August 2017

Screaming For No Reason

The Music of Bill Orcutt and Adris Hoyos
By Rob Turner

…I’ll make my men break ope his fences,
Ride o’er his standing corn, and in the night
Set fire on his barns, or break his cattle’s legs.

A New Way to Pay Old Debts, Philip Massinger (1625)

“It’s like that story I told you about when I was in fifth grade,” Adris Hoyos told Bill Orcutt in November 1996, during the dying days of Harry Pussy. “I was the dork and I dressed bad and all this. And I remember sitting outside one day by a tree and everyone else was playing and I was sitting alone and suddenly I started screaming for no reason and I don’t know why. I never knew why, I just started screaming my lungs out. And the teacher made me write on the blackboard five hundred times I will not scream. I will not scream. I think there’s something funny about all that.” In reply to this, Orcutt remembered his own “recurring dream”, something that had cropped up throughout his life: “I’m being chased by a really large angry mob of people and I’m running away laughing.”

These dreams and schoolyard stories flip the standard Harry Pussy story on its head, framing their brand of raging and corrosive Miami noise in terms of laughter and play. As Orcutt puts it today, the duo’s hardcore stance was “pretty much a put on from the get-go”. Early on, during the sessions for their first single (“Untitled” [‘Nose Ring’]), they were even working under a grinning slacker name, Cookies & Beer. He’s vague on the date of this first recording—”my guess is that the first session was early ’92 or maybe even late ’91″—but certain that it preceded Hurricane Andrew, a Category Five storm that hit Miami, destroying 63,000 homes, in August 1992. “I’m pretty sure that was one of the first (if not the first) times Adris and I played together,” he guesses. “The bass and a feedback guitar were overdubbed by me sometime after the original session.” “In terms of what I was doing at that time,” recalls Hoyos, “I meandered… I never picked up an instrument before I started playing with Bill.”

Early Recordings (1985-1993)

The laconic, meditative tone of ‘Nose Ring’ 7″ makes for an odd entry point into the Harry Pussy discography. In comparison with the sheer violence and speed of so much of the later material, it’s pretty sluggish, ambling along at 48bpm, loaded, presumably, with cookies and beer. Orcutt suggests that this is “partially just tentativeness since we hadn’t played before”, but the unexpected melodicism also underlines the fact that neither of the musicians came from an exclusively punk, hardcore, or even entirely rock tradition. “When I was young,” Hoyos told Alan Licht back in 1995, “I listened to pop and Hispanic music, especially salsa. For a long time I felt that rock music was for white Americans and it had nothing to do with me.” It was only later on—in high school, she suggests today—that Hoyos “got into punk, starting with the Sex Pistols. I started reading Maximum Rock and Roll, listening to Black Flag, Circle Jerks, et al…” Orcutt’s early interests, on the other hand, were bookish: he studied English at the University of Miami, before joining Mark Feehan’s “poetry/noise group”, an outfit with the brilliantly nerdy name of Verbal Circus. “Since they already had guitar and bass,” he explains, “I bought a drum kit.”

Performing with Trash Monkeys (née Verbal Circus) throughout the late 80s, Orcutt began to develop a radically deconstructed approach to the guitar. “Although I was playing drums, guitar was still my main musical interest… I worked up a set of instrumentals for 4-string guitar. The set up [tuned ExxGBE] was purely arbitrary: it just happened that the guitar I had around the house was missing the A & D strings.” Joined by Tim Koffley of Los Perros Guapos, he formed “a guitar/drum thing”, and began touring as Watt. “Tim was primarily a bass player and I was an English Lit student, so the name was either a tribute to Mike Watt or Samuel Beckett’s first novel, depending on which of us you asked.” By late 1990, he recalls, the project had hit an impasse, with Koffley wanting to make “composed music in odd time signatures” and the guitarist wanting to play “more freely, slowly and quietly”. This led on to the expansive aesthetic of early Harry Pussy, and the luxurious ‘Nose Ring’ tapes, performed by Hoyos and Orcutt shortly after their first date together, seeing Sonic Youth perform on Miami Beach in November 1990.

Following the apocalyptic Atlantic storms of 1992, Hoyos and Orcutt were married. Over the coming months, with the help of Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra (owner of the Esync label, and host of the famous open mic night at Churchill’s Pub), the band managed to sell a thousand copies of their debut single. “Fueled by the attention,” Orcutt says, “Adris and I worked up a full set of songs. They were very high energy, short songs with lots of syncronized starts and stops and screaming. Somewhere between No Wave and early Napalm Death. Very different than the first single.” This second 7″ (“Untitled” [‘Girl Holding Frog’], also released on Esync) was recorded on a Sony portable cassette machine, the WM-D6C, capturing the sound of nocturnal rehearsals at the cinema where Orcutt worked, along with some early performances at Churchill’s. In 2012, he put out an epic 2xLP set—One Plus One—comprising 24 of these cassette recordings, a massive serving of volcanic rehearsals, false starts, arguments, and beautiful noise. Listening back to one of the newly-unearthed tapes, Hoyos told David Keenan that “you can rock yourself into a semi stupor on this one… and then float above the blue sea waves that are just glistening with clutters of oil spill algae infested sea weed. Rock on.”

This was extraordinary music, a leap ahead of ‘Nose Ring’ in terms of sheer complexity: of one track (‘Domestic Disturbance’), Hoyos reflected that “If this were a painting, it would be a Jackson Pollock.” A handful of the cuts were sent to Tom Lax (“on the basis of a weird ad we saw in a fanzine”, says Orcutt), the head of Siltbreeze Records, responsible for experimental acts along the lines of The Dead C and The Shadow Ring, as well as more popular underground bands, such as Sebadoh. He remembers being “elated” with these early recordings, claiming that he became “a fan immediately.” Like Orcutt, Lax was unconvinced by attempts to link Harry Pussy with any contemporary trends in punk music. “I guess ‘Girl Holding Frog’ does nod towards hardcore,” he acknowledges today, “but at the time it came out, I think astute collectors and listeners were delving into the Free Jazz movement of the late 60s/early 70s, and could draw a line to, say Charles Gayle, as well as to, say, Void. Or at least that’s how I was thinking.”

Siltbreeze LPs (1993-1996)

It was Lax who came up with the idea of recording an entire album of this more extreme brand of music. “The songs began disappearing and all that was left was the screaming and the noise” is how Orcutt remembers the emergence of their new style, a description that sounds less like musicology, and more a recollection of Hurricane Andrew itself. The LP, as with the singles that preceded it, was eponymous, its cover offering the punchline to a sick joke about the bathrooms of CBGB’s (“A: In an Emergency You Can Shit on a Puerto Rican Whore”), a phrase that Orcutt insists was not intended to be read as a title. Recorded and released in 1994, the disc even features a lone trio performance, swallowing an inaudible cameo from Ian Steinberg, an 18 year-old high school student and accordionist. “He responded to a flier we put up in a local record store that had the cover image from Frampton Comes Alive, the words ‘Love + Genius = You’, and our phone number. I think he was the only person to respond,” Orcutt remembers. “He appears on the first song on the first LP, though you can only really hear his vocals; his unamplified accordion being somewhat mismatched against Adris and me.”

The idea of an unamplified accordion facing off against Harry Pussy’s electric wall of noise is wickedly absurd, recalling the dark humour of Hoyos and Orcutt’s 1996 conversation. Lax is still amused by the story today: “Haha, the accordion,” he laughs. “Yeah, I never could hear it… or was sure it was real. Always liked the idea though…” According to him, the same restless (and darkly comic) energy could be found in the band’s contemporary live performances. “The first LP was a pretty big deal within the confines of The Underground,” he recalls, “and live they were jaw dropping. Especially the first time you saw them. Always entertaining too. Very droll. I’ve seen sets last 7 minutes to 17 minutes, 20 maybe the longest. It was unheard of then, but only once did I ever have a club manager complain they didn’t play long enough.” Following the release of their debut album, however, Orcutt’s ambitions for the project began to change. “Not long after Siltbreeze released the first LP,” he claims, “I had a weird, late night vision of a super dense, dual guitar version of the band. And so Adris got a double kick drum pedal and we drafted Mark Feehan into the band.”

Bolstering the Pussy’s cacophonous ranks with Feehan, the guitarist of Verbal Circus and Trash Monkeys, was a far more significant shift than the Steinberg accordion gag. As Orcutt points out, the resulting sound (with the addition of a double kick drum as well as a second guitar) would assume “super dense” proportions, a turn-it-to-11 inflation of what was already a hurricane aesthetic. Joining the Siltbreeze label’s touring roster, this trio version of the group was the one that became most familiar to concert audiences, and it is well documented across the “White Improviser”, “Zéro De Conduite” and “Black Ghost” singles. On the second LP, Ride a Dove, however, their live impact is obscured by the album’s dense layer of concrète post-production effects. “I wouldn’t know how overtly avant-garde it really is,” Lax notes, “or how much of it was Bill just fucking with us all as an elaborate joke. Probably both.” The album was clearly out of step with what was happening onstage. “We sold a lot of copies of Dove every night,” Lax jokes, “and I always thought, ‘we have to get outta here before anyone listens to this’. You know, like selling a cat in a bag; what they bought and what they got being two different things.”

For Orcutt, the experimental bent of Ride a Dove was a reflection of the direction of his own (increasingly omnivorous) listening habits in the mid 90s. “I’m a fan of Jungle,” he notes, “and there are audible breakbeats starting around the 19 minute mark [of ‘The Man in the Mirror’], continuing for about a minute.” It’s worth pointing out that a desire to draw attention to the materiality of the recording process, and of tape itself, can be seen in one of the earliest Pussy releases, the Vigilance cassette released by Chocolate Monk in 1993. On that tape, the sound cuts out and hops forward and backward every dozen seconds or so, a disorienting effect that Orcutt insists was deliberate. “The tape is intended to have the gaps. I’m a Godard fan and always liked the way the sound would drop out periodically in his movies.” Immediately after such highbrow allusions, however, he adds: “It was also a useful way to pad out a short recording to fill a 2 hour tape, since we could reuse the snippets.”

Solo Recordings (1996)

Shortly after the release of Ride a Dove, Feehan left the band. He was replaced, in the autumn of 1996, by another guitarist, Dan Hosker. At the same time, Hoyos and Orcutt’s marriage was ending. “Once Adris and I split up,” Orcutt explains, “the band’s breakup was inevitable, though it took over a year, I think. When Dan joined it was with the understanding that we would do one last record and a US tour and then split up. It was a very orderly shutdown.” Hoyos, on the other hand, dismisses the idea that the band “entered a terminal stage.” Instead, she insists that they “continued to evolve. Dan was a fantastic guitar player; very knowledgeable, smart guy, a very hard worker. He was so great to hang out with because he was this really talented guitar player. But at the same time, I would sit and talk to him about personal stuff, and he was a really good listener. He was a big Fred Frith fan, and one minute he’d be explaining to me about Fred Frith and then we would go from that to talk about relationships, and he’d give me personal advice on dealing with people.”

During this period of evolution, the pair worked on a number of side projects and recordings, ranging from an untitled solo CD from Orcutt on Audible Hiss (a jazz-inflected disc that the artist has since been fairly lukewarm about, but which is noteworthy for featuring both Harry Pussy members on its opening and closing tracks), to Hoyos’s numerous band projects.The latter included Monostadt Three, a duo with the violinist Pria Ray. Named for a vaginal antifungal cream, Hoyos saw this band as a definite step away from the male-oriented groups she and Ray had played with in the past, observing at the time that it’s “really difficult for me to do. It’s two girls who have always played with guys. So now we’re having to be in charge of the music.” The second group that Hoyos was in charge of, in this transitional period, was Transmission, a “No Wave sort of take-off more than anything else. With Transmission I’ve been thinking about music differently because it’s playing steady rhythms, creating songs a different way.”

The other half of the Transmission project was Graham Lambkin, Hoyos’s partner and future husband. Lambkin was a founding member of the British avant-garde act, The Shadow Ring: he and Hoyos first met during the series of Siltbreeze tours organised by Lax. With its fluorescent pink sleeve, their untitled Transmission CD (also released by Audible Hiss in 1996) was a marked contrast to the acidic recordings that bookended its release. Tracks like ‘Turn Me On’ share the sunburned slackness of some of Jandek’s cheerier late 80s recordings, and Hoyos’s drumming throughout the set tends to be more playful than ferocious. Her vocals, too, are mixed more prominently than ever before, turning the listener’s ear to the (often Spanish) lyrics, recalling her insistence, a year earlier, that “rock music was for white Americans and it had nothing to do with me.” When asked about any real aesthetic departure, however, Hoyos is sardonic. “I think of the Transmission material as being pretty angry,” she replies. “Maybe I sound warmer in Spanish.”

Final Harry Pussy Recordings (1996-1997)

Orcutt described the last year of Harry Pussy as an “orderly shutdown”; Lax is more explicit. The music became “less angular and more straight on aggressive,” he recalls. “They’d really gone for broke in ’96 with those two tours, then at some point Mark was gone. Bill and Adris’s marriage was over. Our arrangement with Matador hadn’t yielded anything except many unsold LPs and CDs. I can’t recall how much contact I really had with them then. But I guess I sort’ve knew the ’97 tour was the end.” This later music—the “straight on aggressive” recordings—was practically unavailable for many years, having been released on a series of extremely limited-run LPs in 1997, including Untitled [“Fuck You” / “Tour”], Untitled [“Cherry Smash”], Live Fuck Love Songs and Live at Salon Zwerge. Just over a decade later, happily enough, this changed with the release of a revelatory 42-track compilation (You’ll Never Play This Town Again, 2008) on Load Records. Gathering almost all of the recordings Harry Pussy made in this final period, the Load set made widely available a body of work that was even more radical than the (better known) Siltbreeze and Esync releases.

If the 1992 rehearsals gathered on One Plus One sounded like a Pollock canvas, the 1997 performance tapes capture an airborne bucket of paint. The music is astounding: fast, aggressive, and often hilariously fleeting. Tracks like ‘Drop the Bomb’ appear three times on the Load comp, with durations of just 15, 18 and 23 seconds. Hoyos’s stage patter is brilliantly sarcastic, improvising a string of made-up hardcore song titles, before launching into vocal performances that are truncated and brutal. Where her performances on the previous year’s Transmission CD might have been (mis)taken as signalling a warmer and less frenetic turn, here Hoyos is more extreme than ever, spitting out a string of growls and screams that often sound like a deliberate piss-take of the growling front-men of grindcore and crust punk acts such as Sore Throat, Fuck the Facts, and Extreme Noise Terror.

The appearance of three or four versions of a number of pieces on the 1997 LPs also handily dispels the initial impression that Hoyos, Orcutt and Hosker were simply tearing up their instruments in a run of self-destructive final gigs. In 2011, Orcutt described the composition of ‘Chuck!’ (a track that ranges from 42 seconds to just over a minute across its four takes) to David Keenan: “The first song [Hosker and I] did together was ‘Chuck!’ and I actually wrote both guitar parts and then taught it to him and it took an entire evening, like six hours to teach him it, to work out whatever the riff is, and the track is like 60 seconds long or something. It took him a long time to learn the idiom, the technique.” The obvious analogy here is Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. Like Don Van Vliet, Orcutt has forged a row of interlocking guitar compositions, pieces whose atomic intricacy give an initial impression of terrifying chaos, only gradually resolving into order upon repeated (and ear-splitting) hearing. As with some of the more expansive Beefheart pieces (‘Veteran’s Day Poppy’), this deliberation is most immediately recognisable in the slower tracks, especially the 5-minute mini epic, ‘Mandolin’. A thoughtful, gliding composition, the sedate piece harks all the way back to ‘Nose Ring’, and manages to smuggle in a melancholy recollection of Sonic Youth wailing on Miami Beach, seven years earlier.

Winding Down (1998-2008)

Following the dramatic end (or, you know, “orderly shutdown”) of Harry Pussy, Hoyos moved across the Atlantic to England in 1998, while Orcutt went west to San Francisco. Initially, Hoyos was far more productive, drumming with The Shadow Ring and forming another experimental band (Elklink) with Lambkin. Her contributions to the second half of the Lighthouse 2xLP (recorded in Folkestone and Miami) are among her most anarchic and entertaining, the drumkit crashing into the delicately formed ‘Fish and Hog’ like a German Shepherd divebombing a paddling pool. A 1999 cassette, The Rise of Elklink, mapped out new ground, concentrating on tapes and microphones, creating a sonic cocoon (especially through headphones) that recalled the echoing ‘voices in the piano’ segments of Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy. The following year, the drummer appeared alongside John Fahey and Loren Connors on a limited-run CD recorded for Kim Gordon’s art event in the Netherlands. Onstage, Hoyos was also pretty active in the early post-Pussy era, with gigs including an abrasive show with Thurston Moore at Flywheel, Massachusetts in March 2003, and what remains (so far) her last public performance, drumming for the Swedish progressive band Träd, Gräs Och Stenar in New York City. In the final Elklink gig, at the Green Chimneys Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in the summer of 2002, Hoyos laid aside the drums altogether, drowning Lambkin’s organ and tapes with a web of improvised guitar lines.

While less active than Hoyos, Orcutt was also turning away from the Harry Pussy aesthetic. Working as a software designer for his day-job, he became increasingly preoccupied with computer music in these years, reflecting the “Jungle” influences that were audible (just about) on Ride a Dove. The vinyl headstone to the artists’ shared discography, Let’s Build a Pussy (1998) was credited to Hoyos’s “mouth” and Orcutt’s “mouse”. This 2xLP contained a single time-stretched scream (or yelp), each side lasting 16 minutes and 1 second, an elaborate homage to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Produced with SoundEdit 16, the piece relies entirely upon a repeated use of the suite’s “slow by 200%” function, gradually turning a familiar human sound into a binary drone. At the same time, Orcutt was also fiddling about with more sophisticated programmed music, following in the footsteps of radical acts such as Farmer’s Manual with a series of his own (unreleased) Max/MSP experiments, as well as a handful of weird and diverting midi patches, uploaded to vimeo under the username “Lily”.

Palilalia Records and the Kay guitar (2009-2015)

As Harry Pussy drew to a halt, Orcutt took time out to work with a cellist, scoring a film by a photography professor at Florida International University, Bill Maguire. “We did a live performance at the first screening,” he recalls, “and then recorded it… Probably it was the first time I did a 4-string recording on the Kay.” (These recordings have since been lost.) The “Kay” is the vintage acoustic guitar that would become central to the artist’s recent output. A decade after Let’s Build a Pussy, in 2009, Orcutt launched Palilalia Records with an unexpected 7″, the acoustic “High Waisted” (b/w “Big Ass Nails”). While there are traces of computer music on this record, with strange digital sounds unfolding alongside the Kay, the disc nevertheless marked a radical change of direction. Given its limited run (only 100 copies were produced, according to the Palilalia site), the single drew fairly wide attention, with critics immediately invoking the string of names that have since become familiar in reviews of Orcutt’s recent work: John Fahey, Derek Bailey, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
out, can be hard to identify for those who buy the digital version of the What Was Music? compilation. On that edition, the titles become misaligned from track 15 onwards. The correct titles and durations are listed on discogs). Of course, a handy reference point for the most abrasive Harry Pussy cuts was often Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, an outfit rooted in arrhythmic rural blues. What’s so striking about comparing Orcutt’s solo music with Beefheart’s band is that the latter’s reinvented blues was so ineffective unplugged: an acoustic Magic Band (as heard on ‘China Pig’) soon reverted to bog standard riffing.

Orcutt’s first LP with the Kay, A New Way To Pay Old Debts, manages to reinvent the acoustic blues in the same way than Beefheart rewired the electric. The album takes its title from the Jacobean dark comedy of Philip Massinger, with its gleefully burning barns and hobbled cattle. While the comparisons to Fahey are tempting, the looping, raging spirals of Orcutt’s axe—on tracks such as ‘Pocket Underground’—also conjure the (previously unimaginable) vision of an unplugged Harry Pussy. The guitar has been recorded using API preamps and condenser mics, and it roars from the stereo with phenomenal power. Thinking back to the comic scenario of the ‘accordion vs Harry Pussy’ back in 1994, it’s hard to think of many electric guitar records from 2009 that would be able to hold their own against Old Debts. The ragged atmosphere is enhanced by Orcutt’s yelps and vocalisations, and by the intrusion of the noise of SF and the outside world; within seconds the set is interrupted by a ringing telephone, and a siren screams through to ‘Street Peaches’. Orcutt remains pretty deadpan about the inclusion of such distractions, shrugging that “It was in a corner room on a busy street and the street noise was considerable.”

The final cut of Old Debts, ‘Cold Ground’, points in a different direction. A haunting, slow blues, it introduces a more reflective air, exploring new possibilities of the acoustic setup. On his second Kay LP, How The Thing Sings, Orcutt follows this path, turning away from the “Pussy-unplugged” material, and performing lengthier, more deliberate compositions. Sectional works like ‘The Visible Bosom’ (longer even than most versions of ‘Mandolin’, at 6 minutes) recall the intricate stop-start folk marathons of Comus’s First Utterance (1971), as well as some of Fahey’s grander cuts, such as the title track of America (also 1971). The street sound is absent, this time: Orcutt explains (logically enough) that this reflects the fact that the disc was “recorded in the living room of the house we live in now in a much quieter part of San Francisco.” On the closing track, ‘A Line From Old Man River’, Orcutt unfolds a 14-minute epic, picking apart the black stevedore’s song from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1927 smash, Showboat. The historical associations can be traced in opposite directions: it has been linked both with the minstrelsy of Kern’s earlier work, and—following Paul Robeson’s iconic 1936 performance—radical black politics. The ‘Line’ that Orcutt is deconstructing seems, based on his humming, to be one of the falling melodies from the bridge section (either “get a little drunk and you land in jail” or “What does he care if the land ain’t free?“), both of which draw attention to this knot of extra-musical subtexts.

Discussing his non-musical interests, Orcutt quickly points to the modernist poet and novelist Gertrude Stein, and the verbal loops and staccato jumps of her magnum opus, The Making of Americans. “I love those rhythms and the obsessive repetitions,” he says, claiming that he has been “trying to find a way, unsuccessfully so far, to incorporate her work directly into my music.” At the end of a cassette release (Why Does Everybody Love Free Music But Nobody Loves Free People?, 2012) he even included an excerpt from a recording of Stein reading from her essay on Picasso, a device that he admits is “I guess as close as you can get. I’d like to able to play her words directly one day, something I haven’t figured out yet.” His elusive goal echoes experiments such as John Coltrane’s ‘Psalm’ and ‘Alabama’, in which the saxophonist syllabically ‘recited’ prayers and Civil Rights speeches through a previously dumb instrument.

On the back of the monochrome sleeve to A History of Every One (2013), Orcutt prints a motto lifted from Stein’s epic (p. 183): “Many things then come out in the repeating that make a history of each one for any one who always listens to them.” While the guitarist again sticks to solo instrumentals on this LP—Glenn Gould murmurings aside—the familiarity of many of the original tunes means that the listener’s head is filled with rapidly cycling verbal phrases throughout, inducing a weird effect of instrumental palilalia. Check out the opening of ‘Ballad of Davy Crockett’, for example, and you find yourself (assuming you can recall the Disney original) trapped in a web of text: “Born on a mountain top—Born on a mountain top in Tennessee—Born on a mountain top in Tennessee—In Tennessee…” The effect is disorienting, a neat equivalent (despite Orcutt’s claims of failure) to Stein’s chattering feedback loops.

Elsewhere on A History of Every One, political concerns rise to the surface. The disc opens with a performance of ‘Solidarity Forever’, itself an instance of iterability and repetition, lifting the melody from ‘John Brown’s Body’ following its transmogrification into the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’. Again and again the historic battle lines are mapped: on one side sits the revisionist corn of Bing Crosby and Walt Disney (Davy Crockett’s cheerful suppression of native America; Jiminy Cricket’s old lie that it “makes no difference who you are”; Uncle Remus’s Reconstruction-era grin…), while on the other you find Blind Lemon Jefferson, Huddie Ledbetter, and Lightnin’ Hopkins—the latter raising his shotgun. Like the treatment of ‘Old Man River’ on the previous Mego LP, these juxtapositions unearth the tangled web that sits beneath the surface of America. While ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ may have won Disney an Oscar in 1947, the album’s razor sharp sequencing nudges you to recall that the singer—James Baskett—was barred from attending the segregated ceremony.

In the wake of such dense verbal and historical cues, it’s tempting to hear the new songs that make up Orcutt’s VDSQ: Solo Acoustic Volume Ten (2014) as a string of six wordless essays. The acronym places the LP in a series curated by Steve Lowenthal (Vin Du Select Qualitite), alongside recent releases by Thurston Moore and Sir Richard Bishop. Orcutt’s pursuit of literary aesthetics is indicated by a number of the track titles, from ‘O Platitudes!’ (a nod in the direction of Walt Whitman, he suggests, although it also carries an air of Willa Cather), and on to ‘History and Repetition’ and ‘An Inadvertent Epic’, lifting titles from essays by Kojin Karatani and Leslie Fiedler, respectively. The LP’s pseudo-academic air is wryly underlined by the note on the sleeve: “Recorded at Seminole Massacre Elementary, Miami, FL in the main stairwell, December 25th, 2013.” This, says Orcutt, is “the elementary school my sister works at.”

With VDSQ, then, half of Harry Pussy can be heard returning to Miami. ‘History and Repetition’, see? From here, the future is uncertain. While Hoyos has no plans to return to recording or performance, she is impressed by the Palilalia project. “I really enjoy listening to Bill’s records,” she says. “I think Bill is doing amazing work. No one else can play guitar like him.” In one recent recording, Cracked Music, Orcutt turns exclusively to digital tools for the first time, while on another (the 2×7″ Tupac Tattoo), he glances back to the Harry Pussy aesthetic, plugging in his electric Telecaster in the studio (following a number of amplified gigs with collaborators such as Chris Corsano). This cacophonous set deploys overdubs, too, as he layers drums on top of the guitar tapes, building another pussy. Orcutt thinks that Tupac Tattoo (“tho I’m probably missing something”) is the first time that he’s overdubbed anything since the ‘Nose Ring’ sessions. Maybe he isn’t joking—for once—when he promises that he’s going to light out for the territory and form a one-man band: “Actually, I think on my next record I’m going to do a Stevie Wonder/Prince thing and just play all the instruments myself.”


Photos provided by Bill Orcutt and Graham Lambkin.

About the Author

Rob Turner lectures on contemporary literature and culture at the University of Exeter. His first book is due to be published in 2018 by Cambridge University Press: titled Counterfeit Culture, it includes chapters on William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, and mechanical pianos. He is also a regular contributor to the Wire magazine.