I want no part of it – A Q&A with Arvo Zylo (Part 1)

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The entire existence of The Formant is based on engaging with music and the people that create and propagate it on a personal level. I favour the road less travelled; the difficult listening experience; and the confrontational underground above the latest trend. I‘d rather talk to the artist, the label or DJ with something to say than review the track that has already been talked about on every other media outlet. Needless to say when I find an entity that values the same ideals I take note, and when Arvo Zylo contacted me personally after I reviewed his work on Tymbal Tapes a while back I was eager to find out more about this illusive artist and specifically about his “off-the-grid” label, No Part of It.

What took life as a money order label and has only recently developed to incorporate a digital outlet immediately grabbed my attention for it’s purposeful and blatant contempt of common musical and industry practises. My first encounter with the label came through Blood Rhythms’ (a Arvo Zylo moniker) In a vacuum – a track so upfront and confrontational that it would shake any mild mannered individual to its core. I simply had to find out more, and knowing very little about this obscure label and artist other than it’s based in Chicago and it’s called No Part of It, that meant a lot of questions emailed to Arvo Zylo the man and the artist behind the label.

It turned into quite a dialogue with all the curiosities of a soap opera and the plot twists of Twin Peaks, but I could hardly sacrifice anything in the final edit, so I decided to split it into two parts to make for more of a condensed reading experience. Here follows part 1…

So the first thing that caught my attention was that up until only recently No Part Of It was still a money-order label. Is there much of a scene in the States for those types of labels to exist today?

I have to be honest, the label only dealt solely in money orders (and hidden cash) for a little over 2 years. There is still exclusive “off-the-grid” activity, but the short answer to your question is “no”. I had some regular customers, and made an actual address book on paper for sending xerox newsletters. I’d decided I would only release material that I would be content to sit on for years and years, instead of trying to pull off some sort of “wilful obscurity” hype with limited copies on the Internet. The support was enough to continue in this manner, and that’s an understatement. I received the local press that I’d been hoping for since I started, and when I did a release party for a Blood Rhythms LP that I co-released with RRRECORDS, there was a line at the merch table, I mean a large line. I sold 50 copies of that LP on money orders alone, and that was monumental to me, however modest it may seem. The personal sense of gratitude is much more rewarding when someone not only wants to give you money for your work, but is also willing to go get a money order and send you an envelope with a little note and sometimes also some rather fun extra content, like mail art, goofy stickers, ephemera, and odd magazine articles.

It seems then that you preferred this method of distributing music. So what changed for you to make the move over to digital?

I do prefer the idea of someone buying releases based on something they receive in the mail. I feel like someone going to the mailbox and dropping off a stamped envelope is beyond the impulse buy, and therefore, I’m more proud of the transaction. As an artist, I also think it’s purer to have someone buy this way than by them clicking on a series of things and streaming music between fiddling around on facebook and just basically treading through a sea of trivial information. I think context is important.

I released material by a couple of “heroes” of mine, more or less: Illusion of Safety and WILT, while I was “offline” as a label, and became frustrated that I couldn’t reach people outside of America as easily. I had record labels/mail order shops that were willing to distribute my newsletters in their packages, but then ambition started creeping in. In October 2014, Illusion of Safety announced its last show, and as a result, my label’s release of their work seems to be their last. They were active since 1983, and I just began to feel bad that I couldn’t promote it more earnestly without changing shape.

Another factor was, I released a cassette by TONETTA, (DON’T EVER release anything by TONETTA!), and once the word got out, I was getting people that were emailing my label’s email address asking if they can just pay extra so that they didn’t have to go get a money order on their lunch break and etc. I received 30 order inquiries of that tape online and several more that were with money orders, within the first week.

…. Wait, what happened with TONETTA

It was utterly tedious and, with respect, I can’t bear to go into it again. I documented everything here. One of the videos he posted calling me a scammer has been deleted, though, for the record.

Ok, so getting back to why you made the move online

I felt like I should not only be ready to sit on an artist’s releases for a long time, but also be prepared to deal with a great deal of demand at once. Imagine me having to tell 100 people who sent money orders that the release is sold out! It just became more pragmatic to be online again, even though I still prefer promoting offline. The label has released some things solely without the Internet, and to date, there are still very limited releases that have no record of existing online.

I imagine that the digital realm is such today that you can still remain “off-the-grid” if needed thanks to the saturated medium it has become?

Receiving something in the mail is going to get more mileage than promotion online. Meeting someone in person, or even breaking bread with them, is going to go farther than any kind of Internet engagement. And ultimately this works with other interactions. You can “advertise” up the wazoo, but if you do a show and move someone, it goes farther, it shatters their theoretical realm, and puts things into a very tangible perspective. It’s “walking the walk”, so to speak. As an artist, it’s important to live as an artist, not only simply make art. The Internet makes that part problematic.

I keep many of the label’s releases in print, and so the ambition extends to trying to get every single release reviewed by every possible review/airplay outlet that I know of, if they review things that are over 6 months old, and things like that, so being “off the grid” was a very welcome break from that.

There is a give and take at every level, because on one angle, you may sell out of something “off the grid”, but there is no record of it, no paper trail. But on another level, the releases that have all the reviews on blogs and in zines, those are usually the ones that I still have in stock. Aside from the Tonetta release, relatively speaking, I’ve actually sold more of a ratio of copies offline, mainly because I bring the label’s whole available discography (it’s somewhat small) with me when I play shows.

Why particularly do you feel the need to remain in the shadows?

I don’t need to do anything other than my work. I can release an LP limited to 500 copies, and that is what is needed to complete the idea. I will carry it around until I am dead if I need to. A lot of artists will tell you that it seems to be about 90% promotion and 10% art, or in other words, what someone like Napoleon Hill or Thomas Edison would say “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”. My approach is 100% art, and figure out the rest later. At the same time, you won’t see another DIY label that sends more promotional packages than me. I send promotional copies every week, for years, without fail. I will sometimes send them with xeroxed, typewritten press kits that lazy people won’t be able to read easily. It’s not deliberate obscurity; it’s just how I deal with the current climate of the “industry” as a so-called artist. The truth is, the attractive salespeople win, the Dionysian blowhards half-assedly appropriating other peoples’ ideas are winning, lowest common denominator, but I will succeed in what I am in control of, and I’m naturally turned off by hype. My desired customer base is made up of people who aren’t full of shit, and know their own kind.

The label’s aesthetic and the sound certainly does embody that spirit for me. I mean, just listening to the opening track of Heuristics by Blood Rhythms you find something immediately confrontational. Does it imply something like “unless you know it, you’re probably not going to like this – so move along” in order to retain that ideal?

NO PART OF IT is probably perceived as a confrontational name by almost everybody. I’ve always, deliberately or not, played on what I perceived as assumptions at best, and in worst cases, plain cynicism. It just seems to be engrained in the fabric of my subconscious. The truth is, though, that the intention behind the name is to point out the inherently paradoxical nature of why we create. In one of Einsturzende Neubauten’s books, they spoke of the desire “to be no part of it”, and how this is not truly possible to do, but it’s important to try anyway.

Furthermore, as a fan of Groucho Marx, I couldn’t help but nod in the direction of his famous quote “I want no part of any group that would have me as a member”, and of course, his mantra “Whatever it is, I’m against it”. Tom Robbins, in his novel, Still Life with Woodpecker, he said, “everything is part of it”, and I think that spins on the same axis I’m in .I could keep going, and get biblical with some “in this world, but not of it” type stuff, but I think you get the picture. The back end of that, though, is I want to release material that comes from aliens in solitary environments. I don’t want to release inherently derivative material that contributes nothing new to a given genre. If people take anything away from my label, I’d like for it to be that it is a body of work that is based on pure inspiration and intuition, and no other agendas. The most captivating art, to me, is the kind that shatters illusions, and that’s what I’d like to cultivate.

But let’s rewind a second, and perhaps get a more detailed biography of how No Part Of It came into existence.

In 2003, I discovered that other people were doing the things that I was doing. Prior to that, I thought I was completely alone and brilliant. I thought DJs would be playing my music at dance clubs; I was out of my mind. At that time, I distinctly remember my friend telling me that you could put 30 seconds of material on a locked groove, and I set out to do a record of locked grooves with 30 second loops. Of course, you can only put 1.8 seconds of sound on a locked groove, but while I had some LPs, I never had any records with anything other than a run-out groove. I had no idea that people had been putting out locked groove records for decades.

Coming from a House / Techno background locked groove is very much a DJ tool for me made up of something minimal like a kick / snare / bass arrangement?

I have read a fair amount of your reviews! I feel like you are being coy here. There are lots of reviews of much more challenging things than someone putting a bit of noise on a loop and cutting a locked groove!

There are a few locked grooves on the compilation that would fit into that dance criteria, but mainly it is for other purposes, such as meditative / ritualistic / cerebral listening. I own lots of locked groove records, some of them fit the criteria you mention, but I never use them to beat match. I genuinely like repetition. When I am listening to a locked groove, if something starts becoming redundant I simply turn my head, and it often sounds wildly different to me, if it’s made right. I have records with locked grooves that are worn out and white because I have listened to them for days.

This may have something to do with the fact that I didn’t understand the concept of mixers when I was 12, and I used to try to make mix tapes of House music and Hip Hop, but instead of cross fading, I tried to twist the actual cassette tape and dub the tape over the end of the previous track in different ways so that it sounded like a cross fade. I also used to take two boom boxes that had auxiliary mics built into them, and try to cross fade that way. In my teens, I went on to DJ a bit with cassettes, but by then I’d learned how to cross-fade.

I have just always been drawn to really meticulous activity that is also somehow repetitive. One of the first things I did when I had my first CD player was to play tracks on repeat for weeks. One time I listened to “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath on repeat for almost two weeks, when I was grounded, on summer break, and my parents let me go out before my grounding was up, probably because they were concerned that I was going insane.

And getting back to the origins of the label…

I made friends with college radio DJs at WZRD, and spent hours clandestinely DJing and going through thousands of records in their catalog, including what I’d consider legendary locked groove compilations such as RRR-500 and “Lockers”, etc. I’d been playing shows every month almost from 2004-2008, but the compilation, that I worked on for 2 years, “Trunculence”, was comprised mostly of artists I’d found on MySpace, which happened to be some of the most well-respected artists in experimental music and noise. Of course, I’d known of Crash Worship and Nurse with Wound, etc, but the fact that I discovered Sudden Infant and Dave Phillips on MySpace, as if they were on the same level as me, is still quite baffling/inspiring. I asked Nurse with Wound to be on the compilation when the “stateside representative” who ran their MySpace page sent me a friend request, while others had been trying to find contact info for NWW for years (Steven Stapleton is notorious about not having a public contact address on the internet).

…. So did the NWW release ever happen?

Yes it did, and it has been sold out for a long time. It sold out almost immediately after it was mentioned on the Nurse with Wound mailing list (Thank you again Steven!). Here is the discogs link: https://www.discogs.com/Various-Trunculence/release/1413764 …..

I had locked grooves by people who had never released anything, mixed with artists who’d been active since the 80s and a large discography on respectable labels. I actually rejected about 150 locked grooves that were sent to me, because many of them were just chunks of audio that I was supposed to edit and turn into a locked groove myself, and I took the locked groove as a respectable outlet, and an art form in itself, not some half-hearted, goofy concept to laugh about. In short, that locked groove record introduced me to the so-called “underground” on an international scale.

That was when I began to try to sell things on the internet. NO PART OF IT doesn’t have a lot of other artists beside myself on the catalog. I had some really ambitious ideas. I wanted to do a tribute to FOETUS, but JG Thirlwell would not give me his blessing to do this, so I decided not to proceed in any capacity, but that project had some really big names and great artists willing to contribute.

In another case, I wanted to do a tribute to “Monster Music” from the 60s. It was going to be called “Ghost Cards From Ghoulsville” and was going to come with color post cards, made by each featured artist. It was going to come in a screen-printed neon orange gift bag. The Blood Rhythms piece “Maggot’s Drag” was intended for that tribute.

I paid a well-established artist in full, in advance, to do the cover art, and we met several times, but he never got past a sketch with a bit of watercolor embellishments. He said he would have it done in two weeks. He dragged me through the mud for about two years, to the point where I tried to take him on Judge Mathis to get my money back (the producers were all about it, but I couldn’t subpoena him to show up). It got more heated after that, and didn’t stop. So I got the money back from him within a month or two, and by that time, I was out of steam on the project.

First Tonetta and now this – It seems the label thrives on a bit around controversy?

 Never on purpose! I consider myself a kind and honest, and forthright person, but people often mistake kindness for weakness. Not a good idea!

Getting back to the label’s biography though…

In 2011, I released a CD compilation called “Delirious Music for Delirious People”. It was in honor of the anniversary of my “Delirious Insomniac” freeform radio show, which was then syndicated on a major radio station in Croatia. I made a mix of my favorite artists, got permission to use the tracks, and included pieces that were intended for the “Monster Music” record, throughout.

  • One notable thing about that CD was: it featured Zola Jesus before she got big, and also featured Pharmakon’s work before she was signed to Sacred Bones (the same label Zola Jesus was on). Since then, Pharmakon has become relatively huge.

In 2008, I brought some friends who owned brass and wind instruments into a meat locker, and recorded improvisations. I “assembled” from this material. I prefer to use that word, “assemblage”, than using words like “composed”. It has a more suitable connotation. I call them “sound structures”. I think I finished working on that in 2011. There were 2 labels that were going to put it out on vinyl, but they went to the hospital and folded, or their house burned down.

Another reason for going “off-the-grid” was, even with all of the postage stamps, it is cheaper to promote with xerox newsletters than it is to send promo packages all over the world, in the hopes that someone will even bother to write something favorably, and that their readers will bother to buy it. That actually helped me save money to put out the “Assembly” LP. A hundred copies had hand made covers by Ron Lessard (RRRECORDS, Emil Beaulieau), and another hundred copies had hand made covers by me. I knew my copies would be operating at a loss. I spent $700 on “cover art materials” alone. It got out of hand.

Part of the reason I only release my own stuff on the label is that I don’t really harass people. I generally ask someone to be on my label one time. If they say yes, and then don’t follow up, maybe they will in 5 years. I have worked on one album for 6 years before, more than once, so to me it’s just me saying “I’m there when something is done”, even if some people can do it in one day. That’s the extent to which I am willing to go as a label, I don’t have time to brown-nose. This stuff doesn’t pay the bills, but it’s not a hobby. I believe in what I am doing. This is the great work.

To be continued….