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Jon DeRosa (aarktica) interview
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Jon DeRosa interview June 21, 2002

Jon DeRosa is the guy behind Pale Horse and Rider & Aarktica.  He's one of our favorite people.

QRD Ė Right now I know you do ambient/drone music under the name Aarktica & singer/songwriter oriented stuff under Pale Horse and Rider,  & classical composition under your own name.  Do you currently have any other projects going & how do you know where a song belongs when you come up with the idea of it?

Jon Ė I think people misunderstand the idea of having several surnames under which to release music.  For me, I do it because I get bored doing one kind of music all of the time.  Having multiple outlets allows me to write and record no matter what my mood is.  Itís like having multiple personalities.  Itís not really an obsession I have with organization and name placement.  I just think it works out better for me psychologically.

QRD Ė You've started to get more involved with Silber lately, does that mark an end to Brighter Records?

Jon Ė Brighter Records was never fully realized, and I think itís because I understood that if I wanted to run a reputable label, I was going to have to do it more full time than I wanted to.  But, it did serve its purpose, meaning it gave me an umbrella under which I could release my own material and a few cassettes of others.  I had thought about continuing the label after I was done with college, but now that Iíve graduated, Iím finding that Iíd rather devote time to writing and recording.  My role in Silber Records is kind of ideal, because I get to work with Brian on producing releases that I feel are special & important.  But running a label is not something I feel I could or would want to do on my own.

QRD Ė How has classical training helped & hurt you as a musician?

Jon Ė I guess itís all really relative.  I try to take what composition skills Iíve learned at university & use them in innovative ways.  I think it can be detrimental if you lose completely sight of your own voice, & what your musical goals are.  When that happens, you end up regurgitating theory.  As far as my classical guitar studies, I kind of think those have been nothing but helpful, since they offered more of a vehicle to perform in a way that was already intuitive to me.

QRD Ė A relatively large amount of your work is out-of-print or close to it.  Do you want these older releases available?

Jon Ė At this time, I donít really see any reason for the first cassette releases I did as Fade back in í94 and í95 to be reissued.  Considering I was only about 15 at the time, they were important releases for me developmentally, but I canít really imagine trying to market them now.  The same goes for Dead Leaves Risingís Shadow Complex album.  Iím not ashamed of those releases or anything, I just donít think they need to be available right now.  The second DLR CD which came out only last year is even somewhat of a rarity now due to a lot of circumstances beyond my control, but thereís not much I can do aside from making more music.  I would hope that once the first Aarktica album sells out, that it finds itís way back to print fairly soon.  I still feel thatís a pretty important piece of music.

QRD Ė You seem to write a lot of songs that you never release.  Are these other songs sub-par or what?

Jon Ė I donít know if I write a lot of songs that never get released.  I often start writing a lot of songs & become disinterested halfway through.  & sometimes Iíll write a great song, but Iíll forget the tuning, or how itís supposed to go, or forget that it even exists by the next week.  When Iím dealing with folk & country-oriented material, I get very conscientious of not being trite, ridiculous, self-pitying, or obvious because I think those have been my downfalls in the past.  If a song isnít valid past the night you wrote it, I donít really think it belongs in someone elseís tape deck.

QRD Ė Recently you've acted as a producer/creative consultant for Remora & Max Soren.  Have you found this rewarding?  What's your goal as a producer?

Jon Ė I honestly canít take too much credit for either.  With the Remora album, I was simply there to make suggestions & try stuff out.  In the end, Brian made the important decisions, and everything turned out all right.  For Max, I took him into the studio &, with the help of Charles Newman at Mother West, tried to clean up his home recordings the best we could using digital means.  I donít really see that as producing.  That was more like editing, engineering, consulting, or sound design.  Ideally, I think a producerís job is to listen to what an artistís sound is & do what he can to make it better & more interesting, without completely changing the dynamic.  I havenít really had the opportunity to do that yet, but itís something I would like to do in the future.

QRD Ė Do you use guitar picks?

Jon Ė I tend to end up using them for some things, but I prefer fingerpicking.

QRD Ė You always seem to be after getting a new instrument to learn to play.  What instruments do you consider yourself proficient at & what instrument would you most like to get?

Jon Ė I think the only instrument Iím competent at is the guitar.  I recently started studying the tambura, a drone instrument from Northern India.  Lately, Iím very much into Northern Indian music, as well as Gamelan ensembles.

QRD Ė For you what is music really about?

Jon Ė Thereís been a lot of debate about the answer to this question in certain academic circles.  Music theorists mostly claim that music cannot be proven to carry emotional weight, though it can stir particular emotions in certain people.  Ironic, because I would have to assume that most composers & performers use music as a means of expression.  Itís not like most of us are in it for the money, because there is none.  For me, I donít even know if itís that complex.  I compose music because itís what I know how to do.  I also compose crossword puzzles, vandalize magazines, & cook.  In other words, music is one of several outlets of creativity for me.  Just as anything else, itís something we do to take up time.  It makes me feel more productive than playing video games, even though video games are much more fun.

QRD Ė Do you think emotional trauma helps or hurts you as an artist?

Jon Ė The pain itself hinders art.  The isolation that follows probably helps, simply because it gives me time to work on stuff & not be bothered by anyone. But if I had my choice, I wouldnít deal with either.

QRD Ė Do you find it better to work on your music alone or to use collaborators?

Jon Ė There are advantages to both; lately Iíve enjoyed working with others.  But itís rare that I find someone whose ideas mesh well with my own.  Aaron Spectre is probably the person Iíve enjoyed collaborating with the most, because we come from similar backgrounds but have different skills, and it ends up that we compliment each other.  I think the other advantage to working with collaborators is that at the end of the recording session, you have someone to share that excitement and satisfaction with, rather than just going home & getting stoned by yourself.

QRD Ė Are you embarrassed that you were a Goth?  Do you think it's reflected in your music?

Jon Ė I never really thought of myself as a Goth.  But I guess I was.  I guess both me & Brian John Mitchell were in some ways.  I remember meeting up with him in New York once & him giving me blue lipstick. I also remember when he went on tour with Lycia & we were all hanging out backstage eating cucumber sandwiches.  I wouldnít have gotten to do cool stuff like that if I wasnít goth.  It was hard to not be goth then, the girls in the scene were really somewhat attractive.  Either way, Iím not embarrassed.  The pictures of me from that time period are the best ones I have.  I was pretty then.   Itís kind of funny, because I donít see it reflected as much in my music as it is in some new music coming out now.  I mean, you have bands like The Faint, Fischerspooner, & the rest of the neo-electro scene totally going for the goth/new wave revival & fans are just eating it up.  The clothes, the sound, the haircuts.  I feel Iíd fall more into the category of Arab Strap, who are completely & morbidly depressing, but itís rather fashion-less & seemingly matter-of-fact.

QRD Ė How many guitars would you ideally own?

Jon Ė Just a few really decent ones.  I donít have that guitar envy thing.  I guess because lately I play less guitar & more tambura.

QRD Ė What's a record you like that you feel people would expect you not to like & whatís a record people would not expect you to like that you do like?

Jon Ė I have no idea what peopleís expectations of my tastes are.  I guess most people are surprised when I tell them I like certain hip-hop artists.  & most people are surprised that I donít really know anything about The Strokes or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs or any of the other NYC bands that are supposedly making a big deal now.  I guess they figure since I live in NYC that I should like them more than everyone else.  It doesnít really change the fact that wherever you are, boring is still boring

QRD Ė How big of an effect do you think your mother has had on you as a musician?

Jon Ė Probably more than I realize.  My mom is a great singer, think Joni Mitchell without all the ornamentation. Iím currently writing some material for her, in hopes we can do some duets together.

QRD Ė Who are the biggest influences on you as a musician?

Jon Ė Glenn Danzig, Andres Segovia, Johnny Cash, Joy Division, Anthony DeRosa, David Cohen, Stephin Merritt, Hank Williams, Ingram Marshall, John Cage, Edgar Varese, Remora, Hood.  Lately, Iíd also have to include LaMonte Young because heís my tambura teacher.

QRD Ė Do you think youíll ever leave New York?

Jon Ė Most likely yes.  I just havenít found anywhere else thatís more appealing to me yet.  Then again, Iíve hardly been anywhere.

QRD Ė What are the best & worst decisions of your musical career?

Jon Ė My best decision has been to avoid local NYC scenes & trends, even though you do kind of feel left out when 30 people come to your show & 300 people come to see a trust-fund rock band who have great equipment & clothes but no heart.  Iím always happy sneaking just below the radar. Itís worked out for the best I think.  Itís why Iím still around & a lot of artists end up throwing in the towel.   Iím still pretty pissed about my worst decision, so Iíll have to pass on that in fear of ranting.

QRD Ė What are the most flattering, slanderous, & accurate reviews of your music that you've had?

Jon Ė One of my folk albums got a miserable review from someone calling himself ďRaver Bob.Ē  Maybe itís just me, but if your name is Raver Bob, I would think that youíd want to steer clear of acoustic music.  My favorite was this one complete moron at Ink 19 who slammed the latest Aarktica album because he put it on for this girl he was trying to fuck and it didnít put her in the mood.  So he put on Marvin Gaye instead.  Somehow I canít see even that helping this asshole get laid.  Itís like, do these people realize they sound like pathetic fucking idiots?  Do zines just let any moron write for them?

QRD Ė Would you rather play in a bar or a living room?

Jon Ė I live upstairs from a bar, so even when I play in my living room I can sort of hear people drinking.  Best of both worlds I guess.

QRD Ė What's a movie you think everyone you respect should see?

Jon Ė Gummo.  Though they might not respect me after that.

QRD Ė What's an album you think everyone you respect should hear?

Jon Ė Johnny Cash American Recordings.

QRD Ė How has your music changed most over the past two years?

Jon Ė Iíve absorbed a lot more influences, making it exceedingly difficult to create something I feel is new.  The joy of naïve creation is pretty much gone.

QRD Ė How often would you like to tour/play live?

Jon Ė My experiences with touring havenít been favorable.  I think I have too much of an ego to play live much.  I feel that my time is too valuable to perform if itís not going to be respected.  I just expect people to shut up and listen.  Thatís not usually how it works.  Plus itís a ton of work to play a show.  Getting equipment there, getting people there, etcÖ  & then you tend to have to socialize.  I still donít know if itís really worth it.

QRD Ė What live performance have you been most happy with & why?

Jon Ė I canít really remember any in particular.

QRD Ė What's the twenty-first century composition thing about & whatís up with Silberís involvement in the classical market?

Jon Ė Weíre putting together a non-profit compilation series of young modern composersí works, which will be largely marketed to sound libraries & performing ensembles.  Basically, we just feel that itís a shame that so many great works get performed only once at a senior recital & are never heard again.  Is it naïve to think we can change that?  My other goal for Silber is to reissue works by 20th century composers that are either out-of-print, never before released, or never before released on CD.  There are a lot of important & innovative works that have just been forgotten about once their vinyl edition went out of print.  I think that we as new composers owe a lot to the pioneers of the past century, & what better way to show respect but to reissue their works in hopes of opening up young new audiences for them.  I think thereís probably a lot more, but Iíd rather see how it turns out before I start raving about it.