Sacvs Interview with Nick Kuepfer of Constellation Records
In the last few months we presented articles on the three albums released in the new Constellation Records box Musique Fragile Vol 1 . Upon hearing the box I was really blown away by all three releases and set out to find the artists involved for possible interviews. The artists are not well known outside of their region and I was very happy Nick Kuepfer got back out of the three. Below is the interview we conducted with him. If you would like to check out the article we prepared for his album in the series, Avestruz, click here. Nick Kuepfer is a multi-talented instrumentalist, vocalist, screen printer and so much more. He has been a constant source of inspiration in his city of Montreal and this is one of my favorite interviews I have conducted thus far. Artists with this much attention to detail but stay out of the world that produces shows in dead sounding arenas are a true gift to society. They live the reality that you don’t need to alter what you do for the sake of making a living off of it.
Hello Nick, before we start the interview I would like you to know how much I loved the experience of your album Avestruz. Constellation sent me a copy of the new Musique Fragile box and I was blown away by all 3 parts. Your album was the last in the sequence of the albums sent and therefore the last I got to. Every album in the series is incredible in their own right but your album took me to a place I was very happy to be.
You self released Avestruz in Montreal in very small numbers. How did you get picked for the new Constellation Records box set Musique Fragile?
A few years back after the record was what I thought finished, I approached Ian at a zine fair in Montreal (expozine) where we were both tabling, Ian for constellation and I was selling screen prints. I passed him the self released version with no anticipation for release with constellation, but just looking for an opinion from a label I’ve grown to respect over many years. Soon after I received an email with some very kind words about the record. Later, we began talking about the potentiality of the release and ways to release it in a series they were talking about putting together.
Avestruz has large sections that were recorded on lo-fi and primitive sources such as 4 track recorders along with field recordings and various other techniques mainstream music strays away from. Do you feel more comfortable in this setting or do you just find it another frequency that your path has chosen for you at this moment?
Definitely much more comfortable recording in lo-fi atmospheres. I really enjoy working by making due with whats at hand. I find it really propels the creative process in ways that aren’t anticipated. Like working with a pile of trash and trying to build something structurally sound, it’ll be wonky but hopefully in the textured and weathered kind of way.
Avestruz was recorded in Argentina between 2007-2008. What brought you to Argentina in the first place and did you conceptualize that our time there would formulate into the type of album that it did?
My girlfriend Mari is from Argentina. She lived here for some time then went back, then I went to live there for some time now we’re both in Montreal. I definitely didn’t anticipate the recording or the cst release when leaving for Argentina, but basically set out with a goal to write and record a full body of work to do something with eventually.
How much of the albums instrumentation did you record yourself?
All of it, apart from the sample of a live jazz band in vampyro. This was recorded on a handheld recorder at an apartment show in Buenos Aires. The sample at the end of While Drifting had nothing to do with being in Argentina but was a friend of mine who I had a really rough recording of with me while gone, he passed away while I was away and it was meant as a pseudo homage to his brilliant voice and playing.
There are some really unique tones, both percussively and sonically. What type of unique instrumentation was used for this album and what type of modifications to the stringed instruments take place?
There was a lot of prepared instruments, mostly guitar modifications, things through the strings, a wooden block under the strings tuned really low and bowed for a cello sound etc. Found objects from the street that sounded really great like the tea kettle in the song Kettle, kicking a cardboard box in tail still moves, bowing various objects etc. I had bought a few instruments while there that were included like a charango, gopichand, violin and bells etc. aswell.
There is a undertone of geographic picture taking through sound all over Avestruz, a form of photography through sound in my opinion. How much of the different setting of cultures you encountered in your time play a part in shaping the sound of Avestruz?
A lot actually. I think just being in unfamiliar territory you inadvertently are influenced by your surroundings. We traveled up to Uruguay, Iguazu and over to Aconcagua, Mendoza, Neuquen, Bariloche and explored many parts of Buenos Aires and its surroundings. Everywhere you go you’re listening to a constant soundtrack and there’s always a regional dialect that’s filtering in, consciously or not. I wouldn’t say I pulled from all of these influences, rather reacted with the voice that came out.
What type of stories lie within the instrumental music that stand out to you the most when looking back on what the music on Avestruz symbolizes and represents?
First thing that comes to mind is tail still moves. Friends from Canada were in Buenos Aires (we were actually renting a practice space in Buenos Aires together for a month). At one point the 2 of them, my girlfriend Mari and myself rented a car to drive to Iguazu falls. On the way back we watched a car hit a giant lizard on the highway and sever its tail off. The lizard ran off into the brush and we stopped to look at the tail. It gyrated on the pavement for a good 10 minutes before stopping all the while spilling out white tendons but no blood. Disgusting, of course, but how many times are you able to see that up close…Red Sand market is kind of a lighter piece, makes me think about drinking Mate with an aging harp player who used to travel on cruise ships with her trio and a parrot on her shoulder. Apart from that maybe Sapos de Tandil. Mari and I were camping in Tandil and came across a stream littered with hundreds of huge frogs mating. 2 of which were mounting a dead one. The sample in the song are these frogs. I suppose every song on the album has its own vivid impression, story or reference.
I wanted to ask you about a specific piece and my favorite from the album, “Tierra Santa Con Montaña Rusa”. I love how heavy and spiritual the vocals and everything under it makes the piece feel, what does this song represent and did a spiritual or ominous feeling take shape within yourself when constructing this kind of sound?
The reference is a Christian amusement park on the shores of Buenos Aires. It’s a Christian amusement park with roller coasters, rides etc with a biblical times theme. Next time I go I’m hoping to go ride the roller coaster to spiritual enlightenment. From the front gates you can see an effigy of Jesus on the cross with 2 crosses beside him on a large hill in the distance. A crude translation of the title for this would be holy land with roller coaster. I was thinking a little doomy when making it for sure.
In the context of the source and inspiration of what shaped the music created for Avestruz, do you feel you were more like an antenna, transmitting frequencies from unknown and known origins or do you feel like it showed more of a connection to a personal language formed from within? Or both?
Probably the later. Kind of how I referenced it in an earlier answer as kind of a reaction rather than influence. I don’t think I was necessarily speaking the same language in terms of frequencies, rather making an attempt to reply from what was interpreted in my surroundings.
Now to dive into other areas of your creations, I would like to talk a little bit about your screenprinting studio Daygristle and performance space Rap Machines. How did you get into screenprinting and what does it mean to you as an art form?
Well, I suppose I started printing just after highschool printing band shirts and album art for bands I was playing in. Eventually moved to Montreal and thought I’d give it a go printing water based inks for band shirts, album art, posters etc. As an artform I see it being incredibly important to contemporary art in the way that its an accessible form of expression. You don’t necessarily need a lot of set up or space to create something interesting with it. For instance if you compare it with something like Lithography or most other printing methods you’re dealing with huge operation costs, studio space etc. Ironically the Rap Machines space has just shut down as of May 1st as the gentrification moves north in the city. The space has been a great hub for many years as its evolved into a large shared print shop, dark room and amazing practice space and recording studio. A friend and I renovated the garage in the space to be sound treated so you could essentially play 24 hours a day with a fully wired small recording setup. The show space had to end quite a while ago due to the ever present noise complaints but the recording and studio space has been great.
When and how did your as Constellation Records describes it, claustrophobic performance space Rap Machines start?
I moved in there in 2004 after moving out of a warehouse space with 6 other people. The other space was a 5000 square foot loft with crudely built bedrooms and we’d have shows all the time. After a while of waking up with cigarette butts and broken bottles on the floor I decided my dog and cat and I should move into somewhere slightly more stable. I basically kept the lease on the new place for years and once returning from Argentina people started moving into other places, leaving the city etc. Instead of losing the place a friend and I saw some potential in keeping the lease, renovating and building a practice space that could be used by others to keep the rent down. Eventually the shows we were doing to help cover the rent had to end and I moved my print shop in. By this time I wasn’t living there and for the last year its just been rehearsal space, print shop, dark room, storage and general meeting place.
What type of music and art did you have in this space on a regular week and was there any special programs you guys had on a weekly or monthly basis?
It wasn’t really so much of a cultural venue, although that was once a plan. At one point I had a long term plan of opening up the front room as a self curating gallery but the end came too soon. Mostly I just did a lot of contract print jobs and musicians rehearsed in the back.
There is a really beautiful and supportive system in Montreal and Constellation Records has always been my window into that world, how much does their label mean to you and in the bigger picture what do you feel they have done for the modern state music culture?
There’s a pretty tight nit community for sure in Montreal, a lot of support from different genres and trades of artists in the city. Constellation is one of those integral members of a large community of players. I think one incredibly important contribution Constellation has offered in terms of the present music community in the city is the continuing support for smaller relatively un-established musicians paired with their devotion to details and quality.
The label has been a long standing inspiration for me personally over the years and in all honesty I’m certain the city would not be the same without their efforts.
What are some other projects you are involved with that you would like to mention and what type of sound do they bring that might not be found on Avestruz?
Presently I’m playing in another project called No Nature which is more of a 3 piece avant folk project with an opera singer, guitar, pump organs, piano, percussion etc, lots of juxtaposed textures and dynamics. The other project I’m playing in is another Constellation group, Hrsta, although that’s been kind of inactive since last years tour as the main writer has been on a massive tour with Godspeed for quite a while.
How did you get involved into creating your own music and who was the person that pushed you the most to keep you motivated to achieve what you have done in the past and present?
Years ago I was playing in bands and writing songs etc and my brother had a 4 track. I started messing with it and making little songs and started kind of a 4 track based solo project called Goiter. Its mostly 2 minute songs that are pretty light and overly saturated with tape hiss. I was listening to a lot of Lou Barlow at one point and fell in love with tape hiss and the way he used it in some of the Sentridoh recordings. The person though, or rather, the people that kind of pushed me the most were my brother and parents. My brother played a lot in bands growing up and then I started the same. My Dad is a guitar player and I learned a lot watching him while growing up and my mom has this fantastic voice. They sometimes would do these duets and still do. So yeah, family.
Looking back at all the experiences that shaped Avestruz and it’s really unique sound, do you reflect differently on the record now or does it convey the same state of feelings and emotions from the time you finished it?
I think it brings back a lot of the same feelings when listening to it. There’s of course things that I’d love to change on the record, but really I’m glad it is the way it is. One major difference that made a huge impact on the way I personally listen to the record now is the sequence. The initial sequence was vastly different, was longer, had 4 more tracks and really didn’t make sense. Having someone else’s opinion on how it would translate as a single piece of music was such a huge benefit to the outcome. When I listen to it now for no particular reason, the record feels a lot lighter than the music I’m writing now.
Are you currently working on anymore self released projects under your own name?
I’ve just released a 20 minute mini-disc with Toronto record label Standard Form in their rr series called rr#7. Also, right now I’m working on a pile of solo tracks and hoping to do some recording over the summer to put towards another solo record. There’s also a recording I did with Eric Craven(hanged up) a while back I’d really like to do something with eventually plus hoping to do another recording session with him and cellist Kristina Koropecki and violin player John Corban.
Thank you for your time Nick, we look forward to making it up to Montreal in the near future to visit you.