Interview: Basic Instincts, The Acid.

Interview: Basic Instincts, The Acid.

The Acid are a multinational, genre-bending ensemble, the formula for which may be simplified to Ry Cuming, Steve Nalepa and Adam Freeland. And the formermost, despite hailing from furthest away, is he who’s sat in Infectious Music’s salubrious Frith Street headquarters this afternoon. Chowing down on a crayfish salad, the first foodstuff to pass his lips all day, Cuming came to London to play Union Chapel under the guise of Ry X and, with several blackish biro tears slipping down his cheek and dressed in the exact same clothes of a couple evenings previous, differentiating between this, The Acid, and that, Ry X, at times proves impossible.

Of the projects’ respective live renderings, however, Cuming reckons “it’s always a work in progress. [And] it should always be a work in progress”, before going on to contend that “a lot of people get a show together, and then think that’s it. You gotta develop; you gotta grow, otherwise you’re dead. In an artistic sense, at least.” Strong words, and words he himself seemingly draws strength from, as Cuming has, in these past few years alone, continually reconceptualised himself and the artwork he contrives. Nonetheless, The Acid are yet to settle on a tried-and-tested live formula, and that with their very first London date fast approaching at the end of the month. Currently, they’re “trying to work out what that [all] means”, although given Cuming’s rather candid admission that he’s “not afraid of letting people handle nothingness”, combined with that aforementioned sartorial uniformity, we may as well imagine the likes of Basic Instinct to sound highly comparable to Ry X in the live environ, just as they do on record.

“How rare is it that people actually have to sit quietly!” he says of his penchant for playing such consecrated spaces as Islington’s Union Chapel. (Incidentally, the rather less renowned Chats Palace is to host The Acid’s London début.) “It might be awkward for people, but at least it’s honest!” he continues, and honesty, and so too “finesse” are far more important qualities to Cuming than “trying to smash it out the park.” As he readily suggests himself however, striking a balance that remains intimate, “with weight at the same time, can be hard.” Yet abetting him do so within the context of this particular endeavour are Nalepa and Freeland, who bring with them “synths, and subs, and [other] stuff down there” that offsets Cuming’s remarkably frangible vocal delivery. “They take care of that weight, and that oomph of a lower register, which allows everything up top to be that bit more melodic, and [with it] intimate. But it’s about balance, for sure.”

He reiterates their relishing the opportunity to reconsider their recordings, too: “A lot of people are not translating their music to a live setting at the moment; they’re just making records, and then doing playback from Ableton. They do a few things over the top, to add another element, but there’s a flatness to that. You’re not standing on the precipice then – there’s no risk. I mean there’s that risk of your computer crashing I guess, but it’s very different to playing live. Everybody senses that element of risk, and that either makes it beautiful in a dangerous way, ‘cause you’re not sure if everyone’s gonna hit the next note together, or it all falls apart. And that’s pretty amazing, I think.”

Live, however, The Acid combine with Ry X rhythmist Jens Kuross, Cuming drafting in his touring associate “so that we could have all the drums live, and then take the computer away. The bass is on analogue synths, so we only have computers to monitor, and to feed sounds through. But we’re making them!” An admirable stance, he jests of how they’re together inverting ongoing technological trends, rendering their MacBooks obsolete in a sense. “We feed information through [them], but it has to be us [creating that information] – there’s something beautiful about knowing that you’re responsible for what’s about to happen musically.” Although it’s not only the onstage sloth of their contemporaries that has compelled The Acid to concoct altogether novel takes on their own songs, given that “the sound [coming] out of a computer is so perfect, that some potential energy is taken away.” Cuming then takes aim at the “compressed, produced and mastered sound” of perfect imperfection that computers so often produce within the parameters of electronic music, instead citing the trio’s desire to “link the elements together” as their current raison d’être. They are therefore working out “how to work in an analogue format, while still getting those sounds that we’ve worked on on record. ‘Cause it took a long time to harness a lot of those sounds – a lot of time with synths and drones, up and down arpeggios and stuff. So feeding it back through allows us to still access those sounds that we worked on, even though we’re recreating them all.”

Of course, in a sense, Ry X’ Berlin has been the catalyst for all this – the attention paid toward The Acid now beginning to simmer and spread, hence a UK show, etcetera. But if Berlin has fuelled Cuming’s solo trajectory, then he doesn’t strictly feel like that of The Acid has accelerated in the smoggy wake of a song that has seen his once-steady ascent positively skyrocket. “Ironically, it feels like we’ve all been holding back because of that” he ventures. “Adam’s a prominent DJ, and I now have some kind of social persona, so we haven’t really even started – we put up that SoundCloud, and not one of us did anything with it. We didn’t even send it to friends, [but] just wanted to see what might happen. We wrote and recorded four songs, put them up and didn’t do anything for six months. We then made a record, got a deal, made a video and all that.” The account is somewhat tricky to find in truth, the moniker once laid down in pretty well illegible Wingdings. “Well, in a way, we’ve been trying to hide it, so I don’t think it’s swinging on the back of something, even though I do think it’s just about to get going. Then we’ll see how the community feels about it! Their response is important to us, so it’s about that transparency – we’re not gonna force it down people’s throats, but if people respond to it, then it’s gonna keep feeding them.”

Creating the full-length recording in question – one that is, by Cuming’s own admission, “weird and deep” on occasion – was “certainly something we’d been wanting to do, and to do for ourselves.” But given his own newfound international prominence, and such is the sparse production of the songs we’ve heard thus far, that there is in fact very little – faint, at times frail guitars and that sort of sepia howl – for Cuming to hide his true identity behind. Therefore very much at the fore, and vocally so, he views “the different projects [as] different parts of myself, so they’re different iterations of what I’ve been wanting to make musically, [that have been inspired by] the different things I listen to”, thus negating any need for anonymity. “It’s beautiful to have different outlets, with Howling in Berlin[, another of Cuming's multitudinous projects, this time alongside German techno wunderkind Frank Wiedemann] and Ry X being this intimate portrayal of song and soundscape. And so with The Acid, it’s more experimental, ethereal drone stuff that links in, but the common thread through it all is a real honesty in the songwriting. Honesty maybe isn’t the perfect word, but the approach has always been so transparent, and easy. Not with any one of these projects have I had a label involved to begin with – it’s always been, ‘Let’s do this, ‘cause we wanna make this music.’ So I’ve always let it then filter out naturally. But I guess that once this is out, people are gonna see a lot more of who I am right across the board. I won’t have much to hide behind!”

He speaks of the shedding of various skins, as well as “the really fucked up thing” of being ‘the guy that sang the song on that Sony ad’, before defending his corner: “You can have all of this beautiful, underground persona, and then something like that [blows you out the water]. You look at the histories of great artists, or people that you love, and that moment might have framed that particular point in time, but it’s so much more about what you’re doing now, and what you’re moving towards. And it’s beautiful to get to access a lot of people that you might not otherwise get to communicate with – I don’t watch TV; I’ve never had a TV, so I don’t even know how it’s relevant – so for somebody else to get exposed to it in that way, I’m OK with. It’s not about saving that, anyway; it’s about saying, ‘This is a part of my body of work’, and it lives within that body of work.”

Yet with “a few more” still firmly lodged in the pipeline, he deems his viewing these projects as fundamentally definitive, different things to be of less than paramount importance. “It’s funny – not to draw the comparison, but you look at someone like Thom Yorke, and if he’s doing Atoms for Peace, of course it’s still gonna have elements of Radiohead in there. And it’s not necessarily about telling yourself that they’re completely separate identities, because you can’t do that with yourself. I mean I’ve been through very introverted periods in my life, when I’ve diligently studied spirituality and yoga for two years, and then six months later, I’m in Berghain at nine in the morning.” Needless to say, Cuming wasn’t up in time for yoga those ensuing mornings. “No, but it’s not necessarily that one thing has to always continue, but that everything that you’re doing is becoming a summary of all parts. I think that what I’m doing in the differing projects definitely influences those others, without question, so it’s all leading to a singular point, which is now – everything’s a step toward the present, and I’m not someone who regrets things. But I’m not gonna concentrate too hard on trying to find lines between them, either.”

Disappearing down various stylistic rabbit holes, and opening up “different worlds for people to explore”, ranks rather higher up Cuming’s proverbial list of priorities, this a notion he’s vocally keen on. (“It’s not that I feel an element of responsibility, but I like the opportunity to bring different sounds to different spaces.”) Currently topping that list is The Acid of course, and viewed as neither divergence, indulgence nor side project, he tells of how he’s able to so readily discern, “without question”, the ways in which he, Nalepa and Freeland have influenced, or perhaps rather creatively infected, one another. They’ve done so “not only on an artistic level, but on a human one as well. Both Adam and Steve are good friends, but to be together all of the time is maybe not something that you’d choose to do in a different context. So suddenly, you have family, and lots of different mirrors in your life. And by mirrors, I mean people that are mirroring back [at you] different parts of yourself. So when you’re sitting in a room with different people, you feel different as an individual. And it’s beautiful to get to experience that.” His spiritual schooling creeping back into the conversation, he continues: “We’re three strong characters, all from really different worlds, but we all found this marriage of love for music and art-making. And it’s pretty amazing, given how differently we all grew up.” Perhaps appositely, cackles crackle through the neighbouring office, those who work at Infectious Music’s London HQ seemingly entrenched in similar musical coalescence. “It’s pretty rare that you can reference stuff, and have three people from such different backgrounds aware of the same material and ideas, and if you don’t know it, you want to know about it. That sort of trust is beautiful, so it’s really exciting.”

Toying with the moniker itself a moment, it’s fitting for such a collaborative work to take its name from a term most commonly associated with compound fluids, and so too to have had it picked up by a label called Infectious Music. And Cuming confides, “At one point, we maybe thought it was too strong a word – to come out with The Acid is to give yourself a big title before you’ve even begun! As well as a genre that we definitely don’t belong to – y’know, we’re not really doing psych-rock stuff, nor are we doing acid house! But it was as much about alchemy, and the idea of that, as it was what people now think about, say, LSD. There will always be that reaction – the, ‘I did some LSD and listened to your music, ‘cause that’s what I thought I should’ve done’, and that’s great. I mean whatever gets you there – but hopefully you can portray that same kind of movement without the brain chemical adjustment! Hopefully the music can do a little bit of that…”

And finally, a somewhat formulaic question maybe, but does Cuming perceive The Acid to be more potent, at least musically, when combined, when contrasted with the mere sum of its constituent parts? “Absolutely, and it goes back to that question of trust – it’s rare that, in my artistic life, I’ve been able to completely trust the people around me. And we definitely have that, and we push each other. And having three people who know how to produce records, and know music on a really profound level, means that you’re not coming out with something that hasn’t been properly thought through. You’ve got two people anchoring you, or if you’re feeling a little flat, there’s two people pulling. So it’s quite special. And when you have three people moving toward a goal, there’s a lot of energy.” True to compulsively prolific form, Cuming has yet to allow himself the odd day off, instead admitting: “I don’t know how to do that yet – I can’t! When I’m making art, whether that be making videos, the mixing process, or whatever else, I really wanna be involved. I’m really busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Though also true to incredibly personable form, it seems fitting that, rare though it may be, he stands to pause, and subsequently embrace. But Cuming is a one-of-a-kind kind of auteur, and it certainly looks as though that schedule is only going to go on getting busier as this year wears on…

The Acid play Chats Palace March 31st.

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