Glenn Branca Interview

Yesterday we posted a 1981 interview with Branca taken from the art journal ZG. In this follow up piece we use the original ZG article as a starting point to discuss his unique sound, New York and dance music. If you’ve ever heard the man’s work you might not be surprised that he writes uniquely in capitals.

1. In the ZG interview you’re asked about a ‘very metallic guitar sound, very forceful, almost on the point of noise’. You say ‘If you’ve lived in New York for a while it’s not difficult to see why that kind of music is being produced.’

I know the interview was conducted 30 years ago and you may have been slightly misquoted so I am fearful of asking you to elaborate on that point, yet there is something intriguing about your choice of words. While seemingly saying ‘Yes, it’s a popular sound. It’s been a popular sound for a few years’ saying the word ‘why’ implies a certain relationship of cause and effect between New York and the sound discussed. Do you think, looking back now, that there’s a particular reason why New York produced bands and musicians like yourself, The Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks etc… Do you think it’s just ‘big city syndrome’ and that it was really more of a national thing that happened to come into focus in New York or do you think there are there other reasons?

POST WAR NEW YORK HAD BECOME A HAVEN FOR ARTISTS.  THERE WAS NOWHERE ELSE TO GO IN THE U.S. IF YOU WANTED TO WORK OUTSIDE OF THE MAINSTREAM.  AND EVENTUALLY IT BECAME THE CENTER OF THE INTERNATIONAL ART WORLD (AS OPPOSED TO PARIS) .  EVERYTHING HERE WAS ART: THEATER, DANCE, FILM, VIDEO, CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL MUSIC, ARCHITECTURE, ETC.  IT WASN’T JUST VISUAL ART.  IT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN A SURPRISE WHEN IT FINALLY CAME AROUND TO ROCK.  BUT AT THAT TIME, IN THE MID TO LATE 70’S, THERE WAS WHAT SEEMED LIKE A BRICK WALL AROUND NYC RELATIVE TO THE REST OF THE COUNTRY.  NYC WAS CONSIDERED TO BE A DANGEROUS AND PERVERSE PLACE (NOT ENTIRELY TRUE BTW).  AND THE ONLY WAY YOU COULD FIND OUT ABOUT WHAT WAS GOING ON HERE WAS TO READ ABOUT IT IN THE VOICE OR THE TIMES OR ARTFORUM, ETC.

WHEN THE INDIE NY ROCK BANDS STARTED TOURING IN THE LATE 70’S AND EARLY 80’S THEY OFTEN PERFORMED ON THE BILL WITH LOCAL PERFORMANCE ARTISTS, POETS, FILMS, EXPERIMENTAL BANDS, ETC.  GIVING A KIND OF VALIDATION TO THE SMALL AND IGNORED LOCAL SCENES.  THIS EVENTUALLY CREATED A NATIONWIDE ALTERNATIVE UNDERGROUND WHICH IS STILL GROWING TODAY.  AND HAS NOW REACHED BEYOND JUST THE BIG CITIES.  OF COURSE, WITH THE INTERNET, MOST OF THIS BECOMES IRRELEVANT NOW.

2. When people talk about different music scenes, the implication is always that artists of a certain scene all know each other, interact with each other and react to each other’s influence and work. As with genre tags, drawing a circle around a load of different people and saying ‘that’s the ____ scene’ is often unhelpful and fallacious. Yet with most of the New York music I like it does seem like there might be an element of truth to it. There are actual venues and clubs like the paradise garage, mudd club etc… that seem to link musicians and sounds of a certain time together. To what extent do you think your music was helped by a community? You seem to have collaborated with a fair number of people but did you feel a kinship with bands on the ‘No New York’ compilation or with other artists and bands that would nowadays be identified as No Wave?

MUSICIANS TEND TO WORK WITH THEIR FRIENDS AT FIRST. IT WAS NO DIFFERENT IN NYC AT THE TIME.  BUT THEY OFTEN DON’T KNOW THE OTHER BANDS THAT PLAY AT THE SAME CLUBS.  WHY WOULD THEY?  MOST “SCENES” ARE CREATED BY JOURNALISTS OR PR PEOPLE, WHEN IN FACT THERE IS OFTEN NO CONNECTION BETWEEN THE BANDS EITHER MUSICALLY OR IN ANY OTHER WAY.

AS FAR AS NO WAVE IS CONCERNED, I LIKED THE MUSIC OF MANY OF THE BANDS BUT AT THE TIME I DIDN’T KNOW MOST OF THESE PEOPLE AND RARELY SAW THEM SOCIALLY.  FRIENDS TENDED TO STAY AMONG THEMSELVES AS THEY USUALLY DO.

3. I mentioned music critics who like to blanket-tag bands with scene and genre names. Today the Internet means that critics can identify micro-scenes that are transcontinental and exist between artists who have never met. In the late 70s/early 80s was there anyone in particular working outside of the city who influenced you? Were there other cities, in Europe particularly, that appeard on your radar as other places where interesting things were happening? (I notice that in the ZG interview you say ‘And the English music…you can’t get any more derivative than that’)

IF YOUR TALKING ABOUT THE LATE 70’S, NO WAVE AND EXPERIMENTAL ROCK WERE VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTANT OUTSIDE OF NYC.  YES, THERE WERE SOME BANDS OUTSIDE IN THE WILDERNESS BUT WITHOUT AN INTERNET OR A BIG INDIE SCENE THEY WERE HARD TO FIND.

AS FAR AS THE ENGLISH SCENE WAS CONCERNED AT THE TIME THE BANDS WERE JUST IMITATING WHAT WAS GOING ON IN NYC.  EVEN THE SEX PISTOLS, AS GOOD AS THEY WERE, WERE JUST A VERSION OF THE DOLLS.

4. In the ZG interview you mention the success of Laurie Anderson and predict that people are ‘going to see that there’s a lot going on beyond the surface’ with regards to other interesting musicians. Do you think that there’s anyone who you found brilliant that remains overlooked today?

NOT REALLY.  WITH SO MUCH ACCESS TO ANY AND ALL MUSIC ON THE INTERNET IT’S DIFFICULT TO IMAGINE THAT THERE’S BEEN ANYONE WHO’S BEEN OVERLOOKED.

5. My next question is about the influence of other disciplines on your work.

In the documentary kill your idols you say “I came [to New York City] to do theater. And I was in the process of actually setting up a whole theater situation with a friend of mine named Jeff Lohn. He had a loft in SoHo. We were painting the place black and, at one point I just couldn’t help myself and I decided I just wanted to start a fucking band. It got to the point where basically we kinda decided that we can, we’re on a stage in front of an audience we can basically use. This band is our theater group so to speak. That – that was Theoretical Girls.” “

THE ENTIRE NY EXPERIMENTAL THEATER SCENE, THE EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC SCENE (GLASS, REICH, ETC.) WAS A GIGANTIC INFLUENCE ON ME AS WELL AS THE ART WORLD.  MOST DEFINITELY RICHARD FOREMAN, THEN AND NOW.  BUT THERE WAS NEVER A LITERAL CONNECTION TO MY MUSIC.  I HAD ALREADY DEVELOPED MOST OF MY IDEAS AND APPROACH TO MUSIC BEFORE I MOVED TO NEW YORK.  WHAT EXCITED ME WAS THAT HERE I FOUND PEOPLE WHO WHERE WORKING ALONG SIMILAR LINES.  THAT WAS INSPIRING. AND ALSO THE FACT THAT THERE REALLY WAS AN AUDIENCE HERE FOR THE KIND OF WORK I WANTED TO DO.

6. Ok, but then in ZG you’re asked about the connections between the New York music scene and the Art world, which you claim are pretty strong : ‘The whole thing wouldn’t have existed at all if it wasn’t for the support of the Art world’. Later when asked about a visual component to accompany your music you mention deliberately moving away from any aspect that’s visual or related to performance. In another instance you mention composing music as someone might write a play or a film script. It seemed that at the time of the interview your attitude to other disciplines was pretty ambivalent. How do you think other disciplines and the working practices of other disciplines influenced you. Do you think it’s a worthwhile pursuit for musicians to try and straddle other disciplines? Even on a basic level pop musicians are ‘song and dance’ entertainers but do you think that anyone doing anything similar to yourself has benefited from trying to incorporate other disciplines into their work or from taking their music to other disciplines?

ACTUALLY I’M NOT VERY DISCIPLINED AND HAVE NEVER BEEN INTO S&M EITHER.  ACTUALLY I THINK THAT YOUR PARAPHRASING OF THE QUOTES FROM THE ARTICLE PRETTY MUCH SAYS IT.

7. On 99 records you say ‘What Ed Bahlman is doing is interesting but I’m personally not interested in dance music or reggae’. I’ll admit at this point that, although I grew up on guitar bands, rather than finding your music through the Sonic Youth connection, I actually came across your music from tracing the roots of dance music that I found interesting back to bands like Liquid Liquid before checking out other artists on 99. Would you still agree that you don’t find dance music interesting? Do you think it’s possible for music to be physical enough to make people dance and still be cerebral?

IT’S FUNNY, I WAS JUST THINKING ABOUT THIS YESTERDAY.  I WAS READING AN OLD BOWIE INTERVIEW THAT FOR SOME REASON HAS JUST BEEN PUT UP ONLINE.  IN IT HE TALKS ABOUT HOW HE’D LIKE TO COLLABORATE WITH ME.  THIS WAS 15 YEARS AGO.  AND I COULDN’T HELP BUT THINK: IN THE 1890’S WOULD ANTON BRUCKNER HAVE WANTED TO COLLABORATE WITH  A FAMOUS AUSTRIAN POLKA BAND?  THAT WAS JUST A BIT OF A JOKE.  I’M REALLY A BIG BOWIE FAN AND HAVE BEEN EVEN BEFORE ZIGGY.

TO ME DANCE MUSIC IS THE WHITE BREAD OF MUSIC, OR MORE TO THE POINT; MUZAK.  MUSIC TO BE HEARD BUT NOT LISTENED TO.

8. The last question’s a bit more ‘pub talk’ than the others. Could you pick one quintessential New York record for us?

ANY MILES DAVIS RECORD BETWEEN 1965 AND 1968.

You can buy the Ascension here.

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2 Responses to “Glenn Branca Interview”
  1. I imagine my title says it all.

    You read it and you know. You just know. I have bought plants.

    Euripides is my corn plant. She is graceful, tall and confident. More like a tree than a plant. I confide in her my thoughts about my characters and plot. She has yet to give her opinion.

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  1. […] our Glenn Branca interview attests Reich has an enormous influence outside of the classical world. Live, the piece has a key visual […]



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