Locust Music describes Function as the 'community based, shape shifting brainchild' of Matt Nicholson. Listening to the group's most recent album, "The Secret Miracle Fountain," it's hard to think of a more apt description. Nicholson and friends bend and mold their sounds into every niche possible. Nicholson, a native Australian, seems to only stay put in one place for as long as he must - he's lived in Hawaii, Northern California, and Fiji - and that's just a taste of his globe-trotting. Nicholson currently resides in the UK, and there's no telling how his new surroundings will be infused into Function. This interview was conducted through the summer of 2006.
I guess piano was my first guided foray, at around 9 I guess…? -- taught in a semi-feeling manner by a lad named Ladd. Jeeez I wanted a guitar. Parents decided to be bastards and make me work and save for it, whilst slamming my head into the piano to the point of bloody gore and entrails daily. I got horny. We fucked. And it all sprang from there.... Hmmm.... Truly though, I don't feel like I really ever had a choice about creating my own stuff. Kind of like an avalanche of feeling finding its way into a form that could conduct it - music always seemed to be it. So when I was 13-ish I started a band and also around that time started making insane, ridiculous and occasionally beautiful tape collages and crazy sounds. (I'm 29 now) Musical karmas. Ambitious leanings. Inexplicable.
Sonic Youth definitely opened my mind to another whole realm of psychedelic communication with music, their early records especially. Amazing. Like “Evol” and “Sister” and the very first record - holy crap - they were coming from no ordinary place. Alice Coltrane. Swervedriver. Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh were always there for me as an emotional-melody-addict teen. I grew up in Geelong, "Rock City", "Motor City" - like Australia's Detroit perhaps. So I was socially spoon-fed on Radio Birdman, Stooges, Saints, MC5, Wipers, Modern Lovers, etc., etc.… I did enjoy mad rock, but the sensitive side to me was under-nurtured, until I found my way slowly into experimental music through improvisation with friends who were likewise repulsed by the go-nowhere ethic of our general environs. That reminds me that a lot of the New Zealand artists were influential as we grew in that direction: TKOP, Roy Montgomery, Alistair Galbraith, Dead C - many interrelated New Zealand improv outfits. I always have had a thing for certain fine Indian Classical performers too - truly amazing discipline and sublime execution - and sacred and tribal music of some kinds. Certainly many of the things my parents played as I grew up taught me specifically what NOT to go and do. Yet dad did have a bunch of Neil Young records (who I’ve always been a big fan of), and some Beatles and Stones - a few goodies in amongst the shite. I would have to say the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and the Descendents were a big thing for me for awhile in early days. I still appreciate a lot of that stuff occasionally; me and my pals were into a lot of punk and hardcore stuff, which led into what is now called indie rock in the early ‘90s, etc. Never was too keen on media terminology. All that said, the people who had the most influence on me and changed my perception of music when younger were generally the people sticking their necks out in the ‘80s and ‘90s and saying and doing new things, many of whom I found out about later.
The truth be told, my first band was called "Aunty Theo". I guess that would have begun in about 1990 or so. We played a couple of hundred gigs in Australia over a few naive and amusing years of dirty-rocking youth debauchery. We were somewhat subsumed in 1994-ish by local obnoxioteens "Warped". We played with Dick Dale, Dinosaur Jr., etc., and during that time I formed the Golden Lifestyle Band with Dion (Nania) and Chris (Smith) and that weaned me of the rest. That (GLB) was a great band. Volatile, fragile, sometimes magnificent. Crazy chemistry. We were always in the habit of making tapes of our home recordings and passing them around Geelong, Melbourne, and other parts of Australia.
In 1995 I made a compilation of my home recordings and called it "Function" (qualification here: I know the title seems at first sight overly innocuous - but it was initially chosen as a reference to Non-Separateness, by virtue of its multi-definition.) i.e. func"tion : the natural or assigned action of any power or faculty, as of the soul, or of the intellect; the exertion of an energy of some determinate (or indeterminate) kind...; a quantity that has no interruption in the continuity of its real values, as the variable changes between any specified limits...; a relation such that one thing is dependent on another
Then I made another tape-album the next year, and another and a CD and a single and then recordssssss.… The GLB fell apart late ‘97 or so, sadly in the last moments of recording our 2nd long player which remains unreleased to this day. (It needs a grand or so thrown at it to do final reel-to-reel mixes, etc.) It's a cracker. Maybe it will wind up as a Locust archival recording when we're dead and gone. Any takers?
Well, as Function, there were the tapes (three, I think) which were evolving home recording collages (1995-7). Then there was the Function 1998 CD-R, which for some roundabout reason I consider the first "album" that I put together as Function. And a 7 inch in 1998 too. Then I went underground for a while, travelling, retreating and then learning digital audio, didn't focus on music much and in approximately 2001 returned to music intensively (as inevitably as a shit thrown in the air hits the ground). "The Zillionaire-Retarded Speeds Of Ordinary, Measured Light" was recorded mostly in 2002 and released in 2003. That came out in Japan and Australia/New Zealand. So most Yankees won't have heard it yet.
Whilst living in Oxfordshire, England a good 18 months ago or so, I made a draft/preview version of "The Secret Miracle Fountain" containing what pieces had thus far appeared, and sent it to a bunch of labels that I thought might dig it. The energy coming back from Locust was where we went. It’s true, they are fine folks. Funnily enough, years before when I first discovered that label, I remember thinking how uncannily appropriate it would be as my label, considering the mix of things that I appreciate and their eclectic kinship.
There's some really fine stuff on Locust. Dawson is a fantastic and unpredictable curator. We recently played with Ethan Rose who blew me away, Apothecary Hymns were wonderful, Sir Richard Bishop kicked arse. That was an honour - Sun City Girls have been one of my favourite bands for a long time.
Hell yeah. Chris is amazing. He has such beautiful understatement, with some serious gnarl. Chris and I met in rural Victoria - we were 13 or 14-ish, on some camp or other. That bastard is very dear to me. Y'know, he's actually a great visual artist also, though he's not done much of that for years. Hopefully he makes films one day - that I would love to see. 1993-ish we started "The Golden Lifestyle Band" with Dion (now of Hi God People and Panel of Judges).
Chris has always been a sign of restraint and class to me musically - with a formidable ability to sometimes make one swoon and weep with his live sorcery, or recorded for that matter. Sometimes when I hear a new Chris Smith recording it doesn't hit me right away, even scares me, and then a listen or two later, his genius has struck again. We did a bunch of recording together before I last left Australia. (Among that was his piano and guitar playing on "Tiger Cub Samurai".) We'll see if any more of it surfaces from the vaults. He has a daughter Cael now and has moved to the country. I should probably write to him instead of about him…. He has just made a new record and would probably love to hear any expressions of interest from any potential labels beyond Australia - he's not decided who he's going with for it yet.
In countless ways I don't even know. In the past 5 years I've lived in a lot of places around the world - sometimes I don't quite believe my surroundings. It's all a bit surreal. There's a Process going on that is so much bigger than any point of view about anything. That's the mystery of music, to me, that it surges forth at unpredictable moments of crisis or otherwise. What winds up being made is always very different to the embryo-ideas of its conception.
I lived in Kauai, Hawaii for a year, I lived in Naitauba, Fiji, for a year - in an ashram circumstance. This was a certain human and spiritual deepening. During that time I arranged soundtracks with and for Adi Da Samraj's extraordinary sacred image-art. His admonitions to me to get beyond my penchant for the outer layers of beauty and ethereal aesthetic, were arse-kicking and very valuable. During that time I was brought to discover a great deal of what I now consider among my favourite composers and groups. Adi Da pushed me beyond my comfort threshold and deeply into the works of Ligeti, Stockhausen, Stravinsky, etc. - whilst also totally digging the more sensual side of things i.e. Ravel, Debussy, Reich, John Adams, Charlemagne Palestine - the list could go on for ever.
So that whole period was very broadening in terms of my musical inspiration and what influenced it. I was working closely with a friend Jonathan Condit, an ex Zen monk who wrote a book about Korean music and is an extraordinary pianist. He had no particular resonance with my musical/cultural background but appreciated my work greatly, so our synergy was wild. We researched and located (and continue to) a great many obscure recordings from many a region on earth - pretty much everything we could find from places whose traditions we weren't already familiar with. There are so many different traditional/tribal/religio-cultural manifestations of extraordinary, well-aged music arising from one or another "ethnic" community context that put a good amount of avant-garde posturing to shame.
At the moment I live in the mountains in Northern California. I have grown to really like it. Think I might stay here and make the next record between here and Chicago mostly, with a Europe/Australia/Japan jaunt in there somewhere, more than likely. Certainly not as insane and drawn-out as what it took to make the last one...! (3.5 years, over 30 players and about 11 countries)
I first went to Fiji in 2002 to glimpse the Spiritual Master Adi Da in His Hermitage Ashram in the north-eastern Lau group of islands. To cut a long, miraculous and conventionally inexplicable story all-too-short, I wound up serving Adi Da closely during 2003 and lived there for a year. During that time I made the soundtracks for His Image-Art suites “Kaleidoscape – Eleven Visions Of Countless Points Of View”, and “The Breather”, under His Instruction. That was really wild, and certainly the most useful, educational and profound musical challenge I had ever faced. His appreciation of the great modern atonal works far exceeded mine at the time and my palette was stretched into new realms. He trained me to develop or uncover an intrinsic sensitivity to the optimal perceptual effect of synchronising any given image with sound. One day, after I had spent about 7 days straight working almost ceaselessly on the soundtrack for the first part of “Kaleidoscape”, I was pretty chuffed with what I had come up with, unspokenly feeling it to be my best work yet, and Adi Da (sensing my pride) went to town making fun of it. One of the main things I remember He said was “It sounds like elevator music, and by the time you get to the fiftieth floor, you don’t know whether to commit suicide or go bowling”. I was shattered and yet another wholesome hole was punched in my foolish ego…. Actually, part of the collage I made for that suite was later excerpted and added to, to become “The Broken Shaman”.
Fiji in itself is interesting for a few weeks until the naive glow of tropical idealism is replaced by the stark realities of life in a third world country. If it weren’t for the most extraordinary Ashram/island that I go to, I would probably never visit there in my seemingly endless circumambulation of earth. Despite the fact that I have some fine Fijian friends, to be blunt, much of Fiji is boring as hell to me – naturally very beautiful, yes, but culturally a little slow for this ambitious Capricorn bitch. Though the Methodist religion could be said to be an improvement upon cannibalism. I’ve spent about 2 years in total there. Milo, long-time Function mainstay who (musically) is also “Particles Collect” and “Canyons!”, lives on Naitauba Island permanently. He’s a renunciate, a true monk in the traditional sense, and occasionally when time permits, some very wonderful sounds creak out of his circumstance with flailing G4 and grubby M-box. We’re ancient friends.
In terms of writing, the lyric side of things, yes, naturally what emerges (without any particular effort or motive) is a reflection of the psycho-physics of life as it is occurring and how I relate therein. I tend to just go for it, lyrically and musically, just throw myself into a happening and often what emerges I actually cannot account for. Good poetry, it seems, naturally blurs those lines in order to make communications that shoot into feeling beyond ordinary anecdotal mind-reductionism…. That being said, there is a great deal of a certain kind of faith or letting things fall where they may, and then I tidy up the canvas somewhat. Inevitably the music becomes a document of life, and hopefully this won’t sound too stoopid – there are a lot of hidden secrets in there. It’s very participatory art, requiring one to really become immersed to “get it”, or otherwise it’s just another whatever.
Perhaps in 2004 after SxSW – we played 3 nights in New York. On the last night, our drummer, Ed (who is my cousin), fell UPstairs in a bar, severely dislocated his shoulder and was too fucked up (now heavy, drunk, and up 2 flights of stairs) to move anywhere. I tried to put his shoulder back in but that didn’t work. He was in a lot of pain and it seemed we had to get a stretcher in there to get him outside into an ambulance. The bar guys freaked out and said no fucking way is any ambulance person coming anywhere near this place. (Sound like cocaine paranoia?) So a whole bunch of us had to carry the deadweight bastard a block or two where we called the ambulance to. The context of this story is that we had to travel to London that very night and play a show in Hoxton on the day of our arrival. So, young Ed became increasingly seedy and obnoxious, berating the Manhattan doctors for not giving him drugs. Eventually, after three doctors or so trying for almost an hour, they got his shoulder back in place and we began our insane rush to the airport. Somewhere in there, Ian (Wadley, our bass player) lost his ticket. So we were heading to London without a bass/trumpet player, with an injured drummer. That was about as chaotic as could be. We arrived in London and Milo and I prepared to play the show (which was with Oren Ambarchi's Sun), and Clare Cooper at a nice gallery in Hoxton) as a two piece with laptops and guitars, and Ian did get the next flight and turn up in time to honk some trumpet loops and hit some percussive stuff. It was way stressful. But then we went on to play a couple of cracker shows in London and then on to Japan, where OH SHIT – I just told you the second most crazy tour story…. I should probably relate the real most crazy, or most unusual at least….
After playing a couple of shows in Tokyo with our friends “Green Milk From The Planet Orange”, Ed and Ian took off back to Australia and Milo and I, having fallen in love with Japan very significantly, stayed on. Part of what we were doing there also was showing some of Adi Da’s image-art to some influential characters. Three of the main such people we met that week were Kazuo Ohno, Hoshito Ohno and Joni Waka. Kazuo Ohno is one of the two original founders of Butoh, the Japanese performing art. Hoshito is his son, who is now something like the lineage holder. It is most mysterious how things happen, magnified especially when serving Adi Da. Myself, Milo and a friend Fred, entered the Ohno residence in Yokohama a little later than expected one evening after we got lost on the way. The energy in the house was extremely chaotic and disturbed. Kazuo, at 94 or so, had suffered a fall that day and was sitting in his wheelchair with sores on his face, mostly blind, looking about as frail as one can look whilst being still alive. It was a sobering honour to meet him, whose legendary physical body was on the way out, despite his strong and intelligent etheric presence. Before long we were setting up a projector in the main family living space. There were quite a few people around, young children, Hoshito’s manager and a translator, other family members. Most of them apart from Hoshito and Kazuo had no idea what we were doing taking over their living room. Soon, Adi Da’s digital portfolio of images circa 2004 were being displayed on the wall. Kazuo was wheeled in. Hoshito became very still, occasionally speaking. Mia, the translator, began to relate Hoshito’s attraction and increasing rapture about the sacred nature of this work. Before long, Kazuo had a wide smile on his face, though he could not see the images being projected. He could feel what was happening in the room – a deeply potent purification of the energies there by Adi Da’s invoked Presence. His carer, not at first noticing this, began to shift him back into the other room, presuming he had probably had enough – and he spoke for the first time that evening, saying that he could see and he had to stay.
Anyhow, this is a long-winded way of winding into the story of how we ended up a week later doing a performance at an exhibition opening in Ebisu, Tokyo, which strangely enough was a dual-improvisation with Butoh dancers, hosted by Joni Waka. It was an opening for Israeli photojournalist Ziv Koren who was documenting the life of a Druze soldier whose legs were blown off by a bomb. So we played various drones and sampled all kinds of war sounds and kinetically interacted with the Butoh dancers. Intense, challenging – we didn’t expect it to turn into a full-on performance, but it did. The place was packed and a Japanese flute, shamizen and percussion player turned up and joined in with us. It went down a treat. A real happening. That was the most unusual Function performance probably.
I enjoyed playing at the Institute Of Contemporary Arts in London (with John Chantler, supporting Fennesz). Tend to dig gallery shows, way sick of the pub scene in general, having grown up playing in it. Outdoors is nice. Not in front of anyone is even better. Can’t help but be generally much more jazzed by the recording and collaboration process with my dear friends in generally relatively private places.
I’m finding it hard to answer this question. Clearly it’s an important, maybe even pivotal role, though it is kind of impossible for me to distinguish its importance from other myriad of other emotional and intuitive qualities in the music.
Recording lots of new material mostly in Chicago October and November, and some around California too. Mostly will be done using many orchestral players and instruments. There will be a date or three in Chicago, probably November, with an extended ensemble of such players, probably. Possibly an Australian tour in December. Maybe UK/Europe/Scandinavia sometime early-ish 2007. This is all unconfirmed, just my best guess.
Thanks for the good questions Brad and thanks always for your superb publication and conglomerate of ethical companies. If anyone wants to get in touch, feel free –
-- Brad Rose (18 September, 2006)