high-functioning fuckup

Archive for January, 2014


i’ll take a break in the “action” from the La Mano history (which i’ve vowed will be completed by the end of this month) to rave for a moment about something i’ve been listening to pretty obsessively: The Disintegration Loops.

some of you know the story, some don’t. i didn’t.

the story is this: minimalist/ avant composer William Basinski pulls out some old tape loops he made in the 80′s– i think i heard it was just pulled from easy listening music; determines that the life of these loops are nearing an end, so begins transferring/ recording them onto cd’s. he fires one up hits record, and goes and does something. comes back in a while and notices the loops sound different. then notices that the iron oxide is slowly eroding and degrading with each progressive loop, gathering in a little pile next to the tape head. the tape is dying, the music is dying, and he’s recording its death. and it’s very, very beautiful. some loops take an hour to fall apart, some 20 minutes.

he continues with the tapes; he’s living in NYC, and during this time (apologies if i’m not getting the timeline correct) the twin towers fall.


i read a review of the Disintegration Loops on Pitchfork, where it receives the highest marks and is discussed like something everyone already knows about. not me. sounds interesting, and worth checking out, but let’s face it: this sounds like a one trick pony, something academic and “interesting”. something you’d stroke your chin about and say “hm” (which is fine; there’s music and art i like along those lines, that provide more a kick in the head than the gut).

upon listening, this stuff is anything but academic. in fact, this is some of the most beautiful and affecting music i’ve heard in my life: it’s haunting, wonderful, sad and triumphant, all at the same time. i can’t accurately describe what makes these sounds…what they are. there’s no real reason that, essentially, the same 3-second loop playing for 20 minutes should have any real emotional depth at all, much less anything this powerful.

this work makes me proud to be a human being, in (again) some way that i can’t explain. and i think i’d feel that way even if i DIDN’T know the context in which they were created. but i do, and now you do too.

my pal Jeremy put out this elegant, gorgeous box set on his label, Temporary Residence. you should buy it from him as soon as possible (in all honesty, i first heard these Loops on Spotify, and then they were taken off, to which i say: well done. we don’t have time for the Spotify conversation right now, though…). an incredible vinyl set, as well as a more inexpensive 5-cd set.

i want to put in a special recommendation for cartoonists/ artists on this one: listening to music while you work can be a real distraction– you (ok, i do, anyway…) claim it’s “background” but you end up actively listening to/engaging it, instead of…doing that with what you’re actually working on. the movements in the loops are so slow and organic that…it’s great stuff to work to. i don’t use the word “meditative” often, but i will here. you don’t listen to it so much as swim in it.

work on the new Recidivist had come to a grinding, painful, full stop in the past couple months. i got these in the mail, and that is over. consider that a testimonial, in more ways than one.

best, zak.

(and while i’m at it, Tim Hecker’s new record is unbelievable, too. totally different in tone to these Loops, but stunningly good. go buy it from Kranky)


historia de LA MANO, part the third

the other thing about La Mano? it takes me about 10 times as long to get anything done as i think it will. i wanted this history wrapped up by the new year, and we’re barely halfway through. oh well. there’s something to be said for consistency.

ok, so here’s where things start to get weird.


by this point i’d cut my teeth a bit on the press to the point where i was ready to take something on. or, better said; to put myself in a position i could not weasel my way out of (this has actually proved to be a great tactic for me, in life). as with very other thing, the next project happened real organically: i’d been moonlighting with a pretty great minneapolis band called Kid Dakota, playing bass (made a record with them called The West is The Future that still holds up well, i think). Darren Jackson, the songwriter/ main guy, had a pal named Will Schaff, who was doing the art; i think will and i might’ve had some mutual friends as well, but anyway– Will’s scratchboard stuff completely floored me. and we met, and i liked him. it’s long since gone from me how we actually hashed it out, but what i said was “hey, you wanna do a limited edition portfolio with me, i’ll print em on my press? 10 images or so?” and he said sure yup. so we did it.

he’d just started doing the art for this small band called Okkervil River, too. they’re not small anymore.

when i was talking earlier about the zine days, “what is this thing, and what can i pull off?”, and how that was a sort of wonderful process…Will’s folio was the first time that happened on the “new” La Mano.

you are undoubtedly used to my asides by now, but this one i gotta get out there– probably the single biggest factor in La Mano outside of the press itself: Twin Cities Paper, at the corner of Central and Broadway (about 5 blocks from my studio). it was one of those old, nondescript places that you drive by a million times and never really notice. after a while i thought “well they’re just down the street, might as well see what they have.”

and…god, i miss them. i miss them so much. i walked in and within 10 minutes i realized i’d hit pay dirt: it was my dream come true. dusty old place that went on forever, in all directions. a brother and sister ran the place, having inherited it from their father. what it was, was a remaindered paper outlet. see, most regular sized to large  print shops order paper in these enormous quantities for a given job, and would often end up with extra; not enough that they could do another large run with it, but too much to warehouse and keep on hand just in case. so they’d sell em to TCP, and TCP would sell it to scavengers like me, CHEAP. like, ridiculously cheap. considering that i was doing runs that were tiny compared to even a small print shop, it was like heaven. they had a room of just leftover cover stock, all this crazy shit that no one wanted (except me). after a while they got to know me and i got to know them, and they’d literally just let me climb around, digging stuff out of corners that’d been sitting for a decade, and they’d forgotten they even had. i’m saying all this because starting with Will’s portfolio, every single La Mano project was BASED on what i found at Twin Cities Paper, period.

i’d find some weird old black paper, and say “what is this stuff?” they’d say “i dunno. you want it for really cheap?”; cover stock for Will’s folio. railroad board special edition? TCP. interior stock and envelopes? cover and interior stock for Centaur? every single thing in Fear of Song, Sammy Book 1, and (especially) the Deitch files? never mind all the various posters, promo sheets, and… i could go on and on. it was ALL TWIN CITIES PAPER. and it GAVE me ideas– i’d find stuff, and think “god, i gotta do something with this, i wonder what?”

so: i knew what i had: this weird black textured cover stock. also some crazy off -white stuff, heavy enough for cover, but i’d use it for the prints inside. slowly but surely, the thing came together. hockey tape binding. here, for fun is the process involved in putting each of these things together:


1) hand cut window in on front panel, using this jig-thing made out of some metal duct sheeting: try not to cut off finger.

2) cloth hockey tape: tape together front and back cover.

3) grab (pre-signed and numbered) envelope, containing the 10 plates. using double-stick tape gun, eyeball where the “list of works” plate goes on the cover (actually the inside) of the envelope. lock that sucker down.

3) tape the envelope in BACKWARDS.

4) now flip it again, and tape in the “cover card” (which i had printed at a postcard printing place).

5)  get hole punch, punch hole about 1/2 way down. put in reinforcement thingies and brass thumb thing. clip the corners because somehow the whole thing didn’t look right until i did that.

i’ve blocked a lot of the printing out of my memory, i think. i know i cursed myself for using the textured paper on the inside, because it caused a lot of problems getting hard blacks– trying to run the machine hot enough to get the coverage without losing all the detail punching past the texture of the paper. and the roller wheel on the delivery end kept picking up ink. but, this was my first brush with something i should have expected, but didn’t: that i was not a professional printer, and it was just going to be as good as i could get it. which was (and still is) very frustrating; not only learning to do it, but also learning on the fly what my, and my machine’s capabilities were. in a lot of cases, that meant going with something that, were i paying a print shop, i would have brought back to them and said “no. do this again”. it’s sort of a weird thing to wrap your head around– saying to yourself “god, this doesn’t look professional; it looks like some guy who didn’t know what he was doing did it by hand in his basement”. and then thinking– wait; that’s exactly what this IS.

but, it was the first full project i ran on Maisie. and when it was all put together, i was sort of in awe of what a beautiful little thing we’d done, Will and i. and here’s another thing that happened for the first (but thankfully not the last) time: i’d known Will sort of when we decided to do this, but not really well.

by the end of it, the guy was my friend. and that, people, is awesome. John p was my friend before we did Mosquito together, and i was just pleased that our friendship didn’t suffer at all in the process. and i guess if push came to shove i’d say i’m friends with the Recidivist guy on some level. but– if you think going through the process of doing something like this with someone isn’t a potential hornet’s nest, you are mistaken. but i liked Will MORE when all was said and done, and i think he kind of felt the same way. i wasn’t just some dude selling his stuff; we did this thing together, and we were both proud of it, warts and all.

i’ve only got 20 or so of these left. doing that much hands-on labor was…not what i’d planned, or expected; it was just the tail wagging the dog– you’ve got this and this and this and here’s another idea and now you gotta…wait a minute hold on, whoops it’s done. and it was then that i realized that this thing wasn’t really like anything i’d seen before. and it felt better than sending all the files to the printer on Mosquito (again, the irony there). way better.


while on a “break” from Low (too much to get into here), i had the extreme honor of being asked to play bass for a US tour with one of my favorite bands of all time, The Dirty Three. they were old pals, and like i said– just an amazing, amazing band. Mick Turner (guitar player, who’s got a great new solo record out right now, by the way) had his own label, called Anchor and Hope. i saw that our opening act all through the west coast was something called Nate Denver’s Neck; when i asked Mick what the hell, he said “i put out his record. just wait, you’ll see‘”.

and i did. Nate would come out each night in a black cowl, with a cardboard bloody axe taped to the end of his guitar, wearing a scary death mask. he’d go onstage, all by himself, start up a cd that played some Wagner, then at the precise moment, would pull off the death mask to reveal his face– which was painted like a death mask. he’d then proceed to sing songs (some in death metal voice, some not) about how much he loved slayer, and an epic battle with his childhood teddy bear, and a ballerina who’d made a pact with satan. he also looked like a dude straight out of a modeling agency, and it seemed like he could probably do 100 pull-ups if you asked him (i found out later that this was, indeed, the case). the crowd was almost always deeply confused, but most nights he won them over because…this was no schtick: Nate meant every word.

over the course of the tour we got to be friends, and at the end of the tour, we said “let’s keep in touch”. and most of the time, when you’re in a touring band, that doesn’t happen. not on purpose; you just don’t, for whatever reason. but Nate and i did keep in touch. i can’t even remember the specifics. we just did. so, again, i can’t remember exactly how, but at some point Nate said to me “have i ever told you that i wrote a book of 50 stories of exactly 50 words apiece?” and i said no Nate, you did not tell me that. would you send it to me? and he said “why yes zak, i will”. and i thought, oh, this’ll be funny. about 5 pages in, i had this overwhelming feeling that this HAD TO come out on La Mano, and so i called Nate and told him so, and he said “i was hoping you’d say that”.

so, this was the first book that the whole La Mano idea really went into practice: i got all the paper from Twin Cities (as well as this metallic cover stock that usually sells for 20x what i paid for it), made the printing plates on this hopped-up/ modded HP laser printer, i even had an ancient right angle folder at the time:


(insanely loud and capable of crushing any and all hands within 50 feet of it, also did not work very well), so i folded all the printed sheets into 8 page signatures before delivering them to the bindery. in fact, the binding was the ONLY thing i didn’t do in-house on that book. pretty much every single element listed above gave me no end of trouble, but  Centaur was exactly what i had in mind when i bought the press– it sort of looked like a normal book, but it wasn’t; it was just too wonky, somehow. add to this the cd taped into the back cover (each with an elephant hand-drawn by nate) and it stops being what you think it is pretty darn quick.

so Nate, being Nate, got Adam Jones from Tool to write the intro to the book. and when it was finally done, TOOL put up a little blurb on their site. TOOL, you see, is a very popular rock band. i’d done a print run of 700 on the book, and they were all but gone in a matter of 6 months ( i kept some aside for me and nate, but you can’t have them). pretty great. so i immediately went back to press, and did another run with the guts printed commercially (but i still did the cover, and taped in all the cd’s). spent a bunch of $ to save myself the time and headache, and to try to keep the ball rolling.

this was La mano’s first brush with death: after i repressed, La Mano stopped getting orders completely. i believe i had a stretch where i did not get a single order for FOUR MONTHS. and i don’t mean “on Nate’s book that i’d just repressed” i mean at all. in part one of this history thing (wait, part 2?) i said i rebooted La Mano thinking someday, somehow, maybe it’d be something i could eke a small living off of (i know–think big). this was my first hint that…maybe that wasn’t a realistic goal. and that maybe it wasn’t why i was doing it in the first place, regardless of what i was telling myself.


but, right, the book– this was also the moment of truth for me: the white covered version (on the left) is the first run, where i did everything. the printing is dodgy, the pages stick out all over the damn place on the book face (due to the aforementioned ancient right angle folder), the cd barely fits inside it.

the second version: perfectly printed, binding and folding and everything just exactly where and how it should be. the books are, for all purposes, exactly the same– the only difference being that one of them was produced under “professional” conditions, with all aspects hitting the accepted marks of quality and such.

and, there is no question whatsoever; not to me, not to nate, not to anyone. the first printing is absolutely superior. we can go on about the magical qualities of art and sweat and love and all that stuff, but to be honest i’ve always been wary of that kind of dippy romanticism. anyone who hold the 2 books in their hand and thinks the blue covered one is the more beautiful object… i couldn’t agree less. and don’t get me wrong– the blue one is still a NICE BOOK; it just looks and feels like many other nice books you’ve held in your hand. call it dippy romantic sweat talking if you want, but the fact is, the one made by hand; you can tell. you can feel on every level that somebody put some serious love into this, from conception to the physical object itself, that no part of this was taken for granted. no one was kicking out product. could you tell all those things specifically, if you knew nothing about it and picked it up cold?

no. and yes, absolutely. you would know that this book is something different than 99% of the books you’ve seen in your life. that’s not my opinion, it’s fact.

and it made me realize, maybe not even on a conscious level, that doing “normal” books was something i wasn’t really that interested in.

pretty sure i also realized (again, not consciously) that “normal” books are what sell, and what makes money.

anyway, between Will and Nate’s books, an aesthetic was coming into shape– i didn’t feel as much that “i” was doing it, as that it was just happening, led by the collaborations with these particular guys and what i had available to get it done. but i liked it a lot.

WAIT YOU’RE NOT A CENTAUR is one of the only books La Mano has done that…if you don’t enjoy it, we probably have nothing to talk about. i cannot imagine someone looking at the “Viking Whale and Consenting Bee” drawing and not laughing like hell. if you don’t like this book, there could very well be something wrong with you, in  a way that makes me sad not happy.

and, as with Will, Nate and i were even tighter when the book was done. in fact, Nate is one of my favorite guys in the world to this day. i could tell stories about him til i was blue in the face, and i’m tempted to do exactly that. we did an acoustic bookstore tour together on the west coast in 2009, and…i shouldn’t even start. he’s honestly the closest thing i’ve ever met to a superhero; he could undoubtedly kick your ass in a heartbeat (the 100 pull-ups was no lie) but more than likely if you ever meet him he’ll be saving your life (particularly if you live in the LA area), because that’s what he does for a living. he is entirely in cahoots with the forces of good, on a cellular level. and he sort of shreds on guitar. and he’s got this weird thing where hummingbirds follow him around. i’m not sure they make em like nate much anymore. i wish they did.

he did a second book of 50 50 word stories last year, called HAUNTED ARMOR, and La Mano didn’t publish it, but i helped some. go buy it.

3 down, 2 to go.it’ll get real good at the end.