From the late 80’s into the 90’s, Jim Coleman handled keyboards and sampler for Cop Shoot Cop, a highly unique New York rock band that was rounded out by dual bassists, metallic percussion, but no lead guitar. After the demise of that band, Coleman went on to do film/tv soundtrack work as well as releasing music as Phylr, Here (with Teho Teardo) and Baby Zizanie (JG Thirlwell). He’s back with “Trees,” a neoclassical ambient album released under his own name (and on his own label, Wax & Wane).
Having previously released music under the name Phyler, why did you chose to release “Trees” as Jim Coleman?
“Somehow I felt like it was a bit more personal and deeper psychologically. Rather than having any kind of guise or mask, it felt best to just to use my regular name.”
Did you intend to use your own name all along, or decide after the music began to take shape?
“The music definitely came first. At first I wasn’t thinking of a name at all, but it just kind of evolved from where the music ended up. I definitely had ideas about this body of work being very different from what I’d done before, being very meditative and very quiet. But using my regular name just came out of listening to stuff as a whole.”
What were some of the influences on the way the album turned out?
“I think that where my life was at the time was very disjointed and hectic, kind of the opposite of that [the sound of the album]. There was a lot of anxiety and stress, and the music was kind of an antidote to that.
“When it started, oddly enough, I was working a day job. I do some freelance work in production, so I was working kind of a day job. The majority of the tracks started on a train; I would be taking the train to Hoboken [New Jersey] and just kind of every day putting in that time. It added up, but could only go so far. It really started in the computer, working with samples and sounds. I got to the point where I had a good foundation for a lot of the tracks, but then needed to bring in other musicians to open it up.”
What computer programs do you use?
“As far as DAWs [Digital Audio Workstations], I used Logic, although lately I’ve been having some problems with it. And [Ableton] Live. Repeatedly, I’ve tried to get into Reason, and I don’t know why but I’ve never really landed there. I’ve started to get into it a bit more lately. I have a ton of third-party plug-ins, some of a Native Instruments stuff. Reaktor is an amazing tool, I use that a lot. I have too many plug-ins. It varies, and I cycle through them to get different sounds. I’m now making an effort to sort of get out of the box a little bit, returning more towards outboard gear.”
“A couple of people I already had recorded from past sessions. Ellen Fullman, who plays a [self-created] long stringed instrument, I met while down in Texas doing work on a dance piece. We hadn’t met before, and hit it off. She has a semi-permanent installation down there of her long stringed instruments. I spend a few hours in there just recording her making tones on different things. And then Dawn [McCarthy] has done some vocals. She appeared on the first Phylr record that I did, and I had a bunch of other stuff that I’d recorded at that time. So I pulled some excerpts from that. Phil [Puleo] I’m always working with. He’s a percussionist but also a multi-instrumentalist, he plays so many different things. And Kirsten [McCord], we’ve casually known each other for years. It seemed an easy thing to call her up and ask her to do some recording. I recorded her in her apartment. Phil I recorded here in my studio. Brian Christie plays sax on the last track; I knew him socially and recorded him in his studio. “
Did you usually have a clear idea as to what you wanted them to play, or did you later manipulate the recordings to fit into tracks?
“A bit of both, really. I went to those specific people because I thought they would work well with the foundation I had for the different tracks. The first recordings I did with them were with fairly minimal direction. I didn’t want to put them into my thought process, my aesthetic. But then we’d do several takes, giving feedback and kind of honing in on certain things. Inevitably, I’d end up with a whole lot of material. Bringing those recordings into the tracks, the whole thing opens up and shifts and changes in a great way. I’ll end up using things I didn’t think I would be using, or manipulating the sounds in ways I hadn’t thought of. Or sometimes I’d end up using them straight as they were. So it’s pretty open.”
What made you set up your own label to release “Trees”?
“Initially, it was going to be on this label in the UK, Standing Records, which is a great label, and they were going to have this be their next release. They kind of sat on it for almost a year. It’s a small label run by two guys, one of the guys was building a house at the time. After waiting for a year, I just kind of said ‘forget it.’ I realized also at that point that I could do this on my own, and put together good resources to help as far a publicist and things like that – I’d never done that. I was always at the mercy of labels and whatever resources they wanted to put behind me. It’s an interesting venture. I’d love to see it grow. I know I’m not going to see back financially what I put into it now, but maybe in the future I can break even anyway.”
Do you see it as just a vehicle for your own music? Or would you like to release music from other artists?
“Initially I do, I see it focused on solving my own problems [laughs] as far as getting my material out. I would love to see it surpass that and have the opportunity to work with other artists and put their stuff out. That would awesome, that would be beyond my dreams. We’ll see what happens in time.”
“It’s very different than playing in Cop Shoot Cop and being on Interscope, having some degree of a meal ticket. Even though we were working on debt, as far as our recording and publishing advances, we were still funded and able to make a living at it. Even past that, I was able to make a living doing music for television and indie films. Off and on through my life, I’ve been able to make a living doing music, which has been great. Right now, I’m not even really pursuing that. There’s a distinct separation between what I do for a living and the music that I make. In a way, it’s like a state of grace as far as not having to keep anyone happy or satisfied except for myself. There’s a certain purity to that, which I deeply appreciate. The music landscape has obviously gone through a huge change where there’s so much music being put out now. I really keep pretty up to date on particular genres of music being put out, but it’s impossible to keep up with everything. It’s like a maze when you look at how it used to be in the 90’s.”
Has there ever been talk of reuniting Cop Shoot Cop?
“There’s been a lot of talk, just not between the four of us. Somehow that’s come up a lot on various interviews. Apparently there are some bands out there citing us as an influence. It’s great. But i think that there is so much time gone by, and the band members have gone in so many different directions that I don’t see it happening. It would be great to get that material available in some way, since it’s not on iTunes or anything. But I don’t know, I just don’t see a reunion of Cop. The only way to look at it would be more of a continuation. I definitely wouldn’t want to get together and just play the old songs. I would love to play some old songs, but to get together and just play old songs would seem like a step backwards.”
Did the technology present any challenges back then, using electronic instruments in a live setting?
“Initially, we were working with floppy disks, and later on we got SyQuest disks and then Zip drives. So our storage and load capabilities in the samplers became more robust. But initially, I’d sometimes only be able to put [sounds for] one song into the sampler. It was all Ensoniq Mirage samplers at that point. It had a great sound, but was very limited in terms of the amount of memory in there. So that was a limitation in terms of the fluidity of sets and how certain sequences or songs could be structured. But later on, it became much more fluid.”
“I’m currently working on a documentary by Beth B., it’s on extreme underground performance coming out of New York. Somewhat attached to the burlesque movement but more extreme, really. It’s a fascinating documentary; she’s been working on it for a few years now. Hopefully it’s getting close to completion. There’s a lot of source music in it, sometimes the music is irreplaceable in terms of the content. But there has been a lot of places for my music in there as well.”
What do you look for in potential soundtrack projects?
“Well, realistically, it could be some nuts and bolts concern in terms of payment. What’s the fee, do I have the ability to keep publishing rights to the music? I’m still seeing great publishing money from things I did years ago. It’s a great thing. But other than that, more artistically, I just see if there is a connection for me, whatever that may be. If it makes me feel something, if I feel like I can add something to it, that all speaks to me. That said, I’ve also done some corporate stuff that I have no connection to, it’s really just a work for hire and there is no illusion about it.”
Are you planning on doing any live performances of the “Trees” material? Perhaps in a multimedia setting?
“I will be doing a live radio show on WFMU in December. I’m not currently pursuing live shows, but I’m not opposed to it either. It’s not like they’re going to magically appear on my door, but I’m always too involved in what’s next. I think that I’m more at home in the studio. So we’ll see. If there is any kind of organic possibilities that I run into, I wouldn’t be opposed to live shows. And I’m definitely attracted to the idea of a more multimedia approach. I went to film school years ago and have a history of doing experimental films and videos. The idea of integrating those into kind of a more holistic experience is fascinating to me.”
“Otherwise, I’m already deep into … I don’t know if I’d say it’s the follow-up to ‘Trees.’ It’s different, but is kind of an evolution of that work.”
Any idea when it will be released?
“Not really, it may be a year. I’m giving it time and space to settle and not push it. I’m letting it speak to me.”