Interview: James Ferraro And His Music Multiverse

Pop-culture artist savant James Ferraro recently broke down the backstory behind his many projects, albums, and inspirations for a Fireside Chat with RBMA Radio. Read what he has to say about his strange creations below.

Whether it involves huffing aerosol, direct-injecting off-brand Creatine, adding augmented reality contact lenses, or black-lighting Hummers, the artist James Ferraro continues to demonstrate his fascination with the dark underbelly of masculine culture in the digital age. His prolific works vacillate between the influences of low-brow B-movie characters pumped up on steroids, adrenaline and sugar drinks, and the gaudy mega-rich of tomorrow - complete with their oxygen bars, vanity-plated PT Cruisers, celebrity sushi and Swarovski encrusted casual wear. His 2011 'Far Side Virtual' album, a musical biosphere of Pixar-esque ringtones, was one of the most wildly divisive records of the year (and one we liked a lot, btw), and by its very peculiar nature saw Ferraro getting wider coverage online. Strangely however, despite his omnipresent digital fascination, Ferraro has remained more or less off the cyberspace grid until recently. While unveiling his BEBETUNE$$$ aka #Bodyguard project (a sort of nihilistic, Ducati-riding, autotune heavy, trap-house hip hop group) Ferraro suddenly began spewing a strange Twitter feed comprised of aphorisms like "liquid metal jogging suits" and "ANGELS WITH TONGUE RINGS" as well as releasing free mixtapes on his #Bodyguard tumblr. Of which his latest, 'Silica Gel' is now available. Below, Ferraro explains the concepts behind his strange creations. Check RBMA Radio for the audio version including the jams.

Multitopia (2008, New Age Tapes/Olde English Spelling Bee)
‘Multitopia’ was a record I recorded in New York City around 2007. In the fall or something like that. It was sort of the first solo record I did outside of The Skaters. It was pretty much inspired by the events surrounding 9/11, and also all the cultural changes that I felt I wanted to associate with 9/11. It’s really like one entire piece that was split when it was released on vinyl by the Olde English Spelling Bee label, but really it’s a long piece. There’s repeating themes and motifs, and I kind of wanted it to express the ADD style of consumerism and the impulsive shopping and cable TV type behavior. And all the American stuff that was “happening” at the moment. So there’s stuff lifted from different television shows and things like that. Like Howard Stern, and bits from reality TV shows like ‘Access Hollywood’, and lots of tabloid stuff about plastic surgery. Like extreme baroque style consumerism and desire and all that stuff post-9/11. It wasn’t really about 9/11 per se, but it was just a time period I wanted to focus on. So excluding everything pre, and focusing on everything post.

Clear (2009, New Age Tapes/Holy Mountain)
‘Clear’ was a record that was recorded shortly after ‘Multitopia’. I was reading a lot about Scientology at the time, and Clear is the state of Nirvana for them. I was reading that, and got really interested in some of Scientology's way of thinking and their philosophy and stuff like that. What really appealed to me was that it was a really modern spirituality, like an updated spirituality. I was always interested in creating a spirituality that was current, digital, and global, well not in the sense that Christianity or Islam is global, but more in the modern sense. I mean Scientology has been around for a while, but I guess it was my introduction to it. And I was just fascinated by the whole thing. Like the weird coverage of it, the spectacle of it in the media, and the tabloid culture surrounding Scientology. That got me into it. So I was into knowing the spirituality through those forms - the tabloid thing especially. But anyways, ‘Clear’ was really just kind of a name I gave to these jams. It was all recorded on tape, so it was lo-fidelity. But when I was making or playing this music, it was all pristine digital New Age landscapes. So yeah, really, it was just a soundtrack to Clear - Scientology’s heaven.

Citrac (2009, Arbor)
‘Citrac’ was recorded the same year or slightly after ‘Clear’. I actually left New York and spent a little bit of time in Florida and became obsessed with the extreme, masculine military style there... Or at least the militant model of masculinity. The idea of the “Terminator” style that I was seeing. Like action heroes or something. ‘Citrac’ was a collection of two recordings. One was based on “Left Behind”, which was a popular novel series. Like a new Christian fantasy series, well, I don’t want to call it fantasy necessarily, but it was about the end of the world. Fiction. I read them all when I was in Florida, and I wanted to make this kind of soundscape for the end of the world. Have you ever heard ‘Symphony For A Genocide’? I forgot the name of the composer, but he was an Italian guy (Ed. note - Maurizio Bianchi to be exact). ‘Citrac’ was really inspired from this piece and the ‘Left Behind’ series. Basically, I was documenting my experience in Florida. And this type of Christianity in this modern context, and how backwards it all seemed. And just being in awe of it all, and creating my own fiction from that.

Last American Hero (2010, Olde English Spelling Bee)
‘Last American Hero’ was actually recorded in the same period as ‘Citrac’. It was after a trip to Europe, when I went back to Florida and lived with my grandparents. They live in this kind of insane gated community for senior citizens. Stuff like large flat-screen TVs, and insane Ikea couches that you can’t even sit on because they’re too big. And PT Cruisers and stuff like that. And this infrastructure of gated communities and Wal-Marts and Targets, and these complexes of shopping - that was their entire world. So when I was there, I felt like I was in this dome - this weird science experiment of consumerism. So I made that album as a collection of experiences from that environment. Todd from Olde English Spelling Bee [releasing label] decided to bring that one to light and put it on his label. I would tell Todd what my favorite releases were that I was working on, and he would just listen to me and put them out. He really pushed for ‘Last American Hero’ even though I didn’t think it should be released, really. But people seemed to like it.

The Skaters - Physicalities Of The Sensibilities Of Ingrediential Stairways (2008, Eclipse)
Now we're jumping back. I had just moved from New York to San Diego, where I met Spencer [Clark, partner in The Skaters]. I was 18 and we just kind of clicked. We had this conversation and it ended with us collaborating on visual art and paintings and stuff together. Then we started doing music and recorded for a year. This was a long time ago now. When we started The Skaters, we didn’t really care back then. We were both really young. I think I was around 20 or something. We really didn’t think much about how people would perceive what we were doing or care for that matter, which gave us room to do what we wanted. We had recorded a bunch of stuff within a one year period but then started touring a bunch and travelling, and we systematically started releasing records from those sessions. We weren’t recording anything while we were touring, but we were still releasing records from during that time - all from this year of recording. This album is like the last collection of recordings we took from these jam sessions. It was released by Eclipse Records, this Ed Hardy... This guy from Arizona. I really like this one because it kind of captures where we were, and I think this was the most current recording for when we were touring and active as a band. All the others didn’t reflect completely what we wanted. It was our last thing released as The Skaters.

Lamborghini Crystal - Roach Motel / Night Dolls With Hair Spray (2008/2010, New Age Tapes/Olde English Spelling Bee)
This was a bunch of jams I made and put out on tape actually. And David Keenan, who writes for The Wire and also runs this online record store called Volcanic Tongue, really liked them. He would buy them from me and distribute them. And that encouraged me to keep producing the tapes because of the reception. The idea itself was basically just private material, just fooling around. I was really inspired to try to make just weird B-movie style trash. ‘Roach Motel’ just sounds like a Troma movie on fast forward. One of the main things that people should probably know about a lot of my work, is that a lot of my early stuff was made with the intention of soundtrack installations I did in NYC or in friends' basements and stuff. ‘Roach Motel’ was soundtracking this installation I made out of Raid cockroach spray. I like this album because it was one of the most successful marriages between the installation I had at the time and the music. The idea of 'Lamborghini Crystal' I conceived in England. It was when I started to want to make these trashy rock songs, but it was when I was in NYC that I started to realize it.

Same with ‘Night Dolls With Hair Spray’. In every ‘Lamborghini Crystal’ record there is a reference to aerosol and huffing as the source of inspiration. So ‘Night Dolls’ was like the final thing I did and "Leather High School" was kind of the single. I think as far as 'Lamborghini Crystal' is concerned, ‘Night Dolls With Hairspray’ and ‘Roach Motel’ were the ones that captured the idea the best, which was to go into the mind of a teenage delinquent burn-out. Just this Beavis & Butthead style character sniffing aerosol cans. I had definitely seen that party of reality. I feel like those two records really captured that aesthetic. There’s also this other one called ‘Dial: 747-Creepazoid’, which has tracks like "Brain Freeze" and “Suicide Hotline” and “Video Head Cleaner”. And in some ways, they all explain parts of my teenage experience - you know, getting high somehow and watching weird movies. It was all for fun; I really just enjoyed recording these. It was really humorous for me, and when I found out people really liked them, I started pursuing them. The music kind of took off and I kept on putting it out there.

Liquid Metal/Alternative Soundtrack to Digital Overdrive (2008, New Age Tapes)
This is post-'Lamborghini Crystal', and has these obsessions with B-movies. More specifically the ‘Terminator’ movies. And archetypes of humanity and how they are experienced through the protagonists of B-movies. Like Jean-Claude Van Damme. You know, how these types of films are selling manhood, and selling the idea of masculinity and femininity. They are reinforcing the ideas of what society teaches, but they are also this bizarre copy of it. I really wanted to compose sound poetry using Hollywood action movie explosions, and weird sounds of ‘Terminator’-type movies. A lot of it is obscured by how I used to record back in the days. I used to do all this and record it on tape, and it used to lose a lot of quality obviously, so I think some things and sounds aren’t as obvious. I wanted to create sonically this picture of this surreal Terminator figure and have these abstract textural pieces that would sound like the mind of this cyborg. That’s what that was.

Far Side Virtual (2011, Hippos In Tanks)
I’ve talked about this one a lot, but mainly this is about ringtones. But it’s still in the tradition of noise. It’s really digitally harsh. I found all this stuff in GarageBand, and it brought out this cheap digital sound that I really liked. This is pretty much meant to be 16 ringtones that you download - but you can’t expect people to buy 16 ringtones for $4.99. Haha! But actually, we might still do that, but they would be free. When I was making them, I wanted them to sound like it was compressed for cell phone speakers, but still have this amount of depth and dimension and dynamics to it.

Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo & Lopatin - FRKWYS Vol. 7 (2011, Rvng Int.)
This was a collaboration that I did with Dan [Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never fame] and Laurel Halo and David Bordin, which Dan had asked me to be a part of. We just were in the studio for two days and it was pretty free form. We just jammed and released. It was pretty fast and fun; basically a one-time thing, but we did play a show in Pennsylvania a few months back. That was pretty fun. I actually like performing with a group like this so I can stay focused on adding one minimal thing instead of do everything. It’s interesting to operate as a solo artist, but also with a band. I’m actually starting to enjoy collaborating much more than I used to.

BEBETUNES$$$ aka #Bodyguard - Inhale C-4 / #Silica Gel (2012, free download mixtapes)
This is kind of the impetus of my new band. I released this as a mixtape, which is the same as when I used to release CD-Rs back in the day. This was the first thing I did that was pretty much the music of my new band, which is #Bodyguard. The official name was BEBETUNE$$$ aka #Bodyguard, but on the next mixtape, I’m dropping the BEBETUNE$$$ and it’s just going to be #Bodyguard because it’s no longer me. I mean I write most of the music, but I have a live band and have other people working on the project too. I wanted to have less creative control, and have other artists collaborating with me. It’s myself and three other members. As a solo artist I want to focus more on doing installations and visual art and even longer projects. I want to write an opera, like a stage production and the whole thing. The more that I evolve as an artist the more I’m realizing what I want... I used to have all these huge ideas and I would just kind of sketch them out in releases, so my discography isn’t really a discography, it’s just an aggregate account of what I’ve produced. They were all just sketches of larger things I wanted to do. I want more intense musical endeavors with orchestras and things and want to focus on that more as a solo artist. I want my music to go back to being part of a band. It feels kind of right. We have a #Bodyguard album dropping this summer and are playing at Primavera Sound this year. Keep your eye out for the LP.

James Ferraro's most recent album 'Far Side Virtual' is out now on Hippos In Tanks and available from pretty much all cool record shops. His #Bodyguard mixtapes are available through his tumblr.

By Red Bull Music Academy on March 6, 2012