Japanther, an art and rock n’ roll project established in 2001 by Pratt students Ian Vanek and Matt Reilly, might just be obsessed with phone booths. In the “Phone Booth” project, presented at Alanna Heiss’s now defunct Clocktower Gallery, the artists served farm-to-table meals in exchange for stories told by their guests. A 1970s phone booth was re-configured to record when the phone was taken off the hook and, later, played stories back to an audience of one.
Another restaurant art project, with Jennifer Su, used wooden tokens worth “69” cents, a joke from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure — which featured, yes, a phone booth.
Japanther was also featured in the 2006 Whitney Biennial as part of the “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty” puppet rock opera. But SXSW is largely about music, so that’s mostly what we spoke about with Ian Vanek, who was in the Cascade Mountains, prior to a March 9 performance at St. Vitus that will lead to a jaunt down to Austin (they’ll return to Brooklyn, to play at The Flat, on March 27).
I tend to think about this show we played in Paris a long time ago, with Shellshag — an amazing Brooklyn band. It was mostly young women, all Parisian women, totally gorgeous, drinking out of flasks in their pockets. They had the craziest pit, because they’re all completely drunk, completely gorgeous French women. No guy was allowed to be in the pit. But since Alex and I knew every word to every to Shellshag song, they figured we were OK. So we had these 75 or 100 beautiful French women bashing up against us and throwing us around and offering us drinks from their flasks. That’s what I like to think of, what a rebellion is or what Japanther is.
IV: I tend not to try to draw very many lines in my life unless it’s on a painting or a drawing. We’re musicians one day, painters the next. It all comes under the same guise of collective energy and friendship and fun. And what interests you as a human being. Because certainly collecting money doesn’t interest me as a human being. Collecting fame and these types of ideas don’t interest us. What interests us is collecting stories, collecting experiences. So I think drawing those lines is something for our management or our booking agents or our record labels. And we go around with our erasers kind of fucking them up.
Using the cycle of your life to create and inspire, whether that is pastry, or truck driving. If you’re an inspired truck driver, if you love it and you see it as an art, you’re taking your passion and you’re willing it towards the creative good in order to hopefully better the world, although that’s not always the case.
I think one of the greatest tragedies is when people say “the art world” and they’re referring to Chelsea and 57th Street. Those people are trapped in their own art bubble. Some of them are interesting people, but… sometimes I feel sorry for them. Because if your world doesn’t encapsulate New Jersey, if your world doesn’t encapsulate Connecticut, you’re missing out on a lot of beautiful — quote — art.
SXSW can be exciting — we have a lot of friends that will be there. I’m more excited by the friendships than by any festival. SXSW as a festival is a tough place for a lot of young bands to play, because you’re getting a small amount of money and they’re offering you what they call “exposure.” But it’s up to every band to know where the proper exposure for their band is.
And Bruce Springsteen. Hey, if you really think that your band can draw more than Kanye West, fuckin-A man, do it. The thing about it is their fiscal medal is a little fucked up, because they charge people to apply to their festival that they’re happy to turn down. And this is the new model, the Clearchannel model of music. SXSW toes the line. If those aren’t ideas that bother you, go for it. As long as you have knowledge of the social contract that you signed by performing at SXSW.
I’m happy to go again mainly for the friendships. We’re gonna rock at that show. We see it as an opportunity to show some people who have probably never heard of our band how much we can tear apart a fuckin’ stage. We’re in a lucky position because people have heard of our band, and we do get paid when we go there. We have to fight for that.
But the place to play right now is probably up in Idaho at the Treefort festival. If you’re looking for exposure, you should be looking at trends, and you should be looking at future trends.
Hipster is a word from the ’40s and ’50s, which is where we get “hippies” and all these funny terms. I know what you’re talking about when you say hipster, but I want people to define themselves, because at a certain point in time in the digital age everyone has to be a curator. Everyone can kind of be called a hipster if you’re personally involved in your cultural curation.
I guess I give a shit about that stuff because I don’t want to hear anyone using hateful terminology toward anything as successful and interesting as what we might know as hipster culture. When I hear people being negative and saying “fuck hipsters,” I think, wow, you know how often that term “fuck” goes before the word “hipster?” Like they might as well be the same word.
Yuppie, hippie, all these words are very boring to me. Let’s call a spade a spade: we have a massive fiscal divide, it’s gotten easier for people that are on another side of the line to hide in clothing and in cultural phenomenon to assimilate with people like me who don’t have much except for the cultural participation aspect of their life. I don’t have a home, I live in this van. There’s people that want to say “fuck me” for being a hipster. And I say, hey man I work for what I love. What do you do? It’s like that Minor Threat line, “at least I’m fucking trying.”
That kind of stuff where people want to say, “Fuck Williamsburg, fuck hipsters,” and shit, South Williamsburg is just as gangster as ever, so if you want to say “Fuck Williamsburg,” you better not be talkin’ bout the Southside.
I love history. And I wanna make my own mark, and my own authentic existence. I think that’s one of the greatest struggles for an artists’ creative soul is they have an authentic existence. When people say “fuck hipsters,” I think sometimes they’re saying “fucking inauthentic existence,” which I fully 100 percent agree.
Bradley Spinelli (@13_Spinelli) is the author of “Killing Williamsburg”