Hello Mathias. Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? When did you start making music and why?
I live in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin on the eastern edge of the state where it drops into Loch Michigan. It’s cold and snowy here. Usually more cold than anything else, but we like it. I started doing this form of music in 1988. Then I was known as Joy Before the Storm. In that year, I was having derailing personal problems while battling clinical depression. It escalated until an attempt on my life brought me face to face with professional help. This resulted in my therapist suggesting a creative outlet. I discovered audio and never looked back. I got heavily into the cassette culture and mail art, too. I had tons of pen pals from the mail art thing. My mailbox was crammed everyday with the weirdest stuff from all over the world. I remember mailing Julee Peezlee lint and stuff like that. I was corresponding with a homeless teenager for a while – Claire, I have no idea what became of her – and I developed a few lifelong friendships through that time. I don’t know, mailing tapes, writing people in analog form and reading Factsheet Five religiously was quite cool then. Sort of sounds silly now though, I guess . . . It was just the way things were done then. It was actually fun to go to the PO box. Now it’s just email, about as much fun as watching paint dry. Anyway, I bought a four track and a mixing board and I just started teaching myself how to get sound on tape properly. I spent about 4 months learning how things worked. Then I began creating. I tried to write songs but found the plotless noodling I had done while teaching myself to record was far more interesting. So, I sort of just dropped the whole song idea and embraced a more abstract sound approach. The sounds and noise I created was the only way for me to escape the profound difficulties I was facing. It became a very personal thing. In retrospect, I started this whole thing for myself but by releasing CDs, I’ve sort of invited everyone else to come along.
I love your avant-garde approach. Can you give us some indication of the recording and writing process of Waiting for the Tiller? What concepts were you after when writing this album?
I approach recording in quite the same way a madman approaches a cliff. You never know what’s going to happen. Clearly, one cannot sit down and plan any of this. I suppose you could say all experimental music is haphazard, and that’s true to a large extent. However, I don’t think what I do is random or just thrown together. I do not engage in gimmickry or bloated convolution. I’m simply a collector of sounds. I wander around with a minidisc, recording everything that catches my ear. Back in the studio I begin the task of sifting through everything I’ve recorded. I actually spend more time listening to what I’ve collected then making any kind of progress. I get lost in listening and then hours go by and I haven’t accomplished a thing. This is part of the reason why it takes me forever to finish a CD. Anyway, if I’m motivated, I then begin to cull sounds that I think should go steady, sounds that will compliment others. Then it’s a matter of being sensitive to the piece I’m working on. Hearing what it’s doing and following the lead of the sounds, atmospheres, and feelings. After the initial thrust, the piece writes itself. This is where all the experiments are birthed. This is how the “concepts” come to fore. I don’t preplan. All of the songs on ‘Waiting For The Tiller’ are more or less about old machines and the mid-industrial years of the 40’s and 50’s. This theme just occurred. It emerged from what the sounds had to say and how they were cared for during the creation process. Sort of like children; love them, treat them well and they’ll grow into beautiful people . . . There are a few things that aid in this process. The proper application of dark incense; Nutmeg or something amber always helps to bring up the old spirits and wandering signals, lonely pioneer girls and dancing shovels, empty houses and rattling floorboards. Also, a cordial at my side is always good. The thing about cordials is they gently walk up to you like a good friend. They warm and inspire… They also wreak havoc if you drink them like a philistine. Ceaseless vigilance is required. I find it laughable that many people assume I smoke pot as well. As much as I am in favor of the legalization of this fine plant, I do not use it myself anymore.
What sort of equipment do you use?
Very little as of late. I used to have a lot of stuff but I have recently shrunk my stockpile down to a few very essential hunks of electronics. In an age of more, more, more, I’m using less and less. As for outboard
effects, I have a few tube amps and pre’s. I like the fizzy effect they leave on a sound. I have a delay unit from the 70’s, an EQ, and a noise reduction unit. All of these things I may or may not utilize depending on what I’m doing. I also have a reel to reel machine and cassettes. I have a player for just about any source I may find save for wire recorders. I do all of my editing and sound creation on a PC with Cool Edit and Sound Forge. Sound Forge has a great pitch shifting tool that I use quite often. I also have a hundred or so DX and VST effects plug-ins. I use these extensively. Applied creatively, plug-ins can really be a great asset to a small studio. You know, I’m not much of a gear head. I like this stuff but I’m certainly not touching my privates when I look at any of it. Anyway, everything is then tracked to an 8-track digital outboard recorder where dynamics, event, and volume changes are done manually in real time. I prefer to leave things open to chance and mishap. I do not perfect anything with software or computer trickery. What you hear is how it went down. I do no remixing or alternate versions of anything. To that end, if it doesn’t work, it gets dumped.
What has lead you to produce such experimental music? What do you think it is about yourself that leads you to produce more unstructured art?
Well, my mind is very unstructured. My day job requires unemotional and analytical thought. Both of which I’m very poor at. Sometimes I get personally involved or make decisions based on feeling. Not good in that environment. But in my studio, I can be myself. I can feel, think and act in a way that’s normal for me. Once the incense is burning and I’ve shaken off the world, I can really create. Unstructured art is simply where I gravitated naturally. My mind works on a little netherworld where wonder and curiosity abound. Let me state the obvious: a still life painting is a still life painting. It’s right there. Hello. You can’t ever get around it. It’s a bunch of flowers or what not. But an abstract painting can be anything. 50 people view it and 50 people come away with a different impression. Abstract is not only satisfying to the artist, it’s also quite satisfying and personal to the viewer. That’s the way it should be. A personal statement by the artist equals a personal meaning to the listener or viewer. There is no other art like it. I don’t listen to any experimental or abstract music and I’m not an active listener to offered media. I find popular music to be rather laconic. Bass/drums/guitar/vocals seem deathly restricting. How can people keep pumping out the same tired combinations of those four instruments? I really enjoy listening to the world around me and I’m thrilled to hear a sound that’s brand new to me. My daughter operates a wool carding machine at her work. It’s this kindly old relic from 1864 that produces the stuffing for quilts. Anyway, this machine is so friendly and quiet. When I first heard it, I was enthralled by how it sounded. I stood there listening, amazed that I was hearing the same series of sounds that someone heard more than 100 years ago. Fascinating. So, to get back to your original question; I guess I would have to say that being restricted to simply playing musical instruments is anathema to a personal experience in art for both artist and listener. So, color me abstract.
How has your sound progressed over the course of your releases? Do you see personal growth in your art as you have composed more music?
Personal growth? That’s a pretty tough question. I would say as the years pass I’m expressing myself more. I’m not entirely sure if I’m growing as an artist with each release or if I’m just continuing to follow a natural progression. I would say the latter. I remember years ago always feeling like I had to prove myself. Like each thing that I did had to be this huge, amazing sparkling orgasm. I don’t feel so much like that anymore. In fact, I have very little desire to prove anything to anyone. I suppose that partly due to my age. It’s also due to the fact that ultimately, I’m doing this for reasons disconnected from any modern understanding of what an artist or musician is. My goals are considerably less lofty than one might expect. I’m just trying to build a world where things are fascinating and strange. An aural environment safe from the seething blackness of this modern, grotesque society. Something from long ago that might have never existed. Mixed in with this atmosphere are my emotions and feelings. Things that could never be expressed any other way. I guess what I’m doing with each release is attempting to be more truthful with myself and you.
Are there any musical or literary artists that you would say have influenced you?
Yes. The writings of Carl Sandburg. Especially his Rootabaga Stories’ from the twenties. No musical artists influence me.
What is the future of Hollydrift? Do you have another album in the making? If so, when do you think it may be released?
The future holds many wondrous and twinkling things. What they are, I don’t know. Everything depends on everything else at this point. If I don’t irritate Parasomnic too much, I may have another release on that label. I have recently completed a move into a new studio space. I’m now awaiting the arrival of inspiration. Yes, there will always be a Hollydrift release to look forward to, if you’re inclined to that sort of thing. I can’t picture my life without this. It’s hard to say when the new CD will come out. There will be a Hollydrift retrospective coming out relatively soon on Structural Suffering. It will be a bunch of old Hollydrift tracks and some obscure stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day for years. You can visit hollydrift.com for more info on that one. I bet Structural Suffering is taking preorders, too. Don’t know for sure, though. Anyway, that’ll be cool.
What artists are you listening to now?
This winter I’ve been listening almost exclusively to Loreena McKinnett and this spiffy little band called Experimental Aircraft. Actually, they’re the first new band I’ve been excited about since I first heard Curve in ’91. I really don’t listen to a whole lot of music anymore . . .
Any other comments?
Yes. There is absolutely no need to turn on your TV tonight. Why not try something different for a change. Look at old family photos. Gaze into your daughter’s eyes. Tell your wife she still means the world to you. I’m fairly certain you can do all this. Instead of filling your mind with another night of mindless gunk, go make something. Try your hand at sculpture or some other form. Listen to yourself, your spirit, your soul. Resensitize yourself to life, body, and mind. Instead of another night of sadistic gore and human suffering, try finding a broken heart to rebuild or a lonely person to hang out with. You can do these things. You do have a brain. Thanks for the interview. I very much appreciate your interest in my work.
h o l l y d r i f t