The music of Bill Orcutt is potent and sharp. With its oblong chords and erratic jumps across the fretboard, it’s a ravenous exploration of what guitar music can be, expelling notions of meter and structure to focus on feeling and timbre. Though it’s often lumped in with the American primitive tradition, it’s got a rawness and complexity all its own. After honing his chops in the ’90s noise unit Harry Pussy, Orcutt resurfaced in the late ’00s and began deconstructing nearly every style of old-timey American music. On his 2017 album, Bill Orcutt, which he released on his own Palilalia label, he takes on big band standards, hymns, jazz classics, and even Christmas tunes, warping and refracting them until they point toward the future instead of the past. We phoned Orcutt at his California home to discuss his recent switch to the electric guitar, how he settled on reworking classic American tunes, and tapping into the creative power of the unconscious.
Orcutt plays with Chuck Johnson and Samara Lubelski at Union Pool on April 12.
AdHoc: I read you’ll be playing electric guitar on this tour, as you did on your self-titled release from last year. What made you decide to switch from acoustic guitar?
Bill Orcutt: I started on electric [guitar], so it feels good to go back and play it. It’s not completely different, but they are different instruments and require different technique.
All of my acoustic guitars are kind of beat up, so to switch to the electric was nice, because it’s a relatively new guitar that plays in tune without a whole lot of work. I was able to record at home and on my own schedule. I knew that I was going to rework the same material that I’d been playing for the last three or four years, with electric, so there was plenty of time to [set about expanding] that stuff.
Taylor Mulitz, guitarist and vocalist of DC post-punk group Flasher, likes a challenge. Whether it’s building a darkroom in his parents’ basement or stretching his time between music, school, a day job, and freelance design, his hands are consistently full. AdHoc was lucky enough to catch a moment with the former Priests bassist to talk about this issue’s cover, an abstract piece that grew out of working on the art for an upcoming Flasher release. You can catch Flasher at AdHoc’s unofficial SxSW Showcase in Austin, Texas on March 14.
AdHoc: What got you into design?
Taylor Mulitz: It started out in high school. Mostly because I didn’t want to take a science class anymore, I did double AP Art. I was really into trying to figure out how to make band t-shirts, so I would watch a bunch of YouTube tutorials. I tried to make a really crappy darkroom in the bathroom in my basement, and I stained my parents’ floors. My dad got really upset. So I started designing to make my own t-shirts, and then I went to art school after I graduated high school.
Where did you go?
First I went to Parsons, in New York, and I did two years there. I ended up transferring to MICA, in Baltimore, because I was just too broke to live in New York City. I did a year there, and then I dropped out because I was too busy doing Priests stuff and was getting terrible grades and it became a waste of money and time. So I have three years of graphic design undergrad, but no degree to show for it.
Your style is very angular, reminiscent of tattoo flash, and there are also some TV static elements to your work. What inspires you?
I definitely like bold graphic design. A lot of heavy-handed typography is what I’m into. I definitely was into illustrating more flash kind of stuff, but I’ve leaned away from that in the past few years. A lot of what I’ve been working on recently is collage-based, a lot of halftones, that static kind of thing. The stuff I’ve been designing is being printed by silkscreen, so that kind of shapes the decisions I make. I’ve been looking at a lot of paintings recently and drawing inspiration from that. Right now, I’m into Paul Klee, David Hockney, Jacob Lawrence, Ellsworth Kelly, Stuart Davis, and Madelon Vriesendorp.
You were in Priests. You’re in Flasher. How do you juggle all that with your day job and your freelance design work?
Well, I’m no longer in Priests, so I’ve just been focusing on Flasher since August. It just became a thing where it was hard to do two full-time bands. Flasher has some music coming out soon. Getting ready to release anything new is always a lot, and I’ve been working on the art for that, too; I think I spent a month and a half on it. The AdHoc cover actually came from an illustrative experiment that I did that ended up not working for the release. I made a bunch of stuff that I was into [while trying to figure the art out], so it was cool to have the opportunity to use some of it.
A lot has changed for Lindsey Jordan since she played her first show in 2015, assembling an ad hoc crew to open for Priests and Sheer Mag at a festival. Snail Mail’s
jangly, introspective sound—layered with the Ellicot City, Maryland native’s carefully constructed lyrics—belies the band’s spontaneous origins. In a little under three years, they’ve released an EP on Priest’s Sister Polygon
label, toured the United States, and signed to a major indie—all while Lindsey was finishing up high school. Ahead of Snail Mail’s debut studio album, which is due out on Matador
this summer, she spoke to us about being a feminist musician, balancing schoolwork with touring, and growing up.
What inspired you to start playing music?
I don't know—it's just a hobby. I started playing guitar when I was five, and I didn't start writing songs until I was 12 or 13. I recorded an EP on Apple Garageband a really long time ago that's not on the internet anymore, and I formed a live band to play this one show—just for fun. Then we recorded the EP, Habit
, because we had some friends that were willing to help us with it. Originally, our goal was to do these five or six songs, or whatever. I mean, I never really intended for it to go well, you know?
What's the scene like in Baltimore? Was there any particular show or band or space that was really inspiring to you?
I hung out a lot at Black Cat in DC. I saw a lot of punk bands there, and I feel like that world was pretty encouraging as far as starting your own band. I don't know about now, but there are a lot of really great record stores in Baltimore. Celebrated Summer in Hampden is where I discovered a lot of the punk music I really love now.
DC is a really big place for punk. It's a really big creative hub, with a lot of DIY spaces, and there are a lot of young people doing awesome stuff. I have some friends who play in punk bands in Baltimore. I think [Baltimore has] got a culture of people who work really hard and think outside the box.
AdHoc Issue 25 is here! Download a PDF of the zine at this link.
Howdy, pardners! God, we’re so sorry we said “howdy” and “pardners”; it’s SxSW time again, and we’re excited. Last year, after our yearly showcase at Cheer Up Charlies, we snuck away from the bustle of Dirty Sixth Street and hit the Broken Spoke, a legendary country dancehall with an entire room dedicated to the cowboy hats of the rich and famous. Between glugs of Lone Star, we caught a set from The Derailers, one of the greatest and loudest honky-tonk bands of our time. They covered Buck Owens, they covered The Beatles, they played songs about heartbreak and hangovers, and we tried to dance along with the regulars and failed miserably. That spirit of discovery and possibility defines the SxSW experience, no matter how many stages get sponsored by Doritos.
This year, if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, we’ll be back at Cheer Up Charlies on Red River, putting on two nights of shows on two stages, featuring sets from Snail Mail and Flasher—two artists featured in this zine—as well as HOVVDY, Sudan Archives, A Place to Bury Strangers, Sammus, and Ought. We’ll see you at HOVVDY, pardners, and we’ll try to keep the puns at a minimum.
AdHoc 25's contributors:
Taylor Mulitz is a freelance designer and the guitarist and vocalist of Flasher. He designed this issue’s cover.
Anna True is a food-motivated graphic designer and illustrator. She made the illustrations for this zine.
Jeff Rosenstock is an up-and-coming songwriter from NYC. He penned this issue’s advice column.
Look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. There will also be copies at our SxSW showcases at Cheer Up Charlies. If you happen to live outside of New York, you may order a copy as well.
Catch AdHoc at SxSW for our Unofficial and Official showcases on 3/14 & 3/16!