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Escape Velocity

Mi Ami - Punching Through Skulls With Sound
Charles Ubaghs , July 9th, 2009 06:44

Are they dancey punks or punky dancers? Goddamn suave gent Charles Ubaghs gets to the bottom of it all . . .

The punks reportedly love a good dance these days, at least that’s what been bandied about for nigh on ten years now. Yet despite all those articles declaring that the guitar swinging underground was finally set to get its groove on, much of what bubbled to the surface attempted to prove its credentials with little more than a well-worn indie blueprint and a few token snyths and cowbells.

San Francisco’s Mi Ami is a guitar, bass and drums trio who understand the powerful undercurrents to be found within a groove. Featuring two former members of Dischord dance-punks Black Eyes, the band’s debut LP, Watersports, offers up an ample spread of influences that takes in dub, kraut, and heady psychedelia, and fuses them to the band’s hardcore roots. The cynical may interpret Mi Ami as just another case of shallow hipsters camouflaging the tried and tested with choice signifiers, but immersion into the band’s expansive canvas reveals a group of card-carrying sonic explorers who aren’t afraid to flex their considerable muscles.

Can you please state your names and roles in the band?

Daniel: My name is Daniel and I sing and play guitar. Jacob plays bass and Damon plays drums. Jacob and I have both been playing a little keyboard, too.

You’re a very rhythm-focused band. Would it be safe to say that Mi Ami are slaves to the groove?

D: Yeah, probably. Between the three of us, we've all played music that is more ambient or noisy or pan-rhythmic or a-rhythmic, ranging from punk appropriations of 60s fire music to computer-augmented guitar drone, and I think we've all found that a heavy, solid beat is what sets us free. I personally got tired of having to live up to some arbitrary perception of freedom or whatever, which was linked to avant-garde strategies employed after WWII to force one's way outside the lines. I have the utmost respect for anyone who does what it takes to, cosmically speaking, get there. Our path moves through a wide swath of land, but rhythm is a key player in my life, for sure.

Just how important is repetition to Mi Ami’s music?

D: It's important. One thing we do, not systematically, just organically, is to stick with a part or a feeling or an idea until it opens up and transforms into something more profound or intense. We get asked about this a lot, and I think it's kinda funny. I suppose we do repeat a lot, but we're not on the level of minimalist composers or Orthrelm or something. We're just a rock band.

What about improvisation? Does it play a large part in your approach or are Mi Ami songs carefully mapped out from start to finish?

D: We do improvise, but it's different from free improvisation or something like that. The songs are firmly structured and if we wanted to, we could play them note-for-note as they were played on the record (the "right" way?)... but we don't. We use improvisation to keep things fresh and to explore the implications of the parts we wrote. To put it another way, I consider every part we write to have a life of its own, and if we allow the part to grow and change, then we stay true to the emotional essence of the song/melody/gesture/whatever, instead of treating it as non-negotiable, cast-in-stone law.

You play with live instruments, but you’ve also done purely electronic remixes for the likes of Telepathe. Is that another side of Mi Ami that listeners should look out for? Or is it merely a one-off?

D: We do have an all-electronic record coming out soon on Hoss, and I'm very excited for it, but I'm not sure to what extent we'll be doing more (or less) of that stuff. We kinda just take things as they come. I think we all feel comfortable enough with a variety of tools that we're willing and able to explore realms beyond the power trio setup we've got going live, but at the same time, that's our main way of working together. We're probably not going to become a techno production crew.

Are we to infer then that you're a group of punk rockers who discovered the power of dance music? Or were you originally dance lovers who eventually embraced the joys of live instruments?

D: More the former, but really I would say that we are punk rockers who discovered the joys of all music. Except that maybe it was the other way around for Damon, who was into weird techno and the like as a youth, and then found his way through MBV and noise to punk. Dance music is indeed powerful, but that makes it sound really conscious and thought out. To give you an example, when it comes to electronic dance music, there is only a small intersection of taste between Jacob and myself. Theoretically, this could be a problem when choosing directions, with some wanting to do it in a dubstep vein and some wanting to go in a disco direction for example. But it hasn't been because it was clear from the start that we were still making Mi Ami music, just in a different context. It didn't feel like a little vacation into someone else's genre or territory or whatever, it was just more of the same, only a little different. I mean, in one sense, we've all been making and listening to dance music for years. What do you think hardcore is?

You’re incorporating the likes of Disco, Dub, Kraut, Bass etc. into your work. Is there one influence there that as a band rises above the others for you?

D: Life, each other, our individual and collective emotional states.

Were there any specific sounds or records that influenced the writing and recording of Watersports?

D: King Tubby's hissing sound world, especially the hi-hat, was a guiding light. We're gonna record more soon, and have been talking about a holy trinity of The Psychic Paramount's guitar, Wackie's bass and Jaki Leibzeit's drums in terms of approaches to production. Watersports was supposed to be environmental, and this next one I want to be the most blown-out recording I have ever made, with some thick dub too.

Would you ever pull a Happy Mondays (withot the crack, of course) and head to the Carribean in order to capture that thick dub sound?

D: That would be cool.

Are all three of you on the same page when it comes to the various elements found in the music, or it more a case of someone being the resident expert in something and exposing the other two to said sounds?

D: Yeah we're all on the same page. Or rather, we're all super knowledgeable about our own shit and fill each other in.

Are there any disagreements during this process? If so, how do you resolve them?

D: Well, sure we don't all like everything everybody else likes, but who cares? We all come correct at practice, so that's all that counts. If somebody wants to play a record I don't like in the van, that's no big deal. And if something comes through in playing that I wouldn't have thought of, all the better, because we're still mainly listening to each other and trying to create together, rather than pushing for a genre or whatever.

Is Mi Ami essentially a live entity or is the studio where the band feels most comfortable?

D: Do we sound like a studio band?! We play live. I read a thing about Black Flag in 84 where they said they just put their heads down and tried to play as loud and hard as possible, to play through the audience. I think we send more love out than that, but at the same time that's kinda my ideal. Did you see the Tyson documentary? He said in the 80s, he tried to punch through his opponent's skulls. That's what I want, with sound. It's a sound that's hard to get in the studio... So Mi Ami could be labelled a power trio with a capital 'P'? Sure. We try to be fucking loud.

Can you please list three non-musical influences?

D: Depression, joy, Hoop Dreams.

What are your intentions with the band from here on out?

D: To keep playing this music and live life.

Finally, if you were to give up the ghost tomorrow, is there anything you’d like us to write on your tombstone?

D: Praise.

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