In the wake of the release of his 'Semicircle' LP and in the midst of an ever-busy gigging schedule, Juffage gets analytical with LMS.
Tell us a little bit about 'Semicircle' and its development/gestation. With it being your debut album, was the intention to summarize the Juffage 'sound' created so far?
Is this my debut album!?!? I've done two EP's and a full-length as Juffage, and at least 4 other records with other bands I've been in, so this hardly 'feels' like a debut. But, this is my first album for Function Records, my first vinyl, and my first release in the UK, so in many ways it is a debut, I guess. I definitely put more time into it than anything else, the oldest thing on here being from 2005. So I was working on stuff for other bands, live material, or even my two tour EP's at the same time. A couple of the older tracks on this record I purposely kept off the tour EP's and had been hanging onto for a while now, because I guess I thought they sort of belonged together, and deserved a vinyl pressing. I'm glad they finally got that and I think the record works really well as a whole, even though it was recorded over a 6 year period in something like 22 different places in the UK and USA. Something about it seems to occupy a certain space, and flows together in relatively a cohesive way.
Do you see the album as a slightly separate entity from the live shows or more as a condensation of them? Did you approach 'Semicircle' as an entirely different medium?
Oh, they are definitely two different things. I don't record myself the way that I play live, it's all multitracking. No looping pedals. The only thing that is the same about them is that I'm playing the same songs, sometimes. Looping to me is just like a performance tool, really. So since I don't rely on any prerecorded backing tracks or anything, I need looping to fill in some space using some of the instruments I record with. A lot of the time too, I either haven't gotten around to recording the live songs yet or don't have any way of playing the songs from my records live. So the record is very much a record and the performance is very much a performance. With a recording, nothing is up to chance, everything is deliberate. With a live show you have intentions, but there are so many unpredictable factors at work - how does the crowd react? Is this going to break? Why does this PA have no bass? - so it's never going to be the same thing twice. With my record though, it's all intentional.
What about the inclusion of interlude-type tracks and sections (eg. 120/240, Drone II), which seem to work as partitions between hooks - what was the motivation behind these?
Well 120/240 is an interlude but Drone II is very much NOT an interlude. It's funny actually, because so much of the press and reviews and stuff has focused on this one track. People either love it or they think it's some sort of tacked-on bullshit. It's actually one of my favorite parts of the record because it's impossible to listen to without having some sort of emotional response, and usually makes the listener feel massively uncomfortable. It's quite old too, made around the same time as 'Drone' from 2009 Tour EP. In all fairness, it is a bit of a weird way to end a "pop" record, but I feel it sort of asks the same questions of the listener that all the tracks on the album do, but in a more direct way. So it's a conclusion to me instead of an interlude, and there was a lot of motivation behind putting it there. With 120/240, there was no motivation other than that I wanted to bridge 'Small Fires' and 'Semicircle' together, and had some nice toys lent to me by Tom Evans (Vessels), Gus Bousfield (Mucky Sailor) and Circuit Ben at the time.
Visual elements and the idea of spectacle always seem central to Juffage shows - is this a way of fighting against the one-man-and-pedal/solo performer stereotype?
Hmm, I don't think so. It's definitely not a conscious thing. You might get a better response out the audience members at my shows than from me, but I think that any visual spectacle incurred by the audience is just a result of me having to do lots of different things in a short period of time. If I have to play synth and drums at the same time, and then switch to guitar really quickly, it's more out of necessity than me purposefully setting out to create some kind of visual spectacle. This inevitability kind of annoys me actually, because the whole point of me doing all this is to perform the songs in the best way I can, as one guy. So when people say "dude! I can't believe you are playing bass and drums at the same time and signing!" it's like, well, thanks, but did you actually listen to the song?
And what about the slightly challenging nature? Sometimes Juffage seems to be purposefully antagonistic or provocative, is that a conscious thing? And, by extension, which is more important - the listenability (seeing as songs are ultimately art pop-y) or the boundary pushing?
Nope. I'm obviously not setting out to make the kind of "easy listening" music you can buy at Starbucks, but by no means am I trying to make music that is hard to figure out or enjoy, or alienates people. I mean, it's pop music. If people perceive my music as challenging it's because they don't really challenge themselves with other music they listen to. Or, they listen to 'experimental' bands that might be considered challenging, but do so in a predictable way. So, really it's all about the listenability and the quality of the song structure etc. But at the same time, I'm not going to water down my songs or recordings to achieve mass appeal. A lot of the records I enjoy the most have sounds or recording techniques on them that are pretty fucked up or not easy to identify, definitely not what they'd tell you to do at recording school. If anything this just enhances the listenability for me because it's intriguing. So I guess I can see why people look at this as boundary pushing, but still, confusing/disturbing them is definitely not my primary motivation.
How much of a persona do you think is at work in your performances?
Oh god, I don't know really. I think I'll always be making or recording music in some way. I kind of need to and I don't really know why, because I'm broke and so tired of having to move a shitload of amps and stuff around all the time, constantly injuring myself and sleeping on peoples floors. Surely my life would be more comfortable if I only worked a minimum wage job so why do I do it? I always feel like I have to improve with everything that I do too, so maybe this persona is coming out more when I play, kind of pushing me along. That's just a guess though. I don't really put much thought into that sort of thing when I'm playing because I'm too busy concentrating on what I have to do in the performance to notice.
How limiting in terms of structure do you find your (weapons of choice) loop pedals to be? Do you think there's much point in comparing that type of structure to the more typical strophic-type format, or is the underlying thinking just too different?
I could sit here and write you a fucking book about the pros and cons of all the commercially available looping pedals. They all have various limitations, but usually they each have something about them I like. I use about 5 different loop pedals when I play live now, because different ones work better for different sounds, or songs, and because things like drums, bass, guitar, vocals, are all routed through separate ones. But obviously live looping is always going to have the limitation of the fact that I'm still just one guy. I have all these tools to sample myself but I can still only do pretty much one thing at a time. So, this is what spawned my interest in playing more than one thing at a time, because if you want to change the song structure you can only do so much with a loop pedal. A loop structure is basically just a verse, and you can keep adding stuff to it. But there are ways to build these structures into more complex ones, where multiple loops can be added, layered, manipulated, taken away, and so on, to resemble other song structures. I think this is by far the biggest challenge for anyone who uses loop pedals in a live setting, and what usually bridges the gap between 'guy with a loop pedal' and 'guy who happens to be using a loop pedal'.
In the writing process, does the loop pedal form a jumping-off point or is it more a case of making an idea fit into that framework/set-up?
Well, both really. One way I write songs is in my studio with all my gear that I play with live, so they are kind of written with loop pedals. In this way, I almost think of my set up like one massive instrument, cause everything is sort of interconnected. So it's easy to try out different ideas quickly and easily this way. The other way is to write the song on one instrument and then record it, adding other instruments one thing at a time. Lately, I think most of my songs are written in this way. Sometimes I play these songs live and then have to figure out how to do it using all the loop pedals and stuff. I guess this sort of reflects how the recordings and the live shows are pretty much two separate ideas, even if the songs themselves are the same.
Drone textures and structures feature quite heavily - does this stem from interest in or appropriation from 20th/21st century 'new' 'art' music? And it seems to link in quite closely and neatly with your approach to the loop structures, too?
Hmmm, yeah I mean it's easier to use multiple loops to make drones because you don't have to worry about them going out of time. Hahah! Also, when you have loops going in and out of time with one another for a longer period, they are always overlapping in different ways, so the total combination of sounds is always changing. This is kind of interesting because you technically have a piece of music which is never going to repeat itself. I can't really account for why I use them other than I think sometimes everybody has got to get droned! I like to use a diverse range of sounds, and drones are just one end of that spectrum.
The notion of alienation from sound sources and spatialisation of audio is a key component in live Juffage experiences. Is this a conscious thing or a by-product of the theory-of-the-uncanny thing that looping has going for it? I'm thinking in particular about the boom box trick and your own very non-static approach to performing...
Spatialisation is cool because it's just another thing I can use to create a 'bigger' sound than one person might ordinarily make. I guess this is partially why I use lots of different amps for stuff too, to compartmentalize everything and give it its own sense of space. The boombox thing is just one example of this. I've thought of other things like playing shows only using boomboxes, but just shittloads of them, like 50 boomboxes filling the room playing cassettes of stuff I recorded. I've also thought about setting amps or loudspeakers around the venue, in the back and stuff, with really long cables feeding them all outputs of cassette players or various looping pedals, and then like, playing drums in the middle of the audience. Could be fun.
And, finally, what's next on the agenda?
Lots, actually. I'm booking a tour of the U.K. and Europe which will go from around October 5th to December 10th. So that's taking lots and lots of work. I also have a bunch of new songs and ideas, so I just have to find the time to record them. Hopefully it won't be another six years before my next album comes out.