Tagged with " Tiny Waves"
Tallahassee producer, Billinski, builds heavily textured and often hypnotic beats out of jazz samples, found sounds, synthesizers, and whatever else catches his ear. His music often balances on the border between head-nodding hip-hop and full-on psychedelia. For a beat maker, Billinski is not afraid to craft an ambient soundscape and give it time to really open up.
Billinski had this to say about his upcoming album, We See It Our Own Way, which is due out on Grappa Frisbee later this month:
I initially was all about finding old fashioned samples, Sinatra, Judy Garland, movie soundtracks. Now for this album in particular I tried to have it in sections where I have old fashioned sounds, then jazzier with the Coltranes, Nina Simone etc, then moves toward more abstract stuff, layered with synths and noises.
Listen to his track “Drip” below:
Written by: Ben Varian, Tiny Waves Tallahassee Correspondent
Still on the heels of their latest album The Seer, Swans don’t show any signs of slowing down. They’ve been at it for well over twenty years and yet the scope of their ambition eclipses that of most artists working today. We recently got a chance to sit down with an amiable Michael Gira to get a bit of insight about his creative process, his views about art, and the ever-changing musical landscape.
Hey Michael. How are you doing?
I’m doing well, thanks. Yourself?
Where are you?
I’m in New York. I just moved here two weeks ago. Where are you?
I’m upstate. I’m near Woodstock.
Oh, awesome. It must be so cold up there right now.
It is. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Well, I wanted to get started with a little bit of background. A lot of people and publications would associate Swans with the No Wave scene from the 80′s. Do you personally associate yourself with No Wave and that scene?
No, that’s a misconception. I would say that No Wave was probably dead by ’80 or ’81. It was a very short-lived thing. When I moved to New York City, it was certainly ending. I did move to New York partially because I thought that music was great and I thought that it was a place where anything could happen. I liked the fact that No Wave kind of followed the lessons of punk to it’s logical conclusion i.e. punk would say ,”just three chords”, and No Wave said, “no chords.” [Laughs]
I took that as an inspiration also with lots of different groups at the time like Suicide for instance, The Stooges, or even Kraftwerk— just using sound and making things happen. Not really worrying about chord progressions too much. The music changed among the years of course, but I wouldn’t say we were a No Wave or associated with it because we came after.
It just seems to be something that Swans gets attached with for some reason.
Yeah, it was a long time ago, but that’s the accurate facts.
Cool. Can you see the influence of No Wave in more modern music?
Oh, I don’t know. To be honest, I hardly listen to any contemporary music, so I couldn’t tell you. It was an influence for me at the time. Something to aspire to, but not to sound like. A lot of that stuff was scratchy and annoying. Just the emotional raw intensity of it and the fierce commitment to making something happened with limited means makes things interesting.
Besides No Wave, what would you say influenced you growing up?
Oh god. I’m old enough that I experienced acid rock on acid. [Laughs] Everything from The Mother’s of Invention, to The Doors, to Pink Floyd, The Seeds. All the music from the 60′s. Later on, I was a huge fan of David Bowie, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, The Stooges of course, and Black Flag I liked a lot at the time. It’s been so long that I don’t even think about it. The idea of influence hasn’t even entered my brain in years.
With the way that Swans’ songs build, how much spontaneity plays into? Is it very spontaneous or do you know exactly what you want to do?
Both. The longer songs on the album ‘The Seer’ were developed live during a year of touring. They started out as just a groove or even a notion, and we just started playing them in front of people and forcing ourselves to try to make something happen. Gradually, the structure developed and then we’d play that structure, but we were almost always open to shifting it or improvising within as it grows. We’re still doing that some of the same songs we’re playing live, they’re still growing and changing. By improvisation, I don’t mean individual players kind of noodling or soloing. It’s a committed way of advancing the agenda of the sound and trying to lose yourself in the sound that’s bigger than all of us.
Awesome. I can understand what you mean. Sometimes when you get into that zone of a jam, it just builds and you don’t really know where it’s going to go.
We don’t really jam. Jam implies to me playing and seeing what happens. It’s within the context of the focus of the song. Like now for instance, we’re playing half the set is unrecorded material and that’s just finding its shape through these concert’s we’re doing now. It’s working out well. Always changes. We’ll do something one night and I’ll hear something good or bad in it and in sound check we’ll adjust a couple of things. Things keep growing organically that way.
Would you consider Swans to crossover into the realm of performance art or is it really all about the music?
Performance art is ok I guess, but I don’t really have any affinity for it. I was interested in it a century ago when I was in art school. I just try to be a good entertainer and let the song take me over. I try to be the fountain out of which the song comes from when I’m singing. That’s my job. So, I don’t know about performance art. [Laughs]
[Laughs] A lot of reviews say that the new album is ‘punishing’. I don’t take it as a bad way, but I agree to a certain extent that it can be hard to get through. Was that your intent from the start?
No, not at all. I don’t know what my intention is to be honest, but not to punish anybody. There’s enough of that in the world. I guess if I had any intention it’s to provide a bit of joy or ecstasy for myself and the listener. The music takes on a life of its own and I try to guide it and follow it simultaneously and don’t really think of the implications of it, the audience, or anything. It is its own force and has its own message. It’s not designed to convey a point of view. It’s designed with itself in mind.
Is there anything different about what you were trying to convey with your music now as opposed to when you originally started the band?
God, I don’t know. Of course, but I don’t remember who I was then. I guess the central connection is always the desire to completely erase oneself in the sound and that’s not meant to be negatively. The analogy that I draw seems like a hackney cliche monger right now because I’m sick of hearing myself say the same shit, but I’m the same person so why not. The analogy that I draw is that it’s like a very beautiful sexual act. When you’re finding yourself in this other person and you’re kind of losing yourself. It’s not about the climax, it’s more about this moment where perfect balance is achieved. To me, that’s the greatest thing about being inside this powerful sound. That said, I’d imagine The Stooges probably had the same ambition. It’s really a desire to rock. Have you ever listened to Fela Kuti?
I love Fela Kuti.
Look at that, the way that that stuff just keeps on growing and growing for like half an hour a song. It’s the same ambition really. Aside of the political message of course. Musically, it’s kind of like voodoo dance where you just lose yourself.
What are your feelings on artists that rely heavily on electronic gear and laptops? It seems to be becoming the norm.
Personally, I find that boring. I like music that’s physically played that requires physical commitment and intense psychic and emotional commitment in the moment. Laptop music is ok as a soundscape or something, I don’t really like it anymore. I guess for a while I liked electronic music, but I don’t really care about it. That’s my honest answer. I’d rather see someone bang a couple of rocks together and scream.
Would you say you’re ok with people doing it for recording purposes?
I don’t know. I use found sounds, tape loops, and field recordings. Not samples much anymore, though I did in the 80′s. We used to use a lot of sampling. I just look at the music as sound and whether it’s a melodic acoustic guitar or the sound of a heater in a room, it’s just fodder to make something happen. Performance is very important to me. I don’t rely on those kinds of things. When I have in the past, it kind of sounds a little dry and dead to me. As I grow more aware of what’s important to me as a musician, the real thing is the performance. As a producer, that’s different of course. You’re gathering the sounds and building this whole landscape out of disparate, but the core energy of the performance has to be there also.
I know you’re particular about sound live. Is there anything in particular you want to hear when you’re doing sound check?
You mean the technical aspect?
I can’t even describe that. It just has to sound good. Loud is one thing. Also, a lot of nuance. I just don’t want to sound like some dunderheaded metal person. [Laughs]
That’s part of the tools. Dynamics is important, the groove, the commitment, the individual musicians at the time are important, the willingness to push yourself as far as you can at all times. All that stuff is important.
I know you said you don’t listen to much contemporary music, but what are some artists that you’re listening to right now?
A Hawk and a Hacksaw. They’re really great. They played with us one of our last tours. They make a sort of gypsy, celebratory romp. They’re from Albuquerque. They’re really great. I like Xiu Xiu quite a bit. He’s actually played with Swans solo and I thought he was a captivating, compelling performer. He’s really good. He really goes for a strong lyrically and musical emotion in the moment which I think it’s all about.
I think that’s all I got. Thank you very much Michael. This is a big honor for me.
Well, thank you very much. I appreciate you get something from the music. Thank you.
Curated by Tiny Waves, Cactus-Mouth, and The Asclepiophone.
One of our favorite collectives, Spirit Cat, has announced their first official release: The Voyage of The Great Dogcraft. Spirit Cat promotes local artists as well as connecting music communities together across our large and diverse state. This compilation brings together some of North Florida’s very best featuring: Great Beer, Wing Suit, Aircraft, Jake Tobin, & Ben Varian. All of the bands mentioned are going on the first ever Spirit Cat Florida tour as an effort to not only showcase the incredible talent that this group can show, but to continue to build that bridge in Florida.
This past Thursday, the Portals Traveling Showcase called Orlando home. Florida’s independent music community is bubbling over with creativity right now, and the evening’s festivities showcased some of the state’s finest. Orlando’s Trails began the night with their own blend of ecstatic math rock. The Dewars transfixed the crowd with a set of darkly clever pop songs. Hometown heroes Telethon kept things weird. Lastly, Levek closed the evening out with a funky set of 21st century baroque pop. A special shout out has to be sent to the Shine Shed for their awesome stage installation which featured a glowing portal hovering over the stage.
Every time a new album comes out or you’re looking at a show poster, there seems to be a question that is often repeated: “Who did the art?”. Today, I’d like to introduce to you one of those artists who helped shape the aesthetics of the Florida music community, Benji Haselhurst.
Towards the end of his college days in Gainesville, Benji began making artwork for his friend JT Bringardner (Oh Fortuna) and Neal Mackowiak (Jazz Prison) for their band at the time, Rabbit Punch. The next step was being asked to do the artwork for the first Total Bummer, a yearly DIY festival that moves around the state.
“A lot of the bands at Total Bummer I hadn’t heard of, but I loved the music my friends were making. I’ve always had friends who made music and played in bands. I would support them and like their music because they were my friends, but somewhere along the line I loved the music because it was beautiful music that happened to be made by my friends.”
From events like Total Bummer, to posters for Hundred Waters, and shirts for Levek, it’s hard not to find Benji’s work recognizable if you’re a Florida native. My hats off to you Mr. Haselhurst for helping our community for the love it and the love for your friends.