The first thing that struck me about Pujol's album “Kludge” is the mix and the master. The word “confrontational” comes to mind, though the music is actually a really pleasant mix, of garage, psych and '60s pop. Daniel Pujol just has a verve, a bouncy, nervous touch to his set that makes it poke through the cozy carpet.
Digging beyond that, Pujol is singular in his approach to his art, and extending entertainment into a realm of philosophical commentary, a jam-packed lyricism which sometimes reads like a social and cultural deconstruction or manifesto.
But I didn't necessarily expect that, when I first watched the music video for phenomenal single “Circles,” directed by Stewart Copeland. The colorful stop-motion clip has the lead singer living out what is surely the dream of all musicians: to have q-tips go in his ears in close view of the camera, to be transformed by lizard people, to be covered in paint.
It's a labor-intensive endeavor, much like the whole of “Kludge.” To record it, Pujol and producer Doni Shoader would construct a temporary studio set up every day at a teen suicide-prevention center in a strip mall in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., to record overnight. Mixing occurred in a studio that was under constant construction, maintaining work around the oddest hours and very improvised settings.
Below, I interview Pujol and Stewart about those industrious days, about the reptiles, visual inspiration, torture loops and doing the job right.
“Kludge” was released on May 20 via Saddle Creek. Here is the exclusive premiere of the music video for Pujol's “Circles.”Subscribe to UPROXX
1. It looks like Daniel was put through many modes of delightful torture. Were there other brutal ideas you wanted to include in this video that just didn't work out, weren't feasible or that Daniel was straight-up like “nope” to?
Daniel: My head is an object being manipulated by the amoral pursuit of pleasure. The lizard people are trying to discover my ideal self, according to them. So I can be one of them. Finally. I can be the perfect me and hang with the lizard people basking in the heat lamp of realized desire. A commodified individual starring in a reptilian bukaki DVD. Stewart is one of the few people I trust to make PUJOL videos. I would do anything he told me. I trust his vision.
Stewart: Daniel never says “no.” We”ve been friends for a very long time and we both trust each other. I would never ask him to do something without reason or purpose and he knows that. I really wanted two leaf-blowers to blast glitter at his face but I had to scrap that because of the way we were shooting. The whole video is made up of still pictures. I took 16,000 over a weekend and then assembled them into clips inside Photoshop. Daniel is singing and moving in half-time to a track that has been slowed down and the lizards are moving in real time. Because of this anything that moves to quickly (i.e. glitter out of a leaf-blower) doesn”t look very good.
2. Where there things visually that inspired the song “Circles” in particular? How did this song and the video (separately) come together?
Stewart: Cartoons inspired a lot of the visuals in the video. The pulsing circles that emanate from behind Daniels head were inspired by the Warner Bros. title cards and “That's All Folks” rings. The background colors change through iris wipes, a common trope in classic cartoons.
The circular narrative structure of cartoons also influenced the video. The action resets and repeats… an endless torture loop.
Daniel: I don't think anything visual inspired me. I'm not a very visual person. The idea of being locked into a pattern gave me the idea for “Circles.” To personify that pattern and break up with it. To ask more of it than only engaging via a horrible cartoon-nightmare loop, because not all patterns are bad.
I think they came together because they both share production ideas. The song was recorded using a combination of 1/4″ tape and the computer program Cubase. The song incorporates tape manipulation to make the lead guitar warble, sampling of field recordings, etc. The producer (Doni) and I bounced between an 88.2 sample rate for tracking and the infinite sample rate of tape. The song uses both analog and digital technology in tandem.
Stewart's video does the same thing. It was filmed at half speed in 16,000 photographs. Then popped it into the computer and hand drew all the vector (moving) images with a stylus. He also wrote some computer code to get the timing of the movement in sync with the music. For instance, the introduction with my amp is a 3-4 image layered photograph. Stewart achieved this by using chromakey foamboard and photographing “layers” of my amp with or without the foamboard covering the amp face or interior.
Stew choreographed all the tortures, filmed it in photographs, then used math and the computer make the photographs become a video.
I think both the song and video disregard the dichotomy of analog versus digital. Both the song and video allow them to cooperate in order to achieve an idea. In addition, both we're made with extremely low budgets. We will both put in the hours to get our art right. A PMA can go farther than a bloated budget.
3. Lizard people, lizard imagery, lizard green vinyl… can you talk about the significance of the reptilian species in your art, lyrics, etc.
Daniel: I've been doing PUJOL for about 4 years. During this time, I've noticed a push to quantify the subtleties of human communication and convert them into calculated marketing tools. Mainly via social media and branding. Or the blending of identity and brand. I think the identity-as-brand is a hyper-rationalized and manicured substitute for an identity or sense of self.
The lizard people in “Kludge”-world amorally pursue pleasure and power by adopting rudimentary aspects of human culture. They present this tweaking of variables as authentic. Even though it insults the intelligence and soul of humanity, they are still successful and everyone has a “good time” anyway. The role of the lizard people in my current work represents the materialist hyper-rationalization of human subtlety and the argument of “why not? It's not hurting anyone.” But is it? I mean, really. I don't know, but it's still just not my bag. The lizard people aren't evil, they just crunch numbers with the basal ganglion. They just do what they want to do. They have no agenda but to feel good, and that is why they are so tragic. Lizard people are totally fictional.
4. The recording process for “Kludge” sounded positively daunting, with scheduling and setup. How close did you all come to killing each other? And does the location of recording have much bearing on how you write and record? Would you ever do it that way again?
Daniel: It really wasn't that bad. It was stressful to schedule a lot of people, but that's my job. I try to make it easy for the band since they work hard.
I liked making this record more than “United States of Being.” It was easier to have one tracking band and only use them. I based the recording schedule around their availability instead of blowing money on a “studio room” and hiring whoever was available in Nashville during the booked time.
Location only affects my writing and recording in relation to what my resources are. I just try to work with what I have and make the thing I could potentially be the happiest with. I just try to adapt.
Mixing was sort of crazy, but it worked out. “Kludge” is closer to the kind of record I want to make both performance and mix/master wise. “Kludge” got to be itself, not 12-15 songs mixed exactly the same. It's always worth it. Someday I'll touch up my back catalog so each album can be itself as well.
I don't care what the process is if I like the result. I'll do it whatever way it needs to be done to get it done correctly. Correctly means it's as close to how I hear it in my head as my time and resources allow.