Do you consider yourself coming from avant-rock, folk, classical, or it really doesn’t matter?
I feel like my music is informed by all kinds of styles and traditions. I’m really interested in the approaches and techniques that make each idiom unique, the specifics of posture that dictate aesthetics. I’m also excited to discovery similarities–the magical places where overlaps occur. I was at a concert the other day and heard a beautiful performance of Landscape I by Toru Takemitsu, and I remember thinking that the piece was somehow complimented by the fact that I was listening to The Shaggs in headphones on the train ride over. Totally different approaches to music, but I thought “Wow! sometimes contrast reveals similarity.” Even if only in emotional content.
What makes you the proudest on your latest album, !BlurMyEyes?
I think what excites me when I’m making a record is that feeling of being surprised by something that I’ve written or played. It can be something really simple like an unexpected turn or gesture, maybe an old device used in a new way, or an unexpected juxtaposition. On this album I remember my eyes getting really wide when my friend Yolanda sang some beautiful gospel vocals on top of a swampy rock n roll song. Also when I had my friend Dan play drums like angry Roy Haynes on top of a chamber group.
With such a lush orchestration how do you plan on performing this music live?
Reduction is going to be the name of the game. The plan is to play with a few musicians who I really love and see how we can re-imagine things. I’ll be playing in NYC at Rockwood Music Hall with Shahzad Ismaily, Mick Rossi, and Gyða Valtýsdóttir on Aug 5 and Glasslands Gallery on Aug 9. For this particular collection of songs I feel like album is the artifact. I mean, on a purely acoustic level as soon as you get into e.q., compression, stereo imaging, etc, it’s going to have to be taken into account when it comes time to perform live. It’s going to be a fun challenge.
One of your creative spots is Iceland. How is the music scene there different from NY’s? Is it really the El Dorado that people sometimes fantasize about?
When I went to Iceland for the first time a while back, I remember having the feeling that I’d happened upon a place that seemed almost deliberately and certainly geographically absent of distraction. Creatively, I’m a big proponent of locking oneself in a room and getting down to business so I found this to be very helpful. At the same time, whatever distractions where around seemed to be overwhelmingly nourishing: kind people, nature, food, drink, and small noble horses. I spent a lot of time in the countryside which was really inspiring.
One thing that stands out to me about the Icelandic music scene is just how generous musicians are with each other creatively. Lots of collaboration happening all the time, almost by necessity, and across striking stylistic borders which I found very encouraging. There also seems to be less pressure to survive, which I think allows for an easier exchange of ideas.
You have been touring and accompanying (as a guitarist) an impressive amount of musicians. Is this always beneficial to your own creative projects?
For me, it’s helpful to create a distinction between accompanying or arranging music for someone else and the impulse to create my own work, but the way they inform one another probably can’t be overstated. I’ve learned so much through working with other musicians that it’s really difficult for me to imagine a personal creative life outside of the context of mentorships and friendships. I place a really high value on that. The musical perspective that other people provide helps me to discard things that I might be too precious about and work harder on things that I’ve been avoiding. I’m way too curious to create music in a vacuum.