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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

An Interview with Abiku

I met Abiku at the old Lenny's in Atlanta in 2003 when they played a show. The show was incredible and I have stayed in touch with them since then. This interview is kind of long, but I had a lot of questions, and this is a free site, so who's complaining? It is a great privilege to be able to introduce them to you.

-Christian Wright

CW: What is Abiku?

Josh: A band that started out as something fun to do over a summer that accidentally took over a lot of my life.

CW: You have a very unique sound, that touches on several different genres but doesn't really totally fit into any one. When you're trying to get shows and make fans, is this an asset or a liability?

Josh: It really depends. A lot of people just want one thing and if you can't fit into that they aren't going to give you a shot, but worrying about stuff like that won't make you happy so I try not to.
We operate in diy punk/noise scene for the most part which can mean a lot of things but to me its sort of the hope of liberation. When punk started it was just an attempt at something new, of dropping the trappings of rock'n roll to create something else or at least to say it differently. I think a lot the same can be said from noise culture. It's sort of the ultimate leveller - you no longer need to know how to play an instrument, you don't even need an instrument; although it usually doesn't, it can lead to interesting things.

I feel like when we can meet up with others of a similar mind it usually goes well or smooth.

Jane: it's a liability in some ways, but an asset in general. Perhaps we don't sound or look goth, or sound or look punk, or any number of subcultures, quite enough to have someone of said culture immediately latch on to us. But, on the other hand, they don't instantly reject us either. I think it makes us available to a broader spectrum of people.

CW: How can a two person band stay fresh, interesting, and fun to watch?

Josh: I don't feel like the # of people in the band or project really matters. There are a lot of bands we enjoy who are just 2 pieces (jucifer, lightning bolt, dresden dolls) I hope that good music can shine through what is happening.

Jane: Yeah, I see it as kind of a non issue. I think there's plenty of four pieces that are boring to watch. We try to have a visual element, like our glittery robes, fog machine, and our projectionist.

CW: How and when did Josh meet Jane? Made made you decide to do music together?

Josh: We met about 11 years ago I was staffing at the Wooden Shoe (radical info shop) in philadelphia and jane use to come in. We had some friends in common and were going to some of the same shows. about 6 years after that we started dating. Then one summer us and a group of friends decided it would be a good idea to start a band and go on a us tour. 5 years later and we are still here.

CW: Why Baltimore? Was anything the matter with Philly?

Josh: No Philly was/is awesome. A huge part of my heart lives there and always will. Jane wanted to return to school and she selected a school in Baltimore. Having tried living in separate states before, I opted to follow this time. Baltimore has been great as well. we stay because we are comfortable, there is a lot going on around town, and its a pretty easy place to live; although I imagine I will die in Philadelphia

CW: You tour more than any band I think I have ever heard of, through good times and bad. How many tours exactly have you done? Why do you keep doing it?

Josh: We have done 6 full US tours, 3 or 4 month long trips just around, about 12 weeks long trips, 2 flying out to the west coast for a week, and countless weekend things. I can remember being 5 or 6 and my aunt having all these hair metal band posters on her wall. these people looked like crazy adventurers who got to have strange looking guitars. I started talking about forming a band around then although it wouldn't be for a ways in the future that I did anything about it.

Since I was 18 traveling the country has just always been something I enjoyed. I have hitched around the country, and taken random flights to places to see and experience things. In a lot of ways touring is a great vacation: You have an itinerary and something to do, you get to go to a town someone is there to see you and help you find fun things. Its nice to come to a place get to eat where locals like to eat, see things locals like to see, then move on to the next experience.
aside from that, I love to play.

We have never made money, we come close to covering our expenses. Mostly it's just fun. Jane is my best friend, we have been lucky to be able to bring other close friends along, and have made some very close friends in other towns, so touring is a way to hang out with people I care about but live far away. I do it because I can't imagine anything else. It's been a dream since I was little and doing it is one of the only times I feel like I am working on what is right for me.

CW: What changes, each time you go out?

Josh: Well I guess our set up has changed, our crew changes from time to time, we are on our 3rd vehicle, but other than that not a lot . We end up in many of the same spots we started going to 5 years ago. In a lot of towns we are dealing with the same people we were when we started .

Jane: Yeah, we have strong relationships with a lot of these people we see every few months, so we keep coming back to the same places. Hopefully there's a few more people each time.

CW: What have the rise in recent years in gas prices meant for you?

Josh: Well I'm not sure what to say, we have looked in to alternative fuel stuff but have stuck with gas for the moment. I'm sure we have felt it in the pocket but I haven't really noticed. Jane handles the money aspect a lot more than I do but I haven't heard a break down of if we are making less or spending more, although I'm sure its true. One of the liberating aspects of doing something where you don't make money is that you don't notice things like this.

Jane: It takes it's toll, but in general it seems to even out pretty well. We have some disaster tours, but often when gas costs more people are willing to give more money and buy more things. We're fortunate to generally be playing for a group of people who believe in supporting artists and who give what they can to help out.

CW: Best show?

Josh: I'm not sure this is the best but it feels like the most memorable: one new years eve we played a generator party in El Paso. It was out in the desert, there were like 300 people, bonfires, and a huge PA. We played right at midnight. It was amazing, people danced, and it was incredible to be able to see the stars while we were playing.

CW: Worst show?

Josh: You know I'm not sure there is a specific bad show in mind but this last summer we did a week long tour with our pals Hulk Smash and every night of tour a piece of our equipment got stolen, broke, or caught fire. These were some of the hardest shows to play every night we had to figure out what to do most nights we ended up having to play different instruments and rig together a new set up. It was really hard to deal with, but everyone handled it really well but every day just felt like I was about to fall apart.

CW: Favorite city to play?

Josh: There is no one city but some of my favorites: Atlanta (first place aside from home to learn the words to our songs), Minnesota (I couldn't pick just one town here this is one of the only states we will spend over a week in some of our closest friends and best times are here every place we have been in Minnesota has been incredible and the people fantastic), Texas (you know texas has consistently surprised me and not the towns everyone talks about like Fort Worth, Denton, San Antonio, and El Paso. These are the towns people seem to look over but we consistently have had some of our best times in these cities), I'm gonna lump the north west together Portland, Olympia, Seattle these towns are all near each other and have similar vibes: Portland has been incredibly nice to us and gave us Johnny X and the Groadies, they are some of our best friends and one of our favorite bands. Olympia is still steeped in sorta mid 90's punk/riot grrrl mystique-- it's fantastic, the people are great, and the city is beautiful, also the best american black metal band and people I wish we saw more Wolves in the Throne Room - if you like metal you should hear this. Finally Seattle the city that helped us with our 3 cd releases via Automation records. Seattle is such an odd place, we have played everything from weird clubs to small garages and its all been great. The north west has consistently provided musical inspiration to me since my teens and playing or being there is like getting to visit a sort of weird legend .

CW: Is it all worth it?

Josh: Well sure, I don't get to do it as often as I would like and some moments are like being held while someone kicks you, but the happiest times I have ever had have been on tour and I look at what I have got to create via this band and I feel proud.

CW: You didn't have guitar as part of your live show, and now you have quite a lot of it... what's up with that?

Josh: A lot of people don't know that we started out as a 4 piece. there was guitar, theremin, keyboards, and vocals the first 2 quit before the first tour though. Over the years we have had 2 other people play guitar in the band, and over time it just seemed like a natural progression for me to switch to it. I was tired of being tethered to the keyboard stand and with jane starting to play keyboards live it freed up some room for me to do other things.

It's a much more immediate instrument and its to be able to interact with the crowd and jane more.

CW: How did you come to be on Automation Records? Are they treating you alright

Josh: Well, actually, we posted a myspace bulletin that we would like someone to put a record out. they wrote back and said they would. They have been amazing. we spoke a few times on the phone and I was real nervous about it at first. We flew out to Seattle for the cd release stuff and it was awkward for a few minutes but Jeremiah ended up being someone we could both get along with. We talk on the phone almost every day and he is one of the people in my life I am closest to.
Even if it hadn't worked out I feel really lucky to have met him, he is one of my best friends and is a joy to have in my life.

CW: Jane, there are quite likely not enough many female fronted, electro/ rock/ indie/ industrial/ punk/ whatever bands out there. What is great about being the singer of a female fronted band?

Jane: Really what's best is meeting other women who make music. There are tons of women who are playing shows and touring right now who are awesome musicians and awesome people. Additionally, since women are certainly a minority in aggressive/bizarro music, a lot of the females involved in the scene take a special interest in supporting other female artists. I know I do.

CW: What is difficult or obnoxious about it?

Jane: Well, all the things that are difficult about being female in any setting. Being judged on your appearance, having people make assumptions about you based on outdated sorts of ideas, and ruuuude remarks. There is a special sort of torture that keyboard nerd gentlemen like to impose on lady keyboard nerds that involves trying to stump them. These types also like to lecture you about the keyboards you own.

CW: A lot of the time you seem to be screaming pretty intensely and it is difficult to make out what you are saying. Yet your lyrics aren't bad, they're actually pretty interesting. Any concerns about the audience not really being able to make them out?

Jane: In much of heavier music, the lyrics are sort of unintelligible, it's just the nature of screaming, shrieking and growling. However, I do think the lyrics are an important part, and I really enjoy writing lyrics, which is why they are included in all the CDs.

CW: Recently you have had the misfortune of a bit of gear failure and theft. What happened? Is this going to stop you?

Josh: I touched on this a bit earlier but basically our van got broken into and my Micro Moog got stolen, then everything except my guitar and our mixer broke. I'm sure some can relate to having stuff go wrong, but it was sort of crazy that every day some vital part would go, from our mains, to all of our keyboards, jane's actually catching fire. We certainly haven't been as active post this, our set up is mostly back in place, although I don't have a Moog and I'm not sure that my Juno is fixable. After we got home we continued to have a ruff time our with a trio of deaths, tour van, my uncle, and our beloved cat trouble, so it's been hard to just do things at time but we are getting our feet back going to do a small tour this fall and looking towards a full US this spring with hopes to go to Europe in the fall.

CW: How have your recent releases Left and Right been doing?

Josh: It's a bit of a mixed bag they haven't been selling so much although we have been selling more at shows that we did of Location. It hasn't gotten as much press as we would have hoped but all the press we have gotten has been both positive as well of getting the sorta of response or reaction that we had hoped for

CW: Whose idea were the costumes, art, and photography of the abandoned amusement park? How did that come about?

Josh: Jane handles most art things

Jane: Well, it was a collaboration really. We were looking for a bizarre setting, and I knew I wanted to shoot at night--something that looked like you just happened upon these monsters in the woods. Josh suggested the Enchanted Forest, which was actually the amusement park from John Waters' Crybaby. It involved several nights of sneaking in and then shooting from midnight till 5 AM. It was freezing, but fortunately the costumes were warm. The costumes also don't have eye holes, so that was another challenge. We had a good group of friends who really helped us out with the shoot; it was quite a feat to sneak everything in there and haul it around all night.

CW: The internet + music. Pros and Cons?

Jane: More people hear your music, and more people know about your shows. The internet has certainly changed the business of being a musician, because people can download your album without paying, meaning you may sell less records, but it's also much easier to get heard. It also has made touring so much simpler and more accessible, by making it easier to find scenes and bands like us. Since most of the people who bother to find us or see us are generally people who like music, and want to collect music, and therefore are interested in buying your product even though they could get it for free. Clearly, the internet has been damaging for major label, mass marketed sort of music. But I don't think it's hurt us, and it's probably helped us quite a bit.

CW: In five years, where do you see yourselves?

Josh: I would like to go back to school for music, I spend a lot of my free time studying sound and synthesis and I think I would get something out of a more formal education in it, although I don't have any real plans with what I would do with it. I imagine the band will still be going I think as we get older we will end up touring less. I would like to buy a house in the next few years and hopefully enter into a career instead of jobs.

Jane: Playing stadiums?

CW: Musicians need to...?

Josh: I don't know... in some ways I feel like there are too many bands. Most people don't really have an idea... I don't think art should be used as a catalyst to fame or a supposed easy life. That being said I'm sure it's a lot easier for me to say that looking at people than from where they are. Making art is fun and having a dream to get you through the day is nice .

I think people who create should spend time learning to respect things: respect themselves, and respect the people interested in their art and this will lead to better things. It might not take you where you want to go but you are less likely to bend over for someone or ask someone to bend over for you if you are trying to show respect to all parties.

Jane: Bring their own equipment whenever possible. And, more than anything else, have a good attitude. Try to help other bands when you can, think about others, don't make the touring band play first or last, don't think that what you are doing makes you special (the world is freaking full of bands!).

CW: Fans need to...?

Josh: I don't know that I end up in a lot of fan situations. there are people who like our music and I like to interact with them. A lot of them have become friends. I really don't like the power dynamics of typical fan/artists relationships. I don't feel like what we do is special I like what we do I think it has merit and can hold up against other art. People shouldn't expect things from people.

CW: Promoters?

Josh: We don't deal with a lot of professional promoters, we mostly play diy spaces and community spaces, but across the board I would say don't say yes to something you can't do. Respond promptly (I know this is hard we book a certain amount of shows and saying no or yes can be tough, especially when booking bands you know don't really have a draw). When you get posters in the mail hang them up and if you hang them up put information on them (this has happened to us looking at your poster on a wall with no info feels a little defeating).

I think being a promoter sucks, you are more than likely a band who wants to have contacts other places or someone from a failed band or just want to be involved in music.

I guess be honest and up front when people know what is going on they can make better plans.

CW: Anything else?

Josh: Bend.

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