Salami Rose Joe Louis interview: the recent Brainfeeder signing unpacks the 8 Dimensions of her new sci-fi concept album
Salami Rose Joe Louis is the moniker of Lindsay Olsen, a musician that has become a fixture of the Bay Area underground scene in California, playing in several acts and releasing music on local label Hot Record Society. This caught the attention of Brainfeeder, who signed the young artist to release her new album Zdenka 2080, which just came out on Friday.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Salami Rose to discuss Zdenka 2080, an ambitious sci-fi concept album – but I had no idea how truly ambitious the scope of her vision is. As we continued to talk about Zdenka 2080 she revealed that she had originally envisioned it as a comic book or, even better, an anime – and even more impressively she has the world and plot fleshed out to a deep degree.
You get a strong understanding of the interwoven storylines in listening to album, but there’s a lot more happening in the story that Salami Rose couldn’t fit into the music – read on below to find out all about the 8 Dimensions of Zdenka 2080.
Obviously you had two albums before this one, but for most people like me Zdenka 2080 is going to be the introduction to your music, so I have to ask the obvious question first: where does the name Salami Rose Joe Louis come from?
So when I was not born yet, my parents told my sister she could name me. She was about 3 and she loved salami, and I guess roses too, so she named me Salami Rose. So my parents call me Salami Rose, so that's where it comes from - it's not my legal name, but it's my nickname I guess. And then somewhere along the way in the journey of life someone started calling me Joe Louis. Then the things combined to make a super name that takes up the entire space of every flyer. That's Salami Rose Joe Louis.
I see. So you're not a boxing fan at all?
No, it was just something someone called me and it kinda stuck. Obviously I've a lot of respect for the boxer, but it's not a direct influence from that, it's just a weird nickname that people started calling me.
Your previous two albums both mention sauce [Son of a Sauce and Zlaty Sauce Nephew] - what is the sauce?
I have a special sauce that I make, and I think it's a really brilliant sauce - I don't mean to sound cocky, but it's a great sauce. I wanted to start a sauce company, so I thought the name of the sauce company would be Son of a Sauce. Meanwhile my friend convinced me to release the tape of all my music that I had been making, and I decided not to start a sauce company and decided to name my album Son of a Sauce. So that's where that came from. And then the second album I kept being really into thinking about music as sauce, so I just added sauce to the title.
Can I ask what's in the sauce?
It's kinda like a romesco sauce; it's got hazelnuts (or almonds), bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, paprika, chilli, cayenne pepper, salt, red wine vinegar... I just told you all the ingredients. It's vegan - I'm not vegan, but it is vegan and it's really good.
What do you put it on?
You can put it on anything. I like to make a breakfast sandwich with sauce, egg, avocado, maybe sauerkraut.... you can put it on rice, pasta, ice cream - just kidding.
Each to their own I suppose. You have worked as a planetary scientist, is that right?
I studied earth and planetary science, but my specialty was in ocean chemistry, so I was working in a lot of oceanography labs. I think at the time I was working in a lab that looked at Nitrogen in the water, but I've been bouncing from lab to lab to be honest. I kept going back and forth, like I'd quit and then go back to it.
So science has always has been a fascination for you?
Yeah, I love science, and I loved studying it so much. I think lab work is a little more monotonous and less romantic than the actual studying of science. I had a hard time seeing the vision in lab work.
You said your friend convinced you to release your first tape, so did you have no expectation of where you'd get to?
Yeah! I'd been making this weird music on my MV-8800, and everyone in my crew at the time just thought it was super weird and I thought it was just music that I would make for myself, and I liked it, it's super zany. Then I had a friend who runs this label Hot Record Society, and he's like "you gotta release a tape!" and I was like "no no no" and he was like "come on! I have this label, let's do it!" And so I think he's 100% responsible for me releasing my solo music.
And then were you surprised a few years later when Brainfeeder came along?
That's still blowing my mind. I'm still freaking out about it. I feel so blessed; I have no idea why they wanted to sign me. Actually someone who works for Brainfeeder was at my first solo show years ago. He was a Soundcloud follower and he messaged me about it, so he's been following me for a really long time. I think that was a month after I dropped my first album Son of a Sauce. Over the years we've been talking and then eventually somehow they decided to sign me, which is so exciting. For me it's a crazy crazy dream, because I think Flying Lotus first inspired me to start making beats, it's just so insane. Then like George Clinton, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Thundercat - all of my serious heroes, it's like mindblowing. I get heart palpitations thinking about it.
Alright so let's go on to talking about the record, Zdenka 2080. Is that a Czech name, Zdenka?
Yeah! It's my mom's name, but it doesn't have anything to do with her. I was looking for a name for my characters, and there's this character in the story who's the artist responsible for these paintings in the concept album. I really wanted a name to represent the character, and I've always loved my mom's name so I thought I would just use that.
Right! And 2080 is the year in which it's set.
Yeah, exactly. It's just some kind of futuristic year. I love the number 8, so I always try to include 8s in things.
Yeah, 8 is a crucial number in the story of the album. You're a sci-fi fan, who are your main influences from that realm?
I guess a couple of years ago, when I first started making the album, I started reading a lot of Octavia Butler, and I was really fascinated with the way she uses sci-fi as a platform to discuss real political and social issues, and also it's so creative, creating these new worlds and fantasy. I like the way she was very intentional with the way she discussed it. And then when I was reading this totally out there author Gene Wolfe, his stuff is so dense and he creates insanely out there worlds. He was a huge influence for the intricacy of creating a new world.
So Zdenka 2080 started as a comic, is that right?
Yeah! Well, actually I was trying to score a movie in my head, I wanted it to be an anime. Hopefully maybe some day I could animate it, but that's a very expensive and time consuming process. So I decided to storyboard it out for a comic book.
Cool! What's the status of that?
There's an amazing artist who's actually based in London named Avalon Nuovo and she's done a couple of pages from it, and we're thinking we're gonna release a page at a time and then over time make a comic book. One of the pages, which is now a poster, is going to be included in the vinyl.
Look forward to that. But for now we have the album, which tells the story, but not a whole story, because it's got a 'To Be Continued' at the end. Are you hoping that listeners engage with the story?
I hope so! It was really meaningful for me to write. I hope people enjoy it, yeah.
The sun plays a big part in it, it reminds me of Sunshine, where they send a bunch of people into space to try and reignite the sun. Where does your fascination with the sun come from?
I was thinking in terms of heat and cold, because I obsess a lot over humanity's effect on the climate; the ways in which we could accidentally cause this cataclysmic event. And then thinking about the sun playing a character with the Earth, as this mother and child relationship with each other.
In the beginning the protagonist, Salami, is being stripped of her "given light"; is that her vitality?
I was thinking about how sometimes people have this sparkle in their eye, and I was thinking about whenever I'm feeling really demoralised by everything the analogy is feeling "dulled down" or "opiated," whereas when you have that energy you're really sparkling.
But in your story on the album modern life has dulled that light in people?
In this story human beings are physically and spiritually connected to the sun, so when the super elite take the heat away by using it for their own greed the humans left behind start to fade as the sun fades.
This is all set out in the second track 'Octagonal Room', which is told by the narrator?
Yeah it’s the narrator of the story; that's me but pitched down.
The 'Octagonal Room' is the centre point of this whole story is that right?
Well, that's the beginning of Side A, but Side B really takes a turn. Basically after Salami's travelling through the different dimensions she meets this character Zee, and Zee shows her this window that he's looking through - and we get to Side B.
On Side B we get a zoomed-out vision of the Earth - "the Earth Creature" - and we can see that it's this creature that has a brain that's the Octagonal Room, and those are actually the thoughts of the Earth Creature. Each dimension coincides with the different thoughts of this Earth Creature. There's an artist, Zdenka, who's painting all these different paintings, thus affecting the thoughts. So then the young protagonist Salami goes on this journey to find the artist Zdenka to try to convince her to paint more positive imagery.
I see. So what kind of things is she painting?
These kind of dark paintings that are super gory. She's gone through it, and this affects the actions of the human beings. The over-arching theme is that positive imagery affects our brains, and what we're soaking up in images from the media really does affect our actions and we should try to promote positive imagery. So that was the whole intention behind this weird sci-fi story.
Have you spent a lot of time thinking about backstories for these characters like Zdenka?
I've thought about it a little bit. I was thinking that Zdenka is from the Cosmic Dawn, which is this time right after the Big Bang when all these elements started rapidly collapsing into the elements we know today. It was this time of crazy chaos, so I was imagining that she was from this time, and that where she meets Zee, who is another character. In this album we don't really get into why they know each other, but Zee definitely knows Zdenka... I've been scheming for the sequel [laughs]...
I guess it doesn't matter if I spoil the ending, but basically at the end of the story Zdenka manifests Salami meeting up with her by painting her into her own dimension. So Salami starts to float down this river towards Zdenka, and then at the same time the Metropolis Spaceship where the elite were going to the other sun, they had to turn around because they too were fading with the sun. As they're coming back they crash into the meeting place of Zdenka and Salami, and out of the rubble their heads have turned into paintings, which is… tricky... but Zdenka and Salami are nowhere to be found, because Zdenka has been launched back into the Cosmic Dawn and Salami has been launched into the Keyboard Dimension...
The Keyboard Dimension?!
Wow... and that's just one more album? Or two?
I might release an EP of Salami in the Keyboard Dimension, we'll see. That would be only keyboard work... we'll see.
So having put that much thought into it, I wonder if the part where you're speaking in Cloud language if there's actual meaning to those gibberish words?
Yeah, she's in the Cloud Dimension, and to be honest I just thought it would be fun to sing in a cloud language [laughs]. How I did that song is I recorded vocals in normal time, and then I flipped it and reverse, and then I tried to re-record singing the syllables that it sounded like. So that's how that language got created.
Do the clouds have a role in the narrative?
They might play a role in the sequel, but for now they're just taking her on this journey and also adding a little bit of disorientation to her, because they're taking her in and spinning her round on her head. The next song is when she really gets into feeling confused and lost, which is where we get to 'Nostalgic Montage' where she's singing about like "what the fuck is going on?!"
Let's talk about 'Nostalgic Montage' a bit more, which was the first song shared from the record, the first song of yours to come out on Brainfeeder. Why did you choose that?
I think it's probably one of the more accessible songs, and I really love that song too. I was happy for that to be the first song, it doesn't quite get into the weird just yet, and it definitely came from a place deep into my heart.
It definitely caught my attention straight away, it’s very serene and dreamy - I wouldn't have thought it was a moment of stress and confusion, as it is for Salami in the course of the story.
The idea there is she falls through this cumulous portal into the same Octagonal Room with the eight dimensions, but she'd just been through all this weird dimensional travel and so she's kind of confused and a little lost, but she's kind of singing this song as an "I don't know what's going on and I really want to go home and show my friends this crazy new dimensional travel," but at the same time what does returning even mean? Because the world she left is a slowly fading world, where everyone's fading away. That's something I think about a lot too; I'm always nostalgic for childhood, but what does it even mean to return to that? I'm a different human now.
'Meet Zee in 3-D' is our introduction to this other main character.
He's feeling very confused because he's just discovered this window that flips a lid on his whole reality, and he's struggling with concepts of what it means to be an artist because he's discovered that these paintings affect the thoughts of the Earth Creature, so he's having an existential crisis.
You've got multiple storylines going on, so we switch back to the Metropolis Spaceship next, where they're realising they're fading away but all they're concerned with is smoothies, Mai Tais, socks… it's like the 1% basically, right?
Yeah. I sometimes like being a little bit silly, so that song is definitely that side of myself. I also love smoothies so...
We're then on to Side B, which you've said is more of wide angle look. And looking at the lyrics it does seem more like a contemplative style than storytelling; the first track is called 'Sitting With Thoughts' for example.
Most of the second half of the album was written in a time when I was feeling like pretty existential, I guess. Pretty overwhelmed with the state of the world and all of our heartaches and problems. It definitely felt like it was coming from a more emotional side, whereas the first half is more playful.
There's a shift musically as well, isn't there? It's a little more subdued?
It gets a little more contemplative. For example, one of the tracks 'Transformation of the Molecule' is just an instrumental, and I meant it to be more meditative and really focused on just creating a soundscape for the ideas. She's almost collapsing at this point, so it's something to get you back to square one and rejuvenate you.
One of the songs is called 'Peculiar Machine', what is the peculiar machine?
I imagined it as basically the painter's palette that they float on in 'Meet Zee In 3-D'. She discovers this metal box that opens up like petals and it spins around and forms one of those painter's palettes. So she's flying on one of these painter's palette things, so that's the 'Peculiar Machine'.
Wow, I really do hope that the comic comes out because there's so many cool visuals! The Fifth Dimension is called 'Diatoms and Dinoflagellates' - does that have anything to do with your field of science?
A little bit, yeah. I always thought they looked so cool on a microscope. I had a job for a minute where I was looking at seawater through a microscope for many hours a day, so I definitely think they're some of the coolest critters. So visually I thought it would be cool to incorporate them. In the song before she's floating down this waterfall and then the waterfall disappears. Then we find her underwater and these giant diatoms are singing to her. It's a very murky and spooky environment.
That is scary, a giant diatom would be really scary. There's quite a dense spoken text in that song. Did you take that from somewhere?
My friend speaks on that song. I think he got it from different articles.
Actually the history of that song is that I'm in this 8-piece experimental band called Science Band, where we have science facts over weird songs, so that song was actually from that. But when I was writing the story I realised that I really wanted to fit it into the album.
At the beginning of Zdenka 2080 you space out the dimensions every few tracks, but then towards the end the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Dimensions are in consecutive tracks, is there any reason for that?
When I was thinking about this album I wanted the general flow to sort of really speed up at the end, so it's just like boom boom boom. Some of the songs at the end are also kind of crazy and your heart rate goes up a little bit because I wanted it to feel like it's coming to this explosion at the end. Sort of like entropy, getting more chaotic. So that was the intention behind it happening in succession.
The big explosion of the Metropolis Spaceship hitting the Octagonal Room happens in 'Collision, Gravity, Time', were you tempted to put a big explosive sound effect in there?
I was! I was! I have some iterations of the album where I did have more sound effects and stuff like that, but I ended up cutting them because I wanted to be more musical with it. But maybe one day I'll release the outtakes.
It ends on 'Cosmic Dawn / Eighth Dimension' before 'To Be Continued' and it's a really good ending because I want to know what happens next!! Have you started actually writing it?
Yeah, yeah! I'm about maybe 5 songs deep of the sequel.
And this is separate to the Keyboard Dimension?
Yeah the Keyboard Dimension I have maybe a couple of songs for that. I have this big catalogue of music that didn't make the cut for this album, so I might take some of it and sort of repurpose them. Then I was so excited at the end of this project that I ended up just writing five songs of the sequel right off the bat. I'm excited about those.
When you're writing something that's as involved as this do you have to write it in order?
For this one it was a mixture, but for the most part I wrote it in order. I would write the script out and then try to fit the music to it, which was a really cool project and unlike anything I've ever done before. It really felt like scoring a movie or something. That part was a lot of fun.
Let me test you by asking if you can describe all of the 8 dimensions in your fictional universe.
The First Dimension are these water droplets that come from the ground to the sky, and they have little body parts inside them. When she finds them she fits them together and they form these weird iterations of herself, because they're her body parts. And there's this floating lake in the sky, it's this weird flip dimension where sounds are colours, colours are sounds, the sky is the ground, that sort of things. So that's the First Dimension, but I didn't really write that all into the song - but it was in my brain.
The Second Dimension is the Cloud Dimension. The Third Dimension is when we meet Zee, so that's a lot of rolling hills, it's kind of like Zee's domain. It's very colourful because he's also a painter, whenever they travel they jump on his painter's palette and it spins around and the colours go into the sky and create this crazy visual tornado. Then the Fourth Dimension is 'Peculiar Machine', which is like a big snowy tundra, where there's nothing inside but this little machine. I believe the Fifth Dimension is...
I can't imagine how you keep this all straight, do you just have pages sprawled all over your walls at home?
Yeah I definitely started looking totally zany. I just had pages all over my floor. I was drawing a lot too, I'm a horrible artist, but I thought I would draw what each dimension would be. So I have the comic book completely storyboarded...
It's going to be quite a process to get it all to the final...
Yeah, but I think it would be fun... When I was writing it I was maybe a little bit delusional, but I was imagining a full anime, so I had each visual component completely detailed out to the second.
Wow. Anyway, let's finish of the Dimensions. The Fifth Dimension is 'Diatoms and Dinoflagellates'.
So that's the underwater Dimension.
Sixth is 'Transformation of the Molecule'...
Yeah so that's an interesting Dimension where with each strum of the guitar she shape shifts into a different being, whether it's the Big Bang or a table or an eagle, she's just rapidly shape-shifting.
Does she have control?
She doesn't have control. We find out later that during that time Zdenka is quickly sketching these images then crumpling them up and throwing them away, so she's manifesting Salami's reality in that moment. And then she ends up on this stream, and floats down this beautiful peaceful stream for a little bit. Then at the end of the stream we see the artist's house, The Seventh Dimension: The Artist's Dimension, it's very bucolic. But inside her house there's a lot of pain and sadness, which is why she's creating all this dark imagery.
And then finally, the Eighth is Cosmic Dawn.
Right, so that's the time right after the Big Bang with the Hydrogen and Helium collapsing.
Cool! So how is it translating all of this to the live stage?
It's really fun! I have a really wonderful band that I've been playing with for a while, and it's so cool to see the songs transform in the live setting. My favourite to play is 'Octagonal Room', it's taken on a whole new life and it's so fun. But there's so much of it, and often times when I write things I forget how to play them, so it's been a big process going back and learning all the things that I wrote. In 'Collision, Gravity, Time' I wrote the keyboard part but then I sped it up, so trying to learn to play that fast has been really fun.
Are you trying to play the whole album?
That's what I hope, I think that would be really fun. But I have a lot to learn. One song that I'm really excited about is 'To Be Continued' because my friend plays violin and has been playing parts over it, and with the live drums it sounds really awesome.
You've got some pretty big dates coming up with Flying Lotus.
Yeah, that's crazy. I can't believe it. He's such a hero of mine, I need to learn how to not get super nervous around him.
We already mentioned a couple of sci-fi authors that have been quite influential, are there any other media that have influenced this?
There are a lot of movies that were really influential, Tekkonkinkreet is a wonderful influence, Embrace Of The Serpent blew my mind. I guess just movies that have a beautiful way of presenting a story and have a meaning and are constantly seeking.
Salami Rose Joe Louis’ new album Zdenka 2080 is out now on Brainfeeder.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 3rd September 2019