Art Basel Miami Beach

Wolf Eyes' John Olson Says Noise Music Is Over: "Completely, 100 Percent"

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Crossfade: Your label, American Tapes, is gearing up for its last hurrah. When you started out, there was a heavy emphasis on packaging. Were you interested in making separate art objects or supplemental material?

John Olson: When I was starting out in the early '90s, I was really influenced by MSBR [Koji Tano's Molten Salt Breeder Reactor project]. Back then there were, like, ten fans. So if you're only making ten tapes, it's kind of ridiculous to not have them be special. I worked at an antique store. So I had access to a lot of amazing materials. A good time to experiment with sound and a good time to experiment with how things go together good.

What made that early Midwest free-music scene so fertile?

There were no categories and it was hard to communicate. You had to do it through letters. You became really good friends with people through the mail thing, watched each other to progress. It was no different than the tape-trading culture in Europe in the '80s, or the death metal culture from Florida. It added a lot of work and mystery to it. And the music was made that much more abstract. It was technically "noise." But it was folk, it was rock, it was all this kinda stuff.

At that time, did people use the term noise as a self-identifying banner?

It wasn't thrown around at all. There were very few distros, and things were handmade. It wasn't based upon an us-versus-them thing. It was like, "Oh, we're all into this special music we can make ourselves. Let's communicate this way."

Over and over, in different interviews, you've been saying "We're not fucking around anymore." Was Wolf Eyes fucking around before?

In a sense, yeah. There was a lot of experimenting live. Taking drugs and doing jams on the spot. Sometimes at the audience's expense. We were lost in a field of experimentation trying out a million things. You can only do that for so long. You get stuck in the same rut. But now, Jim, the new guy, he's not a jammer at all. We can make stuff that is riff-based and we can make shorter songs with a lot more parts. It's like a shorter train track with a lot more bells and whistles. All three of us are full-on gear heads now. Jim can tell you what kind of pickups Cliff Burton used. It's very much more about mechanics rather than blasting off to the cosmos and hoping the audience is still with you. We're sticking to the songs and getting into the power of composition and structure and stuff like that. Which is what Nate and I were doing in Stare Case. All this freeform stuff, you sort of just speak in some safety language and your vocabulary gets more and more limited.

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Matt Preira