Q&A: Invisible Conga People's Justin Simon On Taking Time Between 12-Inches, Brainstorming In The Shower, And Entering The "Black Hole Of Just Endlessly Playing"

Categories: Interviews

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In 2008, Justin Simon and Eric Tsai released their first 12-inch, "Cable Dazed"/"Weird Pains," on Italians Do It Better, Mike Simonetti's synth-driven club label. It's one of the most bewitching releases of the last few years, particularly "Cable Dazed," an endlessly rolling groove that recalls both stone-mumble drone and vintage cosmic disco. Along with the group's name—is there a better moniker in New York than Invisible Conga People?—it portended more good things to come. And they have—three years later. After a prolonged absence, Simon and Tsai issued "In a Hole"/"Can't Feel My Knees" on DFA at the beginning of May. We spoke to Simon over the phone about the duo's history and its small but tantalizing discography.

Who came up with the name Invisible Conga People?

I did. I think it just came to me one day in the shower.

Were you already making music together at that point?

Yeah. We'd started—it might have been because we had to play a show. We needed a name.

Tell me a little about your background. Did you always intend to make this kind of music?

I met Eric through a mutual friend. We actually had a band with this other guy, just for a couple of months. Eric, at the time, was getting into building some effects units, and I thought that was pretty cool. I was writing songs on guitar and getting into setting them to different channels and having them go through different effects units, and then live-mixing, so different sounds would come in and out, all through the same guitar chord. We had a similar aesthetic, or musical interests. That band dissolved. I wanted to start something up and drafted Eric again, just the two of us.

That sounds a lot like Robert Fripp. Were you a fan?

Yes, I love those records, especially the ones with [Brian] Eno—and [Manuel] Gottsching, and all those late '70s guitar-synth guys were big on my list back then. But I was also listening to a lot of dance music. At the time I wanted to make something that was rhythmic and had some of the sonics I was really interested [in], but also, make it really loud. So we were playing with lots of amplifiers. I guess we started around 2004-2005.

It took us a really long time to record anything. We sort of operated in this weird little bubble we'd created for ourselves. The gallery Exit Art is this place on 36th St. and 10th Ave. It's an amazing, cavernous space—it used to be a car dealership. The other guy in the group worked, and still works, there. At the time, their basement was a completely raw space—humongous. We had this amazing deal where we could just set up all our equipment and have access to it 24 hours a day and practice as loud and as long as we wanted. So we went into this black hole of just endlessly playing. We recorded hundreds of hours of stuff, but we never thought about putting out a record for a couple years.

Did you approach Italians Do It Better, or did they approach you?

I've known Mike [Simonetti, IDIB head] since we were kids. I was in a punk band in Jersey in the early '90s, and I knew Mike back then. Finally, we got around to recording something, and I wrote Mike and said, "We're going to do a cassette. Will you distribute it?" He said, "No. You can do a 12-inch instead." [laughs] So that was when I started thinking about making an actual record.

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