Published Feb 18, 2014Following the opposite trajectory of the Knife, who started out in a much more accessible vein and are getting more difficult with every release, longtime friend and collaborator Planningtorock (a.k.a. Jam Rostron) has just made her most musically accessible album to date. With lyrical concepts of patriarchy, tolerance and understanding of the gamut of human sexuality, gender and sexual identity to the fore, All Love's Legal is framed as a positive call-to-arms, or call-to-discussion if you will. Rather than the anger-fuelled polemic you might expect from an album based around such important topics, what you have instead is an album of thinking's person's art-dance.
The upbeat feel of the album is an interesting juxtaposition with the seriousness of the issues discussed in the lyrics.
I wanted to deal with issues that really bothered me and had bothered my life and the life of my friends and I also just wanted people to be aware of how I felt about these certain issues that are becoming quite important. It was a point where I felt that my music and my life really had to come a bit more closer together. And for me to be able to handle some of these topics I had to balance it with something fun at the same time.
That's also why the album artwork is very bright and very cheery. I didn't want it to be doom and gloom. I wanted it to be light and heavy at the same time and the melodies to be instant and not overly complex. I didn't want to procrastinate sonically on the album and I didn't allow myself to indulge too much. I was excited about these sounds being borderline cheesy at some points as well, to think about these high, sophisticated sounds and non-sophisticated sounds and the value systems attached to them and just throwing it all out there.
Did you start off with a conscious effort to make an album with a more direct message?
I definitely wanted to make a record that was more direct. On W I tried to cover certain issues and back then I kinda felt like being direct would be too confrontational, it wouldn't allow any space for people to have their own opinions and that really bothered me. So with W, I went about it with this idea of "You've got to be more poetic and open and ambiguous" and that album was very important to me but unfortunately certain things went under and didn't work for me. So although I had a great time touring the album, I felt frustrated and I thought "I can't go there again, I have to fix this, I have to really think about what this is" and that's how I got to writing "Patriarchy Over & Out." That was the first track I made for this record and I set myself an exercise of writing lyrics that wouldn't shut people out, wouldn't make you feel like you can't have your own feeling for it but you knew exactly what was being said at the same time. The way I achieved it is I objectified the word and the idea of patriarchy to show it for the construct that it is. Not to completely depersonalize it, because patriarchal systems become very personal when people use them, but just to think about these constructs rather than any individuals attached to them. On a personal level that gave me a huge freedom and that became my template and a catalyst for writing the rest of the record.
How much progress are we making on these issues of gender and sexuality that the album is raising?
I think there is progress for sure but on some levels society has a long way to go to unlearn a lot of shit. It seems to be the way that when society makes steps forward it often makes steps back at the same time. In a lot of areas there's great regression, which may be more about our economics or other factors, but it feels like when there is a big step forward it exposes a lot of what certain members of society really feel and think. For example, what happened in France last year when gay marriage was being made legal, suddenly this massive homophobic backlash reared its head and I think a lot of French people were really shocked. They just didn't know the extent of the opposition to the gay community and the transgender community.
But I also feel that there is great progress on the other hand. There is a younger generation that was born into the internet and they are sharing imagery of their lives and their relationships and with this sharing of different ways of loving and living, there's a visibility of queer love that there never was when I was a teenager. I didn't have that access to things that challenged the hetero-normative norms when I was younger. I grew up in a small town outside of Bolton, UK — Bolton's small enough and this was even smaller! — and I didn't even meet anyone that was queer until I went to art school.
Do you see the album as a kind of manifesto or a call-to-arms?
I do but I also see it as a continuum. There are a lot of things on this record that are big messages but it's very much about me unlearning a lot of stuff and learning and exploring a lot of stuff. As much as I love the idea of a manifesto, that can be a bit too concrete and I like this feeling that this is an ongoing subject and I want it to grow and expand and get bigger and penetrate. [Laughs] It's a continuous project in a way. The motivation for writing "All Love's Legal," for example, is a reaction to what's happening in Uganda where same gender love is punishable by the death penalty, so it's aimed at these specific things that are happening in the world, like what's happening in Russia being another example. I deliberately used the word legal because love is actually illegal in certain countries.
So it's more like starting a conversation?
Exactly and it does do that. We did a one-off show in Brighton, UK just before Christmas and it was amazing. For the first time after the show I went down into the audience and we just got talking and people were so up for it. It was exactly what I hoped this album would do — provoke and stimulate conversation about these topics — and it was really cool. I toured W for two years and I was thinking that if I'm going to tour another record I really want to perform live with tracks that are about topics I'm really dealing with right now and I really want to learn more about.
I imagine there's a certain amount of catharsis in that, for you and the audience.
Yeah, it's great standing on stage saying "Patriarchy over and out" or "Misogyny drop dead" or "Let's all dance, hug and talk about gender." For me, it's really fun. It's new territory but it's very much where I am in my life right now. I'm reading a lot of queer theory, I'm getting more into gender politics. I've always been involved mentally but now I'm informing myself via literature or blogs from various writers and it's something that really interests me so I want to learn and absorb as much as I can. It's fun to think that I tour this stuff then people come to me and want to share thoughts about it or maybe suggest things I should be reading or thinking about, which is awesome as I spend a lot of time on the road so plenty of reading time! It'll be a couple of years for sure.
Have the issues you're discussing here affected you personally?
Yeah, especially in terms of sexism or misogyny or gender discrimination I've had plenty of experience of that and I think my female friends have and queer and transgender friends of mine have experienced discrimination. Rather than get frustrated or angry about it I think it's exciting in a way to extend these conversations and explore this more and more. I've been involved in music for ten years and I've had some great experiences but also some very disappointing experiences in terms of being "genderized" within the business. That's another reason I wanted to create the label Human Level Recordings because I also want to start helping to release and promote female or queer producers because it's very hard to get that space for yourself. It's not given to you. It's just really me wanting to deal with these experiences in my work, rather than having these experiences and then go off and making a track about eating a pizza. [Laughs] I want these things to overlap.
Are there still a lot of issues within the music industry with sexism for example?
Completely. For a while when I was touring on my own sometimes I would work with female sound engineers and sometimes male and if I would turn up to the venue with a male sound engineer, they'd always turn to him as if he was the artist and I was his girlfriend. I wasn't even his sound engineer, I'd be his girlfriend! Some really brain-dead, shockingly stupid incidents like that or just being sabotaged. You also have this extreme gender discrimination when there are actually some male technicians who really don't want you to be there and they'll not mix you and sabotage you basically so that you have a shit show. In a utopia I would just call myself a queer producer or just a producer. I don't want to be gender-defined because I don't think things should be gender-defined.
Do you think it's harder for female producers to get ahead than it is for male producers?
Making music isn't about gender in that sense, but we do live in a very gender-defined society, especially when it comes into the field of being a professional of some sort and in relationship to having a skill. This is when sexism and gender discrimination is at its worst and most obvious. When you're a producer that's what you have to deal with. Male producers really support each other. They support each other online and they back each other's work up. They are very competitive with each other but they're very supportive and I think this needs to happen also with female producers. Our society is always trying to pit women against women rather than let women support each other and big each other up. That's one thing that I want to do — using affirmative action against gender discrimination in music. Partly because I'm surrounded by such talent and secondly because you're taught not to do that. Conditioning is very deep and that's one big thing that I'm really unlearning.
What can we do to encourage this unlearning?
Society creates these hierarchies in order for some people to gain and some people to lose and on a daily basis you have to repel these ideas. But rather than get disillusioned by it, just get excited that there's stuff to unlearn and stuff to learn and that's what being part of a society is and that's a really exciting thing because you just grow with it. It's important to find that community. The way I work on a daily basis is I have a studio with Olaf from the Knife. We've had studios together for a long time. We've built this space. It's not that big but it has two studios in it and it has a social room in it and we made it so we share it with our friends and other producers that we love and want to support. We have this support network and you need it. You need this comfort zone where you can all be together and support each other in challenging ourselves.
The Knife's last album was also about gender equality. Did you plan to collaborate on this issue together or is it just something that came out of your common interest?
It's a friendship thing. We've been friends since 2004 or something and we've been hanging out and spending a lot of time together so it's just an evolution of those relationships. A lot of thinking, conversations and experiences. Overlap. "Let's Talk About Gender Baby" actually came out of a remix I did for the Knife. Olaf asked me to do a remix of the single "Full of Fire" and "Let's Talk About Gender Baby, Let's Talk About You And Me" is a lyric that is right at the end of that track and I wanted to build a track around that lyric. I produced it entirely on my own, but having said that, I am surrounded by these friendships that helped and informed and supported me at the same time so it wasn't so isolated but actually making it I was on my own.