woensdag 16 augustus 2017

Interview René Kladzyk (Ziemba)

"There is definitely a sense of ethics to my work"

Last year when I talked to René Kladzyk, the New York City based artist was about to embark on her first European debut tour as Ziemba, hitting countries as diverse as Poland, the Netherlands and France. Since returning to the United States, the prolific Kladzyk has been rather busy writing her new album and working on other interesting projects. Time to catch up.

Photo by Megan Mack
“I was surprised by how well the tour went, to be honest”, Kladzyk proclaims. “I expected it to be exhausting and difficult, but almost all the shows went really well. I met amazing people, visited wonderful cities and got to play shows with incredible musicians. The reception differed per city. In Poland I felt like a superstar! That was awesome, they were so nice. Another great show was in Rotterdam, where I played with Fetter. And then I got to Paris and people were like ‘yeah, whatever’. At one of my shows in Paris there was a table with people talking and laughing loudly for the first couple of songs, which were rather quiet. They were being very disruptive, so after a few songs I stopped and said that I was going to do a song with loops and I needed it to be very quiet for that. I asked it in a calm way, trying not to be too aggressive about it, and from that moment on they were really quiet. After the show they came to me and said ‘Hey we wanted to let you know that when you started, we were just making fun of you and laughing at you, but then we ended up really liking it!’ and then they bought two records of mine. It was so strange, I would never say that to someone! But all in all Europe was a great experience and I would love to come back sometime.”

Feminist science-fiction
Back from Europe, Kladzyk did a performance art installation in Nashville, Tennessee. “In that performance I was burned at the stake and then turned into a spider. I hand-dyed a lot of fabric for that show in red and orange, using about 100 yards of textiles. I had five fans on me, so instead of being hot it was actually quite cold. The installation turned out really beautiful and I am working on editing a video of it. I haven’t shared that much yet about that performance, partly because much of it is new material that is still congealing.” Part of that new material will find its way to a new Ziemba release. “I’m working on a full length at the moment. I’m still thinking on how to frame it, but it will be a lot more cohesive than most things I’ve done. Cohesive in a political sense, that is. I’m using feminist science-fiction as a way to talk about the current state of affairs, trying to visualize alternative universes as a lens through which to look at what is happening today. I’m quite excited about that, it is challenging but fun and it feels very productive. I was having a hard time expressing my political identity as grounded in present reality. As soon as I started applying a poetic fantasy filter to it, it became a lot easier to talk about difficult topics. In a way it felt fresh, and oriented towards a future with possibilities. I don’t like to get lost in doom and gloom. I’m still very attached to an artistic agenda of anti-nihilism. I feel that projecting hope on things that look really bleak is a better use of creative energy.”

Kladzyk, who has a master’s degree in feminist geography, sees her new album as a way to explore new places. “It will be both a spatial and an emotional topography. I’m not capable of exploring these ideas purely conceptually, I will always be embedded from my personal position. The idea for this album is to explore this world that I am creating, which you can examine on the micro level of the body and personal experience, and on the macro level of the entire landscape and all the different actors that come into play. I’m attaching a mapping project to this album, creating a series of fake GPS data, so the album can be something that you can explore spatially, in a faux landscape.”

Coded garments
To get back for a bit to the political aspect of the record, I ask Kladzyk if she considers herself to be a political activist with regards to her work. She answers that she doesn’t see herself as a political artist per se, but that she realizes she cannot fully escape being one either. “There is definitely a set of ethics in my work, which is in a sense always oriented towards virtue. That is very central to the music and art I make, I am very aware of what I put out into the world in that regard. In a sense there is some activism in that, it is just a bit harder to pin down than when I would write a song specifically about Black Lives Matter, for example. I mean, there are musicians who are more overtly political in their art and I don’t think I fall in that category. Then again, I think it is impossible to exist completely outside of politics. Every aesthetic decision you make is grounded in references to the political spectrum in which you live. But do I think that all artists have a duty to be political. I think there is room to explore artistic expression that is deeply personal and therapeutic, that is not political. We could make the argument of course that the emotional sphere is in a way always political as well... but I don’t know. I would be reluctant to make the claim that is the duty of the artist to make political work. But you can not opt out of being a human being in the world. When you look at clothes for example, or costumes, anything you wear is coded. You can’t opt out of a costume, you live your life in social codes. The way you present yourself to the world is always inherently coded. And no decision is a non-decision. If you go naked, that is still an aesthetic decision that is related to not wearing any garments. All decisions are embedded with social and political cues.”

Fire Organ
Photo by Megan Mack
Next to working on her new Ziemba album, Kladzyk has been working on something quite special. “I will do an artist in residency for this collective called Guerilla Science. They’ve developed an instrument called a fire organ. There is a kind of continuity here topic wise..! When you put musical information into the organ, it generates flames in accordance with the music played. They’ve asked me to come up with something because of the incense work I’ve been doing. I’ve now created this incense apparatus for in the organ, which causes the fragrance to change in direct relation to the sounds produced.” This synesthetic approach is something that Kladzyk is very interested in. “I’ve been reading a lot about Alexander Scriabin, a Russian composer who was very much influenced by the idea of synesthesia. He did a lot of work trying to develop a color format of musical orientation. He had this one plan for his grand opus Mysterium, which was never performed. It was to be a grand week-long performance including music, scent, dance, and light in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains that was somehow to bring about the end of the world. The fire organ plan I’ve made is indebted to Scriabin and ’m approaching it in a very conceptual manner. The fire organ performance will be at National Sawdust on October 15th. There have been performances on the fire organ before, but this is the first time they’ve asked specific artists to write something for it. Since I’m making music specific for this performance, I am planning on documenting it thoroughly, so it won’t be lost afterwards. I will release this music in a separate release, also because I’m treating this more as a work of classical music than something in a song oriented format.”

Kladzyk will embark on a Summer tour in North America together with HNRY FLWR, starting August 17th. Catch her on one of the following dates:

8/17 NEW HAVEN, CT ~ Lyric Hall Theater
8/18 BOSTON, MA ~ Deep Thoughts JP
8/19 NORTHAMPTON, MA ~ Red Kross
8/20 MONTREAL, QT ~ Brasserie Beaubien
8/21 BURLINGTON, VT ~ Light Club Lamp Shop
8/22 PORTLAND, ME ~ The Apohadion Theater
8/23 PROVIDENCE, RI ~ Eyeland Studio
8/24 HUDSON, NY ~ The Spotted Dog
8/26 NEW YORK, NY ~ Berlin NYC

vrijdag 23 juni 2017

Scumbag the Movie

Last January the film Scumbag premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. It is a bizarre spectacle, filled with many strange characters and crazy shenanigans. One of those films that you don't just watch, but experience. Director Mars Roberge shows he has a unique style that might not be to everybody's liking, but if you surrender yourself to the madness you are in for a treat. I spoke to Roberge and actresses Camille Waldorf and Debra Haden after the screening, and they provided a peek behind the curtains of the coming together of this film.

Pedophiles, drug dealers and murderers

'The story is ludicrous', as Maude Lebowski would say. That certainly goes for Scumbag as well, although no cables get fixed. The protagonist is Phil (played by Princess Frank), a loser dj who realizes that he finally needs to get an actual dayjob to earn a living. Clearly unfamiliar with this concept, he delves headfirst into office life, which is filled with a myriad of shady characters who don't really seem to know what it is they are actually doing at their job. 'Pedophiles, drug dealers and murderers' -Roberge paints a flattering figure of these slaves of drudgery. "When I came out of film school, I started hanging out in clubs", Roberge explains. "I ended up becoming a dj myself, and eventually a drunken mess. After many years I realized I needed to get my shit together and get back to making film. I remembered coming home so often after hours and bumping into these people filing up to disappear into these large buildings, in which they stayed all day doing... what? Nobody could ever explain to me clearly what it is they were doing in these offices. I started thinking it was all a facade. Why is nobody asking the question what really happens in those buildings?"


The first half of the film we discover what Roberge thinks is happening in there. A gloomy collection of misfits who look like they are doing time, instead of enjoying a fruitful career. Phil soon gets caught in their incessant stream of misanthropy and depressing conversations, pretty much staying very confused the whole film. Working at the office is only a lead up to what comes after -drinking, doing drugs, fighting in bars, and having weirded out philosophical questions. Phil starts to see his girlfriend Christine (played by Debra Haden) less and less, because he comes home in the middle of night wasted as fuck -if he comes home at all. Christine despairs both for their relationship and for Phil himself, seeing him slowly go down the drain. There are many laughing moments in this first half of the film, but it is difficult to shake the raw wretchedness of it all. But then a key scene half way through the film turns things around.

Mars Roberge on set

Homeless crackhead

In a strange dream like scene, Phil and Christine start singing and dancing on their car in the middle of the street. Then they are joined by many other singing and dancing people coming from all directions, in a wonderful choreography, while annoyed people in cars behind them hunk their horns. The scene goes on for quite some time, and indicates a shift in the relationship between Phil and Christine, and in the way Phil takes control over his own life. It functions as a hinge, after which many things fall into place and a sudden happiness enters the film. Roberge is very happy with how this all played out. "I woke up one morning and realized: nobody does musicals anymore. This was before La La Land and all. I thought: you know what, this movie, god forbid, could be a failure, and I might never do another film after this. So why wait for the next movie to incorporate a musical scene? My producer said I couldn't do it, but I can be rather stubborn. We arranged everything within a very short time. We got in touch with a choreographer we knew, who knew dancers as well. Princess Frank and Debra Haden wrote the song in like a day. And then during filming the police came with sirens and all to shut us down. It was crazy but so worth it. What you don't see in the film is that when we were filming, and everybody was singing and dancing on top of a car, a homeless crackhead came walking on the set and he just goes 'shut up! shut up!' -he thought it was all in his head. We didn't know what would happen, if he had a gun or not, but finally he walked away. He never saw the cameras, so it must have been quite a weird experience for him! But this scene was important in the sense that Phil comes off as quite a dick in the first half of the film. I wanted to show why he and Christine are together at all, and I didn't want to do it through a corny, obvious love story line."

French New Wave

The scene is somewhat reminiscent of the carnavalesque that is so prevalent in the work of the Italian director Federico Fellini. Roberge though sees himself as being influenced more by French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and the French New Wave. As someone who has ADD, he is very intrigued by the way they use not just narrative, but mise-en-scène and seemingly random events to affect the viewer. "Sometimes I couldn't follow the story completely, because that could be a bit boring here and there, not understanding the French, especially for someone with ADD. But there is so much happening on the background. Like in this film where in the middle of a serious conversation, a guy walks to the window and shoots a toy dog in the street, then returns to the conversation, and no one mentions what just happened. For me, there always have to be subliminal things happening in the background." There are definitely many moments in this film you would want to pause it, or rewind it, to see what's all going on. There is an undertow of unease pulsating underneath this movie.

Mars Roberge on set


Roberge didn't follow the easy road in making Scumbag. Several setbacks (a failed crowdfunding campaign, actors pulling out, police shutting down filming) did not discourage the born Canadian. Perseverance and a rock hard faith in his own abilities led him to where he his now, with his film screening at many international film festivals. Listening to the origin story of Scumbag sometimes sounds like a journey through rock and roll mayhem. Alexis Arquette agreed to be in the film, but eventually declined to participate due to 'medical situations'. Moby was going to be in the film, but suddenly could not be reached anymore and was never heard from again. Bauhaus legend Peter Murphy was excited to be part of the project, until he heard that porn star Ron Jeremy was also going to be in the film. Still Roberge kept going, making the most of the situations he encountered.


Recruiting people left and right, many of them through accidental encounters, he managed to convince people of the promise of the film and get a crew together. In a way, that is how Roberge likes it. He created a manifesto for making a film that can be labeled a 'rocktopia', based on eight rules that would drive most people mad. "Most filmmakers are influenced by other films, I am mostly influenced by music. I started out making music videos too. I wanted music to be an integral part of this film. So, in a rocktopia, music plays an important role. The story has to deal with a battle against an utopian society, in which the only way out is to rock and roll. An actor has to perform a song in the film that they have written themselves. Furthermore, actual musicians have to play a role that is far removed from their musical persona. And magic is important. Not black magic, but the magic of serendipity. People or locations that I encounter the night before have to play a role in the film."

Debra Haden

There is a script?!

Being dependent on random encounters also means that it is impossible to have a script one hundred procent ready before filming. This sometimes leads to difficulties when you want to sell your story to producers. "I can't completely let people understand what I see in my head. I like experimental film, for example, and when making that you can't write everything down before you start filming. It happened during the filming of Scumbag that someone came to me to tell that they didn't understand what was in the script, but when performing all the pieces came together and they realized what I wanted to achieve. It is great to see that happening on set. A script is an important starting point, but never the definitive film. I loved it when Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks, who I contacted like the day before through Facebook to ask if he wanted to be in my film, showed up at my door. I asked him if he memorized the script I sent him, and he just said: 'what?! There is a script?!' But he nailed it. I love to go with the momentum and see where I end up."


Both Camille Waldorf and Debra Haden fulfill the role of performing their own song in the film. Waldorf (who performs as an artist under the name of Queen Astoria) sings her song 'Delicate Boy' in a beautifully unusual scene in which a drinking party turns into a music video. She also became part of the movie through a random encounter. "I met Mars at a party where he was DJ-ing", she explains. "I had done a project with Quentin Tarantino before, but wasn't planning on doing any more acting, to be honest. I was focusing on my music and visual art, and tried to stay away from the sometimes poisonous world of acting. But Mars convinced me to be part of his project, I believed in his ideas. Filming with Mars is so different from many other directors. He gives you a certain freedom to really put elements of yourself into the character. And to have a song of mine be in the film is amazing." Debra Haden already was a friend of Mars, and discussed many dialogues with him. "Many quotes from the film are based in real life," Haden reveals. "It was great to keep working on them, shaping them so they fitted the story well. And singing and dancing in the film was so much fun, especially since I co-wrote that song with Princess Frank. It had always been a dream of me to record my own music. I had lived for too long in the wrong places, and I came to Los Angeles to make this dream come true. For that to actually happen, and to be part of such an inspiring project, is really wonderful."


With Scumbag now being shown at film festivals around the world, Roberge is already looking forward again. "I have somewhat of a sequel planned, and also would like to do a tv-series based on Scumbag. And I am already working on writing three totally different movies. An urban drama, kind of Spike Lee inspired, based on this rough neighborhood I grew up in, in Canada. And a romantic comedy and a horror film. I never really was a fan of horror, but in a way I am drawn to making one. On the one hand because I don't want to be pigeonholed as a filmmaker, but also because I kept having these nightmares before the premiere of Scumbag at Rotterdam. It was almost as if a script was being written in my dreams. But if I make a horror, I want it to be a film in which you feel for the characters. Characters and originality -that is what is important in making movies."

Something to look forward to. For now, Scumbag warrants a viewing. The next screening will be at the Art is Alive Film Festival in Brooklyn, on July 23. Hopefully a DVD-release won't be too far away.

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 (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!”


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


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.”


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


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.


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.”


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