TODAY (OCTOBER 14TH, 2013) ON VMAN.COM WE ARE PROUD TO PREMIERE JAMES FERRARO'S NEWEST VIDEO, "QR JR." (WATCH NOW). RIGHT BEFORE HIS NEW ALBUM, NYC, HELL 3:00AM IS RELEASED AND HE STARTS AN AMBITIOUS TOUR BEGINNING AT POLAND'S UNSOUND FESTIVAL, WE CAUGHT UP WITH THE ARTIST AND HIS THOUGHTS ON ACADEMIC COMPARISONS, FASHION, FORMALISM AND MISCONCEPTIONS.
How are you? Are you in L.A. right now?
James Ferraro I'm good. I'm just in L.A. for a couple of weeks because I'm going on this tour, sort of just preparing for that.
Are you excited? This is to support the release of NYC, Hell 3:00AM [Hippos in Tanks], right?
JF Yeah, it is for the release. I'm excited, yeah. I mean, I've done it before but this tour is a little different. My live show's going to be a little different, so I've just been kind of in this rehearsal space.
Did you make the album when you were in L.A. or when you were here in New York?
JF I made it in New York. Actually, at the beginning of this year.
That makes sense, considering the title. I know when when you made Far Side Virtual, people called it an L.A. album, but it was more New York in sound.
JF Yeah. I recorded that record—that was sort of in between New York and L.A. That was like, 2011. The first half was in New York then I came out here to record the other half of it.
So what inspired the new album?
JF A lot of the scenes and the conceptual framework of it and stuff like digital isolation and alienation and things like that came into focus as I was making the record.
Actually, I wanted to ask you about that, that sort of conceptual framework. From reading your interviews, it seems like a lot of people assign ideas to your work. Like, I would read about Fredric Jameson or J. G. Ballard or Baudrillard being relevant to your work. And you seem to be a bit more cautious about that sort of thing. Do you think about that kind of theory during your process?
JF Like, do I think about those people?
Or anybody. I feel like people tend to make your work more academic than maybe you want it to be.
JF It's sort of a gray area. I mean, I definitely think like that on one level. This record's been kind of different, because it was definitely coming from like, an emotional place. I don't really think about it as really being academic, because I'm not—I don't really do that. I mean, there is definitely some influence, from like, academics and stuff, and through the concepts. But I think it's just like a shared similarity. I think sometimes there's like this kind of ambiguous umbrella over what academia is. And you know, maybe this fits into it somehow.
I think those kinds of theories simplify what your albums are about. Like it makes them too one-directional, when maybe ambivalence is more important. Or complexity, or something.
JF Yeah, I know what you're saying. I think for something like Far Side Virtual, there were definitely lots of routes you could take, as far as how you would interpret the record. So I think in that sense, I wanted to keep that complexity there. Instead of being, like, super-directed.
How are you hoping that NYC, Hell 3:00A.M. is going to be received?
JF I mean, I'm really into just, like, putting a record out and having it have its own narrative outside of what I intended in the beginning. So I'm hoping people understand some of the things I was trying to communicate, but at the same time it's like—I don't really hope that they'll understand it in just one way. Because a part of putting music out into the world, or art in general, is that everyone brings their own context. Sometimes people bring out different things in your art that you weren't even aware of. I always find that interesting.
Your music's progressed quite a bit since Far Side Virtual. Obviously, there's been the tapes, there's been Cold and Sushi. And you've been working more with computers, more with digital music-making versus analog methods. And I read that you said that the first time you used a computer to make music it really opened up the world. Do you still feel that way, or has your relationship with digital music-making changed?
JF It's sort of become less of a thing. Like, when I first started kind of switching how I was recording, I think it was like such a change that the change, or that future shock, just went into my sound. My music kind of just mirrors that. So I guess I got used to it.
Has that changed the mood and the feel of this album? It's so personal and intimate.
JF Yeah, well, this record is kind of strange. Like, it's mostly digital but there's also live instruments. Some of it was captured in a studio atmosphere so it was a little different. Like, with the computer thing, I mean in the context of working from a home studio, you know? Just how I like to do stuff on my own. And this record's different. And I was hoping for the future too that I could keep on doing it. Like, doing studio kind of stuff. I mean, it was really minimal for this record, but that's kind of the direction I want to go in, because it was a really positive experience for me.
You’ve started featuring your singing more prominently. What made you decide to bring that more to the forefront?
JF Well, I've kind of always been a vocalist, and I've always been conflicted because I focus so much on the instrumentation and the actual music. For this record I didn't really intend to sing, it just kind of came out of me, which is really cool, and I'm really happy it did. I don't know, it's weird. I sort of had to be in this comfortable place mentally to start working on these songs and have the vocals come out. By comfortable I just mean, be, like, in a certain mood or something. So, yeah, it really wasn't necessarily a conscious decision. I mean, it definitely was an aesthetic decision but it just kind of came out. It wasn't really that thought about.
I was looking at the trailers, too, and the visual choices that you make. Do you often think about visual iconography alongside the music?
JF Yeah, definitely. I think it's always been kind of a recurring theme with me. My process is that I usually have still images in my head and they usually, like the trailers do, flicker back and forth, like take on these weird morphing shapes to create a sort of in-flux symbolism.
I saw the one that had those almost D.A. Pennebaker shots, very sort of 1950s, 1960s black and white stuff, juxtaposed with a Terminator head. What's the symbolism there?
JF Oh, I know what you're talking about. Those images kind of represent, in the trailers, a heavy idea of oversaturation. You know, with images like the Terminator and whoever. There's also like the burning car? You know, there's the trailer with the burning car during rush hour traffic and—
I have a question for you about that. But I'll ask it later.
JF I just wanted to create this meditation on these objects, that appear so much, are seen so much that they become meaningless. And it kind of relates to how the album opens up with this repeating phrase, “money.”
Yeah. And it ends with “violence.”
JF Yeah, so I just wanted to have these things repeat out to the point where it seems devoid of meaning but at the same time being really hyper-present. So I just feel like that kind of lays one of the themes of —of society, really, and I wanted the record to contain that. And so that's the kind of the same thing with these images in the trailers. I just wanted to meditate on these repeating images of consumerism and all that kind of stuff, you know? Also, I'm really into sampling an image to have like a plastic aesthetic thing. I really like the idea of destroying iconic symbols in that kind of way.
Actually my question about the burning car, and please don't think I'm crazy, but there's this pretty popular YouTube video of a Chinese guy driving past a car that's on fire and he shouts, “Holy shit,” and then he shouts “piss.” And it feels almost exactly, like shot-for-shot, like the trailer.
JF Oh yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, I just feel like everyone's seen a burning car on the freeway or something. Like the charred remains of one. Or at least you know someone that has. So I think that's like a pretty universal experience, you know?
I was reading the notes that came with the album, and I thought that like empathy, or the lack thereof, was also quite prominent. And I feel like rubbernecking at a car on fire sort of spoke to that.
JF Definitely. I think you were talking about J. G. Ballard earlier, and he did detail some interesting things about that phenomenon of the fetishism of, like, looking at our own mortality like that. And I think the burning car thing is like a really intense allegory of the world. Especially being rush hour traffic, I feel like in some ways it becomes really allegorical, this kind of crazy mirror of how the machine is thinking and the people in it.
Right, because it's a disturbance and it's also a spectacle and it's beautiful—
JF Yeah. And it's like, burning metal.
But then of course, even with these ideas of numbing, or of repetition and burning metal, there's also moments of tenderness, on songs like “Eternal Condition” and “Close Ups.”
JF Like I said, for this record I kind of just allowed things to come out. And I think, in some ways, even though it leans to a more morose side, there's also mini-spectrums within that. Of feeling and emotion. I think on songs like “Close Ups,” it's like there's a release from all the harshness. Because some of those songs are about actually kind of dark experiences, but also the positive experience within all that.
Because at least you're feeling something.
You have a really diverse set of influences. I've seen you mention opera a couple of times.
JF In some ways, I think I was naturally leaning on a kind of formalism. You know, that's often in stuff like what you're saying, in opera and more classical composition. So that definitely influenced the record.
Even just with leitmotifs and that sort of thing. Things that repeat and change meaning when they repeat. When I first heard your stuff I thought—and I'm sure you must hate being compared to other artists—but I thought of more formal artists like Ryoji Ikeda or like Carsten Nicolai, like people who really play with systems a lot.
JF I don't mind comparisons.
JF A lot of people have recently called my music R&B. I mean, I understand, I think it's my voice kind of gives that kind of impression. That's kind of how I sing naturally. But I don't really feel like I make R&B, you know. I respect R&B a lot but I don't feel like I make it, really. That comparison I never really got. But I don't mind being compared to anyone, because I feel like it's all up to anyone's interpretation. I think when I was younger at first it took me aback, being compared to other artists, and now I just feel like it's part of the language. People have to have some sort of context in their minds.
Speaking of R&B, I did read something that called you “an android replica of Drake performing charismatically in the year 2050.”
JF Yeah, I get what they're going for, I think. I mean, obviously, I think the things that would make it R&B are a little superficial. I feel like it's saying if someone uses their voice... it's just challenging for me to completely see eye-to-eye with them.
Was it nice to return to instruments? Or at least to play more instruments?
JF Definitely, just to blend the two. And I feel like in that sense that was also an allegory of what the record was. Like, humanity against the backdrop of harsher textures, which is just urban living. And I think that one of the things I learned about the record was that, in me just being really free about it and unconscious about things, I think it ended up being this record about urban excavation. And absence and just excavating modern stuff of the city. So it was cool.
Are you feeling anything regarding the modern urban experience? Are you following any fashion houses or are watching any new videos?
JF There's some stuff. I really, really appreciate fashion as an art form, most definitely. Especially recently there's been some really amazing advances in the fashion world. But my knowledge of it is very limited.
I don't know if you're allowed to tell me this, but I read that there was going to be a Far Side Virtual 2 and then there were lawsuits involved.
JF Oh yeah. I mean, it was a lot to do with the cover art. And it was heavily sample-driven. Really everything was kind of a sample. You could definitely decipher the music from an actual product that I was referencing, but I think for the label it was kind of too crazy. I plan on doing something with that material at some point, like maybe in a gallery setting or something outside of a music label.
You mentioned that the upcoming tour is going to be a little different. What can people look forward to?
JF I'm focusing on playing longer sets. Just kind of creating a more visceral live experience. And then communicating my ideas and also allowing those ideas to exist musically. So there's something I think for people to grab onto that's not wholly conceptual. So I think the difference is that I think a lot of my shows in the past have been very devoid of, like, musical content. So I'm just trying to find this balance.