C.J. Sienkiewicz is a fresh-faced DJ from Detroit. He went to the same high school as Madonna, had a teenage phase as a rapper and just bumped into Stevie Wonder on a flight back from New Orleans. As a producer, Chrissy crafts tracks which bizarrely blend techno, dub and house with a distinct pop texture- something sensual and lo-fi with deceptively chill vocals. With a new mix , "Frozen solid", the DJ and producer finds himself at one of life's intersections- living in a city that’s been nearly forgotten and the creative energy he puts towards producing music. In this conversation Coyote Clean Up tells how his music was once about his past and how now, it's all about his future.
In my pre-teenage years, they used to broadcast DJs live on the various radio stations. There were your hip-hop and R&B stations that had, and still do, sick DJs mixing all kinds vibes. "Detroit Party Music" if you will. There was techno in there. On the "Alternative" stations DJs were mixing industrial and all the forms of UK dance that were big at the time. I picked up on both. A couple years later I remember seeing Plastikman stickers everywhere and my mom told me about some kids who got pulled over with the Plastikman "Sheet One" CD and went to jail because the cops thought it was an acid sheet. Then my buddy Nels, who was more into industrial stuff at first, started buying a bunch of gear. He started making real acidy type techno. I'd jam out with him and mess around on his machines. Eventually he started throwing huge raves, sometimes, with the legends headlining. The scene started getting really wild, and I took the backseat. I was buying weirder records, or records that people weren't really spinning at those parties. Brinkmann and things like that. There were the record shops selling the techno records, then there was this record shop called Neptune Records. They had your left-field records, your 'post' stuff, the experimental stuff. That's where I was hanging out. Obviously there was some bleed. I was making mixtapes for friends and making weird music at home. Jimmy Edgar went to my high school and we became friends when we had the same art classes together. He started giving me tapes cassettes of his tracks. So this was all before the year 2000. I never liked the darker and creepy vibes too much, that's why I often did my own thing. After the year 2000, things started to change a lot. I eventually started going to deeper "house" type parities. I found so much inspiration there but it seems things fell apart, to give way to what has grown into the current scene right now, which I really like. It's diverse, colorful, deep, something for everyone.
First and foremost, I’m a fan! Secondly, time will tell I guess. I have a whole lifetime to pay my dues. I'm not trying to front on anyone. I do see myself as part of this scene in Detroit that is sort of…on the fringes. There's a bunch of record collectors, musicians who also DJ, crazy kids, people in bands, experimental cats, hip-hop dudes, instrumentalists, jazz players, techno nerds, old heads too. A bunch of rad people who I see now and again and work with are all involved in various scenes and all kinds of music. I do feel connected to that bigger scene and it's ever inspiring.
I was actually born in Cleveland, Ohio and moved up to Detroit, Michigan in 1989 with my family because my dad got a new job in the auto industry. I remember being sad leaving my extended family and school, but the minute we got to Detroit I knew we had landed someplace crazy. The first thing we did was go to a Detroit Red Wings hockey game. The city looked like the movie Robocop to me. I was both scared and excited at the same time. I grew up in the metro area and spent my formative years living downtown and escaping to the Northern parts of the state when I could. Marvin Gaye once said, "Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell." I guess I can say the same, but I try to have no regrets. It has given me the creative energy I have today.
Detroit's the easiest crowd to play to because… if there's a crowd at all, they most likely want to let loose and party! Total open creativity here. You can play whatever you want and nobody's bitching. It's not like other cities at all in that aspect. If you're DJing however, you better play Prince. It does feel very isolated here, especially in the wintertime. It can get very dark. There's no public transportation so everyone is driving and that makes it worse. Crime is on the rise with Detroit being named the second most dangerous city in the US. Number one is Flint, Michigan which is about an hour North. It's pretty upsetting and criminally ignored. It has become so bad, most people just want to ignore it. By ignoring it, you're really doing the people who are affected by it the worst, and the people who can't escape it, a horrible disservice. Something has to be done but I have no idea what.
I had always bought records. I bought my first 7" (Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody") when I was about 5 years old with my mom. I made mixtapes on cassette of my records for friends all the time. I lived in Chicago for a short time in 2000. Whenever I was feeling blue, I would go dig for records. A friend of mine came over and said, "Hey, some people are throwing a rooftop party and there's only one DJ. I told them you have tons of records and you'd be down to DJ." I was like "What!?" So that was the first official time I spun for a crowd. Weird German techno/house, Dub and Post-Rock mostly. It was really fun. The guy who owned the turntables was a hip-hop head and I remember him laughing and thinking "what is this guy doing?!" I started producing tracks completely unrelated. I had started playing guitar and messing around with home recordings onto tape. I got my own four track eventually. Then in 2000 I also got into digital recording. It was a very organic and back-and-forth type process.
Ice Cold Chrissy started off as, well, my rap name believe it or not. I was making a rap track with my friend and realized I didn't exactly have a full-fledged rap name. Friends of mine had called me Chrissy and it had some ties to earlier musical projects. I was recording some vocals and just threw that in there and it stuck. Soon enough it became my DJ name. I was playing a party and it ended up on the flyer. I was DJing for a few years as Ice Cold Chrissy and not making that many tracks with serious intentions or the need to want to start a band. Then one cold winter day I just decided to start singing again and making my own tracks. That's when I started Coyote Clean Up. Coyote Clean Up was a brand new fresh start for me. It finally felt like the right time and I was in the right mindset for something new.
It’s a lot like adding textual sound effects! I have never thought of that. I write a lot of poetry, I have over a hundred poems written and I’d like to publish a book that is at least 500 pages long. My poetry is very abstract; tone poems, word play, visual poems, etc. A lot of the lyrical ideas come from my poems. The "cultural hacks" really are just ways to engage the listener. I like the listener to feel like they are in on an inside joke… because if they're listening to Coyote Clean Up, they really are. It's an inside joke and everyone's invited.
Naming instrumental tracks is just like giving a painting a name. I paint as well and many of my paintings are very abstract. The name can be reflected of many things: the mood I'm in, the mood around me, a specific idea or statement going I'm thinking of, an object that in conjunction with the visuals of painting creates an idea for the view to interpret. I approach my tracks the same way! Vibes!
I've worked with a few female vocalists, but for the most part, the voice you're talking about is my own! Even close friends of mine have mistaken my voice for a female, which is obviously weird for me. A few reviewers have compared me to Sade which is just ridiculous! I guess a handful of my friends were trying to coin my style and someone came up with the "Angry Quiet Mystical Princess." In choir class my teacher never knew were to put me in the choir. I think it comes from singing to myself non-stop throughout my whole life. I'll quietly sing to myself, or over a song or to the DJ…just loud enough that only I can hear. When I was a child I was really into R&B and slow type jams, like Sade. Later the early Hip-Hop and R&B boy and girl groups really struck a chord with me. You know, they'd rap a verse, then sing, then sing-rap. I really wanted to be in a group like that. Then I heard the early shoegaze bands, like My Bloody Valentine and thought, "This is just how I sing!!!" It's all those elements sort of wrapped into one.
I'll go through phases were I play guitar for a while and then I'll put it down for a while. I know it sounds cheesy, but it's a very emotional instrument for me to play. Once I pick the guitar up I have to commit. Even if I'm not going to play it, I always keep a guitar near me when I'm recording…for the comfort maybe. For the longest time I was trying to make music without a guitar because I had done so for so long. Now it's sometimes the opposite! I might write a full on pop song or 8 minutes of blips and bleeps. Whatever ends up reaching a larger audience, isn't always up to me, and that's sort of the magical mystery of it all. That keeps me moving.
Always a one-man team- I had a band for a while, but would always work on recordings at home by myself. I'd often spend way more time doing this then playing with other people. I love working with other people, but I can really dive into deeper emotions by myself.
Exactly. I'm always trying to focus in on more of a groove. I had done a bunch of song-type songs, with some trip-hop elements and more singing, but those can become very emotionally taxing. I have a hard time going back and listening to my songs with a lot of vocals because it brings up too many past emotions. By focusing a bit more on putting my emotions into grooves, I can forget about that past and move forward with the vibe.
Right, yeah, I've gone in many cycles where I would be playing with a band and singing, to only using a Casio SK-5 making weird ambient music, and what not and what have you and so on and so forth. I've got so much equipment and it's always breaking. When I had this band, everything would always be falling apart and it would be so stressful it drove me crazy! The first few Coyote Clean Up shows, we were actually a three piece band. I never had the money to buy nicer stuff and whittle things down to the barest items, which is what I've always wanted to do. Now, through the advance digital technologies we have going on these days, I'm finally able to do so! It feels really great and actually lets me put more time and emotion into my music. I don't loose any energy picking up the broken pieces!
I've been making music for 15 years. I had some really high points, that were completely lost! They just ended up as broken tape cassettes in the bottom of my sock drawer. Someone might think, "Wow! Who is this guy? He came out of nowhere!" but that's not the case. I was here the whole time but you'd only know about me if you came over to my house and I'd given you a tape cassette! My dream has always been on vinyl and now with the digital age, that's finally a reality. There's new audiences all over the world and larger audiences. There's also more people on the planet. People often forget that. We need as much music as we possibly can so everyone, everyday, in every way, in every emotion, can be reached and using these digital tools to do so gives us the full advantage.
A buddy of mine used to say, "Man, why does every track you do sound like we're driving home from a rave at 4AM!?" My music has always been very driving. A lot of my earlier work was often a journey into the past…seeing and feeling past emotions in new ways, focusing in on one thing, maybe even a specific object, in a past experience, that brings a whole new light to the happening. Now I feel like it's more of a journey into the future which feels better and makes more sense to me. Total fantasy- a trip through time and space. I hope my music can transport listeners into their own magical and mystical world using the sound as merely a vehicle. The world and life as we know it, isn't as it seems. There's always deeper, brighter, darker and more mysterious lights, colors, sounds and emotions than we're ever feeling. We all need to tap into to these deeper realities to make the most out of our lives, and I think music is one of the best mediums to transport us into this consciousness.
I think that statement makes a lot of sense. Most music is just a vibe. I think Gil Scott-Heron said something about modern electronic music being more like what was originally jazz, purely in it's vibe. I try to think of techno under the broad idea of electronic music. That's what it is to me. Atmospheric and emotive… working together with the people around it whether they are dancing, driving in the car, listening at home while talking to friends, etcetera, etcetera. I really do relate the Detroit vibe to dancing. I love this idea of non-stop dance. It's really positive and forward moving to me. With some bands, and some scene, when the song is over or the show is over, the music stops and you go home. With techno and electronic music there is this non-stop element that really keeps me moving. It's comforting.
Well, I've got a whole bunch of new records lined up, vinyl, digital, tapes and who knows what else. Soon enough I'm starting my own label, releasing my music as well as friends of mine. Lots of new videos and art to go along with it. There is going to be a much deeper visual side to my work. I'm a visual artist as well and I've finally found a comfortable way to blend it with my music. I'm working with a few new labels really pushing myself to spread my horizons. I'm keeping things fresh with lots of surprises. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!