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Dark Art Brings Levity: Body / Negative’s Andy Schiaffino Discusses “Fragments”

FEATURED IMAGE: LAURA MOREAU

In a time that seems to fray the very fabric of our social lives, Andy Schiaffino finds comfort in the hiss of a disintegrating cassette tape. Body / Negative is the transgressive solo project of the 23-year-old non-binary artist and producer, who utilizes minimal equipment, multimedia experimentation and creative camaraderie to actualize their haunting, abstract soundscapes. Drawing on their own journeys through the dark and dire, Andy delivers a primal, sensitive and serene seven-track album, Fragments, to shelter us from the storm.

Audrey: Andy, thank you so much for joining me this afternoon to discuss the impending release of your solo drone project, Body / Negative’s first full-length album, Fragments, which comes out October 23rd on Track Number Records! The LP, limited to only 500 copies, looks stunning on that marble gray vinyl. Could you tell me a bit about your journey creating your most extensive work yet?

Andy: Of course, thank you! It took a really long time to finish Fragments. I started it last spring, and since then, production has been very stop-and-go–losing and rediscovering motivation. I don’t like to force myself to work on music if I’m not feeling it, because I feel like that creates mush or garbage. In the beginning, I was co-producing some of it with Dylan Gardner, my former partner, and that was incredibly fun but at the time he was really busy and I was working two jobs, so both of our schedules added extra constraints. However, recent events have really helped make this endeavor come to light. In quarantine, I added two or three songs, collaborating remotely with friends, and it helped me to finish and finalize everything. It’s been nice to finally have the free time whereas before I never had any.

Audrey: Isolation inspiring creation! Would you say the themes of Fragments are different from those of your EP Epoche from 2019 and if so, how?

Andy: I’d say the new record is building off of what I first touched on in Epoche: unrequited love; loneliness; depression; all of the sad things. But I also touch on new things like falling out of religion, death and suicide. Thematically, Fragments is darker but sonically, lighter.

Audrey: You do indeed touch on dark themes but art can be the ultimate catharsis: a means through which you can get those emotions out. For that reason, I find your grief-stricken incantations in “Catholic Guilt” especially poignant as a listener. If it’s not too painful, would you care to expand upon your ideas therein?

Andy: Yes, that song is interesting because I meditate on everyone in my life who has passed away, which is a lot of people now. One of whom was our mutual friend, Eddie [former Sextile guitarist], another was a friend of mine from high school who took his own life, and yet another part of that song is about losing my mother at 13, who in life forced me to be Catholic and religious in my childhood. When I was six years old, I knew it was all bullshit. So, ultimately “Catholic Guilt” is me airing my grievances: reflecting on being forced to grow up Catholic, and reflecting on the people whom I love that I’ve lost. I want people to put my music on the dark when they’re really overwhelmed with everything going on this year and find solace that other people are falling apart too, you know? 

We can all fall apart together, I guess.

Audrey: Thank you for sharing your vulnerability with us in that way, for I feel like the content of this album will be comforting to so many. Unfortunately, 2020 has been fraught with grief, and for this reason, watching you and other artists perform live streams can be a warm respite from the year’s bitter cold. Although we can’t hope to watch you perform live in the foreseeable future, what can fans look forward to imminently seeing from you?

Andy: Well, it is funny you mention that because on Halloween night, I will be virtually performing with several other great artists at Moon Glow Festival. I have a set of new and old songs, and a new cover specifically for the occasion. I’ll also be wearing a costume and decorating to the nines with pumpkins and bats, so be there! It’s going to be really fun.

And eventually, in 2021, you will be able to hear two songs from Fragments that two artists on San Francisco-based experimental label, The Flenser, remixed!

Audrey: That’s super exciting! We need all the spooky vibes we can get. Speaking of spooky vibes, let’s discuss Fragments’ opener: your indelible cover of “Figure 8” by the late and loved singer-songwriter, Elliott Smith. Do you care to elaborate on what this song means to you and why you opened your album with it?

Andy: I love this song because Dylan, my co-producer, would always play it for me on his beautiful vintage Whirlitzer piano but he didn’t tell me who it was at the time. At the time I was not as into Elliott’s catalogue as I am now. Still, it had this haunting, strange and off-putting melody that also made me feel strangely safe? And when I found out it was Elliott Smith covering “Schoolhouse Rock!”, I thought, “‘How is this a children’s song?’”

Dylan is playing that Whirlitzer on the recording, too. That song is really special to me and underscores my relationship with Dylan. I wanted to cover it because I felt like it is so exquisitely beautiful and such an underrated track of Elliott’s. I also think it’s the best produced song on the record [Figure 8]. I felt like opening with the cover was the move because it’s an initiation into the concepts yet to be explored — an enticing yet somewhat familiar experience, as if you’re wading into a pool, starting at the shallow end and going deeper and deeper into darker, sadder territory. Not that that song’s at all shallow, of course.

Audrey: Familiar yes, but there’s also something profoundly singular about Body / Negative, and that’s when I think of ambient drone as a genre. We tend to associate this genre with acts whose songs are seemingly endless: SunnO))) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Yet you possess this ability to compose pieces just as immersive but a fraction of the length. How do you define drone and how do you make music imposing enough but not command as much time from your listener?

Andy: I would say my form of drone is founded on playing with loops. I feel like my listeners have noticed that my songs are the same vocals and lyrics over and over. I feel like a good loop is infinitely better than an entire song based on traditional song structure, but that’s just me. Maybe I listened to too much William Basinski in my formative years. But considering the album title, Fragments: I like having songs that are “fragments” of a fully formed idea, as if they’re listening to a demo, and permitting listeners to feel more like part of the process. There’s something special about it and more personal.

Drone as a genre is awesome, so wonderful. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen was seeing Sunn O))) at The Echo during Power of the Riff. I still remember my first ever drone show, sitting against a wall and just feeling the vibrations coursing through my body and being sent to another world. It’s so meditative and dark yet, it can also be really uplifting. You can do so much with it. “‘Drone’” sounds like a genre with constraints, but it can be so much more. And you can really play within it. It’s just great…ambient forever!

Audrey: That’s beautifully put. How do you relate to the work of William Basinski specifically?

Andy: I saw him play the Ambient Church and he’s just such a cool guy. If you’re not familiar, he came out with The Disintegration Loops he finished recording on the day of 9/11 as the planes hit the towers. He recorded these loops to tape and over time the tape started disintegrating and as you listen the melody falls apart and turns into white noise. It’s so beautiful and just such a wonderful use of texture. I really tried to achieve that on the “Figure 8” cover especially. If you listen to the song, the vocals turn into soupy nothingness. I just always thought The Disintegration Loops were such a cornerstone of ambient and experimental music. It’s so cool: you can use so many different things to make interesting music including faulty tape, you know? You don’t need a bunch of expensive synthesizers to make ambient music. You can just have a f*cked up tape recorder!

Audrey: Interesting, and I’ve read in your other interviews that you incorporate children’s pianos, taped field recordings and other found materials. Do you mind talking about the equipment you use, or perhaps lack thereof?

Andy: I say this a lot but I believe that working within constraints allows for the greatest creativity you can have. When I have a bunch of equipment in front of me, I feel overwhelmed and I don’t know what to pick up, but if I just have my looper and my guitar, it’s so easy for me to make a song and I immediately know where to go. When I first started out making music at age 15, all I had was a cheap Yamaha keyboard from Costco that I used to practice piano on. And one day, I sat down and read the entire manual, and I learned there were thousands of instruments and effects programmed into it. I had never heard of “reverb” or “delay” before and I started tinkering around, recording straight to the keyboard. I had so much fun. I listen back to those demos now, and they were so incredibly creative. I’ve slowly gotten more gear over the years but I still try to stick to my favorite two pedals: my delay and my reverb–and my looper which my friend Cameron gave me. (Shoutout to Wilshire Corridor!) Now, for the first time after borrowing others’ guitars for years I have my own: a beautiful foresty green, shoegazey Fender Jazzmaster.

Audrey: Let’s talk about shoegaze for a minute.

Andy: Oh yes, please.

Audrey: I’ve had your shoegazey track “The Big Sleep” in my head since it was released on Spotify. Would you like to divulge more about the meaning of this song and your creative process?

Andy: Thank you. I love this song because the song before it — “Safe as Houses” — is the original track to this song: essentially a guitar loop. I sent it to my friend, Nick Ventura of Numb.er and Froth and I told him, “Let’s co-write virtually and remotely.”

He returned this track, completely changing the song to what it is now: “The Big Sleep.” I decided to include both tracks on the album. When collaborating, we were inspired by this artist whom we both love called You’ll Never Get to Heaven. They’re so good, and not enough people know about them, but the textures they harness are so interesting. I’ve always been jealous of their sound, so that was our little attempt at You’ll Never Get to Heaven. Nick did the keys on it, messed with my vocals, produced some of it and I think the outcome was really cool. People call it my pop song, even though it’s not even close to what we know as pop. (I love pop music by the way). Someone else described it as slow-core the other day and that made me really happy. I love Drowse, Low and all of those people–and we have a new music video for it that’s coming out soon as well!

Audrey: I find its melodic, fuzzy dissonance so reminiscent of Lilys or early MBV.

Andy: Shoegaze is my biggest influence, like Tamaryn and Slowdive. (Shoutout to my friend, Tamaryn). I study Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine and all of his gear. What they use, they use in an unfamiliar way, using forks on their guitar. It’s such a great reminder that you don’t have to follow the rules when playing music. Rather, not following the rules can make all the difference.

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