Arto Lindsay’s discography isn’t just a broad church – it’s a veritable diocese of surprises and side-swerves.
The history books will likely remember the Richmond-born, Brazil-raised “non-musician” for two projects in particular: late 1970s experimental rock outfit DNA, one of the flag-bearers of the No Wave movement; and his heavy involvement, as both artist and producer, in a string of Tropicalia and Bossa records from the late 1980s onwards. Between those, though, his 35 year career has spun off on all sorts of unexpected tangents: ear-splitting free rock; gossamer bossanova; weirdo rap; Illbient; lounge music with teeth…there’s little that Lindsay hasn’t flirted – or, more often than not, gone all the way to fourth base – with.
Later this month, Northern Spy Records will release a fascinating 2xCD retrospective of Lindsay’s career, Encyclopaedia of Arto Lindsay. The first disc is closer in spirit to your traditional compilation set – a miscellany of material taken from Lindsay’s solo albums dating between 1996 and 2004. The second disc, meanwhile, is a new solo recording, featuring spartan new interpretations of works from across his catalogue (including his signature cover of Prince’s Erotic City). Considered together, the two discs make a fine fist of a tricky job – pinning down Lindsay’s ever-mutating musical vision.
In honour of the new recording, and with the tyro in mind, we asked Lindsay to introduce some of his key releases (at least, as many as we could get through before our tatty Skype connection conked out). If you’ve yet to properly engage with his work, these are four excellent places to start – even if one of them sounds “kinda boring” to him now.
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No New York
WHAT: Curated and produced by Brian Eno, No New York assembles various luminaries (The Contortions, Teenage Jesus And The Jerks and Mars) from the city’s unruly, fiercely creative No Wave scene. It also serves as the only record of substance put out at the time by Lindsay’s first group, DNA – possibly the most fevered and unpredictable of the classic No Wave acts (for an introduction, check John Calvert’s Beginner’s Guide To…No Wave).
Arto Lindsay: “No New York had four bands on it, and those bands were all closely connected to each other- we used to rehearse in the same place, even through we were very different. Various couples, and a lot of friendships, and we lobbied for those bands to be the ones on the record to represent New York. And we lobbied for each of us to have more space on the record, for Brian not to choose a lot of different bands – so there was some political pushing and shoving before the record. The recording of the record was – I mean, I’ve told this story before, I can remember it perfectly, it was a very emotional experience for me to actually record our music, very emotional for me. It was funny too, because Brian was sitting there reading Mix magazine or something [laughs], as producers do, as I would find out later when I started to do. I got kind of angry – “Hey, pay attention!”, you know?
“We were the only band on that record who were really interested in the whole project and went back in and were involved in the mix. And that was about it. The main thing is that it was hugely emotional – I remember walking home from the studio and weeping. The process of setting this music in stone was intense.”
Now that [comprehensive 2004 compilation] DNA on DNA has been out for some time, and considering that there was no official DNA release per se (bar a single, I believe, at the time), do you feel there is a definitive DNA recording? Or are they all provisional?
AL: “I think the recordings are the recordings. We did the best we could. The first single we did was with Bob Klein, who encouraged me to go for it on the guitar, and gave me confidence on the guitar. In the second version of DNA, Tim Wright had been a sound man as well as a musician before he joined, and I was concerned with sound myself, and we put a lot of time into our soundchecks and to the way the band sounded, much more than most bands did at that time. We were kind of ahead of the curve in that respect. The DNA EP kind of got away from us in the mastering, I think – we paid a lot of attention when we actually recorded it, but we worked with a disco guy at Vanguard Studios. I think that recording could be improved on.
“There’s another recording I love which is the recording we did for that film Downtown 81, and many many years later we went in and mixed that, long after the band had broken up, and that sounds pretty great. But you get what you got. I don’t have any regrets about not having made a definitive recording.”
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02. THE GOLDEN PALOMINOS
The Golden Palominos
WHAT: Following his stint with off-kilter jazz outfit The Lounge Lizards, Lindsay was part of this coterie of Celluloid-affiliated avant-guardists: John Zorn, Henry Cow’s Fred Frith, polymath’s polymath Bill Laswell, and Anton Fier (who would take on stewardship of the group over the next two decades.) Rickety funk, junkyard boogie and elastic wig-outs are the order of the day, with Lindsay’s wildman vocals standing out front and centre.
AL: “That record was the only record I made with The Golden Palaminos”. Anton Fier, we started the band together – he continued with the band, I left. We had different ways of thinking about how to structure the music. When I think about the record, from my point of view, it’s kind of a clash of musical influences or something. I don’t know what to say about that record – I like some of the songs. It was a difficult record for me to make.
“I like some of my lyrics. Anton and I tried to find a way to work together ,and as soon as I left the band, the records were much more conventional – proto-indie rock or something. Having said that, Anton’s idea was to kind of present all the improvisers in the context of these groove tracks, so I had much more abstract ideas about how to structure the record. When I hear it, I just hear all the conflict. But the way that the improvisers are set up in the groove is really interesting. It was definitely a studio record, a conceptual record in a way – the band didn’t really exist until after that record. We made the record first, then we went out and played the music that we’d made on record. I like some of the tracks a lot, but some of them I just think are kind of boring-sounding, I don’t know.”
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03. THE AMBITIOUS LOVERS
WHAT: The follow-up to 1984’s Envy – essentially a solo record – Greed is part of a mooted seven-part album series based on the Seven Deadly Sins. Here, Lindsay the racketmaker has been replaced by Lindsay the spotlight-hogger, trading in twitchy, glossy pop that’s equal parts David Byrne and Laurie Anderson. Assistance comes from de facto second Lover Peter Scherer.
AL: “We made three records, and I like them all – I think Greed, the second Ambitious Lovers record, is one of the best records that I’ve made. I’m an untrained musician who resists training, and Peter Scherer is a wonderfully trained musician and a really talented guy, and we really hit it off. When I started The Ambitious Lovers, I wanted to make a blend of samba and soul music, that was my idea – try to learn how to sing by listening to a lot of samba records. I had my DNA baggage, and Peter had worked with various r&b musicians, and we had some new technology: the Synclavier, the first sampling and sequencing device. Well, actually the Fairlight came out at the same time, but there were just two machines like that. Peter also brought a really in-depth understanding of modern classical composers, so we had a lot of things to draw on when we made that record – we had some great guests on that record, we had [John Zorn affiliates] Bill Frisell and Joey Baron, I remember. We used some New York studio players, it was a product of that moment which was really a high point in New York studio recording culture. I like that record a lot, it’s one of the favourite records I’ve made.”
Do see much shared genetic material between DNA and The Ambitious Lovers? Sonically there’re worlds apart, but I can hear a similar sort of metabolism at work – lots of ideas, voracious approach to influence?
“Yeah, I agree with you here. I do see a throughline in all my work, and I would add to that, a lot of rhythm – a lot of overt sexuality or physicality or whatever you want it to be. Kind of a mix of the conceptual and the really down-to-earth, danceable…they sound very different. Greed certainly has that ’80s sound, that very clean studio sound, but I think that’s a good point: they are similar, despite surface differences, which is something I’m trying to bring out by putting our these two CDs at the same time. Putting them together and asking them to make connections. I’m sure we’ll get a lot of people who are just like “A is A and B is B and I like A,” or “I like B” – there’s a certain provocation to it, you know what I’m saying? But I’m interested in how people try and connect these things.”
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04. ARTO LINDSAY
WHAT: The best of a fabulous run of mid-1990s albums where Lindsay devoted himself wholesale to featherlight bossanova with electronic flourishes. It’s a marker of how wide Lindsay’s musical ambit had become by this stage: his brittle croon and immaculate arrangements are a world away from DNA’s force and frenzy. Landed, ever so gently, in our 100 favourite albums of the 1990s.
AL: “I made this series of solo records, but a lot of them were developed with the same collaborators – so it was a bit of an informal band. When we made Noon Chill, we were interested in a lot of the electronic music that was going around at that time. In the ’90s, there was a lot of really exciting electronic music coming out – there was abstract electronic music like Pansonic or Oval, and there was all that really great early jungle before it got formatted when it was super-crazy, that was out mostly on vinyl. I don’t need to remember the names, but it was really spliced together, jumping around all over the place in the track, tempo-wise and sound-wise. We were really fascinated by that. And most of the great music of the 1990s that I remember is Bjork, Tricky, early Goldie – all these things, we really enjoyed. We used them in a different context, we continued to work with a lot of Brazilian musicians at the same time, and some of those tracks are really a blend of crazy sequencing with some really great Brazilian percussion.”
You mention the jungle sound – you put out jungle remixes of material from this period as an album [1996’s Hyper Civilizado (Arto Lindsay Remixes)], I believe?
“We didn’t do jungle remixes. I selected remixers from an electronic moment here at New York – it was called the Illbient movement. All those DJs – Mutamassik, DJ Spooky, DJ Olive – all these guys were part of this scene here in NY at time. I thought of it as a compilation of people from that scene as much as a remix LP.”
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