I was surprised when I was doing some background reading for this interview to find out that you’re 21 years-old, same age as I am. I guess it’s only surprising because you already have five albums out. How old were you when you began making music?
I guess I was in 8th grade when I played my first show. It was with my first band, Guru Magpie. I played bass on some songs and guitar on others. Me and the other guitarist tried to teach the drummer "Baptist Blacktick" by Pavement not five minutes before our set started.
In your ‘mailbag’ on your website you told some guy randomly asking you for advice he shouldn’t release any tracks for 2-3 years. I’ll go out on a limb and assume you weren’t being cynical, and ask if you had a 2-3 year period like that and what your earliest, unreleased tracks were like.
I started making music by myself in like 1995, recording myself playing guitar on a tape recorder, then playing that tape on my stereo while I played more guitar or sang into a new tape in the tape recorder. That shit was awful. Soon after I got some software on my parents computer and started making music that was a little more sophisticated, but still awful. Half of it sounded like techno music made by someone who had only heard techno in commercials. The other half sounded like Negativland made by someone who had never heard Negativland but had heard it described once.
I grew up on punk rock, where starting to make music was relatively easy. You buy a guitar and an amp and learn to play your favorite Epitaph bands’ easiest songs. I imagine that getting started on electronic-based music is a bit more difficult. So how did you begin?
I bought a guitar and an amp and learned to play Beck songs. The computer shit came later, because I lived far away from anybody else my age and I could crank out the tracks a lot faster with the computer than trying to play guitar along to the stereo. I was in bands for a few years, made lots of tapes and released a couple of vinyl singles with a few of those bands, but I always had time to work on my own shit.
I could be wrong since I’m a new listener, but listening to some old mp3s has led me to believe that rapping is something you’ve just recently begun to add to your music.
It depends on what time frame you’re on. I’ve been "vocalizing" in my live shows since early 2001, starting with pure freestyling. I took a while to release anything with recorded vocals, though… the first album with singing on every track, "Tall, Dark, & Handcuffed", didn’t come out until the Fall of 2002. Since then I’ve released "Being Ridden" and "Maryland Mansions", so techinically most of my records have singing on them.
On Maryland Mansions your rapping seems to be pretty stream of consciousness, without much structure, rhyme, and the like. Is it something you don’t spontaneously?
Well, I started out freestyling. I’d get topics from the audience and make up all the lyrics on the spot. But I started writing during the downtime on tours, and everything I sing now is revised and rewritten and re-revised ad nauseam.
I heard that you had some major label interest while you were enjoying free agency. Why did you decide not to go down that route?
It wasn’t really my decision. There was interest, but I don’t think anyone was really completely sold on me. I think the majors that I talked to pretty much just wanted to make contact, give me some free shit, and put a little seed in the dirt so that later on, when I release a record which knocks it out of the park sales-wise, they can come through like, "Hey! Remember me and my label? Remember that free shit we gave you? We’ve been behind you since day one, we’re the major you want to sign with!"
Tell me a little bit about your old label Tigerbeat6. At first I thought it had something to do with the magazine for 10 year-old girls.
Nope. It’s basically the best experimental electronic music labels ever, and now they’re starting to branch off and sign acts that make rock and hip-hop and other types of music. There’s a core clique of producers and performers that are pretty tight, most of whom live in the Bay Area (I lived in Oakland for a while myself, and may end up there again eventually)— guys like Kid606, Gold Chains, Lesser, Wobbly, myself, and bands like Numbers, Crack WAR, and Zeigenbock Kopf.
Eight tracks falls in the gap between EP and full-length. How did you arrive at this number of songs? Was it the original plan, or did you add some to a shorter recording? Take a few off a longer recording?
I messed around with a lot. Originally, I had 8 or 9 tracks all built around a different "method"— "Stop Eating," "Drive Off a Mountain," and "Take Pills" were all from this group, although there were other tracks finished like "Cut Wrists," "With Fire," "Jump Off A Bridge," and "Drown in the Ocean." I really wanted to keep the record tight, though– like STATION TO STATION or LOW or ILLMATIC. I wanted every song to be an essential part of the complete though of the record, no repitition or filler. I realized that what I was really trying to do was remake BROKEN, so 6 tracks and 2 hidden cuts seemed like a perfect length. I could have waited and added more songs to the record, but they wouldn’t have come from the same emotional place as these and that would have made it feel less like an album, in my opinion. All these songs are about a very specific series of events and period of my life, and I wanted to get them out there into the world before I moved on completely.
Have you had opportunities yet to go touring overseas? Any new ambitions now that you’re with Jade Tree?
Yeah, I’ve been overseas quite a few times. The first time was back in 2001, I went to Japan. I’ve been to Europe a few times since that. I’m going again in February. The label really doesn’t have much to do with where you go tour in my experience. It’s always been a self-determined thing for me.
Do you think you will continue this pattern of releasing one record per year? Would Jade Tree be able to keep up?
I actually released two records this year– BEING RIDDEN, on Temporary Residence, which came out in May — and actually came out in two versions, an all-instrumental disc and a vocal disc. I doubt I’ll release two full-lengths next year, but it’s hard to say. It depends on how insano my life gets. I make records in order to feel OK about the events in my life, so if the stress doesn’t subside a little beneath the levels it’s been hitting in the past year and a half, I might have to crank out another couple full-lengths.