We are focusing today on Dublin’s synth-pop duo, SHIPS. A musical project of Simon and Sorca as SHIPS started in 2012. Continously releasing a strong suite of singles since 2012, the duo has finally released their debut album last May, titled Precession. We have spoken to Simon and Sorca about the making of this album and how the concept of the album, which was inspired by what was learnt throughout their life, the past and future.
Interview: SHIPS By Satoru ‘Teshi’ Teshima, June 2, 2017
Hello! Very nice to meet you. How’s everything?
Hi, lovely to meet you, everything is well here for us in Dublin. Thanks for inviting us to chat.
We always ask artists this question. Please describe Ships in three words.
Sorca: Hmmm three? I’m not sure I have one that would do, Simon?
Simon: I’ll stick to empirical descriptions, Duo, suffix, journey
What’s the creative role between the two?
We write songs together and sometimes separately, and we record them here at our home, in Dublin.We both like to sing and play different instruments and we like to sit together and share production ideas, then try to make them happen, and we take turns making dinner.
We read that most recording is done in house. What’s your set up?
We have a small studio set up in the attic. It’s cosy, with a big sky light. There are some synthsisers, bass guitars, regular guitars and a few other odds and ends.
The music is recorded and mixed onto a computer and the rest is history.
You have been making music since 2012. How did it all start?
When we met we had an instant connection around our musical loves and we just took it from there. We’ve been writing and preforming together ever since. We’ve put out a few of singles over the years, each quite different, mostly just trying ideas out.
And in May, you have released your debut album. What took you so long?
We just followed the natural course of things, we didn’t rush in, and it happened when it was ready.
‘Precession’ is the name of the album and you said that this album draws inspiration from what you’ve learned in the past and what there is still to learn. Can you tell us why and how you reached to this concept?
Much of our experience of life is rooted in cycles. We are all part of our own set of cycles, from experiences, to emotional cycles and of course, intrinsically tied to the cycles of our planet, our galaxy and our universe. One of the beautiful aspects of experiencing something again and again, is that you get a chance to take with you what you learned from before, and add it to the experience, each time it comes around. Making each personal precession uniquely different, with something new to learn at every moment.
And how is it reflected in the songs featured in the album?
Each song speaks of parts of ourselves that have learned something along the way. They are as much a selection of songs about the self as they are about the experience of being human in general. They kind of speak directly from experience, none are abstract or have storylines, you might say they are upfront and transparant in this way.
I believe that by learning something new, you continue to discover more to learn. Do you agree?
Absolutely! Although at times it might seem daunting that behind every door is another door, it’s also very exciting!
What do you believe in music?
Music is a powerful evoker of emotion that cuts across barriers of language or understanding. Music is for everyone.
What’s next for Ships? Touring Japan anytime soon?
We would love to tour Japan, we’re drawn to your culture’s strong connection with the planet and respect for nature. We’d love to visit and play music there along the way!
Japanese record label Flau has been releasing an array of sensitive, beautiful music for nearly a decade, building a loyal following among discerning listeners in Japan and beyond. Their output ranges from folk and pop to experimental techno, but there is always a delicate sensibility that runs through every record, a quality that characterizes the Flau sound. We talked to Flau owner Yasuhiko Fukuzono about 2016 and where the label might be headed in coming years, on this special year-end interview.
Year End Interview: flau By Alisa Yamasaki, December 31, 2016
What were the most memorable releases to you this year?
Serpentwithfeet left a big impression on me, with both his music and visuals.
In terms of Japanese releases, I listened to Little Museum of Bird, Asa-Chang & Junray and Theater 1. For overseas releases, I listened to Lee Lang and Beatrice Dillon a lot.
What about Flau releases?
At the end of last year, we released two albums (Ocean and Farewell) from the Taiwanese ensemble Cicada, and did a Japanese tour as well. The first release from Flau this year was by Port St. Willow, a singer-songwriter from New York. We couldn’t do a concert here, but he visited several times and we caught up. He told me all about gentrification, Donald Trump and moving to a suburb up North with friends. I helped with the BRRWD compilation, the project between Repeat Pattern and Ta-ku, as well as Submerse’s zine. We also had releases by Submerse, Fabio Caramuru and Molnbar av John. I really want Caramuru and av John to tour Japan next year. For reissues, we had Robert Lippok from Raum and MOTORO FAAM from Flau.
Were there any standout moments for the label this year? What were some new discoveries as a label owner?
We actually had the fewest releases and tours this year, but there were also a lot of interesting experiences through overseas festival bookings and compilations. There seems to be more of a focus on “Cool Japan” music at festivals overseas, and I had to think of how Flau as a label should be involved in that scene. These days I’m interested in how to support the growth of artists who’ve released on my label.
What are some labels you’ve been checking out recently?
I like to discover new labels through Bandcamp and SoundCloud and immediately download music, but I tend to forget to follow up on the labels. I always check out labels that Flau has a close relationship with. Sweet Dreams Press is a label that continues to inspire me.
There are countless microgenres in Tokyo alone. Are there any trends that have caught your attention in the Japanese music scene?
I’m not sure if it counts as a microgenre but I’m interested in local communities that aren’t visible through the internet. Shifts in styles and attitudes among groups are fascinating to me in general.
Flau has impacted the Japanese music scene not only through its releases, but also through its events. How do you approach event curation? What do you have in mind when showcasing live music?
With our regular event Foundland, I do think about how to create a relaxing environment for music. I want to keep throwing events that have the music front and center, not as background music.
What makes you want to release an artist’s music on Flau? Have there been any changes in the “Flau sound” over the years?
I used to only look at completed projects, but these days I’m moved by unfinished work as long as the artist’s personality shows through. I enjoy the process that begins there, thinking with the artists on how to present the project and how to connect it with the public. The label’s taste has changed since it first started. These days I want to release music by artists from Japan and Asia.
What makes Flau special is not only the style of music, but an entire personality created through the record artwork as well. Do you decide on the artwork? Is looking for good art like looking for good music?
I usually choose the artwork but sometimes the artists have requests too. I try to incorporate artwork that reflects the label’s style. I tend to rely on my instincts but I trust Ryuto Miyake who drew the Flau cat. I ask him to do a lot of artwork for the label. It’s the same for music, but I like art that doesn’t try to be weird or edgy for the sake of it, and has a classy aspect to it. A playful spirit is always great.
Do you think 2016 was a good year for Japanese artists abroad?
There are plenty of Japanese artists who do well in alternative scenes abroad, but these days I feel like major Japanese artists are also breaking through. With the internet it’s become so easy to trace what influenced today’s music scene, so in that sense I think a lot of older Japanese ambient and New Age records are going to be talked about again.
What are your goals for 2017 as a label?
We already have a lot of releases lined up for next year, like records by British harpist Emma Gatrill, a collaboration between Tomo Akikawabaya’s project The Future Eve and Robert Wyatt, as well as new projects by Noah and Henning Schmiedt. As I mentioned earlier, I want to focus more on small, local communities. You’ll be seeing more releases by Japanese artists.
Flau is turning 10 years old next year. How does it feel?
I want to use this upcoming year wisely so there will be a 20 year anniversary to celebrate in the future. I’m constantly looking for new talent, so please send me demos!
2016 might be one of the worst years the history could ever remember. God can only guess what the future holds. But as for the futuristic sounds of music, we can always count on King Deluxe, a Vancouver based record label that specialises in exploring the most cutting-edge, visual, and futuristic (and unsigned) artists of the moment. We had a chance to speak with a founder of the label, PK. We talked about who King Deluxe is, their take on 2016, and their own view on the music industry.
Year End Interview: King Deluxe By Satoru ‘Teshi’ Teshima, December 28, 2016
Can you tell us a little bit about King Deluxe? Who is behind the label? Where is it based? We’re based mostly in cyberspace, with me running things currently from Vancouver. With me are a loose collective of artists that sometimes work together, for this label and elsewhere. Plus we constantly have new people contributing from all over the planet although a lot of those are animators and 3D modelers. I myself am a treeplanter, living remotely up in northern Canada for parts of the year. On one hand it makes it challenging to run a label year round but it also allows me to devote myself almost entirely to King Deluxe the rest of the time.
What’s King Deluxe’s manifesto? It used to be something along the lines of let’s make future sounds. Then it evolved to lets make future sounds and sync it with cool visualizations that nobody’s seen before. Now, it’s to put people right inside of our creations. And eventually have our art interact with them.
King Deluxe seems really particular about its curation. How do you find emerging artists and how do you approach them? I spend a lot of time obsessively digging for new sounds and visual art when I’m not living in a tent, so the majority of the people working with the label are those I approached because I found it criminal that they weren’t already signed to a larger label. In the summers I have lots of time out in nature to listen to the music I’ve collected. It’s getting a bit easier though every year to find a good data connection up north, so I’m not entirely cut off.
Globally a lot has happened in 2016. For King Deluxe, what was the biggest news? What excited you the most? On one hand the rise of global populism is disheartening, on the other we finally have impressive virtual reality devices, and a ton of creativity happening within this new medium. It’s early days but quite exciting to me. So years later looking back at 2017 we may all view it as the beginning of the slide into a 1984 style hellscape, but at the same time we’ll be able to escape into our stylized virtual dreamworlds, so it won’t be all bad.
While the streaming sites have been re-defining how we consume music, what’s your view on the music industry now? I know we’re not the only ones finding it difficult to reach audiences and sell our work, streaming is definitely up but overall I feel like we’re in a dip that won’t last forever. Soundcloud once led the way when it came to showcasing fresh sounds and now we need the next big platform to come along. These things move in cycles and I’ve been around long enough to experience the rise and fall of many others, including Audiogalaxy, MP3.com, and Myspace, to name a few important ones.
Basically we need central hubs of new work from those pushing the form, that’s easily searchable and is great for keeping tabs on the artist as well as letting you get in touch with friends with similar tastes. The scene right now is too fractured, but I do think there’s a lot of potential to make a living doing music. I would be surprised if Spotify remains vital for too long unless they overhaul their business model.
As for King Deluxe, you’ll be able to find lots of our new stuff on Steam soon enough. It’s the best place to find VR works and that’s a big focus for 2018. Expect music videos (and short films) that completely immerse people, with 360 youtube versions for those without access to these headsets. Also we’re working on a virtual music festival.
LANKS doesn’t need a label to help make rules. Neither did he need lots of money to create art. He collaborates with friends and family. He believes in people who believe in music. His third EP Viet Rose, which he co-produced with Andrei Eremin, is the absolute proof. The lead singles, “Golden Age” and “Holla” are emotional and experimental take on pop music, while hypnotic “Sometimes” takes hints from the likes of Vaporwave. The final song “Kyneton” may remind listeners of Radiohead ballads; bleak, ghostly, and poignant. Viet Rose, which is named after his favourite Laksa restaurant in Melbourne, is a wonderful representation of who LANKS is, and arguably the best.
Lights + Music sent this Melbourne-based artist a bunch of questions to find out who he is, how he challenges himself on creativity, the making of his new EP, and what he would do to a penguin in a fridge.
Interview: LANKS By Satoru ‘Teshi’ Teshima, October 16, 2016
So, who is Lanks?
LANKS is me. It is my current artistic journey and persona. Some people don’t even know my real name anymore, and this really does feel more like me now. In real life I try to be balanced and level-headed but with LANKS I try to dive deep into my thoughts and emotions.
What songs best describe your personality?
Of my own songs I think Holla is probably the best showcase of me. Emotional and uplifting and there are lots of layers and sections and ideas that all converge to make one big interesting mess. I think that’s me. If I’m looking at other people’s work, I’m not sure, maybe ‘You And Whose Army?’ off Radiohead’s Amnesiac. I like questioning accepted norms and trying to break them, and I think that carries that message a bit.
Have you always been a musical kid since you were growing up?
My older sister and I learned music together from a pretty young age (she played Trombone/keys and I played flute/guitar) and were always playing music together, and even went on to study jazz at the Victorian College of the Arts. So music has always been in the family, jamming out all together and being introduced to the fun and creative side of music first and foremost. My cousin is also a musician, making music under the name Ry X (also in The Acid and Howling).
How old were you when you put your own song online for the first time? Do you remember what it sounded like?
I was always making things, as soon as I picked up an instrument I like creating. I still remember how to play the first full song I wrote when I was 12. I’m not sure if that was the first song I uploaded or not, but I had a bunch of songs I uploaded to myspace as a teenager, and across a few different random soundcloud accounts I probably have a hundred or so random songs and ideas still live on the internet.
Living in Tokyo, it is difficult to see what is actually happening in Melbourne! What is the music scene/community like in Melbourne?
The music scene here is amazing! It feels like there are lots of supportive people and talented creative people all working hard and growing together. Seriously, check out Kllo, Hayden Calnin, Woodes, Big Scary, Andrei Eremin just to name a few. There are lots of people pushing interesting and creative music here, and they are all starting to really impress on the world stage so it’s an exciting time coming up I feel.
I read that you have a home studio. What is your setup like?
It’s pretty minimal and I would like to invest in a few more pieces soon, but I am also a fan of working with restrictions. I have a piano, a guitar, a flute, a mic and a laptop. I only have one plugin right now. It’s been fun making 3 EPs with this same setup, it forces you to be creative when you don’t have a lot. Working with Andrei Eremin on co-production and mixing/mastering helped me bring the songs out and develop them the extra bit they needed though.
How often do you write songs?
I try to write as close to everyday as I can. While on tour I have been writing a little bit less but still making things. I hit road blocks all the time but laziness doesn’t solve problems. A thoughtful, open-eyed, and self-questioning approach is best I find.
When there are too many or too little ideas and you are hitting a creative wall, what do you do to break it?
Creativity and songwriting is all about problem solving, and the longer you stand still for the more you get attached to what was there also. I think my creations have become a lot better the more I have learned to open up a song again and continue developing it. If you sit down and are prepared to spend hours on it and it’s not waste if you don’t use any of those ideas you just came up with, then you’ll be ok. It takes a long time to make something that you are really excited about I think, so devote lots of time to exploring.
More specifically, if you do get stuck, you can also try going for a walk, writing with a different instrument, introducing chance (write notes on pieces of paper and draw them out of a hat or roll a dice), forcing yourself to play on only one string on the guitar or only 2 fingers on the piano, etc etc. Essentially what you’re trying to do is break your natural patterns that your brain wants to walk down. Get out of your comfort zone, the possibilities are endless.
Acoustic and electronic instruments are mixed really nicely in your music. Instrumentation wise, how do you approach songwriting?
I just make sounds with whatever I have around me and that shapes the songs and sonic palette. I love playing piano and I have been playing guitar most of my life, as well as flute, so I experiment a lot with those. I like making sounds that sound unusual to me. That’s what I am always hunting for, something that excites my ear. And the process of creating songs with computers is like weaving a tapestry and takes a lot of time. I really enjoy the process of making things.
Your grandmother is providing you some of the artworks for your recent releases. How did this collaboration happen?
My grandma is a fantastic visual artist and after she designed a tattoo for my sister’s 21st I think there was always an idea in the back of my mind to collaborate with her at some point. My best friend and housemate Will Devereux had done all my cover art up until this year and all my design work, so it was nice to get him to work with my grandma and with her illustrations Will manipulated them a bit and brought a little extra to them also, a bit like a mixing engineer actually. I’ve always been a big fan of my grandma’s work and it has been a real joy to share in this experience with her. No matter what happens with my artistic journey, collaboration with my friends and family will always be a huge part of it, and I’m having so much fun making things with such amazing people.
What’s the meaning behind the EP title, Viet Rose? What does the title entail?
Viet Rose is the name of my favourite laksa restaurant in Melbourne. I live very close to it (too close) and it summed up the past year of my life. Their $10 vegetarian laksa kept me alive. I am a 100% independent artist, which has been a challenge with doing lots of support tours and making 3 EPs in 2 years, but ultimately it means I can release the sort of music I want to and I’ve learned so much doing that. If I release music through a label soon I know why and I know the reasons I would be doing that now, and that is a great thing to learn.
What is it like working with Andre Eremin?
It’s incredible. We both love food, which is the first and most important requirement. And he just has such incredible maturity and skill that he brings to music. It took me a while to find someone who really got what I was trying to do, and isn’t afraid to challenge me on ideas. But importantly, someone that I trust when he does that. This latest EP in particular would not have reached the level it got to without him, and the world will know soon how amazing Andrei is. I’m excited to continue exploring with him.
I noticed that you are an active SNS user (on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter). Do they help you interact more with your fans?
Yes. So much! I make friends with my fans. And through social media we can hang and stay in touch and live our lives together. Social media has downsides, I know, but the upsides are incredible. They take away some of those middle-men that used to control your channels to your fans also. Now it just comes down to you and the challenge is can you engage these people and build some connection with them, just like you would with a song. I think that’s really cool, and the internet has empowered us in that way.
Living in the golden age of advanced technology, everything seems so within reach. Do you feel that how people approach music has changed in a good or a bad way?
I am cynical about technology really changing things. I think humans are pretty much the same, emotional beings that they were before all the advanced technology. What that has brought though is that people can make complete songs in their bedroom, and they have a chance to develop those skills in a quiet, non-confronting environment, especially if they are a bit insecure and want to experiment before they are thrust into a spotlight. But ultimately, there were making people music at home before computers made music, but the biggest change is the channels (social media/soundcloud/the internet) giving these people a way to reach music lovers/listeners with their creations. And you can do it from anywhere in the world.
If you compare your life to a movie title what would it be?
Good Will Hunting – My real name is Will and I am always hunting for more information and knowledge. I really love new experiences and new things are what excite me the most. I don’t see myself as a genius or anything (in case anyone reads into this one too much), I believe in hard work, exploration and patience.
Lastly, if you found a penguin in a fridge, what would you do?
Cuddle it forever.
A multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Principe’s solo project Port St. Willow is following up Brian Eno approved masterpiece Holiday from Tokyo’s flau (cuushe, Noah) and People Teeth this month. Inspired by the idea to capture the moments just after an idea is found, his new LP Syncope is build heavily on improvisation. By leaving everything unedited from the recording sessions, it enabled him to capture the unique tension and pure existence of sounds. Closer and closer you listen, you will be sure to discover little things breathing quietly from far away.
Lights and Music spoke to Principe to find out more about the album’s concept, reasons why he was drawn to improvisation and thoughts behind the album title. Make sure to check out the soundcloud widget that contains standout tracks from Syncope.
Interview: Port St. Willow By Satoru ‘Teshi’ Teshima, January 29, 2016
How would you describe your style of music in three words?
Melodic, rhythmic, drone.
When did you first decide to pursue in creating music?
I don’t think I ever really decided…it just seems to be the part of my life I keep coming back to no matter how things change. I’ve been playing in some form since I was a child.
What was your first song like?
A saxophone and trumpet duet. It was not very good.
How do you approach music now?
Around the time that I began Port St. Willow, music and noise became very visual for me. I was still interested in writing songs, but I also started to consider the environment in which the songs lived, how to create a path to feel connected to that space.
What was the thought process for the making of Syncope?
I wanted to capture the feeling of opening your eyes and finding that you’ve been severed from yourself, surrounded by the most indifferent and true black you’ve ever seen, and then, after you’ve learned to face that blankness, jumping into the coldest water you’ve ever known.
Syncope was built heavily on improvisation. What is it that attracts you about improvisation?
There is something about the exploring involved…a newness to everything and you have to be present. You become aware of what you’re doing because there’s some sort of danger in that moment…that it might fall apart. When I was working on Syncope I was really drawn to this headspace. There were many things in my life that were taking me away from being present, and working on this record was a way to reset that focus.
One of the focuses on the record is to capture the moments just after an idea is found. What have you learnt from making a record based on this concept?
It’s a very intensive process to work that way. Whether it’s with a band or alone, and I remember feeling completely empty after finishing those sessions.
I feel very connected to these recordings…little things. A drone or a small bell sound, they feel worn in and made in a way that I really love. The slight imperfections that you let stay there unedited because it makes it real to you. I think there’s more of that when you’re capturing the inspiration rather than the best take. It’s quite a hard thing to pin down, but I believe that’s what drew me towards it in the first place.
I am also a big fan of the later Talk Talk records (Spirit of Eden / Laughing Stock) and I drew inspiration from those sessions where they were chasing something very basic and pure, and collecting those sounds.
Can you elaborate on the album title, Syncope? Did this title come from a specific personal experience?
“Syncope” means to faint or suddenly lose consciousness. It both relates to the literal in that someone close to me collapsed and as a result began a very unexpected and difficult period of time, and in the metaphorical in how these things that come out of nowhere can drastically change our sense of reality, and the beauty that you can find in looking into that darkness and laughing.
How do you see the current Brooklyn music scene?
It’s a very hard place to sum up as one scene because there are so many of them. While living there, I’ve met musicians that I admire and believe in, but the lack of affordable space and time keeps many of them from being able to produce the art that I think they could. Some make it work, but others, like myself, only seem to end up writing when they are away from the city.
Lastly what is it that you are most excited about this year?
After many years of moving around, I will have my first home studio since I lived in Oregon back in 2011. Few things can make me as happy.
Semi Precious is a musical solo project by a South East London producer Guy Baron. Following the acclaimed self-titled debut EP by such publications as The Guardian, DIY and The Line Of Best Fit, his new Herbert-produced When We Talk EP was released from NX Records in association with Squareglass, in which he is a founding member. His minimalist approach in songwriting succeeds to emphasise beautiful melodies and gorgeous soundscape, helping him to directly address messages that deal with “false honesty and ambiguity in intimacy” to listeners. Through an email interview we asked Baron about minimalism, working with Matthe Herbert and about his own forward-thinking music label, Squareglass.
Focus: Semi Precious
By Satoru ‘Teshi’ Teshima, August 30, 2015
Please describe yourself in three words.
Experimental bedroom pop.
How did you get about starting to write music?
I’ve been singing for quite a while but only started writing my own tunes a few years ago. I can play basic keyboard and try to do some “traditional” songwriting once every while, but I get bored of it quite easily. In a way I feel that I’ve only started making music once I’ve started experimenting with sampling. When I first started working with samples there was something very intuitive and exciting about the process, which very much triggered my creative flow.
Minimalism is committed to limitations. Your songwriting is evolved around limitations but what attracts you to minimalism?
I struggle when I have too many options to choose from. I think about my compositions as being rather concise and condensed and like it when things evolve in a somewhat “organic” way. It’s kind of like every piece has its own distinct and intrinsic identity. My music also often deals with notions of solitude and alienation and I feel that these sensations are somewhat linked to sparseness and reflectiveness. There’s also something about the fact that I’m composing and recording in my own small bedroom with a very minimal setup – I feel that the music should reflect that in a way, rather than being “big” and in-your-face.
“When We Talk EP” deals with “false honesty”. Can you elaborate on that, and why were you interested in exploring this kind of intimacy?
I feel that passion and intimacy can be quite ambiguous and elusive sensations and I wanted to convey some of the complexities they hold. The EP deals with several kinds of “unfulfilled intimacies” that cannot be realised for all kinds of reasons, such as lack of communication. I personally find inspiration within the unfulfilled, remote and somewhat broken.
What was it like working with Matthew Herbert for the production of this EP?
I’ve been listening to Matthew’s stuff since I was 14 or so. He is a true inspiration for me and I find myself going back to his works over and over again, discovering new layers with every listen. So I felt incredibly privileged and excited to work with him on this release and to see how he approaches mixing and production.
You are also a founder of Squareglass. With so many forward-thinking artists in the roster, what do you think makes Squareglass different from other labels?
To begin with, we’re all very close friends so I feel that this isn’t just a commercial label in the traditional sense of the word. There’s a strong element of mutual trust and we perceive the collective kind of like a “safety-net” – a place that allows us to experiment, stay bold and empower one another (creatively and practically). I think that collectives are particularly relevant for nowadays bedroom producers who work in relatively isolated environments.
Who would you like to collaborate with the most, and why?
I’m really inspired by Burial’s music and would be thrilled to collaborate with him. I think that his latest release Rival Dealer is a true and inspiring masterpiece that in many ways redefines the boundaries of electronic music production.
Finally, what is next for Semi Precious?
Doing more gigs with my band in the next couple months and putting out another, slightly more conceptual and extensive release sometime next year.
Eric Berglund seems to thrive off transformation. One minute he’s a baseball bat swinging, glassy eyed hooligan in Swedish pop group The Tough Alliance, the next he’s the secretive, tight-lipped label-runner for Gothenburg based indie imprint Sincerely Yours (whose catalogue has included things like selling $300 t-shirts with marijuana leafs emblazoned on them), and the next he’s a cashmere sweater-clad, rosary-wearing protagonist of CEO’s “Come With Me” music video – clutching a Totoro doll in the grip of some sweat-drenched fever dream.
But as continually perplexing, and sometimes problematic as Berglund’s music can be (in 2007, he sampled a Muslim call to prayer for TTA’s A New Chance EP, a decision that the Islamic community wasn’t thrilled about), his passion for the stuff he creates is undeniable. I spoke to Eric via email and talked about masculinity, embracing contradiction, and why worrying about the future is “so fucking stupid”.
Interview by Brendan Arnott Mar. 28, 2014
Quite elated. Excited and a bit nervous. Very free and still not free at all. Feel like running!
In contemporary English, the word “ceo” evokes a very masculine power dynamic, but the video for “Whorehouse” has you wearing floral headdresses, short shorts and blowing kisses to the camera. How do you navigate the images of masculinity you present? What does masculinity mean to you?
Well, I don’t think much about things like that. I mean stereotypes are around us all our lives and I’m affected and feel things and naturally transform with what I feel. But I believe theories about general things won’t change this world to a better place. Someone else asked me about the video and if I play with sexual stereotypes and I thought a little and felt the only thing I play with is myself. I just wanted to let go and do everything I felt like and saw inside, without questioning why. I just wanted to express it all, without censoring. That is kinda my navigation system in general, to trust the gut feeling. Art becomes utrue when you ask yourself why you do what you do cause it’s inevitable that it affects what you do.
Masculinity to me is being manly without being insensitive. A man can be awesome, believe it or not. I’ve realized I’ve always been very attracted by contrasts. Sometimes I feel a bit like I don’t belong anywhere cause I can relate to so many, seemingly opposite, things. Isn’t that strange? Do I belong nowhere or everywhere?
The track “OMG” pulls some samples that are reminiscent of gospel – something that might sound at home in a Moodymann album. Spirituality seems to be a recurring theme throughout, but what denomination do you pull influence from?
All. The essence is the same. I don’t believe in deciding who you are what you stand for. I don’t believe in dividing things, I don’t believe in boundaries. I believe in being free and flowing. In wonderland all is one.
Back in 2010, you mentioned that the world used to be “scary chaos… a whore house…” – 4 years later, the phrase “Whorehouse” makes a prominent return to your new work. Why?
Cause I wanted to express all the aspects of being ceo. And I’m still lost inside a whorehouse sometimes. I still feel like my ego sells and buys myself and others sometimes. And others buy me sometimes. And we fuck each other over. Sometimes. In 2010 I was so stunned by spiritual revelations that I thought I’d never feel lost again but it’s not that simple. It takes a lot of time to be able to realize what you believe in all the way.
Tough Alliance had an element of nihilistic self-destructiveness to it – “Make It Happen” features you in a bathtub at the end, eyes glazed, in another world. Is ceo a different Eric Burgland?
Ha ha, yeah, that kid was a totally different beast. I was very insecure and still very determined. Very senstive and still very destructive. I’m a lot more conscious of what I am doing these days. Sometimes though that little bastard suddenly is back and then you may find me in a jaccuzi, eyes glazed, up to no good. But the show doesn’t last too long anymore.
Does playing and making music pay the rent? Is this something you ever have to worry about?
Yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to live on my music for like ten years now. But still I worry about the future. I don’t wanna make art for the sake of it. I don’t wanna make art cause I dislike having a boss or work hours and shit. I wanna do it because I truly feel like my heart has to do it. So then I worry about how to make a living in the future if my heart doesn’t feel like it has to do it. It’s very vain though since if it doesn’t, it will find other ways to do what it has to. Worrying about the future is so fucking stupid.
To me expressing contradictions is very beautiful because it is real.
Do you find that speaking about emotions and feelings with regard to music means that contradictions ever emerge? Do you embrace contradiction?
YES! People contradict themselves a looooot but they do all they can to hide it. They’re so afraid of it that it seems to me that they make up rules and limits for their worlds and what goes together and shit like that to be able to avoid it. It’s so boring and so fucking untrue. To me expressing contradictions is very beautiful because it is real. Being a human is very contradictory a lot of the time. We are all pretty fucked up but mostly express the things we find nice. How we think, how we feel and how we act rarely go hand in hand. And it’s ok, realizing that and accepting it is the first step towards being more whole, being more pure.
Production wise, did you push yourself to do anything particular with this record that felt challenging, straining, uncomfortable, or unusual? Were the dividends worth the exertion?
Yeah, a lot actually. I decided to do more of the production work myself. I also decided to not work on it when I felt anxious or felt like I wanted something out of it except for just the joy and relief of expressing myself. So a lot of the time I couldn’t work and then I had to look myself in the mirror which can be very hard and also very rewarding. All this was fucking hard but it was so worth it. I am extremely happy that I have done what I have done. That doesn’t mean I’m extremely happy with the record, just that I am proud that I did what I set out to do and about where it has taken me.
ceo’s latest album, Wonderland is out now via Sincerely Yours/Modular and P-Vine, Tugboat Records from Japan.(Amazon), (iTunes (JP))
Mayuko Hitotsuyanagi’s music under the Cuushe moniker manifests itself as a distillation of dream pop. Traces of ambient techno, synth-pop, J-pop and chillwave comingle within her second album Butterfly Case (2013); however, her breezy coos and delicately hazy guitar and synthesizer textures tie her music to the dream pop legacy begun by the early 4AD roster. Quite literally, her music represents her intricate dream states as filtered through what she refers to (with a tongue in cheek) as “experimental J-pop.” Not content to rest on her laurels, she dreams to extend her collaborations beyond her compatriots on the Flau Record label and Julia Holter to the likes of Blue Hawaii, her tour-mate Grouper and more.
We caught up with Cuushe to discuss Butterfly Case, times of the day and year, places and mental states she has visited, felines, and her past, present and future.
By Maxwell Weigel, Feb 11, 2014
Translation by Andrew Brasher & Satoru “Teshi” Teshima
The whole roster of artists on Flau Records coheres very well sonically. Do you feel a strong affinity for the artists on the label with you?
Flau finds its artists based on the owner’s personal tastes, so I think you really get a little of everything. Being on the same label, I’ve had the chance to meet many of the other artists and I always deeply respect how passionate they are about their own aesthetic.
Having lived in London, Kyoto, Tokyo and currently Berlin, which city have you connected to the most?
Each city is full of memories and I love them all. Tokyo might hold a special place for me because it’s where I started, and it led me to make so many musical connections. Collaborating with people on something would really push me to dream bigger. I hope that I can continue to make music with many more people, regardless of locations and borders.
How was your experience touring with Grouper? You both seem to embrace the intangible and fragile in very different ways.
There were four people on the Grouper tour: Me, Grouper, and the two people who make up EN, one of them being my friend Maxwell. We traveled by car to a lot of cities and had so much fun. Liz (Grouper) is such a genuine person, she is never anyone other than herself. I was so moved by how much she puts into her shows. The last show of the tour was in Tokyo, Liz turned off the air conditioning and made the room so quiet you could hear the audience breathing. As the tension in the crowd slowly grew, Grouper’s music started to permeate through the venue. It almost felt like time and space itself were warping before us. After the show, I remember we were all drenched in sweat. Good memories.
Considering you made your music in isolation, how are you adjusting to performing in live shows with other musicians?
I recently do a lot of shows with one or two support members. I ask my friend ANDO from the band Golf and Yasuhiko Fukuzono, Flau’s owner, for help sometimes. Electronic music imposes a lot of questions for how to do a show which I’m still figuring out myself. Right now I’m really enjoying performing with a band. We come up with a lot of good ideas I probably wouldn’t have stumbled upon myself. Still, since I have to think about doing overseas tours in the future, I want to become confident I can do a great show solo as well.
Would you ever want to record in a traditional studio?
I started making music in a home studio, so I’d never given traditional studios that much thought. But reccently, I had the opportunity to record a vocal track in another studio and saw what a difference it can make (if only because you don’t have to worry about your neighbors). I realized it could add to my options, so I might think about trying it sometime.
Your lyrics are quite minimalist. What prompts you to sing primarily in English over Japanese?
At first, I wrote lyrics in both Japanese and English. Eventually I felt like I could use English more as just a sound because I’m not a native speaker. I do understand English a little though, so I can convey a message with it as well–I think it’s the perfect balance for me.
Which do I open, if any? It was a dream like that–so many choices, like life itself.
To me, your music often feels somewhere in between winter and spring. What season do you prefer the most?
My favorite season is summer. Everything looks ahead and I feel like I can do anything. Like with summer vacation. Nothing seems negative about summer. I usually make my music at night, so that might be why it seems a little dark sometimes. I’m trying to make a brighter song that would fit with the image of summer, but haven’t been successful with anything yet…
I create music without really worrying about categories. I’m a Japanese person interested in pop music so I guess you could say it’s J-pop, but I love experimental music and I’m sure that shows in my music as well. So you could call it experimental in that way. It’s experimental J-pop!
Tell us about the making of Butterfly Case. How long did it take to put together everything you recorded? What do you think changed in your process from your first album?
I made everything the year I was in Berlin except for the closing track, Hanabi. I made my first album in London in a very minimal environment. I don’t think my songwriting methods have changed that much since then, except maybe some new sounds from owning a guitar or a little bit faster BPM from going to clubs in Berlin.
What is the concept behind Butterfly Case?
The concept is a case with dreams inside. Butterflies are said to represent dreams, so a butterfly case would be a box full of dreams. Each song represents one dream.
Your video for “Airy Me” and the cover of Butterfly Case share a specific visual aesthetic. Was this continuity intentional?
It was more about just being in the right place at the right time. I was preparing to make my new record right when the video for “Airy Me” finally came together, and I got to meet the creator Yoko Kuno at that time as well. Her characters and her way of choosing colors felt really Japanese, but also had this real strange look to it. I loved it. Originally I was thinking of just having a simple, sleek cover for the album, but after meeting Yoko I thought maybe it would be interesting to have a contrast between the album cover and the actual music itself. My friends told me the two don’t really match, but surprise! That’s exactly what I was going for.
Please describe the dream that influenced “I Dreamt About Silence”.
There are many cases. Each one takes me to a different place or thing when opened. Which do I open, if any? It was a dream like that–so many choices, like life itself.
Having taken your name from a misreading of the French word for “nap,” do you prefer daydreaming to night dreaming?
I like both, but a daydream feels more special. Sleeping while no one else is…I like that. I basically love sleeping though.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
Blue Hawaii. I saw them just a while back and they were amazing! I really liked their song “Try to Be” from last year, but they were really different live too. Really intense, just awesome.
What is your favorite animal?
Cats. I love how they do whatever they feel.
Finally, what’s next for Cuushe?
I’m planning to release an EP from the US label I’m on. I’m hoping to have the tracks ready by March.
In both image and sound, Diamond Rings is an artist who works in brash, primary colors. The gender-bending solo project of Toronto-based electro troubadour John O’Regan, Diamond Rings makes pulsating, 80’s-tinged synth pop that’s as challenging as it is danceable. Diamond Rings first shot into public consciousness in 2009 after a string of stunning music videos went viral on youtube. He has since gone on tour with Robyn, performed on Late Show with David Letterman, and made androgyny hip again for the masses.
At 196 cm tall, with his trademark baritone, elfish good looks, and extravagant outfits (heavy on the glitter), Diamond Rings is a singular figure in music today. We caught up with the internet phenom to talk fashion, gender, and his new album Free Dimensional(2012).
Interview: Diamond Rings By Ben Landau, April 6, 2013
What initially inspired you to start Diamond Rings?
I wanted to make my own music and control my own image in as creative a way as possible.
Explain the title of your new album, “Free-Dimensional.”
It’s based on a quote by the modernist painter Paul Klee. He wrote, “it’s not easy to arrive at a conception of a whole which is constructed from parts belonging to different dimensions.” Each song on the record represents a different facet of my own personality and together they complete one other.
In what ways is it different from 2010’s “Special Affections” (surely adding a band to the mix must have changed the feel a bit)?
The new record was recorded in much the same way as the first one. I record and write the parts myself and the band is used only in live performance. Anything that feels or sounds different is a result of my own growth as an artist and my own changing tastes.
What were you listening to during the writing/recording process?
Everything from Kraftwerk to Kylie. I’m a big music fan.
The gender performativity of Diamond Rings has captured the attention imagination of many. Talk about the importance of this gender-play in your art.
I’m interested in exploring liminal zones. I find the spaces between genre and gender really fascinating and ultimately empowering. I really like making people take a second or third glance.
Being open and accepting oneself are themes that pop up a lot in your music. How have you been received in the LGBT community?
I have lots of LGBT fans just as I have lots of straight fans. I make my music for everyone and hope that it brings people a sense of empowerment regardless of their orientation. I also hope that my work brings people together in a positive way.
Your music is an interesting mixture of seemingly disparate elements (both historically and genre-wise). How did you come to this sound?
My sound is a simple reflection of my own tastes and interests. I’m always interested in trying to combine disparate elements to create something new.
What was it like opening for (Swedish pop star) Robyn on the North American leg of her world tour? Is there anything in particular you took away from the
Amazing. She’s an incredible performer and I learned so much about myself on her tour. It takes lots of courage to stand up and command a stage like she can.
People care about what you wear in the same way they care about artists like Grimes and A$AP Rocky. How does your fashion reflect or enhance the message of Diamond Rings? Or, to use the words of a fellow Toronto rock-star, is the medium really the message?
Certainly. I think my look definitely informs the way people engage with my music and vice versa. Everything I do is meant to enhance everything else. That’s the central premise of the album’s opening song, “Everything Speaks”.
Speaking of fashion, do you follow designers or are you more of a ‘whatever looks good’ type of guy?
I really like designers like Rad Hourani and Jil Sander who work with strong forms and clean lines. Anything that blurs gender lines and cuts a powerful silhouette is a great look. But when I’m hanging out around my apartment I usually wear track pants!
What are some of your non-musical interests?
I like to read art theory and draw. Right now I’m reading “After Art” by David Joselit.
As a fellow Torontonian, I have to ask, if you were put in charge of making an all-Toronto super group to join you on stage, who would you choose? What would the band be called?
I’d probably get members of Fucked Up, Austra, and Trust to produce instrumentals for Drake. We’d have to come up with the name together, however!
Without a photograph, a backstory or even a proper LP to their name, Tokyo’s LLLL, have become one the most blogged-about artists on the web. Binding the moody drone of My Bloody Valentine, the nostalgic dreaminess of Millionyoung and the warped R&B of Purity Ring into their own tense bit of magic, they capture a vision of Japan very much at a crossroads. And above it all, is the vocals; LLLL’s haunting, incomprehensible centerpiece. Set to release their new EP Mirror in the fall of 2012, we talked to a band member about the group’s decision to remain anonymous, the current state of Japanese electronic music and how the Tohoku earthquake inspired him to start making music, in what is the band’s first ever interview.
Last spring or so, I felt this urge to create a new project. Most of it was due to the frustration, fear, and anger that I felt towards everyday life in reaction to the Tohoku earthquake that happened in Japan. I want to point out though that this is not some kind of political statement. We were more interested in capturing the atmosphere and human spirits that changed so dramatically after the quake. Around that same time I met the singer and we start working on the songs together.
What does your name mean?
I knew I wanted to name our band something that looks visually interesting. Much more than the sound, I decided the name based on the way it looks. You can pronounce it (four el) or (el el el el) or really any way you like. And the other meaning is that LLLL is 7777 upside down. 7 being a lucky number, I felt was ironic. Considering what Japan was going through then, I felt cynical about luck in general.
Why the lyrical focus on Japan’s April 2011 Tohoku earthquake? To what extent were you affected?
I don’t know if our lyrics focus so much on the quake itself. It’s more on just life and atmosphere of that time. But back then so much of so many people’s thoughts were consumed by the quake and the events that followed because of it. It was really surreal, in a frustrating way, and as an artist I felt the need to express it. But this is starting to change since both of us are inspired by other things besides the quake.
Thus far, you have been careful not to reveal your real identities. Why the anonymity?
This project is about music and I wanted it to be about music. But I don’t mean to do this in a way that anonymity becomes some kind of a thing in the band… like Daft Punk or something like that. I will want to play live shows in the future and have no intentions of putting on silly masks or anything like that. But I don’t know why bands need to have promo pictures, bios, life story and all of this. We make music and that is who we are.
Tell us about the new record.
This one is an interesting one. It’s different because we didn’t have a concept to begin with. It’s not conceptual like the previous EPs so I think the sound of this EP will have more variety. Also with the previous records our sound was very much influenced by the chill wave/witch house/trill wave scene but this time I tried not to put too much emphasis on what is current in electronic music scene. Also, I wanted to make sure that this record maintained some pop elements because that is my favorite type of music.
Your lyrics are also extremely hard to make out. Is this on purpose? Do you write in English or Japanese?
These are all in English. This is not on purpose, me and the singer did a lot of experiments to find what fit the mood of the songs the most and this is what we ended up with.
What style of music do you associate yourselves with?
I am not so sure, often time people tell me what we sound like and it really surprises me. So I leave it up to the listeners to categorize us.
What do you think of the current state of Japanese alternative music?
It’s good and bad. I think it’s good because there are a lot of great bands that are emerging from this country right now. It’s bad because the market is not really big enough to support many musicians livelihoods. Often a lot of us look to the Western market to find “real success”. But I think it really needs to change. I hope maybe in the future, the Asian community as a whole will form a new alternative market just as America/England/Europe already have their own united alternative music scenes.
How does your culture affect the way you create? Do you think of yourselves as a Japanese band?
We are both are Japanese but my life is very much bi-cultural since I grew up in a western country for some of my youth. We do think we are a Japanese band. So much of our inspiration comes from living in Japan, and especially living in Tokyo. But as far as knowledge of current music and everything with the age of the internet, I don’t know my musical taste is so different from creators in NYC/Paris/Seoul.
Earlier, you told me “technology is overrated for making music.” Care to elaborate?
I use computers to create my music and it is finalized in a digital medium. I am constantly aware of whether my musical source is from a digital or analogue device. I think there is something about digital-driven sound that is too obvious and simple to me. I think so much of mystery of sounds happen in between the zeros and ones of digital devices.
What makes you productive as a musician?
Just living and trying to open my ears, eyes, and heart to what is around me.
Who are some other emerging Japanese acts that we should know about?