Interview by Tobias Carroll
Damon Locks has made category-defying music for over twenty years now, beginning with his work in the 90s as a member of Trenchmouth and continuing to the present day, with Exploding Star Orchestra and The Eternals. He’s also been a visual artist for many years, covering different mediums and collaborations with the similar willingness to explore that’s characterized his musical work. Writing for Pitchfork, Jess Harvell had this to say about The Eternals’ latest, Approaching the Energy Field: “…the album’s best moments are those which can be pegged to no particular genre, even when the beats drop away, like on “I Let the Telephone Ring”, which evokes Spaghetti western soundtracks, Stravinsky-ish orchestral music, andthe fragile dream-pop ballads of A.R. Kane.” We spoke with Locks via email about his art, his music, and what he’s been reading.
The name of one of your art shows was a riff on Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Has fiction (or nonfiction, for that matter) had any influence on the music you’ve made or the art you’ve created?
Very much so. Books, film, music…all influences. The more you take in the more you have to work with. My mind often drifts back to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man even though I read it a million years ago. In recent years Colson Whitehead’s Intuitionist vies for space in my subconscious.
For how long have you been making visual art?
I have been drawing since I was a kid. My family always knew me as an artist and expected me to be one for as long as I can remember. For a while in my adult life, I put art aside in favor of music (although, I continued to do the record covers and t-shirt designs for my band Trenchmouth). These days I have struck a balance between the two that suits me well. A couple years ago, I quit my day job to create a world around my art and music. It was not the easy choice but it has been the most creatively invigorating period of my life.
What’s the process of making a new work like for you? Do the same ideas sometimes lead to both songs and pieces of art in tandem?
The process is different for different work. I try to stay open to ideas to inspire work. I also try to create parameters around work that will challenge me and possibly make me work in different ways. Sometimes its the materials that dictate the parameters, sometimes the work is based around a theme. I have done work based around photographing subjects. I am currently working on commissioned work based on unreleased home & live recordings by Sun Ra.
Some ideas have jumped to both sides of the fence. If it makes sense then I go with it. For example, there is both a song and a piece of artwork called War’s Blazing Disciples. I also wrote a small piece based on that title as well. The music I make in both The Eternals and Exploding Star Orchestra excite me and make me want to make more visual art.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I am making my way through A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George E. Lewis. It promises much insight and revelation regarding experimentation in black music in the last 50 years.
Earlier this year, you contributed work to ALARM Press’s book Chromatic — do you have an eye on doing more work on that scale?
My contributions to ALARM’s Chromatic publication didn’t require me to create any new material. There will be a profile on my work by a nicely prepared and engaged interviewer named Katie Fanuko. I also contributed by doing a piece about the art on mix tapes.