All the while honing her skills as a singer, producer and visual artist – from a couple outings on New York’s multi-sensory UNO to her collaboration with Gobby as SETH onto her installations for Swedish gallery Loyal, Jamie Krasner has developed a singular persona, questioning her self-awareness within an epoch tailored around diluted personalities and cultural straightening.
James K‘s debut long-player PET arrives 14th April 2016 via 1080p, Dial and her own imprint She Rocks – Exploring shape-shifting socio-cultural motifs with subtle bravura, the album puts the tiny cracks and deep wounds of a whole era under the magnifying lens, turning modern solitude into a breeding ground for better times.
Ahead of the release of her eagerly-awaited debut long-player and most intimate body of work to date, we took the chance to find out more about James K’s creative modus operandi and the symbolisms at work behind the album and her long-haul artistic evolution.
Interviewed by Baptiste Girou
"PET is about trying to escape, but, ultimately, being owned."
Your solo track ‘S Lush‘ was featured on Dial’s anniversary compilation ‘All’ – now you’re getting back on the Hamburg-based label with your debut long player. How did your paths first cross?
‘S Lush‘ was a James K track I released for their compilation, but I did release an EP, a 7 inch and a couple of singles as James K since 2013 (through NYC label UNO, and on my own).
I met Bianca Heuser when I was first in Berlin in 2011. I gave her a couple tracks I had made around and before that time and she was really into them. She started working with Dial a couple years after and I met David Lieske then. She recommended I send in a track for the compilation, and Peter Kersten ended up liking it and put it on the compilation.
After a bunch of failed plans with other labels, spanning two years, I was planning on releasing the album independently through my own label “She Rocks” and I got the tracks mastered myself. Before I got the plates cut for the record I sent it to a couple friends to get their opinion on sequencing and one of those friends, Christian Naujoks, who also releases with Dial, ended up sending it to Pete, who liked the album and wanted to release it through Dial. I asked about doing a co-release with my label and Pete agreed.
"The album narrates my search for honest expression by means of the premature denial - a childish excursion into a world of monstrosity and innocence."
What’s with the title, ‘PET’? What does it mean to you?
To me, it describes a mental state and a persona. The album narrates my search for honest expression by means of the premature denial – a childish excursion into a world of monstrosity and innocence. PET is the fetishised version of this infantilized person. PET is about trying to escape, but, ultimately, being owned.
It’s related to a general theme in the work I was making at the time (in 2010) about fragmented and flattened personas, performing myself as an example. It was a critique on the influence and effects that media has on the construction of persona. I had a vested interest in making work on this subject. I saw the effect that social media had on people in real life – how consumerist values were becoming a means of personal value.
We live in a time where it’s almost impossible to escape the commercial, and it influences how our reality is constructed. With this, the spiritual sense of community has vanished. PET relates to my personal experiences within these cultural values. On a more personal level, it also relates to relationships-with myself and others – where I felt my values were compromised.
"The whole project ties together elements of my visual, written, and sonic work - creating a mythology of this identity, 'Pet'."
By using myself and delving into this theme, it was a process of realizing my placement in it. The whole project ties together elements of my visual, written, and sonic work – creating a mythology of this identity, ‘PET’. The music is the core of my soul’s experience – it’s the honest expression of how I felt while delving into this theme.
The process of creating the music – is about probing my inner psyche, which uncovered to me much more about my personal journey. The expression became an escape into the ethereal nature of the music – a mischievous denial of my own experience.
The album is the performance of being a Pet – existing in this state and making work out of it, by probing into it, questioning it, while still being inside of it. It is a means to understand and get to the finished state. By putting myself on display as something – I also become a critique of that thing.
So, there is ‘Pet’ the persona and ‘PET’ the album, that, in its finished state, I get to own.
There was also a solo show and a show I curated for my gallery Loyal in Stockholm in the fall of 2014 entitled ‘Vanity; Pet‘. This show pertains to themes within the album – it’s another element to the greater mythology of ‘Pet‘. It’s the work by and about Pet. Check it out!
How and where was the album recorded?
I recorded and produced the album nomadically; mostly in New York, some in Berlin – in various living situations. I recorded a lot of the live elements like vocals, drums, piano where my parent’s live. The only thing I recorded in a studio were the vocals to ‘Sokit To Me Baby‘, which I did at Mute in London, the rest of the vocals I did on my own by renting a good mic and a preamp over a holiday weekend.
I much prefer to record on my own – I find it difficult to translate feeling when there is an issue of time constraint and looming expense factor, which is generally the case in a studio environment. I’ve always had my studio set up in my room (which is just whatever gear I have, various microphones, an audio interface, and my computer), so I’m used to producing and recording music in this way.
I moved around a lot while I was making it, and elements in my studio changed up, which factors into why there are a variety of sounds throughout the album. I used up to 6 different synthesizers, my dad’s old jazz drum kit, my acoustic and electric guitars, various hardware (my own and friends’), my family’s piano, samples I collected, software instruments etc. I was collaging elements together to create a multi-textural sonic space.
"The process of making music for me is mediative in that it is about refocusing my consciousness towards the feeling; emotional, physical and, through this, actually uncovering it."
What kind of feeling or atmosphere did you want to convey?
I don’t think I knew when I was making it exactly the feeling I wanted to convey. The process of making music for me is mediative in that it is about refocusing my consciousness towards the feeling; emotional, physical – and, through this, actually uncovering it.
I was searching for honesty and sometimes that was pain, loss, seduction, sarcasm, mockery, parody. There is absolutely a desperation in the voice – a need to move out of something, to be heard – by another, which turned out to be myself in most cases.
In terms of atmosphere, I wanted it to be layered to reiterate the feelings of fragmentation and a distance from the ‘self’. Structurally though, I stuck to a ‘pop’ structure – verse, chorus, bridge etc because this is so integral to the plight of ‘pet’ – she’s just an experimental girl living in a structured world.
Were you listening to albums between the studio sessions or did you cut off from external sources at the time?
I was listening to music – all sorts of music.
You said the album allowed you to dissect negative thoughts and an “unwillingly internalized wound”. How did you get to translate that into harmonics, technic-wise ?
I wrote the vocal parts for this album by a cut and paste method. I improvised over the rough idea I had for the track and then listened back, cut up parts, and restructured the parts, and I created melodies this way. When I improvise, I’m trying to let words come out, but it’s mostly in between words and sounds – like a baby who can not quite speak yet.
Writing the lyrics was this strange process of literally extracting the words from the sounds I made while improvising – uncovering things I didn’t realize I was saying. So, to answer your question in a literal sense, I was dissecting the abstractions of my own feelings through sounds into words.
Sonically, the whole experience and process of making the music or any art for me is about dissecting. Its about examining myself and making choices based on this examination that will serve best as the vessel for a feeling I need to express. The process itself is the act of translating.
"I was dissecting the abstractions of my own feelings through sounds into words."
A lot of the elements are not straight forward- they went through a ‘morphing’ process; whether it be recording live drums, and then pairing it with samples from a drum machine, creating a digital drum machine with both of these elements, and then running this back through a tape player.
I was working with layers and dissecting with layers, but with the dissection, there isn’t a clear answer – there’s multiplicity. I left the layers which force the abstraction because the point is that, the negative thoughts and internalized wounds are there, and in all of us.
Relating to this music, is about relating to a process; one where the answer isn’t laid out for you. There are words but not sentences. Sonically and lyrically I aimed to keep it open, less obvious. Reality isn’t a given you have to find it for yourself. Keeping the abstraction is forcing an interaction, a process on the people who listen, the same process of uncovering, which I went through creating the work.
This is why I enjoy music so much – it’s a medium expressing feeling; making the inexpressible accessible. If you resonate in any way to the feeling, you unwillingly find yourself experiencing the music, even physically it makes you move, emotionally it makes you feel. Music lacks any personal boundaries, it can molest your soul.
"I was around people and things that were unhealthy for me psychologically and physically. I felt that my values were drowning in a sea of bullshit, and I was stuck in patterns, finding no escape."
Were you looking to tell a story or weave some sort of narrative between the songs?
Yes, the ‘PET’ narrative is weaved throughout all the elements; music, lyrics, video, visuals. I went into creating the work through the lens of the greater themes I discussed before, but I’m always using myself in my work. This is how it becomes a more personal uncovering; I was ‘PET’.
The things that I felt owned by were situations, both in my personal life and work, relationships, with people and my own mental and physical health. I was around people and things that were unhealthy for me – psychologically and physically. I felt that my values were drowning in a sea of bullshit, and I was stuck in patterns, finding no escape. Making the music, the visuals, creating the persona was a means to achieve understanding and closure with certain experiences. It is a way of processing attitudes I have towards myself and my surroundings.
A lot of the songs are me talking to myself in second or third person. I sequenced the album loosely as a timeline for PET. The first track, ‘Bow‘, is a submission I made to darker forces. The second, ‘Drunktrack‘, I wrote out of complete depression and hopelessness. ‘Sokit‘ is about feeling a fragmentation, and multiplicity of selves, while trying to feel ‘one’, grounded.
The next few show the seduction of it all. There are bouts of love, confusion, anguish and triumph. There is a duality in the concepts I was interested in; my surroundings, outside of myself, and then me, experiencing and uncovering very personal feelings. So, in addition to creating a theme about something greater, outside of myself, I wrote them to substantiate my inner voice and uncover myself to me.
"The song I did with Physical therapy was a fluke for me in a way; I didn't totally realize that it was going to be released on a label, or even what that meant at the time."
You first appeared as a singer on Physical Therapy’s ‘Drone On‘ single. Since then you matured into a proper producer. How do you judge that evolution?
I have been writing and recording music since I was young, and I was even producing tracks that made it onto this album before and around the time Daniel asked me to write and sing vocals for his track. I tend to be shy, so I don’t share a lot of what I’m doing on my own until I feel it’s in a place where the meaning won’t be compromised.
The song I did with Physical therapy was a fluke for me in a way; I didn’t totally realize that it was going to be released on a label, or even what that meant at the time; I wasn’t thinking about the obviousness, I was just into collaborating with anyone at that time. He sent me a track and I wrote a melody and lyrics to it in a matter of an hour. I’m happy it reached people, but it’s not exemplary of the work I make and the time I dedicate to that work.
In terms of my evolution as a producer; It feels pretty natural; I’ve just continued with it, and the maturation is a result of love and dedication I have to making music, but mainly it’s a compulsion (making work).
"It’s very hard to be an artist for me because it has always been a necessity, probably because I don’t function proper in some social construct."
After listening to the album for the first time, I couldn’t help but think of Björk – both in terms of tone of voice and general ambience. Is she an influence to you?
I’ve definitely gotten that before, but I don’t actively listen to her music. I have a Sugarcubes tape that I listened to maybe once or twice and I’ve heard her solo music, but I just never got that into it. In a way, I like when that happens; where you make something and then someone points out the similarities in someone else’s work.
It’s interesting because it gives you an opportunity to find out how they got to their conclusion and wherein lies the differences in your journey to a somehow similar conclusion. Doing this can help you potentially discover something more about yourself. I have not done this with Björk though.
Which artists are you looking up to?
I appreciate any artist who works hard and is able to keep some good value in tact in terms of why they feel they need to make something; if there is a message I can resonate with, even better. It’s very hard to be an artist for me because it has always been a necessity, probably because I don’t function proper in some social construct, and it’s become an integral mode of communication, but it’s something I dislike in a lot of ways because it just adds to more ‘things’ in a world with an overabundance of ‘things’.
I choose to believe what I do matters because, really, there’s no other option for me. In looking up to particular artists; hard work, honesty, a personal take on something, and the chance that it’s something that never existed before are my main pulls.
"This music serves as a cure to conservative and consumerist values, and the message absolutely remains valid."
After this ‘Pet’ project, I re-avowed my interest in industrial and noise music (SPK, Einstürzende Neubauten, Grim are some I’ve been listening to), which I think makes a lot of sense considering the nature of ‘PET’. This music serves as a cure to conservative and consumerist values, and the message absolutely remains valid. After ‘PET’ it’s been a go to for finding my inner peace.
Of course Bowie died this year, which was tragic for me – this is an artist I looked up to since I was a kid – I liked everything he made up through the Berlin trilogy. The tributes were vile. They made way for some parody comparisons to ‘artists’ that exist in a time where the industry is a far cry from having anything close to a revolutionary purpose it once had potential to hold (brought me back to the ideas I laid out on Pet).
What’s the last record you bought – and why do you love it?
The first F.U.H.D record, hah I dunno if I ‘love’ it – it sounds like plowing through a landfill. It serves some purpose, though. I think I had a lot of pent up energy and rage I needed to exorcise, which I well achieved listening to it.
What’s lined up for you in the next few weeks/months?
I’m going to play some shows around Europe at the end of April into May. I’ve been working on a new music project, so I will continue with that. I will release some new tracks on a couple of compilations this summer, and work towards the next releases with other artists on my label.
1. Bow (Submit Now!)
3. Sokit To Me Baby;
6. Luv Me Too
10. Blu (Soda)