FLON: You’ve been involved in music for quite some time as an artist and as a label owner, and I want to get to all that, but I’d first like to talk about your album Hello Walls, because it was inspired by events that you feel changed by. What was the inspiration, and how did it affect your life trajectory?
AZ: So there is the obvious reference to the song by Willie Nelson, and the inherent suggestion that some solitude is involved, but that is only part of the meaning of that record. The first edition of the cassette was released by Enemata Productions, and I paid a photographer to give me hi-res images of an abandoned swimming pool. The original idea was that I was going to use that as the cover (and we did), but then encase it into a block of concrete. I still want to do a release encased in concrete and ship promo copies of basically a cinder block to Wire Magazine, but alas, there are logistical restraints.
I’m getting to a point here, I promise. I’d been going to a nationally known and notoriously haunted/abandoned graveyard regularly since I was a teen, as something of a skeptic looking for a reason to believe. I wasn’t a full on skeptic, I was more like a failed ghost hunter at that point, and was ready for anything to the point where I was willing to call them out…anything that was willing to prove their existence to me. I had experienced some things during the day, but they were too subtle for me. So I started going there at night. I knew how to sneak in past the police (because they sit near the entrance at night), and I became very comfortable there. It is still my happy place.
The first time I went there by myself, I spent the night. I went and sat in a pothole that used to be a dug up grave and just listened. The moon was full and it was bright enough to light up the area through the trees pretty well. I have sketches that I drew under that moonlight. In short, I saw damn near everything that has been reported about that place to my knowledge, but mainly it was a sort of psychic revelation to me. The way that the place lit up, the characters moving around. I realized it was a sort of trance state and that to some degree, these entities must be moving around at all times. I felt like it had to do with the land itself, since it was so jagged and off-kilter….maybe something to do with electromagnetic frequencies or something. So long story short, I am a certified hypnotherapist and a somewhat novice psychic now, among other things, and I don’t think I’d have taken the series of steps to get there if it weren’t for that one night in the cemetery…so to answer your question, “Hello Walls” is kind of a play on words in that it is based on a song about a guy who talks to inanimate objects in his room about a lost love, but it is also a kind of contradiction because the solitude it suggests is not real in the sense that it is portrayed in the song (as in entities are around all the time). I just wanted to sort of embrace that feeling through sound art somehow. Some notable ghost hunters that I know have said to me that the audio encapsulates the feeling of the place perfectly.
In 2010, I began performing a series of pieces that are mainly about the limitations of the body, and when I did that a lot of people thought I was being mean, and trying to hurt them. There were a few times where the club owners would not let anyone play after me. There were times when someone cried. This was more about me dealing with the idea of being within a field of consciousness that I can’t see, and being affected by the whole “unified field” thing that people talk about, but not being able to adequately navigate within it. I was not as articulate about it then, but I am a person with poor boundaries and that can be disconcerting when my thoughts and that of other people intertwine, but I am unable to do much about getting more info or acting upon a whole lot. In short, I am not too good at astral travel, so ghosts are good to me. They remind me that my limitations can lead up to a good moment and not wear it out. That whole notion of Leonard Cohen’s lyric: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” was more or less my MO during these shows, and the inner war is necessary. I saw some dark things in the cemetery; hooded figures, a glowing dead horse, and there were screaming animals that I could not see but could tell that they were very close to me….red lights, blue lights, orbs, an exploding yellow man, etc. but the main thing was a bride and groom dancing in circles for at least two hours under the moonlight. It was not a mirage, it was a vicarious blissful feeling that I felt like I helped facilitate in some way. I really have nothing but fond memories of the place.
FLON: Was the music on that album different than what you’d done before? Did that experience affect how you made music after?
AZ: Everything I do has to have some sort of element of departure to it, but that was one where I think I couldn’t possibly repeat it. The experience did affect me deeply on a personal level, and the way I approached recordings was much different because I had changed, but also because I looked at recordings as a more cellular act. I know that I make it pretty clear that I am into Dadaism and Surrealism to a lot of people, but while I do like plenty of things that are cold, unemotional, and ostensibly “anti-art”, I was never going to be able to really create with an intention that was inherently meaningless. I had gone on intuition before, but from then on, it was more like as if someone or something was speaking to me. That is why I take so long to finish things sometimes. I know it sounds pretentious, but I have to really have the closure and a voice inside that says for sure that it is finished and I can’t talk myself into it being finished no matter how much I try. Recently I have finished some things that I would have batted around for several more years if it weren’t for that voice that said “it’s finished now”.
FLON: Yeah, I saw you released four albums on your label in October. One of which was a solo record. Tell me about that.
AZ: Yeah, that Upheaval release has been finished for a while and is also available on cassette in Prague on the label Nova Alternativa. I couldn’t help myself and I did a version of it on pro CDR to send to promo places, then just because of my restlessness, decided to release it. I have done 100 versions of Upheaval. The first version was rejected by a label for a compilation because I told them it featured samples of famous singers holding long sustained notes, It is made up entirely of that. They didn’t want to worry about copyright infringement, but they wouldn’t have known if I didn’t tell them. That was 2005. Since then, every time I had the opportunity to be on a compilation, I did another version. The only rule was that I had to do each version in one sitting.
I am normally very obsessive over details, but that sort of freedom caused me to be more relaxed and I’m glad about the way most of the pieces turned out. I’m normally very concept-driven, and not too good at being minimal, so this was a nice challenge. The first full length of Upheaval was released on Tymbal Tapes, because I was specifically asked to do something minimal with just one chunk of sound. I linked them to several versions that already existed, and that was the only reason Upheaval became an “album” instead of an ongoing kind of compilation prank. As I continued to get new ideas on how to create new versions, it felt necessary to do another full length, nearing the end of the series, and of course the 100th version needed to go out with a bang, so I made a 4 hour long version, and that was one of my favorite process-oriented pieces I’ve done.
FLON: Wow. Is “Upheaval 100” available anywhere?
photo by Ben Wong
FLON: Cool. So let’s talk about other people’s stuff that you release on your own label. Are they mostly artists that you know or seek out, or do you get cold solicitations?
AZ: I get a good amount of cold solicitations via email, and I don’t think I’ve ever released anything that way. There was one person I thought about having on a compilation, but that person didn’t reply. I really prefer to get physical mail, so to answer your question, I usually seek it out. It becomes something that nags me for a long time. Thirteen Hurts and Architeuthis Dux were artists I sought out because I’d met them and I thought it was painful that their work was getting such little attention. Ataraxic Ataxia did a CDR that was limited to 23 copies and I still think that reissue is amazing. I had to do it. I know some people seem to have petty feelings about the way I have my hand in things I release, but as a label, it needs to feel like I am being an artist in releasing another artists’ work. I get no joy or monetary gain from unleashing more live archival documents into the world out of guilt or charity, I need to feel like this artist has a vision to share with the world, and that vision doesn’t need to have a specific meaning, just a sort of drive that I can’t put my finger on. In presentations of the self, very few people actually regard the true self, the raw material of a person as a true identity. People have come to view the way they want people to see them as their true identity, and I am not only audacious enough to claim that I know the difference, but also that I believe I can see it in action when someone is operating out of their own nature and not out of the desire to be observed in a certain way by others. Also, if someone doesn’t reply to me, I never make the offer again. Generally, the offer for me to release something is made one time, and if someone doesn’t follow up, that is considered a “no”. I would have released more by other artists if they followed up on their agreements. Apparently some people have so many labels knocking down their door that this is not an issue. All my best to them!
FLON: Ha! Yeah. Something like Pussification, though, you basically curated, right?
AZ: Yeah, I started that as an open call about a month before moving across the country. Not the wisest time to start sorting through piles of submissions, but I had a gut feeling to do it. I curated, yes, but I only rejected one submission. It was someone complaining about how much they hate cats and toxoplasmosis etc. I find that kind of thing to be boring. I’m pretty happy with the way that it turned out. Lots of different approaches represented. I’m still trying to track down certain artists on it whom I owe copies. Some of them maybe have changed their email accounts. It took over a year for me to finally pull it together. What this means to the universe is beyond me, but I had a nagging urge to do it.
FLON: So did you provide or suggest the cat samples for that, or did most participants just chose that route?
AZ: My stipulation was that it has to have the involvement of a cat in some way. It could be a youtube video or a real live pet. Sometimes cats were playing synthesizers, other times people used samples. The Rock Cats are an actual touring band that perform and are trained to “play” instruments. They were on the Conan O’Brien Show. I have seen them a few times. We happened to overlap tour dates in Austin TX, and I got to cook omelettes for Samantha and her touring friend (thanks, Polly), as they drove across the country with a trailer full of cats. There are cats vomiting, playing with contact mics, and of course there is a secret track of cats getting busy (thanks to RUBBISH).
FLON: Haha, nice. So to wrap up, I’m just going to barrage you with a series of questions to answer in whatever depth you want. First, you’ve talked about reviving one of your Chicago projects, Blood Rhythms here in Seattle, so what does that entail? How has the transition from Chicago to Seattle been, and what is in the works for the label and for you as a musician going forward?
AZ: Blood Rhythms has been myself alone live before, but with the inclusion of other peoples’ collaborative source material as part of the backdrop, so it doesn’t need to entail that much. Blood Rhythms made a Seattle debut opening for Blevin Blectum (also in support of my friend Mini-Mutations from Oregon) at Gallery 1412, and I thought that went well. Essentially, this chapter of Blood Rhythms seems to be an outgrowth of Blake DeGraw and I bouncing around ideas, and having some of them be Blood Rhythms ideas, while others are clearly Fhtagn ideas. We have spent a few nights at a recording studio and it has been really fruitful, aside from the time where we lost all of the audio! The 12 piece guitar orchestra was something we’d discussed at dinner one time, it was definitely his idea, although I had certainly taken part in guitar orchestras before. One was 50 guitar players deep (Plastic Crimewave’s Vision Celestial Guitarchestra). Another time that Blake and I talked, there was going to be several layers of dragon talk readings of the bible patched through walkie talkies and set to several layers of delay effects while Blake and I sat outside and played the harmonica. There was another version of that idea where I wasn’t even present, but my recording of harmonica through a walkie talkie would be present. That was a Blood Rhythms idea, but we decided not to do it. Myself, Blake, and Jeff Johnson did minimal drone with brass instruments, and it was very rewarding. In the past, there have been 15 people doing this in Chicago, and always someone wanted to get jazzy. This time, no one did anything but drone, there was no ego anywhere, and I felt like we were in a good spot.
There has been a completed Blood Rhythms LP that needs to be released for a while now. It is the studio version of the material I performed on tour around the country some, and with groups in Chicago from 2010-2016. I am currently trying to find the right pressing plant for that, and working as much as I can. There are two full length Blood Rhythms releases that are just recently finished and ready to go. I’m not sure if they are going to be released publicly, though. I am currently dispersing copies to the contributing artists, and that may be it. It may be part of a special edition version of the LP. I am not sure. Both of them are 73 minutes, 9 tracks, totally by accident. The roster is massive. I am extremely proud of how it turned out, despite being “unfinished” in every way, according to how I usually do things. It is the culmination of everything Blood Rhythms related since 2013 outside of the aforementioned LP. Some studio recordings from Chicago, some studio recordings in Seattle, contributions from collaborators around the world, some of it has piano from the first baby grand that John Cage ever prepared, etc. I was going to pay a theater organist to play on it, and go try to trick some church into letting me play pipe organ, but a little voice finally said “Stop, it’s ready now” and that was that. Even then, there is 90 minutes of as yet “unreleased” outgrowth from this period, and I’m not sure where it will end up. There are some other NO PART OF IT releases in the works, but I’ll keep those under my hat.
photo by Blake DeGraw
As for my transition, no one ever promised me a rose garden, but I believe I am supposed to be here for a while before some other things can be properly set into motion. There have been ups and downs, much of which has been adventurous. I have made some life-long friends that aren’t extraordinarily flakey, passive-aggressive, and shallow…so for this I am grateful. And by the way, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do this interview with you! THANKS AGAIN!
FLON: My pleasure. Hope to see you perform again soon, and I’m sure we’ll run into each other at some shows.
You can keep up with Arvo and No Part Of It at nopartofit.blogspot.com