The Music Tapes started life as a creative outlet for the 16 year old Koster, who would create tapes of songs and stories, as means of escapism, which he would share with his friends, culminating in ‘The American Phoam Rubber Co. Symphony Orchestra Proudly Presents the 2nd Silly Putty Symphony for Edison Wax Cylinder’, which was essentially tape collage.
To date, the Music Tapes have released two full albums. The first, 1st Imaginary Symphony For Nomad, a partial concept record, among its themes the power of television, and the death of 1950’s actor George Reeves, who played the hero Superman, who Koster was entranced with as a child. The album took many years to assemble, being recorded in closets and cupboards, and mixing straightforward pop songs with collage and storytelling. Its release was followed by the “House Capsule Tour” in which Julian was joined by fellow Music Tapes Robbie Cucchiaro and Eric Harris.
Coming soon is the 2nd Imaginary Symphony For Cloudmaking, a story album, consisting of the story of a boy named Nigh, who lives with his blind grandmother. The album also features instrumentation by Koster to back the spoken word recording by Brian Dewan. It is yet to be mass released but has actually been finished and put through two CD-R circulations and played on WNYC’s Spinning on Air.
We caught up with Julian Koster before the Music Tapes bring their wonderfully inventive tent show to Atlanta Friday, May 24. Check out what he had to say!
Where do you draw your inspiration from when writing music for The Music Tapes?
Well, silly as it may seem to say: from being alive. Songs and stories and ideas almost seem to me to haunt moments in time; and when I’m really creating nicely, it’s more that I am serving as an antenna for them, giving them body. Outside of that, I imagine I am only doing what is natural, which is to chase the feeling and the spirit that you love.
What has been your most memorable gig as The Music Tapes?
Honestly there have been so many that are my favorites. Almost any truly good show, when the magic that is so much a part of sharing things like music and stories is humming, is irreplaceable to me. Those times are the truly good times.
Atlanta is one of the 5 cities you’ll be playing in on this tour. With Athens being your hometown, do you always try to play shows in Georgia?
This is the last leg of our west coast tour, so it was natural to come to Atlanta, especially since we did not have time to visit it when we did the east. Athens is a part of the soul of our band. Robbie lives there still, and I have lived there so many times. There is a great deal that makes Georgia very special, and we very much enjoy getting to visit it and share special times with the people we love there.
What is your dream gig? Lineup? Venue?
We are beginning the envisioning of a full carnival version of the traveling imaginary. Full of games and automaton story booths, and even rides that we have dreamed up, with a show in the tent at night. This would travel as an installation, in warehouses and outdoor spaces. Basically an even bigger version of what we are traveling with now.
How do you connect with your audience?
Well, the blessing is, it happens all by itself. There is a long human tradition we are all stepping into, and that we pass along like a torch when we are gone. I guess it’s all based in the love of the performer for performing and the love of the audience for performance itself. When a show is happening, that thing, that magic, is just in the air.
You play several different instruments. What was the first instrument you learned to play and how old were you?
I started to write very strange acapella songs when I was little, so singing came first. My father played extraordinary gypsy guitar music all day long, somehow since there was always a guitar already playing, I didn’t get interested in playing one then. I became fascinated by the playing of the Saw at a very young age.
You have this gig, but you’re also in the band Neutral Milk Hotel. How do you balance your time between the two?
As for making time for different creative projects, I find that often the more really is the merrier. It keeps a project fresh and alive and inspiring to have other projects keeping you engaged and moving through life. Sometimes too much time and focus on one thing can strangle it, not give it space to breathe and grow. In general, I think we humans tend to think too much, and when left to think to much about things we are working on, we are likely to do them harm. So being busy can be a very good thing.
You have a busy tour schedule ahead. What are you most looking forward to?
Well right now we are doing the last big tent shows of the year and I am NOT looking forward to saying goodbye to those wonderful evenings and all the games and fun in them. But I am very much looking forward to the Music Tapes tour of Europe coming up including a lot of places we’ve never been. That trip is going to be amazing. And I’m looking forward to the Neutral Milk shows. Playing together has been very explosive and I am looking forward to people having a chance to see it.
Catch The Music Tapes playing at Erikson Clock THIS Friday, May 24. Tickets below!