Stretch Armstrong

An eye for the underrated

Stretch copy

Since he came onto the scene in the early 90s, DJ and producer Stretch Armstrong (born Adrian Bartos) has been a bellwether tastemaker in the world of music. Whatever the arena, whatever the medium, Stretch has been an influential cultural voice with an eye for the underrated, and a knack for exposing audiences to the hidden gems they need to hear. We caught up with him during his visit to NeueHouse Madison Square and asked some tough questions, hoping to learn a bit more about the man behind the mic.


NeueJournal: What song best describes your work ethic?


DJ Stretch Armstrong: “Get Into It” by Big Daddy Kane, but that is so not my work ethic. My work ethic is more like “Slow Ride” by Foghat, but not a lot of people know that. Maybe ”Behind The Bush” by the Jungle Brothers.


NJ: If you could get rid of one state in the US which would it be and why?


DJ SA: Oh, Texas. They gotta go. They’re fucking it all up for everybody else. I don’t even think Mexico wants them. I mean, there are plenty of states we can get rid of but Texas, it would be easier to get rid of it because they are where they are, and a lot of those nuts want to be their own country. Other than Austin, it’s just a state that’s produced nothing but horrible presidents, horrible policies, from guns to really xenophobic immigration ideas, and the list goes on.


NJ: What do you think about when you are alone in your car?


DJ SA: I don’t have a car. I think about all the music I never get a chance to listen to.


NJ: Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?


DJ SA: Gatherer, all day. First of all, I’m Vegan, so I would say that I’m a forager, which is more akin to being a gatherer. Hunting, in the literal sense, is something I think is completely asinine. Of course, when it comes to music, I am a hunter and I’ve always been a hunter. In my career as a DJ and as a tastemaker, I’ve been known for exposing people to things that they perhaps wouldn’t have been exposed to if they weren’t listening to me. And to do that really meant going to great lengths to find music, whether it was traveling up and down the eastern seaboard in the early 90s, looking for old funk, soul and jazz records, or finding gems to play on the radio and as a club DJ. It was about finding music that would both resonate with people that had never heard it but was also new and challenging. I never really like to just play familiar music.


NJ: What are you scared of?


DJ SA: Dying. When I hit 40, on vacations when I had a lot of time to think and relax, I would wake up in the middle of the night and it would dawn on me that I’m not going to exist one day. Of course when you don’t exist you’re not aware that you’re not existing, so that’s the one thing that I sort of comfort myself with, that I won’t even know the difference. A lot of people don’t like to admit that they are afraid of dying. I’m definitely afraid of dying. It’s comforting to think that there is something after death, if you can get yourself to a place where you believe it. I mean people have had near-death experiences and have spoken about these incredible euphoric levels of consciousness, but I don’t think they were actually dead. I think they were near-dead. This is getting so morbid…I should have said spiders, mushrooms… I’m not afraid of them; I just find them grotesque.


NJ: Describe the color yellow to someone who is blind.


DJ SA: Ha. Don’t listen to Coldplay. I guess I would think of mild warmth. Not too hot, just a pleasant level of warmth.


NJ: What is your favorite Disney princess?


DJ SA: I know nothing about Disney. Was Snow White a princess? Yes! Got one! Snow White. She seems like an incredibly boring and not fun goody-goody. She might be kind of an undercover freak though…


NJ: Who would you let punch you directly in the face?


DJ SA: My dog does actually hit me in the face. He can’t make a fist, but he paws me straight in the face. When I’m lying in bed and he wants to go out, he comes up and he just, “boom,” right in the face. He is a mix: half chow. He’s a street dog from Thailand — they call them “soi dogs” because soi means street in Thai. When we rescued him, he had a broken leg but now he’s an incredible, confident and demanding dog who can’t stop smacking me in the face.


NJ: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do?


DJ SA: I used to know the answer to this. I think I would be doing something in the vegan, animal rights realm — some sort of educational or philanthropic thing, which I plan on doing anyway using my position in music and entertainment.


NJ: Who was your favorite spice girl?


DJ SA: I couldn’t stand the spice girls. Maybe scary spice. Is that an actual girl? Or is that just what you would call someone who is scary? Oh, and Beckham’s wife was a Spice Girl. Yeah, they fucking sucked. They are horrible people…the whole thing was horrible. It was just bad music. I guess they were like the first wave of the horrible pop shit that continues to this day.


NJ: What did you care the most about when you were 10 years old?


DJ SA: The Beatles. So, we went from the Spice Girls to the Beatles which is a big improvement. I was a Beatles maniac as a kid. When I was 5, I was already like 5 years into playing the drums so it was all about Ringo and The Beatles.


NJ: How does the internet work?


DJ SA: Ha! It works off of machine spirits. I’m convinced of that because my devices frequently don’t work at the most inopportune times and I’m convinced that they know what’s going on. That sort of contradicts my after-death belief…maybe we become machine spirits?


Photography: Chris Luttrell for NeueJournal 
Find Chris on Instagram here

It’s Personal Questions with Kevin Garrett

The man behind the mic

Kevin Garrett is a Pittsburgh-born, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter who is one of the music industry’s fastest rising stars. After lurking on the periphery for years, he’s now firmly establishing himself as a powerful voice in global, pop arena. Just this year, he signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation publishing label and released his first EP, Mellow Drama, to critical acclaim. We caught up with Garrett just before he performed at NeueHouse Madison Square, and instead of talking music, we decided to get personal, asking some fun questions that reveal a bit more about the man behind the mic. 

Matt Berninger
& Brent Knopf

El Vy's Return to the Moon


All creative work is, to some extent, a result of where a creator is at during a particular period of their life. It’s not always obvious — happy times don’t always birth happy art; sad times don’t always yield sad art — but context certainly influences product. So, as Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Menomena bring a new album into the world, made under the moniker “El Vy”, it’s tempting to work backwards and unpack the music by understanding where exactly it came from. NeueJournal Writer-in-Residence Gideon Jacobs caught up with them before they played a set of new material at NeueHouse Madison Square.


Gideon Jacobs: I read that even before the album was titled, “Return to the Moon,” you kept your song sketches in a folder just titled “The Moon.” My guess was that that the moon label was a reference to this being a bit of a satellite endeavor, a collaboration that was taking place concurrently with your other projects but in a different orbit of sorts. Am I far off the mark? Either way, why does this music exist outside of this world?


Matt Berninger: It was the idea of an archaic pursuit. It was nostalgic. Return of the Moon is sort of a funny way of showing this nostalgia for, what in our minds, was a simpler time. It is a return to the moon because it echoes this idea of a naive nostalgia for a better time. Also, a lot of the record is me looking back at growing up in Cincinnati, which felt like the moon, in the sense that it felt a lot like being nowhere, being away from everything meaningful.



GJ: Matt, you’re based in LA now? And Brent, you’re in Portland? Has the West Coast, its slower pace and levity, leaked into this music?


MB: It might have. I moved out there three years ago and I would assume that it’s had some sort of an effect. I’ve been writing more since I’ve been out there I think a lot of it is the fact of being in a new place.


Brent Knopf: I never really considered there to be too much allegiance between Portland, San Francisco and LA; each city has its own vibe. I think it’s more just the combination of Matt and I that brought out kind of a lighter side to our individual aesthetics. We’re two artists who independently write more gloomy stuff, but somehow when working together, there’s a lightness, and a lightness to this record.


GJ: Absolutely. It even seems a little more…flippant…than the work you guys are most known for. I can think of a bunch of lyrics or riffs that make me say that, but maybe there’s no moment that stands out as being as irreverent as “I’m peaceful cause my dick’s in sunlight, held up by kites.” Do you guys see this musical endeavor as having a bit of a different attitude or perspective than you’re usually writing and performing from?


MB: That’s a hobby: I have a bunch of little tiny kites that I like to fly with my dick…very small kites.


GJ: LA has changed you.


MB: There are a lot of ridiculous lyrics. That song is about a self-aggrandizing pathetic rocker alone in a hotel room, getting into some lonely trouble. It’s a black comedy. I have sung about my dick in many songs — “To ballerina on the coffee table / Cock in hand.” It just happens to come into some songs.


GJ: I guess “dick” is one of the unifying tropes of your music?


MB: Or just my obsession with my own dick…although I don’t really think about it that much…we don’t talk anymore.


GJ: We’ve gone off on a dick tangent, but that is bound to happen sometimes. Earlier you talked about how there is this character of a lonely guy in a hotel room, and it seems you wrote from the perspective of other characters on this album, trading in some of the usual autobiographical style for something that sounds more like fiction. As well as being your most “personal” record, would you say this album is also your most conceptual?


MB: I’m embodying a bunch of different characters other than myself, although there are also some personal details as well. But there are these characters Didi and Michael that are kind of woven throughout. Michael is sort of based on me and ‘Didi’ is sort of based on my wife. Didi is also kind of based on D. Boon from Minute Men. The album is also a little bit of a musical; my daughter was listening to Grease obsessively while I was working on this and I was obsessed with Grease when I was a little kid, so there’s a devious sort of Olivia Newton John character. There are these interconnected storylines and not all the dots connect yet.



GJ: This collaboration exists outside of both of your main projects — the bands that have, to this point, defined your respective careers in music. So, other than trying something new and different, what are you guys looking for when you step outside the realm of your principal bands? How are your goals or mentalities different when you’re working on what is considered to be a “side project?”


BK: For me, it is very different. We have this short window of time before the ‘National Machine’ revs up again, and this was a chance to make a record with a friend and just write some songs. We are only playing a short number of dates in our favorite venues and favorite cities. It’s all about not stressing too much and just having fun.


MB: We first went on tour together in 2003, but it was a long time before we ever talked about collaborating and then it was was still years later that we actually did. We started collecting stuff in a folder, and when I was touring with The National for the last record I really started to dig in and send Brent a bunch of ideas and he was sending stuff back. I was writing on the bus, backstage and in hotels and focusing on this while I was on tour for Trouble Will Find Me. It actually helped me through the tour in terms of not getting burned out, not overdoing it — instead of going to after-parties, I would go back to the bus or the hotel room and work on these tunes. It gave me something else to do with my time instead of just drinking all night. Actually…I would drink while I wrote these songs too, but it weirdly turned out to be very healthy and creative.


GJ: Is there less pressure writing under this moniker than writing under the bands that have defined your careers up until this point?


BK: It may be that I just don’t care anymore, or may be that I have more trust in myself and in Matt. We thought, “This is going to be the song and it’s going to be the best that we can make it.” I try to minimize how much I think about everyone else’s opinion.



MB: That’s a good point. It’s not actually less pressure. I think it’s just that we stopped letting the pressure matter, and I think that everyone in The National is just starting to enjoy the whole thing more than they did before. People are having kids, and perspectives are different. This band doesn’t have to be so fraught with anxiety and tension. This is the greatest job and we’re having fun and we’re making good songs. Neither Brent nor I wanted another band that had pressure attached to it. We’ve had enough of that, so we worked really hard on this thing but we didn’t overthink what it was going mean in terms of everything else.


BK: I feel like these songs are a little different in that they’re kind of like that Price is Right Game called “Plinko.” They fan out a little wider, stylistically speaking, than our other projects do. It’s complex, but it still feels like a record. The songs inform each other and complete each other and then go their own way. Energetically, it’s more adventurous.


Photography: Anton Lombardi for NeueJournal


The Lovecrafter by Patti Smith

Creative Channel: Patti Smith | Artwork by: Brigitte Lacombe w/ guest photo editor Janet Johnson | NeueJournal Issue 1

No matter what medium she’s working in, Patti Smith is, in essence, a modern-day bard. She’s a master of lyric and story, of saying the unsayable and simplifying the complex. Although her 2010 memoir Just Kids may be her most renown piece of writing, it’s in poetry that she is at the peak of her powers of poignancy and fluency. So, we are honored that on the occasion of our inaugural print publication of NeueJournal, Smith wrote a poem that accompanied a portrait of her taken by legendary photographer Brigitte Lacombe. 

Her upcoming book, M Train, is scheduled to be released this October via Knopf Doubleday. 


I saw you who was myself

slightly stooped whistling mouth
with leather sack and breeches brown

striding the naked countryside


with summer bones long and dry

into the breadth of our glad day

midafternoon the longer night
 as you tread bareheaded bright


I saw you a wraith bemoan
stir the fires of the ancient ones

scarred with sticks pome and haw

as the nectar for their script


I saw you walk the length of fields

far as the finger of Providence
far as the mounds we call hills

ranges cut from the heart of slate


I saw you dip into your sack

scattering seeds where they may

as the woodsman hews his way

through oak ash and variant pines


for writing desks that shall reflect

a sheaf of lines that speak of trees

all sober hopes required within
all drunkenness as sacred swims


I saw the book upon the shelf

I saw you who was myself

I saw the empty sack at last

I saw the branch your shadow cast


Photography: Brigitte Lacombe for NeueJournal
Guest Photo Editor: Janet Johnson


Salman Rushdie

Wisdom from one of the world’s great living sages

SR-Portrait-Composite copy

Although Salman Rushdie is, most simply, a prominent international literary figure, his work as a novelist and essayist is far from what defines him. That is, Rushdie is more than the sum of his written words, but a personality that we collectively turn to for general edification and insight. He stopped by NeueHouse Madison Square for a talk/reading to celebrate his new book, “Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights”, which is out today via Random House. We spoke with Rushdie during his visit, hoping to glean some wisdom from one of the world’s great living sages.



NeueJournal: How has your worldview changed over the last decade?



Salman Rushdie: It’s not so much that my worldview has changed. I think the world has changed a lot. Technology has transformed it on the one hand, and politics have got much nastier. So, I am really interested in the transformation that the communication revolution is making and, on the other hand, I think politically it’s a really bad time.



NJ: What’s your favorite place on earth?



SR: I think probably right here in New York City. I came here a very long time ago when I was young. I must have been about 25 and I came here in the early 70s. It was a very different New York — a much dirtier, poorer and, in many ways, a much younger New York. It was cheaper for people to live in places like the Village, SoHo and so on. All the young people and young artists were still giving the place its character. I just fell in love with it. I thought one of these days that I would just put myself here and see what happens, and now I’ve been here 16 years and it was exactly what I thought would happen which is, you know, love at first sight.



NJ: Where do you never want to live?



SR: Tehran, Iran. I just wouldn’t last very long.



NJ: What do you consider the most overrated virtue?



SR: Chastity. It’s boring.



NJ: What is your idea of perfect happiness?



SR: Perfect happiness is hard to find. I love my work. There are moments when a book is coming to life and going well which are very exhilarating. So there’s that, and the rest of it is not very exciting, but it’s just family and friends, as you know, and I’m blessed with a lot of wonderful friends like Opera. I have two great sons, so hanging around with them. Actually going on a holiday with my boys is kind of the nicest thing in the world.



NJ: What is your idea of utter misery?



SR: Misery! If I got to a point where I couldn’t do my writing.



NJ: What is your most treasured possession?



SR: Oh, I have a thing. When I was one day old a friend of my father’s gave him as a gift for me a little silver brick that’s about an inch high and on it is engraved a map of India and I carry that with me wherever I go.



NJ: What item do you find easy to dispose of?



SR: Pens! I lose dozens every day.



NJ: What are your top 5 favorite books?



SR: That’s a hard one because it changes. Authors I would say: James Joyce, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Marquez, and Franz Kafka.



Right now, I am actually reading a lot of nonfiction at the moment because I am going to be teaching at NYU, so I’ve been reading a lot of narrative nonfiction like In Cold Blood, Schindler’s List, Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Susan Orlean’s Orchid Thief, among others… A whole lot of these narrative nonfiction books which I’m going to be teaching at NYU, so I’m really enjoying reading that.



NJ: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?



SR: Somebody once told me that I should give up writing and concentrate on earning a living. That was bad advice.



NJ: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?



SR: My older son, for whom I wrote this children’s book — I had a first draft of it and he said he thought it might be boring, and I said why is that and he used this wonderful term which was that it’s because it doesn’t have enough “jump” in it. Not enough “jump,” and I knew completely what he meant. He meant get on with it and I thought, okay, I can do “jump.” So, I took it back and wrote it again and he said yes, now it was okay.



NJ: What is your greatest accomplishment?



SR: Two children.



NJ: On what occasion do you lie?



SR: Times like this [laughs].



NJ: On what occasion do you never lie?



SR: Oh, well, I try not to lie to my children and I try to encourage a relationship of openness and truth because I think that is a good way to be. I’m not saying never — I have lied, but, as a whole, I think that’s the occasion.



NJ: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?



SR: There is a word or phrase I overuse. I say, “You know”. All the time I’m saying, “You know, you know”. Um is bad, but “you know” is worse.



NJ: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?



SR: Slowness. I’m very slow at writing. I’d much prefer it if I was faster.



NJ: What is the trait you most deplore in others?



SR: Dishonesty.



Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal