All The Things Jazz Pop Isn’t Supposed to Be – A dialogue with a popstar
with Genevieve Artadi –
I love jazz and I love pop music. But I don’t typically like it when they are combined. For some reason, the things I like most about each get lost when the two music genres wrap themselves around each other. When jazz and pop fuse, one is typically treated to a pleasant and unobstrusive music; a well played, well schooled, deep and unambiguously earnest kind of song that won’t disturb anyone at a nice middle class wedding. Gone are the cinematic qualities of pop, the provocative harmony of jazz, or the sense that one is listening to an urgent music that can capture and interrogate a time that words can only dance through.
In other words, jazz pop is normally bland. Jazz pop is normally not like Genevieve Artadi.
This is the closest I can come to explaining why I love her music. It combines jazz, pop, electronica, and many other things. But what appeals to me is not so much the combinations as the fact that her music is all the things it’s not supposed to be. Genevieve creates balances musically literate pop musicians normally shy away from. Her music is philosophical without taking itself too seriously; it’s witty without being cloying; wistful yet experimental, catchy despite being surreal, romantic even though it’s ironic, and edgy even though it has a subtle sophistication that normally reduces songs to food court soundtracks.
Most impressively, her music never feels like it’s trying be any of the things it is. Hence, it manifests one of the more elusive and rare qualities any musician can hope to pull off; it feels effortlessly cool. It’s so cool, it doesn’t care if you know just how cool it is. Like the brazillian pop of the 1960s, it’s cool enough to blend in with all the other pop of it’s day. Yet it doesn’t sound anything like the pop of our era. But it takes attentiveness to hear just how unique it is. It is a music that is distinctive, oddly, because of all the things it doesn’t sound like. It doesn’t even sound like jazz pop.
Nor does it sound like the music of a restless performer or a virtuoso musician eager to show off their techniques to an adoring world. It doesn’t sound like the music of a brooding poet or a club singer who just wants to make people dance. It doesn’t sound like the music of a person who hasn’t been signed to a major label. It doesn’t sound like music by someone who records from their bedroom. It doesn’t even sound like music by someone trying to make money or be famous. Genevieve’s music sounds like it was made by an artist; a person who wants to create something you can dream about and marvel at; something that isn’t like everything else.
Greg Scorzo: What do you love about music?
Genevieve Artadi: On a really personal level, I love that music makes me feel like I have a sense of purpose. I feel like I have a sense of purpose, even if I don’t know what that purpose is. When I write something or when I perform it, I feel like I know why I’m alive. But I don’t know what the importance of that is, really. I just know how personal it feels to me. I know that when I don’t work on music for several days, I start to feel really really depressed and kind of self-destructive.
In a broader sense, I think music is powerful. It can do a lot of positive things in the world. It can help change people’s minds. It can allow people to say what they need to say when they can’t do that with regular speech. I guess that’s true with any type of art. With music specifically, I love that it’s an artform where time is the canvas. It’s sort of like, in making music, you’re making art out of moments. I really love that.
Greg Scorzo: That reminds me of that famous Stravinsky quote, “Music is the best way to digest time.”
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, that’s a cool idea.
Greg Scorzo: Do you ever notice how music has emotions in it that are sometimes impossible to describe?
Genevieve Artadi: Absolutely.
Greg Scorzo: It’s almost like music can be a window to emotions that you would never otherwise experience.
Genevieve Artadi: Yes, the deeper that I’ve gone into learning and understanding music, the more it seems that way.
I studied jazz in school, hearing music that people have worked really hard to do well. The musicians really work hard to create something special, whether it’s music they’ve written out or music they’ve improvised. Once you can connect with that music and these people, you know you’re all communicating something, deep down. There’s this sense of mutual understanding, even when you’re all just being silly with each other. It’s a beautiful thing in the air.
Greg Scorzo: I suppose that’s one of the ways music can bring people together. It gives a group of people their own emotional language that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience together.
Genevieve Artadi: I totally agree.
Greg Scorzo: So how did you get involved in music?
Genevieve Artadi: My parents were musicians and they still are. My dad wrote original rock songs and my mom sang. They actually met when they were teenagers. They met because they were gonna work together and then my dad joined the Navy. When he came back, they became a couple and made music together. I grew up around them preparing for pop gigs on the weekends, always being around that and the rehearsals especially.
I wound up joining a band during my senior year in high school. It was a trip hop band, influenced by Portishead and Massive Attack. But I still wanted to understand music better so I went to school and keep making music in school and out of school.
Greg Scorzo: That’s kind of amazing. Your childhood sounds nearly identical to mine. My parents were musicians too. My dad wrote songs and my mom sang. But they were jazz musicians.
Genevieve Artadi: Wow! That’s really cool.
Greg Scorzo: It’s an interesting experience, growing up with that. It sounds like when you were a teenager, electronic music was a big influence on you.
Genevieve Artadi: It was. It’s funny because people sometimes make statements about electronic music being “fake” because it doesn’t use real instruments. To me, electronic and acoustic music is just sound, so I don’t side with one over the other.
Greg Scorzo: Electronic music is exciting because it frees your imagination. You can create sounds that no one can quite place.
Genevieve Artadi: (laughs) Yeah, that’s what upsets people about it.
Greg Scorzo: You’re right. I’ve never understood why people are uncomfortable by things that free your imagination.
Genevieve Artadi: Me neither.
Greg Scorzo: In your own music, I can hear a heavy electronica influence. But you’ve also got a big jazz influence too-the listener can tell you are an avid student of the harmony in that tradition. When did you go from being influenced by electronic music to suddenly becoming fascinated by jazz?
Genevieve Artadi: I think it was 7th grade, actually. It went as far back as then. The first jazz I listened to was the Natalie Cole/Nat King Cole album from 1991 (Unforgettable).
Greg Scorzo: That’s a good album.
Genevieve Artadi: I learned every song off of that album. I was obsessed with it. Also, my dad would always listen to jazz when he drove me to school. But when I got to college, I started listening to jazz in a way where I started really trying to understand it.
Greg Scorzo: Were you trying to understand the chords? Jazz chords are typically what you don’t hear in pop or rock music.
Genevieve Artadi: Definitely. I love the feel of jazz chords, and the feel of the music generally.
Greg Scorzo: Who were some other jazz artists that really influenced you?
Genevieve Artadi: Miles Davis. Kind of Blue (1959) was THE ALBUM that created a switch that went off in my head. Because of that album, I knew I could really listen to and love instrumental music. I could really hear the beauty in that album. It spoke to me. I love the way Coltrane plays on those tracks.
Greg Scorzo: Cannonball Adderly and Bill Evans play a lot of interesting stuff on that album, too.
Genevieve Artadi: Yep. I also really love Ella Fitzgerald albums. Sarah Vaughan is amazing. I love Sonny Rollins too.
Greg Scorzo: It sounds like you’re drawn to the classics; the jazz of the 50s.
Genevieve Artadi: Yep. I also got really into vocal jazz because I studied it. I learned all those voicings. I studied Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, and lots of other vocal ensemble stuff.
Greg Scorzo: That’s interesting to me because, as a singer, you’re very low key and laid back compared to a lot of jazz and pop singers. You don’t do Mariah Carey licks and things like that. You seem to be going for something more understated when you sing. Is that intentional?
Genevieve Artadi: It’s partly intentional. It’s also just partly how I naturally sing. The singing which is my absolute favourite is what you hear on Astrud Gilberto records. I love that brazillian way of singing. I just think it’s so beautiful. I guess I like subtle stuff. That’s maybe what it comes down to.
Greg Scorzo: When was the first time you were doing some music and you thought to yourself, “Holy Shit! That’s really good! I’m really good at this!”
Genevieve Artadi: Oh man, it would just happen in little spurts. I felt wobbly at first, when I was doing my band Pollyn. I felt wobbly even when I started doing jazz stuff. I had moments that sounded good but I never really latched onto things that excited me until a bit later. I think it was after college, around the time I started Knower, that I think my stuff got good.
Greg Scorzo: Knower is your collaboration band with song-writer/singer/instrumentalist Louis Cole. How did that band start?
Genevieve Artadi: Louis and I were friends and we decided to start making music together. We’d known each other for about a year. I had some songs and I asked him if he wanted to work with me on them. His idea was that I would write songs and he would do the production. Initially, the first few things we did sounded very wimpy. He would say, “But I thought you wanted it to sound that way!” I would say, “No way, I want this to have some depth and backbone.” So the first song that established our aesthetic was “Like a Storm.” On that song, we randomly decided to put it in two different metronome markings. The song just sounded so crazy and awesome that way. So, we decided after that, every song would in some way involve us pushing ourselves creatively.
Greg Scorzo: That song, in particular, sounds really influenced by drum and bass music.; Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and things like that.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, and Louis was also influenced by drummers who were doing that sort of thing. Louis played the drums and played like that, live. Nate Wood was also doing that sort of thing, at the time.
Greg Scorzo: That’s the drummer from Kneebody, right?
Genevieve Artadi: Yep. They’re great.
Greg Scorzo: So your first album with Louis was just called “Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi.” You hadn’t yet officially decided to call yourselves Knower. But it’s more or less, the first Knower album.
Genevieve Artadi: Right.
Greg Scorzo: That album was recommended to a friend of mine on Spotify. Then he shared it with me. Then I shared it with about 17 different people. Everybody really really loved it. For a while, it was the only record I was listening to while I was writing. When I was doing the final year of my phd, that album was probably the only record I would play over and over again. One of the things I really loved about it is how much it’s a really philosophical pop album.
Genevieve Artadi: It is.
Greg Scorzo: It seems like it’s an album about two people who are trying to understand the world.
Genevieve Artadi: I can’t even help myself when it comes to being philosophical in my writing. Occasionally, we do an “I love you baby” pop song and it’s fun. But that feels like an exception to the general rule. We have one song like that on our new album. We actually wrote it for a popstar. Someone approached us to do a song for a popsinger and we decided to put it out ourselves. But every time we listen to it, we’re amazed at how poppy and simple it is. It feels weird. But then we think, “We SHOULD have a song like that!”
For the most part, it comes natural to us to talk about life, the world, and how we interpret things. It doesn’t come so naturally for to us to do the opposite. You can hear that on the first album.
Greg Scorzo: The first album had a lot of really interesting and diverse musical influences. One the one hand, it was a pop album, but it had harmony that you don’t normally hear in pop music. It had funky bass lines, a lot of jazz and classical influenced orchestrations. But it also had this electronica stuff in it too. It was like a kind of soup, made out of musical styles that were floating around in the air in 2010. But no one had yet put all of those things into one pop album. It felt like it was synthesizing lots of things that had been going on for the previous 15 years. But it was also very forward looking. It seemed very much about trying to understand the future.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, that’s always what we try to do.
Greg Scorzo: And there were also the amazing videos you guys did; the “Trust the Light” video; the “Like a Storm” video. They were really exciting because of how small they were. They looked like the cheapest little videos made for youtube. Yet they were still extremely cinematic.
It was like magic that you could create things so cinematic with such minimal and cheap tools. There’s a split screen effect in “Trust the Light” where you cut the image of the cello into squares. It looks like something you would see on TV in the 70s, like on the Brady Bunch. Yet it makes that song really emotional. That split screen effect is powerful, even though it’s so cheap. Its something you can easily do with any film program but for that song, its mesmerising.
Genevieve Artadi: We always try to make a bold statement with whatever we have at our disposal.
When we did those first videos, we really wanted to push the boundaries artistically so that we weren’t just copying what other bands were doing in their youtube videos. That’s why we bought a Fisher Price toy camera and worked with that. We also bought a Beta camera. We would try to use weird effects, green screening, colouring footage, or doing whatever our budget would allow for. We were constantly learning, reading loads of tutorials.
Greg Scorzo: A lot of the footage from those videos looked like security camera footage or old video cassettes. It looked like broken images. But the images are more beautiful than they would be, had the videos been in HD and looked very clean.
Genevieve Artadi: We both felt that way too. We were excited about broken images. But on the downside, as a new band, the videos made people misunderstand us. People felt like we were just a “low fidelity” band that did simple music on the cheap. That may have turned some people away. I think if you want to get a lot of people on board with your band, its probably best to use good quality cameras. But that was never really our goal.
Greg Scorzo: Of the batch of videos that came out from the first album, the one that really stood out was the Window Shop video. That one seemed quite different to the rest. It was like that would happen if you and Louis had a sitcom. The Window Shop video would be the open title sequence.
Genevieve Artadi: (laughs) Like the Monkees!
Greg Scorzo: Yeah, it seemed like it was your theme song. Not just a video.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, we still play that song as an encore.
Greg Scorzo: I’m not sure why I love that song so much. I love the musical elements, obviously. But there’s also an emotional element I find fascinating. Because it’s so happy, it’s also really painful. I love that.
Genevieve Artadi: I find that quality is in a lot of the brazilian music I love. You can hear it in the best Jobim songs.
Greg Scorzo: Window shop is probably the song that, more than the others on the first album, really took off.
Genevieve Artadi: It really did.
Greg Scorzo: That success led you into your second Knower album, Think Thoughts (2011). Of the three Knower albums, that one is probably my favourite. But it seems like a huge step away from the first album. The first album seemed very philosophical, whereas Think Thoughts seems more about making observations about society, frustration, angst, and things like that.
Genevieve Artadi: When we did it, I was working at a Wax Museum. It was frustrating. That experience felt like it was destroying me. So those kind of things came more into our consciousness. We were thinking a lot about just surviving.
Greg Scorzo: You can really tell that when you hear it. Think Thoughts is more aggressive, but it’s also a more difficult album to describe. It has a science fiction element to it, which is what you see very strongly in the Think Thoughts videos. It’s also very dancey. It could almost be an album that you could hear played alongside something like Luke Vibert at an IDM gig. It’s got that kind of feeling. But it has harmony in it that, more then the first album, really jumps out at you. The first track “Gotta Be another Way” is really intense. Even though that song has a vocal on top of what sounds like chords repeating in a circle, those chords are totally unlike anything you would ever hear in a pop song.
Genevieve Artadi: They are.
Greg Scorzo: They’re really freaky.
Genevieve Artadi: (laughs) We like to get freaky.
Greg Scorzo: In the video for that song, it looks like you’re moving away from the grainy aesthetic of your first videos. It looks almost like you’re revisiting the early 80s. The visuals look a lot like the early Laurie Anderson videos. Were you guys thinking about the 80s when you did that batch of videos?
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, the 80s are definitely an influence. But I don’t know how much. I don’t know how intentional it was, with those videos. We just wanted them to look cool.
Greg Scorzo: They videos for Think Thoughts, in a weird way, look more mysterious than the videos done for the first album. For instance, when you look at the video for the song “Around” you really think, “Who the hell are these people?”
Genevieve Artadi: (laughs) I like that. Sometimes I wonder who the hell these people are.
Greg Scorzo: I guess that’s a selling point. You want any video to have impact.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah. We just wanted to make the videos look like something we’d enjoy seeing. But we never know how people are going to interpret anything we do. We’re so deep in it, we feel almost isolated while we’re working.
Greg Scorzo: The other interesting thing about the Think Thoughts album is that even though it’s ostensibly a pop album, there are many moments in it that sound influenced by free jazz. On one song, it sounds like Albert Ayler is coming into the middle of a song and playing a sax solo from the mid-60s. What made you decide to go down that road?
Genevieve Artadi: We were listening to a lot of different music at the time. We wanted to incorporate some of the funkiness of (jazz bassist) Tim Lefebvre in our music. There’s this album called Pistachio that he’s on. We loved that album. We’d go back and loop certain passages of it over and over, thinking, “This is so funky. If would be great if we could somehow incorporate this feeling into our music.” Then a bit later, we met (jazz saxophonist) David Binney at a bar called the Blue Whale. I started talking to him about life and then I said, “I’ll send you my band’s album.” So I sent him the first Knower album and then David introduced us to Tim Lefebvre. We thought, “Let’s ask him to play with us” and to our surprise, he said yes. That was crazy because he was actually one of our main influences, and there he is on the record. David Binney played on it and so did John Escreet.
At that time, Louis was also taking film scoring classes at UCLA. He was writing a lot of orchestral music. We’d use a lot of what he was doing in Think Thoughts. There were a million different influences that got thrown in that album.
Greg Scorzo: How did the reaction to Think Thoughts compare to the first album? Was there a big difference? Did it take you guys up a notch, in terms of the careers you wanted?
Genevieve Artadi: Every album has led to more people finding out about us.
There have been a lot of people we’ve met who love the first album and say, “I wish your new album sounded like your first album.” Then people come up to us and say, “I wish your third album sounded like your second album.” We expect that. It’s natural. Luckily, with every new album we do, we attract more and more fans.
Greg Scorzo: Did you get any radio play with Think Thoughts that you didn’t get with the first album?
Genevieve Artadi: Yes, but I don’t think we’re really aware of all of the radio play that we actually get. It’s always a big surprise when we travel somewhere and they’re playing something by us. The way people know us is through people messaging us on Facebook. They say “Hey, me and all my friends LOVE your music!” But that’s the extent to which we know what our audience is doing. Sometimes we’ll look at our reports on Tunecore to get an idea of what music of ours people are listening to and streaming. There are only a couple of radio people we know that consistently get in touch with us, telling us how and when they play our music.
Greg Scorzo: That’s interesting to me because the third Knower album (Let Go, 2013) seems ideal for radio play. It’s like the perfect Knower album to play on the radio.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, we wanted to go bigger, production wise. Louis had just discovered Skrillex and all kinds of electronic music that was being made at the time. He wanted to be able capture that bag of chops in the music. Let Go gets much more insane, production wise. But it’s more insane in all aspects.
Greg Scorzo: With Let Go, were you trying at all to be more commercial? Please don’t be offended by that question.
Genevieve Artadi: No, we were trying to be more commercial. We wanted to see if we could still incorporate all our freaky chords and weird aesthetics into something that was accessible. We wanted it to be something DJs would consider playing at clubs.
Greg Scorzo: It was also during this time that you started doing a lot of videos with very deliberate references to the film Tron (Steven Lisberger; 1982).
Genevieve Artadi: On the first album, there’s a video called “All I Want To”, which was very influenced by Tron. We even put the word “Tron” in the title of the video. Louis was incredibly into Tron as a kid. It just so happened that the new Tron film came out in 2010. Both of us are incredibly into the visuals in science fiction. The stuff we find the most beautiful isn’t necessarily older, but Tron to us, is so beautiful. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick; 1968) is also incredibly beautiful. But we also like newer movies like Prometheus (Ridley Scott; 2012) and Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014). But Tron has a vibe that’s also in our music.
Greg Scorzo: Yeah, Knower and Tron is an interesting juxtaposition. Even to a greater extent than Think Thoughts, it makes Let Go almost become a commentary on the 80s; especially the synth pop of the 80s.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, all those influences sync in and come out.
Greg Scorzo: Since then, there hasn’t been any new Knower material. I don’t know if you guys have taken a hiatus or broken up. But in 2015, you came out with your first solo album. (Genevieve Lalala).
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, Knower hasn’t actually had a break since then. We’re constantly working, non-stop. We’ve just been working on our new album for the last two years.
Greg Scorzo: I didn’t know that.
Genevieve Artadi: My first solo album and the one I’m working on now are made in the moments inbetween my other bands. I work on my solo music when I’m not needed in a particular process. Sometimes it’s when Louis has to step to the side to work on something apart from Knower. Sometimes, I just run into the bathroom and write songs quickly. With my solo material, it’s much much quicker than it is with Knower material.
Greg Scorzo: That’s interesting because Genevieve Lalala has a very fragmented quality. It sounds like something you kind of dipped in and out of.
Genevieve Artadi: It was.
Greg Scorzo: Does Genevieve Lalala have a theme or idea behind it? Or was it just a collection of different material you were working on at roughly the same time?
Genevieve Artadi: There wasn’t really a theme. The songs in Genevieve Lalala are snapshots of things I was thinking about or experiencing.
Greg Scorzo: The first track, “Whatever Whatever” features a collaboration with Aya Toyoshima. Was that a songwriting collaboration?
Genevieve Artadi: No, she just performed on that song. I wrote it.
Greg Scorzo: What is that song about?
Genevieve Artadi: It’s about being hit with the reality that now is all I know. Not trying to grab onto the future or hold onto the past. That awareness can lighten the load of life.
Greg Scorzo: It starts out with really dissonant chords. But when you get to the chorus, it starts to become like a very beautiful R and B song.
Genevieve Artadi: I wanted those elements to balance out each other.
Greg Scorzo: One of the interesting things about all the Genevieve Lalala songs is the way they play with emotional ambiguity. Songs like “Lily Flower”, for instance, have lyrics that sound very encouraging, trying to support someone whose been knocked down but who is blossoming into a young woman or creative person. But the harmony in that song, the relationship between the melody and the chords, is quite different to the emotional content of the lyrics. Did you do that on purpose?
Genevieve Artadi: Oh yeah. I think that’s part of my aesthetic.
The things I find beautiful aren’t so clear cut. If you want to make something pretty, it doesn’t have to be soft. The chord doesn’t have to be happy. Or if the chord is happy, it doesn’t have to be a major chord. I actually think that something that has a really bombastic beat and a lot of dissonance can be really beautiful. It just depends on how these things come together in the music, how the juxtapositions work. In the case of Lily Flower, those juxtapositions where there because it’s about a girl who is going through a lot of struggling. She’s going through a time when things aren’t very clear. I’m sure that sense of ambiguity worked it’s way into the choices that were made in that song.
Greg Scorzo: Another amazing track on the album is “Winter Song.” I think it’s just your voice and a harp.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah.
Greg Scorzo: One reason why that song is so amazing is that when you read the lyrics, it’s only eight lines. The lyrics say very little. Yet when you hear the song, it feels like you’re hearing a very elaborate poem with a lot of content in it. But you aren’t. I heard that song ten or fifteen times before I read the lyrics. I was shocked at how little was actually there.
Genevieve Artadi: That’s really cool. I’m happy about that.
Greg Scorzo: Was that part of the design of the song?
Genevieve Artadi: I wanted to make something that felt big and small at the same time. I had no idea how other people would interpret it.
Greg Scorzo: I don’t know how other people interpet it either. But for me, the song suggests emotion that I can’t really express in words.
Genevieve Artadi: That’s good.
Greg Scorzo: It feels like that’s why the words are so minimal. I mean, we all have feelings about winter. But it’s very difficult to say what they are without saying things that just sound stupid. We all have these very strong, evocative emotions about seasons. So winter brings out strong and deep emotions but when you say, “Oh yeah, winter is the time when snow is on the branches and everyone’s taking a break from school,” that just sounds stupid.
Genevieve Artadi: (laughs) Yeah, I’m glad I didn’t write about Christmas break.
Greg Scorzo: Then you have other tracks on the album like “Genevieve Lalala” which, when I heard it, made me think, “Wow, that’s a bit like Steve Reich.” Were you going for a Steve Reich vibe on that track?
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, I think so. That song was a big explosion of emotion for me.
I had just gone for a job interview for a teaching position and the experience was very awkward. It was not a good experience for me. It just felt very strange. So the Lalala song was kind of like my therapy. I was ruminating in my head about the interview and going over and over again what I could have done or should have done or should have said. I think in the end, the school environment wasn’t one I could have done well in. So that song, I suppose, was a way of dealing with those emotions.
Greg Scorzo: So that song was a way of saying, “FUCK YOU! I can write beautiful and sophisticated music. Here it is.”
Genevieve Artadi: It was sort of, “FUCK YOU! I can be happy and complete where I am, without the job.” Not that I wanted the job all that much. I just felt a compulsion to try and get it. That was my mindset. After I wrote the song, I sent it to the lady who interviewed me. She never wrote me back.
Greg Scorzo: (laughs) Wow. Did you tell her the reason you wrote it?
Genevieve Artadi: I told her it was a kind of therapy for me, because of how weird I felt.
Greg Scorzo: Was the interview for a music teaching job?
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, it was a vocal jazz teaching job.
Greg Scorzo: It’s ironic that someone like you would be made to feel awkward at an interview for a job like that. I would imagine loads of kids would probably pay high amounts of money to have you be their music teacher.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, I don’t think they really knew about me or my music. I was just a name that was thrown at them. So it felt weird coming in at square one.
Greg Scorzo: Was this job something you were trying to get because it was just a way to pay the bills?
Genevieve Artadi: A bit. It was going to be a one day a week thing. But I love teaching. I teach at the musician’s institute now, one day a week. That’s really nice. I’ve met so many great people and I’ve learned so much about myself through teaching. I’ve developed very close bonds with my students.
Greg Scorzo: I know exactly what you mean. Teaching is amazing.
Genevieve Artadi: It’s so great and exhausting at the same time.
Greg Scorzo: It is. The prep takes hours, but it’s worth it. I taught Philosophy between 2008 and 2013 and that was some of the most important, transformative, and influential work I’ve ever done. It really impacted everything I’ve done since then. Teaching does bond you to people.
Genevieve Artadi: It does.
Greg Scorzo: So after “Genevieve Lalala” comes the Bridges track. Bridges is fascinating to me because it starts out with an extremely happy, upbeat, 60s influenced verse. Then, when it goes into the chorus, it suddenly has all these emotional ambiguities in the chords; emotional ambiguities that aren’t in the verse.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah.
Greg Scorzo: It feels like the experience of being confused, when I hear it. Is that how it is for you?
Genevieve Artadi: (laughs) I always feel a little bit confused. I just took the chorus and took it one chord at a time, trying to write interesting harmony. Something that wasn’t just triads. I was influenced by that Beatles song, “We can work it out.” I love how that song has such a huge difference between harmony in the verse and the harmony and feel of the chorus. It’s a great juxtaposition.
Greg Scorzo: Now that you’ve said you were influenced by The Beatles, that 60s feel makes a lot of sense. The bossa nova song, “Invisible” is another amazing example of a song influenced by the 60s. It’s almost like you’re combining two different production techniques. On the one hand, you’ve got the reverb drenched vocal, which almost sounds like a parody of 60’s bossa nova vocals. It’s even more reverby than even those original vocals.
Genevieve Artadi: Yep.
Greg Scorzo: But then you add a synthesizer bass line. The combination of those two things make it feel like it’s a bossa nova stuck out of time.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, do you know the band, “Antenna?”
Genevieve Artadi: I think I was trying to go for that vibe. I really love how Antenna does bossa novas with synthesizers.
Greg Scorzo: Sting does that too on the “Big Lie, Small World” song from the Brand New Day album (1999).
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, I’d been listening to that album too.
Greg Scorzo: That makes a lot of sense. It does sound like it could have been an influence, now that I think of it.
Genevieve Artadi: I’m not sure if it was a direct influence, but that album was definitely on my ipod when I was recording my solo album.
Greg Scorzo: The song “invisible” has lyrics that say one thing, but again, has chords that have very different, ambiguous emotions in them. It seems like the emotions in the chords and the emotions of the words are dialoguing with each other. In that dialogue, they create something that’s new, something that isn’t reducible to the emotions in either the chords or the lyrics. It’s bigger than both of them.
Genevieve Artadi: That’s definitely intentional.
Greg Scorzo: The album closes with the song, “Animal.” What’s that one about?
Genevieve Artadi: It’s about people climbing over each other to get what they want. It’s also about the question of how much our minds are influenced by the animal brain, instead of the conscious, rational brain.
Greg Scorzo: When I was listening to that song, I thought, “This is a song, among other things, about shallowness.”
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, definitely.
Greg Scorzo: The animal brain might be attracted to somebody that isn’t good for you. The attraction might be there for a dumb reason. Maybe it’s because of the shape of their body. Maybe it’s because they tell jokes that turn you on, even though they make everyone else you know feel uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the intellectual, politically sophisticated brain might want you to be in love with a very different kind of person; someone very kind, someone very polite, someone with great politics who shares most of your tastes. But when you meet that person, in practice, nothing happens, in terms of any kind of chemistry. That seemed to be what the song is hinting at. Is that what you had in mind?
Genevieve Artadi: It totally is. The animal brain is such a strong force. But it makes us do really fucked up things.
Greg Scorzo: Do you think the animal brain is mostly bad?
Genevieve Artadi: Not necessarily, but it can sometimes lead to bad things.
Greg Scorzo: Couples often have a difficult time dealing with the way their animal brains impact their relationship. They want to love each other in a very pure, romantic way. They want to believe that how each of them look never matters. Yet, decades down the line, the couple winds up dressing up for each other in certain ways, losing weight, and things like that. They have to come to grips with the fact that the animal brain matters. That’s often very painful.
Genevieve Artadi: That’s something I really think about a lot. I acknowledge this kind of stuff more on my second album, the one I’m still finishing. I’m really excited about it. There’s a lot of stuff in it about the complexity of love.
Greg Scorzo: Is the new album predominantly a love song album? Is it more about society? Is it more philosophical? What kind of attitude does it have?
Genevieve Artadi: It has a lot of different attitudes. But much of it is episodes that deal with love. It’s also about impulsivity and emotions that come up through impulsive behaviour. I’m dealing with the subject matter of doing whatever you want; the consequences of that.
Greg Scorzo: Do you worry that when you do whatever you want, you can become infantile?
Genevieve Artadi: Maybe. I’m interested in what happens when I’m more free with myself, behaviourally. I just moved into a big house with a few other friends of mine. It’s an environment with a lot of people coming over, writing music, and hanging out. We have writing parties and people come and bring their computers and keyboards and we write, side by side. We take little breaks and go talk out on the patio. I’ve been going out and seeing live music and meeting new people, making a lot of connections. I’m doing impulsive things. For example, I went to Portland Oregon to see friends I met in Vegas. I spontaneously decided to go to Portland to do a show in their house. That’s not typical for me. But I’m interested in that freedom.
I’ve also been thinking about my mortality, on a more immediate level. I’m not afraid that at any second, I could die. But I am more aware of how finite my time on this planet is. I’m trying to do my best writing and experience things as fully as I can. That’s what the second album is about. Love is just a big part of that.
Greg Scorzo: All of your songs are going to be the songs of a dead person for the rest of eternity. They’re only songs of a living person for a very small blip of time.
Genevieve Artadi: That’s very crazy but very true.
Greg Scorzo: So you’re thinking a lot about freedom because you live in this house, you’ve got more access to things than you’ve ever had, you can have writing parties, go to different places, meet lots of new people, see things you couldn’t have seen when you didn’t have as much money. Do you feel like having too much freedom, in a way, is scary? Do you ever feel, in a weird way, like you’re more secure when you have less freedom?
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, it is scary. But I’m also happier. That doesn’t take the scariness away. I feel like I’m falling, but it’s a nice kind of falling.
Greg Scorzo: I guess this is something a lot of people are thinking about right now. A lot of people are thinking and writing about how, as long as you’re not poor, you can be really really comfortable and catered to today. You couldn’t do this at any other time in history. You have access to information and culture at a speed and density that wasn’t previously available. You can demand that people talk to you using only certain words. You can be really offended by little things. You can get an extraordinary amount of people completely bending over backwards to make you feel comfortable. Is this something you’re happy about? Or are you more leery of this development in our culture?
Genevieve Artadi: I suppose it has some benefits. Access to things you need is good. But as far as making people bend over backwards for you, that’s pretty sucky. I always try hard to make sure I’m not treating other people like crap. But I understand I have the freedom to do a lot of things I would never choose to do. I love the internet. I love being able to connect with people that I never otherwise be able to. I can do that on a pretty low budget. I can travel pretty cheaply, stay with people, and do things people couldn’t do in the past. I feel pretty free to do a lot of stuff and I understand that freedom is very new.
Greg Scorzo: On the whole, this freedom seems like it benefits you. It seems like it does more good than harm.
Genevieve Artadi: I think so.
Greg Scorzo: So when the Genevieve Lalala album came out, did you like the reception it got?
Genevieve Artadi: I was surprised! A lot of people actually listened to it and liked it. I wasn’t expecting much to come out of it, to be honest. It’s not a Knower album.
Greg Scorzo: I’m a little disappointed at some of the reactions that Knower gets, to be honest.
Genevieve Artadi: Really?
Greg Scorzo: In a lot of the youtube comments under the Knower videos and songs, people say things that are pretty unfair. People react to Knower like, “It’s Louis Cole’s music…and he’s got a singer.”
Genevieve Artadi: Oh yeah! I totally see that.
Greg Scorzo: One of the things I love about the Genevieve Lalala album is it really shows that the musicality and ingenuity and musical techniques on the Knower albums are as much you as they are Louis. It’s very much a two way project. Your solo album, in a way, really really shows that.
Genevieve Artadi: Thank you. That was actually one of my goals. With Knower, as Louis gets better and better at production and arranging, he has become the person responsible for playing most of the intruments. I do the song-writing and determine what the sections of each song will be like. I write instrumental parts and he mostly plays them. But our role in the band is always changing. I’m planning on doing more and more production, as time goes by.
Greg Scorzo: Genevieve Lalala sounds like the most experimental album you’ve ever done. Your solo album feels, in some ways, more musically adventurous than Knower.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, thank you. It was the first album where I felt like I could do whatever I wanted.
Greg Scorzo: So are you going to be touring any time soon?
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, on November 18th, Knower is doing a show at Oslo in London. From there, we’re gonna go to Manchester, then Paris, Sweden, and Cologne, Germany. We’re trying to make all of that happen right now.
Greg Scorzo: Well, good luck. I hope those tours are really wonderful and not totally exhausting.
Genevieve Artadi: Yeah, this will just be for a couple of weeks. It won’t be too bad.
Greg Scorzo: So you guys aren’t going on a tour bus?
Genevieve Artadi: No, it’s just me and Louis travelling by car. We travel really light.
Greg Scorzo: I suppose it is really light if all you guys carry are your keyboards and laptops.
Genevieve Artadi: I’d love to have a tour bus, some day.
Greg Scorzo: I’d love you to have one too.
Here are the First 3 Tracks from Genevieve Lalala.
Track 1: Whatever Whatever
Track 2: :Lose-Lose
Track 3: Winter Song
If you’d like to hear the rest of Genevieve Lalala, click here.
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[…] Genevieve Artadi is the other half. We have already had an in-depth conversation with her CHATTING TO GENEVIEVE Artadi […]
Regarding modern tech enabling freedom of musical imagination and what upsets some people about it – I think there is something to be said in favor of musical tools that have inherent physical limitations.
When you want to express yourself musically but the instrument puts constraints on what you can do, then you are forced to solve a constraint satisfaction problem. Most of problems we encounter in real life are essentially CSPs, and I think humans as a sapient species have evolved to be emotionally rewarded for discovering and emulating optimal solutions to such problems. In short, this kind of optimality has inherent aesthetic value.
Modern tech removes constraints. The upside is what you said, and I agree. The downside is that the beauty of solutions to difficult problems often fails to emerge because no phase-split ring-modulated transmogrified skreeeeong is significantly more difficult to pull than the other. As a result there are tons of crappy electronic music around from creators who produce roughly hewn cubes of marble while freely imagining Davids hidden inside them, and this is probably what upsets some people. The winners are those creators who know and have the discipline to put meaningful constraints on themselves and solve against them.
… said the guy who flails away on goat skin.