In a number of interviews, Daniel Lopatin has attributed the anxiety embedded in his musical productions as Oneohtrix Point Never to an experience in a dentist’s chair. Under fluorescent light and with a mouthful of spiny metal instruments, the Software label founder heard a Phil Collins slow jam piped through the office speaker system. The contrast of sap and discomfort intrigued him and fed into his signature sonic aesthetic as a musician. The uneasy drones and synthesized vocal fragments on Garden of Delete, or G.O.D., Lopatin’s second full-length for UK indie giant Warp, are immediately recognizable as products of his sonic imagination. This recognizability has established him as a figurehead of so-called “experimental” music to audiences that aren’t so familiar with the field. To delineate this tension we paired up Lopatin with André Vida, a Wesleyan graduate and PAN alum who invested his life to the marginal recesses of electronic expression that Lopatin has come to represent.
André Vida: I got a copy of your album, Garden Of Delete (G.O.D.), a few days ago. I’ve been listening to it, and…I don’t know where to start.
Oneohtrix Point Never: Well, thanks, I guess. Did you like it?
I don’t know. I was really confused by it, but I didn’t really have a chance to digest it yet. My first impression of it was confusion, because I was wondering, “Where’s he coming from? Why does he make this?” So why did you make it?
I guess it’s somewhat of a whimsical process. I get obsessed with certain ideas, and I let that imbue whatever my circumstances are at the time. My circumstances were very clear in that I’ve been a professional musician for a number of years now, and I was on a very strange tour with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. I was driving to these amphitheaters to make soundcheck every day from the previous city.
So you were following their bus? Someone was driving you, right?
The bus would go overnight. I would sleep at a Holiday Inn Express, wake up, and then my friend and I would drive. We’d make it to these venues by around 5:30 every day, and each one looked exactly the same. It was a Live Nation tour, so it was like a military operation, and I had never been exposed to anything like that. The machinery of a huge rock tour got me thinking a lot about that music. When I first made my own autonomous decisions about taste, that’s the kind of music I was brainwashed into buying; Soundgarden was definitely something the market told me that I should like. Nine Inch Nails was something that my sister loved and I had a more intimate relationship with. Then, suddenly I’m on tour with both of them. It just got me thinking about all these pubescent twisted crises.
Did it make you interested in achieving that status yourself?
In a sort of playful way, I suppose. But I’m pretty down-to-earth. I don’t have like any desire for global domination, but it was funny to find myself in this tour, invited by Trent Reznor but essentially opening for Soundgarden and playing for their trickling-in audiences.
Were the audiences supportive?
They were OK. I chose to play a more difficult version of the set I usually do, and it was a little bit to antagonize people and also to protect myself from even being thought of as being music. I wanted to leave them with a very sour and bilious taste in their mouths.
Do you think you achieved that?
I think I did, but there were two pieces of music that I played on that tour that were actually quite beautiful, in my opinion. Kim Thayil, the guitarist from Soundgarden, came up to me on the second or third night and was like, “Dude, I really love what you’re doing with these drones. They’re sweet.” That makes perfect sense, because Kim is a huge fan of drone music—guitar drone music, like Sleep. So Kim totally loved it, and that made me feel really good. I don’t know about the rest of Soundgarden, though. Trent was even more [into me] than Kim; he invited me [on tour], liked my records and was cool about hanging out. I definitely look up to him. He randomly became a mentor for a while, so of course he influenced the record. Some of things that happened on that record are a direct reference to me thinking about Trent as a producer.
It’s interesting that you say that you thought of some of your pieces as beautiful, but not others. How would you describe the not-beautiful ones?
There were some more antagonistic moments where it was just about playing with noise and seeing what happens when I put a bunch of noises into process. If you go to any basement noise show, it wouldn’t be different from what I was doing in front of 5,000 to 6,000 people. That, to me, was humorous because I wanted to re-designate that kind of practice in a space where it’s not really allowed. And on top of that, it was within a Live Nation tank, and I really have no place in that, so I wanted to at least feel that in some weird way I was slightly in control of the situation.
Sort of like a…god?
Less like a god and more like a wizard—like a weird wizard guy. I got off that tour, came back to New York—where I live—and started renting a basement studio. I would routinely stay there for a very long time and get into this hypnotic headspace that was a different way of operating. I think also it influenced me to be slightly more bratty and to make more personal and intimate work, because wasn’t self-consciously thinking, “Are the neighbors hearing this?”
How evenly distributed are the “beautiful” and “not beautiful” tracks on this album?
It’s mostly beautiful. I kept thinking that nobody listens to records like they used to anymore, like the way you’d say, “Oh shit!The Wall just came out? Lets sit down, smoke a joint and listen to The Wall.” Now, you get obsessed with singles, make your own playlists and disregard the album. I was like, “Is there a way that I can achieve both of those states, where very track on the album is its own entity and kind of just a single, but if you step away from it, it’s also really connected? So that you can experience the record in both of those ways and not just to say, ‘Well, our records are relegated to this thing of the past when the record industry was different and now it’s this way,’?” Back to your question: I think making every track a “single,” at least in my mind, means making every track beautiful.
But when I think if a single, I don’t think of eight-minute tracks like you have on G.O.D..
There’s only one eight-minute-long track. It’s a four-part idea that’s a series of themes that fit together nicely, but are also each their own weird little plateaux.
It is interesting to hear the word “plateau” because the first few times I listened to the album, I felt that there were definitely structural elements in the work. Sometimes it sounds really emo to me.
There are definitely super emo moments all over the record.
I have to say that, at other points, I felt a kind of emptiness… I can’t really describe it. This is partially why I felt kind of confused when I heard it, because I didn’t know your music. I guess I was wondering if you were somehow being critical of electronic music, or if there was some kind of commentary that you felt you were making in some of these tracks?
Well, yeah. I used weapons of mainstream music against themselves a lot. I’ve always done that. Something that might help you situate this hunch of yours is that, from the very beginning, Onethrix Point Never recordings were about taking the formal parameters, techniques and sounds of new age music and making them anxiety-ridden. That was where is started for me. I was after that contrast, so there’s always a twistedness, an anxiety in the beauty for me.
A friend of mine said that she really liked seeing you play live. Is it that live show directly related to the album, or do the live versions of the songs differ?
I always make two records when I make a record: One is the version that you hear as a record, and the next one is a totally re-interpreted thing that I usually present live. With this record, I’m curious about how I’m going to deal with the vocals. Am I going to sing them or have some kind of technique for dealing with them? I’ve been trying to memorize the lyrics so that I’ll be able to sing them somehow. I didn’t sing at all on the record; it’s all synthesized voices.
They’re very synthetic. I would even use the word “cheesy” to describe them in some moments when they’re like a hyper kind of pop.
Very much so. There’s one thing that’s pretty close to a Vocaloid. It’s a speech synthesizer but it’s used a lot by fans who will make their own Vocaloid interpretations of music that already exists, like Taylor Swift song or one from a cartoon that they love. I really wanted to use Vocaloid, but you need a PC to run them. Then I found similar software called reFX Nexus, which is like the McDonalds of EDM sample-based instruments. It’s like EDM in a box. Earlier you asked if there’s some kind of sardonic criticism happening. Yes, very much so, in the EDM sense of it. I use those types of tools and then see if I can bend them or break them, freak them out or put them in some kind of uncomfortable space.
Published October 13, 2015.