This week’s Unheard Labor features a first for Penny Fractions: an interview! In June, I spoke to Daniele Yandel of the Washington D.C.-based bands Gauche and Priests about running an independent record label (Sister Polygon
), YouTube culture, and ways to fix the broken parts of music streaming. I’m splitting the interview into two sections, so the second half will arrive next week.
(The interview was condensed and edited)
When I saw [Gauche] last year and you performed [“Conspiracy Theories”] live, and it wasn’t out or anything, I just remember being like, “What is this fucking song?” What led up to that track and what it’s sort of been like performing it, and performing more while you have it on the new record?
There’s a little bit in the [Baffler piece] that I wrote. I was just jamming with my partner and Mary in a practice space, just having a good time. My partner is kind of into conspiracy theories, which once all the Pizzagate stuff happened, I was kind of like, “Don’t talk to me about that shit. Get that away from me.” Conspiracy theories have a long history of being much more left-oriented and that’s how he got into them. He hates Alex Jones as well, but I was still kind of like, “Grrrr.” And so cause I was jamming with him and Mary, “Conspiracy theory” just kind of came out with the cadence I was playing on drums. Then that was what it was, we had those two lines: “Conspiracy theories, I hate Pizzagate / Alex Jones, fuck you too I hate you.” That was kind of it. Then we added all these instrumental moments, cause Gauche is a band of really sick instrumentalists; in a lot of our songs we leave spaces for people to solo, jam out, get weird.
The first time we performed it at [Comet Ping Pong], I think the people there really understood how frustrating it was having yourself painted as a pervert, a weirdo. There is a guy who works at Comet named Josh; he’s a popular drag queen around town and in a band called Homo Superior. And he really leans into being freaky or perverted on stage. He loved to troll all the right-wingers online and be like, “I’m a freaky pervert come right at me.”
We start performing it live and I see Josh and all my other friends who understand this feeling, and I just start moaning and making it weird. I got taken over by the feeling of like, “If you’re going to call me a pervert, well here you go.” I just leaned into that feeling and went hard. After performing the song like that, it just sorta became the shtick of the song. And in a lot of ways I thought it was unfinished, cause me and Mary jammed it and I was like, “This is a really good start to a song but we should do some more with it,” and Mary was like, “Nope, it’s perfect; just leave it how it is.”
Rap is always talking about the internet and internet-y kinds of things like Instagram. Obviously this is something that was happening IRL, but to me it was great to hear [that] those lyrics that [might] seem abstract can seem more real and far more vibrant.
A lot of rappers talk about the internet, because it’s so connected to their income and their ability to get by every day. They don’t have the buffer of Elizabeth Bishop [The 20th century poet] or other white rockers to be like, “My art is separate, different, etc.” It’s like no offense, but your art is now grounded in the internet, because you’re making your money off streaming, off YouTube, and off your social media profile. Some people have the privilege to ignore that social media is part of modern society—people like me, to be honest. I’m a middle class white person, overeducated, etc etc… A lot of people who come up in hip-hop don’t have that advantage and it’s interesting the way Pizzagate put me in that position. I didn’t have that privilege to see it as just an internet phenomena, because it came into my life in a very real, very visceral way.
There is a harder line to be like, “What happens online stays online.” No, it all kind of bleeds into one. So where does streaming fit in within your career and within the bands you’re in right now?
Gauche is entering a new phase right now, because Gauche hasn’t always been a commercial entity up until this point, but when we signed with Merge we kinda entered into the more commercial world. Before, we were essentially just a hometown punk band; we weren’t really making money. My other band, Priests, has been a commercial entity a lot longer, and because I help run a label, Sister Polygon Records, I see how different artists are plugged into streaming.
For Priests, we’ve been a band that’s always made more money off physical sales—sold a lot of records, tapes, and merch. Hit the road a lot, made our money off shows. We’re the old school version of a rock band or a punk band. I really got a new perspective on streaming when Sister Polygon put out Snail Mail; that was an artist who, yes, sold physically well, but was streamed incessantly. They were making a lot of money off digital sales and streams. I think a lot of that was related to their age and the age of their audience. They’re so young—they were like 16 when we put them out—and their audience is super young, so streaming is a bigger piece of the pie for making money. But for someone like me, who is 33 (everyone in Priests is over 30), our fanbase are the oldest millennials and Gen Xers.