Gary Lucas: Ignoring Genre Divisions
Marketing Alternative Music
Interview Excerpt #10
FRANK J. OTERI: You have a very active Web site that has won all sorts of awards. How has the web helped you to promote your music?
GARY LUCAS: It’s basically functioned as an electronic billboard out there in cyberspace so that anyone interested in my activities can go to it and find out about me if they don’t know much about me. I’m lucky because I got in on the construction of this thing 4 or 5 years ago through a couple of my friends who are computer wizzes, I am not I have to tell you. I am also a little bit skeptical of ultimately the way things are going with computers. I’m very cynical of Napster and MP3 files, although I may well put an unreleased track on my site as an MP3 giveaway soon. I came out of a generation that really missed out on the computer mania. I didn’t really learn how to learn to operate a computer until recently. And more or less only to give and get e-mail which is what I think it’s good for. To me the idea of spending hours hunched over a keyboard to surf the net or to listen to music, does not appeal to me at all. I can see the advantages to it obviously, with an exchange of information in some professions. But for me as a composer and songwriter, it doesn’t really do anything other than to alert people to my gigs, to tell them I have CDs available, and merchandise.
FRANK J. OTERI: So do you sell CDs on the Web?
GARY LUCAS: I do, but you know it’s not really yet a significant component of my overall career.
FRANK J. OTERI: Is Enemy Records your own label?
GARY LUCAS: No. Enemy was a label that was active in the late 80s and throughout most of the 90s. They were based in Germany and they had an office in New York. They pretty much ceased to exist as a functioning label, they have not released any new artists, or records in about 5 years.
FRANK J. OTERI: But their albums are still in print…
GARY LUCAS: They’re still in print in the U.S., some of them trickle into Europe as imports. And they’re available still on Amazon and CDNow. I think it was a great label in so far as the guy who ran it, Michael Kanoe, took real risks in signing non-mainstream artists. When I was there, they had Sonny Sharrock, Elliot Sharp, Jean-Paul Bourelly… It was real guitar, experimental guitar. The catalog was very good. But he came up against what a lot of indie-recording companies have, which is how to really get the music in the marketplace, and promote it in the face of thousands of records being released every month.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well I think these labels, these experimental risk-taking rock labels really function the same way as contemporary classical music labels and avant-jazz labels. We are all in the same situation. And interestingly enough, I think our audiences are the same. I wanted to ask you an audience related question, who do you think your audience is?
GARY LUCAS: From what I gather, many, many different kinds of people. I don’t think there’s a coherent demographic to it, other than people who are bored with what’s out there. ‘Cause I think most of it is crap, and my fans would agree. I think it’s people who are like seeking something more diverse that’s not idiomatic to genres. I got fan mail recently from fans in New Zealand, I don’t know how they discovered me, and they like the Jewish stuff. And they said, “Oh my Grandparents adore this record.” So I know there are some elderly people who are into it. I get fan mail too from young kids who discovered me when I played in France last time, some really young fans who stood in front of me, and staring at my fingers while I was playing. So they’re guitar freaks, they’re new music freaks, they’re Jewish music freaks. It spans genres, like my music; it spans types of people. I couldn’t really say that it’s one particular segment of an audience. But they’re out there. It’s how to get to them. That’s the question. Hopefully the Web site is one way that people who like what I do would at least be clued in to what my new releases were.
FRANK J. OTERI: All I can tell you is the first bug that got me thinking about this interview was that it was really exciting for me to be in Tower Records and to see Improve the Shining Hour next to Luscious Jackson in the Rock section. I thought “yes” because there it was this album that’s so all over the place and that’s so experimental next to mainstream pop music.
GARY LUCAS: That’s amazing. I feel lucky that way. See I never, as much as I’m identified as a Downtown player, I’m not your typical Downtown musician in so far as that I like pop music and I embrace it. I try to make popular music. I don’t try to limit myself to Downtown. On the other hand, I hate formulas, so I’m always trying to subvert formulas. I just couldn’t knuckle down to make a real, schmaltzy pop song that didn’t have some Gary Lucas twist in it. Anyway, it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. Uptown, Downtown, let’s get rid of these labels. Beefheart had this record called Lick My Decals Off, Baby, which he said meant “get rid of the labels.” And I think that’s important. Anyway, I will continue to try and reach out to a mainstream audience without actually making mainstream-type music because my experience is that once people hear what it is that I do they like it. It’s very user-friendly. It’s big on melodies. I like melodies; it could be going back to my parents playing Broadway show tunes in the house. And I like noise too. So in between these extremes of my experience, hopefully there are areas in there that all sorts of people can pick up on. And yet in a crafty sense I never try to aim at one particular market. So it’s a blessing and a curse. On one hand I get to really put my feelings on display, I get to play what I feel, and I like all these kinds of genres, but on the other hand it’s a bitch to market. It’s like how to go after what market, what niche. I don’t really know what niche I want. Some people have called it world music for God’s sake.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well it’s all world music unless it’s created in outer space. (laughs)
GARY LUCAS: Well there you go, that’s right, I like that. I’m a one world-er that way.