“The way forward it to abandon guitars.”



Speaking to John Maus is a little like running after a freight train with your teeth gritted, out of your gourd on amphetamines. It is, to say the least, fast paced, intense and exhausting, albeit somewhat exhilarating too. He speaks with a rabid intensity that can be simultaneously intoxicating and perplexing. One thing that remains evident throughout our interaction, however, is passion; this is a passionate man, not only in his music but also in his views, and he expels them all with zest, his voice an often relentless series of accentuations that make him sound like a more wired William H. Macy in Fargo. There’s lots of ‘Ahhhs’ and ‘Y’knows’.

Formerly a member of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Maus is now on his third solo LP, ‘We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves’, which is by far his greatest, most comprehensible body of work to date. The record is a slick, sleazy piece of sci-fi-pop – infectious and stimulating in equal proportions. His early work was wild, often alienating and perpetually challenging; Drowned in Sound thought his first record sounded like “a man crapping out of his mouth.” He has not necessarily eradicated his experimental tendencies, but rather refined them on his new record. They are buried under a rainbow of sparkling production.

It’s been a lengthy evolution for the man from Minnesota.

“Yeah, I’ve been working on it the past couple of years,” he says, “so it’s taken a long time. I probably could have taken some more time on it though. But y’know it’s never done, right? It’s never finished, there are just certain moments when you have to put it to bed.”

Of the fact that Maus’ work is largely made up of synthesisers and processed sounds, John says: “I think the way forward is to abandon the guitar, y’know? It challenges this idea that we have to continue using a guitar, y’know?”

Is it still possible to make experimental music with guitars?

“Y’know, I just regard them as separate procedures. There are a lot of people doing very interesting things with them, and I wouldn’t want to make a mockery of what they are doing. I think one side is just losing its sense of advancing power. I could be wrong of course, and I invite anybody to vilify me on it.”

The latter statement is something that John reiterates throughout our conversation – he has crystalline ideas and theories that he executes with both power and conviction, but seems happy to understand he could be wrong and seems to relish in the idea of discussing such matters. Perhaps this is his PhD in Philosophy creeping in. Maus, in a recent interview was disparaging of the ’90s as a whole, regarding it as “one big mistake.”

“It was edited,” he says of the video interview, “so it’s a little un-contextualised. I mean, I’m 31, so I grew up around a lot of that stuff and I think Nirvana are perhaps the most interesting group, in terms of pop music to exist in the last twenty years, but I think there was this real lack of pop sensibility… I mean, there were some kids who thought they were doing really experimental music by doing drones and throwing their lot in with Glen Branca and stuff (presumably a reference to Sonic Youth), and I could be wrong but I thought that was off the path. It just felt like that was a bad bit, y’know?”

He later continues in reference to the spate of current bands who are living under the influence of such ’90s guitar bands, “That stuff is just so off my radar,” he says. “I find it extraordinarily un-extraordinary. We’ve heard it a thousand times – there is no option there, no violence, no dissonance, not in a musical sense but in a socio-political sense or something. There’s no rupture. It’s boring. There’s no surprise there.

“I definitely could be wrong though, when I say things like this, it is with all due respect.”

Quantum Leap by John Maus by LoudAndQuiet

John’s live shows, though, they do contain violence in some senses: a self- imposed violence as he pumps his fists and contorts his body in a seemingly endless fit of energy and vigour. The first and only time I saw John perform the roof collapsed above him when playing. It seemed ultimately fitting to the manifestation of energy and power he was exuding.

“My performances are a form of confrontation,” he says, “but confrontation not in the sense for just being confrontational, but hopefully in the sense of becoming another human being.”

In other words, becoming possessed.

“Everybody seems to have this idea of what a live concert should be like, and I’m just not satisfied with that”

We speak on and on for some time late into the night, weaving in and out of topics, all of which are presented and retorted with frightening enthusiasm and, more often that not, fascinating insight. And yet there’s still a sense that we only scratch at the surface of the complexities and thoughts displayed by John Maus. He is a true individual in an increasingly non-individualistic occupied industry. The notion and existence of the eccentric pop star is not as dead as you might think.

“I’m sorry for not being more concise and coherent,” he apologises as we part ways. Of course it’s not necessary, and for all his speed, rampant declarations and tangents he has taken me on, paradoxically he’s the same person responsible for creating one of most thought-out, coherent and intriguing albums of the year.

By Daniel Dylan Wray

Originally published in issue 30 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2011.

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