Transmission 8.08.2010 Aaron Turner Interview

A few weeks ago, Brooklyn Vegan ran an interview I did with Aaron Turner while we were on tour with Isis on the West Coast. It was the last shows on the West Coast that they would ever do so it was a real honor to be on that leg of the tour. Those guys have been great friends to me for over a decade and it saddens me that the band’s trajectory has run it’s course, however, I know each of them have great things musically and non-musically in front of them.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten several request to post the full, unedited version of the interview. Going over all of this now brings brings up a lot of complicated emotions, most of which has to do with the passage of time and things coming to an end. In a lot of ways, Isis was my last connection to an era of my life that ended a decade ago. We all tend to look at the past with unrealistic eyes, remembering things being a little bit better than they actually were; time flies on broken wings, however one of the true testaments of time is friendship. A lot of people pass through our lives and fade away. It’s uncommon to actually cultivate true friendship.

I count each of these guys as friends.

6.1.2010 Seattle, WA
HILL: We’re a couple of days into this tour, how is it going so far? Is everyone having a good time?
TURNER: I think everybody’s having a good time. There’s a lot of mixed feelings I think. Everybody in the band going into this knowing this is the last tour colors their perception of the experience quite a bit. I can’t really say what it’s like for those guys, but I was expecting some sort of cathartic feeling out of the process but it really, at the moment, just feels like another tour; which is not to say that I’m cynical about it because with almost every show I’ve ever played with Isis, I’ve tried to put myself into it as much as I possibly can so that still holds true. There is a thought that’s crossed my mind at times, during each set, knowing that this is the last time that we’ll ever play as Isis in this particular city…I don’t really know how I feel about it yet, I feel like it’s going to take me a while to process it and I feel like it’s not going to actually feel like the final shows until we’re at the end on the east coast and there’s like two shows left.
But everything is going pretty good, I mean…we’ve toured with so many bands, I’ve gotten to see how other bands interact and I feel very lucky with how well we get along even if we’re deciding to call it quits and there’s some weird stuff that comes up with that, for the most part we get along really awesome.
HILL: standing on the outside of that, what I’ve always admired about Isis is the professionalism; you guys always show up early or on time. Everything always runs really smoothly, there’s always a good sense of organization.
TURNER: I feel like tonight might be a little bit more of, for lack of a better term, an emotional show. A lot of the other cities are cities we’re played a lot of times and may have had good shows in but they’re not cities where we have a real personal connection to. Whereas with Seattle, we have a history with a lot of people that live here like the Botch guys and a couple of other people; I live here now, so there’s that attachment to it for me so maybe this show may stand out a little more in that regard so I’m curious to see how it feels.
HILL: Will there be any European dates?
TURNER: No, this is it. This is literally the last tour. When we were on the last European tour, even before that we had talked about taking a break after the tour cycle for this record was over, some people ehad expressed that it might be a hiatus or it might become a permanent break but it wasn’t really solidified until just before this tour. When we were over there we knew it might be our last tour but we weren’t sure, we didn’t make it like an official final tour. The last show we played, on the tour in Europe, at the end of last year was in Berlin; it was a really awesome show, Berlin is one of our favorite, at least one of my favorite places to play over there and the show went well and Mika, the singer from Circle, came out and did the last song with us that night which was really cool because we got along with those guys. I think having him perform with us added a little something special to the end of that show and that felt like, to me, looking back on it, a good “goodbye” to the European continent.
HILL: Was it more or less unanimous to end the band?
TURNER: I’d say that there’s a spectrum of feelings among the different members about the end of the band. I think over the last few years especially, people have had mixed feelings. We’ve all felt grateful for what we’ve gotten out of Isis and what we’ve been able to do. There were also times when a lot of the stuff that breaks bands down and wears them out was starting to happen to us. As well as we get along, being around each other six months out of the year, between touring, recording and practicing…no matter how much you like someone that starts to wear on you. I also think another factor that contributed to it is..Aaron (Harris) and I were only 19 when the band started and Jeff (Caxide) was only a couple of years older…we were teenagers…our frame of mind now as opposed to our frame of mind ten, including what we wanted to do within the context of music has shifted and changed a lot. Even if we could come together on the common ground that we have in Isis, a lot of our other interests have gone in different directions outside of that, so I think there is a creative, not a schism, but a…”creative differences” it’s such a stupid overused term, but it’s really apt because I think there are things that each of us want to do that we can’t really do in the context of Isis, so in that sense I that that there is a mutual feeling of wanting to do other things and feeling somewhat confined by the parameters that we’re able to move in in Isis.
HILL: The fact that there have been hardly any significant lineup changes in the band during the nearly 13 year duration, is a testament to the fact that you can take all of these differences and work together. I think it’s fair enough that after all this time people are into different things and want to express themselves differently.
TURNER: That’s totally the way I feel about it. I’m speaking for myself, and this might be an assumption, but it’s also based on conversations I’ve had with the other guys, you want to push yourself as a musician and you’ve never been content with staying with a particular thing, repeating it infinitely, so what we can all agree upon as far as music we can make together has become narrower over time. We could keep doing what we’re doing and continue to operate in that area but I don’t think anybody would ultimately be satisfied by that over the long run. One thing we said early on was we never want to get to the point where we’re making really compromised music. You look at bands that have stayed together for a long time, it starts to become obvious when they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing anymore.
HILL: Isis is a very successful band, at least in my eyes. It would be attractive to keep the band together for that goal. However, when certain other artists start dialing in their performances because they’re supporting a certain infrastructure, that’s when it becomes a creative failure.
TURNER: I think that’s a soul-crusher. We never started out with any sort of goals in terms of, for lack of a better term, financial success; we never imagined being able to support ourselves from playing music; the fact that it’s happened is great but I don’t want that ever to be a reason for continuing to do it because what don’t you just be a wedding band; that’s taking it to an extreme but if you’re making music to make money then that’s a very different reason than to make music because you love it.
HILL: You may as well get a job as a mechanic or something. If you want a job where you clock in and do your number than may as well do something else.
TURNER: Most people who are obligated to a job end up hating that job and I don’t want to end up hating music because I feel like I’m obligated to do it to make ends meet.
HILL: I’ve read that there is going to be an E.P. or a collection of live material that might be released posthumously.
TURNER: The two songs we just put out on the split with The Melvins were recorded in the same session as “Wavering Radiant” and we like the songs but we felt that in the context of the album that they didn’t work so we made a conscious decision to save those for whatever purpose we saw fit down the road and we decided first to release them as part of the split with the Melvins and eventually we’re going to include tbose on an E.P. along with another song we’re recording ourselves, an embient piece we recorded last year or the year before and maybe a couple of other things. The other plan we have in conjunction with that audio stuff is doing a dvd which will include some of our final live performances and two videos made for songs from the last record. So basically “Wavering Radiant” will be our last proper album but this will be like the finalization of all the loose ends.
HILL: So there’s some more stuff coming out for people to enjoy.
TURNER: There’s also a shit-ton of live material that we’ve amassed, both audio and video, so somewhere down the line we’ll probably do another dvd collection like we did a few years ago and maybe one or two more of the self-released live CD’s.
HILL: Will that surface later this year or early next year?
TURNER: I’m not really sure actually. The E.P. and DVD will probably come out late this year and the other stuff sometime in 2011. We want to space it out a little.
HILL: Listening to “Wavering Radiant ”and the earlier material, there’s a vast difference in the statement. In your assessment of that, how would you track the creative evolution of the band?
TURNER: In the beginning it was pretty much Jeff and I talking about stuff that we mutually enjoyed and wanted to incorporate those influences into a band of our own. Not too long after that we started playing with Harris and he also had some of the same common interests. In the beginning, like a lot of young bands, we were a combination of the music we were inspired by filtered through our own set of personal aesthetics. The very basic ideas that we wanted in the band were that we wanted to be heavy and we wanted to have unconventional song structure; we never wanted to be completely vocal oriented; we wanted a lot of the subject matter and the albums to be conceptual in nature, we wanted every release we did, we wanted all of the pieces to fit together as a seemless whole. I think all of those things, those foundational ideas have been the thing that created that tangible thread from the beginning until now. The other things that have come along the way are developing our own personal voices more, not being so much a sum of our influences. That took a number of years to really coalesce. I think that by the time we recorded “Oceanic” we had become our own band. Of course, you can never escape your influences completely, I don’t any of us would deny that there is a lot of other kinds of music that was really important to us that allowed us to make the music we make as Isis but at the same time those things became less and less conscious thing s we were driven to do.
HILL: I agree, I feel that “Oceanic” was sort of the division, the departure point where Isis turned into a full-realized band.
TURNER: I think another reason that happened with Oceanic was because when we were writing Celestial, Mike (Gallagher) had been a part of the band for a while, but Cliff (Meyer) had joined during the writing process of that record. Oceanic was the first record that we had written with what became the permanent lineup. With Oceanic people felt more comfortable with expressing their ideas and working together. That was in a lot of ways, a point of solidification for us.
HILL: Another interesting development was your choice to utilize clean vocals. Obviously, that was a conscious effort. How did you approach that because that is a very difficult thing to do.
TURNER: I still struggle with it. For me, being a vocalist has been a lot tougher than being a guitar player because in a way, although guitar is an extension of you when you’re playing it in a really emotionally honest way, it’s still an outside apparatus that you’re utilizing whereas your voice comes from your body which is you and can only be you so you can’t hide behind this outside instrument when you’re using your voice, you’re more of yourself on the line when you step up to a microphone whether it’s on a stage or in a studio. I think part of the reason why the melodic vocals didn’t happen until later on in our career is because it took me a while to work up the courage to even do it. It was something I started messing around with a little bit on Celestial and a little bit on Oceanic but it was still the confidence issue that kept me from pursuing it further. I guess in a way, it was a matter of training my mind in a way that I had to own what I was doing and really put myself behind it 100 percent in order to be able to do what I wanted to do and realize the ideas that I had in my head. It’s been a continual growing process and like I said, it’s still ongoing. There’s still times when I struggle with being a vocalist and it’s something that makes me, at times, uncomfortable but at the same time, I feel like that discomfort is a really important part of growth as a musician. Again, talking about what can happen to people and when music starts becoming compromised is when people get really comfortable with what they do they stop trying and their music suffers; people just do a schtick. I never wanted to fall into that as a vocalist and that was another reason why I started pushing myself into the more melodic territories.
HILL: Did you do any formal training or was it all self-taught?
TURNER: It’s all self-taught; I’m sure I do a bunch of shit wrong that’s really bad for my vocal chords especially the harsher singing. There’s also something really natural about singing; long before there were instruments of any kind, people probably used their voices to express musical ideas. Singin is something that’s been used in, for lack of a better term, religious, ceremonial rituals for thousands and thousands or years so it’s probably one of the oldest forms of music making that exists so I think there is a really instinctive aspect to singing so I think that is what I’m following as well, and what allowed me to do it without any training.
HILL: What do you find more satisfying: the recording process or the live performance?
TURNER: If forced to choose between one or the other, I would opt for recording. I think making music and the process of documenting it is more gratifying to me than the process of replication which is what playing live ends up being some of the time. With that said, there is something very visceral abouit playing music live. That goes for the people playing in the band and also for the energy transferred between the band and the audience. On the occasions when things go well in the live setting ti could be a really powerful experience. There can be things that happen and feelings that arise from playing live that don’t happen making music in the studio and vice versa. Under the right circumstances when shows have gone well, those have been some of the best experiences in my life and I can also say the same for recording but it’s a different sort of feeling. Playing live becomes more of an instinctual sort of thing and in a way, I feel like you tap into some sort of collective energy that occurs when you’re making music with other people but when you’re in the studio and you’re starting to really hear a song for the first time and you’re hearing what other people are doing and the song stops being this collection of parts and becomes recognizable as this fixed entity that’s really awesome. I can think of certain experiences like sitting in the studio and really hearing a song for the first time and really feeling this powerful thing coming out of that experience.
HILL: Looking into the future, could you envision a situation where the recording process stands alone, or does it require the live expression to make it a complete experience?
TURNER: I guess it depends on what it is. At this point, there are a lot of different things that I’m involved with and the other people are involved with too. There are certain projects that I’m doing on my own or collaborating with other people that is simply about making the music and there isn’t a need to or even a practical way to presenting that music in the live setting. Then there’s other stuff where it will be important and it will be something that I pursue in playing that music live. I guess it just depends on what the thing is and how it feels and what is appropriate for it. I don’t rely on the studio to achieve certain ideas but I also think that there are certain things that can be done which would be next to impossible to replicate in the live setting. For instance you can do music on your own and do tons of layers but to do it in a live setting you would have to have like a 12 piece band and to try to do something like that isn’t feasible unless you’re Mike Patton and have hundreds or thousands of dollars to hire an orchestra. I would rather continue along the path of making new music and recording it than focusing on playing live.

6.4.2010 San Francisco, CA
HILL: Over the 12 plus year career of the band, what would you consider to be some of the high points?
TURNER: Just some of the generic stuff like getting to play in other countries. The fact that we encountered people in Japan, New Zealand, Austria…Russia, that was one of the crazier places we went, that were not only familiar with our music, but clearly were very connected to it in some way was really an important thing for me personally. I grew up in New Mexico; that was a pretty isolated scene, clearly not as isolated as somewhere like Moscow or something like that but a lot of the music that I connected with was made by people that were very far away from where I was there was something very special to me about discovering music from other places and starting to learn about other activities that were going on outside of my local sphere and having the reverse of that happen after a number of years of being with Isis was a pretty interesting thing and a gratifying thing for me to see. Americans seem to be very American-centric in the way that they do things and the way that they articulate things…very uninterested in connecting with people who are in other places and trying to understand people from other places. By having the opportunity of going to all these different parts of the world that I thought we never be able to go to or that I would be able to go to was for me like an eye-opener and a way for me to step outside of that and appreciate some other cultures. Having our music as an access point to that to that kind of experience was really cool and something that I never imagined would have happened based on playing music with people that are just friends of mine. Another thing related to just the overall arc of being in the band for a long period of time is developing a body of work; not just having a couple of E.P.’s or like a full-length here or there but actually having like a series of releases. You referenced in the beginning that there was a thread from the beginning of what we did until that was recognizable but at the same time there was a very clear evolution that the band went through and I think that is a really important thing for me: the fact that we were able to start with a few little seeds of ideas and really expand upon those ideas, explore them and develop a different voice over more than a decade of making music together and that too is something I never would have imagined in the early days of the band. I would say for me those are two things that stick out. One other thing that I would say is having made alliances with and connections with and personal relations with a lot other musicians that we encountered along the way; especially with bands that we toured with, I think all of us have made some really good friends that we wouldn’t have otherwise made by being on the road with a lot of different people and exposed to some music that we otherwise been exposed to. I think that exchange of information and ideas and stuff between people that are on the road together was a really valuable thing for us. I would say that if I had to sum up a lot of those things under a general category is that Isis expanded my view of the world and allowed me a porthole to things that I would have never had access to otherwise.
HILL: Looking back, do you feel that the overall creative statement was comolete?
TURNER: Yeah, I think so. I read something a lot time ago that a work of art or a piece of music is never really done; there is only the point at which you stop working on it. I feel that there are a lot of things that we can continue to do but I feel like they would be like adding details to something that was pretty well fleshed out. I feel like considering the difference of ideas amongst the people in the band now, we’ve taken this vehicle as far as we possibly could. I feel that with Wavering Radiant especially it’s like a good summation of everything that we did over the course of our time together and stated in the clearest possible way it could have been stated. While there are certain small things that we could expand upon I feel like I’ve said what I’ve wanted to say in the context of this band. I feel like as a group we’ve done it as fully and as best as we possibly can.
HILL: What are the mechanics of the creative process of the band?
TURNER: It’s definitely a very democratic process. I don’ think there was ever anything that got put on an album that any one person in the band was absolutely against doing or didn’t feel really good about documenting in that way but there have been times where certain people have had more of a voice than others. I think a lot of the songs had been built around one person’s basic idea and then everybody else sort of contributing to and fleshing that idea out. In the past I would say that it was a much more immediate process; as soon as there was an idea that seemed to have some substance to it we just kind of blocked it out and that was that. In the last four years or maybe five years, the last two albums especially, we’ve gone through a process of refining things a bit more. That involved all of us being in a room together and sort of trying to put the pieces together. One thing that we started doing that we never did in the past was making demo’s at different stages during the songwriting process. Initially it would be like one idea and we could go home and reflect on it and then start to build the next piece that would go in conjunction with that and so while it was a collective process in the practice space it also became more of an individual process with each of us taking those things home, working on our individual ideas and reconvening again to try and put the pieces back together
HILL: Which record was that process mainly initiated on?
TURNER: I would say that it started with In the Absence of Truth; a little bit with Panopticon but a lot more with In the Absence of Truth. I would say that Wavering Radiant was much more involved that way. Each individual song went through a number of different mutations before we settled on the final arrangements.
HILL: Prior to that the songwriting process was more or less just hashed out in rehearsal and when you went to record, that was pretty much the first opportunity that everyone had to really review the entire song.
TURNER: Yes, definitely. There was almost never a time in the studio where parts would get completely re-written although once in a while you would discover once you got in there and you could really hear things in conjunction with each other it was apparent that there were certain little things that need to be re-worked but we never really wrote material in the studio it was almost always a process of almost full-realized pieces upon going in and then just maybe fine-tuning a couple of things here and there while we were in the studio.
HILL: One of the other aspects of the band is a very tight visual aesthetic that was apparent from early releases up to the Wavering Radiant. One of the many hats you wear aside from being a member of Isis and label head is designer/artist. How different is the process from creating music to creating visual art and also working on design.
TURNER: I feel like they all come from roughly the same place. A lot of the ideas that I present visually to go along with the music that we’re making as a collective is very much based around the feeling that I get from that music and the concepts are all based around the same ideas as well. The one thing that is different is that Isis is totally a collective process whereas making the visual stuff is a very individual practice I guess you could say and while I certainly have asked for an appreciated feedback from the other members of the band when it comes to the visual presentation for our records, the initial process of coming with ideas and putting the pieces together was very much my own endeavor. I think that’s always been the case for me in terms of the different pursuits that I have. Music, generally speaking, except for some of the solo stuff, has always been about a process of collaboration and that requires a lot of give and take and a lot of communication with the people that I’m working with and the artwork thing is more about the relationship with myself and to my own ideas and figuring out how to properly translate what’s in my head and the feelings that I have into some sort of visual piece or collection of pieces. There’s another aspect to the art-making process that is very different to the ways that it’s applied. For instance, the artwork that I do for Isis is not something that I would necessarily do on my own. It’s something that is generated specifically for Isis whereas some of the other artwork that I do on my own is for that purpose in and of itself. So I guess that in a way, there is a more commercial aspect to the artwork that I make for Isis because it is generated as a vehicle house this thing that is ultimately going to become a product. I don’t like to think of it that way, but it is package design. In a way, I’m trying to communicate something to someone that is going to see the record and hopefully my intention is to communicate something to them in that brief interaction about what the music itself is like based on what they’re seeing with the artwork. So I guess in that sense in what I’m making is not only representing the collective identity of Isis and keeping that in mind but also trying to create something to pull in a consumer. That’s a very crass way of putting it but design is a commercial process to some degree so I’m thinking about the viewer whereas the stuff that that I do for myself is purely about what I want to do and what I want to get out for myself.
HILL: You have a formal art background. Was it in Fine Art or Design?
TURNER: It was in Fine Art.
HILL: So your experience with design has been more post-graduate?
TURNER: Yeah, basically I started doing some of the Hydrahead design stuff when I was still in college and that was all just like trying to figure things out, trying to figure out the rudimentary aspects of using a computer, still doing a lot of cut and paste stuff; looking a lot at how other people were doing things in terms of putting together layouts for records and stuff like that and also trying to gain information and knowledge from other people I knew who had some experience with that stuff. It was a process of trial and error and a total exploratory thing for me. I really had no idea what I was doing other than having a basic sense of composition and color and the sort of stuff that I learned in art school in terms of painting and print-making which to a degree can be applied to design. In a way I think that was good for me because I never wanted to approach design from a purely commercial standpoint, you now about where to place a logo so it’s most easily readable by a person going into a store or what color schemes will elicit a certain type of response in a consumer. So in that way, the approach that I take to making album art is sort of “anti-design” because often the intent behind it is not the same as someone who has been trained formally in design where it’s like you’re trying to make this really consumer-friendly, easily digestible information, so I guess it’s trying to achieve a balance between those two worlds.
HILL: I’m mostly familiar with your design work for Hydrahead and for Isis record layouts. Have you been contracted to other types of design work for other labels or for other artists?
TURNER: I did do some of that in the past and I occasionally still do it but very rarely and part of the reason is one thing I started thinking about was that I wanted my particular aesthetic to be used only things that I was directly involved with. When I was doing layouts for bands that I didn’t really care about I felt like I was diluting that and I was cheapening what I wanted to achieve in visual art and art in conjunction with music and the other aspect of that just became a practical matter where I just didn’t have enough time to do the design for Isis as well as for Hydrahead and to do freelance stuff. There are a few instances now and again where if it’s a band that I really, really like and I know the people involved and they’ve asked me to contribute to the visual presentation of their album, I will do it but for the most part I try to keep it these days relegated to only the things that I am directly involved with.
HILL: Based on what we’ve been discussing, the typical design type of project seems like it would be in conflict with some of these ideas that you have. The typical design situation, you’re trying to capture someone else’s statement, someone else’s mission. So basically you just stick to things that are meaningful to you personally.
TURNER: Yeah, and I guess that’s sort of another thing where I am sort of an Anti-Designer because one of the things in being a professional designer is that you’re taught to be really objective about what you’re doing and you’re not encouraged to have any personal attachment to it because if you do then you get too concerned about your own voice being a part of whatever the eventual product is. If you are a designer working on a professional basis for a firm where you have no personal attachment you can’t really care about what you’re doing. For example Stephen O’Malley (SUNN0))) was working for a firm in New York designing billboards for a John Grisham novel, something that he obviously had no artistic connection to and after a while he found it completely unsatisfying. That’s the kind of thing that I purposefully try to avoid by sticking to doing stuff that’s completely related to either music that I’m making or to music that is coming from the label that I work for which is also stuff that I’ve chosen to be involved with.
HILL: Aside from the band, art, design and running the Hydrahead label, you also very much involved in other projects, working with other musicians and artists. What is the most stuff to come out? I’m aware of Grey Machine…
TURNER: The most recent things would be the Grey Machine record, which you mentioned; the Jodis record which was James Plotkin and Tim Musketta, both from Khanate. About to come out or in the works is an album by Mammifer which is something that I’ve been most involved with outside of Isis; then there’s the Twilight record. The Twilight record and the Grey Machine are both things that I would say that I’m more of a contributor to than a full member of whereas Jodis and Mammifer are both things where I feel like I am more of an integral part in the group, whether or not I am totally responsible for writing the music or not which actually I’m not in either case. In Jodis all the basic foundations were laid by James and Tim then I did all of my stuff after and with Mammifer I am also like a pliable member which basically means that I do like I’m told sort of but also very much involved with the process of making these things not like the remote interaction I had with Twilight where I was just given stuff and I recorded my bits at home and then sent them back so all of these things are quite different than what I’ve been doing with Isis where it was more of a formal band or I was one of the primary songwriters, but all of these things be it Jodis or Twilight or Mammifer have been a really big part in me expanding as a musician because it requires a different kind of perspective to participate in these kinds of things and it requires a kind of humility that is not required in Isis. We all respect each other’s opinions and we all have equal say in what we do but it’s a very democratic process where some of these other things I do what I feel like should be done for these projects and whether or not they use it is up to them. It’s a way for me to learn how to participate in other groups and how to try to do things differently than I normally do in the context of Isis.
HILL: Is House of Low Culture and Old Man Gloom still active?
TURNER: Old Man Gloom has not been; we have not been formally disbanded and there have been discussions about doing stuff again but there’s no concrete plans. House of Low Culture has actually been very active again in the last two years; I played a few shows here and there but mostly have been working on new material. That is something that is again quite different from what I do in that it is totally my own vehicle, I make all the aesthetic decisions and even if I’m having outside people contribute to what I do I’m still the judge and jury as it were so I feel like I’m having not necessarily a rebirth as a musician but all these things are changing the way I think about music which is a really good thing for me and I think also an important process of moving on after the demise of Isis.
HILL: There’s also Lotus eaters with Stephen O’Malley and jJames Plotkin. Is that something that we’ll see more material from?
TURNER: I don’t know; we reissued the first album on vinyl recently and I went back to dig up alternate mixes of all the original songs that appeared on the CD version years ago but that didn’t involve making any new music and we’re about to do the same thing again for the second album; to re-release the album on vinyl with alternate mixes so in a way there is some activity related to that project but no new music has been generated for some time.
HILL: So we have one more day left on this tour; tonight is San Francisco and tomorrow is L.A. So, tomorrow will actually be the last headlining Isis date, is that correct?
TURNER: When we do the East Coast, almost all of them are with The Melvins but the last two, Maine and Montreal are Isis headlining shows. I guess we’re pretty much down to the wire.
HILL: So the very last show is in Montreal, so there’s a bit of synchronicity afoot here.
TURNER: Yeah, that’s where the first show was.
HILL: Was that by design?
TURNER: No, it wasn’t, it was totally incidental. We knew this tour was going to be a tour after which we took a break but we didn’t that it was going to be permanent necessarily when we started booking it and just based on the routing it made sense to end in Montreal, but when we did start talking more seriously about this being the real end of the band maybe that was a sign that this is a good stopping point because that’s where our first show was so why not make it the place where our last show is as well.
HILL: This show is going to be a very different experience than I imagine the first show.
TURNER: My recollection of that show is so dim now except that I was excited that we were going to get to play a show with this new band that we were putting together, but yeah, my perspective on things has changed so much since then and we’ve all changed as a collective and the music has changed so much so it will be very different from those first initial baby steps, but at the same time in certain ways there are a ot of the things that are the same, I mean I feel like a lot of our goals are the same and most of the people in the band are the same. I hope that the show itself will be what that show was which was an opportunity to experience the music that we make amongst ourselves as well as the connection to the people that are listening to it through the process of playing live; so some things are quite different and many things are quite the same.
HILL: If my memory serves me correctly wasn’t that first show with Overcast? Did Ire play that show?
TURNER: Yeah, I think Cable played to; I can’t remember.
HILL: Drowningman?
TURNER: It was something like that.
HILL: It’s a different world now, man
TURNER: It’s totally different, you know at that point I think we all knew what the internet was, but I wasn’t really using it at that point and it certainly was not the platform for music that it is now and that’s a very different thing. The way in which people operate is very different. We were still all operating off of the total D.I.Y. platform and doing tape cassette demos and shit like that. Nobody fucking thought about having a manager or anything like that. Nobody was really participating in these weird summer corporate tours. Also metal had not experienced its sort of re-birth in the mainstream either. Punk was something that had been co opted by the mainstream long before that, the sort of darker elements of hardcore had yet to be brought into the mainstream. All of that has basically changed since them, at least it seems to me.
HILL: You mentioned the internet which has enabled people to more freely express themselves. Do you feel that in some ways that may be diluting the actual quality of the statement? The populist nature of the internet gives everybody a voice.
TURNER: It’s hard to say; it does seem to me that there is more music than there was before byt maybe there’s just more ready access to it. It also speeds up the rate that information travels so it seems like the birth and death of trends is significantly faster than it used to be. A new subgenre wil pop up and it will be all the range, there will be tons of clones based off of a few innovating bands and then just as quickly it will disappear and everyone will be on to the next thing so I do think that in a way it has made certain things more meaningless and it has made music, overall, more disposable. A lot of people now seem to pride themselves in how many gigs of mp3’s they have on their hard drive or whatever but to me that doesn’t mean anything and a lot of people won’t even go back and listen to that shit once they download it; it’s just having it and that they can have it for free. You don’t have to care about a record anymore, you don’t have to spend the money to obtain it, you don’t have to send a letter through the mail to some label that’s far away in order to actually get it. It’s this easily obtained, easily disposed of thing that’s become more and more faceless and that I find disheartening and discouraging but at the same time for people who do stuff like we do it’s more the incentive to make the music really good and still make actual records and put our heart and souls into making them.
HILL: In this digital world, with all of this information made available to us and all of this limitless possibility it seems like people are becoming more and more alone and there’s less of a sense of community. What are your feeling son the internet and how it interconnects people?
TURNER: Someone was talking about this the other day and guess there had been some forum where the Dali Lama had been asked questions about the internet and I guess maybe his most highly publicized remark in regards to that was that the internet does not foster compassion between people and that was one of the things that was really distressing to him. In a way I think that’s true; it’s become easier for people to disconnect from one another. Now a lot of times people have their handheld devices where they’re looking at their email, they’re not really connecting to the person sitting right in front of them or there’s lots of this that’s prevalent in the metal community where you’ll go to one of these forums like and all you see if people like totally fucking shitting on things and people don’t actually go to these places to actually have substantial discussions about topics related to music or the ideas that the music is presenting, it’s just a way for their voice to be heard, a way to make themselves feel important and I think it ‘s actually, this gets into the territory of conspiracy theory but it seems like these things are devised to purposely divide people. If you can give people these shiny little contraptions that offer them channels to buying stuff and to making themselves into some minor celebrity; I mean it’s not real celebrity but it’s the idea that you can become a public figure by having a fucking Facebook page or whatever it is. It really is a way to distract people from their own interior voices and a way to disrtract people from really relating to one another on a human level. In that way, it’s really the perfect Macchevellian device: divide people and make their voices weaker and at that point they cease to be really important human beings. I think there is something important about collectives and that was one of the things that drew me to this music in the first place. I felt like I was an outsider in terms of the mainstream and I was an outsider in terms of the social cliques in my High School but I knew there were other people that were interested in another way of living and interested in thinking about things differently and doing things differently and that to me was very appealing. You can have this kind of normal 9 to 5 life and do all of the things that is expected of you with respect to typical cultural roles but you can also take a different path and here are some people to help show you the way and help support along that path.
HILL: Back in those days, it was a lot harder to find. These days with all of this technology that can put people in touch with each other, it’s interesting to me that the tendency is to go to these shit-talking ceremonies, commerce or porno.
TURNER: There are so many things that I want to do and the prospect of having more free time to do them is really an exciting prospect to me. One thing in reference to what we were just talking about with respect to the internet and how things are done…I want to go back to the way things used to be done. I’m already thinking about some of these future projects; I don’t want to have a press person, I want to even have a label. I want to out stuff out myself and the first time people can actually hear it is when they fucking buy it at a store or something and I realize that it’s impossible to control things ultimately and that those things will end up on the internet too but at the same time it’s really important to try and return to some of those values. With whatever public voice I might have, however small it might be, I want to try and reach people in a more human way. I find the idea of being able to do that really exciting and enticing. I’ve been talking to a lot of other people, including people that I already collaborate with about how to do things differently in that regard. A big thing that I’m interested in from this point forward is trying to do them differently and adapt them in relation to the way that I think technology is fucking up people’s ability to actually connect with each other and devalue art and music. Another thing for me that I think is really important on a purely personal level is actually having a life outside of touring. I got married last year and my wife and I just moved out to country basically so having a life where I’m more directly connected to the person that I’m with and an actual connection to the environment I’m in is really important to me to; I feel like I need to re-establish my connection with my own humanity and with a way of living and a way of making art that is more in touch with in a very loose sense the life force itself.


4 Responses to “Transmission 8.08.2010 Aaron Turner Interview”

  1. Motoghost Says:

    Mike, thank you so much for posting the unedited version of the interview. I already have respect for both you and Aaron individually, but through reading this interview, I only gained more respect for you guys. I only hope that through my music, I can have as significant a voice to someone as you guys have had to me.

    • Thanks a lot, it means a lot to me that people are out there. Aaron touched on a lot of important issues with connection and humanity in the interview. It really gave me a lot to think about and I’m hoping that others can take away the same things.

      • It seemed like that area of the conversation was edited from the one that got published, so that was really cool to read. I’m really excited about what he has to offer musically in the future. I’m really intrigued by owning some of his material that is totally self-released.

  2. It’s really cool that you did this, Mike, and I thank both you and Aaron for being so generous with your time and energy.

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