By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
You must have had to do some compromising to get the kind of lineup you wanted for this ATP. Did you work from a big wish list?
It’s all about when a band is touring and available and all this kind of stuff. And then Barry Hogan has a “no assholes” policy; he’s had enough experience with certain people in this business. And I thought, “That sounds reasonable to me.” [Laughs.] And the bands at our ATP pass the test.
So you chose Sonic Youth to play at your ATP. You’re a longtime fan, right?
One of the things about Sonic Youth is that every performance I’ve seen, every record I’ve heard, is always something different. I don’t know exactly what it is that I find so compelling about the drones of their music, but I do. I think it’s taking basic rock & roll and making it intellectually tolerable. Most rock & roll I find rhythmically boring. Pop music usually sounds like the audio equivalent of CGI, or computer-generated graphics; it just feels like there’s no depth, and it’s just so repetitious. The human ear can unconsciously detect the redundancy of the same sound repeated again and again, which is tedious. Also the fact that so much music sounds like someone pressed a button. What if there’s a power failure?
Drum machines substitute a bad tension for a good one; we like the tension of players’ human fallibility; it draws us in. The tension inherent in programmed rhythms comes from knowing that the beats won’t vary, and that we’ll get bored.
Among my favorite music in the world is Balinese gamelan music, and it sounds like a polyrhythmic freight train. I went to Bali a few years ago to hear it.
What’s it like to hear one of those gamelan orchestras live? I bet it makes your neck hairs stand on end.
It takes on a completely different feeling when you’re there, and it’s vibrating against you. And you hear the birds, and dogs barking. I wouldn’t use drugs and listen to this stuff. [Laughs.] I hear it as composition.
Back to Sonic Youth: I like the fact that by having them guest on The Simpsons, you’ve introduced John Q. Average in Madrid, Kentucky, to concepts like overtones and alternate tunings and dissonance and noise and all that unorthodox-type stuff.
Fox Network loves it when we have people like Aerosmith or Britney Spears, musicians they’ve heard of. They were less than enthusiastic about the Ramones or Sonic Youth, and, surprisingly, Spinal Tap.
Their music must’ve been too intellectual. For The Simpsons, you’re basically hands-off on the music, then, right?
Pretty much. This year I finally was able to get Brave Combo, the Texas polka band. The Simpsons from the beginning [at Groening’s insistence] has been fully orchestrated; we’ve resisted cutting the orchestra down in size and using synthesizers. The original composer of the theme was Danny Elfman, and our longtime composer is Alf Clausen. He’s fantastic.
How do you keep up with new music? Do people send you stuff? Do you go to record stores?
I go to record stores all the time; Deanna [MacLellan, Groening’s producer] is my conduit to the youth of today. [Laughs.] So at ATP, we’ve got Deerhoof on the bill; they’re amazing. And we’ve got Jackie O. Motherfucker. Actually, from their name alone I said, “Ah.”
I notice that you’re steering clear of the hip-hop/DJ stuff at ATP. Is that by personal taste?
I like that stuff too, but — listen, I could empty the room in seconds with the music I play [Laughs]. I didn’t fit in any Romanian brass bands. There’s a whole Japanese avant-garde scene that is really progressive — Boredoms, the Melt Banana . . .
Terry Riley made himself available. Obviously he’s an icon. My personal favorite singer-songwriter is Daniel Johnston, and he’s on the bill. He’s an emotionally fragile guy whose songs are utterly without any of the kind of phoniness that I hear in a lot of pop music. Definitely from the heart, and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s nice to see somebody who would easily get lost in the shuffle being able to sustain himself and have a career. My all-time favorite stuff is the cassettes that he used to sell himself, but his more recent records I like as well. I think he’s a great composer.
Lately people call what he does “outsider music.” Well, they still call musicians like that freaks or weirdos, whereas these weirdos often have an unusual kind of artistic genius.
I agree. I think it has to do with feeling passion. And also, there’s something about knowing that what you’re listening to will never be the soundtrack for an automobile commercial . . . Although I heard a Nike commercial using an old Lee “Scratch” Perry track. It was mind-boggling.
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