Dan Boeckner: What is Legal Vertigo? Is Legal Vertigo a band? Is it you? Or is it a sort of state of mind, or a production company that’s producing art, film, and music? How do you feel that it fits into your whole world? Because you’ve built a vibe around yourself.
Andrew Woods: [Laughs] Are we sitting inside of it?
Dan: We are currently sitting inside of it. And I share that vibe with you, because we share a studio together, and we have for the last three years. I’ve watched the whole process of this record being made, and I’ve watched the vibe go from, like, a gaseous cloud to a solid object that has corners and is definable in space. So, can you answer, what is it?
Andrew: First, if it was a state of mind, that would be at least useful for me to keep making stuff, because then I guess things that become a state of mind are profitable. [Laughs.]
Dan: When you turn it into an ideology, yeah.
Andrew: I don’t want a lot of money. I just want a little bit of it.
Dan: What would you consider a little bit of money? Enough to cover bills and put food in the refrigerator?
Andrew: Yeah. And by food, I mean real food, not like…
Andrew: Yeah. I’m talking about a lot of processed meats.
Dan: Deli slices.
Andrew: I don’t know what that number is, to be honest, because I think it depends on where you live, but I think it does just mean being able to continue doing what you’re doing. It seems like everybody deserves at least that, without too much struggle. It seems possible. I feel that we’re possibly living in an abundance.
Dan: We are living in an abundance. And yet…
Andrew: And yet…
Dan: This is interesting to talk about, too, because from sharing this workspace with you — and, full disclosure, making the Operators’ Radiant Dawn album, which is hands-down the best thing that we’ve ever done, in this space with you — I’ve seen how hard you worked on this Legal Vertigo album. You put a lot of time and energy into it. One thing I like about sharing this space is that you’re clocking in like it’s a job.
Andrew: I’m kind of obsessed with this idea of taking art and executing it using the methods of the 9-to-5. I don’t know why that fascinates me so much. I guess Nick Cave does that, too.
Dan: He does. He’s publicly come out and said his work process is like that.
Andrew: It’s a type of protest, I think, against capitalism — or at least the current form of capitalism that we’re in — to spend a lot of time developing yourself, and thinking about things, and taking art very seriously, and taking other people’s art very seriously.
Dan: That’s kind of a reaction against what I consider to be a totally invented bourgeois idea of the artist as living in some kind of liminal state that doesn’t involve a lot of work, but involves brief periods of intense inspiration. Shit just does not work like that.
Andrew: Yeah. It doesn’t work that way for me. Plus, that ignores the fact that you have to be a person everywhere you go. I don’t necessarily want all of my best creative moments to be in the studio. Sometimes I want them to be when I’m meeting people. So, I’ve tried to cultivate myself in a way that is as creative as possible in more useful situations, also, like helping people with things when I can. I think kindness is part of creativity, too.
I guess if I were to choose what Legal Vertigo was considered, I personally think of it as a production company; it is my outlet for production, for all the things that I’m interested in. It starts with music, because that was my first interest. But then, because of music, I got really into poetry and writing short stories. So, this was a good excuse for me to practice doing that myself, as well as composing music. Now it’s starting to get to the point where I can make videos, which is just an extension. I try to always bring it back to a similar core idea, but that core idea, I cannot define. [Laughs.]
Dan: That’s fair. We were talking about how this project has solidified and sort of has a shape, and part of that shape is you are obsessed with late ’80s, early ’90s, large group awareness, corporate self-improvement culture. When we first started sharing the studio space together, you had a project called Wider Smile, which was pretty much a direct dialogue with that idea, but I see that idea flows through all of the Legal Vertigo stuff.
Andrew: Well, that might just be that ’80s or ’90s corporate aesthetic happens to be the aesthetic that I’ve chosen for a while.
Dan: What attracts you to it?
Andrew: Well, it kind of goes back to my friendship with Dave Biddle, who was the other member of Wider Smile. Him and I shared a studio together, and we got obsessed with this idea of self-help because we both tend to diagnose ourselves constantly with different …
Dan: Psychological ailments.
Andrew: Psychological, not necessarily ailments. [Laughs.] Psychological definitions. So, we started collecting self-help tapes from thrift stores, and we would just play them around the studio while he painted and while I would be doing editing or something.
We noticed this trend that was going on where there are two fields of self-help — one of them is about helping yourself in order to help the world, and the other one is helping others in order to help the world. One of them relies on the idea that you have more free will than the other, basically.
Dan: If you substitute “the world” in both of those sentences with “the company,” you’ve got the basis for a decade and a half of large group awareness corporate fine-tuning, you know?
Andrew: Yeah, and a lot of these corporate problems seem to boil down to this one distinction, in a lot of situations. People think that they should be rewarded so handsomely because they have all the control and they did it themselves, which is just a premise that I don’t see ever, not with anybody that I’ve ever seen that’s been successful. It’s never been just out of their will power did they make it all happen. Sure, there have been extraordinary feats of will, but it still takes a lot of people. When we’re talking about billions of dollars, literally, that just is unfathomable.
Dan: I have a counter-theory as to why that ideology became so ingrained in North American culture, specifically. Once large group awareness jumped from self-help in a sort of civilian context to the business world, it developed its own language, and then it sort of reinfected back into the civilian world. So corp-speak kind of jumped from the civilian to the business world and then mutated there, and then, jumped back.
Andrew: Or at least was thrown back.
Dan: It was thrown back upon us. But my theory is that these large group awareness programs became popular, not because the business community or, like, the newly minted sort of turbo-capitalism of the ‘80s needed to organize its labor and make them more productive — I think it was because you get these people who are at the heads of corporations and they need to make themselves feel better. It was a bandaid for spiritual emptiness.
Andrew: Because they probably do work a lot, and feel like they’ve got to treat themselves. I think they consider themselves [to be] helping a lot of people, right?
Dan: Yeah. It’s kind of a trick of the mind. I think they also feel like they’ve earned it, when, in almost every single case, they haven’t. They’ve used — not all of them, but I’d say, on the whole — a certain platform of privilege to get there. And then there’s this existential guilt that they don’t know how to grapple with.
I specifically like how you have taken this very disgusting ideology and turned it into something positive and explored it creatively. One of my favorite remixed corporate self-help sayings that you guys used was, “We are here, too. Help.”
Andrew: Yeah. That’s a spin on the Bank of Montreal slogan, actually. “We are here to help.”
Dan: We are here, too. Help!
Andrew: I came up with that slogan while I was reading No Logo, that Naomi Klein book, which is insanely good, and also reading a lot of George Saunders.
I just logged on to my online banking and BMO said, “You keep an eye on your money. We like it.” That was what it said under their logo.
Dan: What do they like? They like the money?
Andrew: I couldn’t figure out the compliment they were trying to give me.
Dan: I was thinking about Legal Vertigo yesterday while I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and I saw promoted tweets from hated Canadian cellphone provider Fido, who apparently have some kind of new phone plan. These tweets are getting ratioed to the moon. It’s thousands of comments, people yelling at Fido.
I went through one of the threads, and it was just amazing watching the Fido representatives respond to people who were apoplectic, and then, start arguing with customer service accounts from other Canadian phone companies in this Fido thread. It was a very funny and boring vision of hell that I feel like the darker moments of Legal Vertigo kind of… I feel like it’s a band for our times, even though you’re pulling from a broad canon of rock and electronic music.
Andrew: There’s a perspective that I take sometimes, where I’m like, this is a type of poetry that is generated by late capitalism. The way that corporations choose to speak online and represent themselves has its own poetic side to it.
Dan: How do you think Legal Vertigo fits in with this hyper-post-nostalgia era of art, and the sort of wasteland of late-period capitalism and the way people consume that art? Where do you guys sit?
Andrew: I don’t know how this band fits in, to be honest. I find it really hard to imagine. I have the type of personality where if I see a trend happening, then I immediately try to go in the other direction, just out of impulse. I’m not even proud of that trait; I don’t want to do that, necessarily, but I just do it. So, it makes it hard for me to think about where this music is placed. But what I do know is that, at least, if I spend a lot of time on it and I take it seriously, it’s at least something real. It may not have a solid place, but it at least has a place in reality. It’s a piece of art that was thought about a lot. And whether or not that is good or it does anything, it’s at least fascinating to some people, I’m sure.
Dan: Yeah. Which is interesting, because this era is kind of, it’s definitely an era of disposability, not necessarily in how much effort people put into their art, but in the way that people consume media. Which, I think reflects back onto the creation of the art. Some people are really, really good capitalists at that. They recognize that, and they put a low amount of effort into the creation of the art, but they put a huge amount of effort into positioning it on platforms in a way that people will consume it en masse.
Andrew: Sometimes unconsciously, even, I think. I pretty intentionally and stubbornly worked on this record for three years. But a huge part of that was that I was trying to learn how to use Pro Tools.
Dan: And now you’re pretty good at Pro Tools. You developed a skill.
Andrew: That was initially the goal of the record. I wanted to put on the back, “This record is an advertisement for the variety of sounds I am capable of. If you are interested, please email me at legalvertigo.com.” That’s also part of why the record actually turned out [to be] so many genres at the same time.
Dan: It’s expansive. OK, this is kind of an existential question.
Andrew: Oh, good.
Dan: It leads into another question, but it goes back to what we were talking about, about the world of Legal Vertigo. When does something stop being a joke and start being actual process, and can it be a joke and process at the same time?
Andrew: It’s such an impossible question to answer. My natural reaction to almost everything is to joke about it…
Dan: Yes. Me too.
Andrew: We’re both from small parts of Canada — I’m from Prince Edward Island, you’re from Cowichan Lake. So, we got used to growing up where people just burn each other all the time, I’m sure.
Dan: Yes. And it’s a way of coping, too, with isolation, and the boredom that comes along with isolation and living in a small town.
I’m asking this question partially because my other band, Wolf Parade, has always existed in its own world of us — the band members and our immediate circle of people — hermetically sealed off and just making the dumbest, recursive in-jokes over and over and over again until they just get completely abstracted. That was the genesis of a lot of the first album, but a lot of that record — if you don’t know the in-jokes, that record is definitely very serious, you know? It’s emotional and serious.
I want to know your take: How does comedy relate to process?
Andrew: Well, comedy is a driving force in process, because if you think something’s really funny, then, it makes it way more fun to pursue. But the problem is, sometimes, people think that because you’re trying to be funny amusing yourself, you’re also trying to be funny amusing everybody else. Which isn’t always the case. Then, they start trying to criticize the way that you’re funny, and you’re like, “I’m maybe not doing this for you.” But, I guess, once you do something in public, you’re automatically doing it for other people. So, there’s kind of a circle there. Because if I find something funny, then, I will probably pursue it.
I’m confronted with a bit of a problem with this, because what I’m doing feels like a faux pas right now.
Dan: Does it?
Andrew: In a certain way, yeah. There’s one way of being funny that I think is very acceptable, which is, like, ironic funny. Which tends to be based on, the joke is, “Can you believe it? I’m up here.” You know what I mean? Which is, I think, pretty funny sometimes. But trying to be spirited and funny, or trying to be goofy, is definitely out.
Dan: The thing I like about you guys, and your stage presence in particular, is it seems like you’ve absorbed the lessons of Andy Kaufman and Tim and Eric and combined them with a welcoming openness to the audience. If you take Andy Kaufman, or even some Tim and Eric stuff, there is a total hostility towards the audience; there’s a pure nihilism working under the surface. I like how you’ve managed to take this sort of absurdity and fuse it with a welcoming nature, where everybody in the audience feels like they’re part of something.
Andrew: Maybe some people would consider what I’m doing regressive, in a way.
Dan: I don’t think so.
Andrew: I’m a huge fan of both of those things, as you know, and I would love to approach it that way. That would be really funny, I guess — if I was just totally cold, and I think I could do it fairly well. Although, now that I’ve said this, it kind of gives up the joke, which Andy Kaufman never did. [Laughs.] I could do that, but then, I would just be redoing what he did. I just see my approach as not being that cold. I’ve kind of done that — I’ve done a few shows like that, and it doesn’t feel very rewarding. It feels strange.
Dan: Wider Smile was more confrontational than Legal.
Andrew: We were definitely more in character the whole time. I’s easier when you have your best friend up on stage with you. Not that I don’t have all friends with me now, but when it’s just two people and they both have a mic, it’s a lot different.
Dan: I’ve kind of tempered my approach since I started. I definitely used to love making the audience feel uncomfortable… I’m thinking [of] the early days of Wolf Parade, just purposely deconstructing the space in real-time. The concert venue, the stage, the artificiality of it, whatever scene I was particularly mad at, at the time.
Andrew: It might have been a time and place thing, too, you know? But right now, the last thing I want to do when I go to a show in public is alienate people.
Dan: Yeah. It’s not the time for that.
Andrew: It doesn’t feel like it’s that time. I’m not going to write it off permanently, but it just doesn’t feel that way these days. I actually want to connect to people, and I want people to leave having felt some kind of joy or sadness. I think it is possible to do that while also alienating them, but I’m just not motivated to do it that way right now.
Dan: I think that’s a really good point — now is really not the time to get up in front of a bunch of people and make them feel uncomfortable, or make them feel singled out or divided.
Andrew: Yeah, it would feel awful. I even was jokingly mean to one of my bandmates on stage recently, and it felt so bad. They knew I was joking, but it just hit my soul in this place where I couldn’t reconcile it.
Dan: Let’s talk about your name — this band was formerly called Napster Vertigo, which I think is a fantastic name for a band.
Andrew: Thank you. Would’ve been.
Dan: Would’ve been. And you have a song, “Napster Vertigo.” But you had to change the [band] name to Legal Vertigo.
Andrew: Well, I didn’t have to, is the thing.
Dan: You were encouraged to.
Andrew: I was encouraged to. I did consult multiple lawyers and copyright and trademark specialists on this issue, because when I signed the deal with Dine Alone, it was brought to my attention that I should consider this before I’m going to make a public release with a registered trademark word in my band name. The unfortunate part about it is that I don’t know if Napster cares or not. I never meant any ill will to Napster by naming the band that.
Dan: Of course.
Andrew: I’m actually a fan.
Dan: Who doesn’t like free music?
Andrew: It was a moment in my life that was very fascinating.
Dan: I remember my Limewire days.
Andrew: Yeah. But it was brought to my attention that if they did want to make it a problem for me, then they possibly could. One lawyer told me that my case was defensible, but it would cost me a lot of money, which I don’t have.
Dan: So Legal Vertigo does not have a war chest of riches to put a lawyer on retainer.
Andrew: I’m interested in finding a patron.
Dan: A wealthy patron. I think about this all the time — are we back to renaissance-era patronage for artists?
Andrew: I wonder if we left that, necessarily.
Dan: I don’t think we did. I think we, as Canadians, got kind of hoodwinked in the ‘90s and early 2000s to believe that there was kind of a social leveling of potential for people to do art and make money off of it. I think that it is worse now than it has been in the last 30 years.
Andrew: That’s horrible news as I put out my debut LP.
Dan: But, on the other hand, what are going to do, not make art?
Andrew: Obviously, I know you, and you know me, and neither of us are going to stop doing this just because it’s not profitable. We would stop if we literally couldn’t do it anymore. If we were that broke, then we would for sure stop. But until then, we’re definitely going to keep making art and trying to be thoughtful. Because, for me, I don’t really have the choice. This is a way for me to try to be a good person, I find. This is one of my coping strategies for the complicated world surrounding us.
Dan: This is how you interface with the world.
Andrew: For sure. It’s my relationship to it. I’ve met a lot of people through music, and I feel fortunate for that. So, I’m going to continue to do that. And if it’s not music, it’ll be some other art form. If I can’t have a studio anymore, I’ll at least have a notebook and a pen.
Dan: That’s right. And you won’t get sued, hopefully.
Andrew: And I won’t get sued for that. But I don’t know. I think that’s where it’s at. If we can make some money doing it, then, better. That would be great. I think a happy society encourages poets, if you can call what we’re doing poetry.
Dan: Very true. I think a diseased society needs art; a sick and crippled society needs art to survive, psychologically speaking. I don’t think anybody who’s making the art should pat themselves on the back for helping out in a… you can’t contextualize it in a way that is giving you more credit, because it is just art. But also — we’ve talked about this a lot, at the studio — being an artist as a political act. The best thing you can do, the biggest change you can make, is to do the kind of shows that you guys put on where, for 45 minutes at a time, everyone in the room feels like they’re experiencing the same event and belongs to something. And then they go home, and maybe they feel a little bit better about living in hell world. Or, it distracts them from hell world for a moment. And then, in the practical sense, you make friends and create lasting human bonds, and you help them out in your community.
Andrew: I don’t know how I would meet people if not for being in the music scene.
Dan: Me neither. I would probably just stay home and play Outerworlds.
Andrew: And Final Fantasy.
Dan: I would just play Final Fantasy VII over and over again.