You wouldn’t expect WIFE – aka James Kelly, the singer from heavy metal band Altar of Plagues – to produce subtly disquieting, dusky twilight sounds. But make them he does, and it’s tingly Burial-esque stuff. We sat down with James to discuss his sound and Stoic, his EP out on left_blank.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with your work, could you introduce yourself and your music?
I’m James, I come from the rural south of Ireland and now live in London, England. I’m a music obsessive and have been unable to stop making it since I began in my early teens. Most notably prior to WIFE, I created (and continue to create) music with the band, Altar of Plagues. WIFE incorporates all of my tastes and re-contextualises them as ‘electronic’… or something like that.
Your music has been described as ‘post-dubstep’. How do you feel about the label, and that scene in general?
I try to avoid getting tangled up in labels. I don’t feel like I even know what WIFE ‘is’ yet, and I prefer things that way. There is a risk of stagnation as soon as your past works influence you future works. I can assume people will associate my use of sub-bass frequencies with dubstep, but I grew up listening to heavy metal and dance music so I was interested in sonic weight long before I ever heard dubstep. We all hear the words ‘post’ and ‘hipster’ a lot these days. They seem to mean everything and nothing at this stage.
We first came across WIFE through the Bodies video, which is amazing (if not pretty disturbing). Is that you in the vid? How did you come up with the idea for it?
Yeah, that’s me. The creation of the video itself came about quite impulsively. I tend to trust my first instinct and often act on it. I’m also a practician of automatic writing. I had a vague narrative in mind for the video, but I was not sure how to actualise it. I’m very fortunate to have a variety of creatives within my immediate circle of friends, and together with Patrick O’ Mahony (film-maker) and Stephen Lordan (artist/musician) we brought my vision to life.
You’re also in black metal band Altar of Plagues, but your solo output is pretty dramatically different. What made you want to make music as WIFE?
After years spent writing what is quite intense and taxing music, I just wanted to create something more visceral and far less emotional. Really I just wanted to create something that I could close my eyes and move my body to. But looping kick drums for eight minutes became quite unsatisfying so I reverted to writing music in the same way I always have, which is in a hands-on manner with live instruments, guided by my instincts and emotions.
Were you ever worried that you might turn off Altar of Plagues fans with your solo music?
Not at all. I have never pretended to be anyone other than who I am, so I’m sure that by now anyone who has ever dug a little deeper into finding out what Altar of Plagues is about will know that we are as informed by Bjork as we are Burzum.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Someone who could offer a skill-set that I cannot, and vice versa. I like the idea of pairing contemporary electronic sounds with indigenous ones. Or working with a visual artist such as Matthew Barney…
Your debut EP came left_blank a while back. What can you tell us about it?
When I finally reached the stage when I had some work that I was satisfied with, I shared it with a handful of labels that I felt might appreciate it. I found myself in the very fortunate position where there were a number of interested parties, but left_blank stood out head and shoulders above the others simply for their vision, ambition, and the quality of their output. My goal was for the EP was to draw upon a broad range of influences, and find a consistency in them. As for the songs themselves, I always kept in mind that this is my first release and wanted to demonstrate a variety of my tastes rather than making five stylistically similar tracks.
Why the name Wife?
It simply came to me and made sense. The word is immediately recognisable to everyone, but I find that when it is re-contextualised it becomes much more ambiguous. I actually think there is something slightly dark about it too.
What was the first record you ever bought?
When I was 8 or 9, my mother brought me to get my first Walkman and she let me pick out two tapes. I chose Metallica’s Black album, and The Prodigy’s Music for the Gilted Generation. It was the summer solstice and that night I danced around a huge bonfire in my family garden listening to the Prodigy. I think I might be a pagan raver actually…
Are you planning on playing any live gigs as WIFE?
Yeah absolutely. I’m making my live debut at Unsound Festival in Poland and more dates will be following that. I’m excited about developing the live aspect of WIFE. I’m aiming to find a middle ground between cerebral and visceral. Something the audience can hopefully engage with on an emotional level as well as a physical one.
Words: Zing Tsjeng
Images: Barbora Mrazkova