Interview with MI AMI

Interview conducted in January with Mi Ami. Their debut album, Watersports, is being released February 17th on Quarterstick. The first single Echononecho is already available. Mi Ami’s members are: Jacob Long (bass), Daniel Martin-McCormick (vocals/guitar) and Damon Palermo (drums). Jacob & Daniel were part of the legendary, short-lived, Washington D.C. Dischord punk band Black Eyes. I was able to see Black Eyes two or three times and they are probably the most intense group of musicians I’ve seen perform live. Mi Ami will be performing at Lounge on Elm St, along with Thank You (Baltimore) and The Watchers (Dallas) on March 5th.

PARADE OF FLESH: Mi Ami’s debut full-length album, Watersports, was recorded live in only 2 1/2 days. How were the recording sessions laid out? How will the live tour compare to the studio recording of Watersports?
JACOB LONG: We just set up and played. It’s how I’ve always approached recording. As a band, one of our strengths is the looseness/space in our songs to play off/with each other and there really would be no other way for us to get the songs “right” than to just set up and play. We did the basic tracks that way and then added vocal overdubs and a few other things (a little percussion, guitar, synth, etc). The mix was also approached as another performance element in a lot of ways and there was a lot of on the fly fx/mixing throughout. I think sound-wise we did a good job of capturing what we sound like live on record.
DAMON PALERMO: (The album) was recorded in 1/2 days and mixed in 2/3 days. The layout was: record the songs straight through , then overdub – vocals & some synths later. There were no drum overdubs on that record. (Live will be) louder, faster & less together than the record!
DANIEL MARTIN-MCCORMICK: I agree with Jacob 100% that we could not accurately or convincingly translate our music to tape without playing it live, together in a room. Besides, what’s the fucking point? As for live, we have a couple of new songs, and the pattern seems to be that new material is always slightly more dynamic/purposeful/subtle and open to us, so I’m sure we’ll be playing it and exploring the possibilities that we hear. However, I think Damon is correct that there will be some loose jamming and probably a bit of careening through some sets.

POF: Any particular songs that you guys were unable to master in time for the recording of the album?
JL: No, the album pretty much is all the songs we were happy with when we went in to record. We had a few songs we were on the fence about but they just got cut from our repertoire when we decided we weren’t going to try and record them.
DP: There were no issues with running out of studio/mastering time. We ditched 1/2 songs in the studio or prior to the studio, but it was by choice, and not because of time limitations.

POF: What was the main influence behind Watersports? I know some prior
singles had a very african/tribal roots…

DMM: First of all I am going to start off by calling out “tribal” as arguably the most offensive bullshit word being bandied around rock critic circles in the new millennium. I mean, for fuck’s sake, let’s get it together… it sounds like campfire scene from Ace Ventura 2. We are not going ooga booga with a djembe, so let’s throw it out right now. As for the percieved African influence, this is most likely my fault for naming our song “African Rhythms.” The title referred to the lyrics rather than the percussion; the song is about patterns of colonialism and imperialism, and the feeling of mourning and paranoia that comes with living in America as it turns Iraq and Afghanistan into chaotic jungles for the sake of a little profit back home.

Not to be too confrontational, though…I feel African influence is both obvious and something I feel uneasy claiming. There is clearly some African music that I and we are influenced by, but the influence is more intuitive than explicit, and it’s mixed with healthy doses of disco, dub, punk, Bad Brains, minimalist compostion, krautrock, Tangerine Dream, gamelan, post punk, free jazz, drone, noise, and so on into infinity. Maybe the best way to contextualize it is we all go for repetitive song structure, “groove,” percussion, negative space and intensity. But all this genre lumping has got to go. No African would claim our music as local. Not even close.

JL: I think the African thing is there but a little over emphasized? We all love music from all over the world (and I have been pretty heavy into various African music lately) but it wasn’t a purposeful thing. Plus “African” music is such a broad thing its like saying we are influenced by “American” music….i feel influence from touareg “blues” bands, and the vibe of Ethiopian music from the 70s, and konono no1, and king sunny ade, etc. but I don’t think we really approach sounding like any of them. If anything I think somewhat the overall idea of playing very repetitive, cyclical lines is a tie together between a lot of those musics and the idea of a “jam” as compositional structure…

I would say my biggest influence over the last couple of years has been immersing myself in jamaican music. and Can is always a big influence especially when trying to minmize what i’m playing on bass while maintaing the necessary amount of low end weight…

DP: I cannot speak for the band since we are all inspired bydifferent things…some of which have nothing to do with music!, but I agree with Jacob…in that the African infuence is exagerated by write ups? I didn’t know what a polyrhythm (or) who Olatuni was until our first 12″ starting get press.

POF: If you’re replacing the adjective ‘african’, what would you use instead to accurately describe the sound and percussion portions (or at least on the unintentionally
ambiguously titled “African Rythyms” 12″)?

DMM: Personally, I feel more comfortable with terms that actually approach the sounds we are making rather than terms that try to place it within someone else’s world. Of course there are some surface similarities to drum centered music from Africa, but I think you’re better off starting with: Percussive, noisy, cyclical, hectic, heavy, aggressive, mercurial and joyful.

The biggest complaint I have about terms like African and Tribal being used to describe music like ours is the undercurrent of racism and ignorance that allows them to slip by unnoticed. Traditional African polyrhythmic drumming is some of the most complex music on the planet, and can really only beplayed by master percussionists. To play that music well is to devote your life to a style that, while not exactly, can be seen as a parallel, and certain equal, l to the virtuosic classical traditions of the colonizers. It’s not people chilling out in a drum circle in the park.

Our music is most definitely in conversation with a lot of other music from around the world, but we are not at all trying to do some blackface punk African music.

POF: What instruments do you all use/ (or) what is the setup?
JL: Our setup is pretty straightforward. Guitar, bass (and) drums. Damon’s kit is kind of unconventional (bass drum, snare, floor tom + roto toms, timbale as a rack tom + electronic drums pads/triggers and some electronics). Daniel and I both us a varying amount of fx on our instruments as well as recently re-introducing some keyboards and other live electronics use in some of our new songs. But for the most part I think of us as a pretty straightforward “power trio” setup…
Dan: I would add Bass FX too. I mean, I use distortion and delay on guitar, but I feel the way Jacob uses FX is a semi-independent counterpoint to his actual basslines. Volume might be another instrument of choice?

POF: Mi Ami is comprised of two-thirds of Black Eyes. Is Mi Ami where Black Eyes left off or what? With such a long absence are you guys surprised at the continued relevance of Black Eyes?
JL: Obviously, Daniel and I are playing instruments we played in that band (although for the last year or so of that band I barely played bass) and we have very personal approaches to how we play our instruments. However I think the sonic pallete/approach to composition/etc of this band is very different than it was in Black Eyes, so any sort of continuum between the 2 bands might be heard more from the outside rather than what we feel as those involved with the creation of this music. In a lot of ways I feel that some of the other music Daniel and I played together (and on our own) after Black Eyes really led the way to how we approach music in this band much more (becoming comfortable with free structure/improvising, using SOUND as an organizing approach, expanding sonics through use of fx, etc)
DMM: The only thing I can say about Black Eyes is that, as important as it was to me, it was most certainly not where I left off. Rather, I would say that the end of Black Eyes was the beginning of the rest of my musical life. Mi Ami is infinitely more focused, personal, and intense for me, and is more informed by the musical/philosophical/geographic/personal explorations that followed the demise of that band than anything Black Eyes did. I am sometimes a little surprised when people talk to me about Black Eyes now, because I remember moving to California in 2005 and assuming that I would have no trouble meeting people thanks to that band, and finding instead that pretty much no one cared. Now everyone wants to talk about it. It’s totally fine, but it’s very much in the past. I would say that anyone who thinks Mi Ami is where Black Eyes left off is probably doing a cursory itunes+computer speaker listening session, skipping through the songs instead of listening all the way through/actually paying attention.
JL: Daniel and I played in 2 bands after Black Eyes (and both played solo music for a while as well) that explored ideas/concepts that much more directly led to what we are doing today in Mi Ami than I feel our time in Black Eyes did. Among other things these projects led us to explore: free improvisation/improvised structure/instant composing, sound itself as important as a compositional tool, repetitive ideas, minimizing song structure and allowing other elements to drive a songs development…

POF: Other than Thank You, whom would you have wanted on this tour? It is really paired well for what both bands are currently creating musically with their latest releases.
JL: Yeah, I agree and am very excited to share this tour with them. Initially the idea was thrown around to have Psychic Paramount on this tour as well which I would have loved as they may be my favorite rock band operating at the moment.
DP: For this tour we weren’t really think about WHO we were going to tour with. We were just trying to figure out HOW we were going to tour. At the perfect time we were contacted/asked to tour with Thank You!
DMM: The last few years have brought a number of incredible bands to my ears. I don’t know if it’s the cultural climate or just good luck, but off the top of my head I can name a number of great groups who I would love to play with: Grouper, Psychic Paramount, Inca Ore, Growing, Steve Summers, Food for Animals, Lexie Mountain Boys, Zomes, Abe Vigoda, 51717, Finally Punk, Blue Sabbath Black Cheer, Zs. The list goes on…. Getting to tour with Thank You is something I am very thankful for, though.

POF: Okay, the name Mi Ami, What’s it about and do you hear a lot of folks say Miami, like the city?
DMM: I wanted a name that had some kind of meaning or association already attached to it. I don’t like band names that fall flat on the floor, and if nothing else, people can see this and think of the Miami Dolphins or something. But I had wanted to be in a band with some serious BASS, a la Miami Bass music, and I also liked the weird fucked up aspect of this semi-gutted party city with massive disparities between the rich and the poor. Well, I don’t like it, but it’s an intense image. I also like the way you can look at the name Miami forever and not notice that it’s mi ami put together.