An album can grow from anything: a broken heart, a sweaty dancefloor, or the streets you stroll down everyday. For L.A.-based artist James Ferraro, it was his hometown's contradictions and complications that spawned his new long player, Skid Row, out today on Break World Records (order it here). It's as sprawling as the city, with the 8-minute synths-and-spoken-word burner "To Live And Die In L.A." at its heart. And yes, it's Ferraro on the mic—he takes up the frontman role with ease, casually dropping hushed observations over sirens and street noise. To celebrate its release, he put together an epic FADER Mix of some of his favorite "mutations of music." Listen below, and scroll down for an illuminating chat with the man himself.
Where are you right now? Describe your surroundings.
Literally in front of the Full House house in San Francisco, it’s 3am and I’ve been drinking.
Tell us a bit about this mix—what do you imagine people doing while listening to it?
I don’t know what people will do when they listen to it; to be honest I sort of imagine that people will just skim through it but, I wanted to string together different mutations of music I have a lot of respect for. Some of of my favorite artists are featured in it.
In a lot of ways, it feels like the world you envisioned in Far Side Virtual is second nature to everyone now: for example, media is embedded in our lives in a way it wasn't even three or four years ago, and society privileges profits over people. Is this new era something you embrace or are you as overwhelmed with it as the rest of us?
I don't know, I entertain some pretty extreme beliefs in my head; I don’t feel overwhelmed at all though. Our technological evolution interest me. I think in some ways we might be witnessing the limits of humanity though—I’m just waiting for scientists to map the human brain, then transfer it into a software that becomes so cheap it can be made in China and put on a 10 cent microchip inside our phones.
What place, philosophically, were you writing Skid Row from?
I thought a lot about our activity on earth being a sort of nihilistic simulacra of culture. I thought a lot about the American idea of "fast money" and apex predators in power suits sharking around downtown L.A. I think about how history and culture are consuming themselves and how that's represented in all the billboards splattered across town. During the writing process I thought a lot about John Singleton, I thought about Dennis Hopper’s COLORS, a lot of other films, also how the media performs reality—O.J. Simpson's trial, in particular. How the histrionic nature of those films and media offers a great commentary on L.A. life.
Your voice, and your general human presence, are more visible than ever on Skid Row. What made you want to step forward on this album?
I always think of my albums like a mini stage production or like an opera, and I’ve always appreciated how drama and acting accesses the whole spectrum of the human psyche. As I’ve gotten more serious about the role of them in my albums it was just natural how a human presence progressed to the forefront. A vocal performance connects me with that art form, I feel like an actor breathing life into a character. In the case of this album, my poems are the script for a role of a Skid Row cowboy praying in the smog for day break in a high pressure city about to blow its lid.
How do you believe we can find a way out of this hyper-capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal maze we're in right now?
I don’t really think capitalism in itself is evil, I have a hard time subscribing to binaries like that. It seems like our most natural economic interface but I think it’s primitive; the evolution of society and the development of our ideals and values is problematic for capitalism. Exploitation is a natural consequence by design; some are thriving under its design, most are passively participating. I think as a generality capitalism generates a toxic psychology, like a mutated type of persona. I don’t know, maybe there is something on the horizon that will distance us further from it all in a meaningful way before the system collapses on itself. Patriarchy is personally the most saddening issue, it would be beneficial to society as a whole if women had the same advantages that men have; patriarchy is like a handcuffed society. There needs to be more scientific and technological efforts geared towards women’s health.
Will L.A. ever change? Do you think nature is going to force its hand?
It was more obscene in the '80s from what I understand because people had more money, but yea L.A. is still the accelerationist center of the universe. A place as a raw as L.A. shouldn’t have to change in my opinion, it took so much time to build it but of course all things change. I have a nickname for L.A.: “Data-crine” 'cause its literally secreting so much weird information about human behavior. It’s perfect though right now, it’s literally a giant sociological experiment.
What's the last book you read that had a big impact on you? And why?
Caligula: The Corruption of Power. This book was cool 'cause it really fed into my preexisting idea that homo-sapiens are basically the same throughout history. I think the way we process the idea of humanity in relation to history is an illusion, like an ethos.
And finally, what's your favorite dish to cook and how do you make it?
I used to like eating nori and raw fish together but I stopped eating meat now.
GEORGE HOWARD - GOT IT GOIN’ ON
MILES DAVIS - TUTU
FOUR CORNERS - PAST PORTS
AUTOMATIC MAN - RIGHT BACK DOWN
GEORGE HOWARD - I’M IN EFFECT
PASSPORT - YELLOW DREAM
NIK KERSHAW - CITY OF ANGELS
CHINA CRISIS - TRAGEDY AND MYSTERY
GEORGE HOWARD - PERSONALLY
MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA - ONE WORD
LARRY CARTLTON - IN MY BLOOD
STOMU YAMASHTA - SOLITUDE
RONNIE LAWS - FRIENDS & STRANGERS
STEPS AHEAD - PARADISO
HERBIE HANCOCK - EARTH BEAT
DAVID SPINOZZA - SUPER STAR
YELLOW JACKETS - WILDLIFE
UNKNOWN - BENEATH THE EARTH
CHRIS THOMPSON - THE ISLANDS (HERE WE GO)
PASSPORT - ELOQUENCE
AUTOMATIC MAN - ONE AND ONE
NAJEE - DAY BY DAY
KEITH JARETT - SPIRITS 20
JAY DAYS - THE OIL AGE