Anyone who has ever attempted to put pen to paper or hand to keyboard or brush to canvas knows that while soul-fulfilling and transcendent, making art is sometimes like reaching down your throat, rooting around your guts and throwing your still-beating heart on the table for the ungrateful masses to poke at in disdain. In short, it’s hard, something that JD Samson of JD Samson & MEN knows only too well — and expresses quite thoroughly on her upcoming album, Labor.
In her new single, “Making Art,” Samson turns a stream of consciousness session into a thrumming dance song about all the frustration inherent in, well, making art. “Your friends are making art and I wanna/And my friends are making art and I’m gonna,” Samson sings over a driving beat created by Cobra Starship’s Alex Suarez. “It just came out of me and it was just this really guttural feeling I was feeling in that moment, which was just about this experience of feeling like I’m anxious to make work,” Samson told MTV Hive of the track.
That raw feeling runs through the rest of Labor, Samson’s followup to the band’s excellent debut, 2011’s politically charged Talk About Body. Samson — formerly of Le Tigre — told Hive that Labor is her most personal work yet, a tortured, twisted (yet surprisingly danceable) body of tracks that dabbles in politics as well as the less definable things in the corners of her mind.
Samson recently chatted with Hive about Labor, stream of consciousness composition and the most famous lesbian cat in the world. Check out our Q&A — and “Making Art” — below:
So the record. I’m curious, first off, about the title. There’s all different kinds of labor and it’s a word that could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
The funny thing is that the name came last — as it usually does, for me, at least. But I think the difficult part of naming this record was it came out of so many different feelings and places and trying to find a common thread to talk about it was really complicated. And also trying to find a word that meant so many different things. That’s why this word seemed to make sense for it.
This is one of the first records that I’ve completed that’s felt emotional and introverted and personal. I usually make work that feels community-based and extremely communal. This work, to me, felt very personal and singular. Labor is funny because it kind speaks to the idea that this is work and it’s hard work and it’s complicated work — both as an occupation, but also personally in finding my way through my own feelings and through my own body.
In that vein, you were talking about the process of making art — the song “Making Art” was so interesting to me because I think it’s something that people who create things could probably really relate to. It sounds like it’s about being stuck.
Totally. That song was really interesting. This was the first record we worked with outside producers and in such a strong way where I really gave other people a lot of power. That was really an interesting experience for me, but I secretly really loved it and enjoyed kind of giving other people’s creative edge the strength it deserves. This particular song — Alex Suarez who we were working with gave me this instrumental and was like, “I don’t know if you want to sing something over it — maybe you’ll want to use it for the record.” And I sat down and I sang exactly — I re-sang it, but I didn’t change anything — it’s exactly the way I first sang it.
It just came out of me and it was just this really guttural feeling I was feeling in that moment, which was just about this experience of feeling like I’m anxious to make work. I’m anxious for people’s approval. I’m anxious about the comments. I’m anxious about the conceptual nature of this project. I’m anxious about what I’m doing with my own life. I’m anxious about so much. I feel like I just wanted to remind myself why I make work and how I make work and it just came out of me for this song.
Is that how you wrote a lot of the songs? Some are very chant-like. Like they’ll slowly change and build as the song progresses.
Totally. I think that the way that I like to make artwork is just this approach of like creating meaning out of what comes out naturally. I think sometimes my bandmates or my friends are like, “What does it mean?” and I’m like, “Oh, it means so many different things.” I feel like even if it feels like nonsense, it actually goes so deep. That’s just a part of understanding conceptual art for me — is even if something sounds good or looks good it still has a conceptual meaning behind it and that’s really important for me to always stick with. If you think about the song “Next” — I think that might be one that you’re talking about — it’s kind of like a chant. This idea of a chant also feels like something that goes along with labor so much — this continuous, monotonous lament.
What story is the record telling?
It’s kind of the story of an anxious stressed-out character who’s trying to find their way through this record by going deep within themself and fighting their own demons. And that person is me.
We had too many songs, actually, for the record, so I felt good about the way we ended up with the sequence. It feels a little bit like, to me, like there are some really poppy songs, there’s some really political songs, there’s some really experimental songs and I love the way that they all kind of fit together in the record. It’s not one thing — as no human is. It’s all these different things trying to fit together. So it feels really real to me in that sense.
In terms of being political or not being political, I think that, yeah, this record is the first time where I’ve looked inside myself more than looking outside. The first record we did felt so — I think I never said “I” in the whole record. In this record, I barely ever say “we.” So it was a really interesting growth for myself also.
Yeah, it seems like you’re grappling with relationships here — as opposed to in the last record.
Yeah, it’s funny…. It does seem that way because we did put out “All The Way Through” as the first single. Also, the way that I was just not so specific with my words. It’s not as literal the first record. So I think that’s a little different. Yeah, it’s totally more emotional.
Is that a cat?
Yeah, she keeps meowing today. I don’t know why.
Is it your cat?
Yeah, I just got her last year. My neighbor and my friend was moving, so she had to get rid of the cat.
She sounds very melodic.
Yeah, she’s really awesome. She was first owned by Bianca from CocoRosie and then she was owned by Kim Ann Foxman and then she was with my neighbor. And now she’s with us.
She’s like a music cat.
Famous lesbian cat!
JD Samson & MEN will self-release Labor on October 22.