|Pictured above: Galaxxu perform their Spin Doctors themed Opera!|
It should be known that Corey Lyons and I are musical soul mates in a lot of ways, so any bias that you may assume here is not just in your head. Lyons came up in the Louisville punk and hardcore scene, much as I did, and took away a lot of the same lessons about DIY, community, and letting your freak flag fly no matter where the breeze took you. For Lyons that manifested as Bodyhammer early on, before morphing into the noise rock band Millions later, and a string of excellent projects in the interim, including the indie power trio La Forge, ambient projects like Dathon or Monon (a free-form collaboration between the two of us), and most recently Bob Ghengis Khan and the free jazz fusion titans Galaxxu. Lyons isn’t afraid to explore sound no matter what that may result, and his passion for such is infectious. You can catch Galaxxu this Sunday (music at 8pm) with Visiting Nurse at Dreamland. We caught up to him to discuss his creative output, parenthood, and freezing time!
Listen to “Galaxxu” and “Bob Ghengis Khan” below:
Never Nervous: A lot has changed since we last spoke. What can you tell us about your musical output to catch us up since fall of 2012?
Corey Lyons: Man that’s a lot to catch up on! The simple version is my interest in experimental music, particularly free jazz, exploded and flipped my whole musical world around. I was no stranger to this music, but something happened and I just became obsessed. I hadn’t experienced a musical ‘awakening’ like that since someone showed me Crain back in 1994.
But anyway, since 2012 Millions put out an album and broke up, I started a new band that put out a couple of things and broke up. Then in 2015 I started two bands (Bob a Genghis Khan, Galaxxu), several side projects (Monon, Lie Low/Dathon) and put out at least 13 different releases, and no break ups yet.
NN: Was the decision for Millions to end a difficult choice? Was it amicable? Does everyone still get along?
CL: It was difficult and long and drawn out, but ultimately it was for the best. I wish we could have done more, another album, something- I feel like we were on the verge of doing some great stuff. But things were just difficult: recording Failure Tactics was tense sometimes, one of us moved to Portland, OR and had a kid, and I was also about to become a father. Things were up in the air so we decided to take a break from the band and see how we felt about keeping it going. And I guess that turned into a permanent break. But yeah, I think we all still get along though, but kids and life prevent us from hanging out like we used to.
NN: How did La Forge start and end? How would you define your time with that project?
CL: So the three of us in La Forge were in a band back in the day when we were all at Antioch College, and we had always wanted to do something again. Millions broke up, then the bass player from the college band was moving back to Chicago, so it was just perfect timing. We all shared a near-psychic connection for one another’s playing, writing and jamming came really naturally to us. I don’t know that Millions ever really found it’s footing, but La Forge had footing right off that bat, and we only got better and tighter as time went on. It was, at the time, kind of my dream band. And we were only just getting started. Unfortunately things ended in a spectacularly dramatic fashion. I can’t go into the details, but it was real ugly.
It’s hard to define my time in that band and not think about how it ended. Ignoring that we had some really amazing shows and some of the songs we had were definitely some of the favorite I’ve ever done in a band. Especially the last batch of songs we were working on, which never got properly recorded or released. There was one in particular that had a heavy Slint vibe at the end I was really proud of. But so it goes. Hey, that sounds like it could be a sequitur!
NN: Since we’ve discussed a little about endings, how was your time in Bodyhammer? How did you come to leave that project ultimately?
CL: I only left because I was in college and knew my time spent in Louisville was going to be more and more infrequent, I guess it seemed like the right thing to do. I wasn’t even supposed to be in the band for the summer of 2000 – I was going to hand the guitar reins over to Eric Young (coincidentally, originally I was supposed to spend the summer in Boston with the guys in La Forge). But Eric and I hit it off so well I decided to stick around and do the band as a five piece. No regrets there: we toured and recorded Die Young Amplifiers that summer. I always wish I had had more time with that band though, and that I had written more my last few months with them. And I still need to get my Bodyhammer tattoo!
NN: Tell us about Galaxxu? How did that project begin? How has it evolved over time?
CL: Galaxxu is ‘post free jazz punk noise’ or something? Just interchange those words around at will. And it began when, being a sensible person, I let a stranger I met on Reddit into our practice space full of expensive equipment based on our mutual love of an obscure 80s free jazz band (seriously).
The band was Last Exit and the stranger was percussionist Alexander Adams. We jammed, and thing took off from there. Started as a guitar/drums duo. A couple of months later we put out a tape and played our first two shows within one week of each other: on the University of Chicago’s radio station, WHPK, and then a show at a record store called Transistor. Eventually we added Marc Williams on sax and Zachary Mark on bass.
Each configuration has a very different feel: the duo stuff tends to be more intricate and abstract, and as a quartet we get noisy but we also get into these quiet, delicate places – I love that stuff. I love it all really, but when you get these really beautiful passages of music in the midst of all this chaos… it just kills me. This music is magic to me.
NN: Relative to that, is there a fixed lineup? Is it even important to have a fixed lineup?
CL: There are four of us now, but we can split off into trio or duo forms if we want or need to, and we’re open to collaborating with other people and bands. Coming up on February 20th we’re doing a tribute to John Coltrane’s album Ascension, and we’ll be playing with the band Set Self on Fire and at least three extra guests to be an eleven-piece band. I have a feeling it will be loud.
NN: What can you tell us about Dathon and Bob Genghis Khan? What inspired both projects?
CL: Bob Genghis Khan started a little bit before Galaxxu, and it’s me and fellow new-ish dad Joseph Lepek and enough instruments for at least six people. Influences are early Pink Floyd meets current Swans plus some No Wave plus Boards of Canada plus weird noise music plus… just the sleep deprived minds of two bonafide weirdos. We basically jam for hours, record everything, then clip out parts and arrange things to create songs and albums. We’ve been on a little break since Joe had his second kid, but we’re about to start up again and have are planning on at least two albums for 2016.
Dathon is my solo stuff, so it’s just me doing whatever I’m really into at the moment. It’s been doom jazz, abstract prepared guitar, ambient sound collages. Next I’m leaning towards something with weird acoustic guitar and field recordings since listening to a lot of Bill Orcutt and John Fahey lately.
NN: How do you differentiate ideas between Galaxxu, Dathon, and Bob Genghis Khan and any other project you may have made time
CL: They’re all pretty distinct to me, but if there’s any overlap at all it’s between Dathon and Bob Genghis Khan. Galaxxu is totally improvised, we never really discuss ideas or anything. With Bob Genghis Khan, anything goes but we’ve mostly been in the psychedelic/shoegaze/indie rock/noise/ambient vein so far. Dathon is me exploring all the other weird things I’m into, like I mentioned earlier doing weird acoustic guitar. I guess it comes down to if I feel like an idea needs more stuff to go with it, or if it’s a more personal thing I want to be a solo thing.
NN: Of all of your numerous music projects, what do you find yourself reflecting back on the most and why? How do you measure the success of a project?
CL: I don’t know really, I guess all things kind of equally and for different reasons. Sometimes I have to remind myself of the few years I was doing solo electronic music (as OAO-3), just because it was very different than what I’ve done before. It was a weird little period when I was still adjusting to life in Chicago, and learning about synths and Logic. The stuff I made back then is hit or miss to me now but i learned a lot.
It’s cheesy, but I guess I measure success by how satisfied I am with the music and what I get out of it. And in that sense, Bob Genghis Khan and Galaxxu are far and away my most successful bands. They’re the most pure and honest expressions of what I want to do. And there’s nothing like the feeling I get when everything is just clicking together and I get lost in it all. It’s all about reaching that for me.
NN: What’s going on with Meat for the Machines? How did that label come to be? Are there any plans to expand that into anything more than a Bandcamp label?
CL: I was making weird music and putting it in Bandcamp, I knew other people that were making weird music and putting it in Bandcamp, and I thought it would be good to collect a bunch of it under one roof. There’s a small audience for this kind of music, so I thought by gathering some different people under this label, we could cross promote each other and get our music out to more people. I just wanted to see what happened: no lofty goals, no plans for physical releases, no crazy press kits. Just keep it simple, and see what happens. I haven’t done anything for a while though, because I’m busy with everything else, but maybe once things calm down I’ll get back on it.
NN: For that matter, what do you see as the purpose for a record label in 2016? Is it business or curatorial? What record labels do you admire?
CL: I don’t know if the purpose is any different now than before, but the relevancy and necessity of labels is has changed. Its way easier for a musician to do everything themselves now. And since the financial situation of the music industry these days is pretty much up the air, I’d imagine any labels looking to not go broke have to be more picky about what they put out. Definitely a strange time for all of that, I feel like we’re in a limbo period, waiting to see how it all shakes out.
I gravitate toward curatorial labels, where I know I can go check out their new stuff and usually find something I like. I really like Aerophonic in Chicago – local free jazz stuff mostly, beautiful packaging. Another good one in that vein is Catalytic Sound. But honestly I find a lot of stuff just on bandcamp these days, direct from the artists.
NN: How has fatherhood impacted your music, be that in terms of your output or interest?
CL: I feel like parenthood deepened the value of things were already important to me, like music. Since my time is more precious now, it’s like I have this fire under my ass to get stuff done and not waste any time. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be making music, it could be a few more years or I could never stop – but either way I want to make the most out of the time I’m putting into it. So output wise is hasn’t slowed me down at all. I might have less time than I’d like for all the projects I want to do, but i just make the time that I do have with them really count.
NN: Do you hope your child gets into music? How can we attempt to engender that love without ostracizing a new generation to our interests?
CL: He is really into music already, singing all the time and he has a lot of little instruments around the house. He even came to one of my solo shows once, that was really great. I can’t pick up a guitar in the house without him sitting on my lap while I play, or lately he’ll grab his little ukulele or sits at his drum set and we “jam.” Maybe I should record it and put it out and see if anyone can tell who’s playing what.
As far as becoming a musician goes, that would be awesome, but really I just want him to pursue the things that make him happy, not just follow my footsteps. If he does want to make music though, I’d hope to nudge him in the direction of taking lessons and learning theory at a young age. If nothing else, it’s good for the ol’ brain.
NN: Speaking of, how do you manage enough time to negotiate various projects and performances in town and abroad? How do you balance adult responsibility with your musical leanings?
CL: I don’t sleep! And I try to multitask too much (for example, I wrote my responses to this interview during lunch breaks, my daily commute, while giving my kid a bath…). I try to fit things in when I can, I think a big thing is I just be ready to take advantage of any chances I get to work on stuff. My wife is super busy too, but we just try to make sure things are balanced, that we get to do our own things but also make plenty of time for the family. But I do have to be careful about burnout, and make sure I give myself time to just chill out and do nothing too. The Bob Genghis Khan recordings, for example, take a lot of work and usually it’s me staying up to 2 AM several nights in a row working on stuff. But that can leave me feeling like a zombie for a week too. Balancing my desire to do everything but my need to be a functional human being can be difficult sometimes.
It helps that most of these projects just happen whenever they can, Galaxxu is the only one with a schedule of any sorts, Bob Genghis Khan practices pretty irregularly, and Monon and other things just happen when they need to happen. I have a tendency to put too much pressure on myself to get a ton of stuff done but I’m trying to get over that and take a more relaxed approach – there’s no need or point to rushing this stuff.
The one thing I have a hard time with is practicing on my own at home. By the time the day has wound down, it’s 10:00 or so and the last thing I want to do is anything that involves using my brain.
NN: Can you imagine a time where you might slow down musically? If so, why? If not, why not?
CL: I wonder how it will be when our kid is a little older and we have to start taking him to things like soccer practice, music lessons, astronaut training, etc, but outside of that I’ve felt very revitalized lately and don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon. If I was still doing punk/hardcore stuff I could see it ending, just getting burned out and tired of it. But right now it’s like this whole new world has opened up to me and I’m starting all over. I kind of already have some visions of my musical future. I can see myself doing less band stuff and more collaborative things (teaming up with other people for one-off performances). I like the idea of being an old, gray-haired man playing weird, chaotic solo guitar at artsy venues. I also have this weird idea that when I’m 40 I’ll need to do another hardcore band – thinking something like grindcore/black metal/d-beat stuff with free jazz elements.
NN: If you had any superpower what would it be, and what is the most mundane use you could imagine for it? I picture how ornery my life would be with telekinesis, like I would be too lazy to walk into the kitchen to get some water, so I just float the glass to me. How would you squander your super powers?
CL: Freezing time would come with a ton of benefits, but I think I would just use it to sit around in quiet and be lazy for an extended period of time. I would love to freeze time when I’m grocery shopping just to avoid all the entitled mofo’s that need to block a whole aisle to ponder which overpriced sea salt gives them the most street cred with their hot yoga crew.
CL: Uncle Owen just because of how things ended up for him. Or that imperial office that Vader force choked. Or the droid with the bad motivator. Or Greedo (original cut). Or literally anyone that was on the Death Star when it blew up. I feel like there’s a theme here….
NN: What non-musical things have you fired up lately? What have you read, drank, cooked, or watched that have you inspired and why?
I got real into trying to bake a really great sourdough. It takes about three days, and you’re working with this crazy, bubbling mixture of yeasty alien goo, but the results are fantastic. I can’t believe i’m making this stuff in our crappy oven.
Another one is I somehow became real obsessed with Doctor Strange last year – when I read that Marvel wanted to make a really weird, psychedelic movie that would be like nothing they’ve ever done, I got super intrigued. I love the trippy artwork of the 60s and 70s runs, and that in turn got me into drawing again. Weird, trippy things that you might find in a Doctor Strange comic. Lots of eyeballs and tentacles. And the bonus is now I have all this artwork for flyers, album covers, stickers and shirts. It’s a nice break from designing everything on a computer.
NN: As of this writing, what are your top five desert island albums and why?
CL: In no order…
- Tortoise – Millions Now Living
- Rodan – Rusty
- Slint – Spiderland
- Miles Davis – In A Silent Way
- King Crimson – USA
The first four have time and place memories in addition to just being some of my favorite albums ever. Those are albums I always need on hand. King Crimson is another one of my favorite bands, but I picked USA because these live versions are my favorite versions of these songs. The version of Starless here is one absolute favorite songs ever.