Right around the time that James Ferraro released his latest album, Far Side Virtual, we met up in Union Square to talk about the record. That conversation turned into a thing about technology and comfort and copies of copies of copies. Essentially, it is the world as seen through the eyes of James Ferraro. To be entirely honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about Far Side Virtual, but the ultimate takeaway is that it’s a bizarre, complicated and trickily difficult album. Last night, Ferraro released BEBE T U N E S – I H A L E C – 4 $$$$$ (his spaces, not ours). It’s essentially Ferraro’s take on what he hears on the radio. It sounds both exactly and nothing at all like what is actually going on there. Far Side Virtual is out now on Hippos in Tanks, is available for free right here. Read the interview below.
Originally you picked Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man as the place you wanted to meet. Instead we’re at a Cosi. Does it serve the same purpose? To me almost every restaurant or any chain has this weird global vibe. All the decoration all the food…this kind of weird mixture of seemingly unrelated objects.
It seems like they’re designed to have as little character as possible. It’s strange. It’s this very ambiguous mixture of almost every culture in the world.
You grew up in New York, right? Yeah. I also have mad family in Rochester, upstate New York. I was there a lot, and definitely spent time in the weird suburban utopia zone. I find it really strange because a lot of people will listen to Far Side Virtual and be like, Oh this is so LA, and I’m like, Actually man, it’s super New York. I was just walking around St. Marks earlier—that whole area, the lower east side, it’s pretty amazing. It’s pretty out there. It’s interesting to see how the city can change?
Do you feel like it has changed from when you were growing up? Not really. Kind of. It has the same energy I think. It’s like the next generation adopts it, and then they have their own version of it. Even Melrose Place in California, its super surf bohemian arty zone is still there, but it’s 21st-century style. A little more slick and glossy.
St. Marks used to be pretty shady and gross, and it still is, but now it feels like the people that hang out there go there because they know it’s a gross destination. It’s like an imitation of what it was, but you go there for what it was now. It’s a copy of a copy, yeah. I think a lot of people flock to destinations all over the world based on things they learned from movies or books. It’s like how Nubia took over Egypt and they fully embraced their whole culture and it became this second-wave Egyptian civilization.
Now you live in LA. Why’d you decide to move there? I visited there many times, and actually my dad moved to San Diego. There’s a way of life in Southern California specifically—I mean, everything that’s in the record is happening there in complete real time, there’s still real over-exaggeration. But it’s also—we were talking about St. Marks—it’s just totally a hyper-real place.
With your last record, Nightdolls With Hairspray, you made your own version of a pretty straightforward rock album. I remember reading that you were going to do more records like that, but Far Side Virtual is completely different. Did you abandon that idea because you moved to LA? It’s definitely likely to pop back up later. I really relate to impressionism, so I feel like a lot of my records have always been straight up impressions of things I’ve experienced. Before Last American Hero, I mean. I was visiting my grandparents in Florida, and they’re just so trapped in their stucco, dated, table-ready utopia, you know? And that sort of birthed [Last American Hero]. Night Dolls was different because it was actually, in a lot of ways, a fiction that I was creating. They’re all sort of like that, but this one was definitely a sort of Less Than Zero zone of heavy MTV generation burn out TV clones. The idea is a basic working premise that I had for [Far Side Virtual]. It actually wasn’t this huge conscious shift in fidelity or change in style, but this particular record and what it was about yielded that because it was based off modern phenomenon, and that really filtered into my own style.
Your records are all very concept heavy. Do you often come up with the concept before writing the songs? Oh yeah. Far Side Virtual has been an album concept floating in my head for the last five years. I finally just did it.
Have you ever recorded anything without a concept in mind? Yeah. A lot of my more unofficial CD-R releases are definitely more like jams assembled into a certain context.
Now that you’re getting more attention, is it weird to have so much material out there? I feel like people are starting to come back to those CD-Rs and maybe that wasn’t your intention. I find them relevant to my entire body of work, but to be honest, certain things just weren’t considered. I mean, this is like 2006, 2007, 2008 and things are just a bit different…a bit underground. It wasn’t really presented as, Here’s my official studio record,” it was more just cranking out material…just creating things. It was mainly based on touring or a smaller online mail-order distribution. I think if people can return back to certain releases, I’m really excited about that. Some are a little less important in my eyes, but they’re interesting in their own way. Some things aren’t necessarily in conversation with things I’m doing now.
The way you record is very much about forward movement. Like, here’s a concept and you’ve examined it and now you’re onto the next one, so I was surprised to see some of your work getting reissued. It’s sort of strange sometimes when you find the two things, the newer product and the older one, having to compete. There is limited space with the way people consume material, like online or in record stores. That aspect is interesting. As far as people wanting [reissue my work], I’m fine with it, but I think I would like, from now into the future, to sort of hold off on that kind of stuff. Certain releases I’m fine with being unearthed and reissued and given to my newer audience, but they’re the ones that are in conversation with things now.
When I heard about you, before I’d heard any of your music, it was because a lot of artists were telling me they were influenced by you. I assumed you were some old dude that I just didn’t know about. Do you feel like you’re an influence on your peers? No. I mean, I think that certain things perhaps people have picked up on and done, but in all honesty, I feel like I was just doing what I was doing, and I’ve had a lot friends making music…I think I was influenced by others. It’s such a hard question to answer because I don’t really look at it in that way. I think it just becomes part of the language of music and those things become infused in other people’s work, and it becomes the language people adopt. It’s hard to really pinpoint where these things actually originated from. I think my music is a product of that as well as the stuff that came before me.
It seems like for the first time in…maybe ever, it’s okay for a band to sound like another band that came before it. It used to be the ultimate offense, but it’s tipping positive. I think that in the past there are very obvious changes in music and that’s always been parallel to the technology that was being created at the time. I feel like the way our technology is growing…it’s becoming more augmented and, in a way, it’s not as baroque and it’s not as harsh as older technology in contrast to humanity. I feel like there’s this impressionism that’s happening and through digital recording there’s this clarity that’s being created. I think sonically these things ultimately sound different because they’re recorded digitally. I think the difference is more subtle. The changes in music these days are more subtle and they’re not as crazy, you know what I mean? Like [in the past] a certain drum machine changed the entire landscape of music, whereas what’s happening now is fidelity is changing and clarity is becoming more important. I’ve definitely found inspiration from older stuff, most specifically, Night Dolls and Hairspray is super B-movie, really strange, demented ’80s-’90s cable mania. In a sense, that is retrocentric in its own right, but there is this filter that is working there. I would never start a rock band and try to jam Van Halen covers. There’s a more hyperized zone happening, kinda post-Ariel Pink, post-everything where bands are just…being Van Halen.