28 Jul 2014 — Johanne Swanson
I met Kristine Lirio a few summers ago in Los Angeles. If it was at a renegade show in a parking structure or a pool party she was playing in Eagle Rock, I can't say. What I do remember, first: the quiet strength of command and intention over her insturment; second: the supportive group, friends and collaborators, surrounding her. Last week Lirio, who records as Nima, released the devastating See Feel Real. She was gracious enough to speak with me about the aural metaphor behind the record and the nurtured ethic of freely sharing her craft. Read the interview after the break.
See Feel Real is avaliable now on a limited run of 50 cassettes through Harsh Riddims.
(Photos by Nalini Sairsingh)
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Hey Kristine! Thanks for making the time to chat.
Thank you for having me!
Last time I saw you was at the beginning of the year when we were sharing a bill at the short-lived Church on York with the rest of the Smells Like Queen Spirit crew. I feel like gear is always breaking playing electronic music, synths dying right before you're about to go on and whatnot, but you had lost your voice that night! So frustrating to have your most intimate and manipulative instrument fail. Still, your performance was entirely absorbing. What was your setup like?
Everyone was amazing that night! Despite losing my voice, it was interesting to solely showcase the instrumentals to see if their strength carried without my voice. I used a Kawai K4, a Casiotone MT-68, a few delay pedals, and a sampler to trigger some audio clips - among those clips were some extracts from my favorite Parajanov films.
Are you playing similarly out live now?
With that gear, yes. Sometimes it's overwhelming having so much in front of me visually. I think it's my classical training as a piano player-- there's the idea of engaging with one instrument crafted to produce certain tones versus engaging with several instruments that can incorporate digital possibility. I love both ideas and get to exercise them -- it feels like a balancing act, especially when the majority of my live renditions rely on layered loops. It's all about purging and being able to access the drive within you that no one else can see and engage with it through your craft, which also makes it audibly and visibly accessible.
Seems like everyone has funny stories about how gear finds them. Got any?
When I started playing shows I used to lug around my sister's 88-key Yamaha Motif that we kept in a large canvas case with wheels. It must've looked comical and impractical, but there was comfort in being able to access those octaves. Then she gave me a Kawai K4 in 2011 and it's been with me since. As for my Casiotone MT-68, I found it under a bench in Tustin.
When did you move to Oakland?
I relocated from Irvine about six months ago. The Bay Area in general has always resurfaced in my life between family and friends. It's a nourishing region and my creative support system is here. I also love the fog and being near the ocean.
You just self-released bay connected not but a week after See Feel Reel came out on Atlanta's Harsh Riddims. It feels like your older material, more drone and minimal. What were the timeline and process like?
I recorded bay connected in two nights, once in June and once in July. I was trying to shake off the feeling of longing so I shut myself in my room, drank a six pack, and just recorded freely, looping parts on the Casiotone while manipulating and looping samples I accumulated on the SP-555. The intention came from the desire to reconnect with sources that were no longer accessible as how I first encountered them (people, places, or objects specific to circumstance). It's a personal archive of these sources that inspired me.
See Feel Reel is a definite turn for you as an artist. It's pretty aggressive and a bit more challenging of a listen. What were the catalysts for this?
I wanted to combat the expectations of softness and atmosphere to showcase a hardier side with literal tension in the actual sound and feeling. There's also a theme devoted to the power of cinema, in its viewing and production, containing representation and recording the fidelity of a moment. The song "No Speech Sensuality" is the gut of it all-- I was tired of hearing how synths were immediately associated with space, and I think we get that as an audience because of the more conventional identifications taken from soundtracks in cinema and TV shows utilizing those sounds. I'm not opposed to it, but it made me question whether or not we are actively creating our own metaphors when describing or painting music we hear. It's definitely good to relate and recognize the impact of those identifiers, but how often are we able to branch out of the descriptions we haven't created on our own? "No Speech Sensuality" consists of two takes layered on top of one another, and I played the Kawai through the DD-20 hoping to give my take on what kind of atmosphere or visual those tones meant to me.
One of my favorite tracks is "How Does It Go (ft. hellacamus)". It starts with this great melodic tension and intimate lyrical narrative and sort of explodes in this grinding beat while you sing over and over, demanding and sort of teasing, "Don't fucking humor me."
That song was very fun to produce, and is actually hellacamus singing the lead. The way it was constructed began with her a cappella first, which she presented to me one day, and I really wanted to include it in the album. I incorporated manipulated samples of recorded jam sessions that consisted of .L.W.H. on drums, clownshoes on guitar, and me on keyboard. The only recorded instrument in that track is hellacamus' voice and my backing vocals - everything else is a collage of samples.
It's a theme I kept arriving at while thinking about your work-- meditation on tension. Would you agree?
Yes, I'm glad it resonates that way with you because I feel like I can better handle those tensions making or performing music, and not in a way to suspend them or to feel indulgent in my own little world, but to allow those tensions to take a different form than how they appear internally, to make them more relatable audibly despite the fact they are not ultimately defined. That's what the whole project is about, even if it may seem personal, I wanted to create these intentional metaphors and see the sincere connection I can share with individuals outside of myself.
Yeah, I feel like we sort of belong to a generation of cultural anxiety in love with the digital age. We were taught that these consuming tensions, anxieties, are internal forces, but the information age has sort of radicalized or even politicized the vocal expression of anxiety.
I think our generation is definitely speaking out, but there's something lost in the articulation-- we want it to communicate on a wide scale while keeping in mind the individual's context-- and I don't think this kind of voice reaches a general audience because there’s an array of contexts that we want to be inclusive about when it comes to any type of suffering. Vocal expressions, when conscious, meditative, and intentional, will speak to its immediate environment. Anomalies will of course exist, but it seems like the generations that grew up with technology and accessibility will need more narrative or context from older generations when it comes to expressing anxiety in a way that reaches out to other anxious individuals. It seems like we're stuck in this spot where we all know we're anxious, but what can we do about it? I feel like voice has become a thing of shouting versus a call to action. But that's the great thing about our power as individuals when we have the time and capabilities to think about these things and create from our thoughts-- do we take on that responsibility?
There's a lot of collaboration on See Feel Reel that I haven't noticed in previous Nima releases. Can you talk a bit about that choice and your experience working with other artists?
Megan (clownshoes) and hellacamus are both my good friends. Megan wanted to work on music together after hearing the Demon/Wet Dream tape that Kevin of Bridgetown Records released in 2011. We started playing together and recorded. Clownshoes, hellacamus, and I met in high school in Irvine, and I think we share a lot of the growing pains of that region. When I moved here, L.W.H. reached out and we got to jam and talk about film and music. His album CIA TV has been a big influence. In fact, all three who were featured and myself watched four Godard shorts at PFA one night in February. After the films we got drinks, and Logan and Megan recorded vocals over what ended up being "Come Around". I'm glad I got the chance to create endearing moments with them.
Any other artists you'd like to collaborate with?
It's hard to think of because I feel hesitant to reach out to those who aren’t close by. I like intuitively engaging with someone when creating, and that makes it hard when the individual isn’t present. A series of video chatting and determined emails definitely make it possible, but by preference I would love to be in a physical space with someone. I did have the opportunity to collaborate on a track with SELA. from Vallejo, which will be on his next release Inevitable.
What inspires you?
I'm inspired by people who are in love with their craft and love to share it. It's something my mother always told me that her grandmother told her, that when you share or give, it's without expectation, it's because you want to-- and that's all there is to it. It's the closest thing to purity I can think of besides your first love, and the fact that she actively does that is mind-blowing to me. I try to live by that, especially in a world where there's so much output to discern that you're just looking for that one sincere moment you can share with other individuals. Giving, in my mother's eyes, doesn't create cycles nor does it seek gain or reciprocation.