Somewhere in a room there is a svelte man with curly hair illuminated by the glow of a computer monitor as he sifts through endless social media postings and curates his crowd-funding pages. Previously a webmaster that spammed chatrooms for paid clicks, he also ran his own webpage that served as a vehicle for him to obtain donations from anyone who happened upon it. More recently Stephen Jolley has raised precisely two-hundred and twenty-one dollars on his Kickstarter for the, self-described, purpose of naming tracks for an album that he had already completed. He is an interesting man with the kind of neurotic quirks normally possessed by fictitious characters on the page or screen, but I feel he is all the better for having them.
Steve also cultivates what can be unequivocally considered my favorite Facebook™ page. Several seconds of it is all it takes for you to start feeling a little insane. It’s almost as if the website had taken on a malicious virus and begun eating itself. You’re greeted with endless screenshots within screenshots of random status updates, error message, and the all powerful like button. As you scroll, you make your way through posts simply requesting likes, links to the very Facebook™ page you are already viewing, announcements for upcoming status updates, self-critiques of these same posts, and the occasional semi-earnest mention of a musical project he is working on. The profile and banner images frequently involve dozens of screen-shots (often within other screen shots) of his own profile, error messages, the like button, seemingly random statuses, and an image of the man himself falling into a void. It’s not clear whether he has some beef with social media or has embraced it to the point of near madness. His music, which seems to match the tone of his online persona, draws you in a similar manner. It’s brimming with square noises, digital distortion, and oscillates between light fun and serious business.
(image courtesy of Stephen Jolley/Created by Robert Burns)
I interviewed him about his new album, perplexing digital art, and borderline hermit lifestyle. The following is a portion of our discussion:
When I first met you a mutual friend mentioned your old website and said you were essentially a “digital bum.” That was the most futuristic concept to me at the time.
SJ: Yeah that was when I first started panhandling on the web. That was my thing for a while. I guess it still is.
So do you take any offense to being called a digital bum?
SJ: I don’t take offense because it is what it is. Analog bums or ‘bums in real life’ live on the streets, do hard drugs, drink too much, and smell bad. I only have some of those problems. Still, when I see people begging for money on the street part of me is envious of their lifestyle. I know it’s a terrible thing to say but we’ve all had that feeling. Rent is due and you have work early in the morning and you can’t sleep because you are worried about money and then the thought enters your head, ‘I could just not go to work tomorrow and be a bum’.
Trust me, I’ve been there. I can hold a job in real life and beg on the internet in my free time. Internet access is so widely available these days that even if my non-virtual world falls apart I could beg on the streets and and on the internet at the same time. Libraries, Starbucks™, and Panera Bread™ are all playgrounds for a bum that wants to go digital. I’d probably be the richest bum on the block while living dual bum existences.
What made you want to start crowd funding the crowd funding?
SJ: When I started crowd funding for my Kickstarter promotional video it just felt like something was missing. In order for the Kickstarter campaign to successfully raise $200 I figured I would need at least five-hundred from IndieGogo to really give my Kickstarter promo vid some pizazz. I hoped that making a nice crowd funding experience would be more of a journey than what I’m crowd-funding for which is kind of pointless to begin with. The importance of what I set out to crowd-fund for has been trumped by the crowd-funding itself, meaning that the art of Kickstarting is much greater than the names of my tracks which is what the Kickstarter campaign is truly for.
Why only set a Kickstarter goal two-hundred dollars?
SJ: $200 was an honest number. I’m totally done with the album. Everything but naming the music. A lot of jerks ask for $20 000 or whatever for their art project. That’s kind of rude. I’ve saved the people $19,800 by doing everything else out of my own two pockets and one good heart.
Well, the IndieGoGo campaign didn’t pan out but you surpassed your Kickstarter goal by twenty-one dollars in just over a month. Tell me a little about the album. Who is it for?
SJ: I made this album (which at the time of this interview remains untitled) mostly to keep myself entertained. When you get on a computer and do something like e-mail, Facebook, Youtube, games, spreadsheets or make tracks it’s really all the same. Staring at a bright screen, clicking and typing. The only difference is what you see, hear and how it changes your life and the lives of others. Making it was something to kill time and avoid all of my real life problems which seem to surround and keeping closing in on me. It’s best to avoid that feeling of being suffocated my the outside world.
The music is mostly for myself and if anyone likes it that is just the luck of others having similar taste in what sounds good to me. There are no real lyrics and it’s ultimately meaningless except for… you know… it’s art which I guess is beautiful and whatnot. It doesn’t have a message, it’s not trying to shape culture. It’s the unused Yankee Candle you find in a trashcan. It’s the plastic toy you bite into when scarfing down a Mexican pastry. A small bonus or a slight annoyance on a boring day.
The most exciting thing to come from this album so far was the excuse to bombard people on social media. Reminding people again and again, ‘HEY! Look at me! I did something in my free time! Yeah I’m no doctor or lawyer and I’m not even eating a fancy fuckin’ brunch but this is still important for you to know about me somehow’. I probably could of got that satisfaction by not actually making an album but lying about it but I didn’t think of that till just now.
Give me the rundown on your digital history.
SJ: When I was thirteen I created a Southpark fan-site. It had stills from the show and a choose your own adventure game. I had banner ads that paid 10 cents a click. My site was only making about a buck or so a day so I started spamming Geocities chartrooms with links that sent you to my sponsor’s website. My friend gave me the suggestion to have the link’s text say ‘Don’t click here!’ Someone would click and BAM I made a dime! I was a teenager making about $20 or so an hour doing this. In the late 90’s the exploits of the internet were amazing. I saved up enough for a guitar and a Nintendo 64 before my sponsors shut me down.
I didn’t do very much interesting with anything digital in my high school years. I fooled around a bit with Fruity Loops, AIM and Livejournal like everyone else. In 10th grade computer class I made an exact clone of the Hamster Dance Website but renamed it ‘Steve Jol’s Crazy Hamster Dance’. I kept the copyright info but changed it to my name which I thought was really funny.
It is funny.
SJ: In 2007 I first started putting music out on the internet. This is where the ‘digital bum’ thing you mentioned early came into play. I had a locally known website, thejols.com which, sadly, is not up at the moment. I was going negative from hosting fees which obviously makes the whole purpose of pan-handling pointless. This is where I first started begging for money on the internet instead of tricking sponsors into giving me money. Thejols.com was clear in that It was not giving anything back to the donators or to the public for receiving donations. The future was then and it was time for people to start begging for money for the same reasons crust punks beg for money now in the real world… no reason except for sometimes it’s easier to do the easiest thing imaginable instead of real work.
I’m kind of curious on where you feel you are right now as an artist and as a person. What is your day to day like?
SJ: As a person I’m getting to the point where I am not cool anymore. I’m an acquired taste for people when I’m out on the scene but definitely still gourmet. I spend a lot of time alone on my computer. That’s how I really stay connected with people. Not by some dumb job or coffee shop or something.
My life as an artist is mostly about me since I’m by myself so much. I try not to let anyone or anything inspire me except for myself so my art really starts to eat itself pretty fast. My music and the pictures I post on the internet really are what I’m experiencing day to day. I’m already letting people look thru my eyes and see what I’m seeing which is a screen be it a laptop, phone or whatever. I guess what I’m like as a dude is probably exactly what you and and everybody else imagines and assumes since I’m on my computer so much. Having said that, everybody reading this interview is staring at a screen so really I’m a reflection of us all.
What Defines your online presence?
SJ: My online presence is becoming more impersonal as time goes on. I love the internet but am kind of introverted and that carries over to my surprisingly outgoing online presence. Personal information about myself appearing online is making me increasingly more uncomfortable. I don’t really want the digital world to know what I’m doing and where I’m going but it’s becoming increasingly more impossible to avoid. It’s not so much paranoia as it is annoyance in that I am aware most of my Facebook people don’t really care about me as a person. However, how you are perceived on the internet carries over into the real world. If you can look good online and carry on the facade out in public then chances are you’ll be given a higher tier social standing in both realms which in turn gives one better opportunities in real life. Better looking significant other, higher paying job and more attention are just a few of the many good things that are brought on by a positive web-presence until it all comes crashing down and you feel like you need to deactivate your social media permanently or, at best, for a few months. I’m playing it safe. By being blatantly insincere on the internet I don’t have much room for growth but also it’s hard to do much damage to an online presence that’s thinner than air.
If you don’t want people to know who you are in the digital realm it’s best to flood it with false information about yourself. Create a mask because most people don’t care about your life. Providing humor to the internet is really the most positive thing I can think of instead of making people jealous with all of the cool things you are doing. It’s still selfish because I live for likes, upvotes, re-tweets, or whatever, but at the same time it doesn’t do the world much damage.
Sadly, I’m not very popular on the internet these days. Introversion in real life causes lack of likes on the web. If you are getting a lot of attention on the web it’s either because someone is super cool, wants something from you, or both. Popular and successful people gives others the idea that liking their social-media content gives you an in with them. My online presence only exists to interact with people who appreciate my art.
Stephen’s new album can be found here.