According to the Los Angeles-based musician Scott Gilmore, the music that we call "pop" could stand to be a little weirder. "I wouldn’t say I am interested in pop music," he says. "I think the more traditionally 'pop' a song is, the less I tend to like it. This is because I appreciate it when artists take risks in their songs."
As his own music has crystallized over the year, moving from mono synth experiments to more song-like forms, Gilmore has been intent on keeping his music a little more out there than pop music as a form generally allows. His album Two Roomed Motel, released in March, was full of ghostly whispers and puttering beats eked out of old tech. The songs are hooky and memorable, but there's something off about them—the distinct feeling that they're stitched together by one solitary guy, obsessing over every little idiosyncratic detail.
For his Noisey Mix, Gilmore decided to pay tribute to music made from a similar place. He doesn't consider himself a DJ, so for inspiration, he looked to a radio show hosted by fellow LA musician Jimi Hey called Rainbow Jail that pulls together strange pop-inflected music from the past. Gilmore says that due to both the isolated space that record-making puts him in and the fact that he doesn't really have much patience for looking for music online, Rainbow Jail has constituted most of his pleasure-listening of late. In the show, Hey slams eccentric songs with absurd production choices, often drawing on old synth-pop archives or weirdo psych curios or forgotten post-punk gems. "They are usually somewhat familiar," Gilmore says of the songs that Hey plays. "Yet at the same time, there is something off about each song: experimental production techniques, bizarre instrumentation, or unconventional chord changes."
Gilmore's mix is a collection of hard-to-find songs that he discovered through the show, each of which serves as a window into the sort of experimental choices he makes in his own music. It's all wonderful, immediately enjoyable stuff—just don't call it pop. Listen below alongside an interview with Gilmore about Rainbow Jail, the never-ending search for old weird music, and, uh, Stoic philosophers.
NOISEY: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What's the perfect setting?
Scott Gilmore: I really enjoy walking around while listening to it. I’ve listened in the car, and the train, but walking still seems to be the most fitting.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
I don’t consider myself a DJ. I’ve never had the right type of patience to search for music on the Internet, and I don’t actively go to record stores anymore and sift through bins—I live too far away from any record store for me to justify spending a whole day doing that. All of these songs are taken from the vast catalog of Rainbow Jail mixes made by Jimi Hey, which have all been broadcasted online from the Dublab studio in Los Angeles. I have been immersed in Jimi’s mixes for the past several months, and aside from oldies AM radio, and philosophy podcasts, Rainbow Jail is all I listen to lately.
Do you have a favorite moment on this mix?
I think from 20 minutes, starting off with the song "Lost A Number," and going all the way through to the song "Yanks" at about 30 minutes is a pretty good run.
Is synesthesia a real thing? If so, what color is this mix?
I always assumed it was. I looked online a bit to check and there seemed to be a lot of research on the subject all suggesting it’s a real thing.
Since I don’t have synesthesia, I can’t say. But I imagine that it changes color quite a bit throughout the mix, maybe even every track. It probably looks something like a rainbow.
What draws you to Jimi Hey's radio show?
All of the songs he plays have this quality of sounding like hits from a parallel universe. Take the song "River Lane" in this mix. It’s a typical-sounding psychedelic folk tune, sort of in the world of Nick Drake, but it has this extreme vocal delay, hard-panned to a side opposite the vocals. It’s a very extreme production decision, but that’s what takes the song to this other world—where something that maybe doesn’t make sense or isn’t technically the “correct” thing to do is always done. I think a lot of the songs that are in his mixes have this quality to them, which is a quality I really appreciate as a listener.
I’ve known of Jimi for some time, but I can’t remember how I first came across his mixes. In 2007 or 2008, when Ariel Pink formed a new band and started playing around LA a lot, Jimi Hey was playing the drums. He was also a member of this interesting noise group called Indian Jewelry, who I was into at the time. Over the past year, Jimi and I have been intermittently collaborating on some songs. I think I got turned onto his Soundcloud page sometime around then.
For a while I wasn’t listening to much music at all, with the exception of [Bach's] The Well-Tempered Clavier. The reason for that was a combination of two things. I needed mental space between moments of recording my own music. It was, and still is, overwhelming to always listen to music that has been produced in a studio. I can’t help but analyze everything I’m hearing. The second reason was that I don’t like deciding what to listen to. I’d listen to FM radio, but it’s all shit. YouTube is an amazing resource, but I don’t have the patience to sift through everything, and I haven’t spent enough time on it to get the algorithms to play music I really enjoy. When I finally got a phone that allowed me to download the Soundcloud app, Rainbow Jail immediately became the place I went to listen to music.
What's special about the music Jimi digs up?
All of his mixes contain such a wide range of music. They are all, for the most part, two hours long, the production is exceptional on every track he selects—not only in a technical, but often in an experimental way. He also features songs that have this quality of risk-taking in regard to production. The producers are usually not making obvious decisions. More often than not they tend to make very original decisions, which upon first listen can be startling, but over time it’s those decisions that make the tracks so special.
In the description you sent over, you also mentioned that you're listening to a lot of philosophy podcasts. Is that something that you've studied before or a later life interest?
I’ve been interested in philosophy for a long time. I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading it since not being in school, but I’ve always enjoyed it. I started getting back into it more actively after someone showed me this philosophy podcast which works its way from early ancient philosophy to the modern day. I wouldn’t say I’m studying it. I enjoy reading it occasionally, but mostly it’s really enjoyable to be presented with new ideas and different ways of looking at various aspects of life.
What are you invested in right now?
I’d never read any of the philosophies of the Stoics before, but this podcast focused on them for a few segments and I’ve since been reading The Shortness of Life by Seneca. Right from the very beginning there are certain passages which are surprisingly applicable even today. He talks about how people are very skilled at being frivolous with their time, yet surprised by how short life appears when they are at their death. It calls to mind countless hours of mindless social media engagement, which seems to be the accepted use of time for a person in today’s world. I appreciate the Stoics' dissatisfaction with the pursuit of pleasure and I tend to agree with their desire to use the free time that one has in pursuit of virtue.
Does this interest ever manifest in your music in any appreciable way?
In everything I’ve released so far, no it hasn’t. But I’m currently working on a new album and several of the songs call for singing. Maybe over time as I internalize these different philosophies they will begin to appear in some way in the lyrics.
With the exception of the track from Lost Animal, a lot of the songs on here are from the 90s or before. Is that typical of your listening habits? Is there something in the sounds/production of 70s and 80s pop that you connect to more?
Yes, I do like the sound of old drum machines and old synthesizers, but that’s not why I mostly listen to old stuff. I’m not actively digging for any music, including music that’s being made today. Most of the songs on Jimi’s mixes are older and obscure—had I been alive at the time, I probably wouldn’t have even known about a lot of this music. I assume there is music being made somewhere right now that I would really enjoy. I just won’t ever hear it, because I’ll never take the time to dig for it.
I do notice that music being made today generally tends to fall short in comparison with music from the 70s and 80s in three respects: the songwriting, the musicianship, and the production. So much music from back then achieves a high degree of all three of these qualities. I notice that even some contemporary music which I like, tends to fall short in at least one of those areas. But, like I’ve said, I really don’t spend the time needed to find the stuff of today that I would really appreciate.
To what degree are you interested in pop music as a form? I feel like over time, your work has coalesced into more song-like forms. And this mix obviously shows that it’s something you care about in some capacity. It's just not something I necessarily would have expected back when I first heard Volume 01 .
To use the song "River Lane" as an example again, with respect to the effect on the vocals—that decision wasn’t the best decision in order to make it “poppy,” but that’s why I like the song even more. It’s so interesting to listen to. I wouldn’t expect it, and at first maybe it’s unsettling, but it’s much more of an interesting song because of it.
I would actually say that I don’t like pop music as a whole. It seems that the less interesting and less musically challenging something becomes, the more closely it’s then related to the definition of pop. I’ve always been interested in music that follows a song form, and especially songs that are almost pop songs, but become something much more interesting because of their deviation from what’s expected. Arthur Russell, Ariel Pink, and R. Stevie Moore are great examples of songwriters who are able to achieve this. I know there are countless others, but I’ve never been skilled at finding them.
1. Holly B – No Lies (UK, 80)
2. Fingerprintz – Wet Job (UK, 79)
3. Fontana Mix – From A Speeding Car (UK, 84)
4. Peter Hammill – Ophelia (UK, 84)
5. Lost Animal – Lose The Baby (AU, 2011)
6. Grin – Lost A Number (US, 71)
7. Unknown – River Lane (UK, 71)
8. Love Inc. – Life’s A Gas (DE, 95)
9. Gangway – The Loneliest Being (DK, 84)
10. The Gist – Yanks (UK, 80)
11. Ethos – Quiet Lines (Nashville, 75/76)
12. Data – Cubismo (UK, 85)
13. Martin Dupont – You Are My Jail (FR, 85)