Interview: Kristel Jax
Working in the arts has meant a lot of poverty financially and stability-wise, and a lot of richness in who I’ve got to meet, experiences I’ve got to have, and emotions I’ve got to process.
Kristel Jax is a Toronto-based artist and musician. She co-authors a quarterly publication titled HUM and on September 4th of last year, she released an album titled Pink under the project name Brigitte Bardon’t. She recorded it using a pink Barbie Jam with Me keyboard she found abandoned at the side of the road. Kristel Jax kindly answered some questions via email for Echoes and Dust about these projects, her musical influences and more.
(((o))): When did you know you wanted to play and write music and what was the first instrument you learned to play?
Kristel Jax: It’s funny but as a little kid, I was obsessed with getting a piano, I wanted a piano so badly I would ask Santa for one every year. My mom would tell me that Santa couldn’t fit a piano down the chimney. She did have a silver flute, though, which I was also obsessed with, and when I was 8 I started taking flute lessons from an older girl in the neighbourhood. She taught me pretty much everything I know about classical music.
(((o))): Who are your biggest musical influences?
Kristel Jax: This sounds a bit silly but my old noise duo Alpha Couple once put out an album of covers, except we were actually doing homages to covers or reinterpretations — that Nike7up remix of Britney Spears’ ‘Lucky’, a band in Central Park we’d recorded playing ‘With Or Without You’ by U2, things like that. I’m also obsessed with flipping FM radio stations endlessly looking for patterns that my brain will make up. Basically, my influences feel really muddy, I’m sure it’s like that for a lot of artists where everything is inspiring in one way or another.
I also work at this venue in Toronto called The Music Gallery which is for experimental music from every genre, meaning I get to see a lot of ideas passing by, and then I’m inspired by a lot of local artists who are working outside the usual parameters what a music or concert experience might be, like Vanessa Rieger’s Nightlifeguard project. Now that I’ve said all that, the main band I’m ripping off is Angels in America, who are amazing. Sadly the only person who’s ever called me out on that is a guy who saw me in Providence almost 10 years ago.
(((o))): You are a multi-talented artist from music, to writing to photographer, painter, illustrator, digital artist, and muralist and so good at it all. Is there one that you love doing the most or do each provide a different level of satisfaction?
Kristel Jax: Multi-talented is such a nice way of saying lost, thank you! Every medium definitely has different rewards for me, but I think I’m best at writing and sometimes I wonder if I should just focus on that, except I do acknowledge all the other pursuits give my writing a better perspective, and they’re fun. Honestly, a lot of it is luck, like if I had a huge studio space maybe I’d be painting a lot more, but in Toronto, that’s just not possible for me, and having limitations like that is what leads to me actually finishing projects sometimes so I’m grateful for that.
(((o))): You have a great podcast titled Drone Therapy Podcast available via Apple Music. Can you tell us about it and what inspired you to start it?
Kristel Jax: The larger Drone Therapy project actually started as a series on Youtube. I was recording myself going over my workbook from the CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, sessions I was doing at CAMH, because I was working through a nervous breakdown and trying to get through a really miserable time by making jokes about it. I had already been doing Youtube videos of myself unpacking my thrift store hauls to noise music, which at the time I thought was a hilarious concept, so for the videos about therapy, I’d talk really slow with drone music underneath. This was before mental health was a widely discussed topic online so I was surprised by how many people reacted by telling me their own stories, and it bothered me how difficult everyone was finding it to gain access to help with mental health stuff so that motivated me to keep sharing. Now Drone Therapy is a more proper scripted podcast, focused on DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy), and I’ve done live shows with the project as well.
(((o))): Another cool project you have going is a publication titled Hum: Drone Listening Walks. For those who don’t know, HUM is a quarterly collaboration between you and Tasman Richardson. It is “a 2-colour risograph printed pocket book mapping and poetically detailing resonant spots for audio. Readers are encouraged to walk to the sites on the map at their leisure and participate in a guided sound tour.” I have the Autumn and Summer editions. I love them and even though I don’t live in Toronto and can’t physically experience it, I was still affected by what I read, via the imagery painted via the written word. How and why did the idea for the publication come about?
Kristel Jax: Thank you so much! Hum is a new project from 2020 and I’m really excited about it. Years ago I made this one-off zine that was about finding monotonous sounds in your neighbourhood, then taking a friend on a tour of these sounds. During lockdown in Toronto. Tasman and I were taking extremely long walks with no destination and finding that random things like a plane passing over the sky or a squeaky laundry pulley were more interesting and beautiful to us than some of the more questionable gallery installations we’d been to. Not to say we’re “above” the art world, we work in and love that world very much and see so much potential in it, but it was our opinion that a lot of art and music feels inferior to what we can find just walking around. Hum is about documenting and sharing that sense of wonder about the supposedly mundane.
(((o))): When researching for each publication, do you write everything you see then edit once you get home? Do you take a video and photos along the way? What’s the process in putting something like this together?
Kristel Jax: Hum begins with us scouting locations and taking photographs and videos of any spot we think we might include, tagged to a map. As we explore, the favourites, or spots with the most exciting sounds, usually jump out at us pretty clearly. We’ll then go back a different day at least once to make sure the sounds are still there, and do further documentation: proper photos, videos, sound recordings, and written notes. Tasman knows what he’s looking for for the images and sound spectrograms, and for the writing, I’m jotting down everything about the experience of being in each spot, sound, sight, etc, it ends up looking like a strange poem. I also take videos of everything with my phone from different perspectives so I can fill in any gaps later, we’re lucky to be able to make a record of sound and video at once so easily.
(((o))): Do you hope to expand this to other cities or towns?
Kristel Jax: We very much want to make issues of Hum for locations outside of Toronto! We are talking right now to one location outside of Ontario about the possibility of making a Hum issue remotely, due to lockdown. Then when travel is possible, we dream of doing all sorts of places.
(((o))): Will there be a winter issue and if yes, when will it be available?
Kristel Jax: The winter issue is out now! https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/pseudonymstudio
(((o))): Musically, you are also known as Brigitte Bardon’t. How did you come up with the name?
Kristel Jax: In 2013 I was playing with noise and pop music, mainly through recording cassette manipulations of myself flipping radio stations, and my personal style was becoming more and more feminine, with bleached hair, rhinestones, etc, which was still new for me as just a few years before I had no interest in that kind of stuff. Brigitte Bardon’t captured that mindset for me, of wanting to be feminine and pretty but also negative, like, don’t, do not, go away, bye. Since then I have literally had people tell me they liked my music before Bardon’t but refuse to listen to a project with a “joke name” but that’s kind of funny to me too, like, you’re missing out on the serious ideas in the project because of the name, like how someone with a bias might miss out on what a person is really about just because that person reads as feminine.
I ended up meeting someone on Twitter who had a project called Lana Del Rabies, who had a similar approach to music, and we really bonded over the name thing. Her last song before she changed the project name (it’s Strega Beata now) was a Lana Del Rey cover we made together.
(((o))): Your latest release is titled Pink. It’s a great release and the story behind it is pretty cool as well. Can you tell us more about it and how long it took to complete from conception to release?
Kristel Jax: Thank you! Pink is an electronic album I made entirely with sounds from a Barbie Jam With Me keyboard I found in the trash. Someone put it outside but it still worked, the battery slots are just a little messed up and you need to wiggle things around, which I think would be totally annoying if you had a child trying to make music with it, but it was fine for me sitting and recording every sound it could possibly make into Ableton from my bed. It has the usual beginner keyboard and drum pad settings like synth and cowbell, but there’s also a microphone that makes some amazing feedback if you point it at the built-in speaker and some decent static opportunities. I recorded everything in spring and finished the album at the end of summer. It was a lot of long quiet nights in quarantine wearing headphones, composing MIDI, and tweaking sounds in bed while my lonely dog pouted.
(((o))): Are you currently working on anything new?
Kristel Jax: Drone Therapy podcast took a long break (oops) and I finally just uploaded a new episode, episode 20, but music has been in the back seat because of Hum and because lately after Christmas I start selling a lot of valentines on Etsy, it sounds funny but it’s true, and that’s taken up a lot of my time. I’d like to do a follow-up to Radio Songs because I have a ton of great recordings to work from the before-time when travel was possible, and a lot of new skills I learned making Pink. I also decided I need to totally makeover my live show for whenever live shows come back, but I’m not stressing that one too much yet.
(((o))): What has working in the arts meant to you?
Kristel Jax: Working in the arts has meant a lot of poverty financially and stability-wise, and a lot of richness in who I’ve got to meet, experiences I’ve got to have, and emotions I’ve got to process. I’m at a stage in my life right now where I’m trying to come down a bit and be more of a person as well as an artist because ignoring all the person-stuff meant I wasn’t taking care of myself at all, which I think is a common arts-world thing. I’m lucky I got help in time or who knows where I’d be.
(((o))): Lastly, looking at the gear you have now, if you could only have two pieces of that gear, what would they be?
Kristel Jax: I pride myself on being someone who isn’t “about the gear” yet I have like, 20 radios, my best friend just gave me the 20th for Christmas, it’s a Barbie dream house that is also a radio, I’m not kidding. I’m loving Ableton right now so I guess I’d keep my laptop and one of my 6 band radios, the one that takes batteries (more versatile). It’s a Sanyo RP 8700.
Pink is available in both digital and cassette form. Check out Kristel’s website for further details and links to all her projects.