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Self Improvement: Danceable but a Caustic Force

Formed during the pandemic as a long-distance project, but now based in Long Beach, minimal post-punks Self Improvement have artlessly been wandering around our headphones at Paperface Zine with their spiraling metallic guitar lines, racing rhythms, and Jett Witchalls' biting speak-sing vocals that dart through crisscrossing lines echoing Algebra Suicide, Ludus, and Pylon. With their debut LP "Visible Damage" being one of our favorite records of '22, we caught up with guitarist Jonny Rez to learn all about how the album came together at Wiggle World, their deadpan Prodigy cover, and a new album they're aiming to release by the end of the year.

All Photos by James Duran

First tell me what you've been up to as of late. Have you been reading, watching, or listening to anything you'd like to share with our readers?

Jonny Reza: As of lately been finishing up new songs in the studio Wiggle World. Been reading a lot about psychedelic therapy, and trying to keep an ear out for all the new bands popping up recently.

Last month, Self Improvement played a stacked bill with Smirk and Tube Alloys in Los Angeles. How did that go?

JR: That show was super fun! Bunch of friends were there. Was stoked to finally catch Smirk live as I've been a fan for a while. Tube Alloys also played great, such a rad band. As far as our performance, I think everyone was stoked after. Rueben might have said "Oi play faster ya cun*" but I don't really remember.

What's been the best show you've played so far you think?  

JR: It's been such a blur of shows the last year or so but I think maybe the show supporting Sweeping Promises at the LodgeRoom in LA was a standout. The sound there is great.

Take us through the origins of Self Improvement. How did you all meet and decide to start playing music together?

JR: It started with Me, Jett and Pat during the pandemic. I've known Pat for almost a decade through skateboarding and music. Pat and I were making demos on our own and wanted to fuse our ideas to make a random fun project. I was writing a song and Jett, who I was living with in San Francisco at the time, wrote some lyrics and sang over them. It was cool because me and Jett were always making unserious, fun goth dance music, and then when she sang over this certain song "Self Improvement" it kind of clicked. We were stoked and all wanted to pursue this particular sound after. We met Rueben later when Jett and I moved to LA.

What has the progression been like within the band since releasing your first single "Fear and Power" in July '21?

JR: Progression has been slow and steady I suppose. We've played some really great shows this year. We've also gained some rad fans from all over.

What are the origins of the 2022 single of "Crashing"?

JR: "Crashing" came from a demo written by me, Pat, and Jett. I think I started off with basic skeleton and it progressed from there working on the song together with guitars and bass.  Jett could probably go into a way better description of what the song means.

What can you say about the making of your 2022 debut LP "Visible Damage"? How did these ten songs come together at Wiggle World?

JR: So we knew Spencer from SF where he engineered Pat's other project Lawnmower. So we kept in touch with him and knew he would be great for this new project. And he happened to move to Pasadena which was great. Also, Pat knew of Dylan through Sharpie Smile (fka Kamikaze Palm Tree) and she was luckily available to help with drums on our record. Dylan and Spencer really took our demos to another level with their expertise as musicians.

Do you have any favorite memories from when you were all recording the tracks and putting the album together?

JR: Yes, getting to know each other and creating was very fun. There were plenty of stressful moments, but laughing and shooting the shit about everything is the best.

How did the songs progress from their initial demos? Were there any that turned out entirely different than you had expected while experimenting with ideas?

JR: I'd say maybe a few of the songs from "Visible Damage" are very similar to the demos that I or Pat had worked on but the others came together in a different way after we brought them to the studio. Whether it was a new drum part, song structure or adding some wild instruments or vocals on the fly. Two of the songs were created entirely at Wiggle World live.

Let's dive into some of the songs here. What can you tell me about the opening cut “Self Improvement"?

JR: "Self Improvement" was the first song me and Jett made in SF as a demo on a laptop. Its sounds almost exactly like the demo. I really like that one, the energy translates and is real fun to play live.

What were the inspirations behind “Visible Damage"?

JR: "Visible Damage" was written during a band rehearsal in Long Beach. I think I was interested in the simplicity of the guitar riff and the way Jett's vocals commanded the progression of the song.

How did "Fetishes" come about?

JR: "Fetishes" was born from a bass riff that Pat made. The studio really made that song come to life.

What was the idea behind the mash-up cover of The Prodigy's "Firestarter" and "Smack My Bitch Up"?

JR: Jett can answer that better. I thought we were just covering "Smack My Bitch Up," but I didn't know about "Firestarter" until she put lyrics over the demo.

What were the inspirations behind the cover art? 

JR: From what I remember the cover art is a screen grab of a woman from the The Peoples Temple cult. She's being transfixed by her leader during a sermon. I know we're all fascinated with cults, hysteria and the idea of self improvement being harmful to oneself, so it seemed to fit perfectly.

Have you been working on new songs for a follow up LP? If so, when can fans expect that to come out?

JR: We're wrapping up our new full length coming out hopefully by the end of the 2024. Going to start final mixes during the summer and then hopefully have some artwork done soon as well.  

"Visible Damage" is out now on Floating Mill Records.


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