“Creating music becomes as effortless as the birds singing in the morning”
Still House Plants is a young band from Glasgow consisting of the Fine Arts students David Kennedy, Finlay Clark, and Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach. They play sparingly, jazz influenced pop songs.
I really enjoyed the Assemblages album you made, but an assemblage is a visual art term, isn’t it? It’s when you put several pieces together into one new piece. So what does it mean when you use the word ‘assemblage’ in music?
Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach: I’ve got an impulse to blur borderlines between terms or genres, and let this collapse n collide live, screwing as time passes while Finlay, DK and I look at each other. Remain level about it and be nuanced and slow and balanced but also rise and rot and scratch out. I expect we are getting more disrupted nowadays but our foreheads are touching more. ‘Assemblages’ is both tender and frantic, made from parts of objects and feelings and gestures and bodies. Maybe we like to think in multiplicities, and let simultaneous motions co-habit the brain. We are active in pursuing super-flexible dependencies, and making songs is a way of managing them. (Even now I’m flitting between answering and poeticising and repotting and, “where can I find edible flowers cos I need to get a delicacy” and parsing images and texting my love).
‘Assemblages’ means different things to us three each but I think we can agree that we don’t use it like Picasso’s beholder’s might have. It’s not about enacting some collision but taking portions and letting them hold each other. It’s not about identifying disparity and pushing chairs closer together and just allowing them: it’s a gathering of parts, a certain arrangement, an aggregation of utterances.
There’s a root in Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘assemblages theory’ — that there isn’t just one static ontology in the social world from ‘atoms’ to ‘molecules’ to ‘materials’ but in stead complex arrangements that play roles in other chains. We watched a film in 2016 called ‘Assemblages’ (directed by Maurizio Lazzarato and Angela Melitopoulos, drawn from a wider project) about Felix Guatarri. Guatarri’s ‘assemblages’ points to structural care, n ways of being in the world that have nothing to do with the self but everything that surrounds it — feeling out ways in which subjectivity doesn’t exist solely in the body but is spread about an environment or space. Things extend from you and reach others, may be hopefully.
Looking at sound in the same way you might hang a cloth, find an edge and getting the pull rite and the balance precise. Let it droop and loosen but let it aerate too. Fraying isn’t a matter or has yet to be maybe. At least there’s some evidence of coarseness and misbehavior as well as the careful.
Last night I made an assortment and what it constituted of was a meal of sorts: baked tomatoes in garlic and nothing else but a bit of water till they wrinkled and tore themselves, brazen orange, beaten by heat but released too, and then walnuts preserved lemons russet apples and parsley stuffed inside some active mushrooms with cider vinegar from Tesco, and even then the roast kale burnt but was good in lost rosemary and chili, cannelloni beans and green beans in soft garlic onion carrot thyme lemon water mint capers. What it needed was some kind of assemblage; some intent instead of potential, some fixative or surety or placement.
Finlay Clark: We also treat songs visually. When we first started out our songs didn’t have names, only certain ideas did. We would draw on an A3 sheet of paper, which would have arrows, reminders, and directions to allow the music to be free and improvisatory except with parameter and a forward drive. It is also important to note that Music = Art. The way we understand our senses disallows this boundary to be broken down. This societal misunderstanding begins at school with these classes being separated out and treated differently. You are a musician, or an artist, or a dancer, of a filmmaker, or a writer. These are all equal modes of expression which speak to each other within a rich mesh of expression and love. Sound is a medium, like paint, and words dance on our tastebuds like small hands. This theory of living empowers each individual as it shows that if you are a painter you are also a writer, if you are a dancer you are also a musician, and so on and so forth. Synesthesia should also be more openly spoken about in this regard, maybe this can be discussed in more detail another time.
Is Assemblage you first ‘real’ record? Do you see this as your debut, in a way?
Jessica: What’s real ? Wots good? Tough to know what to state or assert as First or Real, but maybe that’s caught up because we know there’s more to come. I think we think of ‘Assemblages’ largely in the same way we think of our first ep—an enactment and response to the time it was made and produced. ‘Assemblages’ was built playfully in a studio over two-day 8-hour stints of recording and mixing, in an attempt to project, to form receipt and make a thing with borderlines. we did the same thing for the self-titled ep, (released by Glarc in 2016). Both things had really specific timeframes for recording, and sat around periods of dense workload—building art and constructing performances for Glasgow International in 2016, and navigating a residency and our final year of art school in 2017. Each object acts most as a receipt to the action of making—writing and performing intrinsically captured, but the immediacy of production has been essential. Some kind of desperate diy lick, or, impassioned pressing. “Mixing” meant no overdubs and just compression and EQ and not touching it beyond that.
There’s no way we can deny the importance of these ep’s in letting us gain understanding of putting stuff in the world. We hope they are generous and fragrant offerings. The Glasgow-based cassette label we’ve been released under, Glarc (greater Lanarkshire auricular research council), have been mobilising, getting our music in the world: been joyful working with friends Joel and Gordon and Glasgow’s Green door studios.
We’re releasing an LP this year, though, which will be a culminate of our passed year together. We have booked up time in the studio that will give us a stretch. A bay to drift, not a swimming pool to lap. We’ve worked our music up and down in the retreat of living rooms and bedrooms for time, improvising and chopping up and kneading right, but with this venture we get to jaunt and be locomotive. We don’t know yet what this time will mean for our sound but I hope the urgency keeps.
The 3 of you finished your studies last summer. What did you study? Did you study visual art? So how did you get into music? How is this linked? Was it at school that the 3 of you met?
Jessica: The three of us met at art school in 2013, but we didn’t start making music together till second year. Finlay and David both sought music school for a time but decided that ultimately this was inopportune, or ill-fitting, but knew they wanted to make sound in some way . I’ve always found music and had it on me as an incitement to act. We all studied fine art, and I think for the three of us music and art are linked socially/canonically/experientially even if they are read and understood differently.
You changed the band name from Your Hair Cut to Still House Plants. Why? For how long have you been playing together? Because your music sounds very fresh to me, maybe even ‘unfinished’. Would you agree?
Jessica: ‘Your haircut’ was our first name: it was born from a want to reduce the weight of nomenclature or the naming of things, as much as it was crease. We wanted a name that didn’t point at a noun but involved one, and was more about the possession of the listener than it was about us three. ‘I hate ur haircut’ as a prospect was a turn on. On the same level we wanted to change names every few gigs, and so we started. ‘Still house plants’ came from two places: a trendsettled New York artist collective called ‘still house group’ and our first show together, titled ‘singing for our house plants,’ which was part of Glasgow’s open house festival (tenement flats turned into galleries). We performed for half an hour, standing about David’s paintings and dividing the space with potted plants, racketing. The name change came about because we intended to change it every few gigs to continue a frivolousness but we allowed it to stick. ‘Still house plants’ means a few things to us I suppose; some close things as well as some analogy rooted in ways of growing. ‘Still’ could be staticity or an enduring. Either way it’s all about tangling and a lightness.
Is Still House Plants still ‘work in progress’? Or should music and art at any time be ‘work in progress’?
Jessica: Hard to know where things start and end so all we can do is make parameters and let them shift with us. We watch each other a lot when playing, we really look. We want to be generous with our output, and to us that means a constant change and a constant wildness and play.
Everything we’ve recorded so far has been live and mostly untouched, with every twist and departure captured. It always sounds different to us and when we play we rearrange and never limit behavior on stage. You have to feel it out.
What I also like is the sparingly playing. It gives the music a lot of air. Does this makes sense to you?
Jessica: Yes, this makes sense to us. We like to make sounds that extend nuances and smallnesses. We like to allow space to move through and amongst, both for us and for those who listen. There’s some desire to be honest and sincere in our sound that allows for gradation. Maybe we like channelling multiplicities into piles of sound: melancholic loops, stringent and parsed guitar strokes, forthward rhythms. It’s interesting to me right now that we get given words to play with in the description of our sound that are always contradictory — how does ‘sparing’ relate to ‘scrubbing’ or ‘shambolic’ or ‘obscured’ or whatever. Every component has its own characteristic and dynamic and the way they collide can be causal because of improvisation, but we also try hard to ensure these glisses have things that glue everything together.
Your music reminds me of records from 20 years ago: ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ by Tortoise, or ‘Sidelong’ by UI, so I guess: records where post rock meets jazz. But also This Heat’s first album. Maybe all more in attitude than pure musically. Am I looking in the right direction?
Jessica: These aren’t albums we’ve arrived at collectively (we know of them but I don’t want to say they’re pointedly influential), we have a relationship with them that sits in hindsight. This has happened to us often, some pinpointing of a sound that doesn’t feel to belong to us, or at least one that we know. Some retroactive relationship but we feel it too . It’d be really nice to be able to affirm and list to you some simple and solid influences but they flit and transform all the time.
Finlay: We all haven’t really heard of them after being compared to. Likewise with Sonny Sharrock, Derek Bailey, James Blood Ulmers guitar playing, arrived at this independently. I am uninclined to listen to them because it could create an echo-chamber where our ideas would not grow but rather be put in a place of scrutiny and compared. I don’t want to listen to sounds which we sound like, because then it could put us in danger of going down a particular road, when in fact it is in changing direction which creates the lightest and most impassioned action; like many arrows pointing in one direction or all pointing in different directions, it is the multi-directional mesh which holds the greatest strength.
Also, I understand the mind as a balanced object. Through learning something new, going somewhere new, this opens up new areas in the mind where creates space for new ideas to fill. Put simply: by learning a new language, you are simultaneously writing a new album. By travelling somewhere you are afraid of you are breaking down a mental barrier which allows artistic barriers to also be broken down. It is through facing horror, suffering, and death which, like a see-saw, lifts your soul up higher than you knew it could go, and thus creating music becomes as effortless as the birds singing in the morning!
- Joeri Bruyninckx
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