Mark Iosifescu is admittedly restless. Since he began recording Insaniac in a Living Hell, his first full-length record as Farewell My Concubine, he has moved three times, applied to graduate school, studied Chinese, studied German, and fled whenever possible while writing songs about cars and movement. This spring, he’ll be on the move once again as he tours with Father Finger.
That feeling of intransigence makes sense when considering his compelling synth music. It’s mesmerizing and delicately layered, varying from haunted pop songs, strictly choral tracks and aching ballads that could have worked on the Twin Peaks soundtrack. We met up at a bar after a snowstorm left him stranded in New York when he should’ve been in Los Angeles. We settled into a few beers before being interrupted persistently by an announcer inviting us to play bar trivia. We almost left, but fuck it, we stayed, joining the game and spending the rest of the evening trapped in a trivia K-hole.
NOISEY: So this is the first full length that you have released since your band Angels in America?
Mark Iosifescu: Yeah, the only [Farewell My Concubine] release before this was a split with Horsebladder, which was a tour tape that we put out in October of 2012. Insaniac In a Living Hell is pretty much everything that I have been working on since.
I saw that you mention that the record was recorded in three separate locations in the liner notes. Where are these places?
Those are houses. One is in Western Massachusetts, where I lived when I started the project. The others are in LA and Providence.
So you lived in all three places while working on the project? Do you tend to be a little restless?
Yeah, and because the release comprises such a long period of time, each part of the release is very evocativeof a certain place and time for me. It helps me to think about it. In order for the release to be meaningful, I had to acknowledge where the release came from. Where and how it all happened is tied up inpersonal shit, for sure.
Is this your first time having a solo project?
I did one tape that was similarly almost a compilation of several years of work. It was under the name Laura Workaholic, which I worked on from 2009- 2011. It was just a little tape that was really different from the band I was doing [Angels In America] so it was important to differentiate it. I felt like the book closed on that project, and Farewell My Concubine was the next thing.
Has it been difficult to move away from Angels in America or has the movement towards working alone been pretty fluid? I feel like singing in your own voice and doing everything yourself is so incredibly revealing, especially if you are used to being able to “hide” behind collaboration. Esra Padgett’s voice and presence was such an integral part of Angels In America. How are you feeling about everything being you?
It’s insanely hard. I am not entirely sold on the benefits. Angels In America is completely organic in terms of its style and how it all works. Farewell My Concubine has come together in a really different way. I had to use different muscles. It felt unnatural. It was really hard and full of uncertainly.
It is nice to offset your own perspective with another person who you really trust. Without that, I felt a little bit lost, but I felt like I had to do it. It was an important exercise for me and the results are whatever they are and I am happy to have a document of it.
On the one hand this project is about expressing something that only pertains to me and only works in context if I am working on it alone, but putting that into practice is difficult. I really like playing in bands.
So Farewell My Concubine is the name of a popular Chinese film-—I assume there is a relationship between the project’s name and this film?
I have actually never seen the movie.
That is so insane… I felt so bad like I was going to be a horrible interviewer because I tried to watch the movie before we met and did not have a chance.
I mean, I have watched part of it and it seemed really good but I have never seen the whole thing. The same thing actually happened with Angels in America, people always wanted to know what we thought about the play and the movie and everything.
I feel ambivalent about naming my stuff after something else, especially if I don’t have a relationship to it. But I also think that it has a built in evocative quality- even if it just makes you think of a movie that you think that you have heard of… For people that harbor significance to Farewell My Concubine, maybe they can draw from that. For me, it was just something that was in the air. More importantly to me, it was a Chinese Opera before it was a movie. I had and continue to have an interest and fascination with Chinese Opera and it’s tropes. I am fascinated by Chinese music. In my own ill educated way, I am trying to figure it out without drawing from that tradition in particular.
There was an Angels in America song called “A Dream in the Girl’s Room” which was a Chinese opera video that we used to watch together on YouTube. It is so personal that it’s laughable if you want to assign lofty significance to the title but to me, it is as real as anything else. I don’t want it to seem like I am making a huge statement about an acclaimed and probably beautiful movie. That is the shitty side of calling yourself after something you have never seen. But when I try to think of a band name I just gravitate towards things like that.
Almost seems like you are drawing on the idea of the collective unconscious. In any case, I think it is also natural for any artist to have a contentious relationship with whatever they have named a project no matter how they came to it’s final name. Taking something that sounds good to you could be better than trying really hard to name yourself something that you strongly identify with only to find that it loses it’s meaning or isn’t quite right.
I can’t think about in a year, still trying to figure out some name for something that fits its contents perfectly. But at the same time, I feel stupid when people want to talk about the film. But at this point, though, I think that watching the movie would fuck up my whole relationship that I have had with the name of my project.
I think there is an inherent value in a network of names and words that are floating in a cultural cloud that we have access to. I took Chinese for a while last year too. I don’t want to blindly draw from culture that I don’t understand, it’s important to have context. Well, this is complicated and contradictory. Could have talked myself out of naming my project Farewell My Concubine, but I didn’t.
You mentioned that you attended school in Massachusetts, earlier.
I went to Hampshire.
What did you study?
Creative Writing. I am applying to go back to school to get an MFA in creative writing. It is so twisted. I have no idea what is going to happen. I am waiting to hear back.
I understand that you help run a small run publishing company, Pleasure Editions. Tell me a little bit about the press.
It is me and two and sometimes three other people along with other friends as helpers and contributors trying to put out as much material that covers as many little bits of interest that we have. We have a journal that comes out every year but we are trying to put out every six months. It’s called ‘Pleasure’ and it contains articles, art and comics.
It’s a good opportunity to corral people who we know and are inspired by to contribute. I am working on the next journal right now. I also have a fiction thing that I write that is a long, serialized novel. That has a much more direct connection to the music that I make. I have drawn so many lyrics from that writing. I also like to use concepts that I have arrived at through music in my writing. They are both totally different and I need to switch off one creative zone to activate the other one but surprising connections always emerge and I think that my writing is better because of the music and my music is better because of the writing.
What is the serialized novel called?
Ill Tomb Era. It is an insanely lofty thing to attempt, but I have been writing it since high school in one way or another. I have put out four chapters as little pamphlets and I intend to keep going. It is a major part of my life creatively.
Is the album supposed to come off as a story in any way?
I want the album to come across as an experience. I want to approach this project in a long form way and so I think it naturally adopts the tendencies of other mediums, like writing. It is linear and relies on how it flows through time. So much of it was listening to the album on headphones walking around but the biggest thing was listening to the album in my car.
I guess this ties back to location. I love driving. I only learned how to drive like two years ago; I have only been doing it for a little while. Listening to music in the car is important. There is a song on Insaniac in a Living Hell called “Secretly Ride” and it is… about being in a car, for sure. And a lot of the music is tied to being in a car. I listened to everything in the car, countless times.
I miss driving so much if only for the feeling of driving alone at night on the highway listening to music. I still sort of feel like it is the best way to listen to music.
I always thought driving was really stupid, maybe because no one I knew drove when I was growing up in New York. Bit by bit, by being in peoples cars and listening to music… You realize that the best part of being in a car is listening to whatever you want in this private space that isn’t private.
It’s really private and serene but also inherently intense because there is also the sense of danger. Being in a car just feels bizarre and unnatural and whenever I used to drive I felt like it was something I had no business doing, even though I had a license. It’s really heavy to me. I am terrified of cars, probably because I grew up in New York also.
It’s so sick. My friend made fun of me once for saying that driving is the ultimate ride. Gliding across the surface of the earth. I was being sincere. It is the extreme of human experience, it is so dangerous…
Being at the mercy of other humans, as well. Not just yourself.
Of course. I barely trust myself. I crashed within a week of having my car. A good, big crash. I don’t think driving is practical if you want to live for a while. It is a rough concept and probably a bad idea but it is so vital. My car is under six feet of snow in Providence right now and it makes me sad. I wish I could drive around New York right now. Everyone is a monster, it is amazing. Any insane thing can happen, and you are so helpless. It is beautiful to let go of control.
It is nice that it has become such a banal experience. Going 80 miles an hour in a giant piece of metal. At this point though, I have written so many songs about car related shit. Writing a chapter about cars right now for my fiction project. It just feels so right because it is such a mainstay in my day to day life and I think about it so often.
Tell me about your decision to cover “Jetzt Will Ich Ein Guter Junge Sein” by Hermann Kopp. I am a big fan of Galakthorro. Haus Arafna is one of my favorite band of all time. You seem really able to pull off the German, too.
Oh, no. I’m glad that it seems that way. There are a lot of fuck ups for sure. Someone along the line, someone gave me a comp of Hermann Kopp soundtracks mixed with some sort of best of, called Mondo Carnale…I had an idea for a while to try and cover all of Mondo Carnale. I recorded the cover and was exploring new gear bit by bit. Learning how to sequence and program. I know how to do it just enough…
It is a spot on cover, especially if you were just learning how to do that stuff!
That was the first time that everything worked and it felt right. I also studied German in school, I tried to learn it. I know what the song means, but I had to have my friend help me with the lyrics. Singing it was a nightmare because my accent sucks.
It does not come across that way, at least to someone who doesn’t know German. I was wondering if you lived in Germany as a kid or something.
I tried really hard. Once I heard that song, it was stuck in my head. It hit on something really fundamental. Musically it contains things that I wanted to explore stylistically. I wanted to play with genre, look at synth pop and synth music in a way that I was never able to before.
I thought that you may have been aligning yourself a little with the German noise scene, but it seems that you are attracted to Hermann Kopp sort of separately. What are some other bands and labels that you admire right now? The easiest hard question.
So easy and so impossible. I don’t feel particularly connected to that much, besides my friends.
Providence seems like a really good place to be making music right now… So many great experimental projects are based there and it seems like people are moving there all of the time.
That is just it. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by genius artists. I go to shows and look around the room and feel intoxicated. I don’t have a wide view of things. I go through long stretches where I don’t even listen to that much music and I feel kind of dumb about it. My friends are always showing me things that are perfect that I needed that I didn’t know that I needed. I guess I don’t have a good way to sniff it out.
I go to shows but as great as Providence is, it is also a little but insular and I see a lot of amazing artists but I see more or less the same group of people play over and over with a few exceptions, which is a little stultifying. Despite how much I love Providence, it can feel draining, so I just relay on happenstance when it comes to finding new music.
Mostly I just get into it through people showing me anything. I like pop music. I like VVAQRT. Ryan (Secret Boyfriend/ Hot Releases) gave me their first LP when we met and I was lazy about listening at first but then I saw them play at Savage Weekend and realized that I was a fool and that they are the best band on earth.
I feel the same way—love them and can’t wait to hear their new album when it is ready! One last question though, before we succumb to this trivia game: Now that you have finished your first record and are about to go on tour with Father Finger…. Are you excited and what are you working towards next?
I am insanely excited, and I heard her new record. It’s incredible; It’s crazy. It’s going to be good. I am also just excited to go on the road again, which I have not done in a year and a half.
Other than that, I am about to finish up recording this Angels in America radio play… It is a sequel to one that we already did. It is so stupid, but it is unbelievably sick. It’s called XILF: stikklemuzick. It is an extension of an accident that has become an alternate way of expression for us. Then we are going to do a music record. A normal music record, in the spring.
That is so awesome! I didn’t realize you guys were still active, I love you guys.
Yeah. We play shows insanely rarely because we live in such different zones. So I am not sure how it is going to work, but it will. I have another Farewell My Concubine tape that I am trying to finish before my tour with Father Finger in March, but it might be too soon.
Max Eisenberg (DJ Dog Dick/Dog Leather) is a noise artist and illustrator currently residing in beautiful Bushwick, Brooklyn. Fusing untraditional crooning “rap”-esque vocals with rhythmic noise, DJ Dog Dick creates energetic tracks flavored with grease, stink and slime. You could call DJ Dog Dick a little bit ‘fun’ but that does not mean that Eisenberg does not take his project seriously. Eisenberg invited me back to his studio-where he also lives and works as a superintendent- to talk about “idiot savant-garde”, moving to New York City and what it takes to push one’s work to the next level.
Jane: What were you like when you were a puppy? When did you begin to make music and illustrations?
Max: When I became a teenager I was just smoking weed… and shit. But for real, I did do a lot of drugs in high school and didn’t give a fuck.
I was a graffiti artist, but I was not very good at it. I didn’t know I had much artistic talent until I drew a portrait of the RZA for an art class. We had an assignment to draw a picture of someone that we admired, and I drew the RZA from Wu-Tang Clan in blue-purple oil pastel. Life Size. It was damn good and immediately I became the art star of the school. From that point on I would skip many of my other classes and just sit in the art room and draw. Mostly portraiture. I knew then that I wanted to be an artist.
Shortly after I graduated high school (class of 2000) I discovered the American noise scene and there I matured into a full-grown dog. Eventually.
Jane: What was it like to move to Baltimore from St. Louis? What did it feel like to leave everything that you knew to collaborate with Nautical Almanac and tour with Costes?
Max: I got to play all these huge shows opening for one of the most mind blowing performances I’ve ever seen (Costes’ Holy Virgin Cult http://www.costes.org/usindex.html) and I had never played solo before that tour! I REALLY had to get ALL my shit together for that one. It was a crazy ‘throw myself into the fire’ deal and there I first realized the rewards for taking a big risk with life. You buck up and face the unknown, you just do it. The rewards for that are so vast.
After moving to the East Coast I had it made. I joined Nautical Almanac, we toured Europe, we recorded Cover The Earth, we toured the US. That was my alternative to going to art school. Those were my formative years as a young adult. Learning the craft of music, performance and art under the guidance of older artists I respected. Honing the rawness into what became DJ Dog Dick.
Jane: You have collaborated with many other artists… Dog Leather (w/ Griffin Pyn of Sewn Leather), Rubbed Raw (w/ Robert Francisco of Angeldust and M ax Noi Mach)… How have these collaborations affected DJ Dog Dick?
Max: They have been vital to Dj Dog Dick. I learn so much from my peers. In collaboration both artists always walk away having learned something- even if the collaboration doesn’t manifest into what you had hoped. It works to strengthen your personal vision and [create a] collective vision.
Working with Griffin… He has influenced me greatly, taught me things and I know that I have informed and influenced him. You know there is this other cool person out there and you’re both flying a flag of allegiance. But you retain your individuality. I like to work with people.
It’s hard though, in the noise world and the art world… Or whatever this world is… Everyone is SO individualistic. Like Griffin, and I, for instance. Griffin is fucking Griffin. And me too… We both have diva meltdowns… In a way we are the most imperfect pair to work together. It’s amazing that we get shit done. But we’ve gotten amazing stuff done. Through the toil. Sticking to it. Compromising. Sometimes it’s a fight. You spar until you create something and I think that is beautiful. I will always be excited to work with people who inspire me. Anytime that I get the opportunity to do that, I jump on it.
Jane: How did the collaborative track with Antwon [“tramp on a jumpoleen”] come about?
Max: Antwon and Dog Leather have been communicating for a while. We like each others shit and it was like, oh, duh. Rap on a track. We actually have a few things with him on it that will eventually be out in the world.
Jane: So when are we going to get the DJ Dog Dick LP!?
Max: SEPTEMBER. On Hoss records.
Jane: dYsgeniX coined the genre of “resmarted” and/or “Idiot Savant-Garde” music. Do you think that DJ Dog Dick could be classified as such? Does DJ Dog Dick fall under this umbrella?
Max: Most definitely. I’ve never been afraid to play the part of the fool. Why would the best art just be a flattering reflection of the artist? I don’t buy into that. It’s not raw enough for me. You need to show the awkward stupid parts of existence as much as you need to show the brilliant, austere parts. Otherwise, I literally do not give a shit about it. There is not a person I know that is absolutely all one way or another. There is not a person I know well that is not a complete fucking contrary freak formation. Especially this generation. In Western culture we have so much crammed down our throats that it is impossible to not be influenced by the whole host of American pop culture.
Also, so I’ve heard, “Idiot Savant Garde” was actually coined on the first Wolf Eyes Tour in Europe. They kept seeing posters for their shows that said “Idiot savant garde” and Dilloway was pissed about it.
Jane: I DID NOT know that.
Max: He wasn’t into it. Not at all.Hahaha. Dilloway rules.
Jane: So, New York City is certainly a very different artistic climate from Baltimore. As someone who has been labeled as a “lifestyle artist”, how has your move affected your creative process and art?
Max: I was in a hypnotic trance in Baltimore. I believed I had to maintain this low sort of living where everything’s super cheap and there’s a “supportive community” around. I was too comfortable. The idea of moving to New York City seemed impossible. How could I move to a place, pay crazy amounts of rent and still be creative? But once I made the move, which happened almost accidentally, the whole hustle here supercharged my capabilities as a human artist. Right away got me taking things a lot more seriously.
If you do not work hard here you are going to fail. So the vibe in the city is total hustle and people do well here. Even every little shitty bodega is doing good. Artists who want to play any show at any level can find any show at any level to play. There are so many galleries to do whatever, Everywhere you go, you meet insane people doing their fucking thing and it is so inspiring.
It freaks me out to imagine… Almost a year after I have moved here… How I would be if I did not move to New York. I think I would be very, very depressed. I’ve one hundred percent learned the life lesson that it takes risk to get big pay offs. To succeed, you need to take risks. It is not going to feel like success unless you do. You need to walk into that void. You’ve gotta intuitively step into it, with a leap of faith. It’s great being here. I feel like my capabilities are completely expanded. I feel like I see the bigger picture and I see that it is a lot more malleable to my fucking control.
Jane: Hey what is your technical job description here? Is it keeper or janitor or?
Max: I am the superintendent. A janitor, rent collector, emergency tender to…
Jane: But this place is your studio, your home and your employment. And this is your last month here. What is your plan after this?
Max: Well, I am going to do something I have been needing to do for a while and that is to step into the unknown again. I am going to be staying a lot in Far Rockaway Beach… With the homies… Working on a live show… I also have a residency in a studio this August. I only have a few possessions here. So I will have what I take on tour, and it will be awesome and hopefully people won’t be sick of me hanging out at their place.
Jane: What is the next big move? Where do you see yourself in a year?
Max: Honestly, I want to be playing Saturday Night Live. In a year I want what I am doing and what my friends are doing to be on another level. We are doing our shit, we are taking it as seriously as we can and we have the support to bring it to the next level.
Fame is tantalizing, but as an artist you really just want to be able to make your work as realized as possible. There’s no ceiling to our imaginations. If traditional success is achieved you can do bigger shows with backup singers and wasted Muppets on stage snorting zombie dust. I’m fine doing the shows where I am doing the thing I have been doing for a decade… Just me on stage… But I am more excited to up the production on it, a lot of talented people working together on one thing. Epic. I want to succeed and I want to see all my friends succeed. I am committed to that.
Jane: Who are some of the artists that you are rooting hardest for right now?
Max: The whole Far Rockaway gang… Yellow Tears, Pharmakon, John Mannion, dYsgeniX, constantly getting my mind blown by that scene. My brothers Sewn Leather & Narwhalz(of sound). ANGELS IN AMERICA!!!!! SHAMS. Lil Ugly Mane. ANTWON. PICTUREPLANE. MYKKI BLANCO. Fucking GATEKEEPER is SOOOO sick and I’m super bummed their album release show is the same as night 1 of the Burning Fleshtival. Autre Ne Veu is tite as hell. TOTAL FREEDOM is the best DJ I’ve ever seen & he’s playing the next Gh3ttoGothic party… BATMAN DARK KNIGHT RISES will be seen by me at least 3 times in the theater. I’m sure I’m forgetting some shit. JANE PAIN.
Keep an eye out for a new Dog Leather music video featuring Travis Egedy from Pictureplane.