"..leading to a much richer sound-scape pay off.."
Cultivating Factory Sonances
Black Jeans Bio:
Black Jeans began as a solo recording project during a winter holiday in Bermuda and has developed into a visceral exploration of the chaotic nature of life. Russell Butler uses analog, modular synthesizers, and vintage drum machines to approach the subjects of fear, loss, and self doubt while his swirling, deep vocals communicate the desire to overcome. Black Jeans’ debut cassette (now sold out) was released on local cult label Tundra Dubs and his vinyl debut will appear on AMDiscs.
Hello, how are you?
Feeling pretty relieved. I got married to my partner of 3 and a half years on August 1st, we are pretty settled in our new place in Oakland, finally got some work in in my new studio spot in Oakland, and filed my green card petition today. It has been a hectic 3 months, but I'm excited to move forward.
What are you currently listening to?
A lot of stuff. My friends in Chasms just put out their 'Riser' EP which is phenomenal, they'll be on tour with Sisu and Dirty Beaches in September. I am also listening to a gang of bay area artists (Worker/Parasite, Brandon Nickell, Time Release, Believe, Inhalt, Austen Cesear, Vereker, Antwon) and friends around the world (Richard McMaster of Golden Teacher and Tropics Of Capricorn, Youth Code, Aaron David Ross, Streetwalker). Just heard about Bishop Nehru, who is a 16 year old rapper from I don't know where. Can't get enough of anything on L.I.E.S Records, especially my homie Vereker's eps, that Mutant Beat Dance 12", and the 4 club use only 12" by Delroy Edwards. I'm just waiting for someone to drop "Bells" at a party so that I can lose my shit. That new Ciara album, just cuz "Body Party" is an homage to my wife and I's favorite song, "My Boo" by Ghosttown DJs. Just heard about this awesome contemporary New Beat group called Supermad, from Mexico, and I'm making my way through what they have on the internet. I'm also a sucker for fuzzed out, stoned alt rock, so right now I'm obsessed with Pity Sex's new album 'Feast Of Love' and I'm really excited for the new album, "Deserve", by a band called Weed from Vancouver, BC. Trying to cut myself short right now because I could dominate this interview with how much awesome music I've been exposed to recently. As you can tell, I'm a music lover, haha.
Is there a story behind the name?
Back in 2008, I started making solo black metal under the name Spirit Sword. This was primarily a performance project, that I used to satisfy my urge to scream without a microphone, shred guitar over double kick drums, and do infinite hair whips. I moved to the bay area in 2009 and wasn't really sure where to find people making the music that I wanted to make, so I retreated within, and created Black Jeans while at home in Bermuda for the holidays. I came up with the name as a kind of compliment to the rougher Spirit Sword project; similar aesthetic and conceptual aims, but different guises. One day the phrase "Black Jeans, Black Spirit" popped into my head and it seemed perfect. It coupled a dark, surface, aesthetic, with a deeper, pensive conceptual foundation. I decided to create a split CD-R and cassette release that would feature the two projects. One project went into an unending dreamless sleep, the other perseveres today.
What or whom inspired you the most to begin this project?
Post-college-no money-bad job bummer life and a desire to make weird pop music. My racial and cultural identity as a black, queer, Bermudian immigrant also inspires the project. Andrew Eldritch and his Sisters Of Mercy project, as well as the more obvious and most compared to, Joy Division gave me a sound and feeling to draw from. While Wu-Tang Clan gave me some serious lessons in how to manifest strife and hardship in sound.
Care to shed some light on your recent LP 'Black Tourmaline'; theme, favorite track, etc?
The theme of the record is chaos and how it is not an individual agent, but a structural element of our universe. This subject had perpleced me since I saw Jessica Rylan (a wonderful noise musician, synthesizer designer, and scientist) give a lecture on the subject at MIT in 2007. I was reminded of these concepts and her lecture during the Mercury Retrograde astrological event, which I named the instrumental "Mercury is Retrograde" after. During this event, shit happens and you need to go with the flow. This particular time, a good friend from high school died suddenly and I was offered a deal with a somewhat reputable indie label, within days of each other. I was reminded of my own corporeality through this chaotic time; learning that its not a matter of life being fair or unfair, its more that life simply is, and shit happens, for better or worse. I titled the record "Black Tourmaline" because a Black Tourmaline is a stone that converts negative energy into positive energy (if you believe in crystal magic, like I do). This stone helped me a great deal, whilst playing the record out, recording it, and pushing it. It helped me through the chaos of daily life, by balancing the scales a bit more in my favor. I recorded this record using 2 modular synthesizers, a vintage synth, and a couple of vintage drum machines. I then composed the sequences and played them live, recording them to 4 tracks straight into Logic, usually only doing 3 or 4 takes. The only overdubs are a couple of synth solos on the first and last tracks and the vocals. I am not an analog purist, but I wanted to create a structure in which failure was valued, analog synthesizers and control voltage are wonderful tools to this end. I think that "Lover" is my favorite track. I love sensual music, in a sexual, as well as, a purely sensory way. It really holds you and kind of strokes your ears, whilst also having a fierce and steady pulse from the kick drum. It was also the most fun to play live, the easiest to record, and as one could have guessed, about my wife.
Is there a specific reason the LP was released via two different labels?
This is a common misconception. I believe that it was written on a blog or on Facebook that Tundra Dubs and AMdiscs released the record, though there is only a sliver of truth there. AMdiscs is responsible for the digital and impending vinyl release, whilst Ben Versluis (who released my first official tape on Tundra) mixed the record.
Got any other projects we should know about?
Very soon, I will no longer be performing as Black Jeans. I do not intend to retire the project entirely, but I am ready to (and am already making) other forms of music. I will be playing my last show as Black Jeans (for a while) on October 4th in San Francisco. I will be taking some time off to regroup and work on new material under my own name, Russell EL Butler. I currently work at an interactive kids museum in SF and recently finished some sound design for an exhibit that Adobe (yep the folks that make Photoshop) designed. Its an 8 foot by 14 foot LED wall with touch capabilities and a pressure sensitive floor. I am hoping to launch my career in sound design once I leave my job at the end of September. I will also start making art objects again and start a punk band that I can't really talk about yet.
What movie would work best on mute while listening to you music?
It depends on which body of work. Some might like it set to Altered States, others might like it set to an infinite loop of the rave scene towards the end of Hackers.
You can only keep/listen to ONE album for the rest of your life ..which album would it be?
'Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness' by the Smashing Pumpkins. That record is perfect (well most of it).
Are you living your dream?
In some ways for sure. 13 year old me would freak out that I am living in one of the greatest areas in the world, surrounded by open, endearing, and supportive friends and colleagues. Whilst also being married to a woman that I love and that loves me and lifts me up unconditionally. I still have plenty of ambitions and aspirations though, so I'm still having plenty of dreams. However, 13 year old me wouldn't be so stoked that I gave up skateboarding in a skateboard mecca....
Black Jeans is currently over:(?) but Russell El Butler lives on, look for new/different music soon..