To the casual observer, 29-year-old Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez‘s about-face from black-turtle-neck-type guitar-folk to instrumental electronic meditations in the space of four years is about as unexpected as they come. Carpark — a DC indie label with an impressive Baltimore roster — released his first effort, Why Is Bear Billowing?, in 2008, not too long after the demise of Lesser’s short-lived but much buzzed-about band Cache Cache. Bear was Lesser “stripping everything way down” — partially a reaction against the synthesizer- and score-dependent Cache Cache — and it made the record something of a throwback — glassy vocals, wide-range melodies, and sedate tempos — at times nailing that vintage psych-folk sound to an uncanny degree. Nearly four years (and no albums) later — on June 12 of this year — Lesser put out a full-length of dubbed-out, droning electronic music (Mar-Quis) and two weeks later followed up with a similarly styled EP (The Double Voice) — both are digital-only, DIY releases on Bandcamp.
Of course, to Lesser — who is not only a musician but also an active visual artist and poet — the switch makes perfect sense — and is not so much a discrete change as just another tentacle of the aesthetic “corporation” that is Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez. Read his thoughts on the matter below.
Could you describe the aftermath of Why Is Bear Billowing? and tell me how you wound up making instrumental electronic music?
I was very excited to go out on the road, and see the record as a finished product. I learned a lot about the music industry, the creative process, and how music is perceived and digested. I think after a while I got the feeling that music was kind of like furniture. People see it advertised somewhere, they like it, they buy it, then they wear it out, and buy a whole new set (or download it) when it comes time to. I mean, what drew me to take a break from visual art was that sort of democratic nature of music, its accessibility, and its relationship to our everyday lives. I didn’t realize that could also trivialize it.
The curious thing is, that I’ve always made electronic music. I started with computer music back in high school in Miami. There was a really fantastic scene for experimental electronic music there, and I saw some really influential laptop shows in my youth. Even while I toured the guitar work, I was sitting on a ton of electronic tracks I didn’t know what to do with, spanning several years and monikers. I had a project — called The Ruby Stallion Ensemble — for a while, I played some of that stuff at the old “Are We Not Men?” parties [hosted by Deep in the Game‘s Mark Brown from 2005 to 2008]. With this new work, I’ve tried not to think about genre too much. It seems to be mashing most of everything I’ve ever been influenced by into one sound. I see these as meditations, and have been thinking a lot about the way old jazz records would include a few different takes of one song. I’ve also been thinking a lot about putting Terry Riley in a blender with Rick Ross.
What made you decide to digitally self-release the electronic albums? Why not approach Carpark with them?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Desmond Dekker line, “Music like dirt, for your money’s worth.” I like thinking of music being sold in bunches like bananas, or just one banana if you feel like it. I’ve also been thinking about churro vendors in Miami. They’d sell you a big bag of churros for a dollar on the street. I feel like music needs that immediacy, the feeling you get when you get something from a baker or a cobbler, the sense that you’re getting something crafted with a distinctly personal energy. I think Carpark is a great label, and I’ve mainly decided to self-release because I’ve been too busy with visual art to dedicate the time that is necessary to tour, etc. when you commit to releasing something through a label. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be interested, but for the moment, I think it’s important to just put it out there whichever way possible.
Have you performed any of the new music live? Any plans to?
I played some of the earlier iterations of this work at my solo show Make/Shift closing in March at the Open Space gallery. I had to borrow a laptop to perform them. I do plan on playing this stuff out more, but it really just depends me getting a working laptop to use live.
You work in so many different formats — visual art, music, poetry. Do you see it all as one huge art project or a bunch of little ones? Is there anything that ties it all together?
I do think there’s a unifying element to all of it. I tend to think it’s all one big project. The language might be different, but the source is the same. These are all things I tend to want to do naturally, so I don’t think there’s a point in trying to compartmentalize it all. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to make connections between all of it, which have guided them closer. I’m really inspired by people like David Byrne, Nick Cave, artists who work with everything around them and generate a conglomerate of media. I think if corporations can be considered people, then people should be considered corporations.
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