On the Saturday afternoon of Calgary’s Sled Island Festival, in a slightly rank and overheated 17th ave alleyway, I had the privilege of chatting with Jzero Schuurman AKA the mastermind behind the ambient-experimental solo music project Psychic Pollution.
So what got you into what you’re doing with Psychic Pollution? I mean, that kind of music is very niche. I feel like people don’t really initially say, “I want to be an ambient musician,” it’s more like something they find through other musical gateways and learn to love.
Good question. I guess my parent’s always had that kind of stuff in their record collection, bands like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. When I was kid I thought it was pretty cool stuff and then kind of rebelled against it – got into punk rock and stuff like that – but as I got older I grew to appreciate the kind of stuff my parents were trying to show me at the time. I was like- I want to make that! And also felt confident I could. I’ve been doing a lot of different things with Psychic Pollution. It started out as a singer/songwriter type project, then transitioned into a sample-based electronic kind of thing, and morphed into what it is today. So it’s gone from singer/songwriter to a full out instrumental electronic, it’s been kind of all over the place.
Wow, I wish my parents listened to Kraftwerk! Sounds like a good influence right there.
Well you know when you’re a kid you think that anything your parents listen to is kind of nerdy. I was just like Kraftwerk?! This is so stupid, they’re singing about cars and highways, but now I’m the hugest fan.
Ha! From what I’ve listened to of your stuff, I haven’t really been able to find a general cohesion, it seems very all over the place. Do you have a goal or defining sound you are aiming for?
I kind of do, I kind of don’t. I don’t really want to pigeon-hole myself. The last record I did was an ambient record, kind of based on the occult (I was watching a lot of x-files at the time). I wanted to make it really freaky, so released it on Halloween. But now I want to make a more dance-y sort of record, but not with that EDM sort of thump. I’m going for more classic drum machine sounds, kind of kraut-rock sort of beats, and I want it to be less avant-garde then the previous records, more palatable, more accessible …
Where did the name Psychic Pollution come about from? That name really drew me in, before I even knew who you were, and your connection to Victoria etc..
Well I guess I’m a pretty skeptical person, scientifically minded in nature, so I don’t actually believe in a lot of things when it comes to telepathic powers. But, at the time when I came up with the idea, the concept was that at all times you’re kind of receiving information from other people, you know if you’re in a large group of people you’re receiving and absorbing energy from everybody. So I kind of had to back down on my thoughts and skepticism towards that. I feel like people have energies about them, and people that have a sort of negative energy I felt was a kind of pollution in a sense. So you could be watching TV or listening to a politician or something like that, and I just kind of felt like what they were putting off was a polluting sort of energy, it really interests me…Ha, I’m having such a hard time with words!
Oh man, me too, just drained. (Fact: It was day 4 of Sled Island, hydration/sleep were at an all-time low, and it was way too hot outside for comfort.)
I feel like at the time too I was really affected by global events, the gulf war etc, and I did a lot of performance pieces based around war, the end of the world, not very positive stuff, but that’s what Psychic Pollution was for awhile. I was leaning towards that political edge, kind of showing my displeasure with the way things were. Now that I’m a bit older I still feel anger towards the world though its not what it was. What do you think about the name?
I think it’s weirdly beautiful. Now that I know the meaning behind it maybe my views have kind of changed, but I like that the words psychic and pollution are kind of opposites. When I think psychic I think clarity, and lucidity, and then pollution is sort of the inverse of that, so they’re like these two co-existing contradictions.
Well I don’t know if you’re into horoscopes or anything like that ….
Well I’m a cancer, who they say are emotional sponges. I related to that, I feel like I pick up on people’s energies really well and get an idea of a person based on my first impression, it (Psychic Pollution) kind of goes off that as well.
Do you notice a difference in energy then between crowds if we’re talking about performing in Calgary versus Victoria, the reciprocation that you get from people you are playing for?
Good question. I think I would say the crowds are generally similar; though the population is a lot more significant in Calgary. The support in Victoria is really great though, especially from Weird Canada and CFUV, they’ve been putting me on lots of bills. It also helps that I run Copper Owl too.
It sounds like having been in the scene for so long, you’re kind of like a fatherly figure in terms of helping bands get their sound out.
Ha, well I guess that kind of makes sense. Renee and I, who run Copper Owl, are both musicians who wanted to have another live music space in town. We’ve been part of the scene for awhile, so we thought we had a bit of an edge up on networking with bands. And I mean, I take pride in answering every email that comes in, even if I can’t stand a band’s sound! We can’t be curatorial in terms of only having bands we love all the time. We want lots of variety, if bands can put together a show that will bring people out, then I’m open to the idea.
Do you have any advice for those smaller bands trying to get their names out there?
Just generally to get out and socialize. Go see shows, see bands similar to yours and make contacts with those people and support them. You see those people coming out to support your band and vice versa, and it creates a sort of positive network, people can ride on each other’s coattails of success.
It’s a tough world out there.
Exactly. Also networking within a local scene is important. Like, anytime I have an out-of-town band trying to book a show at Copper Owl, I say you have to have at least one local act on the bill. I think it’s important. It shows a connection to the local scene. If a band is willing to put in the work to do a show with local artists it helps with draw and also shows their connection to the local scene. It’s kind of a delicate balance of us trying to be encouraging and support each other as artists, and also just trying to get bodies into the bar. A balance of business and just appreciating the arts.
On that note, any Victoria bands you’re really excited about?
Yes! Freak Heat Waves and Backhommes. Freak Heat Waves is definitely one of my favorite bands, their last album was so awesome.
Besides writing music and performing as the ambient/experimental project Psychic Pollution, Jzero Schuurman is also a member of the band Scars and Scarves, and owns and runs the Copper Owl and the Fifty Fifty Arts Collective in Victoria BC, two well-known venues which help support the local artist community.