Expanding with self-awareness on the tropes and pitfalls of his generation, Rodney Graham transports us to a moment in his studio, filled with future light box plans, Twitter and T. J. Clark. ‘Where have the people gone… Everybody’s out of town’, B. J. Thomas broods on Graham’s first track choice. With many urban streets empty, re-situating music of the ‘60s and ‘70s seems appropriate, providing a diversion to the otherwise up-too-close and ineffable experience of our contemporary moment.
What sounds might we hear in your home during this time of retreat?
I don’t have music playing all the time at home, because I like to focus on it when I listen. I’m always working. I can be a bit obsessive that way. I suppose I’m listening for things to steal, or in more genteel language, to appropriate. However, I do make it to my studio and sometimes have Spotify playlists on: country music, garage, rock, Italian pop of the sixties etc. are the sort of things on the playlist.
Given there is more time for personal reflection and analysis, have you discovered any new books, musicians or new forms of inspiration?
I have discovered new things through Spotify and through my assistant Craig who is also a musician, and is always digging up obscure sixties garage rock stuff. As far as reading goes, I’m working my way through all of T. J. Clark’s writings. I recently finished rereading ‘Image of the People’, his book on Courbet. Clark’s close reading of Picasso is always great too, if difficult.
Do you feel the music you listen to differs from the music you make? Are there similarities or differences are there between music for leisure or for your work?
My own music is influenced by everything I listen to. It’s just pastiche really. I’m only happy with a song if it sounds at least a little like something I’ve already heard before. I guess I’m not very avant-garde in that respect. I’m just a musical hobbyist. I feel bad for real professional musicians now. With COVID-19 most have had their livelihood taken away for the foreseeable future. Music venues will be the last to open up and only a few can make a living from streaming and other online ventures.
‘I grew up in the Me-First-Singer-Songwriter-Planet-Destroying-Currently-being-Culled-by-Covid generation. I’m typical that way. I’m afraid the modern music I really like is a little bit retro. I don’t think there is anything on the playlist past about 1978.’
Was there a place or time you were envisioning that embodies your selections, real or imagined?
It should come as no surprise, considering my age, that I should be attracted to music of the 60s and 70s. I grew up in the Me-First-Singer-Songwriter-Planet-Destroying-Currently-being-Culled-by-Covid generation. I’m typical that way. I’m afraid the modern music I really like is a little bit retro. I don’t think there is anything on the playlist past about 1978. The drum sounds of the eighties are famously horrible (thanks Phil Collins) but I guess they’re back in again or maybe they’re out again. I haven’t checked.
Where, who or what has given you solace during the pandemic?
I’m okay because I never socialized much anyway, except by going to restaurants, which I did a lot and which I miss. Someone I follow on Twitter said it succinctly, about dining out pre-Covid: ‘I wish I had developed other hobbies’. And speaking of Twitter, I have to say I spend at least 7 hours (seriously) a day on it, trolling. Instagram is for wimps.
Do you feel quarantine and global crisis has affected the way you work, and how do you foresee its impact on your future practice and the role of art more generally?
I’ve been slowed down but I’m lucky to still be able to work at my studio in a safe way. I’ve even got a large light box project planned. I think we can shoot it outside safely. It’s about musicians social distancing as it turns out.
Listen to Rodney’s Graham’s latest album Rock Buttons