Ian svenonius: ‘The underground can’t coexist with the internet’

on his way to creating an enduring rock ‘n’ roll minimalist legacy, Ian svenonius, electrifying chaotic live performer still has plenty of statements to make

In this conversation, Ian tells stories behind his rock ‘n’ roll fantasia, 2-3 things about his formation and early years, the formula behind ESCAPE-ISM the found sound dream drama, instant advice for the next generation, and his film ‘the lost record’.

yeah: where were you when the pandemic hit?

Ian svenonius: In March of 2020, I was on tour in the midwest with my group The Make-Up, doing some concerts here and there. Lurking over the shows was a bit of a cloud, a sense of incipient plague, I suppose from all of the news reports, but the events were still great and perhaps the clouds of spittle and sweat added to a sense of danger, something missing from underground rock ‘n’ roll since the indie corporate model was instituted with Condé Nast, Spotify, live nation and the other capitalist entities that have made everything so sterile, conformist, middle class, remote, and dull. The Make-Up tour ending up with concert appearances in Chicago and Detroit, where I met up with Alexandra who performs with me in Escape-ism. The intention was to stay  in Michigan to record songs, in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Bay City. After a few days though, pandemonium had hit and we were watching television broadcasts of 5 and dimes in Los Angeles being looted for tissue paper.

What was the one album that made you want to make music?

Possibly my impetus for recording and performing music was being born with a moon in the sign of Leo, the sign of the showman. Or perhaps being raised in the D.C. hardcore scene with its energy, participatory ethos, and localism. Or being turned on to the Beatles , who seemed so creative and fun and made every other creative pursuit besides rock n roll seem a bit boring, isolated, and sedentary. Or the Gospel music which was ever present in my neighborhood growing up and represented catharsis and expression to me. Or that the art scene when i was growing up was quite serious and inaccessible. Or maybe its because rock n roll used to be a sort of sacred temple of insouciant buffoonery, like a left bank cabaret. The records that were at the record and tape exchange when i was a kid were all the really radical post punk and far out experimental industrial stuff that was challenging , provocative and alluring. Tons of weird records by hundreds of groups that were really intent on making something new regardless of talent or looks or any chance of fame or money. 

ESCAPE-ISM: the one-note all nite group starring Ian Svenonius & Alexandra Cabral

your album ‘rated z’ with Escape-ism is a very minimalist rock n’ roll statement. Almost like you made this record with technology from the ’70s. Is that part of your “today is tomorrow’s nostalgia” master plan?

Escape-ism is committed to the idea of absolute minimalism. Fewer notes, fewer beats and fewer words and ideas. We made most of it at our studio which is also very minimal though we also had help from some friends such as Shelley from Shells and Tyvek who plays lead on the song “Rated Z.”

Godard said “Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.”, does this resonate with how you approach your film endeavors?

Film is almost a dead medium I suppose, the narrative story with characters and a setting and theme that unfolds over an hour and a half and has a resolution. Like harmony in music, this kind of movie is eschewed by a modern Netflix audience who prefer either propagandistic documentaries to tell them what to think, endless mini series of pure banality or pure violent catharsis/ultraviolence as exemplified by apocalyptic shoot em up blockbusters. But— there is an old tradition of rock ‘n’ roll movies like A Hard Days Night, Having a Wild Weekend, Tommy, etc. and we in Escape-ism we are big fans of this kind of film, so we were inspired to create a rock n roll fantasia in that vein. Other big inspirations were Italian sci-fi and espresso bongo with Lawrence Harvey.

I read ‘Supernatural Strategies for Making a rock ‘n’ roll group’. Delightful. What instant advice would you give to someone just starting a band?

My advice would be to ‘go off the grid entirely’. The underground cant coexist with the internet and rock ‘n’ roll only works if it represents something unknown or possibly just a rumor.If you take great pains to bury yourself in absolute obscurity , you will be a hero in the future.

let’s play a little game, If you can just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind:

Elvis: hot
Brian Jones: eyes
The Beatles in “Get Back”: beautiful
The Make-Up: perfect
Capitalism: alpo
New York: tall
The Velvet Underground: shades
Pizza: a spectrum of belief

Describe your life in three words:

Almost unbearably glamorous

Let’s end this interview with some essential music recommendations. What are some of your favorite songs?