Illegally Blind hosted Boston’s local talents Deflector and Skinny Bones along with a gifted visitor who began his journey in the neighboring art city of Montreal, Sean Nicholas Savage. The line-up slowly morphed from upbeat techno by Deflector, to a curious analog sound from Skinny Bones, and finally sinking into dancing barefoot, with Sean Nicholas Savage (not the Patti Smith tune). As the night began with Deflector, I began my series of interviews with him. I asked him what instruments he plays, he said,” electribe, mini sequencer and vocals; sampler.” It was purely instrumental music. Deflector appeared as a multi-instrumentalist on stage, performing. We sat at one of the single red leather booths at the Middle-East nightclub:
LB: Low tempo? How would you describe your beats?
D: Not all the time, ever-fluctuating, never go into the process with anything in mind, just kind of comes out and happens.
LB: Like anything with life. How do you feel about dubstep?
D: I hate it.
LB: Would you consider your beats songs and why?
D: Yeah, I’m a techno musician. Lyrics definitely don’t make the songs for me.
LB: What do you do?
D: I make techno music. I really don’t like the whole sub-genre culture. People be like “I make this kind of techno music, or that kind of techno music.” I just make fucking techno music.
LB: Do you consider yourself a performer, and why?
D: Yes. I used to more so, when making pop music. That has more of a performative aspect to it than making techno music. You really don’t need the visual as much. Watching a person playing techno music is like watching a person type on a computer, you don’t really know what they’re doing, but if you like the product then that’s great. If you don’t like the product, that’s great too. I feel like having the aspect of the person, being in front of you, making the music is less important with techno because of how we’re moved from humanist attributes. Techno music is… basically, the music is moving through you. Nobody that makes techno music is a fucking virtuoso. Making techno music is not like a vulnerable person singing my heart out at you. It’s just making these sounds. Anybody can make if they have the brain for it. It feels good that way. I don’t have an ego when it comes to techno.
Silenced with his honesty about the main topic tonight, performance, I ended our chat there. Deflector had the crowd moving even though it was early in the night and not yet in full swing. Get a kick out of Deflector’s blithe beats.
Next, I interviewed Skinny Bones, a band that has made its trade in JP and the Boston artist community. I sat with Jacob Rosati, the instrumentalist, guitarist and vocalist, as well as Christopher Stoppiello, the drummer of Skinny Bones. We had a sip of water, and asked them to address the curious things Jacob uttered on stage:
LB: When you said, “fuck guitars, analog hardware,” what did you mean by that?
Jacob: Guitars are fantastic because they have such a long history that people are able to explore the intricacies of playing that instrument, they have a tradition behind them. There are intricacies that get teased out because there is such a tradition behind it. Those intricacies don’t interest me in my own creation. I’m very excited by the world of electronics. There is no tradition behind it.
LB: How about when you said, “this one feels like guitar”?
Jacob: What did I say?
Chris: You were describing the feeling of something else.
Jacob: I think I said based around guitar.
Chris: I think the joke you were making is there is guitar in this song, so that’s what the song feels like.
Jacob: Yeah, I think that was the joke. I’m not funny.
Chris: We are very funny in the UK.
Jacob: We’re funny in Asia as well.
LB: You sing of a San Francisco gaze? Can you elaborate?
Jacob: That’s a direct reference to a trip I took to San Francisco. I looked at it through poetic eyes, thinking man I should move here. It added to the dislike of where I am and over-romanticizing of the places I’m not.
LB: What’s with the weird vocal effects?
Jacob: What vocal effects?
Chris: The drop down vocal at the end of Wanderlust.
Jacob: Oh! Yeah, what I like about that in particular is that the human voice is one of things that, it’s the thing that’s most easily connected with by other humans, 99%. Having that voice distorted in some way, whether that means there is a ton of reverb on it, or even pitch shifting up or down, you can sense the humanity in it. But it’s distorted and in a way almost more expressive, or you are forced to reach around a corner to grab it, as opposed to directly in front of you.
Chris: It also sounds cool.
Jacob: And it’s trendy!
Skinny Bones are a thrill to see live. Their performance is highly appreciated by their fellow musicians and peers in Boston. They are a great example of the eclectic underground music scene here. Skinny Bones is the kind of folktronic band you’d like to see more than once, offering well-assorted songs on their album. They sing of Jamaica Plain, making you wonder if it is as trippy as it sounds. I recommend listening to Wanderlust or Sleep In on their Noise Floor album.
My night ended with the Sean Nicholas Savage interview, a gentle beast on stage. We sat on the pavement behind the Middle East nightclub. Breathing crisp fresh air in the open, I asked him:
LB: Who is Sean Nicholas Savage?
SNS: I’m an artist from Canada.
LB: Which part of Canada?
SNS: I grew up in Western Canada, but I had to grow up somewhere. I’m an artist, musician and performance artist.
LB: I can clearly see that. Do you still live in Canada?
SNS: The last few years I haven’t lived anywhere, I’ve just been floating around in Europe and in the States.
LB: What about Montreal?
SNS: I spend some time every year in Montreal and Vancouver.
LB: Lab Synthèse (an arts collective and music space) memories, I used to live in Montreal.
SNS: You used to go to Lab Synthèse?
LB: Yes, I used to.
SNS: I used to live there. I like it there. A bunch of people used to run it. Sebastian Cowen is my manager and he runs the [Arbutus Records] label now. Still a lot of Lab Synthèse mentality going on in their world.
LB: Why create slow jams?
SNS: I used to play in punk bands. I really love punk, the recordings of punk music. But I like 70’s & 80’s pop punk. I played in bands so long, it was really loud, all the time. I think I got softer and turned away. When I was making my own music, I just had to make, to be sincere, softer music. I’m getting into louder stuff as I get older, but I sort of have an aversion to loud frequencies. I don’t like performing loud at all. Tonight was quite loud for me, I didn’t like that.
LB: Would you consider yourself an R&B singer?
SNS: I think that I have R&B tendencies because I’m a decently good singer. R&B is a genre and I just sing pop music and that has some R&B elements to it. I love R&B but I don’t think I necessarily fall into one category more than another.
LB: Suburban Nights has the the theme of loneliness, why? You even have a song titled Lonely Woman.
SNS: I really wish that I can go back and change that lyric, but I guess that whole song wouldn’t exist. Before Other Life, I didn’t say boy or girl. I wanted it to be more like straight up talk about my life. In that album, and certain songs, the protagonist in the song is not necessarily right. In Lonely Woman, the lead character, which is me, is wrong. Because I’m wrong sometimes, a lot of the time. So when I’m talking about the person I’m talking about, I’m angry and I’m wrong. That’s supposed to be the beauty of it. It’s an angry chant. I have mixed feelings about songs like that. I like the recording. There are a lot of oldies that I like that have pretty confusing lyrics.
LB: You kind of look like 83/84 Bowie, like let’s dance era, why do you dance on stage?
SNS: I have to move around a lot to sing. I have to move, and I have to take my shoes and socks off to sing. I can’t sing if I stay still because it’s a fully physical thing.
LB: Why are you barefoot on stage?
SNS: I don’t know, I feel pretty silly about it. I can’t wear shoes and do a real performance. Usually when I’m doing a show to the level with at least three people that I care about, I want to do a performance. So I have to take my shoes off.
LB: You played at Whitehaus before, which is a private space in JP, Boston. How would you compare that to your performance tonight? Being in an a music venue.
SNS: I played at Whitehaus a few times and I had better shows there than tonight, and I had worse shows there than tonight. It’s a really cool space.
LB: You recite poems on stage, like the “crooked thoughts” one, do you consider yourself a poet, singer, dancer or actor?
SNS: Just an artist, all of those labels are like walls that hold you back.
LB: Why was Chin Chin added to your Other Life album from the previous Flamingo?
SNS: So was You Changed Me. It was kind of a Neil Diamond move. We wanted to put more hits on the album. It was a confusing time and Flamingo was just a tape. It gained a lot of ground as a digital album. We wanted to put the most popular songs on the next release. It was gonna go on vinyl and have more focus.
LB: What was the first single you released from Other Death?
SNS: The first single was Casablanca , which was the song that we put the least production into. It was quite raw and it’s pretty bold, like poppy as a Blink-182 and Green Day kind of chord progression. It’s sort of like a nostalgic song that I didn’t write so much as we just jammed. So I wanted to put that first. A lot of that went into the album, only so much that came out in the end. We wanted to put that foot forward, a happy playful foot forward.
LB: How do you feel about private art spaces vs. performing here in a public music venue?
SNS: I always prefer an art space but I mean an art space can be not so artsy and a venue more artsy. It depends on the vibe of the night. I feel like I bring that to the table, not the venue or the people. I’m the one who sets the mood, so I always come with the attitude that like I’m setting the mood.
LB: I saw artists smash their own records at Lab Synthèse, even though they paid money to make that vinyl.
SNS: It’s not that much money to make vinyl.
LB: Did you get to experience such performances there?
SNS: Yeah, all kinds. It was super backwards, upside down kind of time. Turning onto the sketchier path and trying out something new in a bolder zone.
Set the mood he did. Sean Nicholas Savage attracts a unique audience to his art. He isn’t merely a poet, singer, dancer or actor. He is a passionate artist who summed up an interview about performance by omitting the overshadowing clichés and labels of art. Earlier this Fall, Sean released a video of the song Promises. Barefoot and naked, reciting a poem, he never fails to amuse those around him. Sean Nicholas Savage is more than an artist, he is a performer too. You can get a glimpse of his performance: