There's a handful of things that are important. One is that massive…overtaking of American musical culture by hip-hop. And hip-hop producers, most of them, certainly the good ones know their disco. Like it’s were you get a lot of your samples and that crossover culture of the nineties, A-1 records being partially hip-hop and a disco place. Vinylmania and A-1 being this weird crate-digging place. People making trip-hop wound up buying records with disco on them. That culture, a certain degree where Thomas comes from, or Tim. There’s the coming from techno side, Morgan and Danny stuff. For me, I’m a phase later than that. Morgan will say he’s old school, unless you compare him to David Mancuso. But compared to me and somebody else. There was that upswing in the re-examination of Larry Levan, specifically as a person.

Understanding that he wasn’t just a DJ but cutting.

It was a life. That book, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, was the culmination of some stuff that was happening. But also it was the start of some other stuff. That book wouldn’t have come out if there wasn’t stuff to talk about. For me though, reading that book was a big big big deal, because I at the same time, rather than being into disco, was into the stuff that would’ve been the LES, downtown, Liquid Liquid, ESG, A Certain Ratio, and starting to listen that being like, “Hey, This is sorta like disco, how is that possible?” I thought that punk and disco were bitter enemies. That was the story we were told.

Two separate sides.

And then you put on “Magnificient Seven” and that sorta just sounds like disco. I started investigating it from that side. Well, I like this kind of disco. I don’t like stuff with the big choruses and girls singing.

String sections.

Right. I just wasn’t sure how to react to that stuff. I had this vision of it being like bell-bottoms. The crossover to me seemed to be more about hip-hop than about disco anyways. Where LL and “White Lines” where those scenes intersected. The beginning of hip-hop, DJ culture, that getting involved in downtown New York. Fab 5 Freddy being the conduit. That world seemed to be the connection that was going on for me. In that book, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life came out and I started realizing that the way Bambaataa found records and the way that the disco guys found records, they were there trying to surprise each other all the time. they were trying to be the first guy to play something that you never think of as disco and get them to dance to it.

Those guys were going through every sort of record of any genre.

You couldn’t go to the disco store. It didn’t exist. Tribal house section…they also didn’t sleep. Francis Grasso would DJ 14 hours a day on meth. That’s pretty fucking punk, far as I was concerned. How much, how un-frivolous it was, making music that way. That seems really impossible to front on. So there must be a lot more music and a lot more to it. so I just started looking in the back and going to Vinylmania and trying to buy up things that sounded interesting that I read. Listened to them and see how I felt. I met Charlie, who ran Vinylmania. He was always weirded out by me. What’s with the 29-year-old, digging in the weird section that had gone to sleep. That’s where I found most of the music I had.

Who took you to your first disco?

The first time I went dancing, really --first time I went to a dance club-- the first time I went to a club not to see a band, but to dance. I moved to New York and went to the Roxy the week I moved here. A really weird experience where a lot about New York. Where I accidentally got VIPed. There was this huge line, no one would wait in this line, you know what I mean. And I went and walked up with my roommate and these two girls. I was looking at the door at the bottom of the stairs. Is this the fucking place? This guy lifted this rope up and we got to the front. It all happened in like two minutes. I walked up the staircase and there was a guy there. I drank free all night. It was a complete accident of saying the right thing to the right people, totally by fluke. Always meaning something else. A great night, but I didn’t do much after that. Once I had to payfor things, I couldn’t afford it. David Holmes, Tim, Marcus were playing. First time I went out to the club. I’d go out when Marcus DJed.

45’33” is it about a particular night?

What’s the song about?

It’s like the night a DJ saved your life?

I never think of the lyrics at all.

When I listen to it, it’s this loving tribute to all these facets of disco: house, acid, Hot Chocolate, Arthur Russell, Larry Levan...

Oh, I know what you mean. I thought, God, it’s just a bunch of nonsense. With albums I feel pressured to make songs, there’s a different structure to a song on an album. It was nice to just be free of it and just go more disco than I normally would with vocals. Be a little per track. I don’t think it winds up feeling like that. When I find records, there’s this one thing I love. I love this one thing. I tried to make songs built more like that. One thing I was really attached to. I wanted to make it a little like a DJ set. But, more just like...what a weird opportunity to make something like that. It made me really happy. You have to have a goal and deadline.

Masturbatory to be in the studio making a 45-minute track for yourself.

It’s just so much work and it’s so terrifying and really hurts that you need someone to tell you that it’s time to be done. You think of these great 12”s that came out, they didn’t come out for these. People like to make things easy for themselves by having altruistic motives and meaning and I don’t think it exists. I think people made some of the best songs because “My friend Dan works in a studio and nobody’s there Sunday so we can sneak in if we don’t tell anybody.” Make a track. There’s your Dinosaur L “Go Bang.” “We need to put something out, so let’s get in there.”

There weren’t these “I have a vision.” If they had something to say, it’d get said at home or working for this stupid thing. I like that about that. There’s too many 12”s. There isn’t that myth that punk rock has of “I’m pissed and I’m gonna do something for real.” It’s more like “I’m gonna make people dance.” The pressure’s off in some ways, the pressures is on to make something work. It frees you up to be more genuinely creative, I think. It does for me. As soon as I started thinking about making people dance, my life got a lot better. The music helped, but…you can just be genuine about wanting to do stuff for people without --say you’re in a punk band, “I just want to make people happy with the music” people are like sell-out, asshole, douche bag. It doesn’t really work. Truth is, what’s wrong with that? Wanting people to be happy. People have lost the ability to say they want to make people happy cuz they’re so afraid of people thinking they’re catering to the lowest common denominator to feed their own ego. There’s a very big difference. Trying to make people happy is not the same as trying to make a hit at all costs. It’s a lot more respectful, I think.

That Italo aspect...

Is hip with the kids. I have not found my way into most Italo, to be honest. Just in general. I haven’t picked up Italo…I’m a little fuzzy of the definition is other than it’s Italian. Most of the time things people get excited about, I’ll listen to it…a lot of it doesn’t do it for me, it doesn’t work for me on the dancefloor and that’s a big part of it. it’s really effective in the filesharing nerd festival but it’s (laughs) I just haven’t ofund that many tracks.

Is Black Devil considered Italo?

I love that stuff but don’t find it effective played out. it’s not as effective as Candi Staton or Liquid Liquid. I think it’s beautiful, but…I like to play for people who don’t know what the stuff is. Not just “Awww yeah,” (trainspotters). I’m not saying that’s what people do. I’m never into that. I hate that. I hate the too much pride in knowing something and fetishizing it. I find it’s a great way to squeeze and kill it. What you love is what other people don’t know about it. Are you going to be evangelical about it? Not being evangelical about something you love I find really questionable and dubious. I’m super-evangelical about the things I love. To be something else, what are you doing? Keeping it cool school? Not that interested.

To testify.

Right. There are moments --don’t get me wrong—- where I find a 12” and I hop no one else finds this, for at least a couple of months. Usually they find it, fuckers. You want to find something and get people psyched about it. I don’t have to ‘really know,’ I can make music. I can go make it. I don’t get that wrapped up in the pride of owning something rare. It’s very ugly, that mentality to me. It’s very un-giving, very selfish and arrogant.

It’s misconstrued.

It’s condescending: “You can’t handle this.” I think people can handle amazing things. The secret of the DJ set is to get people to feel you’re not making fun of them. You can get people to listen to crazy shit if they don’t think you’re trying to be an asshole.

And your Fabric mix with Pat?

It was a pretty simple idea. We’ve been DJing together on tour. Rather than over-think what we should put on the mix, what will make us look really cool? What will sell a bunch? Pile up all the records we play everytime that I haven’t put on mixes before. A few things we bought recently, see what they can license and then go mix them together. It’s pretty straight forward, but it made me really happy. I bought a Bozack for it. it sounds so fucking crazy good. I like that it’s not real perfect. Old DJ mixes are never perfect. New mixes done by computer are all so perfect, I just don’t give a shit. A perfectly recorded piano sounds like a sample. I don’t care. If you record it at Abbey Road, perfect, it sounds like a sample. There’s no…I don’t care. Just trying to do as good a ob as you can with two turntables seems like a fun solution.

It sounds celebratory.

We love those tracks, man. But the artwork they do for those things is so bad.

Why do you think people are getting back into disco?

Why do I think most people are? Because they are told that it’s cool. Its why most things happen. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Why do people get into Jesus? It’s attractive, it’s different, it’s fun, you can dance.

A forbidden thing?

There’s always that.
(tape cuts off)
I think it’s just, there’s good reasons. Most of the world operates on pretty dumb reasons. I don’t mean that negative, it just is. You have to recognize. I get more people come to see me DJ, it’s not because more people fell in love with disco independently. That’s how it always works. That’s how I found out about 90% of the bands I grew up on. Somebody at the record store. Listened to it and either liked it or didn’t. that’s the difference between people and bricks. Everyone listens because they’re told its cool. It’s what you do with what goes into your ears. You’re either going to listen, trust your tastes, or (pantomimes). I think disco is just having a moment. Hopefully it doesn’t have another moment. Well, who cares? Think of how it blew up after Studio 54 and the backlash people still kept making the exact same amount of records. It didn’t have any affect on actual disco. Big explosion happened, they ignored it. It just doesn’t make a difference. In its own culture. sorta like hardcore. Skinhead hardcore, Oi! bands, it’s totally irrelevant what’s on the radio, what’s happening. They’re just “Oi!”

It doesn’t matter if ska takes off...

Exactly. Oi! bands just keep going. There’s something good and horrible about that at the same time. I try to figure out the line without being a culture-crushing vampire dilettante like Madonna. (Laughs) Is that harsh?