Party with JOB

Q & A with Jai Young Kim from San Francisco Noise-Rock Trio JOB

The following text was transcribed from New York-based post-rock fanzine Sanskrit, the Fall '97 issue (Jim O'Rourke is on the cover). The pictures were added by Job. Thanks to Bennett St. Johns for conducting the interview.

Jai Young Kim So where's everybody else? I really wanted to meet Mark.

I didn't tell the other guys about the interview. I wanted to hog all the bandwidth - hope you don't mind. Plus, Mark Schifferli's currently incapacitated with a cracked hip. He had a little bicycle accident.

Oh my god. Is he okay?

Who, the gimp? He's fine, just laying low at home and reading books. No autos involved, and he was close to the studio and some friends were there at the time. But he said it was probably the most pain he's ever experienced.

And how's Matt been doing?

Matt's been busy with his 19,000 other musical projects. He plays bass with this great band called Mumble & Peg, and they've got all these shows this month and a west coast tour in October. They're on Vaccination Records along with bands like Idiot Flesh, Rube Waddell, Giant Ant Farm. It's sort of Prozac folk -- beautiful arrangements, deep and expressive playing, very evocative. Maybe like Palace but with more advanced songwriting... and a real band. You have to hear it.

So I got my copy of Party at Ilan's a week ago and it hasn't left my CD player. I've listened to it about 20 times already.

Wow, you better watch out. Listening to that album too much will almost certainly cause insanity...

But I'm psyched you enjoy it. When we originally embarked on putting it together, we thought it would just be our third cassette release, since we still hadn't done an "album-length" tape yet. We listed the recorded jams we thought might work, and all told, with what we had, it wasn't all that. This time around it was Matt's turn to spearhead the assembly, and the good news was that he was totally unemployed. So after a few intense weeks of him tweaking this and that, and me and Mark bickering about... "this part's boring" or "this doesn't fit"... the whole mess started sounding like this very tangible piece of music, something with a distinctive style, yet completely dynamic from start to finish. And the recording fidelity seemed clean enough that, well, we thought it was worthy of the compact disc medium. And the folks at Feast or Famine liked it, so they kicked down some funds. So we graduated from the school of lo-fi...

Are you sure all this music was improvised?

Normally I don't like listening to improv at all. Sometimes it's too wanky, other times it's too cerebral and academic. But we dug through dozens and dozens of tapes of improvised material, live and studio, and salvaged the stuff that one could say stood on its own merit, regardless of what tip we're on. Definitely this album has its unfair share of sonic quagmire, but I'd like to think there are those moments when the stochastic process gets a life of its own and the music, er, transcends. It's hard to reproduce that with scripted music, no matter how hard you try... well, at least when I try... [laughs]

Which tracks are the live ones?

Job at the Stork Club "The Couple Argues" and "It's My Birthday" were recorded at the Stork Club in Oakland - the bass drum is too loud in those songs. "The Dream Editor" was recorded at the Hotel Utah in SF, and was the last song in an otherwise dismal and forgettable set. And "Clear" was recorded at the Chameleon before Mark completely mutated and mutilated it with his cassette deck and effect pedals...

"Clear" is like a roller coaster ride on LSD.

Not ayahuasca? Actually, I love your description... It's one of my favorite recorded Job moments ever, and I'm glad it's finally on polycarbonate. The boy's a genius.

Who played what instruments on this album?

Mostly Mark on double-neck guitar/bass and Matt on drums, and me standing there and staring at them [laughs]. Our new secret weapon of course was Matt's Clavia Nord Lead synthesizer, a beautiful red keyboard made in Scandinavia that uses physical modeling technology and a signal path similar to analog synths from the '70s. It has the craziest but warmest sounds. In addition, Matt did some stuff with his voice, and I lent Mark an old sampler of mine, which he put to extremely good use. Fortunately we didn't overdub any intruments on the CD - otherwise you wouldn't be able to hear a god-damned thing!

And the next time you hear a Job recording, I'm afraid the instrumentation's gonna be completely different. Matt's playing his guitar and drums at the same time now - in addition to his precious Nord - and Mark is playing more keyboards and "tablecore" accouterments. I'm still noodling with my sampler and god-forsaken synth, but I'm adding bass guitar, CD player, guitar, microphone, and mixer. It's the worst thing you've ever heard.

But what's promising about the shit Job's been doing recently is that PAI is already sounding very safe and conservative to me. Now we're feeling less and less bound to our conventional roles of "okay, Matt's kicking out a drum beat, Jai Young's pounding some stupid and repetitive bass line, and Mark's wailing over it." Also, PAI didn't have any tracks that were over 7 minutes in length, or under 50 seconds. Like a couple weekends ago we decided to do something new, and that was to play for eight hours continuously...

Eight hours???

Yeah, like a Jerry fucking Lewis telethon! It was physically very hard on Matt, being the drummer. As for me, about five hours into the jam I found out how much time was left and felt like giving up. Our studio had turned into a sauna. And all these wiggy thoughts were going through my head! But things like delirium and boredom can produce some delicious results... and it's not like listening back to some of that marathon session was making me bored or crazy... Well, maybe a little bit...

But back to the current release. What do you recommend as far as listening practices for Party at Ilan's?

Okay, I'm glad you asked this question. I can't stress enough the importance of listening to this album in one uninterupted sitting, preferably in a dark room. It's only 43 minutes long, short compared to most CDs being released these days. A lot of painstaking measures went into balancing the psychological content of this album the way we wanted it - the first third is kind of light and quirky, the second third gets more noisy and chaotic, and the third third is like, "SHIT, man, I didn't want to go here."

Also, the CD was made for listening on decent stereos with extended low frequency response. I checked it out on my Sony boombox, and I couldn't hear the last minute of the album!

Yeah, on my system, the last minute of "The Dream Editor" is silence.

Well, not to say the listening experience is any less rewarding without the sub-50 Hz, but on the studio monitors at Feast or Famine, if we're listening to the CD at a pleasantly loud level, the entire building is shaking by the end. And one night earlier in the year Mark and I learned the hard way how earthquakes get started...

Wow. Maybe I should buy a subwoofer.

Yeah! Get me one while you're at it. Those are the shit.

Where did the title Party at Ilan's come from?

Well, every Job show we make a point of bringing a couple of microphones and a tape recorder, in case we happen to make some noteworthy noises. But last May we played a party at my friend Ilan's house and we said fuck it, we don't wanna deal with all that gear. And of course it ended up being far and away our best performance ever, one I'll be telling my grandkids about. The fact is, I think we're subconsciously a little restricted when we know we're being recorded. Naturally.

And Ilan is one of my favorite people on the planet, so I'd like to think naming an album after him is a testament to his coolness. At the lowest level it's name-dropping for karma points.

What is "Poor Ginger" about?

Ginger is the name of Mark's guitar amplifier, which was having technical breakdowns one day. Of course, in this song the amp was working fine and he wasn't playing guitar, just sampler. My mom doesn't like this song.

What is "Baltic Goes to War" about?

It's about a drunk Estonian sailor named Hannes. He came up and started talking to my friends Douglas, Stefan, and Heather, who were standing with Matt in front of Slim's before a John Zorn/Mike Patton/Ikue Mori show. Meanwhile I was across the street waiting for Idiot Flesh tickets... but all of us saw both shows that night. And if I heard the story right, Hannes was visiting the states and like looking for some action that night and asking Douglas where to find it. So Douglas pointed him in the right direction - or some direction - and Stefan happened to have his tape recorder.

What is "The Couple Argues at the Next Table" about?

Uh, it's about the uncomfortable situation of being at a restaurant where the couple at the next table is having an argument. I have no idea. As a lead-off track for a CD it's a ballsy choice; the flow of the song is totally abstract, the harmonies are fucked, and the synchronicity of the musicians has been utterly randomized... and I do mean utter. You can't tell if the band sucks or if the band sucks. And yet I find the song completely endearing.

What about "The Dream Editor"?

Hmm, it's about a film editor who edits your dreams.

What about "Humdinga Zoobah"?

Uhhh, is the rest of this interview gonna be you asking me questions about songs for which I don't have any decent answers?

Okay, fine. Got any suggestions?

How about asking me the notion of Job?

So what is the notion of Job?

Job is an absurd notion. Most people have been scared into believing that their purpose for existence is to go to some boring place nearly every day of their life, and do 40 hours a week of menial crap, or even worse pretending to do 40 hours a week of menial crap. But we feel it's the right thing to do - the company gives us dough, and we buy or rent homes and maybe raise children. Anything left and we buy televisions and watch prime time, or rent movies at Blockbuster and sit at home, relaxing so we can do a good job at work the next day. And a lot of us are thinking, "Man, this is the life." Those of us who think that have sold our souls, and for a ridiculous price at that.

Q: What is "Baltic Goes to War" about?
A: It's about an Estonian sailor named Hannes.
So the basic premise of the band is to destroy that institution through subversion. We generate sounds that are a complete reflection of the way we feel and think at that moment, and stop at no extreme. We try to create a head-space that's completely abstracted from the normal representation of everyday life. It's uncompromised self-indulgence, and most people won't want to hear it. Sometimes it's shocking, sometimes it's musical, sometimes it's feces. But hey, as long as it's honest, then we've achieved our intended goals, and my deepest apologies to anyone who hated it.

What's absurd is that all three of us have day jobs with relative stability. What's even more absurd is that most of the money we earn and most of our free time go into our music in one form or another - whether it's buying gear or going to to see bands play - so that Job can ultimately make music with no commercial viability whatsoever. And what's most absurd is that our process of making music is about motivating people to make music. Music for music's sake, you could say. In a way making music is my real job, even though really it could never be my job...

Do you have problems with people who make money with their music?

Not at all. I'd love to be able to support myself doing nothing but music. I play in other projects that have the potential to be popular. It's just that money has absolutely nothing to do with why I play music... Bet you've never heard that pretentious line before! [Laughs.]

So is Job a group of "pretentious fuckers?"

Excuse me?

Well, in Buzz Bazaar last year there was an interview with Matt that ended with Susan Underwood calling him a "dickhead" or something. I saw it on your Web page.

Do you believe everything that you read?

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    Last modified in September, 1998.