You probably know Jim Jarmusch as a fiercely independent director, one who's responsible for untouchable flicks like Down By Law, Coffee & Cigarettes, and Ghost Dog. But maybe you didn't know that he's a serious musician too.
Jozef van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch. Sacred Bones just released The Mystery Of Heaven LP, their second collaborative record.
You probably know Jim Jarmusch as a fiercely independent director, one who's responsible for untouchable flicks like Down By Law, Dead Man, and Ghost Dog. But maybe you didn't know that he's a serious musician too. It makes sense: Jarmusch first blossomed in the 80s downtown NY scene, where it was fairly common to see rappers working with painters working with No Wave skronkers working with Cinema of Transgression transgressors, so a little overlap in the arts was pretty commonplace.
Jarmusch is still making music, staying true to that collaborative feel of his early days. Lately he’s teamed with Dutch lutist Jozef van Wissem for a few albums of heavy drone/folk workouts that all cast a cinematic, foreboding vibe over your sunshine-y ass. Sacred Bones just put out The Mystery Of Heaven LP, which will destroy you:
Now the pair is working together on Jarmusch’s new film, Only Lovers Left Alive, a romance centered around two vampires.
I got to attend one of Jim and Jozef’s only performances together last Sunday at MoMA PS1’s Sunday Sessions. Their set was a thick, smoky roast that formed a warm little cocoon inside PS1’s low-lit, futuristic performance dome. Bright glowing embers of guitar feedback were underscored by soft, delicate lute plucking that all swirled around together in a gorgeous, hazy drone. It was the perfect Sunday palette cleanser that made my hungover loser self want to go home immediately, read a thoughtful book for a few hours, and go to bed at a reasonable time.
Before I could hop on the subway to go act like a goddamn adult, I talked to Jim and Jozef about their new album on Sacred Bones, their upcoming Only Lovers Left Alive score, and proper sunglasses etiquette.
Noisey: How’d you guys come into contact?
Jim Jarmusch: We were in 'Nam together.
Yeah, it was wild.
Were you in the shit?
Yeah. [Laughs] No, we met on the street in New York like six or seven years ago. I got a CD from Jozef and we started talking about maybe doing something together, maybe a film score, and we’ve been doing some stuff ever since. We made a record together and now The Mystery of Heaven is our second one. And we’re finally preparing a score for Only Lovers Left Alive, which took me seven years to get going.
How’d the connection with Sacred Bones happen?
Jozef van Wissem:I was just buying records one day at a record fair in Williamsburg and I came across a Zola Jesus 7-inch that I saw and wanted. The record happened to be at the Sacred Bones record stand. I met Caleb and told him what a great label it was. We got to talking and he asked me what I was doing and I said I was working on new record with Jim. That was it.
Tell me a little bit about how you guys work together. Where does it start with a composition?
I guess we compose together. Sometimes I give Jim a piece that he adds to and sometimes it’s the other way around. In the beginning, it was more like I gave him my little pieces and he would add to that, but now it has grown. Now we just both write together and we both come up with ideas.
Gotcha. So Jim, you’re editing Only Lovers Left Alive right now?
How’s editing going?
Good. We’re just at the first rough-cut stage, so it’s getting there.
How’s it working for the Only Lovers Left Alive score? Is there a similar approach to how you two make music or does it differ for this? I remember reading that for Dead Man, you had Neil Young play live to the film a couple times, and from those sessions you had the score.
None of the score for Lovers is really written for specific scenes. Jozef wrote quite a few lute pieces for the film, so there will be solo lute pieces as score. Myself, Carter Logan and Shane Stoneback have a band together called Squirrel and we’ve started adding stuff to what Jozef already gave us. What we’ll have is a kind of modular score. Sometimes we’ll add to them or even take his lute away to make it a more rock and roll thing. Other times it will be only his lute, or it may be his lute with drums and feedback or just another guitar. Jozef’s pieces are the guide and themes throughout the film and then we add and subtract from them. And one of the main characters in the film is a musician, so we’ll create his music too.
When I was watching your set together tonight, it was nice to hear the oscillation between heavy guitar feedback and then this classical, almost maudlin lute. It was an interesting mixture of being very dark with this sweet sound beneath it. I can kind of envision it as being the score because the film is about vampires spanning centuries of time.
Exactly. And the musician character in the film is a virtuoso violinist, but in the present day he’s making experimental, avant-rock, drone music. So the two things kind of go together in the film as well.
Where can I pick up a good lute in New York City?
Van Wissem:There aren’t any factories or anything. You’d need to talk to a builder. If you want to start out, you could just get a student lute somewhere online from England for a couple hundred bucks. I wouldn’t buy a really good lute to start out with.
Jarmusch:And the tuning is insane. It’ll take you a day and a half just to tune the damn thing!
Sounds intense. A really important question for you, Jim... you wore your trademark sunglasses on stage tonight. Would you be cool with Jozef wearing sunglasses on stage as well?
[Laughs] I’ll tell ya... I need reading glasses to see. My sunglasses don’t have distance but they have the reading thing in them. My seven-year-old daughter saw me in a video once wearing my reading glasses and said, “Daddy, don’t wear the glasses. If you have to wear them, wear dark glasses.” So, I took that to heart.
Listen to your daughter.
Can you give me any advice on sunglasses etiquette? Should I wear them whenever I feel like it? Should I wear them at night? Should I just not give a shit?
I think you should just not give a shit. You should wear sunglasses whenever you fucking choose.
Van Wissem: That’s right, man.
Jarmusch:And if people say you’re pretentious, fuck ‘em. They say I’m pretentious no matter what I do. I remember when I started making films, my hair was prematurely white and I wore black clothes. Since I was a teenager. So people started writing, “What a pretentious asshole. He makes black and white films, dyes his hair white, and wears black clothes.” When I read that I thought, “From now on, I don’t care.” No matter what you do, they’ll think something else. So... in regards to sunglasses, I say just follow yourself. Whatever makes you feel good.
The Mystery of Heaven is out now on Sacred Bones. You can pick that up right here, and expect to see Only Lovers Left Alive sometime in 2013.