Exray’s strongman Jon Bernson, a force of great influence, a walking think tank that contains no less than 320 side projects, including Window Twins, THEMAYS, Ray's Vast Basement and steady soundtrack work. We met up for a few pints and some Jim Beam at JaynBees and caught up on the latest performances, tour schedules and various thoughts on the enduring anachronism of the cassette of both analogue proportions and durability.
Curious to hear your thoughts on the concept of Singularity.
Okay, I guess we're skipping the small talk! Word has it that advances in technology, artificial intelligence and biology will lead to a quantum leap in human evolution in the near future. Basically Verner Vinge and Ray Kurzweil are the main guys who came up with this Singularity idea, which has turned into a debate about what life will look like, and whether it will be beautiful, horrific or what.
“We will soon create intelligences greater than our own. When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity, an intellectual transition as impenetrable as the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole, and the world will pass far beyond our understanding. This singularity, I believe, already haunts a number of science-fiction writers. It makes realistic extrapolation to an interstellar future impossible.” – Verner Vinge
Do scientists and programmers have a monopoly on what the future will hold? Artists aren't bound by facts and figures. Dreams, rumors, fears, colors, sounds and sensations are legit. And thinking about singularity when making art is a way of imagining that anything is possible. For good and for worse.
[Illustrations photographed by Michael David Rose]
It’s interesting to hear about robots and dystopias. I want to hear about how you all worked on your concept for Ancient Thing.
The idea behind Ancient Thing is to look back on our future from an even more distant future. For us, this has been a good way to go. It acknowledges the mystery of it all. We're not playing Nostradamus. Ancient Thing gives us the license to explore the future without being pretentious enough to think we understand it, or fatalistic enough to throw in the towel. People tend to think that Earth will go to shit, or that we'll solve our current problems and expand across the Universe, but the reality is that certain things will probably evolve and certain things will devolve. People (or robots) (or hybrids) will probably feel like we do now, just with different circumstances. Different challenges. I have a theory that most of us will be struggling to get by. Just like now.
Looking back in hindsight like archaeologists or paleontologists dusting over trash of the previous eras, like buried landfills from civilizations.
Yes. A way to look at the present day as an observer. Removing yourself so you can get some perspective. I have a pretty Zen view of the future. Gains create losses and visa versa, but who am I to predict? Exploring the possibilities and exchanging ideas with other people improves our chances of evolving in a good direction. Exploration. Speculation. Not just for the rich.
Speaking of evolving, with San Francisco’s growing electro movement, you are helping to build a coalition behind it. We are known for our garage scene. What are you and your cohorts doing to this reputation?
What’s happening with the garage movement is exciting. Undeniable. What am I doing to this reputation? Not much! I've been influenced by garage rock, but that's not where my music is at. I'm inspired by other directions and my mode has always been to reach out to people I’m inspired by, not just passively absorb their work. No band is an island. Working with other artists has been inspiring and the most valuable part of my music education. It's humbling, but I learn by working with people who are better at something than myself. Music is a conversation. Know when to speak up and when to listen. I'm not trying to create a movement. That could be cool, but not my intention. I wouldn't even know where to begin. The intention is to connect with people who are doing inspiring work.
What Exray’s provide I have always described as electronic folk fables of sorts. Do you feel like the environment you play in and the people you play with; do you feel a kind of electronic renaissance that’s occurring in 2012 that’s spurning creativity and imagination?
I like the the electronic fables part a lot. It’s hard for me to speak to a renaissance. I feel like I should say yes. Listeners are getting more excited about electronic music these days, but such creatures have always existed. The Bay has always been a progressive community. Thirsty for new ideas. Electronic music and technology are often associated with new ideas. When the world presents new tools, it’s really tempting to use them, and that can be a good thing. New tools are the unique ones to our generation. That's a magnet to me because it puts me in touch with how people are living right now. And right now is as close to the future as we can get. That said, I try to keep one foot in the past too, because no matter how things change, I believe in a core that remains the same. I also believe that the most powerful innovations have nothing to do with technology. They are new modes of thinking, perception and awareness.
Describe the road travelled to Exray’s right now.
Michael and have always had real diverse musical taste so when we began the group, we wanted to explore without any musical boundaries or limitations. Over the last three years, we have really zoomed in and decided what we want to focus on. Trust a Robot is the beginning of our second stage. The next record will pick up where this one left off.
Shigeto re-working “Yellow Light” is a dub odyssey, taking the keyboard and working it like a master.
True story. Shigeto took the stems and really flipped the beat; took it to a much more abstract realm. He also processed the vocal samples in a really cool way and used the synth tones from the main hook. We added a new bassline in a different time signature and some new synths. Usually with a remix, you send it out, they send it back, and you get what you get. But we were lucky enough to have some back and forth. Dub odyssey is a great description. Where do you come up with this stuff?
How did you meet up with Jeanne Applegate (who has collaborated with Exray's on three videos)?
We met Jeanne when Exray's released our song on the In a Cloud compilation. Greg Gardner who runs Secret Seven (the label) introduced us to her. This led to the 'Everything Goes' video, which Jeanne made by herself. Then we collaborated on the video for “Ways to Stop Time” and most recently, 'Ancient Thing.' She is super talented and great to work with. She's been writing some screenplays too, but I'm not sure if i'm supposed to share that?
How did you scout out the post-apocalyptic locations in the making of the “Ancient Thing” video?
Ancient Thing was a video collaboration between Exray's (Michael Falsetto-Mapp & myself), Jeanne Applegate and Kyle Giacomo (super 8 cinematographer). We had a few sessions to brainstorm ideas for the video and came up with a list of locations to scout out. Before we had a chance to look at the spots, I was at Building Resources near Third Street and saw a huge decaying granary building, which took me down an alley bordered by a cement mixing plant and a few abandoned lots. I snapped these photos and emailed them to everyone. It was kind of a no brainer. Better than what we could have hoped for.
Being an artist who has had your work featured in soundtracks, movies and plays, how does the dimension of visual application effect your work?
I started out singing in school musicals when I was 4 years old, so I've always associated music with stories, visuals and dramatic situations. As a kid, I remember sitting around with my family singing folk songs. The songbook drawings of gold miners and train cars and gypsies came to life as we sang and are still clear in my mind. When I started writing songs, this spilled into the lyrics and led to me to write music that supported a story or scenario. Drawing pictures is a great way to write songs. I make associations I wouldn't make if I just started in with writing lyrics. Same thing with soundtracks. My goal is to support a situation onstage and reinforce the emotional arc of the play or film.
What’s next for Exray’s?
I've never been a big fan of campaign promises. Some really great things are going to happen this year. If you dig the music, make contact with us. Friend us in real life. The web grows tangled by the day. The middlemen are getting round in the middle. Let's trade our own goods. If you don't like the music, I'm shocked you made it through this interview. Please reconsider.
Exray's new album Trust A Robot is out now from Howell's Transmitter and are co-headlining the Rock Make Street Festival this Saturday, September 15 in San Francisco.