This interview was ostensibly conducted for a large piece on Sufjan and Asthmatic Kitty that will appear in the next issue of Signal to Noise. A full transcription will soon appear at exclaim.ca as well, but you can obviously hear it firsthand on our show next week.
p.s. Here’s another excerpt:
…[w]ith the hula hoops and superhero costumes of the Hooper Heroes [in the BQE], you’ve again reflected a fantastical comic book world within the context of your music; what is it about this medium that appeals to you as a visual artist?
You might have a better perspective in assessing my motivation in all that, in creating a fabulous, fabricated environment. I’m not really sure where it comes from. It’s probably just the fact that I believe what I do is artificial—that art is artifice and a fabrication. It’s not real; it’s a reflection or representation of reality but it isn’t reality. So, the colours are much more saturated y’know, in the art work and the sounds are much more dramatized. There’s a kinda melodrama inherent in almost everything I do, whereas myself as an ordinary, every day human being, I’m extremely normal, ordinary, level-headed, phlegmatic, and I don’t have dramatic outbursts. Whereas my music is always clamouring for attention and so I think it’s like an alter-ego. It’s true for a lot of artists but my work is really animated; it’s the work of the imagination. It’s the language that I use to represent very real, true, ordinary, and tragic events in every day life. For me, the BQE is a tragic object because of how it’s displaced people, the way it’s an obstacle, the pollution and noise, and the constant upkeep and the traffic and all that. It’s a very real, practical problem in my life every day and my way of rendering that through art is to transform it into a fabulous object. Into a transcendent, phenomenal experience that’s completely unreal, completely artificial. The Hooper Heroes come to represent all these issues—environmentalism, urban planning, and the plight of the pedestrian versus the monstrosity of the city. The Hooper Heroes represent that as these artificial comic book characters.
It is fascinating to me that your route to escapism is often rooted in real places and things. They’re not phenomena, they’re states, they’re places people can visit. I guess you’re just re-imagining them in a weird way.
Yeah, maybe I have a utopian view. Maybe I’m an idealist in that way. Because I think in regular life, I’m a bit of a pessimist. I don’t necessarily presume the best in life for me. I expect things will work out but in my work, it’s definitely a heightened idealism.
…[W]hat’s next for you in terms of your own music and that of Asthmatic Kitty?
Well, I’m trying a lot of new material on this tour and they’re kind of long-form songs—meandering, works in progress, but I’m hoping that they’ll eventually find themselves on an album. So I think that all of that negative view of the state of affairs of the music industry and the demise of the LP and all this—I feel like that’s sort of old news for me. It’s a recent crisis but one I feel that I’m getting around. I think that a lot of the new material that I’m working on is inspiring enough to get me to record it and maybe have a new record out next year.
And you’re freeing yourself of any conceptual restraints?
Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll have any success doing that because it’s how I’ve worked for so long but generally, I’m trying to dissuade any kind of conceptual framework and just write music, love songs, pop songs, and just forget all that conceptual mess…