Daniel Pujol is not just making music. He’s creating source material for a universal reinvention, or apocalypse—whichever comes first. Underneath the gnarled garage roof from which his music emerges comes an intense sense of self-awareness and self-conscious focus on what those songs project, or predict. His music ignores, or doesn’t care about, the undefinable thing of authenticity. Or as Pujol puts it, “I would rather make art with no real reference to anything but itself.” When I caught up with Daniel recently, the conversation moved from manufactured internet lives to communicating one’s identity to Keanu Reeves’ projected fear.
This past Friday I caught Pujol at Death By Audio in Brooklyn, playing songs from the band’s new album Kludge, as well as songs they’ve been playing live in basements and bars for years now. The band playing before Pujol wore an odd homogenous uniform of denim vests with cut-off sleeves, so Pujol’s sneering Nashville swagger was a much-needed breath of slightly salty air. As was this interview.
How’d you come up with the name Kludge?
I saw an article called, “Is America A Kludgeocracy.” I liked the word “kludge.” “A hard to maintain yet effective and quick solution,” is a crude, Wikipedia definition of the word. I thought the word described the actual making of the album as well as some of its themes. I rented a tiny strip mall unit in Mt. Juliet, TN and worked there with the producer, Doni Shroader, after office hours all night for basic tracking. Essentially, we were setting up each tracking day at 5 p.m. and tearing it down at 5 a.m. Then recording just hopped around to all these different places, both before and during mixing at Battle Tapes, which was expanding and under construction. For instance, vocals for Judas Booth were done in a half-finished tracking room during the construction workers’ off days. Total kludge.
How do you think the process of recording the album at a time when most people were sleeping affected how it came together?
There were no distractions. I’d bring in a song, narrate its tiny world to Doni, and then he would try to translate that world through recording techniques. Outside was just a dark highway road, closed businesses, no people and wifi—that was it. A total blank canvas for feels. Also, the band was able to get comfortable in the recording environment. I wasn’t having to blow through sessions because I was paying $500 a day for a room. There were party lights and a projector in there, so we would put on muted movies and videos to set the tone for what we were trying to achieve. Things were able to vibe, and anyone that was there at 2 a.m. obviously wanted to be there for creative reasons; so we had the time and the attitude for experimentation. Doni and I would set up, Brett and/or Clay would show up, I would make coffee and then we would get to it. I was able to encourage the stylistic performances I wanted from each band member, and Doni was able to develop them into the sonic picture as a producer. It would be 3 a.m., everything’s lit like a roller rink, and I would be looking at Brett saying, “like you’re riding an elephant and playing a reed horn.” And, of course, it’s spooky out there in the middle of the night. That definitely aided the “cartoon nightmare” vibe I was hoping for.
Have you ever read the Situationists’ Society of the Spectacle? Definitely getting those vibes.
Well, without getting into citation, I’ll see what I can say. I don’t have my books unpacked. I think their argument that the mass dissemination of images can create an “autonomous image” of reality is something we do everyday now. This “image” is sort of a cultural myth that idolizes the dominant socioeconomic model. It justifies and perpetuates itself by merely existing because it informs the thoughts, language, choices, options, and actions of all the “witnesses” acting outside it, and then back at it.
But maybe it’s not just for the ad firms, “the man” or the culture industry anymore. We’re encouraged to sell manicured versions, or images, of ourselves to each other on the internet all day long, and if we are consistent enough with that identity, we are rewarded with reinforcement via customized ads, information, social circles, and by the recognition from the other manicured selfs we’ve allowed into the pipeline. This stuff’s happened at the grocery store for years, but now it doesn’t even require eye contact. Maybe identity is now just a commodity, and “being an individual” upholds the dominant mode of production. If so, that would be very confusing. It would be easy to confuse your “self” with your “sense of self.” Or your abstract identity with your physical body. I am interested in writing about the relationships between humans and things, ideas, each other and themselves. I think the writings loosely defined as “Situationist” are excellent source material for finding language to describe the ideas, situations and feelings of “the now” from a historical perspective.
I found elements of paranoia tied to pop culture in Kludge. Do you think this is kind of an inevitability of modern life?
Is the voyeur paranoid? Paranoid that he/she will be seen spying on someone? By someone else? There’s a GPS on your phone. It keeps you safe because everyone can know where you are. Like the world is your parents and you’re a baby. Now multiple that by nine billion and divide it by class. All that is such a brain burner if you think about it, that we’ve got shadow people, lizard people. FEMA camps, space aliens, cult conspiracy and the whole underbelly of the Internet trying to personify the serious fear of basic individual and collective human incompetence. I mean, if the big It happened, wouldn’t you prefer the perpetrators to be lizard people trying to recolonize the earth instead of just some basic dudes who messed up at work and now the whole world is like this forever? The personification of fear morphs with what is scary and not yet understood: like “why does the local PD have an MRAP” or “why do I feel this way all the time?” So yes, there are some scary fear-chimeras from the pop world all over Kludge, but they’re mostly just failing each other or themselves.
Would you consider Kludge a concept album?
I would say there is a narrative involving identity. A character aggressively shifts from one sense of Self to the next, and accepts it will happen again and again, that the change is inevitable, that growth will happen whether they like it or not, and makes peace with that. They’re not their identity. They fruitlessly try to find meaning for themselves in other people, ideas and the world. They cannot communicate their condition. They are alienated from their own language. Then they meet someone who is the same kind of lonely, and they realize they’ll be on the same page temporarily and grow apart, or improvise together for as long as it works. But growth will happen, whether they like it or not. Consistency isn’t necessarily growth and they have to see where it goes. Towards heaven or death! You be the judge!
Do you think you’re more interested in reality or fantasy?
I am more interested in fantasy. Sometimes it seems there is a disturbing over-emphasis on the authentic. Maybe because it’s so easy to generate fantasies that it’s comforting to make those fantasies heavily represent “reality.” The rabbit hole seems less deep, so it appears to limit itself. Caricatures of authenticity posing as the real thing are the biggest nightmares, and I assume they exist in all mediums. When making rock and roll recordings, it is easy to encounter or become someone obsessed with capturing some kind of authentic moment, the one’s that have been described on VH1 Behind The Music. I do not want to make caricatures of the real that callously reference previously established tropes of “reality” by the sweaty prosumers guide to rock and roll. I would rather make art with no real reference to anything but itself. It’s going to end up existing against everything else anyway, so why worry if doesn’t sound the way Guitar Center says your instruments should sound. If a recording is a perfect sonic photograph of instruments, amps, products and plug-ins, is it a commercial or art? Can anything really even sound natural? A bazillion creative decisions could happen in the process of answering those questions. Trying to quantify that limits ideas. You can do that with tools and techniques, but not ideas. Sometimes a kooky idea just needs to be worked out, then it just exists, and that’s okay. The human imagination is pretty cool, it would be a shame for every idea to have to look, sound or feel “already real” for it to get to exist. That logic implies your imagination should only go as far as the world in front of your face built by a few words from our sponsor.
Are you still a Skrillex fan?
Yep. I admire the craft of EDM production. Sound design is fascinating to me, and still way over my head, but I am very interested in it. Militaries weaponize sound using sound design, but people also make dance music with it. It’s interesting stuff. A lot of EDM production techniques are more sophisticated versions of home-recording techniques. Like 4-track, Garageband, DIY home-recording stuff; layering, bouncing, subtractive EQ, etc. A buddy gave me an EDM production PDF before I started recording Kludge, and I figured out how to find the vocabulary to communicate my favorite home-recording ideas in “real” music production terms. That information helped me communicate better with Doni, Jeremy at Battle Tapes and Chris during mastering. Instead of talking in riddles I could say, “give every instrument its own spot in the frequency spectrum, so nothing is competing with each other, then we’ll see where everything is at.” I’m still trying to wrap my head around basic sound design, though.
Can you name something else that’s kludgey?
Is Frankenstein your favorite monster? There seem to be a lot of references, Frankenstein Superman, and all that.
I’m really into Gary Oldman as Dracula right now. His shadow shows his true intentions. Or it’s fed to autonomy by Keanu Reeves’ projected fear.