Taiwan Housing Project's sound is suited for our times. In an era when watching the news is liable to make any sane person anxious enough to break out into a cold sweat or bust out laughing, the Philadelphia band sounds like they're working through the same anxieties in their music. Free-wheeling and chaotic, they mix punk fury with out-there free jazz sax blurts and bad acid sonic textures. It's music that sounds like it's melting as it howls through your speakers.
A shifting collective of musicians led by Kilynn Lunsford and Mark Feehan, the group is touring the country in support of their incendiary new record, Veblen Death Mask, with a stop at Valley Bar on August 4. The two songwriters opened up to us about their surprising musical influences, Southeast Asian architecture, and how death motivates them as musicians.
New Times: As a group, you've got this chaotic,sprawling sound. I was wondering what kind of groups influenced the development of your unique style?
Mark Feehan: Flipper. That's a major influence on me.
Kilynn Lunsford: Plastic People Of The Universe. Diamanda Galas. Lydia Lunch. I have a lot of influences, but I don't know if we sound exactly like them.
Feehan: Johnny Thunders influenced me a lot. And Hendrix.
Lunsford: I'm into a lot of sound collage and 20th-century composers. A lot of the sensibilities from those recordings have kinda seeped into my way of thinking about sound and textures and the way we use space in our recordings. ... I grew up in the South. My first concert was Crystal Gayle. So I grew up listening to a lot of country and bluegrass. My dad was a huge stoner, so he had all these psychedelic records. And I also really got into Prince, because I was an '80s kid. Prince was my first real childhood obsession.
Feehan: Johnny Cash is a big influence on me too, with the way I pick.
Lunsford: You can hear it in our guitar licks, this Link Wray, Johnny Thunders, Chuck Berry style. Country, rockabilly, surf- and demented punk like Flipper. It all gets thrown into the mix.
The video you released for “Veblum Death Mask” has a really haunting aesthetic. How did that video come about? Whose idea was it to animate those still photos?
Lunsford: Those were all my photos, that I've taken over the years. I wanted my friend to animate them — he's also the drummer in our band. He's done a lot of video collaborations with the skateboard artist Mark Gonzales, where he animated his drawings and paintings.
You did an interview for Noisey where you talked about William James, Thorstein Veblen, and the idea that conspicious consumption is something that people do as a way to ignore and deny anxieties about death. I was wondering: Do you think the urge to create is a similar impulse? That the need to make music, release albums, that all of that is also a way to come to grips with nonexistence, too?
Lunsford: Definitely. It's interesting, because that's something Nabokov talked about. He wanted to leave a legacy, and that was something he feared a lot during his life — it was definitely something that compelled him to create, to leave an artistic legacy behind him. That's something that lingers in my mind.
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I think most people have this latent anxiety, even when they're not consciously fixating on it. An anxiety about death. There's this anxiety that keeps you active, that keeps your mind preoccupied, that keeps you moving from task to task.
Why Taiwan Housing Project? Does the name have a personal significance, or was it just something y'all settled on because it has a neat ring to it?
Lunsford: Mark and I used to get together and work on music at his apartment. We'd record weird shit and then take breaks to talk about politics or watch videos on YouTube. At one point I was telling him about these houses — because I lived in Southeast Asia, in Thailand, for almost a year — I was telling him about these houses that don't exist anymore. They're called Sanzhi UFO houses. The houses were interesting because they were made for these elite Taiwanese. But they were built on the beach, and wealthy people don't want to vacation in their own country — they want to go somewhere exotic. So these weird, dystopian mod-pop houses then became housing for G.I.s and later got squatted by homeless people.
I was showing him these pod houses on the same night we were finishing up a recording. We were going to put it up on our Soundcloud page and so we needed a name to put that stuff up there. So Marky was like, "Why not Taiwan Housing Project?"
Taiwan Housing Project is playing on Friday, August 4, at Valley Bar in downtown Phoenix.