An interview with Kayla Painter.

Photo by Zoltan Nagy

EMW: Welcome to EMW. How is 2014 treating you so far?

KP: Thanks Hari. Very well actually,  I've already played some excellent shows, this time of year is usually quite quiet for me but I've played London and released a new single, so im pretty happy with that.

EMW: Sounds good. So you're currently based in Bristol? What's so great about the city that makes musicians gravitate towards it?

KP: Yeah I am. I've been living here for five years now, and it still has new things to offer me. There are always new opportunities, amazing shows and festivals and so many inspired and creative people which is what makes it such a fantastic place to be.  I suppose the city has a feel to it, an accepting and interested audience, which makes it a great place for musicians like me, wanting to try something that perhaps doesn't fit the mould in other cities.

I also think as more creatives gravitate towards Bristol there is an increased market for unusual and innovative music / sound art, which only creates more of a reason to book interesting acts and curate festivals that will cater to this audience. Certainly a great place to be at the moment.

EMW: And before this you studied on the CSM course in Newport?

KP: Yes that's right. The course has been key to my development as an experimental artist. Before the course I was a bass player, but after one term I'd been skip diving to make an instrument, made my own light sensitive synth , learnt about 4"33 , Alvin Lucier, Steve Reich and of course some philosophy thrown in just to stretch your mind that bit further. 

EMW: Yeah. I'm currently studying there and already my views and opinions on music have changed. So before you were a bass player in bands. What made you interested in the electronic music that you are releasing and performing live now?

KP: Absolutely- it is a real eye opener.

Yes I was a bassist and previous to that my background was more formal I played and studied alto saxophone for a number of years too.

I was lucky enough to be exposed to experimental and thought provoking music as a child, I remember my dad showing us music by Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, David Byrne and so on. So I expect I have had a keen ear for alternative music from a young age, but found the exposure to new material at university really sparked my interest further. I remember hearing a third years performance, whilst I was in the first year, and being really struck by the  music that Al Mchattie performed, (it was thought provoking, very emotive, ambient and wonderfully electronic) I think that coupled with the lectures on Glitch & the aesthetics of failure really started feeding my brain.  It wasn't until two years later I started looking at making electronic music myself, I still had a lot of creative processes to go through and at first, the idea of making music on a computer seemed like cheating to me.  As I made a few of my first tracks I started to enjoy the flexibility you get from being a producer and that's when I got the urge to dive head first into drum programming.

EMW: It's funny that you use the word cheating. Once one has looked a little in to the works and philosophy of artists like John Cage or even his teacher Schoenberg the very idea of cheating in music seems absurd.

KP: Well absolutely, and something else I had to quickly get my head around was the idea of 'right' and 'wrong' within music. I'd come from a background of music theory and exams, and went to a place where atonal jazz and improvisation was encouraged, it blew my mind a little bit.  I certainly struggled with letting go of form, structure, and all the ideals that surround defined westernised contemporary popular music. 

Funnily enough it seemed for me that a total deconstruction of music was necessary in order for me to rebuild myself as a sound artist, and where i find myself now is making something much more fulfilling and exciting, and constantly pushing the boundaries further, (perhaps this is more obvious in my studio experimentation and sample collection than in my structured recorded work.)

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"I suppose my advice would be to be mindful of what you are recording..." 

EMW: So from the breakdown of traditional form and structure in music you have been able to find other ways of building tracks?

KP: Yeah I'd say so. It allowed me to really think about structure more openly, I sometimes think of my tracks as more of a collage than a linear experience, I often have people comment that my songs don't fit traditional structure and I think that's probably why.  Im more interested in the qualities of sound and what they do in relation to each other now, which I suppose is the sort of approach I have when I sit down in the studio.  It's also been a fundamental process in training my ear to listen, which in turn helps me identify unique sounds that i like to capture to sample, when Im out and about, and when i'm in the studio messing around with tapes or vinyl. 

EMW: Listening is vital! Can you describe your methods with using tape a little more?

KP: I have only recently started looking at tapes, and have a rather wonderful 90s kitchen radio with a tape deck. It is incredibly clunky. I have been working with random selections of tapes my neighbour was throwing out, almost in an improvised fashion. Hitting record on a room mic, and then selecting a tape at random, and going from there. Im putting the tapes in the machine, fast forwarding, rewinding, forcing the tape to pause and fast forward (which creates an amazing sound) and half pressing buttons to cause it to judder , and so on.  It feels almost back to the basics of concrete and field recordings, but I love doing it, you get different things every time you do it, and I also incorporate the radio too.  I like the random element of recording this way. After i've done that I'll then sift through the one singular recording and take things as they are out of it and use them as samples or basis of tracks. This is what happened with the track PW, a lot of that is noise from the tape machine..and the beat is made from the buttons being pressed.

EMW: Also on this track you have used recordings of your travels to Nepal. Did you find that field recording during your journey added another dynamic to your experience?

KP: Indeed I found the field recordings from Nepal absolutely fascinating.  When I got back and listened to the samples on my studio monitors it was almost like i could hear in 3D, I wasn't just hearing the sound I'd recorded, I was hearing the space around it, and what was happening in that space.  A lot of the recordings were of people or happenings in small villages on a trek in the Himalayas. So in places the air was quite dead and silent for a moment and then you'd hear passing donkeys or sheep climbing the mountains and over taking you on paths! 

The recording experience was odd in itself, because when you travel to such a poor country I am always aware of feeling and appearing very western, and I don't like the idea of taking too much from another culture, and then bringing it back to the west with me, and putting a glossy shiny technology stamp on it.  I was wary of recording because in the same way that some people believe taking photographs of people can capture part of their souls, I believe there is some beauty that should remain as it is and shouldn't be recorded and replayed (images or audio), and so there were many instances where I didn't feel it was appropriate to record what was happening.  The recording certainly made me think a lot more about what sounds were happening in my surroundings, and that was a wonderful way to spend many consecutive hours, in silence with my trekking partner, just listening.  

EMW: It's amazing how the process of recording somehow enhances that sense more than if you were just experiencing without the action. I agree with you regarding being sensitive when recording . What advice would you give to anyone wanting to record on their travels?

KP: I suppose my advice would be to be mindful of what you are recording.  Not to be concerned about having a hugely expensive recorder, I used a Zoom H1 digital recorder that I borrowed.  The great thing about this was batteries lasted the whole time, and the memory was big enough for me to get plenty of recordings, some of which are a couple of minutes each.  I suppose when capturing audio I was careful not to be seen pointing the recorder at anyone, to get the most honest sound possible.  On PW, near the end, you can hear a beautiful snippit of some nepalese children learning the alphabet, if they'd known I was recording it may have sounded quite different.

EMW: PW features as a B side to your track Railway Lines. Railway Lines also includes a video created by Jason Baker. Have you always been conscious of having a visual aspect to your music?

KP: Yes right from the start of making this stuff, again in University, we did a module on sound and image, which really spoke to me.  I started working with stop motion animation, and then did a series of projects that were all sound and animation.  So before I was even writing music in the way I am now I was writing and arranging instrumentation to animations.

A lot of people say my tracks are very minimal, and I think this is because when I write tracks I feel they have another dimension - a visual one - and often they are written with that in mind.  It is an absolute pleasure to work with Jason, we have lots of conversations about the concepts and ideas I have around my music, he also does a lot of live vj-ing for the shows I play.  The live visuals are largely based on the artwork and inspiration I had for my last EP, A Very New Everything, which was all about otherworldly experiences and space in the universe.  The Railway Lines video is a really nice play on the big brother vibe, surveillance and the uneasy feeling of being watched.  

EMW: You've also had a release on the electronic music label Bit-Phalanx. What's the story behind this release?

KP: A Very New Everything was released last year through Bit-Phalanx. This release was something I'd been working on for a chunk of 2013, and Bit Phalanx had seen me at a gig and approached me offering to work with me for a release.  Working with a label has been a good experience, and of course its great to have label backing.  Although previous to this I was a self releasing artist, so it was a little strange to start with. The idea for the release was that the tracks all tied together as a concept, tracks 2-6 make up the concept, but tracks 1 and 7 had to be added to meet the label requirements, so it actually turned out quite different to how i'd initially envisioned. The artwork was also part of this concept, to do with space, new life and new creations and otherworldly experiences. (excluding track 7, gaga, which is about something else entirely).

EMW: Leading on from your experience being released by an established label would you say there were benefits in comparison to self releasing?

KP: There are certainly advantages to both self releasing and having a label back you.  
I've found the exposure from the label has been beneficial to me, getting involved with a London based label has allowed me to be presented to a different market I don't reach myself in Bristol.  I've also had my physical cd on sale at record label fairs and been involved in some great line ups off the back of bit phalanx. The networking factor has been great for me too , meeting other musicians and doing remix swaps and so on. 

EMW: On the topic of collaborating. Who would be your dream collaboration?

KP: Ah theres so many! Probably Mount Kimble, Nicholas Jaar or Thom Yorke.. I could go on!

Photo by Zoltan Nagy

"I believe there is some beauty that should remain as it is and shouldn't be recorded and replayed..."

EMW: All of theses producers also have interesting live projects. How's your live set developing? Could you explain your setup?

KP: My live set up is my laptop and a midi controller. Live, I trigger samples and stems of my tracks, I use different audio effects on them and alter them in various ways.  I build upon the sounds I'm making live until I have a coherent track.  In this respect my live set has a certain element of improvisation to it, which I like a lot.  It actually then feeds back into my studio process, So, if I remember certain things that went well on a particular live show, I might go back and experiment with that in the studio.  What I like about this is that my set will never be the same twice, so there is always something new to listen to even if people have seen me many times before.  I suppose the difficulties with this are sometimes an idea will come out of improvising and it won't work in the set or the physical space so i'll have to abandon it and go another way with the set, sometimes I feel like there are small missed opportunities within that, but it's all about listening and making judgments and decisions on the spot, which is great to practice. 

EMW: Do you have any live sets coming up?

KP: Yes I'm playing Bristol on Friday 21st at The Start The Bus, Tuesday 25 at Cafe Kino, and April 19th at the Old Crown Court, which is going to be a big one, supporting Patten, who has just released on Warp. Got a few bits on in May too, its been a busy year so far, and looks like it will continue to be!

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EMW: Is it possible to give us a top 5 what's in your music player at the moment?

KP: Its going to have to be top 5 albums , tracks it too hard, and I don't do shuffle..!

Burial - Rival Dealer, Jon Hopkins - Immunity, Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here, Akira Kosemura & Haruka Nakamura - Afterglow, Murcof - Martes.  I quite frequently go through phases of listening to certain artists a lot, I guess all this stuff shares a fairly non intrusive and beautiful theme, apart from I'm New Here which is semantically rich, and excellent in a very different way. 

Many thanks to Kayla Painter for this insightful interview. Make sure you download her free EP on Bandcamp and do try to reach one of her many live shows this year! Here is a link to her Facebook page.