Lansing-Dreiden"Not everything has to be popular."
My favorite record in 2003 was self-released by a group that called itself a company and hired muisicians to perform their rare live shows. With only a strange hyphenated name and logo on minimal black and white packaging, and little else revealed in the very scant press they received, you didn’t have much to go on except to check out Lansing-Dreiden work for yourself, and you were lucky if you got that far. Their website did a pretty good job of sharing all the “company’s" creations, arranged by year, but no names or human authorship. Their high-concept artistic touch could be applied to anything, from interior design to literary journals. Lansing-Dreiden’s work was economic, fully realized, and easy to enjoy, which made it stand out from the often indulgent, half-baked, half hustled New York art scene. But their unpopular methodologies and lack of person-hood seemed to confuse or upset others outside of the fine arts arena. Now, they are re-releasing their albums again through Mexican Summer and talking to an old fan.
Okay, so I've been a big fan since 2003, FYI. Huge, huge fan. As soon as I heard Incomplete Triangle I wrote to the anonymous email address asking if you needed an intern.
We wrote back to you?
You wrote back that maybe it wasn’t right at this time.
I remember that.
Yeah, but guess who is in your face ten years later?
I made it happen.
You're more of a member than any of us are.
Okay, so let's talk about the beginning. You guys are all from Miami?
Yeah. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
When did you guys first meet?
In early grade school around the second grade. Our parents were friends.
And that brought you all to NY. Did you all go to Cooper Union?
Three of us went to Cooper.
How did Lansing-Dreiden start?
It just came out of a conversation. Something I think originally from the frustrations of having a band.
What kind of frustrations?
It just seemed like if you have a band and you make a video then the video is less important than the band. The idea was to create a company where everything had the same importance placed on it.
You started it right out of college?
It was that moment when you have to either get a job or you struggle, or you try to do both. We all got jobs but we wanted to make a project happen that kept us interested in waking up in the morning.
Where did the name Lansing-Dreiden come from?
Do we have to answer that?
You don’t have to answer anything.
We never liked how people seemed to always be more of a focus than their work or music. People always want to see what the band looks like, or what the artist looks like as opposed to what the artist thinks as exemplified by the work itself. It's super cliché now but to us it seemed more important just to show the work and not have it attached to a face.
Lansing-Dreiden sounded established.
We wanted it to feel old, like it already existed. We didn't want to feel like we were making this new cool thing. It was more like the baton got passed from some old dudes.
What kind of freedoms did anonymity afford you?
You could be as perverse or misanthropic as you wanted to be and you'd never catch any direct flack from it.
A lot of people loved your music and were frustrated by all the other stuff. Or intrigued. It was mysterious.
The idea of "being mysterious" was maybe like five or ten percent of our interest in it. We just really didn't want to be associated with it personally. Some of us were actually really shy. When we said that in interviews no one seemed to believe it.
So whatever you released would stand in for that. In terms of aesthetics and images.
Those choices were supposed to stand in for what a personality would be. If you think about the history of people dressing up and performing through masks it's pretty vast. It goes back to Ancient Greece. People like David Bowie, Kiss, or Klaus Nomi dressing up and performing through these alternate characters.
But it was never even a band, right? Lansing-Dreiden was a company.
People thought we were a collective, but we weren’t. A collective is a bunch of individuals working together on something. With a company it usually doesn't matter who the CEO is and who the employees are to the rest of the world. The company has a mission and an aesthetic, the cult of personality gets absorbed into the brand image. It has a direction and a goal, and that made more sense to us as a group of artists making work at that time.
And that combined your graphic works, your video, your animation and music.
The point was that you could apply the rules to whatever medium. If you made a video the video would follow the same rules.
What were the rules?
If we try to describe it we're just gonna forget a bunch of stuff that's pretty essential…. We had known each other for so long so we all kind of knew what would fit and what wouldn't, what felt right and what didn’t.
OK. But there are still some basic rules right?
No proper nouns, no colors… No direct references to the real world. Everything Lansing-Dreiden existed in a fictional world. You could maybe reference current events, but through fictional storytelling only. We invented names of towns, and of brands and things like that. It was like a parallel universe.
The bizarro Lansing-Dreiden world.
The central objective to speak through fiction. All of the work stemmed from that. Whether it was a song, drawings, or an installation it just all came from the story.
What was your working process like?
At the studio, there were always sketches and ideas lying around. Certain ones appealed to everyone more than others—those were usually shaped and refined to convey the next step of the company's evolution—like building the story of the company itself as we went along. Someone would go and work on stuff and then present it. Then everyone would be like “that sucks, go back and redo it,” or “that's awesome, let's use that, but this sucks.” That's how a lot of it worked.
That sounds like a different practice for an art studio.
We were producing each other as a producer would do in the studio. That's where the sort of cooperation lies. There really wasn’t anything that was completed by someone without it being talked about ahead of time, or being tweaked somewhere during the process.
It would have gone through the checks and balances.
We had access to a group of like-minded artists with different skill sets. It's rare when everyone can kind of get on the same page and make something that's greater than the sum of its parts. None of us wanted to be an artist in the singular sense. Nobody wanted to be a “front man.” None of that appealed to any of us. We all wanted to make compelling works of art, films, music, etc. We were trying to find the way to do that which gave us the greatest amount of flexibility.
So you could actually do what you wanted.
Where it wouldn't limit us the way "personalities" would, or having to answer for whatever choices we made. Really it was more about freedom and keeping ourselves interested in ourselves. Trying to figure out a context where we could put a metal song on the same album as a drowsy shoegaze song and a freestyle song. If you just start with that kind of goal and you're open to finding the right way to do that it’s possible.
This also ensured a level of quality control.
The strength of some of the work comes from the idea of strength in numbers. Everything had to be ratified by three other people. By the time something was completed we all felt really strongly about it. That kind of confidence imbued the work.
How did the Incomplete Triangle come about?
The Incomplete Triangle was just a mix of ideas. But that was the point—we had lots of different interests. We were listening to demos we made and finding the recurring themes, and then categorizing them. The categories were based on Ancient Greek court music. They wouldn't really play songs—they would play modes: War, Rest, and Celebration. That’s is the structure of the album.
It was a surprisingly listenable album.
We wanted to make work that was superficially seductive—pretty on the surface but still allowing the listener to delve as deep as they wanted to. Hopefully the deeper they delved the more rewarding their experience would be. I remember that was an overarching thing that we'd come back to.
It was pretty different from the music being made at the time.
You have to remember at the time Peaches was the most popular thing. You'd go out and people would be playing Peaches or Outkast. We wanted to do something that was a little more serious feeling. We wanted it to be old, quiet, and dark.
My favorite tracks have totally changed over the years. At the beginning I was really into the first part of Incomplete Triangle. Now I'm like all about the techno parts.
That's cool. We can only hope for something like that. The first record was surprising to people that so many genres were touched upon. By the second record people were more ready for that. Then we did a record of hip hop remixes.
What was the reaction to the music?
We always had great reaction. Everyone pretty much liked and respected what we were doing, to the point it had the ability to be ripped off, which was really the greatest honor. There was a certain point where someone made a fake website of ours trying to bash us. It felt really amazing that someone would spend the time to do that.
Did you get more attention for your music than your art?
Music is easier for people to digest in general… But all the press for the music was really bad. It was always less about the music and more about the company. Like the Pitchfork review.
I totally wrote to the Pitchfork reviewer and defended you at the time. They barely mentioned the music.
Someone told us from within the walls of Pitchfork that it got a lot of mail. It's just so funny how insecure people are about how they feel about art. Sometimes it seems people just want everything to be the same shit. In general the art was more positively received than the music was, but to a smaller audience.
But the music is what's really lived on you know.
Because music is just a file you download and you can listen to it whenever you want. It's more of an effort to look and think about art.
There wasn’t much crossover in the audiences.
There was a block specifically because Jay-Z wasn't talking about Picasso and dancing with Marina Abramovic either at the time. There was so little overlap. At the time it was a big thing that Fischerspooner was working with Deitch Projects.
Can you remember how many shows there were, or live performances?
Fifteen at the most. They varied. One time we had two drummers. One time we painted a guy white and had him do some performances for us in Miami.
Was that an actor or was that somebody you knew?
That was an artist we knew that could draw well. There was a lot of overlap with his work and we felt he was perfect for the role—which reprised his role in a music video. It's good to mention that piece just to show that we have had a sense of humor at different points in the trajectory of our project.