Under the moniker Autre Ne Veut, singer Arthur Ashin continues to push the sonic boundaries of his music. His third album “Age of Transparency,” a follow-up to the critically acclaimed “Anxiety,” eases away from the synthesizer-heavy production from the previous album in favor of digitally altered jazz ensemble recordings that stumble behind his voice. The result is as unsettling to listen to and as difficult to write about as Autre Ne Veut’s work has ever been.
Performing material from both albums last week at the Middle East, Autre Ne Veut sounded even more impressive live than on his recordings. The result was an impactful, intimate experience that lent additional meaning to his enigmatic musical work. We chatted with him post-show about opening up on stage, and about his frustration with the way journalists discuss and classify his music.
Due to the nature of the music you perform live, you’re revealing a very vulnerable side of yourself on stage. When you perform are you ever overwhelmed by the emotions that your music is written from? Does the amount that you reveal to the public – something you explore on “The Age Of Transparency” – ever overwhelm you?
With some of the newer stuff the emotions can be pretty topical, though to be completely honest it’s more of a simple opening up. As in conducting an emotional living autopsy on myself and just kind of letting the organs be exposed. Like the Deleuzian “bodies with exposed organs.”
In making yourself a Deluzian “Body without Organs” for your performance, have you found any new “becomings” in songs where the emotions are no longer current?
One bad joke deserves another, huh? But yeah, that’s probably a pretty accurate way to run with this metaphor.
“The Age Of Transparency” was recorded in several studio sessions with a jazz band playing the backing tracks on the album. Since your subject material deals with the internet age, what inspired you to look back into the past as a backbone for the album?
The internet [age] is a buzz phrase. A way of talking about a subject that most of the people who read contemporary music journalism can understand. But really part of the overarching framework required a “nostalgic” “authentic” and “naturalistic” mode and I chose this particular intersection of Alice Coltrane meets Ornette Coleman meets Astral Weeks because these are all big parts of my listening practice and I’ve always been interested to see how they can fit into the sort of invisible parameters of ANV.
Perhaps as a journalist I’m too inclined to taxonomize your work, then. When you say “sort of invisible parameters” do you mean the constraints you impose on your own work, or does that also include the external expectations of what an album following “Anxiety” would sound like?
I mean that isn’t a targeted slight. It’s standard practice. It’s just an unfortunate one at times, but that’s ok, we’ll all survive many essentializations in our lifetimes. I think that any name given or construct created — either for one’s self or externally imposed — creates a nebulous boundary around itself. Over time, attempts are made to stretch the definition and at times popular practice succeeds and at other times experiments are forgotten or outright rejected. I mean, think about the history of jazz music, or rock and roll which we’ve seen extend to their limits and then ultimately contract back (generally speaking) to some tight knit system of actual musical representations orbiting closely around a platonic notion of themselves. Even the way that the errant outliers function are primarily as guideposts to understanding the ideal. We’re all like that, as individuals or artists or by whichever terms we use to define ourselves or others. As long as we’re subject to cultural or capitalist norms. In other words, these constraints aren’t intentional they just sort of form over time, it’s why I sound different than other people in certain ways, and similar in others.
Many people have tossed around ideas for what/who Macy Sullivan represents in the evocative “World War Pt. 2” music video. Do you have any insight on that or is it left to the viewer?
A lot of the interpretations are really interesting and a lot of them are inane. But at least there are a multitude of them. I feel like I succeeded there.
Your college roommate Daniel Lopatin is very involved in the vaporwave scene, and you seem to have connections to a lot of avant garde electronic musicians. Do you take inspiration from them, and where do you see your music in relation to theirs?
I have close connections to a few of those people I’m not sure about the vaporwave scene per se, but I’ve certainly looked to certain people who I think are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with digital audio production and tried to engage them implicitly or otherwise with my music. As a rule, however, I’m not taken particularly seriously by this group outside of my actual friends. I don’t know if it’s a function of my limitations as a producer, my taste, or simply the cultural milieu of ANV is not engaged directly. Regardless, I would be more than happy to receive art grants and commissions for my work and retire into playing a few dates every few years at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, or even BAM.
Over the course of your career, the brand of experimental bedroom R&B which your music falls under has become much more popular than it was when you started out. How has this increased visibility affected the music you make, and who do you consider to be your closest musical peers?
Honestly, that’s a thing writers talk about. I’m surprised that these particular sub-genres survived this long. They’re not very interesting as proven by any single article which attempts to draw lines between “real R&B” and “bedroom R&B” or “PBR&B” or whatever. Anyway, I don’t know anymore. It’s not really my job to generalize myself. I have the American curse of feeling like a special flower.