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?
I have a full time job, Wednesdays through Sundays, and I make a point to not work on music on those days. Maybe I’ll read about theory or watch YouTube tutorials but nothing along the lines of writing or recording music. On my days off I force myself to do other things other than make music – I’ll do laundry and house chores, I’m in recovery so I’ll go to a meeting, recently I’ve been exercising again and going to the boxing gym, something I used to love doing but fell out of when I moved to New York. I’m married, so I spend time with my wife at night and our cat Bubzee wants my attention only when I’m working on music so I’ll entertain her too.
So all in all, I’ll get a few hours on Monday and a few hours on Tuesday to make music. This is the least amount of time I’ve spent making music since I was 16 – I used to go into all hours of the night, skip meals, and sit in front of a computer for 8+ hours straight. That’s not how I live my life anymore. When I run on empty like that and don’t take care of myself, I end up cutting corners because I’m frustrated and I don’t enjoy what I’m making. I think that energy – that desperation of “I have to make things and be a productive musician” was toxic and a dangling carrot. I make more music now that I think is really good than I ever did before, even though or maybe, because, I spend less time doing it. I still make just as much music as before, but it’s better now.
This doesn’t mean that the urge to sit in front of the computer and skip meals and other things isn’t there, but I’ve dedicated my life to an easier and softer way and when I take those actions my life is a lot better and luckily, just as a bonus, my music is better too.
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?
To be honest, I really think my first record with Daniel Blomquist, Wandering Eye, was a big step for me. I’m not even sure that it is our best record – but it was all such a happy accident.
We decided to play a show together as a one off experiment – it wasn’t even for a proper show, it was just a fair our friend Peter put together and asked us to play ambient music for. It was pretty immediate and surprising for both of us, possibly because we had absolutely no expectations, but we just worked together well. By the second time we played together we were already recording songs that would end up on our first record. Our first proper live show was opening for Grouper, an artist we both love – and I think a big part of that opportunity came from how we just elevated each other naturally and we trusted each other so all the moving parts fell into each other. We were ready and had a cohesive sound very quickly.
Working with Daniel has taught me so much about playing live and about the creative process. I’ve also learned how to not fight the tide while in the process – you just take a lot of leaps of faith and see where they go. Finding the right person to work with taught me things I would never have learned on my own.
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 don’t really wait for creativity or inspiration – those are nice things to have but I don’t wait around for them. The thing that gets me the most excited and in a creative space is just starting and seeing what happens – this does not always result in something, but learning what doesn’t work is part of the process.
I’m the most excited about music when I’ve started something that has a lot of potential, but I can’t get there without just starting it. I’ve also learned to not be overly dedicated to any singular idea – I may start with an idea and that idea may not even show up in the final song, I let the song tell me where it’s going to go and I don’t fight that even if it’s not what I was originally imagining or it doesn’t fit the record I am currently making.
I don’t ever know what’s around the corner until I turn it.
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?
I definitely know how music can hurt – especially when I’m being obsessive – I already spoke about that earlier so I won’t be too redundant. But as far as healing – yes, for me creativity is one of the small joys of life that makes the world come alive.
There nothing that compares to making art that you have the tools and know-how to create. Sometimes I’ll make a song and just think “this didn’t exist this morning” – it only exists because I decided to make music today. It’s a crazy thought when you apply that to any song you’ve ever heard or liked – what if the artist didn’t start writing that day? Would the song even exist?
And as a listener – of course music has been healing – it’s part of what even made me want to pick up a guitar or the piano in the first place. I’ll still stumble across songs and records and it feels like discovering music for the first time again.
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?
I think the line is pretty clear and sometimes the artist crosses that line and sometimes the industry crosses that line. The issues with appropriation are two-fold, does the work claim to be the experience of a certain culture when it is not and do the originators of a specific tradition, style, genre, etc. get credit for the creation of it and/or the financial dues.
I don’t know what it is like growing up now, but just as a generic example, I remember having to discover that Rock and Roll was a Black art form. Even later in life, I think maybe in my early 20’s, is when I first learned that Techno and House are Black art forms as well. A lot of what’s lost in history, or perhaps not really elevated or looked at, are systematic issues rather than the fault of specific artists. But, of course, if an artist is claiming to be a representative of something they are not, then there’s an issue of misrepresentation.
In its worst iterations, misrepresentations can be racist, uninformed, and misguided – how is a culture seen if the only understanding of that culture is through observers claiming to be representatives? I never read the whole book but Edward Said’s Orientalism goes into great detail about the current state of Palestine and the way the Arab world is seen by the West starting with Colonialism and art made by the Colonisers to create an image of the other, and how that othering was the only representation to the everyday Westerner. What is presented as a dialogue or a bridge to another culture is actually a monologue that has nothing to do with the culture it is claiming to represent.
I work in a museum that contains the work of a single Japanese American artist and someone asked if our shop sells something that opens up Chakras, and if we didn’t have anything then perhaps we could point them to a store that does. I’m making an assumption here, but I’m guess this person just thought that Hinduism was close enough to Japanese American and that that would be a sensible thing to carry in our shop. It also shines a light on the fact that there are entire industries that have reduced Hinduism into capitalism – any idea of a spiritual pursuit is now something that can be conveniently purchased. So what is the actual understanding and interest of Hinduism in this circumstance and what effect does this appropriation have? At its most innocent, perhaps it’s just a funny situation, but on a larger scale, it’s a complete erasure of a religious tradition – who benefits from this erasure and who is harmed?
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?
Music has always been very visual for me – I have slight synaesthesia between notes and colors. Images can have sound for me too – I think this informs my music, I tend to think of music spatially and theatrically.
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?
My relationship to art has changed over the years – today it’s far more along the lines of “what can I learn from making new things.” And learning doesn’t have to be anything grander than just learning a new way to approach music – but it can also be an avenue to ask questions and dive deeper. For example, how would I personally combine ideas X, Y, and Z – and those ideas can be conceptual, musical, production based, existential, etc. – just the process of exploring those ideas can take me places I wouldn’t go otherwise.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music plays with the imagination in interesting ways – I think that words can often fall short because their meanings are so concrete while music can go deeper on a personal level. A song can make you think of a friend, a place, a time, a situation, a conversation, a summer, a year, a road trip, a night, and any other combination of complex things that are specific and personal.
I made a record about a friend of mine that passed away, he died almost a decade ago now, but the record, Agnys, which came out on Spring Theory, was my effort of taking all of the music Shawn brought into my life and things I learned about making music from him and incorporating that into a record. It’s the continuation of life through influence on others – maybe a more metaphorical way to approach rebirth or infinity. But over the years I realized it wasn’t really the songs we both liked that made me think of him or miss him as much as it is when I hear new things I know he would like. Or new things I know he would’ve liked a decade ago. I guess that’s one of the crazy things about death – your impression of that person stays stuck in a time, they never get the chance to change or grow older.
Shawn isn’t the only person I know that has died and not the only person who was an influence on my musical taste that passed away. Alive or not, anyone that has influenced the way I make music or what I listen to has an effect on what I make – I guess that’s an interesting thought about what my music is an amalgamation of.