DUMBO Summer Friday Performers Javelin Teach Us About Crate-Diving

Posted August 16

Not only are Thomas Van Buskirk and George Langford the talented multi-instrumentalists behind the Brooklyn band Javelin, they’re also our headliners tomorrow at Unboxed/DUMBO Summer Friday. Find out more about the duo after the jump.

Tom once likened the band’s music to what it sounds like when one flips through radio channels — but he’s being too modest. Javelin’s sound may be eclectic, but it’s far from random. Yet we’d totally understand if you don’t want focus on the care and craft behind each overstuffed song, as you’re probably too busy dancing. Recently Tom took a moment to chat with the O Music Blog about the art of sampling, social media, recording and the strangest place he ever found a record.

Music critics and casual listeners love to separate ‘original’ and ‘found’ material from sample-based music. Is this just harmless scavenger hunt fun and somewhat beside the point or is there something to be gained from worrying over the idea of originality and authorship?

I think there is an elemental literacy in knowing (or at least being able to sense) what is sampled and what isn’t. I am generally surprised at some friends’ inability to pick out even typical sounds or instruments from songs they like — but that doesn’t seem to detract from their enjoyment of music — maybe sampling falls into this same category of being beside the point, as you say.

There are many levels of listening and appreciation. I am definitely interested in the idea of originality and authorship, but I would have to say that I think fear, issues of conformity, and money/notoriety have more to do with hampering originality than any issue of collage, sampling or imitation.

For that ignorant someone like me who imagines crate-digging as something akin to dowsing for water in the desert, can you elaborate on the process a little bit? What constitutes a successful day of thrift store diving?

A divining rod never hurts as art thrives on superstition. You do get better at reading crappy record sleeves like proverbial tea leaves as time goes on — as in, ‘This amateur album of pop covers from 1968 features this dude on drums… Must be good.’ I used to dig for records way, way more than I do now. On a successful day it would feel like I had 10 golden question marks in my hands, any of which might explode. Our focus in production has, for a while, shifted away from sample-centric work

Was there ever a memorable time you found material one or both of you loved, but just didn’t fit the bigger project? What happens to a sample like that?

Definitely. It then falls by the wayside and sits in a graveyard folder of samples, which is in itself a repetition of the dollar record bin of forgotten records (hence our website, dollarbinsofthefuture.com).

What’s the strangest place you’ve ever stumbled upon a record with a viable sample?

A Portuguese Bakery on Brook Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

You’ve said that 10″ Canyon Candy was inspired by long drives through the landscape of the American South and West while touring. Can you comment further upon crafting a sound to represent a particular place? The issue of scale here — the idea of invoking a vast prairie horizon from the micro-level of a sample — is fascinating.

We tried to create music that put us in the same mood as the landscape did. Our moods tend to pass very quickly — maybe that’s why we gravitated to the bite-sized vignette rather than the huge ambient opus, even though that scale might have been better suited to simulate a canyon. Plus we knew we wanted to fit our efforts onto a 10″ vinyl lacquer, so as usual we had to invoke the microcosm.

Aside from place, what Western themes were you hoping to express? Or was it more of a particular kind of sound you were looking for?

Loneliness, aloneness, dry earth, slow activity, memory, love, communication with invisible forces (human history, natural history, ghosts)

The O Music Blog focuses a lot of attention on technology and social media. Are you happy with your experience with Twitter and Facebook? Or are they frustrating? Is there something more you wish social media could deliver?

I tend to love the format of Twitter because it appeals to my attention span and love of words (words are less intrusive to me than an unending stream of images and links to news stories). Facebook has always bothered me — although I like seeing what my family is up to. I am glad I am not of the generation that has little choice at this point but to be saddled with that social/technological umbilical cord. A friend once suggested that Facebook have a ‘like’ button and an ‘ay yi yi’ button. I would be all ay yi yi’s.

Can you describe your experience with Kickstarter? You used it to fund the short film for Canyon Candy, right?

We lucked out. I had no idea our fans would lift us up on their shoulders as they did — it resembled the final scene in It’s A Wonderful Life where Uncle Billy shows up with a laundry basket overflowing with money. I hope everyone who contributed to it is happy with the film, and with the gifts they received. We tried to be as generous as possible.

The Clocktower Gallery in Manhattan recently featured a collaborative installation between you guys and Mike Anderson built around the Canyon Candy project. What was your level of involvement with the installation? You guys put such care into the physical components of your releases (like hand-pressing vinyl and hand-branding record sleeves), I’d be surprised if your contributions were strictly musical.

George and I helped with the construction of the installation on a few late nights, so there was some elbow grease spilled. The real congratulations goes to Mike, [curator] Joe Ahearn and to the group of volunteers who built that gorgeous monstrosity.

Some mild Twitter-stalking has informed me you’ve booked studio time at Machines with Magnets in September. Can you unpack that enticing hashtag #newalbum for me a little? Can you share anything at all?

We’ve been working on new songs throughout the year, playing some of them out at shows to help flesh them out. We’re excited to finish the album on proper-sounding equipment, not to mention with a group of discerning ears helping to create the best final sound possible.

Up until now we’ve done every part of the recording process ourselves, up to the point of mastering. We knew what we wanted that previous material to sound like (for better or worse). Our new work represents a different approach to composition and explores different aesthetics than we are generally known for, about which I am both nervous and excited.

In that same tweet you say you’ve ‘got one month to make it count.’ What is the buildup to recording like? Or is it different each time?

It’s different this time — because of the studio element, I am preparing each song to be in its readiest form. Hopefully that will steer our energy toward discovering the best possibilities in tracks rather than having to sort through a wreckage of tracks once we get there. That said, we’re generally pretty tidy with our work.

2011-2012 saw a Javelin EP, your first (collaborative) music video and a museum installation. You’ve set the bar pretty high. What do you hope to accomplish in 2012-2013?

New album, new stage setup, new world order.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Jason Persse