WIFE is James Kelly, the latest addition to the Tri Angle family and soon to release his debut EP on Throwing Snowʼs Left_Blank imprint.
We were introduced to WIFE with last month’s ʻBodiesʼ, and Kelly has since played live at Unsound, the impeccably curated Polish festival where artists like Vatican Shadow, Julia Holter, Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin, Demdike Stare, Holly Herndon, not to mention labelmates The Haxan Cloak and Vessel all performed. FACT’s Maya Kalev spoke to him on Halloween about bleak winters, black metal, and music outside the mainstream.
So, the ‘Bodies’ video was released pretty recently, and the EP’s out next week. Everything seems to be taking off quickly.
“That definitely sums it up quite accurately. ‘Bodies’ was released a little under a month ago and already has over 30,000 hits. My mind is pretty blown to be honest. I also just got back from my first live show, which was at Unsound Festival in Poland. I could never have imagined my first show would be so high profile.”
Unsound seems exactly right for your kind of sound. Who or what there particularly inspired you?
“The whole event was extremely inspirational. It is a rare thing to see such a strong connection between people and music at a festival. I’ve experienced a lot of festivals where the people attending are more interested in the party than the music [but] the works that the festival commissioned, like Demdike Stare and Lustmord, were all so inspiring. The real artistry of music is prominent at Unsound, and to me the festival is as much an artistic event as it is a musical one.”
It’s not your first time performing, though. Your background is in black metal. Whatʼs the transition to electronic music been like, and what do you hope to achieve with the WIFE project?
“The music I make, whether as WIFE or Altar of Plagues, is basically the result of my tastes and what I allow to inform the music. For example, I love hip-hop but it offers little that could inspire material for Altar of Plagues. And likewise with WIFE, when I initially began to develop material I ignored a lot of my more ‘extreme’ tastes – metal, noise, etc. The WIFE material became much more exciting to me as soon I as began making whatever I wanted to, whether noise-y or commercial-sounding.
“The most important thing to me is that I really feel the music. I’m not worried about what sound is popular right now or what I think people might want to hear. I’ve never really considered the transition between Altar of Plagues and WIFE – It’s something that came about very naturally. A year or two ago, I took stock, so to speak, of what I have achieved musically, and what I want to achieve. While my tastes are extremely varied, I spent a lot of years focusing on just one aspect of them. With that in mind I realised it was time to work on something else. Thatʼs basically how WIFE came about.”
I definitely hear huge amounts of feeling and humanity in your music and while that’s not so unusual in metal, it’s refreshing in electronic music, which can often feel a bit bloodless.
“That’s exactly what I want to achieve with WIFE. It has to have an emotional depth.”
And it comes across very strongly. Music aside, what are your primary influences?
“Art, books, relationships, experiences good and bad, travel. I grew up in a very rural part of the south of Ireland. I think as a result of twenty years of bleak rural winters and bare landscape, I have a natural affinity with the sombre. I love the challenge of musically manifesting what are non-musical experiences. Using music to express emotions is a form of catharsis for me.”
Your music fits beautifully with the Left_Blank and Tri Angle aesthetics without actually sounding like anything they’ve released yet. How did the involvement with the two labels come about?
“I came into contact with Left_Blank as a result of sending out demos. I found myself in the very fortunate position where a number of parties were interested in working with me. I met with a number of them, and it was immediately apparent that the guys at Left_Blank shared a very similar outlook and aesthetic to me. That’s something that is very important to me. A label can have all the infrastructure and influence in the world but they’re of no interest to me if we can’t relate in a meaningful way.
“With Tri Angle, conversations were initiated at a later point. As with Left_Blank, we shared a similar point of view. Tri Angle was excited by the prospect of me pushing my more extreme tastes, whereas another label may have been deterred.”
Neither label shies away from allowing artists creative space – that kind of approach tends to result in music that will sound good in any number of years, music thatʼs immune to fashion rather than a slave to it. Again, thatʼs often rare in electronic music.
“I totally agree. My main problem with so much electronic music is that is it inherently disposable in nature, existing only for the sake of what is popular at the moment. As such, I think itʼs dishonest.”
So, whatʼs on the horizon for you?
“In the near future, some live shows. My first UK show, with Throwing Snow, is happening in London on November 16th. Other than that, I’m currently finishing writing the third Altar of Plagues album, and Iʼll be working on my album as WIFE, which will be released on Tri Angle some time later in 2013. But it’s all going very well. I’m enjoying it and not taking anything for granted.”