Q&A: Sam Hilmer Of Diamond Terrifier And Zs On Booking PRACTICE! Gigs At Zebulon, "Zs" As A Genre, And Not Being Jazz


Zs in session

I venture to guess you do listen to jazz, though.

All the time, it's awesome. What a deep tradition of music making in America. It's just mind bogglingly deep. That said, there's a thing I realized a long time ago, when I was working more in jazz, which I did a lot of actually. I came up playing straight ahead jazz and I learned to do it fairly well. I was around a lot of people who were doing that, and a lot of my friends from that time went on to be quite successful, good jazz musicians who are really nailing it. But what I realized was that it has crystallized as a medium to the extent that when you push certain parameters beyond certain thresholds, the music sort of automatically becomes not jazz. Millions of people would disagree with me, but, if you do away with swing, do away with changes, and you do away with the quality of there being a head and some sort of variation on that, and at the same time the music you're making is not free, then, I mean, what makes it jazz? [Laughing]. Other than some sort of base association with the saxophone, it's like "Oh, saxophone sort of borrows from the sound world of Coltrane or whatever... therefore it's jazz." That seems really simplistic. I just had this feeling like all of these variables that I was interested in manipulating and pushing as far as I could, were just going to push me to the outskirts of the jazz community, while on the noise scene, messing around with those same variables is fine—nobody thinks twice about it. But on the jazz scene, then you become this thing that's like on the scene and in that community but sort of not that thing at the same time, and that just seems like a real painstaking existence to me. I rather be somewhere where it's just okay to do what I'm doing.

Do you have a descriptor for the music that Diamond Terrifier or Zs creates?

The new thing in Zs is just to say "Zs is Zs." We've been a band for ten years and I think it's more interesting to just say it's Zs and you should check it out. Otherwise it becomes this thing where it's like "post-minimalist, neo-no wave, industrial noise." That's not a thing; that doesn't exist. That's not real. We're just trying to identify as us and, for me, that goes right into the solo projects. Why not just say "Zs is a thing?"

In your mind, is Zs, Diamond Terrifier or Hubble any more important than the other or are they all on the same wavelength?

I wouldn't say any is more important than the other but I think there is a consistent commitment across the board to a specific group of concepts.

Zs will be premiering new music at the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival. When did Zs last play live?

Last time we played live was November when 33 came out, the double 7-inch. We played a set that actually was completely improvised.

It's known you've retired some of Zs' earlier material...

All of it. So far, in the ten years of doing Zs, there's no revisiting anything. It happens for a number of years then it's gone.

Is that agreed upon by you and your bandmates?

It's kind of like, the whole thing is just this one process of writing this music. What was happening at our first New Slaves show versus what happened at our last show was night and day. So, the whole four-year period from sitting in the room with nothing to playing ninety minute sets at awesome shows that we were stoked on [Laughing], it's kinda just this one thing like getting from A to B. Then, at a certain point, it becomes like a law of diminishing returns situation artistically; law of diminishing returns professionally; so it's time do another thing. That's sorta all we do. It's not like we bring back a track from the last record. It's not like Bruce Springsteen or something [Laughing]. It's also like the pieces from the last three records are such an investment to have that going on in your life. To play New Slaves, man, was bananas. It's just physically, emotionally, spiritually totally exhausting.

Is doing a Diamond Terrifier set comparable to doing a Zs set?

Yeah, for sure. This is something that is interesting to both Ben and I—the quality of pushing things to the point of failure. You come up with an idea that can't really totally work and is actually not totally possible to do. But you establish the intention to do it and by doing that you put yourself in this situation where you get up onstage in front of people trying to do this thing that is not totally possible and not such a good idea [Laughing]. But that's substance of the art! The industriousness and creativity that arises spontaneously in those moments of failure. You're gonna do this technical feat but that's not really gonna happen 100%. But those percentiles where that isn't happening and you gotta get through it somehow, there's this sort of spontaneity and creativity, and just some turbo boost that you tap into, and that's the art. The Diamond Terrifier set is very much about creating that frame—pushing something to the place where it starts to deteriorate and then holding it in that lively margin where things are sort of failing a little bit and you have to manage it. That relates to the name Diamond Terrifier because it's the English translation of the indo-tibetan god-name Vajrabairahva. Diamond represents that which is indestructible: the thing that scares the thing that is indestructible.

Can you talk about the new Zs music? Is it similar/different to New Slaves?

It's extremely different. The music has swapped out the extreme abrasive high ends for deep dub lows, and we've swapped out the angular jaggedness for deep minimalist trance vibes. The music also has clearer reference points than any past stuff we've done, and I'm really psyched about that. Can't wait to hear what folks think, stoked for the show!

Zs plays BamCafé tonight as part of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry; Diamond Terrifier presents PRACTICE! Tuesday nights in May at Zebulon.

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