An interview with
X Neuburg (1999)
Dec. 4, 2002
I don't really remember how I became aware of Amy X Neuburg's music
- much probably, through a common friend. Soon thereafter, the usually
reliable Robert L. Doerschuck wrote a rave review of (Amy X Neuburg
& Men) Utechma on Musician magazine, proving that when it came to
my appreciation for her CD I was in good company. In a perfect world,
Amy X Neuburg's songs would be all over the radio - and shooting up
the charts with a bullet: brilliant melodies, odd time signatures, clever
arrangements, deep-but-never-pretentious lyrics, a very personal and
versatile voice, intelligent engineering work.
I had the opportunity to interview her (by e-mail) at the time of the
release of the group's next album (Sports! Chips! Booty!) and it's that
interview that you'll find below. The interview appeared in Italian
language in Blow Up magazine, issue # 19, December 1999, but I had to
edit out two Q/A for space reasons, so this is the first time the full-length
interview text has appeared anywhere - and the first time it appears
At the time of this writing the release date of her solo CD looks forthcoming,
and judging from the unreleased tracks that are featured on This Is...
an IS Production Sampler it'll be pretty different. Having caught -
and reviewed - the group's performance on a Live Webcast (Oakland,
Imusicast - Jan. 6, 2000) I can only hope that that European tour will
some day take place.
The new album has more of a "live" feel than the
previous one. Surely a conscious effort on your part…
Yes, a conscious effort. On stage we are VERY physical. We jump
around a lot and employ choreography, interaction with the audience
and with each other, and sometimes short "shticks" (abstract
skits). Everyone has a great deal of fun, thereby offsetting the pretentiousness
of our rather complex music and appealing to almost everyone, regardless
of their experience with art-rock. On the CD I aimed to communicate
this "entertainment" element by keeping the vocals not-too-polished,
using laughter and other vocalisms during the music, and recording the
band as a unit, though there were plenty of edits and overdubs afterwards.
One element that I find intriguing is your use of electronic instruments:
the results are surprisingly organic and "invisible" - one
has to read the booklet to see what's going on - though I imagine that,
in concert, this is different, and maybe part of the "presentation"…
Electronics offer endless sonic possibilities, allow each band member
to "create" an instrument for each song, and are often practical
in live situations, since volumes and effects can be precisely controlled.
But my goal is not for the music to be ABOUT electronics; rather to
use electronics to convey the music. People often think of electronic
music as automated or robotic. We use no sequencers or drum machines—every
instrument is played. This literally adds a human touch, as does the
heavy use of vocals and text. But, as you suggested, in concert the
instruments give us a dramatic "futuristic" edge. Watching
Joel play Lightning (an infra-red device played by waving sticks through
the air) is always a highlight of the show; Micah's Chapman stick is
unusual and eye-catching; and all of us have opportunities to surprise
the audience with unexpected sounds: Micah can play percussion with
his stick, I can play chords with my drums, Herb can play bass with
his guitar, etc. On our CDs I always list the credits for each song,
so people can get a sense of this versatility.
Quite a few songs appear to have an overt humorous element, but being
an Italian (i.e., from a different culture) sometimes I'm not sure what
you're talking about -
for in., in the song Orange County…
I can see how someone from another country might miss many of the
cultural references. The band's whole attitude relies on cultural reference:
the Men make fun of male stereotypes, as does the title of the new CD,
which lists three typical American male preoccupations.
Orange County is notoriously conservative suburban area of southern
California, where I spent several months while performing in a musical.
Some of the references in the song are specific to my personal situation—i.e.,
I really WAS housed in a characterless apartment
with a nylon ficus tree, one block from the largest mall in the world.
I refer to the L.A. smog and the lack of appreciation for art. But I
could be describing any suburb in America, where malls are pervasive
and all have Cinnabons (a national chain that sells cinnamon muffins).
People practically live in their cars, the landscape contains the same
stores repeatedly, and that American consumer mentality overtakes all
of us now and then (myself included).
Ultimately Orange County is a rather sad song, as I end up alone in
my apartment with my new purchases. Behind the humorous facades, my
songs are always about something personally meaningful.
It's very common, when listening to songs, to assume that the "I"
of the song represents the singer's own "voice" (for in.,
Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain or Joni Mitchell); singing "in character"
is, I think, not very common (off the top of my head I'd say Frank Zappa
or the "untrustworthy narrator" in the tradition of, say,
One reason I do this is to make a statement without being overt.
I say the opposite of what I mean, or I pretend to be someone else,
to illustrate a point without blatantly preaching, "Guns are bad",
for instance. Overt politics in music rub me the wrong way because nothing
remains for the listener to figure out, so I prefer to be political
in a subtler way, with humor or irony. In Big Barbecue I portray someone
who enjoys guns. In I Know You I portray someone who fears those unlike
himself (with some of my own insensitivities leaking through).
I’ve also been influenced by plentiful experience in theater,
musicals, and operas. In the same way the playwright can "speak"
through his characters, sometimes my songs employ role-playing to communicate
You cover King Crimson's Waiting Man and I think there is a "subversion"
of the original meaning here. Wrong?
We originally recorded Waiting Man for inclusion on a King Crimson
tribute CD. We chose that song because the interlocking patterns seemed
appropriate for our instrumentation, because it was not a complicated
song, and because of the title. But of course, I had to modify the words
so that they would make sense sung by a woman. The intention was not
to subvert, but that was the result. The Man is now waiting for ME as
I travel around the world, and I’m not terribly sympathetic towards
him. The brief spurts of manly vocals are automatically humorous, thereby
throwing K.C.'s sentimentality out the window.
In the song Hunger for Heaven, on Utechma, you cut all the "inhaling
spaces" from your sung lines - and when one "gets it"
the effect is very disturbing. In terms of record production who do
you consider to be a creative producer?
Much of what influences me are the tools at hand. When I worked
on Utechma I was beta-testing a hard-disk recording system. This was
my first opportunity to edit music graphically, and the possibilities
for sound manipulation seemed endless. But I feel any drastic audio
production should be artistically justified, as in having no breath
in a song about a slow suicide. "Producing" encompasses so
many aspects of my music—from creating synthesizer patches to
arranging vocals to choosing reverbs—that I’m not sure where
composing ends and producing begins. With the new technologies, all
of these aspects become integrated into what one might call "putting
a song together".
Producers I consider creative include Brian Eno, Colin Newman, Kate
Bush, and Björk et al. on Homogenic. Kate Bush’s albums The
Dreaming and Hounds of Love are wonderful examples of "production
as music", where the complexity of the songs is hard to separate
from the drama of the production. In contrast, Björk’s producers
turned basically unimaginative melodies and lyrics into works of art
just by giving them amazing electronic backdrops. (It also helps to
have Björk’s voice.)
Future plans? (I seem to remember there was a solo record in the
works…) European tours?
We plan to tour Europe in the summer of 2000, after a western U.S.
tour. Then I hope to concentrate on an uncharacteristically serious
and personal solo record. Soon thereafter, we’ll start on our
next band record. We also have ideas about producing a long music/theatre
piece. Meanwhile, I continue to compose for modern dance: upcoming projects
include an evening-length work about Gertrude Stein, and a show in Hong
Kong with Asian-American Dance Performances.
© Beppe Colli 1999 - 2002
CloudsandClocks.net | Dec. 4, 2002
to know more about Amy X