An interview with Justin Wright of Expo 70

 

Justin Wright is the driving force behind Expo 70 and its impressive list of releases. He also has his own label Sonic Meditations. His mix of guitar laden Krautrock, drone, minimalism and Kosmische music has been regularly bathing our ears here at Progress Report. So we decided to find out a little more about the Expo 70 project. The email interview below was done by David Bourgoin.

 

PR: Can you tell us a bit about your musical background? Where there any bands/groups/solo projects you were involved in before Expo 70? And if there were what sort of music were you making? Did any of it every get released?

JW: Well, my very first band was when I was in high school back in the early 90s with a band called Stand, which after a year or so gained a new singer and direction, which we called restrain. That band featured Sean Ingram who became the lead singer for Coalesce, a hardcore metal band. After graduating I moved to Boston and played in a few projects that never really took off. I decided to move to California where I met Aaron Coyes of Peaking Lights. At the time  he was in a band called Hearts of Snow and we decided to start a side-project called Spacecobra that was a free-form psychedelic band that incorporated 2 drummers. That lasted about  5 months and we played about 3 shows then I moved to Los Angeles. During my stay in L.A. I played with Peter Lyman, who now runs Infrasonic Sound Studio and Mastering. We formed a band called Living Science Foundation, which self-released a demo and a CD on Second Nature Recordings. That band was a mix of dub, psychedelia and post-rock. Also during that time Peter and I started a side-project that was focused on improvisation that we called Electric Sky that fused dub, post-rock and noise. We recorded about 5 sessions during the 3 years that Living Science Foundation were together. The concept for Expo 70 started around the same time as Electric Sky and the first documented foray into what would be come Expo 70 was back up in Oakland with Aaron Coyes in 2002, I think. That recording session has never been released. After returning to L.A., I decided to further experiment in the same fashion as I did with Coyes and began playing with Paul Kneeje of The Manifolds and Bipolar Bear and that became Expo 70.

PR: So perhaps an obvious question but one I guess you're asked a lot. Why did you name the project Expo 70 and is there any link/connection to the Expo 70 that took place in Japan.

JW: The name came subconsciously, after the first initial session with Aaron Coyes, I thought of it and then realized it was an actual event and thought the theme of the 1970 world exhibition fit well with how I thought the project should be executed. The theme was Progress and Harmony for Mankind.

PR: Expo 70 seems to be a solo project but then other people turn up in it. How does that work? Is it your project and other people are invited to join in for specific projects and given direction or is it a more a lets see what happens if we jam together type of scenario?

JW: Its more based on lets see what happens if we jam together, but it is my project and I feel like the arranger in some ways. In the early days, I felt it necessary to have another person involved as I wasn't clear on the sound or direction and had ideas for other sounds I couldn't create on my own and wanted a dense sound. Since my return to Kansas City and pursuing the project, I have shaped it more into a solo act, but with the help of everyone I have played with contributing elements that I try to carry on.

PR: It might just be my ears but there seems to be a lot of a seventies cosmic influence around at the moment. Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze those sort of synth based bands that appeared in the early seventies really seem to have had a large influence on bands like Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never. Is that an era that you feel has influenced Expo 70 at all? Certainly from a listener point of view I can see that in there but it could of course all be completely sub conscious to you.

  JW: Well, you're dead on with that, I have always been very into music and have been into all kinds of genres throughout the years, but most what has stuck with me are early 70s music. At some point while living in California I started getting very into jazz, free-jazz and avant-garde music and I think that lead me to other bands similar to Can, which had been one of my favorite bands for quite some time and the whole German Kraut movement. I have spent a lot of time around musicians and different underground music genres that I felt there was the same aspect of music back in the 60s and 70s, people making music outside of commercialism or what commercialism had sounded like to me since my initial exposure to it in the early 80s. I would much rather listen to my Dad's reel-to-reels of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin than what was on MTV or the radiowaves.

PR: Can you tell us a bit about the working methods of Expo 70? Are you analogue based or does digital play a role? Do you prefer one over the other? What equipment is used in the making of an Expo 70 album?

JW: I much prefer analog and anyone that has seen me live can see that very clearly. I think the only time I use anything digital is for recording. Analog equipment is very expensive to maintain these days, but when I can, I try to use all analog equipment. I just recently recorded a new album, which was digital, but ran through analog equipment into a computer via tube compressors and an analog mixing console. I prefer the warmth to the vast openness of digital technology.

PR: Are your pieces worked out first before you record them or is there an element of improvisation in their composition?

 

JW: Mostly its all improvised, that is the concept of Expo 70 when I initially started the project. There are time when I have specific ideas and try to execute them as best I can. I have been playing with two drummers on occasion and we outline a set with parts and structure, but its very loose and open for improvisation within the structure, much like free-jazz I suppose. On the album The Vanishing World Within there are parts that are structured and layered for recording purposes.


PR: A number of your releases have been on cassette. A format that seems to be making something of a resurgence recently. Was there any particular reason for putting things out on cassette? It seems
a bit of a step backwards for labels given the negatives like tape hiss, flutter, availability of blank cassettes?

JW: Well, there has been a big resurgence and I think for a lot of people that prefer analog over digital love the format. It seems that more than anything, the CD is becoming somewhat obsolete as we're in a very digital era. I would love all my releases to be on vinyl, but some are too long and are better released on CD or cassette. Most cassettes I have made at a manufacturing plant do not have hiss or flutter, that tends to come out more on home dubbing when people use old cassette decks for reproduction. Its nice to see the cassette still dominating the underground music scene in a way as it did back in the 80s.

PR: I don't believe Expo 70 have played much in Europe is something you're hoping to do any time soon?

JW: Yes, very much! I have only been over there once to France in late 2008 for a festival. I hope to come back and play some festivals and tour Europe very soon.

PR: You released a couple of audio archive albums back in 2007 and one in 2009. They gave a useful insight into the way Expo 70 went about things. Do you plan to do any more ofthese and if so are they in the pipeline now ?

JW: Yes, I have been trying to figure out the packaging of the next Audio Archive series and how to present them in cassette format as well as CDrs
like the originals.

PR: Are there any other bands you feel it would good and productive to work with on an album and have you any plans to do any collaborative work?

JW: Last year I did a collaboration with John Bohannon from Ancient Ocean and Adam Kriney, the drummer from La Otracina. That material has yet to be mixed or released. Last month I collaborated with local musicians in Breathing Flowers and we opened for Nektar and Brainticket as part of their reunion tour in St. Louis. A release just came out called Light Poured Out of Our Bones on Preservation that was a collaboration
between Aaron Martin and myself.

PR: Whats in the immediate future from Expo 70?

 

JW: I just recorded a new album for Blackest Rainbow that will be released on vinyl, two songs from that session will be on a single-sided LP on a new label called Sound of Cobra and all the tracks will be collected for a CD release on Universal Tongue. A re-release of White Ohms on CD will be coming out on Essence Music with a bonus CD ofunreleased material and Essence will also issue a new album that features 2 drummers and a bassist. A cassette with newer material recorded earlier this year will be released on Snakefork. At some point Beta-lactam Ring will issue a 3xLP box set for Black Ohms and my label Sonic Meditations will continue to re-release earlier albums on vinyl. Ill be laying low on touring for now until next year.

 

Our thanks go to Justin for agreeing to do the interview. If you want to find out more about Expo 70 then visit Justin's web site www.exposeventy.com