Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Seattle’s iffin. Together we discussed their creative process, their sound, their 2018 album “pretty-nice crisis”, releasing “conscience + necrosis” on her birthday, and so much more!

1. Mustard is thankful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?

It’s really difficult to resist the urge to mirror you and refer to myself in the third person. Other than that, I’m doing pretty good!

2. You’re an engineer/producer/songwriter/and one-gal band. Which came first?

For me, they kind of happened all at once. I started playing bass in a little garage band with my brother when I was ten, and then I picked up guitar at the same time as a little BOSS digital 4-track came into the house maybe two years later. My brother didn’t like the songs I was writing, so I had to learn to make them on my own with the 4-track. This meant learning drums and singing too, and eventually extremely rudimentary keyboards and oboe and stuff. I didn’t stop using that little machine until two summers ago when it finally died.

3. What is your creative process?

A petulant beast that I pretend to have domesticated. When it does communicate with me directly, it’s always by means of piss.

To answer your real question though, most songs start on guitar but really they could be any pattern that gets stuck in my head somehow and forces me to meditate on it. If it suggests further abstractions, i.e. reminds me of a band I like, I try to follow those through until the movements end. Then I add an ostentatious rhythm section and paint in the rest of the arrangement pointillist style if it’s called for. 

4. For those who have not listened to iffin before, how would you describe your music?

Oh my goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to speak to so many people at once. I’m a little nervous, Mustard. But I’ll do my best.

I think generally it’s fast-paced guitar pop. I call it “baroque punk” and sometimes “brittle pop.” Structurally I think they reflect the contortions we all have to go through to pass as humans; that’s my relationship to “pop music” as a representation of the outside world. Strong melodies too, I think!

5. Who (or what) influences you?

My truest polestar is probably the Verlaines; my closest analog is probably XTC. But the truth is that I generally fall somewhere between my two most enduring loves: Blur and blink-182. I always wanna go faster and/or add more chords. The English Beat played a huge role by getting me into ska. Lately I’ve been getting really into the 60s baroque stuff, the Left Banke and Love in particular. 

6. In 2018 you released “pretty-nice crisis.” What was the process behind putting this album together? What would you classify as a pretty-nice crisis?

I really need to give that album a proper release. It’s kind of a long story. I had been living in Montreal for nearly a decade and playing in a band called Boy Friends. Up until this point in my life there had always been a clear divide between The Band, which is where my primary creative focus was, and The Solo Stuff, which was basically a test kitchen for all the ideas I couldn’t get my bandmates into. In 2016 I recorded an album under an old name called Biscuitry In the Arctic, which was mostly a cry for help but had some catchy tunes on it. I started asking around about getting some people to play them out and I got one response, which happened to be from my favorite drummer in all of Montreal, whose name is Jeremy MacCuish.

We managed to play a couple of gigs as a duo that I called cfcq + the piss of assurance. (The question of where the name came from is inevitable, but I promise the answer is not worth retelling.) After that I had to return to the US because my Canadian visa expired, but I kept writing songs and sending them to Jeremy. Eventually he told me that he wanted to make an album with me out of the songs from our live set (some of which went back to my college days) and the new ones I had written while living in Vermont. He got us set up in the Bottle Garden in the Mile End, with an excellent engineer in Peter Woodford of Freelove Fenner. I got to live my dream of recording to 16-track tape like a dweeb.

There’s a lot of neat little bullet points about that album. But the title has to do with the self-doubt I was feeling as we were preparing the tracks for release – for the last several years I had taken pains to play Serious Art Music, whereas these were (in my mind at least) much more straightforward. The “crisis” is my journey of allowing myself to sing pretty shit without feeling like a total cornball. I’m real proud of that one.

7. Mustard loves the expression “when the paper graves.” Is this a common human expression or one you came up with? How did this title help shape your EP of the same name?

When I was putting that particular EP together, I was reading a collection of poems by Yi Sang that had just come out that was having a major impact on me. There’s a pair of poems in there that both share the title “Paper Tombstones.” I think I misremembered it as “paper graves” when I was telling someone about the book and the title found itself from there. I often like to write like that, kind of inserting these blunt semantic obstacles to force a little consideration for the space between the words and their meaning.

8. Music Shelf had the pleasure of reviewing “conscience + necrosis” around its release date which was also your birthday! Was this song a planned birthday release or did it happen spontaneously?

It was a little bit of both, honestly. The song itself is old and didn’t seem to fit with any releases I was putting together, so I was kind of using it to test out my new recording setup just because I’ve done so many versions of it that I know it like the back of my hand. It’s been a tough year for me and I haven’t exactly carried myself with grace for most of it. I wanted to accomplish something to give myself more of a reason to celebrate, I guess.                

9. What’s next for iffin?

Funny you should ask that, I’m actually using this interview as an opportunity to release a song called “purplish.” It’ll be available on Bandcamp at this link as soon as this interview goes live:

See, a couple summers ago – before my transition – I bought a Tascam and put all my effort into making the iffin album on it – that’s where the last couple of EPs came from. But I was starting to feel limited by the low fidelity of tape and the music started moving in a different direction, so I kinda let all those tracks I recorded lie fallow for about a year. Now I’m thinking I’m just going to polish up those old songs and release them as one-offs while I get the actual LP ready and work on putting the band together. Another band I’m in called Rat Paws is gearing up to release an EP as well. So you can expect another half dozen or so singles over the next couple months before I get REALLY gay for LP1.

10. Where can readers listen to your music?

The new track is just on Bandcamp for now because this whole release idea just kinda hit me in the spur of the moment. It’ll make it to streaming services before too long, and until then all the other stuff is on all the major platforms as well.

Since I’m here though, most of my pre-iffin resume is only on Bandcamp as far as I know and I’m really proud of a lot of that stuff, so here’s a couple more links. I have a side hustle as a session player so let’s just call this shameless self-promotion:

BOY FRIENDS (montreal math rock):

Plum (seattle emo):

CFCQ (old solo shit/bedroom pop):

Thank you as always for your kind consideration, Mustard. I might be wrong about this, but I think the respectful thing to say now would be to say something like, I plan to eat you at my soonest available opportunity. And for the rest of you kids, don’t forget to throw money at the stuff you love.


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