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