Tuesday, November 21, 2006

11 Questions with Lansing-Dreiden

People who have read this blog regularly for the past several months probably know that I am a big fan of the New York art collective/band Lansing-Dreiden. Since first hearing their hazy psychedelic new pop a couple of years ago at a Waterloo Records listening station, I have continuously been amazed by their effortlessly mind blowing songs, their captivating visual art, and the overall organization, concept, and operational structure of the group itself. I imagine that a lot of people rolled their eyes a bit when they read that last sentence because people often become skeptical whenever they hear about art collectives that make music or musicians that make visual art. I can live with that I suppose. However, I'd like to assure you before we go any further: in each of the mediums that they utilize, these guys really pull it off.

Lansing-Dreiden is a band, to be sure, but they are also quite a bit more. Organized as an entity akin to both a corporation and an art collective, the group has produced two highly impressive full length albums, and absolute masterpiece of an EP called A Sectioned Beam, numerous visual art projects that have enjoyed quite a bit of success on the New York art circuit, and a literary journal containing original works of fiction written by various members of the group. All of their projects work perfectly as independent works of art operating in a single medium, but they also all have a common thread that ties them together in various thematic units.

For example, the group's latest full length, The Dividing Island, is an incredibly infectious yet subtle adventure through 60's psychedelic guitar pop, New Romantic synth pop, and bits and pieces of disco, 70's hard rock and glam. On its own, it is an amazing record (one of the best of the year) that requires no previous knowledge of the group or its work in order to enjoy it. However, when you learn a bit more about it and come to find out that it is a concept record based on a fictional story written by a member of Lansing-Dreident in the group's literary journal, the album takes on a whole new significance as a narrative work. The lyrics start to take on new meaning, and the tracks begins to seem more and more like a cohesive whole as opposed to individual pieces. And then when you see the group's self produced videos for the album, you begin to understand how the narrative elements are tied in with the music as the visuals transport the songs and story in a slightly different and unpredictable direction. The group creates these works and seemingly invites you to discover as many elements of their vision as you care to, but they also make sure that you don't have to do a lot of digging around to truly enjoy any small part of the whole.

I had originally wanted to do a telephone interview with the group, but they, like us, are anonymous in their work and prefer to do email interviews if at all possible. This worked for me just fine. I asked Lansing-Dreiden about their anonymity, their various projects, and the manner in which they conduct themselves as a unit. All of these aspects of the group's work are quite interesting, but if you aren't familiar with them, I would suggest listening to some of their music as soon as you can. I'm willing to bet that you'll develop an interest in the rest of their vision soon after.

What was the initial motivation for your band/collective to remain anonymous? Some have suggested that it is a gimmick, while your guys have said that you were more interested in building a "brand" for your project as opposed to linking yourselves to the work as individuals. Did shyness or self consciousness play any role in your decision? How many total individuals are involved in Lansing-Dreiden as a whole?

We don't see it as a gimmick. We are very interested in building a 'brand.' Shyness and such plays a role, for sure. The number of Lansing-Dreiden shifts depending on the project. 7 people played and sang on the last record.

I have read quite a bit about your conception of Lansing-Dreiden as a corporation, and I know that LD is involved in visual art and writing in addition to music. Does your anonymity make it difficult for your collective to do business? How do you go about promoting your work?

It's just a different way of doing things. It's got just as many ups and downs as the tried and true model of the 'high profile' celebrity. We're trying our best to run our company like a regular business and making necessary adjustments along the way.

The idea of a band as a small part of a larger art collective/artistic think tank/corporation has been explored in different ways throughout rock history. On one end of the spectrum, you get the early form of Scritti Politti, which was as much a group of friends doing drugs and reading books as it was a band, and on the other end, you get The Residents, who set up a very organized and structured corporation to deal with the business side of their art. What kind of organizational structure does Lansing-Dreiden have?

It's open and closed at the same time. We are a bunch of friends collaborating and trying to stay on the same page in a "laid-back" manner but at the same time we have a lot of filing cabinets and photo copiers.

Do your goals and inspirations in visual art creep in to what you are doing musically? How much does you work in one medium influence your work in another?

Yes, yes and Yes! We're always thinking about the whole picture... allthewhile, making sure each thing works on its own.

Could you tell us a bit about your literary magazine Death Notice?

Sure, it's 16 pages and about the size of the New York Times. It's a place where we can share some stories we're kicking around or have read somewhere and images that all serve to offer further info/readings on the theme of that issue. This last one was about the whole "Dividing Island" story.

Judging by the complexity of many of your songs and melodies, it seems that at least some of you must have some formal music training. What are your musical backgrounds?

It varies from music school nerd to sunday driver. The majority of us went to art schools but have been playing since we were kids.

I have read that your latest album, The Dividing Island, is a semi-concept record about a fictional island. Could you explain the concept if there is one? Have your other releases had a narrative conception behind their creation?

All our work comes from some narrative thread we're working with at the time. It ends up manifesting itself as everything from a sculpture to a song. The last record was about a Pangea-type island that splits in two, its inhabitants' opposing viewpoints cause a physical rift in the ground. These two forces are 'myth' and 'method.'

It seems that your music has evolved quite a bit since the release of the Incomplete Triangle. Where that album sounded very raw and rock oriented, A Section Beam was quite dreamy and psychedelic and Dividing Island is more snyth pop oriented. What is behind this shift? Changing influences? Improved musicianship? Simply a general desire to move forward?

It's all of the above. But we don't see the direction as forward or backwards. It sounds very cliche but we just do what feels good. We all like different types of music but we try to make music we all like.

Your music certainly builds bridges between the coldness of 80's snyth pop/goth and warmth of 60's psychedelic. Do you find these links to be natural, or did your purposely set out to create music that drew from influences that you saw as incompatible or in opposition on some level?

That's interesting. There are definite ways we tried to explore oppositions in a purely sonic sense. But it may have been more compositional or about instrument palettes. Sometimes that ends up creating a familiar production feel that people like to pinpoint or pigeonhole into a decade. The thing to keep in mind is that, if you look around, the culture's current "sound" seems to be "every sound available." This is something that our generation of artists may not always consider when they make whatever they are making, but it is happening nonetheless. There are a lot of bad things about it, like not knowing if the "avant-garde" can ever exist without any irony again. Kinda sad. But the main benefit is that the "stylistic mask" one wears is no longer actually relevant. What is relevant is the same thing that has been for centuries: a good tune--and hopefully one that tells a good story!

Do you have plans to record new material or tour any time soon?

Right at this moment... no. But we are in a self-imposed moment of stasis musically only because we have a lot of other loose ends to tie up elsewhere. We are constantly thinking about music and we plan on doing all those things as soon as possible.

What is your ultimate goal for Lansing-Dreiden? Which medium do you feel you have accomplished the most in? Is it fair to say that Lansing-Dreiden, as a corporation, makes at least some decisions based purely off a desire to make a profit?

The ultimate goal is something we can't imagine. It's not ours to decide. We haven't accomplished as much as we hopefully will. Right now we aren't really turning much of a profit because the money we earn goes right back into the company. We don't really base any decisions purely on making money. But, as making music, video/film, and artworks all together has proven to be ridiculously expensive, we have to consider these things if we want L-D to survive. The goal is really to have the company support itself with what it makes.

(Here is a video for their song "Glass Corridor")