02|24|09   Salient Interview with I.Ryoko and myself

The Enright House and i.ryoko, Brown Note, Friday 22 August (Date two in a six-date tour of the lower North Island).

I arrived late to this gig to find a room full of familiar faces curled up on the floor of Thomas (aka i.ryoko)’s darkened bedroom in ‘Brown Note’ – otherwise known as the flat above Blue Note bar on Cuba Street. Squishing my way in to a spot atop a cushion, I was quickly lulled by i.ryoko’s gentle, washing soundscapes.

Most of the audience had their heads down, gazing at their shoes, engrossed in private contemplation. The restful environment was perfectly geared to absorbing the somewhat wandering but meditative music. i.ryoko’s set was spacious and slow moving, giving the listeners time to savour each sound carefully. Thomas used a guitar in conjunction with an array of effects pedals and a violin bow to conjure up a wall of sound as complex as an orchestra.

By the time The Enright House played the audience was getting a bit restless, and I wonder if an entire evening of ambient music was a bit much for us to absorb. Even so, his set was also excellent, making use of recordings of dialogue and his own voice to create a somewhat more disturbing atmosphere. Pieces of percussion, vocal wails and white noise floated around divorced from their sources, as if the music was creating itself out of thin air.

The vibe at this show was so special I decided to ask the two a bit more about their music, in the wake of their tour of the North Island.

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Stephanie: How would you describe the kind of music you make? Like if you were talking to a tourist from another galaxy who had no concept of the last 30 years of rock history…

EH: A series of melodies, harmonies, repetitive rhythms, the sounds of everyday life, and my quivering voice, arranged in a manner to help people achieve a certain emotional catharsis, as well as nourish our innate curiosity for art and life.

IR: Hmmm… floaty.

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Stephanie: Is ‘post-rock’ a suitable way of categorising your music? Any thoughts on postrock as a genre?

IR: Obviously words will always fall short of describing music and ‘post-rock’ is no exception. I wouldn’t like to categorise my music as anything and I don’t think anyone thinking for themselves really does. But yes, while being entirely meaningless, I guess it is a handy term to connect a bunch of unrelated artists who have a uniting aesthetic thread, however loose it may be. Thinking about ‘genres’ confuses me a lot, it seems so futile – artistic influences I consider much more relevant and indicative of style.

EH: It was never a glove that fit very comfortably, no. Post-rock was certainly an influence on me, but not nearly as much as electronic and classical music, minimalism, art and philosophy. The next album, for example, will have hardly any guitars on it at all. If I absolutely had to fly a genre flag above my music, I would call it “derelict pop”.

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Stephanie: Your show at Brown Note struck me as quite different from most gigs that are happening at the moment, mainly because the vibe was so low-key, almost contemplative. Are you deliberately trying to create an out-of-the-ordinary live experience?

EH: Well, personally, I’m tired of people going to concerts for the sole purpose of trying to find a potential mate partner, show off their latest clothes, and get drunk. Don’t get me wrong, our audiences have almost always been wonderful and attentive, but popular music shows in general are too much show, and too little concert – if that makes any sense.

With this tour, I wanted to have a stark set of lights set against total darkness. I wanted people to walk in the door and immediately tune into the seriousness and sombre atmosphere of the impending show. I didn’t want colour, I didn’t want anyone expecting “entertainment”. I wanted everyone in the room to be part of a rare and sensual experience, to be able to stand on even ground, for us not to be separated from those who came out to hear us play.

IR: I love that people find our shows contemplative. I’ve heard a couple of times this tour, audience members saying the music makes them think – and I can’t think of a better purpose for my music to serve. I do enjoy creating a unique, immersive and comfortable environment for people to be in. We don’t often get the chance to retract into ourselves, and I’m flattered that people appreciate the opportunity to do so at our shows.

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Stephanie: i.ryoko, you’re one of the few people I know that are involved in both the local gig scene and also the more formal, academic music school – what’s the relationship between these two worlds? Do they contribute to each other in your own work?

IR: I find it very interesting, especially because both of these ‘worlds’ you mention can again be divided into separate factions as well, all of which seem to scarcely interact with each other. It’s a shame because there’s so much good music that a lot of people are rarely exposed to, including myself, though I try to catch as much from different areas as I can.

Personally, I hate to think of styles as mutually exclusive, but somehow there is a strange conflict there. Having such a wide musical preference is definitely something I struggle with when it comes down to making music of my own, but the search for a satisfying symbiosis of everything I love about music is very exciting and is something that will keep me writing music for a long time.

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Stephanie: Both of you are solo artists – why have you chosen this particular creative avenue over being in bands?

EH: I’m starting to find an inner strength as a performer that I didn’t yet have two years ago, when I created a live band based around my music. I always saw myself as an artist in the tradition of a composer, rather than a song writer/band member. And now that my music is becoming ever more personal, mournful, and non-negotiable, I just feel like – for better or worse – I have to stand on my own two feet.

IR: The good thing about having a solo project is you only have to depend on yourself, though I don’t know if I necessarily chose to be a solo artist myself: I am one person and I make music, so it just makes sense. I do make music with others as well, which definitely has its merits, and collaborating in the future under the name ‘i.ryoko’ is not out of the question either.

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Stephanie: In NZ, as we all know, being a musician isn’t a really profitable career. Without the motivation of fame and fortune, what keeps you going?

EH: What keeps me going is that nothing but death or unspeakable diseases could ever stop me. I will not let anything in this life get between me and the fundamental need to express myself. Everything else – money, fame, audiences, adulation, friends, family, security, respect, happiness – all of that is secondary to my desire to create music of true and enduring value.

IR: Music is the only thing I really want to do. Things have had a habit of working out so I’m sure I’ll be able to continue my incredibly enjoyable life as a musician without fame and financial fortune.

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Stephanie: Where are you hoping to take your respective projects? Do you see yourselves on the C4 Top 40 any day soon?

IR: I have no aspirations of being ‘popular’ at all. Not in the Top 40 sense at least – that goes without saying. I created a recording label, Sonorous Circle, with my friend Matt in an effort so we can basically continue to release whatever we want to, whenever we want to. As long as I can do that I’ll be happy. I can’t see myself ever giving it up, but I guess we’ll see what happens. I hope to keep pushing myself, keep playing more shows in more locations, etc, etc.

EH: I’m moving overseas in January, and will tour the world for as long as I can afford to. I will continue to seek out people around the world who are passionate about intellectual music, emotional experiences, and personal authenticity, and will try to connect with them as best I can. I will not give up, I will not stop releasing records, and I will try never to become complacent about my music, but rather work as hard as I can at continuously challenging myself and improving upon my past efforts.

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Stephanie: What are your top local bands/artists? Is there anyone out there who isn’t getting the attention they deserve?

IR: There are so many good NZ bands/ artists: Rifles, In The Interest of the Convoy, Ulcerate, Dial, This City Sunrise, Ornithologist, Akaname, A Flight to Blackout, Strangers, Neon Bastard, Sora Shima, 1/3 Octave Band, Birchville Cat Motel, Black Boned Angel, Paper Ghost, Grayson Gilmour, Death in Gaza, Carthaginian Solution, VILLAGE OF THE IDIOTS (!!!), Alphabethead, Sharpie Crows, Big Flip, everyone who played at ‘Om the Space’ festival… Lots more. Always deserving of more attention.

EH: Anyone who puts their heart and soul into their music and has the courage to release and perform it is, in my opinion, deserving of a certain amount of respect. As far as who’s getting attention and who isn’t, what does any of it matter in the long run? Those who are serious and passionate about their art will continue unabated on their journey, be it with or without the support of the masses, industries, or specific scenes. If you have heart, conviction, and never give up pursuing what you love, then, I believe, you have a chance at building a life worth living. Of what value is attention then, when compared to the love of existence?

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Review and interview by Stephanie Cairns. Originally published by Salient Magazine on the 1st of September, 2008.