Name: John Niekrasz and Luke Wyland
Current Release: Methods Body on New Amsterdam Records / Beacon Sound
Recommendations: November, 1981 by Bill Dixon / My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menake
Website/Contact: Read up about John and Luke, with links to music and tours on their website www.methodsbody.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
John: I remember writing songs on piano and snare drum when I was seven or eight years olds in the style of the Beastie Boys and Janet Jackson. I recorded them on an old boom box. My sisters and I went to grade school with Tim and Mike Kinsella (of Owen, Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc) and their mom was my third-grade teacher. She sang and played the piano in class every day. I remember hearing a Cap’n Jazz 7” when I was 12 and feeling like it was the first time in my life I was not being lied to. In school, I was in musicals and orchestra. I started metal bands. but my heroes were in the Chicago punk scene, and that eventually glided into the Chicago avant jazz scene. Chicago has always held a sense of musical rigor and, in those early days, we had a real community. I feel like what was happening in those basements and VFWs mattered. I loved US Maple, Trenchmouth, Los Crudos, Hamid Drake, Fred Lonberg-Holm…
Luke: I began writing and recording music on a 4 track in high school. Primarily identifying as a visual artist at that point in my life, the texture, color, and architecture of sound first drew me in. I recall listening to Herbie Hancock’s ‘Headhunters’ with my best friend, Nick Park, when my brain finally opened to the immersive landscapes of music. I have not stopped exploring it since.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Luke: The recordings I made as AU from 2005-13 are clear documents of my learning phase as a composer and producer. I think if you keep doing something long enough, you find your way out of emulating others and start to trust your own idiosyncratic voice. Copying. learning and finding my own creativity are like the seasons of a year. Invariably I find myself moving from one to the next and then back again.
John: I developed my compositional and instrumental voice over a dozen years with my band Why I Must Be Careful. Seth Lazuli (neé Brown) and I wrote hundreds of compositions based on the rhythms and cadences of language. Everything we wrote was too hard for us to play, so we were forced to grow and improve to share our voice. I naively thought I was working in a purity vacuum, striving to make something totally unique and new. The music I love has always pushed toward innovation but now I know I am influenced by EVERYTHING, even things I think I despise. Everyone gets a seat at the table.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Luke: Being self-taught in most things’ music especially recording and producing, left me deeply frustrated at not being able to get things to sound like I heard them in my head. I was so interested in artistic exploration and ignored the actual science of engineering sound that a lot of my early records suffer from being over saturated. Balance and space are key, something I still push against. As I mature, I think the goal is to continue to carve away more and more of the superfluous parts and sounds.
John: Documentation has always been my challenge. I probably be perfectly happy just performing and improvising. Recording is not my passion, but I am learning a lot and finally starting to enjoy making records. Otherwise, my main compositional challenge is just clearing time and emotional space out of what feels like an increasingly complex world. Continuing to arrange my life in such a way that I am able to dedicate my best energies to my art.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
Luke: My first studio was in my little bedroom while I was attending art school. I used to flip up my mattress and lean it against the wall to make room for recording on my digital 8 tracks, mostly everything I recorded was through a single SM 58 mic. I now exist primarily in the computer realm with numerous MIDI controllers to extend the expressiveness of different digital instruments. For live performance, Ableton is one of the most important things in my setup.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Luke: Technology is central to my current evolution as a composer/performer. The more I learn and the deeper I dive into the computer’s potential, the closer I get to actualizing some of the more esoteric musical ideas that I have been striving for. I can only speak to what I feel I might excel at in reference to your second question. So, for me, emotionality and improvisation are my strengths. I feel machines within the artistic process can excel at allowing us all to dream bigger.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
John: I’m committed to composing and playing in ways that push the drum set as a melodic and lyrical instrument, freeing this instrument from its traditional ‘support’ role as timekeeper, expanding the repertoire and potential of the drums as an instrument that can carry the emotional and meaning-center of music.
Luke: There is a deep relationship to the feedback and quirks of working with digital music. I might be looking for a certain sound or effect, and what comes back to me while I tinker can be mysterious and surprising, inspiring tangents that can often be quite fruitful. I enjoy feeling as if the machine has a life of its own, with a personality that asks for little unexpected frictions between me and the machine.
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?
Luke: Collaboration for me is the art of connection and relationship building. Each dynamic brings different ways of sharing in the joys of a creative practice. What emerges at its best, is a complex expression of deep friendship and love.
John: I cherish my time alone at the instrument, but I am an improviser and collaborator by nature. Playing with folks is a how I grow best. Luke and I have a special collaborative relationship, we are always making new music together and our energies really click. I have found it Is especially important for me to have musical relationships that center on composition and repertoire as well as relationships where the music is totally improvised.