issue 3: ICE
ICE is the performance alias of Tennessee-born musician and architect Jim McDaniel. I’d heard and enjoyed a cassette of Jim’s at some point, knowing nothing about the artist, but my proper introduction took place years later at a mostly empty venue in Knoxville. Following a string of show cancellations, broken equipment, and psychological turmoil, it was a strange relief for me to be in an unfamiliar town with zero audience, a setting which produced few expectations.
Jim played original music for an hour without pausing, seamlessly weaving together club music, gabber, trance, and metal. Her presence was understated, but commanding. My travel companion and I watched in awe as the mundane trials of our previous few days began to recede. There was something oddly healing about ICE’s blend. I bought a beer from the otherwise empty bar and slid it onto the stage, hoping to bribe Jim into another 20 minutes of music.
ICE’s music is schizophrenic enough for the post-Internet era, referencing a dizzying variety of niche styles and genres. But the sum of its parts is something more immediate and universal. I pictured the room full of suburban metalheads and queer youth writhing in unison to her rhythms.
We met after the show, and Jim introduced herself in a distinct Southern drawl before we parted ways. We conducted this interview much later, over the phone, in January 2021.
Discussed: Hillbilly music, rap, architecture, urban decay, cottage core, Justin Bieber, St Louis, segregation, dance clubs, interior design, Audacity, tole painting, Dollywood, natural building, crime.
I haven’t spent much time in Knoxville, but I imagine it’s similar to where I grew up — a big college football town.
Totally. Everything is orange. “Go Vols.”
The Gamecocks, is where I’m from. They’re big rivals, I think.
My mom calls me to tell me about sports updates, and I’m like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. [laughs] Everybody’s into football except me. I’m too goth I guess.
Were you goth as a kid?
No. I went through a goth phase a couple years ago, but it was pretty short. Mid-30’s goth phase. I was just a regular kind of redneck girl, kind of a tomboy, that sort. I think I’m going through more of a girly phase now. I don’t know what’s happening.
[As a kid] I didn’t really like sports, but freshman year of college someone started the Fort Sanders Community Marching Band. Fort Sanders is the neighborhood that the college is in. We would all wear black, and anybody who could play an instrument half-assed would bring an instrument. We learned four songs, and we would march through thousands of people and play the Rocky theme song. People thought we were in a cult. It was a sea of orange and then all these kids in black. Like, who are they? What are they doing?! That was pretty fun. That was my only football experience.
What did you play?
I would play clarinet. I played clarinet in high school, and middle school, too. But I played in marching band in high school. Pretty slick.
Isn’t the clarinet pretty quiet in that setting?
Yeah. It’s not good. They didn’t have a good orchestra in high school, so I was like, “I guess I’ll just do marching band.” It totally sucked, so I quit a couple days into it. You can’t hear the clarinet on the field.
What music were you into when you were little?
I grew up in pretty Southern Baptist household, so the only music we really listened to was what was on the radio, and church music, like gospel. Everything else was kinda prohibited. But I really liked C & C Music Factory. [laughs]
What was their hit again?
“Everybody dance now.”
“Gonna make you sweat til you bleed. Is that dope enough? Indeed!”
I stole the tape from my friend’s sister, and my mom stole it from me. I don’t know what she did with it — probably threw it away. I was like, “But they have a song in Sister Act the movie!” [laughs]
Yeah, that’s Christian-adjacent.
Yeah. It’s pretty PG. But that was my first taste of commercial dance music or club music. When I first heard it I was like, “What is this?” For dance music to start in Detroit or Chicago, then go all the way to the UK and it’s popping off over there, then it comes back to America in this really weird commercial Vanilla Ice way.... It’s in the mainstream. There’s dance music in Sister Act. I was eventually exposed to it that way, which is pretty sad. But that was kind of the gateway.
I think the first CD I found was MTV’s Amp. It was a collection of Prodigy and Orbital and Atari Teenage Riot. That was from ’96 or something. That changed everything. I was like, “How did they make this? I’ve never heard music like this before.” I had been so sheltered. For any of that type of stuff to make its way to East Tennessee was pretty miraculous. And I didn’t have any friends that listened to dance music or electronic music either, so it was pretty much just self-exploration.
Did you play the banjo already by that point?
No, I was kind of a late bloomer on the banjo. I didn’t really start that ’til probably 2008 or 9. I was in a country band. I would play clarinet in the country band, but I was like, This ain’t fittin’. I’m making the country band sound klezmer with the clarinet. I should learn the banjo.
What was the country band called?
Maid Rite. It’s like a washboard company. I was the washboard player as well. This was an all-girl band, all-woman band. I was the youngest one, and it was a revolving cast of women. There was only one original member [remaining] when I got in. It’s some of the most fucked up music. I don’t know how people came to our shows. That’s when I first started playing shows, and we played a lot. We’d play one or two times a week, and we played for three hours.
Whoa. One set?
Yeah. We would play some covers and originals. All the members had contributed songs over the years, and everybody would take turns singing. So I started writing songs for that band, very ignorant hillbilly songs. They made me sing, and I hate singing. So it was kind of introductory to performing, and it was kinda good, because I was surrounded by four other women. And it wasn’t that great of a band, so the standards were pretty low. [laughs] It was more like therapy I think. One woman had seven sons. She would drive 45 minutes to practice. I was like, are you on drugs? She was so high. But I think she was just crazy ‘cause she had escaped her house.
That was in St Louis. Nobody in Knoxville would be caught dead playing in a country band, because being from Tennessee it’s expected. People try to resist that urge to be country. They wanna go to New York. All my friends from college went to New York. Nobody wants to be Southern, to have an accent or anything. But then when I got to St Louis, everybody’s in a country band! But nobody was country. I was like, “Now’s the time for me to really embrace this!” [laughs]
I was arguing about this earlier: Is Tennessee part of the South, or part of Appalachia? Or are both possible?
Both’s possible. It’s definitely the South. I’ve heard people say it’s not the South, and I’m like, “People don’t wear shoes down here! And they’re missin’ teeth!” [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah. But, for instance, a bunch of my family is from West Virginia. That’s definitely not the South, but there’s still hillbilly culture there, for sure.
I mean, Kentucky, that’s North of us and that’s still pretty country, in my opinion. People are real hick and hillbilly. I guess there’s the Deep South, like Georgia and Mississippi , and that culture’s a little bit different. On the East side of Tennessee, especially—where I am—it’s more hillbilly, Appalachia culture. My whole family’s from here. They’ve been here for generations. I’m one of the only people in my family that has ever really left. But I came back, which I think is pretty rare. A lot of families are so dispersed everywhere. Literally every cousin I have is still here.
Did you move to St. Louis to study architecture?
Yeah. I went to Florida for a year to chill, and I kind of started a band there, but I was still dead set on going to architecture school. I had been to St Louis once before, and they had a good school. I was only planning on being there for two years. But I remember in Florida I was like, “I gotta put music on the back burner, because I need to make money.” I’ve just had zero money until recently. I needed to be able to exist and have an income; it was a really practical thing. I mean, I really love architecture, so it wasn’t that hard of a decision.
I was in St Louis for a few years before I started playing music. I didn’t even wanna open that door, because school was so intensive, and I couldn’t deal with any distractions. But my last year and a half I started getting the itch, and my friend was like, “I have a friend in a country band.”
What was the music scene like in St Louis when you started going to shows?
It was a lot of folk and Americana. And a lot of beards and plaid. A lot of people pretending to be Southern. It was weird, but I kind of enjoyed it. Like I said, I’d never really gotten to experience that. [laughs] But maybe that was the trend then, too. The late aughts. A lot of bands and live instrumentation. Everybody’s in like five bands. I was in another band called Peck of Dirt, which was like an 11-piece folk orchestra, and we played dirge music. It was also very haphazard and drunk. Some of that stuff almost sounds Irish, I dunno. It’s got fiddles and shit in it. B ut yeah, a lot of PBR and chain-smoking American Spirits, in the beginning.
When did you start making more electronic music?
I was in Maid Rite for a couple years or so, and I was like, “This band is a joke. It’s not real.” It was like comedy. I wanted to do something real. I had a good time in the band. I learned a lot, how to perform. I basically learned the ropes of playing live. But once I started learning the banjo and I could write songs and communicate the songs to other people, I was like, “I could do this on my own.” I was doing some darker stuff, and that band was pretty happy. So I just started doing solo banjo shows, and I quit that band.
I started playing five songs, and I kept building the songs. I started adding pedals, like a wah wah pedal somebody gave me. Then I went to Guitar Center—my friend worked there. I was like, “I want a pedal that sounds underwater.” I got a tremolo pedal, and I just went from there. It was kind of a gradual climb to an electronic version over the years. I still play the banjo, but it’s obviously not the focal point any- more.
The electronic stuff is so hype compared to the banjo stuff though.
Yeah. I try to make the banjo stuff hype, too! [laughs] I always loved club music, party music. It’s my number one thing I listen to. They don’t really go together, but I’m always tryin’ to figure out how to smash hillbilly music and club music together. I think when I was pregnant, this was like 2011, I made my first sort of beat song in Audacity. Do you know what that is?
Yeah. I used it for a while.
It’s literally all I use. It’s so easy. I made a bunch of samples off of a cassette tape, and then I copied ‘em and repeated ‘em a trillion times. I had so many layers of sounds. But in Audacity there’s no measures like Abelton. There’s no beat or rhythm. You have to cut and paste by ear. There’s nothing holding the time signature for you. But I made the song, and it was called “Happy Birthday Little Jesus,” which is kind of a joke song. Some of these rappers in St Louis found it on Soundcloud, and they were like, “Yo, we gotta meet up!” They were producers, and they made beats and made their own music. I kinda started hanging out with them.
My one friend in particular, Damon Davis, he has this label called Far Fetched, and I was on that for a few years. I learned a lot about music production just watching him, sitting behind him. We would make stuff together. I’d make sounds, and he would make samples out of them. And there was one guy, Eric Hall—he still plays—he had all these different kinds of machines. I was trying to describe what I wanted to do, to organize samples live on stage. I still wanted to be able to perform while I was on stage, not just play a track. (If you produce on a computer you get bogged down. You’re stuck in the computer. How are you gonna translate that live to a show?) So my friend Eric brought over a bunch of different gear and I ended up picking the Korg Microsampler out of those things he showed me. It’s totally empty; you just fill it up and sort of play it like a keyboard. It’s pretty simple to use. I’ve literally used that for 10 years now.
For production, or just as a live instrument?
Both. Production, I’m basically sending a live track into Audacity and recording it. I’ll go back and add some bells and whistles, or if I messed up somewhere I’ll infill it. But the idea is that what you hear on the recordings is what you’ll hear live on stage. I’ve had friends that are producers that will literally have their laptop on stage and hit the play button, then they’ll go outside and smoke a cigarette. Nobody wants to see that!
Which do you identify with more, producer or performer?
I’d say performer, because I’m not a very good producer. Production is just a byproduct of me making and recording my own music. I’ve had people want me to produce stuff for them, and I’ve tried, but I’m very slow. And a lot of times they don’t like it. So I’m just like, “Fuck it. I’m not doing this for anybody else.”
I mean, I call myself a producer, too, because a lot of times people don’t think that I make my own music. It’s just basically for clarity. There’s been people like, “What song were you playing onstage? Who was that?” And I’m like, “I was playing; that was me!” [laughs] I love it when that happens.
Yeah, that seems like a nice compliment, in a way. Do you have any favorite producers?
Flava D, she’s in the UK. That’s more drum-n-bass maybe. Which is kind of random, because it obviously doesn’t sound anything like what I do. Who else do I like? My friend Autobon, he’s in Atlanta. He makes trap/fantasy stuff. He was in that band with YuNg sKiRt. They’re in a duo called Hydro Bath. He’s put out so much good stuff, but nobody knows about him. It’s pretty underground. I like this girl Virgo. She’s in Miami. I actually went to Miami last year to meet her. I went to Art Basel by myself for fun, and I ended up meeting her in person. We had been internet friends for a long time. She also makes all her music, and she’s a video game designer. Also my friend Sha Sha Kimbo, she makes pretty hype club stuff. She’s in California. I met her at the Red Bull producers camp. We were like instant friends and have been ever since.
There are definitely Top 40 kind of elements to your music. I only know it from more of an underground context, but it seems like it would have mass appeal.
I really resisted a lot of pop music earlier on in my life, and I’ve come around on it probably the last decade. I listen to so much pop now it’s sick. Like I’ve reverted back to a twelve year old girl, seriously. I just bought a Justin Bieber cd today. Like, what the fuck. It’s good though.
I’m actually really obsessed with that “Let Me Love You” song.
I don’t know it. Is it new?
It’s not new. You’ve definitely heard it. Anyway, no shame, is what I mean.
When I started doing electronic music, it really happened overnight. I was pregnant. I think I played my last banjo show pregnant as hell. I was literally nine months pregnant. I had my son, and then I didn’t play for over a year. My son’s dad got cancer during that time. He had cancer when I gave birth, like stage four. He was almost dead. We ended up moving to Iowa for his chemo treatments. We were basically in isolation in this town of 500 people, and we lived in the bottom floor of this old hotel. It was pretty scary, haunted, but I had a huge studio room. Those Far Fetched producers I had been hanging out with, they were like, ‘We really want you to try to make an electronic album.’ They were really pushing me to do it. They said they’d book me a show. They have good shows too. They all get gigs at the biggest art museums in St Louis; they had some art funding and stuff behind them. I was like, “This would be cool to play different kind of shows other than in somebody’s basement.” So Iowa is really where I developed my electronic set, and then I drove back to St Louis to play my first show.
When I started playing electronic shows there wasn’t really a scene for that at all. I feel like it was an anomaly at that time. I was mostly playing at punk shows, and they hate pop. One time I got invited to play Pu Fest, which is sort of a punk/experimental festival. I was closing out the second night, and it was all punk bands and sorta serious noise. I opened my set with a Lana del Rey song. It’s called “I Fucked My Way Up To The Top.” Back then nobody was a Lana del Rey fan, as far as I know. Except me. I always really liked her. But then I went right into some trippy song, and then I smashed a disco ball with a hammer. It was a black disco ball. I guess I just like to tease people with the pop aspects, because they’re like ,’I didn’t come to this show to listen to pop!’ But I actually do like it, and there’s a lot of overlap.
Are there any radio hits that spoke to you this last year?
Hmm... so many. I mean, the Biebs is always up there. That one girl Jhene Aiko, I love her stuff a lot. Megan TheeStallion. Oh, I forgot about “WAP.” That was whatever. I mean, I wasn’t really into that song. It sort of grosses me out a little bit, tbh. [laughs]
I felt a little confused that people were blown away by it. I mean, I’m not offended by it, but I’m like, you guys remember Lil Kim, right?
There has to be a new shocker every few years just to get people excited. I don’t know a lot about actual Top 40, but there are people from the tier under the Top 40 that I’m into. That Kid, he dropped an album. I really listen to ignorant shit. I like Bladee. Goony Chonga is one of my favorites. She’s a rapper. She had an album called Dimension that was really good. There’s a lot of people from St Louis I still listen to.
I really like to dig and find obscure producers — basically just like friends of friends of friends, people on Twitter. My friends will post a song their friend made, and I’ll go and look on their Soundcloud and listen to everything, and go into a rabbit hole of people with like 60 plays on their songs. This one girl Teszla, she’s an R&B singer from St Louis who has no following, but she’s amazing. I’m like, God, if I had... I’d love to cut vinyl for her. She has an amazing voice. And that’s the kind of shit I just listen to on repeat. It’s like nobody even knows about these albums. That’s why I love to DJ, make mixes of stuff that people don’t know about. As a performer or artist you can really only promote yourself so much without feeling disgusting about yourself. Other people need to help you do it.
St Louis has always been one of my favorite cities for music. But it’s kind of underestimated or something.
Yeah, there’s so much there.
And people there are really excited about music.
Yeah. There are so many places to play. There was never the perfect club situation, but there’s dozens and dozens of places to book a show at. And everybody’s in bands, and everybody likes to go listen to music and go to shows. There’s a huge scene, or community, and it changed a lot in the time I was there. I was there for about 15 years.
When I got there I noticed how segregated it was. St Louis is still severely racially segregated. I went to a rap party on the Northside, and there were hundreds of people there but only a few white people. It was the most amazing show I’ve ever been to. And I was like, “We have music magazines in St Louis, and they never fuckin’ talk about the rap scene, which is huge. It’s way bigger than the ‘folk’ scene.”
I started inviting rappers to shows, and I got out of folk world and started doing more electronic stuff with rapper cameos and inviting them to our shows. That was cool, because a lot of times there’d be a rapper and an all white crowd or mostly white crowd, and that was new for them. It was a new experience for everyone. I could see how happy it made everybody to hear something new; it was exciting. I try to keep that up, just reaching out to rappers and R&B people and producers that I’ve met on the internet, and being like, “Hey, let’s play a show.” I made so many new friends doing that, and I think that helped mix up the scene a lot.
What do architecture and music have in common?
I think they are starting to become more overlapped. I could see the correlation. It’s like you’re taking all these little pieces and trying to put ‘em together and build some kind of harmony out of them. You have to find a nice, balanced finished product. Architecture is the same way. It’s like, what are our materials? In a composition, in a song, you might have 10 sounds. And in a building you might have 10 different types of materials. You have your palettes you work with, and your overarching themes. You take all those pieces and you start building something with them until you find that balance.
But I think even just mathematically they’re really similar. A ruler has little increments, an eighth inch or a sixteenth inch. That’s kind of like the measures in a song and the notes in music. And it’s compartmentalizing all the little pieces into making a song, or finding balance in the scale. The deeper I get into architecture, the more I keep trying to push music and architecture together. I don’t really know what that means or how I’m gonna do that, but I keep trying to put my music on top of 3D models that I make. I’ll make little videos of the models and then I’ll put my song in the background so it’s got a whole vibe. You know, like some spinning bathhouses in the mist. I’ll put an ICE track in the background. And the more I keep doing that I’m like, “Ok, there’s a theme that’s happening.” I didn’t really realize there was a theme until I’d done it so many times.
I’ve wanted to get deeper into it though. I’ve been looking at how I can actually illustrate some of the music. Looking at a seismoscope, basically like vibrating water or sand at a certain frequency using a song, and then filming it or taking pictures of it at a really high speed, and capturing the images from it, or projecting it. So I’ve been thinking about ways to sort of visually interpret the music, and the gear that I need to be able to do that. So in the future that will be integrated, and I’ll be integrating some of the patterns back into the actual architecture.
I feel like I’m just beginning. I’ve spent 20 years in school, learning. I’ve worked in firms for 15 years now. I’ve been pretty deep into learning about architecture, figuring out how to actually do it, and now I’m at the point where I’m getting projects on my own. I’m the boss, and I’m the designer. I ’m not really working for anybody else anymore. So I’m at the point where I’m able to develop my ideas, and I’m figuring out how to actually execute them. I think the next 20 years for me will be less about learning and more about executing. From 2000 to now, with music and architecture and art, I’ve just been accumulating the skills and practicing the whole time. And now I’m like, “I’m good, I know how to do everything, now let’s make some shit.” [laughs] I wanna keep trying to press art and music and architecture all together though. I’d like to see it all integrated.
I listened to the interview you did with Mike Watt, and you mentioned wanting to design clubs. What’s an ideal venue like for you?
Oh yeah, I would love to design a club. I’m obsessed with the club environment, just because I haven’t been to a good one in so long. I really just love a dark room—like a big, black dark room. As far as where the dancing happens, I don’t like to see the DJ. I like for the DJ to be up in the ceiling, up above you. Like, maybe you can look up there and see their head, but they’re not the focal point. I really hate going to a club, and the DJ’s on the stage, and everybody’s bouncing and making eye contact. So, remove the focal point. And I like the room being really dark because people are scared to dance. Especially nowadays, it’s just not really our culture. Club culture is totally different than it was 20 or 30 years ago. It’s gotta be pitch black so nobody’s self conscious. Maybe a disco ball. There’s gotta be rotating light. That really makes the room move. Make the room feel like it’s in action with just some lights. Dark as fuck. I like a little balcony around the room so you can go up top. Then off to the side there’s sort of the room that’s like purgatory. You wait there, and you either go to the bar or back to the dancing room, and they’re separated.
This is all based on a club that was here in Knoxville called The Underground, which I’m obsessed with. It doesn’t exist anymore, but it’s sorta the perfect club situation. It was really spacious, so you weren’t feeling like you were on top of each other. You can’t dance if you’re sardined in there. But then, you don’t want it to be so big that you feel alone.
I would love to have water features in the lit spaces, like the purgatory section or the bar. I’d love for those areas to be tropical. I’m obsessed with plants and water. Maybe I’d have some gardens outside, an outdoor place, for if you don’t want to dance. But yeah, there’s definitely gotta be a black box, and the rest would be pretty ornately decorated.
I was supposed to go to a natural building workshop this summer, but it was cancelled. I’m gonna go next summer. I’m going to learn how to make buildings out of straw bail, and do natural plaster finishes and live roofs and earthen floors and shit like that, using ancient techniques. Nobody’s really doing that nowadays, and it’s actually sustainable and environmentally friendly. Everybody wants you to be environmentally friendly with architecture, but nobody knows how to actually do that or execute it. But a lot of these natural builders are very hippie. I don’t want it to look like it’s hippie. I love Baroque Rococo style. I love Versailles, Marie Antoinette, very pastel and gold, lots of mirrors. But it should still be made quality. [laughs]
Architecture is a heavily male field, right? Do you think of femininity as part of your work?
It’s totally male dominated. I mean, there’s more women in school now; I think it’s almost half. It wasn’t like that when I was in school. A lot of times I was the only girl in class, but that’s changed. But still, the amount of women that actually make it to become licensed architects... They fall off the wagon because they have kids. A lot of them never actually make it.
As far as buildings and actual architecture, everything I see is designed by a man. This is a man’s worldview. I mean, there are people like me; I’ve been designing and drafting under the boss, but I would never get credit for anything. So I know there are women behind the scenes working. But most of the main ideas are coming from men. What if all the buildings were designed by women, how different would that look? I wanted to go off on my own, work for myself, because they all have their opinions on how they want things to look. They’re so used to things looking the way they’ve always looked. I have other ideas in mind, and they always laugh at me. [laughs]
Who do you mean? People at the firms?
Yeah, my bosses. [laughs] I mean, they’re totally wrong. It’s motivation for me. Like, Ok, I’ll just show you, then you’ll change your mind. I’ve been wanting to do feminine style with the color palette, too. I’m always like, what if you painted it pink, or baby blue? Or, can we add some cute shit outside? A bunch of flowers, too many trees, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got other things in mind that are probably too cute. Have you ever been to Dollywood?
Well, the architecture there is all new, but they built stuff to look like it’s old. These new buildings look like they’re falling in, like old shacks. The roof looks like it’s caving in, but it’s actually really structurally sound. There are some cute little stores and cabins and shit. In Pigeon Forge, the town where Dollywood is, it’s the most extreme architecture. They just built a building with King Kong hanging off the top of it. There’s an upside down Greek temple. It’s shit like an alien coming out of a jukebox that’s a building. Anything goes up there. And then there’s Disneyland. I’ve never been to Disneyland and refuse to go, but I’ve seen pictures of Minnie Mouse’s house. I have this mood board. It’s like a Smurfette’s house, with heart shaped windows. Everything’s really exaggerated and puffy, like kind of rounded out. The colors are pink and purple. I don’t want it to look gaudy though. I’m like, how can we take these sort of tacky little girl Barbie Dream House vibe and make these real, and not make them a joke?
Do you know about cottage core?
I know the term, but I’d be lying if I said I truly knew about it. I know of it.
I think that might be close to what I’m into, I dunno. I really love Little House On The Prairie, and little cute country shit. My mom was a tole painter, which is a Japanese style of cutesy painting where they would just paint on a broom handle or a teapot or rocking chair. Just things you had around your house, you would paint little hearts and flowers on them. I think it started in Japan then went to Germany, then came to America with immigrants. And it had a resurgence where these groups of women started these painting clubs. You can find all these little wood chunky things with these little cute paintings on them in the thrift store. My mom used to host a [tole painting] night, and I got pretty inspired by that. But yeah, I don’t see any of that in architecture. It’s so industrial. Everything’s white and black and grey. 50 shades of grey. Grey is the new beige; the new blue-grey color that everyone’s obsessed with is literally the new beige. It’s like, “When in doubt, just paint it blue-grey.” It’s so uninspiring.
I love gold. [laughs] I really love the gaudy style, but I wanna figure out how to strip it down to be more tasteful and more minimalist. I still like maximalism, where you have a wall with tons of shit on it—layers and plants and paintings and colors. But maybe the whole space isn’t like that, just part of it. Too much just gets overwhelming.
I’m curious about the role architecture plays in the South in particular. When I lived in Atlanta I noticed what seemed like a real effort to wipe out old things and replace them with cheap temporary condo shit. Granted, that was 2008, so a lot of condos had been popping up as a result of the mortgage loan bubble. But for some reason it seems really pressing in the South, this urgent effort to put stupid ugly things everywhere.
I agree. I don’t know what the style is right now. I think that’s the problem. Architects used to actually build things. Now we just draw shit, and we have no idea how it’s going to be built. A lot of times when you draw what the building is going to look like you’re limited by the software. If you can’t draw in higher detail, then the building doesn’t have much detail. This has been a problem. The buildings that are being built now look like the 3D models, which is kind of fucked up.
How do you mean?
I mean, nobody builds with brick or stone anymore because it’s just crazy expensive. But back in the day there was nice trim, more ornamentation in certain places. It’s really hard to draw all that detail, and it costs a lot of money to spend the hours to draw in detail. Drawing a flat wall takes no time, but once you start adding these details in, your price is going up. Contractors and developers don’t wanna pay that. I think it’s really been stripped down for money.
There’s also a problem with materials right now. I hate vinyl siding with a passion, but the stuff we’re building buildings out of right now has a 25 year lifespan generally. The warranties on all the materials used for new construction are up in 25 to 30 years, and that’s basically the lifetime of the mortgage. If you have a 30 year mortgage, on year 31 your house is gonna be shredded. That’s pretty fucked up. I live in a 90 year old house. In St Louis everything was always 100 years old. St Louis is all masonry; every last building is made out of brick and stone. But you know, that time is gone. We’re not gonna be doing that again.
With natural building it’s basically a timber frame, a log frame, and then you infill it with straw bails, and then you plaster both sides. And if you live in a hot climate you just do clay wall, you make clay bricks. Those materials are pretty cheap, and if I need clay I can just dig it up out of my land and use it. Buildings like that will last a lot longer than any type of shit you can buy from Home Depot. All the buildings going up right now, they buy everything from Lowe’s and Home Depot, for the cheapest possible price. And, as expensive as property is now, it’s just like... I would never buy a new home. It’s just not worth it. People are getting fucked, and they don’t even know it. They’re spending so much money on the new house and they don’t know what’s coming.
I have a sickness. I love photographing new construction that’s already failing within a couple years, 10 years. This brand new house, a decade later, looks like complete garbage. And there’s no way to fix plastic vinyl. You can’t just slap a coat of paint on it or straighten it out. It’s just warped. All these new condos and houses, they’re just gonna go straight to the landfill in a few decades, and there’s gonna be a huge garbage problem.
I’m slowly beginning to start a business, and that’s what I wanna focus on, doing all natural construction. I know it’ll pop off, because people are so thirsty for it. I feel like that could be the answer. When you do these natural buildings with plaster, you can carve stuff, and you can add textures and patterns. You can’t do that with panels of metal. So there’s more room to play. Back in the day, architects were craftsmen. They were on site, building, and they were part of that whole process. Now we’re just stuck in the office all day. We don’t actually see what’s getting built. But I really like being on site and seeing how things are being put together.
You got some certifications recently right? Does that mean you’re working on your own?
No, I’m taking my exams right now, the licensing exams, and there’s six of them.
Yeah, It’s like taking the ACT or the SAT six different times. It’s fucking stupid. It’s pretty hard. I keep failing, but hope-fully I’ll be done 2021. Legally, I can still design houses without having a license, but if I want to do a commercial space I’ll need to have it. So it’s kind of limited until I get that stamp.
Does the song “Complex” deal with real estate at all?
Yes it does. No one’s ever thought about it as an architecture song, but it kinda is.
It seems like the lyrics go there a little bit, and the video.
The opening [of the video] is that building being torn down. That was two houses away from me. It was just like, “Oh they’re bulldozing something today.” People were sitting out on their porch. That whole town is just falling apart. It’s not being taken care of. And you know, there are 1/3 the amount of people in St Louis that there were 100 years ago. There’s so much available and abandoned real estate, beautiful buildings falling down left and right, and people squatting in them.
All the abandoned houses create problems and a lot of garbage. They just start falling apart, and they look bad. The neighborhood is trying to come back, but then you have all these other buildings that nobody’s living in or taking care of. They just look ugly. It’s depressing to have to walk by those every day. You want to have pride in where you live, but how can you have pride when everything’s crumbling and falling apart? The one they bulldozed was because people lived on either side of it. There were trees growing out of it, and it was like, this thing could fall over any moment and crush somebody. But the St Louis government is pretty corrupt. And that’s a whole conversation in itself.
I’m sad I had to move away. If I’d stayed longer I really wanted to develop a demo crew where we demolished buildings. If they can’t be stabilized, then we remove them, and then we take apart all the pieces and preserve them and reuse them.
St. Louis is very violent. I was basically just forced out because crime was so bad. I got held up at gunpoint on my front porch, was the last straw. My son was upstairs asleep in his bed, and I was so thankful they didn’t force me inside the house. My son and I skirted so many bullets, drive-bys, just being out in the yard and having to run inside. I saw someone get shot in the neck in front of the house. Both bumpers on my car were crushed because some kids were shooting guns outta their windows and ran their car into mine. They kept going down that street, then hit a telephone pole, and their car caught on fire. The violence was getting too close. I felt like we were just gonna get in the way one day.
In the song where I’m like, “Take out the trash,” it’s literally just, the town is fucking filthy. It really just needs to be cleaned. I love picking up trash. It’s like instant gratification. Things just automatically look better as soon as you do. And also, politically, they needed to purge out everybody in office, these old heads that were all corrupt. They need a restart button on that town; it’s just centuries of beef. It needs the biggest sage ritual of all time. Somebody talked about turning the arch into a dreamcatcher. I like that idea.