This interview was published in December on Local Suicide (LSD).
John Gomi is an artist of many qualities, genres and projects. Growing up in hot and lonesome country of Texas, he’s been killing time by music making and goofing around with drum machine since school years. He later used his skills and talents in bands, as a DJ, playing with an orchestra and releasing on his Beat Imprint record label, where he just put out the first EP of his current solo project City Of Hungry Ghosts. LSD caught up with the Texan to talk about his meandering musical path, ‘Pills and Polaroids’ EP, beatnik lifestyle and the influence of his homeland on his work and life. Or as he would put it: heady stuff.
LSD: You’ve been playing live under several monikers for many years, but you also played tuba in an experimental ensemble in a noise-punk band. Even though I assume your musical path may seem as volatile as your music, what are the 3 key projects which brought you to where you musically stand now?
City Of Hungry Ghosts: There was a band in the 90s I did, called Monk:the Ensemble that was a mixture of punk, funk, & hip hop, with what would now be called lo-fi or 8bit, but all the samples & tones were triggered by me with turntables via vinyl, either scratch records or dubplates. So technically I was a scratch DJ, but with original content & some lo-fi loops, etc. It set the bar because of working with physical musicians. No tracks were ever the same, very jazz-like, we had a sound man at one of the clubs that was a huge dub guy, so we’d scream “Dub it!” on the mic & walk away to get shots & the music would just keep going & then we’d just 2, 3, 4 & dive back in… We were just too fucked up on personal levels, so it eventually imploded. The shows were great, but we’d end up in a fist fight after the performance. Regardless, it taught me a lot about group dynamics, performance, getting in where you fit in etc. It helped make me a better “musician”, something that’s a bit lost in the electronic music world sometimes. I did an art/noise thing called Chop Shop, that was heavy on the breaks & free jazz horns, with two girls that would dress up & do performance pieces like cover themselves in latex & peel in off, while the room was washed in anime videos & a wall of noise. Once again, great performances, terrible people dynamics. Haha. Beat.Imprint ultimately has been the longest & most enduring collaboration, but I think that has to do with a bit of growing up & a mutual respect between us two. I’m sure we have our moments, I’m notorious for wandering off when I feel claustrophobic creatively.
City Of Hungry Ghosts is a more free extension of my headspace over the last 3-5 years. Been a bit crazier, more fried, been wrestling with some stuff & it came out on the EP. The next couple of releases are going to have that too. I have a track ‘The Death Of Sleep’ that I want to do as part of the next EP or a 7” mix of more chopped & crushed beats with slow & how’d vocal drops. Heady stuff.
LSD: ‘Dead Tired’ and ‘Peculiar Hobbies’ from Pills and Polaroids EP sound rather cinematic. Apart from all of your musical influences, genres, MCs, bands and projects, what else does have an impact on your musical creation? Were there specific movies, books, situations where you thought: This is it, I want to use this mood / sound / feeling in my music?
City Of Hungry Ghosts: The Wim Wenders movie “Paris, Texas” was on the morning I recorded ‘Dead Tired’. I was in a cheap motel in Houston, TX over the summer, hiding out & that happened to be on TV, cold room, hot humid Texas night/morning. So, I think of that track as an alternative soundtrack I guess. Also William Gibson. Done a few “Sprawl Radio” mix/edits. The idea of a weird culture jamming moment, not unlike the “sprawl” that is South Texas, Houston, Beaumont etc. or The Dallas area sprawl. Our vinyl are made in Dallas, the surrounding industrial area is all strip clubs & bails bonds companies both illuminated by tons of neon. All the culture & remains of Americana, lit by neon fused with huge immigrant populations. Korean & Arab. It’s grungy. But glorious at the same time. Lots of big hair & God. I think Skye (of Beat.Imprint) has some heavy beat generation influences etc. I like Kerouac & Burroughs. That for sure had some influence on my “life” choices. I did a lot of crazy “rock n’ roll” lifestyle things in 90s. Certain things were rrrreallly cheap in Texas & I took full advantage of that at one point. I’m better now! Hahaha.
LSD: In ‘Crushed Sounds’, you took noise and gave it a rhythmical order, transformed it into almost a hip hop beat. That’s a very specific way of genre-crossing. What are your favorite music genres to mess with?
City Of Hungry Ghosts: My music style, when making music is there, isn’t really a primary style. I have some VSTs I’m really fond of, I also tend to use my custom rotary Pioneer 800 as an instrument. I like tracks with bass, & I think of what I do as a mutant variation of sonic culture jamming. I like hip hop, I like dub & bass music, abstract techno, African & middle eastern as well as heavy psych rock. I like dubbing out stoner metal sometimes. I’m very much a maximalist.
LSD: When you DJ or play live, is there a goal you want to achieve in terms of emotional impact on the audience? Do you come on stage thinking, “Today I wanna crush your brains” or “today I want to make you feel as if you were on pills, blanched as polaroids”?
City Of Hungry Ghosts: It’s the old (in old New York American accent) “Tell ‘ema ssstoryyy…” You should keep you audience guessing. When I was learning to DJ in the early 90s before I’d ever played anywhere, I ran lights for Dj XAX at Acropolis in Austin, Texas. He’s say ”the job of a good DJ is to play the music the crowd didn’t know it wanted to hear”. I still try & do that. Almost every time I play I get someone that walks up at the end & is like “whoa I didn’t see you going that way, or you mixed it up”. I feel like performances should be an ebb or flow like great jazz soloists do. Highest highs to the depths of the soul. That’s one reason I really love doing my Shade party at the Flat in Houston. It’s technically “House music”. But it’s been called our own brand of house which I like. I can go from techno to vocal deep house to disco, soul, & garage classics, then drop “Darkstar” by Crosby, Stills, & Nash, dub it out & cross that with War “Slipping’ into darkness” into Fuckpony or something else on Get Physical, Rekids, or Adjunct. No fear, take chances & keep ‘em moving. But there’s a bit of that pull, no punches, wreck shop approach to what I do.
LSD: You play solo but also with others, as Beat.Imprint for example. Could you reveal more information about your collaborators, are there recent ones, are any of them regular collaborators?
City Of Hungry Ghosts: Lucas Ray who’s got a lot coming in 2017 for sure is one of those cats I’m down with for sure. He balances some of what I do out. Solid production. Our man DJ Tego, in Baton Rouge/New Orleans is in the mix for 2017. My bass player Rudy & horn player, the Reverend Pain Hernandez from Monk, we are talking about working up some new live stuff w/ a drummer or two. Whether that’s a City Of Hungry Ghosts thing or not, not sure. We always cross-pollinate creatively. I want to do something a little more hardcore, but with a strong sense of groove. We’ll see. I always liked EYE from the Boredoms approach so, it all churns sometimes. Lastly, Ken Gibson from Appendix Shuffle/Adjunct. Would really like to get him on a remix for either Beat.Imprint of City Of Hungry Ghosts. We’ve known him forever. I like his Dubloner stuff a lot like to see what he could do with what we do.
LSD: How does production of City of Hungry Ghosts differ from your other projects, what is the idea or identity behind it?
City Of Hungry Ghosts: COHG is me. It’s where my head is at, at any particular moment. Bit more (whatever it is). It’s the late night, early morning. Scraping the bag with a rusty razor (figuratively now of course), but the sun’s coming up, or is up, or has gone down, come up, gone down again, & is working one day, two or three… It’s that “Oh S@#$ we’re about to come round again feeling. Cinematic soul at zero. It’s back to the “beat” thing I was talking about earlier. Holes in the bottom of your shoes, no money in your pocket, no girl’s/boy’s couch to crash on, but man last night was great, hold on I need a drink…
That’s the mental approach, physical production is pretty conventional at least in my mind. I like my K2000, sounds come from everywhere. I like to run it into & out of my mixer so I can chop & crush it a bit more intuitively. I do try with COHG to let the sound expand & flutter a bit at the edges, try to create tension & release.
LSD: You often mention being from Texas. How has this city formed you and how is it specific for you, in both good and bad sense?
City Of Hungry Ghosts: I will say this: growing up in a small isolated place makes you a much more creative person. If that’s in you. It will come out. I was making “pause tapes” at 11. Fucking with a cheap drum machine at 16, as well as this 8 sec sampler that came on a Gemini mixer I got on a Summer trip to New York. I learned & developed a lot of my tastes, music, fashion, etc. reading whatever magazines, & going to thrift stores. Digging records in pawnshop record bins, or the 99cent tape bin. That’s how I discovered Einsturzende Neubauten & Kraftwerk, alongside Funkadelic, Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, & Killing Joke. 99cent bin in Texas.
It’s also hot in Texas, the drugs are different. Cheap drugs, no money. Everything’s a bit slower. Even the house music I play/make is usually under 119 bpm. This is a culture that elevates “sippin’ syrup” codeine with promethazine to cultural icon status. Austin, historically, has also had a very strong psychedelic tradition. Be it Roky Erickson/13th Floor Elevators in the 60s, Butthole Surfers in the 80s, even our house scene had a heavy psychedelic leaning in the early 90s. Brett Johnson, who I think is in Berlin now was in Austin for brief a period in the mid 90s. My friend James Neal through these outlaw parties called Microdot, we had a club space called Quack’s Up! & they would use our space. Very DIY, very roots. Amps & breakers popping because of the heat. That’s where we developed the “Throw Small Independent Parties” motto that is still the basis for Beat.Imprint.
But there was a lot of fighting & ass kicking & getting my ass kicked, & learning to deal with rednecks & closed minds etc. Hearing rap music was nothing but a (insert rascist term) music fad. I think hip hop won! Haha. It’s just what it is. Makes you tougher. Texas is very much the land of God, Guns, & Government, & not necessarily in that order.
But that being said, I wouldn’t change any of it, it’s made me who I am & made my art what it is.
LSD: Do you have a peculiar hobby?
City Of Hungry Ghosts: I sew. It’s actually not too weird. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a clown, maybe this is the peculiar part. So, I juggle, unicycle, make balloon animals, eat fire, etc. (this is also why I like Berlin & Europe a lot) & I read somewhere that in the circus everyone had multiple jobs & contributed, so I learned to cook & sew. Both of which have totally come in handy. Try being a kid in the 80s into the circus & electronic music in Texas. Haha, I survived.