Monday, May 23, 2011

Interview: John Schmersal (Brainiac, Enon, Caribou)

Enon (left to right: Matt Schulz, Toko Yasuda & John Schmersal)
Around four years ago, my band and I were introduced to John Schmersal through a mutual acquaintance. Prior to that, I was unaware of John's history in music--his presence in legendary Dayton, Ohio band Brainiac, his solo work under the pseudonym John Stuart Mill, and of course his very great and underrated band Enon.

Since then, John has become a touring member of psychedelic/electronica act Caribou and has been on and off the road with them for quite some time. Luckily, I had the chance to ask John some questions via email regarding his tour experiences, his role in curating the upcoming ATP Nightmare Before Christmas Festival in London, and the status of his own band Enon. 

What city are you in right now and what's it like?

Istanbul. It's an amazing city. Steeped in the old but, still very cosmopolitan and just bustling. Lots of places open late and very lively atmosphere.

It seems like you've been on tour with Caribou non-stop for the past year or so. How are you holding up?

Well to be fair, we have had a few breaks by now. I was officially done with the crazy nonstop touring by mid-December. Then we did New Zealand and Australia in February. Post which I was home until several days ago. But, we did really have a solid run there. 180 some shows in 8 months. I absolutely love to travel so this is the right job for me.

So far what has been your favorite city abroad to play?

Well, as I said I love to travel. I have a lot of favorite cities to play and visit in. I would say Belgrade, Berlin, Krakow, Granada (Spain) Catania, and Istanbul are definitely at the top of my list over the years. I love playing and being in new (to me) Eastern European cities. I am pretty obsessed with islands big and small and the people who live on them at this point too.

With Dan Snaith largely writing/recording Caribou songs by himself, how much of a challenge is it working out the songs as a live band? Do the arrangements change a lot from the studio recordings or do you try to stay as close as possible to what he originally wrote?

He's pretty democratic about how the music is fleshed out live. It would be a challenge, but really technology has finally caught up with the complications of sampled songwriting and such. We use Ableton live for our show and it's really quite flexible and innovative. There are a lot of different ways to approach the set up. We have done it in a way that keeps it flexible for us so that the song structures are a bit elastic and we can jam on things and keep it fresh. Everybody in the band is quite tech savvy so, there are a lot of good ideas and input that go into our setup.

Did you have any role in curating the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas Festival in December or is that just Dan? Are there any acts in particular you're excited to check out when you play there?

Yeah, we are still working on who we are inviting. We are trying to keep it interesting and not pick so much current or exposed artists. We invited this band we just discovered in New Zealand during that tour called Orchestra of Spheres, and they were just confirmed. They are very hard to describe, which I like, quite influenced by South East Asian music and just a really entertaining live show. I am very excited about seeing them again. Many of the other things that I might be excited about have not been confirmed yet. So, I am keeping my fingers crossed.

A while back I think you mentioned to me that when you were on tour with Brainiac, you were given a small per diem for food, and you'd have enough to buy a burrito or something and a record everyday. Are you able to treat yourself a little better these days?

Well, yes I eat significantly better now but, it's also part of my passion where, I wasn't as focused on good food back then. I don't buy a whole lot of records on tour these days. More because of the way we travel isn't conducive to my record collecting ways. And as you know record stores are kind of an endangered species. I try and support them but, as I was saying… I don't have the room to buy a lot of records on tour. I do buy some but, not as obsessive as I used to be. I save it for home. I still really like hunting for records at thrift stores and garage sales. I like the hunt and the discovery that's been kind of lost with ebay/online avenues.

What is the status of Enon? Do you plan on releasing a follow-up to Grass Geysers...Carbon Clouds? 

No. The band is pretty much over.

Believo! is a classic, but I listened to Hocus Pocus the other day and it's severely underrated. Do you favor any particular Enon release over the others? 

Funny you say that, I feel like I am hearing that more and more... I can't really listen to my own records so much. I like the compilation Lost Marbles, we released before Grass Geysers.

Final question: If you had to name any single record you feel really fucking nostalgic about, what would it be? 

Hmmm. That's kind of hard, there are a lot of older records that bring on some nostalgia. That being said, I am not a very nostalgic person. I guess my best answer would be Supertramp's Breakfast in America. My brother played that record to death when I was young and I absolutely hated that record. A couple of years ago, I saw it in a friend's CD collection in his apartment in Prague and for some reason I put it on. Then I ripped it and ended up listening to it a bunch more times and even did a little research on it. That record was basically about a band on their last legs, at it for years and frustrated at their lack of success. It's a pretty sad record at the core and it was the one that exploded for them. It seemed kind of comforting to think that a band could create something in that way and turn it into success. I also find it amazing that I hated it so much then and sort of discovered it as an adult.

Thanks so much for doing this interview John, hope to see you in NYC soon!

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