Discussions: Jason Lamoreaux

Jason Lamoreaux’s The Corrupting Sea project has earned the American a reputation for producing understated, neatly textured electronic music. It is the kind of work that can ease you through a stressful day or lift you out of a patch of melancholy. His latest, Soul Mate, lands Nov. 18.

Lamoreaux is also the force behind Somewherecold Records, home to A Journey of Giraffes, Tristan Welch, Droneroom and others. It is not a label with a consistently identifiable sound. But there is enough connective tissue throughout the catalogue to warrant a deeper dive if one of the titles resonates with you.

Lamoreaux and I connected over the weekend.

What is the label’s purpose, artistically and otherwise?

It began as a means to release my own music, thinking no-one would touch my music with a ten-foot pole. I was glad I was wrong since I’ve been released now on a number of labels. Anyway, I ended up getting to know Paul Saarnak. His Beremy Jets tape was the first release instead of mine. It did well, so I basically just kept going.

The first few years I was teaching, hoping to gain a full-time teaching position somewhere. In December 2019, I walked away from a very long-fought-for dream. I knew it was going to be gone the August prior and started prepping to get the label up and running.

My goal is to help artists find a voice in the world. I see art as work in the sense that we are trapped in a capitalist society that sees art as play. It’s just not. The whole exposure garbage needs to stop and there are a lot of middle people who eat up artists’ possible income. Studios, promoters, labels and so forth can get an artist’s release to return zero dollars, or worse, debt to them. My dream is to have a label that is self-contained. Inside-house promo and whatever else I can do to ease that burden is what I’m after.

I also do this full time now. Many people apologize for trying to make a living off of a label or whatever but I just don’t. This is my livelihood now and my family is counting on me. So, it’s both in my artists’ and my best interest to get them out there and do as good a job as I can for them and the brand.

Is there a common thread in the recordings you select?

I have always been drawn to the edges of music. Even as a kid, I listened to The Cure and Depeche Mode, etc., which at the time were considered weird. (I find it so strange when The Cure comes on the radio in a grocery store.) I learned bass first at the age of 15 and then was in a band in college. It all just felt wrong. It wasn’t me. Then I found Brian Eno in my 30s as well as bands like Slowdive where the edges of the music all blurred and all the rules were thrown out the window. I had found what my inner voice needed as an artist and I think that’s reflected in the label.

So, I curate a label that has those qualities, I think. The closest to structure I like to get is dreampop or synthpop or even post-rock. On the outer edges, I’m looking for ambient, dark ambient, experimental, genre blurring and shoegaze artists who just want to join the family.

That’s a fundamental shift musically, away from conventional song structures. Do you find that you listen to music differently as a result?

Absolutely. I hear sound instead of note or chord. I’m very interested in how artists string things together even in melody. I also hear the world in a totally different way. I go outside and hear music rather than “car, bug, cat, dog.” It all becomes a wonderful ambient experience. 

I remember when I was young, defending Depeche Mode against guitar purists saying they were masters of sound. This was when I was a teenager. That stuck with me and when I heard Eno I went, well, sound doesn’t have to have structure now does it? It also made me realize how incredible Black Celebration was. So many samples and yet they made pop songs. Incredible.

I’ve had that same thought: about sound having a musical quality. But it’s still just an intellectual experience for me. I can hear the musicality of a city street for example. But mostly, the noise has little or no emotional impact.

I guess I hear differently from many people. I’ve lived all my life with weird feelings and weird issues. I was never diagnosed till about two years ago. It made sense of a lot of things. One of those things was what is called a sensory disorder. It has its plusses and minuses of course. In a worst-case scenario, it causes a serious panic attack. But in the best case it allows me to enjoy some things others find mundane. The ambient sounds of the world can touch me to my core if the sounds come together right. It especially happens in zoos or during spring when the birds are migrating. I had an instance this last spring when a baby skunk walked out into my front flower bed while I was taking my dog out. I just loved the sound of his little feet on the mulch. I’m weird, I know.

Do you distinguish between music that impacts you intellectually vs. emotionally?

I can do that. For example, I don’t much like Led Zeppelin as a band, but I can appreciate their songwriting, musicianship and impact on music history all the same. That’s sort of what I think of when it’s intellectual. When it hits me emotionally, it’s never detached from the intellectual except for maybe when I’m playing live or at a live gig that is just overwhelming my senses. I love that feeling. It’s euphoric.

I do have four academic degrees [BA in religion, MA in bible studies, MA in classics (ancient Greek and Roman literature) and a PhD in early Christianity]. I don’t think my intellectual side is too far away from anything really.

A lot of music in those studies.

I know. Odd, but I’m not religious. I did grow up that way though. My fascination was with queer theology, ancient women and feminist theology and ritual.

You must have come to interesting conclusions about music and spirituality.

Yes, that is true. There is something ethereal about art in general that touches human beings in a way nothing else does. It’s why I’m always incredibly concerned about the cultural language around art in my country. It frightens me. A world without art is a world with no meaning.

My last semester teaching university, I taught Depeche Mode’s Songs of Faith and Devotion in my class through the lens of theology. It was a great deal of fun and made a lot of sense to the students.

Religious language in music has a weight to it, even to those who don’t really have a deep understanding of it. It’s clear that “Personal Jesus” doesn’t mean “Jesus,” but people can feel the weight of the phrase and how it plays out in the song. Anton Corbijn’s video emphasizes it so much more.

Religious symbolism is tricky though, isn’t it? So much room for misinterpretation.

Oh indeed, but I love that. It excites that part of my brain that was steeped in study for so many years. 

I’ve turned in a proposal to Bloomsbury Publishing to write a book on Music for the Masses. The book will focus on sexuality and religion in Gore’s lyrics because they become most prominent there. It’s a playground for someone like me plus it’s the first album I ever bought with my own money. The dream is that I get to interview Martin about it.

The UK press almost always painted Depeche Mode as simpletons when, in fact, what Martin does with words is kind of amazing. He turns things on their heads and warps them so fantastically.

Some artists utilize religion, though, and I’m sort of repulsed. Modern U2 for example.

I’ve always found U2 to be quite sincere. Pompous, for sure and bloated musically. But I do think they mean well.

I think U2’s intent is in the right place, so to speak. But it’s hard for me not to feel their lack of passion following their early days. Musically and in terms of lyrics, they lost me after Zooropa.

I hung on until Pop (which I quite liked). I think because that one was so poorly received, they retrenched. No real creativity since then.

I wanted them to keep pushing their creative edges. It was exciting. Achtung Baby was a breath of fresh air and, unlike most people, I can appreciate The Joshua Tree. But I really do not like that album. Rattle and Hum as well. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I grew up near Los Angeles and those albums were endlessly played by everyone and every radio station at all hours. It got to be too much.

Your taste is very non-LA. Are you a contrarian?

Not on purpose I suppose. I’m just attracted to different things I think. Some have called me a taste maker because I draw out good music into a spotlight it may never have had but I’m not sure I buy it. It would be arrogant to think it anyway.

I just think I’m weird. I grew up on KROQ: Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, Gene Loves Jezebel, Flesh for Lulu, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and other bands that circulated through that station. I would probably have been weirder if someone would have shown me Eno. I’m kind of bummed no-one did.

The ’90s were lost on me. I had found academics. I hated school as a kid and finally I found books and a system I loved and could work in. Music bled into the background for me for a number of years. So I missed the shoegaze happenings and so forth. But when I found that in the early 2000s, I was in love with a new genre. It was like being a kid in a candy store again.

What’s the most important art form in 2020?

I hate to say it, but I don’t think any form is more important than another. However, intention is impactful. For me, art is about rebellion, being a prophet, calling out the powers that be and deconstructing reality into something far more beautiful. So art that opposes suppression and is highly political is the most potent in our era. Especially anti-capitalist work like Tristan Welch’s.

Is beauty important?

It can be. Sometimes it’s not. I’m working on a noise album with a friend. That is pure fury. It’s pure cathartic anger and remorse and an extension of two people who have suffered abuse. Beauty can give one a stage that noise music cannot. Most can’t handle it. But, in some ways, beauty is subjective. I have friends that find beauty in goth culture and others that find it in the ambient or shoegaze scene. I suppose it’s not for me to say. Eno highly intellectualizes this stuff but I tend not to think too hard about it and do what is in front of me.

By the way, I think about a lot of this in my own work. My own work deconstructs form and, as some of my friends say, becomes the new form of punk rock and rebellion. Punk has become commercialized. Ambient and experimental forms, for me, have become a replacement.

Discussions is a new series of conversations with contemporary music figures. Please submit proposals to modernslove@gmail.com.

Kevin Press

The Moderns, vols. 1-3 – available exclusively from Amazon

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