An Interview with GRRL
James Mapley-Brittle is GRRL, the extremely cool and prolific Durham-based DJ, curator, producer, and NTS radio affiliate. His latest release, the cerebral and exhilarating EP Inertia is filled with glitchy bangers, and was recorded in collaboration with Made of Oak (Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso). Inertia was released this past September via Psychic Hotline.
Psychic Hotline: Are you from Durham originally, or did you move here later? And how long have you been making music?
James Mapley-Brittle: I’ve lived here basically forever. I’ve been making music for, like, seven-ish years now.
PH: Could you tell me a little bit about your personal journey into electronic music? Were you an analog musician who eventually moved into this realm, did you always start there?
JMB: I’ve been a fan of music for as long as I can remember, but I’d never made music before starting this project.
Being a kid and playing video games like Wipeout, SSX, and Ape Escape left a big impression on me. That, and going to the library and checking out CDs all the time. Initially I was just picking stuff based on what cover looked the coolest to me, but those albums were, like, Post by Björk and OK Computer by Radiohead and Kala by M.I.A and a bunch of other stuff that completely blew my mind. I never stopped being into it after that. Also the internet, obviously.
PH: @grrlmusic is really active as a sort of “mood board” on both Tumblr and Twitter. I think it’s cool that the aesthetic world of GRRL plays such a big role in the project, and that it’s in a way that feels natural. Can you tell me a little bit about the relationship between visual imagery and GRRL’s music? How much does one inform the other? How much inspiration do you get from images, static or otherwise?
JMB: That’s kind of what I’m like in person as well. I like finding and sharing stuff with people, and it’s really helpful for me to, like, leave little trail markers behind and keep everything organized that way for future reference. It’s also a lot easier to specifically articulate how you want something to sound, or what you want something to look or feel like when you’ve got a bunch of related pieces laid out in front of you. It’s like making a little map and triangulating your position through the placement of other things and their context and history.
The connections between your own original ideas and everything you’ve ever seen or interacted with that left an impression on you are being made whether or not you leave them buried or bother to dig them up. I find it a lot more enjoyable and personally fulfilling (and less maddening) to think of creative projects as being a link in a long chain of things that you love and care about, as opposed to being just another piece of content to get lost in the endless stream of the internet.
It’s mostly just talking to myself out loud in public, but it’s fun to leave that process open so that other people might be able to find something in it too.
PH: I know you’ve DJ’d a lot, remixed for other artists, but can you tell me about the experience of collaborating with Nick [Sanborn] on the GxM EP? What was that like for you? How did your work process feel differently?
JMB: It’s great because it really feels like something that couldn’t exist without the both of us. I normally work on music alone, but it’s been nice to develop that rapport and work with another person on music with the goal of releasing it. Having the perspective and input of another person is so valuable. It gets rid of a lot of the indecision and second-guessing involved in making things. It’s also, like, really fun.
PH: The EP and its visuals… I’d love to know more about your approach there. Obviously Aaron [Anderson] and Eric [Timothy Carlson] crushed it, but how much of that guidance came from you and Nick, versus their interpretations of the songs?
JMB: While we were working on it, Nick and I talked about some shared A/V reference points and inspiration for the material, and when we were trying to figure out who we’d want to do the artwork, Eric Timothy Carlson (who we are both big fans of) was the first person that came up, and we were both like “YES this absolutely NEEDS to happen.”
After we reached out and Eric and Aaron said they were down, Nick and I sent over our shared folder and we had a really sick, illuminating conversation with them. They took those rough ideas and concepts, ran them through their own idiosyncratic filter and came back with something incredible. It feels really fresh and new and inseparable from the music itself. I love it. I’m so happy we got to work with them on the project.
PH: There is quite a breadth of cool shit happening in electronic music in the Triangle between rave/dance events and DJs. How has that community felt for you? Or do you feel you’re more working and connecting with folks who aren’t in the Triangle since you’re so plugged in online?
JMB: It’s a mix of IRL and URL stuff, but living here is nice because it feels like you can do a little bit of everything and really get to know people, as opposed to frantically feeling like you’re constantly missing out on something if you’re not doing everything. I feel like if you’re throwing parties and operating outside of the larger spheres of capital cities on both ends of the country, you really have to care about what you’re doing. There’s a lot of people here that really care, and you can tell.
PH: Can you describe your general approach to curation, image-wise or music-wise?
JMB: It’s usually about trying to identify whatever it is that I want to do with the project (or DJ set, mix, album, etc.), and then following that lead. If I have that initial direction or theme in my head, it makes it much easier for the other elements to slot into place.
PH: Who are some of your favorite contemporary NC musicians making music in the same realm?
JMB: There are a lot of talented people doing a lot of great stuff out here, and I don’t want to name too many out of fear of accidentally forgetting some, but Treee City has long been one of my favorite North Carolina-based producers, and he has some incredible music on the way. It’s excellent! And I want everyone to hear it.