PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST MUSICIAN INTERVIEWS
FEATURING GAYE ISRAEL, CHRONIC TAN AND FRANKIE SUNSWEPT
CHAD SILBERT, SOLO ARTIST OF GAYE ISRAEL
H: Why are you called Gaye Israel? Every time when I announce your name, on the episode I always say “by Gaye Israel”, And I wonder how many people are like, “What?!”
C: [Laughs] Do you want to hear the real story behind it? It was
my friend, Dave Bergh’s aim away message. He wrote “gay israel” without the “e” and I thought it was funny… And I… I just like the name a lot [laughs] And I added the e because.. I dont know.
H: Why do you do it by yourself? Why don’t you do stuff with a band?
C: When you’re working with a band, it’s just different than doing the solo thing. You know, I’ve been a drummer in a lot of bands and it’s more of a collaborative thing when you’re jamming. There’s a lot of stopping, and figuring out parts that you like, and forming the song. When I make music alone, I can just loop a part and figure it out and have all creative control. And I don’t need to appease anyone and I can just fuck around for an hour on one part and not have to worry about playing the wrong note, you know? Stuff like that. I think that’s kind of why I do it alone. I also just like being able to create everything.
C: When you’re working with someone else, you have to always keep their feelings in mind. Make sure they’re happy with what’s going on. I like making music with other people too, you usually come up with something different than what you would have expected, but doing it alone, you can try to make exactly what you want. So I think that’s basically why I do it. And it’s a lot more peaceful. it’s meditation in a way.
H: I think that’s one of the reasons why I like painting. I spend so much time collaborating. In Theatre, it’s all collaboration. Everything in theatre is collaboration. I think it’s interesting too, what you said about how you always have to be aware of other people’s feelings. So you’re almost compromising a little bit of yourself in every single thing that you make collaboratively.
C: Right. And usually you have to. Either there’s someone who always has to take a backseat, or there’s an alpha person who’s doing most of the stuff. So it’s kind of fun to just do it alone and not have to worry about that.
H: There’s a lot of different bands that are really… even bands that are really collaborative, they all sort of end up, somehow, as sort of the background- like the back up singers or something.
C: Yeah, right. One thing I actually liked was- I had my solo music thing and then I got all my friends to play live for me- to play my songs- and that was pretty fun because they’re, you know, great musicians. So they could make the songs sound a lot better than on the recordings. So that was kind of cool.
H: One thing that’s unique about you in particular is your whole family is so engrossed in the arts. Like you’re your mom, both your brothers, your dad was also a really great clothier. So how have some of these influences impacted you?
C: When you’re being raised by something, you don’t really think about it. I remember when my brother was in a band and I was in middle school, and he had the drum set in the basement and I wasn’t doing any actual music, but I used to play his drum set when he wasn’t around. And that was how I got into music. Just messing with his drums when he wasn’t there. And then I was like, “well it’s more fun to make my own music.” It’s not that hard once you realize the basics of how a song works. It’s just fun and I’m constantly learning new techniques on recording and playing instruments.
Honestly, I was never encouraged to do anything artistically. My parents always told me to get a good job. And go to law school. [Laughs] I think they just wanted me to get a good job, though. That was the main focus of going to school, studying, getting good grades.
H: It’s funny how… At the same time, everybody in your family is so, I mean in your immediate, nuclear family is so-
C: Involved in art?
C: yeah, I don’t know. I guess it’s just kind of… who we are
Listen to the Full Songs from This Episode:
Suburbs, In My Dreams
KEVIN SINGER, SONGWRITER, SINGER AND GUITARIST OF CHRONIC TAN
H: Why are you in a band?
K: Why am I in a band?
H: You could be doing your creative directing work and maybe find fulfillment in that. But you also do music. So, is there a…
K: Well. The other stuff, I’m paid to do that. Which is nice. But it comes with many sacrifices at the alter of commerce. There’s a David… You know that guy, David Foster Wallace? The Writer?
K: You know. He had this essay where he talked about how advertising could be entertaining, it could be clever, it could be made by plenty of smart people but at the end of the day it’s not art. Because the impetus behind it is selling something. So it’s not really honest, it exists for the sole purpose of selling you a soft drink or in my case, a car. So it’s nice to do something where you just do it for fun.
You know, another reason why I have a hard time calling what we do art, sometimes, is because it can come off as pretentious. It’s just fun to write songs and perform them with friends.
There’s no money involved, yet. And even if there was, you would never be inclined to give it your blessing as art.
H: -It’s interesting that you have a really, in my opinion at least, accurate perspective of what art is. Tolstoy has a book called “What is Art?” and he basically describes what is art is versus, in his words, what is counterfeit art…Despite the fact that your description of what art is, and Tolstoy’s – fun with friends- seems to be at the heart of what art is.
K: Yeah. Yeah, there’s no question. I guess it’s just an aversion to the word because of what it conjures in other people’s minds. It’s just like any time you meet someone at a party and they say “Well I’m an artist” or “I’m a writer”. Sometimes I think those are just easy labels people give themselves. And look, it’s subjective too because there’s a question of quality. My mom, I love her to death, but if she said she was an artist because of the water colors she does… I have a hard time calling that art. They’re nice. They’re pretty. That’s just me, personally, my definition of it. Of Art and whether it’s good or bad. And so it comes from that place as well.
[Calling yourself an Artist is] maybe putting yourself out there in a way? For judgment or scorn? And I’m sensitive [Laughs].
K: So I would stop short of saying that because the minute you do, it’s like a heightened expectation. “Oh I make Art.” And someone’s just going to be like, “Oh really. Lets see.”
K: I mean that’s how I view it when somebody comes to me and is like “I’m an artist” Where as if somebody came out and you were a little more humble, I might approach their work differently too.
H: That’s interesting. So it’s like the manipulation of the public who are looking at your art.
K: Yeah well a little bit. I mean. Lower the bar. Always lower the bar.
H: So what are some of your inspirations? Your vocabulary- I don’t have your lyrics in front of me but the connection of the way you use words is very specific. And you also have a sound of like, maybe Stephen Malkmus or something. Are there people you’re especially inspired by? Or people you find yourself similar to?
K: Yeah. Well Steve Malkmus is a good reference. I love Stephen Malkmus. Pavement is one of my favorite bands so there’s no doubt that when I write lyrics, in the back of my head, I’m sort of measuring it against people I really like. Stephen Malkmus or Lou Reed or Leonard Cohen or David Byrne or this guy David Berman with this band called Silver Jews- Stephen Malkmus was in it.
To me, lyrics fall into one of three camps. There’s really bad- Really bad lyrics that can ruin an otherwise good song. There’s passable lyrics. Which are probably 80-90 percent- which is like “eh. Okay.” They’re neither good nor bad. They’re accent to a melody of a song.
H: Do you have any brief description of what makes a lyric bad? In that first category?
K: If it’s cliché or trite. Or the rhyme is really bad. If it’s predictable. Those are bad lyrics. I also think that people sometimes write too much diaristic kind of stuff. Where it’ll be just like some 7th grade diary entry. Spilling your guts. If you’re going to do that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it per se… Like George Harrison writes beautiful songs. They’re very vulnerable sounding. But the weight of his music matches the simplicity of his lyrics and it feels authentic. There are plenty of shitty songwriters out there that write kind of bad songs and even worse lyrics. Like overflow of the heart. You exposed yourself too much. Try to be a little more opaque. Put some mystery behind what you’re saying.
Listen to the Full Songs from This Episode:
H: So you’re from New York originally?
F: No, I was born and raised in Los Angeles. And I moved here when I was about 24 and lived here for a while. I was in another band with a romantic creative partner for many years and we did a lot of touring. When that ran its course, I moved back here to New York about a year and a half ago and that’s where the Frankie Sunswept stuff comes in. My new kind of solo project. Where I get to go wherever the inspiration takes me. So the sound of the whole project has been varied. Wherever I can hear the song taking me, I just craft the music that way.
H: Is Frankie Sunswept your actual name?
F: No [Laughs]. Sunswept Drive is the street I grew up on as a little boy. My dad had a recording studio on it called Sunswept Studios. I just always liked that name. I thought it sounded like 1980’s LA.
F: So when I was thinking about changing directions creatively, that came up. Like anything, I think when you name something, it starts to affect the whole sound and the aesthetic and the rhythms. I don’t know, somehow that kind of just starts to happen without any intention.
H: “Sunswept” really does encapsulate the feeling of your music which is something that’s more… not necessarily mellow, but its soothing and yet it has this kind of sharpness to it
F: Yeah, absolutely. I felt that way too. I felt the music taking me in this direction and the whole thing was coming together in a way that I found really inspiring.
H: And your father- he was a musician also, because your newest song, is a song that he wrote originally.
F: On my dad’s side, a lot of the family is very musical. My great grandfather, my grandfather and my dad all were musicians. My great grandfather during prohibition, he was in a traveling band and his son, my grandfather was a composer, a trumpet and a jazz piano player and music teacher and my dad is kind of the rock and roller. [Laughs] He grew up at the time of The Ventures and Pete Seeger and then Bob Dylan and The Beatles. So he was in bands for most of his young years and wrote a ton of really great songs and then he started going into owning a recording studio himself and that took up a lot of his time and he didn’t play music for a few years. But I love his music and for his 70th birthday, I thought, “I should just record a song of his that I love so much”. And that song, ‘Fantasy’ came up. And it’s a really haunting, beautiful 70’s kind of song
H: It’s interesting that you call it haunting because it feels almost like a morality song- the choice you have of following the path of desire. Isn’t there a line that says “want is not real” or something like that?
F: Yeah, you know its funny. In his 70’s demo, I thought that’s what he was saying, “Want is a lie”. And I was like, damn that has a lot of deep meaning when you’re frustrated at your own desire pulling you in some direction you don’t want to go. But when I asked my dad, “Hey, what are the lyrics to the song?” He didn’t mention that part at the end of his demo- he’s like screaming this “want is a lie”. I swear that’s what he’s saying. But he didn’t remember that lyric. He thought it was something else. So it’s funny, that’s kind of the most interesting part of my version of his song. It was like this mystery line where he couldn’t tell what he was saying. And he couldn’t remember it. So I just sang what I thought he was saying.
H: That’s fascinating
F: It’s cool that you bring up that line. I thought that that line was really kind of chilling.
Listen to the Full Song from This Episode Plus Bonus Track, Fantasy:
Light of Heart