TEN QUESTIONS WITH: ACCELERA DECK
Chris Jeely's Accelera Deck project has been in operation since 1996, with its primary focus guitar experimentation abetted by computer-generated manipulations. Albums like Ipsissima Vox (2004), Pop Polling (2005), and last year's live trio (all issued on Jeely's Scarcelight label) have been instrumental in establishing him as a fearless provocateur. It shouldn't entirely surprise, then, that A Landslide of Stars, the latest chapter in the Accelera Deck story, finds him retiring the solo approach for a blistering merger between his guitar playing and vocals and Zach Evans' drumming. Jeely took time out to discuss the new project and other Scarcelight goings-on while preparing for an April East Coast and Midwest tour.
1. Let's start with the obvious: what prompted the change from you playing alone as Accelera Deck to the drums-vocals-guitar setup?
Things pretty naturally evolved. I spent most of 2005 recording a solo rock record under the name Skulllike and recording and playing live with my other band The Trust Riots. I released the three-volume Accelera Deck live series to bookend my solo work. The starting point for all the songs on A Landslide of Stars was still the drones which were done in usual 'Accelera Deck' fashion by manipulating my own guitar playing on computer.
I have to continually challenge myself and I am always restless artistically and have never been beholden to anything other than expressing what is inside. To me being an artist carries a responsibility to give back, to create a gift for the world, to say “Hey, here is what I'm leaving behind, this is my contribution to life.” There is definitely a drive to create that seems to come from within, sometimes it seems to come from without, regardless it is there and I think the songs will keep writing us as long as we are open to it. So while it seems like a big change to be a band and doing something that is more rock-based, to me it's just the next thing to do.
2. Did you have any other bands in mind as models to either pattern yourself after or deviate from (obvious two-person antecedents would include Earth and The White Stripes though some moments in “Wolf-Christ” recall the heaviness of Red-era King Crimson)? Or did the style simply emerge once you and Zach started playing? And how did you hook up, by the way?
Zach will really appreciate the King Crimson reference ‘cause he loves them! I've never heard White Stripes, so ….. The fact that we are duo isn't something we think about because the sound is plenty full. I think people will be surprised to know we are a duo if they hear the record without knowing it. Since there are duo bands it won't be odd for people to see a two-person band, but we actually have a third 'member' which is the laptop running the blast-drones. We have an amp set up for it and everything, so when you see us live it looks (before we play) like a trio setup.
Zach and I met sometime in 1993 when I visited my friend Tony Nicks to watch his band practice. Zach was the drummer, and was way too good to be playing the shitty stuff they were doing. So about a week later I stole Zach and he and I formed a bedroom band that eventually did alright in the local music scene (we organized our own shows, and did home recordings on a 4-track).
One thing Zach and I have in common is that we love creating a wall of sound, we did it in that first band and we do it now. I played in bands and did noisy rock music long before I ever picked up a sampler or computer so this new record is like a really, really big circle being completed for me. It's only fitting that Zach plays drums. Zach has played and toured with several groups, but this is one of the first things he's been involved with where he isn't just the 'drummer.' It's not uncommon for him to tell me what chords to play or to suggest variations on ideas.
3. There's a strong incendiary and ecstatic dimension to the new sound, both sonically (the final ten minutes of “Wolf-Christ”) and lyrically (“Fire Sermon”). How purposeful is this dimension of your 'new' sound?
Yes, that is an accurate description. I think the incendiary and ecstatic dimension you mention aims itself at us though. We become empty channels to be filled. “Fire Sermon” is unapologetically adapted from the Buddha's own 'Fire Sermon' and I felt like it was something that would work beautifully if set to music. The first verses of the lyrics talk about waking up to live 'consciously,' as a lot of people sleepwalk through life. I know I did for a long time (I scrawled 'wide awake' on a t-shirt once to remind me when I was going through some personal struggles). I'm always a little hesitant to describe lyrics because I would rather people draw their own conclusions, but “Fire Sermon” bears mentioning because of its origins. Musically we aim at that wall of sound described earlier. In another interview I talked a lot about contradictions, trying to capture something paradoxical. A lot of that basic idea runs through most of the record both musically and lyrically.
4. Interestingly, you've stated that the first Accelera Deck album Narcotic Beats (1997) “was pretty much described in the press as shoegazer guitars with drum and bass,” a description one could also generally apply to A Landslide of Stars whose wall of sound is so huge it almost resembles My Bloody Valentine. Did that style consciously enter into it at all?
Well, Zach and I both love My Bloody Valentine; I recall my jaw dropping when I first saw the “Only Shallow” video on MTV's 120 Minutes. And then, when I bought Loveless on tape, I thought it was dragging or defective or something. I'd never heard anything like it before and I was floored, disturbed, and excited all at the same time. That was fifteen years ago, so I'm pretty sure that My Bloody Valentine's influence is pretty unconscious now but it's a definite influence.
5. There's a raw, free-wheeling style to the album. Even though you stated that the songs began from drones, did you otherwise record it live as first takes as a way of capturing that immediacy, or does it only sound that spontaneous?
We recorded the guitar and drums live to a 24-track; we rehearsed for five days a week for about a month leading up to the recording, so we were really tight. All the music was first or second take, and the vocals were done in much the same way. We wanted a record that accurately reflected what we sound like live and captured the rawness that comes from playing in a room together and feeding off each other's energy.
6. You mentioned that you gravitate towards contradiction in your writing (not only lyrically but musically too, evidenced in comments like the following: “I like music that has contradictions. Like some really beautiful melodies that are 'distorted' or have been manipulated in some way. Or to have some wall of noise where melodies are peeking out, or it seems like there is some pattern in the chaos.”) and the notions of oxymoron and embracing opposites does appear to be a central principle in your work (e.g., in “Embrace” you sing “To live we must die, bury hope with open eyes and become an unnamed name”). What about it makes this principle so important to you?
The principle is observable in so many ways and is incredibly simple. For instance, in “Embrace” the lyrics state “to grow we must be small,” the idea that in order to learn something you have to not know it in the first place. Of course, none of these are original ideas; they are influenced by many things, and come from a bunch of different places, none of which are important; the important thing is that it (the principle) can be seen.
There are much more radical renderings of this principle such as 'teach to learn,' 'give to receive,' or 'surrender to win.' 'Give to receive' is in opposition to what the 'world' says. If you want something, you take it. I'm saying, “Okay, that's one way, but there is another way, and it is there to be experienced. Look for yourself; try it and see which is more useful. That which is true will work.” In the same way that there are principles that make things possible in the world of the material, there are principles that make things possible in the world of the spirit. These two 'worlds' cause a friction, the meeting of opposites where something new can be created. That new 'something' is possibility or potential, like woman and man creating a child.
Somehow this idea of contradiction, whether it is through how music sounds, how an idea is put into action, or the words I choose to sing, is a reflection of what is inside of me, and I believe most other people as well. I don't know of anyone else singing about it; I think it's a big part of being human and I think it's worth singing about.
7. Despite your wish for listeners to interpret the lyrics their own way, could you elaborate a little bit on what you're getting at in “Wolf-Christ”? While there are potential political meanings (even if interpreting it that way seems too literal), the song has more impact when it's broached as a set of general principles for a mode of living. What's your own impression?
Firstly, the 'Wolf-Christ' is a metaphor for that paradoxical principle described in your previous question, plus it's a play on the idea of a 'wolf in sheep's clothing.' And again what often appears to be true such as ‘if you want something then take it' is in fact not all there is. So things aren't what they seem. It isn't meant to be religious or non-religious, but a jarring word play that makes you tilt your head and pay attention. A lot of the song is about non-violence, about moving from 'us' versus 'them' to 'we.' It is the idea of a human race that is worthy of respect regardless of color or creed.
It's also about embracing reality, not shying away, or trying to escape. Too much music functions as an escape. That's fine, but I want to create something that embraces life, and something that encourages. It's easy to sit back and say 'this' or 'that' is shit, or to react to something. But I want to move beyond that to create something proactive. With the exception of about four or five lines all the lyrics use words like 'us,' 'we,' 'our,' 'ourselves.' It isn't the typical 'I feel this or that way' or 'I think this or that,' it is action-oriented, 'like let this happen' or 'let us do this.' So I feel it's much more personal and direct in a dialog sort of way. Honestly, it's been really good for me to answer this question because I've never spoken up and I realize as I answer this how important it is for me to continue plugging away in a way that encourages, rather than tears down.
8. Well, we're honoured you've responded to the question so thoughtfully and with such clarity. As you say, the principle of contradiction itself is simple but that's more the case on the level of intellectual appreciation. Moving beyond the formal level to one where you're actually integrating it as a method of practice in your life is something else altogether. Embracing the concept means setting aside a rationalist bias towards singular identity and accepting a more destabilizing belief in limitless modes of interpretation.
Simple to say, but not easy to do! Destabilization is the thing I guess most find 'difficult.' There is the assumption that everything must be built on logic, reason, rationalism, or some sort of foundationalism. However, in everyday life, the things that motivate us like love, friendship, and creativity are often the least 'rational.' It explains why two people will get married despite their families' objections, or why a friendship may unfold with someone, but if you were to be given the chance to 'pick' them as a friend you probably wouldn't have done so. That's a little off the point, but I think it indicates how destabilized things are actually, and yet in order to feel comfortable we formalize, label, and generally strip things of their mystery.
9. Was the recent three-volume live Accelera Deck collection an attempt to bring that solo period to a culminating close?
Yes, it was. Maybe I will pick up solo work again at some point but it was definitely time to draw a clear line and move on to the next thing. Other than playing a handful of solo gigs in 2005, I haven't worked on any solo material since November 2004 (which is around the time I completed Pop Polling) and even Pop Polling has a definite 'song' structure in several cases.
10. We shouldn't forget Scarcelight in our interview. What releases are on the horizon? Is the music you're putting out now and in the months ahead a continuation of the label's established style or do you see a change or evolution in the style from before?
On the horizon are releases from Howard Stelzer, Birchville Cat Motel in collaboration with Cheapmachines, Beequeen, plus two different CDR releases that are 3-way splits (Sc.all / Yard / Aidan Baker) and (Mimeth / Harmstryker / Burzee) and finally a mammoth DVDR that will collect every CDR and mp3 released on the label, plus exclusive live material from several artists on the label; I don't want to totally give away everything about it, but it will definitely be special. Some of the stuff above fits right in with what has gone on before, but slowly things are shifting. I think it might be time for Scarcelight to contradict itself!