“There is no such thing as a finalization.”
Cannibal are Cary Loren, Dennis Tyfus and Cameron Jamie, and they are what’s commonly known as a supergroup.
Cary Loren was, together with Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and Niagara (Lynn Rovner) part of the group of young artists who formed the art school band Destroy All Monsters in 1974 at the University of Michigan. In his “Manifesto of Ignorance; Destroy All Monsters” he is talking about having trot out a “menagerie of words, images and sounds” to counter the proto-male shaped US rock of the 70s. They saw themselves in the tradition of free jazz, rock and avantgarde minds like Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart and Silver Apples, but didn’t negate the rock of The Stooges or MC5 (Ron Asheton from The Stooges and Michael Davis from MC5 were members of the band in their later years). The shows were reminiscent of the Grand Guignol and were short, bloody, anarchic-apocalyptic eruptions, where everything was possible.
Dennis Tyfus, born Dennis Faes, operates the Ultra Eczema Studio in Antwerp. As a child of the 80s he represents a type of artist who is open to miscellaneous directions. In a very natural manner Tyfus works as illustrator and promoter as well as visual artist, radio journalist and musician – the latter under a multitude of solo aliases (Bitchy Vallens, Herr Keula,Penis Tea Flush, Vom Grill) and in three band constellations (these, are next to Cannibal, Call Gypsi and Speedqueen). No area is imaginable without the other, the artistic practice is a spider-net-like structure in which everything carries meaning for everything.
Cameron Jamie, who was born in Los Angeles in the late 60s and now lives in Paris, sort of represents the hinge between the generations in Cannibal. The usual operating principal of Jamie as multimedia- and performance artist is on the one hand already influenced by the current digital spaces of possibility, but his approach on the other hand still significantly more focused than that of younger representatives of post-digital art. In his work Cameron Jamie is investigating how geographic and traditional codifications are able to shape people’s daily routines. He questions distraction-projection-mechanisms of societies and their members and the shadowing that adhere to them. His cinematic documentations are meager, direct glimpses in a world of desire looking for meaning. For this he works extensively with music as a stylistic element, in this process he has been working with the American avant-garde rock band The Melvins and the Japanese free noise musician Keiji Haino.
To date there has only been one record of Cannibal, “Cannibal” (with a silkscreen cover designed by Cameron Jamie), but the referential universe they are exploring with it proves impressively that Cannibal are part of the tradition of the avant-garde rock collective Red Krayola, which was founded in the 60s by Mayo Thomson, and Lorens’s band Destroy All Monsters.
Over the course of the fifteen songs (that partly show the characteristics of sketches or interludes), that have been recorded in 2010 by Loren, Tyfus and Jamie in Antwerp, and then have been mixed three years later, when they were well riped, in Detroit by Warn Defever and Cary Loren, a chaotic seeming vortex of feelings. It’s a chaos that still develops a narrative stringency after you drop the fear and disorientation. Inspired by white trash and horror (anti-)aesthetics the three of them celebrate a wild, ecstatic eruption in between free improvisation and accentuated rhythmic significance.
It’s a mixture that is equally repulsive as well as in a strange kind tackily fascinating. The song “Sweet Dreams” gets symbolically to the heart of this, in its mean and dark white noise manically performed voice scraps are suddenly palpable, the word resembling structures of it are assembling themselves, in our pop culturally trained minds, little by little to fragments of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the British 80s pop group Eurythmics.
The following talk happened in April 2016 ahead of the Cannibal concert at Kölnische Kunstverein.
Cary, Dennis, Cameron Jamie, how do I have to picture the rehearsal process of your band Cannibal?
Dennis Tyfus: We are chatting it up from the second we see each other and all those things end up in the gig. We are like a walking collage.
Cameron Jamie: We include a lot of topics and our own in-jokes. The warm up with coffee and talking is definitely a part of it.
Humor is a big part of Cannibal, isn’t it?
Dennis Tyfus: That´s how we communicate.
Cameron Jamie: But it’s not ironic. The sensibility of Cannibal is very different from Destroy all Monsters and also Gobbler, the old band I played in with Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. Cannibal’s sound is much more weirder and much more undefinable.
Cameron Jamie: The dynamic comes from us being musically different. We improvise a lot, which is often not an easy process.
Dennis Tyfus: We are three people in three completely different situations living in three different countries and we rarely see each other. But when we see each other, it starts the second we meet. Cannibal is a collage of our three tastes, which are quite eclectic – we all learn from each other’s influences. I must say, I played with a lot of different people in the past, but it never came that easy to me like with Cannibal.
Cary Loren: Yes, we bring it together in the rehearsal.
Cameron Jamie: I would not call it a rehearsal. It is more like a warm-up session and then everything goes wild when the gig is happening.
What was the starting point for you guys? The interest in the other people or the interest in the specific sounds these people bring in?
Dennis Tyfus: I knew Gobbler and Destroy all Monsters, but I do not think they knew what I do. We started when I set up a reading and film screening of the work of Cary – and Cameron and I met a few years before and stayed in touch and so one day he calls me and said: “I am in Paris, two hours away by train, I could come tomorrow and we could record all day at your place.” And then a year later he mailed me and said: “Do you know that Cannibal is not yet a band name. We should really be a band!”.
Cameron Jamie: Cary was the one responsible for the connection of the LP coming out through James Hoff.
Cary Loren: We recorded at Dennis’ home-studio and then Primary Information put out the LP.
Cameron Jamie: At that stage we did not yet have a name. So I asked Cary on the phone and he answered “Cannibal”. There were other bands like, Cannibal Corpse and Cannibal and the Headhunters, Cannibal this, and that… but no Cannibal.
Cary Loren: We were into this Exotica music thing.
Cameron Jamie: Easy Listening music is a main topic of discussion between Cary and me.
Cary Loren: We talk here about the cannibalism of different cultures: it could be blues, it could be African music….
Cameron Jamie: Yeah, that´s right: an exploration in all those fields and the rituals of the world. You have to know, I’ve been calling Cary for at least three times a day over the last decade, spending more than $20,000 a year just talking about music with him.
Cary, is this something you like?
Cary Loren: Yeah.
Cameron Jamie: I wake him up every morning at ten o´clock and we just talk about crazy stuff.
Cary Loren: He plays me stuff he’s working on, samples or whatever. We talk about everything.
Cameron Jamie: My cell phone is one of my prime instruments.
He opens an app and suddenly we hear these weird guitar sounds.
Cameron, can I expect to see you doing exactly this on stage later on?
Cameron Jamie: Yes, this is my main instrument.
Cary, did you expect something like that to happen in the ’70s when you played with Destroy all Monsters?
Cary Loren: No! But we were doing similar things with tape loops back then. Using all those ’60s instruments like echoplex and distortion devices we got cheap from thrift stores. We also had a drum box, an early prototype of a Casio beat thing.
That being said, do you see the vibe of Destroy all Monsters vibrating in a project like Cannibal?
Cary Loren: I hear some connections.
Dennis Tyfus: You!
Cary Loren: That is true. Now there are samplers and Iphones and all these things – but Dennis uses these antique devices. What are they?
Dennis Tyfus: Remodeled cassette players. A friend of mine kinda fucks with them, modifies the speeds.
Cannibal seems to me as an open system where everybody is able to bring in anything. There isn’t any hierarchy or any specific rules, right?
Dennis Tyfus: Yes, we do not say to each other things like “don´t do that!”. When we recorded in Brussels there were a lot of moments when we listened to the recordings afterwards and realized that things went on for too long so we shortened those parts for the performances. But regarding your question about Destroy all Monsters: I loved them long before I knew him, so there is definitely an influence. His presence and the way he included poetry.
Cary Loren: We hear each other doing things and somehow all that modulates into these layers of sound and history, then one by one the whole thing moves into a weird direction with a strange structure.
How do I have to imagine the finalization of a song coming from this endless stream of freedom in the working process?
Cary Loren: There is no such thing as a finalization. At the end it may find this state in the form of a release – that is a piece or an edited routine. The live show has little or no boundaries—it feels formless. Sometimes the poetry or rhythms can give it structure but that always gets broken down.
I know that the material you recorded in Brussels was lying around for quite a long time before you, Cary, finally mixed it. That must have been really weird as the music itself is the result of such a wild improvisation.
Dennis Tyfus: When you re-listen to music right after recording it, it is hard to see what the quality of it is and what not. They both did not listen to the recordings in Brussels at all. We were not really expecting that there will be a release coming from this.
Cameron Jamie: It is a bit overwhelming to be honest because there’s now so much material we recorded in Brussels last year.
Cary Loren: The distance helps. I like what we are doing now much more than what we were doing six months ago.
Dennis Tyfus: I never listen to my own music at home at all, I will probably never put on the Cannibal record.
Jörg Heiser, the editor in chief of the German magazine Freeze , wrote this book named “Doppelleben” in which he talks about artists who are ambitious in both artistic fields, art and music. Is this something you consider true for you guys, too?
Cameron Jamie: For me absolutely not. I am first of all a visual artist and only secondly a musical artist. Music is just another planet in my universe of art practice. Besides the film work I do and drawing and sculpture, music has always been in my life – most of my life was connected with sound and music even before I wanted to be an artist. Music is my exercise. The fact that we are able to play together is an amazing thing which brings me back to when I was really young. I love playing with these guys – and the fact that these guys, who played with so many amazing people in the past, both think this is their favorite band – that says a lot. I mean: Cary played for example with Ron Asheton of the Stooges – and he says that he experienced his best performances ever with Cannibal. Did you really mean this, Cary?…
Cary Loren: I do! I think we have a really wide vocabulary. For me, music is similar to visual art. It’s a language. We draw from a lot of things. Cameron likes to separate these things.
Cameron Jamie: I keep them in tribes.
Cary Loren: I don´t see it that way. My practice is overlapping everything: my visual art, writing, photography, film, installation and music—its all a blend. Each discipline informs the others.
Dennis Tyfus: I agree with this, in my work all is overlapping too. I do for example all the artwork for my label – and while doing so I often ask the question how and why do the cover and the music, those two different forms of art, collaborate? Why for example is the artwork for the first Suicide album with the blood and lettering, why is this iconic strange piece fitting so perfect with the music? It is the same with what we do: it fits – and it does not. I could do an exhibition without sounds, but in a lot of my exhibitions there is sound.
Cameron, did the musicians you worked with in the past, like Keiji Haino and The Melvins also shape your approach to music?
Cameron Jamie: Absolutely. In a strange way they were much more an influence on me as a visual artist. There is something about music that always moved me more than visual art. I am more influenced by music, I go more to club shows and concerts than to exhibitions – not that I don´t like exhibitions, it’s just how it is.
Dennis Tyfus: When you go to an exhibition, something hangs on the wall or stands in the room, but it is rare that a show is like a gig and grabs you and gives you energy. An exhibition could be very dry.
Cary Loren: A visual exhibition needs you to have knowledge to decode it. It is a harder process to decode an artwork than a soundwork.
Cameron Jamie: Even a pop song has somehow to be decoded.
Cary Loren: Yes, but it hits you quickly and is more easily absorbable.
Cameron Jamie: I have a problem with the way the art world reacts to music and how art curators have attempted to bring the thematic shows about music in the institutional arena. It’s never been good. I deliberately kept the film performances with Keiji Haino and Melvins collaborations out of that framework as a statement. I was really against showing my film performance work as a projection on a gallery wall, it felt to me that there needed to be another way to present the experience. That´s why I turned every one of those show requests for thematic shows with art and music down. – “Oh, you work with the Melvins, there is a show for you!” – “No!” Maybe this is where the tribe thing comes in. Do you wanna cut this so it fits in the structure or do you wanna make it difficult for the people? – I’d much rather make it difficult.
Is it only because of the power of music that people find it easier to connect, or has it to do with the social space of the gallery? If you would be socialized to go to an art show and totally loose it and fall into a picture, obviously you would do so.
Cary Loren: I think it’s a good thing that the barriers between sound and art are being tested and broken down.
Dennis Tyfus: I always find it strange that good visual artists do not have a good taste in music – maybe this is selfish to say so. Why does a good visual artist have a shit taste in music and goes to a discotheque and dances to the worst house music all night? How could he not see that it is the same thing?
Well, maybe your interpretation of his art is wrong.
Dennis Tyfus: Anything I say about this you could turn around and it is bullshit. The great thing about art and music is: there are no rules, that´s why I want to be an artist. There are no restrictions.
Cameron Jamie: I once went to see Ted Nugent and it was just one of the weirdest, psychotic, rock`n´roll concerts one could imagine. I do not even know where to begin talking about it: he was shooting flaming arrows on stage! Is this already performance art? And that´s exactly why I like to play with Cary and Denis: there is an openness, no closed doors, no limits. And very important: in Cannibal there is no hierarchy. Cary, you know how difficult hierarchies in bands are, you dealt with it in the past.
Dennis Tyfus: Is this true, was there a big hierarchy in Destroy all Monsters?
Cary Loren: Not in early ’70s version of the band. In the beginning it was more like this band. In the ’90s Mike became an art star and so he had started to worry a lot about playing live and what this does to his reputation. He wanted it to be more in control. At that time we saw our free selves only during the rehearsals. When the doors were closed and the three of us were alone, it was insane. But on stage it was a different thing. It was public – and he was worried.
Dennis Tyfus: It fucks with your head and you can´t keep on behaving normal when everybody wants to suck your dick.
How did he feel after the shows, I mean he could not have been happy with that either, right?
Cameron Jamie: He was always very critical.
Cary Loren: There was always some tension.
Cameron Jamie: Cary and I talked a lot about what happened to Destroy all Monsters. There are in fact three different histories to that band- Mike had something in mind like an avant-garde rock band, Niagara wanted it to be a real rock ‘n roll bar-band – and then Cary had a freak-rock band in mind.
Cary Loren: That said: Cannibal is a no rules band – and we listen closely to each other.
Cameron Jamie: And not.
Cary Loren: And not, sometimes that’s true too. We are testing each other.
Dennis Tyfus: Also, when you never see each other you appreciate the moments you have.
Cameron Jamie: Some times I feel like we’re still living like we are 16. I could call Cary and say: “What do you think about this monster?”
Cary Loren: We have discussions.
Cameron Jamie: Why does Dracula get all the girls and Frankenstein didn´t?
Dennis Tyfus: What´s the size of his penis.
I wonder that you boys do not have more lyrics. The words comes quite easily here.
Cary Loren: We write constantly, but we don’t use them so often. To me a song is a different thing. I do write folk music, so a lot of it comes from that and we work with found poetry: things we write in journals, or coded words. We sometimes blend stories or routines into the sound.
Cameron Jamie: Cary, What was your big hit? “Rocky Mountain High”?
Cary Loren: “Die When You Die”.
Cameron Jamie: You have to know that Cary transcended into punk rock without his control. G.G. Allin covered one of his songs….
Cary Loren: He rewrote the lyrics. The original DAM song was “You’re Gonna Die.”
Cameron Jamie: He made it better.
Cary, how did you find out about that?
Cary Loren: I was given the cassette tape in the ‘90s from someone in Princess Dragon-Mom. Cameron sent me a ten-year-old covering it on Youtube. I call that kid “The Rodent” and that was the best take ever. GG’s performances were always disgusting.
Cameron Jamie: GG was fantastic.
Dennis Tyfus: I am a huge fan.
Do you remember the documentary about him, “Hated: GG Allin & the Murder Junkies”, I loved that one. Who was the director again?
Dennis Tyfus: Todd Phillips, the guy who later on directed the “Hangover” movies.
Really? What a beautiful line of inspiration from GG Allin to “Hangover”.
Dennis Tyfus: That makes sense, “ Hangover” is the student version of GG Allin…
Dennis, looking at your roster of activities: you host shows, run a label, of course work as an artists… how much of this is the result of economic pressure?
Dennis Tyfus: I was talking with them about this yesterday. I have a focus problem, I do all those things at the same time. I need all of them to stay interested, I wouldn´t be able to just sit in my studio and draw all the time. I like it, but I love the variation, for example that people come by to my space to play a show. I do not see where the problem should be.
I did not say, that there is a problem. My questions comes more from the perspective that a lot of people seem to need to have several jobs these days to make a living.
Dennis Tyfus: Well, a job is usually paid. Most of the things that I do are only paid …
Cameron Jamie: … to do the next thing.
Dennis Tyfus: The money I make selling the records of my label I use to make new records. With visual art I do not make money while producing an exhibition, I maybe make money when I sell a piece. And when we play a gig, it usually just pays for the costs. I don´t know, I never look at all these things as a financial necessity. For me the money thing and this stuff is separate from each other. I am not interested in money, well, I would like to make more money. It is an uninteresting topic.
Not sure about this: the subtitle of our magazine is “Insolvency & Pop” as we like to speak with artists about the economic situations in which they produce their art.
Dennis Tyfus: There is a lot of small money. Okay: I also make tattoos and make a lot of money with that right now – but I know this will disappear.
Cary Loren: I own a bookstore and that supports me. I never had a huge support from music, it was always just a thing I do. What we are doing is so off the field of general music that there never will be a mass audience.
Dennis Tyfus: I don´t care if there will be 5000 people or 50.
What should we expect from the concert tomorrow?
Cary Loren: It´s gonna be one piece of music, but it will cover a lot of territory. It will be like Australia, Holland and South America.
The story of the earth from beginning through to the end?
Dennis Tyfus: In half an hour.
That´s how long you gonna play?
Cary Loren: We don´t know the time period yet.
Cameron Jamie: The Last concert we played was about 30 minutes and the crowd wanted us to do an encore, so we did one. Which had never happened to us before.
Dennis Tyfus: Well, we only played once before.
Cameron Jamie: Did an encore ever happen to you, Cary?
Cary Loren: Very rarely.
Cameron Jamie: Who knows what to expect for tomorrow! The jam today sounded so great, it was really amazing actually and yet very different than the last gig. Somehow it had our fingerprints all over the scene.
The interview ends with laughs and laughs and laughs.
(Translation of the introduction by Denise Oemcke)