Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
Justin Tripp and Brian Close have put together a sort of creative ecosystem. As Georgia, they make music and do video and design work, both for themselves and a range of client-collaborators. Across their prodigious output there remains a sense of continuity—the smaller, more experimental projects counterbalance the high-profile promotional spots, and the whole thing holds itself in orbit, with its own gravity.
Their latest album, Like Comment, is, perhaps fittingly, an exploration of atmosphere. It’s self-contained and full of incongruous parts—jungle sounds and clacking percussion and deep, bassy tones that overlap and intersect in strange and surprising ways. The music announces itself as one thing and quickly turns into something else. Signifiers of jazz, funk, noise and house shift tectonically on parallel planes, rarely settling. From time to time, a robot voice bubbles up from the ether and barks an inscrutable phrase. But despite the elements of the project seeming like they’re coming undone, there’s a striking cohesion from beginning to end. It’s intuitive music: it is never obvious, yet somehow seems inevitable.
When I spoke with Tripp and Close on the phone recently, they were friendly and forthcoming about their work. We discussed the ideas behind the project, the recording process, and the challenges and rewards of working in several mediums at once.
Nick Earhart Could you talk a little about how you and Brian started working together, and how that’s changed and developed over the seven years you guys have been playing?
Justin Tripp I mean it hasn’t really changed that much. Our collaboration came about from playing music together a lot of years—talking about it and thinking about it, but not forcing it to be something, and instead just going with whatever happens. What the end result of that is has changed over the years, and the approach of that has kind of changed. We don’t really talk about what we’re doing—we just play constantly.
NE So you were, for a while, playing more song-based music?
JT Sort of. We’ve always played music in a lot of different forms. I’ve been in bands my whole life. Some of those were more traditional, and some of them were less traditional.
NE I ask because the stuff you guys are doing has such a particular style, and, I think, a pretty developed sound and aesthetic. I’m wondering how you arrived at that sound, coming from a kind of diverse background. I saw that you play with Steve Gunn, as well?
JT Yeah, I’ve known Steve for years. We lived together back in Philadelphia, and he asked me to help him with these more song-based records he’s been working on. He has done more open-ended stuff in the past.
NE So you’re just looking for different outlets for your music, to try different things? The stuff with Brian—it’s electronic, more free-form, but it still sounds like there’s a structure to it.
JT It’s always hard to talk about this stuff because it always sounds too serious. We kind of avoid talking about it—but I think that comes from trying to have no ego, and trying to not impose ourselves on the music or force it to be something. We try to be open and to play without really thinking about where that work fits in, and what it’s supposed to be.
NE There’s such a thoroughfare between the music and what you’re doing with the visual/design stuff. Do you think of it as all part of the same process, in terms of making one cohesive thing?
JT We definitely don’t distinguish between the visual side and the musical side. I think it’s more about production, and constantly creating things, whether that’s visual stuff or music, or photographs, whatever it is—just constantly accumulating stuff.
NE How do you put the songs, or the album, together? You’ve said that Like Comment was created all in one go, but some of your past records have been compilations from recordings that were made over a longer period of time.
JT Yeah, we always record at the studio; and that’s a combination of us doing stuff individually, and recording it, and then playing together and recording it. Usually, when we are ready to put together a release, we go back to that stuff and compile it—we might edit it, but its really stuff from the past. This time, Michael, from Meakusma, came to us and wanted us to do something kind of like that, but instead we set up a bunch of equipment and, in the course of a couple weeks, just made what became Like Comment.
NE So is there a breakdown of responsibilities—you playing certain instruments, and then Brian playing certain instruments, and trading off?
JT No, no. We have equipment in our studio, and we just set up and play it. It doesn’t really break down. One of us might start a song and then the other one might finish it, and then we’ll put it all together. It’s all pretty loose.
NE Right. Do you do the drum track first, and then you sort of lay it over? Or does it differ from song to song?
JT It’s more like playing it all at once, and then we go back and add a few things and edit it. But it’s all sort of improvised together.
NE What are you working on now—do you have any music in the works, or video projects happening?
JT We’re working on putting together a couple records—going back through things we’ve recorded over the last couple years. We’re going to do a double album, and a live album. We also have an online radio show on Know Wave that we’ve been doing; it’s a two-hour show every other Monday. We’re always doing video stuff, too. That’s all over the map.
NE I saw the Nels Cline video that you guys did. I thought it was rad. It was pretty minimal—I really liked the style.
JT It’s based on Kusama and her artwork. He wanted something in that zone; minimal seemed like the way to go. Music videos in general are not something I’m excited about, so it’s fun to work with someone that has a slightly different idea of what shape that genre can take.
NE I guess we could touch again on how you guys incorporate your style into the commercial work that you do. I imagine it’s a tough balance to strike when you’re doing work for other people. How much of your own aesthetic do you bring to the table? I’m wondering if that’s an ongoing conversation, or something that you figure out intuitively.
JT I think it’s pretty intuitive. There’s always a little bit of conversation, but often someone just wants us to perform a service, and we don’t even have to get involved in putting our style into it. That can be as rewarding as doing our own projects. We don’t really worry about it too much. Doing any of that work just allows us to make more of our own, so we appreciate all of it.
NE Still, it’s interesting to me you have a distinctive stamp you can bring to the work you do for clients. You wouldn’t hear the album and think there’s any obvious carry-over to that world. Is that ever an issue, bringing more unconventional ideas in a more mainstream or commercial context, and then pushing them forward on your own?
JT I know what you mean, but this is something that, if you start thinking about it too much, can back you into a hole, so we just don’t think about it too much. You start asking weird questions; it’s better to keep moving forward. There’s a history of people that are pretty subversive and forward thinking, musically, who also do big commercial work.
NE Brian Eno, for example.
JT And the Throbbing Gristle people.
NE You guys work out of Chinatown, is that right? It’s a studio—you do your video there, but is there a music space as well?
JT We do, yeah. It’s kind of just one big room. We have all our stuff here, and we do both.
NE So when you play live, is it a transposition of what you do in your space?
JT It’s the same way we approach recording—we just do it live. Sometimes, that might involve a little less equipment; and might be more focused on other things. We don’t really talk about it beforehand. We’re so in the habit of playing together that we just take what we want to use that day and go play.
NE Thanks, Justin, for taking the time to talk.
JT Yeah, absolutely. I’ll put on Brian.
NE Hello, Brian. How are you?
Brian Close Good. How’s it going?
NE Good, thanks. I was just talking to Justin about the album and how you approach the collaboration. I’d love to get your take on this. Justin was saying that you try not to overthink what your music is going to be like—to over-anticipate it. That aside, there’s obviously a really strong aesthetic there.
NE A clarity, even. Maybe you could talk for a minute about how you balance this desire to let things happen with a vision for what you want your work to be.
BC I heard Justin saying that music is more like exercise: a daily practice. We’re always playing—using music to make rhythms and live around them. We listen to music a lot during the day. Friends of ours make records—it’s the same thing with food, finding something that works for the specific places you inhabit. We really think it’s like a higher communication; it’s always been like that. That’s just something we—there’s a need to do it.
We do commercial work here as well. That’s something you don’t really have control over. Music is something that allows you to do whatever you want, and I think it’s really important to exercise that as a human.
To speak about the records in terms of the textures and the rhythm structures: We live in New York, and we’re around so much of the noise—there’s so much music going on. I think it’s important for us to put it out. I think it was Justin who got me thinking that it’s so important to stand behind something. This record, specifically. The way I see it is, there’s so much music in clubs and bars and restaurants in New York—places we go where friends of ours are DJs, and play dance music, or where our friends play just acoustic instruments, this sort of thing.
Really, this record was something that tries to make a thread, or some type of communication, between the avant-garde places where we go to see music. We’re trying to communicate.
NE To make music that bridges those scenes.
BC And honestly, it wasn’t totally intentional—it was more of a self-conscious question: What do you need to hear? What do you need to put down? It’s useful as a tool to bridge those things. We have a lot of friends who play straight disco music, stuff like that, whereas when we DJ, we’re all over the place—it’s chaotic. Again, it’s about bridging things. From techno music to folk music to indigenous music, I think things really have to be translated over and over again. That’s where we see our work functioning—as a translation between these different rhythm structures. It’s nice to see that they can speak to each other. That’s what we try to pull on, texturally. We try to make it so that you can’t really tell whether the drum is coming from an electronic source that’s really clean and expensive, or from kicking on a wall and then adding computer reverb to it. It’s nice to lose the material, so that people can’t really tell how it’s made. That’s important for us. Also, as people who do crafts—we work on videos—I don’t think anyone watching a film wants to know, in the moment, anyway, how it was made; they just want to be hypnotized.
NE That’s a good analogy.
BC The question is: Is it fun? When you see a film, if anything, you want to think, This must’ve been so fucking fun to make! That’s the biggest thing that music can do—poetry, too. You read something, and it gives you inspiration. When I read something I like, I get pissed at it—and then I want to go make something. It should light you on fire. It should get you thinking. People make records and use this activity for everything—for their sustenance, but also to make money. You have to put pressure on yourself. We don’t really have that pressure, which is lucky. It’s more something that we use for survival.
NE One of things I was thinking about as I listened to the record is how many styles or genres are present. You hear the way those styles integrate—it’s not like, Here’s the disco section, here’s the folk section.
BC Yeah, that’s a downer. It’s like when you’re having a good time, and then the bar closes. The same thing happens musically. In a way, our work tries to take all these destructions and spread a harmony through them. That’s the most generic kind of talk, but…
NE No, totally—you’re trying to find where things fit together.
BC It’s an obvious inspiration for musical subcultures, I think. Like Aphex Twin, or Miles Davis and his band, when everyone was on acid and speed in the ’70s. When we were playing records, it was always those styles back to back—and then it was like, Wait a second, there’s got to be something in between. We didn’t intend for that to happen; it happened subconsciously—the desire to bridge things like that. We don’t have these big swings—now we’re Republican, now we’re Democrat; now we’re organic, now we’re inorganic.
NE That makes a lot of sense. What are you guys working on now? I was talking to Justin a bit about this—he mentioned that you’re putting together a compilation album of material from the past couple of years.
BC Totally. Justin told me he read—he gave me this book, actually, a Sun Ra biography. They used to do a similar thing—they’d just record and record and record, and then cut an album. It’s like an archive; you just cut a little piece from it. We would love to put out records all the time, but we just wait until it happens—that’s what we’d rather do than anything. Now that we have a bit of time, we make collages of old tracks, and then figure out which ones will work in the future. We’re going to work on a record or two, and there was a remix record made from that, Like Comment, by our label. We’re probably going to do artwork and videos for that.
I also made a solo record. Justin’s in a project with Steve Gunn, and a project with a bunch of cats—that Black Dirt Oak record that he worked on, Wawayanda Patent. I’m also making another record with my friend India Salvor Menuez that will be pressed soon.
NE Is there a release scheduled for that?
BC It’s going to be out by August. We’re also making videos for a friend’s band.
NE Justin and I talked for a second about how you guys do some video work for clients, as well as for yourselves. I’m just wondering what the process is like when you move between these things. You compared music and food—there’s that natural quality to it. This seems more like your job, like you’re working. There’s a two-sided aspect to that.
BC Oh, there totally is. I think we’ve gotten good at handling that. When someone calls us to do commercial work or design work, we can gauge how much instinctual, creative, natural desire to put into that. Usually, things come with parameters—like, We want this typeface, this font, this length. First, we consider their parameters, the objective things that have to be communicated. Some people will say they want it to be really interesting, but that doesn’t mean we can jam—or really communicate how we feel, visually. In the end, we have to conform to an understanding. I don’t have a TV, but we’re always designing television commercials, things like that. We have to figure out how to prescribe that visual look for people. In commercial work, we tend to be a little less expressive and more technical—but in a way, that doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything.
In the ’70s—if you look at a film trailer from that era, there’s a lot of simple pacing, because the time, and society, were just slower. It wasn’t as intense. If you watch a Transformerscommercial, versus a ’70s Bollywood film trailer, the cutting doesn’t match up. It’s similar with the music—we can try to be cut-heavy, to be more epileptic than Transformers, but we can also try to do something really chill. It’s strategically splitting the difference between what we want and what the client wants.
NE It’s definitely a question of pacing, almost, in terms of how people want to put their stuff out there—and what you guys feel is the optimal pace for your work. Justin was explaining to me how you guys made the record—usually, just having all your gear set up, and constantly playing. But with this one, there was a much more concentrated period of recording. Do you want to talk for a second about what that was like? How that that occurred, or evolved from the dynamic in your studio?
BC When we play music day-to-day, we have so much equipment and so many different instruments and styles of playing. It felt like this record took even less than two weeks to make. I know we set up certain things. It was more like sticking with certain types of instruments—we set them up and made tracks: Justin made a track, then I made a whole track, then he made a whole track…
We didn’t really listen too much to what the other person was doing, but we used the same equipment. We recorded these things really quickly—maybe three days. Afterwards, for the next few days, we would, say, overdub on each other’s tracks—that’s how we ensure that no one’s controlling the track. On the record, there are four of his and four of mine—but we also play on each other’s tracks. That’s just the way we like to do it, so that it’s not like, This is my record, or this is your record. It’s a way of collaborating. The music is from our studio, purely.
NE I feel like there’s a pretty fluid transition between the songs on the album. I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed that it’s split up in that way, so maybe there’s a shared sensibility there.
BC People that know us can tell—and you can probably tell, just from the interview style—that the frenetic tracks are mine. They’re either more frenetic or quieter, like the ones on the end. Actually, that’s it—mine are the ones on the beginning and the end of both sides, and his are in the middle of both sides. I’d equate it to being in a conversation with us. We’re working in the same studio every day, and we have the same records—it’s like talking for us, at this point.
Nick Earhart is a writer and editor living in New York City.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.