Jeff Swearengin

It’s funny how some music becomes the soundtrack of a particular moment. In 2009, I had a family emergency and had to drive 45 minutes to get to a hospital where a family member was flown on a helicopter – they passed. During this long ride up the road, knowing I would probably never see this immediate family member again, I listened to Marching Dynamics. Both releases on Hymen records back-to-back. It was percussive but melodic and tribal, and it pulled me into a distant place – a dark road under the stars – where I needed to be.

Years later (and very recently) I saw Jeff Swearengin – half of this impressionable project – performing on stage with Front Line Assembly. It was one of the best shows I had seen in years and Jeff was doing live electronics on stage with Rhys Fulber – an idol of mine.

Like many electronic music artists, Mr. Swearengin has his hands in many projects – often invisible – and working tirelessly to weave a lush, sonic fabric for an era. Also like many electronic musicians, you have to do a little networking and research to put their projects together and to find them. Hypnos Audio was lucky to catch up with Jeff following an extended tour playing with FLA.

(Begin Interview):

HA: What inspires you to create music?

JS: I’m a very obsessive person. As a little kid I was already fascinated by just listening to music. I would always bug my parents to put records on for me after carefully examining the artwork of my dad’s collection. He taught me at a really young age how to use his stereo system to listen to music on my own. The ritual of putting a tape or record on a component stereo system was something I loved. That bled over into playing instruments at a very early age as well. I got my first drum kit at 6 and would be dying to just hurry home from school and play as long as my parents could stand it. Eventually playing became a meditation. That meditation became one of the only positive coping mechanisms or outlets I had.  Everything inspires me to create (or cultivate) sound and music. The process, and where it drags the mind is infinite tidal movements, surfacing ideas, connections, and emotive elements. It’s a channeling of sorts that is necessary. It defragments the mind. Even if I don’t release anything, it has to happen.  Creativity and creation is an articulation of things that we cannot express verbally, or at times even consciously.

JS: My biggest inspiration right now to create music, is the future. When I was young and thought of the future and the landscape it would embody; what we have arrived at is largely a derailment (disappointment) in many ways, particularly when we speak of music and visual media. While there are plenty of inspiring and great things happening in the state of entertainment where boundaries are being pushed out… there is an equal (if not larger) movement of nostalgia that is so sustained it seems more like a mental illness than an appreciation of, or a quick return to times of great output that inspired and influenced us. I want to hear the future, and I am constantly looking and listening for that, and creating anything that excites that obsession.

HA: First, I am still a fan of Marching Dynamics. Are you still involved with this project or is it shelved? 

JS: I get asked a lot about Marching Dynamics and what’s going on. Shane and I worked on several sessions of material from about 2012-2015. This sprawling set of sessions were intended to be the next release for Hymen, skeletal structures for tracks we would play live, and moments of really solid chemistry. We both had a lot of changes going on individually, and personal challenges with family and the such. This was causing a lot of obstacles in our creative process, and that frustration and the amount of shifting manifested in us not seeing eye to eye at times, so we took a break. I think we both are in better places now, and it was necessary for us to have some focus on ourselves as general human beings, not as musicians/producers. I absolutely love Shane, and the project and would love to see it active again. I can see the material being stronger than ever if we came back to it. Check out Shane’s most current output as Artillery Nightspace, you won’t be disappointed.

HA: Could you describe your creative process of starting a new musical project?

JS: This is a difficult question to answer. I typically don’t do things like this with intent. I prefer to let things surface organically and once it has revealed itself I will begin to define lines or inject construct that gives the project focus and trajectory. This applies to the process of writing tracks as well. Sometimes I will have a concept I am interested in and will stumble into areas of programming that I feel relate and will then attach it to the concept. This goes for visual art as well. Sometimes in the context of collaboration, you connect with others on ideas and passions and it seems correct to meld your ideas. These types of things can have a myriad approach … perhaps even more-so in the realm of electronics.

HA: I’m really liking Sleep Clinic and it seems it has been a successful project of yours playing around the LA area for some time. Where do you see his project going?

JS: This project really has always sort of been amorphous to some extent. There was never really any centralized ideas or construct it has existed in. It was to sort of give shelter to a lot of ambient and improvised sessions. Having played shows that were these drone and dark ambient performances…it’s just problematic in a few ways. 1. Most people don’t have the attention spans to sit there for 45 minutes to an hour to listen to something with subtle nuances in the form of drones. 2. It’s not that fun for me to perform this way. These types of performances have their place, but I’m more interested in constructing dense abstraction through tampering with time and modulation.

JS: Most of my live performances since 2013 have been predominantly very beat heavy which is a huge contrast from the material that has been released under this name. That will change some this year and next. I may also take this shift and just put it under a new name, I’m not sure yet. I just don’t think that the output that I am working on right now fits the name. So, developing a name to not only put this material under, but for it to really thrive, seems essential and crucial. All this being said, I do have several releases coming out across the end of this year and next under Sleep Clinic, most of which predominantly feature the styles I have been working out in my live shows.

HA: What artists and/or aesthetics inspire your work? Where do you draw your inspiration?

JS: I draw inspiration from everywhere at all times. Architecture, art, video, things I overhear people say, watching people interact, dreams, reading, outer space, metaphysics, synchronicity, physics, quantum physics, color, emotions, hours of racing tangential thoughts, movies, meditation, things I hear all day long in my daily routines…the sounds of the city colliding with things I am programming at that moment. It’s a strange combing and channeling process similar to creation.

JS: Visually, I love the work of Franz Kline, a lot. Bridget Riley, Marina Apollonio, Michael Kinder, Victor Vasarely, pretty much all of the Op Artists…Mark Pauline, Mark Rothko, Basquiat, Mary Abbott, Man Ray, Cy Twombly, Robert Motherwell, Lyonel Feininger, Robert Irwin, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, James Turrel, Olafur Eliasson, Alfons Schilling, Dieter Roth, Bosch, Valie Export, Nam June Paik, Chris Ofili, Dave Mckean, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Sarah Lucas, Jenny Saville, Marc Quinn, Wolf Vostell, Gary Hill, Ryoji Ikeda, Syd Mead, Joan Mitchell, David Lynch, Jean Giraud, Max Ernst,  John Berkey, Zdzisław Beksiński, Simon Stålenhag, Olivier de Sagazan, The Viennese Actionists: Hermann Nitsch, Otto Muehl, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, and Günter Brus…This list could go on forever…into realms of typography, graphic design, print. I am obsessed with industrial design/fabrication, neon, fluorescent lighting, lasers, concrete, abstraction, minimalism, surrealism, modernism, futurism, rayonism, dada, data.

JS: Auditory: Autechre, Godflesh, Strapping Young Lad/Devin Townsend, Renick Bell, Grischa Lichtenberger, Brothomstates, Mira Calix, Second Woman, Aoki Takamasa, SND, Oval, Access To Arasaka, Scald Rougish/O.S.T./Rook Vallade/Dalglish/Aclds, N1L, Hecker, Farmersmanual, D’frost, Evol, Ken Shoticker, Massimo, Pimmon, Proem, Cyclo., Gordon Krieger, DACM, Christoph De Babylon, Fennesz, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Tim Hecker, Beaumont Hannant, Zoviet France, D.I.N., Oren Ambarchi, Leif Elggren, Ovum, Thighpaulsandra, Pita, Kraftwerk, FLA, Cyberaktif, Noise Unit, Download, Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Lead Into Gold, Skinny Puppy, Numb, 242, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, Youth Code, William Basinski, Richard Chartier, Zzyzxzyzz, Meat Beat Manifesto, Synapscape, Wrong, Lustmord, Neurosis, ISIS, Zozobra, Yello, Yellow Swans, OMD, The Human League, Herbie Hancock, The The, Wire, Duet Emmo, He Said, Dome, P.i.L., Magazine, Gang of Four, Buzzcocks, Minutemen, Big Black, Samhain, Sonic Youth, Helmet, Butthole Surfers, Melvins, Loke Rahbek, Yasunao Tone, Anton Bruhin, Iannis Xenakis, Tod Dockstader,  Karlheinz Stockhausen, Conrad Schnitzler, Cluster, Hawkwind, Faust, David Lee Myers, James Reichert, John Cage, Wendy Carlos, Delia Derbyshire, Tangerine Dream, Harold Budd, Tor Lundvall, Throbbing Gristle, Norm Chambers, Pierre Henry, Anton Webern, Yuji Takahashi, İlhan Mimaroğlu, Steve Reich, Daniel Menche, Litüus, Dirk Serries, Dive, Monolith, Sonar, Klinik, Plastic Noise Experience, Surgeon, Scorn, Ancient Methods, Xtrah, Alix Perez, Omni Trio, Skycutter, DJ Trace, DJ Sappo,  Roni Size, Freaky Chakra, Single Cell Orchestra, Ed Rush,  L Double and Younghead, Tamsin, Tipper, Eight Frozen Modules, Deru, Richard Devine, Emptyset, Vladislav Delay, Akkord, Bok Bok, Objekt, Goldffinch, Rrose, Violet Poison, Perc, Takaaki Itoh, Xhin, No Dreams, Veldt, Andorkappen, Pod Blotz, Skag Arcade, Tom Hall, Dominic Coppola, CoH, Rhys Fulber, Hive Mind, Birthright, Bana Haffar, Blush Response,  Pan Sonic, Mantronix, Cybotron, Egyptian Lover, Newcleus, Afrika Bambaataa, Drexciya, Microchip League, Art Of Noise, Voyou, Umo Detic,  Popol Vuh, Einsturzende Neubauten, Man Parrish,  Midnight Star, Goldie, Tricky, LTJ Bukem, DJ Icey, Plastikman, The Black Dog, Plaid, Bola, Muziq, Luke Vibert, Plug, Leftfield, Underworld, Orbital, Anti-pop Consortium, Cannibal Ox, Shadow Huntaz, Beans, Gravediggaz, SNAP!, KLF, Seal, Tomohiko Sagae, AD/S, Shadows, Silent Servant, Lakker, Plaster, Rabih Beaini, Shelter Death, James Powell, John Wiese, Sleeparchive, AnD, Manni Dee, Container, Talker, Regis, Lucy, Planetary Assault Systems,  Orphx, Cervello Elettronico, Adam X, Nurse With Wound, Coil, Hex Wolves, Covered In Sand, Grouper, Final, Aphex Twin, Baseck, Converter, Imminent Starvation, Fractured Transmission, Exillon, Hecq, Datach’i, The Bug, FSOL, countless other bands, electronics…Death Metal, Grind, Thrash Metal, Prog Metal, Hair Metal, Grunge, Sludge, Stoner, Classic, 90s hip hop, 90s Alternative, 80s anything, and Rush.

HA: I enjoyed seeing you play live in Front Line Assembly last year.  What was it like working with them and are there any plans for doing so again on stage or in the studio? 

JS: Thank you! Working with FLA is incredible. This is a band I have always been heavily soaked in inspiration by, and that has played major parts in the soundtrack to my life. So it can be surreal at times in one hand, but in the other, it feels like I’ve known these guys for a long time, and I know what I need to do, or what I can do.  They basically have given me the freedom to do what I feel is best in terms of sound design, sampling, and modulated synth treatments when playing live. It’s been a great experience to take my normally abstract styles and force them into a more structured context (that happen to be some of my favorite songs). It’s helped to reconnect me into the mind frame of working on songs versus a track that has no defined or common song structure.

JS: Last year I went a little lighter in approach. Having someone new around can be just as daunting for them as it would be for a new person working with them. I didn’t want to overstep anywhere or step outside of their world too far. Getting to know them, and becoming much closer, it made the approach for the touring this year really great. I was much more heavy-handed and confident with extra parts, sampling and effects. I know their entire catalog really well so coming up with material specifically for them has been really fun and it’s a great feeling when they are into what is going on. By the next tour I will surely be dancing on stage.

JS: Working with them is great, their level of experience generates a work-flow that in a technical context is very smooth and efficient. They’re just really great people in general, I love those guys. I recently completed a tour in Europe with them, Die Krupps, and Tension Control for The Machinist United Tour [which was absolutely incredible, and really has injected every aspect of my life with motivation and inspiration], as well as the Cold Waves Festival in the states across September. We jump to Baltimore for the Days Of Darkness Festival October 27&28 to finalize the year. There is a forthcoming album in early 2019; I think this is going to be a great release for Front Line, fans long time and new are in for a great ride.

HA: Are you currently working on anything new ?

JS: I am currently working on several things. 3 different live sets for upcoming shows as Sleep Clinic/myself in November with Meat Beat Manifesto [15th] and Drew Mcdowall/Hiro Kone/Line Of Sight [29th], as well as the end of year Fatt-Grabbers showcase in LA [2nd] . I am also currently in the process of wrapping up 2 splits; 1 with Andorkappen, and the other with Torture Gallery, and my follow up for Chondritic Sound which has become a pretty daunting undertaking…but in the best of ways. There is a lot of new music coming up. My mantra is King Diamond’s, ‘Sleepless Nights’. In addition to all this I am still doing production and mastering work for other artists.

HA: In addition to electronic music, are you currently working on any other artistic projects, or in other mediums?

JS: I am always tinkering with video, photoshop, and illustrator stuff. I have also always drawn and painted since I was about 13. It’s hard for me to separate the visual and auditory spheres I am often working on something visual that inspires me to create audio or vice versa. So these outlets are always being explored, but nothing planned for projection just yet.  I do always flirt with the idea of writing as well. I have always had really intense, vivid dreams that I have developed a strong connection to. I treat that world as real as this one…things that happen there affect me here, and vice versa. I think expanding on some of the content of my dreams into a book could be worth exploring…but time won’t give me time.

HA: If you could give advice to one artist on the creative process, what would it be?

JS: Discover the importance of interface. Interfaces determine so much in the way you approach writing and the kinds of sounds and material you will surface. Just because your favorite artist is using a Waldorf XT doesn’t mean you’ll get the same results with one, or that it is even any good in your workflow, maybe your secret weapon is a Yamaha SU-700, a Volca FM, or maybe it’s Voyetra-8. Just because everyone uses Ableton Live, doesn’t mean it’s going to click best for you, maybe you rule the world using Acid Pro, Supercollider, Max/Msp, or Garageband. You don’t need all the best and hottest gear, or software, and you don’t need untold amounts of gear to make really incredible music. Gear lust and fetishism has really gotten out of hand and has removed emphasis on the music.. People put too much attention on who is using what; be wow’ed by what you are hearing and experiencing. You are better off having 2 or 3 things that you know inside and out than having 30 things that could potentially overwhelm, water down, or distract your process, or even arriving at a finished project.

JS: Use your ears, and your eyes when you are experimenting with sound and programming…spend a lot of time with your system and spend a lot of time cultivating a strong pool of your own sounds, samples, and techniques before you dive in to crafting your tracks. Learn from people, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or say, “I don’t know”. It’s okay to not know something and walk up to a starting point, even if peers around you have a 20 year head start…at least your starting point will be strong.

JS: Just because you have a lot of gear/software doesn’t mean you need to use it all on every single track or album. For those with the luxury of having a lot of tools at your disposal, limit yourself and exploit those limitations in every way you can. Lastly, don’t be afraid to sound like you.

(End Interview)

LINKS:

Jeff On Instagram @blacksunr1se

Sleep Clinic (Bandcamp)

Sleep Clinic – Straylight I & II

Sleep Clinic – A Chance, A Curse

Marching Dynamics – Nailsleeper

Marching Dynamics – The Worker’s Party of Haiti

Marching Dynamics – Boomslang

Frontline Assembly (Bandcamp)

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