The first section of my interview with Peter J Woods focused on his indoctrination into noise rock, his performance process, and his day job; in this segment, Woods discusses composition, the inherent futility of political action, and his forthcoming Songs for Nothing LP.
Splice Today: When you're composing or conceptualizing, do you do so with a particular instrument to hand or in mind? What's your approach like?
Peter J. Woods: Along with developing a central idea of a piece, I often develop a central sound. A very specific guitar drone or feedback device. Then, I create the work as a whole. Usually the central sound is from a very specific source and is manipulated in a very specific way, so that often ends up as only one section of the piece. Then I need to add other sections around that, and build sounds on top of it. So I let one sound become the foundation of the piece and then build around that—often to the point where you can't even hear that central piece and I often scrap it in favor of everything else I have.
ST: Before we start talking about the Kickstarter campaign, the announcement, and the subsequent deal you were able to make to press it, tell me a bit about the conception and recording of Songs For Nothing, and what it means to you to put out your first vinyl LP.
PJW: I'm incredibly excited to put out my first LP. One of my other bands released a split LP, but to be the dude on both sides feels great. It’s the next step in what I’m doing, and to have it be released by Darrin from Boy Dirt Car, since noise in Milwaukee probably wouldn't be here without those guys, is even better. With the way that the Internet is working nowadays, it almost seems silly to put anything out on a CD. People can download the files at the exact same quality that appears on the CD, so why waste the materials? It’s awesome having that physical product, but the object no longer has any relevance to the music. You don't need the CD to hear the CD, just the files. With analogue medium, the object matters. The physical object creates and affects the sound in ways that a disc can't—and vinyl is the best sounding of the analogues. So to have a full length release out on vinyl is just flat-out awesome.
With all the music that I make, I start with an image or a concept that I want to work with and then develop the piece around that. When I created the first piece for Songs for Nothing—"The Notion of Progress Accepted as Myth"—I had been thinking a lot about the futility of political action, and developed the set around that. Through the process of developing that first track, I came up with the image of watching a video of a city collapse on a horizon as a metaphor for this concept, and decided I wanted to create an album based around this image. That's how the whole thing started.
I began developing that first piece in August of 2009 and performed it at the beginning of September. The next two pieces debuted at the Milwaukee Noise Fest and the St. Louis Noise Fest of that year, September and October, respectively, and the last one in December. All of these were performed live at other points during the year as well, slowly evolving in both practice and onstage. At the end of January 2010, I started to record all of these pieces at my house right onto my laptop, and after getting the bulk of it down, I spent the next six or so months listening, then tweaking, then listening again, then tweaking again, and so on until I came up with the final product.
ST: I can actually hear that intent in "Notion"; with the sort of masticated sample sinking into flaming static, then into silence, then into a kind of hot-potato juggling of sonic elements, it makes me think of a society descending into chaos. Are you politically active? Do you stay plugged-in on what's happening on local, national, or international levels? Personally, I’ve found it difficult to keep up.
PJW: It's hard, but I try to keep up with what’s going on. The biggest problem I find is that the current wave of politicians, political activists/lobbyists and people in general don't look at the big picture. For example, people often talk about going green and saving the environment, so they buy a hybrid or bring their own grocery bags to the store. The problem is, individuals make up an incredibly small fraction of the problem when it comes to waste and resources while the majority of it comes from corporations. So we push for the government to make higher regulation levels, but that becomes completely useless since all they do is slap a tax on them, at which point the corporation cuts its losses and makes more money by incurring the tax than actually changing the way they produce a product.
The long and short of it is that our small contributions do almost nothing, and a massive overhaul of the way the world is run becomes necessary. The system is inherently flawed, and reform isn't going to change it.
And that's sort of the jumping off point for the album: everything sucks, so what the hell can I do? I can try to be politically active, but the root of the problem and the epicenter of collapse are millions of miles away, and I absolutely cannot affect them either way. Just about nothing in my realm of control will have any effect. Direct action is a flimsy ploy for attention, protests exist to make the protesters feel good, and the majority of the population in the U.S. and the world completely disagree with me, and always will, as our country has been marketed so well these past 60 years that competing is nearly impossible. Any sort of mass action out of the question.
On top of that, the way capitalism connects everything in our global society fills every action with huge negative consequences, pushing everything together to create this incredibly overwhelming feeling of immobility. All I can do is watch the world burn on a television screen.
So I try to be politically active in the sense of how I live my life, considering the effect my actions have on the world and the community around me, and attempting to act in a way that promotes a global wellness of sorts; that sounds like a really crappy thing that a fake-hippie Dave Matthews Band fan would say, but it’s all I’ve got. Since I live in a society completely driven by economics, the one thing I can do that has some minuscule effect is spending my money on things that matter and benefit those around me. Shopping for local food in order to save resources, biking instead of driving, etc. It’s not much, and it won't change anything on the scale that it needs to change, but I can at least sleep at night knowing I didn't give $5 to a horrendous, world-ruining corporation.
ST: I know what you're saying; that sense of helplessness. The older I get, the more I understand why a lot of people don't vote; I've skipped a few elections here and there, myself.
PJW: Yeah. I didn’t vote in the last two elections. By being a part of the voting population, I am promoting a government I don't support. I've gotten a hell of a lot of guff for it, especially when liberals lose, but it’s an issue I have no intention of bending on.
ST: Vinyl's defenders are legion, and there's value to their defenses of the format. I grew up with records and record players and totally understand the love for that stuff, but I'm at the point in my life where I'm unable to sit at home and experience music that way: chalk it up to a chaotic family life and the demands of parenthood and work. What would you say to someone, a noise fanatic like me, who'd definitely pay for your music and would love to melt his face off with it, but was essentially shut out due to not owning a turntable and not having the means to listen to music on it even if he or she did? And don't feel put on the spot: there are a lot of other examples of amazing vinyl-only releases. Aquarelle's next album is LP only, and he's stoked about that, but unless one owns a turntable there's no way to legally experience the quantum leap it represents as a fan.
PJW: That’s true for all mediums, though. You need a cassette player to play cassettes, a CD player/laptop to play CDs and a computer to play download releases. The only difference between a turntable and the rest is that you can plug the rest into your car and drive around. And while it sucks that some people can't experience music this way, I think it’s great that artists have the ability to force people into specific listening environments. The 7" single at 45 rpm is the best example of this that I have. You put the record on—physically interacting with the record is necessary—and 4.5 minutes later it’s done. You can do nothing but sit down and listen to what you have, and that’s incredibly powerful. On the other hand, some music shouldn't be experienced this way. Some bands you should be able to toss it into your car and just jam out to it, really enjoy it on a gut level and not an intellectual one. Music has the wonderful ability to speak to both intellect and instinct.
So yeah, it sucks that some people just don't have the time or the money to listen to vinyl—Lord knows my broke-ass has missed out on tons of records—but that's just sort of how life goes. I never saw Atrax Morgue perform and, sadly, I never will. Some people had that experience. I didn't. Just the way it goes.
After Music Recordings will release the Songs for Nothing LP on February 14.