Could you introduce yourself?
I’m Chris Burns. I record/perform music in a grip of different styles under a variety of pseudonyms, mostly as C Money Burns, lately as ＫＥＮＮＹ ❖ ＬＯＧＩＮ and ＭＡＸＸ ＬＥＧＲＯＯＭ, all three for a vaporwave-inspired trilogy of records I just put out over the past three months. I am a songwriter, producer/engineer and a multi-instrumentalist, and I’ve been touring and making lots of different kinds of music for over 20 years with many bands, artists and projects.
What’s your life philosophy? How do you try to apply that to your work?
I don’t know that I have any overarching philosophy to the way I go about life and art. I’m not really one to pin my hopes on the confines of an -ism, and I like to allow for things like contradiction, change, reassessment and growth. That said, a few years back, I was in a pretty dark place, I’d lost the will to create and was drinking pretty heavily. My wife texted me a sad picture of my staggeringly-large secret bottle stash that she’d stumbled on, and I had one of those Gestalt moments we normally pay therapists to convince us of.
I was thinking about artists in times past who had to really sacrifice in order to create, and how palpable that kind of immediacy is in their finished work. It used to be that to be an artist, you had to forego not just luxuries, but necessities in order to create if you didn’t have patronage. These days, most art that makes it in front of us is a curated product of leisure time and luxury products/devices, and is designed to death in service of the manicured tastes of over-articulated subcultures, which is apparent in the disposable and lazy nature of most art media we’re presented with. I realized I needed to sacrifice some of my comfortability in order to create what I’d consider properly-meaningful art.
So, after the wife and I talked about it honestly, I quit drinking and cut my drinking buddies loose, and then went part-time at my job . In service of that ascetic drive, I went even further and quit driving, smoking, coffee, going out to eat, watching movies and TV. It’s pretty austere and extreme approach, sometimes it even feels monastic, but now I have the time, space and solitude to create what I feel, and it feels very satisfying to have sincerely given up some modern, disposable luxuries in order to dedicate my life to the production of my art. I used to hate calling myself a “musician” and a “producer” because of the worst stereotypes those self-applied titles conjure, but now that I’ve cut out a lot of the leisure excess from my life that feeds the throwaway pop culture I loathe (and try to create in opposition to), I feel confident saying I’m an independent, working artist and I am serious about what I am creating.
Could you tell us what you think makes you stand apart in the music industry?
Mutability and contextual awareness. I’ve collected and played music for so long, and have spent so much time listening to as many disparate eras, geographies and movements as I could (check http://www.last.fm/user/cmoneyburns for stats) that I feel I am acutely self-aware of my music’s references, tropes, appropriations, recontextualizations and place in the wider history of electronic music, art music and western music. I’ve played in bands doing Reggae, Country, Prog Rock, Latin, Goth Rock, Indie/Slowcore, Disco House, Stoner/Doom Metal, and R&B (I was even once in a group that only covered Bond themes), so I feel like I can approach a variety of disparate forms, many that casual listeners will rightly be entirely unfamiliar with, and make a cohesive, engaging whole from whatever elements I choose. I feel I have a specific knack for making experimental/art music that is palatable and not intentionally obtuse, academic or outlandish in presentation. I also don’t have a ’sound’ and don’t want to be confined by one. I approach each piece of music from the ground up, and look at every song as an experiment, a chance to bridge as-yet-unconnected or distant ideas in a novel way.
How has your past experience with rap influenced your current work in Vapourwave?
Because I’ve never really had a ‘sound’ or specific set of confines that my work generally sits in, I’ve always felt a little like an outsider in whatever form/genre I’m currently working in. I’ve had the chance to work with a lot of rappers over the past few years thanks primarily to my dude Brzowski who is a one-man global nexus of underground rap connections. Previous to that, when I was even more of a no-name buster than I am now, I got a lot of HELL NAWs from rappers saying my stuff was too busy, corny or cheesy for them to act hard on. They weren’t wrong, as I had started collecting library records (vintage production music for filmstrips/tv/background/segues) and was making songs out of chopped-up and slowed-down samples of them while playing bass and funk guitar on top. I kept making these songs and pushing them on these unsuspecting local rap kids who all had no idea how to approach them. Fast forward a few years and I started reading about Vaporwave and its cynical-yet-cheeky re-appropriation of commercial music, its obsession with nostalgic affectation, its fetishization of extremely dated/over-processed sounds, and found that this described exactly what I’d been trying with these rejected rap instrumentals over the past few years. I was just barking up the wrong tree. So I renamed and retagged all my stuff on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, and came up with some visual identities for it that fit in three vapor-centric categories, and here we are.
Could you tell us about your recent projects, what can our readers check out now?
Lately, I’ve been fascinated with all things Vapour (credit to my dude wosX for the handy term), and have put out three records this year that deal with different subsets of it. The first is an Occult Mallsoft record as ＫＥＮＮＹ ❖ ＬＯＧＩＮ, called FOOD COURT Ａｆｔｅｒｈｏｕｒｓ, which came out in May on Question Records (https://questionrecords.bandcamp.com/album/food-court). I work at a mall, and mall music has a both a sedate and insidious nature that I wanted to explore. There’s a lot of hidden occult stuff in this record and in the art for it. You can check out a video I made for the song BLOOD ORANGE JULIUS from broken computers and a Satanic ritual here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qd8iB4A2V9k
The second record from June is a Hardvapour/Doom Vapor joint on Antifur as C MONEY BURNS called Дьявол в деталях (https://antifur.bandcamp.com/album/--8). On this record, I wanted to use Vaporwave production techniques to make something much darker with hints of Doom and Eastern European metal as a reaction against the more corny and uncreative affectations of Vaporwave. The idea lined up alongside Antifur’s stance against all things soft nicely.
The third record is a summery Vaportrap/Vaporfunk LP coming out 7/18 on Pizzabox Society as ＭＡＸＸ ＬＥＧＲＯＯＭ called ＣＯＮ／ＳＵＭ／ＭＥＲ(https://pizzaboxsociety.bandcamp.com/album/--6). With this collection of songs, I wanted to do stuff that was a cross between some of the newer Vaportrap sounds and the Low End Theory/LA beat scene stuff by sampling more funk and soul stuff, then overlay it with a bunch of real instruments so it’s kind of hard to tell what’s sampled and what’s played in parts. There’s also a fake 80’s TV show theme on it that I made with a sax player from Fiverr that makes me laugh every time I hear it. I have a video for the ‘lead single’ (?) HIGH TRACKING here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qd8iB4A2V9k
Aside from that, I have a Sludgewave/Doom Rap band called Vinyl Cape (https://vinylcape.com) with stalwart rap comrade Brzowski and Connecticut’s most humble DJ, Mo Niklz that I regularly release and tour with, and a project called Elevator Hotels (https://elevatorhotels.bandcamp.com), a one-man band-ish instrumental project weaving together campier strains of Morricone-ish Spaghetti Western soundtracks with Indie Jazz, Math Rock and Roots/Americana. The best one-stop place to find all of this stuff, as well as demos, works-in-progress, remixes, art jokes and sound sketches is on my Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/cmoneyburns).
Do you have any rituals you do before you start your creative process for a new project, to get your mind and energy in the right place?
I smoke a lot of weed when I’m actually making music. I find it lowers my critical barriers and allows me to free associate much more easily. I’m the kind of guy who is always looking for what’s wrong/what’s lacking in art rather than what I enjoy, especially in my own, so I find weed quiets that negative voice for little bit and lets me build and move quickly between ideas without too much overanalysis. It’s about as close as I’d ever get to a sacrament.
As for other ritualistic-type stuff, I’m a large fan of lists. When I start a new project, it gets me in the right frame of mind to create if I have some goals and confines I’ve set up for myself. I like to list out four or five records I want to invoke, and at least as many that I want to avoid referencing. Along with that sometimes comes song titles, visuals, logos, any sort of aspect ancillary to process that ends up defining that collection of stuff in the end. I guess it could be likened to surrounding oneself with evocative objects in the ritual chamber. I feel like the more of those elements that are in place around the actual music, the easier time I have conjuring music that fits their overall vibe.
What’s a typical day for you?
Up at 8AM, work the day job until early afternoon, go home and work on music-related stuff until 3AM, sleep a little, repeat. Throw in various amounts of neat-freak chores, tea, cat-related diversions and traveling everywhere by foot or bus.
What are some of your goals for 2017? Where do you see yourself in the future?
This trilogy of Vapour-related records was one of my big goals, and that’s come to fruition. I really wanted to make a wry musical survey of the edges of an intentionally obscurantist subculture, and I did it to the best of my abilities. Next, I’m doing a short East Coast tour with my band Vinyl Cape for a couple weeks in late August to hype the release of our new record The Glitter of Putrescence on Milled Pavement Records (http://milledpavement.com) that I produced/recorded over the past couple years. After that, I’m looking to put out a collaboration with a ridiculously talented singer named Renee Coolbrith called EX/POST(https://soundcloud.com/cmoneyburns/expost-how-now-demo-vocal-mix) that I like to describe as Futuregoth R&B (any labels interested in such, holler!). I’m also doing production/mix/master work on some new music from rapper Brzowski, whom I collaborate with in Vinyl Cape, and am doing some guitar/bari/bass work on a couple records for some rap friends (and if anyone reading is interested, I am definitely for hire for the right projects; hit my Soundcloud link above).
As for the future, my goal in life is just to pay my rent with my art and have people I don’t know respect and enjoy my art on its own merits. Whatever the methods for accomplishing that, I am all for.
What makes you happy?
Music that’s new to me (especially old music), my wife, our cats, my baritone guitar, the feeling I get when I know I’ve finally finished a piece, being out in nature (Maine is pretty dope for that).
Any closing comments?
Readers: The parasitic record industry that feeds you boardroom-approved, focus-grouped, terminally-mediocre marketing verticals, already-used ideas and luxury rebellion as music is dying, and you can help kill it by supporting independent music and art. Go to shows and buy merch from touring performers you like. Buy their songs as directly from them as possible (Bandcamp is awesome for this). Fuck Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, Tidal and their artless, greedy owners.
GBP: Thanks so much for having me, for the thoughtful questions, and for promoting good art, music and fashion that gets overlooked by the mainstream.