An Interview with George Clanton

George Clanton's 100% ElectroniCON Review - Stereogum

If you’re into Vaporwave, then you probably know and love George Clanton’s music. For a long time now, he’s been one of the pillars of the Vaporwave community, but that’s not all. He’s also the creator of the absolutely fantastic 100% Electronica label, which has been consistently putting out some of the best and highest quality releases in the Vaporwave and Electronic music scenes today. If you’re interested in learning more about George’s music and his 100% Electronica label, you can head here.

When it comes to George Clanton, it doesn’t matter if he’s working under his own name or one of of his monikers (Mirror Kisses, Esprit); his music is always innovative, emotive and absolutely top-notch. Some of his earliest releases were part of my entry way into the Vaporwave scene, and as I dove deeper into his more experimental releases, my pallet for all things Electronic grew as well. So, you could say that musically, I owe a lot to George Clanton and his music. It is my pleasure today to present my “sit down” with George. He is as humble and interesting a guy as you will ever meet. I truly hope you enjoy getting to know George as much as I did. With that, let’s get started.

Andrew:
George, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us here at Vinyl Writer! Tell us about your back story. How did you get into music? What was your musical gateway sort of speak?

George:
It’s a typical story. My parents really liked music, so we listened to music all the time growing up. Mostly oldies, but also some modern things like Michael Jackson. Then when I got a little older (not much) MTV was very important in the 90s, and fascinating to a kid. I guess I wanted to be like the people on TV.

Andrew:
The way I became aware of your music initially was through your association with the Vaporwave scene. What can you tell us about that?

George:
I’ll forever be related to that scene because of my participation in the Chillwave movement that Vaporwave was born out of with my Mirror Kisses project. And my early adoption of vaporwave with my ESPRIT alias. I’m far from being among the first vaporwave artists, with the ESPRIT project not starting until 2012, but I’m one of the last ones standing as far as championing the term “Vaporwave.”

Andrew:
Over the last eight years or so, you’ve released a lot of incredible music under a few different monikers, Mirror Kisses, Esprit and George Clanton. What are the big differences between all these projects? Is there one you prefer to focus on, or do you like to keep shifting gears?

George:
I started making a kind of 80s-throwback/Chillwave in 2008 as “Mirror Kisses.” That project morphed really slowly over the years as I took myself more and more seriously and began to let go of the “80s” themes. I held onto that moniker a little longer than I should have out of fear of losing my audience. Really silly in hindsight. I consider “George Clanton” to be more or less a continuation of that project without the moniker. ESPRIT is a little different because in 2012, Vaporwave was all about being anonymous, and your name, album art, and song titles were every bit as important as the music itself. I had to make up a new name to participate in it, especially anonymously. Traditionally ESPRIT is a little less structured, and primarily instrumental, more lo-fi. I had planned on dropping all aliases and just releasing my music as “George Clanton” but that hasn’t exactly panned out. I think maintaining both aliases is a good way to help the listener understand what they are in for. Some Vaporwave fans are militantly opposed to original vocals, and don’t understand what people like about the George Clanton albums, but still fuck with ESPRIT.

George Clanton w/ Immortal Girlfriend » Wisconsin Union

Andrew:
While you are often lumped in with Vaporwave only, in reality your music crosses over many genres. Along with the Electronic and Electropop influences, I hear elements of Trip-Hop, Grunge, Acid House and Shoegaze throughout your music. Would you agree? What more can you tell us about that?

George:
I’m a fan of music in general. I don’t set out to participate in any genre specifically. It all just comes through as I’m writing because I try not to limit myself and just let whatever sounds good to my ears flow through. I often fail to hold an intelligent conversation with people about genre. I don’t disagree that it exists or that its a useful organizational tool. I look up “90s jungle mix” frequently on YouTube! But even within that, I find that “Jungle,” “Breakbeat Hardcore,” “Drum and Bass,” and “Old school” mixes can all have the same song within them. My newest music that I’m working on now hast more in common with Shoegaze and Jungle than “Vaporwave” by the archaic textbook definition, but I think it’ll still be classified as “Vaporwave” ultimately because that’s the scene I participate in. In 2020, Vaporwave is really experimental and more about the “vibe” than genre rules. Genre rules were stifling Vaporwave, so I strongly support the breaking of them while it continues to redefine itself.

Andrew:
Sort of piggy backing onto my last question, you’ve pushed the boundaries of Vaporwave by being one of the first to make what many now are calling Post-Vaporwave. Where do you see Vaporwave going musically in the future?

George:
I think what we call “Rap” today doesn’t resemble very much what “Rap” originally meant. Vaporwave is a cultural force. It’s not like the other buzz genres that it’s commonly associated with like “Seapunk” and “Chillwave.” It’s important to observe now that 10 years after its inception, more people than ever identify their style and subculture as “Vaporwave.” I think today, Vaporwave is the macro genre, and Chillwave, Future Funk, Ambient, etc are all subgenres of it. The way I use Vaporwave is to mean (loosely) “Psychedelic Electronic music that’s not EDM.” To me the people who say “that’s not Vaporwave” look like the people who say “mumble Rap isn’t real Rap.” Their hardheadedness will land them on the wrong side of history. I think the future of Vaporwave is in the hands of artists who aren’t afraid to explore uncharted territory, but still know how to resonate the Vaporwave-bone in that“I know it when I feel it” kind of way. Hopefully someone more eloquent than me will emerge with this philosophy and speak on our behalf. I often say “everything is vaporwave.” I’m only half joking.

Andrew:
A lot of Vaporwave music tends to trend toward more ironic stylings, which is cool in its own right. What I notice about your lyrics are they’re full of emotion and the music has an ethereal quality about it. Did you intentionally try to break away from the constraints of the genre, or did it come naturally to you?

George:
My persona and sense of humor is filled with so much irony that making music is my only escape from this irony prison. When I was younger I had written a lot of music from an insincere place. For example, I used to write songs with a lot of sexuality, without ever having experienced sexuality myself (something I think a lot of my haters can relate to!). But when you have to get out in front of hundreds of people and put on a show, it’s easier to get behind something you really feel. It comes naturally. Or rather, writing good music from a place of insincerity doesn’t.

FLOOD | The Loudest Voices in the Chatroom: The Story of 100% Electronica

Andrew:
In 2015, you started the 100% Electronica label along with your girlfriend, who goes by the moniker, Negative Gemini, and I have to say- I’m a big fan. You do an incredible job. What influenced your decision to start the label, and what’s the experience been like?

George:
The label was formed because I was disappointed with my experience with other indie labels, and figured I could do it just-as-good myself without having to give up my rights. It’s been a long, long journey but has grown bigger than I ever expected. At this point it’s my whole life and I can’t imagine what I would be doing without it.

Andrew:
In my opinion, all of the releases from 100% Electronica are done right. You’ve got an incredible roster of artists, which seems to be growing by the day. You press well. You package well and you ship well. Where do you press your records? Where there any experiences you had that influenced your decision to pursue the level of quality you have today?

George:
Thank you. When we started there weren’t really any other Vaporwave labels doing vinyl, but there was a huge problem with Vaporwave labels promising cassettes and never delivering. There were prevalent problems with labels not paying the artists. I just wanted to treat the customer and artist right so our reputation would allow us to release more of the music I really wanted to in the long term. I often think about a friend of mine who ordered a Small Black LP, and dropped it accidentally damaging it himself. He was a dick and contacted Small Black’s label saying it arrived damaged, and they sent him another one no questions asked. He was so stoked on that, that it made him a fan for life. I hope people aren’t taking advantage of us like that, but I want to leave them with the same feeling of satisfaction and trust.

Andrew:
Two of the biggest issues in the Vaporwave community are FOMO and scalpers. These releases are all so limited, and the prices get insane in the aftermarket. What I love about 100% Electronica, is you make all the albums people want readily available, and at fair prices to boot. Was there always a conscious effort to try and thwart the scalpers?

George:
Record flippers aren’t the cause of Vaporwave’s problems. The flippers as a byproduct of the listener and artist getting screwed by artificially low supply. So it’s not so much an effort to thwart the flippers as it is to satisfy the listener, and put more money in the artists pocket. Thwarting flippers is a bonus. Sure, when we first started the label we wanted to keep pressings low, and have the demand skyrocket. Everyone wants to see their records fetching insane prices on Discogs. Let’s say you have and album where you know you will sell 300 copies in a week but it’ll take the rest of the year to sell 200 more. And let’s assume for argument’s sake your competitor has an album that will sell exactly the same amount. If you print 500 of ALBUM A and your competitor prints 300 of ALBUM B, your competitor is gonna have a sell out in a week and you’re still going to be sitting on 200 records. The listener thinks ALBUM B is in more demand because it sold out in a week, even though ALBUM A is technically selling more copies! Psychologically it makes ALBUM B look more legit. But now we ARE legit, there’s nothing left to prove. Ultimately the decision to keep an album in press comes down to the artist, I’ll do whatever they want, but I encourage them to keep it in press if its selling.

File:George Clanton.png - Wikimedia Commons

Andrew:
My understanding is your first ever concert was 311. Is that true? This past year, you got to work on a collaboration with Nick Hexum of 311, which was released through your label. What was it like sort of coming full circle, and getting to work with him?

George:
Thats true! Working with him was a dream come true. Singing with him on stage is something I might’ve dreamed as a kid, and now I actually get to do it. He’s obviously very talented, with a proven track record of making memorable hit songs. It was also my first real collaboration, where collaborating was something I didn’t think I would be able to do. Now I feel like anything is possible.

Andrew:
Shifting gears here, is there anything within the industry that you would like to see change for the better? What improvements would you like to see that you feel would be beneficial to us all within the vinyl community, and music community in general?

George:
One thing that ruins the experience for everyone is the lack of pressing plants. I wasn’t in the industry then, but from what I understand in the 60s-70s-80s, you could get an album pressed in a week. And they were pressing much more albums back then. Now its taking as long as 12-15 weeks. Absolutely ridiculous. With touring gone for the foreseeable future, Spotify per-stream payouts spiraling lower and lower, physical merchandise is one of the last things we have to generate an income for ourselves. So you want to make sure you have the vinyl available at launch, and it just forces you to push the album release date further and further back. On the customer side, this is why people keep promising pre-orders 3 months out, and it can be very frustrating for people to wait that long, only to have it postponed even longer due to some unforeseen consequence.

Andrew:
A lot of people try to define what genre your associated with. What are your feelings on that? What are your thoughts on the idea of genres in general? Has the musical landscape changed for better or worse over the years?

George:
People categorize my music in a lot of different ways. But I think people usually try to categorize it as a type of music they relate to most, and share it with their friends who like the same kind of music. I think the music landscape in general stays more or less the same talent-wise. There are always excellent artists. I’m predisposed to yearn for the past, but I think we forget about the bad music from the past and only remember the good.

George Clanton Photos (8 of 18) | Last.fm

Andrew:
I’ve seen you live once in NYC, at a venue called Elsewhere, with Surfing and Negative Gemini. What a show! Your music seems to have almost been built for live performance. You’ve got so much passion. What do you love most about performing live?

George:
Thank you for this incredible compliment. Vin Diesel once said, “I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.” That’s the way I feel when I perform live.

Andrew:
Last year, you broke your ankle jumping off stage during a show, and you still managed to finish the song! What can you tell us about that experience and the aftermath?

George:
That was by far the most physically painful thing I’ve ever had to endure. Luckily when it happened, I was at the very end of the last song, and at that point the song is pretty much just painfully howling as loud as possible into the mic anyway. I jumped off stage and landed on the metal audience barrier. I was doing this many times throughout the night but that final time I just didn’t land right. The air in Denver had me woozy. On contact, I think it was only a fracture. I immediately felt big pain and a pop vibrate through my bones, but I could still think. Within the hour I was on the way to get it x-rayed. I was able to put my arm around a friend and hop around and talk and laugh. As I was hopping my way into the Urgent Care center, and tripped and instinctively tried to catch myself with the bad leg. That’s when the bone pulverized into a million little specs, ankle went completely sideways, vision went fish eye, and I couldn’t do anything except scream the F word until the hospital ambulance got there. It was so much crazier than what I thought breaking an ankle would be like. I think there are levels to how bad you can break it and I just really messed it up awfully. I say that if there was a big red button next to me at that time that would have ended my life I would have instinctively been smashing it. Once the ambulance injected the fentanyl, I could think again, and I asked the nurse to use my phone to live stream the trip. The only saving grace was that I got to live stream that whole thing and then go on to finish the tour. It was so intense and gnarly I was pretty miserable but I loved playing those shows and the love I got for doing them. Beach Fossils and the other opening bad Why Bonnie did everything for me and it was amazing. I couldn’t have gone on without them. It took months before I could walk and over a year before I could walk without a limp. Don’t do it.

Andrew:
Do you collect vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? If so, what are some albums that mean the most to you? Where do you like to shop for music?

George:
I do collect, vinyl mostly. I used to buy everything I liked on vinyl, now I only get special things. With my label, I try to make the kind of product that I would want to own. One of my favorite albums is a first pressing of Software by Digital-Dance. It’s signed and dated with my birth year, and made out to the guy that orchestrated the USA distribution deal for it. Funny that I would come into my possession, because 30 years later we signed a new distribution deal to re-release that record in the USA. I haven’t been in a store of any kind in a long time. The last record I bought was on eBay!

George Clanton Press Images - WNW

Andrew:
It’s been a crazy year. Once COVID-19 dies down, what’s next for George Clanton and 100% Electronica in the future?

George:
We have a lot of future to make before it dies down. I’m working hard on a (soon-to-be) monthly series of live music showcases in VR called Virtual Utopia (virtualutopia.org), and my new album. We have a lot of new releases I’m excited about that are on the way, and a live stream variety show every Thursday on Twitch called “THE BIG STREAM.”

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve always embraced the DIY approach to music and your label. What advice do you have for young musicians trying to get their start?

George:
Everyone’s path is different and what works for one person won’t work for you. But what works for everyone is: work very hard, don’t waste your time, and don’t give up. Only some people will make it on 1-in-a-million luck and everyone else will tell you your chances are slim and its time to grow up. But there is another way. I promise if you are talented and work very hard and don’t give up, something will happen. It might take your whole life, that’s nature’s way of filtering out the frauds. But what else are you going to do, get a “real” job?

George Clanton on Vaporwave, Rebranding and His Record Label, 100%  Electronica | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, USA, Andrew has always loved writing, music, drumming and collecting music on CD, tape and vinyl. After losing his life-long vinyl collection in 2014, Andrew began his vinyl collection from scratch again when he met his future wife Angela in 2015. Andrew’s love of music only further blossomed as his collection spanned all genres possible. After amassing over 3,000 albums in under two years, he knew it was time to finally follow his dream of being a music journalist, and thus, Vinyl Writer was born.

Andrew’s not only the go-to friend for music trivia, but his intricate knowledge of the ins and outs of the music industry allows him to develop engaging questions that really tap into each artist and individual to deliver insightful and enjoyable interviews. He’s proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict, for fellow music addicts.

Andrew lives on Long Island, NY, with his wife Angela and their four cats, Oliver, Patrick, Charlie and Kevin. Andrew’s collection of over 4,700 vinyl albums, plus several hundred tapes and CDs, tells the story of his passion for all that is music. Andrew works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer website by night. Andrew is also the admin of several Facebook groups dedicated to music.

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