To these ears Excepter can more or less do no wrong: Conjuring Suicide, Cabaret Voltaire, and some anonymous beat-box pranksters swirling stoned through a blender, their deconstructed, echoey, stylish synth ‘n’ beat field scapes add up to one of my favorite all-time New York oeuvres.
I usually spot 1/4 of the band, Dan Hougland, at (or outside) Other Music, where he spends his workdays. A couple weeks back, though, we ran into each other at Gang Gang Dance’s Retina Riddim DVD release party, so I asked him if he wanted to talk about work for the column. He was into it, obviously, and it turned out the rest of guys were also gainfully employed … at art moving, gardening, and archiving.
You might’ve caught Carrots/KKKKK, their recent split Paw-Tracks 12″ with Panda Bear (members also did the video for Panda Bear’s “Bros”) or Alternation, the denser/musique concrete(ish) full-length released on 5RC last year. Though bringing home the bacon through various means, the band remains prolific: Tank Tapes is out now on Fuck It Tapes and The STREAMS 01, a double “retrospective edit” CD of the band’s excellent STREAMS series, will emerge on Fusetron “whenever it gets back from the printer.” After that expect “OP,” a double 7″ from the Swedish label iDeal Recordings, the “(Flip Those) Burgers” 12″, and the Debt Dept long player, on a label TBA.
In honor of Excepter’s recent five-hour MP3 STREAM and member Jon Nicholson’s upcoming seventy-two hour live sound/installation performance piece at Grace Exhibition Space in Bed Stuy, we offer you the longest Quit You Day Job to date.
You’ll find “Entrance” from the forthcoming STREAMS 01 at the very bottom. As John Fell Ryan noted: “It’s fitting; it’s partly about ‘work.'”
JOHN FELL RYAN (Vocals, Synths, Drum Box, Electronics, Percussion, Etc.)
STEREOGUM: Where do you work?
JOHN FELL RYAN: For the past eight years, I’ve been working in the archival film research department of a large stock imagery company. I’m sort of an obscure sub-sub-librarian of dusty videotape and dustier databases, but in a total high-strung corporate atmosphere. Mostly, I fast-forward through World War II twice a week.
STEREOGUM: How’d you get the job?
JFR: This guy I was in a noise band with in school was a manager here, and he got me the job. I still had to apply a few times. He told me they thought my cover letter was “weird.”
STEREOGUM: Do you remember what you said in the letter?
JFR: I think somebody thought my use of the phrase “sounds good” seemed odd.
STEREOGUM: What was the noise band?
JFR: The band was called Malta. We would do things like let crickets loose and set frat houses on fire, eat bibles, etc. There’s a Bananafish article recounting the tale you should track down.
STEREOGUM: Do you have any sort of Library Science degree?
JFR: No. It’s not really necessary, though I did have to take a cultural history test as part of the application. I had to identify the general dates of a series of photographs, know when the 1920s were, etc. The company’s changed since those days and we’ve merged with the commercial stock department. They look at us archival people as some strange, alien intelligence.
STEREOGUM: Interesting finds?
JFR: I’m cynical. I get less into particulars and more into the big picture. Being constantly exposed to a century’s worth of war, deceit, and hatred has soured me almost completely on the motion picture as a worthy medium. Dancing is the only thing I truly enjoy watching, and history won’t even that pass without the relentless smear of blackface indignity. That said, I love those 1930s Jazz shorts with Cab Calloway, etc.
STEREOGUM: Can you tell me a bit about why dance appeals to you? Who are some of your favorite dancers or dance styles…eras?
JFR: It’s hard to have propaganda with dance. It’s pure enthusiasm, music personified. The best dancers are probably anonymous. I like stage dancing, hoofer style, but any room full of people dancing in any style, anywhere, any era, is naturally a work of art. Filmmakers wreck it. They forget to shoot the whole body, the whole room and edit too much. Even Fosse fell into this trap. You have to go back earlier when film was still the younger brother to dance. The late ’20s would seem to be the peak of everything great in the world. Something like Duke Ellington’s “Black And Tan Fantasy.” You know James Cagney is an amazing dancer? I’m not much into too much choreography, that Janet Jackson crap, or even Busby Berkeley.
STEREOGUM: What are the results of your job? Where does this stock film end up going, etc.?
JFR: The stuff I research mostly ends up as the background flicker of “the past” between the talking heads on cable nostalgia shows or “historical” consumer/weaponry old man type shows. An early highlight was working on Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. Most everyone I work with works on commercials. They save the dusty holocaust type jobs for me.
STEREOGUM: How’d you earn that designation?
JFR:Why do I have to do all the Nazi jobs? It’s kind of a Dirty Harry question.
STEREOGUM: Do you see any correlation between searching through old or found sounds and your approach to music?
JFR: Making distinct selections from large volumes of material is something I do both at my job and in Excepter, but on an artistic level, having a full-time job means I don’t have to make commercial compromises on the music.
Having an anonymous desk job also helps me “cool down” from the kind of psyche-stretching behavior Excepter demands.
STEREOGUM: Excepter has a specific design sense, which has always struck me as “retro” without actually evoking that word … from another era but not “retro,” if that makes sense. Inspired at all by mountains of old videotape?
JFR: I get that “from another time/place” thing a lot in my personal life. Maybe this archival job is part of my instinct to incorporate and express senses of time, the detached observer archetype, all that. I never consciously set out to imitate anything with my design. I mean, some of the designs I did for No Neck were more rooted in the old psychedelic poster or Art Nouveau style, but with Excepter I wanted to keep things on a more personal level; handwriting, mind’s eye images, photographs; things direct from experience, whether inner or outer. I usually have a strong initial idea of how things should look and then gather elements until the vision is realized. This sense of otherness you detect is probably fairly deep in my bones.
STEREOGUM: Where’d you work prior to this?
JFR: I was alternating between being unemployed for months at a time and being an edit/production/traffic assistant for text book production houses. I was an inventory manager for an African cultural identity greeting card company for a few months, believe it or not.
STEREOGUM: How did you end up at the latter?
JFR: It was a side project of the textbook place.
STEREOGUM: Best-selling card?
JFR: ‘Best Selling’ wasn’t really in the vocab. The staff was like 100% eccentric weirdoes. One of the sales guys decked his cubicle out with all these new age barbarian fantasy posters and space maps would look me in the eye each day and tell me I was a “spirit warrior.” We sold Kwanza kits and I spent hours each day drawing alone at my desk, but I made no money.
STEREOGUM: How do you think Excepter would differ if you didn’t have a day job?
JFR: Excepter would probably stay the same. I don’t know if I’d want to play or perform more than I do. If I suddenly had unlimited free time, I wouldn’t aim for a life of constant touring. We couldn’t be more prolific than we are now. Maybe there would be more writing involved, but I wouldn’t want Excepter to become like a job. For me, music is for the nights.
NATHAN CORBIN (Synths, Drum Box, Electronics, Drums)
STEREOGUM: How’d you get involved in rooftop landscaping?
NATHAN CORBIN: I got into rooftop gardening through my friend Nick, who’s savvy with plants and construction. I have a hard time working indoors and enjoy building things so I pursued the job with the small company (3-7 employees) that had hired Nick.
STEREOGUM: Did you grow up with a large home garden?
NC: I grew up in Colorado on these big condominium ranches that prohibit large gardens, but my mom was an avid gardener nevertheless, maintaining small plots with trees, perennials, and flowers. At the time I had very little appreciation for both construction and gardening but had done a lot of backbreaking “landscaping” for tape/record-spending money.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a horticultural degree?
NC: I don’t have any related degrees.
STEREOGUM: Do you own your own company or work for someone else?
NC: I wish I owned my own company because the sort of clientele that can afford these gardens pay a substantial sum to the company — however landscapers are a dime a dozen and get paid accordingly.
STEREOGUM: Can you describe some gardens you’ve worked on?
NC: All of our gardens are great and very different from one other. The largest garden has about 5,000 sq feet of planting beds on a penthouse terrace. It’s an old garden so the perennials are pretty strong and big, and flower intensely. There are trees as large as you find in a city park on this roof. Unfortunately, the billionaire owner doesn’t allow his many servants to walk his old and sickly dogs, so there is a decade of piss and shit soaked into the pricey Italian terra cotta tiles.
STEREOGUM: Do you currently maintain your own garden?
NC: My girlfriend and I had a vegetable garden spread out across seven window boxes, but it was too much work at the end of the day. It was nice though — crazy looking heirloom tomatoes and psychedelic lucky charms-like upside down growing peppers.
STEREOGUM: Ever trim bushes into the shapes of various animals?
NC: No animal topiaries yet, but I’m always pushing for this giant unicorn shrub at a nursery in Long Island. Our clients are too old and/or stubborn for such silliness.
STEREOGUM: What plants grow best on NYC rooftops?
NC: You can grow almost anything on a NYC rooftop with proper care, i.e. good drainage, irrigation or steady watering schedules, insulation for the winter, and plant food. You see a lot of flowering vines like clematis, wisteria, and hydrangea on rooftops. Magnolias, dogwoods, elms, firs, bamboo, evergreen or deciduous … you name it for trees. Andromeda and rhododendron grow well. Grasses, roses, cactus … If you can get it in New York, you can probably make it live.
JON NICHOLSON (Vocals, Synths, Drum Box, Electronics, Percussion, Etc.)
STEREOGUM: What’s your day job? And what does it involve?
JON NICHOLSON: I am a “mobile proprietor,” a.k.a. “Art Handler” by day. I work with galleries, artists, collectors, etc. My responsibilities include: driving a truck, packing, moving, and installation of fine art objects. Knowing your art history does not hurt either. It is great to see the process of how art is being made. I think that art schools are handing Masters Degree’s to anyone that can afford to pay for them. There is a lot of bullshit out there. There is a lot of great work as well. It is too early to say if any of it is important or not, but that’s a crock of shit, too.
By night, I am a musical jukebox, alienating every dance floor in the city … there are a small percentage of folks that get off on it. It isn’t accessible, some say, but that’s okay. I like it that way. I want to turn people on to some other shit. That’s what it’s all about, turning cats on to the new funk…
STEREOGUM: How long have you worked as an art handler?
JN: I have been an art handler for some time now … since 2002?
STEREOGUM: Ever break anything?
JN: Nothing a conservator couldn’t fix. Only Kidding. I have not, or not to my knowledge…
STEREOGUM: Is it stressful driving a truck in NYC?
JN: It’s fun to yell at people and stare at bodies. Spring is in the air.
STEREOGUM: Do you have to make many treks to other cities?
JN: I go tri-state but no more cross country … I was gone too much.
STEREOGUM: I bet you’re the master of cardboard and bubble wrap.
JN: I build a mean shadow box…
STEREOGUM: What’s your background? Do you have an art degree? You mentioned knowing art history … How does the art world affect the way you approach music?
JN: I was a bike messenger for like, eleven years. Seven years in Chicago, one year in Philly and three years in NYC. I messengered my way through school, attending three colleges, all in Chicago.
I went to School of the Art Institute, The American Academy of Art, and Columbia College. I went to college because I was told I had to if I wanted to be somebody. I really had no interest in discipline through schooling. I liked my teachers at S.A.I.C. where I was studying Performance Art under Werner Herterich. I was very much into it. I was studying painting too, but once again, I had my own ideas of what discipline was. I was too busy painting the city to be confined to a studio, let alone go to class. I would eventually fuck off a scholarship and switch schools.
Music and art had been pulling at my value system since the age of ten/eleven, and when I got to that crossroad and had to choose between art schooling and discipline or music and street art, I chose the latter. It actually pulled me in (with great force), and I let it. I wanted to be pure energy, part of the life force. I felt as if I was dying in school.
For my mother’s sake, I went back to school. Columbia College’s art program sucked horribly after going to S.A.I.C., but they had a great film program. I took film and sound classes. Once again, my interest in school would prove less important and I would miss my finals, preferring to be in love, hanging out in Milwaukee. I would not go back to school after that.
I started doing some work with the Chicago Public Art Group through Juan Chavez. I was always into Art History, until the Italian Futurists. I had at that time, upon discovery, found a school of artists, that had the same thoughts and concerns on dynamism, society, music, technology … who cares that they were naive fascists, and mostly died in WWI, completely disillusioned by what they were passionate about? Dissonance, I have always loved … The roll models in my twenties would be Luigi Russolo, Guillaume Apollinaire, and the experimental rock scene that I was discovering, while growing away from the all ages punk rock hardcore scene.
I was hanging out at this spot called Copy Max, making zines, chilling with the likes of Wesley Willis (who was an amazing visual artist), Eugene Lloyd, Thor Aldward … I was getting into local math/noise bands like Frontier, Scissor Girls, Lake of Dracula, Mount Shasta, Harry Pussy … rockabillies like the Three Blue Teardrops, and Hi-fi and the Road Burners … Jazz heads, Ken Vandermark, David Boinken, Josh Abrahms … House People, Derrick Carter, Diz, Tony Garcia, Miles Meada, Gene Farris, Rush, Traxx, Lego … I was all over the city, chilling with street people who have claimed to play with Sun Ra, Graffiti Kings and Queens, and what not … all of this was starting to have drastic effect on the way I was painting and what public art could be, and that was changing the way I was playing music and what music could be, and most important — that I could be it all.
Art has an effect on how I approach music … not the art world. It’s two different things. The art world is a business, like used cars sales, or prostitution. Sure, I’ll whore my self from time to time. If no one did, the galleries would be empty and the conceptualists will have won. But seriously, I like seeing the weird trends that galleries will put themselves through to keep up with the Johnsons.
STEREOGUM: What do your recent DJ set lists look like?
JN: The DJ sets are changing like the solar system. I have been expanding beyond records and am going for the hyper contemporary … new music that people haven’t heard yet. I am moving back to the Ron Hardy style playing, cassette tapes with records, in order to move ahead into the future, playing music that cats are making in their cradles.
I play CD-ROMs, too, but I still record to tape outside of Excepter … Freddie Mas, Jaws, Andersonic, the Private Sector, X2, JTC, Dirty Criminals, I.B.M. Black Devil, Jersey Devil … I got down with NATION, to spread the Jack Beat. I am playing at Studio B in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on the 18th of April, and am going to do a seventy-two hour live sound/installation performance piece on the 28th of April in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn at Grace Exhibition Space called “The Voyage to Furr City.”
The Studio B set will be a cosmic, psychedelic dance, trommel-trance. Think of trotting horses and beating hearts. The seventy-two hour set will be much more alienating because we will be traveling to the edge of all of creation, in the center of our minds eye. It will be my homage to Manuel Göttsching’s magnum opus “E2-E4″ which was an incredibly influential piece of music for me. While electronic music was in existence before our generation was born, we are the first generation to grow up with this music for the future. I remember my parents music, but when I was old enough to make my own decisions aurally … well, the first record I brought with my own money was the Muppet Movie Soundtrack, but the third record was On and On by Vince Lawrence and Jesse Saunders, and then Planet Rock, Who’s afraid of the Art of Noise, Robert Görl, the first Ministry record, Plastic Surgery Disasters, Brown Reason to Live…
Everyone remembers where they were when Martin Luther King Jr. got shot, or on 9-11, or when the Challenger exploded … I remember where I was when I first heard Planet Rock and said to myself, this is our music, this future music … or the first time I saw the Dead Kennedy’s and Naked Ragun, or End Result, and thought that we were all gonna die from nuclear fall out because Reagan was a scary dude to a 12-year old, just like Bush is a scary dude to a 33-year old man … or being hyped to meet Stevie Wonder on my 12th birthday. That was the shit that made the growing pains not hurt so bad, you know?
This electronic music, this agro sound clash, bodies flying, it soothed my nerves. It was our music, like rock and roll was our parent’s music. Pop music was all right, but it belonged to the masses. You had to search this shit out. Exclusivity has it’s down sides, but it was great to be part of something that was so exclusive. Something no one knew about. This secret world, that once you penetrated it, became totally the opposite of exclusive and every one was welcome to create or destroy everything inside that little world.
DAN HOUGLAND (Synths, Drum Box, Electronics, Piano)
STEREOGUM: How long have you worked at Other Music?
DAN HOUGLAND: Just over seven years.
STEREOGUM: What’s your official title at the shop?
DH: Got me. I think i am honestly unprecedented.
STEREOGUM: Where’d you work before this?
DH: Another record store called Etherea in the East Village. Also for Irving Plaza briefly, when they were an independent concern.
STEREOGUM: What are your tasks?
DH: Well, for instance, today i am managing inventory entry and tickets by myself, another day I might run the floor essentially (what used to be called rackjobbing?), and then close the store and do the books, etc.
STEREOGUM: Of all the general record-store duties, which do you prefer?
DH: I like how all of them combine to allow to focus on the mechanics of how a retail space functions near Broadway in Manhattan, y’know? Mainly I try to avoid thoughtless discussion in all corners!
STEREOGUM: I imagine things will be a bit different now that Tower’s bankrupt. How’s the landscape shifting over there?
DH: We couldn’t tell at first because there weren’t many records coming out. Since Arcade and Shins and LCD and Modest and Panda, etc. I would say there’s been an uptick. I would put it at around 15-25 percent? The MP3 site is launching soon too, so we’ll see how that goes. I would caution against asking me more about that since I don’t know too much personally about it. I’m too busy running the shop (Mon-Fri) while everyone else works on that…
STEREOGUM: What’s your favorite section?
DH: Lately the 99 cent bin or International.
STEREOGUM: Best finds?
DH: Let’s see, Double: Woman of the World (not the current Double, though they are good), Tom Robinson Band: 2468 Motorway. A new International jam I like right now is Djivan Gasparyan, Heavenly Duduk.
STEREOGUM: You’re a nice guy. Do you try to subvert the ‘snobby record guy’ notion? Or just embrace it? Or are you nice enough that it doesn’t become an issue?
DH: I think calling me a record store asshole is letting me off quite easily, especially when the truth is so much worse (and was so long before I ever worked in a record store).
STEREOGUM: The truth, please.
DH: When I was younger (and freshly dropped out of college) my views were fairly militant. They weren’t rooted in much of an accepted tradition either, be it a cultural style (religion), or strictly religious (punk rock). I saw that film Dreams That Money Can Buy, which is an anthology film put together by Hans Richter, right then. I read Banquet Years, too, among other things, and basically felt that I had been born out of time. I began to do a good job of refusing a lot of what currently surrounded me as the increasingly dissolute result of trends that were obviously afoot long before I was born. I never felt it was my fault that I wasn’t in pre-war Austria.
Then I got jobs in record stores. Sort of fell into it, actually. I have since moved on to this book Forbidden knowledge, also by Shattuck (author of Banquet), and now have begun to think of rather more ancient history, and the antecedent tracking of (I guess) consciousness-development across all of time. I noticed Hitchens goes after Augustine in his new book, which excites me more than Arcade Fire. Maybe not much more, but I’ll take what I can get.
STEREOGUM: So, if they made a High Fidelity-style movie about you, who’d play the part of Dan Hougland?
DH: Gerard Depardieu.
STEREOGUM: Do any customers recognize you from Excepter?
DH: I would have to say lately yes. We had a picture in Wire , and then around 6 months later in Vice. Those two seemed to hip a lot of people who didn’t otherwise know I was in the band (much less always have been), even if they had heard of Excepter say in passing.
STEREOGUM: Has this led to any interesting interactions?
DH: If, say, they’d had positive interactions with me there over some time, i always assume that if and when they investigate our music they are somewhat horrified. I can’t tell if that is just my fantasy though. I mean it’s not popular music. What I have done, and want to do, in the band does not necessarily correspond with my listening or recommending abilities. Which at this point are vast.
STEREOGUM: Do you ever get tired of music?
DH: I don’t have that claw extended like I used to. I tend to let things happen. Like the other day my friend was sad that Roky Erickson tickets were sold out, and i was like “Wait, I can get us into that.” And I did. But I never would have thought of it. I like to follow people’s enthusiasm. Another example is my friend in another acclaimed New York underground meltdown-scene band made me a contemporary Bollywood mix CD and I love listening to that right now. Also, a lot of Nick Lowe for some reason. [Note: Dan wanted me to add that he’s thankful for the Roky hookup]
STEREOGUM: What are customers digging these days? Interesting new trends?
DH: Dubstep is cool. Or its more interesting than speed garage or two-step was … The rest is the usual redistribution of wealth. Indie rock is real feast or famine, don’t ya know.
STEREOGUM: Does this sort of music-store cornucopia effect the way you approach music?
DH: I certainly have some versatility, but I think a lot of people do. I think what you’ll find is that the more vocal people among the closed-minded will somehow feel as though they have solidified the impression that people should toe the incurious/emotional-weakling line. It’s dangerous to underestimate people though. And the quieter ones are not going to keep you so abreast as to their personal experience and development.
The experience with Excepter has in fact had a huge impact on my views as far as all this stuff goes, because I just felt at the beginning that what we were doing was right up with my favorite stuff, but that both what my favorite stuff was, and the fact that much of it was cosmetically disagreeable, would stop it in its tracks. Then we had a situation where our first record (my very first) was a hit with some people. And I remember the raw footage of what led to that record challenging even my own notions of what was acceptable (acceptable in terms of remaining aesthetically winning I would like to qualify).
We haven’t as yet sold enough records, or become explicitly popular enough live, to have become financially profitable (at all), but at the same time we have been afforded a certain profile the whole time, which I never could have imagined. I think this experience with this band (my first and only) has been the only consistent upheaval of my natural bad faith as I could have ever hoped for. When people dis us or hate they gotta realize that that was what I expected right from the start. That’s the obvious result. What’s fucked me up is people liking us a lot.
Excepter – “Entrance” (MP3)
The STREAMS 01 will be released out on Fusetron, shortly.
[From left to right: Jon Nicholson (art mover), John Fell Ryan (archivist), Dan Hougland (Other Music man), Nathan Corbin (gardener).]