zaterdag 18 maart 2017

Interview with Emma Ruth Rundle

The release of Marked for Death in 2016 catapulted LA based artist Emma Ruth Rundle to high positions in many Best Of the Year lists from both fans and critics alike. Probably the best album to have come out last year, Marked for Death is the third solo record of Rundle, known as well for her work with Red Sparowes and Marriages. In April she will embark on an extensive tour through Europe.


At the Roadburn Festival 2015, in Tilburg, the Netherlands, the band Marriages from LA played a stunning set at the small Cul de Sac venue. An intense combination of drony shoegaze and hypnotic vocals made for one of the highlights of the festival of that year. Afterwards, I spoke with singer and guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle. Parts of that interview appeared online in Dutch, but here is the full interview in English, to get those who don't know her yet acquainted with her work in time to attend one of her shows here in Europe.

The Ice King

After their intense set in a fully packed Cul de Sac, I sit down with Emma Ruth Rundle in front of the cafe. Open, interested and genuine, Rundle comes across as a kind human being, with a passion for what she does. After realizing we have a shared love for the Ice King from Adventure Time, we talk a bit about Roadburn and playing there. “It’s great to be here, to walk around and enjoy other bands. We see many familiar faces here, and it’s always nice to see friends when you are away from home. Like the people from Helms Alee, one of my favourite bands, ever since they were on Hydra Head. I think they are so unique and special. When I found out that Cathy Pellow from Sargent House was going to sign them, it was quite a celebration! I got a bit nervous before playing here myself though, since there are so many heavy bands playing here and Marriages is not that heavy per se.” Luckily, playing here turned out quite amazing, with the Roadburn attendees mostly having quite a broad taste in music paired with an open mind.

Marriages

Kitsune

Marriages (read an interview I had with bassist Greg Burns here) kicked off their career with the EP Kitsune in 2012, and followed up that record with their full length Salome in 2015. Emma Ruth Rundle explains how Kitsune originated out of necessity. “We really wrote our first EP as one long piece. Our friends in Russian Circles had asked Red Sparowes [in which both Rundle and Greg Burns played] to open a show in Los Angeles, but not everyone in the band could make it. But Greg and I really wanted to do the show, so therefore we got together and wrote Kitsune. Pretty much so we could do that show. We wrote it with the intention of it being a set, so all songs are in a particular order.” Apparently they did a good job in writing the album, because they immediately got signed after that first performance. “It is hard to remember exactly, but what I do know is that at our very first show, with Russian Circles, Cathy Pellow of Sargent House saw us perform and she said ‘I want you guys to make a record’. So I guess we did something right!”



Salome

Whereas Kitsune comes across as a continuous flow because of how it was written, Salome has a somewhat different feel to it. The songs seem to have more a stream of conscious style of playing, with a heavier emphasis on vocals. Rundle mentions that both technicalities and a change in focus led to this. “At the time of Kitsune I was experimenting with this vocal processor, because I was doing another project called the The Headless Prince of Zolpidem, with vocals that were really affected. The idea with Marriages was to have my vocals to have more of a textural quality, more than in the traditional pop song structure. When we were coming out of Red Sparowes and on to our first recording with Marriages, we wrote music that has this flow and textural quality. At a later stage, when we were working on new material for Salome, the vocals were different, with a softer approach and in a different key. So we wrote songs that were again more traditional. We wanted them to be a little more structured, with verses and choruses. We wanted the vocals to be really present and the lyrics to have more impact. It was a big departure from Kitsune in that regard.”



Singing Live

The change in approach also meant a change in live performances, with a different role for Rundle as singer. “It changed a lot, the live shows. I used to sing a lot through this vocal processor, which meant that the lyrics didn’t stand out as much. And... I think having the vocals be more present really had an impact, because they are a more important element of the songs. It was and still is a struggle to sing live. I don’t use the processor anymore, but I am not used to singing in this way. The vocals are a lot louder, but I don’t always hear myself that well and that can be quite hard sometimes, with all the different ranges. But then again, the vocal processor was often causing us problems with creating a lot of feedback, which was another reason why we wanted to get rid of it. Technically it wasn’t easy to perform with and it often ended up hurting us more than it really helped us.”

Photo by Paul Verhagen

The Nocturnes

Next to her role as guitarist in Red Sparowes, Rundle also used to spearhead the alternative folkgaze outfit The Nocturnes, in which Andrew Clinco played drums, who is now the drummer of Marriages. Even though The Nocturnes has been an important outlet for Rundle, she doesn’t see herself going back to performing under that name. “Nocturnes was... really my music, but I wanted to pursue my solo music, which is more folk like, without having to call it a band and include anyone else, so I could tour by myself and make decisions myself. Nocturnes really needs a band behind the music, to really get to those songs. And it was... we had problems getting everyone together all the time to do that. That was stressful. We did one show together on the West Coast and that was the end of it. I didn’t want to invest any time in music that I couldn’t perform live anymore. Marriages will be the only band I’ll be in from now on. Nocturnes is done. Never again."



Some Heavy Ocean

So Marriages is the band Rundle is in now, but that doesn’t mean she will not focus on her solo career as well. She released an instrumental record with experimental drone and ambient music in 2011 (Electric Guitar: One) and released her sophomore album Some Heavy Ocean in 2014, her first solo record featuring vocals. “I’ll definitely keep writing and performing music under my own name. I did a tour in November 2014 in the States, and the reception has been amazing. It was so great to see the reactions to my music. I didn’t think that Some Heavy Ocean would ever really come out to begin with, so it was great to see that all happen. It is so much easier to pack up and tour without the need of a band. I still worry sometimes though about disappointing people, with the lack of instrumentation. No touring band, just me by myself playing electric guitar and singing and that’s it.”



A Scary Freedom

Photo by Kristin Cofer
Not having a band behind you of course means that everything comes down to you on stage. Apart from having full control, that emphasis can be a bit frightening as well of course. It took Rundle some time to really find her way as a solo musician. “It was scary at first. It took a little while to figure out how to really perform my music live. At first I tried taking an acoustic guitar, but that is a nightmare live... So I went back to what I know, which is electric guitar and trying to mess with that. The good thing about playing alone is that it allows me the space to really feel the songs every night, to really connect to the emotions. It allows me to change the songs every night in relation to how I am feeling. That’s a freedom that you get when you play by yourself.” The possibility of changing songs depending on her mood is an important one for Rundle, and is something that is more difficult to do when she is playing with Marriages. “For me, it is essential to be able to really feel the music and tune in to the emotions that I am feeling. The music with Marriages is really set -there’s not a lot of improvisation going on there. At least not on this tour. Sometimes we write songs with space to improvise a bit though. But with my solo stuff I can just do whatever I want. I can be very neurotic, so to do whatever I’m feeling... well yeah that’s very nice. But the combination of having both Marriages and my solo shows is a very good one.”

Photo by Reid Hathcock

Ambiguity

Lyrically, there is also a difference between what Rundle writes for Marriages and for her own music. While Salome deals more with mythology, the songs on Some Heavy Ocean are very personal. “With Marriages we write the music as a group. As far as the character of Salome goes, I had written a song that I decided to call Salome and that became the title of the record. There is an ongoing theme of sexuality, violence, and revenge on that album. I feel the way I approach writing music and lyrics in general has a very direct connection to what I am feeling, like and where I am at in my life. But with Marriages I might put it in a bit more abstract words. Those songs are still very personal, but not always in a clear way. I think my band mates don’t even always know what the songs are about. They trust me in that and give me the freedom to express myself lyrically. I guess it’s a little more abstract, but that’s fine, people can get what they want out of lyrics. That is the beauty of music -the message doesn’t need to be unambiguous. I prefer not to explain the lyrics, actually. Especially with the solo record, whic is a very, very personal record, close to my heart. You know, growing up, it was disappointing to me, listening to music as a young person. I get very invested emotionally in lyrics, they are an integral aspect of the experience.” The rest of the band interrupts shortly, since they need to pack and move their things. After a short break, which gave us the time to order two more beers, we continue the conversation and talk some more about Rundle’s solo work.

Photo by Gus Black

Electric Guitar

In 2011, Rundle released the more experimental, instrumental drone record Electric Guitar: 1. The shift to her more vocal orientated follow up (which still has haunting guitar pieces, mind you), was a natural one for Rundle, although she might still release another instrumental record some time. “At first, Nocturnes was kind of my vessel for writing and singing songs. I had gone to CalArts in LA, a school for music, and I was doing a lot of experimental guitar and noise music there. The way I made Electric Guitar was... well, the last time Red Sparowes was on tour, I wrote and recorded that album on the van while we were driving around. I was just looking at the landscapes and writing music to that. It was sort of a soundtrack to traveling through Europe.” Knowing this, it suddenly seems a lot more fitting that when listening to that record, landscapes seem to unfold before your eyes... The style of singing on The Nocturnes’ releases and Kitsune seems a bit different from on Salome, on which Rundle seems to have really found her own voice. On Shadows of My Name that seems even more the case, like her voice is coming from a different realm, bringing divergent worlds together. To the question whether that was long process or a conscious effort, Rundle answers that she doesn’t feel like her singing has changed that much. “I think it has a lot to do with how these records were recorded and mixed. With The Nocturnes for example we used a lot of harmonies. On my own records my voice is a more important aspect though, and the singing is an important element of my live shows when I am touring on my own. Which is again an other thing entirely, singing live. I don’t know, maybe just something cracked and fell into place..? Cathy from Sargent House really encouraged me to use my voice and so... I guess that is part of it as well.”



Comparisons

Often when hearing a new artist for the first time, you almost automatically start relating it to other artists that it reminds you of. With Some Heavy Ocean, that really didn’t happen to me. It connected straight away on a deeper, profound level. It’s difficult to describe, but the music and vocals aren’t insular, but seem to come from different planes of immanence. “A lot of people try to relate my voice to usually the same ten people. All very different though! Ranging from Sinead O’Connor to Bjork, to the woman of Cocteau Twins... It’s a little disappointing sometimes. But I guess it is human nature, making it seem familiar but... yeah it is my voice and that is how it sounds.” As already mentioned, with her own voice Rundle sings very personal songs, which is not always easy when performing them live. “It was difficult and it is still very difficult. I am a very sensitive person... It is especially hard when I am tired, haven’t slept or not eaten enough. The last tour I started crying a lot, during the show sometimes. When you play the music, you get back to where you were when you wrote the song. And if that is a painful place, you feel that...”

Photo by Adam Gasson

The Artist is Present

I mention a comment from a Dutch artist, who said that on stage you should try to feel the emotion of your songs to the verge of crying yourself, without actually doing it, since that would take away the emotion from the audience back to the artist. Rundle doesn’t necessarily agrees with this. “I just let it happen. I believe it is important to be honest as an artist, especially in solo music. Some Heavy Ocean is not about shredding guitar, it is about the emotional content of the songs. So if I am playing and I get emotional, to me that means I am in a good space to perform the music. The worst thing is to play a show and not feel anything. Then it’s just an act.” Something that seems to happen too often with some other artists, but when asked if that ever happened to her, Rundle, with a slight hesitation, says it hasn’t. “No... not really with the solo stuff at least. There is a quote in this documentary by Marina Abramovich, The Artist is Present, that says something like: ‘If you are just going through the motions, it is acting. If you feel it, it is a performance’. So I think it is one or the other, and the solo stuff to me is always a performance. With Marriages I try to have that as well, be emotionally involved. But sometimes I get a bit too nervous and that can get in the way of feeling. There is a lot more thinking going on in coordinating playing in real time with other people, so there is a different focus, instead of just focusing of giving yourself to the songs.”

Dissolving Boundaries

We talk a bit more about the Abramovich documentary, in which the artist advocates really connecting with people, up close and personal. The levels of intensity that can arise when that happens, when you really connect to someone, can be quite overpowering. When playing live on a stage though, that seems a bit harder to achieve. “That’s the whole thing with playing music live that’s so interesting... I used to go to art school and was more involved in performance art, but being in a band, there is a separation. There is us and them. There’s the stage and the audience. When I play solo I do try to do away with that, to connect more. But what Abramovich does is incredible.” I mention remarks from singer Geoff Rickley during a Thursday concert, when he talked about the band being on a stage and the audience in the room, that it is just a construct. To him, both band and audience need each other and need to try to dissolve the idea of a separation between them, to have no boundaries. “It is hard, but if you can pull it off it becomes a successful and wonderful moment. I find that sometimes hard to do while playing with Marriages. I feel a bit too introverted sometimes, I’d like to do it more. It takes a few shows to really get into it.”

Present Future

For the time being, Rundle sees herself combining Marriages with her solo work. “Well, there’s always a lot of time between writing and recording the music and when it comes out. It’s been easy to shift the focus between the two because of that. My solo stuff is a little bit on a break right now, and the focus is on Marriages. When this tour is over I will probably write another solo album.” That is something to look forward to. Not many artists can build worlds and invite you to explore them like Rundle does. While wrapping up the interview, we talk a bit about Smashing Pumpkins, for both of us one of our favourite bands growing up. When I express my fondness of the Pisces of Iscariot album, Rundle agrees to its quality. “Such an underrated record! I did a cover of Starla once. I love that record. My first ever show was Smashing Pumpkins actually. Together with Garbage, when I was like 13, in LA. They are the only reason why I play music. I started playing guitar because of them. I stopped being a fan though since Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness...” Which is something we can probably all agree on. To the question what other kinds of music she is into, Rundle shows she is a lover of music regardless of genre. “I loved Tori Amos and Kate Bush when growing up, but Skinny Puppy was also a big band for me. At the moment I am listening to a lot of Barkmarket and Them Are Us Too. There is so much music out there though... Both my parents were musicians, so I grew up listening to a lot of music. My dad listened to a lot of jazz and classic rock, my mum loves classical music and surf. And in LA there’s always so much music going on all the time, you never run out of it.” And that is a very reassuring thought.


Emma Ruth Rundle European Tour Dates 2017


vrijdag 17 maart 2017

Richard Bolhuis / House of Cosy Cushions

In 2015 had ik een interview voor het tijdschrift Gonzo (circus) met de Nederlands/Engelse muzikant-kunstenaar Richard Bolhuis. Hij beperkt zich niet tot bepaalde kunstuitingen en maakt net zo makkelijk grote installaties als dat hij kleine muzikale optredens geeft. Hij treedt vooral op onder de naam House of Cosy Cushions, een los collectief gelijkgestemde artiesten.

Het interview, voor abonnees van Gonzo (circus) hier terug te lezen, was een erg fijn gesprek met een bevlogen en oprecht mens. Zowel in zijn woorden als in zijn kunstuitingen weet Bolhuis je te raken, met een combinatie van duiding en mysterie. Zoals hijzelf aangeeft:

“Voor mij is het leven een mysterie en dat wordt vanzelfsprekend een onlosmakelijk onderdeel van wat ik maak. Vroeger vond ik het mysterieuze bijna beangstigend, maar ik heb geleerd het steeds meer te omarmen. Het onbekende werkt voor mij bevrijdend en speelt een belangrijke rol in het ontdekken van wie ik zelf ben."


De combinatie van beeldende kunst en muziek is voor Bolhuis een natuurlijke manier om zich uit te drukken. Hij ziet geen heil in het maken van een onderscheid tussen beide vormen, maar geeft wel aan wat het belang van muziek is voor hem, zowel wat betreft het zelf creëren als het luisteren ervan.

"Voor mij is het heel natuurlijk verlopen dat ik mezelf middels interdisciplinaire installaties uitdruk, maar het kan ook een optreden met mijn collectief House of Cosy Cushions zijn. (...) Muziek is voor mij een middel om het leven op een andere manier te doorgronden. (...) Muziek is voor mij euforisch en seksueel. Voor mij is muziek misschien wel de ultieme beleving van vrijheid. Hoe gestructureerd een nummer ook kan zijn, de ervaring is toch een soort uittreding. Er is altijd muziek en dat te beseffen geeft een helend gevoel.”



Op 31 maart 2017 vindt er in De Synagoge in Groningen, in samenwerking met het Groninger Museum, een installatie-performance plaats van Bolhuis, waar zijn collectief House of Cosy Cushions ook onderdeel ook van uit maakt. Bolhuis maakt vaak gebruik van de kwaliteiten van een locatie, om die onderdeel te laten worden van de performance. Een aanrader voor zowel de kunst- als muziekliefhebber. Of eigenlijk gewoon een aanrader voor iedereen, want Bolhuis weet mensen zodanig te raken dat emoties naar boven komen en men geïntrigeerd weer weg gaat, peinzend over mogelijke nieuwe paden in het leven. 



Kitty Hawk - Syzygy


Syzygy 

Wandering through a fog 
Cloaked in an icy cold 
A becoming, forever onwards 
Reaching out to the depths 

Confrontation = individuation 

There goes the darkest of knights 
Riding through, the cold black night 
“Mahabharata! Mahabharata! 
Mahabharata” -he cries out 
A lunar wetness settles on his soul 
Bitterness in wisdom -a saline solution 
“Mahabharata! Mahabharata! 
Mahabharata” -he cries out 

A translucent vessel 
Filled with water, thick 
Diving into, forever downwards 
Spiralling around the ego-self axis 

Confrontation = individuation 

He steps into the pool of Bethesda 
As soon as he sees the waters move 
“Mahabharata! Mahabharata! 
Mahabharata” -he cries out 
Nigredo blackness of a lunar eclipse 
Albedo brightness is blinding his eyes 
“Mahabharata! Mahabharata! 
Mahabharata” -he cries out 

A shadow figure turns around 
His look sizing him up and down 
A deep look into his eyes 
“Mahabharata!” -he cries out 
A collapse of the Real and Imagined 
Necessary to keep on becoming 
Forever onwards, towards the Self 
“Mahabharata!” -he cries out

-NT 2016

dinsdag 11 oktober 2016

Ziemba - Spirit Figures, Feminism and Empowerment

On the eve of her first ever European tour, which has kicked off by now, I had the pleasure of talking to Rene Kladzyk, perhaps better known under the moniker of Ziemba. Under that name Kladzyk has been creating wonderfully crafted dream pop, combined with alternative folk and queer theatrics.


Psychotic

After a couple of EPs Ziemba released her first full length album 'Hope Is Never' earlier this year, and last month already she released her latest EP, called 'LALA'. Even more than on its predecessors, 'LALA' showcases the enormous strength of Kladzyk’s voice and her lyrical prowess. “Well, I love singing, so I think that’s a good thing! And I like to see myself as a strong lyricist. For this EP I initially wrote a lot more songs, which I eventually boiled down to the four that are on it now. There was one song for which I wrote around seven pages of lyrics... that was quite psychotic, so it didn’t make it. Another song which didn’t make it to the cut had the line ‘time is a victim of the body’, which I really liked. It was hard to let that one go, but in the end a common theme appeared in the four songs that did make it. It felt like these were the best songs and together formed the most coherent whole.”



Spirit figure

The overall atmosphere on the EP is a very mysterious and brooding one, something that Kladzyk wasn’t necessarily looking for in the first place. “It was a bit terrifying in a way to realise I had written these songs from a specific perspective without intent. They deal with the mystery of this spirit archetype of the succubus, a sort of femme fatale or demon woman. My first conscious encounter with it was when I had an artist residency in Morocco, back in 2011. I came across this spirit figure called Aisha Qandisha, which some say is a semi-mythic figure, but others see her as very real. Women revere her and see her as a symbol of empowerment and sensuality. Men fear her and see her as a curse. She seduces them in their dreams and then they are forever haunted. Or she just kills them..! Some even say they are married to this spirit figure and therefore can never marry a real woman.”

She

Kladzyk became rather fascinated with this archetypal figure, in which the Jungian concept of the anima can also be recognized. After her residency in Morocco, she encountered the spirit in different forms in different places and became aware of many (pop) cultural references to the figure. “There is a novel from the late nineteenth century called 'She', which also deals with a she-demon. It takes place in a completely different part of Africa and has this fucked up colonial take on African myth and tradition, but it is a very interesting piece of work. The myth of sexualised evil, of a power through sensuality. The she-figure both curses and is cursed, because she is tied to what she is and cannot escape her fate. In a way I got tied to this figure as well, became almost subconsciously obsessed with it, which eventually showed through my lyrics.”


Photo by Standa Merhout

Power geometry

The depiction in myth of women having power through sensuality is something that still plays a role in many aspects in the world today, in particular pop culture. “Being a female musician, or a queer musician that is mostly understood as female and presents herself that way, I am definitely aware of the fact that being seen as a woman steers the terms I have to deal with. That goes for many different industries, of course, but I think that in the music industry especially power relationships are very much influenced by how women are being perceived. There is more and more friction though, and there is definitely some change happening, but the long history of this issue in the music industry makes it a difficult and long battle.” In the world of heavy music there seems to be a change visible, with women being more and more present in the role of screamers and grunters. See Svffer, The Charm The Fury or Employed to Serve, for example. I point out the paradox that often goes hand in hand with more women being in bands, when a rock band all of a sudden becomes a ‘female fronted rock band’, or a punk band consisting of all women becomes an ‘all girl punk band’. Kladzyk has first hand experience with this. “I’m frequently put on bills that say ‘all women line-up’ or ‘ladies night!’. I’m happy to see more women playing music, and also more queer musicians and more musicians of colour, but I’d rather be put on a bill based on the type of music I make.”

Ziemba is on quite a few bills all across Europe the coming month. Make sure to be around when she hits your town! You can also check out her Mixcloud page for a great collection of mixtapes she made. For an extension of this interview in Dutch, see my article on Gonzo (circus).


Ziemba Goes to Europe
Oct. 13: Rotterdam, Netherlands; WORM
Oct. 15: Berlin, Germany; Madame Claude
Oct. 17: Berlin, Germany; Schokoladen
Oct. 18: Prague, Czech Republic; (A)void Floating Gallery
Oct. 20: Gdansk, Poland; Kolonia Artystów Gdańsk
Oct. 24: Paris, France; Le Pop In
Oct. 25: Paris, France; Le Motel
Oct. 27: Brighton, United Kingdom; The Marwood
Oct. 29: Bristol, United Kingdom; Roll for the Soul

dinsdag 27 oktober 2015

The Self Presents: The Collective Unconscious Pt 2

Second episode of my show The Collective Unconscious, recorded for Fnoob Techno Radio. This episode aired October 3rd, 2015 and features the likes of Juho Kahilainen, Cavalerra, A. Mochi and Milton Bradley, among others. A total of 18 songs in one hour. To give you all a taste of what's out there.

Inspired by the works of Carl Gustav Jung.

“Very early in history men began trying to express what they felt to be the soul or spirit of a rock by working it into a recognizable form. In many cases, the form was a more or less definite approximation to the human figure – for instance, the ancient menhirs with their crude outlines of faces, or the hermae that developed out of boundary stones in ancient Greece, or the many primitive stone idols with human features. The animation of stone must be explained as the projection of a more or less distinct content of the unconscious into the stone .” - Carl Jung, Man and his Symbols
 

"When the fantasies reach a certain level of intensity, they begin to break through into consciousness and create a conflict situation that becomes perceptible to the patient himself, splitting him into two personalities with different characters."

maandag 26 oktober 2015

The Self presents: the Collective Unconscious Pt 1

Here's the first episode of my show The Self Presents: The Collective Unconscious. It aired at September 5th, 2015. As always in my techno sets, this set is influenced by the writings of Carl Gustav Jung.

The collective unconscious - so far as we can say anything about it at all  - appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious... We can therefore study the collective unconscious in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual. (Carl Jung. From The Structure of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 325.)





Archetypes constitute the structure of the collective unconscious - they are psychic innate dispositions to experience and represent basic human behavior and situations. Thus mother-child relationship is governed by the mother archetype. Father-child - by the father archetype. Birth, death, power and failure are controlled by archetypes. The religious and mystique experiences are also governed by archetypes.

The most important of all is the Self, which is the archetype of the Center of the psychic person, his/her totality or wholeness. The Center is made of the unity of conscious and unconscious reached through the individuation process.

donderdag 1 oktober 2015

Three times the road


three times the road
always the wrong turn
keep passing by
the gas station
the gas station
where the air is full
of gasoline fumes
and scents
of rubber rubber

if wheels fail to spin
pull the plug
pull the plug
get in the car
murderers won't go there
hide the axe
murderers won't drive there
spill the poison
murderers won't go to
the gas station
the gas station

it's home on the road home on the road home on the road
meet me there
i will pull over
meet me there
the gas station
gasoline fumes
i will love you there
the gas station
make love to me there
drive three times
three times
murderers won't go there

i'll hide the axe
if you swallow the poison

- NT 2007