24 Sep Meeting with TvB, American poet and musician.
Under the name of Troy Balthazar, the American musician, leader of the group Chokebore has released a book of short stories and poems Caution! Poison snake! No entry! illustrated with drawings by James Kroll, Chokebore’s bassist, and photos of Dionysos’ learder, Mathias Malzieu.
His work is luminous, punctuated with colors, landscapes, animals, fantastic creatures and music. Sometimes rational, sometimes fantastic or surrealist, Troy Balthazar jumps from one universe to another, launching us into his imagination without ever losing us. We’re captivated in his proliferation, held in each page.
In these writings you feel lighter, soothed, sometimes funny, but let’s reassure your fans, melancholy and dark ideas invade some poems and short stories. Is it the shape of the book that leads you to this lightness or do you feel lighter yourself?
I do feel lighter in general. I think with age and perspective things become clearer. I spent a lot of time alone in the country and it helped my inner world to repair. It’s an amazing luxury to have 2 weeks alone with a forest right outside the house. The mind repeats and fights to be back with people for the first few days, but then it settles and I find a clear space to explore. I’ve noticed my music is also becoming (a little) lighter and I’m leaving more air between the notes.
You use a lot of colors in your poems. Conversely, you said several times in an interview that our world lacked colors and that your inner world was much more colorful. So is this book a transcript of you?
Thanks. I still find the brightest colors are inside. I look there a lot for my writing and music. I try not to directly reflect the outer world but instead to pass it though the filter of my unconscious naturally and dictate what I see. The difference is like looking at the sea while sitting on a boat with friends around, or leaning over alone and putting your head in the water, opening your eyes, and looking down. A little frightening at first when you see how blue and open it is, but also very exciting.
So your flash fictions are also a reality passed through your personal prism? Some are more or less fantastic but in I was on the beach you clearly make you mother die!
The story with my mother almost drowning is a moment that really happened when I was young. I never told anyone about this because I was too embarrassed. I also never told my mother that I saw her in the water at that moment and was too shy to ask for help. I gave her the short story to read recently. She remembered that day also and was shocked to discover my perspective.
With a certain economic use of words, you manage to create an abounding universe. We feel a mastery in the reduction of language. There is not one word too many, but nothing is missing either. You give us a kind of quintessence perfectly mastered. You’re not much of a talker, is that the style?
I prefer to be quiet in general. It’s how I grew up. In Hawaii I was a small and weak child. The other kids were much stronger. I realized that I had 2 choices. I could either fight them, and lose, or I could be very quiet so they didn’t notice me. I chose the 2nd option and it worked. I managed to stay out of trouble. Now as a man I’m not afraid of that but I kept the habit of being quiet and respectful. This also gives me more time inside my head to work on new music and writing while other people are talking.
Discussing the lyrics of your songs, you said: « The very structure of a song sometimes makes you change your first moods. Because you follow the melody and you can’t use all the words you want. You even have to cut a lot ». Your poems are very short, shorter than a song lyric, so in the end it’s not space that you need. Where did you find the freedom in poetry compared to song?
The lyric is always dictated by the song melody so I must clip it to find the same meaning with less words than I first imagined. “The bird flew over the house with his wings fully extended” could be cut down to “The bird had his wings open” for instance. This kind of cut is always painful for me but usually necessary to fit into a song lyric. I believe for poetry this is also important. I like to describe an idea or image in its most direct way and cut away the extra weight that is blurring the scene. This work is always in the service of the song, the poem, the short story.
I read that you were not very happy with your previous book of poems. Are you more satisfied with this?
I’m not a big fan of myself. I never listen to my own records or read what I’ve written after it’s published. By the time one piece is finished I am usually trying to make the next short story and the next song. I do enjoy the process of writing very much though. That’s where I find my freedom …
… to better communicate with us! Finally it doesn’t interest you to hear you talk. Thank you for taking us into your colorful, and sometimes dark, world.
Thanks very much. I plan to continue writing music and words for as long as possible, and then a little longer.
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Interview by Delphine on 21 September 2020, France.
Black and white: Jean-Christophe Moine
Color: Flavie Durou