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January 1, 2003

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Though he's often labeled a sex-obsessed laptop-electronica act and lumped in with Tigerbeat6 label-mates Kid 606 and Lesser, there are few genres that Rjyan Kidwell, aka Cex, hasn't attacked. Take care, however, to mention words like "genre" in his presence, as you're only going to piss him off. Cex has never stayed with a particular sound for long; early albums like Role Model yield a pseudo-IDM approach -- aggressive but threadbare beats under softer melodies and synth tones, underpinned by skittering glitches. Last year's Tall, Dark and Handcuffedintroduced Kidwell's full-fledged mouth-full-of-fronts gangsta side.

Just when people were finally getting used to hearing raps about "dodgeball and bicycles", Cex dropped Being Ridden -- a dark collection of acoustic guitar heavy songs and instrumentals. Being Ridden (and its instrumental companion) shows that Cex has no plans to calm his genre-jumping: he's an enigma, and we've only seen the first glimmer of his true potential.· · · · · · ·

Splendid: First, does Cex stand for "Consumer Expenditure"?

Cex: No.

Splendid: What would you say is the biggest misconception about your music?

Cex: That if you've heard one of my records, you have any idea what's on the other records.

Splendid: What would you say is the biggest misconception about you?

Cex: That I'm a white guy.

Splendid: How's the tour going? Which is the city that most surprised you? You can decide which type of surprise to address.

Cex: St. Louis was a fierce mosh pit full of teenagers -- I was really into that. Also, Detroit was really hot, especially when this little chick in the mess up front suddenly decided my show needed more of my blood in it and took it upon herself to help me deliver.

Splendid: What do you mean?

Cex: She raked her nails across my back, hard. She unleashed my plasma.

Splendid: What are your plans for this tour? Are you sticking to the Tall, Dark and Handsome or Being Ridden stuff or are you gonna work in some old material?

Cex: I might do some older stuff when I headline some shows this summer, but when I'm opening for other people I try to keep it short and semi-coherent. I did a lot of the Mansions stuff on this tour, and Being Ridden songs. I was trying to do like 35-45 minute sets, including all the talking, so it was like 6-8 songs a night. Not many TD&H jams came through. I did "Ghost Rider" almost every night, and I think "Bad Acne" came out a couple nights, but I did that stuff all of last year, I'm definitely ready for the new joints.

Splendid: How do stay excited about playing the same songs over and over while you're on tour?

Cex: All my shows are different. I don't plan anything. Sometimes I'll have an idea of a few staple songs I need to play -- "Ghost Rider" and "Kill Me" were the crucial ones on the Postal Service tour -- but I keep it fresh by just walking up there and talking to the crowd -- taking in the scene and performing based on the environment, on the vibe, on the people. It has to be spontaneous or I will bleed out of my orifices with impatience.

Splendid: How have you stayed sane on this tour?

Cex: Writing in a composition notebook, talking to strangers, and sometimes taking drugs.

Splendid: Are you and Postal Service sharing a bus?

AUDIO: Not Working

Cex: No, no, no, not a bus at all. A van. I've never toured in a bus.

Splendid: What's the worst possible breach of etiquette while on tour with someone?

Cex: I hope it's not messing around with their ex-girlfriend in the next room every night.

Splendid: I read your all-time favorite video games list, and noticed that you told another interviewer that Tall, Dark and Handcuffed might be called Bad Dude -- which is a game I was addicted to for ages. What video games are you obsessing over these days?

Cex: NBA Street Vol. 2 hasn't left the tray since we got it at my house. I'm planning on picking up an Xbox after my next tour, though, because I really, really want to get down on some Shenmue II. I loved the shit out of someShenmue I.

Splendid: Totally! Shenmue and Jet Grind Radio are the reasons I got back into gaming and the reason why the Dreamcast will never leave my entertainment center. Are you a desktop gamer, or console gamer?

Cex: Ew, no offense to anybody or anything, but I can't stand playing games on the computer. Strictly console for me. There are something like 29 million PlayStations in the country or the world or whatever. I don't know how many people play PC games but I have the feeling it's closer to the number of people who are down to wear their trench coat out to Denny's.

Splendid: Have you considered the realm of game music? I think there are enough eclectic games out there that might welcome your stuff.

Cex: I don't know... I have problems writing for other people's vision. That's why I haven't done a remix in the last two years, and why my collaborations have been pretty limited. I'm just not motivated to make a single noise if it's not about something that started inside me.

Splendid: Didn't you used to be a PC guy? Why did you switch?

Cex: I haven't switched yet. I use a Mac live because they're more reliable. I use a PC at home because they don't cost any money to get.

Splendid: How do you prevent becoming a slave to the software?

Cex: I guess I don't consider software even remotely powerful or interesting enough to enslave me.

Splendid: I've kind of noticed that on your last two discs, even on your instrumentals. You seem to be bringing a more organic feel to the table, letting the human aspects shine through. Artists working in the computer-music medium often fall into an abyss where the software ends up determining the course of what happens in the studio or on an album. Do you try and steer clear of this or do you just let it take you where it wants to go?

Cex: I've insulated myself against this problem by having no patience. I've used the same gear and software since my first record, Role Model. I haven't upgraded shit. I'm planning on buying some new instruments with the money I made on this tour, but I don't have time to learn some new software program. I go play live shows instead. I think you can learn a million billion times more for your music from spending four weeks on tour than spending four weeks learning some coding computer bullshit.

Splendid: The abyss of freedom that is electronic music...sorry to keep using the term "electronic music". Let's call it something else.

Cex: Let's call it "the gash".

Splendid: Okay. With all the millions of possibilities in "the gash", it can still sound really flat and uninteresting. What bores you about it?

Cex: I don't like any type of music that sounds like it was made effortlessly -- like it glided right out of the artist's fingers. I get nauseous listening to music that sounds like gross oil.

Splendid: Over the past few years, I've heard of quite a few electronic artists abandoning the idea of "music" and adopting a pure "sound"-based approach, using only mixers or reverb units. What do you think of the idea of no-input mixer pieces?

Cex: I mean...there's always the possibility that I could see it and have my mind blown, because there's always that possibility. As soon as you write something off, there's a kid somewhere who makes you look like an asshole. But this particular kid, the kid who plays a mixer with nothing in it, he's got to be one hell of a firecracker, I would think, in order to keep me awake at his show.

AUDIO: Stamina (featuring Venetian Snares)

Splendid: Have you seen many no-input mixer performances?

Cex: No, I just read about it once.

Splendid: What about the guys doing live improv with tape machines in the '60s, like Robert Ashley and John Cage? Do you draw any inspiration from them? Do you feel associated with any tradition in music?

Cex: I have no idea. I don't really know much about that scene. I'm seriously deficient in my knowledge of anything academic about music. I spend too much time watching MTV, I guess.

Splendid: Do you Bay area guys really have a rivalry with the European electronic guys on, say, the Warp label?

Cex: Haha, that wouldn't be a very exciting rivalry. Warp is limping, dude.

Splendid: Oh, but Vincent Gallo is so...haha, you're right. Ok, what do you think of people sampling your music?

Cex: Are people sampling my music? I wanna hear that.

Splendid: A friend of mine cut up a loop of yours from...I can't remember which track, but he's yet to do anything with it. Anyway, tell me a little about your first tour with Miguel (Kid 606) where you both borrowed "mom's station-wagon".

Cex: We did nine days, I think, up and down the east coast. I picked him up at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and that was the first time I'd ever seen him in person. We played at two record stores, a few dirty rock clubs, a rave, a diner, and a legendary warehouse. It was super punk -- and for some reason, people came to the shows. This was '99, and as far as I know, it was the first ever DIY laptop tour...

Splendid: I'm still not really clear how you and Miguel met.

Cex: Me neither. I think it was over the Internet.

(Note: Rjyan and Miguel did meet over the internet on an AOL electronic music mailing list of which both were members, and from which an irritated Miguel was later expelled for sending a snuff picture with the subject ";)" to someone asking him what gear he used.)

Splendid: What involvement do you have with the business side of Tigerbeat6?

Cex: At the present, I go to the office occasionally to pick up checks or swipe copies of new releases. Miguel and I used to talk daily about the label, back in 2000, but our respective careers have moved in and now our girl Cathy runs most of the day-to-day show, while Miguel plans the big strategies and picks what's coming out when. I'm focusing my energy now on my own hustle, 24/7.

Splendid: Unlike many of the eclectic/electronic labels, I read about all the Tigerbeat6 releases and have a hard time controlling myself; I want to buy them all. There's so much diversity, yet it all kind of retains the T6 stamp. Is this all luck or is everyone on the label on same diet or something?

Cex: It's Miguel. He's got a killer instinct. He can see a great artist four or five albums before they manifest their greatness, and he's totally into taking a chance and investing in somebody really early. I mean, you're talking to Exhibit A...

Splendid: The first time I saw you perform was the Paws Across America tour last year with Numbers and Stars as Eyes. The cool thing I noticed is that everyone in each band came out and danced for everyone. Is the T6 community really as close-knit as it seems?

Cex: Well, the roster has kind of blown up in the last year, and there's a bunch of people I don't know at all putting out records this year. But even so, I would say we're pretty tight. Rupture, who lives in Spain, and Sodahberk, who is from Sweden, are touring the US and Europe with Miguel this summer. And I toured with Com.A, who lives in Japan, before he was on the label. And there's been a lot of San Francisco signings, and all those cats are super close -- Crack, Zeigenbock, Numbers, Gold Chains... I guess there's been quite a bit of inter6 getting it on, come to think of it.

AUDIO: The Marriage

Splendid: Just curious: who would win in an MC battle: you or (fellow Tigerbeat6 label-mate) Gold Chains?

Cex: Depends on what kind of crowd we were in front of. I think I could take Topher down in any city that wasn't NYC, SF, or LA -- in those cities it'd be harder, but I could still probably do it. I used to freestyle at every show I played, and I played, like, 6000 shows last year, so I've got that going for me. I think he'd kill me every time, though, if it went down in Miami.

Splendid: It seems that you're prolific enough that this would never happen, but do you get hassle from management for "we need a new record" or "this thing aint sellin' like we thought" (a la the dialog of "Jeremy Divine" from Tall, Dark and Handcuffed)?

Cex: No. The "management" you speak of is just my friends... all the people who have put out Cex records -- Stewart from 555, Miguel, Jeremy at TRL, and Stuart at Rock Action...they're all my friends. The complaint has actually been that I've got new stuff too quickly... they're all, "We can get more press on the old album! Give us a few more months!"

Splendid: What are Tigerbeat6's expectations for you?

Cex: I guess they'd probably be disappointed if I told them I wasn't going to tour for a year or whatever. But that's only because I've set this crazy precedent...other than that, there's really no pressure of any kind. It's a very chill operation; there's no contracts. It's all a friends thing.

Splendid: I just bought the double vinyl of Being Ridden. Can we talk a little about it? Where are you coming from on this one?

Cex: It's about doubt -- facing it, trying to explain it -- but it's also about just feeling totally retarded and going, "Fuck it, I'm making this record whether or not it makes sense."

Splendid: Did you approach it as a "concept album"? Because it feels, as with all your albums, like a really continuous work separated only by track numbers -- or a bunch of journal entries.

Cex: The songs on Being Ridden were written over a pretty wide period of time... well, maybe not wide in the sense that most other artists can take a year or more to write a record, but wide for me in the sense that a lot changed in my life between writing "Stamina", which was the first set of lyrics I put down there, and some of the later lyrics like on "Dead Bodies" and "The Marriage". But no, I didnt have any over-arching concept guiding it. It was made as I went, adding and taking away different songs that I wanted to be a part of my next full statement to the world.

Splendid: Did you finish Being Ridden before you moved to Oakland?

Cex: Yeah, I turned in the masters to Temporary Residence right before I left on the Paws Across tour. And I didn't even know I was moving to Oakland until the very end of that tour.

Splendid: Was it done at home, as usual?

Cex: Yep, recorded at my house, except for some of Craig Wedren's vox, which we recorded at his apartment.

Splendid: How do you like being on Temporary Residence (who released Being Ridden)?

Cex: There's some great music at Temp Res...there's some really good psych-rock stuff, and some folky stuff I like a lot, too. They're pretty diverse -- they've got a really classy electronic act called Icarus now. I'd suggest that the uninitiated start with the albums by Nice Nice, Lazarus, or Howard Hello -- those are my favs. All the Cerberus Shoal stuff is pretty mind-blowing as well.

Splendid: Do you have lots of major labels hounding you for a piece of your soul?

Cex: Not lots, no. Three. But I only think one of them is really willing to go the distance and do it right with me. We'll see.

Splendid: I just read in XLR8R about another new release you have out soon called Maryland Mansions. The title and cover art both invoke an American-Gothic depiction of a house. Is this your sort of bon voyage to your home?

Cex: You pretty much got it right there. After I ran away, I wrote a whole mess of songs about running away. It's dark like Being Ridden, but a lot heavier. And angrier. Being Ridden is all self-doubt, and Mansions is more of an explosion outwards.

Splendid: You've been all over the world; where do you think you'd like to settle one day?

Cex: When I settle, it'll probably be in Baltimore. I'm guessing. I want to live in 30 different places before I settle, though. I want to live in a different city every couple of months for a few years, if I can swing it. Girls always seem to be delaying that plan.

Splendid: Your temporary rap "career": It's almost like you're sort of casting off what you were about -- whatever that may have been, according to your critics. So which is your cocoon?

Cex: I don't know what you're talking about, dude. The only things I have ever been about are these: Honesty, Reality and Freedom. As in "Fuck a genre, fuck a critic, fuck a boundary." I'm not casting off anything. I decide what to do next, not the section of the store where they put my CDs.

AUDIO: You Kiss Like You're Dead

Splendid: Do you do much DJ work?

Cex: Not much, but I've done a little since I've moved out here and I want to do more. I only DJ Baltimore Breaks, and I'm positive that I've got to be the only dude on this coast with enough B-more Breaks records to do a full set.

Splendid: All right, one last question. How was Matmos's bathtub (rumor is Rjyan bathed in Drew and Martin's tub)?

Cex: It was the tub in the apartment Björk bought them in NYC, the place where they were practicing for the Björk world tour. It was nice, but nothing out of control; pretty regular tub. There was a boombox in the bathroom and I listened to some music while I cooked in there, so that was cool.

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Dave Madden