Grouper – aka Liz Harris – (or should that be the other way around?) tells IAN MALENEYwhy she was delighted to put some of her audience to sleep
You recently performed a seven-hour set in Berlin for the CTM festival, called the Circular Veil. Where did the idea for that come from?
I did a shorter one-hour piece entitled ‘Sleep’ about two years ago at the Berkeley Art Museum that made me want to work out a similar piece of a duration that would allow people to actually sleep. I’d been throwing the idea out to folks in the States for a couple of years. Many promoters were interested but ended up not wanting to touch the liability surrounding that type of event. To do it legit in the States would have entailed a ton of hoop-jumping — hiring security, locking people in, providing food and water, etc. I’m so grateful CTM took it on and it was a success in that people came, slept, and seemed to enjoy it. It brought up questions, and problems, but ones that feel like they’ll be interesting to explore.
Will the Circular Veil show affect the way you go about performing on this Violet Replacement tour?
If I am going to perform it has to be music that feels good for me to play, not just nice for the people listening. Playing shows out felt, for a long time, like a challenge that was benefiting me, pushing edges that could bear to gain more flexibility. I grit my teeth about performing these painful songs over and over at a breakneck touring pace. I was learning, and sadism (in small doses) can be an interesting teacher. On one level, Violet Replacement shows are an experiment in finding a way to play live that feels better all around – a better experience for me, less about the ego of the performer declaring something to the audience, more about a mutual experience, a healing experience.
What would be your ideal way of solving that problem of live performance?
I wouldn’t feel any misgivings about just not touring at all I guess.
I’ve never done it out of a desire to promote, and I don’t have any expectations about making a living off of music that I’d feel a need to compromise my health or sanity in order to meet. It has mostly been a way to challenge myself. I’d never travelled before music, and was super shy and anti-social when I started, as well as very routine based. It was a really good thing for me to get out of my element, be forced to meet people and do nerve-wracking things in front of people.
What kind of impact did the Animal Collective tour have on you as a performer?
It was quite different to any of my own tours and much bigger. I was especially detached from the Animal Collective audiences, for a few reasons. I’d just gone through a huge break-up so I was pretty numb and glad to be on a different planet for a while. I kind of felt like a stowaway on someone else’s summer vacation. Folks weren’t there to see me and I ended up feeling like I actually had a lot of room to do something weirder than normal. I like when music sounds like, and receives the attention span, accorded to some dim radio in the other room.
You seem to be doing a lot of collaboration at the moment. Is that also a way of getting away from the ego- centric solo performer way of doing things?
I don’t think I’m doing much more collaborating than most folks do, it’s just that a lot of these projects happened to come to an actual head at the same time. It’s a bit of an illusion that it’s all happening now, as most of them were begun years ago. The other thing that’s happening is people are talking about projects that aren’t yet done, which bums me out, and pushes my need-to-be-in-control/need-to-be-invisible button in a way that’s been fucking rough. I hate when people talk about things before they’re done. I hate being talked about at all really. I’m still very shy ultimately. It feels like literal pain lately as people seem to have begun to permanently confuse me for the Grouper costume. I can’t explain how it feels to be introduced as Grouper instead of Liz, but it’s not a pleasant feeling. Friends even do this now. In any case, the music is not the type of thing that benefits from being put under a spotlight. It’s meant to stay partially hidden. I’m eager to hole back up.
Grouper plays the Unitarian Church on March 27