Mission Creek Festival: Current Joys w/ Younger, Hot Tang
Gabe’s — Wednesday, April 4 at 8:30 p.m.
One of Mission Creek’s most anticipated musical acts, Current Joys, is a solo project by L.A.-based artist Nick Rattigan. Classifying Current Joys’ sound within a specific genre label is a challenge, especially in the wake of his latest record, A Different Age. The album functions as both a collection of nine distinctive songs, and as a larger cohesive whole, simultaneously. Born of frustration with the music industry, and a severe case of writer’s block, A Different Age feels like a musical therapy session in which Rattigan attempts to strum and sing his way out of artistic immobilization. A Different Age makes for a fascinating and fraught listening experience that pays dividends to those willing to invest the time it takes to really listen.
A Different Age is also a visual record, Rattigan having shot a video for each song. Heavily influenced by the New German Cinema, Rattigan found the ultimate solution to his musical writer’s block in film. Many of the songs and videos for A Different Age are directly inspired by the slow burn filmmaking of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Chantal Akerman. A cinephile, Rattigan has no compunction about mixing media so long as the result is pleasing.
When not working on Current Joys, Nick Rattigan also plays in the duo Surf Curse, where he does double duty as both drummer and lead singer. Though Current Joys is currently on tour, Rattigan is hard at work on a number of projects that will keep him busy well into 2019. We recently spoke with Rattigan about his new album, his busy creative life and how he aspires to honesty and optimism amid a culture that celebrates apathy and irony.
One of the first things I read about you was that you’re both lead singer and drummer for Surf Curse. Do you have any favorite bands with vocalists who are also drummers? I’m thinking of Genesis, the Band, the Carpenters, Sheila E., Buddy Miles, etc. What’s the most challenging part of being both a singer and a drummer simultaneously? I look at the effort and contortions they put themselves in and I’m amazed they don’t constantly have strained necks.
I think the Carpenters are the coolest — because I didn’t know for the longest time that Karen Carpenter was the drummer. Her whole story is so tragic and twisted and you also find out that she’s just this amazing drummer/singer! She’s definitely the most interesting of the famous drummer/singers. I think the rest of the drummer/singers are just — I don’t know. There’s No Age, of course. I don’t know how I really feel about Phil Collins; I don’t know if I’ve listened to enough.
Most drummer/singers are not great singers. It’s a very awkward thing. I don’t think anyone should actually do it. I always say that [being a drummer/singer] is like trying to run a marathon while drowning. The biggest challenge comes on tour when you just have to give so much, night after night. I used to think it was the drumming that made my singing much more chaotic and exertive. But on this tour I’ve come to realize that I can blow out my voice from screaming just as easily while playing guitar.
Another challenge is sweating through all of my clothing on tour. A one-off show is fine, but I’ve started wearing my gym clothes when I play on tour because it’s literally a workout, every night, in front of a group of people. One time I got in a car accident before a show and I just played so hard that night and the only thing I remember about that night is people loving it. Ever since then I try to give as much of myself as possible.
What inspired A Different Age? What was your frame of mind while writing and recording the record?
Writers block, honestly. I had four other Current Joys albums already and now three Surf Curse albums and I was trying to avoid sounding like the same old shit. I was literally so stuck when I finished the last Current Joys album. I had no idea where to go from there. The only place to go was experimentation and improvisation. I ended up with this 45-minute, long, slow piece that sort of freaked me out. I was nervous even putting it out because it’s not readily accessible or something one can just throw on a Spotify playlist. I just wanted to accomplish something new and true to what where I was at, at that point in time. I wasn’t trying to cater to anyone else.
Now I’m writing songs that I feel like they are coming out of me so naturally, but a lot of [A Different Age] was very stressful. It took almost three years to finally finish: recording, making the videos and getting the art just right. It all came from being frustrated with the idea of creation — frustrated with music, in general — and pushing myself to make something original, regardless of its reception.
I read in some of your press material that you cite Chantal Akerman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder as major influences. I remember watching Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman… and loving it but also finding it to be a very long film. Can you talk a bit about how cinema impacts your musical output?
I love Jeanne Dielman… but it is so painful to watch. I tried watching it a few times, but I finally just sat down and did it. It was almost hypnotic. You get into a trance, like when she’s cutting potatoes, and then you’re just in that world. Then [in the third day of the film] she kills a guy, and you couldn’t have appreciated how jarring it is if you hadn’t watched [the mundane events of] day one.
It’s the same with Michael Haneke films. They’re super slow burn and then, when something happens, your jaw just drops. I dragged my dad to see Funny Games when I was in high school. The trailer was so much like A Clockwork Orange and I was so obsessed with it and my dad just thought it was the most disgusting movie he’d ever seen. Years later we went to go see Amour together and I realized I’ve seen two Michael Haneke movies with my dad, and of the two, I think Amour fucked him up a lot more.
It’s easy to write an original sound if you’re not basing it on another sound. There’s emotion and feeling that can come from a lot of different media. So if you want to get a certain mood or vibe across, it’s easier to do that if you’re coming at it with different media.
Do you have a favorite track on A Different Age? A favorite video? Did you find any of the songs or videos to be more or less successful based upon their pairing with the other medium? Meaning, were there any tracks you began to like or dislike more when you connected video to the track?
I’ve just been getting into directing. I’ve always been interested in photography. I really just wanted to practice making videos and this was a chance for me to make as many as I wanted. After each song I kept coming up with ideas.
They all stem from the “Fear” video. I filmed the “Become the Warm Jets” video a year before the rest. From there I had the idea for “Fear,” which is based on a Chantal Akerman short, where she’s just sitting in her room and the camera spins around for 10 minutes. From there, each video explores different themes from the album.
I don’t go to film school and I don’t get the opportunity to make videos all the time. So when I get the chance, I take it. Initially I hadn’t planned on making a visual album but then showed the videos to my friend who pointed out that I’d made a visual album. This was really just an experiment as opposed to some grand plan.
I tried to do a lot of one-shots. Long, slow-paced, videos in Chantel Akerman’s style. Wim Winders is a huge influence too. The song/video for “Way Out Here” is heavily influenced by The Last Picture Show. I love Americana [presented in] a foreign way, the way it depicts the American psyche. The album I’m writing right now is very influenced by Sam Shepard. My tour book right now is a collection of his plays: True West and Buried Child and I’ve been trying to watch all of his acting work too.
I think favorite song is “My Nights Are Better Than Your Days” which is one of the more involved songs I’ve ever written. Normally I don’t have a lot of chord changes but that song has a lot going on and I’m really proud of it. “Fox” is my favorite video because it stands out on its own. It was one of the only videos that I had a solid treatment for, too. I think the opening and closing videos turned out the best. I’m most proud of them, too.
We filmed all the videos in a weekend and I spent the next four weeks in my room, editing and color correcting and exporting. It’s kind of a miracle that any film or video is good because it’s so hard to really capture the essence of your original idea.
Can you talk about your live show? How is your tour going overall? As a performer, do you prefer festival gigs or solo shows? What are your expectations for Mission Creek?
In my live show I play new songs and old songs, and I try to do at least two songs from every album. This is the first time I’ve toured with this project, which I’ve been doing for seven years now, so there’s a lot of material to work with. People seem to want to hear all of it. In terms of overall [live set] dynamics, it starts slow, builds-up and then goes slow again. I try to make the experience as cinematic as possible.
When you attend music festivals it can feel like bands are essentially cattle. It can be overwhelming. You do your thing but don’t get to experience anything else at the festival. It’s hard to achieve catharsis in a 45 minute set. Also, this record really requires listeners to sit down and pay attention to get anything out of it.
The smaller, the better, in terms of live shows. Packing people in can take away from the energy we’re trying to create on stage. If you can get a hundred people in a room, that’s ideal. Festivals are usually a shit show. There are always people talking in the back who think no one can hear them but everyone can. That said, I was looking at the Mission Creek line-up and its spread out. It breaks down by venue and it’s just a … get-as-much-in-as-you-can festival. So I’m excited for Mission Creek.
The tour has been surprisingly good so far. We’re almost out of merch, which is good and bad because we have four more weeks to go. We need someone at the home base to get us some more!