with Jon DeRosa of Aarktica
I’ve known Jon DeRosa since 1996 when he was still in high school. We’ve both watched each other grow up & buy-in/sell-out over these twelve years. So it’s always exciting to hear what he’s working on & get a little in depth about it. While Aarktica started as clearly indie ambient, over the years it has had more & more pop elements added. His new album Matchless Years came out on Darla in late 2007.
QRD – Maybe it’s just me, but on Matchless Years “Arms” reminds me of Glenn Danzig’s “She”. I know you’re a huge fan of his & have been listening to his stuff lately, do you feel the new album is more influenced by him than previous ones?
Jon – I remember a thread on the 7th House/Danzig
message board a few years back where this kid posted that “Twist of Cain”
was about cocaine, thus the lyrics: “Twist of Cain, drives my brain, Twist
of Cain makes me come alive...”. Which I always thought was really
funny & obviously completely wrong, since if you ask anyone that’s
ever played with him, they’ll tell you Glenn has never really done any
drugs. So when I was writing “Happiness Boys,” which is entirely
about cocaine use & partying, I thought about that & decided to
kind of model it after “Twist of Cain.” But with horns & strings.
QRD – It seems on a lot of the Aarktica stuff you kind of have one or two songs that are identifiable as “the singles”. Do you do this intentionally & do you see these poppier songs as more important or a cop out to hook people in?
Jon – Growing up & being into more
experimental bands, I always really found myself loving the more accessible
tracks on a more leftfield album. I loved hearing the bands I respected
do their take on the pop song. Remember, when we would talk about
tracks like Bleak’s “Grey Clouds” & Lycia’s “Nine Hours Later” or “Pray”
or something? For me – it was a few years later – Hood’s Silent
88, the whole album is just brilliant from start to finish. But
“The Field Is Cut” for me remains the pinnacle, the most “accessible” song
on the record in a sea of strange noise, cut-up breaks, samples, pastoral
QRD – Every so often somebody wants to know about the stuff you did as Fade when you were in high school. Have you ever thought about recycling any of these songs to fit into Aarktica?
Jon – It would be interesting to listen to Fade now, as it’s been many years since I’ve even *heard* those tapes. I think... it would be really difficult for me to escape back into that mindset, enough to adapt the songs for use now. That was almost 15 years ago, which I can’t even believe.… It’s kind of insane. That was a different person completely. I think those songs are good for what they are, which is a completely pure example of adolescent angst. They may be more interesting sociologically than to listen to for pleasure.
QRD – You often say No Solace in Sleep is your best record. It seems to me that you haven’t really tried to approach any of your other releases in that same style as far as not being song oriented. Is there a reason you haven’t tried to do another album in that style if you like it so much?
Jon – To me, NSIS is really just
a perfect personal work in every way. & I don’t say that boastfully,
I don’t say that in the sense of its place in the indie music world, etc.…
I’m talking, existing in a vacuum, as a personal document, as a journal
entry, as a time capsule, it is the work that I define myself with to this
day. & that’s why it’s my best record. It’s the last time
I got things exactly right.
QRD – The last couple of albums you’ve done have leaned towards really clean production. Where do you think lo-fi belongs in music?
Jon – I really don’t know anymore.
One of my favorite albums of all time is Bee Thousand by Guided
By Voices & that is as lo-fi as you can really go, & it’s brilliant.
But I don’t know how much of that brilliance would disappear if it weren’t
recorded on a 4-track. Some? None?
QRD – You had a live line-up for Aarktica for several years, do you think it was represented similar in feel to the albums or was its own entity?
Jon – The ensemble for the Bleeding Light album was very much tailored to the album itself. Mike Pride, Seth Misterka, James Duncan... all free-jazz royalty in their own regard, helped add/translate the recorded songs to something much more powerful on the live stage. Having Chris Carrico on second guitar also allowed me much more freedom on vocals as he held things down & laid the backdrop for songs. There was an intuition amongst everyone that was magic to me.
QRD – You recently moved from New York City to California. How do you think it will effect your music?
Jon – I hope I will be more inspired in different ways. I’m not sure yet. I know that living outside of the distractions of my life in New York City (i.e., drugs, alcohol, partying) can only be helpful.
QRD – With how the music industry has changed over the past ten years, what do you see as the benefit of working with a label instead of just handling a release yourself?
Jon – I don’t know if there’s much of an
advantage at all. A lot of the artists who have become most popular
in indie rock (or beyond) lately are young kids who are not particularly
talented, but have struck some sort of chord in youth consciousness &/or
come up with a witty hook, & with a little dedication on MySpace or
whatever, have become huge buzz artists. There’s a trend toward young
music fans equating musical incompetence with the ability to tap into the
cultural zeitgeist that we are experiencing now. One of political
uncertainty, fear, a global identity crisis for us Americans, a need for
comradery.… That stretches far beyond simple “indie cred,” which
was all it used to be. Bands like No-Age have obtained this.
It’s raw power & frenzied energy, geared toward live performance versus
recorded output. Go see any Todd P show in Brooklyn & this is
what you will notice, with the exception of a handful of bands like Child
Abuse, who I would consider actually musically brilliant.
QRD – Is Pale Horse And Rider still in existence?
Jon – I wouldn’t rule out doing another album, but it’s not really where I’m at right now.
QRD – You recently did a film score. Do you see it as being done by Jon DeRosa or Aarktica?
Jon – On the credits, it says “Aarktica,” but we did that simply because I thought it would be more memorable & recognizable to read in print. In actuality, I wrote the score & had some players add their parts later. When I release it as a soundtrack, I’m not sure if I’ll credit Aarktica or myself.
QRD – With the score did you work on the music with finished scenes in place or write things based on the screenplay & ideas of the director?
Jon – It was done a little backwards as
the director was editing the movie *as* I was writing the score.
So the initial cut she gave me was around 3 hours long. I was scoring
to a 3 hour version, as she was cutting it down to around 1 1/2 hours,
so this made me slightly crazy & provided plenty of sync & edit
issues for us on the music end.
QRD – I guess it’s ten years or so now since you stopped doing Brighter Records. Since then you did some work with Silber & now Darla. Are you thinking about starting your own label again & how would you make it different from others based on your experiences?
Jon – Brighter was not a label like Silber was... it was just a vanity label for some of my own & local releases. I would probably just use my experience from work with Silber, & now Darla, & be smart about the way I do business. As an adult, I think making money is important. I think being smart about money is important. I would not work with an artist unless I thought it would be mutually beneficial financially & for their career.
QRD – If Jon DeRosa 2007 met Jon DeRosa & Brian John Mitchell 1996, what advice would he give them?
Jon – Spend your money wisely. Be
realistic. Stay away from substances, they will ruin your body &
your mind & put you in debt. Women will do the same, so be careful
who you spend your time with.