Max Boss has been laughing uncontrollably for about a minute. As one half of artist-producer duo Easter, his collaborator Stine Omar appears equally as baffled as I am, while he gasps for air in a bar in Berlin. It happens at the point where Omar is explaining the origins of the narrative of an episode in their Sadness is an Evil Gas Inside of Me (SIAEGIOM) video series, an essay-film/soap opera where she plays a character called ‘Mersad’, who eventually changes their name to ‘Young Corn’. It’s connected to Omar’s obsession with the large grain plant, inspired by cult stoner comedy Smiley Face and reinforced by the United States’ economic reliance on maize production – that episode was titled ‘Age of Corn’ and was filmed in Los Angeles. “You were so into that plot with Mersad,” Boss eventually chokes out, explaining his sudden outburst to Omar who replies, chuckling, “It’s personal.” Together they reveal a glimpse into their relationship that’s as ambiguous as their Easter project is convoluted. It’s intriguing.
Also baffling is the realisation that Easter will be performing only their first show in London at The Waiting Room on November 24. That’s despite the relative proximity of Berlin where they’re based and the fact that the German and Norwegian duo have been producing, releasing and performing very good music (as well as art) since 2011. They’ve also got their aesthetic down — music videos of erotic object fetish that often luxuriate in the sexless corporate spaces of resorts, hotels, and airports. Boss’ dark beats play suspended in a sort of torpor that’s broken through by Omar’s monotone, half-spoken vocal, languishing somewhere between lust and apathy. “Wine stains on your Mac,/ semen in your crack,/ dandruff on your back…” she scats through the slimy sensuality of ‘SMAR’, pushing distinctions between desire and disgust in the complex cluster of red herrings that is Easter’s ultimately obscure and transgressive catalogue.
“I don’t know if it’s a fixation,” Omar ripostes, when I suggest that food and sex — a pairing that even has its own Wikipedia page — is a driving theme in a lot of Easter’s lyrical content. It’s an easy mistake to make with older songs like ‘Alien Babies’, which runs through an eerie inventory of foodstuffs and their packaging in lines like, “I see alien babies,/ I see lychees in cans,/ I see forever glass noodles,/ I see jelly in your hands.” And more recently with the two New Cuisine EPs, song titles like ‘Kinds of Fruit’, and the ‘Kilometer’ video, featuring HEL and a vending machine-bought baguette. Not unlike the ‘Meta Lasagne‘ scene in Smiley Face (that Omar can recite verbatim), there’s a web of associations driving the lyrical, musical, visual and conceptual amalgam of Easter, in an approach that is as much about form as it is meaning.
…sorry, fixation is the wrong word.
Stine Omar: I think it’s hard to write. Or at least when I’m aware of the audience. So I’m often just writing about the things that surround me or interest me while trying not to go to heavy on the metaphors but I’m not trying to stay within one theme or anything. It’s just what comes.
That’s true, I’ve been listening to all your records and in 2011 you’re a lot more up-front lyrically. Later, it’s more difficult to make sense of them, where you don’t necessarily follow a plot or conventional narrative. How do you compose these songs, do they actually have some kind of symbolic meaning?
SO: Sometimes, and sometimes not. Also, very often Max is making the beat first and then I just have to force something on that, so it’s rare. A few times we’re like, ‘okay, you can say three words and this EP’s going to be about that’ but often it’s just whatever is coming and it has to come because we’re always working last minute.
You talked about the lyrics being influenced by this music and then putting words together, which means it’s kind of arbitrary in how lyrics are composed. Do you also think that maybe your approach is different because English is a second language for you?
SO: Definitely. I’m also very aware, and somehow appreciating that it is. It’s never that I ask somebody to proofread it or anything. It’s my own English, or my special language [laughs]. It’s also a choice I guess, or that’s how it started, to just reach out to more people but it’s also a choice to not write in my native tongue. I can’t imagine writing songs in Norwegian, or anything else. Like every time I have to write an application, it’s hard. Maybe it’s just too honest for me, to use that language.
I often wonder what it’s like to use English in an art context when it’s not your first language…
SO: Yeah, I think it’s fun. It’s an easy approach to it though, you know, if there’s a word I’m looking for, I’m just going on Google Translate, so it is very random. Often it’s not correct how the sentence would turn out but that’s part of it.
Do you think there’s something about what you produce that is potentially too difficult for music press?
Max Boss: Yeah, we had a lot of booking agencies come to our shows and it always soured because I think they are a bit scared, they don’t know what to expect. Often we get drunk on stage and I think it’s maybe a bit awkward or uncomfortable for people, and especially for a booker if you’re responsible for that person to be reliable or something.
Do you think you’re unreliable? Like getting drunk on stage is one thing but showing up is another.
SO: We’re definitely not unreliable, we are always showing up.
MB: Excellent clients.
SO: Yeah, put that out there.
MB: Maybe it’s hard if you don’t understand that that is the concert. That we are on stage and we are presenting our personas and it’s not about timing or anything like that in our show. So if you think that counts then you’re probably right to be scared.
I know the ‘HER OWN’ performance and collaboration with Abortion Support Network is an exception — and you didn’t turn up drunk for that — but it’s quite controversial territory so it’s also something that might scare people off, being overtly political about the abortion ban. It could be done very wrong or insensitively but you didn’t do it insensitively.
MB: Oh, you think so?
SO: Yeah, we could have been much more political or one-sided from our perspective but we’re just presenting the facts. Obviously we’re from the pro-choice side but someone said the other day why, when we posted [‘Kinds of Fruit’], it didn’t get so much attention; that maybe it could be a thing from Facebook’s side, that it’s somehow risky or radical for them to promote abortions.
It could also potentially alienate your audience. You don’t necessarily know the political views of the people that listen to you.
MB: Yeah, you never know. We’ve had people discussing if we are Nazis. Remember when people were always asking if we are racist? [to Omar]
SO: I don’t remember.
MB: No? And there were even comments on YouTube and we thought about deleting them but we didn’t.
Do you know what instigated that?
MB: No, I have no idea. I mean, obviously I don’t [laughs] but it’s just crazy how, with people that like you, this big misunderstanding can happen.
Stine, you said you’ve become more ambiguous in your lyrics, but that refusal to make a strong statement also risks being misinterpreted.
SO: Yeah, doing so much subconsciously also, which is how I’m writing now. But definitely, obviously with the bigger audience there are more risks. Like they will always read into things.
And people will always find a reason to hate you.
SO: Yeah, on YouTube people hate you anyway.
Do you engage with trolls?
SO: No, we don’t engage but I am entertained and I have learned to just appreciate hate comments and find them entertaining. There’s a lot, of course, about the looks of people in the video…
MB: …discussing what gender you are.
Gender fluidity is an element to your work though.
SO: Yeah, I mean, it’s positive that people are questioning it. It’s definitely nothing we’re scared of.
I like how you integrate the same project into different spaces, so that you shot the ‘True Cup’ video in Koal gallery where you were showing Sadness is an Evil Gas Inside of Me last year, is that a conscious decision or is it just because it’s what’s at hand?
SO: I think it’s just about using what we have at that time. That was a good decision because suddenly we made an exhibition and maybe people of the music audience wouldn’t understand that, just trying to promote that part of it further than to just the people who actually would have gone to this exhibition.
Given you’re such a contained unit, does the thought of one of you dying tomorrow scare you?
SO: Yeah, no, I would be without work for sure [laughs], we both would be. That’s the risk you take when you don’t have any other side-job. Hopefully someone would hire the other person but we would probably also both just die. I think I would just die.**