John Mitchell interview July 7, 2002
Well, some of you wanted to see me get interviewed, so here are the questions I was sent to answer. If you don't already know, Brian runs Silber Records, writes QRD & Zombie Kisses, & is involved with several musical projects, most notably Remora.
QRD – What do you think about when you’re at work?
Brian – Well, it varies a lot. I very rarely have to think about my job because it’s basically just physical labor, so I do have a lot of time on my hands to think which is good or bad depending on what’s happening in my life at the time. I probably come up with at least half of the things my “art” is based on at work. Lately I think a lot about whether or not rhythm is definitively more important than melody & if it is does that mean I should start doing more with traditional percussion instruments instead of just using my guitar as one. I also am constantly working on Zombie Kisses at work, but the past year it’s been really hard because when I started the series it was all planned up until where it is now; so I actually need to figure out where it’s currently headed. I also write hand written letters to a few hundred reviewers & music directors with every release during my downtime at work. So basically everything is about the business at this point in my life.
QRD – I know that you are kind of fond of the blue-collar lifestyle. If you could make a living off of making music alone, would you?
Brian – If me making my music made it so I couldn’t hold a job, I guess I’d stop working. But I need some kind of financial stability & some daily structure & social interaction in my life that I probably wouldn’t get if I just worked on music. Plus I think that sometimes people start to lose touch with reality if they become professional musicians & I don’t want that to happen. I was not working except on music at one point in my life & when I had to go back to having a job I felt like the world’s biggest failure & I don’t want to go through those feelings again.
QRD – Have your musical influences changed as you’ve gotten older?
Brian – Michael Gira was there when I decided I wanted to start doing music & he probably always will be the biggest influence to me. But I’d say the way my influences have changed most is I used to be influenced by listening to music, but now I’m more influenced by talking about music or reading about music. I’ll talk to Peter Aldrich or Jessica Bailiff or Darin DePaulo or Jarboe or Nathan Amundson or Jon DeRosa or Scotty Irving about what music is really about & both the agreements & disagreements really inspire me. Also I guess for the past 10 years I’ve been reading interviews with Broadrick from Godflesh & he always reveals some kind of truth about music for me. I read a Jim Thirlwell interview that was kind of influential to me as far as being willing to say, “This is a good song, but it’s not amazing, so I shouldn’t put it on my album,” which I hope I can remember from here on out.
QRD – Do you still see cassettes as an important medium for music transmission? Is vinyl worth pressing anymore?
Brian – Cassettes are important because a lot of people I’m friends/peers with still use 4 tracks & we can send tapes back & forth in the mail to work on each other’s stuff. & there are things you can do on a cassette tracking machine that are a little harder to do digitally. But I don’t really see cassettes as that good for much because CD-R’s are a lot cheaper than cassettes for making mix tapes & the new portable CD players don’t skip all the time. Vinyl is definitely not financially worth pressing. I think you can get 500 seven inches for the same price as 1000 CDs & then you can only end up selling them for about what you spend if you do any promotion at all. Also a lot of vinyl sounds really trashy because places are used to doing it for garage bands where you can’t tell that the sound is distorting. There is something cool about vinyl, but it’s kind of like buying a car; you want something that’s easy & low maintenance & at a reasonable price.
QRD – Would you consider yourself a religious person?
Brian – That’s all very relative. I don’t think I’m a religious person, but I do carry a bible in my book bag. I think there’s a problem that saying you believe in God makes some people think you’re an unintelligent judgmental person. I was a philosophy major in college & when you get into the late sixties era you get to a point where there either is some type of supreme being or there’s no such thing as truth. So since I don’t like lying, that means there has to be God.
QRD – With many major labels cutting off funding to their classical divisions, how do you think this will affect indie labels doing modern classical/new music?
Brian – I hope that indie labels will put out some modern classical stuff. The problem is all about marketing. It’s hard to convince a 17-year-old to buy Ligeti’s new quartet instead of the new hip thing. It’s going to take a lot of work to get young people to listen to modern classical compositions because it’s been so drilled into them that they aren’t cool. At the same time the modern composers need to be willing to stop making music that is based on referencing obscure musical phrases that the average listener won’t recognize & to stop making music based on mathematical ideas & recognize that music is meant to be listened to rather than for the score to be read. There’s a lot of work to be done. At Silber we’re attempting to do a compilation of 21st century composition, but we want to have 5000 copies to use as promo so that we can have the disc at all the major music libraries in the world & get the pieces heard. So the financing of it may make the whole thing really difficult.
QRD – It seems that Remora has been doing a lot more song-oriented material than ever before. Is this just a natural progression or a conscious effort? Is it fulfilling to make music that more people might “get”?
Brian – When I did the Ambient Drones for One Guitar release I felt like I pretty much explored my ability to make pieces instead of songs fairly fully. It’s fun to do that, but it’s gotten hard for me to do it where I don’t feel like it’s just disposable. Also my effect units were turning into this huge crutch & I like to have songs that I can play with just me & my guitar. As far as people “getting” my songs more, most reviewers suggest I stop trying to do songs & stick to what I’m good at. So it's like a challenge to figure out how to write songs better & also I've been realizing recently that some of the Remora songs actually would work better in a standard band configuration than just me with my guitar. I guess I need to start another side project....
QRD – Will there be another My Glass Beside Yours or Vlor album? What about Small Life Form?
Brian – The MGBY release isn’t really an album. It was just a bunch of little pre-demo ideas. There will eventually be an album (tentatively titled No Future in Films), but it’ll take a while. MGBY is currently me on guitar & Jessica Bailiff on cello & dilrhuba & she lives 11 hours away & that makes things a little hard to work on. I don’t know what will happen with the next Vlor. It really kinda broke my heart that Russell didn’t want to do the band anymore because the premise was us being in a band together more so than the sound we developed. But I think I am going to try to finish the album Sacred Places in the City by getting some friends to guest in Russell’s place, but it will be a compromise even if it does make it a better album. The Small Life Form album has been trapped in my head four years now & I still haven’t figured out how to make it work quite right. I can't figure out how to make it into separate pieces & still be an album. I want all the aggressive ambient people to be jealous of it & it’ll probably take me a lot longer to make than I think. I just want it to be absolutely dead on & that’s a hard thing to be.
QRD – Is thinking about cheating on someone just as bad as cheating on someone?
Brian – No, but it probably means there’s something wrong in your relationship & you need to have a talk about it.
QRD – If you had the chance to open for any current major label act, who would it be?
Brian – Willie Nelson.
QRD – Tell me about how the idea for The Alcohol EPs came about.
Brian – There was a point in my life where alcohol was more important to me than friends or family or music & I wanted to write a record about my love for alcohol, but then I stopped drinking (more or less). Anyway, Nathan Amundson (Rivulets) thought the alcohol CD was a great idea & he wanted to do it as a split CD & I asked Jon DeRosa to do a part for it too & now it’s called The Alcohol EPs. It was really hard for me to do my parts in a lot of ways because I don’t want people to think substance abuse is trendy & my story of substance abuse is really too personal & pathetic to share. So all my songs are kind of fictional, because the truth is a little less pretty & artistic.
QRD – Is it worse to be overweight or underweight?
Brian – Overweight. I know people say there are exceptions or whatever, but to me it's just a sign of a lack of discipline & self-respect.
QRD – Who would be featured in your dream issue of QRD?
Brian – Maybe Willie Nelson, Iggy Pop, & Justin Broadrick. Or maybe an issue with Lycia, Michael Gira, Hefner, Six by Seven, & Jarboe; which could actually happen.
QRD – I know for myself, if I’m in the middle of working on an album (which is all the time) I can’t go to shows or buy new CDs because I’ll get distracted. For me it’s either absorb or create, but usually not both at once. Is it the same for you?
Brian – I guess, because I’m always working on something now & I very rarely actually listen to music anymore. That’s why the reviews in QRD are so slow to happen these days. I’ll get a CD I like a lot & still only listen to it twice. I get CDs from my best friends & it takes me six months to listen to them.
QRD – What are the major problems you’ve run into with Silber Records, and how have you dealt with them?
Brian – The biggest problem is getting proper distribution. I haven’t really solved that problem. Radio play & reviews don’t help sales unless the stuff is in stores & it really isn’t. So I just keep trying to keep working on better distro & hope things will turn around. The only other problem I’ve really run into is the blatant unprofessional nature of most people when I try to get help doing something. No one wants to do anything in a timely manner even if I pay them for it.
QRD – What record have you listened to the most times and why?
Brian – Swans’ The Burning World. It was the first Swans’ record I had & I listened to it a lot. & then when I toured with Lycia we listened to it at least once a day in the car. Then I was listening to it critically trying to figure out why I thought it was so great & if it was just nostalgia. Then I heard that Michael Gira hates that record & I kept listening to it trying to figure out why & now I think I fairly completely understand. I think it’s a pretty great record, but I think Gira doesn’t have as much control over it & it sounds a little over-produced. I think the songs are really personal & honest & beautiful. I think it’s amazing because you have Gira that was at one time writing brutal songs like “Cop” & “Red Sheet” & then he went to writing almost folk ballads like “Jane Mary” & “God Damn the Sun.” I hope that one day I can survive that drastic of an artistic transformation.
QRD – Anyone that knows you knows your love/fear of zombies. What are your future plans for Zombie Kisses, the zine?
Brian – Well, I am working on issue #5 & probably have been for a year. I hope to have it out by Halloween. In between now & then there will be two spin-offs. One is called Zombie Kisses: Big City Nights & it takes place in New York City shortly after the zombies start to come & maybe an ongoing spin-off. The other is called Zombie Kisses: 62 years after death & is about life two generations after the dead have been walking. Both of these are notably more graphic than the main series has been. Eventually when issue #10 of the main series comes out I want it to have a CD comp with it of bands doing songs inspired by it. I still do want to put it out in comic book form, but I don’t think it will ever really work out. Also I have a twenty minute short film I want to write a screenplay for based on the "Luxuries of Wealth" storyline. Sometimes I think Zombie Kisses is where the real money is gonna come from.
QRD – What do you feel is your biggest character flaw? What flaws can you not tolerate in others?
Brian – My biggest character flaws are probably lack of moderation in anything & brutal honesty. If I do something I pretty much always give 100% or 0% with no middle ground & that’s good in some things, but it doesn’t work to well in relations with others. I also openly tell people things when I probably shouldn’t & I do it in an untactful way. I also have this pride versus low-self-esteem battle constantly raging that might be pretty funny to watch if you're far enough away. In others I really don’t like lying or sexual promiscuity; I think they’re signs of suspended adolescence & the earth needs more actual grown-ups.
QRD – What scares you?
Brian – That I am more responsible than the average person, because I think I am at the minimum acceptable level.
Other QRD interviews with Brian John Mitchell: