We’re Living In A Hologram Of The Past: Geneva Jacuzzi Talks
Five years ago Geneva Jacuzzi put out her debut album proper – Lamaze, a collision of synth pop fantasies, sci-fi infused lyrics and dancefloor horror stories. At the time of the album's release Geneva was hammering out home made CDrs, recording tracks after tracks on a daily basis – within the space of two years she'd created a discography with more depth than some artists manage in a decade. Whilst her output from 2008 – 2010 rapidly took on cult classic status (look for any of her early releases on Discogs and you get to enjoy some truly thirsty sellers with a fine command of the laws of supply and demand), Geneva went touring around the world, at times solo, at times playing with Ariel Pink's increasingly famous band, recasting her music as she went. Having exhausted her wanderlust, she returned to LA and got in the studio with producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/ TV On The Radio). Between them they started pulling together tracks from her sprawling back catalogue to shape a second album. The results are in, and it's like Geneva never went away. Technophelia is an album of glorious quirks and synthetic jerks. It teeters between the horrific and the comic like a spotify playlist compliled by the Joker as written by Alan Moore. It's both forward looking, and comfortingly familiar, musically drawing from synth pop, electroclash and sci fi soundtracks, all spiced with an unpredictably crazy touch that is Geneva's own. As we had an enjoyably rambling conversation over Skype, she constantly collapsed into giggles – so reading this interview I want you to imagine her laughing across the internet, ever so slightly maniacally, as she delivers each gem…
So, I listened to the album a load, and really enjoyed it. I'm pleased to say that my three year old son is also a big fan
Oh, sweet. I have a very infantile aspet to myself so Im sure it connects to the toddlers. Im heavily regressed.
I think he might have been won over by the animal sounds on God Maker
AHahahahaha that’s great!
So, Why the animal sounds?
Well. Its funny, that song – I recorded it, I have an early version I did like 10 – 12 years ago. I made it when I was first learning how to record music, I was making these dinky, simple songs. I didn’t have anyone teaching me how to make music – I was self taught and it was very minimal and simple. I’d just discovered I could download animal sounds on the internet, which at the time seemed pretty fantastic to me. The first version I made of that song was all animal sounds going throughout the song, it was ridiculous but I thought it was so great. So when I went to redo the song a couple of years later I couldn’t imagine it without the animal sounds, they were like instruments in my mind, as that was how I heard the song. There was one animal that was missing that I really liked which I was kinda bummed I couldn’t put him in, it was this bull.
How come the bull got missed out this time?
I couldn’t find the sample I had before. It was a very specific bull sample that sounded like it was dying or something. It was really horrific and I think I slowed it down, but I could not find that same sample. Every other bull sample I could find was just inferior, so I was like, right we’re gonna cut the bull. Hahahaha, literally.
Once you knew that there was that perfect dying bull sound out there, anything else would just be weak
Exactly. It’s funny cos when I was mixing with Chris Cody in the studio, he had the animals down low, because he’s a professional, and totally in his mind he’s thinking 'let's not have these animals…' And I would listen to the mix, and be like OK, sounds great eeexxxxxcept… that tiger needs to go WAAAY UP. That elephant needs to go WAAAYYY UP, just whatever, I mean I could do whatever I want, so why not have fun y’know. I like it. And God Maker is such a creepy song lyrically – all these characters that come into this record are very terrifying, they’re nightmarish characters, so I like to counter that horror with whimsy, like, Animal Sounds! Or, Flutes! Otherwise it takes itself a little too seriously. Deep down the topics are pretty dark, but I like to level that with something silly, like a tiger, but not only a tiger; the most generic tiger you can think of, like an internet tiger, or a bob cat, the first sample that comes up, the most generic, classic one, I think that’s great, it fits it conceptually.
It’s similar to the artists on PC Music using the pre-set general MIDI sounds to create club bangers
Oh I love that idea. It’s like The Cure album The Top; Dressing Up is my favourite song on it- it has this really generic sound, like he’s just bought a cheap Yamaha and is playing the pre-sets. It’s weird, it tricks your mind- if you can make those cheesy sounds into a great song it’s awesome, it kinda undoes what you think is good about music, so you’re like ‘this is cheesy but I like it’ – it makes you question what it actually is you like about music, and I like that. It’s a challenge to use really generic sounds.
When The Cure were making that record I believe Rob Smith was torturing – like literally, physically tormenting Lol Tolhurst, there were only the two of them left in the band and they got in this really dark place, and from this they started making all this music with really happy sounds
Yeah, I totally relate to that. The happiest songs I’ve made are when I’ve been at my most depressed, at my most miserable, self-hating, loathing, in complete misery and tragedy, I’ll write the happiest song I can think of. There’s almost a bit of cynicism, and a sinister aspect to that happiness- you’re angry at this joy, you’re just producing it because you can, you manufacture it, there’s something weird about that, there’s a control thing going on there. The Top is a great record; you can hear the misery a bit, but it’s really happy – it’s creepy, horrible, like a really good horror movie.
Creepy lyrics combined with depressing music is almost laughable, it’s like a pastiche, but when you get someone like David Lynch who soundtracks horrible scenes with light jazz it seems a lot more striking
There are a lot of times when you’re in a state like that you channel something. The music channels you, you have little control when you’re in that much misery, somehow the songs just get made. That’s how it is with me anyway.
And this is your first record in 5 years, so why now?
Well. Why now? Good question. OK, when I did the first record it was weird, there was no strategy in any of this stuff, I just did it for my own enjoyment, it wasn’t like 'I'm gonna make a record and put it out on a label'. They were just songs I'd recorded at home and put on my myspace, somehow people got hold of it and y’know they liked it and would pass it round. This is when social media was just starting to happen, so my music took on a life without me. I never had a PR person, or anyone paid to promote the music – that was 7 years ago and the record came out of that. Since then people have asked me to tour, to play shows, this was something I wasn’t expecting to do. I’ve always been recording – even yesterday I was recording – but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, so I went into this period of performing where I would take these songs that I was recording and represent them to an audience. It was a different kind of performance, no show was ever the same as the last, they were always unique, and were just me trying to understand why I was there, why these people were there, and what was going on with these songs I recorded. It was me letting the music dictate it’s own meaning, and that took some time, it took years, I went to like 30 countries alone..! And I'd put on art shows and exhibitions, so I was sort of entering that world of art and performance, then it got to that point where I was like OK, I should do something with these songs, its stupid for me to have them and not release them cos they’ll just sit on my computer for a hundred years, they need to get out. So I was like, alright lets do it. Plus I needed a little break from travelling.
The album does play as an album though. It doesn’t feel like a sprawling record recorded over 5 years
It’s weird, some of those songs are the first songs I ever recorded, and some of them I just recorded a few months ago. The thing is I don’t even think they fit together to be honest, I think there’s some sort of illusion. The whole thing is haunted I’m telling you! There’s something going on in there that threads them together in a way you perceive it. I could never understand whats going on when I'm recording them, it's like some other thing that comes along and does what it does, and I'm sitting there in my room and I don’t fucking know what’s happening to me hahaha.. It’s almost like a possession, and at the end of it there’s a new song, and for some reason it fits with the last one, or answers the question, or moves on the story. It’s some other form of communication. The other thing is, I record alone, it’s so me. There’s no other influence in there, other than my weird brain, so of course it’s going to flow together. It’s sort of like home school education, like being too close inside someones head, which is neither good nor bad, it just is what it is.
I noticed that you said on twitter that you ‘love making music that alienates me from the people I don’t like’ I love that statement, it’s very much against this prevailing mainstream attitude of being a brand with as broad appeal as possible
Right. I’ve had friends who’ve been very successful and you go to their shows 5 years ago and they were fun, and you go to their shows now and its just a mob of people who are rude. Or, they’re not there because they love the music they’re there for other reasons. Nothing against these people, I’m sure if you sit in a room with anyone for long enough you’ll get to like them, but for the most part there’s something that draws people to certain types of music, and mass media, popular culture it has a different type of energy that flows through it. I tend to try and keep things a little pure for as long as I can, I’ve been able to do for a long time. Just keep it real I guess..
I'm guessing you’re talking about Ariel Pink here
Well, yeah, that’s one of them, I mean, I dated him for a long time and I’ve seen the whole transtition – I mean not that it’s bad to have a bunch of peple come to your shows, I think its great, I’m totally for that – sometimes that’s the only way you can be able to support yourself as an artist. Ummm, but at the same time, something changes. I like that I’ve been able to stay true to myself for so long. In the last 5 years there’s been a lot of ego destruction. Its really hard to do music and feel confident about it and when it comes to popular culture it takes something different. I can’t even explain it. I think it’s difficult to do that and not hate yourself, or feel dumb or feel like it’s not good. I think I’m fortunate enough to not have got too famous because I haven’t had to deal with it, but just enough in small doses to build up a little defence against it. Who knows what will happen. Maybe I’ll go mad by this time next year
Maybe you already did and didn’t notice
I think I might have done! Towards the ending of this recording I think I did descend into madness a bit. It was really heavy, I'm glad to be free of that demon on my back, It's just the songs! The bun is cooked, it has to get out or its going to rot! The song is going to rot…
LA seems such an odd place to me, I cant think of anywhere with such a dichotomy of really ambitious 'winner' kind of people hunting success alongside total freaks.
Oh my God. It’s so strange. You’re right about all of that. Fortunatly I had the opportunity to travel a lot in the last 5 years, to step out of America and Los Angeles and get some perspective on it, but in a way coming back what it comes down to, my family is in California and I like to be close to them, even though I don’t talk to them, having them near is good. But also there’s something about LA- it's spread out, it's not metropolitan. When you have these gaps between energy pockets you have room for invention and mystery. And it's very cheap to live, so I'm able to live off art. I don’t have to pay $2000 a month for a tiny room in Brooklyn, I can actually breathe a little bit, and even isolate if I need to as it is so spread out. I don’t have to be go! go! go! It slows down here. But yeah LA is the most superficial place on the planet, I mean Hollywood, hello? It’s terrifying. But an aspect of that I find very stimulating when I look at it from afar. When you get too close to it, it can be quite depressing.
I feel like there's a fair few crazy looking people in LA who've done really strange things to themselves with plastic surgery, and I'm guessing they do this to look like what they imagine an uber-human to be
I love science fiction, and LA is such a great place for my brain to be stimulated because of all the science fiction going on, all the bio-technologies, the self help, the healing, the therapy, its so scary hahahaha. But its so futuristic- the TV and the movies, everyone’s like a holograph walking around. As long as I stay grounded I can observe it and use it for art, and its really inspiring. But again, its easy to get lost in that stuff. I have to be careful not to. I just watched the whole thing of Wild Palms again last week
I loved that as a kid, how does it hold up?
It's great! I love watching movies that predict the future. Its funny because its supposed to take place in 2007… but you know what's really great is that they’re looking at the future and they don’t know how people are going to drive and dress, so what they do is make everyone look retro, they look 40s and they drove these vintage cars – and that in itself is an interesting prediction of the fashion and music aesthetic of now. We've become hyper-retro, we’re not dated, we’ve lost time- we don’t have any sense of time, its almost like we’re living in a hologram of the past. I tend to over think every so I'm probably pulling too much out of it, but, yeah, it’s totally relevant and holds up – it’s great.
So is it gonna be another 5 years before the next record?
It's kinda crazy I can go 5 years without making a record and it still be cool..! I like to play with anticipation and I'm not in any rush, but at the same time I might come out with something next month, if I get inspired to do it I’ll make it happen. I don’t plan these things out, its stressful when you plan, there’s to much expectation and it ruins the creative flow,
Thanks for talking to me, this has been illuminating – I’ve got a whole lot to transcribe though –
You know what you should do? You should do the thing where you play the conversation to the computer and get it to convert text to speech, and just publish that.
So I’ll just throw up the computers vague approximation of what you said?
Exactly. I think that’d be great…
Geneva Jacuzzi – Technophelia is out now on Medical Records. Grab it over here