photo by daiana feuer
I like things that are weird and theatrical and maybe I don’t wash my hands enough, and that makes me less prone to getting a cold, because I wear my germs on my sleeve. So when Isabelle Albuquerque, Jon Beasley, Megan Gold, and Robbie Williamson started a label called GERM, I knew that it would be something I could love like it was part of me. We Are The World’s Robbie & Megan breach hyperreal territory with their new project DREAMERS. It’s both menacing and nurturing. For Hecuba’s new album MODERN, Jon and Isabelle went into isolation, shaved their eyebrows, and removed their identities to see what was underneath. The music these folks make resonates with aliens and rebellious robots. It’s artful music, it’s something psychoanalysts can talk about. And now they’ve joined forces to create a label that goes to infinity and jumps right off the edge. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
How do you isolate yourself in an idea? Do you think you were successful?
JB: I think it was successful only in the fact that it failed sort of because it created a space for us to be concentrated, intensified. Since the process was so concentrated, even if she was bringing an idea or I was bringing an idea, it was coming from the same spot so it felt like it was not two different people’s ideas. This record was really about a feeling. We threw away a lot of songs because they didn’t feel immediate, vital. If it didn’t feel like it had to say something, that it was just really cool, that was not ok for this because we were in such a space where what we wanted to deal with was emotion. Putting ourselves in there was an emotional boiler.
IA: Hell on earth. Some people have had success with that, becoming each other. For us, I could never be happy. I felt lost. I hated it. I was so depressed making this record. Jon just dragged me along, poor thing.
RW: Did you write any of the lyrics when you were depressed?
IA: Most of them.
MG: But there’s a lot of positive in there.
IA: There’s love where you give yourself totally to someone, and if you give yourself totally to someone then you’re gone. So I got really depressed. I hate thinking about it.
JB: What’s interesting is that it’s kind of what we were trying to explore. There’s the bond of commitment, which is super intense. If you take it seriously and think about it, you’re bound, and even if you are in freedom together, you are not in freedom in the same way. We change.
IA: It sounds cheesy, but we were thinking about S&M the whole time, as a metaphor. That idea of love to this extreme where it becomes a cage. We went with that as music project.
IA: Yeah, shaving the eyebrows and hair.
JB: But we committed to finishing it, and so it was the same thing as being committed to a relationship. When it’s bad you still have to finish it.
IA: But the loss of sexuality part was really bad. Something I’ve always struggled with, but it was really hard in this situation.
JB: It became an intense issue. The loss of difference, the loss of contrast between each other. Just being in the same space creatively and intellectually the whole time. The difference between us started going away. We were trying to make that happen, but then when it really started to happen…
IA: In my teenage years I had a hard time knowing what my sexuality was. And it brought that up somehow.
JB: Yes because it’s about identity, how you see yourself. Because you’re so the same and so together, you realize the bad things you do to you, you do to someone else. And the good things are there but the bad things are there. We got into a crazy spot.
IA: It was bad.
JB: When you lose the distinction, you lose the other, and when you lose the other, you don’t have someone to love, you just are. There’s no someone else.
But then what about the idea of loving yourself, can’t you just love you and your extension?
IA: Maybe I’m too destructive. I did all these things to both of us that were bad.
JB: No, no, I think there’s a place for that, and that’s orgasm. There’s a place where you can lose yourself and that’s good, but by design it’s brief. You have to kind of die in some way. Without being two separate people you lose being a pair. If you’re a unit you’re not a pair anymore. I think the pair is beautiful and perfect, those contrasts and differences are the other thing that you can appreciate and love and communicate with. There’s a back and forth in that. When we came out of the situation, it was more about appreciating how we were different and how we were together as other people.
How were you able to cut it off? Just by leaving one space for another? Did you have to cut your arm off?
JB: It took a while!
IA: It was really rough.
JB: We finished the record a while ago and we couldn’t do anything with it because it was just confusing. We didn’t know how to think about it.
RW: You guys didn’t almost break up or anything?
IA: No, we’re soul mates. It sounds so dark but we love each other so much that it was never a question. It was an experiment. We agreed to try something, to enter into something abstract. But it wasn’t, at the same time. Man, it was so weird, let’s talk about something else before I cry.
There’s a thematic carryover we can take here to Dreamers. There’s one song where you talk about shaming the other, ‘I Am The Monster.’
MG: I was thinking about that, too. That’s what that song is about. It’s like, we love each other and we’re in this, but what if by the sheer nature of being myself, what if the parts I’m working through, what if you love me but what if I’m your monster.
It’s very personal and intimate. It’s one of the biggest ideas that you can really think about. Being with somebody else is so important in one way or another in life, so it’s something you have to contend with.
MG: It is a big idea. Most of pop culture is about ‘getting the relationship.’ There’s hardly any dialogue about what the relationship is when you’re in it for real for a really long time. There is, but not in this format, music. It’s such an interesting art form. We struggle with this, we’re taking these kind of abstract, high concept things then distill them down to this format where people are in a club getting drunk listening. It’s a little sad. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
Why did you want to present this as Dreamers and not We Are The World?
MG: I wanted to experience what it was like. Can we still make people feel ‘like that’ without being so forward about it, without being like, ‘Feel like this!’ Is it still going to be liberating, will it still make them question identity, will it still have a powerful vibe?
Well, there’s still the music, you’re not just dressing up and dancing.
JB: The same qualities that make an epic live performance are also what make a record great. It’s insane and risky and totally punk and nuts. But it’s also emotional, honest, and produced insane. The sound is not shitty! It’s a high level of artistry. It’s not just an emotional experience, it is more emotional because of the production and the sound.
MG: My interest in GERM, our label, starting the label seems insane but having a framework to explore these big ideas, even if it takes five years between projects, no matter what, we will have an outlet. We just want the space to create something authentic.
IA: What Megan is saying, in terms of talking about the label, so much of the culture now with music—at first we were talking to other labels—we were told you have to put out an EP every four months, you have to have an mp3 here, a remix there, you have to do this and that, all this stuff. We don’t want it to be about stuff all the time, we want it to be about art.
MG: About content, not quantity.
JB: It’s as simple as allowing the space for a thing to be what it needs to be, not trying to impose necessities on it from the outside that dictate the format it’s in, where it goes, all the stuff people talk about as the way it has to be.
IA: It’s not how good things happen. It doesn’t have to be.
MG: This whole system, the industry, they claim to have this formula for what you have to do. Really, you have to do twitter? Why? I have never looked at that website. It is a website? Is it a phone app? I’m serious. To me, what we do, I don’t even understand that in context of that idea. That seems really separate from us. I’m not Kim Kardashian, what the fuck do I have to tweet about? There’s no rules, this concept of rules, is this cog and grind system that people want to believe in so they can assure artists that they can get them somewhere. We want to appreciate the getting. It’s the process. I don’t know if it’s achievable, I don’t know if it will ever monetize. Maybe our merchandise won’t be relatable.
JB: There’s specific criteria for success in art and music right now that I think is getting off track.
RW: It’s really off track. It’s about ‘likes’ on Facebook.
JB: It’s driving towards something that isn’t necessarily detrimental but it’s not a part of the way that we are creating, the stuff that I respond to in the world doesn’t necessarily operate that way. The things I find meaningful in terms of art, don’t always go through that channel. That idea of success as an album or as an artist is coming from, even in the small bands and labels, it’s a trickle down major label mentality of monetizing and capitalizing and saturation. Those are not necessities in the way people need to approach creating or experiencing music. It contributes to another way of listening that can become about minimizing music to be a constant stream of stuff. It doesn’t need to be memorable or meaningful, it just has to be another stuff. For us and for GERM, I want nurture projects that don’t necessarily have to be stuff.
IA: How do you feel about that, Daiana? You’re in the business, but you’re a different kind of listener.
I feel inspired by that. That’s what I want to do. I depend on you guys to nurture that sense of otherness, to give comfort or a buffer against the way everything else works. I’ve tried on every hat I could get my hands on in the music business, and almost all of that stuff made me feel so separate from art. It wasn’t about music or what I cared about. It’s all this machine cogness. For me it’s important to go against that in what I create.
MG: We are banking on the resonance of the vibration, that it will bring people in and bring them back.
But at the same time, you guys have cool friends.
MG: That’s true, we do have cool friends.
JB: What makes a piece of art successful? Even when we write we think about the experience of the music. If you talk about a live show being successful, the idea has changed in culture that successful means more people saw it. But that’s never really the case. A successful live experience to me is when I have had a meaningful experience. There can be ten people there or 10,000, but the goal is to have a meaningful experience. We want to take the focus away from accumulating views, and put it back to meaningful views.
Yes, I’m with ya. At the last FEVER, there were maybe 60 people there, but every single person was completely engaged and it was meaningful to them. I think there is a force in the world right now of people trying to have that as a principle in their lives, their art making, their cultural idea. I think it’s an important reaction to the world as we know it.
RW: We were talking about starting a GERM club where it’s 100 capacity, an amazing sound system, but it’s always intimate.
MG: There’s a lot of people out there that want something like that. It’s just hard to sift through. You’ve got to transmit through the computer screen. And in L.A. it is hard to be taken seriously in a way. People talk shit about L.A. but at the same time, a lot of amazing stuff comes out of here all the time. It’s a culturally relevant place, it’s the place to be right now.
What are the connective principles of the GERM world?
JB: I’m looking for vital. Something like seeing Dreamers! It can be anything but it needs to feel like whoever is making it has a complete commitment to it and is having a vital experience making it, because then it becomes a vital experience for me. That might sound basic but it is kind of rare in terms of live experiences or listening experiences. Finding a record that sounds vital doesn’t happen a lot. It’s not necessarily genre or style or approach.
MG: It’s vibe, danger, risk, vitality.
MG: Your guys’ music is somewhat mellower than ours, but even the sparseness is so menacing at times.
It’s more than just the music, it’s the person who has a certain resonance, you can feel their presence.
IA: And they can be totally ridiculous socially.
That’s probably part of it! I’m not saying cool, I’m saying alien or robot, science fiction.
JB: Take Lucky Dragons…
JB: They are complete aliens and have complete intention. What they do is not what I would do in any way but what they do is so right and so completely them and their direction and their ideas and their intentions. What happens at their shows is really unique. And that is totally vital.
What you’re getting at is something important. Things that have an experiential quality to it feels more vital because you feel like you’re taken somewhere, you’re part of it. Even the most aggressive Dreamers songs are not completely menacing. You’re obviously not a monster. I can relate to that.
IA: It’s liberating! You don’t have to be this specific thing. Even the darkness is liberating. It’s energy.
RW: We want to involve artists that have an intent and a passion and a rawness but also bring a cerebral approach to it, some sort of intellect to what they want it to be.
JB: I’m excited to do small projects, to involve artists in experiments, remixes, without commitments actually.
IA: We want to release all kinds of things, music, film, objects. We don’t want to be limited.
RW: Do you remember the label SST? I’m inspired by them. There’s so much stress to be a part of a label that you admire. But we felt like we had to start a label because we didn’t fit anywhere. What’s interesting, also, is that once you claim a vibe as a label, and you’re a strong personality, you’ll attract that personality to you.
MG: We felt that we couldn’t possibly be the only ones that feel like there needs to be a home for these type of ideas. I can’t see or feel through the hype machine. I needed a way to make this our own.
JB: For us, as a label, we’re not trying to be the go-between for an artist and a blog. We are trying to put the kind of art out that we want in the world.
How did you guys meet?
MG: We met at a friends house actually, in the kitchen. We said, let’s make a show that changes something and then Hecuba got us on the Manimal Festival. I think we had played one show before then. And Isabelle’s sister danced in one of our shows.
On what level did you connect?
RW: I just remember thinking they were one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.
MG: I remember thinking, ‘Thank god.’
JB: That’s what we thought too! We felt a little isolated and then we saw them.
IA: Even though it was different from us, it was that intent. The same thing happened when we saw Lucky Dragons.
Do you think there are new ideas that can be breached or are there just new ways of refining ideas?
RW: Lately I’ve been really enamored with the simplicity of ideas that I’m hearing that I’ve never heard before. This morning I heard a song with a really simple house beat and just some guy talking with a pitched down voice about some experience he had on the street. It was such a simple idea but I had not heard that before. I think there’s tons of new ideas. I hear so many fresh things every day.
IA: There’s no way for there not to be new musical ideas, just with all the new equipment and things we can do with them. There’s so many ideas to explore.
MG: Though I think it’s pretty safe to say you probably won’t ever hear a rock band come out of GERM. I could be wrong but…I think Lydia Lunch said it best in that one documentary about punk music. She was like, ‘Seriously you’re going to get a guitar and bass and drums and make something new at this point?’ How is anything about what punk was and how the term was being used in the late 1990s. Punk meant something, it was pushing the envelope, it was new, it was experimental. She was in the whole noise wave of not sounding melodic. So anyway I don’t think we’re interested in anything that’s like something we’ve ever heard.
JB: I generally have an aversion to guitar music.
MG: Me too.
RW: Me too.
JB: But if Jarvis Cocker walked in the room I’d be like, yes!
IA: I am always looking for a poet or a voice. Like Patti Smith. It’s about the writing.
JB: Funny I would not even call it rock music, but it is. I often think of rock as a derogatory term. To me it’s been associated with music that’s not about the ideas.
MG: It doesn’t mean anything to use that word.
RW: But then you can still say punk and it means something.
MG: It means something to me. But I don’t know what it means to other people.
But if you say punk and I haven’t heard you yet and I look at your description, and I never heard punk from the 1970s, then I listened to you. Then I went back and listened to the Ramones, I would say, this isn’t punk.
IA: Well, let’s say punk is an idea and not a style.
MG: We’re definitely not anti-pop. Let’s make sure that’s clear. But what is pop?
RW: It means a structure to me.
IA: To me it means EVERYONE!
RW: It’s all so subjective though.
MG: Robbie’s such an anarchist, he doesn’t understand what risk is. He doesn’t listen to one normal thing a day.
Ya know, it’s interesting. I think someone who is truly forward thinking would not even call themselves forward thinking because they are so forward thinking.
MG: No one wears their shoes with the dog having half-eaten them, like him.
JB: He’s an original, look at those shoes!
RW: You know what else I want to do, is to produce for people. Like finding someone creative who we think is interesting and writing music for them.
What you’re describing is also what happens at the highest commercial level.
RW: Yes, well, we want to do it the same way but saying look at this girl, she is so fucking cool, let’s create something new. Rather than waiting to find it, we want to create it.
JB: It’s true, what you say, Daiana, but we want to do it within this framework of ours. We can bring out something that is there, someone who is brimming with expression, they have vital ideas and they’re artists. We want to say, what happens when they make a record with someone like Robbie. There is something special about doing something for the first time, to make it about art.
MG: It seems so far-fetched to make it about money.
IA: I want to make a safe place for art for art’s sake. It feels so right in my heart to say it.
L.A. RECORD & KARAOKE FEVER & GERM PRESENT THE RECORD RELEASE PARTY FOR DREAMERS WITH HECUBA, THE M00NBIRD, AND MECCA V.A. PLUS DJs PDA AND MOR ELIAN ON FRI., MAY 25, AT LOS GLOBOS, 3040 W. SUNSET BLVD.. 930 PM / $8 / 18+. CLUBLOSGLOBOS.COM.