Electronic music is in the midst of a massive tie-dying process. Migrations In Rust's Twin Shadows stands as a contribution to a spate of stellar albums this year that have blurred the lines between high-minded abstract genres like ambient and more pedestrian ones like hip-hop and techno. The man behind it, Jesse Allen, has been making noise and industrial music for a good segment of this century, and was a participant in the Far Rockaway noise collective, Red Light District. An album of beautiful, ponderous sample music may sound like something of a curveball from an artist of his background, but don't forget that the times we live in-- thanks in large part to open minds and accessible technology-- provide a safe ground for all sorts of artistic exploration. In other words, a dude today can make both scary music and pretty music.
Ad Hoc: You are living in Western Mass.?
Jesse Allen: Yes, I am. Since November of 2011. I grew up on Long Island and I went to school in New York. The lady and I wanted to move out of the city, so we picked a spot that was close enough where we could still come around and see friends and stuff, but that wasn’t a city.
AH: How close is it, exactly?
JA: About three hours. It’s not too bad. If I go down, I’ll stay the night, but I can go down and be back. We’re an hour, hour-and-a-half to Providence, so we go out there for shows all the time.
AH: Providence seems to have quite the vibrant experimental scene.
JA: It’s true, yeah. We’re friends with a lot of those dudes, and they come out here-- we have shows in our house, and they come out here for shows all the time, too. And there’s actually a lot of stuff going on around here. [There are] three, four shows a week in this area, believe it or not. There are a lot of people coming through here. It’s a different kind of scene. It’s all freak stuff, sort of a little goofy, but there’s still a lot of good stuff going on.
AH: When you say “freak stuff,” do you mean like Crank Sturgeon, that type of thing?
JA: He comes and plays down here all the time.
AH: Could you talk more about the shows at your house? Sounds like the old Red Light District type vibe.
JA: The house we live in is called Hill’s Eye. Me and my girlfriend, Jackie, moved to this town-- it’s called Belchertown, out here in Western Massachusetts. I like Belchertown, but we moved into this place, and the landlord sucked, and it was only for a temporary thing until we could get situated. We always drove past this house-- if you haven’t been here, you don’t really know what it’s like, but it’s built inside of a hill, you know what I mean? And so on top of the house is grass-- there’s trees and stuff up there. Like a Hobbit house. It’s weird. We’d always drive by it, because it was on the way to our old house. We’d be like, “What’s going on with that place?” And come time to move, this place is up on Craigslist, so we move in here. People, whenever they show up, they’re like, “What’s going on with this place?” It’s a really bizarre, unique-looking spot.
Ad Hoc: That’s great.
JA: Yeah, it’s been cool. The shows have been cool. It’s a little weird, because this area has so many [students]-- I think there’s five colleges in this area. So there’s a lot of young kids around, but in the summer when you try to have shows, those are really blown over. I mean, people come out, but there aren't really that many people without all the college kids to support a lot of bands coming through.
Ad Hoc: Yeah, interesting. What colleges are out there? Is it UMass is out there?
JA: Yeah, UMass, Amherst College-- Hampshire is literally five minutes away down the road. And then there's Smith, and a college called Mount Holyoke. They say something like fifty thousand people come, in the Fall, and that many people leave for the summer, too. It becomes a totally different place.
Ad Hoc: You live in a ghost town for a few months.
JA: Well, yeah. It’s really chill in the summer; there’s no traffic or anything. It’s beautiful up here, too.
Ad Hoc: Yeah, I’m sure it’s beautiful up there. Probably a little nicer-looking than New York City.
JA: Yeah, I lived in Brooklyn for two years, and then in Queens for three or four years before we moved up here, so I got my fill of that stuff, riding the subway and all that.
Ad Hoc: Tell me about your involvement with Red Light.
JA: I went to school [at SUNY Purchase] with a bunch of those dudes, and I played music with a bunch of them. I didn’t live there, but I was there all the time-- I left all my gear there. I lived with a bunch of them in college, and I wanted to try and live elsewhere, you know? But yeah, I was there all the time for all the shows and whatnot. I guess for all intents and purposes I was involved. I don’t live nearby [there anymore], but people still live really close and they come up here and play. They started doing shows down there again for the first time in over a year. They’re all trying to get us to come down, but we all got work and stuff.
Ad Hoc: I'd like to talk about your different projects. You have Hollow Seed, Migrations in Rust, and what’s the third one? I forget what the third one is.
JA: Yeah I did this thing for a minute-- I don’t know, maybe I’ll do it again-- it was called Goldeater. It was just really absurd music. I don’t know, that one’s just silly stuff. The other stuff is more serious, something I actually like to focus on.
Ad Hoc: Migrations in Rust definitely seems to have this hip-hop thing going on, and I would love to hear you talk about that a little bit.
JA: That’s weird-- that people are picking up on it. That was not intentional at all, really. I mean, I listen to a lot of hip-hop all the time. I’m always trying to figure out new ways to go about doing what I do so it stays interesting and fresh to me. Each piece of music, I’ll try to start it-- you know, start working on it-- in a different way than I had in the past. This record, I started trying to work with samples and stuff, because it was something I never really did before. I wanted to start incorporating more rhythmic elements into it, and that’s just the way it came out. I don’t know really why it worked out that way, but it’s cool that people are picking up on that, or noticing that influence. I didn’t put it in there intentionally. I wanted something that wasn’t really robotic-- I wanted some swing to it, just because I’m attracted to that kind of rhythm.
Ad Hoc: If you listen to a lot of hip-hop then you might innately chop a sample in a certain way.
JA: Yeah, sure. The sampling was really cool to do. I’m still going to be working with that, but I’ll probably keep moving on in different ways and trying to do different things. And the record has a decent amount of sampling on it, but it’s got an equal amount-- if not more-- of just straight synth playing. It’s got all kinds of weird shit on it. I spent a long time making it, so within that period of time, what I was doing changed. I started making it about a year before I moved up here, so about three years ago is when it started.
Ad Hoc: Oh wow.
JA: So in that time my process changed several times, and almost every single piece on the record represents a full six or eight-month chunk of my life. Which is pretty bizarre. I hadn’t really thought about that until right now. It wasn’t like I was just working on it all the time, for three years. I moved, and I had other projects and other bands and stuff, and I was doing plenty of other stuff all the time. It was originally supposed to be a tape on NNA, and then they were like, “Wait, maybe you want to do a 7-inch?” and I was like, “Alright, that’s cool.” So I gave them the stuff for a seven-inch over two years ago, and they were like, “This sounds great-- you want to make it an LP?” And I was like, “I don’t know how long it’s going to take me. It takes so long to do shit.” And so they were like, “Yeah, just if you can try and get it done within the next nine months to a year.” So I was like, “Ok,” and I pumped the rest of it out. For me, pumping it out took a year.
Ad Hoc: How you delineate Migrations in Rust from the other projects? Is it like, "Hollow Seed is my industrial project, and Migrations In Rust is my sampling project"?
JA: No, no, no, not at all. The process is more like a by-product of it. It’s more, "How can I achieve this?" The Migrations stuff used to be almost purely ambient music when I started years and years ago in college, because I just really wanted to make music like that. That appealed to me ever since I was a kid, in high school and stuff. I was always trying to find new ways to go about doing it that wasn’t just whatever, soft synths or whatever it might be. So a while ago, I got into playing a lot of different acoustic instruments and processing them and seeing what I could get out of it, and I noticed that I tended to process these instruments so they sounded like huge orchestral ensembles. After a while, I could barely tell the difference between the sounds I was making or [those] sampled from some orchestral tape. The sample happened as way for me to achieve this stuff without making this one specific sound for 4 or 5 days, it was just easier. It gave me a much wider palette to pull from. The Hollow Seeds is similar-- the drum machines are fun as hell to play. I went toward using that so I could make something that was heavy and make my body move. It’s almost, I would say, the opposite [of Migrations In Rust]. The ways of going about it came out of necessity.
Ad Hoc: You've been in a couple of bands, too. What do you want out of a band that's different than from your solo work?
JA: I still play in this band, Cowards, with my friend Nick who lives here. We were doing that for a while. It definitely draws on a lot of similarities with what I do on my own, and what he does on his own. I used to play in this other project with my friend John Mannion. That stuff was extreme chaos: I just did vocals and he did insane harsh noise. It was a while ago, but the project was completely different. It wouldn’t even come close to thinking what I’m doing now. It was called The Cathode Terror Secretion. John and I have been friends since high school. We used to play in bands in high school and we went to college together and all that.
Ad Hoc: I don’t want to harp on this hip-hop thing too much since it sounds like it’s incidental, but it’s intriguing that it’s something Jason Lescalleet has been exploring more also, and that it seems like a logical evolution for solo electronic musicians. On one end, you have beat producers, and the other you have guys making harsh noise, and it’s going to meet in the middle eventually.
JA: Maybe that’s what’s going on. Like I said, it wasn’t all intentional at all-- it just happened that way. I wanted to put some rhythm to it. A goal of the project a while ago was to get these ambient, flowing drum pieces. I got bored with being static for nine minutes-- I wanted it to move and feel alive, like it was constantly evolving. For a while, doing that with drone or ambient sounds, the next logical progression was to put beats to it. But yeah, I’m not one to comment on what happens in music. I think it’s cool that people pick up on it. Matt [Mayer] from NNA was telling me it sounded like weird R&B. That’s cool, too.
Twin Shadows is out now via NNA Tapes.