Jeff Flashinski is better known as Kinth. Following on from the first Introducing piece Old Earth, aka Todd Umhoefer, recommended that the next person to speak to in the series should be Milwaukee’s very own Kinth and so here myself and Jeff have a good long chinwag about all things music and life. Top guy and his music is pretty special too so be sure to check it out if you get the chance.
TSP: You have been recommended for the ‘Introducing’ series by Old Earth. How do you and Todd know each other?
JF: Todd and I formally met each other in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at an open mic about 5 years ago now. At the time Todd was doing a project called “See The People” and going to school at MIAD. He gave me one of his CD’s and it blew me away, to this day I still have those songs regularly on my play list. They seemed to have a similar quality to the music of Nick Drake, who might be my favourite artist ever. Both those artists seem to have a spooky beauty about them, containing something very dark and seemingly written on the edge, but in the end being more life affirming than doom laden.
That first album of Todd’s was very full, heavy acoustic guitar strumming with beautiful melodies and lyrics accompanied by piano. His lyrics and his voice really grabbed me and told of a spirit which is lonely and hurting, but still longing for something; “This is the bridge that I’d jump from if wolves were at my heels”, “We were overcome by the rhythm/We were overcome”, “I should have been aborted but my parents couldn’t afford it/The world couldn‘t afford it”, “How can you just sit there full of breath and holes? There’s still time…” Songs about memories, moments of love that have passed, songs about despair, but always good feelings, persevering and giving one the hope that something good can endure. He has one song that ends with the repeating line, “I’ll make a list of all the good things…” I love that line! I had a friend of mine recently tell me that they were very down and not happy in life. That line came back to me and I told her, “Make a list of all the good things.” She really liked that and said it helped her out, made her feel better. An example of how music can change things and people in ways unforeseen.
How did you discover Todd’s music and what grabbed you about it? How is it similar and different from folk musicians you hear in Scotland? Also, I mentioned Nick Drake before, does he have much modern popularity or influence where you‘re located?
TSP: I think the first thing that jumped out at me about Todd’s work was his voice. There is something distinct and attention grabbing in the quality, tone and range of his vocal. I love how he uses his voice, which to me is such an important thing. If you have vocals in your songs then as important as the words are, I think you have to know how to use your voice as an instrument to become part of the texture of the song. Pure voices never really work for me. I need a voice that perhaps doesn’t qualify as a particularly strong element on its own but as part of the music is something hugely important and significant. For me Todd, much like Nick Drake, knows how to use his voice as an instrument and as a positive part of the overall work.
It’s interesting you mention the lyrics Todd uses as you obviously view lyrics as a hugely important element in his work but much (most) of your work is instrumental. Do you feel that you can deliver the same sort of emotion and ideas within instrumental music or do you have to work much harder to try and convey emotion and purpose? I personally always start a glacis project with a theme or idea in mind but trying to ensure that that is delivered in an understandable way becomes much more difficult without the support of words. Then again, I find it’s often too easy to throw words into a track just to make it more readily accessible to people as words tend to be what most people immediately engage with. How does your work get born and develop and what are you trying to achieve through your music?
In terms of Scottish music I find there is a distinct lack of Old Earth type figures. I mentioned to Todd about the idea of traditional Scottish folk/punk music not really existing. When Frightened Rabbit started I felt they invoked a real spirit of punk in what they did. 2 guitars and drums. There first 2 records were brilliant. But now they are on a major label and being pushed to bigger things. I heard their latest album at the weekend and pretty much everything that made them important and exciting, to me, has been sucked from them as they are pushed towards stardom and the polished sound it so often brings. I guess perhaps Nick Drake managed to avoid that because he wasn’t really a star until after his death and his music was what it was. I do believe his influence on British folk music was and is still important but perhaps not so much in Scotland – though I believe he is very popular here.
I personally feel that Scotland is over saturated with music now. Anyone can form a band and because the place is so small it all becomes a bit inward looking and polarised promoting everything rather than simply the best things. People are also not brave enough to say what they really feel about music because everyone knows everyone else and it becomes a game rather than an industry where you are treading on egg shells to avoid upsetting somebody who might be able to help you a little bit down the line. I have strong opinions about a number of Scottish records released last year. I believe that some records that have been championed by so many Scottish music writers are actually horrendously poor and disappointing and yet nobody wants to, or is brave enough to, say that. I certainly don’t want to, or need to, say it because I run a label and am a musician myself and people in Scottish music are generally incapable of dealing with any kind of criticism – no matter how justified – so it makes life more difficult.
For me, if you want to improve in anything you do then you need constructive criticism that makes you better, helps you learn and challenges you. I don’t feel back slapping or unworthy praise does anything other than inflate ego and result in poor quality products. How does this compare with
Milwaukee? Is the focus of artists local or much wider? I imagine America being such a massive place has its restrictions and benefits to a musician?
JF: I agree with what you say about Todd’s voice, in fact I remember him and I having a discussion about that a couple years ago about how to treat your voice like an instrument and to listen to it while you’re singing and to try to hear it as sound. He’s managed to achieve this quite successfully and it is amazing to see, I was extremely impressed with his last release, “a low place at the Old Place”. His voice is so spooky and enchanting, blending with the music perfectly.
I don’t think that instrumental music can reach the same level of passion and intensity that music with vocals can. But I think it is easier to be honest with instrumental music because you can hide yourself more, or actually I should put it you aren’t forced to reveal as much of yourself. When you sing, your soul is naked, and a keen observer can decipher where your spirit is at. I liked what you and Todd had to say about having a public self and a private self, and musicians are the rare breed of people who offer their private self up to the public. But doing this carries with it a great emotional risk, as we tend to keep our private selves private for a reason. Writing instrumental music is a way to avoid risking as much of myself, but it is also a way to pursue passion in a different form. It is easy to express rage when you have your words and you can scream them, but when you are left with nothing but sound it becomes trickier. I think doing a lot of instrumental music has helped me to become a better musician, to appreciate silence and subtlety more and to properly incorporate them into my own sounds. It has also helped me realise how important it is to have sounds that jump out at a person, sounds which are unique and take the listeners’ mind a few moments to process.
‘What do I hope to achieve with music?’ That’s a great question, but I feel slightly dishonest answering it because it isn’t something that I’ve ever put to myself quite so directly. I grew up loving music and listening to it all the time, that’s a trend which has remained with me my entire life. Music gives my soul the nutrients it needs, so I’ve always been an avid music listener. And out of that came my desire to learn to play music, which naturally led to me creating and writing music. So I think the simple answer to your question is that I’ve always listened to music because it made me feel good, and I learned to play and write music because that made me feel good, so I’m simply responding to and following my natural impulses. I have thought about quitting, especially in the last few years as I’ve turned 30. I released an album over a year ago that I had high hopes for and that got a dismal reception.
There was a much bigger event though that really made me want to quit music forever, and that was when my sister died last year. She was always one of my biggest fans, and we shared music together our whole lives having very similar tastes. She was one of my best friends in the world and someone I was closest to growing up. After she died I went through a period of wanting to give up playing music completely. The experience of enduring the days after her passing taught me many things. That was the most horrific pain that I’ve ever felt, and I’m guessing that will be the worst pain I ever go through. I remember vividly when I was going through it that I wanted total silence, the pain was so deep that listening to music, or doing anything, made it worse. I needed to block out all stimulation for a while, no matter how small. I was someone who listened to music all the time, everyday, so going without music for days was something totally new for me, something I hadn’t done for decades. I realised life is very different without audio stimulation, and the notion dawned on me that those who suffer worst in the world probably prefer silence to music. That idea stuck with me for awhile. For weeks I went without music, then I slowly listened to stuff here and there, and then one song in particular wholly enraptured me. And it convinced me there is something redeeming about music, something that helps people, and can possibly guide them when they are lost. It can revive the good feelings. To feel joy and laughter is very important, in everything that we do in life, and music can always remind us of that.
I became convinced that I should start listening to music again, but I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to play music ever again, and I had to ask myself what I hoped to accomplish with it. The answer came as I kept discovering new things that I hadn’t tried before. I was getting ideas and after working on them for a while I found that I was making great advances as a musician. I felt like the music I was working on was music that was better than any I had ever made, so I wanted to keep doing it. When I grow musically it seems, or at least feels, that I am growing spiritually as well. This growth in song writing provides me euphoria and a joy that I can’t find anywhere else in life. Music is a dialogue between the heart and the mind, and when you do something new it feels divine, because even when you “create” something, you don’t understand it, it comes from somewhere that you can’t explain, and the fact that it happens through you makes you feel as though there is a God and that He is talking to you. Sometimes it seems ridiculous how little effort there is involved, just all the impulses flowing naturally. I can’t say with any certainty that music makes the world better, but I still do it anyway. At the very least, I think it makes me better, and that’s something.
As for your last few questions, your description of the local scene in Scotland is a spot on description of things here too, both at the local level and national level. It’s something I used to have stronger opinions about, but that really didn’t make me many friends, so I tend to keep my mouth shut more often now. Plus, I think it probably isn’t a good thing to think about too much as it distracts from the matter at hand, which is creating something new and interesting and full of life. Thinking too much deflates this effort. I can easily be eaten up by my bitterness if I let it, so I try not to go there. I get irked by the music industry at times, but I also realise that part of the flaws of the industry is rooted in the apathy of the public, and there’s not much that can be done about that – except create new music. I fell in love with Nick Drake at age 18, and learning about his life taught me not to have much faith in the industry or the world at large. The general public’s response time is just too slow. Nick Drake’s music received little attention while he was alive, but it slowly gathered support and popularity decades after he died. This tells me that eventually quality does get recognised and appreciated on a larger scale, but it takes a very long time.
It is hard for me to say what the focus is for musicians here in Milwaukee, but I think most have aspirations for being known on a larger scale – America is all about people trying to move up in the world. I think there are a lot of beneficial things about being a musician in America, but the problem is there just doesn’t seem to be much independent culture where new and interesting ideas can flourish. I once asked one of my musician friends a question about American culture and he responded, “What culture? There’s just stuff on TV.” I couldn’t really argue with him on that. It makes it hard to try to gather a following. The nice thing about living in America is it is very easy to travel and to do DIY roadtrip tours. I know a lot of people do it, and they don’t necessarily make a lot of money, but they don’t lose money either and it is a fun time. Also, it is easy to just pickup your life and move to a place like NYC or LA and get started there, even if you’re just from a place like Wisconsin. I’ve known a lot of people to do that too.
How long have you been playing music for? How long has Glacis been around and do you have any other projects? What inspires you about music and when do you like to write? Have you lived in Scotland your whole life? One of my favourite active songwriters is a man by the name Richard Hawley. Over here in the states I do not know many people who are familiar with his work, but I can’t get enough of him. Does he have any popularity over there, and have you ever heard the name before?
TSP: I would probably disagree slightly on instrumental music not being able to reach the same passion or intensity as music with words. I do feel that a piano piece played well is just as emotive as a song with words. I guess perhaps the artist just has to work that little bit harder? When it comes to ambient – for want of a better word – I do think it takes skill and understanding to create something with depth. Anyone can make ambient music and what separates the good from the bad can be that human element of understanding that what you are making needs to have a point and not just be noise for the sake of it. Too many people seem to get that wrong. But I do agree about the public/private self part as I think artists put themselves out there with their words – or some do at least.
If I’m honest, I didn’t start glacis to avoid words. I started glacis because I enjoy sitting at the piano and just playing. I love finding the melodies and movements on a piano and I felt that words were really unnecessary in what I was doing – although on the first glacis EP there is a section of words on the last track which I felt was necessary to the work – so I wouldn’t rule out words completely from a glacis record it’s just that they won’t become songs as such. So I started it for fun rather than to avoid words and I’ve been doing it since about 2010. My first EP came out on Fluid Audio in 2011 and I had 2 more EPs out last year. I am now working on 2 full length albums, so what began as a bit of fun in my spare time now probably takes up most of my time as a musician.
Before I move on to my next point I should say how sorry I am to hear about your sister. I cannot even imagine how that felt. I lost my dad a couple of years ago and it was the worst pain I’ve felt in my life so I guess I know a little about loss but losing my brother doesn’t bare thinking about. I guess what I’d take from it all is your point about music having healing powers. It’s easy to shut ourselves away from the things that make us us in times when darkness surrounds. It’s easy to close down and stop functioning as you. It really is. I imagine though that your sister – by the sounds of the person she was – would not have wanted you to stop making music. Or listening to music. It sounds like she was a pretty positive force in your life and, in some ways, still is. You just had to go through a process to get to where you are and it sounds like music is an essential element in making you you. So it’s good to hear you will keep making music because it sounds like that’s what your sister would want for you.
I love your point about silence. Learning to understand silence. I think working as glacis has taught me about that. But losing my dad definitely did. In fact, whilst everyone else was busying themselves and “doing things”, I craved time alone and silence. And in that silence I think I learned how important silence is amongst the noise. The moments of pause and rest are as important as the moments filled with sound. I do think it’s amazing how life itself can teach you how to create music. Do you find that life experience seeps in to your work?
Scotland is an odd place for a musician. It’s so small that you can travel to any of the main cities, do a show, then travel home – mostly. So you never really have to do road trips. You can do that in the UK of course but it needs wider planning, often the help of booking agents – which is never easy – and unless you are careful can result in a lot of money being spent for little return. I know people who have blown lots on touring and I know people who have made money from it. But it’s hard work getting the whole thing together let alone doing the shows.
To answer your question about my own projects. Well, on top of glacis there is graveyard tapes a project I do with my friend Matthew Collings. We have an album coming out on Lost Tribe Sound this March and have started work on album number two. And then there is The Kays Lavelle. That was the band I was in for about 7 years. We put out an album in 2010 and then split. I am working on album number two on my own as a solo artist. Not sure when that will see the light of day but I am determined that it will. So those projects keep me busy.
I have lived in Scotland my whole life yes – well apart from 3 months I spent living in Nijmegen in the Netherlands when I was at University. Other than that period though I have been in Dundee and Edinburgh my whole life. I love living and working in Edinburgh but it’s taken me a long time to get to that point. The beauty of the place was never in doubt but until recently it’s never really felt like home. Not properly anyways. I think that has played a major role in my music as well. Does place impact on your work like myself and Todd?
And as for Richard Hawley. Yes, he’s extremely well known in the UK. Firstly as a member of the Longpigs in the 1990s, then he joined Pulp and then he started releasing as a solo artist. He’s extremely popular here. I know a couple of his albums and found them really interesting though I wouldn’t profess to being a fan of any real conviction. He’s playing Edinburgh soon actually, in the Queens Hall which is a lovely venue.
Do you find that you are inspired by a lot of British music? All my favourite artists seem to be from your side of the Ocean – Wilco, Sparklehorse, MountEerie, Elliott Smith, Tom Waits….do you think it’s equally as common for Americans to be inspired by British music or am I just an oddball?
JF: Yeah, I don’t mean to imply that I don’t think instrumental music can reach the same level of quality as music with vocals, just for me it touches on different sensations and moods. For example, Chopin is one of my all-time favourites. But the mood expressed there seems to be gentleness, fragility, loneliness, a certain mellow joy. He is one of those who makes great use of silence, “Berceuse” is one of my favourite songs ever so I definitely think instrumental music can be great. In terms of reaching the same levels of intensity in anger or excitement or pain, I think music with vocals can achieve that better. I grew up listening to Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, and that music expressed a hate to me that I couldn’t find on the same level in classical music. But still, many of my favourite songs are instrumental.
Thank you for the condolences about my sister. I am very sorry to hear about your father. I am glad that music has been therapeutic for you as well. As to your question about life experience showing up in my work, yeah I definitely think that happens, in my mind it’s impossible for it not to. In the most basic sense, the mood I am in when I am creating will have a huge effect on the kind of music that comes out. Ironically, the music tends to be opposite my mood, and this isn’t necessarily conscious either. But when I used to feel very lonely and depressed, maybe even suicidal, I would usually write stuff that was inspirational and full of hope, maybe done in a quiet way. I would get depressed but music tended to pull me out of it, in my darkest phases I would summon something that I thought was beautiful and it would cheer me up. I am very attracted to melody and discovering a new melody always brings me a lot of joy.
I’ve always been a voracious reader and I think that has a big impact on my music, both the substance and the amount of output. I’m interested in philosophy and the path of human thought over time. I keep seeking to understand the world in a more comprehensive way, and reading allows me to pursue this. Both to understand myself better and people in general, as well as how society functions now and has functioned in the past. It seems like if I am able to keep my mind progressing, and my own understanding to keep developing, that makes my creative mind that much sharper and capable of doing something new.
When I reach points of intellectual stagnation and can’t find anything interesting to read, I find that my output suffers too and my music comes to a standstill. So I think pursuing truth is important, even when it leads to conclusions we don’t like, or even worse, when it leads to the abyss. But I am very lucky to have the time and freedom to be able to read a lot and to be able to pursue music, so for that I am very grateful.
I imagine that Scotland is a very beautiful place. Actually, it was my top pick for places for my wife and I to go on our honeymoon. Her top pick was Mexico City so somehow we settled on Switzerland and France. I am wondering how you think the scenery affects the people as a whole there? How do you think it affects you? What do you think the goal is for most musicians in Scotland? How would you like your music to impact people? Does the beautiful scenery increase or decrease the ambition to want to create music?
When I read you and Todd writing about how location affects you both I felt mixed feelings in my own case. On the one hand I definitely think living in Wisconsin almost all my life has strongly impacted who I am, and that in turn has affected the music I’ve made. Living here has made me more prone to emotional swings with great highs and lows. Wisconsin experiences the full 4 seasons, our winters are known to get wind chills down in the negative 40’s, with occasional blizzards of snow a few feet high, whereas our summers can get scorching hot with the heat index going over 120. These huge changes in the seasons affect the people here and are probably why I try to explore the full range of human emotions in my work. But in another sense music has created a very intense private life for me. I went to college in Madison, Wisconsin and much of my time there I spent living indoors listening to all the music I could get my hands on and writing music which I never showed to anybody at the time. I didn’t go to shows, didn’t go to bars, and rarely did anything besides work and school – and music. So in that sense my outside environment didn’t have much effect on me. I kept things pretty sterile so the only thing that was really impacting me was the music I listened to, and that wasn’t local stuff back then.
Glad to hear that Richard Hawley is doing well over there! “Lowedges” is the album that really did it for me. I do find that I like a lot of British music, but I usually don’t know that until after the fact. I try to listen to music from everywhere in the world, but I find my favourite stuff usually comes from either the UK or Canada. Radiohead has influenced me a lot, Camera Obscura in more recent years, Amon Tobin and Lukid are very interesting. Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” has always been one of my favourite albums ever. I like all of the musicians that you mentioned as well. When Sparklehorse’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” came out it touched me very deeply. I actually heard the title track on TV and I spent a frantic few days looking through all of the music stores trying to find it. When I get a song stuck in my head I have to find it and listen to it over and over and over. I am a huge Tom Waits fan too. He blew me away with his double release “Blood Money”/“Alice” and I think he has been riding high ever since. I have yet to see him live but that’s one of my top goals in life.
I don’t think that you are an oddball, and I think Americans listen to music all over the world, though probably without knowing it. I think there are very active music listeners like myself, but the majority of the population either just skims through the stuff on the big labels or review sites and hears new music that way, or else there are a lot of people who listen exclusively to local underground music. I think there is some really good underground electronic music going in the US that has yet to reach the surface which interests me. I’m probably not a good person to ask who is an oddball though, I don’t think my tastes these days are normal at all. I spend a lot of time digging through really obscure stuff like lots of Chinese music – solo guqin and erhu – I’ve been listened to lots of accordion polka, I grew up listening to polka because my dad’s parents were Polish, plus I think the accordion is really neat. I’m going to be doing some sampling of that in the future. I’ve been listening to Swiss alphorn music, various yodelling music, some older Mexican singer songwriters – I like Cuco Sanchez a lot. What kind of music are you listening to these days? What music has impacted you greatly in life? Are there any particular themes or values that Scottish people seem to be attracted to in their music?
TSP: I grew up listening to similar artists. I was actually at a gig just last night and Pearl Jam came on the venue stereo. I felt like I was 15 again. It was great! But I know what you mean about lyrics.
It’s interesting what you say about mood and music. When I was younger, and I suppose still to a degree, I used to listen to more downbeat music when I was in a bad place and more often than not I would finish a record and be in a much better place. I do agree that music has the power – perhaps not the heal – but to help people when things seem bleak. Like you said before though, those who suffer most seem to want to suffer in silence. I cannot imagine a world without music. Complete silence must be a very strange place.
Scotland is a strange place. Everything is really condensed into the centre of the country. You have the Borders to the South and the Highlands to the north and then the Central belt is where most of the population is. I was talking the other day about how amazing it is that a few hours north-west of Edinburgh and you are into real wild country. Glen Coe in Scotland is one of the most amazing, eerie and beautiful places I’ve ever been. I am so drawn to it. I suppose that has a lot to do with the history and the stories but it’s really hard to explain – there are few places that hold such a weight of history for me – and I live in Edinburgh! So yes, Scotland is beautiful and I would highly recommend it to you and your wife for future trips together. How it impacts on musicians in this country though I couldn’t rightly say. Edinburgh has an impact on me as a musician. I think it’s hard not to be affected by place as an artist. However, Scotland as a whole isn’t vital to my work. The winter light is the main thing I think of when I think of Scotland. Like today – sitting at my desk looking out at RoyalHigh School – once of the most iconic buildings in the city – what’s essential to its beauty is the bright skies. You get light here like nowhere else. It’s special.
I was lucky enough to see Tom Waits live in 2008 although it cost me £100 for a ticket! Still, was worth every penny. I know I might never get the chance to see him again and he was simply stunning as a performer. I saw Neil Young that year too and whilst he was an amazing musician he didn’t have the charisma or presence that Tom Waits had. What do you think makes a great performer? Do you feel the performance is as important in live shows? Any favourite shows you’ve been to and if so why?
I think it’s fair to say you have a pretty eclectic taste in music! How does this impact into your work? Obviously you say you are planning to sample some accordion soon but does the tradition of the music you listen to seep in to your own work? Do you find yourself adopting some sort of polka beat in your tracks or having to filter the influence of the music you enjoy listening to into the music you create? If you can point me in the direction of good electronic music from the USA I’d be extremely grateful!
JF: That is neat that things in Scotland are condensed more into certain locations. I noticed that was the case when I traveled in France and Switzerland too. I prefer that much more than the sprawl we have here in the States. I think one of the reasons we lack culture as a country is because we don’t have those condensed spaces where people congregate and can talk or at least see one another. A lot of people just live in their homes, take the car to work day in and day out and don’t interact with the general population at all. You really have to search out counterculture and independent community here. That is very intriguing what you say about the lights in Scotland. I definitely long to see them someday. I have this favorite writer in the last few years named Roberto Bolano, and he writes about the light in the SonoraDesert in Mexico and says it is the most beautiful and saddest place in the world. I’ve never seen either so hopefully I can compare someday. I think Wisconsin is more notable for the lack of light, we get gray skies for what seems to be 6 months of the year, though our summers are quite bright and hot. You’re lucky you got to see Tom Waits, I saw Neil Young a few years ago too at Brewers Stadium, he was doing a benefit show for Farm Aid. That was good and I love Neil Young, I think I’d be more excited for Waits these days because I feel he is closer to his prime. I keep missing chances to see Leonard Cohen as well, but I think I’d rather hear him talk than sing, he is so smart and wise. What are some other memorable performances you have seen?
It is hard to say exactly what makes a good performer. I think either having a lot of presence or having a lot of style. Being able to be comfortable and open on stage in front of a lot of people is a hard thing to do for most. To be comfortable enough to be honest and to be yourself. I just saw a band a few weeks ago touring from Minneapolis, and as they were setting up their stuff I knew I loved them already, they had a disaffected air about them that I could tell represented something genuine. I think some people can perform and do it really well, whereas others can just be themselves and pull it off. Jacques Brel is an example of someone I love who would perform while he sang, sometimes acting out the roles of the characters in the song. He was brilliant. Sometimes I like performances, but only if it enhances the music, that’s still the bottom line for if something is good or not.
I’ve seen many impressive shows over there years. Another UK musician I love is Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, I saw them a few years ago and it blew me away. I loved his whole look and the whole entourage of his band, seems like there was about a dozen musicians playing. He seemed very much himself and in the moment, though he had sunglasses on and didn’t move or talk much. It was a good venue, Turner Hall, with a decent crowd of a few hundred for a weeknight. I had been a Spiritualized fan for awhile but that show took me to a whole new level of appreciation. The songs on record don’t sound nearly as good as though do live, because he creates such a huge wall of sound with it — the melodies scream at you. His music does a good job of balancing the pain with elation, and gives you a good dosage of both. He ended with an encore of “Lord Can You Hear Me When I Call” and that was so good, like the earth moved. Such a beautiful plea to God from Man. Another of my favorite shows was seeing Amiina at a corner coffee shop in Madison, Wisconsin. I wasn’t living there at the time and I travelled over an hour to get there by myself. The place was small so I ended up sitting on the floor, and these 4 Icelandic women played some amazing instrumental music, mostly strings and chimes and bells, though there were some electronics in the background as well. Actually they had what looked to be a square room full of instruments that they were all swapping between songs with. It was really captivating and put me in a good place, very minimal slow tunes but they all have a charm to them, it was pleasing to the soul. I felt at home in a room full of strangers, everyone was quiet and paying attention to the music.
I’ve seen a lot of amazing things at the local level too in the last five years of playing shows and going out to see different acts. Typically I find with good unsigned artists I see locally is that they are rougher around the edges but they have a certain rawness to them that makes them reach greater moments. If I’m looking to get a glimpse of what the future of music is going to be, I check out more unknown musicians on the local level, those trying to travel uncharted territories. They may not always be consistent, but they can find new and unique places sometimes that you can’t find anywhere else. Plus, when someone is more in obscurity they tend to have less restraint, anything goes. That can be bad and good, but the good that is there is different than anywhere else. What are the typical venues for folk music in Scotland?
It is hard to say how my eclectic music tastes affect my songwriting. I think that melody is very infectious and that when I hear new melodies they get lost in my psyche and re-emerge at some point in a different form. Also, I think it is helpful to look at the angle of different people from different places and different traditions, to try and see how they attempt to express some kind of joy in a world so full of suffering. By seeing as many perspectives as possible, you can see what we are all paying attention to, what unites our collective consciousness. I do have some self-interest in looking through lots of obscure music though, and that is to try to find something that jumps out as interesting to sample. Trying to create new sounds from old sounds. I don’t know if the tradition seeps into my music, I would like it to but I am not sure if it does.
I do try and understand other traditions though, and try to separate the good from the bad in each in order to retain the essence of the good, though I’m not sure that’s reflected in the music. I also like to look at the good and bad in religion to see why they were both necessary or how they depended on each other. I’m very interested in moving forward, but by doing so by following the arc of the past, or at least using it as a guide. History is important to me, as well as unwritten history and all that escapes our attention.
The polka as of yet has not been incorporated into my stuff but hopefully that will change! The more I listen to it lately, the more I want to hear. Check out this woman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6RFKKHhoIw Wow! She stuns me. It’s the kind of thing that can never make it to the top of the music industry, but at the same time it is just mind-blowing. Such a pretty, sad, and sweet melody, and played with such extraordinary talent. And thanks to modern technology it is so easy to hear various stuff from anyone in the world. I mean, as long as a person has access to a computer they can post something. What is traditional Scottish music like? Has it influenced you much in your life? What are some traditional or unique Scottish instruments? How has the economy been in Scotland? It seems like all I ever hear these days is how bad the economy is here, are you having similar problems? If so, does it affect the music scene or output noticeably? I feel like the down times here haven’t hurt music quality as of yet, but fan support for music seems to be lacking and less of a priority for people.
TSP: I haven’t read any Bolano as yet but he’s on my radar. My girlfriend is a writer so we have loads and loads of books and I think Bolano is in there. I am never too sure – but it’s a name she has mentioned a lot. Need to check out his work. In Scotland it’s more the winter light that is stunning. Although we do deal with a lot of rain when it’s really cold and bright in the winter there is nowhere quite like it. I don’t think of Scotland as sad but I love how the hills have stories to tell. In fact, it’s one of the things I love most about working with old buildings – the narrative. When you are in an old house there are hundreds of years of stories contained within the walls. I love that idea. How many people have lived there, died there, been born there, had family there. The highs and lows that have been experienced within the building – all wrapped up in its fabric but a secret to the building alone. It makes old buildings even more special in my eyes.
I’ve been very lucky to have seen most of my favourite artists live but the most memorable would be Wilco (my favourite band) too many times; Sparklehorse – which was just stunning; dEUS a couple of times; Fionn Regan; Mogwai (too many times); Radiohead a couple of times. The list is quite long. And I’ve been really lucky because I always choose my gigs carefully and so usually the performances have been spot on. I think if there was one show I am glad I got to it was Sparklehorse. I saw him twice and I am so glad I did because I never got to see Elliott Smith or Vic Chesnutt and I regret that I never did. I think Tom Waits would be the highlight, once in a lifetime, show though for sure. Total showman. Amazing musician. I really like Amiina too actually. They are Sigur Ros’ string quartet are they not? I have one of their records for sure. I imagine seeing them in the setting you did made it that extra bit special?
Traditional Scottish folk music is pretty specialised these days. It would be surprised to ever find a Scottish folk record doing well in the mainstream. Roddy Woomble of Idlewild tried to bridge the divide between mainstream and traditional and produced a stunning record called ‘My Secret is My Silence’ and more recently there is a gorgeous record out by Rick Redbeard called ‘No Selfish Heart’. Both of these records draw heavily from traditional Scottish folk music. But what is known as ‘folk’ music in Scotland these days has little to do with the origins of Scottish music. New folk/Anti folk – none of it sounds like it’s been influenced by the techniques and traditions of Scottish music. So I am careful about what is defined as folk music because the origins of our music include harp and bagpipes – and I don’t think either of those instruments are particularly relevant in modern Scottish music – though Biffy Clyro do appear to use the bagpipe on their new album – so I guess that does prove that Scottish musicians do value the traditional even when they are world wide super stars.
Times have been quite hard over here, just like everywhere else really. But I agree that music is not really affected by these hard times. Quality still permeates into our world – I guess the real dilemma facing everyone is whether to spend their money on music. That’s the worrying thing for me as
a label and also as an artist. Far too many people are happy just to illegally download music without a thought or a care as to who suffers. I think now, more than ever you have to give people a reason to spend money on your music. It’s no longer enough to produce quality music, you also have to offer awesome art and packaging. For me, that’s no problem because it’s something that has always been important to me. I will always buy the physical product if I love something because it’s much more special but lots of people will need a reason to buy physical. And now, with more and more labels producing beautiful, bespoke packages, it is harder than ever to give people a reason to buy what you make. And they should buy it because you wouldn’t expect to get a taxi for free, or your food at a supermarket, or your dog, or your clothes – so what makes art any different? Do you have thoughts or feelings about how things are going in terms of people taking music for free? Do you see things getting better or worse or just much the same as now?
Finally, what does the future hold for you and your music? What would you like to achieve both in the short and long term?
JF: I like what you say about the narrative of old houses. When I walk through the woods at my parents’ house I think about the narrative of certain spaces, and how the space changed over the last few hundred years. To think that it was entirely inhabited by Native Americans with a totally different way of living not so long ago. Makes you think how quickly the modern world has been created. I don’t know that much about Amiina, part of the reason the show was so good is that I knew very little about them at the time and they just blew me away. I think you are right that they back Sigur Ros sometimes, I know they have toured with them a bunch. Sigur Ros is another band that I would love to see.
What you say about hard times and the music industry is interesting. I do think about these things a lot but I don’t have strong feelings because I don’t see an easy answer. Downloading music for free is bad because musicians don’t get paid for it, but at the same time many people legitimately can’t afford to pay for music because it is too expensive. So if illegal downloading was strictly enforced I think a lot less people would be able to listen to music, and this in turn might cut down on musicians making money touring, which is a big source of income for them. I try and save up money for the musicians that I really respect so I can see them when they come around. I don’t know if illegal downloading has gone up or down, but it seems like most young people get their music that way still. I mean, personally I think the best thing to do to help the music industry, and a lot of other industries, is to make our economies more egalitarian. In America the richest 400 persons own as much as the
poorest 150 million, it is ridiculous. If working people actually had money to spend I think it would be going towards art and music. But it is the job of music and art to point out this folly to the masses and to get them active about it, and it is the goal of power to squash such voices which do. I’m steering into the arena of politics though and I don’t want to do that. What do you think can be done about the music industry? What could change to get higher quality music to the top? Are smaller labels able to compete with larger labels?
As for the future of my music, I will continue with it as long as I keep progressing, going in new directions and finding I have more to express through it. Right now I still have a variety of paths that I want to pursue. I’m definitely going to continue writing electronic ambient music, I think creating quietly is a good way to start because you can keep it quiet or you can develop into something full sounding.
I get a lot of my ideas for the other genres I work in through pursuing ambient music. I also plan to continue writing solo folk songs on guitar, as that’s how I started out playing live music and I still find that I have something to say once in awhile. The other part of me wants to explore newer areas of electronics utilizing loops and samples, creating louder noisy stuff. But trying to find joy in it all too and hopefully being able to inject some laughter into the music. I also plan to play in a few more projects besides my own in the future. I am hoping to form a rock band right now, and I’m also starting in a cover band for fun.
I don’t have any strict goals for what I want to achieve, mainly that I continue to enjoy it and that it is therapeutic for me. Besides that I don’t want money or fame from music, but it would be nice if there were people who listened to it. I hope that one day I’ll be able to say what I need to say in a way which is accessible to people and that people are able to take something away from the music which helps them. But goals are misleading because I don’t think art doesn’t spring from the goals we set but the pain we endure. I don’t think I feel more pain than the average person, but I think I’ve tapped into articulating it in a way that most people can’t, and so maybe that helps.
You can check out Kinth HERE. I recommend that you do. Enjoy