Ian MacLean Davis and Terence Hannum of the band Locrian discuss the rich overlap between experimental art and music.
Terence Hannum is a Baltimore-based visual and audio artist. With André Foisy and Steven Hess, Hannum is 1/3 of the band Locrian. As Locrian celebrates the 10th anniversary of formation with a new release on Relapse Records, Infinite Dissolution, they are also planning a short tour kicking off at Metro Gallery September 10th.
Hannum and Ian MacLean Davis discuss the new album, the band, and how music and visual art work interconnect and overlap.
Ian MacLean Davis: I wasn’t familiar with Locrian prior to the opportunity to interview you, so I’ve spent the last week doing research. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain the music – and I now have a short list of reference bands. But, how do you describe the music?
Terence Hannum: You know, I tend to think of it more like the “other” category. Or some combination of drone, post-rock and black metal. We would rather be something that is harder to classify, it makes us happy maybe when we don’t neatly check any boxes.
IMD: There’s a quote on the Bandcamp page that describes an earlier album as projecting “hauntingly claustrophobic unease.” I’ve heard the new album, and dug into the back catalog. You guys make very intense music. How would you describe this album compared to the last few – how has the sound evolved?
TH: This album is definitely an evolution. There’s a bit more structure to the tracks but the whole time we recorded we went back to our back catalog and were keeping ideas, like from “The Crystal World” in mind, or even further back to “Greyfield Shrines” with a piece like “KXL I”. We wanted there to be more layers of noise among the structures. So it was about pushing forward but keeping an eye on where we came from.
IMD: Can you talk about how the band got together? Ten years together is admirable.
TH: I had gone to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to get my MFA and met this guy, Aleks Slota, who was a good photographer and performance artist. He was roommates and in a metal band with André. André joined this band that my wife Erica and I were doing called Unlucky Atlas, which was a dark folk project. Then André’s band with Aleks called it quits and André asked me if we wanted to try and do a project that would be more drone. I thought it sounded interesting, I had been doing solo noise stuff on cassette for years but never really done anything with it. So we practiced like once and then set up and played show. It was pretty simple, we would play anywhere for anyone. It really was us just trying out ideas, making drones [sounds – ed.] and playing a lot of notes on guitars and synthesizers. We then just would put out live CDRs and cassettes, we did a few LPs and CDs, and in 2009 Steven joined us.
IMD: Adding a drummer definitely changed the dynamic of the music. I want to say that it’s become more … “theatrical?” Cinematic? Do you know what I mean? Where did that come from?
TH: We had admired Steven’s drumming and his approaches in bands like Haptic and with Pan American, I knew he had a jazz background. He just has a very dynamic approach where we talk a lot about texture and placement. His playing certainly adds drama and can accent passages. Plus he pulls from this broad range of influences. I think a lot of it is out influence of progressive rock and experimentation. It’s hard to go from a duo to a trio but Steven was the right person, we all write and bring a lot to the table with each song or album.
IMD: For the last few years, you’ve been operating out of Baltimore, after having been in Chicago with the rest of the band for the duration thus far. How did that change your process as a band?
TH: It made us be more deliberate. We can’t just release like everything we do in limited runs, we have to concentrate our efforts. I am really happy I moved to Baltimore. Not to say being away doesn’t frustrate a lot, in terms of being in a band, but it also allows us to make better decisions and focus. We want to do what we’re doing. We’re way more deliberate now and I think it helps when we play live and in the studio. Like why would we do it if we didn’t want to?
IMD: One thing that interests me about your personal gallery work is how you use the materials of sound recording, often old analog audio tape, to create formal compositions that veer from orderly minimalism to visual white noise. Irrespective of these shifts, they read like visual representations of sound while also being the thing that holds the information…
TH: I used to run a cassette tape label with André from Locrian, it was called Land of Decay and it really got me more into cassette culture. More than just buying them. But I think coming out of the noise and underground metal where cassettes are still such a part of how people release music affected me big time. I would dub them at home and deal with them being eaten. I also use a Roland Space Echo which is an analog tape delay. One day I was repairing it – which you have to do monthly – and I started to just be transfixed by the surface of the sound media. The matte and glossy sides of the tape. I think being a musician has completely effected my way of thinking about art. I’ve spent hours with cassettes and would really geek out on small design details or colors of leader tape. It was a natural discovery for me.
IMD: You’ve just released a new “zine”, one in a series of limited-edition pamphlets, that appears to coincide with the new tour and album. From the image, I’m not sure if these are cheap and low quality like zines of my youth, or something higher-quality and you are using the term in an arty way.
TH: I make zines or art publications all of the time. I’ve been making zines since I was 12. I stopped when I was 18 or so, but for the last, say, twelve years have really been focusing on art zines and artists books as a way to work through the ideas I have before I make a collage or video. They’re not really prints, just xeroxes – I really love how a xerox feels and I like how democratic it can be versus an art object.
IMD: Zines were originally produced as extensions of subcultures like early Punk and in the tradition of socially and politically-subversive small press flyers. How does that relate to your zines, in the name or the form?
TH: More in the form, I tend to think artist books gets a bit too precious for my xerox studies – although recently I have made one-of-a-kind artists books. I think of the zines like the weird Raymond Pettibon ones you used to be able to buy in an SST catalog for like $2 or something – why didn’t I buy more of them? I mean I’ve made music zines when I was younger but when I was in grad school the zine became a way to liberate ideas or drawings from having to be on a wall or the burden of sales. I could find new contexts or collaborate with other artists and make different juxtapositions – it was a way to take risks.
IMD: The album cover art for the new album Infinite Dissolution is a photograph of David Altmejd’s installation sculpture “The Eye.” This continues a tradition of the band working with visual artists for online and cover imagery. How did this start?
TH: It started with Joe Pflieger doing an insert for the Locrian album “Drenched Lands” in 2009.
IMD: How did you meet Joe?
TH: I met Joe while I was at SAIC. I was setting up these cross university critiques where we would go over to Northwestern University (where Joe was) and they would come to SAIC and we would argue about our work and professors and drink beers. He was a painter then, but I really liked what he was doing. When he moved to photography I really thought his work stood out, his photographs were very unique from what most people were doing then and still are.
IMD: Did you feel like his photos somehow reflected an idea the band was trying to get across in the music?
TH: Yeah Joe’s images were so dark, almost underexposed but not. You had to like feel around in them with your eye, plus they were of weird parts of northern New Jersey like the periphery of a construction site. So they had the palette we wanted but also took stabs at some of the subjects we were interested in.
IMD: What sort of ideas? What I’m wondering about is the relationship between the visual aesthetic and the music as experiences. The music is atmospheric, dense, and abstract. And the images on a “cover” do somehow represent the music, but I’m always really curious HOW those connections are made.
TH: Well, for example our last album was very narrative and about this dual story of the earth generating itself into a hostile environment, so we approached Richard Misrach because he had this series about “Cancer Alley” and the images felt unreal or horrifying visions of chemical landscapes. But they were real. They were where people lived and made homes. That juxtaposition of the real and surreal was something we were really inspired by. Richard Misrach is an activist and an artist, he is really hands-on and I think once he knew what we were about he was on board. He also requested we donate his artist fee to LEAN who were scientists working really hard in Louisiana to combat a lot of environmental degradation.
When I was getting into music I remember getting Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation” and realizing that the cover was a painting by Gerhard Richter and not a photograph. That twist really had an impact on me. They also got me into Mike Kelley, Bob Flanagan and James Welling. I think being in high school or middle school and being shown these images and names and then seeing them in art books and magazines made something click for me. That visual and music can work together.
IMD: Was album art your introduction to Fine Art and Art History? That was my experience.
TH: You know, I think it was. I will say I was kind of raised in museums in DC, but the albums made it click, like it was a revelation that you could put that on an album cover and give it a new context. The art became something I sought out, which was hard pre-internet but I had family that would take me to the Whitney or the Guggenheim because I wanted to see something. Or I would take the train into DC and see the Hirshhorn. I still feel excited when I see Ari Marcopoulos on Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail” or Jenny Saville on Manic Street Preachers’ “The Holy Bible” – like someone is speaking my language. What album was it for you?
IMD: Well, that’s the funny thing. It can be so wonderfully insidious – you don’t think of it that way at the time. The first album cover I really loved was probably Sgt. Peppers – and that’s Peter Blake, of course – I was probably 5 or 6. I didn’t really understand who he was until decades after. My father’s giant record collection was a library in the house and was all around. That said, I think it’s undeniable that Sonic Youth introduced a generation of suburban art kids to contemporary art like no other band.
TH: Well, I think The Beatles’ “White Album” was one for me. Richard Hamilton I would come to know later, but I too would go over my parents’ record collection. That cover confounded me as a kid when I would pull it out.
When we started making more ‘album albums’ I really wanted to work with fine artists, mainly because they’re my friends and people I went to school with but also because I think our audience can delve deeper and make the connection to artists like Brian Ulrich, Scott Treleaven, or Sean Dack. I have artists I’ve always wanted to work with like Richard Misrach or David Altmejd and being able to admire their practices from afar and then to work with them just is amazing. I feel totally honored.
IMD: I can’t even imagine – talk about “wish fulfillment”… how did you closely work with Altmejd?
TH: David and his studio were very involved and still are. His gallery (Andrea Rosen) was also involved. It was a group effort. But we knew which pieces we wanted to use, and he was really excited. I’ve long admired his work from his earlier werewolf heads. I was an art critic in Chicago and reviewed them in a show and they just blew me away, how they touched on mythology and went to this other place dealing with the surreal.
David and his assistants provided a lot of images for us to work with of these two sculptures and were always encouraging. The experience easily had the potential to be really messed up – but it wasn’t. Having that trust that we know what we’re doing and can represent them well was great.
I really have been impressed by his scale too. I was in Venice when he represented Canada at the Biennale and it did not disappoint. In fact it made me really think he is perhaps one of the great artists of our time. There’s this interview where he admits not sketching out these massive installations but kind of intuiting their space and volume. In the studio I always bring visual art to look at and it is really rewarding to be able to reach out and get a response from the artist that helped set the tone of an album.
IMD: It’s interesting how photos and visual art imprint not only how we create art, but also experience music. For instance, the Altmejd image evokes epic science fiction. Earlier cover images are more grounded and a bit dystopian. I can’t help but feel those associations affect the way I hear the music. From the point of view of creator or as audience, what are your thoughts on that?
TH: I agree, I think it has to be an experience, what you play and what you present to the audience are equally important. I mean, a lot of my thinking is a bit old school, that the listener would pour over the images in the album like I did. What I love about Altmejd’s work is that it has this sci-fi element or it appears so alien, but really it’s very internal and emotional. I love that split: the deeper you dig, you really are seeing this interior of David. There are multiple levels for the work. I would hope that you could put the album on and close your eyes and see something, but also if you’re like me that visual element can assist your own visions.
Author Ian MacLean Davis is a Baltimore-based artist, instructor and writer. He has been adjunct faculty at Anne Arundel Community College since 2009, as well as a visiting critic and lecturer. He was a Hamiltonian Fellow (DC) from 2008-2010 and curated their “Vantage Points” exhibition (2013). His work is shown locally & nationally. A contributing writer to BmoreArt since 2012, he also works in customer service.
Terence Hannum is a Baltimore-based visual artist and musician who performs solo, with the avant-metal band Locrian (Relapse Records) and the dark synthpop duo The Holy Circle. Hannum is an Assistant Professor of Art at Stevenson University. He has had solo exhibitions at Guest Spot (Baltimore), Western Exhibitions (Chicago, IL), Stevenson University, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Gallery 400 at UIC (Chicago, IL). He has exhibited in group shows at TSA (Brooklyn, NY), sophiajacob (Baltimore, MD), Allegra La Viola (NYC), City Ice Arts (Kansas City, MO) and Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (New Orleans, LA).
Photos courtesy of Locrian and Andrea Rosen Gallery website.