A conversation with David Grubbs


    We spoke with David Grubbs about heavy fog, removing the shell of an egg, the fear of birds and growing a nightmarish second head.

    We asked David what came to mind when we presented ten elements on the Periodic Table. He answered in the time that it took him to type his responses.

    Not #MAGA.

    Positive and negative magnetically charged poles.

    Coolness to the touch.

    Getting away with murder.


    Lex Luthor.


    Eye-dropper. Foul smell.

    KISS Alive II.


    I prefer to make writing music very different from the experience of writing prose. I want these two headspaces to be as distinct as possible.


    Julien Fernandez

    As a visual artist, I find memory and imagination to be intertwined concepts that create mental images and generate a creative flux. What’s your personal interpretation of memory & imagination? How do they influence your creative process?

    David Grubbs

    Oh, my. I feel like I could spend a few months answering this question. But I can start with a very simple type of memory – the muscle memory of playing an instrument. Intellectually, I have the sense that I should challenge myself to transcend the individual musical instrument – in my case, usually guitar or piano – but the fact is that I take so much pleasure in exploring the muscle memory of playing. In seeing where it will take me and in not interrupting the process through notation or through thinking too far ahead. I imagine that this also has to do with the fact that I spend a number of hours per day writing. So, I prefer to make writing music very different from the experience of writing prose. I want these two headspaces to be as distinct as possible.


    I discovered your music through Gastr del Sol’s album Crookt, Crackt, or Fly. It’s still one of my favorites, and I feel that there’s something enigmatic and hermetic through your interplay with Jim O’Rourke on this recording. Can you tell us about your memories of these studio sessions? What the studio space itself was like? What was going through your mind at the time?

    Thanks. My fondest single memory of this period has to do with being late to meet Jim to work on writing material for this album. I found him sitting in front of my apartment building, just off of a somewhat busy street in Chicago, playing guitar. He couldn’t wait to start the process, and I think that says a lot about how the two of us approached working together at that time.

    In regard to the studio space, that was one of the few times that Gastr del Sol worked in a regular commercial studio, as opposed to Steam Room, which was the studio in Jim’s apartment. My recollection is that we came prepared to play and that we worked very quickly – which is quite different from the experience of writing in the studio.


    I remember reading that Glenn Gould had to perform in an extremely warm room, while elevated to an extremely specific height at the piano while sitting in an old chair his father had made. What are your favorite physical or atmospheric conditions for you to make music in?

    I once had a tour in Italy during springtime where I must have played outdoors for ten or twelve nights in a row. It never rained, and the weather was more or less impeccable. It ruined me! After that, I’ve had an ideal of playing out of doors, and any chance that I have to do a show outside makes me very happy and brings me back to recollections of that tour.

    I know two people who suffer from the fear of birds.


    I find myself drawn to physical spaces where heavy fog appears. How would you explain the apparition of fog – using your own imaginative explanation?

    My experience of fog and clouds and the rest has everything to do with the rate of change of shape. Shape often implies solidity, permanence, etc. And as a writer, I’m drawn to the challenge of describing a sculptural volume that’s in flux, cf. the songs “Work from Smoke,” “Onrushing Cloud,” “Out with the Tide,” “An Optimist Declines” (which contains the line “smoke edged with glass / backlit”), etc., etc.



    Please tell us about birds.

    I think other people are better qualified to do so. I am intrigued by ornithophobia, the fear of birds. I know two people who suffer from this, and I’m always trying to figure out a way to subtly learn more about it.


    We tend to ask many of our subjects about the concept of musical improvisation. But I feel that improvisation is a day-to-day activity – not just in art. What physical action did you most recently improvise?

    Removing the shell from a hard-boiled egg.

    An early horrific memory of mine was a nightmare, in which people I knew best had a second head that cruelly contradicted all of the sweet, affirming things that main head was inclined to say.


    What’s your earliest memory? How often does it come back into your mind, and what influence does it have on your psychology?

    An early horrific memory of mine was a nightmare, in which people I knew best had a second head – a little off-center – that cruelly contradicted all of the sweet, affirming things that main head was inclined to say. I am not sure that I would have embraced punk rock as I did without remembering this dream as one of my earliest memories.


    In 1618, the English philosopher Robert Fludd conceptualized the Celestial Monochord. He aimed to use it to connect with the cosmos through sound waves. Do you think there’s a relationship between science and music? Would you consider yourself a scientist in your approach to sound?

    I consider myself a bit of an ignoramus when it comes to science – like I never truly understood the function of testing a scientific hypothesis via experimentation. I get very cart-before-the-horse and then I’m lost in the language of describing it.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 12
    Curated by: Julien Fernandez
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: July 19, 2017
    Total questions: 8
    Word count: 966
    Reading time: Four minutes
    Hyperlinks: 11


    Most used noun: Memory
    Friends with ornithophobia: 2
    Jim O’Rourke location: In front of apartment


    About the subject

    David Grubbs is a poet, writer and songwriter. He is also a founding member of Gastr Del Sol, Bastro and Squirrel Bait.

    About the curator

    Julien Fernandez was born in Mayenne, France in 1976. He currently lives and works in Pescara, Italy with his wife, two kids and a dog, Lenny. He is captivated by structural relations between objects, animal behavior, contagion and magic, and is currently working on a mechanism that would classify mental images in the physical world. He also designs and envisions the day-to-day architecture of North of the Internet.

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