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Interview James Plotkin with Flux - conducted by telephone - 10/9/97

Jester: Why did you choose to complete the project Old and start a new project called Flux?

James: A wide variety of reasons. I couldn't really work with Alan any more because he wasn't putting much into the project and he kind of wanted a career change. Since Old was just a project that consisted of the two of us it made sense to end it.

I also really wasn't interested in making any more albums that sounded drastically different from release to release. I sort of had so many outlets working with such a variety of music and people that I felt I needed to concentrate on a consistent musical direction for once. I also wanted to work on a project that did not made it difficult for a listener to follow from album to album. It is kind of difficult to build a solid fan-base when you are changing music styles every album.

Jester: Where did Alan disappear to? Is he still making music?

James: He is working at a video editing suite on 42nd Street here in New York. He had always wanted to get into a video and film career and he is now finally doing what he always wanted. Previously, back when he was in Old, he had this horrible job of driving Kodak film supplies back and forth from developers to retail outlets. He desperately wanted to get out of that dead-end job and, lucky for him, he is into something with a hopeful future.

Jester: What were the circumstances behind leaving Earache Records and ending up being signed to Release Records?

James: Honestly, Earache is probably the worst label in the world. The guy who runs the label isn't interested in selling records anymore, he is more interested in power. He is the type of guy who, if he could, would attempt world domination. Obviously he was putting a lot of money into our records by releasing them, yet he never spent a dime promoting them so it was obvious that our relationship wasn't going to last. They did have a large option on the contract for one final Old album, but the advance was more than they wanted to pay so they let us go.

With Release, they seem to be much more into the music and they at least appreciate where their artists are going. After talking to several other labels it was obvious that they were the only label that was interested in putting any money into my new project so we signed to them. In retrospect, I think I regret having signed to any label. At this time in my life I don't really want to belong to any label simply because no matter how hard they work for you, they are always limiting you in some way.

A label always makes all these promises when they are first interested in you, and they often hint at releasing other projects, but in the end you always have to grill them just to get paid your recording fees. No matter what I do, I always seem to end up in a no win situation with a record label.

Jester: Have you thought about perhaps signing single album deals in the future?

James: Yes. I have been doing that the past few years and it works okay except for the fact that a label isn't willing to put a huge amount of promotion into you unless they own your music outright. It's been really slow lately, so recently I am trying to decide if I want to continue doing music for a living or make a career change. I'm at a rather odd turning point in my life at the moment that makes it difficult to decide what I will be doing in the future.

Jester: How did you first meet Ruth Collins and end up having her do vocal work for you on Flux?

James: I met Ruth through Nick Bullen when we were in Scorn together. She used to be Nick's old girlfriend. We met at a festival that we were playing in Norway and immediately hit it off. Personally, I think she is such an incredible artist and design person. She did all of the cover art for the Scorn releases; Evanescence, Ellipsis and Gyral.

Initially I wanted to use her artwork for the cover of one of my projects. So when I found out that she could sing I was floored. I had always wanted to be involved with a project that included female vocals. The softer touch of a feminine voice had a certain appeal to me. I also didn't want a female vocalist to actually sing, but rather just add a sort of narrative element to the music because at times my music gets kind of dense and I didn't want a voice to be fighting the music for control of the song. Ultimately I ended up having her sing on the Flux album but using her artwork on the Joy of Disease CD that I did for Avante rather than for the Flux record.

Jester: How is the Joy of Disease project coming along? When was the record released?

James: The record was recorded about 2.5 years ago and it was finally released in September of 1996. Overall it is really just a loose project. There are other recordings under the same name with a variety of different musicians. One track will appear on the Release Your Mind II compilation due out shortly. Karl Blake from the Lemon Kittens does vocals on that track.

Mostly, Joy of Disease is a project where I try to encourage a number of different artists to either record a track or contribute material. Ultimately it is a vehicle for tracks that I have written that don't fit into the mold of Flux or any of my other side projects.

Jester: You have also been briefly involved with Namanaxx and Solarus as well?

James: Solarus is more of an Industrial sort of project but Kipp Johnson and Bill Yurkiewicz wanted to chill out their music and make it a little more on the dub side. So we stripped a lot of the music down and made it minimal. They also wanted guitar work in places, which I didn't know about until I got into the studio so I added some guitar parts as well. I also ended up mixing down most of the album.

With Namanaxx, Bill had a collection of old black and white videos from the forties and fifties, and he wanted to use those for starting points and sound sources. That was almost a pure collaboration because I did a lot of guitar work, a little bit of analogue synth, and mixed down a large portion of the record. I set the blueprints for a number of the tracks and then Bill went crazy with his thing along with a little help from Kipp.

Neither Solarus or Namanaxx are my projects because I would have not done either of them on my own. I was just sort of stepping in and helping out in places when needed.

Jester: How did you first get involved with making and composing music?

James: It is hard to say. On my father's side of the family everyone has been either a musician or an entertainer at some point in their life. So I have always been around music and playing in school bands. Yet it is still very difficult to pinpoint exactly when I got hit with the bug to make music.

It just kind of started from playing in cover bands when I was eleven and twelve. Then I got into Thrash Metal in the early eighties and knew that anyone could write this kind of music. Thrash Metal ended up being the type of music I end up writing about in my first compositions. It was more of something that either happened by accident or by fate rather than through any type of conscious decision. Yet before I knew it I was writing music and after a while it was all I knew how to do.

Jester: How did that eventually drift into the type of music you are working on these days?

James: I think it was because at the time I never had any pressure from a record label or other outside influences to tell me how I needed to write my music. I guess I was really lucky that I was left to write whatever music I wanted to and as a result I put a lot of myself into my music. It was just a culmination of all of my musical influences coming into play at once that sort of spawned the music that I write now. It sounds kid of cliche, but you do put yourself into you recordings.

Jester: Have you ever had any kind of formal musical training?

James: Yes. I took piano lessons for three years. Later I tried to take guitar lessons but it seems like all of the teachers at the time were more concerned with a solid structure and style of music. The only other formal training I had was playing saxophone for my high school band. All those things at least taught me how to read music.

Jester: Do you think that kind of training helped or hindered you when you wrote music later on in your life?

James: I don't really think it reflects on it all since I never write down any of the music I write or transcribe notes onto paper. It can hinder musical creativity when all you are taught is technique or theory. I think the best music is created when you are allowed to make it whatever you want and are not influenced by any outside pressures created by institutions.

Jester: How did you first meet Mick Harris?

James: I first met him through tape trading. Before the first Napalm Death record was ever released I managed to get a hold of the first demo they had released. At that time there were so few bands doing that kind of music that I really wanted to get in touch with them. I wound up getting his address from a fan-zine and sent him a tape and we built a friendship on that.

Eventually he ended up coming to America because of his music and he needed places to stay. So he came and stayed with me for a few weeks. During that time we got to know each other really well as well as progressed musically. It is the typical friendship thing the way it all happened.

After a while we both started to make a career of music and were given several opportunities to make music together so it just made sense. I've actually known him so long that it has become much easier for me to get along with him than with other people. Mick is kind of a difficult person at times and he has quite an overbearing personality. There tend to be ego clashes when you work with people like that and things can get kind of messy at times. They have gotten messy quite a few times but we've known each other so long that we can always forgive and forget.

Jester: How did the "Collapse" record that you did with Mick come about?

James: That was just a stroke of luck. Before I went over to record the Joy of Disease album over at Mick's I was vaguely in touch with Not Human of Rhythm and Noise. He was starting a label called Asphodel and wanted to license some material from me for compilations. He asked me to get in touch, so when I was in England I ended up giving him a call and randomly offered to do a record for him while I was at Mick's studio. He asked me how much money I needed to record it and I had the money in the bank the next day.

So with three days left in the studio before I had to come back to New York, we laid down each others parts. When I left he took care of the mixing and that was it. It all happened so very fast, yet it has been one of the best selling collaborations I've done, so I guess it worked out okay.

Jester: Do you have a job outside of music or is music your sole form of existence?

James: Music is my existence which is why I have been so adamant about not getting a job because I am concerned about it sapping my creativity. Unfortunately times have been really slow lately and I've been having to work at the local Jewish community center doing various monotonous jobs to fill the space. Every now and then I wonder if playing avante-garde music totally ruined my career.

The Old records did fairly well selling 8,000 to 17,000 records. I was successful enough that had I continued with the project I would have been fairly well off, but I started getting into less marketable music and sales started to drop. It's very difficult but I have a hard time seeing myself doing anything else besides music right now. Perhaps when I get older I might get involved in the industry but at the moment I have far too much to get off my chest creatively to bother to get a full time job.

Jester: What future projects do you have lined up right now?

James: That is a rather bad questions at the moment. There is absolutely nothing planned right now. Even from the first day that I started writing and releasing music, I have never been put into the situation that I am in right now where there is nothing happening. It's been really bleak.

I do have a few things on the wayside looking for labels or working deals with interested parties. For example I did a recording with a group from England called Tactile, Karl Blake from Lemon Kittens and Current 93, and Annie Anxiety. It is kind of a wild record full of improvised electronics and guitar manipulation. I felt it was a very magical session where everything was just perfect. Sentrax and Rawkus were supposed to release it but it felt through. Now Coil's label, Eskhaton want to release it but who knows what is going to happen.

Unfortunately, I have such a close connection to this record that I don't just want to hand it over to just anyone to release. Everyone involved really deserves to get some kind of advance money out of it but it doesn't look like that is going to happen any time soon.

There is also another record that I just did in Vienna with a fellow named Joseph Licheninger who is a modern electronic composer. I think I am going to try and shop that release to a video game company rather than release it as a record. Joseph had worked for over a year before bringing me into the studio to add some guitar and other finishing touchs to it. He has worked so long on it that I am not going to give it to some record label just so that they can press 1000 CD's, not promote it, and eventually have it disappear into the void without a trace. It is really perfectly suited for a Sega Saturn or Sony Playstation game so I am going to try and work a deal for him and at least get him some sort of fee that he deserves.

Right now I am really fed up with just giving music to labels and letting them do whatever they want with it. Just because it might only sell a few thousand copies doesn't mean that an artist should make nothing on their work. It is a hard line to play. Do you not release a record because you are not going to making anything on it or do you give it away and watch it disappear?

I've been making music for over ten years now and I don't have much to show for it. I have just a little bit of equipment and a little bit of money saved up for a studio. A studio was the only reason that I signed with Relapse because they promised me enough money to help me build a studio. Now they are pinching pennies and the purse string is getting tighter. They still owe me money for a publishing advance while at the same time trying to collect my publishing royalties. I don't mean to complain all the time, but I have to ask how much am I supposed to give before I break?

Obviously they look at it differently, because they certainly feel that they are the only record label interested in releasing my material. Overall it's a bad situation. The fact of the matter is that avante-garde music doesn't pay very well and I knew that when I got into the business. So, realistically it is no one's fault but my own.

Jester: Have you ever thought about starting your own label?

James: Many times. However I know that the music that other people are making that I would want to release simply would not sell well. I also lack the capitol to start a proper label. I am not interested in a 7" label. While some of the best music has been put out on a 7" but that is not what I want.

To be honest, I hate the music business. I despise distributors because they take a huge chunk of money just for shipping a product. They get the music in, ship it out, and end up making five times what the artist makes. So I am really a bit too bitter to get in on that level at the moment.

Right now I'd rather do something at the journalistic level. I would rather write for magazines than start a label. I'd also like to build my studio and bring people in to record music but at the same time I am also plagued with the fact that maybe I won't be able to stand the music being produced there.

Jester: What is you favorite Flux track on the album, and why that track?

James: Definitely the second track 'Hollow Spaces'. The material on the Flux record has been written for over two years and that track was the worst one when I demoed it. It really didn't make sense at all, but I recorded it anyways. The one guitar loop that surfaces all the way throughout the track was added at the last moment and it made the track really shine. It added an entire atmosphere to the track that simply wasn't present before. That drastic change was what made it my favorite.

Jester: When you sit down and write a new piece of music, how do you decide what types of elements you should use?

James: Usually when I write a track, I have a starting point in mind. That point could be a guitar loop, a bassline, or piece of percussion. I have the ability from just hearing a certain element in use, of knowing exactly how I want the rest of the track to sound like. When you record it in the studio, certain things might change a little but I always know what types of textures I want to use.

It sort of all comes quite naturally, so if I tend to think about it too much it sort of looses it's direction. I try to keep it on a really gut level otherwise the spontaneity will disappear.

Jester: Is there anything else you would like to add in conclusion?

James: Just that I'd like people to keep an open mind about any type of music.

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