Bio: Jason Soares has shown a unique combination of musical synthesis in the fields of electronic and acoustic music. A native of San Diego California, Jason was part of the wave of music innovation in the 1990's that produced bands like PinBack, The Black Heart Procession, and Physics that influenced the direction of progressive music.Q: Jason, how did you become involved in music, and did you come from a musical family?
J: No musical family in the sense that nobody played instruments, but my family was really into music. We always had the radio on when I was growing up. My grandparents on my mom’s side listened to music a lot. I don’t know about my dad’s side. It was just around all the time and I just remember being really into it. My first instrument was the flute in the 7th grade and that lasted one year. Then I started guitar in high school. Guitar is way cooler.
Q: How many bands were you in before you formed Physics?
J: That’s a hard question, at least eight. There was Johnny Superbad and the Bullet Catchers which was pre-Physics…I guess there were really only three bands, everything else was recording projects. Then after Physics there was Thingy and some secret projects with Rob (Crow) and then Aspects of Physics. Plus I had a record label, I toured with Three Mile Pilot, I played in Three Mile Pilot a little bit. I’ve just been around band stuff forever.
Q: Were you the founder of Physics or was it two key members?
J: No it was John Goffs’ idea, who shared it with Denver Lucas. Denver chose the bands name after reading a book called Physics and it was going to be one chord for 45 minutes. But we were also doing Johnny Superbad and the Bullet Catchers, which was this loud, almost one chord, anything goes for a long time. John felt one chord would limit the players choices since Johnny Superbad was so chaotic. Almost all the people in that switched over. But I was in it from the get go, from the first show.
Q: It sounds like a lot of the songs and pieces were heavily influenced by you because a lot of the chordal melodies seemed to carry over into Aspects of Physics.
J: Oh yeah, for sure. It just started out one chord, but quickly changed into different pieces where we had themes. I get a good amount of feedback for all that.
Q: Physics almost has a Steve Reich trance-like quality, taking two melodies and weaving them in and out.
J: Yeah, that was kind of a natural progression. When I say one chord, it was just one dissonant chord, and the idea was, could you play on that one chord for a long time? So what you had to do was come up with rhythmic patterns with that one chord depending on which notes you wanted to focus on. It set the precedent for that sort of idea and then started snowballing from there. Out of that we would come up with different parts and those would become their own ideas and it just morphed over a period of time.
Q: We’ve talked about the music scene in the 90’s which bore a lot of fruit, even in San Diego. How would you describe that scene and what was unique about it at that time?
J: It was awesome. The uniqueness of it, I’ve tried to figure that out. It comes out of multiple things. San Diego was geographically challenged. It was a pretty conservative city to begin with but then there were pockets that would thrive. And San Diego is a huge city and there were so many different communities of people and music scenes. You had North County music kids like Heavy Vegetable and Power Dresser, the Chula Vista straightedge kids, the heroin hardcore kids, and East County things going on. Pacific Beach had Fishwife, Pitchfork, which turned into (Drive Like) Jehu and Rocket (from the Crypt). All those bands had such different feelings, and it was a place where people had time to develop their own sound. If you're in a super large city, things don’t get enough time to develop on their own. And I think that’s what was special about San Diego. Its size so it could support things, but things were so separated geographically that people could start their own things and then convalesce. And information can travel fast now with the internet. It’s weird to think that we used to go on tour with a map and no cell phone. We would spend $500 making calls for months ahead of time and then just show up at our show. Now you’re just sending text messages and getting directions on the fly. It’s interesting.
Q: What kind of change do you think happened broadly, not just regionally, in the music scene as we went into the end of the nineties and into the next decade?
J: For me it was around 97-98, the internet started happening, and I don’t know exactly what the effects are of that. People started doing lots of drugs in San Diego, heroin was huge, and a lot of people moved. People who were doing music, some of the bands started becoming popular, and they did those things and they’re still doing those things which is awesome. But a lot of people died and a lot of people moved. So suddenly, the scene just evaporated. But at the same time it became really popular, so more and more people started going to shows, but then it just wasn’t as specialized. There were lots more people in the mix. The big city started to happen. San Diego was a small big city then it just became a big city.
Q: The uniqueness of a cultural scene can be fragile. It almost has its own ecosystem, and if you change that dramatically the scene can also change.
J: Exactly, it just got too big. People were doing this for so long, not expecting anything. San Diego was supposed to be the next Seattle, and all these people were in these bands just trying to make it. Before people were playing music under the American hardcore ethic, where you just did it because that’s what you did. You’d be stoked if you sold five hundred or one thousand 7 inches, not having any aspirations of being able to take it out. Then suddenly here’s this music scene. Certain bands are getting popular because they’re playing really good music, but then all these other bands started coming in who just wanted to make it. It became a commercialized thing and started collapsing because suddenly you have all these people filling in these gaps, and it doesn’t have time to gestate. The reason they’re doing it isn’t there. It’s not really an artistic thing at that point. It’s just a cultural thing.
Q: Isn’t that an internal conflict? People who are playing for the passion of it and then those who come in who are just there for the scene, for the attention?
J: Just like anything. People want attention for what they do.
Q: In 2000 did you feel combining live and programed computers was just a natural evolution of electronic music?
J: Yes. I remember toward the end of Physics thinking I really wanted to start using a computer because we could really get more interesting things going on. But Physics just crumbled. It seemed like there were six alpha males in that band, and it just didn’t work out. We all got burnt out and it just wasn’t fun anymore. But another huge part of it was I hurt my back, it was totally ruined. So my other thought process was I could make the computer do most of what everyone else was doing in the band. So this computer could become basically the band, and it’s not heavy compared to all these amps, so that was part of the equation. But I just really liked the idea. Not many people were trying to do live music with computers, and it seemed like an interesting thing to do and real natural to me.
Q: Were programming and working with computers for some time prior to this time?
J: Yeah, I had a Commodore 64 that I used all the time growing up. In high school computers weren’t very cool, but in the end of 1994 I got introduced to the NeXT computer - Steve Jobs company after he left Mac. My friend had a NeXT and I saw a picture on the screen that looked like a picture, not some crappy four-colored thing. It actually looked like a photograph. My friend also had internet access in 1994, and I didn’t understand it at all but I got really into it.
Q: How did you develop your drum programming skills?
J: I remember starting to do electronic music, and most people doing electronic music at the time were doing drum loops, or doing samples of drums, and I really didn’t like that idea. If I’m going to make something, it was definitely from the musician’s point of view where I want all sounds to be created from me. I don’t want to take something somebody else played and manipulate it, even though that’s what the majority of people were doing. Especially drum and bass and things like that. It just didn’t seem pure enough. So I started to figure out how to load in a piece of sound. A lot of times it was something that I recorded, just trying to place it and get something out of it. I like it that way. It just seems logical. I want to have complete control over the sound, I don’t want to take something that’s preexisting. It seems like cheating to me.
Q: Do you think Aspects of Physics will become a future template for bands as technology becomes a more integral, common part of the band experience?
J: I don’t know, that’s hard to say. I think that technology and music gear and being able to record things are getting easier and cheaper, and they’ll just slowly get worked into what musicians use to do stuff live. I think the direction that we have gone for most people really wouldn’t work because it’s a little too much for a lot of people. Its a really hard process, because when you play in a band and you have however many people in a room, they’re all interacting with each other and music kind of comes out naturally, and when one of the pieces is a computer that doesn’t care, you have to refine your process. It’s really weird. You have to set up your process, play with it, then stop, listen to it, and ask, how can we move that along? Because it’s not going to change what its doing unless you interact with it. So it’s a lot longer of a process to get something written, and for most people that’s kind of a hard sell.
Q: Will we eventually have computer programs that allow someone on a laptop to interact spontaneously in a live band setting?
J: Yes, but ultimately it comes down to those are the programs…things are loops. It’s hard to not fall into the paradigm of something being a loop. To play a computer, either it’s going to keep time or it’s going to follow you, the second way being way harder. Ableton and those things, the minimal amount I’ve messed with them…you can do certain things, its cool, it gives you the functionality. But it’s just hard, it’s a hard process. Ultimately you’re writing a song, and just because you can come up with stuff and put some sounds down, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a song that does anything. It could be a useful tool for something. But it’s not that gratifying yet. Turning some knob and clicking on some buttons doesn’t necessarily make you feel good. I was talking to Lisle Ellis, he does stand up bass, and played for years and years - jazz and improvisation - and I asked him, “Why do you play music?” He said, “Because it feels good”. And I thought, “Oh yeah, it does feel good.” And with computers, it doesn’t really feel good. When you actually have an instrument that you’re interacting with you can get into the zone. I don’t know if we can do that with a computer really, yet. But I’m talking live music. What we do, we have multiple shticks. We make records for listening as a recording and we have music that we play live to listen to live. To me they’re separate things. A lot of times they can overlap and if you can make them overlap that’s great, but a lot of times they don’t overlap, and that’s another thing that a lot of people don’t realize.
Q: When we see footage of Richard D. James, it seems he is dj-ing his tracks on a laptop. However, Squarepusher seems to be moving in both directions by playing live and with programed music.
J: Yeah, he seems like he’s having fun. Aphex Twin is awesome, but live, there’s no point in it. But with Squarepusher there is. They’re just different things.
Q: What is the future of the music industry without large labels and very few new rules look like?
J: I don’t know. Anyone who can make art is lucky to begin with in this planet. Most people don’t have a chance to do anything creative. They don’t have extra time. If somebody has a talent they should get rewarded for it. But at the same time, the majority of most people feel like they deserve to make a living at what they’re doing, or they think since they’re an artist they should get compensated for it. And the majority of most things in culture, I don’t feel like it has much value, and I’m not very interested in it. So I won’t pay for it, but there’s somebody else who will pay for it and those people are lucky because of that.
Q: Once Richard D. James was asked if he thought music should be free. He said “I would like that very much, but what would some kid do if they don’t want to work at Jack in the Box forever and they have a dream that they can be rewarded for their work?” It is a difficult issue in music now.
J: Yeah, it totally is. I totally understand people that want to make it in music. But at this point in time in history it’s hard to come up with any sort of thought about how anything should go because we’re so at the beginning of how things are changing. Feeling that I deprive someone of a physical object…but in the digital world technically you can’t consider it stealing because you’re making that copy and the person isn’t without it anymore. So even the terms of what something is, like intellectual property… But with my history, the people I was around and the culture I was from was all about the hardcore scene, the do it yourself culture. We played for a community of people and it was awesome. We did it because we felt good, and we felt empowered. That ethos will keep existing, because people who are really into art are always going to be into those things. The culture of commodification and paying for things will exist no matter what. It’s a hard thing for me to wrap my head around because I don’t ever expect to get paid for anything I do. It’d be cool, but I also feel if I did I’d be really lucky.
Q: Who would have foreseen twenty years ago that record stores and radio would essentially disappear, and record labels would be consolidated as their business model deteriorates.
J: I think it’s great when things change like that. In the late 90’s at an Mp3.com convention, there was a programmer who wrote FreeNet which was a way of distributing information without anybody knowing, for free, so nobody could censor anything. Two points were made. People said, “Don’t u realize this is facilitating people to pirate stuff?” He said, “Yes, it can, but also it’s allowing people (to talk) who are in certain countries where they can’t even talk, and they’ll get killed if they’re found out”. To him that was way more important of a premise than the industry that was trying to exist. And the other point he made was, “If you sell water in the desert and it starts raining, you need to find a new job.” And that’s how I feel about most things.
Q: It seems that music file trading removed the record labels control over artists, but also created an uncontrollable means of spreading information.
J: More than any other time this is the biggest opportunity for artists who want to make money at what they want to do, there are so many ways for people to find out about it. It usually comes down to creativity. We don’t need a band that sounds like another band. An example of something that was pretty innovative was a guy who took YouTube videos of people jamming, edited it with different instrumental parts and made a song from each of these people’s individual parts. He made great songs. That was an innovative use of new media. That was really cool. But as soon as someone tries to go back and do it and make money off it, that’s already been done, you can’t do it again.
Q: There remains the one time event of live performance and performance art.
J: The thing about art is really good art is an experience. People don’t realize that. Certain Artists like James Turrell, his whole art was light. Light in a dark room can take on a form that can not be photographed. You have to be there to check it out. Like with Robert Irwin stuff. You can’t just take a picture of it and put it in a book and say here it is, check out this art. You just can’t do that. Really good art will transcend that and take you to a mysterious place. Good art does that, it transcends. Certain people in the know are trying to go after that. And in the digital world…to me the industry of music is not anything. People are trying to make money doing a certain thing but it’s not necessarily related to something that I’m interested in.
Q: Because of the commodification of music and art?
J: Yeah. Sometimes people make awesome stuff that’s popular. But when you’re talking about music, every time I turn on the radio or MTV, I don’t get it. It’s just the same thing as that other thing. Emo bands are tenth generation of this other thing that was pretty cool at the time but now it’s not anything. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to try to do something new, at a level that other people haven’t done and try to do it really good. But a lot of people don’t have creativity in themselves. Some people just aren’t creative. It’s hard for me to understand that but it’s true. Everybody has their own perspective of it. If you ask me, how are people going to make money at what they’re doing, part of me thinks I don’t care because the majority of it sucks. The people who really make good stuff, it’s obvious, and people will pay for it. I don’t know how they pay for it, but they do.
Q: Do you think the field of cognitive science will give us greater understanding of the experience of music and the power it has on us in years to come?
J: We may understand it but who knows at what point we’ll actually be able to manipulate that. By the time that we can manipulate that they’ll be a whole bunch of other things that will come out of that first like disease, mental illness and things like that. By the time you can start doing that the worlds going to be really different. Its interesting stuff but its like, ok I’m going to figure out how to make it so my song is the raddest song and everybody is only going to love that.
Q: What are the benefits and downside of having such connectivity through technology?
J: The downside is that humans have a very limited amount of information they can take in per day and retain. And there’s people who control that information and how they get it and can manipulate it to their own means, and it might not be very healthy for people. When it comes to an information society, the thing that we need are filters, meaning there’s so much information out there we don’t have any way of evaluating what information is important, because that’s a subjective idea. But it comes back to a community. I know you pretty well, and if you tell me something I should check out because you know who I am, I’ll trust you. You’re part of a trusted network. But when you get out in the world there’s millions of people all shouting there opinions and there’s no way to trust what they’re doing. So when I say filters, I mean all this information that’s out here was filtered through some medium then delivered to me. That is what a community is about. To find out stuff that’s interesting. That can be both the positive and negative side to the internet.
Q: It is popular now is that everyone can be a creative artist. How do you feel about this message?
J: I think people can be creative but people don’t listen to that part of themselves. Culture really doesn’t push creativity. Its not that I think people aren’t creative, it’s that people don’t have the chance to be creative. There are a number of reasons behind that - cultural, financial - but the majority of people don’t really do much.
Q: What are your current and future activities on the horizon for Aspects of Physics?
J: We realize that records take too long to make and people don’t buy CDs anymore, so we shouldn’t make albums. So we’re going to try to just make web EPs in limited edition. We have a whole bunch planned. We have an EP called “Slow Fi”. I wrote a flash application program that generates a note pattern and they’re weighted toward different keys. It’s a generative process that keeps creating music so we use that as the basis for all these different songs, as the backdrop. That’s the ‘Slow Fi’ EP. We’re also working on the Aspects of Physics group project. We came up with a guitar line, and we’re giving it to different people to come up with stuff up against it but the rule is it has to be going the whole time. We’ve given it to about twelve people so far. We’re going to construct a piece of music with it all, just one long piece of music.
Q: Do you continue to write music daily?
J: Yeah, we write music all the time. We realize we’re a multifaceted band. We have our live show, our recorded thing, and internet/video thing. Each of those is fun to do. We focus on a project and try to get it out there. We bit off too much to chew with our three album trilogy; we didn’t think it would take this long. We thought it would take a year and a half, not five years. But I’m happy with what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it. Photo. Jennifer Mckay