Saturday, April 22, 2017

Artist Interview: HXXS

There seems to be a bubble of creativity that exists around Jeannie Colleene and Gavin Neves of Southern California's HXXS. Their new album Valley Fever draws you in right away but never allows you to get too comfortable. There are poppy and danceable elements throughout but also a thread of something darker and less accessible. Be sure to listen to (buy) the album and keep an eye out for shows in your area. Thank you for the interview, HXXS!


The new album, Valley Fever, turned out so good! What are the circumstances around its creation?  Did you record and mix the record yourselves?

Gavin: Yeah we recorded, mixed, produced and more or less mastered it ourselves. The first part of that question is a pretty loaded one for us. 

Jeannie: Yeah one of the reasons Valley Fever came into being was out of necessity to establish who we are sonically.

Gavin: We really wanted to give people access to where we are at artistically, what we want to make and a point to look back at as we grow. Like a sonic mile marker. It was also just from direct experience living near LA and in the desert. It's such a weird space and weird living. Things are so strange out here. Valley Fever is the dark side of the California experience, the stuff white suburbia tries to hide. I would advise googling valley fever.

How did you meet and start making music together? Were your influences and direction pretty much aligned from the start or are you drawing from a lot of different areas?

Gavin: We met in downtown Portland (OR). Jeannie was working and I was busking, and I sang some dumb Rolling Stones song to her.

Jeannie: We started making music together a few months before we moved from Portland. We were both at a weird point in our lives and Gavin had been trying to get me to sing on a few tracks he had been working on.

Gavin: Yeah, I was pretty insistent. We had a house out in St. Johns and I was using the garage as a hub to experiment with recording and production and started to move away from traditional rock/guitar stuff. That's where it really started and just continued to unfold from there as life threw us curveballs. Being in a relationship before making art together means we had a lot of time to learn what makes each other tick. So I think in that sense, whether we knew it or not our direction and influences were aligned from the start. I mean I think that. 

Jeannie: Yeah, I also think that we draw from different areas as well, like everything felt very aligned from the start but we also have things separately from our own paths that influence us that the other simply could not really know. So in that sense I think its a combination of both.

It seems like all of the tracks have a kick drum at the core of the beat. Is that usually a starting point?

Gavin: Yeah, we definitely build from the drums up. At least I like to start there. That's like my most common foundation. I love rhythm, even simple rhythm so its important to me to start there.

Jeannie: Yeah, its where we both like to start because we both love rhythm and recognize that the music we love shares that. It also make the times that we don't start with drums more challenging and sweeter to finish.

How do you go about producing new material for HXXS? Do you bounce ideas back and forth as you go?

Jeannie: We're constantly producing new material. Whether its recording or performing live. Ripping them apart, rebuilding them. We've probably played some of these songs 20 different ways in the last two years but someone would think its just another song. We bounce all of our ideas back and forth and make a very collaborative effort to get to where we're feeling with tracks, together.

Gavin: We never really stop producing new material. We're really restless with it. I don't sleep at all because my head is always buzzing with arrangements or production ideas. I bounce a lot of my ideas off Jeannie and whittle them down to how she reacts to different things. And I'd actually say she does the same with me. A good amount of material we start with is tracks that never saw the light of day in my previous projects. But I never wanted it to be "oh I wrote these songs", I wanted to deconstruct and construct ideas together with someone to see where they end up going.

Do you feel like you have to finish projects from the past and push them to their full potential? Is there ever a point when old projects expire and you don't want to use them any more?

Jeannie: I don't think they ever expire. Eventually they just take a new shape or become something different. I mean, we always push to finish past projects but we don't feel like we have to finish them. At least I don't.

Gavin: I think I feel like we have to. If an idea goes untouched for too long its starts to affect what we're working on. Like some piece of an old song will work its way into a new track because it was never resolved and I'll have a crisis as to whether I want to scrap the old project for the new one just because of that one defining piece or keep the old piece and completely re-imagine it. So I'm always driven to finish old material first. I cant say old projects expire because there will always be something to them that if they don't get finished initially they gestate the longer they're left dormant. Which is always an interesting thing. 

In my own creative projects there are a lot of ups and down and occasionally I crash pretty hard and fall apart emotionally. Do either of you go though this at all or are you both pretty level headed throughout?

Gavin: Haha, there's a lot of peaks and valleys in it. I think the crash is something special to draw from too so I try to absorb as much as I can from the process even if its emotionally taxing.

Jeannie: Yeah we definitely go through that. Like we mentioned we go through several different versions of songs before we reach a final so I think we're really stubborn about it too. We see everything through 'til its done even if there is a period of time where we hate everything and hate ourselves, we just push through. I think its challenging but I think the reward of getting through these emotionally challenging things is important to our music and it teaches me control. Its therapeutic in a way for my mental health so we never let ourselves give in. 

Are you both writing lyrics? Do you have notebooks of lyrics to draw from or do they form around the music?

Jeannie: We have a ton of notebooks, we'll attach a picture.

For a lot of writers lyrics can be pretty personal and maybe less collaborative than other aspects of a band. Do you work on lyrics for the same song together or is it one or the other?

Gavin: I'd say its both. We both have different personal experiences that intersect, so its only natural that we dissect and work together.

Jeannie: It's definitely personal but we experience a lot of things together and recognize what the other goes through. So its hard to say that we write lyrics independently from each other.

Gavin: Older tracks that existed before HXXS are about the only example of lyrics being written independent from each other, but we still approach that as an editorial force together. 

When I've seen HXXS live I thought it was interesting that you did not face the crowd a lot. It seems to create a greater divide between the performer and audience but also gives the impression that you are not "performing" for anyone. Is this a conscious approach or is it just because you have to face your gear a lot?

Jeannie: I think it's both, being honest. A lot of the times I do think, I'm not performing for anyone. I can't tell you how many dudes come up to me after a set and tell me specifically to face the crowd and it's like "fuck you dude, you get up there then. Ill do whatever the fuck I want, this is my thing". I had a man come up to me so entitled and say something along the lines of "how dare you play with your back to me". Fucking gross dude, get a life. Anyway, the way we perform is always changing too so I really think its a combination of both.

Gavin: It was never about facing gear for me unless the stage room demanded us to set up a certain way. I always loved live performances by the Talking Heads where David Byrne didn't face the audience. Same with Jim Morrison. I like something about it. I always have a specific thought since we're at the bottom of the food chain so to speak, that I'm a nobody. Y'all aren't here to see me or her necessarily but listen to new music at the core of it. Hang with friends and have an experience more or less. I don't know, I definitely think its situational.

It seems like every other show I see someone is being disruptive or confrontational. Any other characters out there that come to mind? How do you deal with it when it happens?

Jeannie: The most common things I'm confronted about at shows is drunk dudes asking if I'm "the merch girl", "a vocalist?" Or just drunk dudes in my personal space. It happens to me a lot. I don't know if its confrontational, but there are plenty of assumptions that are just baseless and unwarranted I guess.

Gavin: I cant keep track anymore, sometimes I wonder like, do we attract this or something? I have a different perspective. I also get a lot of rock/guitar traditionalists who make it a point to make sure you know they don't think what you're doing is music. I have a lot of push/pull relationships with sound guys. Sometimes shows are just a mess. They're incredible, but doing everything independently you run into a lot of messy situations. There was a show in New Orleans where this drunk old white guy who insisted it was a tragedy that he had to put his toy cars with confederate flags on them into storage boxes and that propane was safe to inhale, asserted himself onstage before the opener so he could play an actually good rendition of Madonna's "Into The Groove".

You guys are hitting the road right? What are your plans? 

Jeannie: Yes! We're hitting the road in June, the plan is coast to coast until about September. But who knows, it's tour. We're also planning and booking through our own network and friends so we will see what happens.

I had to laugh when I saw a picture of the all the gear in your van. It looks really well organized in one crate but there is definitely a sacrifice of sleeping space. Are you cut off from buying new synths for a while?

Gavin: Nothing can stop us from finding gear. Except for money I guess. We have enough sleeping space for the both of us.

Jeannie: Honestly we can never really afford to buy synths anyway sooo.....

What gear would you both buy if you had unlimited funds?

Jeannie: I don't know where to start if I had unlimited funds. I really like Arturia's new Drumbrute. Id like to get a violin pick up to be able to track live strings. Maybe a MIDI violin. A guitar, probably a Fender Duo-Sonic like Gavin's old one. A new looper because ours is dying a slow death. Definitely want that new Critter & Guitari visual synth. There's a lot of things. Its overwhelming.

Gavin: Wow, unlimited funds. Um, right now I have my eye on a modular rack unit that I have a specific use in mind but I don't want to get into details 'cause no one is really using modular for that use right now. At least I don't think so. Id really like that new compact mini mellotron being released this year. An MPC500 and an Elektron Rytm or Octotrack would be really tite as well.

It seems like now more than ever there are a lot of really interesting self released albums out there. It is obvious in the result of Valley Fever that you guys are really talented and put so much into your work. Do you think that people are putting enough effort into discovering new artists?

Jeannie: I don't even put enough effort in! It's so overwhelming. There is so much new music right now it's hard to fault anyone for not trying hard enough.

Gavin: At the same time, I feel like you have a group of friends who you share music with that shares music/art/influence with others and everything travels along its own path so I think in some sense not a lot of effort is needed. I also think human emotion and all its personal necessities play a part in "discovering" art and music especially as a medium. So its hard to chart what is the "trending" way people discover music coming out. So sometimes it fucks me up thinking about commercializing peoples emotions. Because who the f knows how people discover something. 

Will there be a break from writing new music for a while to play these songs live? Any plans for the next project?

Gavin: No we don't have a break right now. Even when we're performing something could happen in a song that will be later saved for a future song. We have a few projects already finished hopefully coming out soon with some well known people and have stuff planned to possibly work on with some friends while we're on the road so we have a lot of work in sight. But we will be playing all of this on the tour coming up as well as unreleased stuff.

Where can people pick up a copy of Valley Fever? Will there be a physical release?

Yes, you can currently pick up a digital copy of Valley Fever on our bandcamp or at our website For the time being physicals will be available through us in the form of Cassette and CD while we're on tour. Any updates will follow about where physicals can be picked up.

live photos: Scissabob Photography
lyric books photo: HXXS

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Artist Interview: Dustin Swinney

Photo: Royce Jackson Wagner

There is an exciting polarity to Dustin Swinney's music that is both decadent and minimal. He is a talented singer and you can hear the focus and sincerity in his voice. I look forward to seeing what's next for him. Be sure to check out his Soundcloud page ( and watch out for upcoming events. Thank you for the conversation Dustin!


To get things started could you tell us where you are from and what drew you to creating music?

I was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and I was raised in a small town an hour outside of Nashville, Tennessee called Waverly. My Dad was a tour manager and studio assistant in the late 70’s/early 80’s in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and he was obsessed with music. I can’t remember a time growing up where music wasn’t being played or listened to. I was certainly a weird attention starved little kid and singing was a way to get adults to notice me; once I realized that there was no turning back.

How do you go about writing a song? Do you write the lyrics first or does that come later?

I am always writing in my journal and sometimes I will pull lyrics from there. Other times I will record a melody on my phone and match lyrics to the melody at a later date. If I’m working with producers I am often sent a full/fleshed out track and the melody will be inspired by their music. When I’m producing I will come up with a simple beat, or synth line, and free style over it; fleshing out the details as I go along. I’ve learned there isn’t a method to my madness and I try to let songs form as naturally as possible.

Do you go through a period of frustration with each project or does it unfold pretty naturally?

For me, if a song or project doesn’t unfold naturally I know it’s time to walk away for a while. The songs I’ve written I love most have happened organically. Granted, some songs require a little more attention than others, but if the core of a song doesn’t happen naturally then I know it isn’t going to work. Some tracks sit on my computer for months before I revisit them. Often times my best work happens after I’ve spent some time away from the original idea.

What do you think of the music scene in Portland?

I think the music scene in Portland is a myth. There are a lot of cool bands and artists in Portland, but as far as a “scene” goes I don’t think there is one…

Does playing music effect how you listen to music? Do you ever get burnt out on listening after you spend a lot of time arranging your own music?

Definitely. Listening to music can be a bit overwhelming especially if I’m finishing up an idea; I get too caught up in the details of how things are mixed. Subconsciously I go through spells where I don’t listen to music for weeks on end in order to clear space in my head.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

Not really, I usually focus on not embarrassing myself.

Has anything crazy happened at your live shows?

I played an intimate show at a tea lounge with Sophont, and this couple sitting front and center kept offering their very rude opinions to us in between songs. It got to a point where I asked them to leave.  Recently, I was playing a house show and this very drunk “dude bro” asked me, in the middle of a song, if he could free style. Looking back I should have let him because I’m certain he would have embarrassed himself. It’s not easy getting up on stage and performing for strangers. I don’t expect everyone to like my music, but keep your opinions to yourself or leave.

It seems like you had a really productive collaboration with Gavin Neves of HXXS. Was that a one off, or is there more in the works?

Gavin is amazing and uber talented. Not only is he one of my dearest friends, he is one of my favorite collaborators. I hope to always work and collaborate with him in some capacity. There are still two or three songs I haven’t released yet. I plan on releasing everything we worked on as an EP before the end of the year and you will be able to download that via my bandcamp: My ultimate goal is to do a small cassette release of the EP, but I’m not sure if that will come to fruition or not.

Is there going to be any new Sophont material as well?

Hopefully. Mike and I would like to release an album at some point. We’ve demoed around 20 songs over the past couple of years. We’ve recently narrowed down the list to 10 songs. Mike and I have had a crazy year personally and it’s been difficult to schedule a time to get those songs finished. I hope we get a chance to get the material completed because I think we’ve come up with some really cool and vibe-y songs.

What sort of electronic gear do you use? 

I’ve only recently begun producing my own music. I have a long list of things that I want to buy and learn how to use, but I’m currently using an Arturia key step and Studio One; I’m starting simple.

If you had your pick of any synthesizer or piece of gear that has ever been made, what would you chose? Would you keep it or sell it?

There are sooo many things I wish I had… Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1, Roland GAIA SH-01 Synthesizer, etc. etc. I would absolutely keep them and continue to add to the collection. When I was a kid, I had a Casio Rapman Keyboard with scratch disk, voice effector, and microphone; I would give anything to still have it.

For most of my life I have been pretty dismissive of mainstream pop music, but I find your appreciation of it to be really endearing. Do you like it for the glamour and surface appeal or is it something beyond that? What do you take away from pop music?

For me pop music goes far beyond the glamour and surface appeal… I get the dismissiveness of mainstream pop music because most of it is generic crap. However, I think pop music is an underrated art form that doesn’t get enough credit. It is extremely difficult to write and produce pop music and while there is a tried and true formula it’s what can be done with that formula that interests me. With that being said I think pop music has shifted so much over the years. Most of the time I’m not even sure what qualifies as pop music and what doesn’t. To me someone like Jessy Lanza writes and produces great pop music, but someone that listens to top 40 pop would completely disagree with me.

Could you share your expertise and give us five pop songs that are worth listening to?

I’m going to stick with 5 songs that have been released in 2016. I could get advanced and dive deep into the 80’s, 90’s, and early 00’s but that’s a whole other article.
1. Terror Jr. “Come First”
2. Ariana Grande “Touch It” or “Into You” (really anything on Dangerous Woman – it’s a really well done pop album)
3. Anhoni “Watch Me”
4. Beck “Wow”
5. ABRA “Pull Up”

What sort of role does playing music have in your life? Is there joy in it? Necessity? 

Music is everything to me. Music is something I try to work on every day in some form. I find myself getting very frustrated if I’m not working on music.

Do you work in other artistic mediums than music? If so does it give you some sort of balance?

I was a visual artist before I ever started making music and it’s very much an important aspect of my creative process. I usually listen to what my mind wants to do as far as creativity is concerned. Some days working on a painting or drawing appeals to me more than working on music. As long as I’m creating every day I usually feel pretty balanced.

Do you have any grand plans for the future or are you just going to see how it goes?

At this point I’m concentrating on producing my own music; I hope to evolve and become completely self-sufficient. Eventually I’d like to make art and music full time but what that means exactly I’m not sure. Like every artist/musician I want to reach as many people as possible through my work, but the tricky part is figuring out how to make that happen. In the meantime I’m going to stay focused and keep working.

Any upcoming projects or shows?

I have no shows planned currently. It was important for me to perform the material I worked on with Gavin, but I don’t see myself playing another show until I figure out how to play my new music live. I’d also like to incorporate more performance art into my set as well. I have a lot of ideas on how to improve my live show and I hope to work on those ideas over the next couple of months. As far as upcoming projects are concerned, I hope to release a collection of self-produced songs by the end of summer. In the meantime, I have a lot of collaborations in the works. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of electronic, dance, and hip-hop producers and I’ll be featured on some of their tracks over the next couple of months.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Alan Vega was wild eyed, dangerous, and cool. He never pandered to the crowd or tried to win their affection. He was not Elvis Presley and he was not Iggy Pop, but he hollowed out a space that was all his own. His lyrics are fascinating and different than anything else. He knew the past and he knew the future. The music that he created remains a high water mark in an area that no one else even knew existed.  The due of Suicide is often seen as a product of their environment in late 1970s New York, but they are more than just a snapshot of animals in their natural habitat. They are artists who made deliberate choices and deserve to have an audience that explores their entire catalogue. Alan Vega and Suicide represent what can occur when you cease to let the expectations of others guide you creatively. He lived and died as we all will, but was not tethered to the same framework that guides most lives and artistic choices.

Monday, June 6, 2016

I keep returning to this video of Frank Tovey. I think that it is a very special performance and love how he responds to having to lip-sync the lyrics. His actions could easily be seen as a protest for being in the position in the first place, but maybe there is more to it. He seems tuned in to something in way that transforms a boring mimed performance into something powerful and hilarious. I'm sure that everyone involved were pissed off at him, but he carried the performance and made it real in the only way that he could. I think it is perfect.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fat White Family Live in Portland, OR.

Fat White Family takes the stage unceremoniously, but even as the band mills around and soundchecks there is something about them that hints at the energy they possess. Not showmanship exactly, but rather an underlying sense of belonging in that space. When they launch into their set singer Lias Saoudi dives into his performance headlong. Usually with singers the act of vocalizing involves a certain level of balance where the voice hovers along and is hopefully pleasing on some level. With Saoudi, it is more about falling at top speed. He seems to be pressed against the limits of what his voice and body are capable of, and it is thrilling to see. Meanwhile, guitarist and primary musical arranger Saul Adamczewski has an awareness of the whole stage and is one of those rare musicians that can nudge a nearly unpalatable collage of sound into something fascinating without glossing it over too much.
The band wears their influences on their sleeves and even have a song called "I Am Mark E. Smith" which is an interesting play on originality. Still, at times when their sound and stage movements are traceable to past artists, it never comes across as being overly nostalgic. I find the idea of one musician claiming the identity of another in such a way to be hilarious and in this case it is also deceptively original. The fact that said musician is Mark E. Smith is too perfect, as he is an artist who once wrote a song about himself writing a song (How I Wrote Elastic Man) and the Fat Whites homage takes it to a new level. A lot of their other lyrics are on morally questionable ground, and it will surely be offensive to some, but keep in mind the comedy of Louie C.K. is on equal or even more questionable ground and he is popular and accepted on a mainstream level. The comparison is pretty abstract, but in both cases, you begin to see the intent of the performer as you grow acquainted with their work.
The band as a whole creates a seemingly unstoppable live force that barrels along while being simultaneously pulled apart from within. It feels unhealthy and a little self indulgent, but also represents something familiar and human. On some level it is like a failed meditation in which your subconscious goes chattering away and lifting up stones to see what is crawling beneath. Despite this, it never seems to wallow or become depressing. When you see them it feels like you are a part of what is happening and I left the show feeling reconnected rather than emotionally drained or exhausted as I often am after a concert. There is a manic energy at a Fat White Family show and you can tell that the band are completely invested in taking the performance to some strange elevated place.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Artist Interview: Mick Harvey

When I first heard the song "Red Right Hand" 20 years ago I was 15 years old living in Missoula, Montana. It was a gateway into the music of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and eventually The Birthday Party, Crime and the City Solution, PJ Harvey, Rowland S. Howard, Anita Lane, and the solo work of Mick Harvey. To this day I am fascinated by this vast network of artists and more often than not, Mick Harvey's involvement is the common thread. His presence is a far reaching and underlying current that among other things serves as an important documentation of a music scene or movement. When listening to Harvey's solo records, there is a dimensional quality that seems to suggest a physical environment. This can be traced to his collaborative work as well, providing other musicians with a productive atmosphere in which to interact and thrive. Combined with Nick Cave's intensity and narrative style of songwriting, this sense of place was instrumental in the telling of a complete story. On the albums of Rowland S. Howard in which Mick Harvey was involved, we are given the most intimate existing recordings and clear portrait of Howard as a solo artist. The same could be said for his collaboration with Anita Lane which yielded some of the only existing flashes of this talented songwriter. Harvey's style of creating gives evidence of a musician who has an instinct for moving in a forward direction and elevating whatever project he is working on without over-handling it. Since leaving The Bad Seeds in 2009, Harvey has released two solo albums, recorded and toured with Einsturzende Neubautens' Alexander Hacke for their project, "The Ministry of Wolves", and collaborated extensively with PJ Harvey on her albums Let England Shake, and The Hope Six Demolition Project. A massive thank you to Mr. Harvey for agreeing to this interview and for offering some insight into his process.


Some of your past collaborations are with people who seem to possess a sort of unhinged wild creativity but perhaps not the ability to fully realize it. How do you help channel this in a constructive way?

I just work on their ideas with them. All such creativity, or most of it, finds its course eventually. I suppose on some level I have helped realize a lot of creative work which may otherwise not have seen the light of day but it’s hard to work out which or how they would have been without me. It’s also possible I have straightened out some more eccentric presentations in the past but I would hope not. I like to allow the extremities to flourish and perhaps certain people choose to work with me because they know this will be the case.

There is a perception that you were a grounding force in The Birthday Party and Bad Seeds. Did this give you a stronger sense of your role in the bands? Did it ever impede upon your own creativity?

My role in both bands grew quite unexpectedly. At first I was just playing guitar in The Birthday Party and writing the occasional piece of music. As time went by and we wanted more artistic control over the production of our recordings I had a stronger role to play as it seems I have a reasonably good ear. Then I gradually took over management responsibilities and in the end was writing much of the music for Nick’s lyrics. None of these things were in any master plan of mine - they just happened over the course of the years. Once the Bad Seeds began I suppose I just fell into similar roles with the
production and management but less so with writing the music. Nick seemed to want to guide the direction the music was taking after The Birthday Party and that was fine with me. All those new responsibilities had come to me by default. I’m quite happy to just be involved in playing and arranging the music.

When working with Rowland S. Howard or Blixa Bargeld, people might understandably assume that the more experimental parts of a song were their contribution. Was this usually the case? Are there musically unconventional elements that people would be surprised to know that you are responsible for?

Of course. In fact, even when people find out who is playing which guitar part in The Birthday Party they are surprised. I mean, there are usually 2 guitars on most songs up to and including Junkyard. Sometimes I’m playing some other instrument and after Junkyard I moved to the drums but I have the feeling people listen to old Birthday Party albums and assume Rowland is playing all the guitar parts, which is not the case. As for general unconventional elements……you’d have to point them out to me one by one and have me identify them. I suspect these are also the product of collaboration in most instances.

Anita Lane had a unique voice in the scene and her solo albums are fantastic but she is still largely unknown. From an outside perspective her artistic trajectory could be compared with that of Nico's solo work and involvement with the Velvet Underground. Do you think that those
albums will ever generate a greater swell of interest?

It would be nice if her work had more recognition but she is her own worst enemy in that regard as she has absolutely no interest in promoting her work or having any public profile. Sadly, this affects the level of awareness around an artist and their work. I’m still hopeful of reissuing ‘Sex O’Clock’ and perhaps such a reissue would generate new interest and awareness. It can always happen.

Is the reception of an audience a consideration when you are working on a song or is it counterproductive to think about it?

It rarely comes into my thinking or that of people I am working with as far as I am aware. There are occasions where it might cross one’s mind but I suspect that would be more disturbing than informative. To be honest I have no idea what people like about my music and never really have so I can keep on creating in a state of blissful ignorance. I know what I like about it so I just follow that.

When working with another artist, do you find it important to have your style or influence identifiable in the result of the collaboration?

It’s almost always there - it’s hard to stop it getting in there. I’m not a slick professional session musician.

What effect did having an audience present for the creation of PJ Harvey's latest album have? Was there ever a sense that you were performing during the recording process?

I think it made us focus more on what we were doing. And, yes, sometimes there was an awareness the audience was there which made the whole situation have some connection with a performance.

What are some of the typical things that you have to overcome in order to complete a song? Is it different each time or do you always encounter similar obstacles?

Mostly one hopes the music just falls together in a natural way and has that immediacy that makes music so beautiful and intangible. This actually happens quite a lot in my world. Sometimes one struggles to make a song what it should be - in those cases it can be any of hundreds of things which create the problem. Oftentimes it’s worth the struggle, sometimes not.

Your solo albums are fantastic. Is there a greater sense of freedom when you are working on a solo project?

No, I feel much the same as on any project except I’m only answerable to myself which can be challenging.

On "One Mans Treasure" your cover of "Mother of Earth" following "Bethelridge" is very moving and effective as a sequence. Does a lot of thought go into how the songs on an album relate to each other? Is the track order important?

Absolutely. Much time is spent on sequencing an album. These days much of that work is lost as people make their own playlists or just have a few individual songs. I still put a lot of work into it and continue to assume people will listen to the album I have put together even if it’s not on vinyl.

Do you have routines that you go through to stay practiced up on your instruments or is it ingrained at this point?

I agree with Ginger Baker on this point. I never practice, I just play. However, when one is playing a lot one’s playing gets better and one continues to learn, always, about everything.

Do you enjoy challenging yourself with difficult things to play? Does repetitive practice or playing the same song ever get tedious?

I only challenge myself with difficult things to play if I need to play them. I don’t consider music a sporting event. Repetitive practice and playing the same songs over and over can become tedious, or perhaps tedious is too harsh a word. If I like the song in the first place it’s probably more a case of becoming less interesting over time.

Are there any songs that you could listen to or play every day and never get sick of?

La Bamba.

It is sometimes said about musicians that they do it because they don't have any choice. Do you believe this? Could you have chosen a different path?

It’s probably true of some musicians but to put it another way it may be more a case of them being unemployable in any other field. I feel I could have done many different things. In fact I have always asserted I ended up in music by accident and maybe whatever I ended up specializing in would have been by accident. I may yet move on to making films. That possibility is certainly in my head again - more than it has been since the 80s.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Artist Interview:
Suniti Dernovsek

Dancer/Choreographer Suniti Dernovek's latest production, "A Leading Light", is a collaboration combining the movements of Allie Hankins, Dernovsek herself, and sound artist Holland Andrews. It seems a purposeful deconstruction in terms of cast and set design, resulting in focused yet surrealistic storytelling. A sense of opposition and danger is always present, but ultimately so is the strength to face it. Even at points when the performers crash to the ground or rap their knuckles on the floor, it feels as much a reaffirmation of physical self and surroundings than a representation of harm or failure. Dernovesek is an artist who possesses the ability to translate idea into movement on a relatable and universal level while retaining an awareness of the audience and respect for their power of interpretation. Throughout this process her artistic fingerprint is always present.

Could you describe the early stages of Leading Light? What sparked the idea for this project and how did it take shape? 

In the beginning stages of making Leading Light, I was working alone in the studio with some general interests around experiencing the audience/performer relationship with more intimacy. For several years, I had been focusing on my role as a choreographer and not dancing in my larger works and in this project I wanted to include more of myself. This piece came out of a big transitional time for me. My daughter had just turned one and I was blown away by my own strength and vulnerability. Every container that I had built for myself was being pressed against and I needed to speak to these new edges and deconstruct any holding I had to a feminine ideal. I became fascinated by the creation of public and private personas, spaces and expectations. Questions arose in regards to presentation and the vulnerability in expressing what feels honest.
I asked Holland to work with me as I’ve been a big fan of her work for years and sensed that she would be the perfect fit for this project. We made a 20-minute performance as part of a residency at Studio 2, which was powerful and strong but didn’t feel complete. I wanted to keep going with it and that is when I asked Allie to get involved. Allie is a stunning performer and talented dance maker. I feel grateful to have worked with such a dream team and it really informed the work. We spent a lot of time improvising and I found myself intuitively following new paths and considering fresh possibilities. 

What was the collaborative dynamic like between you, Allie Hankins, and Holland Andrews? Did they bring unexpected ideas and developments?

Allie and Holland are both such incredible artists and part of my curiosity in working with them was to simply come together and see what would happen.  I allowed for space within the process to see what ideas would emerge.  Most rehearsals began with an open improvisation, which served as a general warm-up but also as a way for me to find movement or sound qualities that informed the larger context of the work. I wanted the form of this dance to be simple with two dance solos and some intersecting duets as well as space for a solo from Holland.  Within each solo, I allowed for sections of improvisation and even the moments of set choreography were a little different every night.  The three of us became very connected and I appreciated and trusted in Holland and Allies ability to make skilled choices.   

You have quite a large body of work at this point. How do your past projects inform new ideas? Is there ever a sense of self competition?

Each project feels like it begins with an echo of the last project. A work doesn’t ever feel complete yet I’m thankful for the deadlines, which certainly push me into a polishing phase. Once I get near the premiere I almost always feel like there isn’t enough time to realize everything. Certainly with each work there are things that I view as not being strong or clear enough or fully actualized and unfortunately most of my shows only happen for a weekend so there isn’t the added benefit of revisiting it after an audience has informed the work. I suppose there is a bit of self-competition because with each project I’m learning and I want to carry that momentum into the next project. Yet, it’s not as much the competition but more a necessity to press against my own containers and ask questions and from that inevitably a new project emerges.

After having worked with so many talented people is it difficult not to cast past collaborators in a production that requires so few performers? 

Each project has its own needs and demands and I wanted this project to feel simple and paired down. So, it wasn’t difficult to make that choice this time around. Although, it’s true I have been fortunate to work with many talented artists.

Are certain stylistic expectations placed on you from people who know your work? 

 Personally, this work felt different to me because it’s the first piece in quite sometime that I wasn’t collaborating with my partner David Stein. He usually brings a strong visual element to the work and this piece is quite simple. I feel lucky to be supported by people that have followed my evolution and seemed genuinely interested in what I’ve been making and how it has been changing. I guess I try not to worry about others expectations because I’m trying so hard to deconstruct my own.

Do you feel any sort of responsibility for how an audience perceives your work?  

There are too many variables to take responsibility for the audience’s perception. I haven’t done a great job at inviting conversations with the audience around my work. I always intend to do talk back sessions or more work in progress showings to hear from the audience but with all of the other demands around a premiere I often miss the opportunity.

There is a fairly high degree of athleticism in your performances, but it seems to serve a purpose. Is it challenging to present skillful movement as a means of expression rather than a display of technique?

It’s interesting how we develop an aesthetic. I’ve spent a fair amount time improvising and some things have continued to be curious and intriguing. If bodies are a container of memories then moving around can certainly feel very emotional. While setting material it can be tricky to have the movement serve the greater context of the work because what felt honest in improvisation can get lost when trying to layer some sort of meaning on it. I try to create movement that can be evocative without the dancer having to feel theatrical. I’ve really appreciated working with technically trained performers and I like to push a bit into exhaustion as a tool to be surprised and genuine.

What do you have planned next? Will you take some time to regroup or are you already thinking of another project? 

I’m hoping to perform Leading Light again in a couple of other cities so I’m engaged with that also I value having a regular dance practice so I’ll be in the studio and we’ll see what happens next…

All photos: Meghann Gilligan