By Jheri Evans
Just a few months ago I was introduced to the music of Co La, the solo project of Ecstatic Sunshine's Matthew Papich, via a tape called Dial Tone Earth. I was nothing short of blown away. Something about the opening track, "Armen’s Theme (Melting Butter Version)," gave me the feeling of waking up after long night of rest. It begins with a loop of what sounds like chiming bells. Sweeping string samples and tropical hits add additional bursts of adrenaline, and we end up with what sounds like a sacrifice to the volcano gods. I've taken to describing Co La's music as sample-based drone. Minimal tracks built on repetitive samples construct and deconstruct themselves over and over again; each track fits neatly inside a mood or moment, ranging anywhere from a placid stroll to cruising down a lit-up boardwalk in a cherry-red cadillac. I later found the earlier tape Rest In Paradise, which he released on Watercolor Records. It featured a few tracks I hadn't heard, in addition to different versions of pieces from Dial Tone Earth. I was amazed at my inability to pick a favorite version of any track, and decided that each one made sense inside of a certain headspace. I recently got to chat a bit with Co La about where the music comes from, his live performance, the Baltimore music scene, and more.
AZ: I've gotten the chance to dig into some of your other releases since hearing Dial Tone Earth, and I notice you often do multiple versions of a single track. What's your motivation for returning to songs and working on them more?
Co La: Well, my process overall is loopy. The songs are kind of patterns of small circles, on a micro-level. But I work through material by listening to a lot of music, appropriating some of it, deconstructing it, and then recomposing it into a new listening experience. So in that process I go back to tunes over and over. It's me trying to get things sounding as hyper-real as possible, all the time. Always working towards a kind of new anything sound-- something that's really tuned in, and slightly tweaked. Early Future, you know what I mean?
AZ: Do you ever hear a sound or a sample and think, "This would go perfect in this song"?
Co La: Well, kinda. I get deep into one artist or a genre sound for a while, and I'll kind of pick through that. Find what's good, because a lot of stuff can't be twisted nicely-- it's too strict or stuffy. When I settle on a sample, a lot of the times I just fully deconstruct that one thing. I don't do a lot of additive mixing. It's usually a deconstructive thing.
AZ: Oh right on. Are there any artists that you find yourself constantly returning to for material?
Co La: Oh definitely, but I come back to producers also. I love The Pioneers, everything they did really. I've worked with those tracks a lot. A lot of well-produced music I don't return to for the artist, but for the production. I'm into the sounds primarily. It's not really an obsession with a particular artist, because I'm looking for something more generally evocative that I can concentrate on and make feel more heady, more remembered already.
AZ: On that tip, who are some of the producers that consistently wow you?
Co La: I love the stuff that Alex Sadkin did at Compass Point Studios in the '80s. His production is so clean. It's polished but inviting. But that's older music. As far as right now, I really love Sasu Ripatti's sound, especially the Vladislav Delay records. He's got a lock on that chance based sound. It's really organic and natural sounding, which I love. I also like a lot of the Underground Quality stuff, like DJ QU. Ramadanman is a fave, and Hieroglyphic Being is always turning out amazing stuff.
AZ: Right on. So, what kind of equipment do you use for recording? Does it differ from the Co La live set-up?
Co La: My [recording] set-up is really simple. I use Ableton for everything. It's really low impact, which is nice because it lets me have a studio practice that is pretty seamless with everyday life. There's almost nothing to plug in. I like to work in the kitchen. The live shows are a different idea though. They kind of are modeled as an action/event-based performance. Part of what I'm doing is like a producer/DJ; I'm there to guarantee that the music sounds true and to present it with craftsmanship. But I'm also interested in arranging for actions to happen around the music-- actions that can remind the audience that [the music] is real and very well crafted also. Sometimes I've hired professional banquet servers to offer champagne or cocktails to people who are maybe not dancing, as a kind of gesture to the people who aren't fully hearing the jams. An olive branch, in a way. The actions can be anything though, you can just blow your nose on stage and it starts to mean something. Everyone can do it.
AZ: Oh man, that sounds really awesome. I like that the amount of creativity applied outside of the music reflects upon the music.
Co La: Definitely, definitely. Its a lifestyle sound!
AZ: Do you feel like your music is a representation of you, in a way, or of your ideal self?
Co La: Yeah, in some ways for sure. I feel like what I do is expressive of an ideology, and a lifestyle, and simpler ideas like taste and preference. Humor. It's similar to curating in the traditional sense. The position is slightly removed, but I think that by making fun of that, it's really easy to relate to. It's what we all kinda do now right? It's working towards getting better at knowing what we like and then sharing that with like-minded heads. Group relational therapy music.
AZ: Can you tell me a bit about the lifestyle it's indicative of?
Co La: Sure, it's a little bit John Cage "Silence", a little Ferris Bueller's Day Off, part Inherent Vice. It's kind of based on thinking of everything in terms of possible synchronicities or some uncanny connection, but also laughing at that paranoid impulse. It's about daydreams and how they can be subversive, or at least how they can subvert the world. It's anti-draconian. Sometimes I wonder if less people believe in reality now because we're finally grasping the politics of dreams. But that's an individualistic approach, which isn't the whole picture, because [what I do is based] on sharing as much as producing. Group experiences are a big part of the lifestyle for me. Dinner parties or dance parties. The kinds of times where no one person is entertaining, but everyone is in it together, making the situation up as they go. I totally need that: a lot of people around, with a lot of new content being shared by everyone. The lifestyle is a kind of smooth solidarity. It's not aggressive, but moves forward quickly.
AZ: Ok, gotcha. I know exactly what you mean. So you're based out of Baltimore, which is known for it colorful DIY music scene. How much of Baltimore would you say fuels the lifestyle and inspiration?
Co La: Baltimore is a huge inspiration for me, and I think the lifestyle is vibrant there. There are a lot of brilliant heads making music, films, taking pictures, talking about ideas. Everyone shares. Often times people hang out at houses, which may sound strange, but it's really nice. Domestic space and Head space are always working in tandem in Balto.
AZ: Right on. Ok, one more question: Coke or Pepsi?
Co La: Mexican Coke