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Jessica Bailiff interview
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soulwhirlingsomewhere interview via email December 28, 2002

All you long time readers are familiar with SWS from the interview we did around five years ago (QRD is 8 years old now, kinda ridiculous, huh?).  Anyways his music is really personal.  It's almost like listening to someone read their diary.  It's gotta lot of stuff about the emotional turmoil from broken relationships in it.  Sometimes it's so personal I feel like a voyeur for listening to it.  Sometimes the parallels to my own life are so great that I think I wrote the songs.  The guy who is SWS is named Michael Plaster.

QRD - Is your next album really going to be more massive & heart wrenching than Hope Was?

Michael - I wish it weren't. I dunno. Iím still debating whether I even SHOULD release. Something very big happened this year, and what Iíve lost isÖ I dunno, I just worry that the music isnít really going to help me one bit, and if the other side of that is that it upsets the person about whom it is written, well thenÖ I guess I just think that there has already been an unbearable amount of pain over the whole damn thing, and if releasing these songs hurts her in even the slightest way, then I guess I am simply adding to it, and I donít want to do that. I know that on previous releases I never really took into consideration how it may be heard by the subjects of the songs themselves. I mean, itís not like they are angry or mean spirited songs or anything and that I think it would hurt them that way. I guess I just really need to be mature about this and ask myself, "Does she or anyone else in the world REALLY need to know how badly hurt you are? Is it going to simply hurt her when she finds out how deeply hurt you are?" And thatís the last thing I want to do, extend the cycle of hurt. Doing the music has always seemed just such a natural thing that Iíve never thought twice about it. But this time I think I what I need to do most is to do what is right. Itís going to take a lot more time and thought and help. I dunno. And the pathetic thing is, deep in my screwed up little brain there is still some shred of hope hiding somewhere that everything will make sense eventually and be healed. So who knowsÖ

QRD - What's the best way to get over a girl other than writing an album about her?

Michael - Hell if I know. But if anyone has any good ideas, Iím all ears. Besides, who ever said writing an album gets you over them? It doesnít seem to be working this timeÖ Get over seems to vaguely imply there is a "next." which is why Iím stuck.

QRD - When you're happy with your life, does soulwhirlingsomewhere exist?  It seems pretty built on emotional turmoil.

Michael - Yeah, I know. Kind of stupid, huh? And for that reason I cannot wait until soulwhirlingsomewhere is over. Itís funny you should ask that, though. Iíve been thinking about that recentlyÖ Iíve always wished there could be something good in my music, but when all is said and doneÖ I mean, I look back at all the songs Iíve written and Iím like, good God what the hell is wrong with me? This isnít music you can just "put on" and listen to. Itís too heavy. Itís too much. I think you have to be in a certain mood or state of mind to listen to it, and the mood that one needs to be in is honestly not a very pleasant one. But anyhow, earlier this year, when things wereÖ well, where they were supposed to be, and everything was good and I thought things finally made sense, I started writing all these beautiful, even happy songs. Like, songs to finally put a happy ending to the otherwise sad and hopeless music Iíd written up until then. And it all just was coming to me song after songÖ like the same way I write all the other stuff, but everything was good. The inspiration wasnít pain or loss. It was justÖ. happiness I guess. And that had never happened before. Well, needless to say here we are again back to square one. And basically there is an entire album written that I will never be able to release, because everything changed. I wish I could just cancel "almost" and release that one instead, but things would have to change for that to happen. But in the end, I hope I will write one last album to bring it all to a happy end and then be done with the whole damn thing.

QRD - Are you still doing Zeta or Mineral Tap or do you have any other musical projects?

Michael - Not currently. Mineral Tap was just me and Jason Farrell, who I played guitar for in Firecracker. He played in a few songs on Hope Was, also. And now, despite its hiatus, he drums with me when we play live as soulwhirling. Iím sure he and I will be playing music for a long time together. As far as Zeta goes, Zeta really hasnít been much of anything for years. Devin still does music on his own, and I think the two of us have both headed towards our own type of music which, for a while there, we werenít really into the same thing. I have a feeling that sooner or later he and I will end up doing some stuff together, whatever it may be. Itís hard though... Devin is light-years ahead of me in talent and technological know-how, and sometimes I think that may be the reason we havenít clicked together musically for a while, me all caught up too much in the emotional side of the music. Itís all a cycle, though.

QRD - What do you think all music you like has in common & how do you try to put that quality in your own music?

Michael - sincerity. passion. hope. Love. hope.

QRD - Is Tekken 2 still your favorite video game?

Michael - Naw. Get with the times. Tekken 4, man. Actually Tekken 4 totally sucked butt. To be honest Iím not really into video games much anymore. As fun as they are, I would be hard pressed to find a more pointless way to throw away the precious time we have in this life.

QRD - Your voice or at least your ability to capture it seems to have improved greatly over the years, what do you attribute this to?

Michael - Smoking? No, actually I quit. But, ummm.... probably just the fact that I am more comfortable with my voice now, plus I think I have tried to actually latch onto a certain Ďsoundí that Iíve wanted to get out of it, rather than simply just singing notes that fit my range and not even thinking about it, which is more or less what I did on Ďeating the seaí and Ďpyewackit.í which also kinda resulted in drenching it in reverb and kinda hiding it. Plus, Iíve finally got a decent mic pre-amp and a real microphone. So I am doing vocals more like I always had wanted to, but simply never could previously due to lack of equipment and direction.

QRD - What exactly do you do when you do a remix?

Michael - Well.... I'm still waiting on the guys from Audra to get me some raw tracks. Thatís the only remixing I have planned so far. But basically Iíd like to really turn it into something quite different than itís original form, but not in a wacked-out sense. Just kinda swirly-ize it, if thatís even a word. Which itís not. But I used it anyhow, didnít I? Anyways, I am not ashamed to admit that Iíd like to pattern it after what global communication did to Chapterhouseís  "blood music," which they turned into the absolutely most perfect remixing project of all time, called pentamerous metamorphosis. If youíve never heard it, you are missing out. Global Communication were truly the most beautiful remixers Iíve heard.

QRD - Do you consider yourself more successful at writing songs or ambient pieces?

Michael - Songs, I guess. I donít consider myself really good at ambient pieces. There is a patience through how a song can evolve over longer periods of time which I donít think I possess. I suppose I just think too much in verse/chorus kinda ways. I like for songs to change a lot, and if you drag it out into a long piece thatís going to mean a lot of changes within it. I dunno. I suppose Iíve done a few okay ambient pieces, like "God in Heaven" from pyewackit. And "Sonora/Red" on hope was. Itís weirdÖ sometimes there is a certain element that can only be captured with the omission of any human element, and by that I mean a human voice singing. If there is a certain feeling or emotion that I can't really put into words or figure out, sometimes thatíll come out better as an ambient piece. But aside from a few exceptions, most of my Ďambientí songs are just like little micro-versions of full songs, like Ďnothing is differentí/íthe hook through ití or Ďgazeí/ílittle gazeí or Ďopening the ten-endí/íeverything ends in Octoberí etc, etc.

QRD - Every couple of years you seem to do one live show, why do you only play this often?

Michael - Supply and demand. If thereís no demandÖ well, ummm. I dunno. Iím so much more comfortable in the studio. Unless one is really into soulwhirling, I probably appear pretty boring on stage. Not trying to diss myself, but honestly I think people these days more or less expect some kind of "show" to some extent, regardless of the genre of music. I donít have much of a personality on stage. I just kinda show up and hope the guitar is in tune and that I remember the words.

QRD - In what situation/setting do you think people should listen to your music & what do you think they should get out of it?

Michael - Well, Iím not sure if I can really answer that in a positive way. Some people tell me that sometimes my music has helped them get through a certain difficult time, which Iím not sure if I fully understand, at least not from my point of view. Alotta people say that it just helps when they know someone has been through a similar circumstance. And I mean, if it helps them, then great. But I donít get it because I donít really offer any Ďsolutionsí or hope. I just kinda lay it out how messed up I am or how broken I feel, and Iím not really sure where that provides any help. Kinda like walking into a hospital with an arrow through your neck and the doctor saying, "Dude, arrow in the neck. I had that happen once. Sucks. Sorry can't help ya. NEXT!" I dunno. Maybe Iím selling myself short. I just hope my music isnít merely out there simply as a catalog of unhealthy, crappy ways to feel. I wish I could offer people the real way to heal, but unfortunately Iím still trying to figure that out for myself. I hope it can help people someday.

QRD - What are the best & worst musical equipment purchases that you've made?

Michael - Hmmmm. Best? Probably the Vox amp I recently bought. Or my Mac G4. Or my way old Roland SH-101, but just cause itís so old and retro and cool. And it's bright red. Worst? Well, I try my hardest not to waste my money on crappy products I wont be able to use, but... this Electrix Mo-FX. Itís this multiFX unit thing.. See, Electrix came out with all these retro-esque FX units. A filter, a vocoder, an eq-killer and this MoFx thing. Jeeze, just the stupid name alone shoulda tipped me off. But anyhow, they are really geared toward DJ's and stuff. But this thing is just the noisiest unit ever known to man. The "flanger" is simply the worst thing ever. Just really crappy stuff inside I guess. I dunno. Thank God it was a discontinued clearance item.

QRD - For a while in the early 1990's the Phoenix area was seen from the outside as having quite a big moody pop & experimental underground.  How has the Phoenix scene changed since then?

Michael - There was a scene in Phoenix??? Seriously, I pay so little attention to it. If there is much of one, itís mostly a bunch of angry nu-metal semi-rap goatee-sportiní, red-Yankees-cap-turned-backwards-weariní System-of-a-Linkin-Bizkit-Korn-Tool sound-alikes. Sorry. That was kinda mean of me. But really. I just donít understand Ďscenesí as such.

QRD - Are most people that you know out of music surprised by how dark/serious a lot of it is when they finally hear it?

Michael - Ummm, well I suppose if itís anyone who knows me personally itís exactly what they expect. But if you mean other musicians and stuff. Well, I kinda have a feeling alotta people think its overkill on the whole Ďsadí thing. Booo-hoo woe-is-me histrionics. I think some people kinda respect the musicianship behind it. I dunno. Or at least I hope they do.  I donít really know that many people anyhow.

QRD - What was the last cd you bought?

Michael - Ummmm. Sheese. I buy music so infrequently anymore. UmmmmÖ Idaho we were young and needed the money. I think. Wait, maybe it was the latest Autechre single. No, slider by Bruce Kaphan. Heís the pedal steel player from American Music Club.

QRD - Can you listen to your own records?

Michael - Sure.  I love them. There are some things about it all that kinda embarrass me sometimes. Eating the sea, just for its awful fidelity and foo-foo fluffiness. I guess Iím kinda notorious for being self-deprecating, but honestly - I wouldnít be doing any of this if I werenít in some way satisfied with the end result. Songs never really end up the way I hear them originally in my head, but I guess that is what makes them end up sounding like what they sound like.

QRD - What percentage of songs you write are released?

Michael - Ummmm. Probably 90 percent or more? I dunno. Itís not like I have this big vault of unused crap. With the exception of the album I canít release mentioned earlier.

QRD - How do you decide if something you come up with is worth recording?

Michael - Hard to say. I just kinda do.

QRD - Do you record your songs as you write them or do you wait & do album sessions for recording?

Michael - I pretty much just record them as I go. My life kinda turns into one long session spanning a few months. Ever since spring I have been writing and writing and writing. The lyrics are usually pretty separate. They just sorta happen out of nowhere when I start losing a grip on things and thinking too much. The music itself is a bit different. If I write it on guitar, itís kinda like just some weird thing that just starts happening and before I know it an hour or two has passed and Iíve just composed a song, more or less. When I write stuff on keyboard, itís a bit more twiddly. A lot if it is just me messiní around with sounds and F/X combinations, until it just starts threading itself together. The songs I write on keyboard tend to sound more similar to one another than on guitar. At least thatís how I see it. I try to mess with my guitar tunings a lot. But on the synth, my fingers always seem to go into more predictable chords. I dunno. I try not to think about it too much. If Iím messing around and trying to come up with something and it just ainít happening, Iíll usually know within the first half hour or so. So I just give up. Wasnít meant to be, you know?

QRD - What do you do to improve your technique or practice on guitar?

Michael - Oh, Iím a horrible guitarist. Seriously. All I do is strum. Really. I think my strength on guitar - if anything - would be more along the lines of unique tunings or song structures, rather than any actual skill. Really though, thereís probably eight-year olds out there who could play circles around me on guitar.

QRD - Why do you think Macs are better than PCs?

Michael - Theyíre just so much simpler. The interface makes more sense. The operating system is more stable. And now with OSX even more so. I dunno. Just less futzing around you have to do. Wow. My spell checker didnít catch the word "Futzing." I didnít seriously think that was a real word. Learn somethiní everyday. Well, then, thatís why Macís are better. They allow the word "futzing."

QRD - What's an album you think every musician you respect should own or at least have heard?

Michael - I donít know if I could name just one. Lemme give ya a few.
David Sylvian  Gone to Earth.
Idaho  Levitate.
Anything by Aphex Twin.
American Music Club  Mercury.
Talk Talk - Laughing Stock.
Vidna Obmana  River of Appearances.
Iím sure thereís moreÖ

QRD - I know there was a time where you wanted to change your band name because you thought it was too long & a tongue twister.  Why did you choose it in the first place?

Michael - Eeek. Well, it was a fragment of a sentence I think I heard a friend of mine say one time a LONG time ago. Like any young musician, I had a long list of "cool band names" at one point. When I started sending stuff to Sam at Projekt, I kinda just decided at the time to write it on the tapes I was sending him. Maybe at the time I thought the name was fitting in relation to Projektís very introspective appeal. Either way Iím not too crazy about it. And man, if I had a nickel for every time someone has said soul SWIRLING somewhereÖ... Well, Iíd probably have about three or four bucks.

QRD - Do you think it's important that people pick up on your Christianity when listening to your music?

Michael - Wow. Hmmmmm. Well, yes. As a Christian I am certainly not ashamed of it at all. But here is what distresses me the most: when you read the words and hear my music, it is very difficult to see that I am a Christian. So much of my music is sadness and hopelessness, and that is by no means what God is about. And herein lies the stupid twist. I would hate for someone who didnít know or understand God to hear my music and associate it with God, because God does not want us to feel as screwed up as my music is. So itís like I need to have a disclaimer about it. Many people seem to think that when you accept God into your life that everything becomes better, when in fact sometimes things become very difficult. Not really because of persecution or anything, but because you start to see yourself and the world differently. The world is really screwed up. And Christianity already has a pretty bad name in the eyes of many. So I donít claim to be out here preaching the Word or anything. I am simply a man who is struggling with some deep things in this life, and I think God is still in the process of healing me. Unfortunately I am a really screwed up person so it is taking a long time. So much happens in this life. Anyone who thinks Christianity is some sort of overnight life-changing thing is mistaken. Although the change in oneís heart or mind can happen that way, once you begin trudging through this heavy world, you see all the wrong things there are outwardly and inwardly. And some of us have had experiences that have just torn us apart, so it takes a lot of healing. Here I am thirty years old and still messed up, still trying. It takes work. God never said that life was going to be easy. For some maybe, but not for me. My heart is in the right place, but the rest of me is still trying to get in synch with it all.  There is this book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes. It starts out, "Everything is meaningless" and goes on for about 12 chapters about how pointless, vain, stupid, filthy, screwed up, evil, empty, wrong, and difficult everything in this world is. Not really uplifting at first glance. But the very last few verses give hope, that if you realize the delicacy of this life we have and treat it as such, and if we have faith, that we will, somehow, be able to make it through. Well, I guess with my music Iíve just havenít yet written the last few verses. I havenít given the hope yet. But I hope someday I can.

QRD - Anything else?

Michael - MIMYSM. Thatís a secret code.