Note from Video Revival: Justin Frye, frontman and founder of Brooklyn-based band, PC Worship, was kind enough to let us use their recordings for our special screening of Maya Deren films. He was also cool enough to let us interview him. What follows is a riff on art and art-making. This Q+A plus Justin’s artwork and more is featured in a limited-edition commemorative zine for sale exclusively at Video Revival throughout October.
“The reason that I had not been a very good poet was because actually my mind worked in images which I had been trying to translate or describe in words: therefore, when I undertook cinema, I was relieved of the false step of translating image into words, and could work directly so that it was not like discovering a new medium so much as finally coming home into a world whose vocabulary, syntax, grammar, was my mother tongue.” - Maya Deren
VR: You’ve said in interviews both parents played in bands, and you grew up with a studio in the house, so in that respect music composition and recording is in your roots. Was there ever a struggle in making it your own, or did it come to you naturally like a ‘mother tongue’? Related to that, Maya Deren, born Eleonora, chose the name Maya for herself right around the time she made her first film. Was there a pivotal moment in the creation of PC Worship that you sensed a newer, more authentic, identity coming to light? Did it give you a sense of discovery about yourself?
JF: The main shift in focus for me came from the realization of creation. Growing up I played Double Bass in the orchestra and both of my parents were supporting musicians in bar bands, meaning that their involvement in bands was never as the "front person". Neither of them write songs or compose music, and for much of my childhood I never did either. I remember being 16 or so and starting to write and explore composition and it really opened the flood gates for not just music, but exorcism of thought in many other ways. PC Worship really started, in practice, around that time and for the next few years I steadily made my own music, which I kept private, while playing in, and touring with, a ton of bands, in more of a supportive role. At a certain point I had accumulated enough recordings to make a few albums and I really wanted to start a project that didn't reflect the basic formula of a band. The membership could be any of my friends or collaborators at any time and maintaining a malleable form that referenced song structures and created alternative platforms for improvising became the basic formula that set the foundation for the project. As it started to grow, it became clear to me that my early ventures in classical music and a childhood spent in the periphery of top 40 alternative bar rock were both impossible aesthetic foundations for me to shake off, so I quickly realized that for PC to be authentic it would have to straddle the lines of everything in my subconscious with new interests and explorations, which to answer your question, was a massive discovery.
VR: You’ve had day jobs in the art world, and you have done the artwork for all the PC Worship albums. Does your interest in other art forms inform your music making?
JF: I don't subscribe to the idea of different mediums as they relate to the artist's condition. You can't see, smell, hear or taste things at different times and the only thing that separates one from the other is a person's ability, which can always be attained. I don't see art, in any form, as a measure of proficiency, whereas I can appreciate someone who can do something well, I think the nature of creation is impulsive, selfish and perverse and that concept is something I learned partly from being subjected to abstract art that is somehow worth millions of dollars.
“The most enduring works of art create a mythical reality.” - Maya Deren
JF: This is a very real quote that perfectly encapsulates the vibe that drew me to this project, which I find very strange, yet alluring. I love Maya Deren's films, but thought it was a weird pairing, without any collaborative intent on either end (obviously she's dead and you're using music that I made 3 years ago). What I think is great, is the intersection of different agendas and relating the unrelated, like a more off-kilter version of the classic Wizard of Oz / Dark Side of the Moon pairing.
VR: Is there a visual artist (or any other non-musical artist, like a writer or poet) who has deeply influenced you?
JF: One of my "day jobs in the art world" for a few years was restoring a couple massive installation pieces by the artist Jason Rhoades. In a weird way, his art had a distinct impact on my notion of what counts as acceptable, and the answer is everything. His art is totally fucked up, but it also stands as a unique vision of the world and a reaction to that world simultaneously.
VR: You have said the name of your album SOCIAL RUST refers to both your personal life, having to remove rust from salvaged metal for art-making purposes, as well as “a stagnant feeling in society.” The concept of ’social rust’ is a poignant one considering many Americans feel our society has regressed in various ways. Maya Deren was very critical of Hollywood and saw film art as necessary on a moral level because it would challenge the audience to construct newer and more authentic realities, not just receive validation for what they already know. With your background in music collectives, and operating as being an independent, do you think artists have a responsibility to create work that is challenging? Do you think challenging works of art ultimately lead to social progress?
JF: Yes, most definitely, art always has and always will reflect society, unless there's some dystopian cyborg future where it's completely intertwined with pure entertainment, but I think human's will always need cathartic outlets. I view my role in a far more selfish narrative, but that sort of individualism is essential for cultural progression, as we are all entangled with various social and cultural constructs that should, in most cases, be completely dismantled and rewritten or at least re-appropriated. I think the idea of "challenging" work is subjective and basically hinges on the same constructs, unless you mean physically challenging, which would be difficult to overcome without another few thousand years of evolution.
VR: Also, the image of rust is most often associated with decay, neglect, dilapidation. In reference to your music, it brings to mind the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi:
Emerging in the 15th century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.
- Robyn Griggs Lawrence, Natural Home, Sept-Oct 2001
Wabi-sabi is an interesting parallel to PC Worship and its musical underpinnings (free jazz, grunge, etc). If wabi-sabi were recorded music, I would imagine it would incorporate the lo-fi distortion, dissonance, and flux that is characteristic of your work. And yet both have an artfulness and harmony that is hard to achieve. Do you find decay, or a related concept, to be a theme in your creative life?
JF: That was a beautiful question and the answer is yes, however I think the more appropriate relation is that everything has value, regardless of decay or rust. Aesthetically, I do tend to gravitate toward the process of disintegration as I have refused to change the tubes in my 1972 Twin Reverb for about 5 years because the sound of them dying is impossibly perfect, even though it renders the amp useless in any other context; my favorite tapes to manipulate are the ones I've had the longest, that are the most worn out and degradation is something everyone who lives long enough, will endure and should embrace.
VR: In that line of thinking, I’d like to ask about your creative process. You’ve said both “a lot of thought goes into everything” as well as “the process is pretty open-ended”. I don’t see this is as being contradictory but maybe attests to the paradoxical nature of creativity. Do you like to start from a point of improv and then narrow your vision from there? Or do you hold an intention from the get-go, then experiment with different methods & structures to get the purest execution of that intention? What do you think about the creative process in general.
JF: I'm not sure I understand the notion of a creative process. Are there people out there who have figured out the perfect way to create something? I find that if a process worked for me once, it might work again, but it most likely won't, at least in the same way. There are so many x-factors in creating something with any degree of spontaneity that to involve a formulaic approach would completely neglect the outcome. I think the creative process was invented by "artists" who have achieved success and needed a way to self-replicate to continue their barrage of meaningless production. Although, by that logic, I suppose my creative process begins after my work is finished and a record label manufactures thousands of copies to sell (or not sell). The real question/tangent might relate to the monetization and measure of success in all music, even the most experimental, yet the inability for most other art forms to follow suit or to do so in such a product driven way (aside from film, of course). Whatever the case, I find that if I just start with time; pure, unfettered, free time, to explore and follow random impulses, than everything else will eventually fall into place.