Jerry Paper


Interview and photo by Whitney Mallett

If someone is planning on making a film adaptation of a George Saunders’s short story, I would like to recommend that they use Jerry Paper’s warbly experimental pop as the soundtrack. His synth-filled sci-fi tunes really capture the idiosyncrasies of the human experience. They’re so funny and catchy. Jerry Paper is just one of the weird musical projects of Brooklyn-based California-transplant Lucas Nathan. He’s formerly of Zonotope and he’s also the man behind the noise-project-cum-fake-cult The Diane Kensington Gospel/Devotional Band. I caught up with Nathan and we talked about fuzzy logic, false binaries, and digital spiritualism.

Did you ever listen to that album Trans where Neil Young recorded all his vocals through a vocoder to try to connect with his autistic son? 

I love that album.

I think the human voice is often said to be the thing we most inherently connect to but what do you think about the premise you could connect more to something that’s mechanical?

It’s interesting that he made that album for his autistic son because his son connected more to the vocoder than his own voice. In Indian music, the voice is considered the most holy thing, it’s supposed to sound the most like God. And we connect most to voices and things that sound like voices. I always try to use synthesizers to make them sound less sterile.

I feel like your music has the vibe of a robot who is really emotional and feels empathy. Is that what you were going for?

I used to make psych pop kind of stuff, all guitars and drums. Before I really started to understand electronic music I thought it was perfect, like all the drum machines are perfectly sequenced. But I realized that machines have a lot of quirks and to expose that is almost more human. What the fuck is more human than a computer? That doesn’t happen outside of humans. Electronics are purely human tools. I think a lot about the separation of humans and nature and why we think like that instead of thinking of humans as part of nature. I hate to sound like a douchebag but it’s very Cartesian/mind-body dualism. We think of electronics as not natural, but if humans are natural then our tools are also natural.

Do you think robots will ever be capable of empathy?

Probably not because the nature of consciousness is so complicated. And computers are so logical that A.I. just doesn’t seem possible–they’re not going to figure out, I’m pretty confident. We have all these machines but none of them work. We have all this cool technology but it keeps breaking. In everyone’s vision of the future, all the machines work perfectly but it’s totally not how it’s working out.

It’s like we’ve accepted this worldview where all these binaries are real. And that’s how we’ve taught computers to see the world. They only work in binaries–this is 0 and this is 1. Do you think that’s maybe why they don’t work so well, because that’s not really how the world is?

Totally. Binaries are a very helpful way to deal with things. They’re a pretty good tool when it comes to categorizing the world and figuring things out. But it’s not actually how the world works. That song “Fuzzy Logic” where my voice is run through the vocoder, it’s named after Fuzzy Logic, a logical concept that describes the space between the binary. I’m fascinated with this idea of Fuzzy Logic. I have this other project, it’s a little more noise based and it’s weirder music. The idea is I’m a woman named Diane Kensington, and there’s a fake religion in this fake universe that I’ve created. The basis of the religion is the space between the 1 and the 0. So it’s kind of like this digital spiritualism.

When you are making music are you wanting to explore these ideas?

Mostly when I’m making music I’m not thinking which is why I like to do it. I think a lot and I need to get out of that headspace. These ideas are things I think about a lot so I’m sure they creep into my music subconsciously but when I’m making music, I just do it, I don’t think.