Watery Starve, a San Francisco-based micro press started in late 2012, deals in “limited and unique releases of music, writings, and art.” Label curator and artist, Lynn Fister, marries all of these interests together in the beautifully packaged and thoughtfully presented 4-way split cassette release, Taxidermy of Unicorns, that just came out. Taxidermy of Unicorns features some of the leading female voices within the experimental cassette underground, including Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier, Birds of Passage, and Fister’s own, Aloonaluna project. Over their respective c60 sides, each artist is able to stretch out their highly personalized take on modern folk song forms and abstract sound creation, yet a decidedly cohesive listening experience takes shape over the course of the entire release. This cohesiveness is also present in the artwork and in the accompanying booklet where Fister’s writings outline the connections between their work. We recently had a chance to ask Lynn some questions about the art, sound, and ideas behind Taxidermy of Unicorns.
In the accompanying booklet for this release, you describe some of the shared qualities that you see between the four of you noting that, “These artists tend toward intuitive forms of music-making and delve into notions of the ambiguous female voice, whether through the vehicles of machine or body.” I would agree with that whole-heartedly and would say that this gives Taxidermy of Unicorns a very cohesive feel. In addition to these natural connections between the four of you, had you all discussed any sort of conceptual framework for this release prior to recording your individual sides?
Prior to this release, I think--all four of us--have followed each other’s music fairly closely. Well, at least I have with theirs, and each of us has collaborated previously with at least one of the group. I must say that Félicia, Rachel and Alicia are some of the most gracious musicians to collaborate with--as not only do they make time for so many projects, but I think they really consider the other people involved when working on their projects. They are all rather adaptive and mercurial . . . besides being really caring, friendly and sensitive people. So, this is to say that we all are pretty much in tune with the others’ work. To answer your question, there really didn’t need to be an overriding conceptual framework; I think it was more an organic development, though we all shared our music files openly with each other throughout the process of creating music for Taxidermy of Unicorns. I also knew I wanted the title to be this right away, without even hearing or working on the music yet. So this might of also set the tone.
Rachel and I have joked about us having a telepathic connection before. It’s funny, because I did have the title in mind from the get-go and had not shared what I planned to call it with anybody quite yet. Rachel wrote an email, talking about the four-split, asking about a possible title. She suggested it have something to do with unicorns, as she had just finished a Murakami book that inspired her to think about its symbolism . . . And I was like, yes, exactly. But, of course, I am a bit dark and I was picturing a dead unicorn, stuffed for all to see, and mounted as a trophy. Ha. I once passed a unicorn taxidermy at a novelty curiosity shop, just its head. I stared at it for a really long time, my reflection on the shop window morphing into the white unicorn. I felt half Echo/half Narcissus. I am now reading Murakami’s IQ84 as of late, waiting to hear about unicorns.
I think there’s so much weight to the unsaid. The natural compass when working with other people is often enough. Sometimes words are used to conceptualize a space. Sometimes they need not be there at all. I feel like textural music is a lot like that. The divisiveness between spoken words and the unsaid are blurred. With a space like that, I think it is up to the listener to make up how they would like to relate to it. There can be as much similarity or difference as you want. I think one reading of Taxidermy of Unicorns is that the music is all very similar. Another could be is that it is all very different from each other.
In an interview I did with Frank Baugh (Sparkling Wide Pressure) last year, he suggested that the tape underground “feels like a folk art movement.” You sort of allude to this as well within your write-up in the booklet with Taxidermy of Unicorms. How did you come to participate in this “movement” and, perhaps, how has it motivated/inspired you as an artist?
I would totally agree with the tape underground being a folk art movement! Besides folk as a musical style being echoic in the experimental underground, I think of folk art--as a subversive form or way of thought. It's music made for and by the common person, though of course you can also see/hear folk influence in academia and the conservatory as well . . . and vice versa. Things are not so dichotomous of course. I see cassette making being a cheaper analog way to present music, subverting the established, contemporary norm of a proper release on CD and/or vinyl. You don’t need a big pocketbook to release a cassette. You don’t need to be a virtuoso pianist or have a professional production studio to make beautiful or thought-provoking music. Some of the best music is being released on cassette now, given how much cheaper it is than releasing on vinyl. It also subverts the trajectory towards digital releases (which I really don’t care about; my mp3s are all dead to me, ha). This being said, I still like vinyl and would like to release some one day for others and my own music. But that doesn’t make the release better just because it’s on vinyl, just because someone spent more money on its release. It does look pretty sexy though! However, I still don’t know why people don’t take cassettes as seriously as a vinyl or CD release, just because of format and maybe limited distribution . . . I know, I know, I’m preaching to the choir.
So how did I get into this? Initially, I never really searched outward when making music past my immediate local community. That was before my move in 2010 to San Francisco. Where I lived for 10 years in Tallahassee, Florida, there’s a pretty strong and supportive music community, and I really didn’t have a desire to. When I moved to San Francisco, I lost this sort of artistic community I felt I had in Florida. I feel, and still do feel, very isolated in San Francisco, being a really established and competitive city. Today, I just got a letter from my friend Angela (I named a song after her on Taxidermy). She lived in San Francisco for a short time and is now back in Florida. She alluded to being back in the womb, and why, why would you ever want to go anywhere else perhaps. That moved me. She’s an incredible magic-realist painter and scientific illustrator and I miss her. I love Tallahassee. I loved it when I lived on a dock house with hardly any neighbors and moon jellies would wash up on the marsh.
Sometimes I’m here and I feel swallowed into a soulless void. These people are all trying to make it in a very beautiful, urban and very expensive context. It has become so unattainable for success/growth here, because it caters to an elite. Only the uber-rich can even buy a home in San Francisco. That’s gross. So, I found myself becoming more introverted and becoming less interested in the Bay Area art scene. I know I have only cupped my palm to my mouth and whispered at the surface, and there is definitely a lot of diversity here, but it doesn’t seem very community oriented at all; it seems very guarded. Ha, maybe I’m just bitter because no one seems interested in what I’m doing here. I don't know if it’s bitter or just an apathy that washes over you.
Because of my alienation toward my environment, I delved into my own head more. I've made more recorded music than ever. That’s also when I started to reach out to other labels and other artists for a sense of community. I am really grateful that Hooker Vision took me into their family! Because of them, I was able to start developing new friendships that have become very meaningful to me. I came to San Francisco not knowing anybody and with not a lot of connectivity, and I will leave here very soon with still not many close friendships in San Francisco, but so many have been built elsewhere. Weird how that works, but I guess that’s the internet. We can butterfly kiss with our eyelashes across oceans. And when I leave come summer, maybe only then I will finally meet and connect with San Francisco peeps. I’ll be like dayum, why did I move? Ha, probably not . . . I actually am really, really excited to move. New Orleans is whispering my name, and that city is so captivating.
The artwork and overall presentation of Taxidermy of Unicorns is impressive. Both the stitched and threaded elements on the cover and the collage art contained within are unique to every set of tapes. In an edition of 200, that must have been quite an undertaking? As a visual artist, does the immediacy and scale of things that tapes/tape culture provide(s) inspire you?
Yes, I’d say I’m very inspired by tape culture! I also really enjoy crafting, playing with glue, collaging, painting, etc. Curating a label marries these two deepset interests of mine: music and visual art. I don’t know if Watery Starve is forever, or even if playing music is something I’ll keep doing, but it keeps me alive and inspired for now.
In regards to the actual undertaking of making everything different in a pressing. . . Well, part of it is that I simply want every object to be special/unique to whoever’s hands it may land in. Someone throws it in the trash, someone finds it in the rubble. It was meant for them. It’s the only one. The other side of it is that I am really drawn to Gestalt psychology. Somehow, I think by creating relatively similar but unique artworks again and again leads to a more expansive whole as a larger artwork. Yip, I keep telling myself that with an edition of 200! 200 collages deep, a decrepit hunchback and my fingers rubber cemented together like I’m a crab.
I see the debate over there being “too much music” nowadays being played out over the internet on a regular basis. In the booklet, you take a favorable stance on the current musical climate stating that, “. . . access to recording and distribution via the internet has made art more readily available – and music is just getting better and better because of this access, as more voices than ever are able to surface hierarchical tropes.” What do you say to those who often cite the diminishing “quality” of music because of this access?
I read somewhere once, that many people were really skeptical of the printing press when it first came out, because now anyone, anywhere could make books, print text, etc. They criticized the ease it would take to make a book, and now it gave access to more people to both write and read more books. I feel like privileged people always want to keep a lasso on the cultural canon, and a book-- a thing of the elite-- was now becoming a democratized vehicle for information. And people with cerulean or clergy blood running through their veins were crying because printing became vulgar. Hey, I don't have the time or the desire to read every book, sure, but I'm glad they are there. The more access, the more points of view . . . why would you want to exclude? Why would you want to hide your ugly stepsister under the stairs? Maybe I would find her beautiful? Maybe she just needs the sun to grow a little? Maybe we all do . . .
Well, a definite parallel here to the printing press is the internet. Sure, the internet means that you can basically upload anything, (same argument for any form of media!) but you know you can pick and choose how you spend your time. It doesn't diminish the things you do connect with and learn from. I don't know, I feel really inspired by all these people creating. Even if I'm not a fan, I want them to create . . . and it's cool we can share it easily! I also do want to point out too, people also didn't suddenly stop making quality work, because it is easier to document and upload.
Anyway, I think it's sad that people think just because there's more, there's less worth. It’s like they want to harness a cultural canon or something . . . Keep the lasso on the moon! It's mine; it's not yours even though we both sit under it! Wow, it's a fantasy to think that only a few people are doing significant things. Geez, I'm such a commie, ha.
Not to change the subject, but what is documented really makes me think about what is undocumented. It's kind of like the unsaid. Maybe that's a different topic. Sometimes, though, it is nice to just go into the woods and play a song--or maybe not even a song per se--for no one but yourself and the trees. Ephemeral, undocumented moments. Can you believe it? Guess you'd have to go way far into the woods and under a canopy. Don't let the street or google camera catch you!