–Flat Affect / Bastard Child (Shaun Phelps) interviewed by KN–
Today is a special day as we have arranged a very special and exclusive interview with dear guest: Shaun Phelps. He is active in all kind of fields, from being a professional lecturer, published acclaimed writer, hardcore father, label owner, child care adviser, sky lander fanatic, zombie artpop model, to the well-known unstoppable person behind the prolific audio project called Flat Affect.
Hello Shaun, or shall I refer to you for this one as Flat Affect?
I usually go by The Bastard Child when referring to my music works. This also might have something to do with my noise project, Bastard Child, which came before Flat Affect, and helped split the sound of Flat Affect’s dark ambient and harsh noise.
Anyway thanks for taking the stroll and that you wanted to do this in-depth interview. Let me search my underwear for the notes with the burning questions..
I wanted to focus in this interview about your activities as Flat Affect and perhaps if we have time left, some other things. If there are people out there who read this and might not be involved enough in the underground to know Flat Affect, here is a little basic description taken from discogs:
“A kind of anomaly in itself…not of either the artsy electronic style of drone, dark ambience, or concrete organic approach but reminding me much more a dusty old record, a sepia-toned audio document of yesteryear. ” -Blood Ties Webzine
I don’t like to quote or believe what others write, but as a frequent listener of your output as Flat Affect I surprisingly agree with the description above.
To me flat Affect is sounding like nothing else really; it may touch upon genres, but feels as a solid outsider. You manage to make your output very personal and yet at the same time very distant. Do you agree with this or do you perhaps have a different view?
I agree and disagree. Most of my music is distant from me. When the music becomes personal (as you would find in Empty Verses, and even as early as Music for Muscle Relaxers) I have a tendency to distort anything personal. If I use my voice it is because I am expressing a pain or discontent, but I struggle very much to share that with the world, so I distort the content to a point where it’s impossible to tell if I am in pain or if the listener is hallucinating.
I like to think of making music instead of writing in a diary, is that also something that applies to your work as Flat Affect?
Any work from Flat Affect is like a page in a diary. I made a very quick effort to ensure that ANYTHING, no matter how bad or good, would see release. It’s like the most personal moments of a person being hidden for everyone to see. Flat Affect’s music has no secrets
I wanted to ask something cliché to bite off the ice and get the interview started: do you remember your first ever recording? How did it all started?
Flat Affect started from a call for submissions from Ant Zen’s Hypnoskull. I mailed a CD-r with 5 seconds of noise and it was accepted. It was terrible, but he accepted my work. After that I figured I couldn’t do worse, so that explains everything forward!
What I personally like of listening to Flat Affect releases is that as a listener you know that you can expect that ‘flat affect’ feeling, but music wise your work always come across as unexpected. I came across a floppy full of MIDI music, lobit melodies, hypnotic rhythm and noise, looped heaven like ambient, field-recordings etc. etc. Is experimentation important to you? Do you have any wild ideas you would like to explore sound wise?
I go both ways on experimentation. Experimentation is important to find new sounds and create new ideas. But then I think it is important to take those experiments and craft them into something useful, valuable, and impactful. So you may find me listen to an experimental album once, but after that I will take my muse and move forward to create. As for wild ideas, I’ve made entire songs from using a hairbrush. If it sounds good I will use it. Ultimately, the goal is to make something I would want to listen to when I run out of inspirational tunes. Sometimes a distorted hairbrush is the best sound for the moment.
Can you perhaps lift up a bit of the mystery for the readers at home how a ‘Flat Affect’ release is being made? Do you have some favorite approach or tool?
I use a lot of field recording, and then I use a lot of sound manipulation. I always try to use the vocal sounds of a female. Usually a female in distress. I will create entire soundscapes around a voice story, and often override the story with sounds so the listener isn’t sure if they are hearing a voice at all. I sort of think if the listener can feel a little confused and insane they will begin to understand how the original vocalist was feeling.
Just off topic but I’m curious: What is the first thing you will do when the zombie apocalypse arrives?
I can’t remember when or where but know that you expressed an intense love and respect for the noise scene. Can you explain what noise and this ‘scene’ means to you and why it’s been so good to you?
Oh man. Okay. I get that it’s cool to hate Merzbow right now, but the day I heard his album Dharma was the day my life changed. To turn the speakers on full, put my ear to a speaker, close my eyes, and listen to a sea of sounds…There was so much happening. Controlled chaos. I fell in love. There is nothing greater than a churning sea of sounds that conflict but mesh together. To this day I will still turn to a broken AM station and just appreciate how different sounds play against and toward eachother. There is nothing greater.
I read that you are also enjoy listening to the scissor sisters which is pretty hardcore stuff compared to an assault of harsh noise. Are there any more surprising acts that you regularly could enjoy listening too?
Is the Scisor Sisters hardcore? You’d probably be really surprised by my appreciation of Tegan and Sara, then. I’ll tell you what, these are as industrial as you get.
Ah, Shaun I always asks in the interviews what someone’s favorite color is.. But for some reason I think it’s black. Can you choose any other favorite color that you like next to black?
Next to black is white. But those are shades. So I will go with my favorite hair colour which is dark blue.
You have been active in the underground since uh forever.. A very long time.. And have released so many releases that it’s hard to keep up or count. Can you name some personal favorites and explain why they stick out?
Oh, that question is tough. Some of the favorites I’ve released: I Parasite – promo. The first SP release. A promo release from a band I was a huge fan of. He provided me with the self esteem to believe my work mattered. After that, Flat Affect- Alogia, my first personal single. I handed it out to every friend I had. They all hated it, I knew I was on the right track. 10 years later the release of the Music for Mental Health Compilation, in which I created a cassette compilation filled with amazingness and wrapped in original mental health tests and sent to all the artists. This release helped motivate me to start working toward something greater.
Talking about noise music, there is a lot of great stuff out and about. To me it seems like there are projects that take themselves very seriously, but luckily there is also plenty of (dark) humor around. What If you had to live for the rest of your life listening to the repertoire of one singular strict noise artist, who would be your choice and why?
Merzbow. I have almost 50 more Merzbow albums than I do RedSK, and that’s saying a lot. I’d say RedSK, but when sanity is on the line, it’s important to have 50 more albums.
Reading one of your published cannibalistic horror stories was so visually written that it had left me more aware of being lucky to still have arms and legs. Somehow I feel that your music would go well together with your stories. Do you have any plans in the future to publish your writing with a must hear atmospheric soundtrack?
If someone were to pay me for both, I’d gladly do it. Since that won’t ever happen, just assume that my writing comes from the same mindset as my music. As a result, you can easily assume anything I create musically will play perfectly with anything I write.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
You are a big supporter of DIY physical releases. Can you explain your thoughts on this and why it’s so important for fans and music makers to invest in touchable underground releases?
You can download anything. At the end of the day, only a few people actually OWN anything. Hard drives crash, internet (will) die; at the very least sites will die. To hold a tangible object in your hand and feel it, know it, love it. Well, that’s special.
Before going to the next question.. I wanted to offer you a drink. After all the walking and talking we deserve something, right? What is your favorite drink?
King cobra. Or whiskey on the rocks. Whatever it takes. Right now I’m just drinking some cheap ass malt liquor. My eyes blur all the same.
As the label owner of SP Recordings you have brought out a lot of physical releases on different formats with very original packaging. Most remarkable ones is the CD packed with menstruation blood, the rainbow floppy disk-set with drawings by disparities children and the elephant three way split packed in recycled elephant shit. At the moment SP Recordings is on hiatus but I’m very curious what you will have in mind release wise in the nearby future..
SP is on haitus. I have too many jobs (6 contracts and 1 full time job; 2 full time children). When I am able to focus on SP the releases I will make will NEVER be boring (because I do not like to be bored). I am always glad for someone to step up and say, “hey, I’d like to run SP in the interim.” We have occasionally found success on that front. In the end, though, the label thrives when I thrive within it. It will take time, but one day I will be back, and when I come back maybe I will release an album with my own recycled shit. Until then, Joel Switzer of Fork and Spoon Records is helping keep SP moving.
Last but not least I wanted to ask what your kids think of your music? Are they supportive?
My kids think my music sounds like shit. They used to ask me to record their voices (Empty verses – Draining) until they heard what I did to the music. They’ve since stopped expressing an interest. Sigh.
Thank you Shaun for taking the time to go for this walk with me and answering all these ridiculously serious questions. It’s just because it’s one of these once in a life time opportunities to review someone that I really felt to not go all loopy and co.. It’s a serious business, right? Do you have any last words to share or some shoutout before we both go our own way?
I hope people stop taking DIY labels and artists for granted. When I release albums on my free time (between kids and 7 jobs) and I get attacked for not releasing within a few weeks, well…That makes DIY not fun. Since when does DIY mean “get someone else to do it for me and yell at them.”? It was never meant to be that way. People forget that. The internet makes it too easy to proliferate our music very quickly, but it provides little regard to the effect it has on the people devoted to the scene. I could rant, but I won’t. I’ll be back to support the scene again and by god I hope the day comes soon.
Cheers, Kai. I love you like a brother.
With the wise friendly words among brothers and most importantly all the questions answered until lethal satisfaction; the feet of interviewee Bastard Child / Flat Affect / Shaun P. and interviewer
KN parted in different directions.
The music of Flat Affect / Bastard Child is everywhere in the underground, so get your shovel ready for some proper digging!