Mostly known for having been a member of NYC’s seminal band Cop Shoot Cop, before they imploded in 1996, Jim Coleman can boast a remarkable experience in scoring for indie movies and television series as well as a plenty of beat driven electronica under the moniker Phylr, where he delivered his cinematic hooks. On the occasion of the issue of his full-length release “Trees”, which has been described as “an intensely personal yet universally transcendent sonic experience”, featuring some talented musicians such as Phil Puleo (former drummer of Cop Shoot Cop and Michael Gira’s Swans), Ellen Fulman (playing her self-created long stringed instruments on two tracks), singer Dawn McCarthy from Faun Fables and cello-player Kirsten McCord, we had a chat with him while feeling like we were under a big tree thanks to his music. Jim Coleman’s “Trees” comes out on Expanding Records.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Jim. How are you?
Jim Coleman: Good. I’m about to go on a vacation. Trying to allow myself to be happy. And how are you?
Chain D.L.K.: Quite fine, thanks. Congratulations on your release “Trees”, it’s really catchy and vibrant from the very beginning… should we consider it a debut?
Jim Coleman: Thanks. I never really thought of TREES as a debut, more of a continuation or evolution of my ongoing sonic explorations. It is definitely a different sound and different intent, so in that way it could be considered a debut. But again, I think of it more as a new chapter.
Chain D.L.K.: Maybe I’m too influenced by the title or by the fact you’ve composed a lot of music for movies, but I thought of a movie I saw a long time ago by Goran Paskaljevic entitled “How Harry Became a Tree” while listening to your album (in particular those tracks with “pastoral” cues such as ”Override” or “Sideways”) as well as other stories related to reverie about natural symbiosis as a daydreaming refuge from human convention or a life full of disappointments. A possible link to themes of Cop Shoot Cop derivation or not?
Jim Coleman: That’s an intriguing question. I’m not 100% sure how to respond to it, but will do my best. TREES for me is kind of a personal antidote to the anxiety and stress of the world not just around me, but within me as well. I know that I can be my own worst enemy, that I can get trapped in that life of disappointment that you mention, where there is never enough, and I can make my own discontent through projecting future negativity and lamenting the past. Cop Shoot Cop had a good share of social and personal commentary, some of which dealt with what I just described. But there may have been an inherent cynicism, which kept CSC in a certain domain. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a judgment. This cynicism worked for Cop. But TREES is more about finding peace in the present, about taking a minute to breathe, to be rather than do.
Chain D.L.K.: A somewhat logical question… is there anything belonging to the Cop Shoot Cop period in Trees besides Phil Puleo’s contribution? How do you remember those years?
Jim Coleman: The CSC days were definitely formative. Prior to being in Cop, I was making very left of center sound collages, some of which re-surfaced on the Cop records (“Israeli Dig”, “Seattle”, ”Where’s the Money” to name a few), and I was DJ’ing in a somewhat progressive way (mixing Run DMS’s Sucker MC beats with the Hindenburg Disaster). Being in Cop definitely focused what I was doing into a particular format, which was good for me at the time. And without having that in my history, I would not have done TREES. It’s all part of a continuum, an evolution.
How do I remember those years? First off, I feel incredibly lucky to have been living that life. For most of that time, Cop was a strong if fucked up family. We all had similar senses of humor, cynicism, irreverence, anger, anarchy and idealism. We wanted to blow things up in a number of ways. The music reflected this, and we lived it outside of the music. The music wasn’t just a front. I loved the days of touring. It felt like as long as you made it to the next show in one piece, there were no rules. Looking back, we were just really fortunate that nothing that serious really happened.
Phil and I have continued working through the years. I really value what he brings to projects. He has a pretty amazing collection of truly cinematic tracks that he has made, which we keep trying to clear time to produce and mix. Hopefully they will get out in the world some day soon.
Chain D.L.K.: You involved plenty of skilled musicians under the refreshing shadow of your trees… could you tell us something about your mutual interactions during recording or some anecdote related to it?
Jim Coleman: It was an interesting process recording with the different musicians on TREES. Two peoples’ contributions actually came from earlier recording sessions. I had recorded Dawn McCarthy in 1996 I believe when I was making the first Phylr record (Contra la Puerta). Some parts of that recording I had never used, and it felt perfect in this.
Ellen Fullman and I had also recorded a few years ago in Austin, where she had a semi permanent setting for her long string instrument. I was down there doing some music for a Dance Performance and I ran in to her. The Long String Instrument is amazing, she basically turns a room or a space in to an instrument.
I recorded all the cello parts with Kirsten McCord in her Lower East Side apartment. All the recording with Phil Puleo and Bryan Christie were done in my own studio. Most of the instruments that I was playing (French Horn, guitar, melodica, bass, electronics) were done in my studio, but the grand piano was recorded at a friend’s house.
The recording process was a back and forth. I basically mapped out all the tracks without digging myself in too deep before I brought anyone else in. With the addition of the various instruments and performers, it basically shook loose a lot of what I did, gave it a new life. Then I had to kind of re-structure it all again. It’s kind of like re-editing a film.
Chain D.L.K.: Any “environmental” suggestion to appreciate Trees better?
Jim Coleman: Oh yes. TREES is best listened to during rush hour, while lying down on the highway stark naked.
Actually, I find TREES to be meditative, it can slow me down, and lower my stress. But this doesn’t mean I need to be in a dark candlelit room sitting in the lotus position. I can be on a busy commuter train…
Chain D.L.K.: You’ve already announced an ambient follow-up to Trees, based on recordings of individual’s near death experiences… any other anticipation on it?
Jim Coleman: I have several tracks in motion currently for this. The definition is stretching out a bit. Though some tracks are truly and solely based on near death experiences, others are more focused on mental breaks, psychotic episodes, sometimes fueled by chemical imbalances.
I was heavily focused on this for a period of time, but have had to take a short break from it, as it was coloring my world view, and things were getting too heavy. That being said, I am about to take another dive back in. If anyone reads this and has any personal stories in this vein, I am still looking to record more experiences. Please email me at filercoleman at gmail.
Chain D.L.K.: There are many musicians who seem to migrate over borders between ambient and classical music nowadays, but some of them sound a little bit off-the-cuff, let’s say so… who are the most promising in your opinion?
Jim Coleman: It’s funny, I have not listened to that much of this type of music. Though I am a long time listener / fan of Geir Jenssen, Fripp and Eno, Godspeed You Black Emperor and others, I haven’t really been tracking the ambient/classical genre recently. Part of this may be a somewhat conscious decision, as I would rather not be overly informed of the type of music that I am making. In a way, I want to avoid doing it consciously, if that makes sense. I want to feel it out on my own, not in comparison to other composers. Also, when I am immersed in making music, I usually listen to music that is very different, just to jar me out of it. So when I was making TREES, I was listening more to music like Snowman, Gold Panda, The Skull Defekts and the like…
Chain D.L.K.: Many readers would like to know if there’s any possibility Cop Shoot Cop are going to come back on stage…
Jim Coleman: I think that it would be unlikely. What’s strange is that I have dreams that we are playing together, that we have gotten back together and are about to go on stage, but then we realize “Oh Shit!”, we haven’t rehearsed!
One of the things that made Cop Shoot Cop such a powerful band was that we all had pretty intense personalities and feelings. When we were all going the same direction, it was like magic. When we were going four different directions, it got kind of wild. This tension at times fueled the music, but would make it difficult to overcome some of the things that came in to play during our demise.
Chain D.L.K.: On your website, there are two different sections, filing your music between “Music for eyes” and “Music for ears”… what about Trees?
Jim Coleman: My website is getting rebuilt from the ground up, should be hopefully up and running by June 10th or so. This will put the upcoming release front and center, but still have some pretty deep info on other areas of creativity, both past and present.
Chain D.L.K.: One of the skill of musicians dealing with music for movies beyond the sensation they have to inspire for commercial purposes consist of the translation of feelings and emotion into musical language, but is there anything which is impossible to translate yet?
Jim Coleman: I don’t really think of composing music for films as translating feelings. To me, it’s more about creating the feeling. Music can play a huge role in this, but ultimately the feeling emerges from the marriage of sound and image. It’s amazing when this happens, when the film is getting edited and the music gets placed. All of a sudden, this feeling, energy, life fills the room.
I don’t view my music as conceptual at all. It is firmly rooted in feeling and emotion. As an adult male living in current times, I at times have difficulties feeling my feelings, let alone expressing them. I continue to try to open up in my daily life. But somehow making music has always been a very open channel of emotions and feeling. It’s all about that. Maybe something that I can’t express in words.
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