I discovered your work while listening to a podcast, in which you were interviewed about Hussalonia, your “pop music cult”. From the Hussalonia website:
Hussalonia is a “pop music cult” owned by Nefarico™, a soap company. It is largely the work of one, prolific, multi-instrumentalist, home-recording artist (known only as the Hussalonia founder) who creates concise, literate, art-pop in the spirit of ‘60s beat and record-store-clerk-indie-post-punk-singer-songwriter-whatever-ness.
From the Flash Forward podcast interview:
The Internet’s a weird place because you publish stuff and it becomes like a mirror… it really weirded me out seeing my name on the Internet…it’s the name that appears on like, my income tax return. And then there it is on the Internet. It really weirded me out and I just didn’t want it to be there.
It seems that for a very long time, you’ve had an uneasy relationship with being on the internet.
I believe that art needs mystery. Entertainment needs celebrity. They’re two very different concepts. Celebrity is the enemy of mystery… and the Internet is a place for celebrities. Everybody’s a star.
That’s fair to say.
By nature, I’m an introvert… reserved, reticent… whatever you want to call it. The Internet is like the mall. One super huge mall. It’s not a place I feel comfortable in.
I also identify as an artist, first and foremost — not a musician or a songwriter or composer — and I believe that art needs mystery. Entertainment needs celebrity. They’re two very different concepts. Celebrity is the enemy of mystery… and the Internet is a place for celebrities. Everybody’s a star.
It’s why I’ve created Nefarico™ and The Hussalonia Founder… I want to preserve a sense of mystery.
But of course, here’s my problem; I want a meaningful connection to the world — and a good interview can achieve that. It’s a conversation between two people about ideas. Life doesn’t get any better than that. But it also requires me to betray the sense of mystery that I’m trying to cultivate. I think very recently, I’m finding ways to resolve these things… letting my true identity exist in interviews, but maintain my anonymity in the world of Hussalonia. Like an actor.
The problem that the Internet creates is that we are forced to create a one-size-fits-all version of ourselves, a virtual “you” that mingles with your friends, family, co-workers and — if you’re an artist — your audience.
Do you feel like you’re living dual lives?
More than that… maybe four or five lives! But I think that’s fairly normal. Personality is not a stable category. People are fluid. We change. We present different sides of ourselves to different audiences all the time… and we did that way before the Internet existed. The problem that the Internet creates is that we are forced to create a one-size-fits-all version of ourselves, a virtual “you” that mingles with your friends, family, co-workers and — if you’re an artist — your audience. That can be difficult (or impossible) to do.
I’m okay with the splitting of our lives. It’s separation between church and state.
It’s like having a friendly get-together in your living room interrupted by a commercial, or a man appearing from the other room with a pamphlet about saving money on auto insurance. You’d kick him out in a hot minute! But online, we’ve come to accept it.
One-size-fits all is something I’ve really noticed as both a Facebook and Google user… is that one of the things which has turned you off Facebook?
One of the things, maybe. What really turned me off of Facebook, and lately, the Internet in general, is the staggering amount of advertisement that one is subjected to. I’m repulsed by the presence of ads in the margins… the suggested posts… the pop-ups… the thinly-veiled marketing behind just about everything. It’s like having a friendly get-together in your living room interrupted by a commercial, or a man appearing from the other room with a pamphlet about saving money on auto insurance. You’d kick him out in a hot minute! But online, we’ve come to accept it. It’s so incredibly invasive, and I really resent the way that corporations have finally found a way to turn our everyday social interactions into a marketing opportunity.
It’s probably my main problem with the Internet as a whole… it’s become an extension of hyper-capitalism or consumer culture. Everyone is there to market themselves.
That’s what I truly find repulsive… all the careful marketing of self. Maybe it’s because it comes to us on a screen, but the Internet has become a place for marketing and promotion… and I don’t just mean corporate marketing. The average Facebook page is a carefully curated advertisement for a person. It’s showbiz.
I realize that I may come across as sounding curmudgeonly, but really, I’ve recently felt like the Internet can decrease your quality of life. It can be filled with empty exchanges and dishonest relationships. I’ve stepped away, but not forever. I recognize that the Internet can be an extremely positive instrument. I value social responsibility, and to simply run away and hide from the Internet is socially irresponsible. I feel like Ellison’s Invisible Man. I’m going underground. He writes, “A hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.”
Nefarico™ is… a blank metaphor. It’s can symbolize the pervasive and insidious presence of corporations in our lives and in our art, or it can symbolize my depression.
In a way, I feel like there’s something very real about Nefarico™… it seems very symbolic in this age we live in. Are the mega-online-corporations like Google and Facebook comparable?
Every story needs a villain. I read a lot of music literature and watch a lot of music documentaries. I realized that by eschewing the music industry (or the traditional path that bands take to have careers in music), I’d never have an evil record company or manager to ruin my career. So I created one. But what’s nice about Nefarico™ is that it does stand in for all sorts of other things. It’s a blank metaphor. It’s can symbolize the pervasive and insidious presence of corporations in our lives and in our art, or it can symbolize my depression.
I’m not so sure that Google and Facebook are trying to be nefarious. Amazon, maybe.
Either way, they are these huge mega-corporations and they’ve weaseled their way into our daily lives… and at the very least, it’s an unsettling thought.
In addition to turning you off the internet generally, has the constant advertising had specific impacts on you? Does it make you buy stuff? Or want stuff less? Do you avoid certain sites, or would you spend money for subscriptions to avoid the ads on free versions of sites and apps?
The constant advertisements have made me more aware of constant advertisements, which makes me irritable. I definitely try to lead a simple life. We don’t even own a TV. I like to read and have conversations, go for walks or runs or bike rides. When I was younger, before the Internet, I was probably more susceptible to advertisements and consumer culture. I practically grew up in malls and shopping plazas. Buying things can feel very gratifying when you have a hole in your soul, at least temporarily. But the escalation of consumer culture has probably been good for me in that, at some point, I saw how out of hand it was getting. It led to a paradigm shift. I want stuff less, now.
As for avoiding sites, no… I mean, I try not to spend a lot of time on the Internet, but I’m on it every day, looking up music stuff. YouTube is great for finding live performances or bootleg recordings… out of print albums. I resent the ads, but I usually mute the volume, close my eyes for fifteen seconds, and daydream. I personally wouldn’t pay to avoid the ads, but I commend that option. I pay Spotify to avoid the ads.
When I was a kid making cassettes of my music and giving them to friends, my circulation was limited to the number of friends I had, or the number of blank cassettes I had. Today, my music reaches far more people than I could ever personally know in my lifetime.
Digital technology seems to have provided many new opportunities for musicians, although I know there’s been a lot of debate over what YouTube provides for free and how Spotify pays its artists… Have you experienced much of this as a musician?
I am grateful for the opportunities that the Internet has provided me. When I was a kid making cassettes of my music and giving them to friends, my circulation was limited to the number of friends I had, or the number of blank cassettes I had. (Sadly, I usually had more of the latter.) Today, my music reaches far more people than I could ever personally know in my lifetime. I believe strongly in the power of art. It’s what motivates me to release my music. I have taken so much comfort and inspiration and strength from music that I want to return the favor. The Internet has allowed me to do that. Now, as a business decision, it’s terrible. Only in recent years have I started making a little money, but it barely covers the amount of money I spend on the site and such. If you include the amount of money I spend on records to stay inspired, well then, I’m in the red every year.
No one resents spending money on donuts or parking meters or lottery tickets, but that we’ve reached a point wherein people are reluctant to give a dollar to an artist for a song that’s made some kind of an impact, well, it’s a problem.
Obviously, I’m not motivated by money. I have conflicted thoughts on the subject.
On one hand, I think it’s healthy for artists to have day jobs. It keeps us connected to the real world. Real struggles. How can an artist relate to his or her audience if he or she is writing in isolation? If my only job was to just write and record music, especially as an introvert, I’m not sure what I’d write about after awhile. I’d just stay in the house all the time, getting further removed from reality. On the other hand, I want to live in a society that values art and artists… and the only way we’ve figured out how to do that is to give them money. The recent devaluing of recorded music is troubling. I’m put off by the indignation of struggling musicians who cry about not getting paid. I mean, you’re lucky if anyone wants to hear your music at all. But it’s fair to want to get paid for your work… or at least to not want your work exploited so that white guys in $8,000 suits get paid for your work.
I used to give my music away for free until I realized how much money people spend on coffee every day. Any given album I’ve released took no less than 100 hours of work… and that’s a lowball estimate. No one resents spending money on donuts or parking meters or lottery tickets, but that we’ve reached a point wherein people are reluctant to give a dollar (seventy cents, really) to an artist for a song that’s made some kind of an impact, well, it’s a problem.
I wish people would look at it as patronage. It’s democratic. You vote with your dollars. If you like an artist’s work, vote for more.
I wonder whether we’ll ever be able to come around to the idea of paying for things like that again.
I respect David Byrne tremendously, but I’m dubious of the idea that the digital technologies (and the devaluing of art that can be shared digitally) will kill art. There will always be artists. Always. When everyone was up in arms about file sharing (Napster and Limewire and such), I almost welcomed the collapse of the industry. Good, I thought. Let it stop being profitable to exploit artists! Let the corporations dry up! They’re only the middlemen! When art ceases to be profitable, the few that remain in the field will be genuine articles… the real deal. Sure, there might be less of it, but the stuff that’s there will have come from people who mean it. Artists who are making art because they need to do it, not to cash in on a fad or sell merchandise.
I say all this… but at the end of the day, I’d love to make enough money from my art to not have a day job… or take a vacation or buy nicer instruments. It’s easy to stand on a soapbox (no pun intended) when you’re as small-time as I am.
To respond to your idea about paying for content, I think the public needs a paradigm shift when it comes to the consumption of art. I wish people would look at it as patronage. It’s democratic. You vote with your dollars. If you like an artist’s work, vote for more.
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