Genre is obsolete. This assertion seems to be the aesthetical foundation of the abrasive collective which Tom Smith and Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra named To Live And Shave In L.A.. They have attracted many external collaborator, including members of legendary Sonic Youth, to their noisy parallel world which emphasizes their absorbing Weltanshauung, in which elements of noise, electronics, heavyweight dub, aggro-industrial, concrete music and other stylistic splinters live side by side within detonating mixtures. After the enjoyable listening experience of “The Grief That Shrieked To Multiply”, a triple CD compilation (“My Finger Was Hooked”, “I Offer Syrup”, “I Offal and I Stumble” plus a downloadable bonus mix titled “Between You Kidneys”) which they described as an anti-anti-remix set involving a plenty of noise shakers, we had a chat with Tom Smith about that and other matters. TLASILA’s “The Grief That Shrieked To Multiply” come out on the Polish independent record label Monotype Records.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Tom. How are you? What’s up on your side of the world?
Tom Smith: Hello. Very well, thank you. Here, in Hannover, I’m on the morning train. I have three classes to teach in a bleak former East German border town. Sexy…
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s start from your notorious statement according to which “genre is obsolete”. Someone could argue that non-genre is an undefined axiom, whose existence is just related to the inversion of something which keeps on existing. What’s your opinion on that?
Tom Smith: I would first oppose your designation of my aphorism as “notorious.” Mass murderers, date rapists, low-level celebrities and aging bands who wheeze out hoary albums note-for-note at All Tomorrow’s Parties might rightfully be considered to have earned notoriety. A well-considered aesthetic notion adopted and expanded upon by a gifted academic and passed around the Internet as a meme of no small influence could hardly be regarded as notorious. It was a prescient analysis, nothing more. Your argument suggests that nothing can or should be done to counteract aesthetic rot. My opinion is that obstacles exist to be either co-opted, breached, circumvented, or destroyed altogether.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve read that essay on the matter by Ray Brassier and your style has been defined “demential” as well. Do you agree with that analysis or not?
Tom Smith: If you read Ray’s article carefully, you’ll find that the phrase he used was “fastidious dementia,” one he applied to TLASILA’s oeuvre – not to me. (The passage in question: “To Live and Shave in L.A., led by assiduous American iconoclast Tom Smith, whose dictum ‘genre is obsolete’ provides the modus operandi for a body of work characterised by its fastidious dementia…”) Mr. Brassier understood what Rudolf Eb.er and I were doing – at least during the period referenced in his essay – on an intuitive level. So, was the work wrought with maximum care, as is suggested? Yes. As to its evocation, modesty must intrude – that’s not for me to say.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s your favorite aesthetics matter?
Tom Smith: No favorites – as a compulsive bibliophile, I’m always poring over stuff. At the moment, I’m reading Sarah Kozloffs “Overhearing Film Dialogue” tome from 2000. My lusts are unquenchable, my interests wide-ranging.
Chain D.L.K.: Sketches, sampling, plunderphonics and other similar techniques, to name them so, used portions of existing songs and sometimes there was a provocative and nihilist intent behind them. What’s the connection between your art and those ones?
Tom Smith: I would first refute your contention. Any artists who align themselves with, or define themselves as purveyors of technique necessarily forfeit nihil. The soporific provokes only within a surfeit of disgust. Such conditions are neither self-sustaining nor sufficiently abject to elude circumvention. Photophobia will cull their numbers, but the whitetip always calls the last leg.
Connection? None. Shoes are shoes. Some have whip coral heels, others have concupiscent fasteners.
(NB: one should never, ever use the term “plunderphonics”.)
Chain D.L.K.: In the middle of “I Offal and I Stumble”, your embraceable preaching against the mainstream shit you enlist in details… many of those gregarious defenders of some mainstream sub-products, which are seemingly antagonist to it, might reply that even any possible antithesis cannot elude the same precepts and lying foundations of mainstream itself… what’s your reply?
Tom Smith: Jared Louche, whose “Unspoken” piece I assume you meant to reference, would be pleased. He relishes the occasional man-hug. Regarding your query, Jared was first astutely mocking, then extemporizing upon and extending TLASILA’s precepts throughout his contribution to “Grief” – quite adroitly so. Alas, your supposition seems to again suggest that nothing can be done to garrote the beast. I do not agree.
Chain D.L.K.: Since we mentioned it, would you introduce “The Grief that Shrieked to Multiply” in your own words?
Tom Smith: I wanted multiple perspectives, wanton discrepancies. New eyes to undress the paradigm. Sent out a call for contributions. Graham Moore (TLASILA, the Blossoming Noise label) offered invaluable assistance. Years of trials – not so much error. I wanted to force inclusion, and stagger staid notions of aesthetic commonality. We thus became a swollen collective with only one goal: to trace the arc of X.
Chain D.L.K.: Its three long tracks sometimes sound like radio broadcasts from an old hi-fi car in the middle of nowhere or some other planet… can you tell us something about the way you cobbled all these sonic episodes?
Tom Smith: No burnishers, marking wheels, lasts or awls – just four years of collating and mixing until I had what I wanted. The titles reveal the narrative. TLASILA was grievance itself, an “antithesis,” as I’ve previously written, “energized at the juncture of aesthetic revulsion.” First, one is hooked. Then, one wishes to redistribute the burden of the experience. Senses fuse. Lastly, metastasis. We become anguish. (The fourth, download-only disc, “Between Your Kidneys,” seems in retrospect almost perversely other.)
Chain D.L.K.: Could you retrace the history and main stages of To Live And Shave in L.A.?
Tom Smith: I began the project in May 1990 with four sets of demos, spread over six tapes (multiple mixes, edits, etc.). Just me.
Moved to Miami in mid-’91. Recorded three albums’ worth of proto-Shavian material from late 1991 to the autumn of ’92. Befriended and later worked with famed sexploitation director Doris Wishman. First recruits into the group were friends from the local cinema and club scenes: Oscar Perez, Tigra Derougemont, and Tracie Phillips.
Recorded through October 1993. Began assembling the debut album.
Rat Bastard, a local studio co-owner and occasional performer with the group Scraping Teeth, first joined me onstage in late ’93.
“30 minuten männercreme” was (happily) released to overwhelming acclaim in June 1994. I wrote, mixed and performed everything on the album, save for eight tracks mixed by Rat and a handful of guest appearances by Bill and Adris from Harry Pussy, Miami synthesizer oddball King Felix, and Bastard (who played bass on a few tracks).
By this time, electronics whiz Ben Wolcott had signed on. Many albums and tours through 2000.
The clone outbreak of 2000-2001 occurred while we were on hiatus: there were eight or nine discrete TLASILA’s in operation, including two separate groups named TLASILA 2.
While the spin-off madness was ramping up, I was rehearsing and recording material for the debut album and tour of OHNE. Our Mego release, “Ohne 1,” issued in early 2002, established yet another template. (I trust you’ll forgive me when I opine that I’m very, very proud of this group.)
TLASILA reconvened in 2003 to headline the final night of the first No Fun Fest. Noise had arrived. We played a jungle set instead and destroyed the venue.
Andrew W.K., Mark Morgan, Thurston Moore joined. Bigger tours, bigger albums.
I tired of the bombast. It was too easy. Final tour, Europe, 2008 – the best we’d ever done. Stripped down to an electronic pulse, killer lineup. (Sickboy Milkplus, Joke Lanz, Balazs Pandi, Gaybomb, Orphan Fairytale, und ich). Ended on a fractured high note.
Retired TLASILA as a live unit in 2010, but it still exists as a vector for research. Archival recordings will be issued at intervals. So, 1990-2010. Not a bad run.
Chain D.L.K.: On the attached info-sheets I received it says that the idiopathic antecedent would be Ron Jeremy’s porn parody of William Friedkin’s Live and Die in L.A.. Would you agree?
Tom Smith: The moment I saw the VHS box art for Jeremy’s “To Live and Shave in L.A.” at a sleazy South Georgia (USA) strip-mall video outlet in 1988, I knew it would be the name of my next project. So, yes, I agree! For me, it was an unassailable metaphor for the uneasy conjunction of low and high culture.
Chain D.L.K.: Amidst so many contributions and samples on The Grief that Shrieked to Multiply is there anyone which particularly inspired an emotional reaction on your side?
Tom Smith: No loving parent choses one child over another.
Chain D.L.K.: How do you imagine forthcoming future of music?
Tom Smith: I am a part of this, so one mustn’t presume. Distant future, no idea, but I’d love to be there.
Chain D.L.K.: Which kind of beard do you like? Any piece of advice on shaving?
Tom Smith: Beards, no opinion. Shave first thing in the morning and get it over with.
Chain D.L.K.: What are your pieces of advice to avoid the traps of genre-labeling by newcomers?
Tom Smith: This is a non-problem. My advice is to dress warmly in winter.
Chain D.L.K.: Besides sound collages and music, how do you spend your time?
Tom Smith: I do not ply a trade in collage. The universe mixes itself. Everyone attuned to the various frequencies redacts the information as best they can. A rarified few perform these functions with distinction. The rest merely mirror the clutter.
I’ve been teaching here in Germany since early 2009. My label and publishing house, Karl Schmidt Verlag, is a growing, ever-unwieldy concern. Nearly 300 releases to date. I’m currently a member of a number of groups: Rope Cosmetology, which is the unit TLASILA morphed into following its 2008 European trek, and which features the aforementioned Mr. Pandi, Americans Tim Lane Seaton and Ryan Parrish, and Hungarian free-jazz titan Feri Kovacs; Merkwürdig Rechen, begun in January 2011 and featuring Luke Calzonetti (co-founder of NYC’s Child Abuse and purveyor of excellence with his Run Dust solo project) and Andreas Brüning (founding member of RK2, collaborator with Can’s Jaki Liebezeit, and former cultist in Jürgen Gleue’s strange Phantom Payn outfit); Psychotic, my new trio with Aaron Dilloway and Kevin Drumm; and Theives’ Who’s Who (aka Smith Jaspers Stencil). Records from all of the above are both on release and forthcoming. I also perform solo vocal compositions at a variety of festivals, and continue to enjoy the collaborative process. Life must be lived in defiance of ourselves.
I’m constantly writing, recording, editing, performing, documenting, and napping. I never stop.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think music reviewers might have some responsibility for the health of the scene? And what about the role of media in general?
Tom Smith: The music press – whatever the platform – is an enormous impediment to progress. I maintain a healthy distance. The media have long abdicated its proper role. So, we and others create alternatives of varying duration and quality. The books and magazines I publish address these issues, among obvious others.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s your sincere opinion on lawyers making money by means of copyright lawsuits?
Tom Smith: Seven billion people. There will always be assholes.
visit To Live And Shave In L.A. on the web at: www.toliveandshaveinla.com