OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS Artist Q&A with Zeropunkt
Zeropunkt plays freely improvised expressivist psychedelia tinged with the digressive energies of free jazz and no wave. The trio operates instinctively, without charts, heads, precepts or concepts, in performances that respond directly to the space they find themselves in. Despite a para-generic approach, their music springs from a deep bedrock, at times recalling the meditativeness of Alice Coltrane, the frenzy of Faust, or the chaos of the Contortions.
Ahead of Zeropunkt's performance at the Fumbally Stables on the 12th of August, Damien Lennon (bass, effects) and Jamie Davis (drums, percussion, saxophone) spoke to us about the power of music in connection, the build-up of experience which inspire music, and the challenges of making purely spontaneous improvised music.
Q. What is the most important thing to you when making music?
(Jamie): For us the most important thing about making music is connection, with each other and with the audience. The element of surprise is also a key part of making music. Realising what can be done as a group, pushing things to the limit and enjoying the results always spurs us on to want to make more music.
(Damien): I would add that it's also important for us to stay true to what comes to us in the moment, to stay honest towards that, and not infect it with overthinking it, manipulating it just to please an audience or to try and mould it in some way as if to cash in on it. It's too easy to make a good idea into thick cheese. It's much harder to trust the beginnings of an instinct - this kind of discipline is very important for us I think.
Q. Who or what inspires you at the moment - be it in music, arts, politics or your personal life?
(Damien) We all come from different perspectives and backgrounds and there's a huge variety of influences that inspire us. We're avid consumers of all things art, so there's too much in the mix to single anything out in particular. As for what inspires us at the moment, I'm not sure we relate to inspiration in a way that discriminates between current things and past things. One of our records is entitled Sediments, and part of the thinking behind that title had to do with how what inspires or motivates you (positively and negatively) comes from a layering of experience over time - and things surging momentarily out of a deep bedrock of inarticulate memory. In addition, we don't forcibly tend towards the same inspirations at the same time - we're all different.
I will say that a common inspiration that has been on all our minds recently is the late Dave Carroll who played with The Wormholes and e+s=b/European Sensoria Band. In the perfectly accurate description of a friend, Dave was "an unsung hero who played fire music". And what we all find inspirational, in a way that transcends the usual limits of the term, is just how selfless Dave was in his commitment to his art. He had an alchemical personality, presence, charisma and pure talent. But there was no aspect of commercial angling whatsoever, no vanity, no ego, no competitiveness ... nothing but focused application to the purity of his music, huge generosity of spirit, great discernment, and all the time, selflessness. That's a lot to learn from. We forget in these commercializing times that there's something radically ascetic about a person doing experimental music for nothing but its own sake - and it can cost you in multiple ways. And Dave Carroll was a seminal, inspirational figure in that regard in a music scene where people usually want a "return" or even a career. Dave was wholly and uncompromisingly focused on making his music his way. He was always an inspiration to us, and he has recently become an even more poignant one, as well as a huge loss.
Q. How would you describe the type of music that Zeropunkt creates?
(Damien) It's difficult to describe easily, mainly because we don't consider ourselves to be part of any particular genre or style. But, as a starting point, we play 100% spontaneous composition with no precepts, concepts or any advanced planning. As a result, the music is necessarily expressivist. You could almost think of it as pure expression, given that a person always expresses within the limited totality of their means. Our "totality" in this case is within the limits of what and how we can play. So basically we have a "vocabulary," we have tools, and then the trick is to mobilize this stuff to express what comes in the specifics of a moment. One of our mottos is listen first play second. This is very hard to do, but we try, and when we manage that is when we play our best. But to come back to Earth a little and speak about descriptions ... we are informed of course by all of the music we know and love, so there are rumours of those musics in the expression of what we do. So what does that include?: spiritual, free and other types of jazz, free music in general, punk, post-punk, noise, psychedelia, electronic music, primal music, no wave, electro-acoustic ... but also we are inspired by writers, photographers, sculptors, poets, thinkers ... And influence can be as much about choosing what not to do, what not to replicate, as it is about what to let through. But essentially if you're looking for a tagline we play psychiatric music ÷ 3 x history².
Q. In your ideal gig, what experience/response would the audience have?
(Jamie) The ideal audience response/experience for us is one that helps to push us out of the comfort zone and match any expectations the audience might have. I think that when this happens and the 'uncomfortable' zone becomes more comfortable it gets easier to anticipate/make choices that will add to the music in a constructive way. There is a kind of 'loose precision' at work when things go well. And the element of surprise is interesting, because in those moments where something new happens, or something shifts, both we and the audience are surprised at the same time.The best thing is when we get converts!
(Damien) I'm not sure I agree about matching audience expectations, but there is definitely a process of getting somewhere you could never have gotten without the other band members, and without that room and those people in front of you. But that's what we would ideally get out of it. I think the ideal audience experience from our perspective would be that they get to that weird and rare place with us - that we get there together. But now I'm making us sound like hippies.
Q. What direction do you see the music industry headed towards in the next 20 years?
(Damien) I don't see us as being part of any industry, and certainly not the music industry, so I'm not sure that we could answer this question. We are DIY. We have no financial support, and therefore no obligations to anyone. We make and put out music however we wish, when we want, and according to the means at our disposal at a given time. If all known formats of recording and production disappeared in an apocalypse we'd still be playing live wherever we could. We don't really strategize towards profit, we just try to at least make sure we break even. So it's not even a cottage industry. It's a vocation. Without being curt about it, if the music industry suddenly became a festering swamp of self-devouring alligators it would matter little to us - we're not part of it. What might happen to it in the future is way beyond our ken, and probably quite irrelevant to us. I assume all those selfless artists who exist on the fringes and just do what they do will still be out there persisting in their weird and wonderful visions and creations. And while that might involve industry, it has little to do with "THE INDUSTRY". So ...
Thanks Jamie and Damien!
Don't miss Zeropunkt on
Monday 12th August, 8:30pm (doors 8pm)
at The Fumbally Stables, Fumbally Lane, Dublin 8.