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Inside Out: Bastardgeist Finds Personal History in Music

We make tools for artists because we’re artists ourselves, so side projects are especially important at Big Cartel. Inside Out features projects that feed our creative appetites outside of work.

Joel Midden is one of the handful of incredible individuals who make up our Support team. His empathetic spirit and friendliness make him a perfect fit for helping folks navigate the ups and downs of running their own shop. In his personal time, you can find Joel working on a number of musical projects with his punk band, The Dumpies, or with his ambient solo work under the name Bastardgeist. When we caught wind that he’s been working on new sounds, we had to ask him all about it.

What’s this we hear about a new album in the works?

I’ve almost finished it, actually. It’s tentatively titled So Much Blood and it’s been a long time coming. The last record came out in 2013 and since then I’ve spent a long time writing and then scrapping material, just generally struggling to come up with a body of work that felt substantial enough to call finished. At a certain point I decided I needed to drastically change my process, so I started learning a visual programming language for music and video called Max. Long story short, I’ve been using that as a tool to create new work and it’s freed me up creatively quite a bit.

The album is loosely based around ideas of family history, where that intersects with queer history, and is sort of documenting an attempt to fill in blank spaces within my own personal history. My uncle John died in 1987 at age 29 of AIDS. I don’t have any actual memories of him outside of a vague recollection from when my dad took my brother, sister, and me to see his patches on the AIDS quilt in the ’90s. But despite that, I’ve always felt his presence (or lack thereof) in my life, increasingly so as I’ve grown older. There are bits and pieces about him that I’ve picked up over the years from my family, but many seem to contradict each other or are lacking in substantial detail. So I’ve been sort of investigating family and friends of his to try to get a better understanding of who he was, his life, and the circumstances surrounding his death with the ultimate intention of using that to build a coherent narrative for myself via the record.

Where can we listen to and learn more about Bastardgeist?

It won’t actually be released ‘til Autumn 2018, at the earliest, but when it’s ready it’ll be in all the regular places like Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp.

The lead single from the last Bastardgeist record, Coast, has a music video that premiered at Cannes Film Festival’s ShortFilm Corner in 2014 and was directed by Robert Ruiz de Castilla and produced by FivePennFilms.

I’m not the best at keeping up a steady pace of releases with this project. I’m constantly making things, and in projects with other people I’m maybe able to let go a little easier and be more casual about it. But for whatever reason, Bastardgeist material seems to do better when it’s really had time to marinate, in my opinion.

What’s your favorite thing about working on music?

This is a hard question, because I’ve been putting stuff out and performing under this name since I was 18 and it’s seen a lot of different iterations. It feels more inevitable than intentional at this point, so it’s difficult to think of what my favorite aspects of it are. It’s like trying to pick a favorite part of a family member. I’m equally in love with and embarrassed by all of it at once, I guess, haha.

If I were to narrow it down to just the process of making work for Bastardgeist, sometimes when I’m collaborating with other people on a project I miss the autonomy that I have with this one. It’s pretty creatively liberating to be able to change gears in an instant, which isn’t always as as easy when working with other people. The downside is that it’s just me working on it, so things tend to move a bit slower than a project where there are multiple hands on deck.

I can also be way more critical of material for this project than if I’m working on a something with other people, for better or worse. Sometimes it feels cathartic to be really picky and go down an editing rabbit hole or just drag an entire folder of stuff into the trash. Other times, I think I need the therapy of just laying something down with my friends and not thinking too much about it.

Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably give an entirely different answer, haha.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about Bastardgeist?

I hate to keep being so frustratingly vague. I kind of feel the less people know about a project the better. I don’t always know how honest a thing I’m making is until after I’ve stepped away from it for a minute, and sometimes not even then. I also pretty strongly believe in a lot of looney-tunes post-modern ideas about subjectivity and avoiding the impulse to try to create objective hierarchies in art. But for the most part, I want people to take the things I make at face value. Know it exists and hopefully that it’s worth engaging with. It’s safe to say, I’ve spent a lot of time on it and my relationship with it changes on a daily basis. Outside of that, do whatever you want with it.

See what else the Big Cartel team is up to these days.