December 2, 2009
In the "Largehearted Boy Cross-Media Cultural Exchange Program" series (thanks to Jami Attenberg for the title), authors interview musicians (and vice versa).
Terese Svoboda is a writer living in New York City. Her latest poetry collection, Weapons Grade, was published this fall by the University of Arkansas Press. Her captivating 2001 short fiction collection, Trailer Girl and Other Stories was just published in paperback by the University of Nebraska Press.
Writer Terese Svoboda interviews Ben Pollock and Leyla Safai of Heartsrevolution:
Terese Svoboda: Heartsrevolution is Ben Pollock and Leyla Safai. Once a 14 year old dropout, and later a design consultant for The Standard in L.A., Leyla invited Ben to jam from the back of her pink milk truck which delivered adult treats and toys to parties all over L.A. and now all over the world. Although unicorns and pink hearts dominate their motif, they aim for the true heart of the teenager where suicide and violence of all kinds are reality. Think extreme electro-terrorist digital hardcore anime music. This summer Diesel chose Heartrevolution as one of two bands to tour around the world. I saw little of them and Tiger, Leyla's ten-year-old daughter until almost October. We share a floor on Ludlow Street, a location that five years ago pulsed with alternative music, especially from below street level. Our building has other musical secrets.
Leyla: It's kind of magical recording here.
Terese: Did you take the apartment because of Lou Reed?
Ben Pollock: We didn't know. But we both really like the Velvet Underground a lot. He's a Pisces.
Leyla Safai: Even weirder, I looked at exactly a hundred apartments. I looked for four weeks straight. I saw yours but you didn't reply. When I walked into the front door, I said to myself I can't look at another place. But it was the glass-tiled apartment I'd seen four weeks before. We moved in that weekend. It is a really special place. You don't even know. Three months after living here, Steve [Svoboda's husband] said Did you know the Velvet Underground lived here?
Terese: He recorded a lot of his demos here when he lived in the building in 1965. A whole bunch of cuts. --What do the Japanese think about you?
Leyla: They love us. We love the Japanese.
Terese: I would think so.
Ben: When we first started the music stuff a couple of years ago, we were in L.A. at the time, we put songs on Myspace with a lot of reverb so it sounded like it was happening far away and we had Leyla do "Hello, Tokyo" in Japanese to pretend the recoding was from a live concert from Tokyo.
Leyla: The first song we ever did, Tiger did vocals on it, and she said a Japanese phrase that means when you're not even in the race and then like two seconds before the end of the game, you come in with like a home run.
Terese: There's a word for that on Ebay.
Leyla: I decided we're going to do this song and it's going to travel all the way around the world and then we're going to play in Japan. I even kept putting in a show date: New Years Eve, Tokyo--but we never played there until that song became really popular. Now we've visited Japan a bunch of times. We're going back in December with Tiger.
Tiger: I thought it was going to be a vacation.
Ben: My first question is who are some of your favorite writers?
Terese: Faulkner and Italo Calvino.
Ben: I know who that is. You have one of his books. Cosmic Comics. Something that starts out with Marco Polo and Genghis Khan.
Terese: And Donald Barthelme. You have to read him. Anyone who likes Banksy.
Ben: The thing about William Faulkner--I started to read more after college, just on my own, wanting to. I'm mostly attracted to reading the classics, a couple hundred years old. The hardest one of any book was Faulkner.
Terese: But he gets to play. Everybody else is rigid, marching along, putting the things in place, all the names, all the things in line.
Ben: How do you understand what's going on?
Terese: Like in Bright Star, the new movie about Keats--I'm going to paraphrase this terribly-- you're in the middle of the lake, nobody asks you what the lake is about, you're in the lake. That's what poetry or fine writing is like, you don't have to understand exactly what's happening. It's like being surrounded by music. Nobody has to explain music.
Ben: That's true. In one of your short stories called "Leadership" where you're talking about a rocket landing in the yard but then the rocket has the characteristics of a dog--what is that all about?
Terese: It's a rocketship but it happens to have legs like a dog, then it plays dead and then they put it up on the counter, they have to turn it in, but the little boy doesn't want that. It's just an example of how you can make your own rules when you write. I like to convince the reader that anything's possible, I just have to write it to make you believe it.
Leyla: That's kind of like my thing too. I spend most of my time convincing people in the industry about ideas they don't understand or remember why these ideas might work, trying to sell them almost to the point of selling myself.
Terese: In other words choose your own adventure, make your own reality.
Leyla: Exactly. CYOA—that's our new t-shirt. But you're selling not only the audience, you're selling the people behind the scenes why they should champion you, why they should understand what is happening. You take an abstract thing and create your own reality and then you have to believe it enough to make other people believe it.
Terese: I write it down. If you have enough detail, readers can enter into the reality.
Where did the face painting come from?
Leyla: It happened organically. It wasn't like gimmicky. We played a bunch of shows, three or four, before there was face paint and I was so petrified. One day I found such a radical color and I started putting it on. I felt like a bandit and a superhero, I felt like the Middle East where they cover everything but their eyes which is where my ancestors are from, but it's the windows of the soul which is the thing that should be most protected and most guarded. We took photos and it ended up being the cover to one of our singles. There's really no why other than it feels good. I would wear it all the time. At some point it will not feel right anymore. It's also kind of like a soldier.
Leyla: When we play live I have my ballet shoes on, it's like a little bit of femininity, but they have studs on them. When I put on my neon pink, I really think I am putting on my gear for battle.
Terese: Performance is like a battle. But these titles--Ultraviolence, the one with the knife in it—Switchblade. They go with the outfit.
Leyla: It's kind of like Heartsrevolution is a dichotomy of childlike innocence of a play world and revolutionary spirit.
Terese: The Victorians invented childhood, they believed children were sweet, fluffy and innocent but that isn't true, children turn out to be a lot more complicated than that. Anime reflects that.
Leyla: I think that our whole project reflects that. Our Teenage Teardrop video is a vintage Muppets video that we made in HongKong and it's a song about suicide. Another song, Digital Suicide, will be done with little kids--like Tiger's going to be me, and Ben's nephew's going to play him. There's like a dark undertone with us, the unicorns and hearts and pink—but when you really dig a little deeper-- I just had this argument with our record label, Downtown, the North American label---we just signed this morning—
Terese: Congratulations! That's exciting.
Leyla: We had a record label for the world excluding N.A. and we wanted somebody big here, and we got our first choice. They are the biggest indie right now, like a major but they're indie. They have a lot of power. I wanted somebody to balance this really cool underground chic label we have worldwide because I wanted it to get as many kids as possible but that's never going to happen with an indie.
Terese: I recorded--I used to write lyrics for a punk band—recorded songs for Rough Trade.
Leyla: Really? That's a cool label.
Terese: It was very indie back then. The only thing I remember about the song for a group called "The Sleeping Dogs"--were the words "pork butt." Your lyrics are more like punk in that you can rarely hear the words. I'm thinking when I write poems, I don't write them straight, and stories too, I write to hide things, to solve things while I'm hiding. Is that anything you feel akin to?
Leyla: I definitely feel there's a healing process going on. I wish that our project would evolve to a place where children, people, could identify with the song through the lyrics like I did as a child. You get the liner notes and read every last thing and then you go to the concert and sing along with them. My Get out of jail free card for my voice--not being up to par as a singer—will be when everybody is singing along.
Terese: What are you reading these days?
Leyla: David Lynch and also the Kabbalah book, A Wish Can Change Your Life, all that synchronicity, and following through. And The Book of the Bitch. Every time I say I know what I want, I'm a bitch. Isn't that funny?
Terese: Ha, ha. What have you been reading?
Ben: I read stuff on my iPhone. You can download from a database with anything from the public domain. I've been reading The Lost Illusions by Balzac. The good thing about it even though this might not be an ideal setting, you're able to read a lot of times when a book is not convenient, for instance, if they take like forty-five minutes looking around in a store.
Terese: Here's my last question: the quote from the Guardian that says that one day all bands should be like yours--what do they mean by that?
Ben: I think the spirit and the way the band operates, not just a band, but the ice cream truck thing, DIY, all the t-shirts, shoes, bandannas, tote bags, and head-warmers and toys and candy.
Leyla: Especially with the music industry failing, you have to be creative with your resources and really make it happen for yourself instead of waiting for a multi-million dollar record deal.
Terese: Exactly what the publishing industry is going through.
Terese Svoboda links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
previous musician/author interviews
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
2008 Online Year-end Book Lists
2008 Online Year-end Music Lists
guest book reviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)