Thursday, November 08, 2012

Interview With Jessica Rylan


{image by Vanessa}


MY GOAT: How are things going with you right now?

JESSICA RYLAN: Things have been pretty interesting. I've been in grad school on the West Coast the last two years (for engineering) which isn't something I had ever really envisioned for myself. Culturally, it's pretty different from the noise scene, though getting used to hanging around with a lot of dudes with social problems and questionable hygiene was definitely good preparation!

MG: Are you still operating the IRFP label, still working as Can't? Are those things over?

JR: I don't want to say IRFP is "over" because who knows about the future, but the last tape I did was almost four years ago. As Flower started to ramp up at the end of 2006, my focus shifted there. Originally I wanted IRFP to be a "numbered series of object", not a label. Even though I never numbered (or labeled) any of the Flower stuff, it was kind of a natural extension. Though it seems like now Flower is poised to go on hold also!
Can't as a project has definitely been on hiatus for a while. Sometimes I think it would be fun to have a "reunion" and play old songs, but some of them I can't play in the original form anymore because I sold or gave away the instruments I was using at the time. Also I had a few amps that burned up.

MG: The first time I heard your music was on the RRRecords release "New Secret"... can you tell us a little bit about the background for this record, about the recording, and the impetus for picture disc reissue?

JR: That was my first LP and it was always planned as a picture disc actually. We just made a CDr version of it to sell on tour, since not everyone has a record player. After Ron stopped doing the Pure cd series, he got kind of burned out on music for awhile. But then around 2004 he started getting excited again, especially about the noise scene in New England. He put out the New England box set, which was later followed by California, Michigan, Texas etc. And he also did three picture discs - me, Karlheinz, and Sickness.
All the songs on that record were ones that I played live. I was trying to write "regular" songs within the framework of noise. I was sick of playing the songs on the Final Performance cdr, but the things on my side of New England weren't repeatable. Having set songs made touring a lot more straightforward!

MG: How does your art (paintings, photographs etc) tie in with the sound work for Can't/Jessica Rylan?

JR: I don't want to sound self-centered but I do art primarily for myself. I always felt with music, there was something I wanted to hear that I wasn't hearing anywhere else, so I did it myself. I only tried to paint and draw for a few years and it felt very private and satisfying personally. Then one night I was drunk and threw out 90% of my drawings! It's why I'm a bad artist, because art is really about communicating with other people, and I'm not very good at that!

MG: Do you identify with artists who have darker and more violent themes to their work? Do you think that music and art can provide catharsis that can be healthy at all?

JR: I first learned about noise in the mid-90's, when everyone was reading Apocalypse Culture, and Peter Sotos was first becoming better known. I felt pretty nihilistic at the time so I could appreciate it. The negativity never seemed like an end in itself to me, it was more like making a brave but foolish statement "I'm ok with throwing away everything." That's the aspect of aktionism which is so exciting when you're young.
As I spent more time playing noise it lost the negative edge and became a lot more fun, I just enjoyed the different textures, and how passionate people were in their self-expression. Then it started feeling really tiresome to see people new to noise rehashing the same played-out corpse and bondage photos. But about three years ago it seemed like noise was getting taken over by hippies and goofy improv guys, so everyone started listening to PE instead! Haha, that was a trend I approved of.

MG: Around 2006, I saw you perform as part of Pig Destroyer at the Knitting Factory in New York with Donna Parker... can you give us a little background on this particular collaboration?

JR: It's a pretty simple story - Scott Hull contacted Ron Lessard and asked him to play with them. He said no but suggested Donna and I. I had never heard Pig Destroyer before that first show! It was an amazing sound.

MG: Are you still in touch with Scott or JR of Pig Destroyer? Any chance of a future Can't heavy metal/grindcore collaboration?

JR: I haven't kept in touch with Scott, he seems really busy. The only other time I played with metal musicians was a show in LA in 2007. Shannon Walter from 16 Bitch Pileup and I played with Gabe Serbian of the Locust. It was really fun!

MG: How about Donna? You guys had great chemistry together. Are you guys still in touch? Any more work to come from that project?

JR: She's married now and her second baby is due next month! We talk on skype. I really miss playing with her. We were working on a record for Ecstatic Peace but we didn't finish unfortunately. Hopefully some day!

MG: What is the importance of realism in art versus obfuscation the wearing of masks? Can they exist together?

JR: I guess I understand this question in the context of performance art? Or the aspect of noise performance which is related to performance art? I think people need to take responsibility for their own actions. But also sometimes it's helpful in a wider sense to present ideas or behavior that require anonymity. Part of why Can't needed to end was that my interests shifted and I wasn't the same person any more. The feeling I had in 2003-2004 which made me want to throw myself on the floor all the time was gone. Likewise, the combined emotional vulnerability and emotional exhibitonism I felt in 2005-2007 was gone. On the last Can't tour (Total Confusion Recreation in 2008, with 2deadsluts, Naomi, Suffering Bastard, Earth Crown), I played acoustic guitar in the corner every night with no amp. It was a way to try to face fears, which felt in keeping with the original motivation of Can't. But after those shows I just felt like I was done!

MG: Do you like to do collaborations, or do you prefer to work solo?

JR: As far as music goes, working with other people is difficult but ultimately more rewarding, if it works. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it doesn't seem to work. Probably it's my own fault, because I'm self-centered! That said, if I was going to seriously take up music again, it would have to be as part of a band. I've had too many bad shows, which are especially painful when you're all alone.

MG: Have you found a relationship between things that you have learned in your musical experimentation and things that you have learned in your study of physics?

JR: The most obvious one is that I learned a lot about the qualitative aspects of chaos from playing synthesizer and using a lot of feedback. However, the qualitative part is easy, and doesn't help with the math at all. My prior knowledge of circuits made my undergrad engineering degree easy, but it felt like too personal of a thing to actually study for a career. Now I switched to photonics, which is totally different! Light is still a wave, like sound, but the frequencies are a lot higher, and the scales you care about are a lot smaller.

MG: Do you believe in a spiritual form under animals and plants? Can machines have spirits?

JR: I'm agnostic, though I think about the concept of God a lot. I don't know if spirituality is the right word for animals, though they typically seem like they're living 100% in their environment, and relatively content in doing what they're supposed to be doing. Plants are an extreme example of just going with the flow. They let everything happen and don't take any control. When I was 23 my goal was to have the mindset of a tree, so I wore the same uniform every day and became an alcoholic. Unfortunately, that wasn't effective from a spiritual standpoint! And had a lot of other negative consequences.
As far as machines, I think it's healthy to believe in magic, and I definitely think there can be mysterious serendipities arising from variations and imperfections. However, I the "gadget-magic" which is increasingly popular and available via computers is a really different kind of thing. After I read "The Scientist" by the dolphin researcher John Lilly I was concerned about the Solid State Entity, but that's not a spirit, it's a hostile life form. I guess only time will tell how that plays out.

MG: Can you tell us a little bit about touring with Ron Lessard? Must have been pretty fun... any crazy stories :) ?

JR: The thing with Ron, is that he gets really cranky, and he doesn't like to be away from home. I'm also a townie at heart, so I can relate! Going to England the first time was the worst, not only did everyone drive on the wrong side of the road, but the food was terrible!

MG: Do you feel that you have a warm relationship with your equipment? Do you use any equipment that you haven't physically created or altered yourself, and if not, do you have any interest in that?

JR: When I first started playing, I just used all kinds of random junk. That was a really fun time, especially since I didn't know what I was doing. Then after a while I got these really strong Luddite political feelings so I switched to only using home-made things. Now I'm stuck with synthesizers I built, because I got spoiled and I don't agree with other circuit designers' choices. I definitely had a really close relationship with my Personal Synth, but then we had a falling out in Albany a few years ago. Recently I was playing four Jealous Hearts together, which was really fun, but not quite the same connection.

MG: Have you been able to unite your music work with an academic audience? Is that a goal at all?

JR: There are good and bad things to both worlds. Playing diy noise shows is clearly not an economically sustainable activity. On the other hand, it's a self-selected group of people who are involved in that world, and a lot of them are very passionate about it. But the tours make you want to suicide, when people are like "Oh yeah, you can just crash on my bare concrete floor! By the way, I made you dinner from this rotten garbage I pulled out of a dumpster!"
In the academic world, there's actually a little money, and the accommodations are reasonable. However, there's a lot of politics and bs, and sometimes playing under those conditions can feel totally isolating. The kind of musicians who thrive in that scene seem strangely detached from their own music.

MG: Do you listen to any music coming out these days? What do you think of Ke$ha?

JR: I've been listening to more new bands in the last year than I have since I was 20. I'm so excited about music right now! The last few years has been the golden age of screaming in music, and I think all the keyboard and autotune parts are funny. I love The Devil Wears Prada, Of Mice & Men, Abandon All Ships, Asking Alexandria, Chelsea Grin, Dance Gavin Dance, Alesana, etc. I also enjoy Blood on the Dance Floor and Breathe Carolin as a guilty pleasure. Well, actually ALL of this Radio Disney Screamo is kind of a guilty pleasure. I'm torn about the ethics of it.
Ke$ha is cool, though I actually like Katy Perry better - not that they really have anything in common. It's funny to me that so many people in the noise scene have latched onto Ke$ha as a quasi-role model, but I guess she's more of a real person. Though, that Katy Perry song "Down the Drain" where she talks about her bf passing out while they're making out seems like it must have been true to life.

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