WEEKEND artist Ian Trout talks with musician Cameron Stallones (Sun Araw). Ian’s exhibition, Pure Vegetable Kingdom, shows from October 7th-30th, 2011, at WEEKEND. Cameron Stallones creates sounds hard to categorize; some have labeled him psych-drone. Check out his page and his recent album, Ancient Romans, released through SUN ARK RECORDS through Drag City, here.
Eternity enters into time, and it is in time that all movement takes place…Eternity is not limited by the conditions of time, and time is eternal in virtue of its cyclic recurrence.
– Hermetica, Asclepius III
Contracting our infinite sense we behold Multitude, or expanding we behold as One.
– William Blake
Ian Trout: Maybe we can start with that quote.
Cameron Stallones: Yeah sure. Which one? The Blake one or the hermetic…
IT Kind of both of them.
CS Well maybe I should ask you some questions. I’m curious, do you ever think about time… I think the perceptual thing that I pick up from the zine and from the press release is really similar to the way I think about what I’m doing. This record, and these quotes in particular, have to do with time… Does time enter into it for you at all? I know it’s different, like a song vs. a painting but…
IT I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently, since I knew I was going to be talking to a musician. I think one is specific to time and one is not, but at the same time they both kind of transcend it. So a lot of what I’ve been thinking about in terms of imagery is how can image be reduced to the point of being iconic; something that can then be easily absorbed and then can travel around. So the image is in time now once it’s traveling. I think of music in that way too. It’s coming out of one format or another, a physical thing, but you can carry it around with you too; hum it in your head or you can get lost in this other space when you’re listening to it. So I look at them as… Well, I’ve been calling the paintings conduits. The painting is the body that inhabits the image, this thing that can travel.
CS It’s interesting because Erica was saying earlier…It does feel there is an attempt to erase some of the heavier figurative elements that are in your previous work. In a way these paintings seem to have less of your personality, but that’s deceptive because they do and they don’t. Obviously looking at them I see your personality very clearly but it does seem there is a conscious attempt to simplify and to make it an icon and to sort of move in a conscious or perhaps unconscious way into something more systematic, like a pattern.
IT That was a goal with these, to get to a place where the figure’s associations could be sidestepped in order for it to become an ultra mysterious thing. I mean you can walk into the show and say, “Oh, it’s these abstract paintings” and you can get hung up on that. But if you see them as images of things, as expanded figures, I think they are much more mysterious.
CS I’m interested in that because I think in my music, and in psychedelic living in general, there is sort of that first step of ego death. That’s the basic fear, that at some point it feels like there is this erasure coming…to everything you’ve built, everything that you consider is so necessary to who you are and at some point you realize how unnecessary and extraneous all of it is. But there’s that fear reaction to it. There’s always this sort of rebalance with how far you step out of the room and how far you stay in; how much you just really want it to be the conduit; to really create something that someone can use. It’s functional but, like you say, it’s a receptacle or it allows you to be a receptacle. So, I’m interested in that balance where personality has to come back in, because I think it has to come back in. The western world has always been like, “The Word, and then the Word made flesh”. It’s like the moment at which there’s the thing that has transcended and then there’s the point at which it has to be translated back into human terms.
IT I don’t know if anyone could ever completely step all the way out but certainly with some music nobody’s getting hung up on the fact that somebody made it. Especially if it doesn’t have a human voice or something like that, it can be experienced solely as sound. I’ve always found the level to which you bury your vocals and your use of the echo and the reverb interesting. For me they aren’t referential elements, referring to other songs or styles, as they are things that push the music into this stranger space. A less familiar place where you’re not getting hung up on who’s playing what, you just kind of get lost in the haze. And with these paintings, I wanted to make something that you could get lost in…easier than the more evidently figurative stuff. I think all art has the potential for doing that but my challenge is how can I get out of the way more and more with each step.
CS Sure, sure. Because it seems like with these paintings they’re taking a big step back from narrative, because a lot of your paintings in the past have had a strong narrative anchor, and in some ways that’s unavoidable. But in regards to my music it was sort of huge for me to hear a lot of the second wave psychedelic stuff like Parson Sound, where I realized how strong that dichotomy is between like, “I woke up this morning”, like the first person narrative idea of song writing, and the idea of music that is much more textural and non-narrative and more like an object to get lost in or something to create a particular emotional effect. These paintings are similar in that they seem to be objects to create effects.
IT I think they are.
In a past interview you mentioned something about jamming on angle after angle of a passage, which reminds me a lot of what Dylan Carlson does. He’s someone I’ve been really into lately, especially when it comes to thinking about painting. I relate what Earth does to the monochrome painting; and ritual and repetition. It’s the idea of taking one thing and running it into the ground. It sets you up for a different set of expectations. It gets you past this structure because there isn’t going to be the usual resolution or pay-off; you’re in it for the long haul or you’re going to bail early but to get it you have to commit.
CS Yeah, it can kill the impatience! You know what I mean? Like when you do something this straightforwardly, it’s like Terry Riley. No one hears like a minute of that and asks, “Where is this going!” It’s obvious it’s just like, “I’m going to sit here for 20 minutes and let this wash over me”. Versus when people have different expectations, when there’s sort of a mixture. And I think what I do is some sort of mixture, but I’m interested in anything that breaks down that idea of objective perspective. That has been the most defining characteristic of most culture and civilization for a while. And it’s weird because it kind of rears up in a way that blocks any other way of looking at the world. And yet it’s only existed for a few hundred years. It’s not how people have looked at the world for a great deal of time. So it’s that idea of putting something in the middle of the room and spinning it around and turning it upside down and then just walking away from it and leaving it. I’ve noticed that all of my songs are between 7 and 10 minutes in length. That seems to be the exact amount of time that whatever melodic ideas I have sort of run their course and I kind of embrace that instead of trying to fight it. I like that because it feels systematic to me. It feels like an approach.
IT I’m curious about the connection you have to poetry. You were quoting Blake in the art work for this new record and I’m curious what the significance of that is. Because poetry was really important when I was making this work too which is also why I got my friend Robb involved in the zine. That was a lens I wanted people to see the paintings through.
CS I think that comes through. It’s interesting for me because, full disclosure (referring to pamphlet in record sleeve) this is just the title page of this book called “Living Time” by Maurice Nicoll. I just replaced all of his text with my own text. But that was a book I was reading when I was making this record and it was sort of changing a lot of things for me. And a lot of these quotes are from that and from Rudolf Steiner.
I’m interested in poetry and I’ve been thinking about reading more poetry than I have in the past just because a lot of the thinking and reading that I’ve been into is stuff that starts to get at that point; it’s experiential. It’s the sort of thing you can hand to someone and they can read it and they can completely understand it and yet it leaves them completely blank. There has to be for me… I always use the word alchemical. There has to be some response between this and that, that creates something more than what’s there. Like the lead into gold idea of alchemy. But poetry, that’s what it’s for right? Here’s this little string of words, but there is something behind it and if you approach it in the right way or if you’re in the right position to it, it will just create that perceptual conduit and completely open the door for that train! That’s how I tried to treat the text in that book. It was little snippets that presented in a certain way would hopefully open those sparks. So if someone is interested or on that same page, it might cause that alchemical moment of recognition.
IT That’s something I see as similar between the way we both work. You’re making these songs but you’re hanging all this other stuff on them: the album art, and the booklet, and the quotes, and all these philosophical ideas. You made this thing but then you’re dragging all this other stuff into it which is exactly how I work. I make this image or drawing or painting; I have this idea, and then I start to find things that are similar, things that feed into it, that strengthen it. And I start dragging those things into it and it just builds from there. But it starts internally and that’s really important. People would ask you about Fela Kuti or whatever, especially around Heavy Deeds era, as if you started from there and went backwards to make your own version of it, but it’s not that way. It’s about the internal thing, then dragging other things into it.
CS It’s connection making, it’s like a graphing process too. That’s interesting. I think people sort of function differently that way. They get energy from making all those connections and tying it all together. And then there are people who are the opposite and they want to divide. I don’t think either is better or worse.
IT I think it’s the difference between homage, of making something that’s sort of rote, and making something possibly new. The only way you’re going to make something that’s going to progress is to start internally. It can’t start with the external stuff it has to start with the feeling.
CS I agree entirely and on the one hand, ideologically, I think it’s super sound and makes a lot of sense. And on the other hand I realized I was in it like an addict. I was trying to get the kick that I get when I get to that place. That’s still the only reason I play at all or record at all, just because I really like the feeling I get when I find those moments. When I’ve finished recording something; that feeling that something has happened. It’s cool that it’s so pleasurable. At the same time, I do think it’s super important to set out and drop those conceptions and open yourself to receive something. To try to do that is insane. You can’t just sit there and say, “Alright, I now open myself as a conduit.” It has to be found through the body and it has to be found through emotions and through vulgar and silly and even superficial desires. But if you can repeatedly find your way there then it becomes easier I think.
IT I think that’s what the figure is for me right now. Even for these paintings, that’s the anchor. I have to have that. I just can’t access the outer reaches without going through it. I have to go through this bodily thing to reach it. Obviously people can make abstractions from their head, but for me, it has to come from natural observation of some kind; to make something that is rooted in the world somehow and then expands out into space. That’s the challenge, to see if it can extend beyond its source.
CS That’s so interesting that it’s so literal in this process. You literally start with a body and end with like, mind. Would you say that? Is that a good characterization?
IT Yeah, I think so. This goes back to some of the stuff we talked about earlier. What are your goals with the titles of your albums, like Ancient Romans. How does it affect the music? I mean there’s the thing that people could experience in any format; the actual audio. They could listen to it online or something like that, and then there’s all of the extra information that you want to hang on it and I’m curious about what you’re interested in doing? I think it’s like what I’m doing too, with the zine and the titles, they’re clues to placing the work in a specific context.
CS For a long time I’ve decided it’s like leaving maps for myself. A lot of these things are these esoteric spaces which are psychological, emotional, and spiritual, and that are really pleasurable. And there’s usually one phrase per album that is particularly potent like for Ancient Romans it’s that first track “Lucretius”. There’s something evoked in me when I hear it, even still. But it does slowly fade and that’s sort of a heartbreaking thing. It’s a really specific feeling and you know that it’s this strange object and really you can’t look straight at it or define it, but it’s very singular. And that’s sort of the point. I don’t put any concept on my music until that starts to happen. I made that and I made a couple of other tracks and I randomly re-watched Fellini’s Satirycon, which has always been an alien-logic favorite of mine. This imagery immediately matched with that emotion so perfectly and I realized that it’s similar to what was happening in the music. They’re sort of personal but I like the idea of trying to be generous, especially with music, and that’s why I kind of go to town with all of that because once I start making those connections I get really excited about it so I want to put as much as I can into one package. A lot of it is just fetishistic too. I’m just a record geek and I love beautiful packaging and beautiful records. For me music is huge. And when I see beautiful packaging it makes it huger.
IT What interests me about it is I can listen to a song or look at painting and draw whatever conclusions that I want because they are often open objects. But listening to the music with the title “Fit For Caesar,” that kind of skews it into this space that I never would have accessed otherwise. And I think I’m interested in the same things and no matter what I end up with in the final painting, where they came from is super important to me.
CS Are the titles of your paintings reminiscent of where they come from or do you title them when they’re done?
IT I title them when they’re done. The titles, like you were saying, become a kind of map back to where they came from. Like these paintings all came from these drawings of heads I had made. Even though they become all this other stuff that’s an interesting process for me to transform them but get them to some point where they still refer to their origins.
CS Well, what I love… especially, maybe this one closest to the door, is that sort of erasure that we were talking about, you almost feel like these structures have been stretched out of what was previously there, and you can recognize the idea of becoming the structure too, which is a really heavy part. And what’s really interesting is that there are like these flecks of pink and you see these remnants of self that have been stretched into this infinite pattern. To me that’s a really powerful and emotional image too. It’s what can happen when you really start connecting to those energies and you let that organic natural universe do that to you. Then again we’re talking about all the fear that comes with that, but you see so clearly the definition of those things still stretched into that shape. What I like about the whole conduit idea in general is that on some level it’s your brain. It has to be. What else is art but an externalization of mind.
I was thinking of the mind drawing (from the zine), you have to explain some of your diagrams because I’m really interested in them. I’m very curious about this one.
IT I think this one is kind of bringing the connection between sound and the monochrome and the possibility of expansion; or that idea of a monochromatic sound and a monochromatic painting… Yeah, this one is kind of complicated.
CS Ha ha! Totally! I like the head vs. mind dichotomy. I think there is a sketch in your book also that differentiates very clearly between the head and mind.
IT I think the head is the physical thing, the painting and the canvas and all that stuff and then the mind is the soul or the image. That’s the potential for that image to transfer to someone else. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. That the potential is there for the occurrence is important. It’s got to come out of this physical thing and this image expands out. I think this MONO area is the outer reaches of imagery, you know, the monochrome…
CS …as it extends into infinity?
IT Yeah! The monochrome is the point before it completely dissipates into gas.
I have one more question. It’s about something I read in an interview with you from the On Patrol era. Someone said something about you being interested in the things you can get from, like, the McDonald’s arches or Holiday Inn architecture and then you go on to end with this idea of hopefulness. Because the title of my show came from a similar idea. It came from Ginsberg because I was really into this one phrase in “Howl” where he talks about these guys living in squalor and they’re eating this nasty meat but yet they’re dreaming of the Pure Vegetable Kingdom and there is something really powerful in that. That you can be somewhere else in your mind despite where you are physically and it could be a better place and how do you get there.
CS And then you realize, well, you know, I’m a kook man, you realize that when you get there you are really somewhere else. It has to do with the angle after angle thing too because it’s all perceptual. For me, reading McCluhan for the first time and reading a lot of those dudes… You realize how important that participatory relationship is and I find it super hopeful. Once you learn to sort of identify these energies for what they are they lose their power over you. You’re able to finally separate yourself from them. I think a lot of people exist with energies that they feel are oppressive to them, like capitalist culture or McDonald’s or whatever. Until you really acknowledge the part of the human brain that it’s emanating from and the part of your brain that that is emanating from, then you’re always kind of walking around with it attached to your back. And you have this weird masochistic relationship with it. It’s also like the model of the religious man and the homosexual and all these dichotomies of people who are in opposition to one another and yet they create this relationship where they can’t seem to get away from the thing that they hate or the thing that they want to ridicule or disenfranchise because they won’t acknowledge their participation in it. I think when you make that freeing realization and start to see the Vegetable Kingdom it becomes way less threatening. You can drive by it and be like, I understand that and I can maybe move my energy in a way that augments my perception. I don’t mean some grand transcendental understanding. I just mean some personal relationship with the world. You can start to see that nobody’s in charge dude. Nobody’s in charge! Nobody has a handle and that is so hopeful because what’s going on is so insane and so organic and it’s mirrored so perfectly in nature that I can’t help but see the vegetable aspects of it.
IT How do you draw that back in relation to the music you make or even just the idea from that particular record?
CS Well with that record in particular…On Patrol, that was about attempting bright life in dark times. How do you navigate, you know? The record before (Heavy Deeds) was sort of a direct relationship with these ecstatic forces and On Patrol was like, “How do you live?” And I don’t have answers to any of those questions but it was all about figuring out those ideas. Being on patrol to me was a perceptual strategy, when you get in the patrol car you’re reinstating that proper relationship between yourself and those things. Like putting them in their place and putting you in your place, which are both equally important.
What about with you? Do you feel like your paintings are therapeutic? It’s funny, when you use the word icon… Icons are very much functional objects used by masses of people and I like that idea. Is it a mixture of those things for you? The personal creation of the icon?
IT Yeah, it’s about the useless icon; the thing that doesn’t have a purpose. Once you have to face that and you’re interested in that and you open yourself up to experiencing it, then you have to do something with it. It doesn’t just fit into any kind of utility. And that’s the value of art to me. It’s this space where useless things can exist. But they are only useless in this very specific and narrow way of looking at the world and the idea of use. So making space in the world for this mysterious, unknowable icon is important.
CS It’s cool because you do it in a vernacular too, which is really important. Like what we were talking about at the beginning, this sort of macro relationship.That’s why I’m really into the big gray one, what’s it called again?
CS Yeah, Emanator. Because it has this kind of visual pun thing where you look at it and it’s just, like, infinity and perspective and perception and then it’s like BOWTIE!! And it flips and it’s equally both and it doesn’t value one more than the other. And again, it’s like talking about getting it through the body. It has to be both. For some reason, as people, we want to create these holy things without ever understanding that they have to be rooted in like, dirt, and humor, and the body. And these paintings especially, and your others as well, they have this real effortless quality where they can switch between the infinite and the extremely finite. Even with that one inviting tunnel vision, all the while there’s this protruding flatness. It’s really this beautiful paradox because it does both perfectly.
IT That’s when they’re done. When they’re kind of everything happening at the same time and they’re not too specific. That’s the whole goal; that they present the unknown image. I care about the thing, but what’s really important is the image that you’re going to take away and it’s got to be mysterious.