Moogfest Q+A: Slow Hands

Sure, the Moogfest lineup is star-studded (I’m looking at you, M.I.A., Kraftwerk and Niles Rodgers). But the roster — which numbers over 100 acts just for the night program alone — includes some lesser-known gems worth discovering. This series of email interviews is culled from my personal list of interesting artists I plan to check out.

According to his bio, Ryan Cavanagh (aka Slow Hands) is “an organic specialist. His rich yet languid style bares all the hallmarks of the classical and compositional training he has had, whilst everything from jazz to blues to trippy electronica inform the New Yorker’s well honed production palette.”

Slow hands performs at Moogfest on Wednesday, April 23, at the U.S. Cellular Center at 9:30 p.m.

Mountain Xpress: Beyond amplification and electronic instruments, what ways do you see music/art and technology intersecting?

Ryan Cavanagh: Well, if pertaining just to music, I am always blown away by MIDI and all that it can do. It’s such a simple concept that just works, and its syncing abilities are just amazing. Be that with visuals or, well, pretty much anything (pyrotechnics?). As far fine arts, it’s all sort of one in the same really. A Mac is a piece of art, whether you are digging around inside of it, or just using it as a word processor. It’s a sculpture that makes advanced sounds and basic (just turning it on makes music), creates movies, takes pictures. Steve Jobs was an artist, he just happened to be smarter than most, and therefore he made money. I think that once fiscal gain comes as a result of your art being good, or smart, you often loose street credit with the wannabe Van Gogh’s of the world.

Another great example of form and function is the Moog Theremin, it’s so simple and beautiful looking, and sounds incredible! I feel like every Dwell Magazine house should have on in the living room! It can be like those aesthetically placed acoustic guitars in ski chalets.

How do you feel about playing a festival that’s equally dedicated to technology/invention and to music?

Very honored. Technology is a big part of my live performance. It’s a constant struggle to retain that sense of organics in combination with the mind blowing pace of music technology, with me anyway. I think that’s one of the great things about Moog and his inventions. Through synthesizing organic instruments, he invented something totally new. Technology and invention are the greatest inspiration for art, because, aside from being an art form itself, without it nothing really moves forward.

What Moog instruments do you play or wish you owned?

Ha! I have his iPad apps, and have messed with the pedals, but i really want a Moog Theremin. I don’t use a lot of hardware synths, I invest all of my money into guitars as I am far more fluent in them.

What other Moogfest artist would you most like to collaborate with?

Bradford Cox & Avey Tare. I think Atlas Sound and Animal Collective are two of my most listened to projects. Helicoptor and I Think I Can would easily be on my “favorite songs of all time” list. I have seen Deerhunter several times, and saw Animal Collective in Prospect Park a few years back. They are just so amazing, and Cox was in Dallas Buyers Club! Just all around legends, the both of them.

What are the top three sounds, sights or ideas inspiring you recently?

I just watched Nymphomaniac Vol.’s 1&2. I have a hateful fascination with Von Trier’s films. By that I mean, I usually hate his films, yet I always go to see them for some reason. This one actually blew my mind, it was really good. Jamie Bell is lights out good!

This new Sisyphus song, “Rhythm of Devotion,” has been on repeat. I love Sufjan Stevens, but this added edge of Son Lux and Serengeti is amazing.

Ideas, hmm. We live around the corner from the Vice offices here in Brooklyn. Those guys are really spinning heads in the media/new world, and i think it’s amazing. It’s one of the first things that I have seen that’s had a major impact on the world that’s come from my generation. It’s cool to go hang with my family and hear my parent’s generation talking about watching last week’s Vice on HBO and being blown away buy it. I think Shane Smith is going to have a Lin Zexu style statue erected on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge someday.

When you create music, do you have an audience in mind? If so, for whom?

I think I aim to make music that’s current, yet with roots in the past. Something that someone who is 16 years old, and someone who is 60 years old can both relate to. I guess this ultimately leads to me making all different styles of music, and every once in a while all those genres fuse into one and something very original comes out of that. I hope so, anyway.

As a listener, what experience do you seek from music?

It all depends on the type of music, I suppose, but originality across the board. If I see you DJ, and you play generic garbage, I’ll leave. If I go to a jazz club and they are calling standards and playing them in the style that they have been played in for 60 years, I’ll leave. I have all the respect in the world for The Rolling Stones, but I have no desire to go see them play the same songs at 70 that they have played since they were all 25 years old. The same rings true for many of my heros growing up. I think it’s great that you all love Robert Johnson, but I don’t need to pay $150 to go see you play “Crossroads” for the five billionth time, thanks anyway.

Anything you’re looking forward to doing in Asheville beyond Moogfest?

Just being in the South, ha! I am a New Yorker/New Englander. That means I root for the Red Sox, have lived in NYC for too long, and try to get up to Vermont to work on music as much as possible. The South is a very foreign place to me, but I am fascinated by it, and always have a great time when I get to play there.


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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