Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep: An Interview With J.P Shilo

Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Interview With J.P Shilo

This interview has been on the vards for a while and I have been looking forward to it for sometime now. J.P Shilo, may be better known for his work with Melbourne 3-piece Hungry Ghosts. They released the staggering "Alone, Alone", and the way I percieved music changed forever. Of course, Hungry Ghosts have literally vanished over the last half a decade. Earlier this year, J.P Shilo resurfaced with his new solo LP, "As Happy As Sad Is Blue".

According to Allmusic the tracks on "As Happy..." are

"virtually unclassifiable, it centers on noir-ish circus type music, ambient instrumental pieces that are darker and edgier than the genre might suggest, beautiful pastoral passages, tango-like interludes and other elemental musics that can not be quantified in written language..."

Here, J.P Shilo talks about his new album, out on Smells Like Records, and he reveals just what has actually happened to Hungry Ghosts.

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Could you elaborate on your solo album "As Happy as Sad Is Blue". What influenced you when writing and recording it?

Well…..it was recorded over a period of about three years….so there were many influences. I think the most obvious of those would be where I recorded it….It was in an old cellar at Tara Institute, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation centre. I had just been through a particularly dark chapter of my life, so to have been afforded the space and luxury to have a lot of time to myself probably influenced the recordings a great deal.

I moved in with nothing and some very kind people lent me their instruments and equipment to record these ideas.


Musicians hate to be categorized by the media, how would you like your music to be referenced?

I think I’d just like it to be heard.


Is there any significance in the title “As Happy as Sad Is Blue"?

It came to me in a dream….the details of which are probably irrelevant, but the phrase As Happy as Sad is Blue stood out as something significant.

I think in some ways it explains why I choose to write purely instrumental pieces…..the word ’blue’ is used to describe sadness….so to describe how I feel in a word like say ‘Happy’ is just as vague as describing sadness as ‘blue’. So perhaps I am just as Happy as Sad is Blue


Having already worked with the Sonic Youth-owned Smells Like Records, with your previous band Hungry Ghosts, were you happy to rekindle this relationship for your solo work?

Of course!! It’s an honour. Steve is such a sweet guy. I had no intention of releasing another album, but sent a tape of these songs to him to have a listen. He was very kind with his compliments and generously offered to help me out.


According to your bio you "reconnected" with your interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Has this had any bearing on your music?

I assume so. On the most obvious level, I took the titles for the two opening tracks “Earth-sinking-into-water” and “Water-sinking-into-fire” from the Bardo-thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead), and the piece “I can’t say Fish don’t cry” was conceived after a meditation retreat. I saw a dead fish floating in a pond, and wondered how much of the water could have been its own tears. Then again, on a subtler level, I’m sure Buddhism plays a big part in how I access the kind of music I play.

When Hungry Ghosts was an operating unit, we were all very much interested in Tibetan Buddhism and meditation….I think it taught us to listen. I reconnected with that space when making this record.


What track are you most proud of on "As Happy as Sad Is Blue" and why?

I sequenced the album as if it were parts of one song….

With “Alone, Alone” it was divided into movements. Similarly with “As Happy as Sad is Blue”, I saw it as being like a soundtrack. The two opening pieces are like the opening scenes. The title song is like the opening credits, and the rest unfolds. “( ) Up my Sleeve”, is the end of Act One. “Paris Air”, “The Sea has Done a Number on Me” and “Fireflies are like an Interlude” and “Grave” is the beginning of the end. I am pleased with the entire record.


There are a couple of live performances scheduled in Melbourne , Australia . Are there any plans to tour further a field?

Not as yet. The world premiere will be on January 17 at Manchester Lane in Melbourne … My Melbourne line up contains Tim Howden who was also from Hungry Ghosts, and also Mark Dawson and Kiernan Box from the Black Eyed Susans will help me out. I would like to visit foreign shores again. I will be working on some film scores in the new year, but after that - maybe a tour.


Your previous band, Hungry Ghosts, in my view are/were one of the most under-rated bands of all time. Have they officially split up?

Well, we haven’t played a show in about 6 years. During the time we spent together we did form a very close bond. When we stopped playing it did seem final. However, we recently met up and felt - in the bigger picture - we will always be closely connected. Given the right circumstances we will probably play again one day…It’s just a phase we’re going through.

There are so many different cultural influences on Hungry Ghosts tracks, such as "I Don't Think Of You Anymore....” How did this group approach songwriting?

The very first time we played together, we made an awful racket! It was pure sonic meltdown….We listened back to the tape in a bid to identify something unique/personal/interesting, but the truth was, it was shit!!. After that we made the conscious decision to not play – rather, to listen to each other. At some rehearsals we just sat there and barely played a note, until we just couldn’t help ourselves…..So there was an initial self -imposed restraint. Later we just became more sensitive players.

In the beginning, I think we were paying particular attention to Ryuichi Sakamoto and also Blixa Bargeld’s Commissioned Music album. Then when you add everything else, maybe then I guess you can get an idea of the different cultural influences.

But I think the key ingredient was learning to shut up and play less.


How would you describe a typical Hungry Ghosts live performance?

I’m not sure; I never saw a Hungry Ghosts performance. However, I’ve been told it appeared as if we were telepathic.

For such minimal ‘beats per minute’ music, I always seemed to be completely exhausted and drenched in sweat by the end - I think it took a lot of concentration. And we always reminded ourselves before every show, that this could be the last time we play these songs.


What is the Melbourne music scene like at the moment, are there any bands particularly interesting you?

I don’t get out much. However I have stumbled across a band who I feel are distant relatives of Hungry Ghosts – Clogs. Upon hearing them, I felt as if I’d been allowed the privilege of listening to old, recorded conversations between distant, foreign cousins. I was unsure of the dialect but knew we shared the same blood.



Since its coming to the end of the year, do you have a favourite album of 2006?

The Drift” by Scott Walker.

The first song I heard from it was The Escape. It was in the middle of the night; I was alone, listening to the radio on headphones in the dark. I was completely unprepared, and was pinned to the mattress, petrified…..then stabbed awake by Donald Duck! I couldn’t sleep; flicked on the lights. I had to find out what the hell just happened - music had never had that effect on me before.

I did an internet search and found a review that cautioned not to listen to this alone, in the dark, on headphones!!. Holy shit! I thought, ‘I hope I haven’t done any permanent damage!’. Everything else sounds like fluff afterwards.

Finally, what does the future hold for J.P Shilo, do you have any New Year resolutions?


When we were recording "Alone, Alone" in New York I asked Steve for advice about the record. He said -"Don’t ask me, only you know how to make a Hungry Ghosts record.” I guess that’s always a nice reminder when I begin to lack confidence. So, my plan is to boldly move into the new year by playing my own music live again.

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6 Comments:

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At 22 December, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 22 December, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 22 December, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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