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Interview: Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan on finding inspiration in Man Ray’s experimental films

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Jarmusch will give two very performances during Mission Cree. --  Illustration by Jacob Yeates
Jarmusch will give two very performances during Mission Creek. — Illustration by Jacob Yeates

Jim Jarmusch, the iconoclastic independent filmmaker, is headed to Mission Creek, along with bandmate and filmmaking associate Carter Logan, to perform as their band Sqürl. Sqürl, whose music is perhaps best known from their score to Jarmusch’s 2013 film Only Lovers Left Alive, will perform a live score to the films of avant-garde artist Man Ray on April 3 at FilmScene, though good luck getting your hands on tickets: They sold out in one minute. But you still have a chance to see them at the Yacht Club on April 4 at 12 a.m. for a full Sqürl show. Little Village caught up with Jarmusch and Logan at the tail end of winter.

Jim Jarmusch: How are you doing?

Little Village: Good. Thanks for making some time for us.

JJ: How’s it going out there, what’s the weather like?

One could call it pretty fucking stupid. It’s frozen, but we’re gonna warm it up for you by the time you guys get out here.

JJ: Alright, good. Start setting fire to things.

When you move out of the studio onto the stage into a live setting, what changes do you see to your own music or the approach to some of your songs?

JJ: Carter?

Carter Logan: Well, there’s the one major difference, I think, between the studio and the stage, in terms of the recording studio to the stage, in that, when we’re recording, we’re working with our collaborator Shane Stonebeck, who is an additional member of Sqürl, who isn’t able—because of everything else he is doing—to come on the road. Outside of the studio, Sqürl is Jim and myself, or Jim and Youseff and myself so far. I guess the two of us is the common denominator for it at this point.

JJ: If you have me and Carter, you have Sqürl.

CL: That would be the main difference. We don’t have this creative force of Shane with us live. But we do have a lot of things that we created together and that we’re pulling back together. I think we’re a band that enjoys variations and change, and so we’re okay if the live version of this song isn’t exactly the same instrumentation as the recorded version.

JJ: When we’re in the studio we often have a plan, but we don’t want to know exactly what we’re doing. We like to keep a little bit off balance so that we’re open to whatever might start to come out of us. Whereas live, we’re aware it is a show, so we are trying to play a set within which each piece will vary every time, each song.

Do you feel like your collaboration, say on the stage, extends from or is a continuum with your collaboration on set?

JJ: You mean me and Carter’s collaboration on set as filmmakers?

You and Carter, when you’re making films, it’s such a different labor and process.

JJ: We have different roles when we’re making a film, so it’s quite different. There’s something about it that’s similar in that we are collaborators and we understand there are a lot of things involved in creating something. But we have different roles when we’re making a film. When we’re Sqürl, we are Sqürl. We are working together, everything’s equal, we just kind of see. We make plans, we discuss them with each other, we try things, we make maps.

A film is different. You have more people, and more of a schedule, and more money involved, and time is very precious. For me, it’s a big relief to make music because, while making a film, my job every day is to make thousands of little decisions and to be the navigator. That’s not the same.

Making music is like a communication, something flowing out of us in an immediate way. Whether we’re capturing it in the studioor we’re just playing, it’s quite a different thing. It’s not the same kind of pressure—not that filmmaking isn’t a great pleasure. It’s a stress put on it that music doesn’t have the same thing, not the way we do it.

We’re not trying to be professional pop stars and recreate pop hits. We’re droning away, trying to make stuff we like.

Jim, coming out of Ohio, do you feel like that’s made an impression on you, or do you draw inspiration? There’s so much great experimentation going on around the edges of rock and so many bands in the ‘70s and the ‘80s. Does that stick with you? Do you feel like there’s something Midwestern? I ask because we’re here in Iowa, of course.

JJ: I do. I’m not self-analytical about “where does this come from, and why do I do this?” I don’t really try to analyze it, but it’s very ingrained in me. A post-industrial place that I come from, and always being on a fringe, not being in the center, not being in New York, not being in Los Angeles, or Berlin, or Paris or Cleveland. Akron is a different thing, so things that come out of there—whether it’s Pere Ubu or Devo—those kind of things when I was young. The Midwest is in me, so I don’t really analyze how it comes back out of me, but it’s certainly in me.

CL: It’s funny that we’re a New York-based band, but Jim’s from Ohio, I’m from Illinois, and Shane’s from South Dakota. Jim and I both grew up in post-industrial cities. And there’s a part of that in us. I don’t know how it comes out in the music either. We like American music, we like working within certain idioms at times, of country or rockabilly, or even heavy metal.

JJ: We try to learn and play better and stuff, but we’re not professional. I feel that’s also about filmmaking. I’ve always felt that—amateur, the root of the word is “the love of something” and professional is to make a career or make money, somehow be a professional. Our love of music is a kind of love. There’s something about being from the Midwest: Slickness is not necessarily the end game. We’re not math rockers. We’re not slick professionals. There’s nothing against that. I love all kinds of forms, but what comes out of us, there is something Midwestern in it. We refer to ourselves as enthusiastically marginal. We’re not trying to be mainstream. That’s not our goal. We don’t even care about that.

We’re psyched for what you guys do with Man Ray.

JJ: Man Ray wasn’t trying to make films that would take him to Hollywood and become a professional director. He was playing with his camera like a toy. He was hanging it out of car windows in 1925. He was figuring out ways to get his beautiful girlfriends to take their clothes off and then photograph them with strange patterns of light. I mean, he was finding joyful—even though the films are dark sometimes in his imagery—he had a love for this imagery. He was playing with things to discover them.

He’s a part of a whole line of inspiration, a whole ocean of inspirations for us. We’re really happy to make music to his films. They’re not linear and they’re not logical. They’re using juxtapositions to dream. The more we play to it, it’s astounding because the films become—we’re not getting tired of them, we see new things in them each time.

As you get ready to put together these gigs, are there any surprises we should look for? Any new songs we can anticipate? I know you’ve been trying out a couple slowed-down, sludged-out country tracks, and they’ve been fantastic.

JJ: We’ve always done that kind of stuff, but we haven’t quite prepared our set yet for Iowa, so we’re not quite sure about it. There’ll be some instrumental things and some vocal things, too, probably some of those country things played moltenly.

Moltenly.

JJ: Yeah, we like molten. Molten is good.

This article was originally published in LV 174


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