A Minor Forest
I interviewed Erik and Andee a few days before Thanksgiving. It was raining, if memory serves correct. It was also early in the morning and I was still laying in bed.
For the record, please state your name and age for ease of transcription.
Erik: My name is Erik and my age is 23.
Andee: My name is Andee and my age is 26.
One of the things I've always wondered about was the role noise plays in your music. The last 7" I heard from you had an Uncle Tupelo cover on the flip side, but the first side was screaming noise. It seemed to highlight this contrast between noise and melody in your music.
E: I don't know. It's just representative of the fact that we have super broad tastes. When we originally started doing this band, we didn't have specific ideas of what type of music we wanted to do and for me personally, I've always wanted to keep that as open as we could by doing things that don't all sound the same.
A: I think the dichotomy in that 7" is usually apparent in a single song. I think normally there's noise and really quiet pretty parts in all the songs, so that was taking it to an extreme where one side was all noise and the other side was all really beautiful and gentle.
E: Also, it was a reaction. The noise side of it was something that happened accidentally from recording a practice. The noise side is totally live but our tape recorder was breaking. Anyway, we heard that and we thought it was cool, but then we wanted to balance it.
A: I think it's also that we're really into accidents. All the samples are usually really random and everything is really improv. It's the same with recording and adding samples and things. We like to keep it really unpredictable so it stays interesting.
Improvisation is something which is usually associated more with jazz. Does anyone in the band have a jazz background?
E: Not really.
A: We all generally have wide backgrounds and like jazz and I'm sure it influences the structure of our songs but I don't think any of us are specifically jazz musicians.
E: This is perhaps a slightly dangerous thing to say, but the whole thing with Slint-related music, the whole distinction with that and the distinction with 90's hardcore music versus 80's, to my mind, has to do with more sophisticated, more jazz-related rhythm sections. Insofar as that's the case, I don't think we're alone in that way but bring it to the point of actual improvisation, it's just organic. It comes out of the way we write songs.
A: And it makes it more interesting that you can see us play a song more than once and it will often be completely different. The same song will be completely different from one show to another.
I'd heard there was some sort of classical influence running through the band. I didn't know if someone had been in a conservatory or if the structure carried that.
E: Well, two of us studied classical music at Berkeley for a while and the bass player played in a symphony for a while. He played clarinet.
Isn't it kind of unusual to go from training classical music and playing in symphonies to forming a band like this?
E: I don't know. I guess my point is if you love music enough, you want to spend the rest of your life doing it and in my experience a lot of times, doing it in academia can drain that love pretty strongly.
To backtrack a bit, how and when did the band get together?
E: It's awkward. I can't tell who's going to answer. We started in January, four years ago next month. The two of us have known each other since 1988 or something. We both grew up in San Diego.
E: I'm from Del Mar and Andee's from Encinitas.
A: We didn't actually play together until much later. I moved up here and then he moved up here to go to school and then four years ago we started playing together. The discovery of John is still not entirely clear.
E: It took a long while. We tried a lot of crappy people.
A: Basically, he was friends with this woman and she mentioned that her boyfriend was a bass player and we ended up getting a show before we had actually started the band so we called John and asked if he could play a show in three days. He was quite a good sport and it worked out pretty well.
Okay. Now Andee, from what I've heard, you play with your back to the crowd. Why?
A: I'm not actually sure. In one sense, that's how all bands play together when they're not on stage. I'm assuming all bands play together, when they practice, facing each other. In one sense, it seemed silly to not be facing each other when we played. Maybe early on it was a little bit like a snotty fuck you, and then it grew into really expanding the possibilities of playing and improvisation and changing things and making things really different and unique every show. It's gotten to the point where most people don't even mention it anymore which is ideal. For a while, it was like, "Oh wow, that's great and that's weird." Now it's at a point where it's hardly ever mentioned. It's become such an organic part of what we do that people are like "I thought that was great" or "I thought that sucked," but they don't focus on that which is ideal because it wasn't intended to be this focal point.
E: One thing I would say from early on is that we don't have any real elaborate stage show and I think Andee's more entertaining to watch than I am. That's part of it.
A: My old theory that is actually true but that no one ever believes is that, I don't know if you've ever been to Disneyland, but there's this one area where there's this stage that comes out of the ground ...
Oh, the Tomorrowland stage.
A: Yeah. They have a really bad band, like Da Doo Run Run or something and for me, even as a drummer, you know how you can walk behind the stage and watch the band from behind? That was the first time I'd ever seen a drummer play from behind. I had only seen concerts and videos and you see what a drummer's doing from behind and it's totally interesting and intricate and entertaining. It's so much something that a regular rock audience never sees. The typical, you just see the bass and the sticks, but it's really entertaining to see it and that was the first time. I was a drummer and I was fascinated, watching his feet and his hands. That was the part of it that I always remembered and I was like, "God, I bet people would be totally fascinated with that."
Right. So to kind of shift directions, do the songs mean anything?
E: I'd say pretty distinctly no, they don't. There's definitely a mood, but I look at lyrics or singing in generally as trying to enhance that mood in whatever particular song it is, but not to convey any sort of separate autonomous message. I completely reel whenever I hear heavy-handed sort of things. I think it's impossible to say, "Oh, this music makes me think of how much I love Joanie, so all my lyrics to this song are going to be about Joanie."
A: I just think of us as a completely instrumental band. My vocals and Erik's vocals and the tape player are all just more instruments.
And as far as the lyrics go, Joanie loved Chachi anyway.
E: Right, exactly.
Not like writing a song about Joanie will do much good.
E: Yeah. Again, it's one of those things where a lot of times we'll write the songs without lyrics and then to just add this whole theme later would be weird.
So how does sampling play into this?
E: You can take this one if you want Andee.
A: Pretty much the same way that vocals do. We all like that other layer of sound. We were actually talking about this yesterday. We were recording and we were adding samples and stuff but it was tough to get the samples loud enough where they were noticeable but they weren't overwhelming and the only focus. If it's a spoken sample, like a random sound bite, we like for it to be something where if you really wanted to hear what it was saying, you could pick it out, but if not, it would just be another element of the song. It would add to the overall sound as opposed to just being a wacky soundbite. Sample-wise, we still do it pretty much rudimentary. We still use shitty old Dictaphones and shitty old tape players. We don't have sampling technology. It's more like another element.
E: In one of our newer songs we use the tape player strictly as an instrument. We have it tuned. We have a tape that we've adjusted the speed on such that it's playing a specific, very low pitch and there are two guitars in the song and no bass but we use the tape player basically as the bass. There are lots of applications.
This is the first time I've ever heard about a band using a Dictaphone.
A: We have that and we also have a Radio Shack tape player which also has a foot pedal.
E: The Dictaphone one has rewind and fast forward and has a preroll and a postroll lag decay sort of thing.
A: Our bass player, his whole setup is pretty much handmade. He cut the top of his amplifier off and installed a delay and built this huge pedal system. He's pretty much amazing. He built me a microphone that I can wear and hold in my mouth while I play drums. He has a house full of tape recorders and organs and instruments and every time he needs a new sampler or something, he fashions it out of whatever he finds.
E: Everything he owns is half-broken.
A: That adds to it somehow too.
I think anyone who does anything with technology is like that. I have three or four motherboards scattered around at any given moment and I can swap parts out if I need to. Actually, your music seems to express something about that sort of thing, about humanity and technology and the relationship between the two. Are you pro-technology or anti-technology? I think with the comment in the liner notes about supporting the destruction of mankind, your stance on humanity is pretty clear.
A: I don't know. I think we're pro-technology, but we don't really have access to technology, so maybe we're just a little bitter about the whole thing. In that way, we're anti-technology until we can actually get our hands on the proper technology. Then maybe we'll change our minds, but for now, we're bitter. We're bitter, stuck using broken tape recorders.
I have to ask about the line about supporting the destruction of mankind. How did that come about? What kind of implications does it have for the music or is it just a joke?
E: Well, what it's originally from, we're pretty into black metal. Are you familiar with that?
Venom and such, or blacker?
A: Well, more specifically, the current trend in black metal of bands murdering their rivals and burning down churches.
E: It's all in Norway. I was going to say.
The only things I'd heard close to that were in Florida and Brazil.
E: It's mostly in Scandinavia and there are tons of bands and they don't actually fit in a specific genre. Some of it sounds like new age music and some of it sounds like grindcore and some of it sounds like a combination of the two in really weird ways. It's kind of interesting and it's just a really bizarre culture.
A: It's gotten to the point where the reigning king of the scene was murdered by another, hoping to be the king of the scene. He was sent to prison and then like a hundred churches have been burned down because the whole thing is anti-Christian. It's just amazing. It's this totally violent soap opera in the music scene.
E: Basically, in the same way that Japan will take American culture and interpret it in this really odd way, it seems like this black metal movement took 70's American heavy metal culture, like Kiss and all that, and interpreted it completely literally, like not realizing it was an act, so they really dress like that all the time and they really are totally violent.
A: They've taken band rivalry to an unbelievable extreme. For instance, the one guy who was murdered was planning on starting a record store in Norway that was a cave and that was pitch black. You'd have to be handed a torch at the door and walk around the cave with a torch and shop for records.
E: They all dress in corpse paint.
A: Like almost Kiss or almost Mercyful Fate, but a little more "Day of the Dead" looking. Anyway, so there's a magazine that chronicles this whole scene called "Nordic Vision" and it's just the most amazing magazine. It's all written in English and it's all written by one guy and it's written in the worst English. He speaks in the third person and if he doesn't like something, he'll spend a page going off, like "We cannot say that we like this one bit." It's just amazing. Anyway, he supports the destruction of mankind. We're quite enamored of him.
E: It's partially that, but generally, I probably do support the destruction of mankind.
A: Although it started as a joke, I'm probably supporting it fully.
So what caused this support?
E: From my end, I basically don't think humans should reproduce. That's where it comes from.
A: Yourself included?
E: Myself included.
A: I don't know. I find myself frustrated by people all the time with notable exceptions. Erik. Yourself. Whoever, but daily, constantly running into it, it's ridiculous. I don't know. Maybe I don't really support the destruction of mankind.
After a day of dealing with people, I fully support it. Give me a 10 meg nuke and I'll strap it to my back.
A: It seems like at least once a day, everyone feels that way. You go to work or go to school and you come back and you fully support the destruction of mankind. At least for a few minutes.
Well, there's always that line. "Hell is other people." I spent last week feeling like that.
A: I know that feeling.
So does this affect the music at all? Does this play into the songs or is it separate?
E: I think it does. I said I don't think humans should reproduce. It's a relatively negative outlook, but it just seems like life, to a degree, involves a ton of suffering and a lot of our music, I think, is pretty sad and depressing. In that way I think it ties in. That kind of depressingness isn't pinpointable to one thing. It's not like, "Oh, I got fired from this job and that's why I feel this eternal sorrow." It's just ineffable. To deal with it in music is maybe more non-specified. That's probably more for me than the other people in the band.
On another note about the reproductive thing, I was looking over the song titles and there are three which seem to relate to that theme - "... But The Pants Stay On," "Bill's Mom Likes To Fuck" and "Beef Rigger."
E: "Beef Rigger"?
Yeah. The hot beef injection?
A: I've thought about the fact that "Beef Rigger" could be construed as a sort of penile reference, but "Bill's Mom Likes To Fuck" is an actual story about a friend of ours in South Dakota.
E: They're all stories.
A: We have a friend and his friend Bill's mom apparently does actually like to fuck. There's kind of an elaborate story that I don't really remember, but that's factual. Bill's mom does like to fuck. Most of the titles, since the lyrics are sparse and not always focused, are kind of lyrical and come from stories and weird things that happened to us.
E: It's just like from being on tour or hanging out. We'll just be talking and someone will say something that we think is really funny or weird and then we'll be like, "Okay, this next song will be called that."
A: Or something really strange will happen. We'll actually encounter Bill's mom and then instead of lyrically writing about, we'll have the music and then that will become the song title. That's why the song titles tend to be lyrical and maybe a whole sentence as opposed to one word.
E: "Beef Rigger" is a sign on the freeway in L.A. There's some company.
That frightens me.
E: We saw it and we were just like, "That's weird."
My two favorite song titles were "Jacking Off George Lucas" and, mostly because of the reference to "Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat," "Dainty Jack And His Amazing Technicolor Cloth Jacket."
A: Well, "Jacking Off George Lucas," John, our bass player ...
E: I'm not sure if we should go there.
A: Whoever will get in trouble, it won't be us.
E: All right.
A: John has had a succession of friends who worked in massage parlors, quote unquote "massage parlors." His girlfriend at the time worked in a massage parlor and a friend of hers worked there as well and apparently she was actually called upon to jack off George Lucas on occasion. Constantly we were trying to get John to have her bring a tape recorder in and talk to him while he was getting serviced, but everyone was too afraid of the consequences.
You make it sound like a service station. "Excuse me sir, would you like a lube job with your fill up?"
A: I don't know how far from the truth that is. I don't know about "Dainty Jack" though.
E: We had recorded the song and were giving it to someone for a compilation and we were arguing about the title and we were on tour. We parked in front of this theater that had whatever the original is.
A: The "Joseph" thing.
E: "Joseph And The Technicolour Dreamcoat."
A: Then the whole cloth jacket kid scene in San Diego, which is like the whole Gravity Records punk rock scene and they all wear cloth jackets. It was a reference to that. Originally, "Dainty Jack" was a concept John and I had for a grindcore band that was the world's most polite grindcore band. You'd play this totally aggressive, bombastic, bloody music and in between sets, you'd just be completely polite and effeminate and be like, "Oh, excuse me. Could you guys stop jumping around?" and "Oh, this next song's called ..." and then just go "Arghhhh!!!" It's a combination of all those things.
So why didn't you start playing together when you were down here? It sounds like it would have been relatively easy with living in Encinitas and Del Mar.
E: Yeah, except Andee was in another band for a while and then I don't know what happened.
A: We even moved up here and lived here for a while before we actually played together.
Which band were you in, Andee?
A: I don't think you'll even remember. I was in a band called Phineas Gage. It was like 1988, 1989. I left college in 1988, so it was earlier than that. It was a long time ago. It was metal.
I think at that time I still thought the Beat Farmers were about all there was to local music.
A: It's better that you don't know.
Basically what I remember was Dahmer's Diner out here, stuff like that.
A: What about Santa Claus? You remember them?
I remember Santa Claus. A friend of mine and I would sit there in high school and go off about that band.
A: I loved Santa Claus. Then there was Rough Cutt.
Do you remember Grossmont Center?
A: Uh huh.
They had an airbrushing T-shirt place in the center of the mall and this woman who looked a bit like Lita Ford, she had long, blonde, feathered hair, was getting Rough Cutt airbrushed onto a 3/4 length softball jersey.
A: Wow. That's amazing.
E: That's awesome.
I was terrified at the time. It was just sick and wrong.
A: It sounds quite exciting though.
E: Those kinds of places don't really exist anymore, do they?
No, they don't. They're gone now.
A: Now they have those places where you have your photo taken and a computer puts it on a jersey right under where it says "Most Wanted" or "World's Greatest Lover."
I don't understand why politicians keep trying to force Constitutional Amendments about burning flags through when there are atrocities like this which need to be stopped. People in Middle America actually think this is cool and funny.
E: All you have to do is go on tour once and you'll realize how completely pathetic large sectors of the human population are.
A: I only just realized that California, New York and maybe a couple of cities have moved beyond that. Everyone else is still reveling in that sort of thing.
E: There's this series of truck stop comedy that you can get at all the big truck stops that we're particularly fond of and it is so problematic. It's like comedy tapes done by comedians expressly for truckers.
A: Like locker room hits.
E: It's all bathroom humor basically.
A: Next time you go on a road trip, pick up the first Larry Pierce cassette you see.
It seems like every time I stop anywhere on a road trip, the only place I stop is T/A [Truckstop America]. They're spreading like cockroaches. They're everywhere. It was really bad in the 70's and 80's, back when Stuckey's was still everywhere.
A: The new development now is that everything has a Taco Bell in it, even gas stations and stuff have mini Taco Bells, or mini ... what's that evil coffee place?
A: Starbucks, yeah.
We've covered celibacy, the destruction of mankind and sampling. Is there a general aesthetic principle which guides the music? Is there an ideology behind it?
A: I think it's more a lack of an ideology, especially lately. If we decide we should play lap steel or organ on a song, then we do. That single is a perfect example. People wouldn't expect that at all. It's ideal to not be constrained by anything. If we suddenly wanted to do a jungle 7" or some weird electronic thing, we could and it wouldn't be completely out of place with the rest of the stuff we do.
So where do you see the band going now?
E: We're working out a European licensing thing right now so hopefully we're going to go to Europe after we do our U.S. tour.
A: And hopefully we're going to Scandinavia on our European tour to experience all this mayhem and destruction firsthand.
Make sure you have your Scandinavian promoter bill it as a black metal show.
A: You remember when Neurosis went, Erik?
A: They played in Norway and the locals were apparently led to believe they were black metal and their van broke down and they were chased or something.
E: Well, what it was, I don't know if you've ever seen Neurosis but they have this whole video projection thing going and it's kind of weird and trippy. Basically they started playing and everyone thought that they were satanic and so they stopped the show and basically ran them out of town.
A: Anyway, to answer your question, we're going to do a West Coast tour in a week. We're going to do a U.S. tour in February and then hopefully go to Europe. I suppose when we get back from that, maybe record again. That's pretty much as far ahead as our vision goes.
Anything you'd like to add?
E: I feel fine.
A: I'm pretty much okay.