1. Mustard wonders about your name, Dissonant Dessert. What is its story?
Not surprisingly, the name comes from drugs. Acid to be exact. Back when I was living in Bloomington in 2015, me and two other friends took what we thought was acid but actually ended up being 25i, a pretty potent research chemical that was way more intense than regular acid. Hearing colors, seeing sounds, ya know all that bullshit. I was in my room playing my Lowrey Magic Genie organ and my friend walked in. I was playing some crunchy chords and he said “ooooh yeah gimme some of that dissonant dessert”. I loved the phrase and immediately wrote it down in sharpie on the top of the organ. Shortly after this trip I started recording my own solo music and thought Dissonant Dessert was a catchy and accurate name for the music I make. I like to treat dissonance like a treat, it’s not something to be scared of, it’s something to reward yourself with after a long stretch of tonality.
2. You create both visual art and music. Are these intertwined? Does one inspire the other? What is your process?
They are absolutely intertwined. I’ve been drawing essentially since I was two years old, it’s just something that’s always come naturally. As a synesthiac, I am always experiencing music in a very visual way, like certain instruments are always certain colors. For example, the clarinet always makes me see purple, the fender Rhodes always makes me see green, flute makes me see silvery blue, etc. When I’m in the studio, whether it be producing something or directing an overdub session, I always like to give vague visual directions to help get to the mood of what I want rather than something specific. Saying stuff like “play this like a Jesus lizard running across the water” or “like a T-Rex tripping all over itself”. I think these kind of visual cues are great at getting to the heart of what I want without being too controlling or getting in the way of the other musicians’ creativity. I’m a firm believer that I only have a small portion of the answers so I love to get as many ideas as I can. I consider a lot of what I do musically to be sonic painting, so I often think of playing in a very visual way. Certain collections of notes on wind instruments appear in my head as shapes and often while I’m painting I’ll let the music I’m listening to inform my brush strokes or the colors I use. Usually with painting I start with a base coat and then just start applying paint to the canvas in abstract textural ways until the painting starts to show itself. It’s not often I go into a painting with a clear idea in mind before I start painting, most of the time it’s very instinct driven, just like music. I like to walk around the alleys looking for shit people throw away to use as my paint canvas. Wood is probably my favorite cuz it doesn’t warp. I haven’t bought actual canvas in like a decade cuz it’s dumb expensive and I don’t even really like painting on canvas anyway. I just run with the belief that your subconscious knows a lot more than your conscious self does and that’s where all the really potent shit comes from. As long as I’m trusting my intuition I know my ideas will come through eventually, even if I have to be hella patient.
3. Could you tell us about your latest release Discension?
Yeah this release was never meant to be an album. I think I had gotten home from something and my roommates partner at the time was over. I was just chilling with them and then there was an argument. I had been pretty emotionally raw from the couple months preceding it so I started to tumble down an anxiety tunnel. I walked over to my Korg Prologue 8 and just did a bunch of improvs back to back, recording videos of them on my phone. I went back and listened to them, realizing they had a coherent narrative to them that suggested the progression of an argument to me. Track one, the rising anxiety that happens when you know an argument is coming, two, the cyclical nature of bad arguments where it just seems like you’re talking in circles, three, just yelling and not listening, four and five, the reminiscing of better times, six, the eerieness of my hallway in that apartment, seven, the loneliness you feel after the argument where it doesn’t seem like any compromise was reached, eight, the realization of an unhealthy relationship being over, and nine, the freedom of getting to start over in your own personal journey. I decided to compile these into an album cuz why the fuck not, so I downloaded the videos on my phone and mixed it myself. I really like these improvs and tried to play up the low fi nature of it, hoping it comes off like an old lost cassette you’d find in the attic of a house that’s been abandoned for ten years. I’ve been very much in the mode of making improv albums lately, it’s a pretty non stressful process and I’ve just been cranking this shit out. I released two completely improvised albums of pipe organ music last year and just released an album of one improv a day for every day in March last week. I also have two duo improv albums with my friend Pat that I’m also done mixing. PLUS I’m releasing my third full length solo record and the debut album with my jazz quartet WHTVR FRVR sometime soon. Busy ass shit.
4. Mustard wonders if you could describe your creative process.
In the past couple years I’ve introduced a lot more variety into the process. Normally if I’m writing a song I’ll start with the music first and add the words once the melody is solidified. For the WHTVR FRVR record, I ended up individually working some melodies out on the saxophone, bass, flute or something and then I would ink them into my sketch pad as a graphic score. In this case I had no idea what the tunes were actually gonna sound like until I brought them to the band. It was a really exciting process and I still remember the day we all first met to begin rehearsing these tunes. It was a bright and sunny day and the light was shining through into the rehearsal spot. We played the first song on the record “That Meteorite Was Sucha Bummer” and it just clicked. Like immediately. It was magic. Like the four of us were literally meant to make this music together, the only thing I had to do was gather us all in a room. Our first show that following July was another example of the synergy of that group. I fucking live for moments like that, man. This is the shit that keeps me from killing myself, and I mean that seriously because I have had some moments in my time.
Anyway, that was a very potent creative process that I am definitely gonna do again. I often use intuition and improvisation to kickstart the process. I think for a musician, improvising is like drinking water, it’s something you have to do literally to stay healthy. I’ll always be playing and recording myself throughout the day when I’m home and make it a practice to listen to these recordings often before bed in an effort to internalize the things I need to improve on or certain ideas I need to develop. In some cases drugs are a good inspiration point if you use them right. One time I took 25i in a different instance from the aforementioned one and I ended up listening to some John Lurie music from my phone in my pitch black bathroom while dancing around. Through this process I might have summoned something because I started hearing voices from eons ago coming from the toilet and they were in some sort of serious conflict. I ended up scribbling a lotta shit about it onto a piece of paper and then walking around town with my alto sax playing melodies that would eventually make it onto my first record. That was the first time I truly heard the saxophone and connected with it. What’s extra wild is that Ornette Coleman died the following morning and he’s always been one of my biggest inspirations on saxophone. What this means I do not know.
All of this to say that my process often takes a different route depending on what the assignment is. Some albums just come about by mistake, like Discension, but the through line with it all is that I trust my intuition above all else. If I don’t understand it now, I’m sure I will sometime in the future. Or not. That’s cool too.
5. What goes into making a successful tour? Do you have a favorite show you’ve done?
I think the most important thing for a successful tour is attitude and luck. If you go into touring with too many expectations or trying to control too many things, you’re gonna have a bad time every time. The landscape for music, especially now, is extremely tumultuous. There’s almost no way for certainty in a lotta cases, things just inevitably go wrong. It can be a myriad of reasons, but if you let it get to you you’re probably gonna have a short touring career. I really appreciate the things some musicians are doing trying to make touring more equitable and less like romanticized “roughin’ it”. But regardless it’s gonna be a long road to the changing of these things, so you have to learn alternate ways through in the meantime. Especially on the past Curls tour, I think we found ways to regulate ourselves so even if the sound system was bad, we could still generally get our point across. I plugged both my saxophone rig and my synth into the same amp so I had complete control over my sound which was honestly a relief, cuz DI’ing saxophone comes with a lotta issues. It may be somewhat janky but it’s about controlling your own fate so at least you have fun at every show. And we did. We had weird audiences, but we always played well and had fun in spite of it. Shit always goes better for ya when you let go of the things that you have no control over. Plus remember, you’re literally traveling around to different places meeting new people and playing music every night. A goddamn blessing and should be treated as such.
Picking a favorite show actually isn’t that difficult, I think it has to be the WHTVR FRVR debut show at The Golden Dagger back in July 2021. We had just finished live tracking our debut record the previous weekend and our guitarist Evan was moving to Nashville the day after the show so naturally shit was pretty busy. No one had time to rehearse before the show so we just had to trust that we’d be fine playing the entire album front to back despite never doing that before ever. When we met for soundcheck we decided to learn the theme from Hey Arnold to open the show. I dunno I just thought it would be funny. This show was a cosmic event. It was bigger than the band, bigger than the audience. I dunno if I’ve ever played a show where the audience and the band was this in sync, at a lot of moments it was like we were breathing together as one organic entity. We played two sets and to start the second set we just all collectively started screaming at the top of our lungs. Immediately as we started screaming the room got dead silent. We were in full control. Not to mention we played the album all the way through and we played it WELL. We were in it, man. It was fucked up, I was barely even conscious on stage most of the time, I felt like spirits were working through me and this music, it was powerful as hell. At the end of one of the songs I walked off stage and walked to the back of the venue. When applause died down I started playing an unaccompanied flute melody as I walked through the people back to the stage. I didn’t tell anybody I was gonna do that hehe. Just what an insane night, this kind of shit is literally why I was put on this earth. But it doesn’t end there, after going home that night I decided to call my friend Selena who lives in Japan to tell her about the show. It was about 1:30am so I thought she might be up. However, it went straight to voicemail and it was a different woman’s voice speaking a language I didn’t understand. There was also a man saying “hello?” over and over but they wouldn’t respond when I asked “who is this?” At the end of the message the man would go “I’m not the……..wrong number” and then the whole message would loop over and over again, each loop completely identical to the last. This greatly confused me as answering machine messages don’t just repeat ad nauseum and there was something decidedly eerie about the message. I finally hung up and called again, but this time it went to her normal answering machine message. I texted her asking if she had any idea what it could be and she responded the next morning saying she had no idea. Was something trying to contact me? From the other side? This was just one of many strange unexplainable things that happened to me during this time.
6. How would you describe the music that you typically create?
I have no idea, I’m pretty all over the place. I guess the best way I can think of is Scatterbrained Sounds. My brain has trouble staying in one place for that long and I tend to get easily sidetracked by multiple things at once. I think my heart most strongly belongs to improvised music or jazz so I think a lot of the things I create start there and then branch out. I also have a bit of an obsessive fascination with microtones and tuning systems and styles of playing from other parts of the world. I’ve always especially loved Ethiopian music like Mulatu Astatke and Alèmu Aga and try to sneak microtones in my music as much as I can. I just feel like the Western system of intonation is complete colonized bullshit. Like the nerve to broadcast the thought around the world that your super limited way of tuning your pianos is superior to all else. By the western way of limiting music to just 12 notes is some seriously mids shit. Microtones are so colorful and the potential they have for melodies is literally endless. Since I grew up watching a shit ton of Spongebob I think it subconsciously made me like a sponge because I just absorb things. I will hear a sound from walking on the street and absentmindedly tapping a metal pole and will immediately want it in one of my songs. Maybe the reason I have trouble keeping a lotta things straight is because so much of my brain is relegated towards creating things. I always try to include improvisation in everything I create because improvisation is like playing Pokémon. You’re going out into the world capturing moments. And when you get those moments on wax it’s something really special because you know that that’s the only time that was ever gonna occur. An unknown thing is always around the corner – constantly on the lookout for things I haven’t heard before. They’re always out there, some people are just too lazy to look. A fascination with the unknown definitely permeates my music. Things that I can’t readily explain or will never be able to explain are just so endlessly fascinating and I spend a lotta time just speculating about abstract things. Whatever I hear I just put into my music.
7. Mustard wonders how you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?
Oh boy, do I have a lot of old person cranky shit to say about this one. I remember seeing a meme saying “creating content” was the worst thing to have happened to art and I felt that. I have a very hateful relationship with social media and technology in general that it’s pretty toxic. I think most people have a toxic relationship to social media, they just either don’t realize it or willfully ignore it. It’s just Absurd how much we’ve turned music into one big competition or comparison contest. I would love to see if we could just do a simple before and after image of the average state of anxiety in humanity before social media to now. I bet seeing those two side by side would be pretty shocking and vomit inducing. Cyborg life, baby, it’s only gonna get worse. Our communication as people has definitely taken a deep nose dive because of the internet and social media. I just see distrust and paranoia everywhere these days, no one can trust each other because there’s just this endless wealth of narratives that are perpetuated by social media and most of these narratives are just fake. So much on the internet is just not real, which makes it very difficult to sift through and find the genuine shit. And then rather than talk to each other, people just draw their own conclusions based on what they see on social media and often judge people and end relationships because of it. I’ve seen well known musicians in the indie rock scene here do really despicable things to each other or just won’t engage with certain people because they don’t have enough clout. It’s definitely a problem across the board but I think it runs most rampant in indie rock. I used to be in an indie rock band called Parent with Trey Gruber. In a series of tragedies, he’s no longer with us and a lot of the way the community responded to his death was pretty ugly. A few people using his death as a jumping off point for their own careers. Just gross. Clout chasers, transactional relationships and generalized fakery are a true pestilence in this community and I really believe it’s largely because of social media and the chokehold it has especially on creatives. I’m gonna say it now, if we don’t curb this shit somehow, in 5-10 years we will have no concept of how to communicate meaningfully anymore. It’s dark. Really dark. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Remember before social media how anxiety was a much less prevalent thing? Yeah me neither.
8. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I get inspired by most things, but I think the most frequent source of inspiration is the natural world around me. Ever since I was a kid I was always going around by myself, exploring ponds, woods, window wells, abandoned buildings and empty lots. I was known as the “Bug Kid” growing up, so naturally I take a lotta inspiration from insects. I made a whole record about praying mantis sex and toxic masculinity even. I get inspired by stories, by narratives. Often how I’ll start a record is by mapping out a storyline in my head and then designing all the songs around that narrative. Even for improvised albums I like to think about something that ties them all together. This really helps me make the record into a statement rather than a collection of songs strung together which is just how I listen to music in general. It’s like how I am in life, I don’t like small talk, I like long winded talk, digesting things as a whole. Dreams have always been a source of inspiration. I have very vivid dreams and used to do things like falling asleep to the 1955 War of the Worlds broadcast when I was a kid specifically to give myself nightmares. I believe in your dreams you really are going places so I’m essentially collecting experiences and then using them in my waking life to inspire and initiate songs. There was one reoccurring dream I had when I was a kid that made it onto my newest solo record coming out, “Absurd, Obscene!” It would always start with this intense visceral booking sound that was extremely terrifying and I would feel it like…outside of the dream if that makes any sense? I would fall from the sky, landing on a giant sundial surrounded by hooded chanting figures. As I ran past them I would end up in a hedge maze being chased by a giant rolling ball of thorns only to be attacked by rabid red eyed Dalmatians that jump out from the bush in a dead end. Shit like that simultaneously excites and terrifies me but I enjoy being scared so it’s copacetic. I could probably go on for a long time about things that inspire me, like hagfish slime, the absurdity of the Helicoprion or the self destructing habits of certain ants when their colonies are invaded but that could probably be its own thing.
9. You have two tours coming up this summer. Could you share with us more about each?
Gonna be a bustlin summer. The first tour is in June with this band called The Curls. The best way to describe them is a mix of Talking Heads and Primus. It’s some seriously zany shit and it’s so damn fun to play. I play sax and synth and get the opportunity to do some truly wild bullshit with Mick and the crew. We went on tour for the first time together this past February and it was just such a nice little microcosm of life and a welcome return to touring after three years of being off the road. It was a weird and beautiful time, we got to stay at this musician’s paradise in Dayton, KY called The Lodge which I highly recommend to anyone traveling through the area, it’s truly a magical place. After the Jacksonville show I was walking around town doing some exploring at like two or three in the morning and I started talking to this random dude I met until he pulled out his dick and started jerking off to me. You can’t make this shit up folks. Definitely excited to get back on the road with them, the shows are heavily improvisatory as the first time we ever played together was three days before the tour started.
The second tour starts at the end of July and it’s with a different band called Cordoba. This will be our third tour together and we’ve been playing since 2016 or 2017? I forget. This is probably the band I’ve played in the longest and we’ve all become pretty close friends since then. It’s a combination of jazz fusion and neo soul sorta like Hiatus Kaiyote or 30/70. We actually just landed a show next month at Sleeping Village opening for Alfa Mist!!! Pretty fuckin excited for that one, besides playing I think I’m most excited to see who ends up playing in Alfa Mist’s band. We’re gonna hit the East coast and shit trying to drum up some hype for our new record that we just finished live tracking last weekend. It’ll be nice to be back on tour with them since I don’t think we’ve gotten to tour since 2019. I just wanna be moving from now on, done enough standing still.
10. Do you have any projects or work you’d like to share?
Yes, I have lots. I released a collection of voice memo recordings last week called MARCH SADNESS. March was a very difficult month for me with lots of changes so I turned to music to help me get through it. Improvising largely with my friends Alex and Nick, I tried to play in some way almost every day. It was a very Bohemian month in that we were living like we were in a commune. Some of the improvs on this album are so powerful I’m really surprised I was able to capture them in a humble and unassuming way. Other improvs are goofy as hell, just some friends having fun and proving that music doesn’t always have to be about playing well to be cool. The improv from MARCH 1 is my favorite though, I think it’s some of my personal best sax playing I’ve ever done. Shit is emotional man.
The other big thing I’d like to mention is my third full length solo record “Absurd, Obscene!” There are three singles out for this record right now on my bandcamp called “Ain’t Shit”, “Zem Bootlyniff” and “Sw(ou-au-aw-ah-oh)mpe”. I started recording this almost three years ago in June 2019 and I finally finished it late last year. Throughout the writing and recording process obviously the pandemic happened so the process was hampered by so many things. SO MANY THINGS. Man I just never had a tougher time recording a record than with this one. I’d go into the specifics but I dunno what purpose that would serve so I’ll just say there were a lotta obstacles. This record is by far the most personal thing I’ve ever done. Usually in the past I put some of myself into my music but I usually obscured it a lot of esoteric shit. This time I put everything out on the table. The process of recording this record led to a lot of really emotionally vulnerable moments and personal epiphanies that inspired a lotta personal growth. Musically speaking I like to call this record “Emo Prog” cuz the songs are pretty involved but they all have a strong emotionally raw core. On the opening song, it starts with a clarinet sextet that gives way into a shreddy doom metal guitar solo by Rami Atassi and then some mathy metal shit in 11/8 where I growl over the top of it like a possessed Cookie Monster. There’s hip hop, jazz fusion, musique concrete, folk, funk and a brief moment of disco among other things. It really goes all over the place but I believe it maintains a coherence throughout as it’s a lengthy musical journey. A good chunk of these songs were recorded at Reelsounds in Skokie and almost the entire record was mixed there. I would like to give a special shout out to Mouse, the former owner of the studio, who really believed in and championed these songs. His energy was essential to the takes you’re gonna hear on the record. Shortly after the pandemic started he succumbed to a heart attack. While we all miss him and I’m truly sad he won’t be able to hear these songs finished, I still feel his presence any time I’m at the studio. This one’s for you, man. Another notable thing to add is that almost all of these songs were live tracked at different studios with different bands. I’ve never been able to live track my own music before so this was a truly special thing because most of these songs needed to be live tracked to get to the heart of the emotion in the song. I’m in the process of finalizing the details for my release show at the moment but the band I’ve assembled is gonna be pretty unique. I’ll be singing, playing sax and occasional bass while I’ll be backed by a string quartet, another vocalist, bass, guitar drums and percussion. I’ve written all new arrangements for these songs and they’re gonna go hard. It’s gonna feel wild to sing these songs in public that have been gestating for a couple years. I don’t think people are ready. There’s nothing out there right now that sounds like this music.
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