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 Sewing Machines on WHFR, Wednesday, August 8, 9PM 

An interview with: Captain Ahab

 It goes without saying that we're huge fans of Captain Ahab here at The End of Irony. Heck, this blog is named after their latest album (which we've been anticipating the release of for quite some time now). Well, now Captain Ahab have finally gotten around to putting out The End of Irony, and we had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan Snipes (who for all intents and purposes IS Captain Ahab) about the new record, indie labels, and more.

It's sort of hard to describe Captain Ahab as a "band," especially as a live show. On stage it's you, who creates the music with a laptop, and Jim, who dances around on stage. So first question: PC or Mac?
I use a Mac. I switched from PC in 2001. At the time, I switched so I could use Max/MSP, which didn't have a PC version yet. The PC version was announced about a month after I switched, though right at the same time that Logic discontinued their PC version--so it all worked out.

How did you team up with Jim? 
We went to college together, both studying theater.

Since his live contribution is mostly visual, does Jim contribute to the sound of The End of Irony at all? 

It feels like each Captain Ahab album has a connected sound to itself that distinguishes it from the other albums. Is there a unifying theme to The End of Irony
I don't want to say too much about the theme, since it's really up to the user's interpretation, and hopefully I've done my job making the record so that it comes across, but yes, of course. The End of Irony is a concept album, all songs written from the point of a character, and there's a narrative to be traced throughout the songs, thought it's less linear than on previous Ahab albums.

The sound of the record is a further exploration into my idea of what I guess I call conceptual mashups--that is, mashups not using samples, but ideas and concepts from different distinct genres. I've been making music like this for awhile, but I think on this record the ideas come from further apart, are more disparate, and their integration is more elegant. Genre-wise, the record has everything: techno, disco, power metal, acid, harsh noise, gregorian chant, freestyle, etc.

At the same time, Ahab seems to draw from so many sources of influence, from bubblegum pop, rock, hip-hop, and techno to weirder stuff like noise and even beat poetry. How do you manage to weave together so many different genres? 
When writing, I always try to think of what people in the future will think and say about the music of the 20th and 21st centuries. As time passes, distinction blurs. Most people today can't tell the difference between Vivaldi and Beethoven, though they're separated by many years and are radically stylistically different. Except to those who actively study it, the music of the past all sounds the same to people now (this is a gross generalization, I realize) and the older that music is, the more similar it sounds and the further apart in time the breakthroughs and changes become. I'm trying to look at our contemporary music now and think about what's similar. I love the idea that in 400 years (maybe sooner), people will listen to Michael Jackson, Philip Glass, Merzbow and John Coltrane - and say, "Oh, 20th Century music all sounds the same to me."

Are there any specific influences? 
I listen to a lot of music, obviously, and I don't really think there's too much that's doing exactly what I'm trying conceptually (at least I haven't found it yet). There are lots of influences to my music in general, but specifically to the compositional approach I take...maybe John Zorn is the closest, though our music is drastically different.

This time around, the songs on the record feel longer (and more epic) as well. Is this a maturing of sorts for the act? 
Yes, this is as mature as it's possible for me to be.

Rather than "maturing," maybe it's better to just think of it as expanding scale--every time I do anything, my instinct is to say, "OK what next? How do I top this?" when I'm done. I don't view my work as teleological; I'm not going for a specific goal; I'm just trying to increase the scope on every project. It's an inverted pyramid scheme...the only way to keep creative work interesting, in my opinion.

This is the first time an Ahab album will be released on vinyl. Why'd you decide to do that this time around?
Vinyl is great. We somehow convinced ourselves it would sell, and we've always wanted to have a vinyl Ahab record.

I also noticed that the track listing on the CD and vinyl are very different. Did some songs just suit each format better?
The internet is rapidly separating the music from its media. There's really no reason for "music" to be associated with these arbitrary physical objects - records, CDs, tapes. They're just ways of delivering a sound recording, which is not inherently tied to a physical object (unlike some other art forms like theater or sculpture). Now that music can be downloaded and has been freed from this association, I think artists need to be very very careful about putting music on CD or Vinyl or anything. Hence, yes - the music has been restructured depending on which media it's on. The CD is different from the vinyl because of the inherent differences in the media and how it's consumed - likewise the digital (itunes, bandcamp) version will be different still.

In fact, there are two other labels releasing versions of The End of Irony--Cock Rock Disco in Europe and Dual Plover in Australia. These versions will be drastically different [with] very little crossover. The End of Irony becomes not a single album, but rather a representation of a certain state in the development of Captain Ahab. This is, in a way, my statement about the irrelevance of physical media, and a way of criticizing the idea of the "album" in general. Why is music collected into "albums" at all? The form of the album and the form of music don't seem to have much in common. Here, I'm trying to redefine the album to best suit the content that I've generated.

You are on one of the indiest of indie labels (although it also one of the awesomest of awsome labels too), DeathbombArc, even though you've had some pretty great exposure through the use of your music in TV, movies, etc. Would you ever sign to a bigger label (or even a major label) if the opportunity arose? 
Well, the record is on three labels--Deathbomb Arc, Cock Rock Disco, Dual Plover, with an additional 12" single coming out on Vancouver's Needs More Ram. Deathbomb is a great fit for Captain Ahab because it's in Los Angeles, it as a label represents the culture and ethos of experimental LA music right now better than any other, it lets me do whatever I want. When you buy a Captain Ahab record on Deathbomb, you know there were no compromises made because of label politics. It's exactly the record I wanted to make. I'm always happy to talk to other labels and pursue other collaborations, but I know plenty of people on "bigger" labels who receive none of the support and love I do from Deathbomb, and have achieved a similar (or lesser) degree of success and exposure.

Anything else you'd like to share? 
This is pretty all inclusive, I think...

If you could link to the bandcamp page:

...and the tour dates:

that'd be great!


[tlr] said...

Great interview! full of insight into the mind of a madman/genius.



dualpLOVER said...

thought you all might be interested to know about the new australian edition of end of irony LP/CD set

its packed with exclusive tracks like Lift Me Up, Club Girl, The Litany of Captain Ahab, After the Party, The End of Irony & Pornography and for the first time on Vinyl (or any tangible format for that matter) Rock & Roll Positive and Was Love plus drastically reworked versions of Get Fucked in the Club, How 2 Party, The Calm Before the Sword.