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Fab Moretti talks new group machinegum, Strokes, more in BV interview

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Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti has a new project called machinegum that is described as “an artists’ collective that draws inspiration from involvement of the viewer/interpreter.” Part of that is a band (that also includes Nation of Language’s Ian Devaney) who dropped their debut album, Conduit, quietly back in December. Much of the record is low-key synthy new wave, with touches of goth and disco. You can stream it below.

Part of the low key release of the record were pink bubblegum machines, like the one on the cover of the album, that began popping up around Manhattan and Brooklyn. If you put a quarter into the machine, you might get a pink gumball, but there are also capsules with pink quarters in them that have a QR code on them. That code then leads you to the album, but also serves as an invite to the opening of machinegum’s art exhibit at Lower East Side art gallery Fig. 19 on January 28. It promises to be a very interactive night, including an unusual performance by the group that, live, also includes Delicate Steve, drummer Chris Egan (!!!, Blood Orange), keyboardist Martin Bonventre and Erin Victoria Axtell.

There are a handful of these gumball machines still up around the city — check the machinegum Instagram for clues on locations. Finding a pink quarter in one of them doesn’t guarantee entry, which is based on capacity.

We talked to Fab about the concept behind machinegum as well as details about this art gallery performance. We also tried to coax a little info about the new Strokes album — their first since 2013’s Comedown Machine — that will supposedly be out this year. “There’s new music, for sure,” Fab says while keeping tight lipped on details. “Soon enough it’ll come out.” Read that below.

Was the album and art gallery and the gumball machines all conceived of as a piece?

Kind of. I wanted to embrace this new form of listening to music. You no longer have to do it externally, putting this thing down on a plate, watching it turn into music. It’s also becoming very personal, which in a way is rad. I’m not a very religious person but I was raised Catholic, and there’s a moment at church where everybody’s listening communally to the priest but then there’s a moment where you all stand up and you have this very personal moment where you take the eucharist. That’s just you having a religious moment by yourself. Music is becoming increasingly more and more like that. We live in our headphones and walk around in our stories and we choose the scores to our movies with our iPhones.

We never “released” this album properly, we just put up these gumball machines around town. That’s another part of this ritualistic thing, discovery. You put in a quarter, and you get back a pink quarter. There’s a QR code on the quarter that then gives you a link to listen to the record. I wanted it to be a way to circumvent the usual way of hearing about new albums and downloading songs. Obviously we had to use Spotify and Deezer, those things, because it turns out its very difficult to build a streaming site [Laughs] but we still didn’t promote it as a regular record.

These pink quarters now also have an invite to this show.

Right. So if you found a pink quarter you find the music and you also find a ticket. I was thinking maybe there’s a way for the art show where we can perform but then individualize the experience by having everybody wear a headset, kind of like a silent disco. So we’re going to have people walk around with headphones, watching us perform and the feed will be us playing directly to them.

So it’s bluetooth headphones?

Exactly. The capacity of the gallery is 75 people and when you walk in you’ll be given a pink poncho — because everything in the gallery is bubblegum, commercialism pink — and a headset. There will be projections of you along the wall as well, so the guests are now part of the art as well.

And direct lines in, no amps?

That’s right, we’ll be going straight into DI boxes, the keyboards, the guitars, even the drums are electronic. If somebody takes off their headphones it’ll just sound like a lot of banging. Hopefully they’ll enjoy the music enough that they won’t do that.

There is also an interactive painting element to this show too…

There’s gonna be a wall of cassette tapes that are there for the taking, but you have to give something back. If you happen to have anything that you’re willing to dunk into the pink paint, you can trade it for a cassette. It’s more about it being a symbol of reciprocity. Hopefully at the end, all the cassettes will be replaced and we’ll have shelf of mismatched bits and bobs from people’s pockets, but all in the exact same pink.

How many of these gumball machines are out there?

There will be seven gumball machines up in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Are all the ones on machinegum instagram still up?

The one in Greenpoint and the one on Grand Street got taken down but otherwise, yes.

While you have to find the pink quarter to be invited to the opening, will the gallery be open to the public afterwards?

It’ll be up and open to the public for a few days, to see the walls and instruments that we built. Who knows, we might come in and play a song every once and awhile.

And what happens after this? Will there be more “normal” machinegum shows? Will the album get a more traditional release?

Yes, the album will get a release in May. We were trying to keep it a New York thing with the gumball machine release, but of course it kind of got out beyond that. If people like it there will be more shows, yes. But I also want machinegum to be this amorphous thing that grows and grows. And not just me and the band, anyone that wants to be part of it. If someone has an idea in the name of art, they can do it under this flag.

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