COPPING TREES Jim Coleman

The man
behind the mood of one of New York
City’s greatest bands speaks.

 

BY RON HART

 

Given the resurgence of the aggro mentality of old school indie
rock in young groups like The Men, Slug Guts and Cult of Youth, it should come
as no surprise that a rise of interest in the oeuvre of Cop Shoot Cop in recent
years. But while the controlled cacophony of CSC’s role on the New York noise
circuit of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s alongside the likes of Sonic Youth, Swans
and Unsane is being revisited by today’s Pitchfork-pandering
pipsqueaks discovering such classic (and woefully out-of-print) titles as
1990’s Consumer Revolt and 1993’s Ask Questions Later, former Cop
keyboardist Jim Coleman continues to blaze a path of greatness as a craftsman of
electro-acoustic music on his latest studio LP, Trees.  

 

An accomplished film composer who is classically trained in piano
and French horn, Coleman has scored for such established directors as Todd
Phillips (Frat House) and Hal Hartley
(Henry Fool) and provided bed music
for HBO, PBS, A&E and TLC among other networks. He’s also delved deep into
the realm of modern electronic music under the moniker Phylr as well as
collaborative projects with Italian composer Teho Teardo (as Here) and J.G.
Thirlwell (as Baby Zizanie). With Trees,
Coleman brings together all of these aforementioned elements of his creative
cache with the help of a full-bodied ensemble of longtime friends and sparring
partners, including former CSC drummer Phil Puleo and Dawn McCarthy of Faun
Fables.

 

Mr. Coleman took the time out to speak with us about the creation
of Trees, his time in the television
and film industries as well as a most gratuitous look back at his days in CSC. (Below, check out some tracks from Coleman, Phylr and Cop Shoot Cop.)

 

 


Jim Coleman: Rain by phylr

Phylr: I wouldn’t feel the loneliness by phylr

Cop Shoot Cop: the sky is blue by phylr

 

 

 

 

 

BLURT: How
did you first get turned on to electro-acoustic music? 

COLEMAN: In an indirect way, I started performing electro-acoustic
music around the time my first solo album as Phylr was released. I didn’t really think of it as electro-acoustic
music at the time, but I was performing with samplers, electronics and
sequencers along with live percussion. So in a way, I guess this could be
considered electro-acoustic. I guess, though, that in this way, even Cop Shoot
Cop could be considered electro-acoustic.

        But now I think of
electro-acoustic music as a particular, yet broad genre of music. Perhaps my
first taste of this was some of the early Fennesz releases.

 

Who are some
of the artists you have followed or currently follow in that realm and do these
acts harbor any influence on your own work in the field?

I have somewhat intentionally not been following or listening to
music in the electro-acoustic genre. When I started to see Trees as a distinct body of work, I wanted to approach it as much
as possible on a purely emotional level, not from the intellect. I didn’t want
to get reactive in my music making by being overly informed about similar music
that is out there.

        That being said, I
don’t live in a padded room. In my earlier years, I submerged myself in Brian
Eno’s Music for Films and Music for Airports. I was listening to
Steve Reich and some Phillip Glass early on. Others that have mad an impact on
me: Fennesz, David Lang, Zoe Keating, DJ Olive, Biosphere, Autechre.

 

What is it
about trees that inspired you to name the album as such?

I’ve always been fascinated by trees. There is something mythical
about trees, how their limbs reach to the sky and this is mirrored by their
roots, digging down deep in the earth, unseen by us. It’s like they traverse
all these different planes of existence. They are like nature’s shamans. Don’t
get me wrong, I don’t go around hugging them, but they fascinate me.

        This album felt like
a similar journey, one that is deep and down and dark at times, and also light
and airy at times. And it felt organic, both in the creative process and in the
overall sound.

 

How did you
go about choosing the artists that you employed for Trees?

The choice of artists was also organic. I continually work with Phil
Puleo. We’ve been working together pretty much since Cop Shoot Cop blew apart.
Although I hadn’t worked directly with 
Kirsten McCord prior to this album, we vaguely travel in the same
circles and it was an easy fit. The recordings with Dawn McCarthy were actually
outtakes from the recordings I did for the first Phylr album, Contra la Puerta (she appears on that record as well). Ellen Fullman I had recorded
previously playing her long stringed instrument in a semi permanent
installation in Austin Texas. I was there working on some music for a dance
piece and had the opportunity to meet here and do some recordings. And Bryan
Christie, who runs a high-end graphics studio but also plays sax. Brian and I
were friends and collaborators. I had done a few music bits for his studio and
clients. I brought him over to the studio just to see what would happen. I
generally am not a big fan of sax, but this somehow worked so well.

 

As a student
of film, what movie did you feel you learned the most from and why?

Before I was in film school, I was in art school and was shown a
film by Meredith Monk called Key.
This had a huge effect on me, opening me up to what was possible in creating a
personal language in film, music and the two living together. Somehow that film
was a totally immersive experience for me at that time. I would love to see it
again to see if that still holds true. I guess also this film also validated
that I could make my own rules. This was something I took with me when I later
entered film school. I was the only student focused on making experimental
films at the time. The program was all about teaching the pre-existing rules. I
was about creating my own rules, my own language, and my own world. This for me
is the magic of creative work. Ultimately, I settled in to both. I did learn
the basics of narrative and documentary filmmaking, but I continued to focus on
experimental filmmaking. Maybe I’m a romantic, but I’ve always felt that
passion trumps knowledge. But I also believe that they need not be exclusive,
we can have both.

        I also recall going
to a double feature that really resonated for a long time afterward. This could
also partially be attributed to the chemical balance or imbalance in my brain
and body at the time, but nonetheless. The double screening was Aguirre, The Wrath of God followed by Apocalypse Now. Somehow this double
header just threw me in to a beautifully dark place for a long time. It also
showed me just how powerful films could be.

 

As a
soundtrack composer, whose template have you followed in regard to the way
you’ve approached making music for film?

I wouldn’t say that I’ve really followed any specific template in
my scoring, or really in any of my creative work. I’m not saying that from any
haughtiness. I’m not saying that what I do is always that unique. I’m saying
that because I’m a bit disorganized in my approach to scoring and music making.
Even in a literal sense, I have read again and again how it is beneficial to
create templates for whatever DAW you are using (Music software like Logic, Pro
Tools etc). But I never have yet to do this. Of course, when working on a film,
there is attention paid to various themes and sub themes. But I tend to
approach things on much more of an emotional level than an intellectual level.
This is rather interesting to me, as the rest of my life is truly rules by the
intellect, to the point where at times I can have difficulties accessing my
emotions. But somehow in the creative realm, it’s just right there.

        Growing up and in my
adult life, I have always enjoyed listening to a variety of composer’s work:
Carl Stalling, Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin. Some of this
stuff gets way over the top. But when it’s subdued (for instance, the track “Shifting
Gears” from Bullitt), it’s just
so right.

 

One of my
favorite stories about Neil Young is how he recorded the soundtrack to Dead Man while he was watching an early
cut of the Jim Jarmusch Western. Have you ever composed a score in that
fashion?

I did several seasons of the A&E series The First 48. The deadlines and work process ended up being so
crazed that it demanded a good amount of blind scoring. I would usually see the
first cut, just past the assembly stage really. Sometimes I didn’t even see
that, the editors were basically working from a huge amount of tracks that I
had created for them. At the end of the day, I made a library of tracks for
them. But having done if for a few seasons, I knew more or less what would work
and what wouldn’t.

 

How
different is it to compose music for television versus film?

There is something special about film, where it gets really deep.
The music becomes a part of the overall language of the specific film, helping
define characters and situations. I’m sure that it can be like this for television,
but most of the work I have done for television has been in the realm of True
Crime. And a lot of television is somewhat formulaic. I think films have the
opportunity to stretch out more, to defy convention. I’ve found myself to be in
a deep, immersive world at times when composing for film. My experience with
television has been more fraught with deadlines, people running around just
trying to get it done.

 

What are
your thoughts on how some of your contemporaries – -Nick Cave,
Mick Harvey, Clint Mansell, Trent Reznor, Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO – -have
crossed over into the world of film scoring and whose work do you admire the
most amongst the brood?

I think that it’s a natural move for a certain type of musician
and composer. First off, all these guys all understand the language of film.
Secondly, they all must be comfortable around the technology, as film scoring
has become somewhat of a technical venture. And thirdly, they all must be
somewhat in the mix socially. It’s sad but true, social politics underlie so
much. At times I’m surprised at what I’ve been able to do through the years, as
I am not much of a hustler.

        I admire all these
artists. There needs to be some women and some non-Caucasians on that list too
though! Of all four you mentioned, I’ve always felt the closest connection to Trent. His music has
always spoken to me very strongly. I still am listening to “The Social Network” score with a degree
of regularity.

 

There have
been many new bands as of late citing Cop Shoot Cop as an influence on their
own method of performance — bands like The Men and Slug Guts among others. Are
you cognizant to how much of an impact CSC is making on this new generation of
heavy-minded indie rockers and do you welcome this resurgence in interest in your
old band?

I guess I’ve been living in my padded cell again. I actually have
not been aware of this, but I welcome it with open arms. I’ve been listening to
The Men since their album Leave Home came out and I guess I can see that connection, though their music is quite
different as well (which is a good thing). I’d be curious to learn more about
bands that we have influenced. I know our old stuff isn’t that easy to find, so
it’s reassuring to me that it still is finding ears and that it still resonates!

 

In light of
this renewed interest, has there been any talk about revamping the CSC catalog?

From time to time, there has been talk about it. As I just
mentioned, CSC records aren’t easy to find. They aren’t on iTunes, not in brick
and mortar stores. There are still broken lines of communication within the
band, but I do have faith that everyone would like to see the recordings become
more available. Perhaps it is time to put aside all the petty shit that drove
us apart and agree to do this.

Of all the great tours CSC was involved
in during the 1990s, which was most memorable for you and why?

For several years, all the tours kind of merged together. At
times, we were on the road for 9 months out of the year. But I can provide you
with some selected memories (feel free to pick and choose if I go on too long):

 

A.) Banned in the suburbs of
Washington DC:
Woke up in a motel somewhere outside of Washington
DC I believe. Upon leaving the
hotel, Natz started doing something with the fire extinguishers. I can’t recall
if he was hosing down people or the van or possibly the mess we left in the
room. In any case we had to leave in a hurry. We went to breakfast at some kind
of pancake house which felt like it was full of church going god fearing
Christians (must’ve been a Sunday). There was a problem with our bill. We
didn’t get everything that we had ordered, though the waiter insisted that we
did. After tedious calculations, we left money for what food we had received,
left and went next door to the gas station to gas up our vans. As we were
getting ready to pull out of the gas station, several cop cars pull up and
block our way. The restaurant had called the DC PO on us. We gave them our side
of the story and promised never to return to their town again.

 

B.) Banned in Hoboken: We played
Maxwell’s once I think, and were never allowed to play there again. During our
set, the power went off. Out front, someone’s van window was broken. A
microphone ended up missing. Maxwells determined it was all our fault.

 

C. The crazy girl from Wrightsville Beach: We were doing a more or less clockwise tour of the states and Canada. When we showed up at the
club in Wrightsville beach, two young girls were waiting outside the club. I
don’t know how young. One of them came back for the show, the other one didn’t.
The one that didn’t get to the show re-surfaced the next morning as we all
reconvened for breakfast. She kind of hooked on to Tod, and ended up in the van
as we were going out of town. Except
we had to make a pit stop at a Victorian looking mental hospital so she could
get her meds. We found out later she failed to get these meds. And we found out
later that she had been walking down the street with her sister, saw Todd in
the window of the diner and told her sister she just had to say hi to a friend
and that she would catch up to her wherever they were going.

        So she got in the
van and joined us on tour for a few dates, selling merchandise and hanging out.
Luckily, not one of us tested her virtue. I don’t know why, but it didn’t
happen. We were about to do the long haul through Texas and end up on the West
Coast, so we basically told her that Atlanta was the end of the line. She said,
“OK, no problem, she had friends there.” So she stayed in Atlanta.

        In L.A., we started getting messages from out
booking agent saying that some girl’s family kept
calling him. Their daughter was missing and they had information that she had
left with us. I ended up being the designated caller. I got the number and
called her family. I talked to her sister, who advised me not to talk to her
parents. At that time, she still was not home. I assured her sister that we had
all acted like gentlemen, and told her to call us back if she didn’t reappear
in a few days. I never heard back.

 

D. Somewhere in France
(perhaps Marseille):
We were playing in a small club that was so packed, so
hot and so humid that my samplers and electronics kept freaking out. It was
just impossible to play. So I removed every article of clothing and wandered
around the audience while the rest of the band played. Figured I had to at
least add to the entertainment value.

 

E. Gent, Belgium: Late night after a show there, we ended up finding this
construction site not that far from our hotel. We got in easily and started up
a percussion jam, using all the stuff from the site. After a while, I looked
over to see a good dozen concerned residents out on the street. We took the cue
and started to leave. And sure enough, the police start showing up. We all run
for it, in several different directions. Most of the band made it back to the
hotel. Tod and I went on a long haul through a maze of back streets and alleys,
through the red light district. There were several police cars chasing us, we’d
look down an alley and see one, so we’d hi tail it the other direction.
Eventually they caught the two of us and took us in. They proceeded to serve us
tea and we got in to an involved discussion about the history and politics of Belgium while
some of the other cops went and checked out the construction site for damage.
Once they checked it out and found that nothing was destroyed, they took us
back to the hotel.

 

F. Detained in L.A.: We were slated
to play UCLA the night that curfew was lifted from the Rodney King riots. Given
our name, they decided to not have us play, though they paid us anyway. At the
time, we were being courted by Interscope Records, and they put us up at some
ritzy hotel. We went downtown to have some dinner. At the time, our tour van
was an old shorty school bus that was painted camouflage, complete with
camouflage curtains. We bought it off of some guy who used to go around to army
bases and sell bumper sticker sand stuff like that. We parked our van, and
walked the block or so to the restaurant. On the way, we passed some kind of
military police who were talking in their radios about us, but we paid it no
mind, thinking they should get a life.

        After we ate, I was
a bit tired, so I went out to the van on my own. I walked out and started
walking back to the van when all of a sudden this guy yelled at me to stop. I
looked up and saw a helicopter
hovering with its searchlight hitting the ground just in front of me. A cop
came over and asked me where I was going, so I told him that I was just going
over there to my van. He immediately swung me around, put handcuffs on me and
started to march me away. I told him that if he was taking me anywhere, I
needed to let my friends inside the restaurant know. He asked me what
restaurant and I pointed it out. I heard later that several cops went in to the
restaurant with guns drawn and hauled the rest of our party out, with no
opportunity to settle the bill.

        They took us all to
one area a short distance away, where they detained us against a wall. Somehow
they got it in their heads that we had a bomb in the van. They had blocked off
a several block radius, brought in a helicopter,
Military police, and LA police. I tried to give them the key as they were going
to break in to the van. They didn’t take it, instead opted
to wrench the back door off. And what did they find? Many Cop Shoot Cop T
shirts.

 

Anyway, I could go on for a long time with stories from touring.
It can be a very unique alternate reality. I feel very fortunate that nothing
really seriously bad ever happened during that time. There were so many close
calls.

 

Please tell
me about CSC’s first gig.

The first gig I played with CSC was at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick, New
Jersey. Tod had recently gotten discharged from the
hospital after getting third degree burns on his hand. He was inebriated at a
party and had put way too much hairspray on his hair as a joke. When he lit a
cigarette, his whole head went up in flames. He extinguished his burning head
with his hands and arms. He couldn’t use his fingers at the time, so he was
playing his bass with this metal cylinder.

        I forget the reason
why, but we got pulled over on the way to the show but were able to drive away.
The gig was a big sloppy affair, just a big somewhat violent mess. A TV was
burnt on the stage. Most of our early shows were kind of like this. We could
never finish sets, as some altercation was always happening either in the
audience, in the band, or between the audience and the band. For a while I was
bummed out, as we could never really just play a full set. But later, when
things calmed down a bit and both the band and the audience was a bit more
mature, I kind of missed those early days, when you never really knew what was
going to happen. Definitely kept you
in the present, though there was usually quite a bit of unnecessary drama
attached to it.

      We got pulled over on the way home from that gig as well. We were
lucky to walk away this time. But the [policeman] who had pulled us over was
also a bass player. He just couldn’t believe that Tod was playing without the
use of his fingers.

 

Has there
been any talk of a CSC reunion at all?

There has been talk of a CSC reunion, but not within the band. I
keep hearing that posed as a question. I dream of it, literally. But it’s not
always a good dream. The recurring part of the dream is that we are about to
hit the stage, and we realize that we haven’t rehearsed even once. I’m sure
this dream says more about me than anything else. In reality, I don’t see it
happening.

 

Do you have
any plans on taking the Trees ensemble out on the road?

There are a number of ways that I could perform Trees. From solo laptop to multi instrumentation. I’ve considered this,
but haven’t really focused my energies in this direction so far. Through the
years, I’ve perhaps gotten more comfortable in the studio than on stage. That’s
not a reason NOT to play. Perhaps it’s more of a reason to play, to get outside
of my safety zone…

 

What other
projects do you have in the works currently?

Currently in the works: I’m continually working on original
material and remixes as Phylr: beat oriented stuff for the most part, but still
quite cinematic. I’ve been doing a bunch of music for a film called Tabbo by Beth B, which is a documentary
on contemporary NYC based extreme performance art. And I’m working on a follow
up to Trees. This work was originally
based on recordings of individuals near death experiences and psychic trauma,
but is opening up a bit more.

 

 

Coleman on
the web:

 

www.jimcolemanmusic.com

http://jimcolemanmusic.wordpress.com/
http://soundcloud.com/phylr.

Leave a Reply