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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Telefon Tel Aviv Q&A

Posted By on Sat, Sep 19, 2009 at 7:15 PM

Telefon Tel Aviv's defection to Chicago in 2001 was a sad emblem of New Orleans' inability to support progressive bands in its own backyard. Tonight, amid a much-improved climate here for forward-looking music, the electronica band returns to the Crescent City for the first time in five years (10 p.m. at One Eyed Jacks) under its own sad circumstances. On the first day of TTA's first extended U.S. circuit since 2002, Gambit rang bandleader Joshua Eustis for a feature in this week's issue to discuss co-founder Charles Cooper's untimely and still unexplained January death, the weight of this honorary tour, and what the future holds for one of the city's finest musical exports. (Full transcript after the jump.)

You’ve released a series of messages since January in which you seemed very angry about the speculative media coverage of Charlie’s death.

It’s been a weird year. It pissed me off, because we just weren’t going to say anything about it. That’s kind of the way his mother wanted it to go. I’ve learned that if you don’t say exactly what happened — and I told her this was probably going to happen — that people were going to say weird stuff that’s going to be upsetting to her, if we don’t nip it in the bud. But we didn’t nip it in the bud. Later, I had to come out and be shitty about it. While I regret it, I see it as ultimately necessary to clarify certain things.

Did the false info stop?

I don’t know. Yeah, some of it did. A lot of the journalists I was railing against were my friends. In a way, they were quick to correct what they saw me seeing as a grievance. And I appreciate that very much.

How have you gone about bringing Telefon Tel Aviv back?

It’s basically just a continuation of where Charlie and I left off, as far as the live show is concerned. The live show’s different now because Fredo does things differently than Charlie does, and now I’m doing things differently than I was before. But honestly, I think now, it’s a really great show. We’ve always had a really shitty show, and it is essentially still really stupid and pointless. But I feel like Charlie would probably be pretty psyched about where it’s at right now. So I’m just trying to keep things going in a point where I’m comfortable with it, and keep it in mind with what I believe Charlie’s wishes would be.

Along with the more lurid stuff that’s been written, there’s been much speculation about TTA’s demise.

I don’t know if I’m going to do new things with it. We’ll see. I don’t know what the future holds. If I knew what the future holds, I wouldn’t be doing this; I’d be betting on horses, you know? I’m doing this tour, and I’m not thinking about the future. I’ll figure that out when I get back from tour. I’m tired of touring. I’m tired of being away from my girlfriend. My dad passed away in May, and I haven’t really been able to spend any time with my mother for an extended period of time, or my brother or two sisters. We all see each other so piecemeal because we’re all just busy. And it really sucks. People have to realize, music is the side project. It’s not, “Oh, what is your Telefon Tel Aviv side project?” No, Telefon Tel Aviv is the side project. My life is the main project, my family and my friends. That all really comes first, and it hasn’t always come first. And that’s unfortunate. I have a lot of regret about that. I would love to try to fix that from here forward. Take care of the people that take care of you.

Did you feel like you owed it to Charlie to do this tour?

You bet your ass I did. Absolutely. That’s the only reason I’m really doing it, because I feel like I owe it to him to see his final work through to the end.

What can you tell me about the stage show? I saw pictures of you performing in Italy with Fredo Nogueira.

Fredo is not as much an electronic musician as he is a performing musician, a player. He plays guitar, he plays keyboards and sings. Charlie had kind of come into his own as a singer, before his very short singing career was brought to a tragic end. So he was doing that, for sure, but now the main duties, the lead parts, have kind of fallen on me, mostly because I’ve just put myself there. I don’t know how Fredo would feel singing Charlie’s stuff. It might be a little weird. So Fredo sings backups, and he’s playing a lot. While I’m playing keyboards and stuff, it frees me up to play a little less and sing a little more.

Is performing more of a release or a burden at this point?

I don’t know what I think about performing. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I really just hate it. Even as far as electronic artists, we’re weird; we don’t really fit it in. It doesn’t fit with what is the norm in electronic music right now. It’s not fashionable.

I just read the Remix article that went to press right after Charlie’s death. It’s one of the more revealing music features I’ve ever seen.

Yeah, I was really happy with the way that came out. Because it’s gory details, what went down behind closed doors. I like it.

In the article, you talk about how a lot of music has lost texture and become too glossy, and how your own music had become too obsessive. Is (January release) Immolate Yourself (BPitch Control) a direct response to that?

Yeah, we feel like the whole micro-detail thing, we took it as far as we were capable of taking it. Now, other people have taken it further, of course. There’s always Autechre, who’s ahead of everybody as far as that stuff is concerned. We took it as far as we were interested in taking it and made it as good as we could make it, and then lost interest in it. It was like a mandala. We spent all this time going over all these details, years of doing these tiny little things that very few people notice. And in the end, it’s like a sand painting: It’s just brushed away as soon as it’s finished. The whole thing about texture is, it’s kind of like heat and cold. Cold is the absence of heat. Well, glossy ProTools bullshit is the absence of cool recording. It’s a very primitive idea. Digital recording is the absence of character. But I love digital. I could never do a record without using digital recording for a lot of things that I really rely on to make music. So it was a way of finally hybridizing digital recording and analog recording, and techniques and misusing both of those methodologies to the best of our abilities, with the kind of wide-eyed experimentation that we wanted to get back to when we were working on the first record. Which we felt like we’d lost over the years.

How much did the two new pieces of analog equipment — Marc Hellner’s tape recorder and Tortoise's mixer — influence the sound?

Marc had never actually used that tape machine. He had it, and it was in a closet at his friend’s house for years. He felt really bad that it was this great tape machine collecting dust, so he gave it to me for mixing his record. I basically cleaned it and calibrated it. I bought the console a few years ago, and that was a point of no return. Once I got that console, I’ve used it on everything I’ve worked on. It’s the hub of my studio, the mixer I got from John McEntire. Those two things are totally crucial for why that record sounds the way it does — every song recorded through that mixer to tape. Weird for an electronic band, I’m sure. But it felt right.

You also do a lot of audio engineering, right?

It’s my day job, yeah. I’m probably going to be doing a lot more of that in the year or two to come. I really like the science behind how music is recorded and preserved. I kind of think of myself as an archivist, in that kind of sense, where it’s like, you’re making this music permanent. You’re etching it into something; you’re making it permanent data.

What are your current projects? Upcoming?

I'm working on a record right now with this group, the Depreciation Guild, from Brooklyn. We’re halfway through mixing. They’re in another band called the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and they’re touring together. They’re doing double duty. It’s really poppy, really catchy stuff, but it’s cool. It’s all recorded, and four songs are mixed. We have seven more songs to mix when I get back from tour. I recorded it with them, we produced it together, and I’ll mix it with Kurt when [we] get back from tour. Fredo and I are going to work on the next Apparat record. That’s going to be in January/February. We’re going to Mexico to do that, because we’re all sick of the winters — we’re sick of Chicago winters, and Sacha is sick of the Berlin winters. So we’re going to all meet in Mexico. And then Mode Selector next summer, hopefully.

How often have you been back to New Orleans?

I come back all the time, every couple of months. We haven’t played in New Orleans in five or six years. Must have been March ’04. Man, it’s impossible for us to get booked in New Orleans. Sorry. It’s hard to get shows down there. We haven’t really done a proper U.S. tour in a long time; it’s been one-off shows, stuff like that. We’ve concentrated extensively in Europe over the last five years. Which we’ve done a shitload in Europe, all over the place. Germany’s good, but Italy is great for us. It’s really great over there. Italy and these places, we go there a lot.

How was that tour?

We had 20 shows in June. It was a full European tour: Spain, Italy, Russia, Germany. Geneva, that was cool. We played in Luxembourg, that was fun. Prague. This is the first U.S. tour in five years. And the last U.S. tour was like four shows. It wasn’t a tour. As far as actual touring the U.S. as Telefon Tel Aviv, it hasn’t happened since 2002. Seven years.

People probably aren’t aware of how unique this show is.

Who cares. They probably aren’t, and good. Less stress for me.

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