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Testify - Nick Kuepfer

Submitted by RamonLP4 on June 16, 2011 – 12:30 amOne Comment
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Nick Kuepfer

When you hear the music of guitarist Nick Kuepfer, it seems to bounce with an energy so lively that you can feel there is a story behind it - as if you are hearing a soundtrack to some lost film.  That story is likely the story of Kuepfer’s travels, the open ear in which he approaches the world he encounters, and the lively art scene of his native Montreal.  His use of the guitar combined with loops, samples, and at times other players has a quality that is both serious in its craft yet playful in spirit - it’s music that almost seems sentient.  Lucky for y’all here in Houston, you can experience this firsthand when Kuepfer performs Monday night at Super Happy Funland.   Lucky for us here at the Free Press, we were able to catch Kuepfer briefly while on the road to talk music, art, and of course, Rush.

FPH - How is your approach to live performance different from that of recording music for an album?

Kuepfer - It was interesting working out things to play live for this tour specifically. Most of the recordings were based on writing pieces somewhat spontaneously with many imprompt details layered over each other during the process so really a lot of things I don’t necessarily remember what it was I was doing or what instrument it was on. This made the adaptation to a live set somewhat difficult. Therefore I’m not really playing much from any recordings and alternatively playing newer guitar pieces mixed with physical tape loop manipulations and homemade instrument pieces.

FPH - You work with a lot of prepared instruments and found objects in your recordings. Can you explain the process involved in these instruments and objects?

Kuepfer - it feels like a fairly organic process of starting with an idea and developing around it based on what I’m hearing throughout. Over the years I’ve gathered an ever growing collection of instruments, both broken and functional, so as things are being written I keep in mind what I have to work with and try to consider these voices during the process.

FPH - You’ve traveled extensively; how has that affected your approach to music?

Kuepfer - My mind has been blown in such a huge way while traveling and hearing musicians. Specific examples include a blind vocalist playing with pre-recorded pieces on the streets of Bangkok, traditional water puppet ensembles in Hanoi, the use of single string instruments, a retired cruise ship harpist who used to travel with a parrot on her shoulder who now plays an impressively out of tune harp at a tourist attraction in Iguazu, the best whistler on the planet that somehow whistles with half his fist in his mouth in Buenos Aires, the list goes on… really, its just absolutely astounding, the seemingly intuitive innovations produced both with specific traditional influence and natural delivery of genuine music. So many people have inspired me in such a huge way without even having to be entirely proficient at their instrument. Really, this idea of instrument proficiency is entirely subjective to the player and I truly believe the delivery carries much more weight.

FPH - Instrumental music leaves a lot open as compared to music with lyrics. What do you think happens between what you see in a piece and what someone unfamiliar with the inspiration hears in it?

Kuepfer - I suppose instrumental music somewhat creates a soundscape narrative that can reflect on an individual potentially more intimately. Someone can visualize or reflect on a more interpersonal level without the guidance of story telling or lyrical reference that lyrical music tends to deliver. In a way instrumental music almost feels more interactive and I feel less of a division from people while performing.

Poster design by Nick Kuepfer

FPH - You also work in other mediums beyond simply music. How do those disciplines affect you as a musician and how, in turn, does your music inform those other disciplines?

Kuepfer - The other mediums I’m working with, I think have similar elements to the music I’m creating and reflect in the way that they’re also heavily saturated in overlapping textures. with printmaking I’m using a lot of scanned grit and broken texts, in film manipulating found super 8 footage with dust and hair all over it and in music using old tape machines and degenerating tape loops layered under guitar pieces and found objects. I’m not sure that the music is being informed necessarily by these other disciplines rather is just another voice in the pallet of interests and the medium I spend the majority of my time with.

FPH - Tell us about the Montreal art and music scene. How it has helped shaped you as a musician and artist?

Kuepfer - Of course it’s been hugely influential. It’s a thriving city, there’s so much happening and being produced it’s actually really hard to keep up. There’s so much interest in innovative music and art and an actual attendance for experimental music, something I don’t think most cities have. The importance of festivals like the Suoni Per Il Popolo, small record labels like Fluorescent Friends and having an incredible community radio station, CKUT 90.3 fm giving a platform for on-air performance and exposure to new music are all huge contributions to a scene as vast as Montreal’s. Really, I could go on for quite a while on the impact it’s had and importance it holds…

FPH - You’ve worked with a few labels now.  How have those relationships been and how do you think a label benefits artists these days?

Kuepfer - I think the present state of music and the industry is pretty interesting. I’m relatively new to even the concept of working with a record label so I find it a really interesting time to get involved with the current changes. Record labels are really having to innovate to keep up and create something interesting. Working with Constellation has been nothing but a fantastic experience. The care and nurturing they put into the creative process and production of quality artifacts is incredible. The Musique Fragile release (Avestruz) was such a great learning experience in terms of how much effort and time was put into absolutely every detail of the release. Equal care was placed on the Standard Form release, although a much smaller production and pressing.

I suppose labels are benefiting artists right now in terms of details, handling the overlooked items and keeping things focused. All things I find personally daunting to conceive while writing music, otherwise it would just feel divided and compromised.

FPH - Lastly, you are Canadian so I feel is in important to ask. Rush - fucking awesome, super awesome, or just plain awesome?

Kuepfer - I guess all three in chronological order.. Rush early years, fucking awesome, mid-career, super awesome, now I’m feeling a little less than plain awesome and probably leaning more towards not paying attention. Pieces like “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” and “Cygnus X-1″ will always resonate in the fucking awesome territory.  As soon as they strayed from the astrology and mysticism and started singing about weekend getaways to the cabin, I stopped paying attention….

http://www.vimeo.com/16731075

Nick Kuepfer performs Monday, June 20 with Khora, Lumens, Silent Land Time Machine, Christopher Cascio, and Fiskadoro @ Super Happy Fun Land, $7.00, All Ages

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