Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interview with Keith Rankin of Giant Claw and Orange Milk Records

In the past twelve months I've done quite a bit of writing about the output of Keith Rankin, both under the moniker Giant Claw, and along with Seth Graham on the micro label Orange Milk Records. Twisted, cyberpunk, synth freakouts, that are, quite frankly, unlike almost anything else. Recently, Keith was gracious enough to spend a few minutes giving his thoughts on his own musical inspirations, the direction of Orange Milk, and even provide a few recommendations for additional mind expanding listening. So without further ado, choose a sample, and proceed below...

Talk a bit about your musical background, influences, and the origins of Giant Claw.

It's funny, because I've been thinking about your formative musical years a lot recently, and I've realized that there were three songs that struck me as totally magical and emotionally moving when I was young. They were Ministry's "Psalm 69", Green Day's "Basket Case", and Tom Petty's "Mary Janes Last Dance". Even though everyone knows those songs, go listen to them again on youtube. I don't even know where I'm going with this, I just wanted to shout out Green Day. Being really young and exposed to music is so crazy though, you love every single interesting thing you hear, or at least I did. Anything with rich harmony or melody would blow my fucking mind, and thinking about it now, I love the idea that your young mind is so removed from outside context. There's no "This shit has been done before! This is a rip off!" After a certain age it becomes really hard to hear music at face value, removed from culture and what you know about the nature of human beings. In 2011 Phil Collins admitted he didn't like music anymore. That's so deeply sad to me, but that's probably the end result of your curiosity totally dying.

Anyway, I started using the name Giant Claw in 2010, kind of as an exercise in getting rid of my own personal boundaries in making music. That's a pretentious way of saying I wanted to take a break from really rigid structure and composition, cause I felt those things were boxing me in. But of course I quickly adopted a lot of other boundaries and structures in an improvisational framework. It's really hard to challenge yourself, but I want to keep trying. That impulse was the origin of Giant Claw, I guess.

Can you describe your creative process, and how you arrive at your sound? Is it your intent to create such hectic and overwhelming tracks, is it just the organic result of your personal taste?

Recently my creative process starts with an idea, like "Ohh... I should do THAT!" And then I'll try to do it. And the idea can be something like "I want to sample jazz drums and mix it with synth," or it can be just a little melody, or anything. But I've also had so many other processes in making music, like actually trying to compose with a keyboard and notation, or just sitting down almost blank and improvising for an hour, or trying to rip off an existing piece of music, which always ends up sounding totally different. It feels weird trying to claim any one of those. The creative process is an amazing thing, I've said before that I wish there were documentaries just showing artist's detailed process. It might be boring for a while, but it'd still be enlightening.

As for arriving at my actual sound, lately it's been through using two synths and a computer. The setup area is fairly compact and easy to move around, so I guess the sound springs from equal parts convenience and just liking the tone of those synthesizers. I use a lot of samples as well, where I used to use real drums, guitar, piano, more traditional instruments. I wouldn't mind returning to a more varied setup at some point.

Your latest, Mutant Glamour seems to have this sinister feeling behind it I haven’t heard in previous Giant Claw releases. Am I imagining that, or was it intentional?

Yeah I guess that was kind of intentional. I was trying to channel a more sleazy feeling on some tracks, or the idea of ugliness being glamorous. I was just talking to my ex-girlfriend the other day about American fashion. We had gone to the post office and were behind this slick looking middle eastern guy and an overweight American girl wearing washed out jeans and a pink sweatshirt or something. And she was like "Is it just me, or are foreign people better dressed than the typical American?" or something along those lines. And I found myself defending this middle class, mall-roaming American fashion sense, full of aesthetically disgusting prints on gross looking worn out hoodies. Like Dragon Ball Z Jerseys and huge XL man jeans. Yeah, it is weird and so removed from classical ideas of beauty and slickness and all that, but it has this strange appeal. I think that's a good example of 'Mutant Glamour' in a literal sense.

I have to ask…, with all that 8 bit sound…, favorite old school video game?

By far the game Snatcher. I'm not sure if that's old school enough, the version I played was emulated from Sega CD. Eitherway, it's an amazing game, basically a point and click noir mystery, like Terminator mixed with Blade Runner, seriously, with some of my favorite music. It's just very charming. Going back before that, I don't know. Most of the older NES games I love because of their soundtracks, like Gremlins 2, which, if you could call it an album, would be one of my favorite albums.

What gear are you currently working with?

My current setup is a macbook, a Korg Polysix synth, a Korg MonoPoly, and samples.

You and Seth Graham (Henry Dawson) maintain Orange Milk Records. What are the origins of Orange Milk, and how do you approach aesthetics and artist selection?

The origins of Orange Milk can be boiled down to me and Seth saying "Let's start a label!" It was actually pretty innocent. We both had records we had just finished that we wanted to put out, and also we wanted to release a Caboladies LP and Ga'an's first self titled album on LP. If I'm being honest, there is a lot of underground music that I don't like, and we get a lot of demos now, so curating can be tricky. I don't know, a record just has to have some sort of spark of life. I might need to think about this more so I don't come off sounding like an idiot, but it's almost about dedication. Even if a musician is totally clueless about every aspect of making and recording music, if there is a sense of passion or dedication, or a simple thrill in making things, I feel that always comes through and makes for an interesting record. I'm not going to say we have a 100% curatorial success rate, but that little spark of excitement is what we look for.

The Orange Milk catalogue strikes me as pretty fearless. Is that a purposeful attempt to challenge the audience and shape tastes?

I can't say it's intentional. I interviewed the guys from NNA Tapes for the site Altered Zones last year, and they shared a similar sentiment. You just like a lot of different music, and don't want to put kind of meaningless boundaries on what you can or can't release. You know, I'm just a fan and champion of new music, and I feel like the current generation is pretty open to destroying genres because of the internet and filesharing. So the idea of being afraid to release something that you enjoy because of cultural pressure or whatever is totally insane.

In the current world of digital self promotion possibilities, what role do you see the small run label playing, and how do you see that continuing to evolve?

With the internet it's definitely possible to make a great album and get tons of attention, but that isn't really the rule yet, most artists still invest a good chunk of money to get decent press. Small labels can operate almost like an underground artist who is putting out an awesome album every month or so, if that makes sense. You can spend what available money you have on pressing records, then use the digital self promotion you mentioned to slowly gain people's attention, if you're lucky. Then when you put out an album you have the combined perception of the artist and label, which hopefully resonates with people.

I'm not saying I champion this outcome, but it would be really interesting to see what the music industry looked like if bigger labels went bankrupt, or if downloading crippling them to such a degree that it made no sense to keep going. I think music keeps heading in the direction of fragmentation, or tons of little niche genres rolling around together without as many media-hyped narratives as we've seen in the past. And the internet supports that kind of scattered model perfectly. So I don't know, maybe in the future there will just be hordes of niche artists barely making minimum wage directly through digital sales, or maybe the remaining big labels will keep merging until we only have one massive media monster that gains control of internet usage and essentially regulates content like radio or TV. That would fucking suck, but it seems likely.

I’d love a couple recommendations to check out. What tops your list of 2012 releases to this point?

Not counting any albums on Orange Milk, I keep coming back to DJ Rashad's Teklife Vol. 1. I also really like the Grimes album, Black Dice, the YYU album on Beer on the Rug, Blanche Blanche Blanche's LP, Moon Pool and Dead Band, White Suns, Death Grips. Those are some of my favorites off the cuff.

A million thanks to Keith for being cool enough to take time out to answer my questions. If you haven't already, I strongly suggest you check out his stuff in all of it's various forms by visiting Orange Milk for the physical. And for instant gratification, head over to the Giant Claw and Orange Milk Bandcamp pages, and take the time in any form you can to support Keith and all the folks working so hard to maintain a vibrant independent music scene for all of us to enjoy.

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