Time has fits of coughing and phlegm is its agenda. When High School is over the class clown is unemployed — and because being homeless stops being fun real fast, the prospect of working as a legitimate comedian was the first thing I took seriously. The powers that be wanted me to be “responsible” for once, and in turn I made it my responsibility to surround myself with as many creative people as possible. Mikey IQ Jones was one of them.
Our friendship read like a modern tale of two cities—New York City vs. Brooklyn. For me, growing up in New York City left me institutionalized because New York is an institution. I really tried to keep as far away from Brooklyn and its 22 year old bearded persons as I could because those things are fire hazards and because the streets aren't numbered, so my hopes of navigating them in a straight line felt like consistently failing a roadside sobriety test. Hanging out with him was initially a sacrifice.
I remember the first time I met Mikey IQ Jones. He had just started a job at one of my favorite record stores, Other Music and almost immediately tried to extort me out of money to buy his new CD of music.
“20 dollar suggested donation.” he said. If I was an asshole I would have said “You know what? So is the Metropolitan Museum so here's a dollar buddy”¦” but I donated because I was struggling too. I was floored when I listened.
Mikey slowly became an off-duty straight man to the comedy I do, and we started doing shows together. Despite totally different life experiences, we shared the same ideas. When I was little, I was busy being the hero of the beach by standing up to sand-kicking bullies and winning my 8-year-old girlfriend back to the admiration of onlookers. When Mikey was little, he was making impressive sound collages and being inspired by Serge Gainsbourg. My good looks and charm made me lazy early on, and my courage came slow as an underwater punch. Watching Mikey on stage, his complete lack of restraint, I learned to be more fearless in my performances.. He grew to be a great friend and also my moral conscience which I apparently lacked.
I never had a strained relationship with hard living; I had a romance with it. Big difference, and not every romance works wonders for your health. Socially this put a strain on our friendship, so we didn't work together until I became less of an Iggy Pop and more of an Engelbert Humperdink. Things have changed – time coughed some more -and now the both of us are working the same show once again when we perform at the Sound of Art release party tonight. Even after knowing him for so long, I still have questions:
Julian Stockdale: I’m the type of asshole that would walk into the indie record shop you work in, Other Music, and ask for an Allman Brothers album just to be annoying. But I’m curious, outside your marginal influences, what commercial music has influenced you in any way?
Mikey IQ: Firstly, I’m not one to shit on someone’s aesthetic cornflakes in the morning. If you’re down with Susan Boyle’s cover of “Perfect Day”, I’m open to that– I’d just rather not hear it when I’m in the car with you.
I’ve been influenced by plenty of “commercial” music– many of the groups or artists from whom I’ve learned much about innovative songwriting and arrangements had hugely successful and influential careers–outside of the USA. People like Serge Gainsbourg or Harry Hosono and Yellow Magic Orchestra are good examples of that. From an American perspective, though, people like Prince, Nilsson, Brian Wilson…I tend to gravitate toward people who have a talent for creating a soundworld which they completely dive into and inhabit as though it were a landscape of its own.
Patti Smith recently urged young creative people to think twice about moving to New York City because of what she claims is its “lack of creative energy and outlets” that it once had. Do you think New York City is still a habitable breeding ground for generations of creative people?
I’m hard pressed to think of someone from New York City who’s done anything that really blew me away or made me rethink the possibilities of what I do. Most of the bands I hear coming from Brooklyn (and EVERYONE is from Brooklyn now) tend to sound quite interchangeable to my ears. That’s not to say that some of these people aren’t talented– far from it. I just wish that people would think more about the editing process; I feel that people need instant gratification now more than ever. No one has any patience anymore, whether it has to do with waiting for a record to be released to even ordering food in a restaurant. I honestly think that people forget quite often that a quality product takes time, it takes research, nurturing, and attention to craft and detail. From a musical perspective, I’d rather not sift through four or five mediocre records before you build your talent up to the piece of craftsmanship you’d started your band to create– hit me with the quality when you’re ready, and I’ll be even more impressed with it rather than simply thinking, “Well, that took long enough.” With that being said, though, there’s a lot of improvisation involved in what I do live…
What percentage of your live act is improvised? Do you frequently perform pieces you’ve previously recorded or performed before in some form?
The live show is always different. I’ve always had basic structural foundations, or skeletons, for songs or pieces I’ve recorded or
written already, but those variables change depending on the items I bring to a gig to physically create the sound. It keeps things more exciting for me, and I’ve had many people who have seen me perform multiple times approach me and tell me how they love the juggling act of watching an arrangement be constructed onstage. My favorite was a fellow who said that “when it starts, it just sounds like a bunch of fragments or some bullshit, and then all of a sudden, another piece of the puzzle comes in and you’re like ‘Holy shit, it’s a song! This fucking rules!” When I write a set list for a show, I almost always end up crumpling it into a ball (and sampling that sound most likely) and completely improvising. I often use lyrics or certain phrases from songs I’ve written in all of my sets, but the construction’s much in a jazz mentality of “here’s the head, or the riff, we start with that or drop it in somewhere, and then we’ll improvise and get back there at some point”. Years of working in experimental and “avant-garde” contexts keeps me from really ever doing a karaoke set of very rigidly arranged songs. If I’m going to do that, I want an orchestra behind me. For now, I settle for building the orchestra from a set of musical building blocks alone onstage.
Describe what is in your current arsenal “instrument-wise” for your live act.
Well, it’s one microphone used for vocal work and live sampling. There’s an effects processor which gives me my different pitch,
reverb, delay, etc options, and there’s a multi-track looping pedal for building the rhythms and harmonies. That’s all usually augmented by an always-changing assortment of non-musical household items– a tape measure, a roll of tape, some ice cream scoops, a glass bottle, whatever– that get sampled and plated for their respective timbral qualities, and there’s usually a small assortments of shakers, bird calls, and jaw harps. That’s as close as it gets to a “standard” setup. It’s a lot less than what it sounds like. Nearly everything is pocket sized, so I can fit the orchestra in a backpack. That’s convenient.
I’m curious about the current height of your hair. Have you ever encountered problems with the minimal height requirements when entering parking lots, etc?
It’s getting a bit difficult to go anywhere and feel a sense of anonymity. People I don’t even know approach me because they think
they’ve seen me somewhere. I guess it’s pretty recognizable. It definitely comes in handy when you WANT people to remember you; even if they don’t recall your name, they don’t often forget the top of my head. It’s silly.
You work in one of the last remaining record stores in NYC. How does it feel to be riding in weekly on something in danger of extinction?
It can debase you on an emotional level, especially when you’re as passionate about music and the art and craft behind it as I am. On one hand, I embrace change on certain levels, but I worry that people forget about the social implications of direct downloading and its related innovations. You don’t often make friends on internet message boards and via blog comments– more often than not, you antagonize or get antagonized. You lose the excitement of actually feeling like there’s another person out there who shares your passion rather than a roman character set in the font of your choice. People have also forgotten about the days when you used to actually be excited about a new album, running home to hear it for the first time. Everyone wants to taste before they buy. The commitment to the artist is vanishing rapidly, if it isn’t already gone completely. That’s troubling. That’s why we have people like Kanye constantly tweeting for your attention. Celebrity culture has turned into an aviary preschool.
Well there has to be some hope after looking at the overwhelming response to the Sound of Art show at Santos that we're doing. I've met people that are just as excited about this as most people are about a Kanye album release party.
Well it's events like these where you actually get to stand next to that person that shares your passion and maybe get up on stage and inspire people to have more shows like this at large, well known venues and make more records like the Sound of Art.
To purchase advance tickets online click here.