In between with Jib Kidder

Post Author: Amelia Pitcherella

It seems like every time I visit Jib Kidder’s bandcamp page—admittedly not often enough to keep up with the steady stream of music he’s producing—he’s changed the artist description. At the moment, it reads, “I’m really pro-human beings, pro-expression of everything.” In the past, it was, “No genre, no hometown, hard 2 pin down since Y2K.” It’s an apt self-report. Since the mid-2000s when his first releases began cropping up, and doubtless before then, Sean Schuster-Craig, the psychedelic collagist behind the Jib Kidder project, has been obsessed with change, obsessed with dreaming up new worlds in as many mediums and places as possible.

In his kitchen, Schuster-Craig asks me if I know how to clean a bong and then offers me coffee. Raised in Atlanta, he has retained a kind of southern hospitality that’s hard to come by in Midtown East. Between the manifold duties of making a near-constant stream of new music, caring for his son, and flipping flies in his wife’s lab—he explains that this is when you flip vials of fruit flies for life science research into new food—he’s always making things, so the chance to speak with him during this busy time between releases feels special.

In this twenty-fifth story apartment in Manhattan, I do feel like I’ve entered some kind of clean, organized dream-world of Schuster-Craig’s creation. There’s a cluster of guitar pedals on the ground beneath a mic stand, and on the adjacent turntable, a tape collection and a vinyl collection all neatly shelved. A wide window opens to a view of the Queensboro Bridge, stark against the overcast sky. He had tweeted a while back that his time in New York had been the most productive. “I think it’s because I don’t really wanna go outside at all,” he says. “There are certainly places I would like to go in New York, but they’re not nearby. Like, at the very least I’ve gotta ride my bike over a bridge or something, so I think that’s certainly a motivator … People here are better conversationalists. In California people are way more chill, but they’re way more, if not dumb, at least dumb-acting. There’s also so many artists, musicians here… you end up having a lot of conversations with people that spark ideas.”

Jib Kidder’s most recent release was April’s In Between 7”, a companion to January’s Teaspoon to the Ocean, out via Domino imprint Weird World. One of two pop records he’s made, and the follow-up to 2013’s raw, psychedelic, guitar-heavy Gnar Tapes release IV, Teaspoon incorporates heavily layered vocal loops, ebo guitar, and synthetic samples from various recordings into a sedate psych-rock tour de force. Each track has its own supplementary collage-art video that displays the lyrics against a gently moving background, some glaciers or the sunset over a desert city. Schuster-Craig made each video himself, as well as the art for the accompanying booklet. Though he works in music, he has made video, sculpture, digital painting, chalk murals, and volumes of prose-poetry.

It seems wrong to say he’s primarily a musician, but Schuster-Craig has a striking way of adapting collage concepts to music and sound. Since Napkin Bulletproof, released in 2006, he’s been playing with the sound collage form, relying on samples from disparate sources, primarily records, tapes, CDs, and downloaded files. “Around Y2K, using a computer for music, most of the things that you would be doing right away sounded pretty shitty,” he tells me. “So I think that what happened was, pretty much the second I found out I could sample, was such a massive improvement in the quality of the music. And it also allowed me to enjoy it so much more. I mean, I can enjoy my own instrumental music more than vocal music. I can enjoy my own sample music, though, almost like it’s music I didn’t write, which is cool. So I guess it sounds better to me. It’s never been a question for me of, like, how distinct is this from its source—I feel like a lot of the things I’ve done have been pretty distinct from anything, so there’s not that question for me of, ‘have I done something?’”

This collagist ethic is evident in Schuster-Craig’s work beyond the sampling and visual art—the lyrics on Teaspoon read, at first glance, like a collage in themselves. One of Jib Kidder’s express intentions, listed on the project’s website, is “to harness the humor and ambiguous poignancy specific to the experience of dreaming.” Certainly there’s a dreamlike quality to these lyrics: in the video for “Appetites,” which features backing vocals from Julia Holter, we see the opening line, “She, I’m told, is up and out here. Never let me know so I become my own one.” Each short phrase dissipates back into the moving graphic so that our memory of the already sentence may be fragmentary at best.

Schuster-Craig explains that his method for lyric writing lends itself to a kind of lyric that rarely reads straightforwardly. “I’ve got a really bad memory—like, my memory is stored on the computer. I probably don’t know the names of some of my favorite songs,” he says as he rummages through a tall bookshelf, eventually landing on a cut-up copy of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans. “I type much faster than I write, although I use notebooks for a bunch of things, so I was always writing lyrics with Excel, Google Spreadsheets.” He says he had met Christina Schneider and OSR Tapes founder Zach Phillips, who together comprise CE Schneider Topical, in California through White Fang’s Rikky Gage. After the two of them filmed a video at Schuster-Craig’s house in Oakland, they left mushrooms on the heating unit. Whether it was a gift or an accident, he took them, and shortly after, he found a chart in the introduction of The Making of Americans that illustrates the categories of repetition within the book. “I was just freaked out because it looked exactly like one of my spreadsheets… I’ll often use a pattern like [Stein’s], of words, but where the cells are colored such that I can consider any colored cells generally equivalent. I’ll flip different colored ones.”

Jib Kidder - lyrics image

“A lot of the formal ideas that I ended up having about writing lyrics all pointed to the same one thing, which was un-memorability. I feel like my lyrics are kind of dumb and pretty simple, but then at the same time nearly impossible to remember, for some reason.” When he toured with Schneider, he says she struggled a bit with memorizing the lyrics. “It just seemed like almost everything, every small technique that I had developed, was just some sort of an attack on being able to remember the thing.”

This tenuousness of memory is something that Schuster-Craig has observed in his own experiences of dreaming and waking. In 2014 he released a volume of prose-poetry entitled asleep in the laundry room whose style is distinctly redolent of Stein’s, and he tells me that the pieces at the beginning of the volume are his own actual dream journal entries: “Dream transcription was definitely the first creative writing I ever did. Besides letters to girlfriends, it would be the only writing I ever did … What’s interesting in the transcription itself is not just what happened in the dream, but it’s like, you’re groggy, you’re on some natural form of valium and you’re transcribing it. And it’s a unique kind of fleeting memory where if you don’t grab onto it very quickly, it will disappear. Any other kind of experience, I don’t know another experience like that, that’s trying to pull itself away from you. But if you grab onto it, you’ve got it, and then you’re writing it down, but you’re on the natural downer, and you write this unique kind of poetry—I say the wrong word, and the word itself is already pretty far drifted from the idea it was attached to. That kind of slip is what I’m interested in, the difference between the experience and the memory, and how things mutate over time.”

Dream transcription was definitely the first creative writing I ever did.  What’s interesting in the transcription itself is not just what happened in the dream, but it’s like, you’re groggy, you’re on some natural form of valium and you’re transcribing it. And it’s a unique kind of fleeting memory where if you don’t grab onto it very quickly, it will disappear.

And much in the same way you can turn a corner in a dream and reemerge in a new setting, Jib Kidder’s work is ever-shifting—there’s no halt in the flow of weirdness and difference. Though he began with improvisational guitar, his first full-length, 2008’s All On Yall, is a collection of hip-hop tunes collaged together from various samples. Then Steal Guitars, released in 2012, saw him meshing together samples plucked from the oft-overlapping worlds of country, hip-hop, electronic, and folk. He says he presently hasn’t been listening to much song-based music himself, though he offers up Japanese cult favorite Yximalloo—“I knew about him before I met him,” he tells me, “because when I was a teenager he blew up one of my Casio SK-1s.” He adds later, “I was a really precocious kid who wasn’t really taking cues from my peers but finding older people and paying attention to what my friends’ brothers were listening to. So I think I really absorbed a sort of outmoded, 1990s cultural perspective. That was maybe why I wasn’t ever with the times.” He drew heavily from southern rap when he was living in Atlanta, and in an email, he’ll tell me that the only new music that influences his work presently is “ESPN” by Bankroll Fresh:

“The track is based around number-3 heavy polyrhythms, and a lot of number wordplay on top of that,” he writes. “The number 3 like desperately wanted to break into rap music, the first pronounced way I can think of is the early 90s Memphis influenced Bone Thugs kinda boring triplets flow, and then it kind of had a false start when post-Stankonia Dungeon fam dudes did poppy 6/8 shit, but that so noticeably damaged the hardness of rap, and so were needed the fast in-3s hi-hats from Chicago footwork, which didn’t interfere with that, better yet they cut right through the air for long-distance-audible ‘beat yo block’ type out-the-car-window broadcasts… but anyways, check out the unmemorizable lyrics, the really uncatchy chorus, the kind of wordy wrap around thing BG would do, a hook whose only hook-like quality is the fact of its repetition.”

These days, Schuster-Craig insists he’s fairly isolated, not identifying with any specific music community, preferring to do his own thing. He smiles as he tells me this—this mentality has benefitted him, apparent in the range of freedom he’s had with what sorts of things he may create. And it’s not as if he’s lacking in support—this past spring he toured alongside Panda Bear and with the accompaniment of Phillips and Schneider.

“It seemed like he was stuck in this problem that I’ve always had,” he says, about touring with Panda Bear. “If you’re making music that starts out being a record and then trying to convert it to the stage, there’s all these things you want to do to make it so that it’s not, like, pre-recorded, something to keep it live. But it’s really easy to end up in this sort of Rube Goldberg situation where you’re just going a really long, circuitous route in order to un-record your record. And while that is incredibly difficult, it’s really easy—if it’s easy for you to write music—it can be easy for you to write for the stage. So what I’m doing now is writing songs with the tools I’ll use at a show, so that I don’t have that problem of translation, and to maybe have the spheres be a little bit different, where maybe what I play live is not what’s on record.”

Schuster-Craig intends to tour the states with percussionist Ben Lawless on drums in the near future, and his plan for the coming tour includes the incorporation of a heretofore unexplored visual avenue. In addition to grapheme color synesthesia, Schuster-Craig has a condition called visual snow, which affected him his all life without his knowledge. “It’s just a persistent, minor, non-complicating hallucination,” he explains. “It’s a lot like TV static that’s superimposed on everything.” On tour in the spring, Jib Kidder played Berlin alongside Andrew Pekler, whose set backdrop consisted of stills rather than video, only because he couldn’t find a video adapter that night. Schuster-Craig explains that he would often incorporate video onstage, but after seeing this performance, “I was thinking that I could do gifs, and then I just thought, aw fuck, this whole show should be visual snow stills. So that’s the plan for now.”

When I ask him what else he’s working on at the moment, he tells me, grinning, “I’m just kind of always doing all of it. I mean, it seems like the trajectory at this point is continuing to fuse all the things I’ve done. With Teaspoon there was guitar playing, samples, and songs, and I did all the art for the book, so it was really everything I had done sort of coming together into one thing.” Meanwhile, he’s just made a full-length record of covers whose future is for now uncertain, and later he’ll tell me that in the middle of a busy week he’d neglected to mention that he’s just finished a record under the new moniker Joyn Holzcek, which comes from a joke Lou Reed made about Columbia’s plans for the release of Metal Machine Music. Set for release soon on Berlin’s care/of label, the record, aptly titled New Works for Realistic Mixer, consists of music made with only drum machine and feedback loop. He’s also been working on a follow-up to 2013’s Etudes Series I, which consisted of gorgeous improvisational studies on the guitar, banjo, and piano, and he’s been writing “sparse new Arthur-Russelly songs” with performance in mind.

With all the wandering directions of present-day Jib Kidder, his music’s connection to dreams may be more tenuous than before, but ultimately Schuster-Craig insists they’ve probably made their way in there somehow. “There’s an extent to which I think that any art that really works is somewhat psychedelic, and also some extent to which I think that quite possibly any creative form of thinking is somehow reliant on dreams. It’s hard to say when no one has any idea what they are. I mean, people are always trying to feel assured that they know what a human is because you can figure out where in the brain something’s happening, but no one really knows what it’s doing. So I think those things are universal, dreams as a source of inspiration… I feel like it’s sort of like being human. And am I really deep into my dreams right now? No, I’m not. I have a really hard time remembering them. My sleep’s screwed up from fatherhood, in addition to the marijuana, I don’t remember many dreams at all. And I think since I had a kid I’ve never come up with a good solution for how to sort of document them anymore. Just because I wake up when he wakes up, and then I’m not just like, ‘You chill out, I gotta get back in bed and try to write this down.’” Ben Lawless with whom he’ll be touring, on the other hand, “He’s got crazy fucking dreams, he’s got really vivid fucking dreams, man, insane fucking dreams. I feel like maybe it’s common to the artistic disposition to have wilder dreams or more captivating dreams.”

“There’s an extent to which I think that any art that really works is somewhat psychedelic, and also some extent to which I think that quite possibly any creative form of thinking is somehow reliant on dreams. It’s hard to say when no one has any idea what they are.”

And he admits, beaming a little, “I was into it for a while. Nicotine patches are really cool for having super vivid dreams. I mean, I would just figure this out from quitting smoking, but then I’d do it sometimes needlessly, just because, like, it’s crazy. I think it’s because you’re getting a nice, steady dose of nicotine while you’re dreaming, so you’re just kind of getting some stimulant. I don’t know, I had really fun, fun-scary dreams almost, running through a funhouse, like a chase scene, but just with really wild imagery and wild experiences. Yeah, it’s fun. Nicotine patches.”

I’m reminded of a Jib Kidder tweet from this past February: “another word 4 noodling is play. necessary 2 all creation. if a creation shows no noodles it is b/c they have been hidden in embarrassment.” So many of Schuster-Craig’s ventures have been accidents—or if not accidents, acts of play, of noodling. He’s aware that in making art there should be room for slippage, just as in the recording of dreams there’s a slip in between the dream experience and the recorded memory. That space in between is most compelling.