Interview / Barbie Bertisch / Love Injection

Love Injection`s Barbie Bertisch releases her debut album, Prelude, this Friday, June 17th. I’ve already written a review, detailing how much the record took me by surprise, but here I’m asking the “How?” “When?” and “Why?”s, while Barbie waxes lyrical in her replies. 

Cover shot by Guarionex Rodriguez Jr.

Barbie Bertisch Nadine Hess

The Lot Radio shot by Nadine Hess. 

Given your close association with Danny Krivit, I was surprised by the sound of your album – especially given its title, Prelude, which I assumed was a tribute to the legendary label. Did disco have any impact on the music on the album? 

I like to think that everything we absorb has an impact in the process of making, whether we like it or not, or whether we set out to target a specific sound. In the case of this record, I can’t say that I specifically set out to make something that sounded like this. Prelude is one of my favorite labels of New York disco and the label employed one of my musical influences, François Kevorkian. It would be a stretch to say there is a link there but I studied François’ productions from his Wave era and I am greatly inspired by the textures and landscapes within his work. But just because I am a student with New York “disco” as a DJ and dancer, Danny Krivit’s 718 Sessions party being a sanctuary to me and Paul, it doesn’t mean that it encompasses the entirety of my music palette. I also think we may have sadly re-entered the 1979 syndrome of disco oversaturation in the sense that disco has become synonymous with themed cocktails, retro parties, bad halloween costumes, mirroballs in random places, and corporate cultural whitewash instead of what it truly represented. So the word disco kinda makes me shrug my shoulders these days. Growing up I was into everything from The Beatles to punk in high school, to new wave and post punk in my early twenties, to various forms of dance music – funk, soul, jazz funk, house and techno –  in my mid twenties to now. I ran a used record shop for the past two years and that was a mind expanding experience. As a record collector, I am drawn to everything from dancehall to krautrock to jazz and exotica and I’m sure it all seeps into the deeper parts of my consciousness and informs everything I do.

I write in a journal everyday and have a lot of love for words, and Prelude is, to me, a beautiful word with powerful meaning. “What comes before” feels accurate when I think of the songs that make up this album because they came together in a very raw, immediate, cathartic way without a lot of direction or trying to shove the output into something ‘coherent’. If prelude is an introduction for something to come, then I feel comfortable calling this album exactly that. Deodato and Jack McDuff also have albums called prelude. Maybe we all just like the sound of the word or what it means.

This drives me to highlight the frequent discrepancy between our musical taste and our skill. Will we ever be as talented as the people who made the records we love the most, like those in the Prelude catalog? Will our skill, sensitivity, and the stars all align so we can one day make something that we can put in the same category as some of the records we look up as pinnacles of an era? I definitely don’t consider my musicianship to be at the level of some of my favorites and I think I’m too self-aware to even try to emulate them. The minute I start to make music with the intention of sounding like this or that, is when I should probably step away and take a break. I never want to be contrived and I certainly never wanna be perceived as someone making throwback music. It’ll very rarely come close to the real thing.

Can you tell me more about your record store? Where is it? How long have you been open? What are your opening hours? Do you have a website?

I didn’t own the store, but I did work at the Captured Tracks shop in Greenpoint for 2 years up until January 2022. I started there with no experience but tons of curiosity and became the manager around two months in, staying through the lockdown period, up until early this year. The shop, even though it’s associated with the record label through its name, stocks only used LPs, 12s, 45s, tapes, and most recently, ephemera. It was a lot of fun, a great amount of work, and a time I look back on fondly, for the most part.

Captured Tracks

With your partner Paul and your publication, Love Injection, I know that you celebrate all sorts of NYC-centric culture. Would you be able to tell me how different aspects of the city’s rich musical history influenced each of the different tracks on the album?

I don’t know if the album is influenced by NY history in any way. Music is a global language. More than events, I think overall the album is rooted in a range of emotions. “28”, the opening song, refers to the age in which I decided to work on myself. “Woman of Contrasts” actually had vocals but I scrapped them last minute because I hated them. But it had to do with the duality of everyday pursuits—what we want changes everyday in the attention economy. “Water Moves Slowly” is representative of a place of peace or a sense of womb-like movement that is slow and feels like a warm hug when we’re feeling down. “Spirits Lifted” came from feeling a respite in the turbulence I was going through at the time. Lessons don’t come without falling on your ass a few times, going through hardship and suddenly realizing you’re on the other side. It’s a comforting place to be in. “I Thought This Would Be Easier” quite literally is in reference to me learning to make music and to consider myself an artist, with all the second-guessing and the thinking of yourself as insane for even trying. “Is This What You Wanted” and “Warm In The Dark” are both full of anger, which is something I never allowed myself to feel; one is anger towards someone and the other is more about embracing the emotion and being ok with it. “After The Storm” came together immediately after I had a panic attack, which I’ve been having for as long as I can remember and what drove me to look for help to begin with. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the symptoms, but mine were immediately followed by a huge sense of relief and that’s how that came together. “Fertile Garden” and “Taking My Time” are the two more joyous tracks in the album, helping me chart a path to the future that felt more sustainable, at ease, and ripe for harvesting more of the good stuff that allows us to thrive in this insane world we’re in.

Love Injection, on the other hand, is a result of our endless pursuit for learning about the place we call home and the stories that inspire us the most. We are quite literally sitting among some of the most important contributors to dance culture. Some have passed but a lot are still here, and we should cherish them and give them flowers while we can. New York happens to be our home and it gives us so much on the daily, that we feel a duty to want to give back. We’re not out here trying to tell the history of other cities we have no attachment to, that’s like me going to your house and trying to tell you how to set the table.

The album collects archival pieces recorded over a 5 year period. Would you be able to remember any of the music that you were listening to during that time, that may have influenced the music that you were making? 

Honestly I wouldn’t be able to. Because of our weekly residency at The Lot Radio we go through so much music that it becomes hard to pinpoint.

Can you please tell me more about your LOT Radio show? How did you hook up with LOT? How long have you been doing the show? When is is broadcast? Musically, is it anything goes? Do you have guests?

The radio show is something Paul and I do together. The Love Injection show on The Lot Radio has been airing every Saturday at 10AM ET for two hours pretty much since the station’s beginnings. I believe we were invited on the second week or so, and stayed on to this day. Living in Greenpoint, I remember walking past that plot when there was nothing in it save for broken cars and trash. It had been a gas station some time ago but it sat empty since that closed. It was pretty exciting to see it turn into something that would mark a before and after in our lives as residents of the neighborhoods but also as members of the Lot’s community.

Every Saturday before we had our show, we’d wake up and ritually listen to Gilles Peterson’s BBC 6 show. We were also listening to Steve Julien’s Apron Rinse show, Charlie Bones on NTS, Duane Harriot on WFMU. When we got our own show, we were really inspired by the radio format, the intimacy between listener and broadcaster, the trust that one can build over time, and the intention to broaden horizons, musically-speaking. That means us, too. Since day one, we’ve made an effort to not repeat music we’ve already played, though obviously there are exceptions, but music is endless and the weekly cadence has inspired us to expand our own boundaries and seek music for a Saturday morning radio show. We play jazz, experimental electronic, reggae, soul, psychedelic rock, new wave, disco, house, ambient, and so on. Ultimately it’s a window into what we like and what we’re excited about outside of the dancefloor context and it’s been an important anchor for us, particularly during the lockdown when every other part of our lives totally vanished. To do the show from home felt like the most intimate experience yet.

Instead of having guests on the weekly, we invite other people to fully take over the show in the event that we’ll be away. That way, they can have their full say over the course of the two hours, and really make the show their own. We’re working on a new website launching in July which will have every single show we’ve done, but for now, our faithful old site has them until August of last year.

Since the pieces are archival, do any of them remind you of particular times, places, or people?

Some remind me of people, most of them remind me of the many iterations that my apartment has gone through, since they were all made at home. I don’t have a big studio or anything like that. I think that I just had a bass guitar, a Bass Station II, an alto sax, and a microphone. I remember thinking to myself that I’d never look back on these and self-sabotaging. I had moved on from them and had started working on another album with a friend when March of 2020 arrived and I was stuck at home writing lyrics for that when I realized I had unfinished business. My mind kicked into completion gear and I sat there, diligently putting the pieces together and it turned out that it all made sense as a whole—or at least to me.

The album, to my ears, seems split in two, with the first side a sort of ethereal pop fever dream, almost an alternative, electronic, Twin Peaks score. The second, where your bass is more prominent, has a definite post-punk edge. Would you say this is true? 

I was told that once the music leaves my hands it’s no longer mine. Now it’s yours, and you can listen, absorb, and perceive differently from the person next to you. What do you think?

Are you working on any music right now?

Last year, I started doing remix work alongside Paul. This line of music-making is more directly influenced by club experiences as I generally think of remixes as context-led music. Our first was for the NY band Psymon Spine which was released on Northern Spy Records. We’re finishing our second remix but I don’t know that I’m allowed to say who it’s for.

The other project I mentioned is with Harris Klahr, who I met in 2019. We’ve been writing and playing together since late 2019 and found ourselves writing an album in early 2020. We just finished recording that and started the mixing process. I truly cannot wait until that is released.

Would you ever consider performing your music live? 

Not Prelude, which to me feels like a homemade, intimate record. Wouldn’t even know how to put it into a live format, to be honest. But I am definitely preparing to perform live in future projects.

Why do you think you found it hard to see / accept yourself as a musician and an artist? 

I think about this often and have arrived at varying answers. I think part of it has to do with being an immigrant. Having left Argentina during a very economically difficult time and arriving in Miami to discover a whole new set of mountains to climb, there’s no way I got out of that without some sort of trauma around stability and safety. My mom is a visual artist, and it was through her work that we received our green card. She’s always made art on her own terms but always worked first, and I think I came to see the term ‘artist’ as something I shouldn’t award myself because first, it meant self-indulgence and putting my perspective first—something I had to learn how to do in therapy. Secondly, because in modern capitalist societies, we may have really flattened the concept of an artist as it pertains to their idea of making a living off their art. The artist’s success is tied to commerce and only now I’ve learned that this kind of binary thinking helps no one. Lastly, because I truly think great art can save us, and I wasn’t sure that I had the confidence to allow myself the title. Ultimately, I decided to start making and stop obsessing and I feel much lighter on my feet now.

This is a bit of a cheesy question to finish on, but seeing as you’re an expert on NYC nightlife, is there any point in time, any club in particular that you wish you could have visited / experienced? If so, please tell me why.

I would call myself a diligent student before an expert. Besides the obvious beginnings of the Loft and Paradise Garage, I would have died to go to AREA. It looked like the most outlandish use of a club space I’ve learned of so far with site-wide installations changing constantly. It was at the intersection of a lot of types of people and music and I think it operated during a very culturally rich part of NY history. I’m lucky to know Justin Strauss, Richard Alvarez and Connie Fleming who were all there and can provide endless first-hand accounts. Also, Better Days to see Tee Scott and Bruce Forest, Fillmore East and later when it turned into The Saint, Larry Levan learning to DJ at The Continental Baths, Grandmaster Flowers in the park, a fresh-faced Francois K drumming along to Walter Gibbons djing at Galaxy 21, the performances at Mudd Club like Gray and the story of Jean Michel Basquiat with the shopping cart, club MARS and DJ Duke, Frankie Knuckles and Louie Vega at Sound Factory Bar, the first time the needle dropped on Go Bang! at David Mancuso’s loft. I would have killed to see any performance by Klaus Nomi – often associated with Mudd Club, Hurrahs, Club 57 – and literally any performer at the Paradise Garage but especially ESG, Imagination, Sylvester, New Order – yes, they did! Probably the early years of Max’s and CBGBs and St Marks in its heyday. Danceteria!!! They were at the forefront of so much. 

Barbie Bertisch`s Prelude will be released this Friday, on Love Injection Records. 


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