New BLACK BANANAS (formerly RTX) video…
PRESS RELEASE TEXTAGE
RAINBOWS, CAPRICORNS, VIRGOS & ALCHEMY…
This Sunday March 13th please join us for a series of events at THE FREE CHURCH:
Beginning promptly at 8pm:
A lecture about rainbows by TRINIE DALTON:
Trinie will give a slide-talk about rainbows what they are, how they’re formed, and their roles in the history of art, spiritualism, mythology, and color theory.
A video screening curated by CATHERINE TAFT:
Catherine Taft presents a Capricorn/Virgo-inspired selection of videos by Dale Hoyt, Lauren Lavitt and Andrew Steinmetz
and at 9:30pm
RON REGÉ, JR. will read (and project!) comics from The Cartoon Utopia concerning the basic tenants of Alchemy and Hermetic Philosophy in Fairy Tale.”
This event will be situated in LUX, an installation by Maureen Keaveny
Public Fiction in Highland Park
749 Avenue 50, 90042
Animal Collective’s Geologist and Deacon share the scuba experience with Morgan V. Lebus
Arthur: When and where were these photos taken?
Deacon: We went diving off the east side of Marathon Key in Herman’s Hole. The visibility underwater was crystal. Herman is a very large moray eel who no longer lives in his hole–he’s relocated to an aquarium in Miami.
Isn’t scuba diving expensive?
Deacon: The toughest part is getting certified, which costs about $500. I was lucky enough to have a dive master friend who certified me for free. The most expensive part of scuba diving is the travel. You can dive almost anywhere, but unless you’re pretty gung ho about it, diving in the local quarry is less than choice. You want to go somewhere that has a a tropical vibe, with lots of reef life and clear waters. Once you’re there, a full day of diving with boat and and gear rental will run less than $100.
Geologist: While this is true, if you are into cold water diving, there are some good lake spots in New England. I’ve never done any cold water dives because you need to buy a dry-suit.
Your most fascinating underwater find?
Deacon: It’s all fascinating: scuba diving is the best drug ever. My first open water dive (off a boat, away from the shore) was in South Carolina. The visibility was low and we didn’t see much more than a few barrucada and some flounder (a flat bottom feeder fish with both eyes on one side of its head). On the way up the surface I couldn’t see the bottom or the surface but off in front of me about fifteen feet away was a jellyfish. A very simple translucent specimen, but I could’ve watched sway it for hours.
Geologist: In the Gulf of California I went diving off the coast of an island that was home to a sea lion colony. The pups had just been born and they were extremely curious. I also saw a seahorse there—they’re pretty rare. My big dream though, is to see whale sharks, mantas, leafy sea dragons, and a school of hammerhead.
If you could dive anywhere on earth, where would it be?
Geologist: The arctic or antarctic. The way the light filters through the ice is supposed to be amazing. I´d also like to dive in the Andamen sea off the coast of Thailand, but further north, closer to Burma.
Deacon: I think for me it is more a matter of when. Coral is being damaged at an intense rate and a lot of marine life is gone. I imagine that diving 100 years ago would have been a dramatically different experience, regardless of where you did it.
Your deepest dive, ever?
Deacon: South Carolina at about 68 feet down.
Geologist: Deep dives are not necessarily the best because your bottom time is extremely limited. With a normal tank rig you get about 15 minutes of dive time at 90 feet before you have to to a shallower depth and decompress. However, a 30-foot dive can have amazing stuff as well and your dive can be an hour long. My deepest was just above 100. The limit was 90 feet but it was a wall dive—the sea floor was about 65 feet and it stretches out from the island and then you reach the edge and the wall drops 6,000 feet! We swam over the edge and dropped to 90 feet and viewed the wall along our side. It’s an amazing feeling to look down and see nothing but darkness and try to comprehend the bottom being 6,000 feet below you.
Not a Kook
Filmmaker Jessica Yu explores the life and work of mysterious artist Henry Darger in an innovative new documentary.
By Trinie Dalton
Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March 2005)
In the Realms of the Unreal opens with shots of artist Henry Darger’s dusty homemade books and scrappy art supplies, with actress Dakota Fanning relating how Darger sought solace in art after a childhood as an abused orphan. This bit of biography prepares audiences for Darger’s own summary, narrated by actor Larry Pine, of his life work—a cryptic 15,000-page epic novel detailing a war waged over child slavery—at first illustrated onscreen by stills of Darger’s startling art. But it’s when one of his drawings comes to life—a girl flaps her butterfly wings and flies away—that you realize director Jessica Yu has taken biographical documentary to a new level.
Using animation constructed from Darger’s artwork, Yu opens a door into Darger’s hermetic world of evil, adult Glandelinians and their captive Vivian Girls—cute, Shirley Temple-ish girls who sometimes sport horns, wings, tails and penises. Lightning flashes in stormy skies, soldiers fire guns, and monsters called Blengins circle through the clouds. These nightmarish scenes, it turns out, harken directly back to Darger’s own past: nuns, mean teachers, and childhood enemies from his early life reappear as Confederate army members, often slaughtered on the page as a way to recoup his mental losses. (One especially cruel bully morphs into General John Manley, head of the opposing regime.)
Henry Darger grew up in asylums for feeble-minded children, and spent his adult years as a recluse. A self-taught artist who made a living as a janitor, he lived in a small apartment in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, secretly recording the war between the Glandelinians and Vivian Girls, down to the last casualties and debts accrued. Incredibly, no one knew of his prodigious artistic talents until his landlords discovered Darger’s work upon his death in 1973 and began to share it with the public. Countless articles and several books have since been published on Darger, but never has his art been actively portrayed as it is here, embellished by a storytelling voice that sounds the way Darger’s voice may have sounded: gentle but curt, impassioned but matter-of-fact. Add in several interviews with neighbors, including one with Kiyoko Lerner, and you get a fascinating—if necessarily speculative—picture of Darger inhabiting his strange fantasies.
Animating someone else’s art is a controversial proposition, doubly so with Darger. His sincere, exacting artistic approach required that he dedicate every second of free time to perfecting his techniques. The boxes of pencil nubs, tall stacks of visual reference and piles of used watercolors that Yu’s camera scans across demonstrate that Darger was his own harshest teacher and critic. Fortunately, Yu’s animators kept the special effects to a minimum, going more for an old-fashioned, paper-doll like style rather than the gaudy Pixar look. The animation is charming and loyal to the work.
Yu’s last two films—the Academy Award-winning Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of John O’Brien and The Living Museum—also documented artists who overcame physical and mental challenges. She’s friendly and open, making it obvious that she’s doing what she loves. I interviewed her at her home in Los Angeles, as she was preparing to travel to Chicago, Darger’s hometown, for the film’s opening festivities.
In the Realms of the Unreal is screening in select theatres across North America through April.
Arthur: How did this film come to be?
Jessica Yu: I was giving a talk about my last film, The Living Museum, about a group of artists in a psychiatric center in New York. A reporter in the audience knew the Lerners [Darger’s landlords], and he asked me if I’d heard of Darger. The next day he took me to Kiyoko Lerner’s house. Kiyoko showed me some paintings, then she let me go up to his room by myself. Before this, Darger had been an abstraction to me. But I felt such a strong sense of his presence in his room. Everything in there said something about him. I wanted to tie together the feeling of that room with some comprehensible look at the work, so that we might get a sense of who this person was.
There’s so much great footage of his room in the film. Did you shoot that footage on your first visit?
No, I went back to ask Kiyoko about making a documentary. She was open, but cautious. She doesn’t want people to exploit Darger’s work. I wanted the room to substitute for Darger himself. To do this, I tried to get movement in all the shots, and we shot a lot from where he sat at the desk. I imagined how he might have looked at the room. He had his central point, gazing up at the stained glass window of the dove, sitting at the table surrounded by his work. It gives you a sense of how he lived.
Was your fascination rooted in a love for Darger’s artwork or with his tragic story? Or both? Continue reading
Originally published in Arthur No. 19 (Nov. 2005)
How do the four humble critters that are Animal Collective make such wildly beautiful and beguiling sounds?
By Trinie Dalton
As pathetic as this sounds, I originally started listening to Animal Collective because they were an “animal band,” and I make a point of hearing all new animal bands because I’m obsessed with animals. There are so many animal bands these days, especially lupine ones: Wolf Eyes, Wolf Parade, Wolfmother…I figure anyone who names their band after animals must like animals too, so we have something in common, and maybe they’re also into classic animal bands, like The Animals and The Turtles. So far, this theory for checking out new bands has worked, and I like most animal bands. But Animal Collective are by far the best. They’re King of the Jungle.
This is an especially lame confession because the members of Animal Collective barely even like having a name; they’d much prefer to be individuals who come together in various combos and in various locations to make intriguingly titled albums, like Danse Manatee, Campfire Songs, or Here Comes the Indian, sans band name. That’s one refreshing thing about Animal Collective: they aren’t glory hogs. In animal terms, they’re like prairie dogs, bees, or penguins—humble critters that understand the definition of teamwork. In the beginning, Animal Collective often wore masks and costumes hiding their individual identities, and they’ve always used nicknames to keep alive the secret society element of what they do: Dave Portner is Avey Tare, Brian Weitz is Geologist, Josh Dibbs is Deakin, and Noah Lennox is Panda Bear. Having a band name is too traditional, they say; they only have one because record labels have told them that listeners need to identify the group as a cohesive, named unit.
Which is important, because Animal Collective are one of those rare bands who sound completely different live and on record. Sung Tongs, their last full-length album, is infused with psychedelic wall-of-sound production, Brian Wilson-style. Sung Tongs is so classic it gives me chills. I imagine Sung Tongs on the cover of that Arthur issue 50 years from now featuring the best albums of the past century. The cool part is, I’ll recall how I nearly went deaf hearing tweaky live versions of harmonious tunes like “Leaf House” and “Kids On Holiday.” On headphones, certain Animal Collective songs sound sleepy and hypnotic, while live those same songs make the club’s floor vibrate from heavy bass and guitar distortion. Hearing Animal Collective live is nearly my favorite pastime. Recently, while living in Berlin, I was so dying to see them that I almost flew hundreds of miles to southern France to catch their gig. Getting a grip, I reminded myself that this was a little extreme, not to mention expensive. Each show is different, though: live versions of songs render them unrecognizable or mutate into new songs, so you can’t say, I’ll just stay home and listen to the album.
Feels, Animal Collective’s new release, is heavily injected with sentiment without being sappy. Dedicated to such lofty romantic themes as Love, Purple (the color of passion) and (they say) “synchronicity, or connections between people,” Feels is highly emotive. As opposed to Sung Tongs’ choral vocal layerings and druggy nods to Smiley Smile, Feels contains fewer vocal harmonies but compensates with an abundance of rock-out moments balanced by a “warm hum” of instruments. I can’t wait to see these songs performed live, since the instrumentation on Feels is so elusive. This new record also further distinguishes Animal Collective from the Freakfolk bands they’ve sometimes been lumped together with. I never thought they sounded even remotely folky; Feels instead sounds a lot more influenced by their early inspirations, My Bloody Valentine and Pavement.
Animal Collective are childhood friends. Noah and Josh met in second grade in their hometown, Baltimore. In 1996, Josh hooked up with Brian and Dave, who were also high school buddies from Maryland. They all hung out sporadically throughout college, and by 2000, they were all living in New York, where they recorded and released Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, which gave them their first taste of success. Since then, they’ve made several albums and started a record label, Paw Tracks, home to artists like Ariel Pink and The Peppermints. Prospect Hummer, their last record, is testament to all the European touring they’ve done; they met and recruited Vashti Bunyan in England for vocals on it. Three of the band left New York years ago—Noah for Lisbon, Brian for D.C., and Dave for Europe—so Animal Collective functions via satellite, in a way, until they convene for recording sessions and tours. Even interviewing them was a feat—I received four separate phone calls from around the world—although I really enjoyed it because Animal Collective were so friendly. Each man spoke highly of the others, discussing how the group sound has evolved instead of geeking out on who plays what. They gave uncannily similar answers, and Brian confessed that Animal Collective may know each other “too well.” I had this feeling before, but I know it now—Animal Collective are four best friends committed to experimenting and having fun.
Royal Trux are gone, but RTX lives on. Jennifer Herrema talks with Trinie Dalton about chasing that airtight classic rock sound.
Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (September, 2004)
Jennifer Herrema has spent the last 18 years establishing her reputation as a rocker through Royal Trux, her partnership with singer-guitarist Neil Haggerty. Described (or dismissed) by critics as “conceptual acid-punk,” “hate-fueled rock,” and “dissonant junkie” music, Royal Trux found a home at Chicago’s start-up indie rock label Drag City in the late-‘80s, where they released several albums before—and after—scoring a lucrative three-record deal with Virgin Records in the go-go mid-‘90s in the wake of Nirvana’s success. Today, Royal Trux are split in two: Neil records solo albums as Neil Michael Haggerty and Jennifer has started a new band, RTX, whose debut full-length, Transmaniacon, arrives in September.
Recorded with guitarist Nadav Eisenman and bassist Jaimo Welch, Transmaniacon is a wildly produced album that has the feel, scope and drive of the classic ‘70s rock—Rolling Stones, Kiss, Rush, etc.—that Herrema admires. The album fucking rocks, a powerful growling 11-song reminder that Herrema can stand on her own as a singer/songwriter in the traditions of not only great female rockers like Joan Jett, but also among those male icons who dominate Classic Rock World.
After years living at the Royal Trux stronghold in the hills of West Virginia, Jennifer now lives in Southern California, where she’s taken up longboard surfing. Her tan is insane, especially accentuated by her platinum blonde hair and eyebrows. She looks healthy, and I can’t help but think that her new So-Cal beach house has influenced her music; Classic Rock and the beach go hand in hand. Her inimitable sense of fashion is strong as always—remember, this is the woman who virtually defined “heroin chic,” for better or worse—and she’s just finished modeling local designer Henry Duarte’s new line of denim jeans.
Breaking from our interview, she plays me her new song “Kitty Grommet,” which will accompany a denim wetsuit she designed for a show at Tokyo’s MoMA in honor of Hello Kitty’s 30th anniversary. Kitty Grommet cruises the waves looking cute, but Jennifer’s raspy vocals undermine the tune’s Pokemon-ish superhero theme-song tendency by dishing out some death metal growls. Herrema says she’s been perfecting her growl since Royal Trux required her to invent vocals for songs that “weren’t classically pop, where the vocals had to present themselves more as an instrument.” All her new projects are a mature culmination of past experiences with music and pop culture. She discussed her ambitions and sense of accomplishment with both Royal Trux and RTX over cookies and beer, after answering the big questions: How did RTX come to be? And, what motivated the break-up of two of rock’s most notorious musicians?
Arthur: So, you stopped touring with Royal Trux, your dad got sick, and you were dealing with other things in your life. Were you writing these new songs during that time?
Jennifer Herrema: Yeah. We cancelled that last tour, and within a year I knew what I wanted this record to sound like. I got the sound in my head. I just let it be a sound, kind of an amorphous blob. I didn’t want to nail it in too soon or else I’d be over it by the time I got my shit together. So I just kept it in my head. A year went by. Jaimo and Nadav were sending me things. I was listening to Nadav’s engineering and production stuff. I flew them out to meet me, and we all got along really well. They’re awesome, totally inspired.
The bass playing kicks ass on this album.
Yeah, Jaimo’s psycho. He’s only 22 or something. He’s got this energy. He’s amazing. Very different guitar player than Neil, but at some point he will be as good as what it is he does. I felt like I hadn’t met someone [since Neil] who could nail what it is they do so well. He takes direction really well. There’s no need to reference things. I’ll be on piano or start humming the riffs and he’ll do it. Part of it was learning a language, how to communicate. I had a real rapport with Neil. It was intuitive. But Jaimo and I have that communication.
What happened with Neil? I know he’s busy doing solo albums…
Well, we’ve been together since I was 15. We email each other all the time. We just needed to separate, to have time to fill the holes. When you compliment each other so well there’s all these deficiencies that occur because you’re always pleasing somebody else, and vice versa. We’ll be much stronger people [for going out on our own], like two wholes. That way, whether or not we play together again, it’ll be a benefit.
Royal Trux was clearly collaborative, but did you feel like ideas of yours weren’t happening because of the other influence? Of course, that probably goes both ways…
Yeah, that’s true. I mean, I love all of Neil’s solo stuff. But it’s different than what I want to work on. So it’s just like, break it off into two entities. I want to nail something solid, not that that stuff wasn’t solid. I just want to simplify.
“Simplified” is a good word to describe these new songs. They strive to be perfect, as if you’re trying to make the rock song a perfect thing.
Yeah, distill it and put it in a jar. That’s why live they’re going to have so much room to open the fuck up. They’re such a studio creation. I wanted them to be all tight. Ziplocked, all the air taken out of them.
RTX makes me reconsider classic rock. Classic Rock has such a clichéd image. But the great bands became classic by trying to invent the perfect song. Achieving that loud sound. What you’re doing is an extension of that.
It sounds new too, though.
It’s not retro. There’s a checklist in my head, like where the guitar sits in the mix, how the kick sounds.
Every era has its Classic Rock. I can hear different eras in your songs. There’s the 80’s metal sound, Def Leppard or Motley Crüe, then the 70’s arena rock thing, and the female punk heritage, the Runaways or Plasmatics. Suzi Quatro.
Yeah, Suzi Quatro. The songwriting, I wanted it to be really tight.
I guess you’ve been influenced by all different sounds, since you wrote these songs over a long period of time.
But that’s where the subconscious comes in. You’re not trying to find something, you just keep playing until you’ve got what you need. That’s the subconscious bringing back all the things you love. I love that sound, and it was implanted somewhere back there a long time ago. I love millions of sounds. But I had to put parameters on the record. I didn’t want it to be all over the map.
One thing that’s different [from Royal Trux] about RTX is the vocals. In terms of ugly music—ugly as beautiful, disharmonic—this album seems less in that aesthetic vein.
There was never a period when there was a conscious aesthetic. We were never trying to coax a lesson. It was what it was, it was never trying to be ugly. And to put tons of reverb on it—going back to Royal Trux—it didn’t make sense musically to do that now. Singing with Neil, the song’s keys were different.
You sang a lot lower?
Yeah, I had to. Neil has such a high voice. I can go high, but in order for us to sing together I had to take a place. It was cool, I had to stretch. I forced my voice to do things that didn’t come naturally.
You have more range now, I can hear your voice more on this album.
Oh yeah, these songs were easy. The melody line is very natural. I probably won’t lose my voice as often. I don’t really abuse my voice that much. It was more live, wanting to hear myself. Royal Trux would have two guitar players, two drummers, bass, and Neil’s got lungs. I have to push. People say I don’t have to push, we can hear you, but it’s like, “This isn’t about you out there, it’s about me having fun, so shut up.” That can get rough on your voice. But that was rare. People tell me to stop smoking but I love smoking.
Did you get the name for your album from the Blue Oyster Cult song?
Well there’s the BOC song, but that’s with the MC motorcycle club thing. It’s a fictitious word and the alliteration of it sounded like the album to me. I mean, when pronounced correctly. Trans-man-I-acon. But there’s also this Japanese video game called Transmaniacon in which a book is buried under NYC. And there’s a science fiction book. So it’s not just one thing.
The sci-fi reference puts that song “Psychic Self-Defense” in a different context.
Yeah, the album needed a space there. The album’s supposed to be like a book, to be read through. Of course, each song should stand on its own. But lyrically, there’s a sense the songs make. The sequencing came really quickly, and usually it’s really hard. Usually, it’s like playing Tetris. Nadav and I were talking about sequences, and we used the first sequence we burned. We were like, “That’s it, don’t fuck with it.”
Sequencing is a crucial element on my favorite Classic Rock albums. Brian Eno is so good at sequencing, but he’s not Classic Rock.
I love Brian Eno. I read this article about him years ago and he was talking about metal. He said it was the first ambient music. That made sense to me, because it’s so compressed. The reins are so tight, so it sails.
Maybe he was talking about Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, all that experimental stuff, Tony Conrad. Have you been listening to the new bands doing that droney metal now? Like Sunn0)))?
A little bit. Joe Preston, of Thrones, he toured with us a lot. And he’s doing something with Sunn0))). I like Thrones and I really like Joe a lot. He’s such an awesome dude. When he toured with us he brought his cat.
I love how the song “PB & J” sounds like a boy band song, all robotic.
We used a harmonizer on that. It breaks your voice into different octaves.
You employ a good blend of classic instrumentation with effects and machinery.
Oh yeah, we use effects. I’ve worked with so many engineers, and they’re a different breed. Not to say they’re all alike. But they use effects to make songs seamless. Sometimes that’s cool, but other times it’s like, “No, this is an effect and let’s fuckin’ hear the effect.”
When you use a harmonizer, for example, I think of corporate bands, bands who are totally manufactured. You seem so against that but then you exploit the possibilities.
It’s a balance. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. But I love Kid Rock. I love his production. He’s such a good producer.
Production is what saves your songs from being retro. Each song is produced in a new way. “Heavy Gator” is also really good, it sounds like a warped record. How did you do that? Did you fuck with the speed of the vocal track?
It’s not fucked with. There’s no real vocal effects. I think I quadruple- tracked my vocals and the way they went against each other, it sounds a little warped. That was a cool accident.
Some parts are muted and some parts are loud.
That’s a production thing. A volume thing. The way it’s canned.
Did you record on all different machines?
ProTools. We use tons of great preamps and stuff, but I’m so into ProTools. I’m not against analog or anything, but dude. You’ve got great gear and you’re getting the sounds you want. I love the sound of digital. Digital distortion. I love the sound of analog distortion, the thickness and warmth. Digital distortion is this whole other beast. You can just fuckin’ go in, you don’t have to power up. We’ve got tons of rack effects, we’ve got all these plug-ins, and it’s all right there. So you can walk in the room and try something really quick, boom, it’s the ease of it. With analog, it’s a ritual, the tape, how hard you’re hitting tape. But digital, it’s just different.
You must be a distortion expert by now. Who are your distortion heroes?
I don’t know man, there’s a lot of them.
You came out of a tradition of distortion—Sonic Youth…
Yeah, there was a lot of that going on but they were a whole generation ahead of us. There was this place on Long Island called L’Amours, and you could go see Skid Row, or Ratt. In New York, I saw a lot of those bands that you’re mentioning, but it was incidental. The punk rock shit, Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, I loved that shit. I saw the Bad Brains a lot. I liked GBH a lot. I like Metallica, but I love Megadeth. I like Rush a lot, I just saw them last week. Kiss, I love them. I went and saw them three weeks ago. The songs are fuckin’ great.
Do you keep up on new east coast noise bands? A lot of it seems more electronic. Have you heard Black Dice?
I like Black Dice. I saw Neil play last summer with Dead Meadow. I thought they were good, but after 20 minutes, I thought, “This is great, now wrap it up.” Loved it, but then I wanted it to be done. Or else I wanted something drastic to occur.
Do you think they’re the new Led Zeppelin?
Fuck no. That’s blasphemous. Don’t even go there. I totally dig Zeppelin. How can you not? I mean, this is the problem: Zeppelin is Zeppelin. There will be no new Led Zeppelin, and if there is, it’s gonna suck, just by the nature of trying to replicate something that’s bad to the bone. So the new Led Zeppelin has to be that good at what it is. It can be fuckin’ polka, I don’t care. If you try to be be the next Rolling Stones, you’ve already lost. Because the Rolling Stones kick your ass. If you want to be number two, go for it. It’s all good and fun, but fuck it.
Interview with American fabulist author, critic, artist and longtime Arthur contributor and inspiration Trinie Dalton: http://twodollarradio.blogspot.com/2011/02/qa-with-editor-trinie-dalton.html