Through his work solo work, collaborations with artists like KK Null as well as playing his part in such groups as OLD, Khanate and Phantomsmasher, James Plotkin has carved out an awesome career in the murkiest and most intense of musical corners. After being consistently blown away by his various sonic children I, Zap! BANG!’s Philip Hoile, thought it very necessary to find out more about the man and how these different projects come together.
Phil: Firstly then, how did you find the most recent Khanate tour? Do you think audiences are growing for the band?
James: The tour was good, but too short. I’d say there was an average turnout, maybe a bit less than the previous year. I’m still surpised by the number of people that show up to these gigs.
Phil: Many doom and drone bands are becoming increasing popular, and even trendy, however, Khanate appear still too extreme to stray above the radar? Would you agree with this?
James: Well, I don’t really know where on the radar we are but it’s definitely not the hot spot. I actually prefer obsucrity — unfortunately it doesn’t help you eat. We should all admit that the larger the audience is for your music, the less challenging it is, and we don’t really have any interest in doing that with Khanate.
Phil: What is you impetus for Khanate? Both what made you want to get involved and how much effect do you personally have on the sound that the band creates?
James: It’s for the craft, the need to experiment. Take a look at my back catalog, it’s all over the place. Khanate is most definitely the result of four distinct individuals, to the point where it’s an absoulte democracy. It’s fucking ridiculous. I’m actually responsible for a lot more than you think I am.
Phil: How do Khanate songs form? They often use complex, incredibly slow rythmic patterns, if recognisable patterns at all, how are these written and how hard are they to grasp and remember?
James: They usually start with a basic pattern that evolves to the point where it will contain of some kind of flow. By the time we percieve it as “finished”, we’ve gotten so involved in fleshing it out that it’s not at all hard to remember. I guess it becomes instinctual so it’s easier to work on the overall context of the piece, which I believe is just as important as the content itself.
Phil: Khanate are obviously only one of your musical projects. You have played in OLD and Phantomsmasher among others as well as creating much solo and collaborative work, what have been the highlights or perhaps the most fun or productive of these projects?
James: I’m usually under the impression that my current work is the most worthy. Khanate has been a high point, so has Phantomsmasher. The KHLYST project with Runhild Gammelsaeter is something I’m most pleased with at the moment. I’m working out a release for it right now. The recent Archive disc with Tim Wyskida is a high point as far as improvised performances go.
Phil: Was the creative process behind Atomsmasher/Phantomsmasher as chaotic as the music?
James: Absolutely. I could only work for 15-20 minutes at a time because the process was so disorienting. The editing process was really extreme, having to listen to 3 second fragments 50 times in a row to execute them properly would burn my brain and ears out really quickly.
Phil: I particularly like your collaboration with KK Null, what was it like working with him making that record? What were you trying to do?
James: It was a mail project — I only met him years later in Japan. We weren’t trying to do anything specific, though I did mention to him that I was more interested in doing something more disconnected from the noise material he was accustomed to doing. I had no idea that it would be as highly regarded as it was. It sounds pretty lo-fi to me, and the 4-track I was using was completely fucked.
Phil: Is there any tension for you between traditional instruments and newer synthetic/electronic forms? Do you feel most at home behing a bass guitar or behind a computer?
James: I’m not a bassist outside of Khanate, it’s the only band I’ve been in where I don’t play guitar (though I have played some guitar on certain Khanate tracks, which is one of a few things I was referring to in a previous question). I have no problems with using any kind of instrument — it’s what you get out of them that matters. I’m comfortable using just about anything that creates or modifies sound.
Phil: What first got you into making music? What musical influence? What age? What situation? What instrument?
James: Typical exposure to music at an early age — I started playing piano at around 4-5 years and moved on from there. The piano is a great jumping board because everything is laid out in front of you. I went from piano to saxaphone to guitar, etc. I own at least 20 different instruments at this point and know how to play them all. My father could pick up a new instrument and learn how to play it in 5 minutes. He was incredible in that respect.
Phil: What are you involved in musically at the moment?
James: A lot of mixing/mastering work, live performances with Khanate, (hopefully) KHLYST, and the duo with Tim from Khanate as well as solo performances. I’m accepting mastering and mixing work at very decent rates
and can be contacted for such work through firstname.lastname@example.org There will be a new Phantomsmasher recording in the works soon as well as the mixing of a new Khanate recording of improvised tracks made during the recording of the Capture and Release sessions.
Phil: What do you do when you’re not making music? a) When you’re feeling active? and b) when you want to relax?
James: Not much, music takes up most of my time. I travel a lot to places where music doesn’t take me — the Middle East, South America, etc. Music, film, art, etc are all very relaxing to me.
Phil: Lastly, if you were to release a covers EP or album what tracks would appear? Any particular reason for these choices?
James: Cover albums suck.
Phil: Thanks a lot!