Sunday, April 12, 2009

Music Tapes Interview

I have wanted to put this interview up for a long time. However the magazine I wanted to print it folded, so I will now put it up here. Not that there is anything wrong with my blog, but I simply wanted more people to see this. I would like to thank Mr. Julian Koster for sitting down with me rather impromtu and spending as much time has he did (20+ minutes) answering all of my questions. He truly is a great guy and I feel bad I wasn't able to see him preform(my ride left, thats the ONLY reason I didn't stick around).
David Glickman: It has been nine years since the last Music Tapes album. I was wondering if this was the case of, well you worked over it very slowly over the course of nine years, or did you stop making music and then suddenly all the ideas just came to you?

Julian Koster: Um, it’s the first one. A lot of it took a very long time to capture, in a recording, what I wanted to, because it was a strange way to conceive of a record because all the songs were born into me. You know, every song kinda has a soul, to me, like a person or an animal. I felt this tremendous desire to try to create a physical form for the song that would suit its soul very well. So there was a lot of attempting recordings of a song, and they would be really good recordings, but it wasn’t right to me and so I threw them out. And there were a lot of things that took a really long time to make, but there was also a certain procrastination which kinda about kinda of liking being hidden away and not necessarily being sure I wanted to be engaged with the outside world as much as you do when you put out a record and tour, which I now feel like is the greatest thing. I love doing it, I just felt for the time being I wasn’t comfortable doing it.

DG: Well you don’t necessarily have to put out an album and tour for it.

JK: Oh, but... the truth is it’s beautiful, it’s wonderful. I mean its such a wonderful experience. That’s kind of how life is. I mean if you ever... you know like swimming in the ocean when its cold. When your in there, it’s the greatest thing in the world and there’s pretty much nothing in better in life. But, have you ever stood there and looked at it and thought, "Oh my god, its cold, I don’t want to go in," and you stand there forever not going in. And it just seems sometimes that’s how life is. You deny yourself the things you love the most and you almost have to... it’s almost like you don’t get out of life without being asked to exhibit a certain measure of courage even if its your own funny brand of courage you have to do it, you have to do it, so for me it’s a bit like jumping.

DG: Compared to your first CD, the 1st Imaginary Symphony for Nomads, which was very... sound collagey, among other things,(your new one) has more of a stripped down and folkier feel to it. Was this done on purpose?

JK: Um, well it was a very different reality this record from Nomad and it was actually, some of it was born and conceived around the time I was finishing Nomad. And, I thought for a few minutes I was going to do like an old field recording, try to find an old field recording lathe, record lathe, and just record it all like that, like a folk lathe record or something, so it was almost something I want to make quickly. It’s very different. Its not so much that it’s different on purpose, it just ... it’s a very, very different world, so it needed a very, very different body; a very, very different form.

DG: On 1st Imaginary, there was the theme of aliens, youth, TV, imagination, all of it. Do you also feel that Clouds and Tornados also has a theme that runs through all the songs?

JK: Clouds and Tornados, to me, compared to Nomad which really was a story. And it was both a story and almost like an object. You know it was almost like a functional thing that you can use for a certain purpose. To me, like an amusement park ride that told a story, but that got you from point A to point B if you needed to take that ride, and you know only certain people need to take that ride. It is a very unusual record. This record to me feels more like a landscape. You know everything in a landscape is married. The trees, and the grass, and the buildings, and everything in a landscape is married because it’s all in the same landscape and its all in the same place, but each thing is its own independent entity, were as Nomad as a whole, to me, was a song, from beginning to end.

DG: Now I’m curious because, before you recorded Clouds and Tornados, you had previously recorded an album called the 2nd Imaginary Symphony for Cloudmaking, correct?

JK: It was a very intricate project, and I felt the same way about Nomad. I could say the same thing in a way. But the 2nd Imaginary was a lot like putting together a model ship in your basement that you spend years doing. It was very intricate to put together, and there were a lot of stages to it like working Brian Dewan. And so much of it was so special it took along time and it was the sort of thing were it was basically done just a few years after Nomad and not long after Nomad, but there was still things to do on it. You know it like you finished the whole thing, but you still have to do the trim and work on the paint. It took me years (to do), and I made some shared them with friends, just handmade copies. The final version, which I’m not going to touch anymore, it’s just done and Merge is going to put it out sometime this year.

DG: Really?!

JK: Yea.

DG: That’s cool!

JK: Yea, I’m exited about it and I’m hoping Brian will consent to preforming it from beginning to end, like I did in New York a couple of times.

DG: Because the entire record is just one song, correct?

JK: Well it’s a story, a long story, and it’s narrated by Brian. It’s kind of like a story with sound effects, sound collages and sound effects, and orchestration so I’m really, really thrilled that it will reach all the people that might want it because it became a thing where I couldn’t make many, and I would love to perform it from beginning to end.

DG: And I would love to see it.

JK: (Laughs) Well I hope it can come to Austin.

DG: For many lo-fi artists, back in the 90's and even today, they records like 4-tracks for the simply reason that’s what’s available to them and that’s all they can afford, but you go out of your way to record on things like wax cylinders and 1930's wire recorders. I’m curious why you do it and how you choose, because some [of your] songs are recorded on computers?

JK: Well the first part of the question, the answer would defiantly be that I love the character of sound, recorded sound. To me, every era of recording technology, from its invention forward, I lose interest in the 70's for the most part, however, until 4-tracks got invented. Until cassette started being used to record music, and there are great recordings I love from the 70's, but I just think that recording technology is an instrument to me and the sound recordings are really meaningful to people and they really respond to them without knowing it. People get certain feelings from hearing an old record or an old song on the radio or something, and they might associate that feeling with a lot of things. They might not think about the recording machines that have created the entire sound you are hearing, but to me those types of things are really, really beautiful and I just love them all deeply inside. I’m just honored and grateful to be able to make things with them . Was there a second part to the question?

DG:Yea I was wondering how you choose which songs to record on wax cylinders and which ones to record on computers.

JK: The songs tend to decide for themselves. I would say I pretty much don’t record anything (of a song) entirely on a computer. I think computers are really amazing and beautiful in the sense that make certain things possible that would be impossible. I mean you can record something on a wax cylinder and then record something on the wire recorder while listening to the wax cylinder, and then match them up on a computer and overdub something perfectly clear over that. Digital recording is almost like a freezer, its almost like you freeze things and so I like it for that.

DG: Your songs have many layers to them. Is it ever hard recreating them out on stage?

JK: Um... I guess there are things we’ve never tried to create as a band, although it just might be we never got around to it. No, to me songs really aren’t there bodies. Like I said before I feel like a song is a ghostly thing or a soul like thing, and to me it’s just a matter of it being manifest. It like your job is to give this thing life in a room, make it manifest. It’s a invisible ghostly thing and if you can invite that ghost into the room by banging your nose on a candle (there was a candle were we were sitting) when on the record it has a 15 part orchestration, banging your nose is fine just as long as it’s there. To me that’s all I’ve ever tried to look for.

DG: For this record, you did something, which besides you never have doing, very few Elephant 6 bands have ever done, which is you made music videos for two of your songs (he smiles). I was wondering how this came to be and how you choose which songs to make the videos for?

JK: Well, it happened pretty organically. I think technology made it possible. We’ve always wanted to make a video for "Television Tells Us." I’ve always kinda loved, when I was a kid, like the They Might Be Giants videos. I like rock videos, but there was to never a way until Youtube got invented and the internet got invented. MTV just plays so few videos, and when we made Nomad we really wanted Static to suddenly appear in peoples bedrooms and sing them a song. At that I might of cost Merge 20,000 dollars and MTV might not of played it and they just couldn’t risk that money, they weren’t that rich. We always wanted to basically, and Nessy (Gallons)... We started, me and Nessy and our friend Sarah would shot a lot of stuff on just high end video tapes, and one day Nessy got the idea edit rock videos out of some of it and then shooting more stuff. So he kinda started it and making them and now were just going crazy over it.

DG: So we should expect more?

JK: Oh yea. Its fun, you get to make little movies. I love movies. We're crazy about movies, just crazy about them. So the idea that you can make little films that people will enjoy and daydream with, that’s just such a neat thing to do.

DG: So is that how the Major Organ and the Adding Machine movie came to be?

JK: You know that came to be differently. Certainly out of a love for movies, but I think what kind of happened was that there was so many people involved in the making of that record in one way or another that no one claimed any of the money from the royalties. All the records sold and no one touched a cent of it. So there was this little fund and everyone was just like, "well someday will do something really great with it," and years passed and no one did anything with it because no knew what to do, and it was helping Orange Twin to have the money in the bank I guess. And one day Eric (Harris) "We’ll make a movie!" and that was it, that’s how it started. Although the idea for the movie, in think in some ways, predated the record. The idea of actually doing ... because again making a movie costs thousands of dollars, or use to.

DG: Thanks to internet, you can anything.

JK: Yea it’s beautiful.

DG: Back to the videos, is it ever hard to get Static to get out, or the singing saws, or the 7 feet metronome to act or anything.

JK: (Smiles) Oh, no they’re complete naturals.

DG: Well for your records, for both of them, you included these little gifts. For Nomad you included the pop-up and the, I don’t want to say comic, but illustrated newspaper, and for Clouds and Tornados, you included the CD holder. I’m wondering how you come up with this and why you do it because it's something I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else include; this stuff with their CDs, these little gifts.

JK: Oh, it’s wonderful, I love that you call them that. It’s wonderful to hear them described as that. I mean to me, it just felt natural to me for those records to have does things. The thing in the new record, I started giving friends in those. And I just sent one to Merge with the record, I sent them a record in that. Actually the one that came with the record is the one I sent Merge and they just liked it so much and thought "wait we can find a way to do this" because we had done pop-ups and stuff. Those records just felt like they would come in that kind of package to me and they’re the sorts of things that are meant for, I think in some respects, to hide away in or crawl away to.

DG: Can I ask you some questions about Elephant 6?

JK: Sure.

DG: A lot of people are carious as why, all of a sudden, you decide, almost out of the blue, to bring back Elephant 6, but the truth of the matter is it just happened, didn’t it?

JK: (Laughs) I just happened and I don’t know if I have the power to bring back or take away Elephant 6 myself. I think that in general in terms of my friends and things that it just seems like every last one of us when every we really take leaps of fate in a sense and we follow belief in what we love and do things that are adventurous or scary it always dominos with my friends. It always benefit everyone it touches and always encourages the rest of us to do the same thing and the next thing you know we’re all doing a lot more than what we were doing before and anytime that can happen, I’ve just been grateful for it. My friend Nesey definitely pushed me to get off the island (Julian lives on a small island off the coast of Maine) and put out the record and tour with my friends and so I had some good encouragement. But in terms of everybody, making things together I think it’s just we should be doing. We should be making a lot of things and I think we shouldn’t have gone away in the first place. It was... it wasn’t...

DG: You don’t know why it happened.

JK: I don’t know why it happened, but this is what should be happening.

DG: Was it hard? I mean it’s a 15-piece traveling band playing a bunch of everyone else’s different songs. Was it hard getting everyone and everything together to work this out?

JK: It took a lot of faith again, to keep using that word, but it’s true. The practices were crazy and endless and fun. I mean we had the most wonderful time preparing for it. A friend of ours has a little clothing shop in Athens, and she let us practice in the store room. So we all had our stuff there and we’d all be there every night for hours and hours and hours and hours, but as many of hundreds of hours we played together, it only felt like we played each song twice because there's fifty songs! There were so many songs it was crazy and there so many of us that we didn’t know what it was going to be like as a show. We just didn’t know what would happen and we found out ourselves. And we did it the first night it was just like... we were so thrilled that it all fit together into some form that made so much sense.

DG: So is it back in full swing? Should we expect the next Olivia Tremor Control CD to come out with the Major Organ DVD right behind it by the end of the year or something?

JK: I probably shouldn’t say anything specific about stuff until it comes of its own accord, but I think there’s going to be a lot. There going to be a lot of things shared over the next couple of years, next few of years and I don’t see it stopping I just see it picking up momentum. It feels like an awful lot is the very, very beginning to me. You know everything we are experiencing feels like the very beginning of something.

DG: The real thing about the tour was, not only it happening for the first time in ten years, but all the different people coming out that, besides not making music but hadn’t toured. Jeff (Mangum), Will (Curt), Bill (Doss), just all that stuff. I guess the question is, what’s the future?

JK: Oh, no one ever knows the future and it’s silly to pretend you do. I mean, I think I trust the momentum that’s happening as being something very familiar and very real and very powerful and do a lot and do a lot. Exactly what I’m not sure. I know everyone had such a good time on the Holiday Surprise. I mean everyone came home saying it was the best tour ever, for us. We just had more fun than ever. So everyone wants to do that again so time for sure and I’m sure we will go out west next time. And what else? But yea no really knows. We’re going to record another Music Tapes as soon as we get home from this tour I think.

DG: So your going to release the 2nd Imaginary Symphony and then record a new album?

JK: Yea, we’re going to start it as soon as we get home.

DG: Wow.

JK: Yea, there’s probably at least two records worth of songs that are waiting. And we’re going to make it very fast this time for fun. We made those other records in a very different way and I’ve gotten to accumulate all these recording machines that are so wonderful that it will be easy to record quickly so we’re going to try to do something that captures the sort of crazy momentum and feeling of right now as part of the process rather than making something that’s really complex thing that takes ten years to make.

DG: Is there anything you wish to add about... anything?

JK: Gosh. Just thank you for your imaginations and your hearts and your minds the folks who are reading this that have spent time and befriended the records we’ve made. It’s a really meaningful and beautiful thing. I mean to us and in general that could happen and its real special and there’s a great thanks to you.