Interview with Arlie John Carstens, Ghost Wars, December 2008

Back in June 2003 I made an interview with Arlie John Carstens, the the former singer/guitarist in Juno which can be read here. Shortly after that interview Juno announced their break up. Myself and assumedly a lot of other fans of Juno were devastated by that. That was enough a reason for me to ask Arlie Carstens again for an interview which he was so kind to accept. His new project is called Ghost Wars in which he and Eric Fisher arrange music with an assortment of excellent musicians. Below are his answers that do not only shed some light on Juno's closure but deliver also some interesting insight on his new project Ghost Wars and the upcoming Juno documentary.

Arlie John Carstens
(photo by Michelle Pullman)

R.: The last time I wrote to you was more than 5 years ago. Although you pretty much explained everything that needed to be said about Juno’s breakup in the statement on your website I wanted to ask what you think ultimately lead to the end of Juno from your viewpoint today. Could you talk a bit about that?

Arlie John Carstens: Some of us wanted to write new music, record another album and tour. These were the activities we had built our lives on and believed in, but after nine years of constant song writing, touring and rehearsing, a couple of people in the band weren’t sure what they wanted to do in any aspect of their lives. They just knew they didn’t want to say yes to touring or yes to starting a new album. Fair enough. Being in a band for a long time, especially the way we chose to do it, could be very hard on a person. Accordingly, rehearsing became difficult for us to contend with; we had always previously been a very dynamic, driven group of people. It was a sad, dark time… until eventually I said, “Well, if we cannot make progress, then it is time for me to do other things.” A few months later I moved to Los Angeles and began the long collaborative project that is Ghost Wars.

R.: Do you miss Juno?

AJC: In some ways I miss Juno, yes. Mainly I miss touring; I miss seeing new places with band mates and meeting new friends through our active music life together. And I miss certain parts of songs. But in general, my life is healthier, happier and filled with a greater diversity of people and experiences, so I cannot be too caught up in missing the past. Juno was a nine-year labor of love. I am still very proud of our time together—our tours, friendships, songs and live shows were a wonderful thing to be a part of. We had a very specific vision of who we were and how we did things.
We had an ideology; we had an ethos that defined how and why we were together. We wanted to make progressive music and create art-in-motion. We wanted to play shows that were dynamic, confrontational and unique. And above all, we hoped to make albums that could have lives of their own long after we were gone. We strived to build community, see new places and learn new things. It was a beautiful, worthwhile struggle almost every day. Most everything we did, we did because it felt right at the time. When it began to feel wrong internally, the right thing to do was to let it go. If you want to strive for happiness your whole life long, then you must believe that life is what you make of it in the present, not dwell too much on what it was at some point in the past.

R.: What have you been up to since then?

AJC: I moved from Seattle four, maybe five years ago? I’m not really sure. In that time I’ve done a lot of travel journalism, music writing, photography, skateboarding, community and arts activism, and I’ve had many strange jobs. Other than that, I’ve been writing and recording Ghost Wars songs with close friends from all over the Pacific Northwest, Los Angeles, New York and Boston, etc… We maintain a rehearsal/recording space in downtown Los Angeles and I occasionally fly up to Seattle to record and visit.

R.: What motivated this relocation? What is it like to live in L.A.?

AJC: Due to the chronic pain associated with my spinal cord injury (among other injuries) I wanted to be warmer. It was really that simple. Other than that, I wanted to get out from under Seattle’s grey, miserable weather, and I wanted to be on the West Coast so that I could easily visit my family and friends.
I enjoy living in Los Angeles, I really do. From all the years Juno was actively touring, I have many friends here. As well, several friends have moved down from Seattle and Portland, and from New York, Chicago, and Austin. So the transition was not difficult at all. I live in the woods in Elysian Heights, in a house built on pylons overlooking a forest of trees. Coyotes, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, wild dogs and opossums run around on my porch, birds chirp day and night, and hawks circle the sky. It is not the Los Angeles that shows up on television. It is quiet here in the woods. My life is filled with creative people, most of who are engaged in worthwhile, creative pursuits. As well, I frequently travel for the different kinds of work I do, which is nice. And I always look forward to coming home.

R.: Last time we talked you said that you have chronic pain and will most likely need to have additional surgeries. How is your health situation now?

AJC: My mental health is much better for having moved out of Seattle. As far as my physical health is concerned, I’ll battle with chronic pain for the rest of my life. My body is falling apart. It just is the way it is. But I can put a fork to my mouth and walk, so I am grateful every day. After breaking my neck it all could have been so different. I recognize how fortunate I am; I appreciate life and I do not fear death.

R.: What do the other members of Juno do now? Are they in new bands?

AJC: Gabe [Carter] and I are like brothers. He’s one of the collaborators in Ghost Wars, so we speak often. As well, he works at Sub Pop doing International Distribution for the label, and he writes and records music with a few people up in Seattle. And his son Aubrey (a/k/a Baby Hercules) is the joy of Gabe and Jen’s lives. They are wonderful people and great parents. Jason Lajeunesse is co-owner of a music venue called Neumo’s in Seattle, and he occasionally still plays music. For a while, Lajeunesse and Gabe were in a band together called Hint Hint with Pete [Quirk] from the Cave Singers. As for [Jason] Guyer and [Greg] Ferguson, I run into them occasionally when in Seattle. Both are brilliant musicians, I hope they are playing music.

R.: How much are you involved in the Juno documentary project? Do you know when it will be finished?

AJC: About 1.5-years ago, Juno reunited to play benefit shows for the community radio station KEXP in Seattle. At that time, the documentary director Jon Mount came out with his film crew to shoot the performances, since then he’s been busy compiling additional archival footage and live tracks, and interviewing people familiar with the band. Jon Mount and the writer Sebastian Sterling came to Los Angeles this past weekend to again interview myself and a few other people. In February 2009 I think they plan to return to Seattle to again interview Juno members and others who were familiar with our band during those years.

R.: Last time I talked to you, you said that you had plans to write songs for a 5-song EP and were beginning to write new Juno songs. I also talked to one guy responsible for the Juno documentary project and he said that there were some song fragments (or even songs) that were never finished. If this is the case, is there a chance that we hear these songs someday?

AJC: I’m not sure you’ll ever hear those Juno song fragments. It is all just rehearsal space recordings, recorded with two room mics to 2-tracks on a stereo cassette deck. A few of the songs still amaze me. Some of the most interesting work we’d ever done. The straight parts were more precise, the angular parts were more complicated, and oceanic parts were more enormous in their sheer sonic capacity. The work was definitely more “otherworldly” than anything we’d done prior. Though we have hundreds of hours of these tapes, the compositions are incomplete, and the vocals are muffled-to-non-existent. Because we only used room mics, the recording quality is good, but not great. Nevertheless, it would be nice to one day digitally remaster these analog cassettes for some sort of weird, low-fi instrumental album. But what label would put that out? And would there be an audience for it? Would anyone enjoy something like that? I have no idea.

R.: Was it clear from the time that Juno finished that you needed to start another musical project?

AJC: All of the years we were in Juno I wanted to start another musical project. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always planned to do something that was more about collaborative experiments than a “band” experience. However, because we were so focused on Juno, I did not make the time to live musically outside the band.

R.: Who has been involved in Ghost Wars until now?

AJC: Eric Fisher, Arlie Carstens, Nate Mendel, Fasil Debeb, Rosie Thomas, David Lee, Jay Clarke, Cory Murchy, Morgan Henderson, Eric Akre, Josh Myers, Gabe Carter, Eric Kinder, Goth Joel, Drew O'Doherty, Todd Ussery, Ben Lapennga, David Broecker, Jason McGerr, Andrew Rudd, Justin & Jerrod Hopfer (The Twins), David Scott Stone, Derrick Fudesco, Ben Verellen, Damon Way, Jonathan Hischke, and uh….

R.: I read on myspace that you had a lot of misfortunes with the recorded material for Ghost Wars: one hard drive with the unmastered songs broke and the second one got stolen (correct me on that if I’m wrong). How did you cope with that since then?

AJC: We’re still dealing with it. Thirty-three songs all trapped in a broken hard drive… the only thing we have left are unmixed, unmastered rough mixes burned to cdr’s and mp3s. This is an unfortunate circumstance, but we’ll figure it out eventually. We must.

R.: Will there eventually be a Ghost Wars album that can be bought regularly?

AJC: Yes. In the meantime, you can hear a few rough mixes on myspace.

R.: What bands did you enjoy recently/what’s the last album you bought?

AJC: Black Merda. Low’s Guns and Drums. Max Richter. Six Organs of Admittance. Ignition. Pissed Jeans. Amon Duul II. Thrones. Hauschka. Spectrum. Neil Young. Throbbing Gristle. Siouxie and The Banshees. Zach Hill. Constantines. The Great Lake Swimmers. The Raveonettes. Pylon. Nina Simone. Wire. South Pacific. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Talk Talk. Lungfish. Gang Gang Dance. Fridge. Boris. Red Fang. Prince. Destroyer’s Trouble In Dreams. Ali Farka Toure. Neu! Bo Diddley’s Black Gladiator. Other than that, I’ve lately been revisiting John Cale’s Paris 1919 and The Academy In Peril. Oh, and Damian from Fucked Up recently turned me onto an 80s dark wave band from Canada named Ceramic Hello, which is incredible.

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