Snapshot: Andy Mister
“I’ve been thinking of her as a ghost. Just another absence. Among the living and accessible.” -Andy Mister, Liner Notes
Name (Including all the names you are called by): Andy Mister, sometimes Andrew.
Address (past, present future): Granada Dr., President St., not here
Age: I am at the age where I don’t go to see bands play because my back hurts and I’m tired.
What you like:
Place: My studio
Time: 9:30 am
Sound: Music for Nitrous Oxide
Taste: Earl Grey tea
Describe your world as you see it
a) inner: anxious
b) outer: tired
Your regret: I regret not getting my act together sooner.
Your pride: Not enough
a) animate: Alex McQuilkin
b) inanimate: electric pencil sharpeners
1) I wish everything wasn’t so fucked.
2) I wish that everyone I love would be happy and peaceful.
3) I wish everything would remain the same.
SK: In Rebecca Brown’s essay, “Hawthorne” she writes:
Brian Wilson kept to his house for years. After the triumph of Pet Sounds (1966), he pulled the plug on what would have been his masterpiece, Smile, and lay in bed. He took a lot of drugs and ate a lot of hamburgers, ignored his wife and daughters and got fat. Sometimes in bed or at his piano and in his filthy pajamas, he wrote little songs about health food, feeling great and love. When he did leave his home, he wandered, long-haired, filthy-bearded, unwashed, weird. Everyone thought he was crazy.
The first sentence of your debut book, Liner Notes, is “Brian Wilson set out to write a teenage symphony to god and laughter.” What is it about Brian Wilson that has captured the imagination of so many writers?
AM: Honestly, I’m not all that interested in Brian Wilson personally or biographically. I think he made some of the best pop songs ever, and I love pop music. “A teenage symphony to god and laughter” is his description of Smile, which was originally titled Dumb Angel. I’ve always loved that description. I’ve always been interested in failures, in fragments, in the way that something incomplete can be perfect. Since Smile was never completed, since it was never released into the world as a finished object, an interested listener has to listen to the different demos and outtakes and then create the finished product in their own mind. In a sense, the listener is also the composer of this “teenage symphony.”
SK: I love the idea of the listener also being the composer! Let’s talk a little bit about your debut book. How long did you spend writing Liner Notes? Can you talk a little bit about your process of writing it? Did you already have the idea of the book in mind and write towards it, or did you take a lot of individual prose pieces and then shape them into this book?
AM: Liner Notes developed out of two separate pieces that I started writing at the beginning of 2004 when I was living in Oakland, CA. One was a more straightforward series of prose poems called “Rapid Transit Journal” that I would write during my commute to and from work and then revise once I got home in the evening. That’s where a lot of the passages about being on the Bart or in train stations comes from. The other was a list poem of rock and roll suicides. At some point these two pieces merged. Once I had the idea of what I wanted the piece to be, I wrote towards that, trying to give it a clear beginning, middle, and end. I finished it some time in 2006 after I’d moved to Brooklyn. So all told it took about two years to write. Once I knew that Station Hill was going to publish the book I edited a bit and added a few things.
SK: How did Liner Notes wind up on Station Hill of Barrytown? Did you submit to a contest or an open reading?
AM: I’ve known Sam Truitt, the director of Station Hill, for over ten years now. When I was a grad student I sent him a fan letter after reading his great book Anamorphosis Eisenhower. And we briefly attended SUNY Albany together, before I dropped out of the PhD program there. He had read a draft of Liner Notes and asked me if it was still available. George Quasha, publisher of Station Hill, read it, and he liked it. So they decided to publish the book.
SK: Myth, rumor or what-have-you has it that you gave up writing (and attempting to get Liner Notes published) to focus solely on being a visual artist. Is this correct? Could you talk about some of the demands being a visual artist places on you? Is it difficult to inhabit both the space of a visual artist and the space of a writer simultaneously?
AM: That’s true. When I moved to New York I was doing covers and illustrations for journals and small presses along with working on my own writing. At some point I found that I enjoyed making drawings and paintings more than I enjoyed writing. So about seven years ago I decided to just concentrate on making art. Making art is just a lot more time and labor intensive for me, and it was hard to find the time and energy to work on both, especially when I was working a fulltime job. A lot of making art is just about showing up and putting in the work, day after day. Whereas for me writing was more about being inspired, writing in spurts and then waiting around for another inspiration. The nice thing about making artwork is that I don’t have to worry about being inspired; I just show up and start working. Now I’d like to try to think of my writing in the same way. Joe Brainard has always been a big hero of mine. I love his art and his writing. I’d like to be able to balance the two in the way that he did.
SK: Yes, I think your paintings and drawings are phenomenal, and we are equally lucky that you didn’t give up writing completely as Liner Notes is definitely very special book. Speaking of Liner Notes, it is partially constructed with fractured narratives of tragic famous (or semi-famous) people such as: Nike Drake, Hank Williams, Nico, and Michael Hutchence. You also write, “Loneliness isn’t something you feel. It’s what you are.” What is it about “loneliness” and tragedy that attracted you to give a voice to these people in your book? Or as Gizzi refers to it, “a complex harmony (sympathy) between public noise and private revelation.”
AM: In writing the book I was interested in how those narrative, those stories, come to influence and infect our own lives, or our conception of how our lives should be. In a way collecting all this ephemera of pop culture can be a buffer against loneliness, especially when you’re younger, but as you get older it can add to a general feeling of alienation from ones own lived experience. A lot of the time I felt closer to Nick Drake or Nico than to my coworkers or my roommates, and that doesn’t really seem like a healthy way to live. If you’re sitting in your room alone listening to a record or reading a biography, you can convince yourself that you’re doing something, but really you’re just alone in a room. At the same time, all that collecting really did enrich my interior life. For years that was what my life was about. So I wanted to document that internal conflict in the book.
SK: I’m glad you brought up “internal conflict.” In 1991 My Bloody Valentine released Loveless, a record that many music critics consider to be a masterpiece. It took Kevin Shields 22 years to release a follow up Loveless. Brian Wilson was infamous for not completing the Beach Boy’s masterpiece, Smile. In 2011, the Beach Boys released the Smile Sessions. Why do you think we have this cultural fascination with masterpieces, or more directly with the inability to successfully complete or follow-up a masterpiece?
AM: It’s funny, I love Loveless, it’s probably one of my top-ten albums of all time, but I haven’t even heard that new My Bloody Valentine record. In a way I don’t want it to taint my perception of Loveless, which is just about a perfect record in my view. I think I was 16 when I first heard it, and I’d never heard anything like it before. In general I’m not all that interested in masterpieces. Perfection can be boring, in a way. I listen to a band like Radiohead and it just sounds too perfect. I’m more interested in failures, or experiments that go terribly wrong, like the Sleep album Jerusalem or Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. If Smile had been finished and released in 1967, it wouldn’t be as interesting. Since it was never finished, it’s always becoming, always being created. I think that is the beauty of Smile.
SK: I love that response Andy! I’m curious, what was the first record, cassette, or c.d. you owned?
AM: I think my first cassette was Master of Puppets by Metallica.
SK: What’s the last song that got stuck in your head until it drove you to the point of distraction?
AM: This is kind of embarrassing, but I often get that Amy Grant song “Baby Baby” stuck in my head. My girlfriend Alex will sometimes sing it just to get it stuck in my head. Then it usually winds up getting stuck in her head as well. That song is insidious.
SK: If you were in a band, would you be the lead singer/rhythm guitarist, lead guitarist, bass player, keyboards, or the drummer?
AM: I always wanted to be the guy that manipulates tapes and electronics to make weird noises, like Martin Swope from Mission of Burma.
SK: What does a typical day in the life of Andy Mister look like? Do you write daily?
AM: Well, right now I don’t have a real job, so my days look pretty much the same. I try to get to my studio by around 9 or 9:30 am. Then I work a full day, around 8 hours or so. I go home, make dinner and watch a movie or tv with my girlfriend. Then pretty much do it all over the next day. I only really write when someone has asked me to write something. So I don’t write every day. But I have a couple longer writing projects that I would like to start working on, so I am trying to incorporate writing more regularly into my schedule.
SK: Since the release of the book, you’ve managed to do a few readings. Where have been so far? Any upcoming readings planned?
AM: A few months before the book came out I was asked to read at the Poetry Project, which was a real honor. That was the first time I’d read in over six years. Since the book was published I’ve read at Berl’s Poetry Shop, Mellow Pages Library, Geoffrey Young Gallery and Brian Morris Gallery. I don’t have any reading planned right now.
SK: What’s next, or what are you currently working on?
AM: I’m currently working on a series of drawings for a group show that opens at the beginning of March at Dieu Donné, a non-profit in New York that works with artists making handmade paper. I’m making six drawings on paper that they made for me. The paper looks like newsprint, but it’s archival and much heavier than actual newsprint. I’m really excited about that show. I’ll also have work in a show called “Misrepresentation” at Lesley Heller in early February. This spring I have an artist book called Heroes & Villains coming out from The Cultural Society. And in April I start a three-month residency at the Bemis Center in Omaha.
SK: Thanks so much for your time Andy. One last question, if you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
AM: Probably Berlin.
*The format of “Your Piece” belongs to Yoko Ono.
Brown, Rebecca. “Hawthorne.” American Romances. City Lights Books, 2009.
Ono, Yoko. “Your Piece.” Acorn. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013.
Andy Mister is the author of Liner Notes and a chapbook, Hotels. His writing has appeared in Boston Review, Colorado Review, Fence, The Hat, Verse, and elsewhere. His artwork has been exhibited at Brian Morris Gallery, City Without Walls, Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, and Geoffrey Young Gallery. He has been an artist in residence for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space residency. In the fall of 2012 he was Lyons Wier Gallery’s Shashoua artist in residence. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Steven Karl is the author of Dork Swagger (Coconut Books) and the Features Editor for Coldfront Magazine. He lives in Miami, FL.