Alexis Georgopoulos has been a creative force in the San Francisco scene for many years, first making music with the band Tussle and then in his current incarnation, Arp. Arp's release In Light is a textural and warmth-exuding record that has added something new and welcome to the electronica section of Amoeba. Recently Alexis packed it up and moved to New York City where he plans to continue composing his balmy and atmospheric tunes while also working on a multitude of other projects, notably within the gallery scene there. Here, Alexis chats about those projects, his work in Arp, and also details what we can assume are just a few of his myriad influences and inspirations.
Miss Ess: How did you come up with your sound for Arp? What was your vision?
Alexis: After leaving Tussle, I started experimenting with analog synthesizers. Initally, Matthew Higgs (curator of White Columns gallery in Manhattan) asked if I'd do an installation for an exhibit he was putting together at New Langton Center for the Arts. When I learned it was a collaboration with an architect, I realized the music I'd just started making with analog synthesizers might work really well. So the first public Arp project, Cloud, was a modular room on wheels set up with a featherbed (just large enough for two people to lie down on or three to sit), two speakers and a few of my musical pieces on infinite repeat. I took the gallerists' sanity into consideration by picking pieces that I hoped could be heard again and again without driving them crazy.
It became clear then that these pieces would work well as an album. I knew I wanted to create a distinct feeling. I wanted to do something with only analog synthesizers, partly to get away from the habits I'd formed playing drums and guitars. And I wanted to do something that didn't fall prey to digital recording constraints. I didn't want to record to a grid, as it were. I wanted to use electronic instruments, but play them live, so things would be a bit more organic, something I felt had been discarded in favor of vacuum-sealed sterility.
I wanted to do something that had to do with a feeling I associated with the Mediterranean coast – I've spent a lot of time at my uncle's in the south of France – the ocean, the air, the smell of Eucalyptus and Cypress and Pine trees. Something pastoral. Something to do with the feeling of longing for something passing, something inspired by the cinematography Eric Rohmer films like La Collectioneuse and Clare's Knee and Antonioni's Red Desert... Coastal imagery is so often associated with leisure and hedonism. I wanted to imbue that psychological environment with something more reflective. The moments one has alone in such places. When one feels the summer ending and autumn beginning...
Miss Ess: What projects are you involved in now besides Arp? I know there is The Alps, but are there even more?
Alexis: Yeah, we (The Alps) just released our first studio recording, III on Type (UK). It's not really anything like our early CDRs, which were just one-mic recordings we put out in small-run editions for the sake of documentation. I'm quite happy with it. It's unfortunate that because we don't tour, I think a lot of people who might like it probably won't hear it. But, what can you do? Ultimately, you make music because I need/love to, so... We'll be recording our second album in the next few months when I can get back to California.
I'm also half of Expanding Head Band with Quinn Luke. We met when Quinn produced Tussle's Telescope Mind. He and I realized we liked working together – arranging, mixing, dubbing – and that we shared a lot of the same ideals. So when I left Tussle, we decided to start something new that would pick up where that left off. We just did our first remix for DFA earlier this year, a remix of Shocking Pinks' "Cutout" and our first two 12 inches of original material for DFA will come out this year.
There are also a few other projects in the works. The The David is a group with the artist Keegan McHargue, Matt Roberts (The Mantles), Will Bradley (art critic and drummer for Life Without Buildings) and myself. We got together a few times when Will was here from the UK working at CCA and recorded an EP's worth of material with Jason Quever (The Papercuts). We've all been busy with other things but we hope to complete it soon. It's quite different than any of my other recent projects, more like early Rough Trade singles than anything else.
ME: What are you currently working on? What's coming up next for you?
AG: It's been a busy few months. I did a live score to artist Doug Aitken's most recent film Migration at 303 Gallery with White Rainbow and Lichens. And I've just completed a sound installation at a new gallery in the East Village called Audio Visual Arts (AVA). The installation included four pieces corresponding to different times of day. I'm hoping to do a solo show in the coming year that combines music with sculptural installation and film.
Other that that, I'm midway through the second Arp album. I'm recording it with Philip Manley (The Champs, Trans Am) onto 2" tape. I was supposed to finish it in August but just as I was ready to lay down my first take, the tape machine broke, so I don't know if I'll return to SF to finish it or if I'll do it here in New York. In any case, it looks to be quite different from the first. I'll be singing some songs for one thing, and the instrumentation will be more varied. There's a lot more piano, and more guitar. Synthesizers are still playing a role but they're just one of many instruments in the mix.
Just beginning work on the first Expanding Head Band full-length and a second Alps album as well.
ME: Phil Manley used to do sound for Amoeba instores a while back! He's a great guy. Sounds like you've got quite a full plate. Going back, when did you first start playing and creating music?
AG: I first picked up a guitar when I was 12, and soon after played in a few bands in high school, doing a mixture of covers and originals. Not much I care to remember really, ha! But I do remember doing a pretty solid version of Gang of Four's "Damaged Goods" my senior year of high school (1992). Ha!
ME: Beyond electronica, what other genres of music do you enjoy creating?
AG: Hmm... I guess there are certain "genres" that I gravitate towards. But genre is not really what turns me on. I pay attention to whether the sound(s)/compositions/arrangements engage me.
ME: What is your most prized of piece of musical equipment and why?
AG: Right now, I'm really loving my Crumar Orchestrator. It's an Italian analog synthesizer from the 70s that has a small range of sounds but nearly all of them are great. I'm trying to phase out anything digital – which is not to say I'm against anything digital, but when you play a digital keyboard next to analog, you can't help notice how thin and cold it sounds, which might be something someone else would exploit. But I love the rounded warmth of analog.
ME: Me too, and it sets the tone for your music, as well; listeners can recognize that sweet analog sound right away. What do you find most fulfilling: the creative process itself, recording, or performing?
AG: It's hard to say as they each offer their own difficulties and rewards. They're each essential. Though, if I absolutely had to pick, I'd say the most fulfilling is listening to a recording and feeling you achieved what you sought to.
ME: You have a history of working with and supporting visual artists. What other artists inspire you?
AG: The past few years, I've really been into these sort of utiopian/dystopic architecture groups: Superstudio and Archizoom especially. Öyvind Fahlstrom. Ed Ruscha. Werner Herzog. Yves Saint Laurent (RIP).
ME: What have you been listening to these days?
AG: Pretty much anything by Philip Cohran & The Artistic Heritage Ensemble
Cilibrinas Do Eden - Cilibrinas Do Eden
Slappy Happy - Slapp Happy
Nelson Angelo & Joyce - Angelo & Joyce
Frankie Dymon Jr. - Let It Out
Anthony Moore - Pieces from Cloudland Ballroom
Ali Akbar Khan - Misra Mand
Henry Flynt - You Are My Everlovin'/Celestial Power & Ascent To The Sun
Ebenezer Obey - The Horse The Man and His Son
John Lee Hooker - It Serves You Right To Suffer
Jorge Ben - A Tabua De Esmeralda
Julie Covington - The Beautiful Changes
Soft Machine - Third
Sunroof! - Cloudz
Es - Sateenkaarisuudelma
JJ Cale - "Cherry"
ME: You've been around the SF scene for a long time! What would you say have been its high points? Now that you are in NYC, what is the music scene like there and how do the two compare?
AG: Well, it's hard to say, as I've just arrived in New York. I am excited at the prospect of so many great musicians being here. In terms of San Francisco, there was a high point between 2003-2005. It was an exciting time when a lot of things were being rediscovered and hadn't yet been commodified (by New Yorkers! and the media).
ME: I would agree with you about those years being the most exciting as far as my experience in SF as well. So it's not just me! I know that you had a recent show in France. What are your fans like there and in Europe in general?
AG: I don't know if I can make any generalizations about audiences elsewhere vs here. I've encountered both grateful and ungrateful crowds here and everywhere.
ME: What sort of music do you remember hearing played around the house when you were a child? Did it have any influence on the type of music you are inspired by or create?
AG: My parents love music, but they listen(ed) almost exclusively to Classical. I only remember three Pop albums in their collection: Desire by Bob Dylan, Ram by McCartney, and some Simon & Garfunkel. There might've been some French and Greek music occasionally as well. Did it inspire me? Not at the time. I liked it. (My mom just told me when I was three I used to hum Handel's Water Music and [Music for the] Royal Fireworks.) But I pretty much just wanted to listen to Duran Duran or Madonna or New Edition or whatever. In retrospect, however, I think there's no doubt it's played a role.
ME: That's why that question is always so interesting to me, because it seems that even if one denies whatever one's parents were listening to, their choices were inescapable and regardless of the child's opinion of it, just developing that opinion created an impact. If you could play with any other bands for a one-night-only show, what would be your dream bill?
AG: Oh, god. Hmmm... let's see, how bout a festival? Does that count? I think a good night would include ... Can, Roxy Music, LaMonte Young, John Cale, Don Cherry, Agitation Free, Serge Gainsbourg with Jane Birkin, Lula Cortez & Ze Ramalho, Caetano Veloso, Cerrone...
ME: What music do like to fall asleep to?
AG: I can't fall asleep listening to music anymore. It keeps my attention too much. But I've probably listened to Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou's Ethiopia Song and Ali Akbar Khan's Misra Mand late at night more than any other albums... Flying Saucer Attack is good for when night turns into morning.
ME: What music do you like to wake up to?
AG: Agitation Free - First Communication
Mozart Flute Concertos
ME: Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
AG: Oh God, sure. Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The Grateful Dead. Random new stuff – that Santogold track, the occasional Toto track.
ME: Do you have any musical heroes?
AG: John Cale. Terry Riley. Chopin. Eno. Gainsbourg. Stockhausen. Bowie. Dylan. Ray Davies. Conny Plank. Martha Argerich. Balzac.
ME: Your album's cover is so perfect for your music's sound -- what are some of your favorite album covers that you think really capture their album's sound?
AG: Well, thank you. I think, ultimately, a listener can be guided into a certain state of mind by the artwork. But in the end, I respond to a compelling image/artwork, regardless of how closely it mirrors the music. Or sometimes in spite of it! So... I don't know... I can think of only a few that mirror perfectly: Wolfgang Voigt's entire Gas catalog, Peter Saville's stuff for Joy Division, Nelson Angelo & Joyce, Jean-Paul Goude's art direction for Grace Jones.
I can think of some artwork that I love (regardless of how well it corresponds to the music). Some favorite covers:
John Lennon - Mind Games
Slappy Happy - Slapp Happy
Jean-Claude Vannier - L'Enfant Assassin Des Mouches
John Cale - Paris 1919
Sebastian Tellier - Sexuality
CSNY - So Far
The Brooklyn reggae label Wackies' catalog
ME: Fantastic picks! What has been your best find at Amoeba?
AG: Oh, god. I've probably shopped at Amoeba more than any other record store! But all my records are in storage and I can't think of any!
ME: That must feel strange for you, to be without your records! Hopefully once you get settled in NYC they will eventually surround you once again. Thanks so much for your time.