I-View: Sean Casey Interview 1998

Questions fr
Sean_Casey@Brown.edu

– First off, an update: what’s been keeping you busy of recent?

1. AMARILLO RAMP (for Robert Smithson). solo guitar, etc. Released by Starlight Furniture, USA. Jan 1998.

2. CLOUDS–VICTORIAVILLE CONCERT, MAY 1997. CD. Victo, Dec 1997.
Live Victoriaville festival concert also featuring William Hooker, Jim O’Rourke and Gianni Gebbia.

3. SYR3. Sonic Youth Recordings. March 1998.

4. A THOUSAND LEAVES–new Sonic Youth LP, due May 1998.

other stuff:

Moroccan Journal: Jajouka excerpt. Ring Tarigh Press, 1997.–chapbook of musical experiences in Morocco, prelude to a larger Moroccan Journal book.

…Just What Do You Think You’re Doing, Dave? Group show, Williamsburg Art & Historical Society. June 1997.–art exhibition, i had a sculptural sound installation.

also gigs–solo, w Hooker, and w SY.

– On combining poetry and music: a lot of your side projects combine poetry and sound. I was wondering how you approach this combination. In a lot of word/sound projects, the combination sounds arbitrary, as if the sound were just background ambiance for the poet to tapdance over. For instance, Burrough’s work over hip hop beats. Another example is Kerouac, who cried in the studio b/c he felt that Zoot Sims and Al Cohn weren’t listening to his haiku. What are your thoughts on these issues, and who do you feel has combined word and sound well?

Well, I think Kerouac did a pretty good job, for one. Mainly because his voice and words/emotions carry the day. It is a hard combo, but in general listening to spoken word requires a different attention space than listening to music. in a sense any musical accompanimnet IS background to the texts. the Burroughs stuff expecially falls intot his category. he continually had his voice slapped over all sorts of backing track (including SY…) I have a spoken word LP–Dirty Windows–set to come out in the next few months, a sort of recreation of my spoken word gigs with Leah Singer’s films–ony w/o the visuals. so it has lots of talking, but also lots of music. it’s just a sensibility thing, as far as how well the two gel, and also different listeners hear, and enjoy, very different things in the spoken word realm… I think both Jim Carroll and Maggie Estep have done some interesting stuff w music. Patti, certainly. John Hall, and especially I like Todd Colby, with or w/o music. He’s especially good.

– Given the mutal interest in soundscapes and sound texture, have you or
SY ever considered collaborating with Brian Eno? Or even having him produce an album? I bring this up because your East Jesus release has been compared to Eno’s ambient work.

It has?? Cool! I love Eno’s whole catalog, and would love the chance to work w him at some point, I bet we’d get on well in the studio. But no, we’ve never been in touch and I fear SY generally shys sway from getting involved with ‘name’ producers, or whatever you call them, in the studio.

– You recently took a trip to visit and play with the master musicians of
Jojouka. How was your experience playing with them? I know Ornette Coleman collaborated with them for his Dancing in my Head album. How did your gtr work mesh with their reeds? Do you have any future plans to record with them?

The visit to Jajouka was amazing, and I jammed well intot he night with them. there are plans afoot to release some of this stuff (a small excerpt is on the CD w the current Cool Beans! zine). Ornette, Brian Jones of course, Elliot Sharp, many others have played with them. I hope to do some recordings in the future with Bachir Attar, the leader, and maybe some of the others.

– On your role in SY: I’m interested how you view the gtr interaction
between you and Thurston. In interviews, Thurston mentions how he mostly plows ahead, sticking basically to the main riff while you play the listen, think, and respond role. Also, he apologizes for his amateurish gtr playing and jokes that you’re the ‘real musican’ of the group. Your response to these ‘allegations’?

Well, sometimes his description is accurate. he does sometimes stick to the ‘plow’ role, which is fun for me, because my part gets to add all the shimmer and layered effects over top. but often the gtr playing between us becomes sort of interchangable, to the extent that within a particular song we will both be playing a combination of rhythm and lead (although these trad titles don’t really fit), just snaking intuitively in and out of each others parts. often we’ll listen back to a live tape or old record and find we cannot tell if a part was him or me playing… And now, with Kim playing mostly gtr, it’s all three of us snaking and intertwining. sometimes kim will be ‘lead’ and i’ll feel i’m playing the ‘bass’ figure, then in a flash all three of us will switch places… It’s great fun, as you might imagine…

As to thurston and the ‘amateurish gtr playing’, i might almost say thie opposite. i think he is a much more naturally ‘good’ gtr player than I am, I work out parts in a much more theoretical, or labored way, whereas he seems to invent them right off top of his head and they’re usually great.

– On your releases like East Jesus, you use carefully arranged loops of sound, while your records with Hooker, like Envisioning, are more spontaneous and bent on improv. I’ve read in interviews that you plan on releasing an album of ‘songs’ — sort of a Ranaldo version of Kim’s Free Kitten or Thurston’s Psychic Hearts. Is this record still in the works?

this ‘song’ record has been something i’ve been threatening to do for some time now, but just never found the time to do. i still hope to do something along this line in the ’98 year…

– Ever since I’ve listened to Thurston’s Jetsun Dolma piece I’ve been really curious to hear you in that context: freely improvised guitar without (many) effects or additional tinkering. In Envisioning, you make good use of effects, but I’m dying to hear you let loose and channel everything you got into the guitar and out the amp — without the effects. Something like those late Coletrane records with Rashied Ali, you know? Do you have any plans to do any of this type of free playing?

Well, I do quite a bit of this type of thing live (i’m not sure what yumean by effects, in regards to either mine or T’s records…) and maybe the CLOUDS record would come close for you. beyond that, Wm Hooker and I are planning to do studio recordings of the likes similar to our current gig set in the near future which may be best at satisfying yr demands for an “INterstellar space”-type drums and gtr action record. We sure have gone out there pretty far together in recent perfrmances…

–When I listened to Envisioning, I always thought there was some sort of loop or guitar effects being used in the performance. I’m not really acquainted with the technology, though, so I may be wrong. Are your performances recently with Hooker still incorporating poetry, or is it all improvisation now?

We are still doing a fair amount of spoken word stuff in our performances. The language stuff interacting with the ‘spontaneously composed’ performances (actually we have scematic’ structural scores we work from)–it works really well quite often but some nights it is a struggle to inject the words into the mix.
I do use a couple different looping devices live when I play, have for years, so that may be what yr hearing. The looping effects on that record (as opposed to clouds, which has post-performance (computer) loops as well) were all done live. There are other gtr ‘coloring’ devices as well…

–With Washing Machine and SYR 1 and 2, Sonic Youth seems to be heading in adifferent musical and aesthetic direction than the three preceeding albums (EJTNS, Dirty, Goo) — the music is more explorative, getting into musical spaces, really examining them, and finding a sort of resolution. This is as opposed to the previous 3 albums, where you guys would noodle around, but tie things back quicker — more concise stuff. Although the recent material sounds much different than Daydream Nation, the gameplan seems similar: play the theme, go off on it, go off some more, and resolve it in the ensuing jam. Any thoughts on this? Also, what has inspired this change, any bands or books particularly influential? The Dead?

SY is in constant evolution, and pendulum swings of mood or desire lead both towards and way from song format on the one hand, or extended extrapolations on the other. we follow our whims, our muses, etc. There are def similarities to DAYDREAM, sure, especially in the longer formats many of the songs take. We’ve gotten very comfortable with what we do of late, and having our own sonic studio has contributed to this–no more recording against the clock. This, music, is what we do, and we are relaxed into the process at this point. So the luck of being able to explore sound-forms at a leisurely pace works to our mood right now.

Inspiration? A whole host of things, old and new. It’s cool to see many younger artists turning their back on indie-song-form at the moment, diging into 20th cen works such as Xenakis, P. Schaeffer, P. Henri, Stockhausen, Cage, Bayle etc, rather than just looking back to rock music fr 20 yrs ago and recycling that.

–From what I’ve gathered from articles, the songs for A Thousand Leaves are songs you’ve worked on for a while as instrumentals, and recently put
words to. Since the band has its own studio now, what do you notice as
changes in how the band operates and makes an album? It seems that these
songs, more than any previous album, will have had the opportunity to
evolve and mature.

see above

–LR 3/98 hope this suits yr needs…

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