Monday, January 18, 2010
GOATY TAPES - ZULLY ADLER INTERVIEW
I had the pleasure of exchanging a couple emails with Zully Adler of Goaty Tapes on the topic of tape music and culture and the present and future of his upstanding label. It was nice to get some heavy duty answers to questions which I have thought over a good deal myself, and to realize that a lot of the same interests and motivations brought us both into the tape scene. In addition to running the label, Zully is the man behind Banana Head, whose recent Goaty release is a collection of crooked, distant pop songs. Strange stuff at first, once you make it through his warped looking glass, the pieces definitely fall into place and you're hooked. Zully is currently based in Connecticut. Eggy has several Goaty titles in stock, both at the Half and Half and for mailorder.
It seems like Goaty is moving more into the realm of song-based music, usually pretty damaged stuff but rooted in song-form -- what's motivating that shift?
I guess it’s cause I’ve always been interested in artists who kind of construct their own representational realities—myth-makers and outsiders and loners who don’t have to be as flamboyant as Yves Klein or as holistic as Joe Beuys but still construct some sort of unified artistic perspective, however unclear or cryptic or contradictory or whatever. The bands that embody this idea can really come from anywhere—rock, pop, experimental, but always come off as damaged, like you said, or different/weird.
I think the reason I’ve been moving into more structured, song-based territory is because the drone/noise community—or at least parts of it—is kind of ossifying and not really advocating the kind of radicalism that creates the weirdos I love. I think it’s cause experimental music as a community is so young that the experimental subculture is only now developing the bad habit of prefabricating models for what a band should be. These models have plagued rock music for a lot longer—long enough to catalyze a reaction against it.
There are still experimental acts that manage to create their own space, and I’m still constantly impressed by the ingenuity of a lot of experimental bands, but I still feel that there has been a push in the experimental subculture to create basic musical and aesthetic templates that lead to homogeny. Particular moods and aesthetics prevail and new bands pick up on them without remaking them or utilizing them in a critical way. In rock and pop music, this has been happening for long enough to incite backlash, so now you have all these people really doing their own thing—creating their own rock and pop vocabularies, because the rock subculture has already experienced standardization and artists are now fed up with it.
So I guess I’m really interested in individual projects. I don’t filter artists based on genre, I don’t think, but it’s become harder for me to find experimental acts that are really making something completely their own. It’s sort of like that four-stage demographic transition, where underground Rock music is a developed country—already reaching a sort of equilibrium with equal parts homogenous bullshit and innovation, and underground experimental music (vs. academic experimental music) is a third-world country, in the throes of development that calls for regularity before bands can really branch out on their own again.
You mentioned to me once that as a teenager you interned at Marriage Records here in Portland -- is running a label something you've been interested in for a long time?
In retrospect running a label was absolutely on my mind, but at the time I think my interest in Marriage and record labels in general was more organic and less conscious. Marriage was particularly inspiring because the whole enterprise operated on an incredibly personal level. It was just friends who liked working with and supporting each other and especially as an outsider that was immediately intriguing and rewarding. I guess my fascination with record labels really stemmed from an interest in community arts. Marriage exemplified how a single operation could simultaneously be musical, visual, personal/intimate—essentially have a composite personality of its own—and that really appealed to me.
How does your role as a label owner relate to your role as a musician?
I probably wouldn’t get around to recording music if I didn’t run the label. Knowing that I own the means of production makes recording music a lot more appealing and the final product becomes less distant. For both the label and my music I would like to create real cohesive personalities, but it is as of yet unclear whether I want them to be the same or not.
It seems like a lot of the small labels out there are run by people who are just as busy making music themselves -- Digitalis/North Sea, Night-People/Wet Hair, Gel/Driphouse, etc. -- do you think that's somehow indicative of the musical climate right now?
Definitely. Right now its all about comprehensive involvement—for the real die-hards, “DIY” becomes a sort of holism or comprehensive worldview. You can’t release music without recording music and although this community operates on very strong principles of collaboration, I think the real OGs need to be there for every step and familiarize themselves with every part of the process. Shawn from Night-People is a perfect example—everything he does is in-house. He is in full control of the entire operation and because of this his releases take on the air of “multiples.” They kind of speak to the process and represent the consummation of that process, no corners cut.
OK, so you've brought up the idea of "multiples" and Mr. Joseph Beuys made an appearance earlier, how do those ideas relate to the music that is being put on the tapes? What is the relationship between the music the artists are producing and the "art" of running a label?
I think there are practical and theoretical reasons for using tapes specifically for this kind of music. First, the lo-fi or damaged quality of the music is not supposed to be a definitive statement--the idea is not that the production is tailored specifically to the sound (although people actively harness and manipulate the production value to varying degrees), but rather that it is a desirable outcome of the do-it-yourself process that takes advantage of chance operations--volatile four-tracks, bizarre second-hand gear, etc. The label contributes to this process of the manipulation the music's fidelity by using and dubbing tapes. So on a really basic level, tapes are unpredictable and hazy in ways that support DIY music's complicated relationship with authorship and the idea of production, as the medium itself contributes to the music-making and listening experience.
Underground music also presents a criticism of the celebrity of mainstream music in really obvious ways. The homies I work with are clearly people who care more about making music they love and sharing it with their friends and making it intimate than catering to a broader audience (even though everybody wants to make a little bank). Tapes buttress this criticism cause they can be dubbed over and they quickly lose their fidelity. They challenge and even violate prevailing assumptions concerning posterity and our impulse to preserve. Further, each copy of a release or "multiple" changes hands in particular ways, gets copied over with different material, or deteriorates depending on how its used--such that the edition a tape is released in (or the lack thereof) has real significance.
I guess these are kind of normative claims, cause not all tape music is "damaged" but that's where I think tape culture fits in and proves itself. I think there is a reason why "damaged" music has found a place in cassette culture--both address the ephemeral nature of music, especially DIY music, and call into question assumptions of timelessness. I don't think tapes contradict notions of preservation, but suggest a different type of preservation more like the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. A preserved object should include the history of the object and not sterilize or maintain its "original" form. Cassettes embrace this sort of change--they're the furthest thing from impervious, most associated with dusty corners and disintegration. So tapes and their assemblage and decay embody this idea of the "multiple" as an edition of increasingly individualized single pieces--if the artworld's multiples don't live up to this definition I think its due to the incorporation of fine art and not the will of the artists themselves.
Any thoughts on how the underground music world will be functioning five years from now?
Hopefully similar to how it functions now, only a stronger focus on local scenes? It would be nice if there were some sort of reaction against the global free-for-all that has consumed independent music, as it has everything else. Even in this tape world too many people, including myself, seem to rely on anonymous long-distance communication. In a perfect world there might be a relapse into more vernacular production/bros chilling together in the flesh.
Last thing you listened to?
JosÈ Corrales y sus Bandurrias – Urpicha CorazÛn played half-speed on my Library of Congress cassette deck.
Last thing you read?
Christopher Reed’s Bloomsbury Rooms
Any bands or labels you think readers of the Eggy blog should be aware of?
Some myth-makers that have contributed to/affected how I roll. Not limited to:
Jeff/Rene Hell, Agents of Chaos label
Chris/Unskilled Labor label
Absolute Body Control reissues
Lieven/Taped Sounds label