Name: Kevin Shea
Current release: In 2009 Kevin Shea, as part of the experimental rock formation Hey!Tonal, recorded a fascinating self-titled album of instrumentals filled with raw riffs, layered guitar textures, impetuous rock power and mindbogglingly complex studio wizardry. Written with the drums as a point of departure, the music is in constant motion, occasionally pulsating wildly, at other times peacefully oscillating. The entirely organic juxtaposition between post rock and dreamy electronica, between the violent thrust of hardcore and passages of almost ambient sensibilities (captured in the magnificently ambitious key piece “Kcraze”) make for a sweeping listen that sounds as stimulating today as it did the day it was released. Hey!Tonal sadly never recorded together again. Instead, the formation splintered into many different directions, bands and solo projects. Kevin Shea in particular remained prolific, continuing with his improv duo Talibam!, experimental jazz group Mostly Other People Do The Killing, and Desertion Trio. The legacy of their one glorious collaboration, however, lives on.
Hey!Tonal is now re-released as a 2XLP via Computer Students. To mark the occasion, we conducted interviews with almost all musicians involved in the making of this album.
[Read our Dave Davison of Hey!Tonal interview]
[Read our Alan Mills of Hey!Tonal interview]
[Read our Theo Katsaounis of Hey!Tonal interview]
[Read our Mitch Cheney of Hey!Tonal interview]
Recommendations: Enjoy the art of doing your dishes tonight ... life isn’t perfect, so be grateful.
If you enjoyed this interview with Kevin Shea and would like to know more about his work, visit his official homepage.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Believe it or not, I started writing and producing music only seconds after I was born.
My early influences were air, food, water. I don’t know why I was drawn to music and/or sound at such a young age. In fact, I didn’t even know who I was. Perhaps I still don’t know who I am, and no one else seems to know who I am, either. The me I thought I was at age 0 is not the me I think I am now. Now I think I am not a me, but a process of questioning. Actually, now that “I” think of it, I don’t even know what music is … what composing is, what production is, what sound is ... and no one seems to agree on any of these things.
There is no such thing as music, it was only the humans that went and defined it as such in relation to other vibrating frequencies. Is it considered composing if the composition is not good or a clone of someone else’s composition? What is a good or bad composition? Who composed the composition … was it divine intervention ... how dare you take credit for something channeled through you spontaneously ...
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
A true artist will tell you conspicuous originality is the best way to destroy any shred of integrity you might have had otherwise. The goal is not originality but to be a part of a process of questioning.
But what is an artist, anyway? Is it possible to be an artist as you wash dishes, or use the toilet? Who is accepted as being capable of having an artistic experience? What is originality? Is originality assigned automatically to those on a specific record label, to those who played with a famous musician, to those who have the right promotional network behind their album release? Does your graduate degree prove you are an artist? Who is capable of determining what originality is, and is originality only perceived in broad strokes?
If I play one completely original sound on my snare drum, will it not be deemed original because no one has the skills to determine how original that single sound was? Did the sound occur too quick to decipher, so it’s not even asked whether it was original or not? Who is this originality for ... is it a careerist choice? Practice and research propels the human to question that
which they take for granted, including their context, interpretational skills, level of compassion.
Originality isn’t the goal and it is certainly the least interesting part of all sound/music/art. Did you know music can be a gateway to meditation not meant to be appreciated for the way it feels or sounds or looks, much like doing the dishes?
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
You don’t need to seek and worship creativity when artistry flows through us during all banal experience ... once we understand that and realize it is not separated from us in daily life, that it is ingrained in us, then the quest for identity is revealed as being trivial.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
What is creativity? The individual decides and different stages of learnedness in their life, the hip journalist decides, the codependent partner decides, the omniscient institution decides, the amount of money you spend on promotion decides, the label you are connected to decides if you are creative or not.
Is creativity a relationship between the listener and the performer, regardless of their philosophical credentials and ability to reinterpret their own opinions and feelings? Do further questions arise through questioning our own perceived tastes and intuitions, our so-called innate beliefs and desires? If I haven’t done my homework, the creativity I claim to imbue might only be a clone of someone else’s creative stuff on the other side of the planet. Do we do it for ourselves, for others to appreciate, for the community to be inspired by, to gain social status, to have an attractive partner, to appease our vanity?
Research is a form of questioning that which is outside our intuitive program. Practice is the same ... we can practice to reinforce our skills, but also practice to expand our intuitive horizons. With questioning, research, and practice, there is no such thing as creativity and originality ... for it is through these activities that the pursuit of originality becomes fruitless and the least important aspect of humanness.
If you are the most creative person on the planet but you aren’t promoted or heard or seen or known anywhere, then does it matter? Is originality a stylistic choice, a feel choice, a woke choice ... is originality deemed more successful if it is presented as such in a one-sheet manifesto?
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument?
Differing tools of expression are unnecessary, and the consumptive mindset of equipment as it relates to creativity is punishing to your wallet, superficial to your maker and patronizing to your audience. All you need is nothing.
What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/ equipment over the years?
It doesn’t matter what tools you use or what your vocation/discipline is if you are riding the wave. All you need is nothing.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I don’t make music ... I am music, music completes me.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
What is a collaborator? Is life inherently collaborative, even as many people assume life is all about “me”?
The forms of collaboration don’t matter … the collaborators have to be open to collaboration. In some cases individuation is lauded as a bold sign of freedom, but in other cases a strict individualist without openness is known as a fraud ... like a sweet piece of candy burning holes in your teeth overtime.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
If you travel a lot as a musician, it’s impossible to have a fixed schedule ... life and music are the same thing. I am music, we are music ... this is the sound of music, and the hills are alive... livin’ la vida loca.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I don’t have a career, but every note I play is breakthrough ... break on through to the other side.
The venue may change, there may be a large or zero audience, I may have a lot or zero dollars in my pocket, I may be on the train composing a full symphony in my brain, I may be in my apartment playing a paradiddle for an hour ... music is oxygen ... playing music based on gaining career accolades means
I have absolutely no idea what music is and I should give up immediately.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
You don’t need to sit in quietude upon your cushion to meditate ... it can be experienced at all hours of the day no matter what you are doing.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Beyond music, I think it’s important to recognize the artistry of daily life that we all have the capacity to tap into ... through doing dishes, washing the car, on subway to work ... there is an art within the mundane echoing through all objects and animate blobs ... accepting this is one path to embracing diversity.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Question that which you take for granted... strive to ever-expand your contextual awareness ... practice to break down habits and steer closer to dialogue unhindered by cliche.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Drumming based on physicality and pushing the body to play as many notes as possible creates a heightened state of endorphin-infused epiphany and ecstasy, as if pushed to the liminal space between death and life. Prepare for this activity through exercise, stretch, water/food, and an exploration of technique and coordination.
Without food the sense of taste is useless... so it’s a question of perceptual understanding in relationship to how we experience the world based on human feeling while simultaneously questioning those perceptions as they entropically cater themselves toward self-preservation.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I don’t know if I am an artist … I practice music and play music, I draw, I write, I socialize ... Is it enough to be compassionate, to travel and meet and collaborate with a diversity of people, to be empathetic and make choices for the earth community before self ... to make decisions in this regard but without forgetting the questions and challenge of research ... to continually breakdown the intuitive/nationalistic dogma and be grateful extinguishing the ivory tower of branded ego.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
You tell me. Any answer works. Music doesn’t express anything … it is the human mind that assigns meaning to sound …
Listening is an interpretational skill ... if you believe you know everything, you are already drowning and I bid thee farewell.