Daniel Graves warned us : Aesthetic Perfection is currently on their last headlining tour. We couldn't miss the occasion to ask the artist a few things before his show in Paris (live report) and talked about topics like touring or wearing a bucket head. As usual, Graves goes against the stream with his refreshing speech full of touching honesty and humility, deconstructing premade ideas and cliches about illusory sucess. As in his music, there is in the end far more depth in his words than what some naysayers could imagine from a guy doing industrial pop music and wearing a basket-ball jersey and a bucket head.
Before starting this tour, you said that it would be your last one as headliner. Have you changed your mind?
Yeah... no! I think what a lot of people don't really understand, or maybe they do, is that the world after the pandemic is a very different place. Really everything has got more expensive : the cost of living, dealing with inflation, gas... everything. That has hit the music industry particularly hard. There's also the existing trend of people going out less than they were doing maybe ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. I think that's making sense because you have to compete with all the home entertainment : the internet, Netflix, video games, social media... it's just much more of an appeal battle than it was in the past. I think it's important to try to find a way forward in the world as it is and not the way as it was. You know, even though the tenants of this tour have been surprisingly good... we're still losing money! So I've got to really ask myself what is the best way to make use not only of my time but also my creative energy, my money... I don't know if headlining tours for bands of our size is the answer to that. It's been announced that we'll be direct support for Till Lindemann on his upcoming arena tour, which is gonna be great. Things like this make much more sense for an artist like myself who's trying to grow. In the space between this tours I can really focus on creating new music, music videos, engaging online... and if the band ever grows to a point where it does make financial sense to tour again, or the demand is just so high that you really can't deny it, then we'll have this conversation again. But I think for now this is what the answer is gonna stay.
How does a thing like landing on tour with Lindemann for the second time happen ?
Knowing the right people, I guess. That's really how the music industry works. You know a person that knows a person and you end up in their circles and then you end up being buddies with people and I worked with the whole Lindemann crew actually in Mexico during their appearance in festivals back in december. After the first tour, I sort of ended up in the orbit of those people and I'm very grateful that they invited me back. I'm hoping to do something even more bombastic and crazy for this tour and really make people who have no idea who we are go "what the fuck is that?". I definitely want to walk out on stage and have an arena of people wondering what the fuck is that!
Having in mind that you're losing money and it's your last headlining tour, can you still enjoy performing every night?
I'm not really supposed to say this out loud, I know it, but what's very funny is that I actually don't really like performing live. It's something that I kind of discovered over my years of doing this. I think there are people who are performers and there are people who are creators. Of course there is some overlap, no doubt, but you know, for me, I really do get the most fulfillment out of creating in the studio. For me, playing live always was a means to an end. Ok, I go on tours so I can get the funds and I can justify going back in the studio for six months and making a record. Now the world is different. My project in 2021 sort of demonstrated to me that it really is possible to be an artist who isn't really banking his whole career on live performances. You can really sort of exist within the digital space and then go out when it makes sense. I think this is the path that makes the most sense for me. That's not saying that I hate live performance, you know, or that playing shows is not fun. That's not true. Of course having an audience singing back your lyrics is a great feeling.
How did your musicians react when you told them the news?
Well, I think they understand. I think that the people I'm performing with are more on the performing side in terms of mindset, what gives them sort of fullfillment. Of course I totally understand and respect that, but I'm also not the only band they perform with. We're not in an exclusive monogamist relationship, they're free to go find lovers elsewhere and get what they need elsewhere! That's what it's about!
I find some kind of ironic beauty in knowing this is your last headlining tour. Your music is both party music and sad music, and now you're giving us a reason to be sad and party with you. Do you think that we're more capable of enjoying things when we know they won't last ?
I absolutely think that it's one of the most tragically poetic aspect of being a human being. You know that life is going to end and that's what makes you at least try to cherish every moment that you have. By extension, I think that makes this tour more special because... you know, I never say never, but who knows if or when this will happen again? And if it does, it's certainly gonna be under different circumstances. If we grow large enough to make touring something that is financially stable, then maybe we'll be playing in venues that have a larger capacity and then you don't get that same experience than in an intimate club setting. Whatever the future brings, it's definitely going to be different than this and I think that does make it special.
During the pandemic, a lot of attention was brought on loneliness and many musicians said they were emotionally suffering from not touring. Would you say that touring is better or worst for your sanity?
Way worse. It's terrible. It's really bad because... I know that it may seem, but I'm not an outgoing person in my private life. I'm quite shy, very reserved, I don't really know how to handle myself in social situations, and then there's this constant changing of your environment. It's incredibly stressful for me. I need to have stability, I need something that grounds me to reality and it's very easy to lose touch with reality when you're in a situation like this. Obviously, I think it's something you can adjust to, humans are very adaptable but I definitely feel a certain level of calm when I walk through my door and, you know, sleep in my own bed, being with my wife and my cat, that sort of things that really make me happy and make me feel connected to the world. That's nothing I can achieve on tour.
Some people say that i'ts easier to write new music while they're on tour. Is that your case?
Ironically, I don't have much difficulty writing music in any situation because music is actually one of the only things that sort of grounds me. So, you know : wife, cat, home, bed... and music! The important things! I think the only thing that makes it more difficult is that when you're on tour you have less time and you don't have all your creative tools at hand at all time. Constance (Day, live keyboardist) and I are working on some of her solo music together and it's easy to come up with ideas but to turn those ideas into something that is real is difficult when you've just got your laptop and all your cool gadgets and toys are at home. You think "Oh! I know exaclty how I'll make this sound... but I can't because I just got my laptop and one or two plugins". I feel blessed to be a person who do never runs out of ideas, I dream about ideas, wake up and write them in my notes, I sing little melodies in my recorder in my phone and then I come back in my studio when I get home and it's just as fresh and exciting. Writing music is thankfully easy for me.
Yeah, there's been this crazy period when you were releasing a song every month. Does keeping such a pace help to find creativity or is it draining?
I think having a deadline every four weeks was definitely draining because when you're working under a deadline it can really raise the stress levels. But the other thing is that having a deadline is also very good for forcing you to make decisions. It's very easy to just sit down and listen to the same loop for hours, this could go any direction, and then you're just sort of paralyzed and you never take decision and you never finish the idea. When you've got a deadline, you say "ok, I have to get this done so I'm gonna do it and I'm just going to choose a path", regardless of whether or not I know it's the best, I just choose it and follow it through 'til the end. I think what this pandemic project taught me more than anything was not to put so much weight into my creations. I think we as creators always want every song to be like your Bohemian Rhapsody, you want every song to be your opus. It's important to remember that you just gotta have to produce and release stuff constantly and whether or not it's great is really for the world to decide, it's not your choice. Just do your best every time and consistantly and you get better and it gets easier.
Would you do such a thing again?
I don't know if I would commit myself to write and release one song every single month again... but I do think that projects similar to that are very much a reflection of who I am as a creator in the sense that I like to write a lot of different stuff and I like to just finish it and release it. I get a lot of joy out of that. Will I push myself to release twelve songs in twelve months again ? Probably not. But maybe one song every two months, something like that, so I can have a personal life. During that year I was mostly in my studio the whole time and not enjoying my time at home. So I'd find a better work / life balance.
Can you tell us about this amazingly ugly outfit you're touring with? Is there a story behind it?
It's interesting because I didn't think so... I started exploring these different looks about a year ago during summer festivals simply because I wanted to do things that even I thought are ugly! Right? Because Aesthetic Perfection really is, at least in my mind, philosophically about challenging standards of music, standards of beauty, all that kind of stuff. And I wanted to even challenge myself and my audience and say "look, I'm going to do the mustache and the side-burns". I think they're absolutely ridiculous. You know, I don't look in the mirror and go "wow, that looks good!", I look in the mirror and I go "what are you doing?". For me, it's like a conceptual art project where you're just sort of testing your own limits, what you're comfortable with and what your audience is comfortable with. When I settle down the basket-ball jersey with the women leggings and the bucket head, I just look in the mirror... "You look absolutely stupid! You look so ridiculous!". But I realized, especially the jersey, that it was the antithesis of everything I believed in or lived while in high school. The bucket head was also popular in the nineties aswell, when I was in high school. I'm starting to dress like the people who would pick on me. I sort of realized that it was some sort of subconscious attempt to take that back for myself, take power over that and maybe come to terms with sort of the things I was dealing with as a child or as a teenager. So I took things I find ugly, these things that made my life miserable when I was a kid and I made them mine, I made them with my own style and made some sort of version of mine with my goth persona.
It's interesting because that's exactly the kind of things some goth or industrial elitists would hate, like they would hate your music or your views about Spotify and stuff like that. Do you enjoy teasing them? Would you say that you're a sassy person?
I don't know... I don't know if I'm intentionally, let's say... I'm not trolling in the sense that I'd want to make people mad. I'm not trying to be like the bad guy in wrestling, I'm not trying to be the heel. But I do feel like it's important to say and do the things that I'm doing because I remember when this scene and this music was about experimenting and growing and adapting with the times and using technology as an ally. Now I just feel like I'm surrounded by people who are obsessed with the past. They just want to do the things that were cool twenty or thirty years ago. They want to make the music that was cool twenty or thirty years ago, they want to release music the way it was done twenty or thirty years ago... "Oh, we're gonna do only analog, we're only gonna do vinyl" and all this stuff. You do realize that what made this music cool was that it was cutting edge. These people were rebellious, they were rebelling against the status quo, trying new things. I feel like that spirit has somehow been lost and the scene has been like commodified : we don't make our own outfits anymore, we go to the goth store and we buy the package that has already been pre-packaged for us and probably mass produced in China... This is very much counter to the spirit of the music that I grew up with. So it's not that I'm trying to troll people, but I'm trying to live by the ethos that the people who inspired me lived by.
In the end, are you worried for whatever is to come for you or are you at peace with your decision?
I'm at peace with my decision because I know that nothing is ever for ever. I've always been somebody who's willing to embrace change. Walking away from my record label was terrifying. Firing my manager was terrifying. But I did it because I believed that was right at that time, it was the right choice for me. I understand that if things change in the future and I do find the right label partner or manager partner, then that's a conversation we're having. I think that one of the biggest mistakes that people make is they don't realize that your decisions in your life are always transitory, you're always in a state of change and you should be willing to change your mind about anything when presented with new evidence or when the world changes. Sitting there and being like "No, I'm not gonna use this printing press, this is stupid, I wanna keep reading hand-written books"... Yeah, hand-written books are nice... but they also prevent a lot of people to have access to the information. It's just understanding that life is constantly in a state of transition, and sort of going with the flow, let the river take you where it's gonna take you because if you try to swim against then you're just gonna drown.