by Ben Arzate
Ira Rat is a fellow Iowan and a jack-of-all-trades in the arts. Here, I pick his brain to see what he’s all about. A quick disclaimer: I had a story published in his zine Fucked Up Stories to Tell in the Daytime and I’m very grateful he featured it.
Ben Arzate: Let’s just jump right into it. Can you give us a brief introduction? Who is Ira Rat?
Ira Rat: That’s the question I ask myself everyday. Without getting too existential or pretentious about it, I’m just a person who makes things. I get ideas and then I have to figure out what the best way of getting it out is. Over the course of all that, I make music, design, and write. I also like getting things out there for other people so I’ve run the record label Drug Arts and just started the press Filthy Loot.
Ben: Filthy Loot just put out its first zine, Fucked Up Stories to Tell in the Daytime. Obviously a riff on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. What was your inspiration to create it? Is this the first zine you’ve created or curated?
Ira: Making little publications is something I’ve done going all the way back to high school. I was making chapbooks and zines for the poetry and music writing that my friends and myself were constantly churning out. Really the three things that got me thinking I should make this was sitting at work binge listening to Bizzong, then appearing in Ben Fitt’s The Rock n’ Roll Horror Zine with one of my stories, and finally finding a few copies of Freak Tension that I bought from Emma Johnson years ago in the bottom of a box of books. There is no real eureka about the idea, basically the name popped into my head and it was a “duh, of course I’m going to do this” moment.
Ben: You also just put out a limited edition chapbook called Learned Animals. Can you tell us a little about that?
Ira: That’s a chapbook of one of my stories, it’s kind of a stand alone idea that was a tribute an odd fever-dream tribute to Shirley Jackson. After working with a few people editing it, I just didn’t feel like submitting it anywhere — so I just made a cover and printed up some copies.
Ben: You’re also currently taking submissions for another zine called No. What is the concept behind that one?
Ira: No. is pretty nebulous, the original idea was for it to be something that Lazy Fascist would have put out, because I don’t really see many presses covering that literary bizarro area. Though, I’ve learned from years of trying to force expectations that nothing is set in stone until it’s done, so it’s still open to interpretation from the people who submit. Fucked Up Stories… definitely was one of those projects that the submissions ended up defining what it ended up being. So I’m trying to learn not to push my own agenda on these zines and just let them be what gels together.
Ben: You also do music. What kind of music do you make? How long have you been doing that?
Ira: I’ve been making music since about 2000. Though much of the early stuff is mercifully lost. The music that I’ve made for the past few years is mostly focused on experimental, inspired by musicians like Brian Eno and Throbbing Gristle who really push the idea of actually learning your instrument can be detrimental to creativity. Everything that I make other than design has an element of purposeful naivete, because when I start taking things too seriously it gets boring. Though with my writing, I hire editors to make it sound like I know the proper way to use a semicolon.
Ben: Ha! I know how that feels. You design as well. Do you do all your own art? What do you enjoy most, writing, making music, or making visual art?
Ira: What I do is closer to collage than to illustration, but I do illustration here and there as well. Like the cover to Fucked Up Stories… is based off of a stock image I bought from a website years ago that I always liked. I then illustrated it to look like something that would have been on the cover of a Scary Stories book. I went to art school, so I come from the idea that everything is appropriation, but the idea is to pull enough randomness in there that it’s not just regurgitating the same things over and over. Or you know, blatantly stealing something and claiming it as your own — though some artists have done that and done really well. I weirdly compartmentalize and so I don’t have a preference what medium I’m doing. Like my short stories come from a place of my interest in odd conspiracy theories and other things that if I were to explore in other formats it might be considered taboo for someone like me to be exploring.
Ben: What are some your biggest inspirations in the different fields of art that you’re involved with?
Ira: Oh god. Francis Bacon, Kurt Vonnegut, Throbbing Gristle, Stephen King, Daniel Clowes, William Burroughs, Tomato Design, DEVO, Harmony Korine, Charles Bukowski, Jay Reatard, Angus Oblong, David Lynch, Marcel Duchamp, Neil Gaiman, Chip Kidd, Clive Barker, Sam Pink, Andy Warhol, Crispin Glover, Cindy Sherman, Aaron Draplin, Hannah Höch… I’m sure I’m missing some big ones in there. The first album I ever owned was a dubbed copy of The White Album when I was 6, so I’m sure that’s where my eclecticism comes from. I spent days in a creative process class just making lists of things that interest me and people who influence me so that’s far from comprehensive.
Ben: Besides the No zine, what are some other projects that you’re currently working on?
Ira: I’m also working on a zine called Drag Drugs Death that will be a weird fiction tribute to Warhol and The Factory, Fucked Up Stories #2, and I’m at the early stages of trying to figure out a good name for a splatterpunk zine. I’m always working on other stuff, like “Spektorvisions” by my band Neon Lushell is turning into our version of Guns N’ Roses’s Chinese Democracy. I’ve been telling people it’s going to come out “any time now” for 5 years.
Ben: What are your goals with Filthy Loot? Do you want to keep it a zine and chapbook press, or are you interested in putting out full length books at some point?
Ira: I’m seeing where things take me. Right now I’m doing zines and chapbooks because I can do them myself and not have to tie up a lot of money in one project. Though I’m not against anything.
Ben: Zines seem to be making a bit of a comeback recently. What do you think is the appeal of zines over, say, publishing online or with an ebook?
Ira: Zines have always been bubbling under the surface. One of the things I guess would be an appeal is that you can sit there at a copy shop and make a few copies and not have to get too invested in making 1k perfect bound books. Personally I’ve always just like cool little objects that even if they sit on a shelf or in a box that you can take it out later and appreciate. That’s one of the reasons why I put a few different bobbles in with the zine to just put cool things out into the world. The problem with digital publishing is that I literally have 100 books in my Kindle that I got for free or next to nothing, but I’m going to grab a book because there’s a physical presence there to remind you to read it. I know the argument that you’re killing trees, etc. but the world as it is we need less screen time. Or at least I do.
Ben: Last question, why did you choose Ira Rat as your pen name? Or is that your real name and I’m a fucking idiot?
Ira: To confirm the person who harassed me online a couple weeks ago. It’s because I used to snitch on the Irish Republican Army. There was thought behind the name, but more interesting than that is that I recently discovered that “irarat” in Latin is a congregation of “I become angry, I fly off into a rage” which is a good enough reason as any to keep using it.
Ben: Where can our readers find your angry, snitching ass online?
Ira: Filthyloot.com and Irarat.com
Ben: Thanks so much for the interview!
Ira: No, thank you. And thanks for the support and being in the zine and what not.