Talking Noise Lit With John Wray

By Jason Diamond

Last week on The Faster Times, I gave my thoughts on the musical highlights of 2009, and made mention of what I like to call “noise lit,” including writers that are drawn to noise and drone like Blake Butler, Dennis Cooper, and also John Wray’s publicchampioning of Sunn O))).  I’ve long found it interesting that what might be considered ‘unlistenable’ by some is actually influencing some fine writing.

So, I decided to bother John Wray.

Your write up in the New York Times Magazine in May of 2006 might be looked at as one of the articles that introduced the world to Sunn O))) and to “doom metal” as it predated articles in The Believer, New Yorker, etc. Did you have any idea that the duo would gain such a following and pick up so much critical acclaim?

I had no doubt that Stephen and Greg would make an impression on any and all critics and reviewers who gave them a listen, so in that sense, their ensuing Sherman’s March through the indie music world comes as no surprise at all; on the other hand, it seemed doubtful to me, at the time, that they’d get much mainstream attention, so I can’t help but marvel at how far they’ve come in the last couple of years. It’s never a guarantee that a project, or a band, or a movie (or a novel) will get widespread attention, just because it’s new or interesting or compelling–but I’m happy to see that in this case innovation is getting its due.

When you were writing Lowboy, you said you wrote most of it on the F and 6 trains. Were you listening to Sunn O)))?

I was listening to SunnO))) quite a bit; it’s such meditative, raga-like music (especially The GrimmRobe Demos, the first release of theirs I heard) that I found it hugely helpful in tuning out the everyday bustle around me. Low-end distortion and feedback just trumps any and all competing sounds. And the mood of that record perfectly suited the dissociative and paranoid state of my hero, Will Heller’s mind.

Is it easier to write to music that doesn’t have lyrics? A good chunk of your playlist on Papercuts is mostly instrumental stuff.

It’s much easier, though lately I’ve been venturing into writing to music with discernible vocals. Even then, though, I’ve been sticking to stuff, like Animal Collective and a lot of mid-90’s Black Metal, in which the vocals are present but the lyrics are next to impossible to understand.

Last we talked, you were at work on a new novel; care to share any of the music influencing that process?

The book I’m working on now is a satire of sorts, more playful than Lowboy, and for the most part a shade or two less dark in its tone, and I’m finding that reflected in the music that I’m listening to, as well. Lately I’ve been putting on some scratchy old vinyl reissues of Django Rheinhardt and Stephane Grapelli just before I sit down to work, to put me in the appropriate mood before I dunk my head under the water. Those early Parisian Rheinhardt/Grapelli recordings are about the most bliss-inducing music I’ve ever heard.

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