Over a dozen different monikers, an exhausted label, countless releases, tracks and free download introduce James Leyland Kirby, extravagant outsider of the electronic, ambient-drone and noise scene from more than the last ten years.
After the attention finally captured by his monumental “Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was” e by The Caretaker album “Persistent Repetition Of Phrases”, we asked him to tell us about his peculiar artistic approach and his several musical experiences.
Your artistic experience is quite long nowadays and you have a somehow “monumental” discography, still you captured some attention only recently after The Caretaker album and the latest “Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was”. It may depend on some unexplainable mystery of music critics, or can you explain any other reason why? And do you think that something has changed in the way you make music in those recent two albums?
Well in terms of The Caretaker that project was started in around 1997 and the first release came out in 1998 and there was a lot of press for the releases back then, I think at some point in the early 2000’s I just got bored of trying to promote what I was doing as it takes a lot of energy and felt it just bet to work on new things and do what I wanted to do project and musically wise. The fact people have been interested in the last year or two again is probably testimony to the work I have been doing, I am reviewed and interviewed by merit only.
Strangely enough, the growing attention around your music came to surface just after the ended of the V/VM Test experience. Can you tell us something about the whole label experience and the reason why you decided to end it up?
V/Vm was a lot of fun to run for a long time, in the end though I think the weight of some of the awkwardness of the output meant that some releases were not given any respect at all purely because it was releases on V/Vm Test. I think it also felt like a good time to draw a line in the sand to not dwell on what had been done but to look forward at what could be done, making it a new challenge and inserting some more risk and energy into things.
Besides the label activity, you have often offered a lot of music as free downloads: what do you think about the current music circulation and availability? And why do you think that the free download philosophy became popular expecially in electronic and experimental fields?
I think I was giving it away at the best time, at times when all the other musicians I came up with were telling me I was stupid to give so much away and that I was devaluing my work. These same people are struggling to sell anything or have anyone have interest in their work and they now scramble to give things away. You know there is a karma to that shit as for me people are interested in what I am doing and people support it because of this policy I had for many years to give things away. Currently there is actually too much out there right now for anyone to make sense of anything, we’re all a little lost I think, always searching for things finding them but needing more. Attention spans are very short, as somebody making music my own focus has changed. For me now the main thing is to make things as best as I can, I can do no more. If people are interested and support my work then in this day and age this is a brilliant thing as nobody forces a gun to their head and I seldom promote anything. As far as free downloads becoming popular I think this is down to many electronic and experimental people feeling that they are unable to sell their work, so they give a lot away, maybe too they don’t want to take a financial risk on putting something out in case they lose cash. For me I love the risk, I’m always one release away from being bankrupt but also very close to that late night free bar.
In your incredibly wide discography, you cross definitions and “genres” very often, from ambient to noise, from drone to dark-ambient. Is there any artist you consider important in your musical formation or at least someone you feel close to your way of making music?
Not that I can think of, for me it’s always about making things that have been of interest to me and not about sales. The problem you have out there is too many people think of sales first and foremost along with fame. For many it’s a career not an experiment to see what you can do. I have been very lucky as at no time have I been funded or backed for what I do, so I survived solely by people buying what I am making and their interest in my work, I can’t think of so many these days that survived so long without any external help at all.
You’re an extremely prolific artist, probably not comparable to anyone else, even if most experimental artists have rich discographies and it’s not unusual they release many albums in few time. Where does your urgency to compose music come from? And, generally speaking, do you think the fact experimental and electronic artists are more prolific means their music is “easier” to make than, e.g., an album of songs?
I think it’s possible to do many things these days due to the tools we have if we can make the time to make things. Sadly too many people complain of having no time, but you seriously at times have to just lock yourself away and push yourself sometimes. I only make music now when I am inspired, some days I wake up and it’s just not possible. When I’m in the mood I can really tap into that energy and inspiration. I have over the years released a lot of things, but I’m cutting back on that now, I’m working harder than ever though and making more things than ever, what gets released is always only the tip of the iceberg. I think there could be an argument for an album of songs taking longer to make, but it’s all relative anyway, the work is the work. An album which takes me two days to make can be better than one a band have taken five years to make as sometimes you capture energy better when you work fast, also we can take that vice-versa too.
Still talking about your prolificacy, how did you get the “365 tracks in a year” idea? And how’s been feeling somehow compelled to create a track everyday?
I wanted to do it as nobody else has done that before or since, in the end I made something like 600 tracks, I still have only listened to about 50 or so of the tracks myself, some of it was good stuff, some you could tell was made quickly, but the point is it got me into a real working mode every single day. Somehow I made it through the year as I was sick that year and also moved countries in the middle of the project, toured in America and bust my knee at a show in Belgium so badly I couldn’t walk properly for three months. It was a mad year but a great project to do with no funding, cash wise that year was hard, very hard.
Which is your ideal condition for creating music? Where does your inspiration usually came from (both technically and emotionally)?
The ideal condition is mentally to wake up one day with an empty mind from the daily bullshit which surrounds all of us, making the time where I’m just working only and am totally into the work. One reason for so many different styles and names I record under is the fact that I work specific to mood also, it’s not everyday you want to be making this emotionally heartbreaking piano music, sometimes you can’t put yourself in that space emotionally day after day without it taking its toll on you.
Your live performances are way distant from the ones of a standing laptop-artist, physically distant e detached from the audience. Do you feel an urgency to build some kind of “physical communication” around your music? What do you think you can express this way?
These days I am going back to working on the sound more, for a long time I was into performance and throwing myself around venues, anti this really boring spectacle of seeing one guy behind a machine. The fact is the laptop and studio are my instrument, so it’s hard to play live from this with what I am making. I make no apologies for this, so these days now I am back into making something very emotional, so for this I am working with a friend on some personal visuals which will go alongside the audio I am playing. To be honest I don’t like to play too many shows, at the same time as I am over in Madrid soon to play a show the next day I will be out partying and DJ’ing 80’s music in a party bar with a lot of Spanish girls I know. I prefer that to be honest than to play a show with my own music as that these days is a lot more personal for me.
And, generally speaking, how is your relation with laptop?
I like laptops, these days we are in a dangerous phase for music created by laptops as everyone seems hell bent on using these fucking sad controllers, you know the ones, guy is there Mac Powerbook gleaming, he’s there looking bad but he’s got this little device with a grid of lights on it all rigged into the ubiquitous Ableton Live set up and off we go, the same old shit we’ve heard a million times before starts up. No emotion, none of the musician put into the music, it’s another reason I don’t like playing live so much. I hate to see this going on time and time again.
Do the unstopping development of new and more complex softwares has an influence on the way you’re making make music? Is it only a “technical” matter or something related to the moment of creation?
I never really think about what I use to make things, I am more interested these days in the end results. I think too many people are these days concerned by new software or being in the here and now, for me I see a bigger picture of development in what I am doing these days based on my past experiences so I feel more in control of being able to do what I want when I want than ever before.
Many people defined the sound of your Caretaker album as “gramophoned”, recognizing in it a vintage and rough touch. Do you agree with this definition? Can you explain where that peculiar sound come from?
The sound comes from the source material as that is imperfect, I guess I just emphasise on some releases those imperfections and play on those as a texture or tone.
“Persistent Repetition Of Phrases”, because of its title and its music, has been linked – e.g. by Simon Reynolds – to the concept of “hauntology” (referred by Derrida to the persistence of revolutionary ideas). Is this something you feel closet o your idea of music? If yes, can you tell how do you relate the concept of persistency to your compositions?
I think people like to group things but for me the releases are almost out of any scene and it’s not something I think about too much. They play around with memory and how we remember things, even the V/Vm stuff did this with pop music, my new stuff does this by playing around with time.
Generally speaking, how much important is conceptualism in music, and expecially in electronic and (post-)industrial music?
It can be important but it’s not essential to have a great concept. Sometimes the music is so good people make concepts based around it, the important thing always is the work itself, if the concept adds something to this then it’s no bad thing.
Not exactly a concept, but a recurring theme in your music is the one about memory, as proved by titles like “Theoretically Pure Anterogarde Amnesia”, “Deleted Scenes / Forgotten Dreams”, “Memories Live Longer Than Dreams”, that describe the eternal fight between imagination, memory and oblivion that take place in human mind. Is music a medium that can give them new life or does it only crystallize them in a frame, leaving them in an unchangeable past?
The thing with the past is it’s always changeable and always changing, bad memories have the edge taken off them and we focus on the good things, time alters everything even the truth. A lot of The Caretaker work is about rewriting things, it’s like the label name I chose for new works “History Always Favours The Winners” even in our own mind we have to make out like winners just to keep getting up each day these days.
“Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was” is probably your most accessible release, or at least more emotional and communicative than others. Has there been something different in the way you released it? What feelings did you try to express in it?
It was an honest album a period of time I had in the last two years which was totally crazy, I mean just trying to survive over here with little interest in my work and also the chaos I was having here in Berlin. Too much of too much and never enough. Too many drinks (often free which is a bonus), too many girls, too many late nights and total chaos. The funny thing is the people surrounding me this end saw me out all of the time, hammering it big time. When in the end I gave them copies of the last release none of them could believe I made it, they had no idea when I made it and if I’m being honest neither do i. It was a lost time, a real rollercoaster ride which I am still on though it’s not as extreme right now.
Lastly, what can we expect from you in the near future, and what do you expect from music?
Well I am working on a lot of things right now and also with some very amazing and inspiring people. I think for me I just need to work hard and play hard and find that balance so I don’t fall off the tightrope and either work all the time or party all the time. I think I need to ride my luck a little more to survive making what I want to make as it’s not easy these days, but I like that challenge and battle and I live for the days I have where I have no idea what will happen and I’m always chasing that million dollar smile in the late night bars.
(orignially published on ondarock.it)