Interview / Luke Wyatt / Torn Hawk
Luke Wyatt has been making and releasing music since his teens, either in solo projects Lossmaker, Infinti, and Torn Hawk, or in collaborations with the likes of Sheela Rahman (Xosar), Willie Burns and Eddie Ruscha, producing output for labels such as Emotional Response, Not Not Fun, 1080p, L.I.E.S., and his own Valcrond Video. On “Union And Return”, his second Torn Hawk long player for Mexican Summer, released this week, Wyatt eschews his perhaps trademark “video mulch” aesthetic and instead works to a romantic ideal assisted by a five-piece chamber ensemble.
Where are you from?
A place where we learned to field questions with a fibonacci pattern of replies, where fib (friendly lie) answers are given for questions 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc.
Where I am from we also make a habit of doing pushups in the Amtrak bathroom if you’ve gotten coffee on the train to help you push through writing answers for an interview, and the coffee has ramped you up in an all-over way that’s too much. The pushups narrow the caffeine beam to a useful focus, but people look at you funny when you exit the bathroom.
Where are you based?
I wish I was based somewhere. Then I could start gathering clutter around me, and do other adult things.
What prompted the move?
I moved to Berlin about 2 years ago to be with my girlfriend and play shows around Europe.
How do you think the move has influenced the music you are making?
I can’t tell.
I like that Berlin has a lot of parks and protected bike lanes. It’s a very humane city. I can go outside and take a break and not feel as angry about the lack of imagination and humanity people bring to shared spaces. I get angry about that sort of thing all the time in the U.S.A.
There are annoying aspects. At mealtimes, Takers, hipster Techno tourists, and Makers, cynical Techno opportunists, gather for meals at this mediocre Thai place right below our apartment. It’s packed like there is no other Thai place in the city.
We found another Thai place that no one went to, inexplicably, as it was much better and was run by a nice family with an adorable little kid who would run around the place. It was on an out-of-the-way side street, but it had much better food, and was quiet and uncrowded.
Everywhere is essentially the same. You may be making the best Tom Yum soup, but if you haven’t been anointed by the wagon-masters of the bandwagon it probably won’t be making it’s way to the most mouths.
How / when did you start making music?
I’ve messed around with recording since I was a kid, initially with boomboxes, recording the speaker of one into the mic of another to overdub. I think a lot of people my age have done that, I’ve heard that.
Who / what would have inspired you to start?
In 8th grade I stopped getting anxious about turning in my home work. I started to actively NOT do my homework. Doing my homework hadn’t won me any friends.
My parents had failed to equip me for the cafeteria and the classroom with the instincts and common sense to protect me from ridicule.
A new personality performance was needed .
I recognised in music the tools to give my presentation a threatening edge that would maybe win me more friends, or at least scare people.
The trappings and accessories around weirdo music, as much as the music itself, seemed like they could armour me.
How would you describe your sound?
It’s not my job to describe my sound. Other people can feel free to do that.
The new album to my ears is very different to your past work. The rough edges and distortion have gone and the sound is clear and almost orchestral. When I was first sent the promo I quickly described it as Eno & Byrne cutting up The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Can you tell me more about what brought about this change and how you achieved it?
This record isn’t that different from a lot of my non-Torn Hawk work, like the Lossmaker record, the Teen Hawk thing, “Songs From Bad Kid School”, etc. I wanted to go back to where I left off with those. I’d gotten smarter and better since I made that shit so I thought I could follow some of those ideas to more evolved structures.
Your description, the “Eno / Byrne / Penguin Cafe” thing, is quite apt. When I was a little kid my Dad used to play this Penguin Cafe Orchestra record and I would dance around. The record with the rubber band song on it. I’ve also always loved this other PCO track that seems made to be in a bank commercial, I think it is in a bank commercial.
Everybody loves Eno, and I do too. My art teacher in high school, Bill Kooistra, was a big fan. I kind of can’t listen to “Before And After Science” and “Another Green World” anymore because I played them so much years ago.
Also, Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light” is one my core records, and Eno is all over that one of course.
What made you start Valcrond Video?
I had to come up with a name for the “label” that was reissuing my DVD, “Sad Stonewash”. That was the first release. Then I wanted an outlet for the backlog of my own work that was sitting around, so I could move on to other things.
The new album is on Mexican Summer, but you`ve previously released a set with Not Not Fun and given Emotional Response access to your archives. Do you have further releases planned with these labels?
We will see.
Since your output is quite varied do you see different labels as specific homes for the differing work that you do?
There is an upscale-hippie charcoal water filter on the kitchen countertop at the Mexican Summer offices. I sabotage it by pouring Gatorade through it. That is the records I make for them. I had a bad habit when I worked at a deli in New Jersey and had to get up at 5 am. In the middle of the night if I had to get up to pee I’d usually be too tired to make it to the bathroom, so I’d just piss in these bottles I’d leave next to my bed. That’s the records I make for L.I.E.S.
I first became aware of your music through the singles released on L.I.E.S. How did you hook up with Ron Morelli and do you plan to do more with L.I.E.S.?
I met Ron on the loading dock of a Frito Lay distribution center. We were both wearing Islanders Starter jackets – or maybe I was wiping my ass with one, I forgot exactly. We hit it off right away.
I’ll always want to work with L.I.E.S.
You`ve collaborated with Sheela Rahman, as Body Tools, and Eddie Ruscha and Willie Burns. How did these collaborations come about and are you collaborating with anyone at the moment?
I met Sheela on an erotic L.A.R.P.ing message board. Her username was Big Black, and she was pretending to be a dude. We messaged a bunch of times and I forgot how it happened, but we figured out who we both actually were. After that we started mailing our underpants back and forth to each other, which turned into Body Tools.
Will introduced me to Eddie when we were both playing a show in L.A. I was all hungover the next day, and Will said “Get the fuck up, let’s go get smoothies.” So we did. Eddie rolled up on his skateboard, and I stumbled into a jam with the two of them at Eddie’s studio. Eddie is a very sweet guy. Will is a very strong swimmer.
As for new collabs: I have some reworks I did of tracks by Daze and Grey People coming out on Valcrond soon. These are sort of collaborations, if remotely.
Have you / do you perform live as Torn Hawk?
Yes, I have “performed live” many times.
For the past two years I’ve offered some variation of audio linked to video that is projected, etc.
I present my live performance as a parallel statement to the recorded work. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with the records.
The record is a RECORD, it is a complete painting that I am not interested in diminishing through live mimicry, unless there is a really good idea or some capable personnel.
For this record I’ve gotten the chance to arrange some of the tracks for a mixed chamber ensemble, piano, viola, bassoon, tuba, and percussion. This is something I’ve never done before so I don’t really know what I’m doing, which is a nice feeling.
Separately, I also put together a whole new set of beat music, kind of the best dance meat I can muster. It has no relation to the record, but both the record and this beat music set came out of the same brain, mine, so isn’t that connection enough?
In the figmental realm I also offer a variety show that has the feel of a Cub Scout awards dinner/ planetarium visit, etc. Plywood trophies, baked ziti, overhead wonder.
Later, the sound of regret occupies the center channel while panned hard to the left and right are two threads of my voice talking about the petty distractions I have to surmount daily to get my head into real work— “ Remember your sublet is up on November 1st. Nobody bought your old jeans on Ebay, so what’s your next move with those? You have to answer questions for this interview, any ideas for that?”
Eventually, I pass the mic around the audience and field questions about peoples’ lives, tell them what to do— almost everyone has too many jars of salsa in their fridge, most half empty, so I tell them to consolidate them into one jar and throw out the rest. They can apply this same approach to their worries. I bring along some art supplies so when we are done with the advice segment I can break out the watercolours and we all just emote with washy pigments.
The spiritual core of the show is a sculpture, spinning, on a rough pedestal of concrete. The thing is taller than it is wide, and it is centred against a backdrop of chainlink fence, shot through with poison ivy. I have a guy on the road with me who waters the poison ivy. It needs to stay green. It grows through the holes in the fence, finds places to hold onto, toughs it out, protects itself. When you brush against it, you get a rash.
What are your plans for the rest of 2016?
I plan to keep my mouth shut.