Recently I was interviewed by Italian publication Parkett about my debut Fought and Won album. The Italian version in all its glory (and with all its pictures) can be found here: https://www.parkettchannel.it/intervista-premiere-apaull-fought-won/
Ciao apaull, welcome to PARKETT. I often happen to do interviews with established DJs who talk about their early
years, their apprenticeship, when they are about to end their musical career or are not sure what they should do. While paradoxically you started recently, at over 50 years old. How did it happen?
Hi Nicola. Music was a part of my upbringing. My father was a professional musician, and I was surrounded by music while growing up and played piano and then drums. In the intervening years I became an environmental scientist and by design focussed all my time and energy into my education, learning my craft, starting and developing my own environmental consultancy and then ultimately selling it. It was this final act that gave me the time and resources to go back to music. It was always in the back of my mind. I started producing music shortly after my company sale, in 2019, and then took full advantage of the pandemic to work very hard to learn this new craft and develop a base of competency.
What is your background as an artist? An all-round artist, given that even the cover image is your work, while the lettering is actually by Al Díaz.
Great question. I have always had an artistic side. I have painted watercolors for the last 30 years. Because of the time commitments involved in running my company I was generally only able to paint during holidays and did so very regularly.
Art is an important part of music packaging so I thought that I should at least try to incorporate some of my own art into that process.
I am very much inspired by the artwork (and of course the music) of Hamburg industrial band KMFDM. A key part of their brand is their album covers that are almost exclusively designed by Aidan Hughes (known professionally as Brute). When you look at any of their covers you instantly know it is KMFDM. They include very distinctive art and very bold lettering. I was introduced to Al Diaz by Brooklyn based Canadian artist Jason Maclean. Diaz has a very long history as a New York graffiti and street artist. I love his work and his history (and secretly hope some of his magic will rub off on me). I approached him to see if he would be game to create the lettering for my releases and he has done this for my last nine releases.
Music production is a full-time pursuit for me, and I finally consider myself an artist. I create and program all the music for my productions. I produce mostly ‘in the box’ with very little external hardware. It’s my current comfort zone. From time to time, I include my voice or work with other singers. Almost all of my productions will contain vocal samples of some description. Most of them are subversive in one way or another.
But two souls coexist in you: the artistic one and the scientific one. We know you are an environmental scientist and have worked in waste management. What exactly did you do?
After university, in the early-1990s, I got my start operating some of the first Canadian large scale composting facilities that accepted household food waste and leaf and yard waste. That evolved into consulting for this sector and eventually the broader waste management sector. My specialty is keeping waste out of landfills and incinerators. A key area of expertise is the precise measurement of various waste streams to measure waste diversion performance and/or identify new opportunities to divert waste. In 2015, I went back to school to complete my PhD with research focussed on minimizing the amount of food households throw out. Today I work as an adjunct professor and a senior consultant to help develop and evaluate waste management policy.
In fact, your bio says that your work has given you unique insights into what people consider valuable and non-valuable. Can you explain this in a little more detail?
The household garbage stream, for instance, contains much more than pure garbage. A great amount of it consists of food that was at one-point edible. Food is expensive and makes up a big part of how we spend our money. Yet, we do not manage the food we purchase that well and end up throwing much of it out. Food is valuable when we purchase it yet is allowed to lose its value to the point that it becomes garbage. In a similar vein it is not unusual to find recyclables (e.g., bottles, paper etc.) in the garbage stream. We have simple recycling systems, yet up to 40% of recyclables find their way to the garbage stream. We are often inefficient and lazy.
How do these experiences influence the music you make and your recordings?
I wouldn’t say very much. I tend to keep the environment out of my music. (There are other artists such as Drusnoise that really do a great job of incorporating environmental issues into their music). For my music project I want to think about other things and create art around it.
Where I do tap into my experiences is on the business side of things. It didn’t occur to me right away, but a light did eventually turn on and I realized that I can use my business experience to help manage my music career. This includes networking and promoting my music. It is about diligence. You don’t achieve anything without really wanting it and letting everyone else know the same. You have to create a very careful balance between encouraging people to engage with your project and irritating them with over exposure.
apaull you also founded your own label Furnace Room Rec. But how can we imagine your workflow with your producer Abe Duque?
I created my record label to give me the freedom to release my EPs and albums and, honestly, because of the ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum of trying to find a label that would accept my music. The ‘Fought and Won’ album is my first album but ninth release since June 2022. I now have a body of work that I can start introducing to labels to gauge interest. At the risk of oversimplification, a label for me is access to a defined audience. I want to grow my audience exponentially and exploring other labels is at the top of my ‘to do’ list.
Working with Abe Duque is a dream. He is a topflight producer and DJ with a long history. He shares that experience with me during our weekly meetings and acts as a guardrail for me to make sure that my productions are the best quality they can be. We have very established work boundaries. The art is completely up to me and my responsibility. He helps me with technical issues related to production, mixing and mastering.
Also because, your debut album combines songs with a wide range of electronics. Surely because you grew up with a lot of different music in fifty years. What was the most influential musical period, artists or bands for you?
I think many of us are most influenced by music during our ‘coming of age’ years. Our brains are fresh and the music we hear at that time seems to occupy a unique and durable piece of that real estate. So, for me that is the 1980s and 1990s. Content wise I am heavily influenced by diverse bands including Skinny Puppy and Orb. I love the very different raw energies they bring to the table and their story telling. Music production wise I’m influenced by bands including Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and New Order. I make a point of not trying to sound like any other artist but to hone a clearly definable apaull sound.
Are there any connections with the tracks contained in your album? For example, what is the message behind our premiere, “(I’m a) Sexy Bitch”?
The “Fought and Won” album covers a broad range of topics including cancel culture, government overreach during the pandemic and the failings of televangelists. I know it is totally cliché but producing these tracks is literal therapy for me; a way for me to process anger, sadness, aloneness and happiness into art. The messages in my tracks are generally subversive and voluntarily subliminal. I don’t need anyone to hear and think about the messages unless they want to.
(I’m a) Sexy Bitch is about how charisma or beauty can be used to lure people in and manipulate them to do what they want, whether in the real time moment on the dance floor or as part of some grander design. The track is genderless. I created the voice sample using text to speech software and used six voice layers for the final sample. I had a whole song’s worth of lyrics, but they ended up on the cutting room floor. I decided to keep it simple and enigmatic. As an aside the track will also be released as a single in January and will include a Ross Harper remix.
We have reached the end and I want to satisfy my curiosity apaull. Ok, music keeps us young, but how do you feel in the glamorous world of Instagram and social media nowadays?
Social media is a rat race without clear rewards. I focus most of my attention on Instagram (@apaull_music) and then share to my Facebook and X profiles. Over the last year I have been pretty diligent about posting pretty much every day and trying to grow an audience that might be interested in my music. That has been my key learning. I did try to hire someone to find me ‘organic’ followers but Instagram kept shutting me down. My own slow and steady approach seems to be starting to work and my followers are growing. It is hard to gauge how this impacts streams and the purchase of my music. For that I use Spotify because they have fantastic metrics. and Apple Music, for Shazams, because I figure that represents club play of some sort.
I thank you for your time apaull, and I greet you as I do in all my interviews. Leaving you a free space, where you can share a thought or an instance of yours with us.
The album ‘Fought and Won’ is an important accomplishment for me. It took an incredible amount of work to pull this together and create what I hope is a cohesive package. I really hope techno fans will give it a listen and like it although I am fine either way. I will use this experience to build on my quest to produce high quality art that will be critically acclaimed and attract an audience. It takes time, perseverance and some good fortune. I’ve locked down the first two and await some more good fortune.