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lizziedavis on 06/29/2012 at 02:30PM

Interview with Charlie Looker of Extra Life

photoIt's a dangerous time to be an experimental musician influenced by black metal. Bands that seem to get just a bit too conceptual with their metal have attracted heavy controversy over the last few years. Luckily, Extra Life has managed to evade the wrath of purists while taking black metal to an entirely new plane. Fronted by Charlie Looker, an elementary school teacher, former member of Zs and Dirty Projectors, and true “musician’s musician,” Extra Life fuses black metal, early music, and experimental theory to create music that is at once intensely powerful and a little fragile. Their latest release, Dream Seeds, is a haunting and jarring study of the nature of dreams and children.

Extra Life will be playing in Spy Music Festival in NYC at the end of the month. I asked Charlie Looker some questions via email.

You've said that the inspiration behind Dream Seeds comes from the ethereal realm of dreams and childhood, yet to me, the music also feels meticulous and intellectualized. What's your process of developing songs out of the hazy sphere of youth into the careful world of adulthood?
Any time you do something creative you’re taking things which are subconscious and making them conscious. You take something ethereal and unformed and you make it manifest in the world. That’s always what the creative process is, whether or not the source is dreams or childhood or whatever. If what you make is good, then it actually increases and intensifies the mystery of the original impulses. If along the way, the whole feeling becomes dry and obvious and overly intellectual, then you’ve failed. I’m not sure if I’d call our working process intellectual. It’s definitely meticulous. We all get obsessively caught up in little details of our parts, how the parts interlock, subtleties of rhythmic feel. But that’s not philosophical or academic, it’s just craft. Any intellectualizing about the music usually comes after the fact of making the music, in reflecting on it.

How young were you when you started playing and writing music?
I played the piano very seriously from ages five through eleven. Then I got into metal and I started playing the electric guitar. I played in some hardcore-influenced bands in high school and I’d write parts of songs, just riffs and chord progressions. Around sixteen I got a four track and started making these long insane home-recorded piece, really influenced by John Zorn and Ennio Morricone, like soundtracks without film. That’s basically how I got into experimental music in general.

What were some of the musical influences behind the album?
The past few years my favorite music I’ve been checking out is Antony and the Cocteau Twins. But I’m not sure how much that’s even audible to the listener as an influence on the record. I’ve been really into Current 93 but we don’t really sound like that, other than maybe on “No Dreams Tonight”. I’ve also been super into Romantic and Impressionist orchestral music, listening to it a ton and also studying the scores in depth. This has definitely opened up my sense of arrangement, orchestration and recording, but then again, on this record most of that production side of things comes from our guitarist/engineer Caley Monahon-Ward and not me.

You just got back from a European tour. How was it?
It was awesome. It was tiring, but not nearly as tiring as touring the states. We were fed well.

Are you doing any sort of special set or collaborations for Spy Music Festival?
The main thing I’m doing is just a straight-up Extra Life set on June 30. But also on that bill Caley and I will both be playing guitar in Rhys Chatham’s ensemble which is definitely a special thing. Chatham is an important musician and I’ve never met him before. Spy Fest in general will be sick. Northern Spy is a really unique label and I’m proud to call it home.

Extra Life will be performing this Saturday, June 30th at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, NY with Rhys Chatham Guitar Trio and Neptune.

Extra Life - "Righteous Seed" (05:39)
Extra Life - "Righteous Seed" (05:39)
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Musicaddict on 09/04/15 at 05:27AM
Charlie Lookers tracks only reveal a fraction of his darkness. His music is monotonous chanting of the same feeble chorus over and over and over again. Maybe they thought festooning the mix with layer upon layer of hideous wall-of-sound production would cover the fact that they weren’t saying much of anything. Perhaps the controversy is well justified.
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