I first met Jason Lescalleet in 1998. At the time, we both used to visit RRRecords in Lowell as often as we could, buying up records and trying to hear as much noise and experimental music as possible. It was a formative time for both of us. I had just moved to Boston, and was beginning to come into contact with the musicians and artists of New England. My own music was evolving quickly. So was Jason’s. He had left the rock scene, where he was the lead singer of a band called Medicine, and was beginning to find his way with noise electronics and tape machines. We would meet at the record store on Saturday afternoons, then go sit in the cab of his truck and listen to tapes of whatever Jason was working on. We’d bullshit about all the records we were going to make someday, but weren’t really sure how to get there from where we were.
One afternoon, while we listened to some recent tape experiment of his, Jason told me that he had a plan for his first record. He’d been considering his public image, and wanted his first move to be decisive. He didn’t want to be pigeonholed. Was he a noise artist? An improviser? A composer? Jason announced that he had the whole LP already mapped out. It would be a collection of live tracks, and he had the perfect title for it. “My first record is going to be called This Is What I Do.” I thought the title was hilarious. Matter-of-fact, no-bullshit, economical… the title says it all without signaling anything in particular. Jason even had a cover image in mind: photos of his live performances. Maybe a close-up of his amp. Images of Jason doing what he does, unadorned and unpretentious, as (deceptively) plain and straightforward as possible.
Jason’s early live performances exemplified his provocative sense of humor. At that time, he would often arrive to a gig directly from his office day job. A huge guy, clearly a professional of some sort, wearing a nice suit and tie, cell phone sticking out of his back pocket in case a client called. The image he cut was jarring against the crappy art galleries and bars that we played in back then, and Jason knew it. He would unpack his suitcase while he played, walking among the machines and long spools of tape loops, unceremoniously moving things around. No pomp or pretense, a perfectly straight face. He went long stretches with his back turned, looking down at his mess of tape decks, occasionally pushing his glasses back up onto his nose. He might well have been dispassionately re-arranging tools in his garage while the beautiful, emotionally rich and impossibly dense music unfolded from creaking tape and steadily growing webs of unstable feedback. After seeming to deny stage presence for half an hour or so, Jason would inevitably end his sets with a shocking return to his rock-band frontman roots. With a near-sociopathic lack of affect, Jason would hoist his massive Peavey guitar amp over his head (that’s six feet into the air) and let it drop to the floor onto his tape machines. He wouldn’t throw the amp; that would be too easily theatrical. He’d simply cease holding it up. The end. Sound stopped. That’s what Jason did.
In 1999, I published a collaborative CD by Jason and nmperign called In Which the Silent Partner-Director Could No Longer Make His Point to the Industrial Dreamer on my label, Intransitive. This didn’t interfere with the plan for This Is What I Do, because it wasn’t technically Jason’s debut solo album. Some time went by, and a tape label of some notoriety expressed interest in publishing Jason’s music. He sent them an album-length version of a piece he’d played for me in his car the previous year. The tape label rejected the piece, but Ron at RRR offered to put it out as an LP instead. Jason agreed, and it became Electronic Music, another hilariously deadpan title. “But Jason,” I remarked at the time, “I thought your first album was going to be This Is What I Do!” “That’s right. This wasn’t supposed to be my first real album, it just turned out that way. I’m still going to do This Is What I Do.”
And so it went. A year or so later, Jason told me that This Is What I Do would no longer be a single record. Now it was to be a double CD, because he listened to his tapes and found even more stuff that he liked. A noise experiment with mixer feedback. A radio session with Crank Sturgeon. He really wanted to track down a recording of a duo set he played with Achim Wollscheid and put some of that on the record too, if he could find the guy who recorded it and get a copy from him. This Is What I Do would happen, but it would have to wait. In the meantime, he composed some short tracks for compilations, did a collaborative 7″ and a CD with John Hudak, a single for Freedom From, and an album of studio compositions called Mattresslessness for Jason Kahn’s Cut label. “What about This Is What I Do?”, I’d tease him, figuring that it’d probably never happen. “Oh, it’s going to happen,” he assured me.
In 2006, Jason self-published The Pilgrim, a tribute to his father who had recently succumbed to cancer. It consisted of a CD and a picture-disc LP with a small book of images and text, packed in gatefold sleeve. I remember talking with Jason on the phone one evening as he was assembling the release. I asked, “So now that you’ve done The Pilgrim, what’s the next release on your label?”
“It’s going to be This Is What I Do.”
“But it’s changed now.”
“Yes. Now it’s going to be a box set of five picture-disc records. The picture on each one is going to look like the master tape that each track was recorded on.”
That sounds improbable.
“No, it’s really what I’m going to do.”
In the thirteen years since Jason first started talking about this project, much has changed. Some of the music originally intended for inclusion was destroyed when Jason’s basement flooded and water wrecked some master tapes. He lost some tape decks then, too, and has since had to augment his live sets with a laptop, cassette players, contact mics, Casio keyboards. That big Peavey amp was dealt its death blow at the end of a nmperign/Lescalleet performance in Boston, when Jason punched holes in it over and over as the audience (who thought the show was finished, and started to leave) stood awkwardly by. You can hear it happen at the end of their 2CD, Love Me Two Times. Jason contributed short pieces to compilation albums, some of which are included here. Since the days when we played in dire Lowell art galleries and loud sports bars in Boston for indifferent audiences and antagonistic sound technicians (one guy unplugged Jason a few minutes into his set opening for Earth because he was too loud!), Jason went on to perform in the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, England, Mexico, France, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland… at festivals, in museums, in proper concert halls with proper sound… Jason collaborated with Joe Colley, Jason Kahn, Thomas Ankersmit, Graham Lambkin… he moved from urban Massachusetts to a lovely place in rural Maine… and at this point in his career, I don’t think Jason is as concerned with making a first impression anymore. The music found in this collection is that of an artist developing his voice over the course of more than a decade, but it sounds as alive and compelling as if it were made today. Perhaps the coherence of this disparate material shouldn’t be surprising. Jason always maintains intensely high standards. This music, and this artist, is resistant to time and trends. It has integrity, and it is beautiful. That is what Jason does.
Howard Stelzer / Intransitive Recordings
Cambridge, MA. August 2011