Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Josefine Seifert
Styling: Matt Holmes
With Pepi Ginsberg, we began as fans then were lucky enough to work with her as a contributor and to be an outlet for her documentary work. Knowing her in this multi-tiered way, it’s abundantly clear to us that she’s a restless polymath, who has a lot of piping hot irons in the creative fire. The latest of these endeavors is n-a-r-c, which began is an acronym for NewAgeRealChange — Ginsberg’s sometimes codename. n-a-r-c comes to full fruition as the album Ginsberg created with her long-time collaborator, the composer Martin Crane.
The album is pop in style but art in spirit overlaid with Ginsberg’s unmistakable vocals. Composed over the course of a year-and-a-half, the project fully came together over the course of creatively an intense week on Long Island. Of course, Ginsberg being Ginsberg expressed herself through more than just the music; there are also some pretty conceptually intense, beautifully shot music videos accompanying the album that she directed. And through it all, Ginsberg also found time to do an interview with us. Check it out below and be sure to give the full album a listen.
How did the collaborative process between you and Martin Crane work? Did you already have your material when you started or did you develop it over the course of the collaboration?
Martin and I are partners and spend most of our free time together so collaborating was sort of an extension of everything else we do together. Ironically, the beginning of our collaboration on these songs started when we were both at our respective families’ homes for the holidays but that only lasted about 5 days. I would be working on the songs in Ableton and sending him files and he would send them back with ideas and new production. This was a year and a half ago. I had so many songs that had piled up and Martin was interested in helping me get them off of the computer and into the world. I was coming out of a very hard time personally when these songs were written and a lot of the music is a record of that. To clarify, these were songs I had written and semi-arranged over the course of that past year and a half. Once Martin started to get the songs into his personal setup the arrangements changed quite a bit, as did the production, and the production value and a great deal of the arranging is Martin, some is me. Anyway after that little holiday, once home, we started to work together. Shortly after we took some time to go out to Long Island to just live and work for a few weeks. That was a dream.
You have a very unmistakable singing voice? How did you develop your singing technique? Are there other singers who influenced your style?
My voice is this funny thing that comes out how it comes out. I developed my actual technique, opening my throat, being less pitchy, etc, and just allowing the emotion to come through, with a handful of amazing teachers over the years. In terms of influence I think singers like Bob Dylan and Karen Dalton, Van Morrison or this woman Lynda Bruner were big. These folks really inspired me because they felt like weirdos too. Maybe not Van, he’s not so weird. I mean he’s weird but he doesn’t sound weird. I started as a folk singer and I’ve never really come off of that. Joan Jett. Rhianna. Todd Rungen. Nina Simone is my favorite singer of all time. I tried to take the lesson of their expression and passion and heart with me into my singing but as for the sound of my voice, when I open my mouth I get me.
In terms of songwriting, how conscious were you of trying to have the individual songs fit with Infinite Mine’s larger themes?
I was semi-conscious. I think when you’re working on a piece it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. When I’m making work and I’m in the thick of it I know the space is filled with certain ideas and emotions or references that I’m looking at and that all goes into the soup. You are who you are at the time that you’re making something. What kind of mood you are in or how you are observing human nature through your worldview all mix together to create what comes out of you. I feel it’s only after something has been completed and collected that you can really map themes onto it and articulate what and who you were when you were making it.
I hope the album feels like walking through a garden of hybrid species. It’s a garden so you recognize it as such but perhaps the flowers look a little odd, a rose-lily, you know, something that feels at once both familiar and new. That’s what we were building towards.
The term pop underground and art pop are used in a reference to the EP, and they feel accurate. But I wonder how you negotiate the potential contradictions between “pop” and “underground” and art?
I suppose I mean to use pop unlinked from its intended longhand meaning “popular” and more as a signifier of a certain style of writing: 3 acts, choral hooks, classic chord progressions, ideas with central and recurring themes. I don’t know that I think there are contradictions. You’re probably right, and it could be an error on my end, but for me the music I made always felt structural and “normal” and yet unable to ever align with strict pop sensibilities. In that way it’s arty. Since moving into this kind of bedroom electronic music I’ve kept a low profile, so in that way, it’s underground.
As an artist, you don’t seem easily confined to a single medium. Can you tell us about the videos you’ve created to accompany the release? And how did you cast the actors in the videos, Cheeky Maa on “Watch Her Dance” and Lilith Levisis, Zoe Kastan, Ser Sera and Nay Campbel on “I Can’t Help Myself”?
Yes! Over the last two years, I’ve started to move into film. I was lucky to have songs that I really connected to that needed a director (ha!) so I decided to make some small films that I felt worked well conceptually with the music. There are three in total. My friend Matthew Holmes who is an amazingly gifted stylist cast and styled the videos, which is how I linked up with Cheeky, Ser, Zoe, Nay and Lilith, who are all amazing artists in their own right. The videos were wild and exciting to make and I learned a lot in the process. Watch Her Dance was shot in the NYC subway system and involved a night of shooting in lesser know locations in addition to Floyd Bennet Field. I Cant Help Myself we made in everyone’s respective apartments. I’ve been quite obsessed with the complexities of cam girl culture and the video just scratched the surface of that fascination for me. The last, for Game Bae, I shot in these incredible caves in Luray, VA on a road trip home with Martin from his folks’ place in NC. Most of that video happened in my edit.
Chris Gheringer mixed the record; how did he come to be involved with the project? Have you worked with him before?
I have! I love Chris, he’s the best. I mean truly the best, it’s thrilling that he was able to help us on this record. He’s really a wonderful guy, and obviously insanely gifted. We were just blessed that he mastered it for us. He really liked it which felt great. The process with Chris is pretty straight up: you mail him the files, stop by when he’s done. I don’t know him too well but I’d never work with anyone else, so I suppose that says a lot!
A few of the tracks like “Bully” delve into a more experimental feeling territory. How important was it for you to break new ground in terms of genre and in general on Infinite Mine?
To be honest I wasn’t thinking about it all too much. We arranged and produced based on the songs and their meaning and tried to listen to what the best tone and arrangement would be for each tune. Martin built the tracks out of instruments he had constructed so they’re all more or less within the same palette. I think perhaps these two you mention sound a bit more experimental but the idea for the whole album was to build a universe of unique sounds that could act as the basis for all of the songs’ production. I hope the album feels like walking through a garden of hybrid species. It’s a garden so you recognize it as such but perhaps the flowers look a little odd, a rose-lily, you know, something that feels at once both familiar and new. That’s what we were building towards. I’d say in all mediums, at this point that’s my creative identity in a nutshell.
Do you have any plans for a follow-up collaboration planned with Crane?
In music, I’m not sure! In life, yes! We are partners so that’s one big collaboration that is ongoing. Yesterday we collaborated on cleaning the house! All kidding aside, he’s been scoring my first short film so that’s what we’re up to right now. He’s become a busy man as a composer and I’m in grad school at NYU full-time for film so I think most of our collabs will be in cinema for the next little while. We love this record but in a way, it’s a piece that’s more of a document of our time and energies and who we were when we made it. I love it for so many reasons but most importantly I love it because it reminds me of us. I know that sounds corny but it’s true. I’m so proud of it and I feel when the spirit moves us to link up musically again we know where to find each other.