Mutating Sound:
Destroying Labels with Mi Ami

Mi Ami pic #1
(l to r) Damon Palermo, Daniel Martin-McCormick, & Jacob Long.
Photo courtesy of Mi Ami.
Nature invents no taxonomies. Rather, it is one of the primal impulses of man to transform seemingly chaotic masses of data into systems delineated by logic and easily maneuvered by reasonable associations of habitat and habit. It is no different in the biology of music, especially in the micro-minutiae classifications that obsess one of Providence's most peculiar specimens -- the Record Nerd.
However, the presence of a fierce new sonic mutation, Mi Ami, crawling from the primordial mass of the San Francisco Bay, may spell the extinction of those poor, adjective-expelling creatures, as any attempt to stuff and mount their cross-pollination of dub, afrobeat, disco, noise and punk into a single genus (or genre) may effect only exhaustion and death. As a blatant example of the Phonographicus Inconcinnus, I made the Darwinistically-dumb move of asking guitarist and vocalist Daniel Martin-McCormick about Mi Ami's ascension through the process of indie music's natural selection.
Mi Ami plays at The Backroom at The Mink on Wednesday, March 4th, along with Thank You & Tambersauro; 9PM, $7.

SCR: Mi Ami press invariably references the fact that you and Jacob [Long] both used to play in Black Eyes. You have both played in bands together and apart since then, in addition to a move from D.C. to San Francisco? How did you join up with Damon [Palermo] and ultimately reconvene in Mi Ami?
Daniel Martin-McCormick: I met Damon at an art opening we were both playing in 2006. We were both making noise-ish music, but after the show were talking about records and such and found we were both listening to a lot of disco, weird house and techno, italo and stuff like that. It seemed obvious we should start playing together. Jacob joined a year later when we decided to add a third person.
You cite a wide range of influences in your songwriting, from dub to instantaneous composition to "African disco." Do you see continuities between the music of Mi Ami and bands you have played in previously? Was it a chance to stretch out and try something new, or at least a new set of strategies for music making?
I think the continuity comes in terms of Mi Ami offering each of us an unprecedented level of freedom in our playing. It is most certainly not Black Eyes 2.0. However, my playing did develop a lot over the course of that band -- and since the breakup of that band, too -- and so certain things that began to form then I find I'm still growing into now. Perhaps Mi Ami began as a chance to try something new -- certainly something very necessary at that point in my life -- but now has become about doing something honest, real, perhaps even pure.

How important is musical process to you as a band? I know that you consider the sounds made by your effects as much as the instruments themselves, which links up nicely with your interest in improvisation, free jazz, and instantaneous song structures. At the same time, there are some overdubs on Watersports. Do you seek absolute control over the sounds you make, or do you incorporate intuition and chance as part of your sonic palette?
I'm not sure where the break would be between control and intuition, but I would simply say that process is only important as long as it gets results. We are chasing down an elusive, impossible-to-describe experience, which is the playing of the music. This entails a certain submission to the music, as it is in each moment, and a pledge to give it only that form which it seeks in that moment. I don't know if the effects have the same hierarchical presence as the instruments, but whatever. They are tools we use in our attempts to give life to sound.
In the studio, overdubs are fine. A recording is essentially a sound sculpture, which you can listen to over and over again and examine from different angles at your leisure. We do not strive to create a perfect, model song in the studio, but adding some extra sounds is most certainly fair game if they sound good.
What influences go into Mi Ami besides other music -- books you've read, experiences you've had, political or spiritual goals, etc.?
I think a primary influence for me personally was falling in love with someone very deeply in 2004. Also our neighborhood in SF, the films of Cassavettes and Haneke, any and all intense art. It's difficult to quantify, since so many small things pop up in our music.
To what degree does your location on the West Coast in San Francisco affect the way you play and write music, as opposed to your time in D.C.?
San Francisco has a different feeling. It's denser, much more colorful and diverse, faster-paced and chiller at the same time, and filled with people whose lives have been destroyed by drug use. D.C. is starker, and feels like a cultural wasteland. I think it makes a difference.
Mi Ami record cover

I hear a lot of influence from New York No Wave bands, both in the post-punk reappropriation of heavily rhythmic music (dub, funk, krautrock, et al) with an aggressive, fuck-off attitude that frees you to put sounds together in very unorthodox ways. Your vocal style is one of the most apparent examples, managing to merge sexuality, anxiety, and perhaps a little vulnerability, as well. I know that you are writing about specific topics in some songs, such as the American occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Beyond that, i'm in the dark. Do you regard your vocals as a medium for a specific message, or just another effect in the total process, or something else again? Is there collective input on lyrics, or is this your preserve?
I am aware that the lyrics are by and large indecipherable, and I think it's unfortunate because I would like to engage people lyrically. But this is how I sing, and I do not want to try to force a different style. It is important to me to sing in a way that makes me feel engaged and expressive, and I hope that whatever is happening on my end can translate to the audience. I'm not really too interested in those NYC vocalists, though. I like Meredith Monk, Patti Waters, Neil Young, Javanese Gamelan, and Pygmy choirs.
How important is live performance to Mi Ami? Do you regard it as a more fitting environment for your music, where it can be apprehended and shared directly with a live audience, than the one-time-take environment of the studio? What elements do you like to bring to a live set beyond the music -- lights, stage setup, physical interaction, etc.?
We are a live band, and that's what it's all about. I like working in the studio, but operating as a live band is the whole point of our band. We don't choreograph our sets or decorate the stage. We just play.
Mi Ami pic #2
Daniel Martin-McCormick. Photo courtesy of Mi Ami.
What sort of instrumentation does Mi Ami use live? Are there any pieces of gear that you are particularly fond of at the moment?
We are drums, bass, guitar, vocals, drum effects, and a little bit of keyboard. Damon uses a Simmons drum brain for some sub-bass sounds, which I love. I have a super-loud head that also has great tone -- the Ampeg V4 -- and I cannot play through it enough.
Quarterstick has released your most recent album. A few weeks ago, their parent label Touch & Go announced that they are shuttering operations after their current release schedule is completed. How do you feel about this news?
I don't have much to say about this. It is very sad and came as a shock.
I feel this is a silly question, but i still want to know: is there any particular reason your titled your album Watersports?
Not silly at all. There were three reasons. First of all, Jacob and I especially wanted a title that had a political aspect to it. In 2008, everyone heard a lot about waterboarding and the torture debates, as well as water conservation issues and the like. It seemed like the dialogue surrounding human rights and our place on the planets was getting more and more absurd and scary. At the same time, the people who were in charge seemed to be treating human welfare and the fate of the planet like some silly game. Watersports.
But we wouldn't have picked it if it wasn't already a term, loaded with meaning and associations. Watersports as a sexual practice is fascinating to me, belonging to a whole repertoire that takes pleasure out of violent humiliation. A lot of the lyrics had to do with relating to my body, and feeling some tension and anxiety surrounding my body and my place in a society bent on its own destruction.
And finally, we wanted the record to have a certain aquatic sound.
Tuesday will be your first show in Houston. I know you have some family here, but not that you have visited before. Is there anything you are expecting -- or fearing -- about a city big enough to contain Jandek, Enron, and Lewis Black's site of the apocalypse (i.e., two Starbucks across the street from each other) at the same time?
Jacob has family here and he visits regularly. Do you mean that Mi Ami has not played before? I have enjoyed playing Houston... I don't know, I'm sure it'll be cool. END