CJ BOYD: a non-stop traveller between North America and Europe
Hey CJ BOYD, we are very happy to interview an eclectic artist as you are. Your performance are very deep and fascinating. Where did you get inspiration for your music?
Well, of course, I’m inspired by countless other musicians.I don’t necessarily want to try and list all the amazing musicians that I’ve taken from over the years.
I could say their names, and it would be true that they inspired me. But that seems secondary to me.
I mean, because the ones that inspired me the most gave me tools for creating the kinds of experiences I want to try and create. And really, that’s the whole point, as far as I’m concerned. Because the things that inspire me the most aren’t musicians, but life.
So, of course, there are big influences like Phillip Glass or Beethoven. But, for instance, the thing I love about Beethoven’s music is that he uses these chords and melodies that get deep into the psyche and haunt you from the inside out. He writes these things that seem to make you feel like you’re dreaming, and all of these deeply personal feelings and thoughts seem to be triggered when I listen to him.
So I don’t really want to sound like Beethoven, because I think that would be really easy and inauthentic to just copy his composition style. But I have taken from him certain ways of phrasing things so that they get inside of people and are touched as if you know them very well. Similarly, I listened to a lot of Jazz in my late teens and all through my twenties. I have no desire to play jazz. I mean it’s great, but I can’t play it without feeling like I’m speaking in quotations.
If I was alive 50 or 60 years ago, then maybe it would feel exciting and like my own music. But now, it’s like an exhibit in a museum, not personal at all for me. However, the thing that really touched me in jazz is the feeling of flying. When I listen to John Coltrane or Charlie Parker or Eric Dolphy, and they’re just killing it on some solo, I get this feeling of weightlessness, like I’m just soaring over everything, the way they soar over the rhythm tracks. I love that feeling, and I love being able to give someone else that feeling. But the form of most jazz doesn’t appeal to me, because it’s so predictable now.
Play the head, then take turns soloing. I’m speaking of classic jazz, of course, like Bebop and cool, not free jazz of course, which is a whole other thing. But anyway, that predictability of form actually inhibits the feeling of freedom that I want with the flying. I mean, it lets you fly, but only on this very old route, when I would love to fly wherever I like. So I have tried to carve out other ways of achieving that feeling without copying many of the tropes of jazz.
And I could say the same thing about metal. I love how powerful and immense metal can be sometimes. Tool and Metallica were big influences on me in the 90s. And sometimes I want to make something that immense too. But I can’t stand the machismo that is so prevalent in metal, so I have to try and find ways to doing it without that male ego bullshit.
Phil Elverum has done an amazing job of achieving exactly that. Some of his more recent music is every bit as huge and heavy as any black metal band, but without the “tough guy” act. He makes this music that’s like a terrifying beast, and yet he never loses his vulnerable, human side. Bands like Kayo Dot and SubRosa do that too, and I connect to that music a great deal.
And maybe that brings me to another pattern I’ve noticed in my own musical consumption. I love music that defies genre. I think if your music fits entirely in an existing genre, and if that genre didn’t form around what you were doing, then you’re still kinda just quoting. And in that case, the music might be great, but it’s derivative, and a person might as well just listen to the thing you’re copying if you aren’t doing any better than them. I’m so surprised when I see a band that sounds exactly like Dirty Projectors or Fugazi or Nirvana, or any great band. And of course most of the time, the new bands isn’t even doing that sound quite as well as the original.
They’re just a poor imitation most of the time. But even if they did it just as good, why should I listen to a copy of Nirvana when I have all of Nirvana’s CDs already, and I can listen to them any time? Ok, now I’m just sounding like an old dude bitching about “the kids today”, so I’ll shut up.
Tell us about your last music release and about the direction your music is taking.
My last solo record is called “Precariat”,and this is my website.
I think it’s my best record to date, but I honestly have no idea what direction my music is heading.
I don’t ever want to make the same record twice, so it’s probably truer to say that whatever is on my most recent record is the opposite of whatever I want to do next. “Precariat” has more vocals on it than any other record I’ve made. Lots of layers of voice on one song, and this lonely forlorn voice on another song, whereas most of my music is instrumental.
But I can’t say that my next record will be like that again. Maybe it will be even more vocals, or no vocals at all. I won’t know for a while. The next album I’m releasing is from a project I play in called Kurva Chior.
This is like improvised chamber music, very minimal at times, but also quite melodic sometimes. We’re actually putting out 3 records this year, which is kind of ridiculous, but that’s apparently what we’re doing. The band used to change members all the time, so ti was more like a project centered around this certain kind of listening, and not really a “band” in the usual sense. But then it because more solidified with just three of us being the consistent members.
During that time, it seemed somehow wrong to release albums that didn’t have the new members on them. But in the last year, it has gone back to being open again, so we’re going to release three records that have been sitting around for a few years.
These records are strictly improvised, each played with a different line up, though there is one vocalist/violinist named Lauren Eison who played on all three. She used to be in the band when it was known as Kirtan Choir, and she was one of my very favorite musical collaborators. We had instant musical chemistry that is so rare to find.
On Livetrigger.com you define your genre Experimental. Can you help us and our readers understand a bit more what does it mean?
That answer is sort of cheating. I don’t think “experimental” is really a genre. It’s more like an approach.
At least I take the word quite literally. I think calling music experimental just means that the makers of that music don’t entirely know what is going to happen when they start out, but they are hoping to discover something in the process.
You experiment to learn, and of course you hope to learn something useful.
As I said before, for me the whole reason I play music is just to create these special experiences for others, and of course for myself too, since I’m a listener even when I’m playing.
And so the things I want to discover are memories, feelings, thoughts, impressions.
And the process of making those things happen is hard to navigate.
There are no pure formulas, so you really have to listen all the time, and keep trying new things to create the unknown experiences. Having said all that, there are people who call themselves “experiemental” music that maybe should just call themselves “noise”, or just “dissonant”. I mean some people consider experimental music and noise music the same thing. I think that’s bullshit.
Atonal music has been around for well over a century. And I mean, of course it’s older than that too. But I mean even in terms of Western music that came out of the classical tradition of Bach and Mozart. A string of random notes played really fast WAS experimental when Cage or Schoenberg did it in the 20’s and 30’s.
But how can something honestly be an experiment if you just do the same thing that’s already been done for 100 years? I once played a house show where this guy basically played John Cage’s 4’33”. And he didn’t mention Cage, or give any impression that it was a cover, but it was. He just sat at a piano for a while, pretending like he was going to play, but continuously finding something to distract him from playing. When Cage did that in the 50’s, it was a huge deal.
Nobody had done it before, and so he didn’t really know what the response was going to be. That’s particularly important because the concept behind that piece is really to have the audience’s response Be the piece.
The sounds of the audience rustling in their seats, getting ever more confused or mad or amused, depending on how they feel about this pianist refusing to play the piano.
So it was an experiment.
But if you do it now, especially if you’re a music student like this guy was, performing to a lot of other music students, well then it’s not really as much of an experiment. 10 seconds into the performance, I thought, “oh, it’s 4’33”.
I already had a place in my brain for that, so it didn’t push me into some unknown, uncomfortable, interesting place. For me, it’s the same with free jazz. When Dolphy and Coleman were forging the category of free jazz it in the 60’s, they were discovering it.
They were walking down a road whose destination was yet to be visited. But I don’t really know how these music school kids can play free jazz now and pretend its’ the same thing. The sounds are the same, which means the adventure is not the same. It’s like thinking you’re punk rock because you have a mohawk or some piercings. That shit meant something entirely different before it got trendy. Now it’s just fashion.
And that’s kinda how I feel about experimental music that doesn’t actually experiment. It might as well be a tribal tattoo from Hot Topic, or a pair of bell-bottom jeans. I mean, if that’s what you want to wear, go for it, but don’t pretend like you are doing anything new.
You are on a seven-year never stopping tour. The number of shows listed on your page is simply impressive. (http://cjboydshows.blogspot.com/). What’s your best guess on how many shows you have done in your life? Getting more serious, how do you organize a “never stopping Infini-tour”?
Oh man, I don’t know. I just do it.
It’s a huge pain, honestly. I mean, the organizing.
It’s kinda fun to figure out routes.
I’ve always loved looking at maps, and sometimes the routing is like this puzzle you get to figure out.
But the actual booking is endlessly boring. It’s just sending hundreds or thousands of emails that basically all say the same thing, “hey, I’d like to play a show.”
Of course, I do it because the actual travel and playing shows is my favorite thing to do. It’s all I want to do, so I put up with the booking part of it.
There are a few resources that are very helpful for anyone trying to book a tour at DIY spots.
My friend Neil has an awesome website called DoDIY.org, which is very informative. I strongly suggest people check it out if they want to discover new places to play, especially house shows and art spaces, and all ages venues. As far as the number, hmmm…
If anyone wants to go on my website and count them, I’d love to know.
Is there a relation between your desire of Experimental Music and the fact that you are always moving around? Does that influence your music?
I think so. As I mentioned before, I think music should take you somewhere you’ve never been before.
Or to a place you’ve been before, but show you something you missed last time you were there.
There are so many places to go, I can’t really see staying in one place all the time. I would miss everywhere else. I think that applies just as much to music as to literal traveling.
My friend Nathan Moore has this amazing song called “Rollin’ Home”, that has always touched me. It has a line in it that goes, “I’m pretty sure I’m bound to miss the highway. Nobody around here could ever know how good I was at that. But I’d miss them more. I’d miss them more. Who knows, I might meet a girl who wants to go somewhere. Well, I could take her there, that’s for sure. That’s for sure.”
The song is about Nathan’s own life.
He wandered for years, and then eventually moved back to Virginia, where he’s from. I love the song, but I always think how it’s the opposite for me.
Or maybe not the opposite forever, but at least at this point in my life.
I feel like I’m getting more and more at home in more places, so I don’t know if I could ever go home now. I mean, not to my actual home town. I’d rather live anywhere rather than there.
But also, if I ever stopped traveling, I would miss so many people all around the US and Europe.
So it’s the feeling of home I get with good friends who are spread out all over, and I get that more from traveling than from staying in one place.
Recently you have crowdfunded your new vehicle, running on veg oil. Can you tell us a bit more about it? Was it easy? We’ve also read about the Jambulance and we love to see that you care about sustainability. Do you believe it is an issue that other musicians are caring about, especially while on tour?
It’s true, I used Kickstarter to crowdfund my new van, which I have named Del Griffith, by the way.
I’m extremely grateful for all of the generosity that people showed me. But it was definitely not an easy process. Honestly, it was maybe the most stressful thing I’ve done in years. I think that’s partly because
I am very used to being independent, and I really hate asking for anything, especially money. So it was very hard to come up with new ways of basically saying the same thing online all the time for a month: “I need money for my van, please help!” But yeah, Del Griffith runs on vegetable oil, as did the Jambulance, which I drove for about 5 years.
This is really important for me. I can’t really see touring on gas, given how much I drive.
That’s partly an ecological decision, and partly an economic one. I wouldn’t feel good burning so much petroleum or supporting the oil companies that much. I mean these guys are maybe the most fucked up, evil corporations on the planet, and they’ll just keep selling oil until we’re all dead if we let them. But the decision was also economic because even if I wanted to drive on gas, I don’t really make enough money to do that. Before I started this infinitour, I did a shorter tour with some friends from Texas called And The Furies Say.
They are still great friends of mine, and they turned me onto veggie oil as a fuel source. It’s free, and it’s better for the environment.
Of course, the oil I use is dirty, since I get it from restaurants. So I have to filter it. Finding the oil and filtering it can sometimes be difficult, and so my van can also run on diesel in case I really can’t find any, or if I don’t have time to do the filtering before I drive to a show. But usually I do fine, and I only run on diesel probably 10% of the time, maybe less that that. I have met a few other musicians who also use veggie oil on the road, but not very many.
There is this band from Philadelphia I just met called Hounds of Hate, and I know they have a Sprinter, just like me, and they also run it on veggie oil. But I think they only go out for a few weeks or months, and they usually try to do all the filtering they can beforehand. Because I’m always on tour, I have to do my filtering on the road, which requires more space and time.
You have been in Europe quite a few times… did you find differences in the way you book shows in Europe and in the US? Is there a difference in professionalism, organization etc.?
Yeah, I hate to generalize, but there are some differences for sure.
The main thing I notice is that in most of Europe, there is the popular belief that society needs art, and that a person should be able to make a decent wage making things for the public.
Of course, not every European believes this. But it is how the society is organized in most European countries, and it is more typical for people to appreciate the existence of artists.
In the US, it is different.
Lots of people say that they like music or other art, but society is organized in such a way that it’s very difficult to live on art alone.
Nearly all of the greatest musicians and painters and actors and writers that I know have day jobs, and just create things on the side, more like a hobby than a profession.
That’s the assumption in the US. Unless you are Jay-Z or some other bullshit millionaire pop star, you are expected to make art in your “free time”.
Also, young people, who are traditionally the most supportive of new and unusual music in the US, don’t have the money to support musicians.
Or, even if they have the money, they are accustomed to getting music for free from the internet now, and don’t believe in an obligation to support the artists they love. I think that’s also true with young people in Europe.
But in Europe, I’ve often noticed that it’s not just young people who go to experimental shows.
Many of the shows I play have all ages from teenagers to people in their 60s. And the older people are usually in a position to be more generous towards traveling musicians.
At the experimental shows I play in the US, its rare to see anyone over 30 at most shows, so it creates a very different vibe. Shows still cost $5 in the US. I think they’ve cost that much since the 70s, but it won’t go up.
And even when they’re that cheap, kids will come to the show with a 18-pack of beer, and say, “sorry, I don’t have any money for the bands.” Obviously, I’m biased, and I would prefer to live in a society that appreciates art and supports it.
And now I just sound like a grumpy old man complaining about the damn kids again. Don’t get me wrong. I love touring, and I accept that in the US that’s difficult because of these things. But you asked, so I’m just saying what I see.
Which one suggestion would you give to other artists who’d like out of music, playing & living on a never stopping tour?
I guess I would just say you have to crawl before you walk.
Don’t start out on a permatour if you haven’t toured much yet.
Build up to it. Do a week, then 2 weeks, then a month, then 3 months, and keep adding time until you’re sure you want to do it all the time. It’s really not for everyone. A lot of musicians have these huge fantasies about it, and they don’t realize how much work it actually is.
You have to be booking shows all the time, and thinking about how to organize the travel and places to sleep. I mean, I love it, but I think I’m a pretty unusual person. For one thing, I like a lot of alone time.
So long train rides in Europe, or long drives in the US, those are perfect for me to just be alone with my thoughts.
But so many people would go crazy if they had that much time alone.
On the other hand, shows are a social situation. And for me, it’s fun to meet new people all the time.
But I know some people get really tired of this after a few months, and just want to be around their close community, not always hanging out with strangers and acquaintances. For me, it’s a balance. I need the alone time, and if I have that for part of every day, then I enjoy social time too.
But that’s not everyone.
You have to pursue what makes you happy.
That pursuit is what made me want to tour all the time.
But you have to be honest with yourself, and perceptive. You have to ask what will really make you happy. And if it turns out that touring all the time doesn’t make you happy, but something else does, you should follow that.
We believe you have never been to Milan, have you? Anyways, we would like to take the occasion to propose you to play somewhere around here, so let’s keep in touch once you are back in Europe.
Great. I’d love to come to Milano. It’s true, I’ve never played there.
I don’t think I have.
No, I’m certain I haven’t.
So thanks for the invitation.
I hope to be back in Europe this winter, so I’ll get in touch when I have a date set.
What do you think of Livetrigger.com? Do you think it could be a good tool to facilitate the process of booking and organizing shows? Do you have any suggestions?
I’m very new to it, so I don’t have a strong opinion yet. But I look forward to checking it out and using it however I can.
Thanks for inviting me to check it out.
One last curiosity. You have set your home town on Livetrigger in the Hawaii. Was that random? Or are you originally from there?
Hawaii? I don’t remember doing that. Hmmm. I guess it was random. As I said, I’m new to it, so I haven’t figured it out yet.
It is funny though, when you have to say where you live, but you don’t live anywhere. Sometimes I do just make up a place, which seems as good as any other. Maybe that’s what I did, and I just didn’t remember.
Maybe I’ll change it every month, as I keep traveling.
No, but that’s too much work. Actually, Hawaii is one of the 4 states in the US where I’ve never played. I have been to all 50, but the 4 in which I haven’t played are: Hawaii, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Mississippi.
I’ve played in all the others, and I hope to hit those 4 in the next year. I’m sure I’ll be playing South Dakota and hopefully Wyoming this summer. Hawaii will be more of a challenge, but I hope to figure it out.