Various Asses (Conversations)
Various Asses is the new project from Raquel Solier. Our conversation took place back in September when she was in the final stage of completing her debut release "Loción", out now via Nice Music and available to stream and purchase from the Bandcamp link below.
Over the course of the following chat, we explore Raquel's reasoning for putting Fatti Frances in the retirement home, the creation of the new record and how motherhood has shaped her music-making, as well as the challenges she has faced as a female experimental artist. You can also listen to the uncut conversation via the Soundcloud embedded below, or read the transcript of our full chat below while you crank the new tape or explore Raquel's excellent back catalogue via the embedded links.
Simon Fazio: Maybe this interview would work better with, like… weird reverb on it…
Raquel Solier: I actually like those… Richie 1250 does this a lot of Stone Love where he puts like… soundtracks in the back of his interviews and stuff like that… just spooky little atmospheric things…
S: So the other day my brother and I did this 24 hour radio thing. The long story is that every year on my Dad’s birthday we usually do a gig… he died a few years ago… we usually do a fundraiser gig… because we weren’t playing, we decided to do a radio thing… so Andre’s segment… he found this tape of him talking into a portable recorder from age …and we put Penderechi’s ‘The Shining’ soundtrack underneath…
R: Woah, that’s creepy…
S: Yeah, really unsettling…
R: That sounds like fun. 24 hours of radio.
S: It wasn’t all quality, but it was fun.
R: Well, 24 hours is a long time. Did you have guests, like, your family come in?
S: So, Mum came in and she did a little selection of her favourite stuff…
R: That’s really nice… I get so emotional talking about that stuff these days. I feel as I get older I seem to… maybe understand other people’s… I’m not saying I know what that feels like, but you have more sympathy for what other people are going through, so when other people talk about emotional things I’m like (makes emotional noise) I really feel that…
S: Well, is it a getting older thing or having a family thing?
R: It’s probably both - but I used to be tough as nails as a kid - nothing would break me - and as I get older I’m just like crying at everything all the time - like films. That’s probably what it is - I’m pretty tough in my everyday life and then secretly to let all the stress out you watch ‘How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days’ (laughs) and get really emotional.
S: Well, that is emotional… like, at the end of the movie, doesn’t she learn that she really was into the guy and she blew it…
R: Yeah, what a journey!
S: So, since you’ve become a mother, have you found… like… you get emotional over movies, but also, has your music changed at all since…
R: Oh, definitely… it kinda gave me… I wouldn’t say “balls”, but it’s kind of a fresh start. So, prior to doing Various Asses, I was doing Fatti Frances for years, and I think I was naturally moving into a new direction of focusing on production more than singing and songwriting… and I’d done so much groundwork, and it’s hard to let that go and start from scratch… but even now I look at my Instagram followers in comparison to my old Instagram followers… and it’s just like…
S: You know you can just change the username… right…?
R: What…? (laughs)… fuck!
S: (laughs)… So, Fatti is in retirement at the moment?
R: I think so… I never had the intentions of that. For anyone who plays music, you tend to forget about the reality of what you sounded like. So everything was going well with Fatti and then I naturally put a hold on it for a while to have a kid and thought I’d start it up again, and then with fresh ears, you listen to what you did and think “you know what, I don’t think it was that good”… (laughs)… or it wasn’t what I intended it to be - I think I’m just more accepting of my strengths and weaknesses now and it’s like… I just don’t think I’m a singer, y’know? It’s a bit pitchy… I always knew that then, I kept trying, people were always really enthusiastic, and when I took a break, I was like “fuck this”… I was listening to new stuff and I was going into… anyone who saw the last year of Fatti Frances shows, it was half/half mix of more beatsy but ambient, that Andy Stott vibe that I was listening to the time and gravitating away from the R&B stuff. I used to love it.
S: Do you think it’s because… this just a theory… sort of what the touchstones are, musically for the Fatti Frances stuff, it’s sort of that R&B vocal stuff - the stuff that you’re referencing is very polished, tuned, perfectly-pitched… and you had this subverted take on it, and if you were comparing yourself to that stuff, maybe it may have seemed pitchy, but to me it sounds… I was listening to it the other day and it still sounds great.
R: Yeah, look, I’m not saying it was horrible… my expectations for myself are very high, and I can do better, and I just listen to new stuff. The whole reason I started doing electronic music is that I loved playing drums and all the stuff I listen to, like hip-hop - drums are such a key point in all that music, and now I realise that I just wanna make only drums. I get really shitty if I have to put a baseline on something… (laughs)…
S: Well I guess with a lot of that stuff, the kick is the bass…
R: Exactly, so that’s really cool. It’s just a natural thing with having a baby, and just like, a fresh start and not really giving a fuck about anything anymore, really. That, in a way, is good and bad - you don’t give a fuck, and you’re working on music really quickly, I’m not being a perfectionist, and I don’t have time - that’s the massive thing. That’s not such a bad thing; you just get better at time management. I think I was always good at that stuff, but now is totally different - it’s a game changer. There’s no more sitting on a track for a week, or fiddling with one tiny thing. It’s like… instant. “Is this working? No? Delete it.”, and I have no problems with that. I came up with a really good… not a formula… but my own personal [list] of things I need to do in a Various Asses song.
One of the things is that I don’t have time, so I need to make a decision on the spot. I don’t get married to any of the parts - if something isn’t working, just delete it. Not even turning it off, just totally deleting that bit. And the songs are so short, because I don’t have time to work on arrangements or build things, so I just get the best bit and loop it, and then make something that goes for about a minute, two minutes tops… and that’s a track; that’s why they’re so short, because I don’t have time to fix them. And also just to make it a bit more fun; anyone who works on music knows it’s not a walk in the park - there are days where it’s like smashing your head against a wall and it’s like “Why? Why am I doing this? This is fucked.” But then you finally make the track, months of work, and it’s like “This is amazing!” and it’s all worth it again. So, to get me over the line to start new things, which is the hardest part, I would fine, is that I would sample a song or something I really love. And it’s always crappy songs - crap to people today - songs I would choose where my grandfather would be so proud of me. (laughs)
S: Didn't you sample Enrique Iglacias the other day?
R: Yes! I love him! My go-to is Gloria Estefan - I’m constantly sampling her. I used a track that I’d been wanting to use for ages the other day, finally. It’s really exciting. You just kind of tick these boxes - if I’m not in the mood and nothing is working I just chop up the song over and over again, or listen to that song over and over again that’s a good song, or attached to my childhood, or songs I’d listen to growing up. I feel like that kind of gives me an edge - well, not an edge - but it’s a fresh perspective for me, and maybe for other people, because it’s sampling things that you don’t usually hear in a beats track. Nobody would think of Gloria Estefan when you think electronic music, but she’s actually amazing - the Latin things - it’s all bongos and congas and builds and stuff like that.
S: Are you sampling big chunks of it or just tiny snippets? And do you consider… or have time to consider… “Oh, I might get in trouble for using this…
R: It's a bit of both. I do consider it, but then, I don’t care, really. It’s like, if anyone has a problem with it, just take it out. We’re at a point these days where it’s a massive conversation - whether sampling is appropriation or ripping somebody off or blah blah blah… Obviously I’m not in it for any kind of money. There’s a video that a friend posted the other day - it’s been around for years but I just saw it again and it’s still relevant - an interview asking a kid about his little paintings that he’s doing and she’s like “do you make any money off your art?”… and he’s like… “Yes!” and then starts to cover his face and looks uncomfortable and goes… “Nooooo…” (laughs)… and that’s my life, and that’s fine. I like my life.
S: I’m sure… not to harp on about motherhood too much, but I’m sure your perspective gets changed from what you aspire to do…
R: Totally. But I think so far it’s been good for me… it’s just different. I grew up with a pretty conservative mum, but she was also a really young single mum. My dad also passed away when I was really small, and so she pretty much raised me with his family, and she just worked all the time. She was very much a business-suit/power-suit 80s mum.
Now when I think about parenting, and the generation where all of my friends are having kids in their late 30s and 40s, I just feel really young having a kid…. I’m in my early 30s, and in comparison to what people are doing these days, that’s kind of young. It’s probably got more to do with my lifestyle as well, like, I don’t dress like a mum. I guess when I think of mums, I think of trackies and powersuits, and I’m here in a cap and…
S: I was a teacher for many years, and you meet a lot of parents, and you see the full spectrum of mum… There are mums who you cant distinguish from the kids, and there’s…
R: I wanna be a mum you can’t distinguish from the kids… but not in an emotional way. (laughs)
S: I guess also the time management thing - those few moments you get of peace…
R: It is definitely tough. I get a couple of hours a day, and I have to choose what I want to do with that - it’s either I work on music, I have a cup of tea and watch a movie, or I catch up on sleep… or I go out with my friends or see a show. But they are pretty much my only options, and I only get to do one, and so if I’m going to get any work done, I’m kinda just working all the time. Raising a kid is exhausting - it’s a job. You can’t do anything else while you’re doing it. So that time at night is precious, and I have to choose.
So, segue into stuff lately; I’ve got a tape deadline that’s due in two weeks… and of course, I’ve known about this for a long time… so this tape is going to be a version of my live set, which is a little bit improvised, but there’s definitely content there, so I kinda knew I could get it done really quickly, but I’ve definitely left it to the last minute. I work really well under pressure, I’m sure it’s gonna be fine.
S: I’m sure it’s going to be fine, it’s going to be great! So, can I ask you a couple of nerdy questions? So for the nerds who are out there, and there are a few who listen to this podcast; so you construct your tracks on Fruity Loops or FL Studio?
R: Yeah, Fruity Loops is coming back! But I started working on FL… you know when it was really cool?
S: Yeah, I remember learning FL in high school…
R: Well, I didn’t learn it then, I learned it when it was uncool and now it’s back to being cool… and it’s kinda perfect timing, because I know it really well now. I’ve been working on it for a years… maybe [since] 2009? Yeah, Fatti Frances stuff… I love it. Like, it’s kinda clunky, and it’s stupid because I used FL on a Mac, so I’m boot-camping it [loading Windows on a Mac] which is dumb because none of the hotkeys work, but I know it so well, and for some reason I can’t go back to using a PC.
S: Well, it’s about what you’re comfortable with… and if the end product is good. So, you make the tracks on FL and when you play live, you have a little Native Instruments Traktor setup?
R: Yeah, so I use Traktor… so, for the nerds, let’s talk about this… So when I had the idea of playing Various Asses live, I was going through a phase of listening to heaps of DJ mixes, and I really loved the flow, and how you’d beat-match everything and it just kept going and… there’s builds, blah blah blah… So I wanted to try to do that live. I ended up going to a music shop and talking to guys about the DJ software and what I could do. And I said “I wanna kind of use it like a sampler to do this…” and they were just like “What are you talking about? That’s not what it’s for.”. I was like “Yeah… but can’t I just do it like this?”. “It’s not for that. So, you’re going to play originals and just use it like a sampler?” “….yes?”. So, that conversation didn’t go well. I got a bargain - I bought the software anyway, and I managed to make it work, so I’ve been doing the V/A set since the beginning of the year… First show was in Feb. In that time, last week, Roland and Serato released that thing… anyone who knows what I do, that’s EXACTLY the equipment that I need.
S: It’s sort of a Traktor/Serato thing with an 808 built in…
R: Pretty much the DJ software, with the pitch shifters, and it’s got a built in 808 so you can add the drums in on the fly. So yeah, exactly what I do live… but this fucking piece-of-shit cost two-and-a-half grand more, which I just do not have. And so I’m using a crappy console, and doing it all with my little chopped up loops… yeah, whatever.
S: You would think that… and there are only some people out there who will care about this part of the conversation… we were talking before recording about your Traktor thing breaking, and I have this [Native Instruments] Maschine - you would think that this company has these two great products, and they’d be able to speak to each other really well… but they just don’t.
S: You have to do this weird MIDI-sync thing… so for people like you, the visionaries…
R: Oh, thanks… (laughs) so, brining it back to how I’ve only got a couple of hours a night to work on things, so today the priority is to get this tape done; it’s going to be amazing when it’s finished, and obviously I’m really keen to get it done and I’m stuck with equipment that’s not working. I also broke my laptop last week… and I broke that laptop three months ago.
S: But Apple did replace it for you.
R: They did! There were definitely highs and lows of that moment. So, the first time my computer broke, it wasn’t me, it was my kid, and I guess by default it was my fault because “she shouldn’t be playing on the computer”… but let me meet a mother who doesn’t let their kid touch their phone, or computers. Anyway, it broke, and it was going to cost so much money because she bent the whole top of the screen… and I thought, I’ll just get a new computer! And anyone who knows nerdy stuff again - the new Apple computers - they’re fucked, they’re not going to fix them, they don’t work with anything.
So, I played this horrible set at Howler, the first kind of big show that V/A had played - big meaning on a really nice sound-system - and it fucked up. The software was just not working, it wasn’t compatible, and with this particular problem, it’s distortion that creeps up at the beginning and just gets louder and louder until you can’t hear anything. Once I realised that was happening near the beginning of the set, by the next five minutes it was so loud… anyone that was there, it was a good moment in a way. If you’re gonna go down, you’re gonna go down in style. I just kinda shut the laptop computer, and I was so frustrated because by this time, I had spent three days constantly on the phone to Apple being “There’s a problem, this is not working, this didn’t have a problem with my old computer.” I needed to use every ounce of my strength not to throw the laptop off the stage because I needed to return it, so I slammed the thing down and said “I’m sorry! I can’t do this!” and stormed off the stage like a total diva.
S: Sounds good. And a lot of the time those are the more memorable shows for the audience…
R: Well… maybe… anyway.
S: …so, the tape is on the way, and I appreciate you taking time out of your day to spend an hour chatting about it.
R: Oh that’s fine, I can’t work on my stuff during the day anyway. Baby town… so I just handball the kid… yeah, that’ll be tonight.
S: Do you find that you like working at night anyway, because your music has more nocturnal vibes? Or…
R: Nah, to be honest, I think I got most of my stuff done early in the morning. Prior to the babe, the last record I worked on was the Fatti Frances ‘Sweaty’ tape, and that’s when my partner was away touring, so I had a golden six-weeks; I’d get up at 6am every morning and work until I had to go to work at 10am, and then on the way home, get a six-pack, listen to the mixes, get drunk, do edits, get a bit drunker and do it all again. And it was a really awesome time, and I wish I could work like that again, because that was super productive, and fun.
S: You could probably do that again in 15-16 years…
R: Yeah… I’d get drunk… (mum voice) “What do you think of this mix?!” (child’s voice) “I think it’s great!”, (mum voice) “Oh, me too”… Wonderful moment.
S: Maybe we can talk about the future a little bit… so, a couple of weeks ago, we played a gig together at The Tote (Palm Springs and Cuddleman), and my mum was there, and she was like “Those girls are so good…”
R: Oh, amazing!
S: “You know when you used to gig, there never used to be this many girls playing, but now there’s all these girls playing…” From your perspective, has the landscape changed?
R: Yeah, it definitely has… y’know, yes and no. People’s perspective have changed, but there’s always been men and women doing awesome music.
S: Oh, totally.
R: We just don’t get the kind of platforms that guys have been able to get. That is changing - hopefully it’s all changing - there’s definitely a conversation about it all at the moment. I’m talking all that stuff on a panel at the LISTEN Conference coming up in October. More specifically, gender diversity in experimental art. So, there’s really good people on the panel. So, spoiler alert, there’s definitely been some injustices and I’ve had to fight to get where I am, but, yeah, the landscape is changing and there are heaps of awesome girls. It’s more like there were always women doing this stuff in music, but there’s more encouragement now for people to keep doing it.
I remember one of the mid-period Fatti Frances shows; a friend of mine, who is a good friend of mine now kind-of admitted that when he saw me setting up for the show, he was like “Ugh… this will be boring…”. At the time I was just using two Roland 404 samplers; for anyone who knows nerdy stuff, they are excellent but really limited, so if you have two of them, it solves all of the problems! And they’re really cheap, so if you break one, someone probably got one, or you can get them for like $200 or something.
S: Again, being about not what you have but how you use it.
R: Exactly. Anyway, so I played this set, and I killed it, and this guy was so impressed, he was like “Yeah, I’m really sorry, I didn’t know what to expect, I wasn’t going to watch it, but you were really good.” I hope that attitude, not that it wouldn’t happen now, just that people are more conscious of it and making a bit more of an effort. There’s a lot of girls coming forward, talking about their experiences and we’re all helping each other out a little bit more and which is great. The best thing you can do is just make more of an effort and listen to stuff… I know heaps of good new stuff out there by girls. One of the girls on the tape is one of my favourites at the moment; it’s on a new label called Nice Records which is run by Simon who runs Polyester Records. His partner Carolyn’s solo stuff is called FIA FIELL, and it’s just like… insane. Weird soundscape stuff, synths, beautiful rich textures… everything. She’s relatively new as well, I think she’s only been playing for six months or so. But look-out for her - she’s good, and she’s one of those people who have been around for ages but in a totally different field. She’s classically trained so she’s been doing heaps of that orchestral stuff, arranging for people. Now she’s focusing on her own solo stuff and it’s killer. So good.
S: Are you guys playing a show?
R: We’ve already played! I’ve got a list of my phone of the others… I’ve actually gone through most of them. Elizabeth Dixon is on there - she just released her debut LP on the same label as Military Position… I want to play with Papaphillia (Fjorn Butler); she’s really cool, really experimental noise stuff. We’ve known each other, get this, probably since we were teenagers. Met then, both went our separate ways doing music, and then kind-of come together again. She’s gonna be on that LISTEN panel too. I’ve had a really good run lately; I got to play with Time For Dreams lately, which was Sarah’s (Golden Syrup) launch. She’s also in Palm Springs. I’m playing with Simona Castricum coming up, which I’m looking forward to because she’s been on my list for a long time. Heaps of stuff.
I think two years ago I read an article in The Guardian - I forgot the woman’s name, but she said “This year, I’m only reading books from people of colour”… actually women of colour. And so I did that as well as a challenge, and it was insane the stuff I was reading that I would never have come across. I never realised at that point where I never read a book by… a female? (laughs). Crazy, right? But it’s whatever you grew up with in school and it’s subtle conditioning. Anyway, so I made this effort and it was life-changing for me. Now I pretty much only read books by women of colour. Or if I do attempt to read a book by a cis white dude I just get immediately bored. I’m definitely open to that stuff, I just need a bit more of somebody else’s perspective; learning cultural things and things like. And so, my challenge to you - well not you, but you can do it - see if you can go for a while only listening to female artists, or pretty much anyone who isn’t a cis white dude.
S: Well, I haven't formulated it this way, but I think maybe on this show I’ve had more women than me? It’s not even like making an effort to do it, it’s just that there are so many awesome [women] doing stuff that it’s kinda happened that way? Which is good I think?
R: It’s good that it’s natural like that, because it means that things are changing.
S: So, you’ve got a show at Longplay with Simona coming up, and that place kinda lends itself to projection stuff, and when I saw you last, you had a bit of a muscly vibe happening (with the visuals). So the imagery you use… I guess you call it body horror? Where did that come from.
R: Yeah! Well, I didn’t come up with that, I didn’t come up with any of these things… So, what happened was, the first show I played was a Liquid Architecture show, and Joel Stern asked me to play - it was my first V/A show, and my friend rocked up and said “hey, can I do your visuals?”. And I was like “Yeah, sure, I kinda want to go for this vibe” - about projecting strength, especially feminine strength, empowering women. He came back with this amazing tape of these 70s/80s bodybuilding champions, and he kind of colour-graded it a weird glowy orange. Stark black background and weird muscley orange bodies sweating. What happens with the music is that it kinda starts to flex in-time every now and again. Just weird, repetitive, horrific images… lots of zooming in and bikinis and really fake L.A. smiles. Really cool.
S: …like the music; cool, but slightly unsettling.
R: Totally unsettling. And I love that. As I said before, all the music I love has a strange, dark angle to it. Dark is the worst possible word you can use to describe music - anyone who has had to read bios or anything like that, y’know, “Dark, indie, Melbourne, dark band, blah, blah, blah…”
S: “Dark… unique… quirky… A quirky take on hip-hop!”
R: Yeah, I guess I am a “quirky take on hip-hop”… No, I’m not. V/A stuff is weird; it’s very choppy, the tempo varies, it’s woozy at times but then has a very specific focused beat. Drums; I love drums, it’s what I do. So, I played this show, and Steve came up to me with the USB and was like “here’s your visuals!”. I’ve never seen them before, so I chuck them on and then afterwards people were like “What the fuck was that footage?!?”. And I was like “What was it? I didn’t see it.” And I saw photos of it… It was insane. It was like a tiny me at a desk, twiddling knobs, muscley bronze orangey woman. Big hair, big 80s smile, loving life. Yeah, it looked insane. Joel, who organised the show who was like “dude, it was like… body horror music. Real horror soundtrack”. It’s just one of these things that has kinda stuck. I feel like with V/A; maybe it’s a time thing, maybe it’s my total luck, but it’s all just naturally coming together. The photos, the videos…
I don’t know what it is this time around; is it having a kid and just being more organised, letting things go and not being such a control freak? Or is it just… this shit is meant to be this time? I don’t know.
S: I think it is…
R: Do you believe in that stuff?
S: Fate? Ah… yes? But I think you make your own destiny because you work really hard and the stuff is sounding good.
R: Thanks. On the fate thing though; I asked my partner yesterday “Is it a sign?”. Y’know, breaking the laptop three months ago, and breaking the laptop last week, my headphone jack freakishly breaking in my Traktor thing. “Maybe I’m not suppose to be using this equipment… is this a sign that I shouldn’t be doing this?”. And he was like, “Well you did get all that stuff fixed pretty quickly, so maybe it’s a sign that you SHOULD be doing this… but I don’t actually believe in these things.” (laughs). So, I’m gonna take it as a good thing, and even though everything’s breaking, I’ve managed to pull it together, and although the deadline for the tape is in two weeks and I have nothing record, I will have something recorded in two weeks.
S: Well, by the time this comes out, it will be done.
R: It’s just whether or not I like it. There’s always something.