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Sxip Shirey on Life in Limbo and the Death of the Music Industry

Sxip Shirey is the sort of musician that defies categorisation. He is a composer, a performer and a storyteller; the writer Neil Gaiman described Shirey by saying,"His music sounds like stories. He works in the places where noise becomes music and does things that make you realize there are no boundaries between noise and music—or not like you imagine" . 

Shirey has successfully kickstarted funding for his new album, 'A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees'- which will encompass 'Janky beats, beautiful songs, impossible sounds from Brooklyn, Berlin, Babylon and Beyond'. Before that, however, he's composed the music for Limbo at The London Wonderground where he's performing in the spectacular show until September. We caught up with Shirey now he's on British soil to talk about life as a circus-punk-rock composer, his love of New York and the state of the music industry.

Katie Antoniou: How did you go about coming up with the music for Limbo?

Sxip Shirey: Three months before this show came through I said to myself and apparently the universe, 'I really want to do a high end circus/cabaret show in a Speigeltent before I die,' and WHAM, there it was. So I put a lot of my best bits into this show. Melodies and Ideas I love because I've wanted to see them breath with live physical performers. I stole from myself and wrote new things. I sent the ideas to Scott Maiden the director and he paired them to the acts. It was fun.

KA: What makes you different from other musicians?

SS: I can make people cry by playing chord changes on 5 canister music boxes duct taped together going through pitch shifter while I whistle a romantic melody that leads into a bridge that features marbles spinning in glass bowls.

KA: What's the earliest memory you have of using something as an instrument? Or did you play conventional instruments as a child?

SS: Apparently when we would chop and haul wood (I grew up in the country) I would line up the logs on the ground and turn them into a rough xylophone.

KA: What's the best thing about your job? And the worst?

SS: I get to be a circus punk rock composer every night. Which is a good job. I get to work with great musicians. Mick Stuart and Grant Arthur and I really love the cast and the crew that support us. Also Siiri is the best sound person I've ever had in any country I've played. I love that the best sound person I ever had is a woman. It makes up for some of the bullshit male attitude I had to deal with from certain sound guys when I was younger.

KA: The worst?

SS: It's hard to hold down any type of real relationship with a woman with this sort of life, sad to say but true.

KA: Where do you feel your music has been best received? Do audiences' reactions vary a lot in different countries?

SS: I've always had a strong positive reaction to my music. In general I blow people away. My audiences, when they are unfamiliar with me have always been.. "WTF???!!" Why I haven't had support from management or a label has always been a bit baffling to me except for the fact that the music industry was dying while I was coming up and the US really has a weak touring venue for the avant-garde. Also I am really not part of a scene that would lead to that. I hang out with circus people, cabaret people, writers and puppeteers. So….

KA: Where do you go to listen to live music in New York?

SS: My very favourite club is Barbes in Park Slope. It's small, I mean really small, but many creative and international music people play there because it feels great. I see a lot of events put on at Lincoln Center Outdoor which is curated by Bill Bragen because they are amazing and they are FREE. Bill is a rock star curator and a great person. Really a great guy. Then I see music at social events, underground parties by Gemini and Scorpio or Rubulad. I like to be up-close and sweaty. And of course Joe's Pub is great, it's my room when I do shows and they book a lot of people I love like Meow Meow.

Sxip portrayed as the magician in Katelan van Foisy's Tarot deck.

KA: Have you spent much time in London before? Do you enjoy being in a new city or do you get homesick?

SS: I don't have a home now. I may end up in London, or Norway where I teach at this amazing avant-garde theater school in Fredrickstad called the Norwegian Theater Academy, the director Karmenlara Elly has a great vision. I miss NYC but the U.S. isn't really supporting the sort of functioning art scene that I need right now. If you're a coal miner you have to go were the coal is.. but YES, I miss NYC. The people I love dearest are there and I love those streets. I love the vibe in the subway. I love how a New Yorker takes up space in a confident, relaxed 'I AM HERE', sort of way. Too bad they've sold out our country to corporations. New York is turning into New Jersey but.. I still love the vibe. In New York City, on the subway, everyone is sexy, even the ugly people, in fact ESPECIALLY the ugly people.

KA: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

SS: The music industry is dead and I don't want to speak ill of the dead.

Catch Sxip in Limbo until the end of September, and at the Limbo after show parties on 14th and 21st July

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