Jim Coleman Interview
Jim Coleman Interview
“Cop Shoot Cop self imploded in 1996, while we were on the verge of mixing our last record (never released). At this point, I had started composing music for some indie films, and had started to get more serious with my solo electronic music (Phylr). So I kept on that path, doing music for more indie films and television series and one-offs. “
Jim Coleman is a veteran of the music business, he first gained popularity in his band Cop Shoot Cop and has recently been dabbling in his own solo work for which he has had amazing reviews. WSR got chance to catch up with Jim and ask him about his musical career and his recent work.
WSR – Can you tell us a little bit of a background about yourself and where in this beautiful world you are from?
Jim – I was born in Baltimore and lived there for the first month of my life. Growing up, my family moved continually, every 3 or four years. But somehow we always remained in the Northeast of the United States. Growing up, I took years of classical piano and French horn lessons.
After going through art and film school, I was a sound recordist for years. I had always worked with sound. When I was just a wee lad I used to mess with my family’s record player, hand spinning records backwards at very slow speeds and the like. While in college I got my first synth (a Korg MS-10 which I still have) and a Tascam 4 track cassette deck. My sonic explorations got wider and deeper.
I was and am really in to all types of music of course, from Gang of Four to Public Enemy to Gorecki. I joined forces with some other like-minded noise-makers in Cop Shoot Cop, which had a pretty good run of it. Our main releases were on Big Cat Records and Interscope. Our early gigs were somewhat violent affairs, where we could never really finish a set due to some kind of mayhem either in the audience or in the band or between the two. We eventually matured a bit, as did our sound, but I always kind of missed those early days, where you never really knew what would happen next.
Cop Shoot Cop self imploded in 1996, while we were on the verge of mixing our last record (never released). At this point, I had started composing music for some indie films, and had started to get more serious with my solo electronic music (Phylr). So I kept on that path, doing music for more indie films and television series and one-offs. There were two full length releases on Invisible Records as Phylr, and I’ve done a good number of other releases, collaborations and remixes.
Trees is my first release under my name, Jim Coleman. Perhaps that’s because it’s personal. Well, all my creative work, whether it’s done alone or as collaboration, is always personal. But Trees is from the eye of the storm.
WSR – How does the sound of Trees differ from all your of previous musical work?
Jim – TREES is much more introspective, pastoral and meditative. Although my other work covers a wide spectrum, for the most part it has been beat oriented, whether it’s rock or electronic. TREES let’s go of that, just kind of lays back and floats a bit. I would say though that it does share a cinematic quality with my earlier work.
WSR – If you could pick a track from Trees that you could class as inspirational which track would it be and why?
Jim – Somehow I keep coming back to the last track (Rain). Somehow it seems really simple, like it’s laid bare. And perhaps I feel like it is a bit less heavy than some of the other tracks. I am definitely drawn to the dark side, but Rain has a bit of that spring air in it as well.
WSR – At what point in your life did you decide to form your band and why?
Jim – I think I’d call this more of a loose knit organization rather than a band. I started making this body of music at a time where I wanted to do something different, break the patterns of what I had done before. In a way, this music, though it still has a very defined mood to it, plays more with perceptions of time and space than anything I have done before.
It started as a solo endeavour but ended up including an incredible mix of musicians. And likewise, it can be performed on a number of levels, from solo laptop centred manipulations to a small ensemble.
This may be a slightly hard question to answer but I will ask non the less. Where did you get the ideas for the music to be able to play with perceptions of time and space and how were you able to manifest these ideas into a musical form?
I’m not really sure if that was my intentions exactly when I started out on making this album. I knew that I wanted to break the mould of what I had done before. I knew that I wanted to quiet things down, and hopefully create am immersive sonic environment in which I could feel suspended, apart from the stresses and demands of daily life. I think that the stress and anxieties grow daily, and if we don’t collectively and individually find ways to find shelter from this, we are going to become very sick. So my hope is that TREES takes a step, even if it’s a small step in this direction.
WSR – Who besides yourself is in the band and what background are they from?
Jim – Phil Puleo is heard in a number of tracks on Trees, playing a variety of instruments from wood block to flute to dulcimer. He has been touring extensively in recent years with Swans (Michael Gira). Phil and I played together for years in Cop Shoot Cop and have continued making music together through the years. Website: http://philpuleo.com/
Kirsten McCord is a cello player, who I know from the NY music scene. She has worked with The Walkman, Tortoise, Elliot Smith, Jarboe and Home among many others. Website: http://www.kirstenmccord.com
Dawn McCarthy I met a number of years ago, when I was recording my first solo album as Phylr. She contributed some vocals to one track on that album. She not only has an amazing voice, but approaches the whole art of singing in a very unique inspired way. She now writes and performs as Faun Fables and has several releases on Drag City. She will be joining Raputina for a tour this coming fall (2012). Website: http://www.faunfables.net
Ellen Fullman is the designer and creator of the Long String Instrument, which in comprised of “dozens of wires fifty feet or more in length, tuned in Just Intonation and ‘bowed’ with rosin coated fingers”. She has collaborated and worked with top tier choreographers and composers. I recorded her playing the Long String Instrument in Austin, Texas. Website: www.ellenfullman.com
Bryan Christie is an award winning Illustrator, but also plays sax really well. He is extremely well versed in jazz. Beyond his sax playing, check out his design work. Website: http://www.bryanchristiedesign.com
WSR – Wow you have collaborations with some amazingly talented musicians. Do you feel they are able to emphasise your ideas or do they bring another element to your music that you never first realised was there?
Jim – I feel that the musicians involved both emphasize or get on board with my ideas or aesthetic AND they bring out elements that I was unaware of. The process was a bit of back and forth. The various musicians truly brought the pieces to life in a new and unexpected way that was vital to the album. I may have mentioned this already, but I just love that feeling when that happens, when the whole thing just opens up. That’s magic, that’s what I live for!
WSR – What are your musical influences?
Jim – I have been influenced by Gang of Four, Gorecki, Biosphere, Public Enemys, Charles Lloyd, overheard snippets of conversations of people talking on cell phones, noises of the city, the silence of Upstate New York at 4:30 AM, late night talk radio, a variety of movie soundtracks amongst other things.
WSR – Are there any movies that have inspired you to write music if so which one?
Jim – Oddly enough, a small film by Meredith Monk called Key was a huge influence on me. I saw this back in the early 1980’s, and it really opened up a world of possibilities, both in film and music. At the time I was an Art student, but was starting to really focus on experimental filmmaking. For me, the process of making film and making music has always been quite similar. I kind of go out, get a lot of material to work with and make a big mess. The heart of the creative process is in the editing.
I’m sure there are countless other films that have inspired me to write music, just can’t pull them out of a hat right now.
WSR – Do you have to be in a certain frame of mind to create music and what is the process to breathing life to your music?
Jim – I can’t really focus on writing music if I have too many loose ends in my life. If the dishes are dirty in the sink, the studio is a mess, and bills need to be paid, well, I need to take care of that stuff first. Generally, once that is done, I can find my way in to it pretty easily. I have never really had a problem making music and being creative. The bigger challenge has been getting that creative work out in to the world. In the past, I have always been dependent on 3rd party labels. For TREES, there was a label that was slated to release it. I waited for quite a while, and eventually came to understand that they had lost the plot (they aren’t putting out anything right now). So I formed Wax&Wane, my own record label to put this out. I have no huge expectations as to what the future holds for this, time will tell. But, getting my work out in to the world in some way is the last part of the creative process. It feels incomplete to me if it just sits on my hard drive…
WSR – How would you describe the music you make?
Jim – If you look at the broad spectrum of music I make you might call it schizophrenic, as it ranges from ambient post-classical to very beat driven electronic. I think tough that the through line has to do with two things: Emotion and Cinema. At times in my life I struggle with locating and expressing feeling, but in creating music, it has always been immediately present. As part of this emotional presence, I have always considered all my work to be cinematic. I went through film school, focusing on experimental cinema, though I’ve always loved all types of film and video. And I have done many soundtracks and scores for indie films and television series. Most of my music I consider a soundtrack.
WSR – Are there any famous film or television scores you have written?
Jim – Not sure about famous. I have worked with some great people: In the world of films I’ve worked with Todd Phillips, Hal Hartley, Beth B, Richard Kern. In television, I’ve scored music for one offs and series that have been aired on HBO, PBS, A&E, TLC, Sci-Fi Channel to name a few. I’ve done commercial campaigns for Verizon Wireless and some other corporate behemoths.
WSR – If you were going to do the opposite and create a film from music, what music would you want to create a film for and what would the film be about?
Jim – I have a history in film and video, and have actually just recently been getting back in to that. You can see a couple of things posted on my youtube channel:
Other than that though, I would like to score music to a film that was a dream. That is, a quasi narrative that wasn’t beholden to day-to-day reality, where unexpected things happened out of nowhere. Where there was a great amount of joy, sex, awe, fear, free falling, embarrassment and lack of borders. Things would not be black and white; everything would exist in a grey zone. You could get sideswiped at any moment; you could be 2 or more people at once.
WSR – Where do you see your band in five years and what are your hopes for the future?
Jim – I have no great dreams of fame and fortune. In my earlier years I was fortunate enough to have truly lived a rock and roll lifestyle, living on the road, taking loads of drugs, the whole package. That was great at the time. My current hope (one which I am pursuing) is to create a platform from which I can continue to get material out in to the world. I can be happy sitting in the studio or out in the world recording, but I’ve always struggled with how to get my music out. There has always been labels attached to that, and that’s not always easy. So at this point I have basically created my own label (Wax & Wane) and am putting some resources behind that to help it grow.
WSR – Are there any other bands bar you on your label?
Jim – This is the initial release on Wax&Wane. So far there are no other bands. I created the label in the hopes of creating a platform to release my work. I have of course had the thought or dream of having it grow to include other artists as well. No expectations for now. Time will tell.
WSR – Is there any place or venue you would like to play at and why?
Jim – I would welcome the opportunity to play in any and all atypical places: automobile graveyards, subway stations, abandoned buildings, caves, bath rooms. Radically different places make me re-consider the sounds and performance in radically different ways, making that performance unique to the specific space.
WSR – What is the weirdest venue you would like to play if you had the chance to play anywhere?
Jim – I love playing (and seeing other work) in non-traditional venues. It would be interesting to do a bus tour in which the artists played in the bus, and the audience would be the passengers. So they would buy a ticket that started in one city and ended some hours later in another city. I should put that up on kickstarter right now.
WSR – Describe your ultimate gig?
Jim – Playing live always offers the possibility of transcendent moments when you get “in the zone”. Yet if you become aware that you are in it, it disappears. If you stop and think, it evaporates. For me, the ultimate gig, is to ride those moments, when there is no separation between performer and audience.
WSR – Do you prefer to play to a smaller audience or a big one?
Jim – I have always preferred playing to small audiences, within reason. If it’s 6 people, you kind of wonder what you are doing out there. But I did learn at some point that even if it is only 6 people, I play my heart out to them. I’ve played in front of 6 people, and I’ve played in front of 12,000. I think that my happy place is between 200 and 500. It’s much better to be in a small club that is packed than an arena that is half full. Also, in the bigger gigs, they always have the security people in front of stage. I like to have more interaction with the audience.
WSR – Without giving too much away is there any instrument or program you wouldn’t be without and why?
Jim – Sometimes I feel like my life is in my MacBook Pro. Everything is in there. Guess I should probably back it up…
WSR – Do you feel technology has taken over people’s lives in the modern world? A world where people cannot live without their cell phones or laptops?
Jim – Absolutely. I was standing in a lobby, waiting for an elevator the other day. I looked around, and everyone there had their heads bent, looking at the screens of their cell phones. It’s habitual behaviour. It’s taken us away from noticing the world around us. Not to say I’m above it, I fall in to it as well. How close are those friends on Facebook? I’ve got scores of friends that I’ve never even met. But they all know when my birthday is.
What I want to know is how we will collectively deal with it if and when the infrastructure goes down. I know people who don’t even know their spouse’s phone number. All the technology makes life so much easier. But. It can rob us of our humanity. It can isolate us. It can rip us from the present. What was once an 8 hour work day now has no start and stop time.
I don’t think technology is evil, and I ain’t no luddite. I love technology. It can be downright sexy. Most of my creative work is resides in technology. But there are times when you just need to put it down and go for a walk. And I think that we are at the point that when we are in the woods taking that walk, we are still texting.
WSR – If you had never become a musician what career path would you have followed?
Jim – Sadly, I can’t imagine not being a musician. I say sadly, because sometimes it’s a curse. My life would be much simpler if I didn’t have to make music. I may even be happier. But I don’t have that choice. I always know I wanted to be working and playing with sound and music. I was told it wasn’t a good move career wise, so I went to film school. And I loved making films. I could see being happy making films, but I just can’t seem to stop making music.
WSR – Thanks for giving Wicked Spins Radio this interview, is there anything you would like to add?
Jim – Thank you for giving me this opportunity to express myself! I am working on another ambient-based album, which works with recordings of peoples near death experiences, psychotic breaks and stories of mental instability. If anyone who reads this would be interested in participating in this, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And, check my blog: http://jimcolemanmusic.wordpress.com/