People think it’s weird to do music for architecture, but architecture is just geology in drag.
Tory had put his first album out under his name in 1996, titled Masque on Mask. There was to be a continuing flurry of others over the next few years: Surreal Estate Agent, Scoping Futures, Airzoan and The Chair Exhibit, to name a few. The latter was an exercise in extreme minimalism which, unknown to me, had been playing during the interview. It was indeed influenced by furniture, a notion Tory said he was quite fond of. Tory and Venus actually played some of their music at furniture shows, even doing a grand opening for Futon Express at one point. An added influence around this time was the southwestern architect Antoine Predock, who’d studied with Frank Lloyd Wright. Tory admired his desert-themed structures and called him up one day.
“In his work, it’s like he’s trying to bring the sky down to earth,” said Tory. “He works with the desert a lot. And he did the set design for a couple of sci-fi movies. I sent him a copy of Airzoan, along with an RFT article that mentioned him. And he got a kick out of that. When I called him, for me it was like talking to a major rock star. I think he thought it was cool. He gets some of his ideas from music, so it’s ironic that we got ideas from his architecture. People think it’s weird to do music for architecture, but architecture is just geology in drag.”
When Tory talks about doing music inspired by furniture or architecture, he’s clearly bringing up ideas that were tossed around by Bowie and Eno in the ’70s, when ambient music was in its germinative stages. But the amazing thing is that Tory applies his own style and sensibility to these ideas, so that they hardly seem recycled or borrowed in any way. His music definitely bears his own unique imprint.
“People keep talking about me being a Bowie ripoff, just because my voice is influenced by him, and because of my hair,” said Tory. “But my career has more in common with Eno’s, in that I want each album to have a different concept and character. My earliest stuff was like ambient music meets Throbbing Gristle. There are people that say, ‘Oh, you should just write about stuff that has happened to you personally.’ But I don’t think all artists have to do things they experienced firsthand. Sometimes my albums will be like science fiction. Sometimes I like to use music as an escape. There needs to be a pioneering spirit. I like it when beautiful music has something grating it, an element that offsets or goes against the beauty. And then, it’s cool when something really heavy has, like, a violin solo in it, something delicate. It needs an element of beauty to offset all the anger.”
There is perhaps a corollary in Tory’s personal life—his wife, Venus Slick, who’s a partner in every sense of the word, and an intrinsic part of his music now. They met in 1994, and tied the knot in March 2002. Venus, who is taller than Tory, measures her words in doses, where Tory lets his simply rush out in torrents. They’re a striking twosome, and it seems incongruous that they are living the domestic life in a St. Louis suburb. But art and music are being created non-stop behind their doors.
“We don’t do anything right, but we always get good results,” said Tory. “We have the perfect music relationship, kinda like Bowie and Eno. Venus adds all the analogue synthesizer stuff. I’ll do the melodic composition; she’ll do the experimental stuff. She likes doing sound collages. She’ll prepare these tapes of incidental sounds… On Androidal Tissue, the improvs were conducted by Venus. She held up cards saying loud, soft, fast, slow, up, down. And each one of us interpreted that differently.”
What resulted was a strikingly original piece of work, one that points the way toward unlimited possibilities.
“I wanted it to have more of a live sound,” said Tory. “So we could duplicate it live. I only played one synthesizer, guitars, and vocals. It was more stripped down. People have complained that we have too many instruments on stage. Our drummer started to blend the acoustic and electronic drum sounds, but he’d hide the electronic drum set. People don’t wanna see a band without a drummer. They don’t mind seeing a pre-recorded synth part, but if they can see someone pounding a drum, they’re happy.”
Tory’s not the type to finish a project and then relax. He usually has several going at the same time, in fact. He reports that three albums have been completed since Androidal, with another five in the works.
“Some days I’m in the mood to play my Turkish instruments, so I’ll start a recording with them. We have another album with the A.T. band, which will be called Seahorse and Seraphim. Then there’s an album called Teleport, the new pop music I’m doing with my new live band. And there’s an ambient one, called Moab, after the city in Utah.”
It hardly sounds like a man stuck in a bygone musical era. On the contrary, Tory Z. Starbuck is creating new permutations of sound daily, breaking through genre barriers, living a rich and varied artistic life, and letting his boundless energy and imagination lead him where they will.
“People don’t know that a lot of my inspiration comes from things like sculpture, and Indian music,” says Tory. He picks up a Pakistani instrument called a Zurna and blows on it, filling the air with mysterious, exotic notes. “You have to get it wet. It’s not quite ready,” he says almost apologetically.
Is there another person in St. Louis who would do this? Is there, in fact, any other artist in St. Louis who has made such bold impressions on record, on stage and in fashion through the years? Tory Starbuck is no egomaniac, but he wouldn’t mind if people got over some of their preconceived notions about him.
“Who’s the musician?” he says. “Is it the person who keeps making music, or the person who’s always in all the magazines, like Justin Timberlake? St. Louis needs to know that, even if they think I’m a Bowie-aping idiot, I’m gonna keep making music. I’m not going away.”
Look for Tory Starbuck’s CDs at Vintage Vinyl and at Border’s Books in Brentwood and Creve Couer (where he says the selections are different). He also has a Web site, www.toryzstarbuck.com, which he admits is in need of updating.
Tory Starbuck will be performing at Sally T’s in St. Charles on July 1. For more info on this and other upcoming gigs, email KineticTelepathy@aol.com.