Exclusive interview with Nicolas Jaar, one of our Winter 2011 Featured Musicians.
BULLETT : So you’re out of class right now, right ?
Nicolas Jaar: Yes I just got out of class 40 minutes ago.
Can you tell me what classes you’re taking ?
Well the class I just got out of was some class where we just watched a shitload of Antonioni. It was kind of funny.
What are you majoring in ?
I’m majoring in Comparative Literature.
Why did you choose Comparative Literature when your interests are very musical ?
My interests are not only musical. Comparative Literature is the study of culture and the study of people making shit and in the end that’s what really interests me. I want to get down to the core and know why people make shit and what inspires them to create and why does one jump into creation. Because literature is kind of all of that : it’s culture in general.
Right. So it’s the idea that you are studying the things that people make and why they make them ?
Can you tell me a little bit about your label ? Why did you decide to release your own music as opposed to staying with a larger more traditional label ?
The label started out with me, Soul Keita and Nikita Quasim who both make music too. Back then-and this was only two years ago- it was really this kind of experimental electronic music people were not necessarily excited to hear. So by creating a label, I felt like it would help putting my music out to the world and would also showcase other people’s music that wasn’t necessarily visible at the time.
The artists, references and inspirations you have are all very underground and very uncommon for a lot of people making music. What made you delve into this more complex way of using electronics ?
I just want to be honest. I try to get really exhausted and make music in the height of exhaustion sometimes in order to be more honest with what’s inside of me. And so I guess what’s honestly inside of me is lower and more atmospheric and the influences that truly resonate in me are these people that are more into talking through feelings as opposed to talking through trends or coolness. I’m more interested in providing something honest and emotional as opposed to something groundbreaking musically.
When do you find yourself getting to that place of exhaustion and allow yourself to be creative?
It generally happens after I’ve been reading some bullshit up for school for a long time. I’ll keep on doing it even though I don’t really want to because I know it’s going to get me to a point where I’ll end up saying something that’s inside of me. When you go to the studio in the morning, all the preoccupations of the real world are still bottled up inside of you. The more exhausted you are by the real world, the more you can give to people this kind of interior thing.
That’s a really interesting and intuitive realization.
It’s actually a realization I had on tour. I didn’t think about music this way before but I also didn’t have a problem about authenticity before because I was just making music for myself instead of people that I love. And now things have changed since I have a bigger audience.
How do you make your live shows more engaging ?
When people go out to see music -or at least when I go out to see music I want to have a very physical experience not just an intelligent time. I want to be touched by the music in a very physical way. I love the idea of making other people dance in a very sensual way as to instill emotions that are very much linked to love. In order to do that I basically changed every single bassline of my tracks and transformed them into slow club tracks.. It almost sounds like a combination between house and hip hop. Also I have these 3 musicians that really take my music to the next level by adding elements that are not part of the original music. It’s really exciting because the whole process itself is very physical.
Do you find that there is experimentation that comes out with the addition of live musicians ?
Oh yeah, I’d say 30 or 40% of our live sets are improvised.
Oh wow that’s incredible
I only do that because of the idea of exhaustion again. When you are on tour for 2 months and you play 30 dates you ‘re always doing the same thing, you’re not letting this honest feeling out. I give my set as much approach to honesty and chaos than to structure. Both of them have to play out a similar goal.
And that allows for something that is a little less intellectual and little more feeling-based…
Exactly. What are we getting in the moment? What is going on right now? How are the people feeling ? How are they dancing, reacting etc.? It’s funny because I owe one third of this to my last tour. I realized how important it was to have 30-minute talks right before we play. I just started having these talking moments where I would just tell them ‘Ok today we’re doing a ritual, like some evil ritual’ and I would tell them to find something they liked and repeat it for 20 minutes and not let them stop until then. I would also ask them to do crazy stuff in order to build some sort of mysticism around our set. The result was very interesting.
That’s really amazing though. And in some ways I think that’s a more difficult position to be in than playing sets every night.
Oh it’s much more difficult to use the music on a psychological level as opposed to having a set structure. But at the same time it’s so rewarding and engaging as a musician that I don’t give a shit about taking that risk : I actually enjoy it.
So you are in your senior year. What are you planning on doing next year ?
I’m just going to go back home in New York and get a real life instead of continuing this utopic college experience that I’ve been having for the past four years. After being on tour so much I realize life is not as constant, as comfortable or as easy as it is in college. Hopefully, I’ll be making more music. I’d like to keep on working on my label and really develop an outlet for my creative life. I’m also excited to have some time on my own and be able to explore other art forms. Music comes very naturally to me whereas the other art forms I’ve always been interested in don’t come that easily.
Since you have this really deep extensive knowledge of experimental and electronic music, can you recommend one album that you think everyone should listen to?
An album that people should totally be listening in the to is Gonzales’ Solo Piano. It’s close to Erik Satie or Keith Jarrett in terms of sound. He produced music for Feist and artists from Ed Banger Records. He’s the one who wrote Limit to Your Love, that famous song taken by James Blake, but first performed by Feist. I think the lyrics were written by Feist and maybe he wrote the actual music? He’s one of the most brilliant composers of our time. This album is literally one of the most gorgeous things ever made. I’ve shared it with people here that don’t really know about music and it’s a bug that gets stuck in everyone’s head. It’s pure genius.
Can you also recommend one book that you think everyone should read?
In terms of a book, let me think. It’s difficult to guess what people have read and haven’t read…
I know it’s a tricky question.
I guess (pauses) let’s see. I mean, it’s difficult to answer because you have to keep all the pretentious books out of the way. (laughs).
What’s your guilty pleasure book ? What’s the least pretentious you can think of that you love ?
(laughs) I guess anything that has come out in the past, all the Bolaño books. I’ve always enjoyed them a lot. I read them 2, 3 years ago. I think there’s something super exciting about his writing. It’s really sensual and romantic. I read in it Spanish though so I don’t know what it’s like in English. I heard people liked it in English.
Have you read the unfinished one that came out last year ?
I’m afraid I didn’t read the unfinished one. Is the unfinished one you’re talking about 2666 ?
No, I think it’s the biography.
Yeah that one. No, I heard about that one. I’m afraid of reading it . I wouldn’t want anyone to hear an unfinished song of mine. I kind of feel strongly about unfinished works.
I absolutely agree. You should stay away from it. It just feels really piece-meal
Exactly. And he did not mean for it to be relased. When I’m making a song, -and I have to revert back to me because I’m the only creator I know perfectly well- and it’s not done, it’s really not as good as it would be if it were. I think it’s clear to anyone who makes anything that when they’re not done with something it’s just not as good as it can be.