Perhaps, the perspective of the decades gives some credit to my words, but it seems that in recent times, we are witnesses to the slow decline of rock—at least as we know it. I’m not only talking about the deaths of some of its personalities. I’m talking about the traditional concept of rock and its fundamental beginnings. Little by little, we observed the appearance of certain testimonies creating a deconstructivistic discourse against the great fallacies of this genre, and the big hypocrisy that has involved and involves a style that by trying to pursue authenticity has ended up adapting an elitist and exclusive discourse. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I encourage you to check out Pablo Linares’ dissertations in this article.
His sharp words are especially aimed at the social behavior of this style. However, as soon as the ideological structure of rock has come down, an important question arises: What are we going to do about the sound? Every single one of you who is reading these lines, or at least most of you, have once believed in the classic fundament of rock and the mythology behind it. Even though it’s quite simple to get rid of the misogyny, the ethnocentrism, and the elitism that this music represents, it’s way more complex when it comes to its sound. It’s impossible to get rid of it, or at least incredibly difficult. In many cases, giving up rock music would mean giving up half of our lives, our emotions, and our memories.
The key lies in rejecting its fundamentalism and having an open and democratic mind when it comes to music styles. In Zygmunt Bauman’s words: “Liquidity is something that invades our daily life.” The theory is easy. However, which reality does a musician face when they have to adopt this vision of reality? How to transcend a particular style’s stereotypes? How to be innovative?
This time, we won’t deliver the answers. In this exclusive interview with Rock I+D James Kelly (Altar of Plagues/WIFE), Matthew Rozeik (Necro Deathmort), and Paul Wolinski (65daysofstatic) share their opinions on these questions, and their perspective about music vanguardism in the hostile panorama that presents today’s record industry.
How would you describe your music? And how do you think the media and your fans would describe it?
Matthew Rozeik: Usually, they don’t ask us to describe our own music, so we’ve never really elaborated any kind of description. I guess fans would compare it to other bands they think are similar to us. The music press almost always uses the same five words. Probably, they get them from our press release.
James Kelly: I think the fans and also the media describe music by comparing it to others they think are similar, or by categorizing it by genres and “scenes”. Even though for most people that might be a quite useful way to describe music, I don’t like to think about my own music in such terms. The music that I create has always some sort of space. I try to make the sounds rather natural than digital. However, I think my work consists in creating instead of focusing on the limits.
Paul Wolinski: I guess I should add a link to a song in a cloud and encourage people to listen to it, don’t you think? I think the media would take the description from our press release, but our fans are too amazing to find themselves trapped in old-fashioned concepts such like genres.
How and when did you decide to make music beyond any category? Was it a conscious choice? Have you ever felt any kind of disdain of your music innovations?
Matthew Rozeik: We didn’t talk about it when we formed our band. We just played what seemed natural and interesting to us. It never crossed our minds to make “innovative” music. After all, AJ and I are pretty normal guys who happen to like heavy music as well as electronica, and we just figured there might be other people out there who would like what we do.
James Kelly: I’m not sure whether it’s possible to make music beyond any category. I think it’s totally impossible at this point. There’s always some reference. What’s most important is that your work is made up of different elements but doesn’t sound like a simple mix of them. Instead, you create something of its own, something completely new. The moment I started to do just that, I realized that I was able to create what I had in my mind.
Sometimes, I feel that I can’t contribute anything to the over-saturated world of music. At the same time, I try to let my ideas flow in a natural way, as if I don’t expect anything I do to change the world. I think it’s the expectations that lead to disdain, whether your own or the ones you perceive from the audience. Expectations should not have any influence on a creative process.
Paul Wolinski: We haven’t really made that decision, and it’s something that has absolutely nothing to do with the way we think about music. We don’t understand music in categories. It’s about creating the music we would like to listen to.
What do you think about the stereotypes of genres such as post-rock or metal? Do you believe that they help music progress and reinvent itself, or on the contrary, that they present an obstacle?
Matthew Rozeik: Essentially, every kind of music that sticks to the conventions of a genre ends up surrendering to stereotypes. Grindcore bands use “blast beats”, distortion, and screaming which are all considered stereotypical for this genre. That doesn’t mean I don’t like grindcore, on the contrary, but it shows that in order to get identified as a particular genre, you need to adopt the same musical language as the bands before you. The Afternoon Gentlemen, for instance, are an amazing grindcore band. They don’t really do anything innovative, but since they are great, they don’t need to change their music.
James Kelly: I think there will always be trends and scenes inside the world of music. Certain sounds or a particular style of lyrics become popular and fall into oblivion. No one should worry too much about the origin of their influences, I guess. It’s more important to know how to use whatever inspires you to create something new. However, inside a style, there are always works that don’t show any effort to try to make sound progress or elevate it to new levels. But these are only obstacles if you allow them to.
Paul Wolinski: It’s a hard question. There’s a reason why stereotypes become stereotypes. They are an effective way to do something in particular. There have been many debates about how to define different forms of art, and I don’t think I’m able to contribute anything useful in this interview. The true obstacle of this question lies in the assumption that “post-rock” and “metal” are concepts you can use to encompass anything.
What do you think is the way to really innovate in music?
Matthew Rozeik: Innovation in music is not everything. Sometimes, I listen to certain bands that make music without doing anything really new. Nevertheless, they are good. I don’t expect them to be innovative only because they are good. It’s quite difficult to create something completely new without taking it too far and breaking away from its original character, especially in genres like techno or death metal. But that doesn’t make it music that’s not worth it. Making use of your strong assets as a musician is the best way to make honest music, I think. The most innovative music is created without following any trends or fashions.
James Kelly: I don’t believe there’s a guaranteed technique or method. And “trying” to innovate sounds somewhat artificial. Honesty is more important. Be honest with yourself and your creativity. Express yourself, not the others.
Paul Wolinski: What if we don’t put innovation in music above music itself? Or in other words: we all want to be Björk, but only Björk is Björk.
Do you think the public, including business and music industry, is an aspect that prevents you from creating something new? Have you ever had to limit your creativity for commercial reasons? And have you ever been labeled something that made you feel uncomfortable, and that didn’t represent you and your music?
Matthew Rozeik: I’ve never had the impression that someone prevented us from doing something new, as it happens with the “industry” we’re not a part of. We only care about our band and how to keep moving on. The music we play is neither popular nor in, and it never will be. There are no drone bands in the charts, and doom metal will never be the soundtrack to some car commercial. That’s life. Most people prefer conventional stuff. Only a small part really enjoys unusual music. If there was more diversity in television and radio, it would be possible to expose young people to interesting music and change their tastes. However, we won’t know for sure until alternative music gets the same channels as commercial music, and that’s never going to happen.
James Kelly: The public and music industry have never prevented me from creating. In the worst case, nobody listens to my music, but as 99 % of all the artists would tell you, I do my job because I love it, and it’s a privilege that other people bother to listen to me. Sometimes, labels can be complicated, but I try to focus on myself. I like to perform with people who think like me. Often, our sound is very different, but that doesn’t separate us.
Paul Wolinski: There are tons of labels floating around such questions. Creativity gets always trapped for commercial reasons. That’s capitalism. We all live under its shadow. Even people who live in self-sustaining communities or offer their music for free on Bandcamp or Torrent. The entire infrastructure is capitalism, and the characteristics of commercial music show that. Everything we do is shaped by this fact, even when we try to go in the opposite direction. It’s impossible to escape from it.
Is it possible to rely on something new in such a capitalistic context where artists are valued by the money they make? Do you think the only way to stay authentic and true to yourself is not to depend on major discographies, even though it means that fewer people get to know you?
Matthew Rozeik: In the 70ies, there were very innovative bands that worked with very famous companies, such as Tangerine Dream. Björk is a pretty successful artist, and it seems that she’s doing whatever she wants. So, it’s possible.
The issue is the fact that most people in marketing and publicity believe that the general public is stupid, so they sell them the same garbage over and over again. There might be young people today who would like progressive rock, doom metal or experimental music if they had been exposed to it by television or radio at a young age. But that isn’t going to happen. We suffocate in this average bullshit like Justin Bieber, and kids only discover good music through their friends, internet or an older brother.
James Kelly: This kind of question requires a way more extensive answer, but I’ll be brief. Record labels, artists and fans are living in an era of redefining their relationship with music and looking for new ways to make music authentic and exciting. But yes, I believe that the bigger the company, the bigger the control they have over an artist’s creativity. However, the major discographies are always looking for indie bands to sign.
Paul Wolinski: Yes, because despite the dement state of late capitalism we’re living in, people still make good music, right? I don’t think that an artist who signs with major discographies instantly loses their authenticity. You have to be more subtle than that.
What do you think about today’s alternative and popular music? Which side would you take in this dichotomy?
Matthew Rozeik: Popular music feeds on alternative music all the time. Most famous groups have influences from psyche, shoegaze, punk, etc. Crust punk and metal, for instance, have gained some popularity thanks to people like Lady Gaga or brands like H&M, even though the music itself wasn’t exposed. I guess we could consider ourselves an “alternative” group, only because most people don’t know us. Many bands that I listen to could be defined as “alternative”, because very few of them are commercially successful. As you might expect, I believe that 99.9 % of commercial music is insipid and unsatisfactory, crap that’s connected to humanity’s worst values.
James Kelly: I consider myself an alternative musician, not by choice, but because of my size and the music world I find myself in. I enjoy every type of popular and alternative music, but I see them as separated types of music. Generally speaking, I believe alternative music is more honest and exciting.
Paul Wolinski: It’s over. If you’re looking for “innovation” you’re more likely going to find Rihanna’s latest work than a punk band playing at some alternative bar. This dichotomy shouldn’t exist, and it only does if you allow it to.
Do you have any idea where today’s music is heading? Are you worried by its direction or do you focus on your own compositions?
Matthew Rozeik: I have no idea in which direction today’s music is heading. I guess it’s balancing between different retro sounds, so it’s possible that music from the 70s will come back. Then, synth pop from the 80s or even rave music from the 90s might come back. These changes are motivated rather by fashion than the attempt to make original music. Young people are dressed as if they were from the 90s. I wouldn’t be surprised if shoegaze and grunge from the 90ies ended up dominating the music world again.
James Kelly: As I said, we’re in an era of discoveries. The future of music is very exciting when we consider the possibilities of changes in infrastructure and design. Today, it’s easier than ever to upload and share a song. Music has become more accessible. I like the idea behind Kanye’s latest record, The Life of Pablo, that only exits in the digital world. You can change the songs and replace them over time. The record ist like a project than never ends. I think it’s a very interesting concept.
Paul Wolinski: Future like we imagine it doesn’t exist. Modernism has come to an end, postmodernism has become a confusing web of hyper-existentialism, and now we’re all swimming in atemporality. Future is no longer ahead of us. It’s above us, at an unreachable height. I don’t think it’s very useful trying to get the last drops of progress out of the moment we’re living in right now. Maybe, bands are already done. If Lorde manages to release a second record as good as the first one, and to survive the machine of pop music, I’d bet everything on her. I don’t have many expectations, but I hope I’m wrong.
But music itself is fine. People and institutions around it are the only things that might collapse.
Translation by 65kid Arabella Lutz.