Minneapolis based experimental musician/ visual artist/ curator Justin Meyers released both his own and others music (including Helm, C. Spencer Yeh, Yellow Swans, John Olson from Wolf Eyes) via Tone Filth records for ten years. As the website now brusquely explains on the closing of that label, ‘It’s been 10 years and that has been enough.’
Sympathy Limited is his new outlet, with two gorgeous, enigmatic records already circling the ether.
Here he expounds upon his approach to making these releases, influences, process and the reasoning behind this renewal:
Sam Price: Before we get to the music, can you tell me some stuff about yourself and your musical journey?
Justin Meyers: I’m an art school dropout who discovered music by accident. Around 2003 I purchased a Tape Player for the Blind with the intention of using it to actually listen to tapes. It’s internal battery was busted and added a ton of extra interesting sounds to a Wolf Eyes tape I was listening to. I experimented with it some and started recording my own music with it. I released my first tape myself (Devillock – Metal Tapez Vol. 1) and having some graphic design experience I loved the process of putting the release together so I eventually formed my label, Tone Filth.
Ever since then I’ve recorded music under the names Devilock, Panther Skull, Glass Organ (a group) & Justin Meyers. Mostly working with tape and feedback as my main instruments, but also building synthesizers and using field recordings.
Bands like Wolf Eyes and Lightning Bolt opened my mind and were my path to experimental music, but INA/GRM, Joe Colley, Damion Romero, and others refined my tastes.
Sam Price: Listening to Jailblazer again right now; this music doesn’t sound like a broken machine. Quite the opposite, it’s almost formal in nature. Are there any philosophies that underpin the making of this music? Who are the Rip City Misfits? Questions..
Justin Meyers: This kind of reference may be a little unexpected from some of an experimental musician, but the “Jailblazers” were an early 00’s iteration of NBA’s Portland Trailblazers (Rip City being one permanent moniker for the team). The artwork is a play on the team’s jerseys and pinwheel logo. The Jailblazers were notorious for misbehaving, getting caught with drugs, arguing with their coach and amongst each other. They had absolutely no regard for the fan base as well, denying autographs, spitting on hecklers and just not being the public wants from their professional athletes. I think the Jailblazer release plays with expectations in a similar matter. It does have some form and harmony, but it’s doesn’t always do what the listener may expect or want.
Sam Price: The first questions came to mind when listening to Jailblazer were predictably technical (user error), eg are the sounds put through the envelope generators after having been recorded or are they all done as part of one synth system? It doesn’t really matter but I like that it got me thinking straight away – that’s one of the things I want from temporal art product.
Justin Meyers: The basis of all the Jailblazer material is a polyphonic shepard tone algorithm. Chords or individual notes are sent to the synthesizer, usually faster than the envelope is done triggering, resulting in complex overlapping harmonies with almost no multi-tracking on the final release. Sometimes the same chord is retriggered dozens of times before the first envelope is finished, with a varied modulation index some odd harmonic pairs can be achieved with the same note.
Sam Price: What experience do you intend for listeners with Rasheed? And how would that differ from Aprés Garde? I found Aprés Garde an easier listen in the sense that it feels effortless to return to, more immersive.
Justin Meyers: When I first started “Rasheed”, hearing the mixes made me very anxious. After working with it over time, I did pare some of that away with some editing, but I still feel that’s an integral part of the experience. It has a fast pace to the whole thing and there are really no cues as to what may be coming next. I feel there is a form and melody to it to keep the listener engaged, but it just has a much different energy than anything I’ve released.
Unlike Rasheed (which took about 6 months to record and edit), Aprés Garde spans over 4 years. It was recorded in separate living spaces and many different methods. My home built modular synthesizers are the main tool used throughout. Even when using field recordings, tape, and other instruments it all went through the synthesizer to control the dynamics and filtering. Unlike Rasheed, most elements are given the time to develop, making what can really be a more passive listening experience.
Sam Price: Is all music either song or dance? Where do you see these releases sitting between these poles?
Justin Meyers: I’d actually call these songs! It took me a decade making music to finally start making “songs”. At the same time they are definitely not what a conventional music consumer would expect from music or a song. That’s a very well-treaded path I’ve declined to indulge in though.
Sam Price: Are you solely the creator of both records? If so, why have you chosen to release them under different artist IDs?
Justin Meyers: I created them both. Jailblazer felt like a one-off kind of thing, so I chose to release it without my name on it so the listener can approach it as a new experience, separate from my previous releases.
Sam Price: You mention a couple of composers who I hadn’t heard of before, I’m getting on to them now. They’re both visual artists I note. Establishing a form and then consciously breaking it is a regular feature between the two Sympathy Limited releases. Are you more Pollock or Rothko in your approach? Ha, appalling question. I have tremendous respect for the visual with alas, no abilities in that realm. What I’m looking to find out is to what extent you employ aleatoric processes in your composing..
Justin Meyers: Whenever I sit down to compose or record music I don’t like to start with any preconceived idea, instead construct a process (maybe a synth patch or a tape loop) and see where that takes me. 5 minutes of finished music came from 1-4 hours of experimenting and an hour or so of editing (with about a month of mental second guessing). All the editing I do for my music kind of removes the comparison to Pollack, everything for him was a lack of control. Control is a very integral part of my process.
Sam Price: And lastly, for this missive at least, why the new record company?
Justin Meyers: I feel I had a definitive style to ‘Tone Filth’ that I really didn’t feel compelled to explore anymore. Rather than attempt to create within that old style and removed all previous expectations within that I wanted to break free and attempt something new. My plans with Sympathy Limited go beyond what a traditional record label would release, for instance SYM 003 will be a Typeface. I also plan on doing some small run art books and zines down the line. I have a lot of creative energy these days and I didn’t want to be shackled by the boundaries I had set with Tone Filth.