I Am The World Trade Center
I’m erasing my lead and starting over. I need to be honest with you guys. Honesty is what I’m all about, honesty is what this publication is about, and I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t strive for that honest, on-the-level rapport I get when relating to the reading public as equals deserving of my honesty.
If I didn’t strive for that, I’d be probably be writing for Pitchfork Media.
My honesty compels me to tell you that I don’t like doing interviews. It’s the truth. I usually try to avoid them, and possibly on account of that, this is the fourth time I’ve written this lead. The first time was before my interview with Dan Geller, based on all the pre-interview facts I’d dug up on I Am The World Trade Center. It was weak, to say the best. The second time was later that same night, at Kafka’s Internet Café & Used Book Store on 15th St and Washington Ave in Miami Beach. That time I ended up writing 20 pages on the how and why of my dislike of band interviews, and later edited it to use in a writing workshop I’d gotten duped into hosting that week. It went over quite well with that group, though it had nothing to do with the band or interview itself. The third incarnation of this piece began after my conversation with Geller, and with renewed vigor, I tried to write a real lead again. It was boring and generic. I finished backspacing through that lead a few minutes ago, and began to write what you’ve got in your hot little pixels right now. A lead about my leads, and why I am the person least qualified to write this piece.
I’m like the Adaptation of band interviews. But, you know, without Nicolas Cage, or that cute girl from What Women Want.
Interviews are like blind dates. No, wait, I’ve got a better analogy. Let’s try this again. Interviews — and more importantly, boring interviews — leave me feeling like a 5 year old again, and my mom is talking with the other parents to try and set up a “play-date” with some kid I’ve never met. We both sit in the sandbox and stare at each other, while trying to overcome the awkwardness and make our parents happy. But back in the sandbox we had an indefinite amount of time to make it work, and moms who wouldn’t let us out till we got it right and made friends. Now we have a strict 15 minutes to make good, hampered by edgy watch-tapping publicists, and bad cell phone connections.
I say this to set a precedent. I say this so you understand what was going through my mind as I sat down with Dan Geller (in the cellular sense) to chat with him about I Am The World Trade Center’s new album, The Cover Up. I say this so you understand that unlike many other writers, it actually means something, when I say I had a good time. If this really were a blind date, I’d been counting down the two days of buffer time to call him again. No, wait… that’s why I didn’t use the date analogy. It just sounds wrong.
Despite my good vibrations, I Am The World Trade Center has been having a rough time lately. At least, it seems that way as I go over the facts for this piece. You wouldn’t know it from Geller’s demeanor though, which was as cheery as mine the day I finally found an original My Bloody Valentine vinyl 12″ of Soon at a local record shop. But the facts still stand against Dan. The duo’s name has already been a source of enough controversy, despite having chosen the moniker before the tragic events of their namesake. And as the hate-mail and incessant questions have finally died down three years and three albums later, issues still seem to mount up amidst Dan Geller and Amy Dyke’s new full-length release. The closing of their former label Kindercore (co-founded by Geller), a romantic break-up between the artists during the recording of the album, and Amy Dyke’s being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier this year, resulting in the canceling of tour dates indefinitely… all inexplicably results in a surprisingly cheery and fun dance album, and an equally cheery and fun Dan Geller on the receiving end of what I promise is an interview I’ll get around to inserting here some day.
So it’s three years and three albums later, and I’ve got to ask. . . have the original PR issues with your name settled down to being a moot point, or are you still needing to explain the origins of I Am The World Trade Center before every show?
I don’t think we need to explain it nationally, but locally there’s still some times we have to spell it out. But nationally I think we’ve had enough media coverage that it’s not so much an issue anymore.
Given the majority of your music is composed on nothing but a Mac laptop, what do you use to keep live shows entertaining, rather than just a couple of people sitting at a desk in front of a computer on a stage? Is there any particular approach you take to performing live?
Oh man, that’s exactly what we try to avoid. Just what you said, with people just playing on a computer. It’s hilarious when you see that kind of stuff, and it happens so often. We actually don’t take any computers with us on stage. We stick to samplers and instruments, while leaving the computers at home. Computers always seemed more of a studio thing to me, so that’s where we leave them. I mean, other bands don’t bring their 15 tracks with them on the road. You also just can’t trust a computer during a live show. There’s always glitches and skips. It’s not so bad on a Mac, but if you’re running XP, forget about it. Instead we have a lot tracked, and like I said with samplers and such. To keep them exciting we just dance like crazy on stage, and get them dancing in return to get that energy. That’s what we try and create for the audience and feed off in return, so it’s not just people sitting at a computer. That energy is the key. But since it’s just the two of us, a lot of the backing music is canned.
To get the awkward question out of the way, since it makes me feel like this is part of some teen-gossip magazine, I know you’ve had some romantic issues with Amy lately. How has that affected your music and the new record, as well as touring? I know I have trouble running into my ex-girlfriends in public, let alone having to work with them.
Hah, actually we’re back together now, although we were broken up while making the record. It was an odd situation at the time, but while on tour everything is so surreal, you really just put everything else out of your mind and focus on the music. But yeah, we’ve gotten back together since then.
I’m just thinking in the vein of duos that later expand into a full sized band, if only for touring purposes. Cibo Matto for instance. Have you two ever talked about expanding the lineup of Trade Center?
We’ve actually talked about that a lot. A lot of it is a matter of finance. Things like tours and production are financially easier with only two people. But beyond that, we’ve also been worried about bringing other people into this turbulent life, between Amy and I. Balance is really important with this dynamic, and bringing in other people isn’t something that would work. Touring is like a vacation to us.
A vacation? Wow, I always hear bands talking about how touring is a hellish, grueling experience.
Well, since we’re together, we go out and see the sights of each city we visit, and really have a blast turning every place we go into a vacation, instead of work. That’s why it works so well with just the two of us. It’d just be hard to bring other people into that and still keep the balance.
It seems as if in the last few years, in New York especially, a renewed interest in dance music has grown to a fervor, with folks like DFA leading the charge. Where would you say I Am The World Trade Center fits into this new New York dance model?
It’s interesting. We’ve been making dance music for a long time, then when we moved to New York we were already bringing that with us. It’s kind of like the rest of the world is catching up. I mean it’s nice. I’m a DJ too and I like getting all these other new tracks to play every week. I don’t think it influences us at all as musicians, though. While we love this new run of New York dance bands, and I guess we all sometimes get influenced by the music around us, groups like New Order and The Cure are much more influential to us than these newer groups. A lot of it is in the lyrics. Especially with the lyrics Amy wrote for the new record, we try and have music you can dance to, but still provide some more meaningful lyrics that aren’t just about dancing.
So how do you try and differentiate your music from the other New York styles of dance? I mean, I notice you avoid falling into that no-wave/italo-disco revival going on these days, but also sidestep falling into the mainstream “girl singing sweetly over recycled trance beats” trap. When you sit down at the computer to put together a track, what goes through your head to avoid falling into any of those dance conventions, and produce something original?
Wow, great questions. Insightful. I guess we just do what we do. Amy writes lyrics that mean a lot to her, and with the beats. . . I don’t just sit down and say “I want to write like Gang of Four,” or something. I have no control over the process, it controls me. While I may say, for instance, that I wanted to make a track sound like some Gang of Four, after a few hours I may find it sounds more like the Smiths or New Order. I mean, because I’m also a scientist the computer thing is just something I’m really into; I can sit in front of it for eight hours at a time and just work on a track. And if four hours goes by and it feels like the song is done, then I let song tell me it’s done. I just keep writing, and let the songs turn into whatever they turn into. I mean, I wrote maybe 35 to 40 tracks while recording this last album, and then we have to file it down to 12 for the final record.
So given all this other blossoming of dance music these days, what kind of lasting impression would you hope I Am The World Trade Center leaves on the world of dance music as a whole?
Hah, well now you’re talking really far into the future. But I’d really just like them to say, “Man, it’s fun.” We just try to bring a really good time. It gets pretty crazy at these live shows. There’s points when people get drunk and naked and everyone just starts dancing like crazy. Just so long as everyone has a good time, and has lots of fun, that’s what I’d like us to be known for.
Being a DJ, I’ve got to ask: In a club, What is the ideal set you’d like to hear a DJ spin I Am The World Trade Center’s music in?
Another good one. Wow. The Cult definitely. Definitely the Smiths, The Cure, and New Order. Some Happy Mondays. . .
All that classic Factory stuff?
Yeah, well, all kinds of those great classic dance songs. It’s funny, there’s a club here in Atlanta called MJQ. I mean, that’s the place to be in Atlanta. I hadn’t been there in a while, so we showed up a little while ago and they were playing one of our tracks when we walked inside. Then right after it they played a Cure track, and I was just thinking, “Wow, our music is getting played back to back with the Cure.”
Obviously location is a factor, if only in the names of your group and those of your former label-mates. How has the city influenced your own music?
Well actually, we’re back in Georgia now, so it’s really different. We started dance music in New York back before it was, you know, the ‘cool’ thing to do, but then it just sprouted up everywhere. Now being back here in Athens, it’s really weird because there’s no other electronic dance bands here. We’re the only one, so it’s like “Hey, they’re that electronic band!” If we are influenced, it’s by the history of the city. I mean, guys like R.E.M. are always a big influence. And the B-52s also influenced the crazier side of things. As far as New York, when I started making music on a laptop, the influence was mostly because of the economics of New York. When you just have a laptop and microphone it makes recording much easier and cheaper, especially in a place like New York where finding recording studio space is such a pain in the ass, and everything is so expensive.
Yeah, everyone’s been in the dark since there’s a lawsuit pending, so we can’t really talk about it. I mean, I was one of the founders of Kindercore, and we met up with some guys who wanted to help out with label, and it just fell apart. A lot of bands were in the process of breaking up anyway, and they just walked away. I think everyone else on the label found alternate representation by now.
How’s Gammon been treating you? What kind of changes can we expect now?
They’ve been great. Personally, it’s definitely nice to not have to worry about all the details of the release. Now they’re in charge of all the stuff I never liked in the first place. Well, I guess I did enjoy some of it, but it was always hard because I always felt guilty when it came to working with my own group, while still trying to give time to all the other artists. I didn’t want it to seem like I was putting more into my own band than the others on my label, and it was hard to keep that balance sometimes. Now that it’s in someone else’s hands, I can just focus on us and our music. And since we’re the only one putting out an album with Gammon at the time, we’ve gotten a lot of attention from them.
With the switch, were any major labels throwing hooks in your window?
Yeah, a bit. I mean, we do really well on college radio and we get all this press, so yes, they seem interested. Then it comes time to put their cards on the table, and they falter. Maybe it’s just the name thing. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like the major labels have the balls to commit to anything.
You have some interesting choices in cover songs: The Human League, The Jam, Blondie, The Stone Roses. Where do you come up with what covers to put on your records, and are there any which don’t make the cut, or that you’d like to do but haven’t or couldn’t?
Actually it’s funny. We have a list of like 20 covers we do and throw them in and out of the live sets. Yeah, I mean, The Jam song [“Going Underground”] really encapsulates the political situation these days, so that one stood out for us to put on the album. We didn’t want to just do a bunch of cliché ’80s covers. We still do New Order and the Cure but it’s all just for fun. It’s basically just our favorite songs.
Anyone current you see in the music industry who seems capable of doing no wrong, musically?
Right now it seems like all the new bands all have one or two or three really great songs, then the rest is filler. I don’t feel people are putting out consistently great records. I guess Franz Ferdinand’s is a cover-to-cover great record. But maybe because of MP3s you can download the one song you want, and people don’t seem to feel the need to put out full albums of great material anymore. It’s a mentality of singles. I guess from a production aspect, DFA definitely has it going on. Despite the fact that a lot of it has the same sound, it’s always interesting and progressive.
Which leads to the Staple Interview Question; who have you been listening to lately?
Uh, well, ‘somehow’ I got the new Interpol record. It magically just, you know, appeared last night. I can’t talk about how I got that one. The Faint is doing no wrong. Wet From Birth is just an amazing album. VHS Or Beta is going to turn some heads. I can say that because they actually gave me the record. I don’t know about Interpol though. I’m promoting it so that’s okay, right?
Sure. I don’t think Interpol is going to complain if you’re saying nice things about them. I magically got a hold of that album too. Magic is in the air. C’mon, if it’s bad it’s off the record. Just between us and all. I really just want to know what other people think of it.
Hah, well I wasn’t big on the old Interpol, to tell you the truth. But I’ve listened to this new one a few times since I got it, and I definitely like this one better. I’ll be listening to it some more, for sure. It’s good so far. How are you liking it?
It’s good. I dug on Bright Lights a bit, and this new one feels like some of a newer sound, and some of the same. I’ll need to keep absorbing it.
Nah, I only spin vinyl. I get a little rigid when it comes to having the actual record under a needle and my fingertips. Like you said before, you can’t trust computers when you’re playing in public anyway. Also, when it doubt, it keeps my conscience clear, knowing I’ll be constantly sinking money into each Interpol 12″ off the new album for a long time coming.
That’s good, though. We’re actually going to see them at The Cure show this week.
It’s a good show. I just got back from it down here.
Good! Were the Cure playing mostly new stuff, or did they do old stuff too?
It was a good mix. I think they played a bit of the new stuff, but stuck with a lot of the classics, so it all worked out well in the end.
Oh good. I was worrying it was only going to be a bunch of tracks off the new album.
It’s a fun show. Anyway, how’s the Bioengineering thing working out for you? Are we going to get Gas v.2.0 soon or something?
Yeah, it’s been hectic lately! I work doing research on alternative fuel and it’s a really hot topic now. We’re scrambling for the grants now to do what we need to do. It’s just become a long run of filing grant applications, but it’s become such an important topic these days, it’s all really coming together. Really exciting right now. Definitely.
Sounds great. And of course, how has Amy’s recovery been going?
Great. We found out that her tumors are disappearing. We’re going to start playing again in September. I really want to get back down to Florida. In retrospect the thing I missed most about cutting off the tour was missing Miami. It’s one of my favorite places to stop by. One way or another I’ll definitely be down there soon.
It’s about 95 degrees and my air conditioning is broken right now. It’s probably better you wait until fall. But I’ll be sure to check you guys out when you’re around. Thanks a lot.
I Am The World Trade Center: www.iamluxe.com/worldtrade