ITW #9 – Béret
INTERVIEW TIME! Béret’s third album Jesus White is out on October 18 (via Chicago-based label Born Yesterday Records). The first single “Fade Out the World” is out now and available in this article. Of course, the whole album will be reviewed here in the following weeks!
Before making this interview, we’ve been warned: Béret’s well-read. Get a taste of his eloquence without delay.
Jesus White is your third album. How would you define the artistic road you’ve been on since the recording of Emmenagogue Hotel (Selfish Place of Pain) and Popularized Architectural Movement?
My inspiration has continually broadened and the necessity to transcend my personal artistic expression has deepened. As the first two albums were emotional explosions quickly rendered- completely consuming my life time for the duration of their romantically short executions- Jesus White was approached much differently. Where with Popularized Architectural Movement, and Emmenagogue Hotel my life was being driven by the need to transform my emotions into a creation, this third album took the back seat as the processing of my emotional state drove the vehicle.
I pick up small packages from albums I’m inspired by. The things I enjoy about records have become more nuanced yet somehow more universal in the context of recorded music as a whole. Unique sounds, interesting tones, human error, the magnetic or awkward results of improvisation; these are general fortune of a good piece of music, but their execution is specific to their creator. Your ability to recognize and appreciate these subtleties are the satisfying rewards you are gifted for spending a prolonged amount of time with an era of music or particular artist. In retrospect, I was really trying to mason a marble surface of my influences and fill the interstices between the minerals with my own style. The cracks sometimes come close to the larger, familiar fragments they are next to, but they exist in a space that carves their own unique separation.
This album benefited from the expertise of two other record engineers, one based in Ontario and the other based in Chicago. Being a record engineer yourself, did you find it hard to have less control, if that is the case here?
Yes and no.
I have built a lot of my own recordings from the ground up out of convenience. My writing process is enmeshed within the engineering process so I utilize mixing as a tool for tackling the initial inspiration just as playing the instruments themselves. Arran, the mixing engineer for Jesus White, and Carl, the mastering engineer, are technical masterminds. I trusted their abilities completely as they have both worked on a handful of records I hold very close to my heart. However, I did find that I had to have a clear vision precisely defined before letting anyone else into the precess of this piece’s completion. When I am mixing a project I am usually exploring the intimacy of a song and then exposing its most vulnerable characteristics. This is all information I instead had to understand and communicate previous to completion. This was a new process for me that inevitably influenced the music I wrote.
Jesus White is an album that will enchant people enjoying eclectic approaches. How do you manage to not get lost while composing?
Although I previously mentioned there is a lot of sound exploration going on, I am guided by a baseline inspiration or vision. Before writing any of the material I’ll spend more time laboring over the theoretical landscape I want the album to be in line with. For me, the challenge lies more in the materials ability to authentically represent the emotionality behind the inspiration. I think that comes across as more “heady” than it feels. In my creation of a song (writing and recording) my only real goal internally is to have the end result properly convey the initial spark that demanded me to feel influenced. This is often drawn more from lived experiences than from music I enjoy.
Can you tell us about Born Yesterday, your new record label?
Born Yesterday is a gem in this over-saturated era. Greg and Kevin are two dedicated and hardworking individuals who are delightfully unpretentious. Independent label founders are the plumbers of the contemporary music world. They facilitate the necessary infrastructure to connect art with people. The last thing you’d want if you were building a city is fucked-off infrastructure; you’d want the people behind it’s construction to be passionate about what they are doing. Greg and Kevin are exactly that.
I heard about the label through our mutual friend Dan Shaw. Dan and I have collaborated artistically for almost a decade and I consider him to be family. He once coached me through the process of pulling a deer tick out of my groin in rural Western Massachusetts. Dan has an astoundingly visionary project called “Landowner” that Greg and Kevin released on Born Yesterday. He is the reason Greg and Kevin and I heard about each others artistic pursuits.
I am equally grateful for, and taken aback by the label’s level of professionalism and willingness to bring projects to fruition.
Your vocal style seems to be deeply influenced by the spoken word scene. Why this choice?
I sincerely take this analysis as a compliment. It’s funny you mention this. Earlier this year I found a copy of the first album I ever made as a teenager. It is a supremely corny acoustic piece I made when I was fifteen that reflects what I do now in more ways than one. It’s well equipped with overly dramatic songs including a spoken-word sound-collage called “Bastard” and a noise track interlude. It was a trip to listen to my young mind coming to a lot of the same musical conclusions I do in my adult life. I’ve made it a point to include a bit of spoken word in all of my creative projects whether its through live performance or bits of poetry finding their way onto a record. It seems to me that poetry performed is almost a more vulnerable form of music then music itself. With inflection, time, space, volume, and lyrics, one can utilize their specific individual human instrument that no-one else has. These notions have repeatedly attracted me to this medium of expression. The stuff I write that I feel most connected to inevitably finds it’s way into the music I make.
Mental health is a recurring theme (or is at least strongly evoked) in your compositions, directly or indirectly. While art is generally seen as a cure, should artists act as doctors, or is such ambition pointless?
I can only speak for myself.
I can say that for most of my life I have thought of artistic creation as a means for working through mental instability. Artists (myself included) historically like to insert the word “catharsis” here: “_______”. But my experience has shown me that my relationship to creativity is polar opposite to that of catharsis. Rather than releasing emotions and feelings of unrest through the creative process I tend to nose-dive into them. My self made ideals, and the emotional existence surrounding them, become exaggerated, unrealistic versions of themselves. There is no purging. In return I feel no reprieve.
“I want to pick something up that I don’t want to keep; I want to dive right in, don’t want to go too deep”.
The majority of my inner turmoil can be sourced to the ordinary human condition, albeit of an inflated class. For myself, this condition of suffering that is bound by the tethers of immense loneliness, isolation, and alienation has yet to be solved by moving further inward; shutting the door, refusing to leave in the name of art. In my experience, this has only overstimulated delusional thinking matched with the amplification of the previously stated symptomatic feelings. Don’t get me wrong here; I do believe creative endeavors can be the fruits of emotional dis-ease (or even emotional-ease for that matter). Nevertheless, I have had to place the reliance of my well-being on matters other than art over the last few years. I’ve had to find a real and tangible solution for the “instability problem”. This enables me to build a relationship with creativity that is healthy instead of a relationship that enhances dis-health. In this way, I can tap into whatever feelings need to come to the surface artistically and still have a way out of the tunnel. This is an ongoing development that I am not perfect at executing by any means but I do believe this is a matter of progress not perfection.
Subsidiary question: considering that a béret is a french hat (or a french soldier), is there any link between you and France?
None other than my appreciation for French New Wave cinematography and my love for Francoise Hardy. I have deeply enjoyed the time I have spent visiting Toulouse, Lyon, Biarritz, Nantes, Brest, Strasbourg and Paris to play music. I bought Miles Davis’ “Get Up With It” the last time I was in Nantes and that record changed the way I perceive music and the process of audio engineering. I speak a small bit of the language from having lived in Montréal, QC, Canada for a year. I intend to spend more time overseas in France and improve my speaking ability. I gleefully anticipate the critique of my Américain/Québécois accent.
Photography by Gordon De Los Santos.