Interview • How To Dress Well
You’re in Paris on the day The Anteroom is out. Is it a good place to deal with the pressure or the anxiety of having an album released?
I would say it’s neither a good or a place to deal with that experience. I woke up really, really early this morning and got in a car and drove from Amsterdam to Paris. I didn’t have data service until we crossed the French border and all of a sudden, I had literally hundreds of notifications. I was like “Oh! The world knows!” (laughing) I think it has something to be out in 2018 and not 2010 when I put my early record. The response has been insane and there’s so much more interactions. It’s been an extremely beautiful day!
The Anteroom marks the return to a more experimental approach. Could you come back on the origins of this record? Why did you have this need to go back to the roots?
I don’t really know… I mean I know now. Two years ago, I moved from Chicago to LA after an intense breakup and it was a very deeply sad transition in my life. I kinda thought I was moving to LA to get away from things that I thought were wrong in my life and then I got to LA and I realised that it was extremely isolated. You’re alone in your home, you’re alone in your car, there’s no common space in LA. There’s no town square or terraces where people have drinks, it’s very fucking isolated. I thought I was going to escape things but I learnt very intensively that I am the Hell. It was 100% within me. It’s really bad being in America right now, it’s super rageful and stressed out. In my mind and in the world, I just started to find myself gravitating a lot more towards a music that gives off a signal to a community. Pop music in general doesn’t really form a community, you’ve got a figurehead that is sort to speaking out to a general “you”. In avant-garde music, it’s very different. The concept is totally different. The artist respects the work and the listener and the listener respects the work and the artist, it’s way more in a logic of a community than authority. I needed that.
You said you can’t tell if this album saved your life or if it was a completely nightmare. The idea of suffering is at the core of The Anteroom and I was wondering if you agreed with Nietzsche “To live is to suffer. To survive is to find some meaning in suffering”?
The interesting thing about meaning is that it also seems like a miracle to interrupt the suffering, that something Nietzsche doesn’t really seem to get to me in that phrase. Our bodies incline towards violence and slaughter and that’s just a fact. If your body doesn’t break down, your mind surely will. Nietzsche also said “life is a subspecies of death, an incredibly rare one”, that’s true but somehow, occasionally, you can make the disaster hiccups with meaning. I would rather say find meaning against the suffering.
The Anteroom is a huge collage with two main interludes, Nonkilling and False Skull. How do they bind everything together?
I kinda just started doing it like for no reason and then I started to realise they’re like antipodes. Nonkilling is this idea that you can be in the world and be pure peace. The concept to me is a false one, it is as false as False Skull. The idea that you can be in the world and not have this agonistic thing is not possible. No matter how hard you try you gonna squashing some micro-bio entity but obviously that doesn’t mean we should just encroach the fucking world. Just because you can’t get to nonkilling, you should get all the way to absolutely scorch Earth, that’s the false skull. I started to think of these two poles like a false but ideal pure peace, which is also equivalent to death or never having been born, and this false but ideal pure rage, also equal to death. I started to make all this different music and sorted in this way: “Oh, that’s really beautiful, that’s a Nonkilling type”, “That’s crazy, that’s what False Skull is”! (laughing) That’s how it came about!
Your recording process usually starts with the vocals. I was wondering how you worked on Love Means Taking Action cause, obviously, the melody was already there.
Yes, but none of the vocal melody! That was the easiest one, I was listening to it in my car, on repeat, and I was just singing to it. I just needed to arrange a few things and put some noise in the background.
Do you know if Croatian Amor likes it?
I don’t know! I really like him and his music. I think it’s quite special. There’s this group he tours with, The Empire Line, that I’m like really impressed by. It’s like hard industrial techno with aggressive vocals on it, it’s very powerful!
You worked with Joel Ford (Autre Ne Veut, Oneohtrix Point Never) on The Anteroom. How did you come to work with him?
So, this is very funny! I’m very good friend with some of his good friends. He was living in New York and I just got in LA. I was in a big group chat, like 20 people, and I was asking CFCF Mike Silver to come to LA to work on music. Joel said he wanted to come too. When they both came to LA, we started working together and after he’d left away, he sent me a message. “I have completely fallen out of love with making music over the last four years, I really wanna do this record ‘cause I think fall back in love again with music by making this record.” He had a really tough time in the music industry. I decided to come to New York for 2 weeks to see how it felt like and I actually stayed 6 weeks. After that, he moved to LA. He messaged me today for the release and I thanked him. He wrote “Thank YOU, you single-handedly revived my love for making music and made it possible for me to move to LA, expand my family and continue my life on this radical path!” We’ve become like best friends, he’s so insanely talented!
Ocean Vuong can be heard on Brutal and Hunger opens with a distorted stanza from Li-Young Lee. In what way poetry influences your music?
I’m old enough now that I can periodicities in my life. I’ve come to realise I’m on about a nine-year cycle with like intense, obsessional, mystical thoughts and poetry and mind-expanding projects. When I was like 18, I did this journal where I wrote the same phrase over and over and over. My idea was that if I wrote the same phrase over and over and over, I thought I could meet myself through this phrase. I was deeply involved in Baudelaire and Rimbaud. They were flamboyant and at that age I was taking like monumental doses of psychedelic drugs just trying to change something in my life. I was deeply sad and in 2007 I moved to Germany, and like in LA, I was very alone. Now I’m back around in this investment in mystical traditions and poetry. I have to say that this book by Frank Bidart called Metaphysical Dog kinda inspired a lot of my last few years. There’s a line where he says “Man needs a metaphysics; he cannot have one” that’s kinda connected to the Nonkilling/False Skull. I want some metaphysical grounds to stand on because I’m a human but also because I’m a human I cannot have one. That’s the tension at the heart of our situation or whatever. Before I started studying Philosophy, I applied for a degree in Poetry. Poetry and music are the most important things to me.
Let’s end this interview with a game. I’m going to give you beginnings of famous songs and you’ll have to finish the sentence with your own words.
if you wanna be my lover you gotta … be extremely kind.
I’m up all night to … go to a rave.
I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself… “Is life worth living?”
You gotta fight for your right to … resist.