In many ways, the spectral drones and ambient textures that guitarist and sound guru Jeff Barsky conjures up as Insect Factory are tailor-made for these times.
The music of Insect Factory forces us to slow down, reflect and focus our attention in a different way — much like the COVID-19 pandemic itself. Insect Factory invites listeners to push the pause button on their hurried existence so they can lose themselves in an immersive sonic world that is both meditative and atmospheric.
In March, Insect Factory released a three track EP, “Distancing,” that perfectly encapsulates why Jeff’s compositions are so well suited for this strange experiment of social isolation we are all participating in.
The fact that Jeff has continued to make music as Insect Factory while taking an active role in some of DC’s most potent bands, speaks volumes (no pun intended – really!) about his commitment to his art.
With WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE continuing to hold monthly music listening events in a livestreaming format, we have invited Insect Factory to perform a special set for our Friday, May 1st show. We couldn’t be more excited!
I got in touch with Jeff to learn more about what it’s like to make and perform his music in this strange new era. Check out our interview below…
You’ve been making music as Insect Factory for over 10 years, even as you’ve played an active role in other noteworthy bands like Mock Identity (RIP), Time Is Fire, and most recently Bed Maker. Would it be fair to say that Insect Factory scratches a creative itch that your other projects do not?
Jeff: Yes – it does, but maybe not in the obvious ways that might be the easiest to grab onto. While I do have collaborators, Insect Factory is driven by me. I’m not interested in new pedals, new far out sounds – not interested in being the loudest, the noisiest, the quietest – those extremes aren’t interesting to me. I just really approach this as being a guitar player and trying to express or share some type of meditation that hopefully reaches a hypnotic level for people so that we can reflect. Sometimes I am an audience member to myself and allow myself to see where it will go.
Playing songs with other projects, because of my style of music making – with a lot of improvisation and freedom and looseness – aren’t incredibly different. But from a more general standpoint, it’s nice that this project can start and stop whenever I feel like it. It exists during performances and then disappears. When my bands are in busier or more demanding times, I tend to do Insect Factory less.
(photo by noise floor photography)
My favorite description of Insect Factory’s sound comes from an interview you did with Washington City Paper several years ago. You said, “I think that Insect Factory is like taking a pop song and slowing it way down so that a second lasts for 20 minutes.” It’s this idea of slowing things down to reveal hidden sounds and the spaces in between — something Insect Factory does so well. But it also touches on the fact that you’re a musician who plays experimental music who isn’t trying to willfully distance himself from the elements of pop music, even though Insect Factory is pretty far removed from it. How do you see it?
Jeff: I remember that interview. I still see it this way. Pop music isn’t something to run from. It’s not far from what I’m doing at all. As far as “influence” goes, I don’t really think we control what influences us as much as we may sometimes think we do. I think our brains are probably conditioned greatly to this western idea of resolution in art – with books and movies and music – and even listening to some far out experimental music, we probably seek out chords or melodies or notes that resolve or ideas or motifs that resolve in some fashion. Textures can resolve. As can dissonance or ways that we use timing or rhythm or volume. And I think this is related to pop music, which frequently wears “resolution” on its sleeve in a way that other forms do not. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still unconsciously seek out that feeling where we can find it or grasp onto it.
Insect Factory released a three track EP in March called “Distancing.” Even though the tracks were recorded in 2019, they strike me as perfectly suited for these strange and scary times we’re in. The three tracks on offer – “Warm Clouds,” “Slow Motion Bloom,” and “Politics of Distance” are all very different from each other, with “Politics of Distance” sounding especially alien and foreboding. What can you tell us about recording these pieces last year and having them recontextualized for these COVID-19 times?
Jeff: The sounds of the tracks weren’t really meant particularly for these times. I tend to just record hours and hours of music, and then go back to see what fits well together. I don’t really hit “record” with the intention of making something releasable. I don’t really know why I picked those three, or what seemed to flow to my ears with them all. It probably just represented a need or feeling I had, and the context of later March was different from now – there was more “newness” to this situation in my mind. Even though there is still obviously a lot of uncertainty. Which is maybe why I picked tracks that felt disconnected in some way. I’m not sure.
You recently participated in a compilation of alternative music being made by musicians all over the world under quarantine. What can you tell us about that?
Jeff: Campbell Kneale wrote to me and asked me to contribute to this comp. He lives in New Zealand and is responsible for decades of beautiful sonic explorations. One of his many projects, Birchville Cat Motel, released probably over 30 or 40 records of gorgeous droney music: https://campbellkneale.bandcamp.com/album/chi-vampires
The artists are of the noisier variety and the comp includes many friends and people I’ve shared bills with in the past: Howard Stelzer, Brendan Murray, Rambutan, RST (who shared a split 7″ with Insect Factory 8 or 9 years ago). Howie Stelzer is also contributing some really, really cool sounds to the new Insect Factory LP.
(photo by Pete Duvall)
For my last question, I wanted to touch on a recent Facebook post of yours that I especially appreciated. You said that you enjoy seeing all the social media sharing of images of favorite records and films, but did not like the instruction to just show the image and not share comments about them. You said what we need now is more connection, not less. I could not agree more. What’s it been like for you to connect with others at a bizarre and uncertain time of shared isolation? Do you see any positives coming from this weird experiment we’re all in together?
Jeff: Thanks for appreciating that. Online connection isn’t really connection without the people there being able to really, truly connect. Which happens in person. One of the first things I did after this presidential abomination several years ago was to delete Emoji off of my phone. I just felt like that could be one small personal contribution to help people hear each other. Not sending a picture of a sad face or happy face, but to actually do the work to express more. What’s more salient – sending a picture of a confused Emoji face, or saying, “This thing happening in the world or in that article is confusing to me. Let’s talk.” I have a lot to say as a school teacher about positives right now. And I use “positives” as a way to talk about how we can move forward after the virus, but not as something synonymous with bringing joy or good. It has ripped the band-aid off of our understanding of pervasive inequity. Specifically economic and racial disparity during the virus, the inequity of access to food, technology for school, personal space, employment opportunities, and it goes on and on and on. Kids of color or lower economic status worry far more frequently about their parent still going into work, yet this worry and risk is not shared by all. I think that more people are waking up to this. Corona did not create these conditions; these conditions were always present and right now we are shining a flashlight on it. Donate to organizations like http://www.Mannafood.org, http://marylandcasa.org/, or whatever you can find. There are people and organizations doing the work.
Could not agree more Jeff. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful interview.
Catch Insect Factory’s set at the WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE livestream show on Friday, May 1st at 10pm EST. You can view the show on the official WFTBO Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/wftboDC/
Listen to and purchase Insect Factory recordings on Bandcamp, follow Jeff on Twitter and don’t forget to “Like” Insect Factory on Facebook.