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?
A day in my life is ridiculous, I am really a creature of habit so routine is super important to me and I think inextricably affects the creative output. I wake up, make breakfast for my partner and me, he takes the dog out and I get to writing. I do ‘morning pages’, which has really helped my songwriting since I started in early 2019. Three longhand pages to clear the channel - sometimes there will be a song, a few songs a week even, sometimes none and I just want to literally fall asleep it’s so boring, but whatever, my knives are sharp.
After writing, meditation, trying to get more disciplined with this. I use ‘insight timer’ and am working on mindfulness and breath work. Then fucking about on the internet (admin, emails, social media). Meditation MUST happen before internet or I totally forget about it, it just goes out the window. Then I work out, 30-60 minutes of yoga and then HIIT or I go for a run, ride my bike (often with dog in backpack) to the horses that I share. This is totally bonkers, it’s like a 25 kilometer round trip plus grooming and training two horses. Bear in mind that this is partially Covid-era survival strategies, like the level of anxiety and depression that I have on a daily basis kind of requires a lot of work to ‘even out’ and I have gone full bore into my bizarro true self because why the fuck not, the world is on fire.
Anyway, then bike home, eat some lunch and get to recording, if there is anything to record. I am of the belief that music is percolating in me even when I am truly fucking off, so if nothing is coming creatively, I try and absorb as much inspiration as possible: going through promos and bandcamp to remain up to date on what I am playing in live-streams, reading, kind of constantly hunting inspiration and trying to remain an open vessel. Evenings are often dedicated to 12-step recovery zoom meetings or socially distanced fellowship. Bed early, rinse and repeat.
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?
‘Silence is Violence’ which was a collaboration between myself and Maelstrom started as a kind of jam session between Mael on machines, myself singing and Niko (of French festival Paco Tyson/Sweatlodge collective) playing guitar. It was the first time I felt really good about creating on the spot in a more performative context, it gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to embody the thing i had always wanted to be. It is still one of my favorite tracks we’ve ever done together, has a really Atari Teenage Riot feel, and the structure of the track is much more ‘verse-chorus-verse’ than the kind of ‘hookier’ style I’d been writing previously. I think that track lay the groundwork for ‘The Practice of Freedom’, at least in intention. It was the first time I felt like I really pulled it off.
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?
As I mentioned, I really rely on routine for my mental health; I’ve been in recovery from cocaine addiction for a long time and structure really helps me feel secure.
I also find that the more I’m in practice of being ready, whenever ‘the muse’ calls to drop what I’m doing and make a voice note or jot an idea down (I have a private tumblr and a note on my phone with every semi-formed lyrical idea since like 2010 that I keep these things in), the more ideas come. Sometimes it’s just a question of sitting down and getting over myself and working out the idea until it’s where I want it to be, sometimes it will not come until it’s ready and there’s nothing I can do about it but keep changing gears until the song is ‘ripe to pick’, so to speak. But as long as I’m available as a channel, things tend to flow.
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?
Playing live, in the context of a band, is something I’ve wanted to do my entire life, so it’s really exciting that this year it’s finally coming together, and it’s a different feeling of exhilaration and delight than I’ve ever known. I want to barf or weep half of the time because I am so happy and also so freaked out. It requires so much more preparation and focus and guts than working in the studio, and makes DJing seem so stupidly easy, it’s kind of ridiculous.
Performance, especially singing live, feels really vulnerable and dangerous, like there is actually something at stake, and is making me think a lot more about how to write in a way that is fun, powerful, potent to perform; these two sides of the creative coin are definitely informing each other moving forward. I think the whole goal with each endeavor is consistently to become braver and more honest.
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 am like a raccoon of sound, totally trashy. I don’t hear whether something is good or not until I feel it in my body. I will get goosebumps and have a strong physical reaction when it gets close to this kind of sonic-emotional sweet spot, so it’s hard to speak to the specifics of that because it’s kind of like magic.
I will say that Vice and I worked with Dave Pensado to mix ‘The Practice of Freedom’ and hearing the way he was able to really polish and make the whole thing sound like a million bucks, while maintaining the fucked up chaos that was inherent to the record was truly amazing.
On solo production I still feel like a total beginner when it comes to mixing, so usually ask Maelstrom to help with the final mixdown because most of my instincts tell me to put distortion on the master. I tend to overshoot the brutality/ear-bleeding mark by about 12 miles whenever given the chance, so I appreciate watching real pros at work who can retain that aesthetic without making listeners actually go deaf.
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?
This is an interesting question. I guess my synaesthesia is really sensory based, very embodied, which would make sense given the fact that I come from a background of club music. That being said, I am really interested in intensity in all areas, especially creatively, so the more I can literally feel a song, both sonically and emotionally, the more interesting it will be, and this is the endless pursuit: I want to fucking FEEL it. I don’t really want it to feel ‘nice’.
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?
Oh hell yeah. This is so important! I think my personal creative evolution has a lot to with becoming courageous enough to speak truth to power. Dance music has a history of being based in resistance, and so much of my youth was informed by artists - especially female artists - being ferocious and empowered. It is my privilege as an artist to try and continue in this tradition and hold the light for the next wave of riot grrrls or underground resistance.
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 am personally interested and invested in the idea of music being an opportunity to build interdependent communities, eco-systems that can feed us both creatively and financially. I think there is a bright horizon beyond this pay-per-stream bullshit that we’re presently living through, in which the value of a track or an artist isn’t based on the number of times it’s possible to play on repeat, but maybe on the feeling or idea contained in the song that makes it meaningful and precious.
For instance: I can’t listen to ‘Blackbird’ by the Beatles. The memory the song holds for me is too powerful for me to hold space for unless I am really prepared; I want to save it so it retains this special-ness. This memory and therefore this song, are so valuable to me that I would pay a lot of money just to have access to it, even if I don’t use that access so often. Digital Streaming Platforms make it impossible to value music as such, and I think that there is a lot of growing left to do in both technology and in artist advocacy to make the value of music more than literal peanuts (at present, Spotify pays $0.00437 per stream. A peanut costs about $0.045. What the fuck).