Archive for December, 2008

Empty Frames gets Painfully Alone…

Your lyrics stand out in that they include ordinary details from everyday life and popular culture without sounding trite, but actually transform these places and activities and make them extraordinary.  You bring sadness and longing to a Carl’s Jr. (Should’ve Kissed You), you explain the cheapening of something valuable by mentioning a pancake mix box (New Year’s Kiss).  It is these details that command a special attention from the listener.  Do you write from personal experience or more as a fiction author creating very real characters experiencing real things?
The characters are fictional, but I try to load the stories with as much believability as possible.  It’s the details that make any scenario memorable, like the smiling cow on the carton of milk that you spill all over your stereo.  Sometimes the details have personal significance to me, but the important thing is that they have to sound right.  They have to sound ordinary and maybe a little funny and a little sad.  There used to be a Carl’s Jr in the North Beach area of San Francisco, and it was right over by a bunch of strip clubs and a bus stop.  I always thought that there was something kind of special about that intersection so I used it.

Wikipedia, and the fountain of knowledge that it is, explains that you were born in California, and your website bio says you now reside in Chicago.  You also mention many places in your songs: St. Paul, Maine, Portland, Santa Fe, Kansas City, Illinois etc. What has the journey been to Chicago? How has your music been influenced by where you have lived and the people around you?
I was born in San Francisco and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many, many years.  I’ve been in Chicago for a little less than three years now.  Location is just another detail.  Knowing that a song takes place in Kansas City gives it gravity, even if you’ve never been to Kansas City.  I think the songs mean more when you can imagine them happening somewhere in particular.  I tour a lot, and often the cities I visit work their way into songs in unexpected ways.  I like having those reminders of times and places.  The songs become souvenirs.
In the song, Lesley Gore on the Tami Show, you say “I’ll probably never say these things to you.”  Is music a way to say things you otherwise wouldn’t say?
Well, sure.  Music, by nature, is emotional.  It’s manipulative.  Singing something can move you in ways that reading or even speaking something just cannot.  Music has the ability to be subversive and unavoidable in ways that other mediums just aren’t.  There’s music everywhere.  It’s used for everything.  How many times a day does a lyric or melody get stuck in your head?  There’s power in that.  Music is creepy!
You have the following songs listed as “songs I will not play [at a show] no matter how nicely you ask or how many alcoholic drinks you offer me (sorry!)”:
“A Normal Suburban Lifestyle Is A Near Impossibility Once You’ve Fallen In Love With An International Spy”, “Casiotone for the Painfully Alone Joins the Foreign Legion”, “Hotel Huntington Sign”, “Hey Jelly”, “Beeline”, “Hot Boyz”

Out of curiosity, why not these songs? If you won’t reveal your secret in plainspeech, will you write a song about it, so I can request it at a show?
Somebody asked me about this recently.  I’m just going to paste what I said here, if you don’t mind:
well, personally, there tends to be this point when a song i’ve written gets so old that it doesn’t really feel like one of my songs anymore. after a while i just don’t have the same ideas and feelings that went into that song in the first place, and a weird kind of separation happens. that isn’t always a bad thing. i don’t mind playing covers, as long as there’s something about that song that i love and relate to. some of my old songs feel like that and they still manage to feel totally relevant to play, but in a different kind of way. and, some of my old songs just feel like somebody else’s songs that i just don’t have any business covering. it would feel disingenuous and dumb to try to pull them off now.

Ta da!

You recently released a 15 song disc, Town Topic. In your eyes, how does Town Topic compare to/move away from your previous releases?
The Town Topic EP is all music that I produced for a Laurel Nakadate film called Stay The Same Never Change.  It’s music that was meant to accompany visuals, instead of being taken on its own.  The music got a lot of compliments from people who saw early versions of the movie, and after people started asking if any kind of soundtrack was going to be released, I thought “oh yeah.  maybe I should do that.”  So, it isn’t quite an album, but it’s still nice to listen to, I think.  I’m proud of it.
Will you give us some insight on the ringtone sequence on TT which begins with the pent-up, sorrowful Possible Love Interest, flies into Bad People which is beats and drums, then OMG, this zooming number with intermittent rattle that actually sounds like a person shaking their head back and forth saying “OMG” then finally into Probably Walkin Down the Street which is a very stout, bouncy this is what’s up sort of sound.  What inspired these songs?
Those ringtones were made for various characters in Stay The Same Never Change.  I made a whole mess of different ones, and Laurel picked which ones she thought best represented each character.  We liked the idea of each character had their own theme, in a totally literal and modern sort of way.  Only one ringtone ended up being used in the final edit, though.  The rest of the phone scenes got cut.
Going off the last question, in general, you’re titles often help clarify the meaning of the song.  They also add a lot of humor and color to your work. Even just looking at the list of banned show songs, anyone can see these aren’t typical songs.  What’s your philosophy for song titles?
I usually try to pick song titles that hopefully have never been used as song titles before.  When i was younger, I tried really hard to come up with titles that were really super clever, mostly because it just seemed like an exciting and novel opportunity to even be naming a song.  These days, I mostly settle on whatever feels the most appropriate, while still being unique enough to distinguish from whatever Hank Williams song I stole the general idea from in the first place.
Like your song titles and lyrics, everything surrounding your music–the art, the videos–really create a frame around Casiotone’s music. Even the band’s name. Like a giant neon Carl’s Jr. sign that instead says Listen. The video for white corolla is great. Armless panda and his ice skating buddies doing the rolling-arms-dough-roller move.  Do you do casiotone’s artwork and videos? How do you think visual art and sound art work together?
The White Corolla video was done by Julia Pott, and I think she did a great job.  I have never made a video on my own.  For the most part, I think music videos are kind of silly, and kind of redundant, at least as far as my music is concerned.  It goes back to the idea of using music as a sort of filter or accompaniment for whatever else is going on it your life.  Tying visuals, or requiring rapt attention for the consuming of a video verses a song kind of misses the point, I think.  The songs should be visual enough on their own, and at the same time totally ignorable.  I like the idea of doing animated videos, though.  There’s a dreamy quality to animation that seems totally separate from the songs they accompany, and can therefore be divorced and enjoyed totally separately.  I’m not interested in acting or lip-synching in any of my own videos, or even putting a face to any of the characters.  I’d rather the people in the songs be just as ugly or boring as the listener would like them to be.  Does that make sense?
What’s the best show you’ve ever seen? What’s the best show you’ve done? What do you think makes a show good?
I saw Kraftwerk in the late 90’s and it was pretty awesome.  More recently I saw an Ethiopian saxophonist called Getachew Mekurya play a free outdoor concert with a Dutch punk band called The Ex here in Chicago and that was really exciting.  Folks were just hanging out on their lunch break, and old people were getting up and dancing.  I am kind of a nerd about Ethiopian popular music from the 60’s and 70’s, and it was a total thrill for me to see someone who is such a legend to me.  I got goosebumps and shit.  I love it when popular music can feel sacred.  That doesn’t happen very often.

I don’t know what the best show I’ve ever done was.  I just played a really fun house show in Athens, Ohio last week.  People were right up in my face, bumping into my equipment, and people were high-fiving me in the middle of songs and stuff.  Some girl kept making “that’s what she said” jokes and making people laugh.  I like it when it feels like something spontaneous and positive is going on, and everyone seems to be having a really good time.

What’s your guilty pleasure band/song?  Do you think there is a place for all music or do you think that music can be illegitimate? How does the indie music scene foster the development of music?
I don’t know if there is much music that I feel guilty about listening to at this point.  The older I get, the harder it is for me to feel embarassed.  I guess I would consider my own music to be a bit of a guilty pleasure, though.  When I’m working on something new, I usually listen to the rough versions pretty obsessively until I feel like I’ve gotten it right, and I sometimes worry that someone is going to catch me.  I have no idea how the indie music scene fosters the development of music because I’ve never particularly felt like part of a scene.
Finally, and this is more of a comment, so you can take your thinking cap off…On your lyrics page, you write out the abbreviation for because (otherwise known as cuz or ’cause) as “coz”. You might see this said “coz” pop up every now and again on the Empty Frames website coz we like it.
Hmm that is interesting!  I mostly just use “coz” when a song’s cadence doesn’t allow for the extra “be” syllable.  I had a hard time deciding what the official Casiotone spelling of “because” without the “be” would be.  There are just so many options: cause, cos, coz, b/c… Maybe there’s even another one that I don’t even know about.