It’s not an exaggeration to say that Leslie Keffer has made some of my favorite noise over the past 15 years. Somehow, our paths never crossed through all the years of operating in the same wider scene (or at least adjacent to each other). Leslie took a long break from creating and performing before launching a pile of fantastic new projects in the last year or so. She is finding new ways to melt minds, from excellent new music to an art book to a Nina hub and more. The broader world of experimental music is better because of her return.
First off, how have you been holding up these last few years?
I am doing great. I have been back in SE Ohio in the woods on a big farm for about six years now, and I love it. I can hike and forage herbs and mushrooms.
Okay, let’s go further back than that – I’d love to know your earliest music-related memories and how those early experiences have stuck with you.
My earliest memory of being able to listen to music or control what I heard was when I was about six and got a radio walkman. Only 2 or 3 stations would come in, so I listened to a lot of the static, and I thought it was musical. Also, my Uncle gave me Joni Mitchell’s Court & Spark album when I was 11, which made me want to figure out how to tell stories like her but with soundscapes. I used to make all these weird recordings with tape recorders in my bedroom closet.
At what point did you first start wanting to create your sounds?
I think I was very young, probably 10 or 11. I was always writing and recording these melodies I would come up with. I would sing through box fans and manipulate my voice in different ways. I kept experimenting with recording sounds until right after college when I got a mixer board and could blend multiple stations of radio static and make songs with it.
And then, what was your introduction to noise, and how did you get involved in the, for lack of a better phrase here, “noise scene”?
Well, I was making these songs out of the layered radio static, and I sent them to my friend Nathan from Tusco Terror. Tusco Terror wasn’t Tusco back then, though, and I think they went by Spookwolf 4. Anyway, Nathan asked if I would book this band Nautical Almanac in Athens at the bar I worked at, and I said sure, and I booked myself with them. That was my first experience with noise music or the scene, and it blew my mind.
Then Rat Bastard reached out to me and asked me to go on tour with him as a Laundry Room Squelcher. I met so many people and heard so much new music that way because Rat would book INC shows where everyone played a 15-minute set so you could see a city’s entire noise scene in one night.
Something I’ve always loved about your work is the physicality of it, thinking back to some of those really early tapes and stuff and how everything just felt over the edge and intense. What drives you into those zones, and what are you channeling that comes out as so visceral?
I think I get driven to those zones when I am overstimulated by bodily sensations, good or bad. I have Epilepsy and PTSD, and both disorders are very visceral. I think music and art are my way of expressing the sensations of a seizure or being in fight or flight mode. I am able to release them in a way.
What are some of your best memories from those early days, playing shows and touring and all that?
My best memories are always of the Squelcher tours. The girls and I would always get so close. Rat became my mentor and best friend over all those years, and spending time with him is always so important to me. One time, on a Squelcher tour, Valerie Martino and I saw a chupacabra driving through Texas. I also remember at a show in England, Lambsbread and I set off the smoke alarms in the green room from smoking too much weed. Also loved playing No Fun with Rodger Stella and the Noise ladies. Rodger is one of the most caring, loyal, and brilliant people I have ever met. I have so many great memories of festivals, too, especially VOV and INC. Touring with Tusco Terror was always great because we would stop at State Parks and eat at Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen Buffet.
I could be wrong here, but it seems like you weren’t doing music and stuff for a little while (something I can certainly relate to!). What made you want to get back into it?
I definitely took a decade off. I was trying to figure out how to deal with my seizures and mental health, and I focused on that. I got back into music because I started seeing a music therapist a couple years ago, who helped me tremendously.
And how has it been different this time around?
This time around is different in the sense that I am not touring or booking shows, so the energy I am sourcing is more internal, whereas before, I was out getting inspired by bands every night.
I also want to talk about your visual art because it feels like such a natural extension of your sounds and has that same visceral edge. I really, really like it. How would you describe your approach to making visual art, and what’s your process like?
Thank you! I started making visual art to express all the sensations I was experiencing in my body all the time. It kind of helped me put them into perspective. People often ask me what does a seizure FEEL like? So I was trying to figure out a way to describe what something feels like that doesn’t feel like anything else in the world. Same with PTSD. What does it feel like? So I guess it is a way to describe how these things feel physically and emotionally. I usually start with a feeling or a concept I am struggling with and try to experience it with a different sense. Like, what does this smell taste like? Or what do these sensations bring up for me? Then I start to kind of get an image in my head, and I can prompt the AI accordingly to get source material to alter or collage. I’m usually trying to imagine and recreate what my aetheric body looks or feels like at the time.
You also released a book of your art this year, which is fantastic! What was the biggest challenge in getting that together and out into the world?
Thank you! The biggest challenge with the book was learning how to format it, but I had some help from a couple of friends, so I could figure it out. It was very therapeutic to tell my healing story through images.
So what’s up next for you for the rest of the year and heading into 2023?
Well, I am very excited because Rodger Stella and I have a full-length CD coming out on No Rent in November. I am also on six drone records with Blood Rhythms called Horror Pilation that will be released Oct. 7th on No Part of It and have a split with LAST ACTION coming out soon. I just finished recording an album with R. Stevie Moore that should also be out before the end of the year.