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?
Everything I've ever made is dear to me for a different reason, so I really couldn't say one is somehow more important than the other. At the time I made anything, it was literally everything I knew how to say about what I was trying to express. I wouldn't call them ideas as much as urgencies ... I get overcome with the desperate need to release what's in my head and heart before it likely eats me alive. I let both take over, and just hold on for the ride. From the first thing I ever made to the last, the title always comes first, because I already know what I need to say – I just have no idea how I'm going to say it. Just as you can't somehow rehearse a conversation with another person, no more can you attempt to do so with yourself.
I don't ever make beginnings or sketches. Either a track or album manifests itself entirely in the way it was intended, or I destroy all traces of its existence. There is no middle ground. I'm not saying it's the best way to go about it – but it's the only way I know how. I was the same back when I was a visual artist as well... although those works, even if completed, I would summarily destroy as soon as they had been shown. Luckily I don't do that with music.
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 think there is any ideal state ... it's whatever state causes things to happen. I think any state – be it sadness, joy, pain, love, or any other – can fuel your voice in the right proportions, just as easily as too much can snuff it out.
I've made music in every kind of head state imaginable, as long as it somehow sparks the urgency to create. The concept of somehow creating different things if you're always in the same head state seems quite bizarre to me. Or maybe having one steady state of mind is something out of my realm of imagination.
I think distractions are good. .. they happen for a reason. Distractions don't force themselves on you – you let them happen. If you know all too well that what you're doing is the only thing you should be, nothing will tear you away from it. If music is meant to happen, it will happen. Sometimes beer, video games, and playing laser pointer tag with your cat also need to happen.
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?
At the risk of being super predictable in pulling the Chinese card, I would say they are a kind of Yin and Yang. Locking yourself in the studio for indeterminate periods of time, shut off from the outside world – or the Yin – is a completely inward-focused experience, a hidden, concealed existence, shadowed and amorphous in nature. Playing live – or the Yang – opens that shadowed, self-centered existence into the light, and the world outside, giving it a new and more corporeal context, but one that could never exist without the other.
I had great trouble grappling with the emotional vulnerability of live performances at first, stepping from the relative safety of the shadows into the light. In some ways I will never shake that apprehension, but I think that's what makes it so beautiful – to feel those walls melt away when you realize you couldn't be in a better place, with better people ... you're with family. And you can say anything.
Just as locking yourself away with your thoughts is important, so too is getting out in the world and being with the people whose lives yours has been strangely and inexorably intertwined, usually thousands of miles away – people who, though they have never met you, and half the time don't even speak the same language, know you better than some of your closest friends. Both are quite opposite concepts, yet they need each other to exist. Insert more Daoist precepts here ...
Although they are both an important part of the picture emotionally, on the technical side they are completely separate. I don't compose albums with any thoughts or ideas of live performance, nor do I play shows with any eye toward production. In fact, I don't allow any audio or video recording of any of my performances – and that goes for me too. That space and time was one we shared together, and hopefully will never forget (I know I don't), but now it's gone – as it should be. How we remember it is up to us, and the course our lives, minds, and existence decide to take. As our lives change, the memory will change with it. We will remember it as we want to. But it is in the past. And that's a beautiful thing.
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?
I don't really see how you can have one without the other, scientifically speaking, as sound and composition have a direct effect on each other, whether you want them to or not ... but on the same token, they're both wholly subjective. There are no set rules on how things need to be composed, just as there are none on how sounds need to appear. I have great respect for artists who do whatever the hell they want on both fronts. That takes a confidence and conviction few possess.
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?
Wow. I think such matters are surely better left to someone infinitely more intelligent than myself.
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 know that especially in recent times, more artists have begun to use their music as a vehicle for political or social discourse, but I have no interest in anything of the kind. My music has absolutely nothing to do with social and political factors – I make music about life, pain, joy, and the struggle with the horrible beauty of existence. I make it in the hopes that someone will listen, and understand. I make it in the hopes that I, and they, can know we are not alone.
We all have our own struggles with that horrible beauty, and should be able to share that struggle no matter where anyone falls on the political or social spectrum. Music should be a world outside this one – not a vehicle to wade into subjective social or political clashes borne from the one we're already trapped in. In and outside of music, I have no interest in telling people what to think, or how to live their lives.
Everyone is different – but music is the one thing we can share, no matter our language, beliefs, geographic location, or socio-economic status. Personally I see no good in taking the one thing we can have in common, and turning that into something that would drive us apart.
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?
It's already about as amazing as it gets ... an abstract collection of sounds that can say everything that needs to be said about life? Is there something beyond that?
I guess my only real vision, or hope, I guess I should say, is one that many artists likely share, in wishing music could be something to be treasured again. It's not a plaything ... it's everything.