Friday, 9 September 2011
Interview - Amanda Brown (Not Not Fun Records/LA Vampires)
LA Vampires is the name of the solo venture by Amanda Brown, formerly one half of Pocahaunted along with Bethany Cosentino, who left to concentrate on her own project, Best Coast. With LAV Brown has moved beyond the dark drones and goth-tinged psych-rock of her former base duo towards a more "pop" sound - yet you can take the girl out of Pocahaunted... Brown is also responsible for stellar label Not Not Fun, that she runs with husband Britt Brown (AKA Robedoor). She is currently in Australia, and I spoke with her recently about...well, everything.
SONIC MASALA - Before talking about your current band, I wanted to talk about Not Not Fun. How have you ensured that the label has been able to grow into such a venerable label without losing any of the initial aesthetics that set it apart from its contemporaries when you started it?
AMANDA BROWN (LA VAMPIRES) - That's just the constant struggle. Honestly, Britt and I never claimed the label had a genre-bend, or that it would stay the same, cater to the same audience over the years. We've only ever promised it would remain true to our personal aesthetics, and that means the label goes through the same changes that we do as humans. Finding yrself out of love with long-form drone isn't such a bad thing, if the next musical love goes as deep and feels as intense. It's been quite a turn off for some people, but for us there's no other way to do it. And obviously for the fans who respect that we cut a line straight through trendiness, that we don't get whipped around by what's in favor, that we just release the music we connect with - they're elated that we move and grow and try and strive.
SM - There have been some amazing artists on the label , many of which have emblazoned our blog – Daughters Of The Sun, Ensemble Economique, The Deeep, Robedoor, Zola Jesus – this barely scratches the surface! What do you think attracts them to you?
BROWN - I'd like to think it's our straight-forwardness and our sweat. If you send us a master and we love it, the process begins immediately. We don't sit on great records and wait for the "perfect" time to release them. I think bands love that, they love to move fast and to have their music available to hear and buy. We're also huge fans of the musicians on ourlabel: exploring with them, believing in them, supporting them (often times monetarily, sometimes just by setting up shows or hook-ups with other bands/tours/venues). Britt and I want their records to sell better than our own. I don't think you can find that kind of intensity and dedication in many vanity/underground labels. I wanted Maria (Minerva) on this Aus tour with me, so that I could see HER play!
SM - How do you find running the label?
BROWN - (laughing) It's not easy, man!
SM - Is the cassette form actually a good musical medium, or just a fad?
BROWN - The internet's a fad. Digital music is a fad. The cassette is warm and homey and compact and tangible and aesthetically quite pleasing to touch and listen to. I feel sorry for CDs sometimes, they never stood a chance.
SM - Id be remiss of not mentioning Pocahaunted, the ace band you originally started with Bethany Cosentino (Best Coast) and had Cameron Stallones of Sun Araw and of course your husband (Robedoor) involved. Firstly, these are all disparate directions – how do you think these musical outlets have been influenced by the Pocahaunted days? And is Pocahaunted reached its definitive end point?
BROWN - Pocahaunted is absolutely over. I mean, you said it yrself, everyone wanted to make different music, everyone was evolving into different directions - with side projects, solo projects, or even just hazy dreams of a distinctly different musical future. Bethany wanted to do her spin on 60s pop, Cameron wah-wah psych, Britt Skinny Puppy dark-keyboard stuff.I wanted to do this. I'd like to think we all took something bizarre and cool and transcendent from Pocahaunted, but maybe not. Sadly, with ever-morphing bands, changing their sound and their roster, most members fantasize about a liberating moment when they can "do their own thing." Wait, I don't know if that's sad, that's just the way it is. I definitely wanted more from my music journey by the end.
SM - What about the industry in general – are there labels you feel a kinship towards? Labels that aren’t doing the right thing by its roster?
BROWN - The industry is nuts. I'm lucky I almost never have to think about what the rest of the musical landscape looks like - I don't have to judge it or feel oppressed by it. As a teenager I dutifully loved K, Kill Rock Stars, Matador, and Thrill Jockey. What ghetto-ized their vibe was the time they really shined in. When it's not the 90s anymore, it's hard to stop being so... 90s. Not every label can be hit after hit, just like we can't ...but I do like random output from DFA, Future Times, R & S, Hyperdub, Kosmisk Vag, Brunch Groupe, Stones Throw. Night People is run by Shawn Reed, and I love his art/aesthetic. When Jeremy Earl did Fuckit Tapes, I thought the awesomeness would never stop.
SM - Labels like Shawn Reed’s Nothing People and also Sacred Bones are infiltrating Australia, as is your own label, but there has been a concerning trend of independent record stores closing down over here. What’s the alternative, especially for a far-flung nation like Australia?
BROWN - You have to fight to keep your record stores open! There is no alternative!You guys are SOOO far away from America, and who cares - I mean, it's not like America is the center of the world - but if your interested in hearing what's going on in this country, you have to make sure to promote and support little stores trying to stock our stuff. Don't go immediately to the internet and download. I suppose it also doesn't hurt to throw a lot of money and a few plane tickets at artists to get them to your beautiful country...
SM - We'll try, haha! OK, LA Vampires – I hate to say it (well actually I don't haha!), but…”witch house” or something else?
BROWN - Witch House is a punchline. It's pretty funny, but besides Salem, I don't think there's an artist or a group who would ever claim it. I'm not that witchy. I'm certainly not goth.. You do one record with Zola Jesus... (laughs)
SM - How have your experiences both personally and musically influenced LA Vampires?
BROWN - That's so broad! I mean we're one in the same! LA VAMPIRES is me, it's all my musical and personal experience in a performance/sonic art. Definitely after years of running a label, playing in bands, touring, being elevated by other musicians/label owners/venue owners/bookers/etc, I've become this new thing entirely. Now I follow my own inspiration. If I want to do dub, I do it. If I want to do Skrewed, or Baggy, or Hyphy or anything, I just do it. It's about not having the fear, not having to answer to other bandmates, not worrying about yr old fans or new fans or future fans. Just trying to be soulful, honest, and constantly inspired. When I start to feel bitter or crushed by shows or tours or releases or anything else, I remember to be human. I eat a good meal, I watch a brilliant movie, I sleep, or read Martin Amis, and then I come back refreshed and ready for VAMPIRES.
SM - What can be said about the recording process opposed to the LA Vampires live show experience? Ive found that acts like yours that I saw in London last year were various shades of shit (not slagging you at all, I think I just had a rough run haha!)
BROWN - I have no doubt that you've seen some shit shows. In fact, right before I said yes to this tour I was chewing my nails bloody trying to imagine what the set would look and sound like. My friend Aurora from Innergaze was like, "Yr not gonna just do karaoke-style are you? That sucks!" And she's right. Aren't we all getting sick of just seeing laptops? Or just watching someone press play on an iPod? What a dark time for live music if that's all we have to look forward to! So for this live set, I've put together great beats/tracks and have Nick playing live keys, Britt doing live mixing, and myself on vocals. I dance, I emote, and hopefully the audience will too.
SM - Frankly! is a festival that is very boutique in nature, and is indicative of the change in music-going trends here. Yet these types of shows are commonplace in the US and Europe. What do you think a festival like Frankly! brings to a place like Australia?
BROWN - I wish I knew more about Australian culture so I could answer that properly. To be honest, you all seem very cool to me - like you have your eyes and ears to the serious cultural ground. I love Australian fashion, and I love Australian actors (Cate Blanchett is a goddess!) and so I assume your art and music scene must also be thriving. From just knowing Blank Realm, Angel Eyes, Canyons, and Rites Wild I can tell something incredibly vivid is already happening right on your Aussie doorstep. But festivals are wonderful ways to get the world together on one vibe, and it's bringing me to you, so I'm endlessly thankful for that.
SM - What bands are you into at the moment? Any that particularly should be followed fanatically by Sonic Masala/NNF acolytes?
BROWN - I love so much of what's on 100% SILK (of course):SFV ACIDOCTO, OCTAMAGIC, TOUCH, INNERGAZE, PHARAOHS, STRATEGY and Miracles Club, Maria Minerva, Rangers, Zola Jesus, Sapphire Slows, Mi Ami...I saw you're a big fan, Daniel's great...and then there's the old stuff I always listen to: Sylvester, Bjork, Deee-Lite, Digital Underground.
SM - Have you ever been to Australia before/are there any parts of the country you're excited to be visiting?
BROWN - I've never been! I'm crazy excited, I can't wait! I hear amazing things about Melbourne and Sydney, but Nick keeps telling me about the coral reef in Cairns. He wants us to go on a glass bottom boat and check out the sea-life. Not really my bag, but how can I resist?
SM - Finally – what is sonic masala?
BROWN - It's putting silk in your ears.
LA Vampires plays the Frankly! It's A Pop Festival at Brisbane's Powerhouse tomorrow, alongside Wet Hair, The Twerps, Blank Realm, Angel Eyes and loads more. Get tix here.