Charlie Looker's intricate search for simpler answers
Charlie Looker is one of NYC's most prolific artists worthy of being a household name. You already know the bands, from ZS, Psalm Zero, Extra Life, work with Amanda Palmer, Dirty Projectors, Tyondai Braxton, Jherek Bischoff, Mick Barr, Zeal & Ardor, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Experiments in Opera, SEM Ensemble, The Stone and countless other collaborations—the artist has outdone himself once again with the four year labor of nu-baroque pursuits with the album Simple Answers. Armed with a 17 member strong chamber orchestra army, Looker inverts the modernist-classicist canons that turns the empirical Wagnerian conceits on its head with orchestral innovations that explores the operatic underbelly of our current era.
Updating the Goethe tragedy theorems to a level akin to the evolution of Scott Walker-esque trajectories—Simple Answers surveys the devolving antagonisms of today's brutalist discourse centered around fixations of blood and iron. In an attempt to seek answers of simplicity on the far side of today's complexities, Charlie Looker generously provided us with the following exclusive behind the scenes look at the artists and art that informed the aesthetic fabrics of Simple Answers:
Scott Walker, “Farmer in the City”
I didn’t think about him consciously very much while making this album, but I definitely love Scott Walker, and he’s the closest comparison I can give someone when describing Simple Answers.
Leonard Cohen, “Avalanche”
I was planning on recording a re-orchestrated cover of this song, either for the record or for a bonus track, but there wasn’t enough time. My favorite LC lyrics ever. This song has a hunchback in it, but I wrote the Psalm Zero song “Hunchback” before ever hearing this, which pleases me.
Leonin, “Viderunt Omnes” (performed by Early Music Consort of London)
Leonin was a 12th Century French composer, one of the first composers in Europe to be known by name (!) This style of Medieval two-part vocal music, called organum, is what I’m imitating in the piece “What Dawn is This?”
Alice in Chains, “Nutshell”
The rhythm and feel of the main chords in “Black Sun” were a conscious homage/rip-off of “Nutshell”. Then, in the end riff of the song, I subconsciously quoted the opening lick from Jerry Cantrell’s solo on “Junkhead”, so the song is rife with AIC references.
Gustav Mahler, “Kindertotenlieder” (performed by Jessye Norman w/ Seiji Ozawa and Boston Symphony Orchestra)
Crushing song cycle for soprano and orchestra, dedicated to Mahler’s two kids who died of scarlet fever. A great model for me of the genre of “orchestral song cycle”.
Selections courtesy of Charlie Looker; photographed by Sam Marble.
Ride for Revenge, “Erotic Needs in Emotional Void”
Tentacular horror from Finland, that my girlfriend put me on to. They’re related to black metal, but musically this really is in some utterly outside realm, RIYL evil itself.
Owen Pallett, “Lewis Takes Action”
Owen is an absolute master of orchestral pop, and a guy I thought about a lot while making this album. Gorgeous melodies, cryptic but evocative lyrics, super-imaginative yet subtle arrangements, and an overall spirit of wonder and openness to the music (kinda like Ride for Revenge lol)
Travis Scott, “Drugs You Should Try It”
Kelly Moran got me into this, and trap music in general. I have no interest in attempting to legitimately operate in this genre or scene, but some of the sounds and rhythms really got in my head, and came out explicitly in the song “Puppet”.
Gérard Grisey, “Partiels” (performed by Ensemble Ars Nova)
French composer of the so-called “spectral” school, who turned me on to these high, ringing clouds of microtonal orchestral dissonance that end up fusing together to sound like electronics.
Patrice O’Neal, Live at the Comedy Store 2004 (bootleg)
A true comedy legend (RIP). Check out the bit at 19:52 about the importance of honesty. Patrice’s meditations on morality, power, and depression, were central to my lyric writing in this project.