in In English, Intervju

Intervju: James Donadio (Prostitutes)

I thought we should begin by talking about A Day in the Desert II.
– I played on a little plateau, a natural amphitheatre made out of stone. It was like a pagan ritual. There were lasers … It was almost too intense. There were a billion green lights everywhere. It was so dark; it was a little bit cloudy that night so there wasn’t much moon. Basically it was pitch black with a bunch of green dots flying around. I couldn’t see the audience, I couldn’t tell if they were sitting or standing … I couldn’t even tell if they were there!
Ideally, what kind of audience reaction are you hoping for?
– [laughs] Anything more than bottles being thrown … The audience at A Day in the Desert wasn’t really my audience; there was a much more free love mellow vibe which is not really where I’m from or who I play to usually. I’m used to playing on the floor of dingy dark basements with people right in my face, and to be on this big stone stage in this giant vast desert with some faces out in the darkness – it was more like an out of body experience than a show.
Did you enjoy the experience?
– Oh, it was excellent. A friend of mine lives in Los Angeles, we went together. He drove me out there. We both had an incredible time. I live in Cleveland you know, just all that open space…
When ‘Sup Magazine approached you and asked you if you’d like to play at A Day in the Desert, what were your first thoughts?
– My first thought was “why the hell are you asking me?” My second thought was “absolutely, yes.” I didn’t even think twice about it. It was a great opportunity to do something that I usually don’t do.
Did you get to meet Garth Bowles, the proprietor of Boulder Gardens?
– Actually no, I didn’t. I talked to another man who lived on the land there, but I never got to meet Garth.
Did you have the time to check out any of the other activities?
– I saw a little of the sound bath, but basically that was it. I saw Spacin’ and Mark McGuire.
Do you tend to gravitate more towards gigs that are like happenings?
– I really don’t play very many strictly techno based shows, they’re usually more experimental or even hardcore punk shows. There’s a punk bar down the street from me which I’m playing in a month. That’s the kind of place I usually play, I don’t have much of a following here in Cleveland.
Would you happily play a techno event?
– Oh, yeah. The opportunity just hasn’t come around. I think I’m seen more as a fringe artist than a techno artist.
When you do play in Cleveland, are the audiences receptive to your stuff?
– Yeah, but it’s usually my friends who show up when I play. It’s not much of a scene for what I do around here.
So you wouldn’t say there’s a healthy music scene in Cleveland at the moment?
– It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve lived here for twenty some years – I know what Cleveland’s like. There’s a good scene here, it’s small but strong. But I really don’t expect anything from Cleveland.
But do Cleveland as a city influence your music?
– Yeah, totally. I’m influenced by the way it is in the city – it’s kind of hard to explain. But the city itself totally influences me.
Do you have any concrete examples on how the city of Cleveland has crept into your music?
– I’ll try not to get too philosophical … There’s a rich history from the seventies onwards of underground music here – basically Cleveland is people who just have to make things happen themselves. No one else is doing it for them. And the summers here are extremely hot and the winters are extremely cold and that builds up this layer. People here are very tough.
– I’m also influenced by my friends and people who are into what I’m into or into something similar – people who believe in what they’re doing even though they don’t get much of a reward or payback for it.
Cleveland has had its fair share of great proto punk bands like the Electric Eels and Rocket From The Tombs …
– Absolutely. I’m glad you mentioned them. I had a very close friend, his name was Jim Jones, he’s passed away, and he was like this … I can’t think of the words to describe him. He was in the Electric Eels for a while, he was in the Mirrors, he was a roadie for Pere Ubu when they did their first tour of England, he was in Pere Ubu for many years in the eighties – he was a staple of the scene, but he wasn’t a big name that everyone outside of Cleveland would know.
– But just hanging around a kitchen table with him, listening to music, drinking, having pizza, and him telling me stories – that was a huge influence. He was in so many bands that I love and he had the relics; he had the original flyer for the Electric Eels that had the swastikas all over it. Stuff like that was just sitting in his house, so I was very close to it and I was very close to an honest source – a person that was involved in that scene. That made a huge difference with me.
I can well imagine. Are there any electronic musicians from Cleveland that you like?
– Dan Curtin was from here. But I really wasn’t involved in that early nineties techno scene, I discovered those albums later; I bought them from a friend’s record store – learning about them that way, getting involved that way.
Was that store Bent Crayon?
– Absolutely.
A record store like that must have a huge influence on a person.
– John [Cellura] who runs the store is one of my closest friends. I’m lucky enough to be friends with him, and I’ve known him since before he opened the store. I’m in Bent Crayon all the time, at least two or three times a week. John’s friendship and that store have been a huge influence.
– John doesn’t get the credit – though I don’t think he wants the credit at all [laughs]… But if you want to tie anything worthwhile that has happened in this city for the last ten years or so – Emeralds, Bee Mask – he’s the lynchpin, the touchstone, the common denominator. He’s definitely turned those guys onto records.
Let’s move on to discussing your creative process. Do you record everything at home?
– Yes. Wherever my home is. My earlier stuff was recorded in an apartment which I lived in myself, I now live in a house with my girlfriend and I’ve done so for about a year.
On a few of your releases it says “conceived, recorded & mixed @ Lake Overlook.” So “Lake Overlook” was your apartment?
– [laughs] Yeah, that was the name of the apartment complex. On my new stuff it says “Elbur House,” because Elbur’s the name of the street I live on now.
I saw some photos of your set-up on from when you were recording “Psychedelic Black.” Have you always had the same set-up? Are you still using that same set-up?
– All that equipment is probably still around, but I’ve added to it. You saw that cassette four track – that’s what I record everything on. I have some pretty mid-level drum machines and a few keyboards, nothing fancy. I don’t use MIDI, I can’t stand it.
So you’re 100 percent hardware?
– Yeah. Well, when I’m done recording I have to – in this day and age – put the tape on the hard drive to do the final mix and to be able to send the files off to be mastered. So it’s all hardware and analogue until the very last minute when it’s destroyed by being put on digital. [laughs] But no one can take a cassette tape and master it anymore.
I think that a lot of people listening to your music thinks that it was created in a small, claustrophobic, stone-walled basement. At least I do.
– It is now, yeah. Before it was even worse than that – I used a tiny office. I had a small back room in my apartment which I used for an office and it was cramped in there with all my gear. It was very claustrophobic; I couldn’t even move my chair back because it would pull out a cord or short it out or something like that. I think that’s part of the reason why “Psychedelic Black” sounds like it did – it was winter, it was cold, it was dark, I was in a tiny room, I was … upset. [laughs] That’s why it came out that way.
Do you have to be in a certain mood to create, or are you one of those people who can create whenever?
– I think it’s a little of both. I definitely sometimes start to feel like “oh, I’ve got something in my head, I feel like I want to make some music.” And then I sit down and start hammering away and whatever comes out I start working with that. That’s how my music comes about – I do it first and then I figure it out later.
Can the same be said for your song titles? Do you name a song after it’s finished? I really like your song titles, by the way.
– I’ll let you in on a secret… [laughs] A lot of people mention my titles and I’m glad you enjoy them, but… they’re not mine. What I do is I go through the lyrics of songs and pull out fragments – not a whole line, but a weird part of the lyric. Usually there’s a theme – on “Psychedelic Black” the song titles are all from The Clash’ “Combat Rock.” And when I did “Crushed Interior” I was listening to The Cramps a lot and not only is the album title a homage to Lux Interior, the song titles are all from The Cramps’ lyrics. The song titles on “Shatter and Lose” are taken from Flipper’s “Album – Generic Flipper,” even the title on the album ties into that because of the song writers on that album: Will Shatter and Bruce Loose. But “Loose” became “Lose.” So it’s not so much me creating and making up these titles that people love, it’s more me pilfering them from people much more creative than me.
I think that’s a pretty creative way to create song titles!
– I don’t think about things before I do them really, but pilfering song titles like that pulls me back, reins me in. I’m like “OK, I can only take these titles from this type of music and this album or these songs,” so it’s a little constraint. The titles are actually there before I record and I arbitrarily assign them to whatever track I’ve recorded. I think the titles subliminally direct me toward what music I will make.
You’ve played in a number of experimental rock bands over the years – The Flat Can Co., Dutch Rub, Getdown Airwaves, Speaker\Cranker… Would you ever do something like that again?
– I don’t know. I have no interest right now in doing it. I guess I’m not interested in being in a band, that’s why I do this on my own after years and years of being in bands. I decided that I’m going to do this on my own – trying to find other people who are on the same wavelength of what I want to do is not easy and it’s not fair to tell somebody “hey, this is what I want to do!” So I was like “you know what, I’m going to do this on my own.”
Were you aware of all the other bands called Prostitutes when you started calling yourself Prostitutes?
– [laughs] No! The name was an… unfortunate accident. I had this high concept when I started doing this
– I had read about Peter Gabriel, about how when he left Genesis he had this idea to release solo albums without titles. I thought that was a great idea, but what I was going to do was even more ridiculous; start an unnamed project and release records with just images on the sleeves. I had a bunch of posters on the wall in that tiny, tiny room I worked in at the time and I took a photo of where four of those posters corners’ touched and I used that photo as the cover for my first CD. And one of those posters was a poster for The Pop Group’s “We are all Prostitutes” and the word “Prostitutes” made it onto the CD cover. So when I put the CD out people started calling me Prostitutes. All my high concepts have a tendency to fall flat on their faces.
Do you think people generally have the wrong idea of how you are as a person?
– As a person … no. Musically … I just played Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and it was great, it was phenomenal. But on the bill there were one other act [Ashkelon] and a DJ [Samuel] and they made me go on first, which I have no problem with, but I think they expected me to do isolationist electronic music, and I don’t really do that much anymore and definitely not live. So I played and it was pretty pounding and it was pretty loud, it was intense and almost danceable, I would say. But the people performing after me were much more experimental, so it was a big drop-off – people were dancing and having a good time and then it became more thinking man’s music. I was approached by one of the organizers afterwards who said “I didn’t know you were like that, if we’d known we would have had you play later in the evening.”
– So when I met Oli at A Day in the Desert I told him “thank you for having me, I hope you haven’t made a big mistake.” [laughs] But he was like “no, no, we know what you’re like, it’s going to work.”
Resident Advisor tried to create this technoise scene and shoehorn you into it…
– Yeah, that was a little weird. The person who wrote that article, Justin Farrar, is a friend of mine. He’s lived all over the country, and I got to know him when he moved to Cleveland and started to write for Cleveland Scene magazine. After a year or two in Cleveland he moved away though, but then he contacted me and wanted to do this article and I said “great,” I had had absolutely no exposure at the time and I figured some exposure would be nice. Then he coined this term “technoise” and I was like “uh, I’m not really into that.” I’d never use that term to describe my music – for one thing I’ve never been a noise artist.
I really like your own description of the first Prostitutes’ album: “Handmade primitive electronic misinformation created with no regard for man or machine.”
– Thank you very much! Sometimes when I play shows the promoters want a short bio and I every time I have to make up something more ridiculous that the last.
You released two ten inch EPs on Mira in January. Do those two EPs form a whole?
– They definitely go together. They were made with the same mindset and during the same recording sessions and they reflect what I was into at the time. Basically what happened was that Shifted, who runs Mira, approached me for a ten inch. I was floored that he asked me since he’s one of my favourite artists. So I sent him six tracks and said “pick the four you like.” Then he wrote back and said “I want to use all six” and that was too much for one ten inch, but not enough for two. So he asked me to write more tracks and I was like “wow, I wasn’t prepared for that.” But I ended up writing a couple more tracks.
You’ve now released three ten inches in a row…
– [laughs] Yeah, I don’t know how that happened! I have nothing against the ten inch, but… It’s odd. I never had plans to release one.
I like that format, actually.
– Yeah, I have a lot of ten inches. Just the other day I was looking at the ten inch section of my record collection: “Oh my god, I have a ton of these!” I just don’t remember buying them.
Do you have a favourite record format?
– Yeah, which is the one thing I haven’t done – a twelve inch single. Ever since I was a kid that’s my favourite format. I got “Blue Monday” when it came out … Hopefully I’ll get a twelve inch out one of these days. That’s one thing I really want to do.Originally published in ’SUP Magazine, 2014



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