It may come as a surprise to many that Eddie Ruscha has made music for decades. The Los Angeles native has led a quietly prolific career since the early 1990s; he's worked with legends like John Cale and DJ Harvey, he's toured with the Flaming Lips, and he's released a bevy of experimental music on major labels as well as homemade cassettes. But his latest record, a full-length solo album released under his Secret Circuit moniker via Tim Sweeney's Beats in Space label, feels like the most polished piece in his sprawling catalog. Having made his Beats in Space debut when he provided a mix for Sweeney's WNYU radio show in 2010, Ruscha is responsible for two of the imprint's 12"s, both of which are included on Tactile Galactics, the label's recently issued first LP. Although it's been a long road for Ruscha, the terrain has hardly been mapped, so we sat down with both Sweeney and Ruscha just prior to the album's release date to get the untold full story behind Secret Circuit and his many guises.
Eddie Ruscha: Is this the party line?
Tim Sweeney: Yeah, this is our party line tonight. So, how are things with you?
ER: Pretty good, man. Just gearing up for this record. What about you?
TS: I'm getting geared up for this record, too. I'm nervous!
XLR8R: What are you nervous about?
TS: I'm nervous because it's the first album. I love this album so much, and I'm trying to get that across to people. I want people to understand that this record's awesome, and they need to go get it.
XLR8R: What about you, Eddie?
ER: I'm nervous, too, but I feel pretty good. I think the people that are meant to understand it will get it.
"Heigher Heights" from Tactile Galactics
XLR8R: Right on. You know, I was doing a bunch of research about your past work, and although there seems to be a lot of it, it's hard to find a coherent timeline that maps out your career. I'm wondering if you might be able to give me the history of Eddie Ruscha's music. Start in the '80s.
ER: I was in high school bands, noise bands—I was into anti-music. I think I played bass, noise, tapes... stuff like that. After that, when I was in art school, I joined this band Medicine, and we got signed.
TS: To Creation Records, which is a big deal. Did they fly you out to the UK for the signing of it or anything like that?
ER: Yeah, we did go to the UK. We got to meet up with My Bloody Valentine. We toured with the Flaming Lips in '91. That was pretty amazing.
TS: Yeah, that must have been crazy. OK, so, what happened then? How long was Medicine [around] for?
ER: I left that band after a year and a half, something like that. Then I started another band called Maids of Gravity, and we got signed to a label called Vernon Yard, which was a smaller label under Virgin Records. That was short lived, but we made a record with John Cale, who produced it. And then after that, I got much more into electronics.
TS: How did that happen? Were you listening to some records that made you want to do that progression into electronics?
ER: I was always into that stuff, I was way more into experimental music my whole life. After dealing with labels and things like that, I was like, "I just want to do something that's completely alien to anyone's mode." I decided to make bizarre electronic music—I had this project named Dada Munchamonkey, which was basically mysterious electronic music. My friends had this label called Exist Dance, and they were like, "Man, people should hear this." So they decided to put out a record of my stuff.
TS: What year?
ER: By the time the record came out, it was, like, 2000. Then, they were like, "We should do a remix companion to this record," and brought this pile of different remix ideas over. My friend Tom Chasteen played all this stuff for me, and I was like, "Eh, this is boring, this is boring." Then he put on one by someone named The Mammal, and I was like, "Okay, now we're talking." It ended up that The Mammal was Thomas [Bullock] from Rub N Tug. He did this remix, and he loved the record that I made.
TS: What was the connection with him? That guy from the record label knew Thomas?
ER: Yeah, Tom Chasteen [from Exist Dance] decided to bring all these different remixer ideas over. He played, like, five things, and then he put The Mammal on, and I was like, "This is the guy." It ended up that Thomas [Bullock] really started getting into the records that I had made for [Exist Dance]. He thought, "I have to make some music with this guy," so he contacted Tom [Chasteen] and said, "I'm coming to LA. I want to meet Eddie." We all hooked up at my studio and made this track—it had all these African samples on it. It was done with an 808 machine, and it was really cool. Me and Thomas were just vibing right then, but we sat on that track for a long time. Every time he came to LA we hooked up and recorded and hung out. Then all of a sudden, he says, "Hey, I have this friend of mine and he's starting a label, and he wants me and you to make a record."
TS: Ah. And that was Laughing Light of Plenty.
TS: Okay—but that track that you originally made, you guys sat on it?
ER: That track never saw the light of day, but it ended up actually turning into "The Rose." There was nothing left of the original by the time "The Rose" became what it was. There was nothing left of that first track, except some strange percussion things going on and a couple drum sounds, but everything else was wiped away.
TS: I would love to hear that original, seriously. Did Thomas ever do that remix of your old stuff?
ER: Yeah. It came out on the 12", and it also came out on a CD. That was 2000 or 2001.
TS: Ah, I gotta hear that too. I haven't heard that before. So then you hooked up with Thomas [Bullock] and you guys did the Laughing Light of Plenty album. Then what happened?
ER: We did that [album]. Meanwhile, I had been doing Secret Circuit stuff. That was my way of constantly making music, which is something that I just had to do. So, I was making little things, CD-Rs and tapes and things like that. But it was basically just, like, me experimenting. It's what I always did.
TS: How long did it take you to make the Laughing Light of Plenty album?
ER: It's kind of a blur. It went through so many different phases for its completion. We went through this whole phase of mixing it, which turned into this other creative process on it. It took two or three years before the record even came out. The final version of "The Rose" was finished around 2004 or 2005.
TS: You guys did that track in 2005, but the album didn't come out till 2010, right? Or 2009?
ER: The 12" of "The Rose" came out in 2008.
TS: Yeah, "The Rose" came out in 2008, but the album basically came out in 2010, sort of. 100 copies went to Japan.
ER: Yeah, that's what I heard.
TS: I have two copies at home, though. When I retire I'm gonna sell those, and that's how I'm gonna afford everything in my life.
ER: We did some other stuff, too. I started working on that second Map of Africa record, which never came out.
TS: The original Map of Africa record, were you doing anything on that one?
ER: I didn't do anything on the original one.
TS: But the second album you were a part of.
ER: Yeah. I played bass on a couple tracks.
TS: What did that album sound like?
ER: There was some amazing stuff on there. There was this one country song on there that was just completely berserk. Carlos from the label was like, "Let's put together a supergroup of all the people we want, and make this record." Then we did that Food of the Gods thing, with [DJ] Harvey on drums. I got my friend Tim Koh, who plays in Ariel Pink's band now, to play guitar on it. We made a whole record, but that record never came out.
TS: There was a 12" from that. But [you're saying] there’s a whole album? There’s an album from Food of the Gods and an album from Map of Africa that are just sitting somewhere.
TS: Were you getting frustrated that those albums weren’t coming out? Or [were you just moving] on to the next thing?
ER: I’m always on to the next thing. I was waiting to see how it played out. It was bizarre that the records never came out, but I always figured there was some strange force at hand that was making things the way they are.
XLR8R: When do you come into the picture Tim?
TS: I don’t know!
ER: I think you entered the picture because you contacted me to make a mix for Beats in Space.
TS: Ah, I did. Good. I’m glad I did that. You also do these cassette-tape mixes as well. Cosmic Tapes, right?
ER: Yeah, those are things that I make in my studio that never really see the light of day. When I heard Daniele Baldelli, I was like, "Wow, this is the most important thing that I've heard since first hearing Can. This sums up what I want to do musically." So basically, that was my homage to Daniele Baldelli; I made these tapes, the Cosmic Tapes, but of my own music. There have been three so far, but I have some more.
I started throwing my stuff up on the internet to see what happens, and some guy named Thomas Kågström hit me up and said, "Hey, do you want to make some more aggressive electronic music for this label I'm starting?" I was like, "Man, actually, I have two tracks that would be killer for that." I sent them to him and he was like, "Yeah, these are amazing." And then all of a sudden he said that his label wouldn't be happening. But, oddly enough, he gave the songs to Tim Sweeney.
TS: Oh really? Thanks, Thomas.
XLR8R: So, then, are we close to the first 12" coming out on Beats in Space?
TS: Yeah. Then we put out that first 12", and from there, it was just like, “Let’s do more.” It was awesome. Then we did the second 12"—is that all we did? We just did a second 12", right?
ER: I think we had the record in mind first, and then it was like, "This is sick."
TS: Yeah. "Afterlife" was a single preceding the album.
XLR8R: You’ve had a really prolific career, but in a way, it’s been pretty quiet. This seems like a polished and almost your most official release.
ER: I would say so, for sure. Definitely.
TS: This is gonna be fun. I can’t wait til this comes out, you know. I hope people get it. I want people to get it. But I dunno, I’m psyched all the time. I’ve been listening to it for so long, and I’m still not bored of it. That, for me, is the whole idea with the record label. I want to put out these records that I could still listen to 10 years from now and not feel bored of it. When I can listen to something over and over again, and it doesn’t get boring to me, that’s when I know it’s something I’ll still listen to in 10 years and feel good about.