April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment
On Wednesday April 20th, our friends over at the Sandbox are hosting a listening party in The Collegium of Biola University. It’s free, it’s at 7.30p.m., and there’s going to be lots of food (the cheese club is catering).
More information below.
Be sure to check it out.
March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
What started as a youthful penchant for intrepid personal style blossomed for Beth Jones, whose achievements include serving as Style Ambassador for Quicksilver Women and a flourishing career as a personal stylist. Jones, a resident of Orange County, CA, has been part of the fashion arena since the successful launch of her first blog, The Vintage Society, in 2007. She continues to maintain a staunch following in the highly competitive fashion blogosphere via B. Jones Style, a lively commentary and visual documentary about her personal flair.
Where did your entrance into the fashion world really begin?
The first thing was starting my blog back in January 2007. It was at a time when blogging wasn’t such a big deal, and I didn’t realize so many people would read my blog. But it just took off and I got to be there right when the blogging wave started to roll, and from there I got a sponsorship with Quicksilver Women, which was my real acceptance into the fashion world.
How did you get connected with your position at Quicksilver?
They announced in 2007 that they would be launching their women’s line in 2008, and were looking for people to represent their brand. I saw their ad in NYLON magazine and felt like what they were looking for was very similar to who I was and what I did. From there I began the application process of sending in my portfolio and pages and pages of responses to their application questions. That led to a couple preliminary and final interviews and eventually my one-year sponsorship, which paved the way for my job.
You also work as a personal stylist. What are the most challenging aspects of that?
It is very challenging. I like to really have fun when I dress, and most women don’t want to do that – they just want to look good without taking any risks. That’s a challenge for me, being such a creative person. I love to think outside of the box and be unique, while most people that I work with want to be comfortable and classic. Figuring out how to mesh their ideas with my influence is difficult. They represent what I do, and so I have to represent both them and myself in their style. People are very personal about their personal style, so they have to trust me, and it takes a while to build up that trust.
What makes the voice of your blog unique in the expansive blogosphere of street style?
When I started there were hardly any blogs, and now it’s almost overwhelming to me how many there are. I definitely tap into fashion news to see what’s going on and look into some street style, but honestly, I keep myself away from a lot of personal style blogs because I am a personal style blogger. There are a few I look at every now and then because I like them so much or because we are friends. Other than that though, I try to keep a healthy distance so that I can be certain I’m staying true to myself and not copying somebody else. To a certain extent we all take inspiration from each other because fashion really is a lot of collaborative inspiration, but I still really want to be unique and be myself. If you look at my blog, the way I write is the way I talk. It’s very upbeat, conversational, and positive. To me, fashion is fun, and personal style doesn’t mean that style is restrained.
Do you see streetwear blogging as shaping fashion into being more peer-influenced than runway-influenced?
Yes. Street style has changed fashion so much because before, the almost the only interpretation of fashion we had was through magazines. We didn’t really have access to what was happening on the runways, so we followed what the gatekeepers, the magazines, were telling us, which was usually American. Now, you can look at people in Stockholm, Germany, and Russia and see things they’re wearing that might otherwise never infiltrate our fashion. There are things that pop up on the street now and become trends that have nothing to do with what happened on the runway. Yes, the runway has extensive influence, but it is interpreted through street style, and so many people are looking to street style to know what to wear.
Do you think that with the emergence of fashion blogs, there has been a shift of interest from major fashion publications to fashion blogs?
Definitely, magazines are dying every day. Readership is failing because people are looking at blogs all the time. The things that you could only see in the magazines before are now available all over the internet. You can live-stream fashion shows instead of waiting to get the images. I hope that magazines stick around because I love print, and I think Vogue and Elle will always stick around.
What do you think is distinct about LA fashion, and do you think we influence the world of fashion at all?
As far as high fashion, it’s not the east coast. Still, LA is where the celebrities are, and the general masses want to wear whatever they are wearing. So we definitely offer celebrity fashion, and we also have a lot more laid-back, Erin Wasson style, which does filter back to what is being worn in New York. I personally, though, really love the New York kind of style where you always dress up before you go out.
Do you think that the vintage craze that reemerged during the past few years is beginning to wear off or just reimagining itself?
I hope it’s not wearing off because I love wearing vintage clothes. I think that just because of the recession, there’s still a big push for vintage. I saw Bobbie Thomas on the Today Show do a whole spread on vintage clothing, and so that’s a reemergence for vintage style. Now all of America is interested in vintage. It’s not just for the cool fashion crowd because it’s also being seen as a way to save money and be environmentally friendly. I love the reinterpretation of vintage. Fashion is cyclical, and vintage can often pull off the current runway trends. The old school way of wearing vintage – looking like you only came out of the 40’s or 50’s – that is starting to go away.
What advice would you give college students who are looking to build a versatile wardrobe on a tight budget?
Thrift shopping! I love it! You still have to be aware of what’s going on in fashion, otherwise you’ll just walk into a thrift shop, be overwhelmed, and buy crappy clothes.
How would you respond to people that think that being interested in fashion is too materialistic?
It’s a creative way of expressing yourself. It doesn’t have to be materialistic. I mean, if it becomes all about the brands and how much you’re spending, you can definitely be on the materialistic side. But we are creative individuals, and if fashion is how you are gifted and how you express your creativity, you should definitely explore it.
Interview by Alyson Luthi, staff fashion writer.
Photos of Beth Jones by Michelle Mosqueda, staff photographer.
March 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
Morgan Kibby is no wallflower. The versatile keyboardist and background vocalist of M83 is stepping into the spotlight and charting her own musical territory with her new band White Sea. Their first release, This Frontier EP, is a five-song teaser of her eclectic taste and ever growing songwriting ability. Most notably reviewed by Pitchfork, the album ranges from cinematic highs to pounding dance floor beats. We sat down with Morgan Kibby at the Casbah Cafe in Silverlake and talked about her new project, the pressure of playing in LA, and most importantly, the new season of The Bachelor.
The138: What was your inspiration for White Sea?
Morgan Kibby: Well, I got off tour with M83 and I knew it was going to be a while before we started working on new material, so I wanted to keep myself busy and try things on my own. I started remixing and branching out [by] doing other projects. Over this last year I’ve been trying to find my sound. I really didn’t know on my own what I was doing so I spent a lot of time learning how to produce, record, engineer and find things that were musically inspiring.
The138: How has your time with M83 influenced White Sea?
MK: It has taught me so much. Before I was playing with M83, I was basically just a classical pianist singing and doing my own thing. It was all very stripped down; uninfluenced by much modern music but rather jazz and classical. I learned a lot from Anthony by watching his writing process, which was really inspiring. All of a sudden I got thrown into this whole new universe of Shoegaze and Electronic [music]. As a result I started gravitating towards synthesizers, which I learned how to use.
The138: It seems like you were able to explore a new musical world with M83.
MK: Absolutely. I was on the road with Anthony for about two years. Whether it was playing festivals with acts I had never seen before or collaborating with him, I was introduced to new instruments and writing structures. He writes longer, more epic odysseys as opposed to [using] a classic pop structure. I learned a lot about experimentation from him.
The138: You can really hear that on This Frontiers EP. There is a real strong ebb and flow to the music. Some of it is seems very cinematic where as some parts are more danceable. Do you do whatever comes to you as a writer or do you try to balance your music?
MK: I found that if I concentrated too closely on trying to stay with a genre or certain set of instruments that I would be uninspired. I would feel very constrained by trying to fit myself into a box. I knew that it might be challenging for people who listen to White Sea because all of the tracks are so different, but kinda was just like, “Fuck it.” (laughs) Why not. I might as well just do what comes naturally. I’ll worry about trying to refine the vision for the LP and I’ll let the EP be what it is. So you have the “Indie Pop” vibe on one song, and it gets more danceable with “Ladykiller.” It’s a little all over the map.
The138: I’ve read that you are classically trained. How does that influence your songwriting?
MK: I gravitate towards really beautiful things. I grew up playing classical music which ingrained an appreciation for lyrical beauty. It’s the way that I approach things. It can also be really challenging when I want to break out and do something different. That is what I was trying to do with “Ladykiller.” I was tired of making really pretty music. I just wanted to dance and have fun. I am trying to break away from my instincts to make everything pretty all of the time.
The138: Speaking of “Ladykiller,” is there a story behind that song?
MK: (Laughs) No. I’m such a stream-of-consciousness writer when it comes to lyrics. I don’t sit down and try to tell you a story, that’s not really my forte. I was in the studio one morning with my fiance and my girlfriend and we were just hanging out. She was filming us and as we were working on the track we just progressively got drunk (laughs). The next things I knew we had the hook for “Ladykiller.”
The138: On first listen it reminded me of Shakira’s “She Wolf.” It sounds like a female empowerment anthem.
MK: It definitely ended up being this female empowerment thing but that was not the goal. It just kinda seemed to work.
The138: Are you guys working on any future releases?
MK: Over the last few months I’ve been working a bunch on remixes. I really love producing and working on other people’s projects. Remixing is such a pleasure because a band is basically trusting you to put your stamp on their vision. It’s such a great way to collaborate. I recently did a remix for Junip which I am really happy with. I have also done remixes for other local bands. Now that all of those are done we are starting to write new material. I find myself coming up against the same hurdles. What do I focus on? Do I want to write a dance record? Maybe something more cinematic? I just don’t know yet. Now that I am working more with my collaborator Ray I think we are just going to write forty different ideas and pick the best ones.
The138: I’ve heard playing in LA is hard. Many good acts come through town and the crowds are really tough. Is it ever difficult to try and present a very experimental project here?
MK: Yeah, I feel like I have a little bit of a toehold because of M83. People are a little more prone to listen to White Sea, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to give us the time of day. It’s really difficult starting things here and figuring out where you fit in and finding the right bands to play with.
I think there is a great community of musicians here in LA. A lot of people talk about how there isn’t, but, within the artist community, if you hook up with one band then you end hooking up with another. It’s very supportive in that way.
The crowds are difficult though. You spend a lot of time trying to convince them until they are on your side. It’s really rewarding when you win them over though.
The138: I am reminded of the old adage about New York that if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.
MK: Yeah, I mean you’re always trying to stay genuine to what you’re trying to create. It’s difficult because I am not clear what my vision for the music is yet in regards to long term trajectory. [My vision] is not “play what’s ‘happening.’” That’s not how I feel I should go about making music.
The138: What songs have had the best reaction so far?
MK: It’s been all across the board because of how different all the songs are. Some people gravitate towards “Ladykiller” because it’s fun. You just wanna shake your ass (laughs). There are people who really like “Mountaineer” because it’s so emotional and epic. It’s funny, everyone has their own favorite song.
The138: How do you plan on balancing M83 and White Sea?
MK: I have no idea. White Sea is in the beginning stages and we are not touring yet. I don’t think it would take precedent over working with Anthony, whom I’ve learn so much from. It’s really good for me to be in the creative process with him; making music and touring. I’m just taking it one day at a time.
The138: What can we expect from the new M83 album?
MK: I think it’s brilliant but I am biased. The album is definitely a combination of everything that he has done before. It’s epic. It’s gonna be a longer album.
The138: How did you initially meet Anthony Gonzales?
MK: Well, I went to a French school, so I speak French fluently. I moved to LA because I was working in film and television at the time; music was more of a hobby. I met a French director through the AFI, and when she graduated, she had Anthony do the score for her first feature. She wanted to involve me somehow because were friends, so she sent some of my music to Anthony and suggested I sing in the score. He told her that my voice might not work for the score, but that he was making a new album and it would be really cool to send me some demos. At first I thought it was a joke because I was a huge M83 fan. I thought someone was pranking me; there was no way Anthony Gonzales from M83 was emailing me at my Earthlink account (laughs). He sent me demos and I recorded little ideas and sent them back to him and next thing I knew I was recording albums with him.
The138: Do you ever find that you culture-clash with Anthony?
MK: Oh my God no, he’s like my brother. It’s an interesting combination because he is a French person obsessed with American culture and I am an American who grew up with French people. All my friends were French growing up. We come from such different background but we just understand each other you know?
The138: We follow you on Twitter and noted that you tweet about The Bachelor. Would you consider that a guilty pleasure?
MK: Nah, it’s just a pleasure (laughs). I don’t feel guilty. I am obsessed with The Bachelor. I don’t know why. This is the first season I have ever watched it. I want to make a montage of every time someone says “I’m not gonna cry!” It has good comedic value.
This Frontier EP by White Sea is available now on Itunes.
Interview conducted by Samuel Santos and Phillip Domfeh, Staff Journalists.
February 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions presented in this interview are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the 138.
Photos by Michelle Mosqueda
The138: You have a new book out. What was the inspiration for the title Whiter Shades of Pale?
Christian Lander: Well, it actually came from a friend of mine who is an editor at Gotham Books. We were kicking titles around and he threw that one out. His name is Patrick Mulligan. He does the Chuck Norris books and he’s done a lot of really great Internet print books. He had the title idea. He’s a great guy. When he threw that one out I knew it was the one. Patrick Mulligan deserves all the credit. I’m more than happy to give it to him.
The138: What can we expect from the new book?
CL: The new book is more of the same [as Stuff White People Like] in some respects. It has the same kind of entries that the first book and the blog have. What we added was the regional guide with drawings of the regional white people from coast to coast. Some of the strengths, weaknesses, secret strengths, secret prides, things like that—and drawings outlining what they each person looks like.
The138: Do you feel any pressure with writing a second book?
CL: Yeah, of course. When the first one came out I thought it was going to be a failure. I never thought it would last this long. I never thought it would work out well. I thought everything was going to be taken away from me, that I would wake up one morning and someone would say, “Nope, it was all a joke. You can’t have any of this.”
I’ve always been ready for the other shoe to drop so that at least keeps me sane. I know how lucky I am. With Whiter Shades of Pale there was definitely some stress. I felt pressure to keep it up. I went in with realistic expectations. I know Whiter Shades of Pale couldn’t sustain the same type of momentum that Stuff White People Like did because of the speed of everything and the amount of media that was out here for it. With the second [book] all I could do is write as best I could, be as funny as I could and see what happened. So the book came out. It’s done pretty well. [It’s] growing in popularity. It got an amazing review in The New York Times, which is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me (laughs). So, that kind of alleviated the pressure.
The138: Stuff White People Like has been published on at least three continents. What do you think is the unifying factor?
CL: The unifying factor? Uh, white people are pretentious (laughs). That’s the unifying factor. I mean, that’s the whole book. So much humor comes from contradiction—the humor of someone believing one thing and completely going against it.
The lies white people tell themselves: how unique we are, how creative we are. Ultimately, the fact is we are doing all of this stuff out of ego and we don’t want to admit it. We’ll be the last ones to admit it’s all out of ego. When you do something that points it out, there is a humor to it because it’s true. Truth is such an essential part of comedy.
Really, [the unifying factor] is white people being pretentious, but more than anything it’s truth-based humor. That’s what great comedy is. All the best stand-up comics do it. They take something, look at it, and present in a different way and it’s hilarious. Louis C.K. does it. Chris Rock does it. All the great stand-ups do it. I think being able to find the nugget of truth you can expand out into a comedy concept is the key to anything working.
The138: Do you think being pretentious is just a “white thing?” Can you spot it in other cultures?
CL: It’s a class thing more than it’s a white thing, without a doubt. I have said before, “You don’t have to be white to be white. You just have to be rich.” It’s funny, when I explain that concept to people who aren’t white and grew up in an upper middle class environment they get it right away. “I may be Chinese but I am a pretentious white person.” Those are the [only] cultures to which I can really speak. I don’t really know how it works in, say, Indonesia or aboriginal cultures. I don’t really know what the “Whole Foods” equivalent is in Malaysia. I just know it’s very much a thing that comes with class and it comes with where we have reached in the world.
As white people, the amount of wealth we’ve accumulated is so much that we don’t really have any real concerns about the basic necessities of life. Worrying about rent, food—all things white people have not worried about for four generations. So instead, we practice self-induced poverty as white people. You know, grad students doing unpaid internships. It’s very much a white thing and it’s what happens when the pursuit of money is gone. You pursue something else, whether it’s artistic fulfillment, being seen as “progressive,” being seen as not racist, or being seen as helpful to the environment.
We are still competing with other white people; we just don’t compete over “crass” things like money anymore. We compete for cultural things. “Look how smart I am, look how many languages I speak, how many countries I have been to. Look how Eco-friendly my Prius is.” (Mine’s over there. It’s a used Prius, even more Eco-friendly than the other ones). We are more competitive than ever and what is amazing is we are using altruistic things.
I think vegetarianism is a great thing myself. It’s a good thing to cut down the amount of meat we are eating. But we still use that to compete! You win if you’ve cut more stuff out of your diet. “Oh what, you’re vegan, you’re not gluten free?” We are still competing; that drive is there and we have transposed it. Instead of wealth it’s all these other things.
Ultimately, the end result is the same: “Look at me. Look how great I am.” That’s what’s behind all of it. That’s what the joke is. That’s where so much of the humor comes from; when you’re doing altruistic things for selfish reasons you are doing something that is inherently good for your ego, which violates the entire spirit of charity. That’s what’s so funny. I am guilty of it. That’s the other thing that comes with the book: the self-resignation. I do it; that’s why I pointed out my Prius to you guys. I do it myself and I don’t think I can change. I don’t know what the alternative is. I’m not going to become a Republican (laughs). I don’t know what I am to do otherwise, so there is a resignation and a self-loathing that comes out. I am guilty of all these things too. I am not just pointing and being critical, I am saying look at what an asshole I am.
The138: I’ve heard you say before that people have called Stuff White People Like racist because it points out stereotypes in culture.
CL: Well, it’s funny. I always say that there is never a scenario where it’s not okay to make fun of white people. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re like, “Should I make fun of white people?” Do it! Always do it. Here’s the reason why: there is no derogatory term that hurts a white person. If you call a white person a honky or a cracker, that white persons says, “Yes! This is what oppression feels like! Soak it in!” It doesn’t really hurt because it’s not based on anything. White people, for the most part, have never experienced true suffering as a race, and whatever we have has worked out great. The potato famine sucked for Ireland, don’t get me wrong, but it worked out great! People in Ireland work ten hours a week now and have all these vacations and all the Irish in America are doing fine. The scars of the past are very thin ones compared to that of other races. So that’s the reason why it’s always okay to make fun of white people.
The138: How do you think political correctness effects the conversation of race in America?
CL: So many times people want to put the blame of our inability to talk about race in America on the political Right. They say, “Oh, it’s racist Republicans! They’re the problem!” Not true at all. Malcolm X brilliantly said he would rather talk to a Klansman than a liberal because at least the Klansmen is honest. I was in grad school at the time I read that and it really resonated. I would be sitting in these grad classes where everyone would say exactly the same thing. People were too afraid to say anything different, anything that might possibly get them called a racist. They would just shut up.
So you have these thoughts inside that might be “racist” and you just bottle them up and say, “Look at me, I’m a progressive liberal. Blah blah blah but I’m not going to send my kids to public school.” You’re going to make up all these lies about why you won’t send your kids to public school. But race is a key part of it and you won’t say it? You don’t progress. You’re paying fake lip service when you still have these tendencies inside.
We have this huge problem on the Left of people being too afraid of being called racist to actually say what’s on their mind. So many of the institutions we have—I noticed this especially during my time grad school—are just pushing this liberal, uniformed thought onto everyone. I think that shuts down dialogue as much as anything else.
One of the things I hope comes from the book is recognition that we as liberals spend too much time blaming the Right—especially with what just happened in Tucson, Arizona. “They are the ones with their rhetoric! They are the ones who caused all this.” The truth is the Left is as close-minded as the Right. I would hope that the book points out some of these contradictions and that people will stop patting themselves on the back for a minute and just listen and try to figure it out.
The138: You mentioned Chris Rock earlier. I feel like you have a black comic’s approach to race, which is to say you approach it an obvious and explicit manner. How did you get this sense of bravado?
CL: I don’t know if it’s bravado. I think so much of it comes from growing up in Toronto, Canada. Toronto is the most diverse city in the world. Different languages are spoken everywhere. The difference between Canada and America is America was the melting pot and we [Canada] preserved all the other cultures. My high school was made up of kids who were first generation immigrants from China, Sri Lanka, Africa, and Eastern Europe. We also had third generation Asians, Indians, and Africans who had acquired wealth in Canada and sort of became white. So the group of friends that I went to high school with was this amazing mix. Everyone was there together.
Our friends would get together and ethnic slurs would just go everywhere. Just left and right. No one got upset because they knew that deep down that we didn’t really believe [the slurs]. We would have fun playing around with it because we knew each other so well. Because we had grown up with each other we had a really strong understanding of everyone’s culture. We would have dinner at their houses. We would have a sleepover and learn different things about everyone’s culture. We just grew up with it. We were always aware of [race] and we were never taught to ignore it.
The138: White guilt. White shame. White pride. How are they created and what sustains them?
CL: White shame and white pride are created through the history of the planet. Sometimes people say, “Slavery was 200 years ago. I don’t know how that affects me. I don’t own slaves. My dad didn’t own slaves.” You end up having to get into an argument with these…they’re idiots. There is no other way to put it. Saying that when slavery ended everything was fine is the most ridiculous thing ever. That’s like saying you are going to run an eight hundred meter race and white people are going to start at the six hundred mark, black people are going to start at the zero mark and since the gun goes off at the same time, everything is fair. That’s not how it works.
Look at Congress. Look at the richest people in the world. Look at the richest countries in the world. White wealth and white affluence didn’t come about through being kind. We generated wealth through trading human beings, through colonization and atrocities. To fail to recognize that is the most ridiculous thing ever. As a white person, I don’t know how you can’t be filled with that guilt. You definitely have the guilt, especially if you’re on the Left and you’d like to one day possibly do something about it with a history degree. I’m not sure how you can be Right wing and have a history degree, at least not with any [history majors] I’ve known.
The other thing is we are inherently a guilty people. We have Catholic guilt. White guilt, wasp guilt. It’s always there and then if you have any form of success it’s hard not to feel guilty about it. “Why me? Why did I get all these advantages?” The way I see it, you have two options: either you are filled with guilt or you say, “I worked for what I have, so screw everyone. I don’t want to pay taxes.” We usually take the guilt side.
White pride, that’s a different world. It’s very strange when people take some pride in [Stuff White People Like]. I’m not really writing about a culture here. I am writing about a shopping list. You can’t take pride in our race. You don’t do that. We have to take pride in ourselves and our gifted children and our dogs. You can’t in any way say I am proud to be white and get away with it. That’s not how we roll.
The138: Shouldn’t you be allowed to? I can say I’m proud to be black in a very casual manner.
CL: Here’s the thing, there was a time when you would feel ashamed to be black, when you weren’t proud of it, when you wished you were something else. For any group that had a period where you felt ashamed of your race, you should be proud now in hopes to make up for the past. There has never been a period where people felt ashamed to be white. The closest thing we had was that in the past people would change their name if it sounded too Jewish to something that sounds a little “waspier.” I mean that’s the closest, or something too Italian to sound more “American”. But ultimately at the end of the day, with that kind of change you became a “white American.” Your “Italian-ness” went with the change of your name.
I guess you can be proud of some things. I guess we use the World Cup as an opportunity to be proud of things. “Oh my grandfather was from Finland and my grandfather was from England so…Go England!” That’s about as close as we are going to get. It’s hard to be proud if you are familiar with the history of our race. I mean, we did some great things, don’t get me wrong. We did some good shit but we also did a lot of horrible shit too. So, you have to find a balance. It’s safer to err on the side of, “Yeah we did some good stuff but we also did some terrible stuff.” It sort of balances out.
The138: So there’s a balance you hope to strike? I’m sure you don’t go around everyday whipping your back.
CL : No no no. It depends on what I’m watching (laughs). It depends on what documentaries are on. If there’s a story about Andrew Jackson then, yeah, I whip my back a little bit.
The138: The world is changing. I don’t know how often I’ve heard in the last five years, “China! China is developing! China is coming!” Other countries like China that were formerly Third World nations are taking a more prominent place in the global market and on the world scene. How do you think this will affect white culture?
CL: Here is my belief on it. The same debate came about a hundred and twenty years ago when Europe was saying, “America! America!” America was a scare. [America] had cheaper labor, looser regulations, all this stuff. It all worked out fine for Europe (smiles). Europeans get six weeks of paid vacation, they work less hours than anybody else. So that’s what I’m hoping is going to happen with America (laughs). That we’re going to become the next Europe and it’s going to be awesome.
I mean I don’t know. If the world lasts that long it will be great; we’ll see what will happen. I have no idea what will happen but I can predict without a doubt that white people are going to be fine.
Christian Lander’s latest book, Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast from Seattle’s Sweaters to Maine’s Microbrews is in bookstores now.
December 7, 2010 § 3 Comments
We recently sat down with musical artist David Bazan
and picked his brain on as many topics as we could.
Ladies and gentlemen: David Bazan.
Photo By: Joshua David Watson
How did Strange Negotiations (the upcoming album) get its name?
It’s a phrase that had been kind of rolling around in my head for the past year, or so, I guess. It just popped in and it seemed to describe the feeling I had about certain cultural things… For instance, sometimes something will get expressed within culture that is just super asinine but because enough people agree about it then you have to take it seriously so then you’re kind of negotiating with these people about this thing that you shouldn’t have to negotiate at all. So I started thinking of those aspects as like, this is a strange negotiation we are involved in.
The example that I had in mind was that Obama wasn’t born here… “Where’s the birth certificate?” Because enough people believe that, then you have to take it seriously. That’s strange. It seems inappropriate. You should just be able to dismiss stupidity as such, but nonetheless, here we are.
What direction are you going to take Strange Negotiations musically? When does it come out?
It comes out [May 2011]… Musically, it is a rock-n-roll record. Much more than [Curse Your Branches] was. Only two songs have bridges, which is kind of a nerdy, technical thing to highlight but for me, it’s a pretty big deal. The drums are delightfully blown up, the way that some of the drums are on “Control.” It’s a different record… I’m excited.
Is there a general theme of thought in the record?
It has a theme that weaves through most of the tunes in it. It has to do with the title. In the wake of the decisions about my life and my belief system that caused me to write Curse Your Branches, there is the uncomfortable remainder of seeing your family all the time and they believe and you don’t…and that’s somewhat common, I’m finding. But maybe more common is the political dissonance that happens between generations. The political dissonance, in general, that you have to co-exist with people who are vehemently opposed on a political level and how you go about that. It’s a record where I, in a vague sense, voice philosophies and ideas that pertain [to politics] and make accusations.
But then, it’s also a record about how you interact with people who think so differently from you in a fundamental way. Do you dismiss them? Do you pretend like you don’t disagree? Do you try not to talk about it? Do you engage respectfully? Do you let your own ideas become watered-down in the process? So the record is asking questions, but it’s not quite so grand as [Curse Your Branches.] The scale that Branches was on for me was personally pretty massive.
What do you mean by that?
I wouldn’t make another record like Branches, so I had to get it right [the first time.] So there is a lot less riding on Strange Negotiations. It’s just me shooting my mouth off.
It seems like music is a site for you to wrestle with personal doubts, fears, regrets, and struggles. How do you think about the relationship between the private aspect of writing your music and the public aspect of performing/recording it?
The music that I’ve written in the past couple of years has been more personal than any music that I’ve ever written… The songs that are more personal, I find that I have a stronger connection with. I can sing them more often, with more conviction. As they have become more personal, they have become more compelling to me. That’s the way I think of the private vs. the public. Having to go up in public and make such a big hullaballoo and say, “Everybody look at me! I’m going to sing some words and strum on this guitar!” It seems much more valid to be doing that when I have a much more personal connection to the songs. Sometimes, exposing oneself is a little odd. But in the end, I’m not hung up on that.
Who do you think makes the most compelling argument for the Christian faith?
There are Christians that I know that I find compelling as people. But I haven’t run into any Christian apologist that has really addressed my specific set of concerns. My buddies, who I respect who are Christians, I don’t think they are trying to [do that] in their work. I’m mostly interested in finding out what’s true and what holds up. My buddy, Eric Balmer, has been reading this Joel Green book [and it seems] interesting to me because it seems to be about things I’m currently reserving judgment about that I’m curious to understand and know about.
I don’t [know of any compelling apologetic cases for Christianity] and it’s an interesting question. Evangelical Christianity, as I grew up with it and as it seems to exist currently, seems preoccupied with the confession of Christianity. That one would confess the right things, and that seems to be one of the main points of it. I find that so unsatisfying. To me, the best cases for Christianity are when people actually bear the fruit that they say they are going to bear. To me, that is the most compelling reason to think anything or do anything or to respect a confession. A confession of belief on it’s own is just the most flaccid thing. In that sense, an academic book, self-help book, or just a Christian apologetic book means so much less.
[They would say] “So this is what I think…” [I would respond,] “So you’re divorced three times, you’re estranged from you’re kids… who cares what you think about the universe? I want to be at peace. This peace that passes all understanding that you’re talking about, you don’t have it. You treat people badly; you misunderstand fundamental ideas of the world at large.” These [bearing fruits] are far more compelling to me than, “You have to get the confession right or you’ll burn for eternity.” And I just think: “Yeah, that’s becoming less compelling by the minute too because everything else you say doesn’t seem to match up with reality, so why would I assume that would?”
When it comes to the evaluation of the ideas of Christianity, I find all sorts of guys compelling. Most of that has to do with the study of the Bible. Marcus Borg is a fascinating guy. Peter Enns wrote an interesting book called Inspiration and Incarnation. I like Bart Ehrman a lot. I think his story is compelling. He comes across as pretty cynical. I don’t share all of [his conclusions.] His scholarship seems good in the subject matter of the books and how earnestly he deals with the problem of suffering and things like this are unique and compelling. I think he is paving the way for other people to bring scholarly, biblical criticism to the masses in a way that hasn’t been. I think that’s a good thing. When inerrancy finally stops being insisted upon by the majority of evangelicals, the movement will be much better off.
Do you miss God? (Or your previous perception of him) Do you miss your naiveté? Would you go back and live in that if you could? Do you ever get tired of wrestling?
I do miss my previous conception of God. But I don’t miss the naivety. People have complained about me in the past. [They say,] “How arrogant, he is the ultimate arbiter of what he finds, true or not true.” In reality, we just are. Sometimes some people are able to exist in the same community for their entire lives, but most people go around from community to community, for whatever reason, and where you land community-wise is your choice. What resonates to you about what they believe is true, is your choice; Ultimately we are the ones that have to be responsible for what we believe and for ourselves. And if we lived in the early 1700’s in the South of the United States and our community believed that slavery was right on and we knew deep down that it wasn’t, it’s up to us to stand up and say, “You know, that just doesn’t sound right to me.” Because I am the one that’s responsible for where I end up philosophically, it’s really nice to be able to evaluate ideas honestly and call a spade, a spade. Now that I’m out of the movement, without the threat of being kicked out of the movement, it seems like a basic pleasure, or right, to be able to think freely about ideas. That is worth even major discomfort. To be allowed to be wrong and come back to that later and say, “You know, I was wrong about that and not have all this heavy stuff hanging over your head about it is better than the discomfort that comes along with the grief of losing one’s faith.” Which I did…it was something that needed to be grieved, maybe even more profoundly than the death of someone that I knew. It was a bummer. It was a really big bummer. But who’s to say what is lost and how long it’s lost for. I have impulses to express gratitude toward the unknown, to what is. I’ve read that people say, “Well that is so encouraging; it’s just evidence that God is still at work in the hard heart. Blah Blah Blah. It is what it is. Maybe there is something, maybe there is nothing. But what I’ve fought for and what I’m happy to have, is the right to go with my gut. I’m going to do that as humbly and as earnestly as I know how. That’s the way I’ve gone about it up till now too.
Could you see yourself coming back to the biblical account of God while rejecting the “personal Christianity” (modern-day American evangelicalism) that you seem to be so angry with?
I’ve always had concern and conflicts with evangelical Christianity. Since I was fourteen, I’ve had major issues with the American Evangelical expression, but from fourteen to twenty-four [years old], that was never a deal breaker, and in the end it wasn’t the American Evangelical expression that was the deal breaker. It was what I perceived to be logical gaps in the biblical narrative in the [foundation.] Starting with the fall, the character of God throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is interesting. But without the fall and without the required reconciliation, the atonement is not the answer to any question. There is still a lot of study that I have to do but as I go over it and over it and over it again… I couldn’t make sense of it.
And so that was the thing more than anything. It was specifically the biblical account of God that was the deal breaker. What’s nice now is that I still have a lot of gripes with collective action of American Evangelicals. I don’t [need] to have any angst about any of the ones that I know and love. People say and do shitty things, no matter what “stripe they are”. I can think of plenty of evangelicals, I can think of plenty Democratic politicians. It’s everybody.
(The following are lyrics from Bazan’s song, Curse Your Branches) “Red and orange, or red and yellow in which of these do you believe if you’re not sure right now, please take a moment, cause I need your signature before you leave?”
It’s a pretty flaccid attempt to make a metaphor of having to make a choice between relatively similar systems of belief when so much is at stake. I was not given the opportunity to evaluate the system that [I was] about to sign onto. There are a lot of emotional pleas, “Do you feel empty inside?” “Yeah, absolutely.” So you sign on the dotted line and along with it comes this pork barrel of other things. It’s a reference to (Snaps fingers) “Everything is at stake. You need to make a decision, if you die tonight…”
That was my guess actually.
(Laughs) You win.
“If no heavy breath blew up these lungs while dirt and wet spit hung a ghost in the air, well we’re still here?”
I grew up hearing the narrative of: Adam formed from the dust of the earth. If that part didn’t happen, then what do we do then? I’m still here. There must be some other explanation. I’m here right now. Being is the thing that this all hangs on. The rest of it is speculation.
On a lighter note, what’s the best question you have ever been asked in a Q and A time?
Just a month ago, someone asked what I was more disappointed by: Star wars movies that followed [Return of the Jedi] or the Weezer records that followed Pinkerton. I thought that was great.
What was your answer?
I said the Star Wars movies that followed “Jedi” because… they’re terrible. But Pinkerton doesn’t depend on the story telling later on in their catalogue. It’s just a great record. But the whole of Star Wars [original trilogy] depends on Darth Vader’s turn to the dark side. Those three movies are predicated on a believable turn to this dark side. With all that money, that’s literally all they had to do. The turmoil that Luke is so clearly enduring in “Jedi” is crippling. You see the tension. It’s masterfully done. If they even came close to that feeling in Hayden Christensen’s character, that would be fine. But his turn to the dark side was inexplicable. It’s just a failure; it’s such an enormous failure. My daughter has seen [the original trilogy] a few times. They are so great. Each time, with a little bit of skepticism, I’m trying to watch them with new eyes. Thinking, “Is it just nostalgia? Is it just cause I was a little kid?” And they are corny in their ways, but they are much different movies than those other ones. I like them far, far better. What is wrong with George Lucas?
What are you listening to now?
The Gillian Welch record Time (The Revelator) I’ve loved that record for years. It’s so good. The new Land of Talk record is great. That’ll do.
The following is a recent live performance of Bazan’s In Stitches.