Interview with Kevin Paisley
How did you become involved in the tape trading scene? What year was it? Was Mutant Cactus already running?
- my involvement was initially encouraged by Brian Noring and his enthusiasm for it when HE became invloved, around 1993 or so. i detailed most of that in the “early years” write up i did for your site a little earlier (perhaps you could link to that from here?). Mutant Cactus came along much later in the game for me, probably closer to 1996, maybe late 95.
What years did Mutant Cactus operate? And is there a story behind the name?
- late 95/early 96 to around mid 1999… so not for very long, all told. there were a couple previous efforts at “labels” that were a lot more haphazard and involved other people. Mutant Cactus was when i decided to have a go at it on my own and take a more… i don’t want to say “serious” but, maybe “less slapped-together” approach to the whole thing.
-as for the name, it actually came from a dream i had once. i don’t remember much about the specifics but, in the dream i was leaving Jared Davison’s (of Mind Skelp-Cher) place after a visit… on my way out, he said something completely completely non-sensical to me – in the form of a question, if i remember right – that included that phrase, “Mutant Cactus”… i woke up and it stuck in my mind for some reason, so i used it.
Kevin Paisley’s Static Insect project released many experimental tapes. The one above was a split with musician, Chris Rieder and it came out on both their labels.
You produced music under several different guises…Static Insect, Tocsin, Archeopteryx and others. And you also released tapes from other artists. Was there a guiding principle behind your label? Did you want a certain identifiable sound?
-actually to clarify, Tocsin was not my project but that of a friend of mine that was released on a joint label his brother and i ran together prior to Mutant Cactus. to be specific, he was Sleeping Basement Cat’s brother. Static Insect was my main one (it’s still in use today, sort of: http://myspace.com/staticinsect ). Archaeopteryx was one of my earlier solo efforts. also Aardvark, a little later on. if memory serves, Archaeopteryx might have actually been the one that gave “birth” to Mutant Cactus. i don’t know if i’d say there was a guiding principle or particular sound i was after… just artists whose work i enjoyed and who had a certain level of quality to their output. i hesitate to use the term “professional”, but, i guess you could say that by the time of Mutant Cactus, i wasn’t really interested in stuff recorded with boom-box microphones or stuff that was just pure push-everything-into-the-red, all-out noise. other than that, it was pretty open, which i think the various releases themselves attest to.
Did people offer you tapes to distribute or did you commission them?
-earlier joint label efforts were involved in distribution but, by the time Mutant Cactus came around, i was strictly dealing with releases by the label itself. i was open to trading, but i felt the distribution angle became a bit redundant after a while – everyone in the scene knew each other on some level and many of us traded and sold our own releases directly… so why trade for multiple copies of someone else’s release just to have them sit in a box going nowhere and, in a way, be competing with the artist/label themselves who were also trying to move copies? for the sake of having a bigger looking catalog? didn’t make sense to me. i was also doing a fanzine for much of the time i did the label, so i didn’t want to spread myself even further by also doing a distro.
-as for the releases on the label itself that were not mine… i guess you could say i commissioned those, in the sense that i would usually approach the artists in question about releasing something. generally they would do the recording and mixing themselves, send me a finished master as well as any artwork they might wish to use. i would take it from there as far as having copies and covers made up, etc. money rarely traded hands – the agreement with most artists was a certain number of copies given back to them to do with as they saw fit, and hope was that i would at least break even by selling SOME copies. luckily enough, after a small initial investment on my part, the label became self-sustaining enough that at the very least, one release would be able to “finance” the next, and so on.
At the time, Canada seemed like a fertile place for underground music. What was your experience? Was there any kind of community or musical “family” feeling?
-i had the fortune of being in the Southern Ontario area, which is one of the more densely populated areas of the country. hence, geography became less of a challenge when it came to meeting up with other similar-minded people in person. i don’t know if i’d go as far as using the term “family”, but there were definitely a handful of people who would meet up on occasion, run shows and/or perform together, etc. among them were:
-Jim DeJong (more on him in your next question)
-Jared Davison and Adam Hurlburt of Mind Skelp-cher
-W.A. Davison of the Recordists and numerous performing guises (i participated in Bill’s Urban Refuse Group project in the mid-90s and had a release by them on Mutant Cactus)
-Rich Oddie of Orphx
-Ron McFarlan aka Dust That Collects (Ron performed at a live event i put together and subsequently released a compilation of excerpts from on Mutant Cactus. it was called “Drones, Thrones and Autognomes”)
-Neil Weirnik, whom i also released material by (Neil is still quite active in the Canadian electronic music scene today)
-Neb Rakic aka AER, whom i released a duo radio performance of (he and Jim DeJong performed live together on one of the radio shows i did at the time) that was also a SPLIT release, with a radio-art piece by Big City Orchestra on the flipside
-there were others from different locations as well, but these folks were the ones i met up with in person
You and Jim DeJong (Doomsday Transmissions, The Ceiling) operated two of the most important underground labels at the time. I’ve always assumed you guys had close contact. Is this true?
-oh yes. Jim was probably the first relatively local person i had made contact with and we have stayed in touch on and off over the years. i can’t recall if he was the first i met up with in person, but our paths definitely crossed. two of the Mutant Cactus releases were in fact re-issues of his first two releases as The Infant Cycle, “Foam” and “Froth”
-i find it a bit odd to be considered in the same light at Jim as far as importance to the scene, to be honest. he was at it long before i was and continues to do it to this day. held up to his efforts, mine were a small blip in comparison. he and his efforts also had a lot of direct influence on how i did things with Mutant Cactus, in terms of aesthetic standards and so on. i remember being quite flattered and honored when he offered up the “Foam” and “Froth” re-issues to Mutant Cactus. to this day, Jim/The Infant Cycle is one of my favorite experimental artists ever.
Did you get any airplay from DJs in Canada? Maybe Dan Lander?
-i couldn’t tell you, to be honest. if i did, it would be news to me even now. i know i definitely got some play from you and Little Fyodor in the US, but that was all that ever came back to my attention.
-i did however have my own show on CFRU 93.3 FM, in Guelph, Ontario, for a few years; called “The Dead Tongue Virus”. it was a weekly affair, but i alternated between two different “M.O’s” from week to week. one week would consist of playing CDs/LPs by more “well-known” artists in an experimental/electronic/psychedelic vein. the next week would consist entirely of cassette (and sometimes CD-R and vinyl) releases that i would receive either in trade or specifically for fanzine review/radio airplay from artists in our Cassette Culture circle. i would mail out playlists to everyone who would get played and always recorded the shows in case anyone wanted copies of those. i believe i may even have sent you a few of those tapes back in the day? i don’t recall for sure
You always took special care with your tape covers. They were mainly handmade and had unusual sizes and designs. Was this artistic vision something you wanted right from the start?
-initially this just started out from wanting to do something beyond the standard cassette case and fold-out covers. and again, this was influenced by what some others – like Jim DeJong, for example – had done with their releases previously. it honestly wasn’t part of a grand scheme or anything though – i approached each release on a case-by-case (no pun intended) basis and went with whatever seemed appropriate for each one.
-sometimes, i just took advantage of odd materials i had serendipitous access to. for example: i spent one summer working in a factory that treated leather in various ways for use in different types of clothing. i helped myself to some discarded scraps from there and borrowed my mom’s sewing machine to put together slip-cases for one of the releases.
-toward the later period of Mutant Cactus the designs did become the more standard cassette-case/fold-out variety… but i still made sure to, at very least, use heavier and colored paper for the fold-outs. having something that’s more appealing to the eye just added to the overall package, at the end of the day.
What instruments or techniques for your music did you mainly use? Your music was truly “experimental” in the sense that it wasn’t just unfocused noise but combinations of improbable elements mixed and treated for a surprising effect. Did the sounds you made surprise you too?
-i’d say i was probably surprised more earlier on, when i was truly experimenting. once i got to know what i was doing with effects, recording, mixing, etc. things became far more deliberate in the sense that i would have specific ideas going in and know exactly what i needed to do to execute them
-as for instrumentation, i think “everything and the kitchen sink” would be the most appropriate description. anything from standard stuff like guitar, keyboards, drums, beatboxes etc to various objects microphoned or amplified in various ways… and of course effects were an important part of the process, both multi-effect rack boxes and pedals. sometimes, feedback from the effects back into themselves was the sound SOURCE as well. anything was fair game really, as long as it achieved the end goal.
How did you get the word out about Mutant Cactus?
-mainly just within our incestuous little network, lol… i honestly never did much in the way of promotion, aside from maybe making up catalogs and/or tiny flyers and including them in packages i would send out. i would on occasion leave copies of releases on consignment at local record shops that were receptive to such things. beyond that, there wasn’t much effort put into “promotion” on my part. to a degree, i found that once one became a known “entity” in our “scene”, a lot of that “work” sort of just did itself for you.
Were there plans for releases that never happened for one reason or another?
-there was one compilation that never materialized, but that was about it. i did and still do feel kind of bad about that, as most of the artists had sent in their tracks and whatnot… but i went back to school and quickly became overwhelmed with that, so this comp and the label itself fell by the wayside. it’s too bad in a way, as it would have included tracks by some fairly well-known and well-liked artists in the electronic/experimental scene (Dessacord Majeur and Kirchenkampf are two who come to mind) and would have been a nice note to end the label on. alas, i never got it together for one reason or the other.
How did you know when it was over, that the label had run its course? Were you burned out?
-i don’t know if i’d say burned out so much as, other things began to pre-occupy and/or demand my time. plus, it fizzled out right around the beginning of the “internet age”, which was a point when computers were beginning to make it a whole lot easier to communicate, record and distribute sound. although that wasn’t a conscious factor, i’m sure in hindsight that it played a part as well
-another factor is that i was contacted by Ron Lessard of RRRecords to contribute sound-clips from 10 artists on my label to be included on his RRR-500 Locked-Groove LP compilation. i ended up sending 11 and they were all used. grooves 77-87. five of them were me under different guises (i used Static Insect, Aardvark and three others i made up just for the occasion: Cerebro, Palimsest and Y-bom). i think the timing of that also brought about a bit of a “how can i possibly top this?” mentality to the whole thing. it was certainly a nice note to go out on.
Have you transferred the old tapes to CD now or made the releases available as mp3s?
- not so far. it has been years since i’ve owned a functional tape deck. if one should happen to fall into my hands though, i do have the means to accomplish the rest of the steps of the process and would probably endeavor to do so. so, the short answer is “not yet”. if i ever decide to go that route, i would likely make mp3s available via a blogspot or wordpress site. there are tons of existing blogs doing that already, why not one more? lol
Do you think there is any lasting legacy to Cassette Culture?
-given the above-mentioned resurgence of interest in the digitization and documentation of these old works, i think a lot of that legacy is just now being discovered by a wider audience for the first time. in it’s day, it was largely only known by people involved in it and then maybe covered in a handful of underground publications and that was about the extent of it. like everything else, the internet has blown those doors wide open. people left and right are dusting off those shoe-boxes of old cassettes that have been hiding under their beds for years and throwing them up on blogs for anyone to hear
-in conjunction with that, a lot of the current noise/experimental/psychedelic/mutant-punk/etc scenes have brought about a resurgence of cassette releases, often limited in number, and in general brought a renewed “validity” to the format. labels like Not Not Fun, American Tapes, and so on
-between those two things, although the likes of you and i might be among the “dinosaurs” of the culture (what a weird way to think about it), i think it will carry on in its own way for some time to come. and definitely reach a larger audience than it did in our day.
How do you think the internet has changed how we communicate with other “birds of a feather”? We all know its easier, faster and cheaper but is it any deeper? Sometimes it feels superficial to me. What’s your take?
-honestly, my own musical activity has dropped to playing recreationally – i’m not currently recording, releasing or promoting anything – so i’m probably not the best person to answer this
-speaking generally though, i think you could say it requires much less overall “deliberation” than the age-old act of sitting down and writing a letter and that probably reflects in the quality of communication, as you’ve pointed out. ultimately i don’t know if it’s better or worse… just different
-i do think that the relative ease of it does tend to make it more likely for some people to get involved who might not otherwise bother – again, whether this is a good or bad thing is in the eye of the beholder.
What is your current interests?
- not much to mention, really… i and my ex-wife are raising our two beautiful daughters and i work full time… my spare time these days is spent checking out as much different music as i can, usually while simultaneously chatting with new and old friends online, since the tunes are all in the computer now ;-)
-tattoos (currently dual-sleeved and beginning work on my left leg)
-i still play guitar and drums recreationally
-i still read comic books
-watching cartoons and playing video games with my daughters
Any final thoughts?
-just that your site is a nice resource and documentation of what would otherwise be forgotten (or never known to begin with) by all but a handful of participants… so, kudos for your efforts and thanks for the opportunity to participate!
View more Mutant Cactus releases at the Canada page here.