Sunday, February 15, 2009

J.G. Thirlwell in Popshifter

JG Thirlwell
image:bre pettis

J.G. Thirlwell is the only musician who has completely kept my attention in the 15 years since I first encountered him.1 There are others, to be sure, who have been around for awhile, but either I did not appreciate as much then as I do now2, or were fond of, then forgot about, only to be pleasantly reminded of them later.3

Foetus alone has been the constant.4

There's a link at to an interview with Thirlwell at Popshifter, detailing the many projects Thirlwell keeps himself busy with.5 A new Foetus album in 2009! Highlights follow…

[note: I've truncated the questions6]

Popshifter: Is working on The Venture Bros. something you find difficult?

Thirlwell: It exercises different creative muscles, sometimes, those of “problem solving.” It’s made me better in some ways. As I said, I work way in advance so I’m never rushing at the eleventh hour. I don’t consider it a “day job.” It’s a different part of my career and legacy. I established a musical vocabulary and identity for the show.

As for the work process, first I get a copy of the animatic (which is the storyboard edited with camera moves and the dialog embedded in it). I watch it and block out musical ideas, sometimes re-editing cues I’ve already written, and make notes for new compositions. I sync them up then view it with the director Chris McCulloch. We talk about what works and what doesn’t. Since we are watching essentially an animated storyboard, sometimes its not always clear what’s going on in the action to me.

We also discuss the character’s motivation, back-story and exposition, and the subtle subtext of each individual joke. Then I get to work creating the score and afterwards we review it again and I tweak it.

Popshifter: How did you get involved writing for the Arcana book series?

Thirlwell: John Zorn edits and publishes the Arcana books, which consist of musicians writing about music. He invited me to write an essay. The essay I wrote is about tinnitus.7

Popshifter: […] you seem to have an obsession with afflictions or medical contexts. . . are you a total hypochondriac, or […] did you stumble upon a medical textbook you just can’t put down once you start reading it?

Thirlwell: Yes, names of afflictions are a thread in my work. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to them but part of it is the linguistics and the endings. I also like words with “X” in them. I have several threads in my work, including the color palettes that I choose and the monosyllabic four-letter title.

Popshifter: Are the pretty ones really always insane? If that’s the case, then why bother?

Thirlwell: Because they are the ones that hypnotize.

1 Came across him (and his sizable discography) reading the Industrial Revolution book, then purchased Sink, I think, at 2nd Ave. Records, when said store was at its original location, in the shoebox space.
2 Pop Will Eat Itself.
3 Chemlab.
4 Though, regrettably, I sold off most of my Foetus discography in during the lean years. I have since been reacquiring it, piece by piece, in the last year or two.
5 Robots. Opera. Sculpture.
6 Aside from being a nice way to highlight what I find interesting in an interview, truncating interviews is a good exercise for working on your editing abilities.
7 In
Arcana II.

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