When Me, Claudius released their debut tape, ‘Reasons for Balloons‘, back in January 2017, it wasn’t the fact that it appeared seemingly out of nowhere that blew my mind. In the global weirdo underground, you expect unfamiliar artists to bubble up pretty much all the time. No, the thing that stopped me in my tracks was that the distinctive Me, Claudius aesthetic seemed to arrive full-formed. ‘Reasons for Balloons’ mixed the open-ended, enigmatic tactility of more established players – I’m thinking of Matthew Revert and Vanessa Rossetto’s great release on Erstwhile from earlier this year or some of the stuff on Caduc in particular – with a homespun, rough-edged feel, resulting in a worldview that was wholly unique. The mystery of who was behind the Me, Claudius moniker only added to its lo-fi charm.
A year later, ‘Back To The Sweat-Out Tower‘ swapped the abstract textures and surreal spoken-word monologues for a set of sparse, looping cuts that retained that Me, Claudius tang, but married it to a kinetic, migratory pulse. The off-kilter repetitions and grey noise hubbub evoked the rumble and drift of transport systems, of being jostled slowly into hypnosis by perpetual movement and the constant slide-by of the landscape outside the window. An emerging grammar of found-sounds and field recordings shrouded everything in a warm, hazy embrace.
‘Good Diz, Bad Bird‘, released on the consistently excellent Bezirk Tapes a week or so ago, continues this trajectory. The loops are here, in all their glitching glory – piano first, then the now-familiar debris scrunch, with snare hits and other percussion thrown in – were created this time around with a new setup of turntable and pedals. But, like ‘Back To The Sweat-Out Tower’, the unhurried length of these pieces is deliberate, their lack of progression teetering warily between boredom and transcendence.
There’s humour, too. Those stuttering jitters recall Max Wall hobbling around the stage, or Eric Morecombe vamping with minor celebrities. And you’d have to have a heart of stone not to detect a hint of slapstick in the jagged crashes that punctuate otherwise placid grooves. I guess you’d expect that from an artist who takes their name from a skit in ‘Sesame Street’ . but in a scene that can be a tad po-faced at times, it’s good to discover someone who doesn’t take it all Terribly Seriously.
I’m a fully paid-up member of the Me, Claudius fan club, so to get to grill this amazing artist was a great experience. Check it all out below, then head over to Bezirk and grab some of the Me, Claudius magic for yourself.
There’s also a London launch gig for ‘Good Diz, Bad Bird’ at the end of January – check the details here.
We Need No Swords (WNSS): Tell me about the title – is this a jazz album?
Me, Claudius (MC): Ha ha I wish it was! It’s abstract in a way cover art can be abstract, I suppose. It was something someone solemnly stated while we were watching a jazz documentary, like that was the conclusion they’d come to, that’s what they got from the documentary – and it stuck with me. I have a catalogue of these things I’ve heard in my head – snapshots of words. That’s why I like Twitter – though I love to look at Instagram I don’t have much to bring to the table. Twitter though – I’m involved.
It does also tie in with a recurring theme in my work – birds/beaks/animals/petting zoos/safari parks. The design and packaging also references these themes.
Anyway I’m sure the levels of pretentiousness are high enough with the presentation of the whole thing that nobody’s going to be tricked into thinking it’s a jazz album. But I would like it if it was. Jazz is my first love.
WNNS: Perhaps the link to jazz is more subliminal … maybe in the loose, almost improvisatory quality of some of these pieces?
MC: Yes, there’s always a link to jazz and what you say definitely make sense. Thank you!
WNNS: It feels like your use of loops and repetition is getting more prominent since ‘Back To The Sweat-Out Tower’ … it’s quite a contrast to the plunderphonic, spoken word and field recording mixtures of your debut, ‘Reasons for Balloons’, for example…
MC: I keep forgetting to tell people that this album is mainly turntable stuff, so it’s a whole new bank of sounds and sources for me. I did a gig earlier this year and I brought along a turntable that won’t turn by itself (really hoping someone would offer to take a look at me for it actually tbh) and I used it for the last 15 minutes of the set with a loop pedal, a freeze pedal and delay.
Then set it up again at home and recorded a load of stuff. Then chopped it up and I had already played some piano for a lovely project I took part in earlier this year for Wanda Group so I thought the contrast would be nice.
I would have loved to bring in some vocals/spoken word on this album but I didn’t find anyone who could do it. Perhaps the project could be re-worked in the future to include voice. I’d like that.
WNNS: Could you tell us a little bit about your approach to creating the tracks? It seems like you’ve got a variety of sound sources going on – some beat samples, some electronics and some really weird crashes and judders… where do you find your sounds? How much processing / editing is there?
MC: Apart from the turntable stuff I did It’s mainly field recording – even all the samples are field recordings rather than sampled ‘at source’ because I record CDs/radio in the car or if I hear anything in the shopping centre etc when I’m out and about. I’m particularly interested in places where the normal radio is played so that’s usually charity shops, cafes, garages, country pub toilets. There is a practical need to incorporate it into my normal day because I am very very busy and don’t have much spare time.
As you say, beats are samples from field-recorded music too – looped or extracted and built up. I don’t use any kind of beat-maker or sequencer. Then the processing and editing (on free software) takes place late at night when my daughter has gone to bed.
I’m also drawn to sounds with a monotonous rhythm such as dripping taps, umbrellas scraping and creaking swing-boats, for example.
WNNS: On the ‘Good Diz, Bad Bird’ title track, there’s a kind of choppy groove going on, as if you’re exploiting the border between groove and monotony…
MC: Yes, when Daryl from Bezirk asked me to talk about it I said that the loops going on for far longer than is comfortable is intentional. Someone said ‘outstaying their welcome’. It’s partly out of being not entirely serious, which is something that is definitely predominant in my previous two releases, and partly purposefully burdening someone with it – perhaps before they have a chance to tell you you’re a burden. Self preservation.
It doesn’t do what you want it to do does it? It doesn’t do what I want it to do either a lot of the time.
WNNS: I’m interested in how you seem to link ideas from the beat tape tradition – J-Dilla, Madlib and the like – with other streams of experimental sound-making. Would you say they’ve influenced your work at all?
MC: God yes. I hold them in very high esteem. So, so clever.
WNNS: How important is duration in achieving the effects you’re going for?
MC: Cutting short tracks is a very great skill in my opinion and I would like to master it. I sometimes try and fail so I’m like… just have it! [Shoving gesture] Have it all!
WNNS: The release notes for ‘Back To The Sweat-Out Tower’ describe you as ‘secretive’ – and it’s true there’s not much info about you online. Does anonymity have an appeal to you as an artist?
MC: I’m anonymous but definitely not mysterious or secretive. Me, Claudius is laid bare on social media. Every detail of my life as a single parent in an English village is documented! I need to not have my real name associated with Me, Claudius because of being a woman, basically. And the internet exists. I want to keep my family life/child separate.
Saying an artist is anonymous can really wind people up. By my second release people were like ‘oh still anonymous huh’. I thought as much as the rest of you that the reasons for me needing to protect my identity would go away. But as is the nature of these things, they haven’t.
WNNS: I wonder if you’d be willing to tell me a little bit about your activities before ‘Reasons for Balloons? Did you make music? Were you in bands, etc?
MC: I went to art school. I’ve always been involved with music in some way or another. I started creating more stuff in the experimental field just before Me, Claudius but it wasn’t until I was Me, Claudius that I performed live.
WNNS: What prompted you to choose Dinzu Artefacts for that release?
MC: Joe [from Dinzu Artefacts] came to me. He’d recently started a new label alongside Spring Break and was looking for female artists I don’t know how he found out about me though!
WNNS: It’s a fantastic tape, which quite rightly got some great reviews. Were you surprised by its positive reception?
MC: Yes I was, wow that whole thing was a big love-in – from making it, to connecting with Joe, to the reaction. I was blown away.
Making it with John (John Patrick Higgins) was fun. I just sent him some ridiculous words and a track and he just sent me back these perfect vocals, no questions asked. I don’t think he even listened to the rough track I sent him. It’s like the underground experimental music version of a Hollywood buddy movie.
WNNS: Can I ask about playing live? When I saw you play at the Arts Cafe in Lewisham a year or so ago, you achieved a great, almost dub inflected sound with a relatively simple set up. Is your rig still that simple?
MC: Yes definitely. I usually have loops on cassette and on other devices such as the portable Zoom and on my phone to layer up. At least two will be going through delay pedals. At least! I’ve used contact mic’d objects in shows too, but not so much this year.
WNNS: Is it a deliberate strategy to keep things simple? It seems like the polar opposite to some of these modular synth artists who spend several grand on a system and never release anything…
MC: It’s deliberate mainly due to financial constraints. Plus I live in a tiny place with my daughter so everything has to fit in one small cupboard.
I’m all for those [modular synth] artists though. Spend your money on what you like. It’s a shared interest and also a great skill, whether you share it with the world or not. I might not always have to work within these limits, it’s just necessary at the moment. I’ve blown money on all sorts of shit in the past when I had more of a disposable income.
WNNS: Are you going to play live to promote ‘Good Diz, Bad Bird? And what activities do you have planned for the future?
MC: Ooooh yes, lots coming up in 2019. First gig of the year is Funeral #2 with Graham Dunning and Irrational Attitude at New River Studios. Then a thing to do with Greenwich University in February plus more radio (I’ve done a couple of guest mixes for Resonance and Noods). Maybe even something regular which I’m developing now.
I would like to get some collaborations going too, particularly with vocal artists. And I work well with other people I think. Plus if anyone wants to tell me what to do, I’m up for that.
Working with others I get an attack of boldness and conviction that I don’t get so much working on my own. And I’m very obedient! I love this new album but it is more frail than previous work and definitely speaks of isolation.