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Interview: Charalambides

  • 31 min to read
Charalambides

Christina and Tom Carter are lifers of the American underground and since the early 1990s the two have released over 30 albums together as Charalambides. Their recordings have been released on a number of record labels, including Siltbreeze and Kranky and their new record, Charalambides: Tom and Christina Carter, comes out on Drawing Room Records. Christina and Tom have both operated their own labels, Many Breaths and Wholly Other respectively, where they have released their work with each other, as solo artists, and as members of other collaborations. Through their individual trajectories, they’ve worked with artists such as Loren Connors, Marcia Bassett, Bardo Pond, Helena Espvall, Pete Swanson, Heather Leigh Murray, and Gown. Miguel Copon’s Prepared Guitar blog has two excellent individual interviews with both Tom and Christina which were indispensable when preparing for this interview that took place over the phone in KLSU Studios on September 23rd.

Over the course of an hour, we talked about being back in Houston, the new record, improvisation, the production of art in the age of algorithms and social media, personal sounds, making music during a tenuous American moment, and the live performance experience. 

TG: I know you have been based out of Houston, and then separately in New York City, Northampton, etc. I’m curious where you two are based out of these days 

CC: We’re both living in Houston right now.

TG: How long have you been back in Houston?

TC: I’ve been back almost two years, I came when my girlfriend and I moved back here. Like we left New York when our lease ran out and we were like on the road for a while so we just ended up back in Houston. So yeah, we’ve been here a couple years almost.

CC: And I’ve been here for about 9 months. 9-10 months. 

TG: What brought you back to Houston?

TC: Uhm, good question.

[Laughter]

TC: I mean for me it was basically Rachel and I were like looking for, I mean we weren’t really looking for a way out of New York so much as we were like kind of dreading the thought of trying to… we were going to be out of town for like 3 months and we were kind of dreading the thought of coming back to New York City and we didn’t. So we just ended up, we just decided to pick some place cheap where we knew a lot of people and, which you know ends up being either LA or Houston, so we picked Houston. It’s a little cheaper and we both had, you know, a lot of… we had employment prospects and that’s what… that’s what was a little, a little easier to make that choice.

CC: And I had been living in Austin for a while, I moved down here because my boyfriend lives here. It was easier for me to move here than it was for him to move there. And Tom being here was also, you know, that was cool that that was going to coincide, coincidentally.

TG: So for the uninitiated, how would you describe your music? I try to describe it to people and I’m like “subdued guitar and vocals with loud moments” and I don’t feel like that does it justice at all because of intimate nature and the elusive emotions that your music kind of evokes. So if or when a stranger says something like, “oh you’re a musician you know like what kind of music do you play?” How do you typically respond?

TC: Hmm. I mean it depends on who’s asking.

[Laughter]

CC: Yeah.

TC: I would generally…if someone clearly has no idea like about, you know, any sort of historical context for weird music, I generally will just say it’s improvised, experimental folk music, which usually gets a blank stare and I usually have to explain a little bit that it’s like really just you said, very sparse subdued guitar with vocals with a lot of silence but with really stretched out songs. I just get pretty descriptive with it I guess.

CC: Yeah I usually say, we have some framework that we use and then we flesh all those out differently, they change every time. But I don’t know. I don’t know really how to describe our music since we’ve been doing it for so long. We have different periods where we emphasize different things. I usually, try to focus on the fact that it’s using a lot of spontaneity, I guess. 

TC: That’s a good unifying thread, you know, with the songs. Because the songs are usually pretty slow-paced when they’re composed. 

TG: I know you have been playing together more frequently over the past, 2 or 3 years, right? Since about 2016?

TC: I guess so. It’s since we moved back to Texas we’ve definitely been doing a lot more shows. Between like 2012 and, 2017, there wasn’t really a whole lot of action, for various reasons. A few shows here and there but not a ton. Since I came back to Texas there’s been a lot of stuff going on.

TG: What prompted the recording of your most recent record that’s coming out in October? 

TC: I guess just the need to like start doing stuff again. One of the impetuses for me coming back here, one of the major ones, was to start recording again in a way that is not like… You know when you’re living in different cities you basically will get together for a couple weeks and hope something happens and if nothing happens then you wait for another 6 months until that can happen again. So the idea was now that we’re here together we can take a little more time… where if we have a little more, kind of head space to improvise and theres’s a little less pressure, because I find that if trying to do remote stuff, or if you’re trying to do stuff intermittently like in one place or another then, you know, it’s just the pressure’s on. So I feel that improvisation kinda suffers in those environments a lot of times.

CC: Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but a lot, a lot of times when Tom and I were living across the country from one another we were doing basically songs, or pieces, whatever you want to call them, that I had done already. A lot of times on my solo CDrs. So this time we wanted to approach it differently and just start from scratch again like we have in the past. And that was made easier by the fact that we were living together and also by the fact that we have some people here, friends here, who offered to record us. We could just go in, which we’ve never done before, go in and have them take over thinking about the microphones and the recording itself so then we were able to just… we had 3 days of recording and we just went in completely without any preconceived ideas of what we were going to do, and so basically that is the double album. That double album is live, no edits, no predetermined pieces.

TG: Who were your friends that were helping your record these pieces?

TC: Ryan Edwards and Shannon Smith. Ryan Edwards has done a bunch of work with recording classical stuff. He’s a classical mastering engineer, Ryan’s also played a lot in the Houston improvised music scene and I’m not sure if he’s ever played in New Orleans but he’s definitely tight with a bunch of people who have, from that scene. He’s had various recordings come out here and there, at least one thing on Northern Spy. He recorded the John Butcher CD that came out on Northern Spy a few years ago. Yeah and a bunch of other…

CC: Actually recorded some classical pieces that have gotten nominated for the Grammys.

TC: Yeah, the Grammy’s. No, not just nominated…

CC: Won. 

TC: Yeah. Won. Grammy award-winning classical.

CC: So they know our music. They understand what we’ve done, what we’re doing, so that’s another additional factor that made it easy. We’ve used mixing and mastering people for that before, we’ve never had other people record us before. So that was an interesting, new way to do it.

TG: I’ve read in interviews with you, Christina, about the kind of limitation inherent in the LP format, and I know a lot of your recordings, both together and as solos artists and with other artists, emerge as CDrs. So why vinyl for your new record?

TC: Well, I’ll let Christina talk about that but I would like to say actually that I haven’t done… I mean, yes I definitely have a lot of stuff on CDrs and a lot of stuff on CD but probably in the last 6 years or so I’ve tried to really scale back on the amount of stuff I release, , so I would say most everything that’s come out since then, maybe there’s one or two CDs but most of it’s been vinyl, and that’s because, I mean Christina will probably address this a little more but I’m just kind of trying to sort of control my output in a way because the CDrs…I mean the benefit of CDrs obviously is, you know, you don’t have to like think about it a whole lot. You just put it out and it’s there. Now with Bandcamp of course everything’s changed back in the other direction again so I think that that’s something I’m currently dealing with. As far as I’m concerned, CDrs kind of like are not an interesting format for me anymore.

CC: Why vinyl? I mean, we never stopped putting out vinyl, first of all. Second of all, you know, there’s the simple fact that that’s what people are buying. Not CDs. Not CDrs. People are buying digital and vinyl. 

TC: And cassettes, It’s like 1985 or something

CC: The main limitations to me of vinyl are, one, that, that it severely restricts the time that the length of the piece can be. And second of all, it adds several layers of problems as far as financing it and also producing it, and putting it out. To me a CDr could be a lot of different things. It could be a document, it could be like a notebook, you know, like an artist’s notebook where you show your process. Or it could be just considered, you know, this is a piece, a final work. And people could support artists directly and very easily. The exchange was a lot easier in that sense. But people don’t want them anymore, so digital I guess will replace that. It seems like maybe it is.

TG: Y’all aren’t planning on pressing a CD for this one, right? It’s just digital?

CC: Right.

TG: Just the LP and the cassette bonus right?

TC: That’s correct.

CC: Right, it’ll be vinyl. So, the album is a double album and on vinyl and digitally available. The cassette is separate music. It’s from the same session but it’s completely different music. And that is available as a cassette and digitally? 

[The two confirm]

CC: Then there’s a third part of that session that’s gonna be digital only. And because it is a 30…, it’s a 38 minute piece. And that’ll be everything that comes out from those 3 days. There’s some stuff that we won’t use, a few things that we won’t use, but most of what we recorded, it will come out. One way or another. 

TG: Well since we’re kind of on the subject of the digital system… Tom I know you have your Bandcamp, and you have your subscription series, but, Christina there was something that really resonated with me from another interview that you had done about 4 years ago…you said, here’s a quote: “I imagine we’ll see a full return to the hostile conditions of ‘underground’ music of the 1980s – 90s, without the uplifting aspect of the creative foment of that time period. If we haven’t already returned there yet.” Four years creates a lot of space for change, with streaming services becoming more ubiquitous and Bandcamp becoming a space for artists to really sort of recoup some of the money that’s been lost by things like streaming services, and illegal downloading. Do you have any sort of observations on the state of current economics of music as art, based on what you said previously? 

CC: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I’m really resistant to, this stuff. So… And I’m kind of pessimistic.

[Laughter]

CC: Uhm, so, you know, Tom deals with this a lot smoother…better than I do. I was very skeptical about Bandcamp. It seems to be helping artists. It seems to be doing something that’s positive, you know, on the other hand, the whole…what do you call it… as a portal, or as a realm in which we’re operating now, you know, it is aesthetically and philosophically not so pleasing to me. So I don’t know, I don’t know if things are as bad as I thought they were going to be. I don’t know if it’s exactly hostile but yeah, I’m just not, you know… I’m resistant to it. I still don’t have my own Bandcamp page although I’ve thought about it, but simply because, you know, out of wanting money. [Laughter] It would be good to also communicate with people, put music out that people could access in the world the way that they want to now. I don’t have a Twitter account. I’m not on Facebook. I don’t have an Instagram account. So, on the other hand, I’m hurting myself by not getting involved in any of this. It’s problematic. 

TC: Yeah, it’s very problematic. I mean it’s like obviously like what income I do generate from music is higTGy dependent on all those sources and, I think we’re like living in a time where art is being brokered. I mean, before, art was being brokered by like record labels who at least were interested in music. Now art is being brokered by tech people who have….I was about to use a swear word but I’ll… [Laughter] who don’t know anything

TG: We’ll bleep it out. 

TC: Yeah, I mean they know jack shit about music. I was reading an interview with someone from Netflix and she was talking about how… they were talking about how we can envision a future where you can sit down on a couch and touch your phone and it will detect what mood you’re in and it will just put on a romantic comedy on the screen automatically with all your favorite actors and actresses. If this is the kind of art these people can imagine then of course the culture this setup produces is going to be utterly banal. I mean what if I don’t wanna see a stupid rom com or whatever, you know…It’s just you have no imagination.

CC: It’s gonna detect your mood for a nihilistic, uh… [Laughter]

TC: Yeah it’s gonna be some like, it’s gonna be like Saw or something.

[Laughter] 

CC: A + B + C, you know. [To Tom] Sorry I interrupted you. 

TC: No that’s alright. I mean that’s basically it. That’s the point. We’re being governed. The aesthetics are currently being governed by people with lame, boring aesthetic sensibilities and all you have to do to see proof of that is go to San Francisco and walk around and see the blandest, more horrible kind of corporate white Disneyland you can possibly imagine and that’s not what that city used to be like, you know. I lived there. It used to be like kind of funky and vibrant and weird and now it’s nothing. And that’s where I think this kind of impossibility of imagination will take it if we’re not careful.

CC: So what do you do? I don’t know what to do, you know. I just try to be as little involved as possible. But then I know, I’m also hurting myself by doing that. So I don’t know. I can’t… I haven’t been able to resolve it so far. I haven’t come up with a good solution. I mean, I look at other people who seem un-fazed ­­And that’s the other thing. That’s hypocritical of me ‘cause I do look at people’s stuff. I was just about to mention Keiji Haino. His Twitter account is hilarious and amazing, you know. He’s got an imagination and how to deal with it but… 

TG: I always thought that was a parody.

CC: He’s uhm…

TG: That’s really him? 

CC: What’s that? 

TG: That’s really him on the… I always thought that was a parody account.

CC: I don’t know.

TG: Oh [Laughter] 

CC: I don’t know if that’s the real him.

TC: There is a parody account, so I don’t know. Maybe that’s it.

TG: Uh 

CC: Uhm 

TC: There is a Jodorowsky account though. 

TG: What’s that?

TC: Oh, Alejandro Jodorowsky 

TG: Oh yeah.

TC: [He] has a Twitter account. It’s pretty much real. I would use that as an example of, uh, a good use of that technology. I don’t know, I mean Twitter, to me, is kind of interesting because it’s almost like this like sort of stream of consciousness poetry thing if people choose to use it that way. 

CC: Yeah. So, but this is where we are now, right, we’ve spent the last 15 minutes talking about the same thing. You know, this is where we are. This is music. With art, this is where we are. We have to talk about like how we’re [using] what they call platforms.  How we’re releasing it is almost as salient as what you’re actually doing now, and the fact that, to me, one of the main problems I have is extraversion has won, you know. Everyone has to be an extravert now to participate. And for an artist there used to be there was more, you know…, you did that ‘cause you weren’t that, a lot of times. You were drawn to doing the stuff because you weren't extraverted. And now everyone has to be there just purely there for themselves and it’s strange.

TC: Everybody’s involved in PR. And that takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of energy. There’s plenty of time I’d like to be spending on playing or making like, you know, mixed recordings, that I have to be on Facebook

[Laughter] 

TC: And there’s… it’s just so…

CC: But you don’t have to be.

TC: Oh, well, yeah I mean…

CC: Anyway.

TG: Is it fair to say that besides performing solo that you tend, both of you tend to prefer performing in duos?

TC: I’ve never really, I mean, I’ve never really thought about it. Like at all. But looking back over my discography I have to say that, yeah, I mean it definitely looks that way. [Laughter] I perform in a lot of duos, with all kinds of different musicians. Trios too, pop up a lot. I generally don’t like playing in larger groups, so there’s that. 

CC: I would agree. I don’t really like to play in larger groups. Honestly a lot of times I don’t like to listen to larger groups. Of course, there’s many exceptions to that. But I tend to want to really know the people that I play with, and have a rapport, and that kind of thing, so… and I kind of… even in, even in duo circumstances I don’t… I favor really just playing solo or playing with Tom or playing with somebody else that I really understand. So yeah. But like a chaotic group thing, I don’t… everybody's voice gets kind of lost, or… is my feeling.

TC: I feel like a lot of large groups, especially improvised groups, there’s a lot of confusion of like whose… people’s individual voices are always restrained and there’s not always a group identity that replaces it which I think is really important to have, a group identity. I think very few improvisers are actually able to do that. You know, I’ve seen very few. I can think of very few large group records I can actually go back and listen to with like group unity or whatever.

TG: So I’m sure you have heard “personal” used to describe your music, or maybe not, I don’t know. But I believe that that adjective is a pretty appropriate one for your, for your tunes, sorry for calling them tunes. 

[Laughter] 

TG: So, as we kind of continue on this conceptual understanding of your music, what makes a sound personal to you, either in your playing, or how do you know when you’ve hit it, or how do you hear it in other peoples’ music?

TC: Well, as far as other people go, generally I like when people develop their own sound to the exclusion of other influences. I don’t know why I’m talking about improvised music so much ‘cause it’s just a portion of what I listen to but in a way it kind of brings up a lot of these problems but yeah, I feel like there’s a lot of energy directed towards subduing those elements and… 

CC: Yeah

TC: …making sounds that sort of are supposed to fit in with everybody else and that’s not… I just don’t find that that interesting. As far as how do I know when I’m, you know… I don’t know anything about my own music. 

[Laughter] 

TC: I don’t know, I mean I’ve just tried to follow that dictum I guess. I’ve tried to explore the things that sort of, that I want to hear, that I don’t necessarily… I mean I don’t really care necessarily like how they’re fitting in with what else that’s going on. I mean obviously it’s different with different projects but, I’d say in general it’s… I’m trying to find what’s unique to me and then accentuating that rather than like, you know, like trying to learn how to play Tuareg  guitar scales or whatever. [Laughter] I mean, I love it when people do that all day long and that’s great but, you know, it’s just something I’m not going to do. I’m not gonna learn how to comp on jazz cords, probably. Maybe when I’m like 60 or 70 or something I’ll start doing that. [Laughter] 

CC: I mean first of all, all of this stuff is really difficult, alright, it’s not… it’s not simple. I mean you can talk to yourself all day long. I don’t know whether or not I have succeeded completely. Partially, I think partially I probably have but I don’t know if I’ve succeeded completely in finding my own sound, my own voice, and intelligently, emotionally using influences from people I admire but not copying them or not emulating them. I try to think about things technically and emotionally, so you know, I try to understand what made a singer unique, was it their phrasing, their breathing, their pronunciation, their etc. and understand what about my own voice…how to get the things from me, get those things that are mine in those realms. 

TC: Yeah I think there’s a good analogy there too for guitar soloing ‘cause obviously like you’ve got to use a lot of… I mean, I’m a rock player essentially, and I still play that kind of music so to me it’s just kind of like another genre to play with, much in way that Christina plays with jazz singing. I might be playing like a pretty conventional guitar solo but I think that I’m playing in a way that people can probably identify, in a way, that it’s me playing it. I’m not exactly sure what that… what that is but I think it’s there and again, also what Christina said too, I don’t think you ever find… I don’t think you ever find your voice necessarily. You’re always looking for your voice. And I think if you… the second you think you’ve found your voice you’re probably in trouble. 

[Laughter]

CC: Or, I mean, I don’t know. Like I don’t know about that ‘cause like obviously somebody like Jeanne Lee found… she did find her voice.

TC: Yeah but if you ask her about it I’m sure she would probably [criticize herself].

CC: Well that’s something else. Yeah, criticizing your own sound is important, but you know... one of the main things is that I try to think in terms of being honest. So not adopting some sort of voice persona. So that’s something. I feel like when I hear a lot of vocalists, that they’re adopting a voice persona. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ve judged something too harshly or maybe I don’t have insight, real insight into it. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but I feel like I hear a lot of singers that have put on sort of like a costume to sing, which I prefer not… . I don’t like that part. So I try to be, in a way, straight forward and sort of, quote unquote normal. But at the same time, being honest or truthful or whatever you wanna say, but at the same time, not let it stop me from trying things. So, one vocalist I really really like is June Christy. You know she was a, …pretty straight… she’s from the Midwest…she sang with of Sam Kenton when she started. So, kinda like a straight-laced, you know goofy girl ponytail image, but really she wasn’t like that. Whenever I heard her I always heard her like, stretching or searching or like trying to like slightly go above and beyond what she was capable of…that’s also what I try to do. And I think if you’re trying to do that then you can avoid being too self-confident or something, where it’s… where you’re going to get wrapped up just wanting to stake your claim of your sound, and this is what I can do and I’m gonna keep doing it. Which is not growing. So I don’t know. 

TG:  Thank you for being so generous with your answers. I don’t really wanna take up too much more of your time but I do have just uh, a couple more questions if that’s alright?

CC: Oh sure, that’s fine. We’re not in a rush.

TC: Yeah.

TG: Great, so through the course of this interview I’ve realized how much a personal ethic of artistry at play in your music. Of course, making music is a political choice, especially in this kind of creation of community that you have helped create over the course of twenty-something years. I hate to get into this but given the current nature of politics in America where this kind of hatred and bigotry has become normalized and we’re in a state of perpetual war on this and that and the other…do you feel that your music operates on any sort of political register?

TC: Hmm.

CC: Well, I mean, yes. I feel like the way that this album is is because of the tenor of what’s going on. I feel like the reason why… because when we recorded it, we… it sort of hearkens back to the way we recorded stuff earlier where we would start out with an improvised or spontaneous song-type thing where it’s, it’s kind of… on some of the things I think you wouldn’t necessarily know whether or not we had something that we were prepared or starting with already. You might think we did have some kind of idea. But it’s just like this idea of like you’re creating a spontaneous song. Anyway, then we would go back and we would do a lot of overdubs over it. Like on Union for example, or Market Square, a lot of the stuff is like that. We would go back and we would shape it more, layer more, shape it more, to where… that it was more like a song or a composition. But this time, Tom was saying to me, after we recorded this stuff, “well aren’t you gonna go back and put on some lyrics”, like words. Sing and do some vocal overdubs of lyrics. And “are we gonna go and overdub some more guitar” or whatever. And I just kept feeling like no, no, no, that we can’t do that, that’s not right for this. That that’s not… I just felt like with the way things are right now it just had to be completely unadorned. And I think that’s a reflection of what’s happening. I think the fact that there’s a not, quote unquote, articulate on it, is a reaction that it’s more garbled and more emotionally-confused sounding. I think.

TC: I mean always in the sense of…we want to encourage possibilities, you know, in the sense that there’s like a possibility of something that isn’t like everything else. That every person has a right to do whatever it is they wanna do and can do well, and work to make… to polish that, to make it a finished creation in some way. You know, I think that… I mean everybody says that the personal is political and obviously that only goes so far but I do believe there’s a kind of sort of lifestyle and aesthetic that’s kinda implied by that sort of thing. I mean as far as what she was saying about text is correct. At first I thought it’d be nice to have some sort of lyrical content on the record. I mean partially it’s ‘cause I like Christina’s lyrics but when it came out, when we got the whole thing together and started listening to it, it’s like, this is this really stark statement and it’s really kind of austere in a way. And I think it’s kind of pushing away all the crap that’s around it and it’s trying to create it’s own universe, which, I think in general it’s what I try and do in my own life. I try to remain engaged somewhat politically. I plan on voting if the draconian voter registration laws in Texas allow me to do so.

[Laughter] 

TC: As far as an articulate expression of political stuff…I think that’s generally something I tend to avoid.

TG: Sure.

TC: We have done it in the past actually.

CC: And I’ve done it more than Tom, for sure. I’ve done a few things that explicitly [???muffled make some kind of old-fashioned political statements. I mean I consider our music a really positive, vision of the way things could be if somehow our country wasn’t… didn’t have a… I hope it’s not true sometimes, I feel like “start bad, end bad.” So we have these problems that we started with that haven’t been dealt with. Maybe it’s starting to be dealt with now. I don’t know the way things are going but sometimes… I am a news junkie, actually. Which, many people in my life that I’m close to have tried to get me to pull away from it and not be so engaged. But I don’t know. Where are things gonna end up being? I have no idea. I have a really pessimistic feeling sometimes. I remember getting, in one interview, answering like, “I don’t think I’m gonna live to see something really good happen.”

[Laughter]

CC: …you know, things are gonna remain bad for a long time. I don’t know. I know some good things have happened but these people, who are so reactionary, who are so afraid of…I don’t know. They’re afraid! They’re afraid. They’re so afraid [and] are trying take things backward and that to me…it makes me upset. I went to a high school that epitomizes this culture… just that, that experience was really informative for me. I went to a Texas high school…Robert E. Lee in Houston. They have a Confederate flag displayed. That is the epitome of what’s happening right now, as far as, you know…violent, white entitlement and fear of, I don’t know… fear of happiness! 

[Laughter] 

CC: Fear of…

TC: Fear of other people’s happiness.

CC: Fear of other people’s happiness. Fear of fulfillment. Fear of…very controlling, uptight. Kids in my schools advocating for nuking other countries. I heard teenagers, this is teenagers you know, like obviously, high school. Teenagers, you know, guys talking about doing really bad things to each other and to women, girls…So I don’t know. I do think our music is a response to all of that but a lot of times it’s not… we don’t spell it out. I don’t know that we could do that really well. I think it’s a really difficult thing to do. 

TC: I can’t think of too many people who do do that really well, actually, so. 

[Laughter]

TG: Sure.

CC: I mean, you know, historically I can think of… 

TC: Yeah, historically, but not right now. 

CC: But it’s hard. It’s really really hard to do that. So, I don’t know. I think we just try to do what we’re… how we interact together and what we’re capable of doing, the best that we can do, while trying to show by example how it’s possible to you.

TC: I think it’s encouragement to remain thoughtful about what you do, you know. Remain thoughtful, remain present, and just kinda be… remain open. That’s, to me, what our music says. I think if it says anything, that’s probably what it says.

CC: Remain cooperative, spontaneous, uhm, don’t be afraid.

TC: Non-hierarchical.

CC: Non-hierarchical but at the same time don’t be afraid to step in when it’s needed. And that’s the other part, you know. This strange, sort of what Tom was talking about earlier, this strange like denigration of the ego or individuality in some of improvised music.

TC: In some ways, art and improvised music is one of the only, one of the few places where it’s ok to exercise that kind of ego and that kind of like bravado or like whatever. That kind of swagger. I mean it’s safe to do that in art…as long as you’re obviously respectful of other people still and don’t denigrate other human beings. Then I think it’s ok. I think it’s something people need to kind of explore about themselves.

CC: It’s a really different space to perform like that. It’s a really… time gets weird, light gets weird, I mean physically, to me. If things are going well it’s physical… my physical surroundings transform and my perception of them, and my feeling that myself transforms… I can do things that I don’t think I could do, you know, just as me a lot of time, my regular day to day me. So, it’s a place of exploration but also [of] daring or risk, you know. But in a positive way. In a positive way that doesn’t tear down anybody else around you. 

TG: Jumping off from talking about the performance experience, and I know in the past y’all have kind of talked about the community that’s inherent in music as an art form, where there’s this kind of direct feedback, you know… when you’re performing in front of someone and the audience kind of makes up that nexus of the performance. So how do… over the course of your trajectories, how would you describe your relationship with your audience? Your live audience?

TC: Well like I said before about the non-hierarchical, I think that’s… those are the kind of performance areas I like to explore. You know, I mean obviously if you’re a touring band that’s trying to get paid you have to put up with a certain amount of structure, but on the other hand it’s like, I don’t like… the second I’m playing in a place that has some kind of barricade near the stage or some kind of special section, or the cool people… It starts to drive me a little crazy. Like I’ve often gotten pissed off and irritated at festivals at that sort of idea. Like, you need this sort of particular color paper around your wrist to go through this door, or you know, on this day…I hate that. I hate borders. I hate all that stuff. So I think creating spaces where we can perform, like the shows I put on myself, that Rachel [Tom’s partner] and I put on here in Houston, we try and explore that, where we want to dismantle this whole idea of there being shows… like it should be this kind of synergistic environment where everybody’s attention is important, everybody’s presence is important. And it’s important to have a lot of different people there too, you know…I think as far as ideally if I was gonna perform in any situation it would be all situations like that. Like I don’t necessarily want there to be this kind of, I don’t know, this weird infrastructure that kind of springs up and costs money too. I mean, you know, it’s like if you go and try and put on a show at a venue you gotta pay like 300+ dollars to all the… the door person and the guy at the back door, the guy at the front door, the guy at the front of the house, the guy at the back of the house, you know, it just gets…I mean some of that is obviously necessary if you have large groups of people coming to see you but on the other hand, I don’t think… I think it’s less necessary than people think it is. I think like in ‘60s especially when people put on festivals and prep almost zero infrastructure and like bad things happened to some of them, but for the most part, you know, it’s probably alright. I don’t know. I like to explore those kinds of things with the audience to form relationships I guess.

CC: To all that, yes…I plan on thinking that the opener, quote unquote the headliner, you know, these kinds of things, and having the audience set up with these expectations of this is the least important performer, this is next important performer, this is the most important performer at the end of the night…that’s all really dumb to me…I’ve gone through different stages. I first started out not wanting to play live at all. We’ve talked about this before. That changed primarily because I knew Tom really wanted to do it. And I didn’t feel like I could really be the barrier against his being able to experience that. With that said, once we started doing it more and we started learning how to do it, or I started learning how to do it better, how to deal with it better. Just being the focus of attention, that’s hard. You know, a bunch of people are looking at you,

So that’s what it’s set up to do. For them to look up, look at you. Sometimes I’ve experienced it…when you experience some hostile audiences, you can understand how the audience is not always a positive thing. It’s not always a loving situation where they’re rooting for you…sometimes they’re hostile. So that’s been interesting and hard to deal with sometimes. Uhm, when…

TC: I would really like to say that sort of hostile audiences are now…[audiences] know more or they’re more sort of savvy about how they direct their attention so that you experience a lot less of that now than…

CC: Well sure. Sure definitely. What I’m saying is that it’s not always a love fest.

[Laughter]

CC: …between the performer and the audience…So there’s an energy dynamic when it is positive and energetic. Like sometimes there’s a passive audience that’s not that interesting either. They’re not rude…but they’re not you know… you don’t really feel… I mean there’s a whole bunch of different layers and a whole bunch of different varieties of feelings that can happen with an audience so… but it’s been interesting to deal with it all. There’re some amazing audiences that…you can’t experience playing like this without people there. I’m talking about the senses, this alteration of space, and sight, light, sounds… 

TG: Of course.

CC: It doesn’t quite happen in the same way if there’s nobody else present with you. So I think they’re creating that with you.

TG: Yeah I definitely agree with that. That kind of co-creation of the moment. Quickly, what are you fans of these days? What are you listening to? What are you reading? 

TC: Hmm. That’s always a hard question ‘cause I listen to like… I mean I finally started posting on Facebook everything I buy. Every book and record that I buy. So like if you want to go look at that, but I don’t know… I’ve been buying a lot of stuff from my old record collecting days…I’ve also, I don’t know, there’re some new records I find really interesting. Catherine Christer Hennix double LP that…Blank Forms just put out is just really really excellent. I believe Louise Levi just put out a super limited edition album that’s kind of expensive, and I’m still debating how I can possibly afford it, but she did a record on Sloow Tapes, the Belgian label that has a side vinyl label. [Sloow Tapes] did a record of hers and it’s truly, truly amazing…There’re so many great reissues and so many great used records out there… I find myself only listening to bands live…I see a lot of great performers here in Houston. I just saw Patty Waters and…she was great. I saw Yo La Tengo last night and they were great.

[Laughter] 

TC: So I don’t know, I guess I prefer to experience like contemporary music in a live setting, in a way. As far as when I’m reading, I’ve been studying just a lot of various… a couple different books on the tarot. 

TG: I saw that you’ve been doing readings.

TC: Yeah, I’ve been doing readings. I’ve been reading Arthur Machen…a sort of decadent horror writer…In six weeks the answer will completely change.

[Laughter] 

CC: I find Tom doing tarot readings really interesting because he’s like one of the most down to earth people that I know. It’s sort of an interesting juxtaposition.

TC: It’s very un-mystical.

[Laughter]

CC: I went to library here for the first time, in Houston, and I got a book of Jasper Johns interviews. He’s about to come here in November while I’m gone. Which I wish I could somehow be in two places at once. He’s doing the opening ceremony for the new Menil Drawing Center here. I got some more books… I got a book on surrealism and spirituality. It’s a pretty recent book. I’m sorry I can’t remember what it’s called, or who the person who wrote it is, but I thought it was interesting because it was a positive take and I haven’t seen much positive takes on surrealism in a long time. Which for me, when I was a kid, when I was teenager, surrealism was very important. And I actually got a book on René Magritte which was one of my least favorite painters from that school but got interested in him again…and a book about Cy Twombly’s sculptures. So that’s what I’ve been reading. And listening…I have trouble listening to music at home. I love records, I love music, I love listening to music, I wish I could do it more, but for some reason I just got into this habit over the past 10 years of…silence at home. But I’m always interested in you know, there’s Loren Connors and Richard Youngs. I always wanna hear what they’re doing. I don’t know. I’ve been seeing a lot of music live also. Which is interesting, you know, when we’re talking about problems putting out music these days, and here we are both saying like, oh, we’re watching things live and not really listening to recordings.

TC: Yeah, I mean I would say I saw a show the other night and I thought it was like one of the best piece of music I’ve seen this year, if not in the last couple years. It was this drummer. The drummer for KONK PACK, Roger Turner, was performing with Ivette Roman-Roberto and Sonia Flores, two vocalists. Sonia plays bass and vocals. Ivette plays… Ivette basically does kind of sound poetry style singing. It was really phenomenally mind-blowing and like I can’t imagine… I mean I can’t… like it’s as good as anything I’ve seen in New York or whatever… 

TG: I know you have the upcoming record and you have the upcoming digital release from those sessions. Do you have any other projects that are in the pipeline? 

TC: Well I have a record coming out with Susan Alcorn pretty much right after, it’s either gonna come out in December or January.

TG: Uh huh.

CC: Is that the edition of a hundred? 

TC: Yeah.

TG: Who’s gonna…

TC: I mean it’s actually… I don’t think it’s limited. I’m sorry Ivette’s name was Ivette Roman-Roberto. I actually have a… I posted a recording with her that I did on my Bandcamp subscriber page. 

TG: Ok. 

TC: Yeah there’s gonna be a lot of new stuff on my Bandcamp subscriber page too. I’ve got a duo collaboration with Michael Morley [from Dead C, also records as Gate]

TG: Oh, oh, cool.

TC: Yeah. I’ve eventually… I recorded a bunch of stuff with Sonia Flores too. I’m just trying to figure out… I’ve been just trying to make heads or tails of all that ‘cause it’s pretty sprawling. But, I bet that’s gonna come out somewhere. I have a recording, a trio recording with, Dan Ireton aka Dredd Foole with Thurston Moore that’s probably gonna come out. I’ve got a lot coming out on Bandcamp, and the Susan Alcorn record. I have a rock band called Morning Scales The Mountain and we’re currently trying to figure out to release our records in a physical format. There’s still kind of a lot of confusion about how we’re gonna do that but generally that’ll probably happen. But for now, that’s on Bandcamp also. 

CC: I don’t really have anything planned., I mean I’ve talked to Jeff from Drawing Room [the label releasing the new Charalambides record] about various reissues and possibility, uhm… 

TC: But we do have…he is gonna put out a Charlambides reissue next year but we’re still working out the details of that.

CC: …I don’t have anything specific planned right now.

TG: Well I definitely… I’m sorry I don’t mean to interrupt you Christina.

[Laughter]

CC: No that’s ok. I was just, you know…I’m finally living in a situation that I can record stuff again on my own. So, but yeah, I’ve gotten out the practice or habit… I never really had habits or practices really but, I haven’t even been in a situation where I could do it pretty much. So, because of, you know, neighbors and all that kind of stuff. So, we’ll see. 

TG: I’m definitely looking forward to any sort of reissues. When would you say [was] the inception of your group? When did it start? Like ’91? 

CC: ’91

TC: Yeah late ’91. 

TG: So you have an important anniversary coming up, right? Uh, 30 years, soon. You know, not too far away.

TC: Well I mean in 3 years.

CC: It’s 27 years, yeah but… right now.

TG: Are you at liberty to say what album [you’ll reissue], or is it gonna be old recordings [that have seen a release?] 

TC: There is an album we’re going to reissue but we’re still deciding what form it’s gonna take and also at this point I’m not even sure… I’ll say it’s not Union or Market Square just to get that out of the way.

[Laughter] 

TC: There’s another old record we’ve been thinking about putting out again but it’s still unclear whether we wanna do that ‘cause we haven’t really talked about it in months, so we’ll see.

TG: Was it Electricity Ghost and, Strangle the Wretched Heavens that Drawing Room put out a couple years ago?

TC: Glowing Raw and [Strangle the Wretched Heavens]. 

TG: Glowing Raw, yeah. Yeah those were killer.

CC: Thank you. 

TG: Ok so thank y’all again and I really appreciate it. I’m sorry for any sort of like hiccups.

CC: No, it’s no problem. Thank you.

TG: I’m super excited to see y’all on Friday in New Orleans. I know Rob Cambre [head of Anxious Sound and member of Death Posture] is putting it on. Is he gonna perform? Or y’all have another band performing with y’all?

TC: Yeah, Death Posture is performing, which I guess is him and Donald [Miller, of Borbetomagus]. I’m not… I think there’s…I can’t remember the drummer. I’m spacing on his name [Chris Robert], but yeah, Death Posture is playing.  

 

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