Interview / Alexis Georgopoulos / Arp

Alexis Georgopoulos, AKA Arp, has been releasing music since 2004. On labels such as Emotional Response, Opal Tapes, Rong, RVNG Intl., Smalltown Supersound, and Troubleman Unlimited. Collaborating with folks like Anthony Moore, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, L.I.E.S.` Max Ravitz, Quinn Luke, and Vetiver`s Andy Cabic. Producing five solo LPs along the way. Experimenting with Classical Minimalism, Durutti Column-influenced Balearic, Pastoral Kosmische, Post-Punk Funk, and Raw Analogue House. His new album, Zebra, for Mexican Summer, mixes the mellow-er of these genres, and adds – to my ears at least – something from the spiritual end of Jazz. 

Arp Zebra edit

Where are you from?

I bounced around a lot as a kid. I went to grade school in Hudson, Ohio, near where my father was a professor, at Kent State University. I spent most of my summers in France, where my mother was born, and a few in Greece, where my father’s from.

Where are you based? 

New York. I’ll have been here ten years in August.

Where do you currently go to chill out? To dance? Buy your records? 

Lately, for the most part, I’ve been pretty turned off to most of the commercial ‘venues’ in the area, even if they’re booking good people. The big box hasn’t been feeling so … free. It’s been feeling increasingly oppressive. Not really what I’m looking for when I want to go out dancing. (laughs) Even when it isn’t so bad, it’s hard for me to feel like an experience isn’t being conjured solely in the name of consumption.

Thankfully, more and more, friends and friends of friends are hosting nights and weekends and I really find myself looking to those as where I, sort of, get what I want! (laughs) Going to the Loft regularly has been so formative for so many friends. The spirit of it : the breadth of the music, the social diversity and the warmth of the room, the quality of sound, the fact that it’s a space that’s safe from predatory behavior …  I’ve never been a churchgoer but seeing the same people year in, year out, it’s definitely the closest I’ve felt to being part of a ‘congregation’  — a spiritual dance congregation! (laughs) It’s created a model to build on.  When you think about it, it really just stands in such opposition to the way most venues are run these days.

Magick City, a small private spot in Greenpoint, has become something of a residence.  It’s the closest thing to a in-residence situation my friends and I have had since Body Actualized closed a few years ago. We’ve thrown countless parties there and others are in the planning stages. We pool gear and have a nice combo — Klipsch, McIntosh, E&S.  Some good friends do the lights. Others do really great food. Others bring the mezcal. (laughs) So it’s a great coming together. And it’s a great size, really intimate. Chuggy (from Emotional Rescue / Response) came through around the release of Fragments of A Season and we had a great time. A growing number of friends have also bought land upstate. And DJing parties up there has been really great. When friends put something on, there’s just so much attention to atmosphere — everyone contributes, whether it’s amazing food, the crew working with lights, what have you. There’s just a spirit of generosity and autonomy that’s really been crucial.

For buying records, my one-stop these days is 2 Bridges. It’s close to perfect. For House and Disco, of course: A1.

2 Bridges, NYC

2 Bridges Records NYC

Magick City poster

Is there a local creative “scene” that you are plugged into? Are there any local artists, or DJs, that we should look out for? 

Definitely, yeah, I feel really lucky to have fallen in with a good group of folks. As the years go by, things tend to reshape. Friends move. You meet new people. But yeah, everyone’s up to something — making films, making textiles, making records, putting out records, painting, playing records, making incredible food, starting restaurants, putting on parties, you name it. You know, NY living can be a real grind, and having strong community makes all the difference.

When did you start making music? What inspired you to do so? 

Well, it was the usual kind of beginning (laughs) with ill-fated early attempts to play and failing quite badly. I picked up bass guitar when I was 12 or 13 because the six-string seemed too complicated (laughs). And that’s what I played in a few high school bands. I’m not at all mad that we existed before phones documented everything! (laughs) Though, one of my high-school bands did a few good covers — I remember doing a pretty good version of  Gang of Four’s Damaged Goods. (laughs) At the time, it was a lot of British stuff, Stone Roses, The Smiths, The Clash when they went funky, were quite big for me at the time. I really wished I’d had a drum set but it seemed too much of a bother, and my parents probably wouldn’t of gone for it. A few years later, someone had left a drum set in my friend’s basement and I was in heaven. I couldn’t stop playing. We brought some electronics down, and a bass guitar. And that’s how Tussle started.

What instruments do you play? Are you self-taught?

Yeah, very much self-taught. In grade school, I played trumpet and clarinet but the orchestra instructor was incredibly abusive (laughs) so I promptly gave that up. It likely made me avoid any music instruction actually! (laughs) These days, I really try to knock about on anything that’s around.  A few monophonic synths, marimba, bass, drums, tape delay.

Was Tussle your first band? How did you all meet? How did you hook up with Rong? Are all still in touch?

Well, it was the first “real” band. (laughs) It was the first group that recorded and released records. I think I met them at Adobe Books, or at SFAI (San Francisco Art Institute), where two of them were studying. Adobe was a sort of hub at the time. It was a shop that doubled as a gallery and so many great people showed work there. Musicians would also play there. We played one of our first gigs there. So did Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart — there was a nice moment there in the early oughts where the scene wasn’t so segregated and noise would be next to folky stuff next to post-punk stuff. Can’t really remember how we hooked up with Rong to be honest (laughs), fell out of touch years ago. Yeah, I’m mostly in touch with Andy (Cabic, who played bass on the early singles and first album, and whose main project is Vetiver).

You also recorded with Quinn Luke, sometimes as the Expanding Head Band. How did you meet Quinn? Again, are you still in contact? I know Quinn moved out to Woodstock. 

Yeah, I just saw Quinn at The Loft a few weeks ago. I’m not entirely sure. (laughs) I think we may have met through Chris Veltri, who runs Groove Merchant. Actually … no, no, it was through Tommy Guerrero. Tommy saw us play at Adobe and dug it and offered to record us – the result was the Don’t Stop EP. Tommy and Quinn are buddies so I think that’s how it happened. The first Tussle record – Kling Klang – was very much a document of what we sounded like live. I’m not sure if we overdubbed a single thing. We just tried to get a decent performance really. Of which, we got a few! (laughs) I’d wanted to go in more of a “studio” direction, to tailor us into a group that made records that would translate on the dance-floor so we called on Quinn to produce the second album – that would become Telescope Mind. Right before the record came out, things went awry. I left the grohoup and Quinn and I continued working together, as I moved from San Francisco to NY, first as Expanding Head Band, then as Q&A. Tussle continued in various incarnations — they may still be a band, I’m not sure — but it really became a different thing.

The first record of yours that I bought was The Soft Wave on Smalltown Supersound. How did you hook up with the label, and what would have influenced this album? How did you end up remixing Lindstrom? Was this something Smalltown Supersound set up?

I was writing for magazines like i-D, Vice, Sleazenation at the time and I wrote a profile of Kim Hiorthoy, Smalltown’s in-house graphic designer — he also made some great sleeves for Rune Grammofon. Joakim Haugland, who runs Smalltown, wrote to me, and said, “Wait, are you the same Alexis Georgopoulos that’s in Tussle? I love you guys! Would you put out a record for us?” Yeah, that’s how I linked up with Lindstrom as well.

What equipment did you have then? What are your favourite pieces of gear now?

On The Soft Wave it was primarily MiniMoog, some old drum machines, a Moog phase, a few guitars, bass, piano. That was done entirely in a proper studio. That felt very hi-fi after making In Light – the first Arp album), which had been made entirely on cassette 4-track. (laughs) Last year, I was finally able to set up a small but proper studio in my apartment, and I think that’s why the new album breathes the way it does. I had time to do it how I’d always wanted to. MiniMoog is still very much at the heart of the set up, as is the Space Echo, Arp Odyssey, Korg MS20. A few drum machines. A few sample banks.

2010 seems to have been a busy year for you, because you also collaborated with Anthony Moore for RVNG Intl.`s FRKWYS series. Another record of your`s that I love. In part dedicated to Arthur Russell, and sounding like both the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Brian Eno in places. How did you meet Anthony?

Matt Werth (of RVNG) wrote to me and asked if I’d like to contribute to the FRKWYS series and if so, who I might like to collaborate with. I proposed Eno, (laughs) knowing that was a long shot, and Anthony. I’d been listening a lot to Anthony’s piece Mu Na H-Uile Ni A Shaoileas. I was still very much deep into the Minimalist stuff but Anthony’s track just had an openness to it that was so different than the very locked-in, metronomic quality of Reich and Glass. It had a European sensibility. I also knew Anthony’d made some great song-based records – Judy Get Down is a classic – and I was very much inspired by characters like him, Cale and Eno and Arthur Russell. Really, I saw them as my models : guys who made avant-garde records and also smart Pop records. Guys who didn’t see a reason to not make “serious” records and also extended disco tracks or pop records.

Recently you collaborated with Jefre-Cantu Ledesma. Again, how did you meet? And how did the music-writing process work? Who did what? Were you in a studio together? I was surprised when this album came out on Emotional Response, since you both have close ties to Mexican Summer. Any there any plans to work together again?

Oh God, Jefre have known each other for ages! (laughs). We’ve worked together a lot over the years. And we’ve each played on many of one another’s records. He’s on ‘The Soft Wave’.  I held a few keys down on his recent record, On The Echoing Green. Before that we made a few records as The Alps, with Scott Hewicker, a painter friend of ours. We put out a number of home recordings that, in retrospect, aren’t so great (laughs) but I’m still happy with the two studio albums we did, Le Voyage, and III.

But yeah, Fragments came about really naturally. We were both writing our own records at the time and had each come up with material that felt like it needed to go elsewhere. We were listening to Woo and Finis Africae a lot, The Gist, Durutti Column — sort of where early Balearic met UK Post-Punk — and when we played our songs to one another, they seemed to really fit perfectly together. We each wrote five or six songs apiece — we recorded more than what ended up on the LP but … and it was very … direct, you know? Skeletal, in fact. (laughs) Most songs were drum machine, a chorus-y guitar and sometimes piano and drums. Just 4 or 5 tracks. We just wanted to do something different. That it ended up the way it did was very much about that moment. If we ever get around to doing a duo kind of thing again, I think it would be quite different.

Chuggy and I had been in touch for a few years and he was interested in me doing an Arp release with him. I said, well, actually, how about we put that on ice do this other thing.

Do you have more collaborations in the pipeline? Is there anybody you`d really like to work with? Which contemporary artists are you listening to? 

Oh yeah, there are always more. (laughs) A remix 12” of the Fragments LP will be done soon, just waiting on a few mixes. The mixes we have so far — from Woo, Felicia Atkinson and Image Man — are sounding great. There’s a new Masks EP en route. Masks is Max – Ravitz, aka Patricia, who makes records for L.I.E.S and Ghostly – and myself. We did a record for Opal Tapes a few years ago. And there are a few exciting ones I can’t reveal just yet.

Your new album, ZEBRA, cohesively segues a variety of musical styles: Classical Minimalism, Fourth World rhythms, Kosmische, New Age, Post-Rock, Psychedelic Pop. It`s almost like an “Arp Sampler”. A demonstration of all that you do. Was this a conscious decision, or did the album just come together that way? What kind of time-frame were the pieces recorded in?

Not at all, actually  But I’m not unhappy if that’s how it seems. (laughs) I do feel it’s the most complete Arp album so far. By far.

At the beginning, I wasn’t thinking of this material as an Arp record. I just started making music with my friend Ezra, and then I asked some other people to join in. There was definitely some ECM stuff circulating, and Joni Mitchell’s records with Jaco, and Cosmic Jazz and West African stuff is always in the mix. That’s were it started. And then, as it got going, it took on another shape. Other influences started to work their way in — music from Portugal, Japan, in particular. The idea was to shake things off and get back to rhythm, something I’d strangely abandoned for a few years.

The writing process happened very fast. In the span of a few days really, the sketches for the entire record were in place. Friends were invited over to add things and then I retreated to the studio to do editing, which was absolutely the most time-consuming part. Mixed it through a Neve console and Heba Kadry did a really nice job mastering. She really sculpted the higher-end stuff in a delicate way.

I can hear that ECM / Jazz undercurrent. Some tracks had me thinking of Keith Jarrett. Is that just me? 

I’ve never connected with Keith Jarrett, actually. And when I’ve seen him interviewed, it’s only confirmed my feelings. But ECM was definitely on the brain when we started tracking. But more of the Don Cherry and Colin Walcott stuff, and the soundtrack-y atmosphere Eberhard Weber gets into. Azimuth and John Surman do some really nice sequence-y stuff. There’s always a lot of Cosmic Jazz playing at the house — Philip Cohran, Alice, Pharaoh, McCoy Tyner’s mid-70’s spiritual stuff.

Do you play live, or have any plans to?

Yes, I`m making plans for ensemble shows in Europe, in the Fall. Some DJ sets as well.

Arp`s ZEBRA is out now on Mexican Summer. 

 

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