Interview with Dylan Sparrow 3/19 2014

Last year I was interviewed by fellow musician Jesse Krakow for an art-rock magazine that apparently never saw the light of day. It turned out to be a lively convo. I am posting it here for your enrichment. Spoiler Alert: it ends with a surprise. 

Jesse: Okay, here we are! First off, when did Giggle the Ozone start?

Dylan: Technically it started in 2004. Some of the material dates back much earlier than that, but I hadn’t done an official release under the name Giggle the Ozone before then.

J: And in the beginning it was just you, right? On your first record, Hovering Dome, you’re playing everything. So, what was the impetus for doing it all by yourself? Because until then, you’d been in bands.

D: I couldn’t find anyone that wanted to play that kind of music! Or, the few people I knew who might be interested were too busy. So it was just a matter of wanting to start without having to wait months or possibly years for the right people to show up.

J: Right, that’s always the eternal problem.

D: If I had waited, the early recordings might have sounded better, but…haha.

J: Well, that’s an interesting thing, because with Giggle the Ozone, you’ve gone through a lot of stylistic changes. After Hovering Dome, you started working with other people again. Do you ever write the albums around who you’re going to work with?

D: In general, no, because I rarely have the comfort of knowing who’ll be willing and able to participate while I’m still in the writing process! There are some exceptions, like with Steve Honoshowsky. By the time we got to recording the album Dreamjob, we’d already gigged and recorded together a bit, so I was able to account for his busy drumming style in the construction. While we shared some aesthetics, it still took a lot of communication to not step on each other’s toes in the performance. I think it worked out in the end. 

There’s also Sam Weisberg, who’s the only consistent supporting member these days. His style of guitar playing is different from mine, which is a good thing. We’ve been in bands together since high school, and when I was starting out on guitar (which was not my first instrument) I actually learned a lot from watching him. I’d say his playing is more flowing, less prickly. So I’ll definitely assign parts to him that I think will compliment his technique. He has really surprised me with some of his interpretations. But yeah, it’s rare that the parts themselves come packaged with specific fingers in mind.

J: Okay, now I’m wondering. With every GtO record, I find that there are these moments of incredible hooks, and then parts that are just incredibly musically impressive. And then there are moments that are just…fucked up. And I wonder what people’s opinions of GtO are. I’m wondering if they think “Well, I’d like that band if they only did this kind of music.” Do you get that kind of reaction at all?

D: I haven’t really gotten much of a reliable consensus. I remember a long time ago, one of my friends who wasn’t a musician said that he liked bits of the songs, but the bits didn’t stick around long enough for him to enjoy them. 

J: People said that about my music too, haha.

D: Yep. I think with certain kinds of music, you have to pay attention to to what’s happening to truly appreciate it. It can’t just be background music, or you’ll probably miss the point. It’s like trying to watch a movie with your eyes closed.

J: Haha. That’s right.

D: Sometimes I try to listen to those kinds of complaints, though. It’s easy to be defensive and brand casual listeners as philistines, the whole “pearls before swine” trip. I’ve been there. But at the end of the day, I’m not trying to make music for musicians. So sometimes I do wonder things like: if I hadn’t blown a good riff by only playing it twice in the middle of a five-minute song, maybe it would have been more compelling, you know? It could have been a basis for its own song, even.

J: Yes, definitely.

D: The whole A.D.D. code-switching school of songwriting is a nice way to dance around the issue, I guess. It just wore thin for me.

J: But it’s interesting because, especially with your earlier records—the only thing I can compare it to is maybe some U.S. Maple—you might be playing a riff more than two times, but even then, it doesn’t sound like it!

D: Haha, yeah. I used to think, “Oh, the fourth time it repeats is the boring part.” 

J: Haha right. The listener probably still just hears this gooey, nebulous thing. I think that’s the amazing thing about music, is that you can have that effect. But I think it’s something you do a lot with Giggle the Ozone—I mean, it’s probably because your style has developed towards being more aware of being less aware, if that makes sense?

D: Hmm! That’s an interesting way to put it!

J: In the beginning, were you trying to make really fucked up music? Or were you just deciding, “this is what I want to do”?

D: It’s hard to say, actually. I think when I was a little kid, I liked the idea of making “fucked up music” just to see what reaction that elicited in people. Maybe gross them out a bit.

J: Like, how little?

D: Well, the impulse goes way back I think. On more than one occasion, I used talent shows as testing grounds to see how much I could get away with. But the first legitimate “band” I tried to start was called Lobster Cyborg Butt. And that was at Buck’s Rock camp, which is where I met Charlie Looker and Alex Simon and those kinds of dudes.

J: Oh, wasn’t Jeremiah Cymerman there too?

D: He might have been, I didn’t know him though.

J: Lobster Cyborg Butt? Wow. So you were early high school?

D: Yeah, I was about 14. The name was taken from some stupid ad copy we saw in a video game magazine. We did a few camp talent shows. I mostly just played some glissando on my synth’s xylophone patch while yelling half-baked “poetry.” The rest of the band jammed aimlessly. I heard the head counselor face-palmed his way through one performance. So maybe there’s a bit of that still underneath? I hope not!

J: Well, I would say that there is, having just heard of Lobster Cyborg Butt. There’s definitely an undercurrent of something…funny in your music? It’s not exactly humor—and definitely not sarcasm or irony—but it’s often very funny. Certain lyrics or sounds definitely have wit or levity to them. There’s just a lot of depth. Even when you were playing with Zeehas; 12 Wait, where you were ostensibly being labeled a “synth pop duo,” someone would probably miss the point if they came to it expecting usual synth-pop. 

D: Haha, yeah.

J: You had these excellent, catchy songs, but there was something more cryptic about it all, and thought-provoking, and possibly negative. It seems like that’s always been a part of you. Like, well, “Here’s the performance, but underneath that…”

D: The subtext.

J: The subtext is quite extreme.

D: Yeah. I feel like there’s probably something kind of…sadomasochistic about it. In a playful way, you know.

J: Haha. What?

D: Well you know, most people who are into S&M are doing it for fun. So for me, I’m kind of doing a musical version of that, maybe.

J: Haha. I mean, me not being into S&M personally…I can still tell that some people take it very seriously.

D: Yeah, they basically consider it a lifestyle.

J: Yes, a lifestyle, but it’s also fun, I guess? But I would imagine that pre-Lobster Cyborg Butt, when you were, you know, 6 years old…you weren’t thinking about doing the kind of music that you do now, were you? What kind of music grabbed you at that age?

D: Hmm, it was probably was whatever was coming out of my Atari. And I don’t think it ever stopped being that, honestly. So, a lot of video game music…

J: So you mean like Super Mario Bros. and so on?

D: Well, even before that. Like, my dad used to take me to the laundromat and I’d play the arcade games there. That was back in, you know, or ’83 or ’84. So I’d be playing stuff like Moon Patrol, Bomb Jack…

J: Galaga…

D: Yeah, exactly. And I would take a tape recorder with me to the arcade just so I could capture some of those sounds. I listened to those tapes a lot. Then there were the pop records of that era. Stuff by New Edition, DeBarge, A-ha, Jefferson Starship, that kind of thing. I thought that stuff was pretty heavy. Haha.

J: Yeah, I thought that shit rocked, haha. I guess what I’m really fascinated about—and every musician has their own way of getting there—how did you go from “We Built This City on Rock and Roll” to, you know…Melt-Banana?

D: Not sure I ever got to Melt-Banana specifically, but I know what you mean. It might’ve been my exposure to public and college radio in the late 80’s. I liked to tinker around with my radio and see what kinds of signals I could get if I twisted the antenna in the right direction, or turned the knob to just the right frequency. Most of the time you just got, y’know, Paula Abdul. But with a little bit of searching, you could find stations like WKCR, WFMU, WSOU, etc. 

J: That’s right!

D: And then there was John Schaefer’s New Sounds program. He would play stuff like Diamanda Galas’ first record, which is just…horrific shrieking. And it shocked me; I’d never heard anything like that before. But I loved it, taped it, and listened to it repeatedly. After a while I had piles of radio tapes. I actually have one very distinct memory from that period of discovery, hearing John Oswald’s “Dab” for the first time.

J: The plunderphonics stuff, right?

D: Yeah. It was a disjointed slash-up of the Michael Jackson song “Bad,” so it’s already this postmodern desecration of a pop song…I think that was on New Sounds? I was mystified. Even at my age, I immediately understood it as being a work of sabotage as opposed to a Weird Al-style parody. Michael Jackson wouldn’t have authorized any “remix” like this, would he? Was this even legal? All I knew for sure at that moment was that my radio was making strange sounds, and that I liked it. 

So I hit record on my tape deck immediately. As I was taping it, my dad walks into my room. As usual I was supposed to be doing homework, so he’s already agitated, and then the sound coming out of my radio is making him more agitated. He goes, “What the hell is this?” and then picks up the radio and turns the knob to something he deems more appropriate. He lands on TLC’s “What About Your Friends.” 

J: Hahaha! Oh, man.

D: That cassette recording was all I had for years, and it always segued abruptly into TLC. And to this day I always think of the song “Dab” in those terms. So to me, they’re kind of the same thing.

J: Right! Right.

D:  TLC became noise in that context. I think—actually I forget who said this, it might have been Otomo Yoshihide—but it was something like “If you were to blast Elvis over a Bach recital, Elvis would suddenly become noise.” And the implication is that obviously no one would say Elvis is noise in of itself, but taken out of context it becomes an abrupt, unwanted sound. 

So I guess I became fascinated with that idea. Something that’s supposed to be accessible becomes unwanted by the way you juxtapose it. Maybe that explains why I like the idea of throwing an occasional dog turd in the middle of this…

J: Pop song.

D: Yeah.

J: And how old were you when you discovered that kind of stuff? 

D: 12 or 13.

J: Wow. I wonder if that’s a distinctly New York thing. Because, you were born and raised in New York City, right?

D: Yes. Well, one of the things I remember is that a friend of mine in high school lamented that he couldn’t get WFMU where he lived, which was only a few blocks away from me. And he said “Yeah, if I had only lived a few more blocks south, I would’ve been so much cooler!”

J: Haha, yeah.

D: Because, at that particular time, I could get a clear signal from them if I leaned my radio against the corner and had the antenna pointing at a specific angle. If you moved the ears just a bit, the signal would fuzz up too much. So yeah, if I had lived just a few blocks elsewhere, I might not have known about any of that stuff.

J: Do you think New York plays any kind of role in your music?

D: Yeah. I’m generally not very regionalistic when it comes to music, but the influence of New York is hard to get away from. Early hip hop was the first “local” music that probably struck me, though I don’t know if I’d cite that as a direct musical influence. New York is so confusing, maybe it just made me feel like it’s okay to make confusing art. My stance has changed a bit. People are confused enough these days. 

J: You know, another intriguing thing is…you grew up here, you were educated here, work here, all your bands are here and yet you don’t seem to be the typical New York musician. A lot of NY musicians are aware of trends, and they either consciously buck them, or they adapt to all of them. And you have this interesting way of…I can’t imagine that when you started Giggle the Ozone you were listening to the Strokes or the White Stripes.

D: Haha, no.

J: But the bands that might have influenced them, I’m sure you’re aware of those bands. You could’ve payed lip service to them if you wanted to. But it wasn’t hitting your radar.

D: Yeah, I just feel like since New York’s so vast and nothing is certain, you could pay lip service to what’s hip or cool your entire career and then just have a body of work that’s just disingenuous and insincere, and you’ll still be nobody. I would rather be completely obscure and still make stuff I actually want to listen to.

J: Haha, yes, that’s a really good point. Alright, switching gears now. From a technical standpoint. From having worked with you, I know you write everything pretty much out note-for-note, right?

D: Yes. And it’s become even more the case recently, because I’ve started to write almost everything in my head. Which takes a lot of mental energy. Too much technical tinkering dilutes my creative focus, so my brain is still the best “interface” for me. So I’ll do that, then make a 4-track demo…

J: 4 track! Cassette?

D: Digital! I wish I still had my cassette one. Anyway, I think it’s become more that way. I think it’s happened because now that I write this stuff without having any idea who is going to play on it, it becomes its own solipsistic, inward-looking thing. Maybe it’s regrettable to an extent that I can’t think, “Oh, this riff is going to be played by this guy, or this girl,” or whatever.

J: It’s probably better that you don’t!

D: Maybe! I don’t know. Haha.

J: And then you send the file to the people to learn it?

D: With the records I did with Steve (“Charge” and “Dreamjob”), I would make very crusty lowfi demos for him. I recorded them as quickly as possible, and some of them were as bare-bones as you can get. And one thing he told me after he heard the completed records was that he had no idea that the songs were going to sound that way. 

J: After you added all the other parts.

D: Yeah, he would say “I wasn’t sure about this song until you showed me the final version!” And so, yeah, the thing I struggle with is trying to convey my ideas to people using my primitive demo-making skills and brain-based notation. I don’t know if I’ve done that yet.

J: Well, do you read music?

D: No.

J: You could probably tab it out though, right?

D: I don’t even know how to do tabs, haha.

J: Well you know music, you know how it works.

D: Yeah, I understand music on the level of comprehension. I just can’t visually read it, you know? I’ve tried. I’ve taken lessons where people try to teach me, and friends try to teach me, but it just doesn’t stick.

J: It doesn’t stick, that’s right. I’m the same way. It’s only been in the last two years that I’ve gotten comfortable with saying that I can’t read music. There’s such a difference between what we can do on our own—that you could freely write, whatever it is—and the reality of notation. It’s like sitting down and going, “Ma - ry - had - a lit - tle - lamb…”

D: Right!

J: That’s not the kind of music we wanna write. So what’s the fuckin’ point?

D: Well, there’s an art to that. Obviously are people who can write stuff out stuff and have it feel very seamless and natural, but that’s a different skill set. And to me, it’s more or less the way people do electronic music now, with trackers. Garage Band—that’s an art. Or chiptune, whatever. And you can spend your whole life perfecting that. But for me, I’d rather spend my time  focusing on a different mode of composition, you know?

J: Absolutely. Good way of putting it. Well when it comes to that, you’re also an artist, and a writer. Not just lyrics, but you’re an author, you like to write separately. Do you have the same ideas about form, technique and structure when it comes to those things?

D: I’m sure there’s overlap in terms of approach. With visual art, I’ll often start with a simple contour line drawing, which only takes me a few seconds, but then I’ll spend weeks texturing it with little dots and dashes and stuff. Same with music; songs usually start as spontaneous brain farts, but after they get hummed into my recorder, they get put under the microscope for a long time. I’ll add layers day by day. Sometimes it takes years. It’s like building a pyramid with legos or something.

J: Wow.

D: But just like some demos are better than finished songs, some drawings are better left at the doodle stage. I think I’m getting better at knowing when to leave well enough alone. I know some artists who can bang out a great drawing or song in a matter of seconds, and I try to always remember that’s possible. For me though, some things need a lot of rumination time. 

J: Well if it needs to take that long, it needs to take that long. That’s pretty much the case.

D: Yeah. Whenever I’ve tried to rush it, I always regret it later.

J: It’s a funny thing, because I think a lot about the idea of…well, I realize I really hate the way the word “creative” is often used. You know, I hear a lot of people say, “Oh, I’m a creative person, but I’m not feeling creative right now.” But I just think of Captain Beefheart—this one woman said to him, “I love your painting,” and he said “I’m just combing my hair.” Creative people don’t think about being creative!

D: Haha, maybe you’re right? I think when people say they’re not feeling creative, they’ve become too concerned with utility—“Oh, people will like this because it does this.” But artistic value is fickle and really has nothing to do with creativity. I think that’s why the idea of a “creative” as it’s used in the advertising world is funny to me. 

J: What do you mean?

D: Well, it feels very Dr. Seuss to me. You know, in advertising, “creatives” are almost this caste of people, and their job is to play symbolism Tetris all day. If their creativity doesn’t lead to sales, they are no longer “creatives,” they are unemployed people. 

J: That’s right.

D: Successful creatives could be getting their ideas from Ouija Board seances for all the bosses care—if the end result sells, the value’s right there. No need to rhetorically define creativity or art for them. That said, it’s I guess in the past year I’ve changed my idea about what art is, or what even constitutes being an artist. I used to try to delineate what is art and what isn’t, who is an artist, who’s not. But I’ve since come to think of those distinctions as trivial. 

J: Oh? How so?

D: Art’s not sorcery, it’s just mundane human expression. Maybe “mundane” sounds a bit pejorative, but I mean it more in an egalitarian way. A lot of people are stuck on the idea that art is synonymous with technique or craft, with all the druidic connotations that brings. That notion just hasn’t stuck with me.

J: I see. Interesting.

D: This doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned artistic judgments. But these judgments say nothing about the mere definition of art. Going through a museum, I’m usually not any more impressed than I am walking through Central Park, which is basically a manmade thing. 

J: Absolutely.

D: So who’s to say that Central Park isn’t a work of art?

J: Right. I mean, for example…back to advertising, which I also worked in too. Some people say commercials are shit, and they might have a point. Some commercials are shit. But who’s to say that the worst movie in the world is better than the best commercial? 

D: Right, just because one medium is considered more respectable than the other? 

J: Exactly. I think it’s bullshit.

D: There are Geico commercials that I think are more entertaining than full-length comedy movies.

J: Yeah, exactly!

D: And it takes up less of your time, and makes you laugh more than some dumb flick that takes up hours of your day. So yeah, I think that’s why it’s silly to make those weird distinctions most of the time. There’s no such thing as an “art authority.” That shit died with Adorno.

J: Yep! Alright, here’s another thought. I don’t want to be sticky about this kind of thing, but—you’re a black guy…

D: Actually, I’m not.

J: Haha. But um, has that ever been an issue in terms of people you play musically with, or want to play with? I mean, I’ve never witnessed it, but…

D: Well you probably wouldn’t ask this question if I were a rapper or R&B singer. Rock-based music is still largely populated by people with pink skin and straight hair. That’s what you’re getting at.

J: Yeah…

D: I don’t have pink skin and straight hair, so I stand out. Whether I stand out in a goofy way, or scary way, or a sexy way, or an antagonizing way…I’ve felt it all. The rejections are usually subtle but psychically cumulative. And yes that impacts my ability to accomplish certain things, musically or otherwise. 

J: Wow. I didn’t…hmm.

D: I mean, sometimes being seen as different is an advantage. Like that Detroit band, Death. If those were a bunch of pink dudes, no one would’ve made a movie about them. On the flipside, they had to wait 40 years for anyone to care! Eh, what can I say. Humanity needs a whole lot of fuckin’ work.

J: Right. I remember Dennis Miller had this great joke. He said, “why hate someone for the religion, race, or sexual preference, when you can get to know them and hate them for entirely different reasons?”

D: Haha. Well, ironically, Dennis Miller is now a right-wing talking head. 

J: Haha, yes, that’s true, I forgot that….Okay, next question. A lot of people talk about what New York used to be. “Back in the day, New York was so much better than it is now. Oh, you should have been here.” That’s something that I’ve been told since 1996, when I moved here. And people were saying that then. And then five years later, people in 2001 were saying, “Oh, you should have been here in the late 90’s.” So I’m wondering, how do you feel about how New York has changed in your lifetime, musically or sociologically?

D: Well, I think you witnessed a telling pattern. But I didn’t really start playing the live circuit in New York until around the time you moved here. So we’ve seen most of the same trends come and go, whether it’s electroclash, or the Todd P. scene, austere mathy crap, whatever. The first “real” gig I ever played was at The Cooler.

J: While you were in high school?

D: Yeah. 

J: Wow, that’s fucking awesome.

D: With an instrumental band called Dragon Baffroom, which was me, Alex Simon and Keith Abrams. Marc Ribot actually got us that show because he used to live in the Cooler, basically, and he was Alex’s cousin. 

J: Wow. Okay, so right there I’m thinking: teenagers are playing the Cooler. And, you know, I knew about the Cooler even when I was in college, and that was a really cool place. And I remember going there in ’96, and seeing the Ruins and Sonic Youth there. Now the idea that Marc Ribot would be hooking up teenagers my age so they can play there—that stuff only happens in New York. You know what I mean?

D: Yeah, at least back then. I guess I just took it for granted! Because at the time, I didn’t really know who Marc was. I only became educated about his relevance many years later. At the time, I just knew him as my friend’s dimly-lit older cousin who does solo guitar stuff. Now he’s one of my favorite guitarists. I guess that’s usually how it is. When you listen to people talk about New York in the 60’s and 70’s, they didn’t quite know that it was particularly special. 

J: Right.

D: Sociologically, I’ve noticed little changes, like how most music venues no longer seem to have random audience members. There just aren’t as many people standing around with nothing better to do; Apple finally took care of them. So playing live in NYC now is more a “bring your own audience” deal, which can be a catch-22 depending on your goals. 

J: Yeah, and I think the older we get, the less inclined some of us are to play some of those places.

D: I think if you’re younger and have a certain circle of friends, shows just kind of come at you. Like with Zeehas; 12 Wait, I didn’t book any of those shows. I didn’t have to. Alex booked a few shows, but it was mostly people just approaching us and asking, “Do you want to play?” That organic momentum fades as the people around you become more concerned with comfort and survival, so you have to figure out ways to convert your “currency.”

J: Alright, next thing I wanted to bring up. I remember one time you said something to me a long time ago—you said something like “fuck being ironic.” And as simple as that sounds now, I was still like, “Wow.” It stuck with me, and shortly after that I stopped listening to Frank Zappa.

D: Really? 

J: Yeah, because I realized how detached some of that was. He was sort of commenting on the music he was playing. That’s disingenuous, or runs the risk of it.

D: Well, I don’t really know Zappa that well, but you could also see it this way: maybe back in the late 60’s, when there was all this glorified naiveté floating around, the culture needed that healthy injection of sarcasm. Zappa probably wanted to shake things up and make people see things soberly. But at the same time, you’re right. If that’s all his music functioned to do, it won’t necessarily hold up after the fact. 

J: Yes, definitely.

D: Art historians might say early experimental composers pushed our understanding of music forward. I’ll buy that, but does that mean I have to listen to their music? There’s no right answer, and there shouldn’t be. I mean, I appreciate some of John Cage’s stuff. I respect his vision. But it’s not like I’ll throw him on with the same frequency that I do, you know, Deniece Williams or some shit.

J: And I think about modern bands now…there’s a lot of bands, even our friends’ bands, where I’m really happy that they’re playing music, and that they’ve continued to do what they started years ago. And their sound’s changed, they’ve matured over the years. And if people were to ask me what to check out, I would send recommend some of them…and I know what they’re doing is really important, they’re awesome…but. I just don’t want to listen to it. 

D: Haha.

J: So like, in the same way that these older composers might have done something that is historically important, you’re not going to listen to them as much as you do, you know, ”Let’s Hear It for the Boy.”

D: That’s right, haha. And for me that’s not even a value judgment.

J: You know it’s great, but you’re just not going to go there often.

D: Exactly. Some of my favorite records—records that I love—I can only listen to once every couple of years. Because you have to be in the right mindset. Again, it’s really analogous to movies. There are some movies you only need to see once in a while…like, I only need to see Space Odyssey: 2001 about once a decade. But when I watch it, I’m way into it, and it stays with me for a long time afterwards. It’s one of my favorite flicks. So I don’t know if it’s necessarily bad that there’s certain music that I don’t always want to listen to. I don’t always want to hear Thinking Plague, but when I do finally want to sit down and listen to them, it’s awesome.

J: Yeah, and that’s the weird thing about value judgments. Because on the other side, there’s this feeling of, well, “If I’m not enjoying this, I must be doing something wrong.”

D: Right! I think that’s just weird kind of elitist thing. But I think there’s a difference between someone who doesn’t want to listen to John Cage because they don’t think it’s even music—you know, “Ah, this isn’t art, this is garbage,” vs. someone who is like, “I get it, but I would rather listen to something else right now.” 

J: Yeah! Right.

D: That said, I really do appreciate the fact that there are people who actively, aggressively make music most people don’t want to. I’m glad that they’re here. Because in my world, that creates contrast. Sometimes I’ll listen to a really difficult record, and once I’m done with it, I’ll sit and think about it for a while, and when I’m done thinking about it, I’ll throw on Cyndi Lauper. And hearing Cyndi Lauper after, you know, Helmut Oehring just makes me appreciate both of them that much more. The contrast informs the listening experience; it enriches it. It makes me happy that I live in a world in which it’s not all Cyndi Lauper, but it’s not all Helmut Oehring.

J: So I have to ask, since this is for an art-rock publication...what kind of music do you consider Giggle the Ozone to be?

D: You know it’s funny, Martin Bisi asked me that question once, and I told him it was punk. He gave me a very confused look. You know when even Martin Bisi is unsure of how to classify you, you’re either doing something horribly wrong or horribly right. I guess time will tell.

J: Haha.

D: So yeah, I used to call it punk, but people basically just think of the 20th century, which is the opposite of what I mean. If you even just say rock—when someone asked me what I play and I said rock, he said the first thing that came to mind was…

J: Wait, wait. Because the answer could literally be anything!

D: It could be anything! It could be Sevendust, it could be…

J: Elvis.

D: Yeah, Elvis, or it could be the theme from “Arthur”...

J:  Yep, it’s always going to be vague. But when you get into subgenres there’s suddenly very little wiggle room. Why do you think that is?

D: Well, there’s this idea that genres are “pioneered.” So the early adopters, whatever their roles actually were, get to play the bold frontiersmen. I think a lot of audiences get fixated on that stage. From there, nostalgia sets in and we get a checklist based on tangentiality. So if you say, “Oh, we’re progressive rock,” many people jump to “Oh, you mean like Yes, Genesis, and ELP.” Or if you say “punk," as I obviously have on occasion—one guy said to me “Oh, so you must like Bad Religion.” I’m like, no. I don’t like Bad Religion. Not even that one fucked up space-rock album.

J: Hahaha.

D: It’s hard to say “Well, we should just make up some new words,” because that can feel forced. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll just use a word that I think describes the feeling of it. Right now I just say, “Oh, it’s fire music.”

J: Fire music. Oh my god. I love it, and “fire” is a great word.

D: Yeah, I think that one might stick. It’s mostly pragmatic. I think genre names should denote an actual distinction, otherwise it’s trivial. Unfortunately, in the act of distinguishing yourself to that extent, making up your own genre name, you run the risk of looking pretentious or self-involved. Can’t please everybody.

J: Well a lot of bands say stuff like “hey, I’m in an experimental folk band.” And maybe some people are, but a lot of times it’s just a folk band with a drum machine on a part, or whatever.

D: Exactly. And the thing is, “experimental” has become another genre. When I think of “experimental” music, I think of the 60’s. Or even earlier than that. The 30’s. You know? To me, the experiment is over. We know what it turns out to be: very Delphic, asocial, arhythmic, harmonically convoluted music. Half of it lulls you to sleep and the other half makes you ponder mortality. And you know what? I think that’s great! You know, to me, LaMonte Young is experimental in the same way that Chuck Berry is rock n’ roll.

J: Well what do you think about the term “art-rock?”

D: Jeez. Well, all forms of rock music are art. But I guess the implication is that art-rock is expressing deeper concepts than simply, “I’m angry, so this is my angry song.” Maybe an art-rock song is trying to telegraph more shades and nuances of anger, or go deeper into the psychological state of being angry. This is problematic though, because the fundamental thing’s still that the guy is angry. The question is, what’s he angry about? How do we know Discharge were saying something that drastically different from This Heat?

J: I can see that being complicated, yeah.

D: I guess the term “art rock” just indicates that the focus is supposed to be on the actual musical content as opposed to pop-culture dazzle. An ardent art-rock fan is probably less inclined to go “Oh, everyone’s talking about the new Miley Swift album, so let’s talk about her too.” People who habitually do that aren’t even really talking about music. They’re talking about who Miley Swift was hanging out with in her last photograph, or what restaurant she was eating brunch at.

J: That’s interesting, something that just points you in the right direction. It gets you in the ballpark. Haha. I guess “art rock” can be a very boy-friendly genre.

D: Yeah, I think that’s one problem I have with it, haha. And it becomes fetishistic. Going back to sexual fetishes, I think of foot fetishists here. Sure, they might like the person who owns the foot, but the foot is the main focus. 

J: I hadn’t thought of that, huh.

D: Well, just replace the foot with a musical instrument. Indulging in a certain technique is the height of the ritual: a metal kid obsessing over double bass drum, or a fusion nerd drooling over fret tapping, whatever. They focus intensely to the exclusion of all else—which is why some of them don’t even want to hear lyrics in their music. They don’t want their mistress yappin’ while they’re fappin’.

J: Haha, yeah. It’s actually one of the reasons why I fucking hate noise music.

D: All noise music?

J: Nah, not all. I mean, I think Whitehouse is just extraordinary. But what they do still feels like they’re making songs. But there are other…well, I shouldn’t name names.

D: Ah, I can guess. Haha.

J: Yeah. But I think it’s stuff where it’s more about the tone. People will listen to a noise song for a…tone. And to me that’s like listening to a song just for a guitar solo. When I was 18 I would listen to some horrible music just because it had great bass playing.

D: Yup!

J: And I’m like…what the fuck was I thinking?

D: Haha. Yeah, I would be more okay with the fetishistic aspect of music appreciation if it wasn’t so frequently dehumanizing. You know, like I hear a lot of people who say, “Oh, I don’t care about the lyrics.” Which to me is infuriating. It’s so fucking myopic.

J: Absolutely.

D: To me that’s basically like someone staring at a woman’s breasts the whole time while she’s trying to talk to them.

J: Haha. And it could be the only thing the hardcore, nerdy music types are capable of seeing. Maybe something’s holding them back. It could just be that they’re only thinking about themselves.

D: And you know, I kinda get it? Because like I said, I grew up fascinated with video game music, which is this entirely instrumental, programmed music with “fake” instruments. And that was my first love, this semi-anonymous, synthetic sound. But there’s something one of the Ramones said. I think it was Marky? He said something like, “A lot of people talk about our sound, with the furious downstrokes and so on. But there’s a lot of living in there, too.” I think that’s a very important thing to remember…even with video game music, haha. 

J: Totally. I’ve had so many shows where people will come up to you and ask, “How many strings are on that bass? How did you get that tone?” instead of “Hey, great show, I like that.” Instead it’s like, “What is that thing?” and I’m like…”You mean that thing this human standing in front of you just played?” It doesn’t exist without the guy playing it.

D: And even if it were a machine playing it…you know, they have machines that can play instruments, and computers that can compose their own music. They get better every year. So maybe some day soon we’ll have programs that satisfy specific musical fetishes? It’ll be like “Her” for prog dorks. 

J: Oh, god.

D: Your experience is different from mine there. Maybe because of the kind of music I play. That does happen sometimes, mostly when I play keyboards live. These guys will come up to you after the show. They’ll look through you, not at you. They’ll go, “I just got this new plugin the other day, and I got these great analog-y sounds. What about you? What kinda gear you got here?” 

J: “Please validate my existence.”

D: Haha. I try to be nice to them, because they’re showing some interest and probably mean well, but we’re not talking about the same thing. I don’t even know if they want to be validated, they just have this thought in their head, they need to communicate it to somebody, and they suspect I have the patience for it. Because you can’t go up to Joe Shmoe in a bar and talk about plugins, you know?

J: And you have your keyboard, so…

D: Yeah, I have the keyboard and I’m packing up my stuff so I’m inclined to try to be a peacekeeper, haha.

J: That’s so funny. Yeah, I played a Zappa festival once and people were coming up to me for signatures. I told my family about that, and they were proud of me, like, “Oh, my little rock star with his groupies!” But you know…the people coming up to me for signatures were all dudes over 40. Nothing wrong with that. But you know, just not what my family was probably imagining! 

D: That’s hilarious. 

J: It’s funny, I was thinking…alright. Change of subject again. There are certain bands that people love to hate, and there are certain bands that most people tend to enjoy.

D: Yeah.

J: And I was talking with a friend recently and she said “You know, it really bothers me when people say they hate the Beatles, because I think they’re just being really reactionary. Either because they don’t know music or are trying to be hip.” And I said, “Except for Dylan.”

D: Haha.

J: And I said, “Because I’m sure that it’s just music he doesn’t like. It’s not his thing.” Am I right?

D: Oh, I despise it.

J: Why do you despise it?

D: Well, there’s the purely sonic level, which is mostly inoffensive and just doesn’t appeal to me. But then there’s the other level, and it’s the reason why we’re even talking about the Beatles.

J: What do you mean?

D: Well, I think your friend’s choice of words kind of illustrates what I dislike about the fandom surrounding that band. A lot of Beatles fans can’t conceive of any respectable reason why you aren’t one of them. So it comes down to, “Oh, well there must be something wrong with you.” 

J: Hmm, okay.

D: This phenomenon sours an already underwhelming listening experience for me. Personally, I didn’t grow up with the Beatles. They weren’t a significant part of my childhood, and I was fine without them. Anyway, I wish you’d introduce me to people who actually hate the Beatles! 

J: Haha, well…

D: You know, I actually had a date end abruptly because I admitted my opinion about the Beatles. The girl just looked at me, wide-eyed, and said “Wait, so you don’t like happy pop music?”

J: Haha. Well, I’d be mad at your date. Because the truth is that the Beatles, like it or not, did stuff that was musically advanced, recording-wise, composition wise. Doesn’t mean it’s good or bad, but…

D: You’re right, it doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. I like Joe Meek, but I wouldn’t tell people they should like him just because his music was more “advanced” than Chubby Checker’s. 

J: Alright.

D: I’ll give them one thing, the Beatles were very lucky. Imagine if they were four Cambodian guys! Even if they were the hottest Cambodian guys on Earth, playing the most advanced pop music imaginable, forget it. At best they’d get the Death treatment and be unearthed long after the moment had passed. Even then they'd just be some marginally hip Sublime Frequencies kinda thing. It’s no coincidence that the winning formula in that era was four pink British boys wooing throngs of latently Anglophilic American girls with catchy pop music.

J: Well, you have to remember than when the Beatles started out they were more of a rugged rock n’ roll group. And when Brian Epstein discovered them, was said, “Well, this band is great, but the world is not going to care about dudes in leather jackets singing covers. So he approached them to, you know, cut their hair, get them some good suits. But he said: don’t change how you play. Do you object to that part?

D: Object to what? I’m not a music history revisionist. Look, I can only guess what their initial motives were, but—

J: “Can’t Buy Me Love” is a good book.

D: Okay.

J: I mean, going back to a band like A-Ha. They had the videos, and the posters, all that. Fast forward a few decades. Do you think anyone gives a shit about them?

D: The bottom line is that A-ha made at least three songs that I love. The Beatles have made no songs that I love. My love is based on my personal experience. Your conception of cultural relevance doesn’t invalidate my or anyone else's experiences. That’s all I’ve been saying.

J: Yeah. Alright, I disagree with you on the Beatles thing, but—

D: About what?

J: It’s just, they’re my favorite band.

D: But, what do you disagree with?

J: Um. Well, it’s not that I disagree…I just don’t think they suck. Haha.

D: Haha, okay. 

J: I just like the music. 

D: Okay.

J: But then again, you’re the only other person person who agrees with me that Bob Marley and Lou Reed aren’t that great!

D: Haha. Yeah. I might actually rather listen to the Beatles!

J: Haha. I mean, there’s some stuff by them that I really like, but in terms of luck, as you said, Lou Reed is a very, very lucky man. God rest his soul, I’m very glad that he—

D: You know who’s even luckier than Lou Reed?

J: Who?

D: Patti Smith.

J: Yes! Fuck yeah. But yeah, people don’t want you to challenge those things.

D: Right.

J: I’m not going to say that they suck, because I’ve bought their records, and listen to their music, and there’s some good things…but still.

D: Whatever we think of any of these people and their work, the most important thing here is that I dislike idolizing anyone as this “greater than, bigger-than thing.” It actually is an insult to the artist’s humanity, because it makes them an idea rather than a person with all of their flaws.

J: I see. So what you’re saying is that it’s dangerous to say that these people are better than we are. Because these are humans.

D: Yes. And it almost has the opposite of the intended effect because you’re taking the real person out of it. Sid Vicious was kind of an idiot, but when he said “You don’t like me, you just like my image”…he was very right.

J: Yeah. It can be tricky…because otherwise, you run into the idea of saying “I like everything this artist does.” And when people say that, there’s mathematically no way that’s possible. I mean, I love the Shaggs—I have a Shaggs tattoo on my arm!—and they only have two albums. But I do not love every song. Haha.

D: Well, there are a few artists who I can say I like everything they’ve ever done. But I can’t say that I love everything. You’re right. It’s hard enough for me to love my own music.

J: Speaking of! What is going on with Giggle the Ozone now? Any new recordings, shows?

D: Working on a new album, to be titled Selective Pressure. I have pretty much all the material written in my head, about 90% complete. I still have to demo it.

J: How many songs?

D: I actually have to figure that out, because there’s a lot of material and I need to shave it down to a digestible size.

J: And after the demoing process you’ll add other musicians, right? Who were you thinking of working with?

D: I think Martin Bisi will probably record it. And it’s likely that David Bodie may play drums, actually, which is exciting. I sent him a few demos to start learning. And of course Sam Weisberg will be involved. I haven’t figured out a bassist yet, but—

J: …I’ll do it!

D: Oh! Okay!

J: I’ll fucking do it. I love playing music with Bodie. It’ll be fun.

D: Great! I’ll send you some stuff to hear, then.

J: Excellent! Well, thanks for dropping by! 

D: Thank you! Always a pleasure.