Straight-Talking with Larry Gus

Skype interview by Brenda Bosma
Photos shot by Konstantinos Doumpenidis in Athens, Greece

Three encounters in, we can safely say that Larry Gus confounds and converts wherever he goes. Live, the unbridled energy of his performances induce a moment of mass hysteria. In person, he’s shamelessly inappropriate. We had a chat about distractions and memories among other things, and noted a fondness to the wise words of Woody Allen.


How are you doing?

Well, my one-year-old son hit his head, and because he hit his head in the same place two days ago we had to go to the hospital. He’s alright – he’s a fucking baby; babies don’t care. And ten days ago we moved from Milan back to Athens. It’s the worst timing in the universe. It’s really weird.

I can talk about politics all the time, but when it comes to my music, it’s mostly about my personal failures.

I hear there’s a lot going on there. Does the Greek crisis filter into your new album?

This big hero of mine, Robert Wyatt, who’s extremely on the left politically, somehow manages to give you the idea his music is all about the greater good. For me, I can talk about politics all the time, but when it comes to my music, it’s mostly about my personal failures. At this point I use music as an escape. Life is so bad anyway, so at least I have my music to escape. I do feel bad about that.

You’d like to be more selfless?

Yes, but of course that’s really hard, I have all these things to fight. When it’s about my music, it’s all about my insecurity, feeling humiliated and intimidated. Then I can also feel extreme admiration and extreme jealousy for other musicians. Ideally, I’d like a dominatrix to kick my ass every day.

Aren’t Greek mothers pretty kickass?

Well, I try to persuade my wife. It’s not easy, but I try. As for my mother, in Greece children get this huge amount of love. Most of my generation is so used to this love, but at the same time despises it. It’s this weird and unhealthy balance.

But your music is very, very groovy.

Thank you. I don’t know, but about my wife. She’s like an amazon. She’s the man of the house, in all aspects. Literally she’s amazing. Even when it comes to political actions, she’s much more opinionated and does stuff to be part of the solution. I’m always more hesitant, not reluctant. It’s weird, with my own stuff and life decisions I was always very confident, but when it comes to social scenarios, it becomes a problem.

I still google myself every fucking day.

Do you mind when people call you weird?

No, not at all. I’m just extremely bad, but still it’s something different. To paraphrase Woody Allen: ‘If I have to listen to people telling me I’m good, I have to listen to them telling me I’m really bad.’ Yeah, this’ll never happen for me. I still google myself every fucking day.

All these distractions…

It’s amazing that in a thousand years we’ll just use our brains for different things, ’cause we won’t have any memories. Memories suck. We tend to remember different things and get sad about them.

Yes, let’s talk memories! You use all these samples that must have all these references throughout the history of music, so to speak, but your previous record, <I>Years of Not Living<$>, doesn’t sound like a nostalgic album.

I have so many samples, pre-existing and also made by me. I really like the temporality of it. You get these references, like, ‘Oh, this is a ’70s drum sound’, but on top of the other it sounds like nothing really. Ideally I like it like this. People like Holly Herndon have a strict view on how their music presents the actual present. For me, I’m a nostalgic person, I try to get all these memories to make it sound weird and somehow not refer to anything. Most of the time I fail miserably.

And then comes the jealousy?

Yes – extreme jealousy, and bitterness. It comes from a good place though, because they are so amazing and I admire them. It’s weird, because we have the same set of tools, resources, spend the same time at it and we live in the same age, but somehow it’s never enough and I will never achieve this level of greatness. Woody Allen says it best: ‘I had the best situation to work on everything, like the best crew, the best financial resources, best opportunity, but I never reached this kind of greatness. The only thing that was standing between me and greatness was me and only me.’ I will always try hard, work hard – very hard, I must say – but still I would never reach that. Some people just have it in them, they’re so talented, so crystal clear about what they’re doing. If I keep on working maybe I can change. If I fail I can take this failure and wear it or have it as my girlfriend. I can say that they’re mine, my failures, that I did my best. Maybe some day at the right moment. For now I think I fall short, always. You can only hope that people will be affected by what you’re doing. Some people are confident or just don’t care, for me the weight and the vastness of greatness is oppressive.

Is that why there’s more freedom in constraint? Would you otherwise become overwhelmed?

Always. This is the best way to work. There’s this saying by Oulipo that goes something like, ‘We’re the rocks that we use to build our own labyrinths with which we try to find our escape.’ This is how I feel, I try to make it hard for myself and find my way out. At least you’re having fun working at it. When you’re secluded and working on your own, it’s always perfect, the problems appear when other people get into the equation. You get intimidated or feel that something is wrong.

Do you wish you could control the others as well?

No, I don’t want other people at all. I tried. I had this band with this other guy, but it didn’t last. Since then I can’t trust anyone, at least not for the core. I want to change that, but you know these trust issues reappear.

Like a love relationship?

Oh, they always betray you. [<I>Laughs<$>] Reality crosses your expectations, that kind of stuff. At least you can have some happiness while working. If you can always be happy while working, nobody can take that away from you. Once you start paying attention to what other people are thinking about you and your work, you’re fucked. This all will end, and this will end badly, so hopefully you can still have the happiness and creativity when you’re working alone, like working for five hours, then stopping to go to the toilet, to masturbate, to eat something. You’ll be happy just with that. This is all you need, and if you never forget that this is where it all ends, you’d be happy. This is what I try to do, like, every day, along with playing shows and then going back to the hotel to masturbate and sleep.

Thank you.

Larry Gus’s I Need New Eyes is out on DFA Records/[PIAS] Collective on 02 October. He plays Amsterdam Dance Event at the Melkweg on 17 October.