Since the day Dan Quillan’s father brought a guitar home for him from a garage sale, he has been exploring found, random sounds and mixing all those unexpected blessings into a formidable hoodoo brew. Recording and performing under the moniker Art Lessing, he has picked apart his idols, reshaping sonic bits into something new and dangerous. A little Mothers’ viola; some "Let it Bleed" slide; some Velvets’ bass lines; mixed with psych, drone and some good old New York style post-rock. He makes his own instruments and frees other people’s words and images to remolds them into his own jam.
But his genius is not limited to what cool things he can hear in someone else’s music. His self-produced records are creepy yet are redeemed by his cynicism. They drone with purpose. "Wall Drug" is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, majestic and small at the same time, like a dingy room that once served kings.
You like the voice in these songs, solo or with partners such as The Flower Vato. Even when he reveals himself darkly, you know he’ll be all right. His humor gives even the darkest moments of the record a wonder that is genuine and infectious. But all this is stuff I wrote in an earlier review of his work; it still fits, so I’m gladly ripping myself off. Quillan/Lessing is one of the most adventurous, daring artists out there, and you’d better get working and find him on MySpace. Start there and work your way in deeper. He took his alias from a book of art lessons (get it?), using the section on how to draw hair for his first lyrics. Magic is everywhere; Lessing knows how to be open to finding it where it lies.
1. What are you listening to these days?
"Well I don’t really know what I am listening to…I finally bought a copy of The Boredoms: Vision , Creation, New sun. It’s a great driving cd. But honestly I have to admit that most of my listening comes from watching old footage of bands play. I get a short attention span going and flipping from footage to footage..I like so many different types of music that I can do this for quite awhile before getting sick of it….I have a modest little music collection but I don’t really get a chance to put an album on and just kick back and listen to it. But In the cd player right now I have the Electric Psychedelic Sitar Headswirler Series Vol.3…it pretty good but I think number 1 is better….."
2. Describe your working style. I love the story of the record you made using lyrics taken from an old art book.
"I don’t know about a working style…It is always a series of problems that need to be solved. Like this…"I wish I had a string quartet…" well I don’t , so how do I get one? Well I have a one string violin, a space bass, a two string death cello and a stick with a higher pitch double bass string and a contact mic. So there are the instruments…now I must figure out what to play. Then I have to decide what I want to hear. I suppose this is a working style…I play what I wish I was listening too If I didn’t know how to play and had no music…This is when intuition, improvisation, and practice come into play. Luckily I can read my own mind most of the time…of course some times I will try to play over something I’ve recorded and wonder what the hell I was thinking.. So my songs are often driven by inadequacies and limitations….boy..I really would not want to hear a perfect musician version of Art Lessing I suppose I take the same attitude I use when approaching a visual art…..I would not want to see a paining of mine done by a master painter…That would be funny: a version of my "man sitting on toilet reading" made from coffee grounds repainted by Monet."
3. How important are lyrics to you? Does the music come first?
"My lyrics constantly evolve. They evolve the same way a painter can work on certain lines of a paining over and over. In a live setting…the words may change if I feel they need to. The recording is a moment in time. Much like a photograph of a performance artist during the performance where the action is frozen and the idea is visually represented in a split second frame, yet the performance evolves past the photo. I think there is an interesting abstraction when setting words to music. It is the idea that certain mouth shapes and vowels put together will change the idea of a song. So when I put words together as lyricism I need to make sure that they are for the set of notes tones and textures I have put together… On the other hand I think its fun to mess with the listener a bit by adding words that juxtapose the sounds….that in itself presents its own challenges too though…..Sometimes an idea will be great yet the translation will be uber lame o…
But as far as music based on words…It happens occasionally……"
4. You’ve mentioned that you compensated for lack of instruments in the beginning by building your own. Are you working on anything right now?
"The last time I was in Berkeley I found a sitar for 50 bucks…it needed strings. I almost bought it. But then I realized that to buy a sitar would be like hiring a painter…I have a thing that sounds similar but it is mine and I built it…So lets see right now I am starting to build another Space Bass for a friend in Portland who gave me a Loop Station in trade…the space bass is the one string bass that sits like a steel guitar. It is designed to be a percussion instrument, bowed, plucked, spaced out on, or anything else one can think of…."
5. What makes your music powerful to me is the sense of freedom, that you take for granted that there are no boundaries; have you been influenced at all by Free Jazz?
"Well I don’t have a direct influence from free jazz…I do however have a conglomeration of free jazz in my head that make up one idea…before I continue…My long time friend and band mate Larry (The Flower Vato..a moniker used for my friend when we play live) has this immense record collection. Hanging out at his pad I have heard tons of all kinds of music. I have heard so much that I can’t really say if one particular form of music has moved me….actually I can…good music. That is a very simpleton answer for a huge question…so in saying that I mean that there are certain aspects (which I haven’t figured out yet..but keep trying to) that combine to form excellent music. When these elements are in the right positions, the music is magic. This magic is what I am constantly searching for….So to answer the question I guess it would be yes, but indirectly. Its really the fearless freedom that is my influence as opposed to the jazz….I have always thought that the best bands had no fear in music.."
6. When someone stumbles across your music, what reaction would you like them to have?
"like wow man"
"WHERE CAN I BUY THE REST!!"
"this is the bestist ever"
"is this tool?
"whoa this is freakin me out"
"maybe he should tune first"
"dude..this is rad"
"hey can you make me a copy"
"I found this Art Lessing cd and as the head of Warner Brothers, I say lets pay for them to go on a all expenses paid world tour…."
In actuality I just want people to listen to the cds frequently at least four times..because there is a lot to hear in all of them…."
7. If you could have played at one historical event, which one would you have played?
Roland Kirk, buddy guy, modern jazz quartet, art lessing, led zepplin, jack bruce, eric Clapton, steven stills……see it has nice ring to it….."
8. You are also a painter; how does that influence your music?
"I come from a background of visual arts therefore Painting has a definite influence. So as I was saying earlier in the interview.. I approach music problem solving the same way I approach any visual media. I draw on my strengths initially to get the ball rolling, then I begin approaching any piece with an experimental mind set. So first I start with a foundation and then decide where I will go next."
9. Have you made any inroads into your great "To-Do" list? (on his MySpace page there is a long list of projects that attest to his restlessness and humor, as well as to all the shit he needs to get done, ranging from : "drink more water" and "get Mary flowers" to "finish the two space basses," "build a land yacht" and "build and electric harp out of an old bike frame")
"not sure about this one…need more time.."
10. You, in a perfect world, have just been included in the Rock Encyclopedia. In one sentence, write your entry.
"The rock Encyclopedia on Art Lessing:
Art Lessing is a musical representation of all that is not already represented musically unless already represented by Art Lessing."
Or " the musical version of Dan Quillan’s brain
"Art Lessing is new pdkndfpsfdnsed :Pksdnsnefocndkljfvojwaedkn as,mc ;zos[;laswd[p0ksldrgljfvbpkjdfgmcfb;ojdf;lkdfg"
"art lessing is a mix of art bell and doris lessing"
"Art Lessing is weird when you’re high"
"Art Lessing is alphabetized under A because its not a dude…like pink floyd"
"When one dreams of music one dreams of Art Lessing"
"Art Lessing is similar to art leasing which requires a credit card"
"Art Lessing is music for nerds"
that’s probably when it ends……"