Japanther's Ian Vanek on the DIY scene, 'zines and the authenticity of handmade objects
You guys have done "illegal" shows. Did you perform out of the back of a truck like maybe Cabaret Voltaire used to do?
Not driving, though. My friend had an art opening at a big gallery in SoHo that's not there anymore, the Deitch Projects, and she really wanted us to perform, but the gallerist is famously uptight, this guy Jeffrey Deitch, and they didn't want us to perform because of the reactions the crowds gave us. So she put a Ryder truck on her credit card and said, "You'll just perform out front since he'll have nothing to do with it."
So we got our friend's generator and drove over there, and it was kind of like the Trojan Horse, where it was parked outside and we were inside, and we couldn't go out of it for fear of people seeing what was inside -- or more stupidly for fear of the art gallery people seeing it. When she finished, she came and gave us the okay and threw open doors and we played a bunch of songs.
At least for half an hour, forty minutes, no one could drive down the street, and it was a very classic takeover. We've done it a few times. We've done it with our friends the Black Label Bike Club and do jousting in the streets, and we've played live a few times there.
There's certainly a lot of opportunity in New York. A lot of people would kind of thumb their nose at the current New York and how it's not as wild as it may have been at one time, but there are a lot of opportunities to do interventions or however you want to call it. We've performed up on the Williamsburg Bridge a couple of times. We got really good reactions and really good crowds up there just because it's a free concert in a place where you've never been to a concert before.
A lot of that stuff comes from a great band called Friends Forever from Denver. They're incredible. I've seen them a bunch of times. I saw them Olympia, Washington, and I saw them in New York maybe three times. They were one of the best live concerts going in the entire world. They were incredible for a long time. Josh [Taylor] and Nate [Hayden] were really inspiring for that same idea of like, "Well this is sound, and it's in public, and it's beautiful because it's a performance that doesn't have to be what you have to know as a performance."
Their documentary film talked a lot about their philosophy. I wouldn't say we are known for doing a lot of outdoor, illegal shows, but we definitely like doing that stuff, and we have a sound system and will continue to do that into the future for as long as possible. We played in Detroit the other day right on the street, and that was really fun. The kinds were spanning the middle of the street, blocking cars and the cars would slowly cruise by, not knowing what to make of all these people being silly.
It's a way of bringing your expression again and telling it by any means necessary and letting ideas flow rather than, "We have to go put our stuff on that stage over there behind this thing, and they're going to charge money." No, we're going to play on the street and still get paid by the venue. Sometimes you can do that, and sometimes it turns into a fight. You can do interesting things with your life. You don't necessarily have to do it the ["right" way].
Did you get to play at Monkey Mania?
We got to play there before it was done. I don't think they do shows there anymore. We played at Rhinoceropolis last time -- this time at Glob.
How did you prepare for "It Never Seems To End," and why did you want to do something like that?
For people that don't know, we did an 84 hour performance -- three and a half days on a rotating stage with no food or sleep. It's a funny thing, but we were invited by our friend Christoph Schlingensief, an incredible performance artist and musician. "It Never Seems to End" was a direct quote lifted from his art.
What we were really interested in was trying to denigrate the performer or downplay the human existence in performance and play up the spiritual side of performance. We made a ritual involving emotion and numbers. We were fasting and drinking vegetable juice and really just trying to get to another plane of spiritual thinking.
It was strange but also really fortunate that someone would ask you to do that after your friend dies -- to dedicate something to them. We knew that his artwork involved this rotating stage at one point and that they would have to rent it in order to show the piece. We said, "Why don't you rent it a week early. We have an idea for a piece. We want to play for three and a half days straight. We want to try and essentially kill ourselves, kill our spirit and try to come to place where there's a real need for spirituality."
There were times when you were begging for it to end. You really didn't want to be playing the drums anymore. And then there were times when everyone was there, and it was fun. Some really great stuff came out of that, and we wrote some really great music.
We're really proud of some of the stuff we did there. I should credit TB a21, which is essentially a collection of art in a gallery in Vienna, Austria run by these wonderful, beautiful people that really believe in some of the things we've done.
I feel lucky to know them, and that's one of the things that sets Japanther apart -- being able be involved in some of these projects with Cristoph, PBA and Gelatin, another collective in Vienna we're in love with. These ideas have really kept us excited and interested in crafting more ideas and stay alive, essentially, rather than being on a path that a lot of bands might be.
If we're not selling festival tickets, and if we're not selling out these places, then we're not successful. I think humans are successful when they have another idea -- when you're talented, and you're using your talent, and you're out doing something. That's where painting comes into things. Of course people call it graffiti and tagging, but I call it going out and doing something with my day with my friends. So making a 'zine, making an art project, making an 84 hour performance all just stem from a real want to be using my body potential every day.
I guess we prepared for it by...I was running a lot. I like to run and think. When you're nervous about doing a large scale thing, there's a lot of running that's involved. So I was running around in circles in Austria. There's a big ring that goes around the entire city, and late at night, I was just running around the entire city. We try to eat healthy, but, other than that, there wasn't much preparation. It just kind of started. That was kind of the point--of being pretty scared of it and not knowing if you're going to be successful with anything.
Right now we're editing the film down, and it's a seven day film. Three and a half days backwards and three and a half days forward. It's an inconsumable piece of cinema. They have it in their collection now and it's up to us now to make sure it's something interesting to have in an art collection.
Your band has been fairly prolific. How have you sustained your enthusiasm for what you've done over the years?
This may sound stupid or trite, but the music I'm most excited about is the newest material we've written. I feel like if I'm going to be in a band, it should be my favorite band. I don't wear my band's shirts all the time, but I would. Your band should be something you should enjoy listening to exercising or hanging out with your friends. It should be something you feel good about putting on.
That being said, our new stuff is something that I'm really excited about. It's seamless and effortless because we made it in a state of complete trance. Some songs don't get performed a lot but others get performed and get better and better. We try to make a record every year, which is maybe a little bit crazy. Stuff gets recorded all the time, and we refine things and make it better. We practice on stage quite often, and if it works with an audience or not is a good litmus test with us.
It's a funny way to do it, but we've come into finding our own schedule, and we have a producer, Michael Blum in Los Angeles, we like to work with. He's worked with Madonna, Michael Jackson and all these amazing people, but he's the most humble, down to earth person. Our manager also manages him, and he said we should meet him because he liked our music. He charges us next to nothing because he enjoys our company.
I never knew what it was to have a producer until we had an experienced producer, and Michael has been working with sound since the late '70s and early '80s. He has all the platinum records hanging on his walls, but he's the most down to earth and humble person. You can sit with him and laugh and make jokes, and he can get really serious and work until midnight if he has to. We feel lucky to work with him.
He recorded Beets, Limes and Rice with you, and that sounds like your most sonically cohesive record to date.
That one definitely feels more cohesive than Rock 'n' Roll Ice Cream, and I think the next one will feel even better. Even still, some of the album was recorded in his studio because we had no idea what to do with certain songs. He would talk us into working really hard on it and be happy with it by the end of the day or throw it out at the end of the day. He has a real knack for bringing something good out of us. I guess that's what a producer does--provides cohesion and the focus.
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