Human Teenager: Gary War and Taylor Richardson on being broke and unknown with dignity intact

By , Apr 10 2012

‘Whites (In General)’

“I think it’s kind of a masterpiece…I was so beyond floored.”

So said Spectrum Spools’ John Elliott of Human Teenager‘s Animal Husbandry when FACT questioned him about it earlier this year. One expects a label boss to speak highly of his or her signings, but Elliott’s enthusiasm for the debut collaborative offering from Taylor Richardson and Greg Dalton has proven to be entirely commensurate with reality.

“It came out of nowhere,” he later added. “Taylor and Greg are pretty bullshit-free in a cool way. Their situation reminds me of L.A./San Fransisco in the 80s, when bands like Chrome and Flipper were just fully on the contrary, spending time working on records and retaining outsider status instead of following these jetstreams of musical trends.”

It’s the sound of two space cadets’ imaginations fired by the speed, noise and street-hassle of the earthly city they find themselves in.

If you’ve heard of Taylor Richardson before, it will most likely because he was partners with Dan ‘Oneohtrix Point Never’ Lopatin in Infinity Window, a short-lived but influential synth project that offered up a cache of split cassettes and LPs in 2008-2009, including the wonderful  Artificial Midnight. Greg Dalton, meanwhile, is better known as Gary War, purveyor of perfect pop songs so distorted and destroyed that they make even early Ariel Pink sound Tasmin. A new Gary War album is imminent, and its predecessor, 2009’s Horribles Parade, is essential.

Richardson and Dalton had been moving in similar circles even before they were introduced, and a couple of years ago began writing and jamming together in each other’s pokey Brooklyn home studios, creating the raw material that would be diced, spliced and polished into Animal Husbandry, Human Teenager’s debut album, out this month on Spectrum Spools. A wild hallucinatory energy drives the album, but it’s compressed into concise, to-the-point song structures – the whole thing clocks in at just half an hour. It’s a work of authentic urban-alien psychedelia, the sound of two space cadets’ imaginations nourished and fired not by the vastness of the cosmos they’ve travelled through but by the speed, noise and street-hassle of the earthly city they find themselves in.

“I don’t know much about the process behind Animal Husbandry other than it being painstakingly scrutinized and mixed obsessively,” Elliott confessed. So FACT’s Kiran Sande sought out Human Teenager – the expansive Taylor Richardson and his more elusive compadre, Greg Dalton – to find out more.

“We’re both somewhat burnt with how limp modern culture and especially music became in the 2000s.” – Greg Dalton

How did the two of you meet and come to be making music together?

Taylor Richardson: “We were introduced by a mutual friend a few years ago while I was DJing at a bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, though we had both previously lived in Boston at the same time and knew a lot of the same people, and went to the same shows. A few months after the two of us were formally introduced, Gary War ended up being on a lot of the same bills as a few of the projects I was involved with at the time, so we started hanging out, talking about music and things like that, realising we had similar tastes, and thought it’d be cool to jam sometime and see if anything came of it. Though we weren’t really planning on making a record or anything at that point.”

The tracks on the album are quite direct, communicating strong ideas in a short space of time. Presumably there was a lot of thought-out composition as well as freewheeling jamming?

Greg Dalton: “Everything was composed except ‘Whites (In General)’, which was all improv with some post-editing. The concepts came naturally as we’re both somewhat burnt with how limp modern culture and especially music became in the 2000s. What both of us do in Human Teenager, and with our solo efforts, is in complete opposition to how ‘underground’ music and culture has been co-opted and exploited by marketing and image branding. I’d rather be broke and unknown in 50 years with my dignity intact instead of engaging in such a spectacle.”

TR: “As I said, when we started playing music together, we never really had the intention of releasing an LP. We were just improvising with synths and samplers, and the music started evolving into more structured, song-oriented territory. It was totally organic from what I can recall. We did talk about stuff we liked musically, just because we were always talking about music. I think it’s fair to say that Gary and I have something of a damaged aesthetic, so it was easy to find a common ground, even when the initial improvisations started to develop into a more pop-oriented realm. After a while, we just started working on composing more formal arrangements from the sketches we were toying around with. After a while it became more of an obsession to finish them. That’s when the conceptual elements began to take shape.”

“I tend to appreciate records or bands that ultimately make you ask yourself ‘what the fuck were they on when they made this?'” – Taylor Richardson

How important and intensive was the post-production process?

TR: “The post-production process was incredibly important, mostly because the material was recorded on different tape sizes. We were utilising the equipment we had at the time. The record was recorded over the course of a year so when we got a better recording set-up, we spent a considerable amount of time trying to remix the older material to match up with the pieces that were recorded in a higher fidelity. That was one of the hardest parts of making the record in my opinion. A good deal of time was spent making the record sound as clear as possible with the equipment we had.”

Animal Husbandry comes across as a record made by record collectors…it feels somehow devotional. [Spectrum Spools boss] John Elliott mentions Chrome, Ilitch, Cleaners From Venus as reference points; did you have other people’s records in mind when you were writing and recording?

GD: “Well, the Chrome comparison is flattering as they’re my favorite band. Anything resembling the attitude or essence of those bands mentioned is purely natural. I have a pretty specific vision of what I think sounds good and I just obsessively take it from there.”

TR: “I think something that Gary and I really have in common when listening to records is that we do tend to gravitate to bands or LPs that generate a distinct mood or energy. To me it’s what makes a record great. The bands that John mentioned and a handful of others of that era were some of the most successful at capturing a particular mood or aesthetic on their records. There’s a lot of experimentation and even confusion involved in those early Chrome and Ilitch LPs. I tend to appreciate records or bands that ultimately make you ask yourself ‘what the fuck were they on when they made this?’. There’s not a lot of music currently being made that confronts people in that way, or any way for that matter. It’s a shame, really, how safe everything is. We were trying to make something modern and forward-thinking, channelling the same adventurous spirit of the records we love. It was really important that everything sounded new to us and the listener.”

“I’m striving for a better, more beautiful world.” – Greg Dalton

How would you say Human Teenager relates to your other projects? What were you able to achieve through this collaboration that you couldn’t elsewhere?

GD: “The less one knows about me the better, as it has nothing to do with The Work. Ultimately, I’m striving for a better, more beautiful world and this can become completely overwhelming as things seem to be going in the opposite direction. Seeing as Human Teenager is a collaboration, I can blow off some steam and sing about things less personal than I would in Gary War.

TR: “Every collaboration in different based on the personalities and work habits of the people people involved. Making music by yourself can be great but also a drag at times. We’re both stubborn people, at least musically, so there was a lot of compromise involved at times. Which wasn’t necessarily easy for of us individually. At the end of the day it created a certain aesthetic or pointed us in direction that neither of us would’ve have gone without the other’s input.

Where did you the record the album? Do you feel like it’s a product of the environment it was created in?

TR: “For the most part the album was recorded in Brooklyn, Gary’s kitchen and my living room. Though we mixed and completed the LP over a week in Gloucester, Massachusetts last fall, it was incredibly relieving to have a break from NYC while recording. Gary’s apartment in Bushwick was street-level so it’d be hard to concentrate in the midst of constant police sirens and reggaeton music blaring all day. This was especially a problem during the summer months when it was too unbearably hot to keep the windows closed. In retrospect I don’t think either of us got to enjoy the luxury of space and scenery of Gloucester while completing the LP due to an unrealistic, self-imposed deadline which essentially eliminated sleep altogether over the course of a week.

“It was hard to concentrate in the midst of constant police sirens and reggaeton music blaring all day.” – Taylor Richardson

Is Animal Husbandry the end as well as the beginning of Human Teenager? Or is there more to come?

TR: I think it’s the beginning in some respects. Animal Husbandry took forever to record, due to a lot of factors. I feel that both of us are in a better place mentally so we’re both really psyched to be making music both separately and together. It’s liberating that the LP is released. Now we can focus on smaller scale projects like 7″s or cassettes. One idea for the project that we initially had was incorporating a multimedia aspect. So hopefully we will have the opportunity to work within other platforms like video, or even installation.”

GD: “The beginning. I immediately began the new and recently completed Gary War LP after the completion of Animal Husbandry, so now I’ll have time to work on some new Human Teenager material…”


Kiran Sande
Human Teenager’s Animal Husbandry is out now

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