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An Interview with Bruce Licher – Part 1

Introduction and Three Part Conversation with
TQ’s Aram Yardumian and Graphic Artist-Musician Bruce Licher —

Prolegomenon, Part Two, Part Three, A Graphics Composition

Aram Yardumian: Yours is a very intricate history, especially once all the editions of the records are considered. How did it all begin?

Bruce Licher: When I was in college I had started going to see punk bands at the various clubs in Hollywood, and then eventually the earliest of the post-punk bands. It was really exciting, and there was a part of me that wanted to be part of that, too, so that’s why I started to create music. But it was funny, even when I was going to see the punk bands in the clubs I kept thinking, well, I don’t know enough about making music to do that. I didn’t feel as if it was something I could do. Until the No New York album came out. The Brian Eno-produced No Wave compilation. Especially Mars and DNA, who were doing something unique, and something—in the case of DNA—so totally simple that my brain finally clicked on: I can do this. So that was when I thought OK, I’m going to go buy a guitar. I went and bought a cheap Stratocaster copy and a cheap amp, and signed up for six weeks of guitar lessons. I didn’t know the first thing: how do you make a chord, what do you do. And, you know, after six weeks of learning Chuck Berry riffs I got really bored (laughs), but at least I knew how to make a sound, I knew how to do simple things. And then I just started experimenting, what happens if you de-tune the strings and turn all the effects on the amp up to 10, and just strum it really hard. And that’s how I met the guys in Neef. I was starting to do these sound experiments. I had met Brent Wilcox, Tim Quinn, and Ed Toomey in Chris Burden’s first performance art class at UCLA.

Eno_NoNewYork

AY: Oh, it was actually in Chris Burden’s class?

BL: We realized we shared similar musical tastes. I remember Tim wearing an Ultravox shirt and I thought, yeah, I can get along with these guys. So they said they’d started a band and invited me to a gig they had opening for the Urinals at a coffee house on campus. I went to see that, and it was just the four guys from Neef doing their thing. I thought it was really cool and asked if I could join them at their next rehearsal, and they said sure, bring your guitar along. That’s how that all happened. I worked with them for, I don’t remember, four or six months. Then Mark Erskine came in and did some percussion with film cans on the floor. Basically, Neef was just get in a room and start playing. Brent Wilcox worked at audio/visual services and always brought a tape recorder and taped everything we did. We’d get together the next week. Brent would edit it down to the good parts and we’d sit around in his apartment listening to it, and coming up with song titles for what we’d created. What eventually ended my participation in Neef was my interest in working more on what we’d done and make it better, and they didn’t want to play anything they’d already played. They just wanted to keep improvising, which is, you know, that LAMFS aesthetic.

Composition for Computer #1, Bruce Licher, Selected Recordings 1979-1985

 
AY: Right.

BL: So we ended up splitting up and, well, what happened was I got a phone call saying the band’s splitting up, and then they reformed with the four of them again right away (laughs). You asked about Josh Adelson, and it’s funny, I hadn’t been in touch with him for decades and I’ve just recently gotten back in touch with him via Facebook. Actually, it was about a year and a half ago when we found out Brent Wilcox had passed away. Josh said, look, I really have to apologize to you for being the one who phoned you and told you that the band was breaking up.

AY: I was curious about a statement you once made, that you thought it was ‘most important to make music that sounded like nothing else out there’. In retrospect, do you think that was the sole motivation, or was there something more specific you were after?

BL: Originally, that was what I wanted to do. I’ve always looked for ways to distinguish what I do from everyone else. This is much more the case with the letterpress printing. Early on with that I was always trying to create something that looked unique or looked like it came from some other place. It wasn’t until the early 90s, when I started seeing people working with my aesthetic, that I thought uh-oh, but then again, how does the saying go? Copying things—

AY: —Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

BL: That’s what it is. You know, I have to accept it as that, even if sometimes you see someone being more successful than you are with something that you… I mean, I used to get letters all the time saying, I just saw this, did you do it? Or, I just got a sample of something in the mail and what a rip-off of your style. I mean, there’s nothing you can do about it. Ultimately, it is really nice to realize that a lot of people have been inspired by what I’ve done over the years, whether music or the letterpress. And, you know, more power to them if they can take it and do their own thing. Musically, even with Scenic, I was trying to create something unlike anything else out there. There are other people working with similar tunings of guitars or similar sounds in some way. It is challenge because it keeps you moving forward in one sense. But over the years I’ve settled into a certain sound, a certain tuning for the guitar, certain effects boxes, and I’m really happy with the sounds that I get. In the last fifteen years since Scenic stopped I may have come up with enough music for four or five albums that I haven’t gotten around to recording properly. I have demos all over the place, but they’re not releasable. Once I get settled after this latest move, I’m going to start working back through stuff I’ve come up with in the last two decades and record it properly.

AY: That I will look forward to. Are you still in Bishop or did you move from there?

BL: Yeah, we’re still in Bishop. This past year, the entire neighborhood we were living in, which is up on the side of the mountain, was devastated by a wildfire. Numerous people lost their homes. Fortunately, the one we were leasing was spared, which had all of my record label and print shop archives in the garage.

AY: Neef, which, as we said a moment ago, really fits the LAFMS aesthetic. Was LAFMS something you felt a part of? Were any of its more dedicated supporters a part of your artistic life?

BL: I didn’t ever feel I was a part of LAFMS, although I’m grateful that they did ask me to contribute to a few of their compilations, and Neef did as well. I think the LAFMS guys recognized some kindred spirit, and I was a big fan of some of the more commercial bands those guys were in, like Human Hands and BPeople, and Monitor but not so much the improvisation… I mean, I think it’s really interesting, but not necessarily something I want to listen to a whole lot. But I certainly recognize and can appreciate the creativity that went on there. I still am in contact with a number of those guys.

AY: Whose label was Centipede Music?

BL: I think it was Brent Wilcox who came up with the idea for that. Actually, Brent and some of the guys in Neef were friends with someone in San Francisco named Erling Wold. I think he did some solo experimental recordings. They had started something called the Centipede Foundation. There was the Centipede Foundation North in the Bay Area, and there was the Centipede Foundation South, which was based out of Brent’s apartment. They were doing some collaborative music projects. So when it came time to do the Neef 7”— Brent and Tim were good friends with the guys in the Urinals, and the Urinals had just done their first 7” and so we thought we should just take the best of the recordings we’ve been making and press up a7” record. There were five of us in Neef at the time and we each put in $40 and pressed as many as we could get for the $200. I think we ended up with 163 copies and Brent put together the cover. Maybe Ed was involved in that also, but I don’t remember for sure. And as to Centipede Music, Brent was mostly handling that. He was a really interesting character. I was really sad to hear he’d died a few years ago.

AY: You mentioned Chris Burden, and that you met some of the guys from Neef in his class. What do you remember about your time with him? Did he make any suggestions that you think altered the course of your artistic life?

BL: Chris Burden’s class—his influence—was the greatest shift for me creatively. Taking his class I realized, basically you could do anything (laughs). Shortly after he passed away I published a short piece on Facebook about my remembrances of working with him. I was then asked to expand on it for Pasunautre.com, which is an online arts and culture magazine.

 

ProlegomenonPart TwoPart ThreeA Graphics Composition

 

Comments

  1. One of the best compilations ever made. Eno did a great job. The art for the cover still is one of my favorites.
    -Nina

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