Of all the great noise / noise-influenced groups to come out of the early ’00s, how many
are not only still kicking, but still getting better? The best (and probably only) group
to fit that bill is Sightings, a gifted guitar/bass/drums trio that has dismantled the
connotations of rock music and re-purposed its pieces into something else entirely. The
only thing that appears to be off-limits in Sightings’ world is predictability – starting
off with garage-crusted Harry Pussy-style rock assaults, Sightings have proven to be masters
of eerie tension, ambient soundscapes, proto-techno repetition and neo-industrial clank,
through the course of nine albums and a handful of singles. Their tenth, Terribly Well, is slated
for release on Dais Records next month, and if you’re not getting excited about it, go buy
some Green Day opera tickets or something. Sightings is what it’s all about.
Sightings have been a group for over a decade now. What has kept you from breaking up?
Jon (drums): I think there’s been a sort of mission to the group and a lot of common interests
musically, and then I think we’ve all been pretty happy with the music we make, so the
musical element probably drives the desire to keep playing together.
Mark (guitar, vocals): Yeah, we still like the music, so I guess that sort of helps with the
longevity. And while on occasion we might get on each other’s nerves like any other band
(or family), we generally still get along well after slogging it out in the rock wars for all this time.
Richard (bass): Short answer, beer. Longer answer is I think some of the music we have put together
in the last couple years is among our best. If we were doing mediocre shit we’d definitely stop.
What would you say the group’s “mission” is, that Jon references?
Richard: Beer. More serious, we all hated post-rock and emo. Really serious… from the start, I
wanted to have a ‘heavy’ band that wasn’t just rehashing hardcore and metal. Early
industrial was in the mix. But we definitely wanted to play instruments and not just
tweak knobs. I think the defining thing at a certain point was we were all interested
in exploring our instruments and really making them our own. Being players, while kicking
ass. Maybe Jon had another mission in mind?
Jon: When I mentioned some mission, it wasn’t all that specific, but I was thinking of when we
started out and we’d be listening to records and wanting to capture maybe a feeling of
tension or some musical idea and play it as a band with the instruments (and playing
ability) we had, and over time we developed our own vocabulary. And we could write songs.
And like Richard mentioned, we can still put together some good tunes, so we keep doing it.
You often get tagged as “experimental”… do you see Sightings that way? Do you feel any pressure
to keep pushing forward, to never do the same record twice?
Jon: In the sense that the conventional approach to guitar, bass and drums is replaced with
a more open architecture in the way we play songs and the sounds we use, it could be
called “experimental”. But it’s rock music in the end.
Mark: It’s a fairly loaded term, and I tend to avoid using it unless the subject of the band
comes up at a family Thanksgiving dinner or a job meeting. I definitely put pressure
on myself to keep on changing and developing my playing and don’t want to feel like
I’m repeating myself. That being said, it’s often a counterproductive mindset, and
sometimes the best shit just comes out of relaxed “let’s see what the hell happens”
situations in practice.
Richard: I think very little music counts as experimental these days. Within Sightings, we all
have pretty pronounced playing styles, so there’s only so far from a certain core
sound we are going to get. I don’t think our latest record – and there’s a second
record we recorded at the same time – is really Earth-shatteringly different from
the last couple records, but it might be an improvement in overall quality, and
definitely closer to the sound we want from a record right now.
Are there any records or tracks in particular for older records where you can listen
back to it now and be like “we absolutely nailed that”? For me, one of my personal favorite
Sightings memories is the first time I heard your debut LP. The opening track “Two
Thoughts” just kinda shocked me, that a band could allow such a song to happen after
such a casual “one two three four”. It felt really triumphant.
Richard: The song “Michigan Haters” was a one-off jam that sounded like perfect music to me.
That was the moment I knew we were really hitting it. “Guilty Of Wrecking” is off the
chain. “Anna May Wong” (that’s how it should have been spelled) on Absolutes fulfilled some
other higher order, we’re-not-stuck-playing-rock-music desire. Those were all recorded
in the same late summer/early fall, 2001. As far as the first album goes, still love
“Cuckoo”, but Mark hates it!
Jon: Every record has a few songs that I think are pretty amazing – good songs, well played, well
recorded and mixed. “Two Thoughts” would be one of my picks from that first record. Michigan Haters
and Absolutes are pretty solid all the way through. “Carry On” from End Times and “The Knotted House”
from Future Accidents are favorites.
How do you know when an album is “done”? Do you have a specific set of songs you go into
the studio to record usually, or is there a lot of improvising/jamming?
Richard: We love improvising in the studio and now seems like a good time to shill for Mr. Pat
Murano (ex?-No Neck, current Decimus) who has jammed with us on the last two studio
sessions. 3/4 of the new record includes him on synth. Some pieces we have worked
on previously with him, and some are improvs. Otherwise, we always go in with a lot
of songs, usually a mix of stuff that’s been vetted pretty hard live and some new
stuff we can have some fun trying out. And then some straight improv. I think City of Straw is
probably the only record that doesn’t have a one-off jam on it since the first one.
Jon: City Of Straw and Future Accidents were recorded at the same session and the improv tune is on Future Accidents.
As far as a record being “done”, we run out of time or money.
How much input do you guys have in each other’s performances? Like, will Jon ever recommend Mark
try a different guitar sound, or does Mark ever give Richard advice on what riffs he
should play along with you?
Jon: Once we have a song idea we’ve been playing, there is some talk about how to refine the tune,
and occasionally there are suggestions, but generally I would say no.
Mark: I’m often not too keen on telling other people what to do, and even recommendations strike
me as fascist when I’m in a certain mood (was I born this way or did my family do this
to me?). But, advice/input does happen, and the most heard refrain throughout the history
of band practices is, “Hey man, try to play less or keep it simpler”. Another fairly common
thing is someone will play something that he thinks is stupid, clichéd or ,and another
member of the band will say they like it.
Richard: We have been doing it for so long, there’s not a lot we need to say to one another. Even
if I have a negative opinion about, say, how Mark is approaching playing on a given night,
it’s pretty common for him to express the same opinion afterwards without me saying anything.
We do try to encourage each other to work with certain ideas or sounds when so inspired.
Positivity is always helpful, because it’s easy to get caught up in an attitude that nothing
you’re playing is new or different or good enough… maybe that also answers the last question.
Is your favorite Sightings record always the last one you’ve released, or is there one that you’re
just particularly proud of?
Jon: The Michigan Haters / Absolutes era (2002-3) was a good time for the band, so those two records
stand out. Those are 4-track records we recorded ourselves. As far as the studio records – Arrived In Gold,
Through The Panama, City Of Straw, Future Accidents and the new one, Terribly Well – yes, Terribly
Well sounds the best to me right now.
Mark: I would echo the Michigan Haters / Absolutes sentiment. I’m pretty sure though that
Terribly Well is the most consistent LP so far, but I’ll have to check back in a few years.
Richard: I would say definitely Michigan Haters and maybe Absolutes are the only records before this
new one that doesn’t have a glaring problem that makes me wince every time I think
of them. Mostly track choices. So much compromise of so many kinds goes into making
records, it’s hard to be satisfied. I laugh when people talk about records as if every
detail was intended by the artist… is it ever like that for any one? Sometimes the
accidents are happy ones. Sometimes the decisions are poor. Sometimes you run out of
time, sometimes money. Michigan Haters was the moment when I first felt like we were making
a real statement. It’s definitely my fave and the one I am most proud of.
Since there really aren’t many (any?) groups out there that sound like Sightings, you’re often put
on bills with rock bands, or with improvised noise… are there any particularly bands you
feel a kinship with, either for touring together or playing shows with?
Jon: We’ve often been labeled a “noise” group, which none of us would really agree with, but we
played the Minneapolis Noise Fest in 2010 and the audience was really frenetic. The group
before us was dragging metal around the room on concrete floors while we were setting up,
and when we played there was a lot of tension in the crowd, in a good way. People were
really engaged through the whole night of groups. One of the best nights of that tour for
me. My point being, the “rock” vs. “noise” thing doesn’t really matter to me, but that show
was an example of when the noise tag can be good. We played with Sword Heaven a few times
and that was always fun. More recently, we’ve played with Fat Worm Of Error and Bill Nace’s
groups, both out of Northampton, MA.
How did collaborating with Tom Smith come about? Was there a friendship prior to Sightings, or something
that came about afterward? Are future collaborations possible?
Mark: I met Tom when we were both working at Mondo Kim’s in ’99. We had some mutual friends and I had
certainly heard a lot about him through them. I’ll never forget reading his resume which
went back to like, ’76 or something, and it had pretty much any job you could conceive
of on it, all of them only lasting for four-to-five months. At the very end of it, he wrote
something to the effect of “As you see, I can do anything so you should hire me.” Hire him we
did, and I think the first time I met him there he was wearing a fucking Mark Ecko sweatshirt,
and I thought that about it in two ways: 1) this guy is fucking insane (he was in his mid 40s
rocking that shit) or 2) perhaps trying too hard to offend the more stylish denizens of the
East Village then. Or both. Either way, I was amused, and we hit it off real well and have
been friends ever since. He eventually met the other two guys; we did an aborted recording
session in 2000 (I think), recorded the Gardens of War album together, and have played a few shows
together here and there over the years.
You’ve all lived in New York for as long as Sightings has existed, right? Do you see yourself as a New
York band, or just a band? I’m wondering if you have any New York pride, or possibly see it
as a condition that has helped inspire Sightings.
Jon: We all met in New York and have existed as a band here, but none of us are from here. I don’t
personally have any sense that we’re a “New York” band.
Richard: On one hand, I don’t feel like there’s anything particularly New York about Sightings. The
bands I most loved and idolized growing up weren’t NYC bands, and other than a couple years in
the early ’00s, I haven’t felt much a part of any of the hundred or so NYC music scenes. On the
other hand, I think it’s disingenuous to say living in New York is not a part of who we are as
a band. We’re intense people, it’s an intense city, we’re an intense band. We choose the grind
of the city to make non-commercial music that can’t possibly get more popular. We have made this
choice for almost fifteen years. It’s all intertwined, but I can’t give you a pithy line about
Is there anything you still really want to do with Sightings that you haven’t done yet? Touring with a
certain band, playing shows in a foreign place, a gatefold triple LP of cover songs… anything?
Mark: I’d love to visit Australia or South America, go back to Japan or maybe play Tehran. As long
as we can continue to get on planes to play shows and not lose a ton of cash, I’m happy.
Jon: I would agree with Mark. Australia and New Zealand would be cool.
Richard: Still hoping for that album I am completely happy with… but maybe not being satisfied is
a big part of the band.
Normally when a great band goes from sometimes-active to mostly-inactive
status, it’s a cause for great sadness. Not so with the case of Birds Of
Maya, though – guitarist Mike Polizze’s Purling Hiss is God’s gift to melodic
rock, and bassist Jason Killinger’s Spacin’ is the weed God smoked while
wrapping it. After some sporadic live shows, Deep Thuds made the
sweltering summer of 2012 tolerable, grooving with the spirit of the simplest
Velvet Underground and Hot Tuna licks, and resulting in an unpretentious,
captivating rock record suitable for noon or midnight. Killinger’s frontwards
ball-cap merely hints at the comfortable, casual vibe that Spacin’ exudes,
with just enough kraut-rock dalliances and artsy flourishes to keep the record
nerds at half-smirk while the local townies dance. Killinger doesn’t do
interviews, but I got him to speak about Spacin’ anyway! I sure am slick.
How long has Spacin’ existed? I feel like I’ve seen the name around for a
few years, and the occasional show, but I think it was pretty different
from Deep Thuds…
I’ve made late-night songs and recordings in my basement for many years. In
December of 2010 I recorded a couple of songs that sounded good together and
called it Spacin’. I convinced Ben Leaphart and Mike Polizze (the other two-
thirds of Birds of Maya) to play some really strange live stuff for a show and
that was the first time it became a band. Some of that stuff made its way onto
Deep Thuds in sections. Most of the album and live shows are comprised of myself
attempting to play guitar and sing, Paul Sukeena playing all of the good lead
guitar playing, Sean Hamilton on bass, and Eva Killinger on drums. We’ve
also been a ten-piece band for a couple of shows. Spacin’ is all of this.
So basically as long as it’s you on guitar and vocals, it’s Spacin’? Do you play
the same songs no matter if you’re a three-piece or a ten-piece, or does the
lineup dictate what you’ll play?
It’s almost always the four-piece band, we just sometimes do it other ways or
are open to doing it in other ways. Sometimes it’s the same songs, sometimes
it’s much different versions of already recorded songs. We played at the
Institute of Contemporary Art here in Philadelphia last fall as a ten-piece
band, half of which was percussion. We wrote a weird afrobeat-sounding song
that we were going to play for twenty minutes, but when all was said and done,
the song went for nearly an hour. None of us realized it was happening.
Was it weird playing in an art museum? Do you think Spacin’ exists in that sort
of avant-garde music continuum, or are you more of just a band geared for
The only art world we’re ever really involved in isn’t far removed from the
backyard barbeques, so we’re into both. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
So did the Rolling Stones really get in touch about your album cover? Were you
psyched that they somehow noticed, or was it more of a pain?
They contacted Richie Records. When Richie told me, I was indignant at the
idea that I couldn’t paint a mouth and tongue on our album cover if I wanted
to. I casually attempted to convince all of my friends that this was the result
of our grotesque economic machine that pressures people to syphon words, images
and ideas away from us and convert them into their own personal profit,
indefinitely. To which they all seemed to respond “Yeah, but you painted the
Rolling Stones logo.” Ha ha. So I changed it.
I know you are a graphic designer by trade… are there any other iconic rock
logos you are a big fan of? If copyright laws didn’t exist, what logo would you
When I was a skater kid in central Pennsylvania I used to draw punk logos
on my closet door in colored chalk for some reason. I would try to copy the
logos and typefaces of bands from advertisements in either Thrasher or
Sessions. I definitely got good at drawing the DRI guy, Dead Kennedys
logo, Misfits skull and all that. That was the first time I ever really paid
attention to graphic design. I don’t think I’d ever incorporate another bands
logo into our own artwork again though. I do have a pin on my backpack that is
the universal “No Bullshit” sign. I might use that.
If guitars never existed, what kinda music do you think you’d be listening to?
I suppose jazz could’ve happened without guitar. I don’t listen to much jazz
(yet) besides Pharoah Sanders or Alice Coltrane or stuff that everyone knows.
Also, a lot of Brian Eno stuff doesn’t have guitar, I love Brian Eno, but I
don’t think that’s what you are asking. This is the most difficult question
I’ve ever been asked.
When did you first start playing guitar? I know you came up as a bassist…
I taught myself how to play guitar in the late ’90s when I graduated high school,
but I’ve still never actually learned how to play chords correctly. I think I
only ever play two strings at a time. Fortunately Paul is a much better guitar
player than I am, so it makes a cool balance. Bass comes much easier to me, so
Simplicity seems to be a key component of the Spacin’ sound. Is that something
you purposely try to reign in, or is this just as complex as you can write?
There will never be a Spacin’ prog-rock opus, right?
I like a lot of music that I know we can’t pull off in good taste, but I
don’t want Spacin’ to be any one thing. I would rather it be without genre
and hard to define. I’m not saying that’s what it is, but that’s what I would
like it to be. Loose in every way.
Are you working on new Spacin’ material? Any plans for another record?
I have tons of songs that are waiting for us to learn them as a band. We have
a lot of stuff we’ve done since Deep Thuds and I’m constantly recording
everything. Sean was leaving my house one day and says “We should totally
start recording for the next album” and I say “We have been”. Ha ha. The next
record will happen sometime this year.