Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Interview with Jason Crumer

No Rent Records started in 2008, though Jason Crumer - Founder, CEO, Chairman, Investor, Criminal Mastermind - began really taking it seriously about a year ago. Previously used as a vehicle for self-releasing, No Rent began its quick ascent from a a labor of love to a professional, revenue-generating record label. Within the last year, Crumer has been tirelessly curating and producing experimental cassettes while still managing to release music of his own; in just a few months, he will release his 7th full-length LP on Chicago's dirty-lovechild Depravity Label.
Aside from a perceptive ear and a hardened work ethic, Crumer has a leg up on much competition. He's no bullshit: the man believes in both his own art and the art he puts out, and even though it may be delivered with a devil's grin, it'll be delivered on time. He's been involved with more projects and people than I want to name so here's his Discogs Page. He's showing no signs of slowing down, trying to release a tape every week or two on No Rent. If you haven't checked out his label yet, do it now - you can thank me later, you filthy fuck.
Jordan Reyes: Tell me about your earliest memory of experimental music - how did it affect you? Did you immediately know you wanted to do it?
Jason Crumer: My friend Blake played me a Whitehouse 7" - I don't remember which one - and Flux of Pink Indians' "Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks" while we were on acid in 1994 in St. Louis. I didn't immediately know I wanted to do it, no. It was exclusively a drug-related (lsd) activity.
JR: When did it cross the threshold into non-drug-related life?
JC: Several years after. I had been recording with a friend as Aluminum Noise. We traded tapes with about everybody who was doing noise in the late 90's out of some probably embarrassing ambition to be heard. I never liked anything I got back, always thinking "why would someone make this" until I got some Crawl Unit and realized we had similar intentions. Around that time, I started taking it more seriously.
JR: So Aluminum Noise didn't start as that serious of a project?
JC: Not at all. Aluminum Noise started because Nate's dad got him a 4-track for Christmas.
JR: And you just got roped along for the ride?
JC: I've always recorded music, and Nate and I had been making whatever kind of music together at the time. It slowly became my project. I googled "noise music label" and got SSSM in Japan, sent them a demo, and from there some small demand was created. Nate slowly phased out of the project.
JR: That's a pretty serendipitous way to go about things - I'm glad it worked out! Did you begin to hear more, I guess, "interesting" experimental or noise releases after that?
JC: Yeah I was dating a woman who was originally from Berkeley and she moved back, so I went to visit her. Hung out with Troniks Phil when he still lived there - we had been trading together and he gave me lots of good free noise. It was a fun time.
JR: And you began putting out music under your own name in the mid 2000s? What was that leap like?
JC: Nate lived in the mountains and would come to Greensboro, NC a lot, but he sort of stopped coming. I played in a rock band too and just wanted a non-punk outlet that nobody else had any influence on. So I decided fuck it I'll just record under my own name. It wasn't because I thought I was fancy or anything. I just felt like it was more pretentious to have a band name for a one person project than just use your name.
JR: I kinda agree. I was going to use my name for my power electronics project, even though I use it for a folk project, and my friend told me to make up a name for it. It feels weird that the "title" of your name can't mean more than one kind of thing.
JC: That's one of the worst features of the noise scene. Every single emotion doesn't need some slap dick side project. People don't need to know exactly what they're getting. It's okay to cover a range.
JR: I think you're right about that. Why do you think people do that?
JC: Well, that's complex. I think some of it is that they don't want to disappoint people who would listen to their work. You know, there's that stupid divide. People only listen to one thing. A lot of it involves social scenes. I understand different projects for different people, but come on.
JR: It's more out of condescending to a listener than any sort of creative essence?
JC: Pandering maybe.
JR: Yeah - better word. What sort of equipment do you use for your releases? I assume that your set up has changed quite a bit.

JC: Mostly it's just microphones on instruments or objects and tons of processing and pre-planned layering. I like tape over digital and through-the-air over line-in as a general rule, but I'll use anything at all. Mic placement is a big part of my recorded sound, and natural room reverb, for instance.

JR: Do you use mostly dynamic mics for that?
JC: Shure SM58 and cheap radio shack ones. I do try to record in stereo as often as I can but don't have a stereo pair, so just two crappy mics hard panned.
JR: Gotcha. What about contact mics? In a live setting, perhaps?
JC: Yeah, I use contact mics on most things too.

JR: And so when did you know you wanted to start No Rent Records?
JC: No Rent started in Oakland around the time I was recording Walk With Me.  We had to raise money for a bill and put out a weird limited live tape. I began to pursue it a lot more seriously around the middle of last year.
JR: Was that around the time you rolled out the Noise Hotline? How did you think of the Noise Hotline?
JC: The crew of kids I hung around with in high school all loved They Might Be Giants and I thought their dial-a-song thing was a cool idea, so I stole it. It was from a desire to give people a non-internet way to listen to music. It is a really fun and bizarre way to interact with music, experimental music in particular. It adds a layer of surrealism that I like.
JR: Do you think you approach music from a surrealist lens in general?
JC: I don't know if it's that lofty. I approach it from a communication standpoint, making the audience important to the whole thing. I just do what I have to to get across to the listener. That's the main goal. I try to have parts that make sense coming after the part before them, and don't put much or any emphasis on initial sound quality just that the song gets there.

JR: So does each song have its own purpose?
JC: Yes! I generally record for what could be called album momentum but I do tailor each piece so that it has its own logic and makes sense as a single entity, divorced from full length view.
JR: So each piece functions as part of the macrocosm and as its own microcosm?
JC: Yes
JR: Is there an arc to your work as a whole?
JC: Absolutely. I do smaller releases occasionally if I have something I like that doesn't make sense in the overall arc but the 6 (going on 7) "real full length albums" make a lot of sense one after the other. I want my discography to be digestible in a linear way.
JR: That's really cool. Do you like the idea of a narrative in art and music?
JC: At first I tried to force narratives on things but over the years I have realized that time creates its own narrative. I do like the idea, but more from a nature of the beast way than an execution way.
JR: I understand that. Do you think that No Rent has an arc? Do you think there's a goal for that?
JC: We will see what No Rent's ultimate arc winds up being. I can say that I do curate my ass off and think hard about demographics, meaning I don't want to be "just another label" or a boys club type thing. No Rent has been a real label for under a year at this point so the arc will be evident later on. I put out music by people I respect and admire. It's a kind of life time achievement award / charity work for the older, more established artists and a first chance for the younger ones.
JR: Very cool. Like I said before we've started, it's already built the reputation of being prolific to me, and it seems like you've got a lot planned for it
JC: Yeah there are tons of releases in the works, one per week at the most and bi-weekly at the least. I charge slightly higher prices because the label has to make money to exist, but also because I give 30% of the pressing to the artists, and it gives me a buffer zone if things don't sell, I don't have to go into desperation mode. It allows me to take chances on things I believe in that maybe nobody has heard of. Everything on No Rent is worthwhile and I've turned down multiple masters from artists who I asked to work with, just to keep the standard as high as I can, while still operating as a functional, semi-functional business.
JR: Wow - that balance of consistency, reputation, and making money has got to be a hard one to maintain, especially when working with people who might be friends
JC: It really isn't. I only ask people who have thick skin who I personally know, there's no artist whose music I'd just put on no rent because of their name. People understand that I may say eh, no, and tend to make better releases. There are five or six artists whose best work appears on no rent. The bigger stuff like that FFH tape that sold super quickly pays for the smaller stuff, and I don't mind things sitting around because when they do sell it feels like a bonus. I'm equally proud of every tape on no rent.
JR: Very cool. Switching gears a little bit, do you read much? Do you have any good book recommendations?
JC: HAHAHA no. I'm an idiot. Last book I read was the Slash autobiography. I'm sorry, a Run-DMC autobiography. I like artists’ biographies because I kind of only care about music, unfortunately.

JR: That's cool! I was just talking to someone about how easy it is to spread yourself thin through having many outlets and interests.
JC: I don't feel spread thin at all. Every time I read a book I get excited about reading because I enjoy it so much but it has never been a go to. Attn: parents, don't use reading as punishment for your children, because they'll wind up like me.
JR: Hahaha wonderful. Last couple of questions. What all is in the future for Jason Crumer and No Rent Records?
JC: There is a Reverse Baptism 7" coming out, and my 7th full length LP "Stare at the Devil" both on Depravity label out of Chicago. In regards to No Rent, next week is Horoscope, then the brilliant ambient work of Radboud Mens, then a messed up tape by Gerritt Wittmer. I’m currently waiting on masters from Valise, Dromez, Gabi Losocny, and Joe Colley as well as a few others, so in some order those will be in the next few updates. I have a lot of longer term projects that I'm afraid to curse by speaking of.

JR: All of those sound really exciting. Finally, what I have to ask every interview, do you have anything else you'd like to say?
JC: No sir. Thank you for the interview, and thanks to anyone whatever enough to read it. norentrecords.com

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Release of the Day: Billy Bao - Lagos Sessions

Conceptually staggering, Lagos Sessions, the newest opus from San Francisco provocateurs Billy Bao, is as massive as it is nuanced. Recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, home to the band’s vocalist and namesake, alongside a diverse cast of musicians, improvisers, and artists, Lagos Sessions presents the band at its most expansive and personal. Both digitally and physically, the new album is two LPs split into four sides, each lasting about fifteen minutes. At once monolithic and fractured, the four pieces capture the schizophrenic nature of being a displaced person trying to find something – anything – stable and comforting that, even if not a literal home, can at least have a home’s trappings.

Lagos Sessions is hard to even call an album. Oh, it’s certainly a record – two, in fact! But the term “album” makes it seem like a collection of songs, rather than a piece of auditory art. Where “album” is an appropriate signifier, and visual analog, for plenty of records, it doesn’t do justice to Lagos Sessions, which has more similarities in common with a megalithic painting than a series of laminated inserts in a binder.

It’s an exhilarating listen, sonically and thematically. Littered with field recordings, improvised jazz, noise, punk, and soul, Lagos Sessions is an exercise in amalgamation and collage. The frequent changes in tone, tempo, and texture are disorienting, at least at first, but eventually make themselves at home. For instance, side B begins with what most closely resembles a noise rock song before descending into a prolonged monologue on what it means to be Nigerian in 2015/2016. Abrasive sound makes way for education. Easy listening, this ain’t. Rewarding, necessary listening, this is.

Here's an example of the recording sessions. I couldn't find any of the music online other than this:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Release of the Day: Breathing Problem - Bed of Sex, Pit of Tar

No intimacy is like another. One person’s demonstration of love is another’s pain. One person’s scream is another’s orgasm. “Love,” a nebulous, complicated proposition, as much a contract as an emotion, lacks a common denominator: there’s no key to making partnerships work. Definitions and examples go out the window. Because of this, love and intimacy are insular, unique, and above all private. Broken privacy is unnerving and often grotesque. There’s nothing quite as cringe-inducing as a public display of affection, and yet, though there’s a repulsive gag response to such an exhibit, isn’t there some sickening urge to partake?

Bed of Sex, Pit of Tar, the latest opus from Rusty Kelley and Emelia McKay's relentlessly curious, unabashedly fearless project Breathing Problem, is a meditation on intimacy and the great internal conflict between sex and violence. Though Breathing Problem has taken several forms, on this latest and most consistent iteration, it places Kelley and partner Emelia McKay’s relationship front and center, taking the ins and outs, the peaks and valleys, and the pleasures and pains of giving part of yourself to someone else, and makes the minutiae monstrous.

Where earlier Breathing Problem releases were power electronics-based, Bed of Sex, Pit of Tar appropriates darkwave, field recordings, and John Carpenter-esque synthscapes to more effectively render the material beautiful, while maintaining an uneasy, moody undercurrent. Emelia’s haunting vocal contributions are a welcome addition too, as they compliment the rich electronic textures of the album. It’s more realized, and frankly more listenable, than any earlier Breathing Problem release - it forgoes striking the listener down in repetitive waves of violence for a seductive bait and switch tactic. The product of a transparent, moving partnership, Bed of Sex, Pit of Tar is an actively rounded affair, diverse in sound and theme, the result of a duo ready and willing to explore both the ugly and beautiful qualities of its own duality.

Bed of Sex, Pit of Tar is out on Torn Light Records

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Release of the Day: Jim Ghedi - Home Is Where I Exist, Now To Live and Die

Home Is Where I Exist,Now to Live and Die, the debut LP from Jim Ghedi, English finger-picking extraordinaire, begins with the sounds of interaction: interaction in commerce, interaction between people, and interaction between musician and instrument. That may seem confusing, but to the discerning listener, immediately taken in by field recording and sonic tinkles of percussive guitar, it makes sense. In the scope of Ghedi’s work, it also makes sense, as his music tackles both external and internal interaction.

Let’s talk about repetition, specifically in terms of its erosive and nullifying ability. This is both a pro and a con. In language, it can be a disarming autodidactic parlor trick to repeat one word until its meaning is lost in place of total phonetic stimulus – while we may be alarmed by this, the corrosion of meaning, it is also liberating. In Zen Buddhism, this effacing effect is used to reach heightened states of profundity, a spiritual ground zero where the mind goes blank, and things are, perhaps for the first time, utterly quiet. All forms of repetition, when done correctly, can achieve this effect.

On Home Is Where I Exist, Now to Live and Die, Jim Ghedi’s fingers pluck strings thousands of times – and each time, at a microscopic level, skin particles flake off, which is to say that each pluck is a sacrifice, a literal exaltation and imparting of self.

Favorite Records of 2015

1. Rectal Hygienics – Ultimate Purity (Permanent)
2. Circuit Des Yeux – In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey)
3. Destruction Unit – Negative Feedback Resistor (Sacred Bones)
4. Bichkraft – Mascot (Wharf Cat)
5. Mommy – s/t 7” (Toxic State)
6. G.L.O.S.S. – Demo (Not Normal/Self-Released)
7. Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore)
8. Obnox – Boogalou Reed (12XU)
9. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
10. Eartheater – Metalepsis (Hausu Mountain)
11. L.O.T.I.O.N. – Digital Control & Man’s Obsolescence
12. Uniform – Perfect World (12XU)
13. November Novelet – The World in Devotion (Galakthorro)
14. Diat – Positive Energy (Iron Lung)
15. Kamasi Washington – The Epic (Brainfeeder)
16. Koufar – Lebanon For Lebanese (Fusty ****)
17. Bjork – Vulnicura (One Little Indian/Sony)
18. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge)
19. Obnox – Know America (Ever/Never)
20. Heather Leigh – I Abused Animal (Editions Mego)
21. Round Eye – S/T LP (Ripping)
22. Broken Prayer – Misanthropocentric (Sorry State)
23. Pedestrian Deposit – The Architector (Monorail Trespassing)
24.Total Abuse – Excluded (Deranged)
25. Inferior Passions – Any Day (Chondritic Sound)
26. TALsounds – All The Way (Hausu Mountain)
27. Pye Corner Audio – Prowler (More Than Human)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Interview with Pawns

Photo from Bexcellent Media
Some afternoon a few months back, while I was no doubt lying on my couch and humming “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” I received a text from my friend Jeffrey saying that I needed to hear a new deathrock/punk band called Pawns. A quick Google search returned two self-released seven-inch records, each three songs long. The band had recently finished a United States tour, including the stop in Chicago where Jeff saw them: the unfortunate reality of living dangerously close to mile marker zero is that Miami residents often lose out on touring acts, so I frequently have to rely on friends from more tour-friendly cities.
That said, I’m in a bit of a privileged position as I have the luxury of often traveling for both work and play, which was the case in October when I got to bum around New York for a few days: my label had a day-long CMJ showcase at Palisades, all the reason I needed to jet on over. The same night as our showcase, Destruction Unit played at Alphaville with Snakehole and Horoscope. Much to my delight, Pawns were also on the bill.
Pawns are a fucking joy to watch. Gage Allison writhes and wraiths, incanting darkness while bassist Jenna Rose leers into the audience and Noel Mateus snakes sinister guitar lines through Matt Sullivan’s plodding rhythms. Tight but explosive, Pawns draw their power from theatricality as well as auditory prowess, rather than forsaking one for the other. Totally great band - highly recommended!
Jordan Reyes: I love New York - I've never lived there, though I had a short tenure living on an air mattress in the studio at Heaven Street Records, but I enjoy visiting quite a bit. There's so much going on at all times. Is it ever frustrating or difficult to differentiate yourself there? Does that matter to you?
Gage Allison: I wouldn’t consider it frustrating or difficult. That being said, I don’t think any of us go out of the way to really differentiate ourselves. There is a lot going on but one of the redeemable things about all the oversaturation you’re subjected to is that there is a niche for everything.
Noel Mateus: If you have a good scene or friends supporting you, then that's what sets you apart from most of the people playing music in this city, and that can go a long way in making it less frustrating and more enjoyable.

Jenna Rose: I have a very different problem. I tend to be a loner so I don’t get out much, which makes it difficult for me to affiliate with any particular scene. I have a practice space and a little recording studio where I spend most of my time. I like to hang out with my cat. When I do make it out I experience a lot of overlap and camaraderie between the separate music communities, even though I don’t quite fit the bill in any given scene.

JR: When I think of Pawns, I can't help but think about the nascent L.A. Deathrock scene, coexisting with the punk scene - it sort of mirrors your punk/hardcore background and overlap. There's a co-mingling, which is somewhat inescapable, but did Pawns come from a desire to break away from old habits, so to speak, or to move them forward?
GA: I’d have to say for me personally it’s about moving forward. I’ve been playing in punk/hardcore bands since I was a little kid and never really branched out from that until now. I definitely consider Pawns to be a punk band, though we obviously take more influence from the darker side of the genre, but there’s no doubt that a lot of the same bands that influenced me then still do today.
JR: What relevance do you think "punk" as an ethos has in the modern era? Are D.I.Y. ideals more important now that the creative playing field is more flat, meaning more people have access to making and distributing art?
GA: To answer that you kind of have to define punk as an ethos before you can really touch on its relevance. These days everyone defines it differently and I guess there isn’t really a right answer. For me, punk is a culture that I have been ingrained in since I was very young and it will always have relevance in my life whether I identify as such or not. In a lot of ways it made me who I am today. That being said I couldn’t express more how important DIY ethics are to the punk scene and if punk culture moves away from that I think it would be safe to say that punk finally is dead (haha).
JR: I got to see you all play with Destruction Unit, Snakehole, and Horoscope in October. It was a great show. I was sort of transfixed by the mask you wore - the one with the three faces. It reminded me of Satan's appearance at the bottom of hell in Dante's Inferno. Who made the mask? What's the significance, if there is one to speak of, in wearing it?
GA: I made the mask a few months ago out of papier-mâché and wire. There were a few influences in coming up with the idea but I think it would be boring to really touch on the significance of it. I’d rather have that be up to interpretation.

JRose: I’m happy to hear it be compared to Satan in Dante’s Inferno. He can’t see shit through it. He thinks it’s funny to smash through me on stage while wearing it.

NM: I love it when he stumbles all over my pedals while wearing it...

JR: Let's talk about performance as an imparting of self. I find myself hearing two schools of thought: that performance is an act, a character or story being told, and I've also heard that it's an exorcism, or expulsion of truth. Is either of those applicable to Pawns?
GA: That’s funny that you mention this because Jenna and I discuss this all the time. I really find myself unaware of my actions on stage. It’s hard to tell if whoever I become when performing is a different person or merely an honest exaggeration of self, but every now and then someone will mention something I did while playing a show and I’ll be like “I did that?”
JRose: For me it is most certainly an exorcism. I remember the first time I read Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and how immediately my life changed. He had given me permission to express that which I am unable to say, and furthermore, with purpose. (I’ve been told it is inappropriate to assault others outside of a theatrical context).
JR: Is truth important in music, art, or performance? Can something be genuine and also fiction?
GA: I don’t think there is such thing as “truth” so elaborating on its importance in art is futile. Everything we believe, say, make or do is molded by our surroundings and those surroundings were built on foundations of the same scenario for generations all the way to the beginning of time. When it comes down to it, being genuine in art and music is bullshit.
JRose: Gage has been reading too much Sartre.
JR: So far you all have released two 7"s - one from about a year ago, if I'm not mistaken, and one from a few months ago, which you toured recently. Do you think that the band has changed in the short but not insignificant interim period?
GA: We have definitely grown a lot between our first self-titled 7” and Eternal Return. I think we’re getting more comfortable with the kind of music we are playing and have more of a shared consensus on the direction we want to take the band.
JR: Do you guys have any desire to make or have you started writing/working on a full-length record?
NM: That's the plan as of now. We're taking a break from shows and trying to focus on writing new material that so far we're very excited about. Some of it has been played live, but a lot is still in the works. In a way the direction we're going in takes us back to our roots; to the more punk/anarcho influences that got us playing this kind of music in the first place.

GA: Yeah we’re planning on recording this Winter and will ideally have our first full length out sometime next year (2016).

JR: I'm a fairly big horror junkie - I pretty much only watch horror, sci-fi, and movies from Japan - do you guys have any favorite horror flicks?
GA: I’m a pretty big zombie nerd myself. Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead are great. Can’t forget about the classics like The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby too. Have you seen any good contemporary horror movies lately? They’re few and far between but I couldn’t recommend House of the Devil and It Follows more.
NM: Hausu was cool.

JR: What about books? Read anything of note lately?
NM: Gabriela, Cravo e Canela by Jorge Amado. I grew up in Brazil and went to school there up until 6th grade, so every once in a while I like to brush up on my Portuguese and read some. Thanks mom for keeping me cultured.
JRose: Camus is my all-time favorite writer. Lately I’ve been reading some Baudelaire and Anthony Burgess’ M/F, if you’re looking for something funny to read…
JR: What all is in the future for Pawns?
GA: Not exactly sure yet. Like we said, we plan on putting out a full length next year that will pull us in a slightly different direction. Very excited to see where that takes us.
NM: We self-released our first two 7"s and that was cool and all, but we’re hoping to release our full length through a label we like. We're all very happy with how we've done so far, thankful for all the support from friends, and excited for what the future holds.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?

GA: Black lives matter! Free Palestine! Etc

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Release of the Day: Mommy - s/t EP

As with their demo, on their debut Toxic State Records EP, Mommy takes on institutionalization and alienation from the perspective of being numb, unwanted, and self-loathing. The band's unorthodox vocals, bass, and drums setup is backdropped by intense swirls of noise, which make the brooding music all the more claustrophobic and disquieting. "Gross thighs, gross legs/walking the edge of towers/anyone that's nice enough/to want to touch me/usually thinks twice before/spending the night," Mike Caiazzo maniacally huffs in his half-gurgle, half-scream on the record's first track. It's an uncomfortable, masochistic listen and Caiazzo wields his voice like a whip, flagellating himself and anyone foolish enough to breach his personal space.

The EP also comes with a zine-like insert featuring song lyrics, notes from California hospital system "Contra Costa Health Services," and adorable childhood photos, rendered totally perverse by the surrounding content. But Mommy hasn't created a shock-inducing record so much as an unflinching one; something in the lyrics, photos, and delivery lead me to think this is an intensely personal and honest record. It's not a cheap thrill, but an exorcism, and, for my money, the best hardcore record of 2015.