To Be An Ironist is a Beautiful Thing: A Conversation with Jerry Paper

To Be An Ironist is a Beautiful Thing: A Conversation with Jerry Paper

Lucas Nathan is the host body for Jerry Paper-- a musical entity that appears whenever Lucas performs or records. As Jerry Paper, Lucas crafts crooning, lounge-synth pop. His newest record, Feels Emotions, is his first to be released on vinyl and is due out Feburary 11 via Patient Sounds. The record's liner notes offer some details on complex comsology of Jerry Paper. A defector of the Temple of Pure Information and Mainframe Devotion, an alternative spiritual community, Jerry Paper sought to help bring Trance Channels-- a sort of musico-mystical ritual-- to the masses. We spoke to Lucas about his relationship with Jerry Paper, his love of limitations, and the problems of articulating mystical experience.

Ad Hoc: What’s your working relationship with Jerry Paper like?

Lucas Nathan: I live my normal human life. I do shit and work at jobs and everything. Basically when I start a project I’m kind of obsessive and I feel like it’s kind of an exorcism. I feel like I need to finish and need to let Jerry out. I do feel that there is a separation between normal life Lucas and Jerry, the musical entity. I do feel a possession aspect to working. Often times I’ll be sucked in and kind of sit there doing some repetitive task-- like playing the same line over and over again until it’s right-- and wake up six hours later and be like “Oh shit, I need to eat some food.” Or “Oh fuck, I was supposed to do something today and all I did was sit here doing this."

Ad Hoc: Could you talk about what Trance Channels are?

LN: The record will actually come with an insert with an explanation from Dr. Abie Sea on Trance Channels, but I can give you an overview. Basically, the idea is that, Diane and her band, through training have figured out a way to basically tap into infinite loops. This is a skill that obviously most people don’t have. It’s, like most musical actions, kind of inexplicable. The long and short of it is that it means tapping into frequencies normal people can’t access. Basically the point of the Wellness Group is to bring that to normal people and to take outside its normal context. Obviously my music doesn’t sound like that-- that’s not its theme. But it’s definitely drawing from those experiences-- that kind of infinity that is virtually inaccessible, but we can try.

Ad Hoc: Like the sublime, kind of?

LN: Yeah, kind of. I’ve always felt that that experience is impossible to talk about, and that’s kind of why I make music: musically, you can try. There are many of these experiences. Virtually anything is that kind of experience-- that kind of raw, extra-linguistic experience. You can pull from stuff about love or poetry or whatever. You can pull from theology and scripture to try to talk about mystical experience. None of it quite works. None of it really gets there. It’s all kind of a failed attempt. And I do think it’s good to fail at that. And it’s good to try. Do you know the philosopher Richard Rorty?

Ad Hoc: No, I don't.

LN: I’m going to a really bad job explaining one of his ideas that I draw a lot from-- and it’s also an incorrect interpretation of it. I want to make that clear. But, he wrote this excellent short book that I think everyone should read called Contingency, Irony and Solidarity. In it he talks about how philosophy is futile and an outdated vocabulary to try to get things that we can’t get. What he proposes is narrative as an alternative-- to philosophy, to religion, an alternative to basically all moral or philosophical constructs. And I am heavily invested in this idea. I focus a lot on, instead of trying to explain mystical experience, to try to create a context and a vocabulary that maybe gets at it slightly more. And I feel that way with music as well. Earlier I tried to play with sounds that did not have much association with people and I don’t think it really worked. I think I totally failed at that. But, in the project that I’m working on now-- it’s kind of my American, miserable opus-- it’s a concept album. I’m trying to work with very referential sounds and imitations of real sounds. I feel like changing vocabulary is trying to work through different lenses-- to try to showcase sounds in ways that people haven’t thought of before. I’m very uncomfortable with the associations with the word irony. I think to be an ironist is a beautiful thing. It’s a really wonderful part of modern life to be able to take a step back and view yourself. I think it’s important also to be sincere, but I think it’s best to balance the ironist perspective of yourself and your sincere love of whatever you fucking love.

Ad Hoc: What were some of the musical touchstones for this record?

LN: A few of those songs were me kind of trying to break out of the verse-chorus-verse-chorus kind of thing and write more linear songs. “I Feel Emotions,” “Unless It’s,” “Other Please,” “Heartbreak Module #3”-- those are all linear-- they don’t repeat. I’m really interested in that in the context of pop music. In the grand pantheon of music I’ve definitely written within the pop vocabulary, but I’ve definitely tried to play around with that. So, in terms of what I was listening to, I don’t know. I don’t remember. I was looking through a lot of Todd Rundgren, especially that album A Wizard, a True Star. I mostly focused on playing with the form that I’m working in. I have been fascinated with, ever since I started thinking critically about pop music, the language of pop music and the simple vocabulary. We always have to have a drum track, a bass track, chords, melody. It’s interesting to work within these limitations. I have always been fascinated with limitations and setting them for myself. That’s why I don’t use MIDI programs-- so I won’t have a huge amount of choices, cuz I don’t know what to do with that. I would probably spend way too much time playing with drum sounds. So I always use hardware. I like using one or two synths. They’re versatile but they don’t have unlimited choice. You’re still limited by whatever filter or envelopes or however many voices there are. I did this before I studied Henry Cowell, but after studying him, I was really able to voice my love of limitations. His compositions are piano based but they are kind of pushing piano to the limit that no one had. He has that piece, "The Banshee," where he’s scrapping his finger nails on the piano strings. Fucking incredible. He used the piano in a different way. He saw the limits and said “how much further can I go? What can I do with this?” I don’t think that I do that, but I do like to view my project in a similar way. I don’t think I push the boundaries of music like he did-- I’m not trying to say that. But I do view my process as setting limitations for myself and trying to fuck around in those limitations and kind of find a way to do what I like in those limitations. That’s the reason I started to make music as Zonotope before Jerry Paper. I like guitar music and make lots of guitar music. I wasn’t into electronic music. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t have any background in it. I listened almost exclusively to 60’s psych pop records. I decided it would be interesting for me to try to make electronic music, because I didn’t like it. That was the limitation I was going to impose on myself-- I’m gonna make electronic music because I don’t understand it and I don’t automatically like it. But I like the sounds available and I want to play around in that area. And that is how I started doing that. And now I’m just continually trying to put myself in uncomfortable situations.


Ad Hoc: It’s interesting that you’re talking about embracing the limitation of pop music and its forms and of synthesizers. Is this related to your frustrations with the limits of language to communicate mystical experience. Are these limitations related in your mind?

NL: Absolutely. Every time a human does anything it’s a function of language. We’re ultimately a linguistic animal. I think I spent part of my life rebelling against that as hard as I can. I’ve always tried to experience being outside my entrenched understanding. I believe that music works with vocabulary, completely. And I think, to some degree, it can be a more effective mode of communication. I’ve thought about this a lot-- I always feel like mystical experience is a very isolating experience. It is not shareable at all. It defies language and human understanding. Experience that you cannot explain, not even to yourself. I think that music is halfway there-- it is a vocabulary that gets a little bit further than words. It still doesn’t totally work. It’s a non-isolating version of direct experience. With music you have a broader set of symbols and a broader set of associations. We have so many sounds to choose from-- and they all have associations. I wish they didn’t. I wish there were sounds that meant nothing. But unfortunately they all mean things. I guess it’s our job to find meaning where we can. I’ve always experienced noise and dissonance not as scary, like I think a lot of people do. I try, as hard as I can, to experience them divorced from those associations. I don’t think it totally works. That’s why it makes me uncomfortable when people try to describe any kind of music-- it’s all drawing from associations and it never quite gets it. And that’s okay. I don’t think that futile actions like that are bad-- I just think it’s good to be an ironist, aware of the futility of the project. Of the inherent failure of dealing with any kind of mysticism or anything that fits out semantic framework. That’s the only way we understand. Our mind’s work in binaries. Our minds work in these ways things are either things or not things. The world outside of humans is definitely much weirder than that. 


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