Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Interview with Ted Sweeney of Negative Paper Assmebly & Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck

I met Ted through Rectal Hygienics and seeing him at a lot of shows, but to be honest, I've only seen Ted perform as part of Machismo. I knew Ted first as a dude with a sharp eye and a deep knowledge of both the perverse and the profound. Ted and I met after I had recently gotten sober. I'll always be an addict, but the key is to take the time I was using with substances and swap it out for something else that keeps boredom at bay. Two of those things are going to shows and reading. And Ted gave me (and continues to give me) a lot of recommendations. Not to go too in-depth, but Ted hipped me to Les Chantes de Maldoror, Dennis Cooper's George Miles Cycle, Les Fleurs du Mal, and others.

Trust me - it's all related. On one level, there's an element of "smut" to the selection, but beyond that is a backdrop that says "These Things Happen." Well, maybe not Maldoror fucking a shark, but you know what I mean. Ted calls his taste "aesthetically specific," which is a really genius euphemism for being cool with fucked-up-shit. His taste informs his output though, most clearly in his Negative Paper Assembly project, a visual art journey that on one level documents the prurient and the violent, but on another level takes the absurdity of the modern newspaper and mashes its horror together. There was a shooting on the Southside. Another politician steals money. A Catholic priest has abused a child. Actually scratch the absurdity of the modern newspaper because it's really an absurdity in the modern world. That's what makes Ted's visual art output uncanny but effective. Many of the images are familiar, but they're arranged in unfamiliar and often thought-provoking ways, leading the viewer to understand that for some people this world is a hell. These Things Happen.

I'd be remiss not to mention that Ted was the vocalist for Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck, a power electronics group out of Boston that emerged at the turn of the millennium. Apparently the band has started tossing around some ideas for more music - Ted briefly mentions that below. In the meantime, you can hear some of Ted's solo sounds in the trailers for Negative Paper Assembly.

Ted is also part of the I Can See The Music art exhibit in Chicago this weekend. I really wish I were going to be there: the art is going to be great and though I don't drink, I know you (the reader) probably do so I figured I'd let you know that it's also sponsored by Pabst. Free beer and free art is a pretty solid deal. Don't be a nerd!

Jordan Reyes: Tell me a bit about Negative Paper Assembly. You started it with Omar Gonzalez, but it seems to have continued as a solo visual art project. Where do you see it heading?

Ted Sweeney: I started Negative Paper Assembly to center around collage artwork I’d continued to work on after my output of musical releases began to slow. I’d always put so much concern and thought into the collage artwork I’d created, and decided if it were to stay a project I wanted to share, even if there weren’t necessarily a musical component to coincide with it, it seemed practical to affix a moniker, not just for the base purpose of branding - but so that there were a specific scope the project would retain and work within. The Assembly initially was noting the action of taking bits of paper and assembling them together. When Omar (and now others,) began to contribute, the word evolved into more than gluing paper diagrams of pigs heads onto erections out of glossy adult magazines - but it now became an assembly of artists who shared a similar interest: fixing cut swine onto cocks.

JR: When and how did you begin to do collage work?

TS: I suppose I’ve always maintained an interest in the idea of collage, dating back to owning Paul’s Boutique, or Endtroducing as a preteen, and realizing that all the creatives I’d held interest in, seemed to be hammering that thesis of recontextualization into my understanding of what art could be. Growing up, I’d never separated those pop records from something obvious and classic in the world of analog collage, like George Grosz or Hannah Hoch, or whomever the art schools think a collage artist should pay attention to. It also stems from the fact that, as is, I’m not particularly dextrous or gifted musically. So I frame and re-frame and de-fame, as opposed to buying a new paintbrush. It is the most expedient way to manifest all the nasties I’m stuck telling to go away for a minute while I try to mow the lawn. It is speaking with analogy: Why would I pitch new words to Oxford when using signs in unexpected juxtapositions might more adequately resonate with the audience?

JR: When you're creating a series, such as the first Negative Paper Assembly softcover, do you go in with a certain theme or idea! Is it aesthetic ever or ideological?

TS: I guess a certain theme might be difficult to nail down. When I make a sandwich I have a certain theme happening, and the end goal is for the delicious to resolve my hunger. It’s fair to say that my thematic sandwich is to adequately convey these disturbances in my observations, in creating landscapes that I’m always seeing - but aren’t necessarily ever happening at the same moment in the real world. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a child raped in the middle of the Super Bowl while a politician was running away with a big bag of money in a photograph from the newspaper, but this landscape is being drawn out for me in every single newspaper. It only makes sense that I map this out visually - lets me look at the terrain I’m walking through. 

JR: You recently did the cover for the Rectal Hygienics record. How long had this been in the works? What was the idea for it?

TS: Rectal Hygienics proposed using one of my collages for the release, which I could not have been more thrilled about. Without gushing too much or playing the hype-role too hard, I think they are one of the best and most musical important rock bands in America today. The actual project had been in the works for some time - I’d created and re-worked a few separate final products as I’d heard demo versions and “Directors Cuts”, which are different than the record you can pick up at Permanent today. As the record evolved, it was only appropriate that the artwork evolve with it.

TS: The general idea started as something very simple. One of the members said it should look like “some Macronympha shit.” That was all I’d needed to hear to get the ball rolling, but as the cover was worked and re-worked issues that the band both face and surrounding power and identity became much more important than sado iconography. I’m happy with how it came out - it visualizes how the record sounds for my purposes, a torn to shreds snapshot of the underbellies bellying under the underbelly.

JR: Tell me about the upcoming art show in Chicago. What sorts of pieces are in it? How did you set up the exhibit?

TS: Chad Edwards, a local curator, was pointed towards the Negative Paper Assembly website via Gifford Kasen, a close friend and owner of Logan Square Tattoo, where the I Can See The Music exhibition is taking place, with tons of works from great artists from all over. The premise of the show is that each artist involved selected a piece of music and create a visual artwork somehow inspired by it. It had been a minute since I’d moved from Chicago (I’m now located in Boston,) and I was excited about the prospect of sharing some of my new work with friends I hadn’t seen in months. I urge everyone in Chicagoland to come out if for no other reason than it is sponsored by Pabst, and free beer and art is good. Getting drunk and purchasing an expensive collage that your wife won’t let you hang up anywhere is good as well. Maybe better.

JR: You recently told me you were making solo music. How has that gone? Do you have any plans to release anything?

TS: Currently I do not work on music that I think needs to be shared as a standalone project. All of the trailers which are associated with Negative Paper Assembly’s publications have an  audio component that I’ve composed or arranged. They’re all on the Negative Paper Assembly website and Youtube if you’re curious about my sonic palette these days. The music I work on currently is not dissimilar from these compositions. I love listening to and creating abstract and violent experimental music, but I find the genre has reached a level of saturation where I do not care to contribute. That said, I still enjoy performing if the appropriate circumstances manifest themselves.

JR: You were a founding member of Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck. That project also got a pretty big reaction. Do you miss being in the project?

TS: Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck was a very significant part of my life starting just before the turn of the millenium. We’d put together sounds and performed what we’d later learned fit into a genre called power electronics, which we were unfamiliar with at the time. In the beginning, our desire was to create antagonistic noisecore music without drums or guitars, and have a live performance that was more caustic than anything we’d seen before. as we learned more behind the history of the sounds we were making, and matured (to use a term as loosely as I can manage,) as songwriters, the project was able to become the exact spectacle I would like to listen to and watch, which is often times all I’m ever really striving for. With that said, we did just record together for the first time in years and years, and I was very happy with the bits we were tossing around - so we’ll see what comes out of that.

JR: You were the vocalist for the project. How did you write your lyrics? Did anyone or anything particularly inspire you?

TS: Initially my lyrics were based entirely on snappy-one liners that were snotty and obnoxious, but hardly memorable.

TS: “Adolph Hitler was nothing without his mustache.”

TS: Lyrics that kinda popped like a balloon, very loud but hardly with much substance. As the band started to cut its teeth, I’d focus on more personal lyrics, like those that can be found in Red And Brown, a song about discovering the infidelity in a committed relationship by contracting an STD from the person you love.

TS: “This must be before me. Just keep praying it was before me. And now I can’t fuck you when all can I do is stare knowing his lips were there.”

TS: Let’s be honest - none of these are vying at the Frost Medal, but this is the lyrical component for Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck. I’m sure Elliott Smith would have chosen his words more carefully than I did writing the lyrics for Girls Born in the Nineties. But hey, he’s dead now - so look how far that got him. I’ve actually been listening to a lot of Elliot Smith today, and probably could’ve come up with a better comparison here. Fuck it.

JR: You guys do seem to play live every now and again still though. How do these shows come to be?

TS: The last show we played was at Suxby Suxwest in 2014. We basically came out of retirement to play this one set. Believe me, it takes a whole lot for me to get myself in a place to smash my body and mind enough to pull off a true-to-form Twodeadsluts set these days, but Shane was able to convince me once Jonathan Cash proposed the idea to him. Having a lot of good friends on the bill was pretty much what sealed the deal for me.

TS: I just lied. we played the Apop Records 10 Year Anniversary more recently than that. My arm was in a cast due to a mishap performing guest vocals for Machismo a few weeks prior. I had to wrap my whole arm is duct tape and secure it to my body, just to make sure I wouldn’t fuck myself up more than I’d already had - so I was slightly limited in terms of what I’d like to do for a performance.

JR: You somewhat recently moved back to Boston. Are there any projects or artists from there with whom you feel any kinship?

TS: Since moving back last summer I haven’t spent much time digging into the local music scene to intelligently talk about Boston’s “Hot or Not” list. In terms of a kinship (really seeing eye to eye on a project) even though I don’t see many similarities sonically, I would have to mention Nurture Abuse. I know Chris has indicated he’s been working on new material - I’m really excited to hear what he’s on right now.

JR: What do you think makes a noise or experimental project appealing? Why would Ted Sweeney be listening to any particular project?

TS: Noise music is a tricky one. I listen to a lot of the the really lush and shimmering, like Organum or Tribulations-style Skullflower. But it takes a lot for me to really swoon over a release after that first listen. I listen to a lot of releases exactly once. The Breathing Problem tape that was in the car I cracked up a few months back was getting a lot of play, but sadly the tape went with the rest of the car: from the tow truck to the scrapyard.

TS: I will say I’m a total sucker for that electro-acoustic turning into a tornado at the drop of a dime style. Jason Crumer told me the kids call that “slambient.” He may have just made that genre up, too…not sure. Because he’s one of the better players at that game, I’ll let him have it. Pedestrian Deposit, Kazuma Kubota, Oscillating Innards, a lot of that stuff that was coming out six or seven years ago. Wicked A/B shit, but with some poetry behind the fuzz. Can never get enough of it.

TS: Most importantly, I like creatives who bring something wildly different to the table, not working at being an oddity - because that’s what they would be doing anyways. Folk like the Gerogerigegege, Les Joyaux De La Princesse, Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock, Vagina Dentata Organ - you couldn’t repro those visions if you listened to Yellow Trash Bazooka as if it were Kabbalistic studies. They completely own their sound, and that’s why those bands stay so fucking good.

JR: You've given me a LOT of book and movie recommendations. Loaded question, but can you give me quick top 10 books and movies lists?

TS: In fairness, that’s not really a loaded question - but it is a tall order. I’m never good at recalling the shit I’ve been digging on when someone asks me to. How about this…

TS: Ten pieces of literature that I can see from where I’m typing and have no problem recommending:

1. G.P.O. vs G.P.O., Genesis P-Orridge
2. Uptown Problems 1-3, Nicholas Clemente
3. Gay Men and Anal Eroticism (Tops, Bottoms, and Versatiles), Steven G. Underwood
4. The Myth Of Natural Rights and Other Essays, L.A. Rollins
5. The Banquet Years, Robert Shattuck
6. Choosing Death (The Improbably History of Death Metal and Grindcore), Albert Mudrian
7. Drugs Are Nice, Lisa Carver
8. The Weaklings (XL), Dennis Cooper
9. Collage (The Making of Modern Art), Brandon Taylor
10. Cancer As A Social Activity (Affirmations of World’s End), Michael IX Williams

JR: What draws you to a book or movie?

TS: Well, you can’t judge a book by its cover - but to be honest, that’s what will grab me. I am easily seduced. I take a lot of chances with books and usually get ten pages into them and quickly realize they’re going to be source material for one of my collages before I ever get to page eleven. Kiddiepunk is putting out a lot of stuff that excites me, although the concern there is that so much of it’s very sexy and immediate, and whether Skeleton Keys, just for example, or that type of flashy agit-kink, will hold up over the test of time - well, it’s dubious. But I like it for just that reason. It’s a seductive little package I can cruise through and drop and that’s all I’d ever want from it. I feel the same way as I feel about a Last Days of Humanity record or that movie Red White and Blue (just caught it on Netflix the other night.) This media serves its purpose to a fucking T, catching my fancy, and at the same time remaining completely disposable.

JR: What's in the future for Ted Sweeney?

TS: My future’s so bright I gotta throw shade. Fucking fuck everyone who makes art still. Get over it. We need more people writing about it. I have had more fun checking your blog - thanks for your efforts Jordan, this is a great thing you’ve got going. 

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