Autre Ne Veut

Autre Ne Veut

Since emerging at the turn of the decade, Arthur Ashin’s output as Autre Ne Veut has had little to do with sonic lucidity or decisively communicated truths. Despite its bare, monochromatic artwork and corresponding title, his third LP,Age Of Transparency, is no different.

Age Of Transparency is the second instalment in a trilogy that began with 2013’s Anxiety, furthering that record’s interrogation of the barriers obstructing interpersonal communication in the contemporary world. At first, Ashin didn’t plan to make three interlinked records, but once Age Of Transparency began to take shape, he realised the overarching theme contained plenty of untapped creative potential.

“When I was making Anxiety,I was still at the stage of being in total wonderment that I’m permitted to make a record, and would never allow myself to actually concretely dream past the specific record that I’m making,” he says. “But as I started writing for and working on Age Of Transparency, there was this subcategory of songs I was writing that didn’t really feel appropriate to the record, but felt like they were still dealing with the same kind of umbrella of topographical high-level concepts.”

As with its predecessor, a tremendous amount of work went into Age Of Transparency. An unflinchingly ambitious performer, Ashin recorded with a small jazz ensemble before adding his emotionally exhaustive vocals and embarking on an extensive period of studio tinkering. The album was by no means easy to make, but Ashin has discovered a way to optimise the expressive potential.

“I used to just write and produce at the same time and that turned out to not be as productive – the production value and the songwriting both ended up getting stymied at different moments,” he says. “I’ve really compartmentalised my writing process from the production process of a record. So the records are really designed around almost a singer-songwriter paradigm in terms of how they flow and the thematics of them. But then with this record there ended up being a huge amount of time and energy put into the production of it, well after the songs were written, to really focus on that.”

Much like Anxiety, Age Of Transparency reveals Ashin’s flair for immediately appealing pop songs – the likes of ‘Panic Room’, ‘Switch Hitter’ and ‘World War Pt. 2’ pair sing-along melodies with patent sensuality. However, throughout the record, subversive impulses push the compositions beyond the realm of conventional accessibility. For Ashin, studio production is just as expressively effective as songwriting.

“I’m the happiest when I get a chorus to feel big in the way I want it to feel big, or whatever,” he says. “Those are the moments that dopamine and serotonin start shooting off in my brain and I just bliss out.

“I think a lot of the struggle for me is that I’m not naturally very gifted at music. So I end up working really hard to get to a place that somebody else who might be more naturally gifted could just open up and [get to]. But with my struggles come interesting accidents that I end up liking more than something I would’ve crafted with intention. That has its own set of rewards, like, ‘Oh wow, the world’s just gifted me this transition because I hit the wrong note when I was trying to play the bassline on the synth.’ It’s something that I would never write if I were intentionally trying to do it, but because I end up failing to do it correctly, I end up with these beautiful accidents.”

Considering how staying open to accidents is likely to uncover uniquely evocative ideas, possessing such an attitude is clearly an asset. “It’s very much learning ways to utilise the studio to the best of my abilities,” Ashin says. “The studio really is my primary instrument, because – even though it’s not a guitar or a bass or a piano – it’s the only thing I’m moving in the direction of mastery towards. “It’s something that five years ago I didn’t think I would ever get to, which is awesome.”

The New York artist’s increased studio inventiveness is epitomised by the new album’s opening track, ‘On And On (Reprise)’. What starts off as a beautiful jazz ballad quickly begins to mutate; the acoustic foundations are subjected to cumulative digital manipulation, causing it to become emotionally jarring at certain points and grossly humorous at others. Towards the end, the transition into the digital world becomes complete, and Ashin’s intense, purging vocal performance begets a major feeling of catharsis.

“To me it’s one of the most beautiful songs on the record,” he says. “It nods at Meredith Monk in moments and nods at Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane and stuff in moments, and nods at Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks in moments. And it kind of introduces the character [of the album]. It’s like, ‘Here’s that thing where I’m going to be doing speed- and pitch-warping stuff, and that’s going to happen all across the record, but here’s where that’s really clear that it’s happening.’ Or, ‘Here’s where I’m going to transition the listener from an organic space and then break that organic material down and then have it reform as this very digital, noisy synth part.’

“For the listener, I wanted to introduce them to the notion they’re going to be dragged around by their hair.”

Autre Ne Veut’sAge Of Transparency isout now through Downtown / Create/Control.

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Autre Ne Veut

Autre Ne Veut

And I said / Baaayyaaaybyyyyy”. Delivered with straight-faced, R&B-drenched sincerity, the opening strains of ‘Play By Play’ reign among the most captivating moments on record in 2013. Far and away one of the tracks of the year, the opening song of Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety paves the way for an album that navigates a tightrope between pristine pop and forward-thinking subversion. Speaking from his Brooklyn living room, the solo project’s progenitor Arthur Ashin speaks on whether the album’s title was in fact a motivating artistic force.

“I think that any particularly salient emotion – by emotion I don’t necessarily [mean] primary emotion, it could be something as simple as ambition – you do need that as some sort of engine, or maybe fuel is the better analogy. I do think that anybody who decides what they want to dedicate their life to doing needs that massive amount of motivation. I think for this particular record, anxiety was the fuel I was able to parlay into making the music. I think there are plenty of people with severe anxiety that can be crippled by it as well, so it’s not necessarily in and of itself a creative tool. It’s one of a plethora of options to motivate yourself to do something.”

Anxiety’s cover art was originally set to feature Munch’s iconic painting The Scream, but come release time the artwork featured an empty frame instead. “It was primarily a European copyright issue, although I actually do prefer it aesthetically without The Scream,” says Ashin. “I think it articulates the idea at least as well without the actual image in the frame. But the notion and inspiration for the cover art as it tied into the title and theme of the record was quite tongue-in-cheek. The AP [Associate Press] had an image that was almost identical, of two art handlers presenting The Scream for sale at Sotheby’s, I believe it was then sold for 120 million dollars [US]. It was the most expensive piece of art ever sold, although it was just trumped by the Lucian Freud triptych,” he says, referring to the US$142 million price tag on Francis Bacon’s Three Studies Of Lucian Freud that went under the hammer mere hours before our interview. “The idea was to take what is effectively an antiquated trope image of existential anxiety … and place it in a more anxiety-provoking framework of market capitalism, and the relationship between those things and art within the context of art as a product. That symbolic business card for what is ultimately its business, which is business itself. It also ties into the way I make music, which is to take extremely popular notions of music – Top 40 pop and R&B – and attempt to reframe that and work against these tropes, while ratifying them simultaneously. It’s all part of the same picture.”

Achieving a pristine sonic quality that wasn’t necessarily present on previous releases, Ashin teamed up with peers Daniel Lopatin and Joel Ford on production duties, plus an ace in the hole engineer to achieve that conflict with the aforementioned pop tropes. “[Engineer] Al Carlson was the secret element, he engineered and mixed the Ford & Lopatin record as well as Replica, which is Dan’s [Oneohtrix Point Never] previous solo record, and he did a lot of work at Mexican Summer studios. The way that’s configured is that there is an office, a brains trust upstairs, then the whole downstairs is dedicated to a large A-room with a huge library with 20-foot ceilings, then a smaller B-room for mixing. That’s kind of like the home of the sound. Tracking and recording with the intention of clarity goes a huge way towards that. But also Al has that magic shimmer attached, he’s worked in more ancillary ways with Lady Gaga, that kind of pop music. In a lot of ways, the key was striking the balance between finding that sound and also being inclined to push away from that into the avant-garde. It was not hard, the recording sessions felt extremely natural, pleasant and easy.”

On the surface, Anxiety can be appreciated purely as a slick pop artefact. But also present within its layers are wry, enveloping aural touchstones to blur the barriers between established conventions and more forward-thinking ideas. “I’m not into comedy, but I’m super into satire. In popular culture there is that conflation where satire often ends up being funny, that guffaw-funny satire. But for me satire is this incredible, classical narrative tool. I think it’s of the heart of avant-garde practice in general. To me, the avant-garde takes society as you see it and fucks with it, that punk rock attitude toward canonical norms. There’s an earnest appreciation for Top 40 pop, but also the history of pop music as opposed to real rock’n’roll.

“One of the trademarks of pop music is how it innately synthesises a lot of trends into a package that’s palpable not because of its influence, but because of this sheen that’s superimposed on top of the influences. Pop has always experimented with bizarre ideas. Some of the most memorable songs have been from producers like The Neptunes and Timbaland, who actually do really fucking weird shit and are visionary in the way they don’t simply recreate what other people have done.”

BY LACHLAN KANONIUK

Autre Ne Veut plays Oxford Art Factory on Wednesday February 5.Also appearing alongside Haim, Jagwar Ma, Lorde, Parquet Courts, The Jezabels and more at Laneway Festival, Sydney College of the Arts, Saturday February 2.

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