An Interview with Silk Defect

By Autumn Adams

Silk Defect’s Luxury of Dirt EP was one of the best final quarter additions to an otherwise tumultuous year. Fascinating combinations of bleeding edge sound design and emotive vocal performance left us wanting more. We decided to chat with this somewhat off kilter pop artist and pick his brain about what went into his debut and what is to come:

AA — Let me begin by just asking you to introduce yourself to anyone reading and lay out what it is that you do in your preferred terms?

SD — My name is Bradley Coy and I’m a SoCal native and have been making music and performing it for over a decade now. Currently I’ve been working as Silk Defect which sort of grew out of an attempt to move beyond my prior public output which was wordless, primarily beatless ambient music. I did that for 5 years and ended up feeling constrained by it, restricted from using the full range of my abilities and from doing something more vulnerable or honest or concise. I eventually just had too many feelings and things to say that built up over time where they couldn’t be said the same way without words and voice. Fundamentally Silk Defect is both that and an attempt to integrate the innovations of contemporary experimental electronic music in the context of vocal driven pop music.

AA — As your monikers and artistic practice as a musician have shifted you’ve relocated several times and often changes in sound and name have been made in tandem, distinctly parallel to these moves. What in your decidedly west coast residences do you feel has seeped into your work before and since Silk Defect? How much do you find the next record, song, or technical horizon in your pursuit aids you as a vehicle for ideation with regard to your perseverance and survival as a person? What takes you from San Diego to Portland and then back to SoCal while still out of reach your hometown? Did Silk Defect as a burgeoning project factor into setting your sights on LA?

SD — My mother was a travel agent her whole life. Some of my first obsessive interests in preschool, early childhood, were transportation, unfamiliar territories, vehicles and so forth and alongside that I was fascinated by space and astronomy. I came up with family members rooted all over the US and that might just be a west coast thing, a region of transplants and rejects dropping everything to find their truth. The west coast appeals to me as a crossroads. It promises wealth and ascension and that attracts the jovial wanderer types but clearly leaves behind many skeletons. The juxtaposition of extremities and disjunctions make Cali resemble a microcosm of the outer world sometimes. Maybe this is also true about the east coast, but I imagine it can only be more dramatic and pronounced here. California has some of the highest elevations present in the continental U.S. and some of the deepest valleys. These extremes are stark and visible and come with a gravity that’s easy to internalize when growing up in it.

In approaching art it’s difficult not to unconsciously embody some reflection of these extremes. Risk, pressure, and unfamiliarity are in the air and can serve as almost alchemical revitalizing forces. There’s this proximity to Hollywood that maybe lends an impulse for the grandiose. Being enveloped in media industry opulence elevates the mundane to heroic, mythical, and even religious statures. Music, to me, has always been a vehicle for leaping towards the mystic and transcendental. There’s something about intentionally uprooting yourself and your existing identity, three sheets to the wind. It’s transformative in multiple senses. I want to make things that allow me to grapple with how I navigate the world and broaden my horizons of it. Put a magnifying glass on existing personal blind spots and maybe understand myself better. Creating for me is a conscious nod towards affirmation of living and a vehicle for transformation. It’s also a way for me to articulate a psychic continuity, a personal and collective history alike and to cope with the pressures of modern living by attempting to distill them in a way that’s beautiful and meaningful.

Living in other cities has given me a newfound appreciation for my roots and the return to SoCal has cemented my realization that much of what I was searching for may have been nearer than I originally thought. Living in the Northwest transformed my revulsion towards the sun into a reverence – Los Angeles in the wake of Portland situates me near those elements of California I never appreciated. I see coming back as an act of trajectory rather than regression. In tandem with how recursive L.A. feels for me now, Silk Defect is me coming full circle in a way, back to writing actual songs though still integrating everything I learned from deconstructing those conventions.

AA — The massive amount of sounds that ended up embedded across the length of Luxury of Dirt were sourced while you were still living in Portland. Tell me about the specifics of the setting in which you began to arrange the record and how it influenced you. Do you feel like that place is in the record, haunting it in some way? Does the thought of recording new work in a new place help you feel like you will ground yourself in LA?

SD — I can owe the existence of Silk Defect in general to my time in Portland. Silk Defect as a moniker came directly from crude graffiti painted on the freeway overpass I would pass every night after getting off late from the dishwashing job I was working at when I first moved there. It was cryptic, unassuming, and bore no sign of stylization. The handwriting was barely legible, and it bore no connection to any obvious origin or meaning yet it stuck somewhere in my head. It felt as if it materialized at the exact breaking point of a desire which had built up to build a body of work distinguished from what I had been doing and in that way it was the only appropriate symbol to lend the project. Portland itself feels ghostly, it’s a very ‘between’ kindof place. I recorded a lot of the earlier material in a cement building at the heart of the industrial districts located directly on the railroad so these kinds of environments were a big part of this project’s foundation and inspiration – abandoned factories, decaying buildings, echoing trains, etc.

My girlfriend and I moved to Portland with the hope of establishing a domestic space and finding an artistic community but for better or worse, I spent the entirety of my two years there mostly isolated and only played 2 shows the whole time. Most of the time I spent in Portland involved obsessively recording music in isolation and working dead-end jobs, often bouncing between them. The lack of sunlight was hard for me and the winters were brutal because I worked night shifts meaning I only saw sunlight a few hours a day sometimes Music was truly my only outlet at the time, which was a blessing and a curse but in retrospect I appreciate those days. The actual recording process for Luxury of Dirt took place in the basement of the house we lived in along with 3 other roommates – and this space haunts the record in a similar way. There were lots of eerie feelings we would all get in that spot and since it was built in the 20s it felt like a portal. In fact, one woman I knew after ‘investigating’ told me that it WAS a portal and that the house was infested with all 72 demons of the goetia who attached themselves to all of us. Whether or not this is true, there have been a variety of circumstances surrounding the making of this record/project that felt mystifying, beyond me, and putting me into a position of a receptacle rather than at the driver’s seat.

I’m thoroughly excited to be in Los Angeles and to see the imprint it leaves on my work, and I definitely see myself building a life here if I can manage it. Los Angeles is unique in the sense that it is vast enough that there are decades of inspiration to be drawn from here. In Portland, and San Diego there was a sense of being tapped out and reaching dead ends but Los Angeles is expansive to the point where I feel there is limitless room for growth despite the pitfalls that come with those kinds of aims. The challenge of just surviving here is enough to really reinforce my commitment to my work, and I hope to challenge myself in similar ways within it.

AA — I know the visual aspects of this record were heavily thought out and based around images you kept dear during the process of recording. Is there much encoded that you wish for others to be able to unpack when hearing and interacting with your work or do you hope that these things come across more subliminally?

SD —The things I aim for on the visual end of things are meant to be more visceral but there are a few central elements. I liked the idea of grounding the more ethereal and incorporeal sources of inspiration in objects and physical space – my mother always had Catholic relics around and still remains a deep, serious practitioner but it gave me a close connection to icons. They contain a sense of mystery and timelessness yet remain things that exist within your day to day spaces as objects, bearing a more personal and immediate connection through serving as timestamps. I had the Virgin Mary painting that was included in the bottom left photo on the cover since I was a child and my mother was very into Marian apparitions while I was growing up, specifically the Medjugorje ones. She went on religious pilgrimage there multiple times and took many relics to be blessed by her, including that painting among many other things. I like the idea of a space or object becoming charged, animated in their ability to be a container for willful intent and emotional resonance. There were many objects that I placed in the images that were meant to serve as talismans, even the choice to take the photos on a polaroid camera were rooted in a similar urge to have a physical link to a space I felt I was exploring that seemed so non-physical.

Many of these things aren’t visually apparent but certain objects being in the shot lended themselves as an anchor of that moment, things I could take with me and relate to as a physical embodiment of the record and what it meant to me. The fireplace and pokers in the living room of our house always stuck out to me visually and in a similar way, I wanted these environments to be a physical backdrop to the music. In that way, Luxury of Dirt felt like a conjuration, the physical objects and environments it grew around and within served as a bridge between territories.

AA — As you have been making and releasing music throughout most of your teen years and now into your twenties, you have some familiarity with midwifing an artifact that eventually makes it out to others and then moving onto the next thing.Surely as you’ve grown these releases have become tied for you, to periods of turmoil and growth personally. How much does a release take out of you? On a perfectionist tip, when do you normally know that a tweak that could be made is actually a lesson for the next record and not an opportunity to stall the current incarnation of you? Kanye famously was “fixing” Wolves well beyond the release of Pablo; how do you reckon with the cost of spending so much time with something that will inevitably be solidified upon release and left in the arms of another?

SD — Music can be cool like that because it allows you to document not only your progression as an artist but also as a person. I have always had the tendency to thrust the entirety of myself into a creative process, often with much consequence to my personal life. My fixation on making records and making them according to often brutal personal standards has had a way of taking center stage in my life going back to high school. At the critical time when most people reflect on vocation, career, and college I was in the difficult situation of knowing exactly what I wanted to do from early on. I opted from the jump to just enter the work force at the entry level and throw all my free time into art. Lots of people my age have degrees or career milestones to look back on in tracking their development – I just have bands, records, projects and a lot of shitty jobs. I think this adds a different level of urgency for me, of really wanting to ensure that these sacrifices justify their costs.

It sounds melodramatic but when I was in the thick of Luxury of Dirt I was forgetting to eat, working for as much as almost 12 hours straight for days at a time, chain smoking, drinking excessive amounts of coffee and staying up into the early hours of the morning. At the peak of my inspiration, working on music feels compulsive, almost like life or death. I can get so enthralled in recording that it interferes with my ability to take care of myself, and this is something I’ve been working on balancing out better as I get older. Trying to come to making records from a gentler place, not reveling in unnecessary levels of personal difficulty. Something a little more sustainable. Half of this battle is reconciling my constantly shifting goal-posts – I want to challenge myself. When I reach what I think of as a personal peak it’s easy for me to distance myself from it for the sake of finding new ones. In that sense I’m a biased narrator; my standards themselves seem to come from a place of impossibility, in a way where they can be cultivated to be intentionally unreachable.

Ironically, this allows me to escape the often self-imposed trap this scrupulosity lends and allow myself to let go of a project. Once it’s published, it doesn’t belong to you in the same way and I think that can be a way to purge the stasis of circular self criticism. It helps to have these artifacts as a means of solidifying stages of development, and publicizing them transforms the neurosis and isolation that often comes with creativity into something that is relational rather than insular, reaching outward. This feedback loop is what gives me strength in propelling me to the next one, hoping that I’ll be getting better every time.

AA — The years preceding you beginning to make music as Silk Defect were primarily spent on your more ambient work under the name Thomas Walsh. Despite the obvious differences between the two projects, was there anything you carried over from the previous project in terms of mindset or approach? Was it jarring to move between making these two different types of work at first? How do you feel the shift affected your first outing as Silk Defect overall?

SD — I originally got into recording in a context that was more similar to what I do now with Silk Defect where it was an open-ended approach to a certain kind of pop music. Ironically, it was through feeling boxed-in by attempting to learn more conventional music stylings that led me to my eventual interest in industrial and experimental music. It had always been an goal of mine to come back to writing songs and full scale arrangements for vocal-centric music but I was definitely captivated by the ethos of pushing things like timbre, texture, physicality and a certain level of abstraction to the forefront where an almost sacral quality shines through.

Making industrial tinged ambient that played with the tension between tonal and non tonal sounds gave me the ability to expand my palate of the timbres possible in my arrangements. In that sense, removing words and overt percussive elements allowed me to interact with the raw materials of sound-making that I now have the skill to piece back together into a cohesive song. Focusing on texture and atmosphere in a vacuum have given me greater insight in incorporating them into elements that go beyond them. After about 5 years away from conventional percussive and vocal elements, it was a huge challenge to relearn getting my drums and vocals down. It ended up being a difficult attempt to bridge the gap, but one that I feel brings me closer to what I’ve always wanted to be doing. I think it shows in the record, there is a huge emphasis on the textural and sound design components in LoD where the vocals may not take center stage as much as I would like them to going forward. There’s an ethereal and spacious quality to the debut that feels strongly indebted to my ambient work, and even things like the predominate lack of conventional song structure came naturally from the compositions I was used to making before. My approach to percussion is also strongly informed by using found sound and metallic textures that feel indebted to industrial music.

AA — How do you focus on what comes next and mitigate what is ultimately just another chance to say something to people, knowing that it might be an invitation for someone new to appreciate all of your earlier efforts? What part of the slate of your current moniker appeals to your trust in the process of producing a body of work you can truly respect and be proud of showing others?

SD — Silk Defect as a new medium has allowed me a fuller range of actualization in my broad array of interests and phases from over time. I’ve never been a huge fan of unnecessary compartmentalization, and the experience of coming of age with unprecedented access to music across continents and generations has given us a broader scope of things to rearticulate. I think divisions like genre can be practically useful but are becoming more and more limited as models and despite the ephemerality of contemporary media consumption, notions of obsolescence vs novelty alike are becoming less clear cut. This isn’t to say that I define my work as a pastiche but rather I’m interested in the implications of being situated in a climate with pastiche as a primary form of cultural expression and how that can be synthesized into something that goes beyond mere imitation or reference. Ambient music could be described as deconstructive, and there are elements of this in Silk Defect but always centered with the intent of a certain kind of reconstruction.

As a project it feels more honest and true to myself and it’s an avenue to explore multitudes, being anchored by nothing but my voice and whatever constantly shifting limitations/parameters that emerge. I like the idea of Silk Defect serving as a vessel, retaining a sense of liquidity and centering an array of different potentialities where the limitlessness is exactly what backs the project’s longevity as an incarnation. What interests me is ambitious enough to keep me busy for a long time, and will ideally continue to be a process of discovery and becoming.

AA — What influence does your relationship to traditional instrumentation play to even the work you make where it is most absent? Where does your current conception of the world come into play with the aspects of psychedelia you grew up enamoured with? How much does sound design and an understanding of the physical episteme of sound play into a construction of a sort of modern hallucinogenic music?

SD — Traditional instrumentation comes from my roots. I used to have disdain for the athleticism inherent to much instrumental ability, something that came more naturally to me than more abstracted skills like sound design and digital production. As I went further into spaces that defined themselves by virtuality and iconoclasm I came to a new appreciation for things that come back to the body and the timeless. Instrumentation and improvisation produce a synergistic connection fused between mind, body, and spirit that renders a state of consciousness resembling religious ecstasy where the totality of abstract information systems (like that of a ‘plot’ of notes, intervals, melodic and harmonic relationships) can be fluidly released, reintegrated, and reanimated in real time. In a similar vein, my desire to include my voice in my work where I had eschewed it in other projects came from the same interest in gradients between the disembodied and materiality – to bring clarification and a subjective centering to the non-linguistic and unindividuated. I believe in music as a language among its pantheon of other functions, and in this respect there is a certain universality that I’m interested in capturing in this climate of fragmentation; form after form has been pushed in and out of obsolescence but I’m interested in what can survive this scrutiny as much I am interested in discovering paths of divergence.

Any time we see the kind of rapid shifts that have occurred over the last 30 years in music technology and the aesthetic innovations that result, there can be a tendency for some to throw the baby out with the bathwater in pursuit of the ‘new.’ I try to breath new life into older forms in a way that resembles the longing of nostalgia while discarding its implied complacency and powerlessness. Etymologically, psychedelia nods at the mind made manifest. My compositions themselves are built around an almost automatic process that pries at the unconscious through the randomness and spontaneity of unrestricted improvisation. These improvisations are recorded and then become frozen as documents that can be further manipulated at will in a more subtractive process. Through this process I come to a place that reconciles these innate tensions and end up with a more comprehensive understanding / communication of my subjectivity than if they were compounded. Psychedelica blurs boundaries and distorts time in a way that is identical to the self-transcendence of mysticism where divinity becomes something to be imminently experienced rather than residing at a distance. Similarly, the states of consciousness informed by psychedelia have a tendency to animate the inorganic and much of my interest in place involves envisioning locality as a conscious entity with its own agency. Places, objects, even historical time frames all bear with them a distinctive psychic imprint and become personified through their symbiosis with human consciousness. Dead idols become deified and emanate from beyond the grave. If the dead can penetrate the living with such surgical precision are they really dead at all? The psychedelic experience, much like the religious or esoteric one, ultimately aims to transmute and vivify that which conventional thinking preemptively declares void of life.

AA — How much do you hope for your work to operate on multiple different levels? Bangers that can also be studied or zoned out to is a specific zone that you excel at occupying. Do you find yourself hoping for not so much a balance, but work that can be many things to many people? In what ways do you find that or any intention on your part to end up surfacing in your process?

SD — Honestly the way you described it is one of the highest compliments you could pay! At the end of the day, I wanted to make music that I could show to my mother as much as I could my friends with more experimental sensibilities. I’ve always been most inspired by artists who can move in this way, somehow being immediately enjoyable in a more hedonistic sense but still retain aspects that are more cerebral / stimulating. I love the populist ethos of dance music which works in a similar logic; the calculated, mechanical, artificial, and technological being used to suit activity that returns to the ground level of making people move. I was never interested in making music that could be reduced to function or utility and wanted to articulate the totality of (my own) human experience. Still, I want to be able to go into heavier territory without resorting to navel-gazing and to invoke pleasure without the expense of depth. I love the idea of music that can exist in a variety of different ways, music that metamorphoses according to the context it’s heard in and that is just as multi-faceted/dynamic as the lives we live. Sometimes things only holding weight in explicitly controlled/specific circumstances can feel sterile. If anything, it’s also a level of living vicariously and grasping for conditions outside of me that don’t exist yet. You could even describe it as an aural version of a vision board, an attempt to ‘will’ something into existence, maybe beckoning at a way of engaging with the world that isn’t so delimited.

AA — What are your plans for Silk Defect going into the future? Based on the ideas you have presently in mind, what do you feel will be distinguishing for your next outing as SD from Luxury of Dirt or even your work under the Thomas Walsh moniker, both narratively and on the technical end of things?

SD — My principle goal recently has been assembling material for a full length but this year is unique in the sense that there’s much more to process and reflect upon. I’ve been trying to take everything in, adjust to my new environment (both physically and culturally) and not let my impatience prevent me from addressing things rigorously. Been engaging with new thinkers and taking lots of inspiration from artists of other mediums, trying to establish a backbone of where the next thing will lie conceptually. I’ve made tons of shit that leans more explicitly into the conventional pop side of things but plenty in the opposite direction as well. Been leaning heavily towards actualizing the UKB (particularly more of the jungle side of things) influences that backed Luxury of Dirt, been experimenting with more verse-chorus structure (but also its abdication), and have been focusing on developing vocally. The sterility and coldness of living in Central Los Angeles and the sheer barrage of stimuli bearing with being here has been reflected in my recent outlets. The acceleration of our cultural temporality and quick pace of my environment has led me to dabbling in much faster tempos, so lots of what I’ve been doing is highly spastic, kinetic, and anxious.

The meat of the personal transformations that back the core of my records take place over extended amounts of time, even the stuff that showed up on Luxury of Dirt goes back to samples/recordings/projects I’d had since 2017. I pretty much consistently have a backlog of hundreds of Ableton projects that build up on my computer over time because I’m a fan of capturing whatever emerges as it emerges. Social media leads you to the fallacy that presumes you aren’t doing anything if it’s not consistently being flagrantly displayed, but I like to be willful about what I decide to share with the public. I’ve been shooting towards getting a live set ready for the summer and once I’m more established and have a better income to throw into my shit, it’s gonna be full speed ahead.

Silk Defect’s debut EP can be heard here or on any major streaming platform: