Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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?
My whole life changed two months ago when I moved to Brooklyn from western Massachusetts and began a graduate program in Performance Studies at NYU. It’s hard for me to describe a day in my life because I’m still getting used to the maniacal rhythms of the city after three years in a rural idyll.
I lack a fixed schedule, except that I drink coffee every morning. When I sit down to write a song, I need at least 6-8 hours of unbroken time, even though I tend to finish a song within 2 hours, or in one sitting. I just need to know that I won’t be interrupted.
My whole life is dedicated to the study and performance of music, so it’s less that the other aspects of my life may “feed back” into music and more that I’m really, actually, giving my life to this discipline. Even my desire to pursue a degree in performance studies stems from the fact that I want to understand sound and its potential as deeply and thoroughly as I can while I’m alive.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
If I knew where ideas came from I’d know the true face of God, probably. In everything I’ve written, I’ve just listened to the unthinkable/imaginary and have been lucky enough to be receptive and skilled enough a musician to bring them forth into our reality.
I like the idea that I am ambiently prepared, and mysteries just reveal themselves as much as I like the true fact of my craftsmanship. I always start in silence, in repose almost, and refine them by always waiting to see where things want to go.
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?
I think being creative requires that you be totally uncritical of your process and of yourself in the moment, that you’re open to exploration and humor and even to the possibility of further editing down the line (which I rarely do, but need to pretend I will in order for the best ideas to emerge). I can only get there when my basic needs (shelter, food, companionship) are met, and when I have a surplus of empty time where I can play.
That time, if you’re busy meeting your basic needs, is very hard to come by, is a major privilege.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I write songs entirely out of the studio context, so when I take them into the “studio” to be finalized, I face a bevy of different challenges. For Dehiscence, I just let myself write little countermelodies in the “studio,” improvising the vocal backgrounds, letting myself play a little and stretch out as an arranger. It was a very natural process, just using the guitar and mics.
When I worked with Nick Zanca on Auto, the studio became more of an instrument at his hand, in ways I’ve semi-deliberately kept mysterious. In both cases, the songs were written before I went in to record them, and the improvisation occurred in the realization of the music in “production” - infinite decisions to ensure a totality that is unified.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
All sounds are suggestive, contain references and referents. If you listen closely enough they will tell you what to do. The joy of that fact lies in that they tell different people different things to do. I’m lucky that the sounds I hear when I am in tonality (rather than extended techniques) suggest often backward or subversive tactics to take.
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? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Sound is always already touch, for me. I used to sort of care about the visuality of sound - I guess I always will a little bit - but it’s so much more about touch, a wave touching you, making you feel. I like art forms that are concerned with scent and taste and sight, but I view music monolithically, singly, planed between sound and touch.
I don’t know what happens to sound at its outermost borders because I don’t really believe in borders - sound is infinite, always. The limits of touch are of course different; but I think sound at its deepest is a touching art.
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 think I approach art-making differently than I approach being an artist, because I fear the implications of the “artist lifestyle,” in the world. I don’t think that works of art are in some way representations of an ideal, or that they show the possibilities for new ways of life, because I think that essentializing, idealizing, utopian view of artmaking holds art back from what it actually is, which is beyond subject and object, maybe just the beyond, here. We live in a world where the demarcation between art and life fell away and a long time ago, and that conceptual openness has allowed for weird postmodern projects to take flight and conservative impulses within art practices to take root.
Where could we go from there except “out,” and where is “out” if everything is allowed? Just as I don’t really believe in borders I don’t really know what the ‘frame’ is, not anymore, and I’m trying to figure out what that might mean for creation and understanding of art and life.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I mean, did we? Non-music is a perfectly valid form of sonic organization, could it be apophatically describing the basic concept of music? I think whatever vision of music I have is whatever I am not/hearing; can there be a “vision” of music? Does that mean that I can “see” some kind of thing that music is, like it’s a product or a being? Does music even have a “current form?” I think it has multiplicities of form, thousands of music is being made at every moment, and nonmusic too, in all forms and in all languages.
Is that the problem? Not a problem, but the problem we have to deal with, the endlessness of possibility?