Interview: Douglas Kearney & Hands On Methods of Appropriation and Authenticity In Music


Listen to an excerpted interview with Douglas Kearney on “Lomaxing”, methods of sanctioned and unsanctioned appropriation, and the delicate subject of authenticity in music.

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***The following is a subsequent interview with Ryan Sweeney of the band Hands on the practice of remixing, loosely based on the above interview with Douglas Kearney.


In your community of musicians, there seems to be a positive symbiotic relationship in remixing the work of other bands.  It seems to work to promote both parties.  Would you say that culturally it’s become more acceptable to share creative work with other artists?    

 Absolutely.  Sharing is caring.  In any community, of artists, writers, musicians, sharing is necessary to move forward in a positive direction.


Where does the idea of authenticity fit into remixing? Does a remix or song become less authentic as a result of being recontextualized, reworked, reiterated?

I suppose it depends on who you ask. I’ve spoken to friends who say they use very little of the original song that they are remixing. However, in my experience and what is most fun for me is using as much of the original song as possible. What’s even more fun is getting to explore the individual sounds another artist creates. But, is it more authentic because I used more of the original material? I don’t know. I guess as with any art or any thing, once it is reworked and removed from its original state it is less authentic by default.


When remixing are you actively trying to make a departure from the original song?

It’s very important to depart from the original and make it your own.



Douglas Kearney writes about the nuances of appropriation in his essay “Lomaxing: Poetic Tactics For Quotation, Appropriation, and Sampling” [shared previously with Ryan Sweeney ]the permissible types of appropriation (quotation, homage) versus “biting”. Where does remixing fall on this spectrum? In your case when Hands remixes a song is it a kind of homage or is it more peer-to-peer based?

Remixing falls heavy on the homage side of things. Biting is done without permission and in order to pass another’s style of as their own. Remixes are done because an artist really admires what another musician does and would like to hear what that musician can do to their song. In Hands’ case it’s peer-to-peer but it’s also a homage at the same time.



Is it important that the original song being recognizable in the remix? Are you ever faced with the issue of venturing so far from the original that it becomes a new song entirely?


I don’t think it’s too important.  It’s definitely easy for me to get a little carried away when in the beginning stages of remixing. 




In the previously mentioned essay, Douglas Kearney writes, “Appropriation is, strictly speaking, to take someone else’s property and make it yours. Perhaps appropriation comes with a kind of willful or, at the very least, careless erasure of the source.” Is there an erasure that is happening in your process of remixing? If so, what is being erased?


Erasure happens in almost all remixes. I think its safe to say that the structure of the original song is always erased. Certain instruments are removed or erased entirely in different remixes.


 How is success measured in a remix? Is there more value given to a remix that makes a more dramatic departure from the original song, or is the value placed in maintaining the integrity of the original song?

If the artist who created the original song likes the remix then success has been achieved in my book.


What are the rules of representation in a remix?  Is there some kind of obligation to represent another band’s music correctly?  If so, what does “correct” mean in this case?


I don’t think there are any rules. There is no correct, there is just music.



Merriam-Webster defines translation as :

1. : an act, process, or instance of translating: as

a. a rendering from one language into another ; also : the produce of such a rendering

b. a change to a different substance, form, or appearance : conversion

Can you define the process of remixing as an act of translation?


Music is my language. I speak it my very own unique way and so do all the other musicians out there. I could say that remixing to me is like translating Spanish into English. I figure out the structure of the song, I figure out the tempo, I figure out the key just like Merriam and Webster figure out sentence structure and verb form. I don’t know that Merriam and Webster actually do that but, you know what I mean. Someone figures all that out. Then once all is figured, I can begin translating into what I want to do. Luckily musicians don’t have to worry about the words and whether they make sense or not. We get to just translate and get funky.





1. _     

Poet, performer, and librettist Douglas Kearney grew up in Altadena, California. He received his BA from Howard University and his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and is also a graduate and fellow of Cave Canem.

In the Los Angeles Times, poet David St. Johnobserved, “What Doug’s articulating is the fragmentation of the self and sensibility that you see prominently in T.S. Eliot and The Waste Land. He’s at the other end of the century, using a multicultural voice inflected with the concerns of what it means to be a young black man at this time and at this place.”

Kearney’s lyrical poems range across the page, bridging thematic concerns such as politics, African-American culture, masks, the Trickster figure, and contemporary music. He describes the nontraditional layout of his poems as “performative typography.” As he explained in a conversation with poet Amaud J. Johnson for theBoxcar Poetry Review, “I wanted to take what I knew about poetics and, say, graphic design and try to figure out the dynamics of certain poetic devices.” In the same conversation, Kearney discussed the relationship between his poetry and politics: “For me, the political is a part of how I see the world … my art making doesn’t begin without realizing who I am and what it means for me to be writing a poem and not doing something else.”

Kearney’s poetry collections include Fear, Some (2006) and The Black Automaton(2009), which was chosen by Catherine Wagner for the National Poetry Series. His poetry has appeared in several anthologies, including The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (2007, edited by Nikky Finney), Spoken Word Revolution Redux (2007, edited by Mark Eleveld), Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (2005, edited by Sheree R. Thomas), and Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Art & Literature (2002, edited by Tony Medina, Samiya A. Bashir, and Quarishi Ali Lansana).

His honors include a Whiting Writers Award, a Pushcart nomination, and commissions for new work from Minneapolis’s Weisman Art Museum and New York’s Studio Museum. In 2007, he was named a Notable New American Poet by the Poetry Society of America. Kearney has also received fellowships and scholarships from Idyllwild Summer Arts Poetry Workshop, Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.


Hands makes music like a rip tide, swirling in overlapping loops and riffs, slowly enveloping you. The group’s members – Geoff Halliday, Ryan Sweeney, Sean Hess and Alex Staniloff – craft their hypnotic sound from a single dropping note that builds into a reverberating roar that crashes over you like a wave. It’s a mesmerizing trick that they pull off on their debut LP, Synesthesia. Building off the success of their Massive Context EP (Small Plates) released in 2012 and a 7” to be released on White Iris in January, songs like “Videolove” and “Trouble” show Hands’ innate ability to blend instruments and electronics into a deep texture that moves ethereally through genres. Hands moves from rock to synth-pop to skyrocketing stadium anthem, often within the same song. The interplay of Sweeney’s esoteric guitar riffs, Hess’ technical tempos, Staniloff’s thumping bass and Halliday’s soaring vocals and affected keyboards help Hands build a dynamic atmosphere, where a lesser band would only manage empty atmospherics.

A relative newcomer to the LA scene, Hands began as a two-piece from Philadelphia before Halliday and Sweeney headed west and added the low and thump of Hess and Staniloff. The band made a mark on the scene immediately, quickly playing packed shows across the country including stops at SXSW, CMJ and Deluna Fest, headlining Echo Park Rising, sessions with Daytrotter, and a west coast jaunt with Maps and Atlases. Hands’ ability to win over fans with their feverish live show and dance-party-ready sound has already earned them opening spots for the likes of Deerhoof, DeVotchKa, Foster the People, and Kimbra as well as playing shows to sold out crowds at venues across LA.

For now, Hands’ graceful and danceable indie rock is still under the radar, as evidenced by their spot in TIME Magazine’s “11 Bands You Don’t Know (But Should)” List, but they are quickly rising to the surface, bringing their melodies and thumping beats with them. Over the past year, Hands has built a devoted following for their evolving palette of sounds, soaring melodies, and complex looping song structures. With overwhelming responses to first listens of the record and Hands hitting the road for most of 2013, surely this is the year that Hands will start to make waves. Big big waves.

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