Amanda Brown is probably one of the most expressive people in present underground aristocracy. Both visually and sonically. Having explored surreal and hypnotic borders between distorted psychedelic and experimental soundcapes in Pocahaunted, she moved on to play with blurred lo-fi synthpop sound images in LA Vampires project and owns Not Not Fun records. Quite a sophisticated musical journey indeed. Her present sound shines like sepia toned disco ball on LSD in some post-modern cabaret and the prevailing eclecticism is always paired with subtlety and excellent taste. Collaborating with artists including Maria Minerva, Octo Octa, Zola Jesus, Matrix Metals etc., this woman is always unexpected, spontaneous, coming out with the most exciting artistic combinations.
Japanese designers, Andy Warhol, collaborations, UNESCO are just several of many topics discussed in this exclusive interview. Let’s take a glimpse behind futuristic retro curtains to the diverse space of Amanda.
Simon Reynolds in his book “Retromania” raises the theory that pop of 21st century is addicted to its own past and it reconstructs/ reinterprets the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s etc. The good example might be Ariel Pink and even part of LA Vampires or 100% Silk catalogue reinventing house/disco genres in the new arty/lo-fi way. How do you see the future of the music in this context? Will it further emulate the past? Where do you think your own projects stand in terms of past, present and future?
I do not give much thought to Reynolds’ theory. It is a limited account at best of how musicians process the genres they are working in, while creating huge gaps like how self-referential and backward thinking rock has always been, or how the invention and future of hip hop revolve around samples and in many cases retro-leaning beat diggers. It is such a micro scene of a scene that it does not even feel like it best describes what I do, which is write music in and around classic dance genres. I do not necessarily look backwards, I look diagonally toward a musical path where I can infuse what I love best about House with my contemporary context/lifestyle. As for the rest of music, I can only assume with Vaporwave and other obsessions with computer culture we will only travel deeper into some Mac/tech rabbit hole.
You seem to work in collaborations quite often. Why there are so rare solo recordings? Is collaboration part of your artistic statement? What kind of aesthetics does it contribute? How do you choose artists to collaborate with? What is in common to all of them?
It definitely is my opinion that many solo artists would benefit from collaboration. I find that another voice/aesthetic/P.O.V./bank of talent can only up my game and give my own musical vision clarity. I have no interest in being a completely solo artist. That’s for other people. But I also cannot necessarily be in a band, because of the looming PTSD I have from my past musical struggles. So that leaves me happily in between – a place where I can collab with fellow musicians and still have my own taste and aura uncompromised. It’s perfect. When choosing a collaborator I simply turn toward brilliance – why not!? – and write to friends and peers of whom I’m an enormous fan. I like to think that all my collaborators are bold, specific, unique music-makers. There’s so much admiration and adoration in these collabs, and I always want that to show.
The boundaries of genres becoming smaller and smaller nowadays. We do not notice such stylistic oppositions as punk vs. Beatles and Rolling Stones, hard rock vs. post punk, metal vs. new wave etc. Everything is becoming more eclectic. Why do you think is that? In your music we can also hear several contrasting genres. How do you see yourself in such context?
I feel like genre mashing is inevitable because no one is quite happy to just color in the lines – and why should they? I am a more specific person than most and so I tend to think of new subgenres as mostly funny fads and random trends that we will eventually look back at and think, ahh, 2009. While creating a new genre is a way of being current, I feel like it is also a way of ensuring a sort of nostalgia, because there is nothing classic or timeless about it. So we can remember it as being like a part of our underground musical scrapbook. In my case, it is a matter of not knowing how to write/perform any genre perfectly so an integration of styles occurs. If I could make flawless House music I am sure I absolutely would.
How much improvisation there is in your music? What part of it is accidental, if we can use this word? What comes first – idea or sound?
There’s no improvisation. I do not really believe in it anymore. I think in order for me to really engage and get loose and sucked in to the experience I have to first create the experience exactly. Like Warhol who had to paint a hundred pairs of women’s shoes before he could make his mark by simply silkscreening, I feel like I have to get the song absolutely right – every second, the entire essence – and then I can deconstruct it live and be totally free. The idea can come first and so can the sound. I write lyrics on my off time, so I suppose in that way it is first an idea, but when a collaborator comes with a track first then I follow suit.
How did LA Vampires actually emerged from Pocahaunted, your former project? What influenced the transition from haunted psychedelic drones to lo-fi experimental pop of LA Vampires? What do these projects have in common?
I guess we all have sideways dreams, we all want to be somewhere we are not even when we are happy or pleased, and especially when we are not happy or pleased. I have no idea what the projects have in common, I only know that I have attempted to be soulful with every musical step, that I have valued intensity and effort and art and aesthetic and maybe that is the connective tissue. Just that I always want to give a ton of energy to my projects. I have always wanted to make people dance, I just have not always known how.
We Europeans are always interested in America and Native Americans. It is believed that your project Pocahaunted was called that way, while LA Vampires title also has a mythological meaning. Are you interested in history of your country, legends and mythology? How does Indian culture affect Americans?
Legends and mythology do not play a huge role in my life or my art. I think with Bethany we tried to channel that haunted spirit of land/earth/forgotten culture/cults/occult, etc. But that was only a starting place for us and not the deep momentum of the duo which I always believed was just a sisterly bond, a showcase for pure femaleness. I would love to say Native American culture affects Americans in a serious, thoughtful way, but mostly I do not believe it’s true. There is sympathy of course and even deep sadness and absolutely admiration for not just their continuing struggle, but for their art/literature/language, etc. But how it effects us is not really a one-to-one thing. Unfortunately it’s more a distant engagement, which is why it was so cool, that for a short period of time so many underground musicians were trying to conjure the culture in personal ways.
Coco Chanel once said: “Fashion fades, only style remains the same”. What is your style in general? How it progresses? Maybe over the years you started to read more, to go to the theatre more often, started to analyze sky or even began to write? Elaborate on this.
Style is incredibly important to me. And it is always progressing. I never want to be stagnant with my clothing or attire-ideas. I do not care about comfort and I do not care about being classic necessarily, I care about the immediate expression of what is on the inside through the projection of my outside. I respond mostly to Japanese designers like Issey Miyake, Rei Kuwakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto as well as the Dutch and Germans like Ann Demeulemeester, Jil Sander, and Damir Doma. I love an ethno-futurism to my look, but also a sleekness. I love leather, and I love minimalism. Tina Chow is an absolute style icon to me. I think as the years go on my intense connection with models and the art of modeling increases and that has changed my perspective on clothes and how to wear them.
In every magazine, channel or movie we see the way pop culture limited the roles of women – they are girlfriends and victims, hookers and corpses, sex bombs and so on. There is a lot of ‘woman power’ in your songs, especially in “Streetwise EP“. ‘A Woman is A Woman’ is like a little piece of feminism in this release. What do you think about the relation between pop culture and feminism? Is your song ‘This Chick Shall Inherit the Earth’ a protest song looking at the situation of politics of the world?
That song is actually called “The Chic Shall Inherit The Earth” and it is about fashion and style. But I do think there is still a feminist bent to it. I want everything I make in life to reflect my femaleness. I am a woman first and foremost and that is the most important thing in my aesthetic/creation. I am a huge fan of pop culture – in that I watch a lot of television and even more film, and read mostly contemporary fiction and fashion magazines– and I think there are amazing women standing out (I am reminded immediately of Lynn Shelton, Lorrie Moore, Rachel Maddow, Kristen Mcnemany). I think there is totally hope there, it is just not prevalent, which is the struggle of feminism (of any minority’s civil rights) and that is okay with me. I enjoy my feminism subverted at times and I love to see it show up in unlikely places like the modeling world or on a network sitcom.
What does the art of cinema mean for you? What place does it occupy in your life? What was the last episode that inspired you and why? Or maybe you have some complaints to nowadays directors and the whole movie industry?
I love movies, I watch one every single day. I can get hyper-obsessed with the release of a film for months and I especially love Oscar season and the onslaught of high-profile movies at the end of the year. I have recently seen “The Master” and I thought it was incredible. “Argo” as well, which had awesome production design and costume detail, and tonight I have been convinced to see “Skyfall” though I have never seen a full Bond movie in my life. The best part about being a film fanatic is that it feels like it never ends, like it never has to stop and you just have to wait until the next Friday for more. What an amazing feeling, it is exactly why I love magazines. They never stop coming!
There are influential organizations as UNICEF, UNESCO and WWF in the world. Have you ever thought about being a member of such organization and thus helping our planet Earth and mankind? Or maybe you already belong to one of them and support this ideology? Have you ever had plans regarding this or thought about such activities? What is your general opinion about green and welfare seeking movements?
I tend to spend my money on human rights’ charities like Planned Parenthood and the HRC, which focuses mainly on Gay and Lesbian rights. Usually my first thought is to help humans, to be honest, before helping the earth. However on a personal level, I am a raw foodist and only eat organic and in most cases locally. Of course, I also recycle daily and absolutely deeply believe in green energy.