Over the 2017 holiday I reached out to Richard Bailey (aka Proem), probably the most important figure at the center of/origin of the American IDM (Intelligence Dance Music) movement. Spawned out of early releases on n5md and Merck Records in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Bailey has pushed electronic boundaries and inspired countless others – including myself.
I first heard of Proem in 2003 when I picked up a Artificial Music Machines (an Austin-based label) compilation from a friend who recorded as Afreet – it featured tracks by Neutral and Proem. This particular release turned my work away from electro and onto complex constructions. I was hooked.
Not only is Mr. Bailey an accomplished electronic musician, he is also a talented painter and visual artist. His wit is poetic and sardonic but brutally honest. I was very happy that he agreed to be interviewed by Hypnos Audio.
HA: What inspires you to create music?
RB: The one thing that inspires me to make music…? It’s not hearing a car horn reverberating in the distance and wanting to record it and use it as a convolution impulse. It’s not listening to the washing machine spin unbalanced. It’s also not just pulling rabbits out of a hat after muttering a few incantations. While all of those things certainly help.… It’s the act. Sitting down with the intent to make something. For me it’s an automatic response to, I don’t know, something, everything. I often try to ignore it. It doesn’t like that much. You see, it gets angry when you don’t feed it. It makes you feed it. You have to feed it. It makes you do horrible things if you don’t feed it. Dreadful things. You have to keep it fed. Always.
HA: Could you describe your process of starting a new musical project?
RB: Here’s a simple ten step recipe I use when I start a new project:
- Flip switch to turn on gear command center (if its one switch that turns everything on, it’s a command center)
- Update all the software that needs updating (probably all of it every time)
- Take dust covers off synths & replace batteries in the effects pedals
- Go make a coffee (optional step before 10pm)
- Open DAW (live, FLstudio, bitwig, whatever)
- l pick up the bass and noodle around recording anything mildly interesting
- Switch to bourbon (mandatory step after 6pm)
- Try to make something out of nothing
- When that fails get angry and replace all good ideas with self loathing
HA: Have you learned any creative techniques to generate/start projects and would/could you share them if so?
RB: I have two starting point templates. One for live and one for FLstudio. They both have all the midi routings and audio tracks for all the outboard stuff already set up. All the channels are color coded and named accordingly. In addition to all that organization stuff, I have a few plugins here and there that I like to keep in the box. Usually nothing fancy, a reverb here, a compressor there, maybe a couple of eq’s.… I update them once a year or so with new stuff. Boring really (as it should be). The whole point of those kinds of things is to keep me from thinking about them every time I sit down. It’s better if I don’t think. Yea… Less thinking more doing. Ritual helps.
HA: So many electronic musicians get wrapped up in gear, do you find that it hinders your process?
RB: Oh I totally get wrapped up in gear! Mostly obsessing about what I should buy next or sell first. Don’t even get me started on software. The updates, the endless tweaking of plugin parameters, changing instruments looking for the perfect sound, swapping out the countless gigs of sample libraries… Software is worse for me. I usually don’t make it past the updates. Outboard gear can be more immediate and liberating. It can also be too much to bother with. Basically, I like limitations and I also really hate having them. The whole damned world will hinder the creative process if you let it. Social media, news, people, work, life.… all of it wants to kill you. Wants to take you away from this creative thing you love. The trap is thinking you don’t need those other things that ‘get in the way’. You do. You need every single one of them.… to feed the thing. You maybe just don’t need your phone next to you all the time. I put mine in a drawer when ‘working’. I wish I had better ways to cope with those things but I do not. Music and art are how we deal with the world. It’s how we process and carry on. And for the people that make things it is the creative high we chase. And that high comes at a cost. The cost of having to go outside. To live and experience things outside our caves. Breath the toxic air, play in the radioactive waters with our children… watch the sun burn the fields to charcoal with someone you love. Step on the occasional LEGO. Scream at the clock for moving too fast or slow. Suffer away from your controlled environment… for your art dammit! Do it for your art!… Not that I am pretentious or anything.
HA: What do you do at the end of your creative cycle? (e.g., do you immediately move onto the next thing, take a break, etc).
RB: Wait… you mean there’s an end?!? Oh wait! I know this one… is it death? Tell me it’s death. It’s death right? It’s totally death.
HA: In addition to electronic music, are you currently working on any other artistic endeavors?
RB: I paint. Outside of a few musical collaborations, it’s pretty much all I’ve done creatively for the last couple of years. I have sent some things to galleries, done a couple of group shows. I don’t have gallery representation or anything yet (I wouldn’t even know what to do if I had it). I have a bunch of it for sale… but no one buys it really. It’s mostly just things I think are cool. Damaged children’s booktype stuff, surrealist landscapes, sci-fi themed things occasionally. I’m doing a series at the moment that focuses on my two biggest triggers: Christianity and animal cruelty. There is a great deal of blood and dead animals. The research was the worst. I basically made myself sick every night for about a week collecting reference material. That dark path lead from dairy / factory farming to spit roasting whole animals and ultimately face to face with brutal drug cartel murders in Juarez. Things I won’t ever unsee. I am probably on a watch list somewhere now… stupid brain!
I also do label and can art for brash beer out of Houston Texas. The brewery owner and I have known each other forever. When he asked me to do the logo, branding and other design work, it was almost like he didn’t ask we just started coming up with ideas and then I wound up drawing it all. Lots of skulls, occult imagery and sacrilege… my other creative happy place.
HA: I also paint abstracts when not making music. What artists/musicians currently inspire you?
RB: There a ton of people I’ve met online in the last few years that have been super inspirational and helpful and just generally awesome. Namely, Don Gunn and Tanner Volz in our Dead Worlds project. Andrew Dobson in our R84d collaboration, Chris Randall of Audio Damage, Nate Reeves (nkurence), Brian Froh (ghost), Sean of ValhallaDSP, Rafael Anton Irisarri… (drone/electronic music Twitter is legit)
Visually I’d say people like Alex Pardee, Caitlin Hackett, Mike Mignola, Jeffrey Alan Love, Becky Cloonan, Tristan Jones, Eric Powell… I follow a bunch of comic and art people on Instagram and Twitter that are just amazing. They are out there doing their weird thing everyday. it’s beautiful really. Echo chamber or not, pruning your follow list and tending your social garden turns those platforms from raw sewage into blissful trickling streams of pure gold. Get back here you pesky leprechaun!
Musically, I am all over the place style wise… Chelsea Wolfe, M.E.S.H., Second Woman, Plaid, Jessica Lee Mayfield, In Mirrors, cities Last Broadcast, Olan Mill, Odonis Odonis, Carbomb, Skeletonwitch, Lustmord, Cold Showers, Run the Jewels, the new Aesop Rock record was incredible… same with the new slowdive, oh and the fauns (so good)… I find that painting to technical and brutal death metal puts me in the right head space. My nights are usually full of that kind of thing… I have a bunch focused playlists on my Spotify that I update pretty regularly (all with names that make me chuckle). Here’s a few of my favorites:
Wall of Knives (Spotify Playlist 1)
Wall of Knives (Spotify Playlist 2)
Wall of Knives (Spotify Playlist 3)
HA: I also liked the new Slow Dive and Chelsea Wolfe. Cold Showers is a fantastic band. I’ve noticed the contrast of melodic and emotional tracks (e.g. kalimba jam – from “Enough Conflict”) and other earlier n5md releases to some harder ones on your most recent efforts – can you talk about this contrast and where it comes from?
RB: Maybe I’m just getting less emotive as I get older. More numb. More irritated having to face death. Counting the years as they pass one after the other. Perhaps there’s just nothing left. My life is free of suffering and all that remains is doubt, grey hair and regret. Isn’t that what middle age is? Fear? Fear of death. Fear that everyone believes your best work is seeped in their nostalgia. That you do not own your voice? ‘Take off that mask you are scaring the children’…. Only it’s no mask. It sounds to me like the thing I am supposed to do next: to smash this sweet, sap hardened cage I’ve built. To break with the safety of ‘lush’ and ‘chilled out’. To alienate fans of nostalgia. Maybe… and it’s a huge maybe… maybe I just want to scream and spit and claw at these fine dressing gowns I’ve stitched and sewn over the years. Decades old now. Dust covered. What are we as ‘creatives’ if at some point we do not want to toss is all in the bin and light it on fire. If we don’t rebel, beat our cups against the bars of our cells. Even better if we made the bars ourselves. Affixed every last bolt to the bed frame. Folded the sheets nicely for the occupant. ‘I wonder who is going to get to live in this pleasant room. it’s not too bad… fine actually. Plenty of light. A bookshelf. And look a solid stove good for a bit of light cooking. Altogether fine craftsmanship. I’ll just have a quick nap while I wait for the guards… yeah *yawn* a nap.’ Did I mention that when I drink I turn into a caricature of Henry Miller?
HA: I happen to love Miller’s work. Are you planning on releasing more material in the near term?
RB: Yea. Eventually. I’ve got a drone record I’m basically sitting on.i thought about shopping it around to some labels I admire and I really should because it would be aces to feel like part of a creative roster again. Then laziness + fear of rejection take over and I start thinking I should just self release it like the last ambient one… (that no one bought or listens to). I don’t really have the energy for the marketing. I’m pretty terrible at selling things on bandcamp and streaming doesn’t pay much. I just feel weird constantly beg posting stuff. ‘Hey dudes! Album is about to drop pre order it… dudes it’s OUT buy it. Buy it now. Buy now… just… stream it maybe… oh just forget it’ is about how that goes for me. I am one of those people that likes working with labels because I hate thinking about marketing and selling and ‘brand strategy’. I don’t understand it anyway. It’s a dark art to me, like mastering (I don’t have the ear for it and never had the privilege to sit in a room and watch someone who does)… the people that are good at those things amaze me to no end. They are creative and thoughtful in ways I will never be successful at. I’m a bit of a child when it comes to the business side of things. I need hand holding and encouragement and other people to do what I’m terrible at. Like most long term sufferers of ‘the creative mind’, I need an agent, an evangelist and probably a good psychiatrist around the clock.
Oh, I’ve also got two other things that are tentatively titled ‘proem chill’ and ‘proem not chill’. One is a sleepy semi cold wave guitar and bass driven affair and the other is disjointed beats and angular synth lines. I’ll let you guess which is which.
HA: I also don’t have the “mastering” ear, or the marketing gift. If you could give advice to one artist on the creative process, what would it be?
RB: Put in the fucking work. Everyday. Doesn’t matter if your day job exhausts you or if you think your schedule doesn’t allow it. If it’s important you do it. One hour at a minimum. Leave your phone in a drawer, unplug the WiFi… get dramatic with your lighting and get to work. Even when it’s terrible and nothing’s happening. It doesn’t matter how many sales or streams or likes or shares you get. Don’t worry about finding your voice… that’s a bullshit excuse to keep you from starting or experimenting with things you don’t really understand yet. Do your crazy weird thing as best as you can. Put it out there and keep going until you feel like you have nothing left. I am obviously talking to myself as well here…
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