(Photography credit not specified)
Posted on 22/12/12 by Paul Chave on sonicuprising.co.uk
Based in: in order… DC / NYC / LA
Past Musical Collaborations: BELLS OF (1985-86, unreleased), SWIZ (1987-90, Sammich records / Jade Tree), FURY (1988-89 THD / Jade Tree) , BLUETIP (1995-2001 Dischord Records), SWEETBELLY FREAKDOWN (1996–? Jade Tree), RETISONIC ( 2001-?? Silverthree records, Ascetic records, Arctic Rodeo Records), TRUE BARITONE (loose collection of vaguely country type songs: 19forever/20never , Corleone Records), RED HARE (2012—)
Past Artistic Collaborations: Fugazi, At The Drive In, all of his prior acts
Label/Management status: independent artist
To introduce this epic interview, I will commence with a humble apology for taking so long to arrange the second edition of ‘What the World Needs Now’. The editor of this site kindly reminded me that since today, I have not posted anything for at least a month. But what an interview I have for you! The whole concept of WTWNN is to allow legends and heroes of the independent music scene to share their wisdom and stories that they have experienced in their career to inspire individuals to ensure that the independent music community flourishes. Making sure that that there is always room for innovation and that the community is always exposed to excitement.
The interviewee for this edition is in fact a legend and hero to many. Whether it’s his contribution to music in the hardcore act Swiz, who split and reformed under the name Sweetbelly Freakdown. Or his influential role as front man in Bluetip/Rhetisonic, or it may be due to his contributions for album artwork such as At the Drive In’s ‘Relationship of Command’ or Fugazi’s ‘Red Medicine’. Jason Farrell has made a valuable contribution to independent culture since the mid 1980’s to this present day. He also happens to be one of the most kindest and generous musicians I have had chance to interview. In the past, he has listened to my abstract theories about his guitar sound (the sound which conjures images of the mentality of a person who has been drinking green paint) and has been really generous providing lengthy answers to this interview. In this email (which comes just short of his birthday), Jason and I talk about his opinions of classic bands reforming, his deep love of skateboarding and his reputation as a cultural renaissance man in both digital and analogue media production.
- The gears of the ‘great retro mobile’ are starting to become a bit rusty now and the engine has had its final blowout with the recent At the Drive In, Refused and Quicksand reunions which everybody hoped for. Now your band Bluetip reformed briefly back in 2008, which was welcomed, but since then, you have distanced yourself from the reunion rumour mill and fully concentrated on Retisonic. Should more bands follow your example and begin to sternly notify the nostalgia lovers to just get a grip and move on instead of just constantly caving in to the reformation requests?
As a fan, I like it when some bands reform. I just saw Soundgarden play and they were fantastic… best I’ve seen them. As a musician I think people should approach these things carefully. Why reform? Why now? Does it feel good or does it contradict something inherent in their original incarnation? Money ploy? Sad admission that everything you’ve done in between is not as good? Afraid to admit/accept you’re getting old? I hold some scepticism. There can be an amazing beauty in the life and death of a band: a start and a finish. Contained, uninterrupted and true. To reform 20 years later can either be a resurrection or an abomination, depending on intentions behind it… and those intentions are not easy to hide. If it feels right then it’s right.
I’m not against bands getting back together: I just think it should honour the original incarnation. Swiz broke up in 1990 with a pact never to reform under that name. We’ve stayed true to our former wishes… anything else would be a dishonour to our younger selves. 6 years later we got the itch to play again… but we started over with new songs and a new (even more ridiculous) name: Sweetbelly Freakdown. Most recently we’ve come together again (this time with Joe from Retisonic on drums) as Red Hare. Even though these bands share a similar drive and a narrowly focused sound, the time lapses make them wholly different entities. To rehash that original name would be misguided and misleading. Bluetip was a different band. We had much more diversity in our songs so variances would still fit in the broader umbrella. We also had a different work ethic; we weaved around and/or ploughed through any challenge, and embraced every band member change whereas Swiz drove itself straight into a brick wall. Plus Bluetip had no such pact. So when we were invited to play the 2008 Sant Feliu fest in Spain the only dilemma was scheduling. We still liked each other, all loved Spain, and missed each other’s company. It was the perfect excuse and catalyst to playing together again. For these reasons we happily rebranded for that show, adding a NYC and London date to round it all out and justify learning the songs all over. We’ve since demoed an album’s worth of new songs, and someday (as our schedules permit) we’ll record them properly and release them.
Retisonic started immediately after Bluetip’s break up in 2001. We worked hard for a few years, touring constantly in support of our first EP and album. But being based out of NYC is expensive and hard. in 2004 I moved to Los Angeles and the band has been an off-and-on-again project ever since. We never really broke up, so each new tour or recording project isn’t so much a reformation as it is a reboot. We’re all getting older. To some degree this rash of reformation is mid-life crisis… an attempt to prove to yourself and to others that you can still do this thing. In some ways I can sympathize with that. I’m still riding a skateboard into my 40′s because it’s something I’ve done since I was 13, so there’s a direct connection to my youth. Or maybe because I have not yet had to sever that connection I feel like I haven’t yet passed some threshold bringing me closer to death.
- You have also managed to earn a lot of respect outside of your musical work through your graphic/artistic design work and the films you make. Which of these artistic endeavours are more time consuming and more rewarding for you in the long run?
I used to love graphic design. I’ve done a couple hundred album covers, some magazines. But after 16 years I got a little burnt/bored, and put it down to pursue film stuff. I’ve always been interested in film, I’ve made short as far back as 1992 (Kid Cadillac, North Rt.1) and had done some music videos for friends and for my own bands. I approach it like design, but with the added element of time (plus narrative) well, maybe it’s not such a simple parallel… but I like it! In 2007 I got the opportunity to shoot a commercial for Vans shoes that made me realize I could do this for a living. Since then I’ve done more videos and more commercials and have really come to enjoy the whole process. It is very time consuming and very rewarding… but very unreliable as a source of income. Thankfully I can still lean back on design as needed, and have actually started enjoying it again for its relative simplicity.
- Personally I consider yourself, Henry Rollins, RZA, Goldie, Jaz Coleman and many others to be pioneers in the ideal of ACDA (Anyone can do anything) as opposed to the ideal of regular old DIY, which sometimes seems to encourage individuals to just take up one art form and settle with it. What inspired you to move beyond making music and concentrate on multiple art forms?
ACDA! I like that… (though ASTACMYCDIY: Anyone Should Try Anything Cuz Maybe You Can DIY) is more appropriate… at some point your vanity will meet reality and you will be forced to admit there are something’s best left to those better than you (like, say… car repair). I like building things, I like trying to figure things out. So much creation is literally just putting two or more things together; graphic design, furniture design, scenes of a movie… they’re all based on the same thing, and can all be fantastic outlets for my minor OCD tendencies. But it’s not always the most efficient use of your time. Collaboration and delegation have their benefits, too. Maybe you can do anything, but you can’t do everything… there just isn’t the time.
- It’s refreshing to see on some sites that you have still continued to skate and keep involved with the scene through your film work. Ian Mackaye once said (Source: Punk Planet, I think?) about how skating helped train his artistic eye through observing how to use park benches, curbs and hills for performing tricks. Can you relate to that and do you think skating has helped in areas such as your music and artwork?
I don’t think physical act of skating has altered or shaped my music or art. But I can say with 100% certainty that Skateboarding led me to these fields, and the community surrounding skating helped me learn to take action; to create fertile environments from nothing. At 13 I was passively eating up whatever FM radio was spitting out, riding my BMX bike around my hometown of Bethesda a few miles from the DC line. My group of friends fell into skateboarding in 1983; a time when there was almost nothing to skate. Back then if you wanted to ride a ramp you had to steal the wood and build it yourself, uphill… in a snow storm (…literally). So any ramp, even our first shitty little quarter pipe, would pull people out of the woodwork from miles around. We were suddenly tapped in to this loose network of skaters from MD, VA and DC. Vacant lots, backyards, and undeveloped woods became small cultural hubs. These people listened to American hardcore like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and we ate it up. The two entities (hardcore/skating) seemed intertwined, perfect complements. Soon we realized that DC had a strong music scene of its own; the recently departed Minor Threat and Faith were on constant rotation at our ramp. The local music scene was thriving, or maybe more like bursting at the seams, with Government Issue, Void and Marginal Man shows happening all the time. I was among the many suburban kids flooding/drowning the Wilson centre throughout 1984.
At first it was weird seeing the musicians on our favourite records just walking around the show, or showing up at our ramp… normal dudes. This was a revelation and an inspiration, and the whole DIY thing—a concept that had started to take hold with skating—all jelled for me. We started a band that sucked as bad as the ramps we built. Eventually I got better at guitar and joined the Bells Of (with two brothers I skated with everyday anyway) and then Swiz and then a bunch more. These bands needed artwork: shirts, records, flyers… I’d always liked art, drawing letters and such, and had done homemade silkscreen skate shirts, so I filled that need. I’ve been doing all three things (art/music/skating) ever since.
- In terms of both visual and the audio arts scene over the last 15 years. What revolutions be it in technology or movements in the arts scene have you been happy to embrace and what would you be glad to discard if you had the chance?
I started doing graphic design before computers took over. I learned to lay out record covers on boards paying typesetters, and was glad to ditch those step in the design process. Obviously computers made a huge difference in design. Same thing for movies… I used to shoot on film, pray the image would be there after developing, then edit on flatbed 16mm editors, or hand-splice super 8 films. Having a video camera and Final Cut makes everything so much easier… not necessarily better, or faster, but definitely cheaper. Music, too… I love pro tools. I still like going back to analogue processes from time to time, but digital audio/visual/design is pretty fucking great. I heart computers.
- When explaining to a friend about the fact that I was interviewing musician Jason Farrell, she seemed to be confused with another person who shares your name that recently shared a stage with Kelly Clarkson for a TV talent show. Since watching the video footage, I can confirm that it is not you, unless you are master of disguise. But imagine you are on this stage, ready to sing with American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. You look into the audience and see thousands of anticipating fans waiting to hear what Jason Farrell is made of. What is your move sir? What is your plan of attack?
I don’t imagine I’d ever find myself in that situation. I write songs and play them out of compulsion–it’s just something I’ve done for a long time. I like putting parts together, rearranging, perfecting… not that they end up as perfect songs, I just like taking them to the point they feel done. I don’t play music to make a living, never wanted to be a session player aping someone else’s shit pop songs. But all that aside, she’s a damn good singer. That’s something you can’t DIY your way through… either your voice does something unique and/or engaging or it doesn’t. People like Robin Zander, Aretha Franklin, Chris Cornell, Ian Gillian, Bonnie Raitt, and Kelly Clarkson can sing the fuck out of a song. If I were standing on stage next to any of them I’d probably keep my mouth shut and just play guitar… my voice is not very good.
- Finally, Retisonic are making a new album. What’s the plan in terms of touring and/or recording new material for the next year and beyond?
Right now I live in Los Angeles with my wife and 4 year old son. I’ve been focused on my family lately, so touring hadn’t been an option. The rest of my band mates live back east, but we’re all eager to get playing again and are working towards a bunch of stuff these days: Swiz is working on re-mastering our entire catalogue and re-releasing it in some box set thing. Retisonic recently released our second album, titled “ROBOTS FUCKING” and are sitting on 8 more songs that we hope to finish and release soon. Bluetip has plans to record an album in 2013, and will likely play shows around its release. I’ve sloooooowly amassed an album’s worth of True Baritone songs that I need to finish up, sequence and release. And most pressingly, my new band Red Hare (featuring ex Swiz members Shawn Brown and Dave Eight, with Joe Gorelick on drums) has finished an album that we plan to release this spring. 2013 should see all these things come out… but maybe not… I’ve made similar claims in 2008, 09, 10, 11, and 12.
Jason Farrell’s Plug Deck
TRUE BARITONE: http://www.corleonerecords.com/banddetail.asp?bandid=5
COMING SOON: http://swiz.com/redhare