Thursday, March 31, 2011
Thrones—Q&A with Joe Preston
There are musicians that rise to fame, take the money and vanish into the ether. Other’s crash into the median barrier and burn in a blistering ball of self ruin. Then there are those who grind it out, hammer away at the brittle coalface of rock’n’roll, carve out a niche for themselves and graft out new and interesting pathways for other pioneering spirits to explore. Joe Preston is one of these musicians, a man who in certain circles is revered as a trailblazer, a groundbreaker; but chances are you wouldn’t recognise him if he turned up asleep on your doorjamb.
For many, Preston’s solo outlet Thrones is the stuff from which nightmares are made. A slightly confronting collision of bass, vocal punishment and looping zaps and booms, it’s not children’s birthday party music—or party music at all. But for those who paid attention to the likes of Melvins, Sun))), Earth or High On Fire (for all of which Preston has played), the Thrones tour this April represents a rare opportunity to see a true innovator at work.
Are you writing music right now? If so, as Thrones, or with whom? What (if any) Joe Preston releases can we expect in the near future?
JP: I operate at a glacial pace as far as writing and recording goes, but I do in fact have some new things coming out. I finally decided to put out my own records, and there is a split 12" with a Washington band called Sedan coming out very soon. I hoped to have them in time for this tour but the test pressings just arrived on Monday, so it will be another month. I'm also extremely disorganised, so distributing is the next hurdle, but hopefully by the time they are finished I will have my website up and I'll be selling them through mail order as well as at shows. I'm planning on putting out another 12" in the next year (hopefully this one), some cassette releases, and then re-issues of the first couple Thrones records on vinyl. High hopes for a man who can barely remember to leave the house wearing pants.
Given that you’ve been playing music for twenty-odd years now—and that those twenty years have seen dramatic changes in the landscapes of the music industry and media/communications in general—how do you feel about the state of modern music?
JP: Honestly, I'm a bit of a curmudgeon and don't listen to very much new music, and consequently don't keep up much with the state of modern music. To my eyes, it seems that even with all the changes in industry/distribution, ease of manufacture and creation, it's still just as trend driven as it ever has been. So I'd say the state of modern music is poor. But then again, there's no accounting for taste.
Do you think it’s easier to reach a wider audience today, or does the sheer volume of crap available online render good music more difficult to find?
JP: There's definitely a "wealth" of music being made these days, and it can be hard to wade through, but if someone is motivated to look around a bit, it's become so simple to have your music discovered by new people. I think the internet and its myriad sub networks are a great thing for someone who wants to make music but doesn't want to play the humiliating game of "trying to make it", that six degrees of separation theory really opens up fast as people communicate with each other almost immediately nowadays.
In terms of the changes that have occurred in the last decade or so (i.e. file sharing returning the focus to live, touring musicians rather than spinning dollars from album sales; the advent of sites such as MySpace allowing musicians to reach an audience regardless of major label profile etc.) what are the major benefits/drawbacks in your perspective?
JP: I like that file sharing has rendered major labels and their elitism (somewhat) impotent. I don't like that file sharing leads people to not bother paying musicians for their hard work. [It’s] a double edged sword for sure. I really like how quickly people devised ways to sell their music directly to fans without dealing with middlemen, or at least a few less of them. Conversely, there are lots of new middlemen ready to take a chunk out of a musician's cut by making it "easier" to get their music to a wide audience by encouraging them to use their sites, so it would seem labels are back with a change of clothes. For me, I have always sold more records in person at shows than I did through labels, so the changes don't affect me very much as I still tour regularly.
As a radio host on KMBT, you obviously embrace the independence of voice that community/public radio allows. What roles do you think radio, both independent and commercial, play in today’s music world?
JP: That's a tough one, here in the US radio is dominated, and I mean DOMINATED by corporate interests, so the closer you are to a population centre the less likely you are to hear anything on the radio that is not solely a vehicle for ads and profit. Our only national non corporate radio (NPR) is in grave danger of having their funding crippled. Internet radio seems to have stepped in and given a voice to a huge variety of tastes and opinions, which to me is wonderful whether or not the content agrees with me. I think saying "what the hell was that?" is a good thing when it comes to radio. My personal favourite radio stations are farm reports from the more desolate parts of the American mid-west; it is community reporting at its most basic and strange.
With the arrival of bands like The Sword and Mastodon it seems as though there’s been a resurgence of attention to the heavier outfits of the ‘80s and ‘90s (notably the sludgier stuff: Melvins, Acid King etc.). Is there much evidence of this in the US?
JP: I guess so, I definitely noticed more people into what I was doing in Thrones after I finished playing in High On Fire, and I don't think it was solely because I had been playing bass for a more popular band for a couple years. People often cite their influences, and the trails are easier than ever to follow back.
Whether as Thrones or as a member of the various bands you’ve played in over the years, your music retains a trueness of substance—you have not bent to accommodate radio air time or ever bowed to commercial pressures. Do you see this a lot in your musical circles? Who else are you inspired by in terms of a total reluctance to succumb to fashion or popularity?
JP: Thanks, that's sweet of you to say. I suppose I do see that in my circles, probably because I connect with people with a similar love of being themselves. Nothing inspires me more than seeing someone doing what they love to do, and obviously doing it for themselves. Lemmy comes to mind.