E Pluribus Unum: Planningtorock is All-Encompassing
Published May 23, 2011
JANINE ROSTRON, AKA PLANNINGTOROCK. PHOTO COURTESY OF GOODYN GREEN
Planningtorock, a project by Berlin-based Janine Rostron, is hard to describe: an eerily gorgeous array of strange, often orchestral instrumentations, pitch-shifting vocals, and an outlandish prosthetic nose are just a few pieces of the inventive puzzle. In her music, Rostron (who’s signed with James Murphy’s DFA Records) never lets one characteristic sit at the forefront, leaving her music void of a single voice or even a gender. But what Rostron purposefully lacks in cultural identifiers, she more then makes up with using her all-encompassing sound. With her newest effort, W (out digitally tomorrow), the transformative singer/producer leads her listeners further down a path that deconstructs the constraints of traditional femininity and musical normality we’ve grown accustomed to—the sultry saxophones and string plucks of “Doorway,” the mystifying catchiness of gender-bender “I Am Your Man,” and the pseudo-trance of “Living it Out” all lend to the project’s signature style.
We recently caught up with Rostron via phone while she was in Germany for a gig, and discussed her aesthetic, her performance at LCD’s final Madison Square Garden show, and what she thinks her new album has to say. We’re also very pleased to exclusively premiere her video for the remix she did of her own song, “Doorway” (watch it after the jump).
ALEX CHAPMAN: I first heard about you when you collaborated with The Knife. How did that come to be?
JANINE ROSTRON: Olof [Andersson] asked me back in 2008 if I’d like to write the music together with him for the opera, but at that time I was trying to finish my album and recording a lot. I suggested that we bring in more people to help, due to the scale of the project, and so Karin [Andersson, also of The Knife] and Mt. Sims joined, and we wrote the piece all together. CHAPMAN: I’ve heard you’re inspired by cinema. Tell me a bit about your connection to film and the role it plays in your music.
ROSTRON: Watching Orlando really inspired me—Sally Potter not only directed the movie, but co-composed all the music. CHAPMAN: Didn’t she sing some of the music?
ROSTRON: Yes, she used her voice on the soundtrack, which in my opinion made the film so precise as a creative piece of work. I have been obsessed with music and moving images since forever, and this powerful marriage between music and film is why I direct my own videos for my music—to achieve a very precise and personal language of my own.
CHAPMAN: How much of your musical language is inspired by Berlin?
ROSTRON: Berlin has played a big role—there are no rules here, in a way. It’s quite cut off from how other major cities operate, and that creates a lot of freedom, which has in turn allowed me to get deeper into creating my own sound at my own speed.
CHAPMAN: You gained some great buzz for your appearance during LCD Soundsystem’s final show. What was that like for you?
ROSTRON: It was an amazing and inspiring experience. Despite the scale of the show, James just keeps things so real. He literally added tracks an hour before stage time, for fun and creative spontaneity. It was a very special night.
CHAPMAN: I love how you alter your vocals—I feel like the piece must almost be performing for you by the time it’s done. Where did this idea come from?
ROSTRON: That’s such a nice way to put it. I worked a lot on the production of my vocals for this record in an attempt to sonically expand the emotions, sentiments and ideas in the songs. I like the notion of a fluid gender that’s constantly morphing into different detailed forms, never settling into boxes or stereotypes. I wanted to get that feeling in my songs and have it run through the album.
CHAPMAN: Well you obviously push that further with the prosthetic nose. I’m so fascinated by this—what’s the story behind it?
ROSTRON: I wanted to find a way too visually represent what I’d achieved sonically in the music and had the idea to expand on my facial features. So I bought some nose putty from a theatre makeup store and started to add it to my nose and brow. Immediately, something, happened and the voice that I’d created on the record was coming alive—I have a creative assistant called GFS who helped me blend the initial putty nose and brow together with me. Now we have a silicone version of the facial structure.
CHAPMAN: That’s so wild! Your music has a lot of layering and looping, which I also think adds a lot to the distinctiveness of your vision. Have you always worked with technology?
ROSTRON: The first equipment I recorded on back when I was 16 was a big, old 4/8-track reel-to-reels using tape, but I’ve been recording with digital software for a while now and combine both digital and analog gear. I love mixing live strings, for example, with synthesized strings, or live baritone saxophone with a weird synthesized version of the same instrument. For me, it’s really about the sounds—I’m not precious about digital or analog; the goal is to create a sonic combo that achieves the musical attitude I want. For this album, I recorded a load of live percussion and had learned about microphones and preamps and engineering live recordings, which was brilliant. For the live show, I use a mixture of digital and analog gear, with live saxophone going through effects, and electronic and acoustic percussion.
CHAPMAN: With so much going on musically when you perform, how important are visuals to the live show?
ROSTRON: Someone told me just the other day that after seeing one of my first shows for the new album, they felt connected to the soul of my music watching me perform, which is an amazing reaction. The visuals are very important. Again, this marriage between music video and live performance is my favorite language on stage.
CHAPMAN: Here’s a big question: If W is an interpretation of who you are as a person (not to say that it is, because I think a lot of your music has to do with what the listener brings to it emotionally), what do you think people will learn about you by listening to it?
ROSTRON: Geez, I don’t think I can answer that one. I seriously have no idea how people would interpret me personally from W. You say the listener will make her or his own emotions and interpretations from W, which I find way more interesting than any of my speculations.
PLANNINGTOROCK’S DEBUT ALBUM W IS OUT DIGITALLY TOMORROW ON DFA RECORDS (PHYSICAL COPIES WILL BE AVAILABLE JUNE 14). FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HER MYSPACE.