More than sixteen months since unveiling brilliant lead single 'You're A Stranger To Me Now', Auckland artist i.e. crazy has released her eagerly-anticipated debut album Non Compos Mentis. The album's title, which translates from Latin to 'of unsound mind', hints to the content contained within the record's covers - eight songs that lean on the enduring folk tradition of storytelling to draw lines between visions of sanity and civility, and then deconstructs them. To learn more about the album's composition and core, we contacted i.e. crazy (aka Claire Duncan) and posed her a few questions. Read the interview while you stream Non Compos Mentis via Muzai Records below...
Iíve read that the moniker i.e. crazy came from the J. D. Salinger novel Franny and Zooey Ė whatís the significance of the name to you? What made it stick?
Franny and Zooey is a book I first read while in a semi-catatonic state of depression, hardly able to see beyond my own shoes. It toys with the merits of making things/being ďcreativeĒ across personal, social, spiritual, economic spheres, and pushes ideas around the sacred/sacrilegious possibilities of performance that I try to tease out with i.e. crazy.
The name (like all names) extends beyond referring to the book; it is also a reclaiming of the trope of the ďcrazy womanĒ, the ďpsycho bitchĒ label that cripples and belittles so many brave and brilliant women; as well as a nod to the complicated social politics around mental health - the blurry boundaries of sanity and madness - and who decides what side of the fence you fall on.
With your debut album out, it almost seems protocol to celebrate. Are you much of a celebrator in that sense, and if so what will you do?
Itís certainly a moment; the show on Friday felt like a fitting and somewhat ritual loosing of the material out into the ether. The funeral of a dear old friend also happened to fall on the same day the record came out, so I am continuing to enjoy several toasts to/with him.
Non Compos Mentis is such a vivid, challenging, raw, real, and thoroughly enjoyable record, and itís sure to attract a variety of descriptions, interpretations and definitions (as I admittedly just did). How would you describe it in your own words?
To me itís about the aforementioned spaces/lines between sanity and civility and their perceived opposite states. Itís about the ways in which people enter altered states, whether it be falling in love or committing murder. There is potential for all human life to be both creative and destructive, and the songs duck in and out of narrative alcoves and various moral standpoints. We are conscious animals; and our awareness of our flaws and the ways in which we attempt to civilise/police each other serve to feed our perversions and desires all the more.
What part of the album are you most proud or satisfied with? Why is that?
My butt being on the front cover feels pretty great. But actually; itís an active realisation/conflation of some long-held images and ideas that have been on the boil in my brain for some time. While it falls short of my private vision; itís been an important and very process-driven work that informs the choices Iím making now. But perhaps the aspect that I will remember most fondly is the collaborative energy with my friends who worked on the record; I have never encountered such synchronised and complementary minds to my own and perhaps never will again.
Your music seems to play a lot with a twisted, emergent horror of the mundane, but through a distinctly suburban New Zealand lens. How would you describe your relationship with your country and how does that influence your art?
Our national psyche is riddled with suppressed postcolonial shame and an arsehole-at-the-end-of-the-world inferiority complex; the toxic taciturn masculinity that permeates schools, homes and workplaces the country over keeps men and women alike trapped in a spiral of self-control braided with subsconscious perversions that manifest in sporadically violent geysers. Iím interested in stories that explore that fleshy underside. You have to drain the pus from a wound before it will heal.
Are your lyrics largely personal and stream of consciousness or do you adopt a narrative voice? If theyíre narrative voice, where do you draw inspiration?
Iím fundamentally interested in the folk music tradition of storytelling/oration/mythologising. Itís the crux of individual and collective identity - words are signs that we weave together in creating the long rambling books of our lives. I take pleasure in drama, hyperbole, excess as much as their flipside. Thereís the desire to feel authenticity or empathy from a performer and then thereís a desire to amuse, surprise, irritate. Iím sort of tending towards the latter.
As far as inspiration goes I like stories about New Zealanders; our history is so shadowy and unplumbed. Thereís a lot to be unearthed, dug up, dusted down. Iím a big fan of a certain gothic slant of New Zealand writing/film; Frank Sargeson, David Ballantyne, R.H. Morrieson; the very recent collection deleted scenes for lovers by Tracey Slaughter has also become a very important book to me. Alison Macleanís film Crush, Vincent Wardís Vigil, Geoff Murphyís The Quiet Earth and Garth Maxwellís Jack Be Nimble are all very important to me. I am also a big fan of Sensing Murder. Iím constantly challenged/inspired by my friends/artists who arenít afraid to explore these same ideas in their lives and work - Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing, Seth Frightening, Log Horn Breed, Ron Gallipoli to name a few.
What was your recent involvement in Revolt. She Said, Revolt Again? How do you regard theatre as a genre? Do you think musicians have anything to learn from theatre?
I did the sound design for that show. Theatre isnít a genre; theatre is a space where people watch other people perform. Itís an ancient art form. Speech and song: these are things that people have always done and will always do. I do feel that musicians often struggle somewhat to conceptualise (especially visually) around what they make, resulting in homogenous images and aesthetic ideas, and an unchallenged transaction of playing on a stage in a bar to a crowd of people. The possibilities for performers to push themselves theatrically are infinite. The only way to for change to occur is through a kind of rupture/agitation; it happens organically on the streets when people follow their gut in the face of what might be more widely sanctioned or expected. Yet the same homogeneity and stagnation occurs in the theatre too, itís simply a different industry/context.
What are your thoughts on the New Zealand music scene? Do you think itís moving in a good direction?
I think itís moving; I enjoy that more marginalised folks are starting to be heard/supported. There is always a huge gap here between what sells and everything else; but the money bottoming out of the NZ industry was the best thing to ever happen to the underground. When there is no big money to be made the sharks go to feed elsewhere.
I hear youíre heading to Berlin soon. What do you have planned for over there? What sparked the move?
Itís a life thing; Auckland is desperately expensive and there is dwindling respect/value for creative ambition that displays little financial/exportable promise. I have no interest in being a ďsuccessĒ along the lines purported by our Government or by conservative folks who think Iím a failure for working in retail. There are a lot of people in this country now who equate money with power, and thanks to the behavioural modelling of a leader who thinks itís ďfunĒ to pull the hair of a young woman simply trying to do her job, I worry about the attitudes and ideals of young people who have never been taught better. While running away from that doesnít help the problem at all, Iím hoping to find a more affordable climate in which to survive and continue my work.
Are you working on anything right now? What can we expect from you in the future?
Iím working on some prose writing that relates closely to i.e. crazy; itís what Iíll be focusing on in Berlin in between toilet stops.
Head over here to watch the recently released video for 'The Ape (Plastic Surgery Song)'
Photo by Joseph Griffen