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Algae & Tentacles

September 14, 2011

Algae and Tentacles @ Silent Barn by Tom Starkweather

Photo: Tom Starkweather

Algae & Tentacles began a few years ago as a solo project by John Melillo. In May of 2010, after playing in the much-loved band Jodienda, John made Algae & Tentacles his main project, and the band began to play live with a free-floating line-up that ranged from solo sets with electronic toys and looper pedals to trio sets with a marching band bass drummer and stand-up snare/tom player.

The music itself started out as intimate-but-vast swathes of noise: floating, immersive banks of sound-color created through simple electronic processes. Algae. Eventually, the work evolved to include little snares of melody, small concatenations of sound to grab and hold your ear in the midst of the all-encompassing din. Tentacles.

Algae & Tentacles has recorded its music in a cave in upstate New York, by the beach, and in many lovable and loved DIY and punk spaces around New York City. The band is currently based in Tucson, Arizona (and is always searching for drummers and musicians to play with…)

1. What is your hometown?

Just moved to: Tucson, Arizona. Western outpost in a vast Saguaro cactus-filled desert.

Biographically: Norton, Kansas. A drying up western town, not much advanced beyond its homesteader roots—except now all those 160 acre plots are consolidated and amassed in giant farm corporations. It had the best small town concrete public pool.

Emotionally: New York City. You know.

Evolutionarily: The sea.

2. With what fictional character do you most identify?

Well, to be honest, I am easily sucked into most narrative, so I begin to identify with nearly every character an author will make me/let me identify with. Authors have way too much power, really…

For instance, reading “Jane Eyre”? I am Jane Eyre.  Watching “Jaws”? I am the shark.

But, if I must choose one (to aspire to…), I’ll say Ajax from “The Iliad”. He’s the only warrior who never gets assistance from any of the gods. He just goes and goes and goes. He doesn’t have the whiny/pretty-boy/momma’s-boy status of Achilles, but instead is just a do-it-yourself bad-ass. I would like that kind of heroism, I think.

3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.

Heath Ledger, as a walking itinerant one man band in the early 20th century. Complete with funny cap and striped pants.

4. What work of art speaks to your soul?

I don’t have a soul. But if I did…okay, I was kidding. I really do!

And the art that would speak to it would be: Rothko’s Seagram’s murals at the Tate Modern in London. Like…exploding sublimity. You disappear inside of those things. How can a painting be an ocean? Amazing. Oh, and Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings – I love the calm intensity they have.

5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?

Phew…I read too many damn things at the same time. Cathy Park Hong’s “Dance Dance Revolution”; Susan Howe’s “That This”; Ezra Pound’s “Cantos” (especially the “Drafts and Fragments”). Nerdy fact: Algae & Tentacles makes an appearance in Pound’s “Commission.” Susan Casey’s “The Wave“, about big wave surfing and the science of predicting giant waves.

6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?

The Carter Family Collection. Actually, it’s a tape. I drove across the country with my partner Johanna and we listened to tapes the whole way (my car’s sound system isn’t tops). In Dallas, we found an awesome stash of Carter Family and an early Sun Records compilation. Listen to Elvis’s version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky:” that song is alien space rock, mostly because of the crazy echo effect on Elvis’s voice. I also just got Steve Roden’s archival compilation “i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces.” Gorgeous and creepy collection of songs from 1880s to the 1940s. Vernacular sound art.  Oh, also, “Little Body”, a song that I’m recording as a single coming out this fall.

7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?

“Cowboys and Aliens”. I’m a sucker for all high-strung sentimentality tempered by bouts of good ol’ American violence. I couldn’t cry at the end of “Tree of Life”. I tried because I love Malick. But mostly I was just tired. But “Cowboys and Aliens”: tear-factory.

8.  Cat person or dog person?

Jellyfish and sharks.

9. What is more important, truth or kindness?

Truth. I probably would have used to say kindness, but any kindness that’s based on bullshit is hurtful. I know this from experience.

10.    How do you define sin?

The injustice of having to die.

The corrupting effects of power (on a micro- or macro-level).

Hurting people purely because you can.

11.    How do you define virtue?

Skill in the art of living with others. Like, body-surfing a wave perfectly: completely becoming that other thing. Empathy, I guess.

12.   Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?

Ashes floating away in the sea. It says: shhhsshhsssshhhhssssssshhhhhssssshhhhhhssss

Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?

Everyone, but immediately coming to mind:

Reed Evan Rosenberg, one half of Keroäan, a new sound-making outfit who, along with a whole bunch of other people out there, are redefining what music can do and what it means to listen. The last time I cried at a musical event was listening to their first performance in a gallery space in Long Island City last year. Digital Age Sublime.

Johanna Skibsrud, Author of “The Sentimenalists” (winner of the Giller Prize, Canada’s biggest literary prize.)

Algae & Tentacles on MySpace
Algae & Tentacles on Facebook

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