Interview: EXCEPTER (paw tracks/kill rock stars)

Interview by TransBlender

Excepter has a massive catalog of releases, ranging from improvised live music to straight up weirdo bangers, like their song “Kill People”, which made me fall in love with them. Any statement I have about them would not do them enough justice. They’re compared to other bands in reviews quite aimlessly, simply because they are hard to pin down. Which is a good thing in this case. I spoke to member John about the meaning of life, and hummus.

TransBlender: Who am I speaking to and where are you currently located?

JFR: This is John Fell Ryan, founding member of Excepter, currently located in a small room on a secluded footpath across the highway from downtown Los Angeles, California.

TB: Excepter has quite the catalog, so what Excepter release would you consider encapsulates your aesthetic the best, and why?

JFR: Presidence has, In my personal estimation, the best live line up of the band’s history, achieving a level with dense group improvisation that had only been achieved through editing before. An apex with the slow analog sequencing I’ve been working on throughout the band’s history, as well as the still instrumental chamber pieces that have come to reflect the band’s serious side. Presidence also points towards where the band is heading on from here.

TB: What is the most inaccurate or out of place description you’ve heard about the band?

JFR: The idea that we’re ‘bullshit’. I don’t know if it’s guilt-driven paranoia on the part of writers getting outside their comfort zone, but I can’t figure out why anyone would think we’re being insincere. Sure, we’re “rock n roll” and get into a little stage chaos, but we’re also engineering a level of live programming and sequencing that even the most experienced techno producer would be afraid to do outside the studio. Not many acts would bring 808 on stage, you know?

TB: Who would be a dream collaborator to work with on album art?

JFR: Well, since I design all the Excepter records, do the layout and hand-lettering myself, I never really consider collaborating with anyone other than working with photographers on certain concepts.

I have my record design heroes, for sure: Black Flag, the logo design and Raymond Pettibon illustrations; I love all those Neil Young records with the weird photos and textures and handwriting; Micheal Gira’s Swans stuff (both the originals and the rereleases); early Sup Pop; Basic Channel et al; Mark E Smith; Jandek … and I also love the AA records house style for the Demons series, Nate Young and Alivia Zivich.

I guess a dream collaborator would be a big time professional act that could afford to take me on as a “total work” art director, collaborate on concepts, etc. I don’t know who that would be at this stage in the game. Some new wave metal act I’ve never heard of? Skrillex? Madonna? Is Pink Floyd still putting out records?

TB: Would you consider making another release like “Black Beach”, with visuals included? I imagine it is not expensive at all.

JFR: Well, it’s expensive in that music DVDs don’t sell well in general, but the higher cost of packaging a DVD with a vinyl record results in a price point maybe too high to also sell well, even at limited run numbers. I think people are too used to getting video for free now to want to buy DVDs.

But I’d like to do more documented open air performances, using battery-powered electronic set-ups and little boom boxes for sound, seeking out liminality in areas both rural and urban, all points in between. It makes sense to move this kind of project away from bottom line concerns of the music industry and into the independent arts-funding world, which is going through a bit of a renaissance with Kickstarter, etc.

TB: Who are some exciting newer bands you are into?

JFR: To tell you the truth, I haven’t really bought a record in years, since my son was born. I’ve been whittling down the collection. Sold off maybe two-thirds of it last summer. But I still listen quite a bit, revisiting old favorites and finding surprises in the stuff I’d forgotten I’d had.

Don’t know if it counts as ‘newer’ but I got really into Silent Servant and Sandwell District over the year. Lala and I, techno is what we listen to, driving around, working, etc. I dig Juan Mendez’s whole design approach and his mixes are great.

TB: What instrument has been key in changing the way you make music?

JFR: The microphone is really my main instrument. Other than mixing, percussion and maybe a drum program here or there, I’m usually just on the mic. It’s through the microphone that I discovered singing and rhythm, uniting the body with machine concepts. With singing, you have to draw out what’s inside and give it life to survive outside of you and then finding rhythms inherit in physical objects and projecting out the underlying patterns that make up the world. With a microphone, the whole world is an instrument. It’s truly a magical thing.

TB: What trend are you sick of?

JFR: Trends come and go so fast, I don’t really have the time to get sick of anything. I think all the micro-tends like triangles, striped shirts, smoke machines and blue hair are kind of droll. It’s when things calcify into “traditions” I can get dragged down. It’s kind of weird that “punks” are like rednecks now. Then there’s the NPR bikers, like people who listen to black metal quietly on laptops. But I wouldn’t go so far to say I’m “sick” of anybody except for people that don’t listen to any music at all – but I guess that’s most people, so … um, let all the children boogie.

TB: What does this year bring for you?

JFR: We’re hooking up some european festival dates this summer and a working on a release for the STREAMS 2 box set. We’ve been recording material for our next album in our closet studio here in Los Angeles. Some other surprises I’m “not at liberty to discuss” yet.
One thing that’s exciting, but not really connected to Excepter is that I was interviewed about my research into the mysteries surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for a documentary on the subject and the finished film, Room 237 was the toast of Sundance and got picked up by IFC for distribution. So that’s pretty cool, getting to be in a “real” movie and meeting interesting people that are also obsessed with Kubrick.

TB: Your favorite childhood memory that shaped the way you are today is:

JFR: Well, my least favorite memories probably go deeper into defining my sense of self, but looking back, the kind of imaginative play I would orchestrate with my brothers and our friends in the alleyways and abandoned lots in our neighborhood is the kind of group peak experience that lives on in my work with Excepter.