Its Own Infinite Flower: “I feel music should be an adventure to create & also to listen to”
Don’t believe people who tell you, that going out and getting slightly drunk is not a good thing. Shame on them, they do not understand the deep essence of cultural come togethers. One thing is clear: Without our willingness to waste our bodies, Tasho Nicolopulos and me would not have touched base. But we did. And from there we are now able to work our way into eternity, to include Mr. Nick Cave in the introducing to this very special kaput talk. Me, I am very thankful for the openness with which Tasho answered my for sure not easy questions.
Tasho, I met you originally with our friend Mozhgan Shariat in San Francisco in the fall of 2017 on a random after party. Back then you already told me you work on a ep – was that the new Squirrels On Film release under your Its Own Infinite Flower imprint, “The Plumes Of Love (ARE BLACK)“?
Tasho Nicolopulos: Yes, it was the same EP, at least partially. I actually had an album’s worth of music completed. When I first started Its Own Infinite Flower I would record music and put it on Soundcloud the same night. That was fun and satisfying for a minute. Then I sort of went in the opposite direction and decided to be less erratic about sharing what I’d worked on, hoping to release it another way, perhaps to the point of being overly precious with my music.
C.l.a.w.s. and Solar would be among the few people that I would play everything for, and when they conceived the Squirrels On Film label, they planned the first few releases and wanted to include some of my work. I was going to send my music to some other labels, but this made sense because these were my friends and I believed in what they wanted to create with the label. Things took a bit longer than expected but the label has become something very special, and I’m incredibly happy to be a part of it. Because of the delay, I made a lot more music, some of which was very different. There are two tracks that were on the original ep and two more recent tracks. I think in the end it turned out better, and I still have those other tracks, and many, many more..
What’s the story behind Squirrels On Film?
Haha. Well the short answer is that it’s a play on words (in english), based on the title of the Duran Duran song “Girls On Film.” I think Brian (C.l.a.w.s.) became somewhat infatuated the linguistic substitution “Squirrels” for “Girls,” and then at some point it became gender-neutral, as in anyone can be a “Squirrel.” There were many variations, “Squirrels Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Squirrel You Know It’s True” I could go on, but I’ll spare you. The label name was Brian’s idea.
Its pretty obvious that you enjoy giving your music quite significant wordings alongside, the tracks on the ep come with storytelling names like „ Drone, Drugs ‘n’ Dissonance“, “Oh, Empire Of Roses“, “Devotion to a Peacock Angel“ and “Misfortunes Of El Dorado“.
Are you a visual person when it comes to producing music? Do you see a narrative happening while producing music?
I’m not sure I’m a visual person, but I do take significant inspiration for my music from other mediums, outside music. I love words. Literature and poetry are very important to me, I also get inspired by art, film and photography.
Narrative is an interesting word. I’d have to say that I might neglect narrative at the expense of other things, in my work. It can be abstract. I like to use titles to connect what might seem esoteric (on first listen) to something specific. The titles are also meant to be a “breadcrumb trail” to the things that inspire me. “Oh, Empire Of Roses” is from “Funeral Parade Of Roses,” a Japanese film from 1969 that was recently restored and had a theatrical release in San Francisco, that Mozhgan and I saw together. On one level it was a contemporary Japanese answer to the French New Wave, but it’s so much more. It made a significant impact on me. “Oh, Empire Of Roses” is something one of the characters in that film says (presumably while on LSD).
The title for the ep, “The Plumes Of Love (ARE BLACK!)” is taken from a poem by San Francisco Bay Area poet Michael McClure, from a book published by City Lights Press, which is an institution of San Francisco culture and literature.
Maybe you could share some of your thoughts leading to this quite adventurous release.
I like that word, “adventurous.” That very accurately describes my approach to music. I feel music should be an adventure to create & also to listen to.
My favorite music behaves that way. An Arthur Russell record, for instance, is never going to do what it’s “supposed” to do. Those early Transmat records are really pretty wild, especially when compared to some contemporary techno, which let’s just say can be sort of “polite.” Something like Psyche “Neurotic Behavior (MayDay Mix)” is really quite “punk rock.” The whole thing sounds like it’s going to fall apart before it ends. I love that. From an emotional perspective this ep comes out of two distinct moments in my life. The first was during the time I lived at (SF DIY Space) Bay Area 51 – C.l.a.w.s. & Solar & I were throwing our Hostile Ambient Takeover events, which eventually led to the genesis of their label, Squirrels On Film. There was a definite sense of community, and a wealth of magic music all around. In our house, during the week I would hear Kit n’ C.l.a.w.s. rehearse and record, (Dark Entries Records artists) Group Rhoda and RedRedRed rehearse and record. On the weekend there might be a show where Hieroglyphic Being or Kevin Drumm would play, and they might even sleep on our couch. Life changed quite drastically after that (I imagine we’ll come to that later). During the next phase of music creation I was much more isolated. Following the deaths of friends, the dissolution of friendships and intense heartbreak, making music became a refuge from all those things. I was extremely productive, but I was often alone, probably at the expense of my mental health.
Your music is super atmospheric in a very dark sense. Like in a horror movie, the air is electrified and everything seems possible at any given time. How would you describe your arrangements regards the interaction of sounds and classic track narrative?
I really strive for that sense of endless possibility. I try to record things “live” whenever possible, so what you hear is essentially what I was playing in the moment I recorded it. From this ep, “Oh, Empire Of Roses” best represents that technique, there are no overdubs and no edits, it’s just me playing music. “Drone, Drugs n Dissonance,” although not quite recorded the same way, developed out of playing it live, at a number of shows over a period of time. I love dance music, techno, & pop music where there’s this beautiful sense of satisfaction when things happen at the “right” time, but for whatever reason I enjoy recklessly avoiding that sort of thing in my work. Have you ever listened to (American Blues Artist) Lightnin Hopkins? Most everything is in this rigid format, the twelve bar blues, but he’s always skipping a bar or a beat here and there. I’ve always been drawn to that.
The cover by New York based artists Bert Bergen is quite a trip itself. Are we looking at an already existing piece of art or was this made exclusively for you?
Bert Bergen creates all the images exclusive for each release. He lives in New York but he used to live in San Francisco and was a part of our music scene here. He makes fantastic music as well, as Abyss Of Fathomless Light solo and various other projects with other people. One of my early IOIF shows was playing with him. Again it was C.l.a.w.s.’ idea to have Bert do all the art for the label, and I think it’s become just as important a part of the what the label is as the music. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We had a framed poster hanging in our dining room at Bay Area 51 that Bert had done for a show that Brian’s band Bronze had played with Cluster in SF a few year before Dieter Moebius died. I think living with that poster every day for years, it became part of us, in a way.
Could you name a context you feel your music represented in the best?
Going back to the Hostile Ambient Takeover events that we did, a lot of the music was created with something like that in mind, part rave, part punk show, part “Art Happening.” I guess that would mean hearing it loud, surrounded by all your favorite friends.
That said, as we are right at the beginning of 2019. Maybe you could drop your three favorite tracks of the last year and the three artists you suggest everybody to have a closer look in 2019.
I confess that although I listen to loads of music all the time, I’m really not up on as much contemporary music as I want to be. But the new Dopplereffekt EP “Athanatos” is my most recent favorite. “Cellular Automata” from 2017 was something I listened to obsessively. There’s some unreleased Squirrels On Film stuff that’s going to be special, including the forthcoming Cl.a.w.s. record which I know Solar has been playing, that will be coming soon. The Lokier record was definately a favorite from 2018. I played an incredible show just the other night here in SF with Pod Blotz, who is one of my favorite artists, her record “Light Mass Body” is a Ripper. I get really inspired by Golden Donna, who’s just super prolific and passionate about everything he does. He’s got a new ep on his bandcamp called “Date Night.” And then I did an album with Jonah Sharp (Spacetime Continuum) which will be released in 2019 that I’m really proud of. I can’t wait for people to hear that. Johann Johannsson’s music for the film “Mandy” was one of my favorite things from 2018.
You are currently living in San Francisco. A city under immersive pressure by the tech community. How would you describe the status quo of the city? And its impact on your artistic life?
Living in San Francisco impacts my artistic life in both positive and negative ways. It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects, such as the cost of living and the scarcity of space to both create and present the kind of art I envision. But on the other hand I can’t imagine being the artist or the person I am without the city, it’s history and the people here. Gentrification isn’t new, or exclusive to the Bay Area. I’m from Berkeley, and I remember my father telling me, when I was very young (in the late 1980s) that he would never earn enough money in his life to purchase a home in the Oakland neighborhood he grew up in. He was a University Professor, but that once working class area in Oakland was already out of his price range well before the first tech boom.
Are you part of what once could call a scene context? If so: could you describe it?
Sometimes I feel like I’m part of a “scene,” and sometimes I feel out of step with everything and everybody. I’ve witnessed many scenes come and go, and although they can be artistically potent, I’m more interested in “community” than scene. A clique of people who like the same DJs isn’t a community. Here in the Bay Area at the moment I believe there is a common desire to cultivate and participate in some sort of creative community. It’s not an easy thing under the best circumstances, but especially with the amount of money it takes just to survive here on your own, much less have space and time to generate work as an artist and support the work of others. I think those factors can lead to a sort of concept/idea focused “scene” where there’s a lot of dialog and intent, maybe at the expense of output.
Let´s think San Francisco for a second a bit larger and talk about the Bay Area. What’s the relationship between SF and the BA in regards to artistic exchange?
I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer that question. I’m from the East Bay but I’ve lived most of my adult life in San Francisco. I know there’s a thriving group of incredible artists in Oakland, some of whom are my friends and some of whom I don’t see in the circles I move in.
On that particular night at the after party you told me you are one of the survivors of the „Ghost Ship“ tragedy in Oakland on the 2nd of December 2016. I remember you telling me you only survived cause you had to wait for a friend and actually arrived so late when the Ghost Ship was already burning. Is that right? Do you feel like sharing the story with our readers?
Yes, I was there that night. It’s very difficult to talk about, even now after two years, for a number of reasons. It was a nightmare manifest in reality.
I was my friends, my then girlfriend, and two others who were waiting for me, here in SF, to go to Oakland for that event. The four of us traveled by BART (Bay Are Rapid Transit) train to Oakland. Once we were in Oakland, my girlfriend and I went to meet some other friends who’d agreed to lend us their car for the night so the four of could drive back to SF after the party, the other two went straight to the party. On the train, my girlfriend and I were discussing how we were regretting this arrangement we’d made, to take the car, wishing we could just go to the party, as our friend Johnny Igaz (Nackt) was the first to play music that night, and we really wanted to see him, and hear him play. We arrived at our friend’s house, they weren’t ready to leave, so we sat around politely having cocktails before urging them to go out for the night.
As we drove to the location of the party we saw there was fire, and that it was serious. At first we weren’t sure if the building that was on fire was the one we were heading to. We parked the car and approached the building, it was clear that the fire was where we had intended on spending the night with our friends. I honestly expected to see everyone, Johnny, everyone, standing on the street outside. Our first thought was to locate the two friends we’d came from SF with that night, and miraculously, we found them immediately. They had left the party moments before the fire started to walk to a nearby market to get whisky and cigarettes. We were happy to see them safe but the look of horror on their faces told us everything. They informed us that many of our friends, Johnny, Chelsea (Faith), Amanda (Kershaw), were inside the building that was on fire. It was hard to believe. We walked all around the outside of the building, as best we could, thinking maybe people had come out another way. I began to see other people I knew who’d arrived when we had, only to hear the same thing… Barrett (Clark) is in there, Cash (Askew) is in there, Joey (Casio) is in there, Griffin (Madden) is in there.
Honestly just recounting this makes my heart sink into an ocean of sadness. These were all really incredible people, artists and friends with remarkable vitality and promise. That’s the thing that’s nearly impossible to convey, if you didn’t know those people and those who were close to them, what a profound loss this was. They were some of the best of us, all gone in one night. It was horrifying to stand there on the street that night in Oakland, to watch people you care about burn right in front of you, feeling helpless to do anything.
Two years are gone since that tragic night. How did you experience the reaction and reports about the fire and its cultural backlash?
My feelings about this are complicated. It was a tragedy and a trauma that will leave a deep scar in me and the others who were there that night, for the rest of our lives. It’s difficult for me to relate to how the event has been perceived and reported upon. It has even been difficult for me to accept the ways in which some have chosen to share the legacy of those we lost, with the best of intentions, in most cases.
Recently the New York times published an article about Max Harris which generated a lot of strong feelings from the relatives of the people who died in the ship as well as from those who survived. Did you read the article? What’s your position?
I generally avoid anything published about that night for mental health reasons, but yes I read the piece you’re referring to. It’s hard for me to have an objective view of that article. I can say my initial reaction was that of anger and disgust.
Let me say this first: I have no desire to see anyone else suffer from this tragedy. I take no pleasure from any criminal prosecutions or punishment of any these people, who I do not know. The owner of the building, that was profiting from the rent being paid there every month is the closest thing to a villain in this situation. None of that bullshit will bring our friends back, though.
It was difficult for me to read that article as anything other than the story of some privileged east coast art school kid who found himself in a bad situation, with little acknowledgment for the people who were important to me. In a strange twist of life, the current editor of the New York Times Magazine, Jake Silverstein, had been a good friend of mine at Berkeley High School, and I entertained thoughts of contacting him to tell him how fucked up that article made everybody feel. I realized my reaction to the article was at least partially a matter of being emotionally “triggered,” so I put those thoughts aside. My friend Nihar, who was there with us that night, pointed out quite wisely, that this guy’s story is just as valid as anyone else’s, and I agree with him. I do sense there is a fatigue among us here with the coverage of this event. It’s too easy to sensationalize, and tends to be mentioned in seemingly cheap and inappropriate ways, perhaps too often, especially in music journalism. I think when your trauma and the loss of people you care about becomes the fodder for click bait, it’s well… let’s call it unsettling.
I’m only discussing it with you now because we met that night in SF, talked and got to know each other. It’s not something I really feel comfortable sharing, to be honest. It’s had an impact on me and people I care about that can’t really be tangibly conveyed. We’ll miss those people forever.
Tasho, thanks so much for sharing these tough memories with us. Big hug.