Published May 06, 2010Mash-up is a dirty term. No one likes it, which is why you'll never hear Javelin apply it to their music. Instead, Brooklyn-based cousins Tom van Buskirk and George Langford are more like assemblers who nick samples from songs that have either been forgotten or just never heard. It's why they'll likely never have a cease-and-desist order come knocking on their door. And while few people can throw a party as mega as someone like Girl Talk, who solders the likes of Nirvana and Biggie seamlessly, Javelin's obscure taste in tunes covers the gamut of music's 20th century discography. Having released a couple of mixtapes and last year's self-released CD-R Jamz n Jemz, van Buskirk and Langford have scored deals with both Thrill Jockey and David Byrne's Luaka Bop, which has just released the duo's debut album proper, No Más. Tom van Buskirk emailed Exclaim! to explain how Javelin gets away with it, why they prefer the dollar bin and how their live show is quickly catching up to their prowess for compiling mixtape-inspired recordings.
The two of you grew up as cousins. When and how did you begin working together on music?
When we were kids we made tapes and did magic shows. In 2005 we started collaborating on the work that would become Javelin.
Can you explain how you assemble the music?
Man is a many godded forest. We are two men, so you have to do some multiplication. Generally it starts with listening to music. If a song blows you away, you might ask yourself how they did it. If a song is kind of crappy but has amazing elements, you might ask yourself what those elements are. For a time we looked for sounds from the dollar bin that hit a nerve within us — some memory, mood, or sound. We used that material to make a song, maybe in the same vein, or more often flip the elements and combine elements from other songs. Easy answer: we use samplers, and play instruments.
What do you look for in a sample? What music do you source most?
Generally dollar bin stuff. But we are branching out to whatever we can get our hands on and use artfully in a non-bullshit way. Mainly snare drums, we like snare drums.
Your website is "dollarbinsofthefuture.com." Is the dollar bin a reliable source for good samples? Where do you find most of your records?
In the Providence days it was Savers, Salvation Army, and Luke's Records in Pawtucket. New York leaves little time for hunting — maybe that's why we've made more original music this year!
Off the top of your heads, what are some of your favourite songs you've sampled?
That would be giving away trade secrets. But I will say one innocuous one: "Pop, Pop, Pop (Goes My Mind)" by Levert.
What is the clearance procedure like for your music?
Hasn't happened yet. Our new album No Más is fairly safe. We approached people once surreptitiously and they said, "If it is not a Jay-Z level hit, don't worry about it." Fingers crossed.
Did Luaka Bop or Thrill Jockey have any reservations about putting out your records because of all the samples?
We were pretty careful with No Más — it's been compared to Jamz n Jemz a lot (with good reason), which was made with total reckless abandon for the law and its constituents. For No Más we wanted to try something different. Haven't had any problems with the Thrill Jockey twelve-inches. Twelve-inches are sacred.
Who do you consider your influences to be? Are you more into the hip-hop side of things like Madlib, DJ Shadow and J Dilla or mash-up artists like 2ManyDJs and Girl Talk?
The first three and MF DOOM definitely influenced us early on. Particularly the way Dilla humanized the sampler, made it rough, made the rhythms jump all over the place and had unexpected things happen. If there is one word in music we hate, that word is "precious."
You're known as record collectors, crate diggers. Did Javelin start with your collections?
Yes. But it also started with a whole lifetime of music, almost like a library you draw on. We don't even have a lot of the records we started with. We get rid of records. We chop up the covers and use them as CD-R cases, or repurpose them for LP sleeves. We sample and dispense, like a beehive. That's how we stay healthy.
How much of the music is sampled compared to performed with instruments?
On No Más, most! Like 90 percent.
What are some of the difficulties in presenting your songs live?
Ruining our equipment with sweat, for one. I guess we strive to bring a party element when we play live — not a hip party, more like a neighbourhood block party where everyone's just having fun. So every room is a challenge to try to bring to that state. It was a challenge for me [Tom] to pick up the mic and learn to use it — earlier this month we played to a packed house of 1,200 opening for Yeasayer. Try singing Madonna in front of 1,200 people and not think, "what the fuck am I doing?" once in a while. Each of our songs has to be figured out live over time, constantly evolving, as live music should.
Jamz n Jemz and No Más share some of the same songs. In your eyes what are the biggest differences between the two?
A few of the songs are unchanged, but most have been fleshed out or altered in some way. We like the changes. The main difference between the two is the approach to composition. Jamz n Jemz channel flips through our own hybrid radio console, which we love doing and still do live, and will surely do again on an album. With No Más we wanted to take people to a calmer place. Like "everybody calm down." Maybe it's a product of moving to New York, and wanting to create a nice, calm space to call your own — like a good tent. Call it a lifestyle choice.