What’s good, Chipwinners? Sorry to keep you guys waiting on this weeks edition. A change in schedule on my end threw things off and delayed me a bit, but I still managed to pull through for you! As I mentioned at the end of last week’s interview with Compy Core, this week’s interview is with Jay Tholen, an artist and musician of considerable talent who’s taken the time to talk to me about his music, art, a few upcoming projects, and even a few of the things that have come to inspire him over the years, like Earthbound.
Kuma: Let’s start with something simple. Of the many people in chip I’ve seen and interacted with, you’re one of the few that doesn’t have a stage name. Everywhere you go, you are Jay Tholen. Why is that, my friend?
Jay Tholen: Oh man, I think there’s a reason I formulated a long time ago but don’t really remember. I generally don’t like it when fellas use their real names. I always think it’s going to be some boring acoustic singer/songwriter thing. At least it isn’t “The Jay Tholen Band”!
That said, I think it had a lot to do with not wanting to present some kind of concocted image. It annoys me when musicians in bands take up a gimmicky theme and it defines them more than the actual music does. I don’t want anyone to like my music because it makes them feel like part of some exclusive club. Like the Juggalos or whoever. If they’re doing it in a self-aware way, that’s fine. Peter Gabriel was really theatrical in early Genesis, but he had humor about it.
These guys take themselves seriously? O.o
Kuma: Very true. Calling yourself that would make you sound very pretentious, and I have to admit, for all your talent, you’ve managed to avoid arrogance. You’ve been quite humble, and I admire that. That being said, your statement brings me to my next question, and that is to your “band” so to speak. Or rather, more precisely, your sister, Christine. I feel that for as much as people know you, people don’t know quite as much about her. Talk to me a bit about your relationship with her, both as a sibling and as a fellow artist.
Jay: Ha! My sister is an enormous influence on me, and I on her. We always moved around a lot as youngins, so we became each other’s best friends in lieu of having consistent peers to hang out with. We’re very alike in our tastes as a result. Both of us inherited our dad’s love for prog-rock (not subpar Dad-rock like Journey or Foreigner, I mean 70’s prog rock like King Crimson or Magma or Gong) and other wanky showoff stuff.
We also inherited his spirituality and have an unreasonable amount of incredibly strange continual in-jokes, some of which evolved their own characters in a bizarre concocted universe. We’re working on a heavily 90’s influenced cartoon right now to bring some of those things to the public. Probably a huge mistake.
Also, thanks for the compliment regarding my humility, but I’ve gotta say that you’re probably falling for my nice guy ruse. My sister and me are pretty snobby and are jerks about just about any aspect of culture you can think of. Especially big box Christianity, of which we’re constantly faced with.
Kuma: Well remind me never to talk to you again after this interview!
Kuma: But in all seriousness, you did just touch on a few other things I did want to ask you about, so lets go in order. First off, I take it a lot of our readers know you moreso for your musical talents than your visual skill. As such, I’d definitely like to hear more about your visual art for a bit and this cartoon, in particular. Elaborate, please.
Jay: Ahh, yeah. Visual art was my first love. I drew constantly as a kid, and did it instead of school work – which eventually led to my early release from high school. (That’s right, I’m the proud owner of a bona fide General Education Diploma). In 1997, when I was 10, my parents purchased our first home computer. It had nothing but default Windows 95 stuff (SkiFree, heck yes) because my dad refused to pay for the internet, so MS Paint became an early fascination. I was pushing pixels before I even know what pixel-art was.
Shortly after I found a copy of Klik & Play packaged with a copy of Sim Tower, which provided a useful purpose for my little MS Paint creations. When we finally got hooked up with some crappy dial-up, I joined the Klik community online, and began sharing my games. That community was the first place I heard about both chip music AND pixel art.
Jay Tholen makes some very nice pixel art.
In regards to the cartoon, it’s going to be a slight departure for me. The art is all hand drawn and scanned in. It reeks of 90’s MTV animation and has a really loose colorful DIY aesthetic. The ‘scenarios’ will be recorded live, edited only slightly (with accidental laughter kept in) and then animated over. Very quick and chilled out and fun. Some of the characters in the show have been around for fifteen years. Definitely us trying to return to our childhood.
Kuma: Very nice. I can’t wait to see that cartoon when it comes out, as your description of it already has piqued my curiosity both as a geek and an erstwhile animator. While you already answered what was to be another question (as to whether your art came before your music), you have led me to another one. Your description of the art style you’re going to be incorporating into your cartoon reminds me very much of the music video you did for the teaser track you released off you newest album, The Low Drone of the Earth.
In your music video for “Voice of the West”, you manage to combine simple, serene washes of color and the occasional subdued, monochromatic town portraits to create-along with the music – something that becomes a very spiritual, almost meditative experience. I’d like to hear more about your creative process with this video and what was going through your mind when you were making the video.
Jay: Ahh yeah. I hope I don’t desecrate my own work here too much – but that video was supposed to have a lot more detail in it. I wanted to branch out from the pixels and make something a bit more organic, so I grabbed this ancient set of watercolors we had laying around and painted a few pretty little sunrise/set scenes. Just swaths of color. I then doodled a few little town buildings with a grey/purple marker, scanned everything, turned the white to transparent, and slapped it all in a video compositing program. It only took one night to make. Maybe six or so hours total. I do like it, though. I was definitely going for that serene atmosphere. In regards to the song, I was heavily influenced by a few cuts on [Brian] Eno’s Before and After Science and wanted to evoke the same emotion.
Kuma: You can definitely hear it. Songs like “Here He Comes” and “Julie With” definitely come to mind when I think of that track. That being said, while your prog rock influences are very strong and very apparent, your newest album seems to be reminiscent also of some more geeky influences, as well. In particular, I must say, this album as a whole invokes musically an experience similar to Earthbound’s music, in how incredibly introspective it is. Aside from your spirituality, did you by some chance have any games or memories in mind when making this album?
Jay: Yes! Spot on with Earthbound. I just recently played through it again after being obsessed with Ubiktune’s little tribute album, and fell in love with the universe. It’s rare when all the elements in a game can come together and provide a cohesive otherworldly experience. I almost feel like Eagleland is a place I’ve lived before rather than a fabricated location. Is that pathetic? Oh well.
Monster Party has always been a big influence for me as well. It didn’t have a fleshed out world, but nothing beats fighting fried shrimp or bosses that say “Sorry, I’m Dead,” and perish before you’re even able to face them. I like stuff that wanders and jumps around and leaves you bewildered at why someone thought an Eggplant boss that tells you “Hello baby,” would be a good idea. Trying to be intentionally wacky and random doesn’t work either. It has to be unintentional. Not sure how that influences my music, but it probably seeps in somehow.
Kuma: I’m sure it does somehow. Hell, you’ve been doing this music thing for a while now, so its definitely bound to stick out somehow. I’d be almost a little worried if it didn’t. That being said, because it has been some time since you’ve started releasing music and art, I’m curious as to what you see yourself doing over the course of the next year or so.
Is artistic expression something you see as always being a part of your life, or do you think you might set it aside at one point – even if only for a bit-to pursue other goals, as well?
Jay: In December I’ll be releasing my first full length game,Dropsy. It’s a surreal exploration based adventure game that started out as a little Choose Your Own Adventure thread on Something Awful. In 2011 I ran a successful Kickstarter for it, and will probably be throwing up another one soon as I’m beginning to feel it necessary to hire an additional animator, among other things. I’ll be working a lot on that over the course of the next year.
And yes, art/music will always be a part of my life. It doesn’t define me, but it’s how I prefer to interact with the world. It communicates things more effectively than words ever could.
Kuma: Sir, if art and music could substitute every day speech and communication, let it be said that you are a grand orator. That being said, I’m greatly looking forward to hearing more from you in the future, and seeing the fruits of your labor when Dropsy is released. Before we end this interview, when can we expect to see Dropsy and The Low Drone of the Earth released, and do you have any final words or thoughts you’d like to express to your fans and friends in the chiptune, gaming and vgm communities?
Jay: The Low Drone of Earth will hopefully be out March 5 or 6, depending on when they get things together. All I can say for Dropsy is December at the moment. And as for final words, yes: I wanted to talk a little bit about My Lord and Savio – oh wait, no, that wasn’t it. I seriously just want to thank everyone who puts up with me and sinks time into listening to my stuff. I used to worry about being too ‘Christian’ for the creative types and too ‘avant-garde’ for the Christians. While that’s still definitely a thing, folks in the Chip and VGM communities have been overwhelmingly accepting. It surprises me all the time. So, yeah, thanks! And thanks for the interview, Adam.
I hope this is the lord and savior Jay was talking about
Kuma: I definitely have to agree with you there: whether it be religious differences, disparaging political views or differences in lifestyle or sexuality, the chip and vgm communities are surprisingly accepting and understanding of everyone’s differences. It’s that sense of community that drew me to it in the first place.
That being said, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me and to all your fans, by proxy, for this interview. It was a pleasure. Although I’m still never going to speak to you again after this.
Jay: Hah. FINE JERK. Ciao.
Well that’s it for this week’s edition of Raw Cuts. Although I’m maintaining my vow of never talking to Jay Tholen again, don’t you forget to check out Jay’s Bandcamp for his upcoming album, The Low Drone of the Earth, as well as his homepage for updates on his other projects like Dropsy and his yet unnamed 90s cartoon.
Speaking of unnamed, tune in next week as I interview an as of yet unnamed artist! Seriously, even I’m not sure who I’ll be interviewing next. You’ll just have to tune in next week to find out.