Meet the Artist Making an Entire Trilogy of Albums on Anxiety [Exclusive]
Autre Ne Veut’s 2013 album Anxiety was completely unforgettable. Sitting on the line between nostalgic pop and experimental electronic, the album’s quality was undeniable. It was like nothing else released before, nothing else that was out, and nothing else that’s come out since.
On his third full length release, the second in a still-in-progress trilogy, Arthur Ashin –the man behind Autre Ne Veut — has pushed his project to the next level. While immediately recognizable, Age of Transparency is like Anxiety on speed. Similar themes, similar vibes, similar vocals, but the whole album is purposefully off-kilter: pushing and pulling the listener into and out of jazz, pop, and R&B.
Off-kilter seems to be Ashin’s style. At his Bushwick album release party, a grey mime roamed the loft — a reference to his “Age of Transparency” video — and a jazz group played the acoustic arrangements of his songs. The result was decidedly “Brooklyn,” but in a way that wasn’t alienating. We sat down with Ashin post-party to talk Philosophy 101, what it’s like to make a trilogy, and the platonic ideal of an apple.
This album is the second in a trilogy. How much did you know about this album when you were making the first?
I didn’t know anything. When I was making the first one I was at the point where I didn’t know if I could ever make another album again, so it was just a one album kind of mentality. It was during the writing of this record that it felt clear to me that it was a continuation of the more higher level concepts around Anxiety. There was more than one more record than the one I was currently making, so I started conceiving of it as a trilogy. It wasn’t considered to be a plan form the top.
You’re exploring a lot of the same themes on Anxiety and Age of Transparency, but they’re very different albums. What was the biggest shift in mindset for you, how did you attack the same concepts differently?
The titles are like the themes in a weird way. Anxiety is about personal anxieties and social anxieties but also the generalizable anxiety of living in a capitalist framework. Age of Transparency is still about anxiety but more about exploring ideas of identity and selfhood within that same framework. And also Age of Transparency is about, for better or worse, not having having any sense of myself as a public person and the performance of self that inevitably came along with that; in the same way anyone who’s ever had a job is a different person when they go into the office and when they’re at home.
Do you think that we live in an “Age Of Transparency” or is the album title a bit ironic?
I think we live in a veiled age of transparency. We live in an epoch where we’re being pushed to expose ourselves and probed for information about what our likes are and what our modes of identity are on a regular basis. There’s this kind of Philosophy 101 metaphor about the best way to describe an apple: if you say “apple,” you fail to get at its color or taste, although it succeeds in describing the apple. But as you start describing an apple in detail — how it tastes, what it looks like — you get further away from the clarity of it being an apple. That’s the kind of transparency we have.
You used a jazz trio in studio for this album. What was it like working with artists who weren’t traditionally pop musicians?
On a production level, to get at these themes in terms of sonic content was to play around with the idea of transparency versus representation. Basically, I think of transparency as being an impossibility, so I tried to conceive of three different crystallized ideas of a paradigm on this record. One being an “authentic” live music paradigm, another being a pop paradigm which is historically inauthentic, and the third being a disruptive paradigm — I read too much Deleuze in college — which is also this part of me that’s super real: a kind of puckish, prankster-y kind of guy. I wanted to represent this part of me that I’ve never expressed before.
I picked what — to me — is the music that always makes me go “Yes! This is real!” That’s like Alice Coltrane and Astral Weeks for whatever reason; it’s what I listen to when I want to hear real music. My goal was to make this “real music” as one paradigm. It was fucking amazing. The musicians on the record are unbelievable. It felt to everyone involved that something really special was happening. It was cool to have an idea of something you want to make and be able to make it.
Did you end up listening to a lot of jazz during the writing and recording process?
I listen to jazz more often when I listen to music in general. When I’m actually making records I tend to disengage from listening, it distracts me, unless I’m to figure something technical out. I spent a lot of time with this one song where the base of it was the sound of a coin being dropped, but the dimensions of the coin kept changing and kind of creating this beautiful beat.
But I spend a lot of time listening to specific sounds and trying to figure out how to make them. That’s more common than me listening to music to be inspired in a kind of vibing out way. It’s more like “What are these things being done and how can I access that?” With that particular coin sound I ended up completely failing and just dropping the exploration into it. I have no idea how they did it.
Autre Ne Veut always has really striking visuals to go along with the album — in both the album art and videos. How do you come up with those?
The album art just popped into my head. I knew I wanted to keep a cohesive aesthetic from the last record moving forward — especially once I decided it would be a trilogy that seemed particularly important. It’s, you know, two statues holding a pane of glass, this almost classical notion of art holding up this materiality that inherently distorts. It just felt like the right image for the cover.
With the videos, all three of them for this album have been a collaboration with Allie Avital, who’s a close friend of mine. We just talked about the music and talked about ideas that were knocking around in our heads and things we thought would be cool to do, and she executed them. We have very similar taste in films. She really understands how I want to articulate myself visually. It was really fucking awesome for me as an experience to expose elements of my taste.
Do you have any idea of what the final part of the trilogy will be like?
A little bit. In terms of the sonics at least I think it’ll be little more percussive-driven. I’m thinking of having it feel a little more intimate and having most of the melodies done with just me overdubbing myself. The songs are pretty far along. I even have a title — but I’m not going to expose it yet, it still may change. I have some ideas and I think it’s going to simpler and prettier. That’s what I have in mind.
Download ‘Age of Transparency’ here.