By Alistair Lawrence

A brief introduction…

For the uninitiated, Alias is one-eighth of Oakland-based independent hip-hop collective Anticon who has managed to record his most outspoken record to date without saying a word. Well, almost. Muted - released at the end of last year - has only 2 tracks that aren't instrumental. Its first single, the daydreamy Unseen Sights (with guest vocals from the Notwist's Marcus Acher), still has enough bite to dub Dubya 'Creep Almighty' on its front cover, though.

A friendly rebel voice, he took time out from slurping his morning coffee and hanging out with his cats to talk to REPEAT over the phone about his various personal, political and musical awakenings.

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

It seems like Muted says more by saying less - there are practically no vocals on it, yet you've become more politicised since your first solo album, The Other Side Of The Looking Glass.
"It's a combination of things. I'd always wanted to do an instrumental record but I wanted it to have some sort of meaning behind it. The vocal samples that I used are basically ways to express how I'm feeling, but at the same time keep it an instrumental album.
"I started working on both Muted and Eyes Closed (the instrumental EP that preceded Muted) at the beginning of last year when there was a lot of talk about going to Iraq and the vague notion of them having Weapons of Mass Destruction.
"I've been much more politically aware since September 11th. Watching the news here and having it contradict what I was reading somewhere else made me start to question the Bush Administration a lot. It was always on my mind when I was working on the music so it's worked its way in there as an influence."

Did you have conflicting emotions about 9/11?
"At first I was just amazed that it could happen in the United States. That's where a lot of my ignorance lay. But then, as I read up about the reasons behind it, I found out that the US government is the biggest terrorist organisations in the world.
"Seeing the racism come out days afterwards was shocking, too. People were getting beaten up just because they were Muslim. That's what got me reading more books, watching the news more and questioning everything."

What types of sources were you consulting? I take it you weren't watching Fox…
(Laughs) "Well, I would watch Fox for a good laugh… I got a lot of my news from the BBC ( and the Guardian ( because, in comparison to most of the news stations in the US, they seem to report the information without an overbearing opinion."

All media reportage has an editorial line, though, it's just some are more subtle than others…
"Well, yeah, but the foreign reportage doesn't have the 'enforced patriotism' that you get in the American press that I find so sickening.
"I read a few Noam Chomsky handbooks, too, and the more I read of those the more I realised I've been fed bullshit all my life. Going back as far as the history books they have in school, what's being drilled into you is mythology. For example, Christopher Columbus is portrayed a hero who discovered America, but there was Native Americans here before that who you learn nothing about, y'know?
"It's basic stuff but I, like a lot of people, I think, never really gave it any thought before. There was a lot to take in so it totally consumed me."

Was being able to make music in response to what you were going through cathartic?
"Music has always been a therapeutic release for me. It's easier to let things out that way, things that I would never normally talk about in conversation. I think it is for a lot of the other Anticon guys, too.
"I know that I spent 5 months straight working on the instrumental stuff, but it's weird because when I look back on that period I don't necessarily remember how I did certain things. I put myself on autopilot for it."

Did you feel under pressure, moving away from a conventional hip-hop sound?
"I always try not to take what other people are going to make of my music into consideration when I'm working. Because Muted is very different to my hip-hop sound I found myself having the freedom to incorporate keyboards and guitars and get away from sample-based music, but at the same time I was slightly nervous.
"Of course it's encouraging to have what I'm doing praised, but this change has been motivated by me wanting to do something different and taking on some of the different music influences I've been listening to for the past two or three years now."
"I recorded the majority of The Other Side Of The Looking Glass a couple of years before it was released. Muted came out much quicker so it's still fresh to me - as a result every aspect of it jumps out at me and it's great that people have embraced it."

Does it feel like Anticon is growing as the type of music you're making and releasing diversifies further?
"Definitely. I mean, just going to Europe for the first time proved an inspirational, driving force behind Muted. I'd shows in the States and kids wouldn't always get what I was talking about, but in Europe the kids tend to nail it. Subconsciously I expected American kids to be more in-tune with what I do, so it was an eye-opener.
"Also, I wasn't expecting so many people to come to our shows in Europe. It's an exciting time now. I'm interested in where Anticon's going be in two years, both musically and in terms of our popularity. It's like a second wind for a lot of us."

Are you weary of people tagging on to Anticon because you're 'underground'?
"The crowd will expand if we get bigger and right now maybe we do attract some hipsters, but I don't worry about it because I don't think any of us are going to change our music to drive sales. Anticon seems to attract a vast range of people, from the average hip-hop kids to indie rock fans to 60-year-old men. Seriously! I played a show in Paris and this old guy came up to me and he knew everything about us. That was strange, but cool."

If you get bigger they'll call you a sell-out no matter what type of music you're making…
"Exactly! You could say Radiohead are sell-outs because they're on a major label, but I still enjoy their music a lot.
"To me, a sell-out is someone who changes their music to fit a mould. I can't worry about someone sitting in their bedroom, typing on an internet message board that they think I'm a sell-out. What do I think of the Anticon board? Ha! Man, those guys are something else…" (Laughs)

Do you see a similar 'fashion statement' to underground snobbery in being anti-Bush right now?
"I'm completely aware of how it's the new cool to criticise him. Obviously I don't want to be pigeonholed like that. I think it's probably as bad to not like Bush and not know why as it is to like him and not know why, to not read up on all the things he's done.
"I told one of my relatives for a joke that, for Christmas, I wanted a t-shirt with Bush's face on it that said 'International Terrorist' and she got completely offended with me. She was saying things like 'I can't believe you said that, he's such a hard working man who's gone through all these tough times' and I'm like, what makes him so great? So she looked at me for a second and then said, 'Well, I liked his father.'
"There's a mentality like hers, where people just don't question authority, throughout America. But, if there's some kid just turning 18 who votes 'not-Bush' because a band he likes wrote a song about it, it's a means to an end.
"Politicians are always going to be shady, terrible people. Well, the majority of them, anyway. I'm sure there are some politicians who genuinely want to make a difference and maybe it is the lesser of two evils to vote for whoever the Democrat candidate is, but that's the situation that we're in. I just think that, with the Bush administration, there are so many things about them that rub me the wrong way I would rather wipe the slate clean and start over. I know it may well turn to shit again whoever's elected!
"The weirdest experience of hating Bush as a fashion that I've had was the anti-war protests that I went to in San Francisco. I was there with all the soccer moms with them telling me 'Oh, I like your sign!'
"That's not what you're meant to be saying, is it? I don't know…" (Laughs)

Have you been following the caucuses for the Democrat's presidential candidate?
"Yeah. I wanted to go with Dennis Kucinich. He was kind of the underdog but I agreed with a lot of what he said."

Was he the angry guy with the rolled-up sleeves?
(Laughs) "No! That was Howard Dean, who made a speech after he lost the first caucus about how he was going to go everywhere else and win and towards the end he let out this high-pitched screech. After that it was all over the news that he was crazy and directly after that his ratings dropped and he just announced today that he was dropping out of the race."

Maybe he had 'roid-rage, like Arnie.
"Yeah, maybe! The rolled-up sleeves were kinda weird… [John] Kerry looks like the most likely to win, but I don't agree with all of his standpoints. He's against the war but he supported signing in the bill that helped Bush go to war. That ties in with the whole anti-Bush bandwagon - the standpoint for his candidacy was how Bush shouldn't have gone to war, yet he supported it originally. He's just going with the popular Democratic viewpoint.
"There are so many fundamental things about the US that need resolving that aren't being addressed. I mean, we're the richest country in the world but don't have free healthcare. A lot of the poorest people here are Republicans, though. They love George Bush and so don't see that he's throwing all this money into a pointless war when it could be better spent elsewhere. It's crazy, crazy stuff."

So are you planning to vote in November or will Anticon have staged a revolution by then?
(Laughs) "I'm planning to vote. I guess I'm just gonna vote for whoever's most likely to beat Bush. It is the lesser of two evils, but hopefully the next guy will be less-evil than Bush.
"I couldn't vote in the elections for governor because I was playing a gig in Hawaii. The first thing I saw when I got off the plane was that Schwarzenegger had won. It was pretty funny but terrible, too, because he'd use lines from his movies and come up with stuff like (adopts scarily-good Russian accent) 'I will go to Sacramento and terminate Gray Davis!'
"I'm sure he carries a machine gun in his pocket at all times."

What next for you, musically?
"I'm going to produce a whole album for a Brooklyn-based vocalist called Tarcia. Like Muted, it's something I've always wanted to do but it isn't hip-hop. We're collaborating through the mail - I'm sending her files of music and she records her vocals over them and sends them back.
"Other than that, I am working on another 'vocal album'. I'm taking the best beats that I've laid down so far and I'm going to write to while I'm on tour with Lali Puna from Morr music. It's sounding like a cross between Muted and the production I did for (fellow Anticon-ite) Sole's most recent album, Selling Live Water.

Finally, what do your cats make of the new material you've recorded so far?
(Laughs) "Well, they haven't run out of the room when I've played it back to them yet, so it's looking good. One of them is asleep in my studio chair right now - to be honest I think they prefer just sleeping all day."

Thanks to the following people: Kate and Kittie at Southern, Rosey at REPEAT and Alias for not minding me call him an hour late and spending the first (and last) five minutes of our conversation complaining about how I hurt my leg running to buy a international call card. Obviously I'll be sending my physiotherapist's bill to his record label.

All written material © A Lawrence, 2004. No part of this article may be reproduced without the prior consent, etc. etc. - if you want to link to this page then fine, just drop the REPEAT webmaster an email to let him know you're doing it. Thanks.


wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looking forward to it. (Laughs). It's difficult to say because the last few months have felt strange, it's felt like going down a plughole. I've got a real sense of vertigo at the moment. So I can't tell you that I'm looking forward to it. I will get through it and find where I land after that. That's what will happen.

Lucy: 'Taxidermy' and 'Drink Me' are quite drastically different in their musical styles, so what kind of sound can we expect from the 3rd album?
KJG: We don't know yet. We're playing a lot of new material tonight so you'll be able to judge that for yourself. When I'm this close up to it, it's really difficult to tell. I'm on a bit of a negative slant today, but usually with our music I can only hear the bits that have gone wrong rather
than anything that went right. When you reflect back on something it's very difficult to give an objective opinion, and I don't believe in objectivity anyway, I think everything's subjective. I just throw a deck of cards and
wherever they land, that's where she finds herself. I'm not really the one to explain my part in it, you must do that as the observer really, and of course that will reflect your part in the grand scheme of things.

Lucy: Do you enjoy playing live more than the creative process in the studio?
KJG: (Laughs) I don't enjoy any of it. It comes and it goes, ok? There's nothing like when you're writing and you manage to catch something by its
tail; when you're looking for those things underground that are skittering out of sight just when you're about to catch them. And when you catch them it is worth it, but it's a momentary pleasure. I've got so much noise upstairs, and I can hear things in my head that to me are absolutely devastatingly beautiful. I'm always trying to download them and get them
here, but they never get here in the right state, they're always very disabled and they don't even begin to imitate what I can hear in my head.
It's a frustrating process in the main.

Lucy: Your lyrics are simultaneously emotionally expressive and cryptic. Are you looking to be understood by your audience?
KJG: I'm always trying to understand myself, but it's like there's a point in the centre of the room, and there's a hundred windows to look at the same point from. All I can do is give you different angles on the same thing. God, you know, if I could find one conclusive thing in anything I would probably have something to put an anchor down on. But I cant, and I haven't met anyone that can. You can pick out anything you like in my lyrics, I don't seek to be cryptic. I love words for the sake of words, for me they're kind of free standing, and they don't really need to be explained. I think every word has its own character and colour and picture and the result you get with lyrics just depends how you put them together. You could just do it in a William Burroughs esque way, or throw the deck of cards, and you'd probably still find something that our tiny little minds would latch on to in order to gain some kind of emotional understanding. I don't think there's a constant, the only constant that there is for me is that there is no constant. I use myself as my canvas, I gut myself and fillet myself the whole fucking time, I'm always hooking myself out of the water, I'm always cutting my own head off and disembowelling myself, and as you can probably tell I'm quite angry about it at the moment. I'm very tired of it all, of my
process and how I find life, because it always seems to be about living and dying all in one breath. I'm getting pretty fucking tired of that.

Lucy: Do you think drugs stimulate or hinder creativity?
KJG: Well that depends on the drug, because I think most things arrive in the form of a drug really. I know in myself that if anything I am, much to my greater expense, an adrenalin junkie. My synapses don't work well enough to put pills in my mouth, I can't do that, despite popular opinion. I don't need any help breaking down, put it that way. There's not much holding it
together. If there was a drug that could put aline between two polar opposites and make them in to one thing I'm sure I would have it
intravenous, but I haven't found it. I think drugscan be a bit of a lazy way for creativity anyway, you're better off in the cold light of day in the mirror.

Lucy: As a band, you are distinguished by the extreme physicality of your live performances. Do you consciously make an effort to put on a show or do your performances just naturally come to you, and whatever happens, happens?
KJG: It's a bit of both, because you see, I think taking the stage is one of the most unnatural things anyone can do. In a way, just walking on stage actually creates an altered state - its not right, no one's meant to do that, unless you're a priest or a magician, or something like that. To put somebody who's very incapable in many ways in to that position creates a combustion reaction inside me. I know that, and I take the stage knowing that. Obviously there's all the usual things that affect my performance; if I'm on my 45th day of a tour I'm probably gonna be pretty fucking tired, so I'll be dictated by that. If I'm doing new material like tonight I don't
know what's going to happen, because we haven't built the train tracks yet. The beauty of playing live is when my drummer goes in to 5th gear or in to 10th gear, and for some reason there's something that hits me in the base of the spine and I'm gone, and that's Halleluiah for me. During the last few months a lot of strange things have been happening onstage, I think the process is changing. I don't know what's going to happen tonight, I've been having quite a tough time on stage, I feel like something's pulling me under, as if something's got me.

Lucy: So does the crowd influence your performances on stage?
KJG: Yes they do. I'm unkind enough to be pretty impersonal about how I do it, so I use them for me to kick against in effect, or to surf on, (I don't
mean physically surf). If you're in an empty roomand there's a couple of people at the back, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll have a bad show -
they might get the show of their lives. And then again when something's really heaving and going off, I get quite a distorted view of it, because I
can feel quite overwhelmed lose my sense of place in the situation. I lose control of myself. I don't know, I probably wasn't meant to do this, I
wasn't built for this. It wasn't a career option, I didn't start there and go there, I didn't pick up the things on the way. I've sort of gone round
and round.

Lucy: As the lead singer of the band, most media interest is focused on you. Do you feel pressurised by your position or do you enjoy being the centre of attention?
KJG: I've been here on this wheel long enough,(and I say this with a little bit of trepidation because I think you have to be really careful with this kind of thing, because the motivation to do it in itself I think is usually pretty corrupt) I'm not doing it for anyone else, I need a cheque through the door like anybody else does, you have to keep eating, you have to keep living. I'm looking for some sense of going home on my own terms, and people's critique of me is not relevant, whether it's positive of negative.
I do need a cheque through the door though, otherwise I'll have to go and be a butcher or something.

Lucy: What is the religious meaning behind the song "For I am the way"?
KJG: If you use the word religion in its truest sense, all it means is communion, it hasn't got any of the attachments to any written word. My
understanding of the word communion is loss of the sense. Another way of looking at it is you've got to get in to get out, and the only thing that I
know to be true is me, is this tiny little dot in the centre of the universe. It's the only thing that I know feels pain; I can see other people's pain and I can feel it in an emotional way, but not in a physical way. I find myself in the unfortunate position of feeling like I am the
centre of the universe and that everything is a projection, made by me - i.e. you two don't exist, you're something that I created. I don't wish that
sense upon anybody because it's not a good one. Through 'For I am the way' I'm saying that you've got to get in, because the only thing one knows to be true is oneself. And on a good day, if you stand on top of a mountain or go to the desert or stand in the ocean, and become completely inconsequential, linear time stops and you become everything and nothing. That for me is
communion, that's how I define religion. I thinkthere's a line in there which goes "Today the only bridge I have I burn" which sums it up really, because it is about cutting all lines of communication in order to really truly commune.

Lucy: Do you think that in the future your creativity will move from the sphere of music in to literature for example?
KJG: It's real hard to say. In a way, that sounds like a much easier life. But for all I know I'm deluding myself. I'm looking for someone to help me frame something at the moment, and someone is actually, someone's being really good to me. I would love to write, but I don't know if I'm good
enough to do it.