September 22nd, 2008 | Interviews

manjari doxey

Download: Hawnay Troof ‘Connection’


(from Islands of Ayle on Retard Disco)

Vice Cooler is a verbose man. This is only a small portion of an interview I did with Vice in his home in Oakland, California. We wanted to talk about his upcoming world tour and his incredible new album, Islands of Ayle, but we got a little sidetracked. From a none-to-surprising disassociation to Brittany Spears to the perils of the Dubai airport. Anyway, the meat and potatoes still remain as the self described ‘positive-energy spreader—not always successful” Vice Cooler lays down some musician etiquette. (This interview by Jen Snyder.)

Number one, I am actually not talking to Vice Cooler right now, am I? What is your name? How did you come up with that?

Vincent C. Onuparko. It’s just based on nicknames and transformation closer to the vision that I identify myself with… I never identified with my birth name, so I kinda felt foreign and more nonexistent before I changed it, and then I felt like I existed.
I wanted to ask you why you’ve stayed in the Bay Area for so long. New York is a lot closer to your hometown of Alabama than San Francisco is.
I’ve never liked New York that much. I like visiting it. It would have been a better career move but I don’t really look at it like that. What I do is a necessity for me of expression that I can make a living off of, right now at least. I was never interested in making it the ultimate career… I moved out here because I had a lot of friends. The first time I ever toured the West Coast was with Deerhoof with XBXRX. We did shows with Jenny from Erase Errata and there was a really strong community that my brother and I identified with. We wanted to get out of the South because it’s really psychologically bad. The whole environment was negative and we needed to get away. My touring was starting to die down and my brother Steve was touring with Japanther out here anyway. We decided to move here after spending a summer here and everyone was overly encouraging and hospitable. If we were living in Alabama now, we’d move to L.A. because what’s happening in L.A. now is [like] what was happening in S.F. back then. It’s where a lot of our friends live.
I think the Bay Area is an interesting place to make art because it’s ignored by a lot of TV and Media—has that been a blessing or a curse for you when making music?
It’s really ignored by a lot of people. When I go to Europe, someone’s always like, ‘Oh you have a San Francisco sound,’ so people [there] are aware…[here] if someone’s making something, it’s usually based on what they’d naturally be doing, which comes out better than if something is career or money fueled. When I’m in Brooklyn, I see a lot of bands that are like, ‘OK, let’s start a band and be in SPIN next week’ and it’s not based on natural growth. It’s like an organic food as opposed to a genetically modified mutant chemical ball. It’s more organic for people to be making stuff because it’s what’s naturally coming out of them. I mean, there are bands in Brooklyn that don’t care totally about the press and it’s not on their to-do list. But overall, to generalize, L.A. and Brooklyn are places where you could go there and end up in the media, but then it’s like—well, is that putting a shelf-life on yourself?
Tell me about playing in Egypt—what’s that like?
There’s not really a scene in Egypt. It was mostly Americans at the show who live there. There’s not a huge punk background with BYOFL or MRR or Black Flag so it’s a different viewpoint on music and creativity. Going over there and doing Hawnay Troof, it’s always shocking to them to see a guy in a suit rolling on the floor and yelling. In the U.S. it’s not really weird anymore to do anything. You could be GG Allin now and it wouldn’t be shocking. What I do isn’t meant to shock, so when it does, it’s a surprise to me. It’s a double shock. They’re weirded out, so then I’m weirded out that they think what I do is abnormal.
Let’s talk about ‘Islands of Ayle’ specifically. I had to look up ‘Ayle’ in the dictionary. It means grandfather. What’s that about?
Well, originally it was ‘Island of Ayler’ after Albert Ayler, the old free-jazz saxophonist. What I do is really hard on me and time-consuming and recently I ran into Aaron Rose [of ANP Quarterly] at a RVCA opening and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m finally doing ok with money!’ And then Aaron was like, ‘Yeah, now add up all the hours you spent working and you’ve been making a penny an hour.’ I hadn’t ever thought of that. It’s cool, I like it, but I’m not making a ton of money off of it. Sometimes I think about if this record is going to be just like the last record—like a tree that falls in the forest? It makes me wonder if the effort I put in will be worth it ten years from now. So then I saw the Ayler documentary, and I’d been listening to him a lot and I felt like musically what he was doing, even though it sounds different, is really similar to me. He was always talking about unity, which I really identified with. He was working really hard and was really naive and thought no one understood what he was doing, which was trying to create something that brought people together, but it wasn’t acknowledged until after he died. I saw that movie and I totally felt the same thing and then the end was like, ‘He jumped off a boat and killed himself.’ Man, I don’t wanna jump off a boat… but I didn’t want to come across as cheapening him or trying to compare myself to him too much. I thought it would be more interesting sound-wise to have it be ‘Islands of Ayle.’
So it’s pronounced ‘isle’? I thought it appropriate—thinking of you as a grandfather in the music scene. You’ve definitely seen a few different generations of music. Like Mika Miko and No Age recently…it’s like the way to make it big is to open up for Hawnay Troof! You’re a magic portal!
Well, the grandfather thing isn’t that inaccurate. But the portal thing… I don’t know about that. I’m just really curious about new ideas and new music and the curiosity leads to an awareness of good bands. And usually because they’re good they end up popular. There’s just certain people who have a strong desire to know what’s going on, like Dean from No Age or Brendan Fowler—we exchange information. and if I hear something that’s really cool, I’m going to send it to them and a bunch of people. It just so happens that a lot of these bands, [like] High Places and the others have just skyrocketed in a short period of time. I don’t really think that has much to do with me.
You called yourself ‘damaged electronic pop’ earlier. I liked a description I read of Hawnay Troof I read that called it, ‘completely fucked-up pop music’ which I thought was awesome and appropriate. The new album is definitely more poppy sounding, and definitely fucked up.
Ideally it wouldn’t be fucked up at all (laughs). I’m really tone deaf is one thing, [which] makes it sound accidentally messed up or wrong. I want to make something that is interesting and usually that leads to something more difficult for some people. Something as simple as raising the volume—it can make a song a lot more interesting.
How about the song ‘Front My Hope’? It has a chipmunk-y lyric thing going on, which I think of as a Vice Cooler trademark. Your voice sounds chipmunk-y on its own sometimes—where’d you get this excellent idea? It reminds me of Lightning Bolt, and how high tones, instead of being grueling and intense, can be really quite pleasing and comforting.
I’m really into the Chipmunks and pitching things up. My ear naturally doesn’t hear high frequencies. Maybe I have hearing damage, but I overcompensate for high mids. I always feel like I could go higher and I have to keep myself in check. None of my records have even had low ends until this one.
Any words of wisdom for bands planning to tour soon? You’ve done it a lot.
I hope people realize that touring isn’t going to exist unless you have a lot of money. We are witnessing the extinction of our entertainment. People want to go to a party and see a band play and prefer to spend money on beer rather than on the band. To expect to see music for free right now is unrealistic and self centered. You also used to have to fight for shows when you toured because there was no Myspace. It’s almost like music isn’t a valued art form here in the US. What I do is supposed to be a struggle to make things better. I guess my advice is, ‘don’t get caught up in something unless you really feel it spiritually.’