Interview with Studded Left: Distorted Harmonies

A Conversation with Tex Kerschen and Erika Thrasher

Studded Left, formerly known as Indian Jewelry, is an American band from Houston, Texas, led by Erika Thrasher and Tex Kerschen. The group weaves psychedelic rock with experimental noise to produce deep and engaging auditory environments. Their live performances feature intense strobe lighting and a deeply atmospheric setting, drawing audiences into a powerful auditory and visual experience. Their discography spans several albums under both their current and previous names. As Studded Left, they have released works such as “Popular Intuition” in 2019 and “Doing Easy” in 2015. Their time as Indian Jewelry saw the release of influential albums like “Peel It” and “Totaled.” 

Studded Left’s Bandcamp and Instagram

Which artists or bands significantly influenced your music in the early days?

Early on, we were pretty open about our influences. Now, it is tricky to say. Some obvious influences on us were the Butthole Surfers, Suicide, and the Fall. Others maybe less so. I saw Masonna in Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-90s and the way he used pure volume was life-changing to me. But going back further, Willie Nelson’s phrasing and lite touch, DEVO, Prince. Brian Eno, Roxy Music too, Depeche Mode (we once performed an unrecognizable Depeche Mode set of covers), Prince, the Gun Club, Johnny Cash’s phrasing and bare-bones passion, the Shangri-Las, Blondie, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Leonard Cohen, Wire, and anything Klaus Dinger had a hand in. In our earlier years, we were specifically attempting to unlearn all the music we had begun with. Later, we became more casual about it all.

What are some of your favorite pieces of equipment or instruments that you feel are essential to your sound?

The human voice is the only indispensable instrument to what we do, but, yeah, we have a wild  and abiding love for drum machines and delay units. Eno has an essay where he talks about the importance of picking one piece of gear and taking it as far as possible. Otherwise you get caught up in novelty and learning curves. We’ve tried every kind of delay, and most of them many times. Guitars too… Strats are usually tough enough but we’re not sponsored so I only mention this out of respect. I have a Randy Rhoads Flying Vee stepdown that I love. We tend to use anything that can withstand physical abuse and less than ideal studio conditions. At home we have a few favorite guitar amps, a Lab Series guitar amp that resulted from the short-term collaboration of Moog and Gibson. The sound of a Jazz Chorus amp. Vox amps are pretty solid.

Studded Left interview 2
Studded Left

How has the Houston music scene influenced your musical style and approach?

Houston has never been a rock town. It doesn’t have the audience or the critical infrastructure. It’s a fast fast cash town. A burn the locals town. Bands who want a sniff of the limelight typically move to Austin for a time and then to a coast. There was a moment long before our time when Kenny Rogers’ brother tried to exploit the psychedelic culture of Red Krayola, Lost+Found, and so on, but that was eons before us. Before that, Houston was home to some groundbreaking blues and r&b musicians. It has been a great town for rap and noise in our formative years, and while we are neither, both have affected the way we do business. We got used to hustling and working without praise, money, or attention, using the example of rappers and noise artists. And after years of that we can come across cagey in our dealings with promoters and other middlemen.

How has your sound transitioned from your days as Indian Jewelry to your current work as Studded Left?

The IJ mission was total immersion live with bursts of song on record. Studded Left is more nuance than menace, unless you haven’t yet come to terms with the deeper, more permanent feeling strains of existential dread and the inevitable frost that lies just beyond your fingertips. In the music we have been striving for contours and definitions. 

What are the most challenging aspects of your creative process?

The most challenging aspects of doing what we do is surviving in a world that hates artists. Working all the time, trying to stay alive, trying to move time and space to make room for ideas. That, and finishing mixes. Writing a million songs is a lot of fun, totally engrossing, at times uplifting. Finishing mixes is a drag.

How do you conceptualize the visual elements of your live shows?

We started off with strobe lights and darkness to get around the beer lights and crappy vinyl banners that clubs used to hang over their stages. That and remembering all the great industrial clubs and afterhours of yesteryear. But our strobe lights began to work as a manifesto. Shots of light through as near total darkness as we could arrange. We got practiced at seeing in the dark. Now we try to add color, flags, and custom video projections. I get bored of seeing the same things all the time. Even when things look cool, and so many bands look cool, they don’t mean as much when everyone is doing the same thing. Dada. Fluxus, and Garth Marenghi have been influential. So the imagery comes from the world of things— pieces of fruit, bootleg Elsas and Jim Morrison impersonators, hunting decals, and other imagery from the world of things into our visual presentation to spice the punch.

How do you typically begin the process of exploring new sounds and textures?

Erika and I work differently for the most part. She receives a lot of her music from waiting and listening, being open. I’m a bit more pedestrian, so I’m always working on things. I can feel music thumping and scratching at my medulla all the time. It falls on me to track the signal. Often I have a phrase or a rhythm crawling around. I see where it takes me.

What inspired the themes of Popular Intuition?

We have been playing music, mostly in obscurity, for a long time. It has been five years since Popular Intuition, and we’ve only grown more obscure since then. This world wants novelty, fresh dirt, and young faces to char. We are not that. Nor are we broken-down filth pigs, to hate ourselves and leave things as we find them. There aren’t as many voices coming from people like us as there once was. The silverbacks are touring throwback records or accepting the muzzle. We haven’t done that. We’re still gorgeous of mind and ready for a rumpus, but in need of longer stretches before getting down to it.

Popular Intuition was an adult contempt record, using a cosmopolitan facade ala Sade, Bryan Ferry, and Amanda Lear to shape if not soften an outpouring of psychological contempt as adults for the constant degradation of human life and value in the world as well as the slow weak fade of death and quietness many people accept unhappily but without enough tussle. Sure, we count ourselves among the indicted. It was also an expression of beauty, as so much music has to be, however it sounds. Our forthcoming album, the Casual Flexer LP takes all these ideas even further. And after this, another abrupt turn.

Studded Left Popular intuition
Studded Left – Popular intuition

Do you have an interest in esoteric and mystical themes, and if so, how do they influence your music and songwriting?

Yes, and no, and yes. The older I get the more of a hard-line materialist I seem to become, but perhaps that’s not entirely true. I just sat with my family beside my brother dying of cancer for much of this past year, and now that he’s gone I’ve been assiduously on-call for apparitions and other messages from beyond. 

Long before this, I have thought of esoteric and even mystical themes as metaphors, or codes, channels for information suppressed by the different variants of top-down rulers who have prevailed to keep people separate and divided for some long time. And music is that same kind of code. Experience is a personal thing, best expressed through personal references, but there are many places our consciousnesses overlap, and music is definitely, without a doubt, one of those places.

So I have made it my business to study mystical lore and study exalted states of consciousness. I know less of any of it than I did when I was young, but that’s to be expected. 

Besides music, what other artistic or cultural influences seep into your psychedelic sound?

People like my mentor Jim Harithas who organized the first major museum exhibition of Yoko Ono’s work in the early 70s and then the first major US exhibition of Palestinian art in the 2000s. The anarchist Emma Goldman. Writers like Muriel Spark, Kevin Barry, Penelope Fitzgerald, Brendan Behan, Nicanor Parra, Lao Tze, Rita Dove, Nanni Balestrini, Enrique Lihn, Charles Portis, Langston Hughes, Dawn Powell, Mahmoud Darwish, Oscar Wilde, Ling Ma, Georg Lichtenberg, Emil Habiby, Tony Hoagland, Oscar Acosta, Franz Kafka, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jon Lindsey, Isabelle Eberhardt, Joseph Heller, Cornelius Eady, Herman Melville, Katherine Scanlan, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Michel Houllebecq, Rachel Kushner, Gore Vidal, Donald Barthelme, Roberto Bolano, Eudora Welty, Jorge Luis Borges, Allie Rowbottom, Terry Eagleton, Italo Calvino, Barbara Pym, Paul Bowles, Tu Fu. Even blithe jerks like Evelyn Waugh sneak into some of our new songs. Also, artists like Mike Hollis, Jesse Lott, DK Ultra, Adrian Piper,Thomas Hirschhorn, Ciriza, Assume Astro Vivid Focus, George Smith, Domokos Benczedi, Heath Flagtvedt. 

Looking back at your discography, is there an album that you feel particularly connected to?

I recently revisited the Coxcombs record we put out with Future City Devils Island in 2013. There was a time a year or so ago I was getting excited again about the Swarm of Angels “Plessure” ep. Otherwise, all the music contains a piece of our hearts, but the newest music is what drives me.

What projects are you currently working on?

Studded Left is putting the final touches on the art for our new LP, Casual Flexer, that will be available in early Fall. It has several of our duets as well as other new songs. Additionally, Erika and I are working on even newer music to follow soon thereafter.  I, Tex, just quietly released a solo album called The Blue Lady online and I am planning a physical release of that with the Freaks label. Beyond that, we watch our daughter grow into a bright star and we work on our garden— a tiny paradise on earth, our minds, our communities here and beyond.

Photos courtesy of Studded Left

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by retrofuturista

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