Enter the enchanting visual world of James K

New York musician and visual artist James K unleashed her brilliant debut album PET in mid-April as a joint outing between her own She Rocks imprint and Dial Records, along with a cassette release courtesy of Canadian purveyors of off-kilter house, 1080p.

You may already know James K from the jungle-tinged euphoria of her 2012 collaboration with Physical Therapy, a pair of singles on experimental New York label UNO (both found on the new album), or her noise pop project with Gobby as SETH, but it’s her recent effort which is arguably her most accomplished and singular. Weaving manipulated vocals, shrouded samples and industrial-leaning beats, K builds a captivating full-length of experimental pop which she describes in press materials as “an escape into ethereality and a mischievous denial of my own experience.”

Having also created a number of videos – including those for tracks on PET – James K now takes us through her enchanting visual world in this week’s YouTube Session. We’ll let her get you started below.

“Here’s a selection of videos that have influenced my own videos. You can find some more of my videos sorted on my YouTube page . I also regularly post videos, both music and visual, on my Tumblr which you can get to from the “watch” link on my label website.

Video influences my music; like music, it can express a feeling. It is also sort of an incarnation of memory and these memories are alternate realities. In making music, there is a certain synesthesia of sound and memory which drives my expression; it’s about creating a mythology for the sound – giving it a surrounding to exist in. Here are some videos that influence mythologies my sound lives in, and some that I just simply enjoy.”

1. Faye Dunaway for Parco

This is an ad that Parco, a Japanese department store put out in the 80s, directed by Kazumi Kurigami. It is very simple, yet maintains a very bizarre mood, mostly emanating from Faye Dunaway’s performance. I think its brilliant when something as banal as eating a hardboiled egg can hold the mystery and entice that this achieves. The subtly of the action and her gaze is striking. It reminds me of these ads David Bowie did for the sake company Crystal Jun Rock around the same time, which similarly exudes drama and mystery through the subtle, yet multidimensional feel of his gaze. Kurigami did a bunch these videos for Parco (the one with Gary Numan looking into a mirror in awe of his reflection is great). I think it’s one of the first examples of an ad not deliberately telling you to buy something, but instead totally ignoring the selling of any product, and just showing a mood and aligning that mood with the brand – something we see a lot now in ads – but these moods are very intriguing to me for the sake of their bizarre nature and humor.

2. L7 – Andres

This is a music video directed by Steve Hanft. Growing up, I was listening to a lot of the bands he made videos for (he made a lot of Beck’s early videos, including ‘Loser’ and ‘Where It’s At’, as well as videos for ICP, Elliot Smith..), and his music video style influenced me in many ways. I interviewed him once for sex magazine. The thing I love in his work is the juxtapositions of themes and formats he uses which creates a collaged dream-logic. There’s also a lot of humor in it. He did a video with me for SETH a couple years ago. It features Gobby as the ‘mod frog’ who has some multidimensional control over these different personas I am enacting. The personas were taken from these videos of me acting out different personas from this video installation I had made a couple years prior. He also gave me the idea in my new video for ‘Sokit to me Baby’ to have these gorilla hands attacking and strangling me. We ended up starting to write an idea for a horror comedy, and we’ve thrown around some other ideas for music videos, but I haven’t been able to have the funds to make them yet! Shout out to Steve, though!

3. Sylvie Guillem

I love her dancing. There is so much strength and emotion in her her movements- it actually touches me physically and emotionally. Before this, I never could imagine the vast emotion one could exude from a foot. Now I know.

4. Petshop of Horror

One of my favorite animes and, through a long chain reaction, it gave me the name for my album. I’m a fan of all campy Japanese horror in film, manga, anime. Perfect Blue is another one which has a big influence on the origination of this Pet character, and Hausu had an influence on me and my visual work. This series is very bizarre – it features a wonderful androgynous pet shop owner who is selling ‘Pets,’ but they are magical pets who look like persons. Buying the Pets always comes with a disclaimer, which leads to a psychic moral at the end.

5. James K – Paranormal

I shot this video last year for my track ‘Paranormal’ for 7inch release of it as a single for the album. The idea was based largely on the last scene in Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, where the main character performs the spiritual and prophetic act of carrying a lit candle from one end of a mineral pool to the other- an action an insane man he meets in town tells him will save the world. The song is about a spiritual act of faith and a duality in being. I injected a lot of visual symbolism describing this duality. I wanted to carry the same spirituality of the action in that final scene, by creating a video that appears as a single shot, with a creepy twist (that is me in the bleachers waving).

6. Tenebre Dream Sequence

I’m a fan of Eurohorror, erotica, exploitation films and most things with a coupling of the fantastic and depraved. I always liked this dream sequence in Argento’s Tenebre. It’s a beautifully shot mini submission film; foot fetish fun. I’ve made a bunch of ‘artful’ fetish videos throughout the years- generally involving humor and camp, not as beautiful and sincere as this. Besides this dream sequence, his movies are technicolor gore beautifully shot, with hilariously bad plot twists, and usually featuring the prog-rock band Goblin- I’m down with at all.

7. Blood Squirting Lizard

This lizard’s defense system is like an Italian horror film. It’s supernatural nature; beauty and horror combined.

8. Miracleshay1

I truly love this woman’s videos (go to her page, there are hundreds). I’m not saying I watch these all day in awe, but first of all, I love the set she built, I love her effects, and the spirit behind the videos is something I can get behind. There is something she’s trying to say and it’s sincere, and it’s also funny (and I don’t think at her expense). One of the best birthday presents I ever received was when my friend contacted her and asked her if she could do a tribute video for me, wishing me happy birthday; I was so happy that she did it- it was beautiful.

9. SETH, Chick on the Moon

I shot the footage while in LA. I ended up turning it into a four part music/tour video movie with interludes for our first album release as Seth. I used to make all of my videos using this camcorder – I’d bring it around with me and just create scenes with whatever was there. The desert is great ‘cos the terrain has this ability to make anything look other-worldly (or sci-fi cos so many have been shot in deserts). I could work with whatever I found- some chair and a mattress, or this wonderful flower-wreath display – Ok cool, this is the set now.

10. Busta Rhymes

In all honesty, I was never into Busta Rhymes’ music, but I do like his videos and I definitely take something from them. He was very much into playing around with different personas and in one video, there could be up to 10 iterations of himself, either in set and style, or actual character. This is something I do in many of my videos, exemplified in my most recent video for ‘Sokit it me Baby’ – relating to a common theme of a fragmented identity.

11. Decoder 1984

So this is the whole movie on YouTube, cool. It’s an anti-muzak movie set in Hamburg during the 80s where the plot pushes the idea that the best way to subvert the tyranny of capitalism is industrial music. It stars FM Einheit from Einsturzende Neubauten and Christaine F, mainly in a room covered in frogs. In spirit and in aesthetic, this movie validates my wish for subverting programmed desire.

12. Unrequited Love

My friend, a talented artist who performs under the pseudonym Bernard Herman, created this video and music. The sadness I feel in that lonely animated heart is both endearing and personally disturbing. His shows have a similar drama to them – there are many costume changes (mostly clowns), fog, and mood lighting. There’s a cabaret feel to it all; while you sip your drink and converse niceties, he opens a world of drama, one that infiltrates your inner psyche, forcing you into that tender fear for the tears of a clown.

PET is out now. Grab it on cassette and vinyl.