No UFO’s: An Interview with Konrad Jandavs
While Konrad Jandavs isn’t entirely a household name, you might still be familiar with his work. The Vancouver-based musician first broke out in 2010 with Soft Coast, a vibrant dose of modern kosmische musik that put other cosmic synth dabblers to shame. Initially issued on his own Nice Up International imprint on cassette before being reissued by Spectrum Spools a year later, the album served as a “demo” of sorts, offering a loose template of the wide range of sonic ideas the project would later explore on Dub Ditch Picnic, Public Information, and now Root Strata.
But aside from sonic cues and traits, one of Jandavs’ principle characteristics comes with the way he operates. Existing on the fringes of experimental music, he seems to only produce music when the time is right. Hesitant to rush releases, No UFO’s might go years without sharing new material, though he doesn’t slack in-between — he keeps up with his Nice Up Intl. imprint and designs album art for other artists.
No UFO’s now breaks a four-year silence with the appropriately titled NU Lp for RS, the project’s first proper studio LP and first official release with Root Strata. The album marks a noticeable shift away from the synth-kraut excursions heard early on in the project’s discography and into more amorphous sound collage territory. His own entertaining description of the album, “I was trying hard to avoid making another 3 Feet High And Rising and that basically meant I was making a De La Soul Is Dead, but in the end it seems clear to me that I skipped ahead and made a Buhloone Mindstate.” We caught up with Jandavs via email to talk through the early stages of No UFO’s, the long road to this new Root Strata LP, and where he sits in the Vancouver music scene.
When did No UFO’s start? How did it come together?
Konrad Jandavs: After not really making music for a number of years, I started working on what became the Soft Coast tape in late 2008. There were a few aimless months at first but in spring of 2009 things began to come together. Unemployment was the catalyst.
How did the first releases come together? And how did you get involved with the project’s early labels?
It was all really casual. Chris from Dub Ditch Picnic is an old friend and one of the first people to hear what became Soft Coast. He asked if I wanted to release something with him and it made sense. The RS mix was something I made after Soft Coast without really thinking, which I sent around and Jefre [Cantu-Ledesma] offered to post. This was during the apex of the Root Blog. John from Spectrum Spools was a fan of the Soft Coast tape (I’ve since met numerous people who told me they heard about it directly from him) and reached out. He initially wanted a new LP but I kind of knew that wasn’t going to happen. I proposed a Soft Coast reissue instead and he agreed. The whole thing, from saying yes to receiving my copies, took around six months, and it would have been quicker if the printer hadn’t botched all the covers.
How did you come into contact with Root Strata?
Jefre was one of the first dozen people to order a Soft Coast tape from me. Soon after he asked if I was interested in releasing something with RS and I said, of course.
How long has ‘NU Lp for RS’ been in the works?
We talked about it in 2010 but I had a few release obligations, and then RS went on a sort of hiatus, and then some other things interfered. But for lack of a more interesting or nuanced description, it simply wasn’t working for me for a long while, and that made it easy to work on other things (like the MPC Tracks EPs). Tons of album material was scrapped. I decided early on that it made no sense to submit an album I wasn’t happy with, so it took a considerable amount of time. I’m grateful that those guys were so patient. I received an ultimatum of sorts around a month before I finished but it was basically imminent by that point.
‘Soft Coast’ has been referred to as your demo album. But it’s markedly different than ‘NU Lp for RS,’ which is less “krauty” overall. Can you talk a bit about why this may have changed?
The simple answer is that nearly everything changed: my interests, ambition, equipment, skill level, working conditions, my relationship to music, and more. Soft Coast was very free in the sense that it felt like almost anything could happen at a given moment, but that sort of open-endedness wasn’t interesting to me or helpful this time around. Often the main task with NU Lp was removing options. In a broader sense though, the De La Soul analogy in the album’s promo copy really captures it, I think. Now I just need to avoid making a Stakes Is High.
“Classic NU Shit” is definitely the most classic sounding track here. Is the title more dismissive, or tongue-in-cheek nostalgia?
Like the album’s title, it’s as literal as can be. Anything less felt inappropriate.
“Apocryphal Blues” is one of the more dynamic tracks on the LP and touches on a number of sounds. Can you talk a bit about this track in particular?
I didn’t encounter it until last year but there’s a line by Hegel — “Works of art enchant us not because they are so natural but because they have been made so natural” — that really captures something that permeates what I do. My response is very often to heighten the contradictions and negations invoked there, to push my own interventions, and “Apocryphal Blues” is a prime example of that.
Do you ever see yourself branching out into another genre, maybe producing hip hop? Your Discogs artist image includes an autographed Public Enemy LP and the De La Soul analogy seems spot on.
Actually, towards the end of making NU Lp my stress-reliever was to bang out funky, beat-heavy instrumentals on the fly, with reckless abandon. None of those beats survived but I’ve since made others that work. I crossed paths with Kid Capri a few years back, so, David, if you’re reading this, can you put me on?
The LP was recorded in a number of cities. Was this intentional, or just the places you were when you were able to record?
The studio work only occurred in Vancouver, with a couple things coming out of a really casual session at Roger Tellier-Craig’s studio in Montreal. The recordings that happened elsewhere are live excerpts and happenstance recordings made on tour that became source material.
How does No UFO’s fit within Vancouver’s music community?
The dynamics here are a bit tricky to discuss. The late Mark Fisher observed that the punk explosion and other storied countercultural moments were enabled by inexpensive living (via squatting, art school infrastructure, cheap rents in disused areas, the dole, etc) in urban centers and, crucially, the autonomous time that allowed. Vancouver could be seen as a complete inversion of that arrangement. The city consistently places at or near the top of various global surveys of the least affordable cities; the 12-suite building I live in sold for $1.6 million a decade ago and resold for $6.5 million a few months back; a study commissioned by the city concluded that 58% of families are likely to leave in the next few years. All this to say: the music community, especially for what I do, is increasingly skeletal, fragmented, and not especially adventurous, and it’s hard for me to not see the connection.
I often feel like a complete outsider, but the question then becomes: outside of what, exactly, because I don’t think it’s fair to say I’ve been excluded from anything. But I don’t think Vancouver functions differently from other cities, it’s just much less restrained in the way real estate and market primacy have a stranglehold on living and doing. Having said all of that, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Quiet City, Big Joy, Scott and Cedric at New Forms, and Selectors’, who go above and beyond to make things happen here.
What is the state of Nice Up International?
Things move pretty slowly. I’ve never been interested in releasing things just for the sake of it, and it’s hard to imagine ever releasing anything by someone I don’t know personally. Plus all my friends are much better established at this point and don’t need my help. But there will be more releases.
Is the MPC Tracks series over?
On the contrary, Vol. III is in post-production now and should be out in spring. NU007.
More than producing music yourself, you’ve had a hand in other projects and releases. Noticed a small recording credit for one song by the Winnipeg grindcore band Head Hits Concrete. How did that recording come together?
I was reminded of that recently. A former bandmate and I were friendly with those guys in the 90s. They wanted to record a demo (that “one song” is actually their entire demo occupying one track on a discography CD) and we possessed a 4-track… somehow it happened. The experience taught me my second or third recording lesson: make sure the levels in the submix are correct before committing to tape.
Do you remain active in other musical projects?
No, but there’s been talk of some collaborations recently.
You’ve done design work, too. Most recently seen on Sarah Davachi’s ‘Vergers’ LP.
I worked on Sarah‘s last three LPs, all the Secret Pyramid stuff, and a few other things. I’ve done print production and graphics work professionally for the past 12 years, so when friends need art that will clear preflight, they can struggle with it for hours or I can take care of it tidily.
What’s next for you, and for No UFO’s?
I honestly don’t know. Like a lot of people right now, I’ve spent the past year (plus) re-evaluating and interrogating a lot of things I came to accept as given. It’s a good time to lay low, think rather than do, and lay a solid foundation before starting again. As far as No UFO’s, I have a few one-off projects in mind. I keep a mental list of “Never” ideas (as in, things I’d never consider doing) and I’m drawn to the idea of tackling some of them head-on.
[The above images are courtesy of Alex Waber and Roger Tellier Craig, in that order. The final image is Jandavs’ most recent cover artwork for Sarah Davachi.]