SQURL (Jim Jarmusch & Carter Logan) :: The AD Interview

In Jim Jarmusch’s beatific Paterson, Adam Driver plays a bus driving poet named Paterson, living in Paterson, New Jersey. It’s a film guided by patterns: the patterns Paterson’s wife Laura wears, the pattern of his day to day routine, the repeating patterns of twins throughout the film. It’s a film about the poetry of “normal life,” and it features words by Ron Padgett, writing for Driver’s character, which call back to William Carlos Williams’ epic poem, called Paterson, of course. There’s a quick but pivotal verse by Method Man too. Jarmusch films have always unfolded slowly –think Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, and Mystery Train—but Paterson feels warmer than those films. It seems to luxuriate in its pace, offering a balmy sweetness to the patient viewer.

Throughout the film, Jarmusch and collaborator Carter Logan’s SQURL provide ambient textures behind Driver’s slow motion. The band’s body of work, including pieces for Jarmusch films The Limits of Control, Only Lovers Left Alive, and the recently-released EP #260, features sprawling feedback and distorted drones. But the duo approached Paterson differently, mostly forgoing guitars in favor of analog synthesizers, creating a contemplative sound that feels like an electronic counterpoint to Jarmusch’s recordings with lutist Jozef van Wissem, Concerning The Entrance Into Eternity and Mystery of Heaven.

The Paterson soundtrack was recently released by Third Man Records, and AD rang up Jarmusch and Logan to discuss expanding the music to album-length, the band’s experience providing live scores to silent film director Man Ray’s Retour a la Raison, Emak Bakia, Les Mysteres Du Chateau Du De, and L’Etoile De Mer, and most excitingly, to debate and define, Coffee and Cigarettes-style, the term “ecstatic music.”

Aquarium Drunkard: Paterson feels very different from what I hear on SQURL records and your other scores. Did the themes of the film itself dictate a shift away from that more heavily distorted format?

Jim Jarmusch: It started because I love many forms of music. I’ve always loved electronic music. Carter, too. We’ve been into the whole history of electronic music, from Otto Luening to Stockhausen to Berio, lots of different things. This kind of happened when we made our first score contributions to a film, The Limits of Control. I was trying to score that film with existing music. In [a] certain sequence, [the characters] are in an art museum and I could not find stuff that seemed to work. So the editor at the time, Jay Rabinowitz, said, “Why don’t you guys just try to make some music for it?” Which we did—we worked with Shane Stoneback, Carter and I, and it was good.

In this case, with Paterson, I wanted an electric score from the very beginning. I was trying all kinds of things. I love Boards of Canada, Tangerine Dream, and of course Eno, and Aphex Twin and Biosphere. We love Blanck Mass, he’s a friend of ours, and Jonsi and Alex from Iceland, and all kinds of stuff, Cluster, Global Communication. I was trying a lot of stuff, and some of it would be too sweet, some of it would be too dark. I don’t know what words to use, but it wasn’t quite weaving together right. But then our editor on this film, Affonso Gonçalves–“Fonzie”–[said] “Well man, I know you and Carter just got some analog synths and you’ve been into that and doing the live Man Ray scores, why don’t you guys try to make the score?” So we didn’t have much free time to do it, but over a series of weekends we started creating some stuff and when it got laid in, it was working really well. So we just followed that.

Carter Logan: It was a different process than the Only Lovers Left Alive score. With Only Lovers, we had some sketches from Jozef and we started building some things in the studio and kind of knew where exactly it was going to go from the very beginning. [With] Limits…Jim and the editor had tried things, and they worked, but only to certain degrees. Not 100%. In the case of Paterson, we actually sat and watched a whole cut of the film with temp music in. We were able to feel, “Okay, this moment is good, except it’s too dense.” Or, “This is good, except it’s too dark.” Or, “I like this organic element of the temp music, maybe we could incorporate something like that but the rest of it is not working.” We had the advantage of doing that, and the disadvantage, because we were pretty far down the line. We didn’t have a lot of time to do this, but we already had the whole direction mapped out between Jim and Affonso, who’s a fantastic music editor. The feeling was there. We knew where it was going.

The other thing is, because of the nature of our work, which is so close to the film, we’ll take in sketches and things that a composer might otherwise not give a director, and start working with them and take them back and hone those. It’s much more of a fluid back-and-forth out of the editing room than you might otherwise get.

Jim Jarmusch: We knew we wanted floating, electronic variations with sort of analog synths. Our only real oblique strategy really was, “Okay, let’s not use sequencers, you know? Let’s try playing everything or maybe some loops, but not that kind of sequenced analog synth sound.” It’s observational, ambient, floating kind of stuff that seemed to suit the film, because [Paterson’s] floating around throughout, on his bus, or going to work or whatever. It seemed like opening his imagination. It seemed helpful and appropriate in the end.

AD: I’m moved by how gentle and patient the movie is. I have to admit, I get sucked into my phone and my inbox so often. I feel like time’s accelerated, or I feel like I don’t have enough time to allow myself to just drift, like you mentioned. The film reminded me of what that looks like. There was an intentionality to it. Did you kind of hope that people would approach the music in a same way? How does it feel to have this record live on its own, apart from the film?

Jim Jarmusch: When we were scoring the film, we’d find a piece that worked. And you only needed it there for two minutes, right? So we’d hone that down and get it into the film. And then later, we worked with our friend Jonathan [Kreinik] and we then kind of extended things and remixed them into an album-length thing.

Carter Logan: I think we’re both really not that into film score records where you get it and the cue [is presented] as it is in the movie…just a minute and 15 seconds long. We had longer versions of these, we only abstracted that bit for the movie. We had the luxury of being able to go back in, open that back up and mix it in a way with a collaborator who really had an ear for and understanding of what we were doing. Although we worked a lot with the cues that are in the movie, they still sound fresh to us on the record.

AD: You mentioned the live scoring you did of four silent films by Man Ray. Did you approach that project differently than you approached Limits of Control or Only Lovers Left Alive? Were you composing directly to what you were seeing on the screen?

Carter Logan: Definitely. We’ve never really sat with playback and played along to something in any of the films we’d made – the one exception being in Only Lovers Left Alive, where the character Adam [played by Tom Hiddleston] is making music. We needed to fit into that spot with what we were doing. The Man Ray experience was very different for us. Doing it live…leaving ourselves open…it was semi-improvised. We had a map, but we didn’t have music composed down to the cut. But those films—it’s really like interacting with a third band member. It’s a totally different experience than composing in the studio or performing live without the film.

Jim Jarmusch: It’s a third band member, but Man Ray’s really the frontman.

Carter Logan: Those films don’t change, it’s just that our perception—our relationship to them—does based on what we decided to do that night, based on the framework we’ve created or what the room is like that night and what the mood is like. We have this ability to let them breathe in a way, even though the films aren’t technically changing at all. I think that really changed our process in a way. That was the beginning of us using some of the tools we used for the Paterson score.

Jim Jarmusch: Although the Man Ray thing, there is a little more of our kind of SQURL-ly distorted guitar and feedback thing coming in. And there are drums, too, because Carter will play drums, loops, samples, and synths, and I’ll play synths and loops and effected guitar. The weapons we have to reach for are a little bit more varied.

AD: There are some reference points for what SQURL does, in terms of electric guitar. I think of avant-garde metal, drone music, psychedelia. But Paterson has more in common with ambient music. Not everybody likes the term new age—I’m not specifically bothered by it—but there are some new age sounds.

Jim Jarmusch: You mean the song by the Velvet Underground, from Loaded?

AD: [Laughs] You mentioned stuff like Boards of Canada and Eno. Did you feel comfortable exploring that more contemplative feeling?

Jim Jarmusch: It just kind of came out of us, although a funny thing is, when I played earlier synth tracks that I had created to Shane Stoneback, he said, “Hey man, you play synth the same way you play the guitar. I can tell it’s you.” They’re both like SQURL to me. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell from inside.

Carter Logan: I think one of the things that interests us is about space and creating space. Allowing things to hang. That’s present in both forms. Drone music can be really heavy or it can be light. Guitar feedback, likewise, can be really shimmery or really low and sludgy. This was just kind of an exploration more of the lighter side. We [kept] it away from going toward the more dense and heavier tendencies, but using space and punctuating that space is something I think that is maybe a through line. Letting things hang and then breaking them up – that’s interesting to us. There’s no drums on this, but we might bring in some percussive bass part at some point and drop it back out, or let a glass harmonica hang in the air instead of guitar feedback, or build a drone out of a synthesizer rather than a distorted harmonium, which is something we’ve used before. It’s really more about that spacial relationship in a certain way than just a matter of density.

Jim Jarmusch: [On the first SQURL EP] we have one called “Some Feedback For Jozef van Wissem.” It’s just two tracks of guitar feedback, but it’s very lyrical. It’s not like sludge. We love sludge, but guitar feedback can be almost, I don’t know if lyrical’s the right word, but it doesn’t have to be like sludge-core, you know? [Laughs] 

AD: I was driving listening to Paterson score yesterday and somebody pulled up next to me at a stoplight. They had very loud rap playing and for a minute I got my own personal remix of the score, with sort of an atonal bass thud thrown into it. You mentioned some rhythmic elements to it, Carter, and I turned it up to make sure that I wasn’t hearing something you guys had intentionally put in, because I did notice those slight rhythmic variations. It’s not entirely floating. There are things that tether it with a little bit of gravity.

Jim Jarmusch: We should throw some over to our friend El-P and see what he does.

AD: Jim, you’ve used the music of bands like Boris, Sunn O))), and Sleep in your films. They share some commonalities with the music of SQURL. I’m interested in whether or not you find those kinds of sounds meditative or ecstatic? They feel connected in approach to some of the ambient music we’re talking about.

Jim Jarmusch: I would say yes in terms of “what is ecstatic music?” which is Sunn O))) and Swans and Boris, but it’s also Hildegard von Bingen, Morton Feldmen, Terry Riley, and another friend of ours, Noveller. It’s broader than being too confined by what’s heavy or loud or dense versus, I don’t know if you know the string quartets or the quintet by Morton Feldman, that is really beautiful drone music and definitely ecstatic music in the same way Sunn O))) or Swans are.

Carter Logan: Seeing Sunn O))) is like 21st-century gong meditation. You feel the music as much as or more than you hear it. It is a complete sound bath and that’s been going on for centuries. I don’t see it being different in that way. It can still elevate, despite having an omen of total darkness to it, too.

Jim Jarmusch: Just to plug them, Boris has a new record [Dear] which is heavy as hell…it’s really fucking great.

Carter Logan: It’s all part of the same world. Sunn O))) isn’t organized necessarily around a pop song structure – although you can find something in there if you’re looking for it – but there is rhythm despite the fact that there’s no percussionist. But it’s about how those sounds eventually emerge to you over time.

Jim Jarmusch: Our friends Föllakzoid do a remix on our most recent EP for Sacred Bones, and they are for me definitely ecstatic music. Mushroomed-out ecstatic music, for sure.

Carter Logan: They’ll just take a delay, a repetitive rhythm, that just becomes arhythmic after a certain point. Suicide has that element, too. Its repeating stops being a rhythm any more and becomes a meditation, I think.

AD: “Frankie Teardrop” is a kind of religious experience. It’s not a comfortable one, but it is one.

Jim Jarmusch: In the same vein, I’d say Tinariwen can be ecstatic. Or Yasmine Hamdan. It’s quite broad. It’s more about an intention than trying to categorize a certain sound.

AD: Tonally, something from an Alice Coltrane record where she’s playing harp is very different from a Suicide record, but they are both pushing the limits of expression.

Carter Logan: Alice Coltrane was onto the transcendence of the music over the tools. She played harp, she sang, and then she played an Oberheim synthesizer. It wasn’t different. They were just different tools used to the same end.

Jim Jarmusch: And then where do you put someone like Ty Braxton, who’s like the future of all music sometimes to me? Is he ecstatic? I don’t know. He is for me.

AD: You did a great version of “Funnel of Love” for Only Lovers Left Alive, which sort of replicated the sound of that Wanda Jackson 45 being played at 33 RPM. Does playing more traditional rockabilly or songs that can be categorized by a pop structure scratch a different kind of itch for you guys? Or is there some way you are able to tap into that ecstatic quality while playing what’s ostensibly a rock & roll or country song?

Jim Jarmusch: I think slowing them down certainly puts them in a different layer of the atmosphere. Live, we play Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” very slow. We play “Little Sister” very slow. For a while, we were jokingly calling it Oxy-billy. But we love sad country music, but we like slowing it way down. “Funnel of Love”—her original version is quite toe-tapping. [Laughs] It’s pretty fast. So when you slow it down, it’s more swirly, psychedelic. It’s the same song, but it’s viewed from a different planet or something.

Carter Logan: I think there’s a purity of songwriting to those songs you mentioned that allows them to be reinterpreted ad nauseam, really, and take different forms. We love variations. We love variation in music, whether that’s classical music in the way that has a history of being reinterpreted, or jazz standards. They are the American pop version of that kind of thing. I don’t know if I necessarily see too much of a distinction between taking one of those doing what we do to it to stretch it out, and change the perspective, as Jim said…I don’t see it as hugely different than a jazz musician reinterpreting “My Favorite Things.”

AD: What have you guys been listening to lately?

Jim Jarmusch: Yikes.

Carter Logan: Oh, that’s tough. Today? I was just listening to the new Big Brave record. Some Kendrick Lamar—I  think Jim and I are both really into [Kendrick]. We love Thurston Moore’s new record, Rock & Roll Consciousness.

Jim Jarmusch: I’ve been listening to Alan Vega’s posthumous album, IT. During a calm period when I was driving earlier I was listening to William Byrd, 16th-century polyphonic music. I listened a little bit to this band I love from Iceland, Dead Skeletons. That’s just for today. Yasmine Hamdan has a new video out for her new record that Elia Suleiman directed – I saw that today, also. She’s so incredible.

Carter Logan: Also the new Zola Jesus record, Okovi.

AD: Are you guys working on anything right now?

Jim Jarmusch: We’re going to do our Man Ray thing again. We have one little tour set up in about a month through the Midwest: Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Columbus…

Carter Logan: The Rust Belt, basically.

Jim Jarmusch: Then we want to do it again, maybe early next year on the East Coast, and then eventually do it on the West Coast. We haven’t started, but we kind of want to re-approach our live performance as SQURL [to gear it] even more toward our taste of longer, maybe more instrumental, a little less song-form referencing. I built a little studio in the Hudson Valley we’re trying to get together where we can record easily. | j woodbury

Further reading :: Music From the Films of Jim Jarmusch

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