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In Nylon Magazine (Mexico), Mayo 2010. Original English interview at bottom of page.
(Click image to enlarge page.)
Original English Interview:
When and how did you get interested in music?
This is always tricky to answer, because it's kind of like asking, "When and how did you get interested in food?" It's too easy to respond with some statement about "feeling" that would obscure issues of conditioning and exposure around which those feelings developed. My parents had this idea that everything had to start at age two. I don't know if they got it from a Dr. Spock book or what, but between two and three I had a massive influx of experiences - skiing (I was born in snowy Minnesota), ice skating, roller skating, etc. I have two musical memories from that time. First, standing on a black wooden pedestal at a Suzuki Method violin school - I held a baby violin by the neck in one hand, the bow in the other, both arms down to my side, screaming and crying. The instructor advised my parents to bring me back at age 5. [Laughs] The other was being taken to a roller disco with my mom, who liked to skate - although she didn't like disco. This was 1970, so I was lucky to spend the decade skating to disco music, disco lights... it was great. But my parents also had a strange reaction when I expressed an interest in something - including roller skating. Rather than focussing on that thing, they kind of turned a blind eye to it afterward. I'm not sure if they felt my having an interest in something meant I had been "properly exposed" to it, so it was time to then expose me to something else; or if there was an anti-pleasure "Catholic component" to it. Maybe a bit of both.
This seems a bit obvious but... were you trained musically?
No. I was forced to play violin at school from age five to eleven, and then trombone for another two years as part of a deal with my dad to quit the violin (the trombone was also not my choice, but that of the band instructor who told my father that's what they were lacking). I never practiced, and totally fought it the whole way. I look back and feel sorry for my instructors, since I really didn't progress at all. I could only barely read the music, and totally forgot it all as soon as I quit at age 13. My parents were also involved in church music (my father in choirs, my mother with folk), both of which I hated, so I would say all of this is what led to the anti-talent, anti-musical, skeptical aspects of my audio productions. I'd say whatever musical education I had actually "untrained" me - which I feel fortunate for, although I would never want to romanticize the experience of being forced to play instruments I had no affinity for. I can also recognize that, had my parents bought me the synthesizers or drums I had repeatedly expressed an interest in, I would not be making any of the audio I make today since my stylistic approach relies on a lack of familiarity with the tools I use.
In your last album you mention not being able to enter The Loft while one of your tracks was being played in it... How was New York during those days? I've seen plenty of documentaries about Basquiat, Haring, Paradise Garage, Andy Warhol, I have some of the comps (Ze Records, Bob Blank, Larry Levan) but I still cannot get my head around how was it to be IN it as opposed to just watching docs and hearing comps. I sometimes imagine ALL people hanging together (Basquiat in a party with Levan and Haring) but really I have no idea. Was there a sense of belonging to some kind of movement? I wanna get rid of all the misconceptions you can get by just watching those...
Well, the parties Andy Warhol and the art scene went to were quite different than other parties. I mean, I think most people can use their better judgment when hearing stories about the club scenes in various cities. If you are the kind of person who enjoys clubs, you'd probably find something enjoyable about them. If you're more of a crotchety cynic like myself, you'd find plenty to bitch about. It's like reading about the Fluxus performance art movement of the 60's, or improvisational jazz... it sounds great, but the actual experience would certainly be totally boring and requiring massive amounts of drugs to appreciate - just like clubs. That's just how it is. I think people who like to "belong" project that feeling wherever they feel happy, and the rest of us can just be more realistic about the fact that it wasn't so great, not so bad, kinda fun, but in the end just music over a sound system that probably wasn't balanced right. I've written and talked a lot about the connections between New York clubs and gender/sexuality/AIDS activism, so I'm skipping all that here.
When did you start to produce your own records and how did you start to sell them? Through which label? What was your set up back then?
My first record was a self-released 12-inch with "Raw Through a Straw" on the A-side, and "Tranquilizer" on the B-side, under the artist name "Comatonse.000" on Comatonse Recordings. Few people got that "Comatonse.000" was the artist name. At the time, I thought that would be my only release. As a music fan, I just thought it would be cool to say I had released a record. I had no formal distribution, although it was picked up by the now-defunct Japanese distributor Cisco Music. Surprisingly, people like Alex Patterson (The Orb), Mismaster Morris (Irresistible Force), Bill Laswell and others got hold of it, and liked it. It's all chaos mathematics, really (that's my atheist way of saying it was "luck"). [Laughs]
My studio set up was pretty much the same as today, except my computer was a Mac SE (the ones with the built-in black/white display and a 3.5" floppy disc drive). My main MIDI gear was, and still is, a Korg M1 and two Casio FZ-10M samplers. You can see pics of the gear in my first studio in Japan online (http://www.comatonse.com/reviews/soundrec0102.html). It was all crammed into a 2.5m x 3m room... still is. Acoustically not good.
Musically who interests you? (Producers, djs, bands...)
Right now, I'm all upset about the new Sade album, "Soldier of Love." I mean, so many of the songs are pro-military that they could have released it with a "We Support Our Troops" tailgate magnet. The lyrics to "Babyfather," which is about a mother telling her infant daughter that her Army-daddy loves her, even paraphrases the US military slogan "Be all you can be," repeating over and over "He's gonna be all he can be..." There is no irony or criticality in her militarist imagery of battlefields at the "border of my faith." I find it reactionarily right-wing in this era where anti-war sentiment is all but silenced. I know most people hear it simply like "all's fair in love and war," but the pro-military stance is absolutely there. It's upsetting that, after a 10 year hiatus, she would come back with this. But it's also politically in line with the major corporate systems she has come to represent as a formulaic "soft jazz" icon.
I think of an anti-military song like Everything But the Girl's "Gun Cupboard Love," which is about a woman telling her man who joined the military that she doesn't know him any more, and that she doesn't want their child to idolize him or be like him... how rare that voice is... I have fantasies about Tracey Thorn getting into a fight with Sade. [Laughs]
I grew up with anti-Vietnam War films such as "Full Metal Jacket," whereas a recent film like "The Hurt Locker" is a recruiting officer's wet dream - I could imagine high school kids who were thinking of joining the Army walking out of that film thinking, "Yeah, I wanna be like that guy, a man with the guts to do what it takes no matter what, and just keeps going back." I know those kids. I grew up with them. I find all of this incredibly disturbing and dangerous. And the new Sade album seems way too symptomatic of this era. I'm used to thinking of her sound as symptomatic of the styles of the time, but I admit I'm surprised by the ideology laid out in this new album. And I haven't heard a single person talk about it. Amazing. That's also symptomatic.
As for someone recent who I enjoy listening to, I really like the minimal ambient releases by Celer.
Why did you decide to have Japan as your operations base?
I always find this question a bit difficult. The issues that go into a person's relocation from one country to another are always complicated, since they involve visa issues, financial issues, various legal and social difficulties, etc. - all of which are simultaneously very private and very political. That makes the question hard to answer seriously, by which I mean not saying some bullshit like, "I always had a great admiration for the people of [insert country name]." The question also implies a kind of free latitude of movement in which people can simply decide to pick up and move, and pursue some dream or something. And people have a lot of misconceptions about the migrant abilities of people from countries like the US, because tourist visa waiver programs give a kind of temporary mobility denied to most people in the world. But this vacation status is very different from actually remaining in a country long-term. I think immigration is usually less about pursuing dreams, and more about attempting to leave a particular circumstance that was not working out - even if many immigrants use the language of "dreams" and try to look forward. It's easier. But I don't like that language. It doesn't resonate for me.
I am very glad Japan is my "operations base," as you put it. I've explained the reasons why in many places, so I don't want to re-hash them here. But the basic points are that the streets are very safe, you can walk pretty much anywhere at any time without fear, if people don't like you they just ignore you (instead of the US tendency to shout or spit or hit)... The reasons for this safety are clear to me - very few drugs and guns. There are plenty of problems here, like anywhere, but I feel safer in my daily life. And as someone who is transgendered identified, and who was always harassed as a "fag" in the US, that's more than I could have ever dreamed possible. Of course, the power of "the closet" in Japan is oppressive - but closets exist everywhere (even in the Pride-ful West), so I can deal with closets. Just let me walk down the street without being harassed.