Entertainment, for most intents and purposes, fell silent after releasing its 2009 debut album, Gender (Stickfigure Records, Adistant Sound, and Duchess Archive). Aside from playing shows in the Southeastern U.S., sharing stages with Modern English in 2016-17, the gothic-leaning post-punk outfit has remained far from the public eye for nearly 11 years.
In October 2020, two of the group’s founding members, Trey Ehart (vocals, guitar, bass, and synthesizer) and Bari Donovan (drums and percussion), along with Entertainment’s latest addition Jim Groff (synth) emerged from the void with a new single, titled “Maggot Church.” From the song’s hissing salvo — a deluge of sonic light and shadow — “Maggot Church’s” stark, effects-laden doom and ambiance are pierced by Ehart’s spectral moans of catharsis. Released with a handful of remixes by INHALT, Delphine Coma, and SubVon, aka producer and former March Violets guitar player Tom Ashton, “Maggot Church” is an empowered number cut from rhythmic grooves and distortion, and charged with intensity. It’s a twisted and contemptuous song that expands upon the group’s brand of gothic rock with an evolved and atmospheric makeover. It’s also the first cut from an upcoming two-part EP to be released in early 2021, titled Horror Parts 1 and Part 2. While preparing for the first EP’s January arrival, Ehart took a few minutes to talk about what the group has been up to for the last decade, and what Entertainment has in store for the future.
The two-part EP that you have in the works is called Horror. The video for “Maggot Church” opens with a quote from intro to the old television show “Tales From the Darkside.” I bring this up to get your thoughts on the EP’s title and the concepts that are at work here. … After watching “Maggot Church” I went down the Youtube rabbit hole, watching episodes of “Tales From the Darkside,” “Friday the 13th,” etc.
Those shows brought out a sense of chasing those childhood thrills of terror and elation at the same time.
I have always been obsessed with the intro to “Tales from the Darkside” — the negative trees, the way the music bends as the world turns dark, and the underlying context of the narration. In a weird way it helped shade the lens through which I see the world. There’s definitely that sense of terror and wonder, something dark lurking beyond you, mixed with childish wonder and elation, but there’s also a harsh existential truth buried beneath it.
Stephen King has a quote: “True horror is the coming undone of something good.” That, to me, is the essence of where we are as a band. When we started coming back out, suddenly I was hit with a lot of people affirming to me, for the first time, that we were something good, and we had completely come undone underneath that. The childish sense of blind self-assuredness had devolved into a sense of doubt, a black cloud hanging over me, like a Kafkaesque maze of conflict. Combine that with my love of camp B-movie horror from the ’80s, and that’s where we’re coming from now.
What prompted you to get the band back together and continue moving forward?
We never really officially broke up, but after touring behind Gender for two years our bass player Tommy bassist left. I moved back to Atlanta from Athens, and we struggled to regain momentum and maintain a reputation. We were working with DISARO Records, which was a huge accomplishment for us, but I lost faith and direction in our songwriting and position. We did meet our synth player Jim during this time though, and played SXSW twice, trying to find a new way forward. But our live presence almost completely dropped off, and I spent time working with Kris Sampson on nurturing our sound through recordings. Pretty soon the indie goth scene that we’d seen and been a part of in New York and Los Angeles started taking off in Atlanta, and I was asked to DJ at a few nights. I also started seeing more like minded musicians at the DKA nights at 529, and Silk Wolfs’ goth nights. That’s also when I started to realize we had a very underground cult following here. But the big moment was in 2016 when we got the opportunity to open for Modern English on the Southeastern dates of their Mesh & Lace Tour. So we grabbed Jen von Schlichten from Black Lodge and Hymen Moments, and went from nothing to the biggest tour of our career. It was unbelievable, we had everything and nothing to prove, and had to rely solely on the strength of our songs and live presence. We came back to Atlanta completely rejuvenated, played two sold-out shows at The EARL in one day, where half the crowd thought we were from the UK, and then we crashed back down to earth, went back out with Modern English in 2017, this time working with Henry Jack from Weary Heads by way of a connection through Dead Register, and we naturally started re-working and improving newer material. Once we came back from that tour we decided it was time.
How did you come work with Tom Ashton at SubVon Studio. Has working with him helped you realize anything new or different about your songwriting and the group’s sound and vision?
I met Tom through a mutual friend at a Peter Murphy show in Atlanta. Then we ran into each other again backstage at the Modern English show at the Earl, and again at the March Violets reunion show at the Masquerade, and the dots started to connect for me. I’m pretty shy when it comes to promoting our music, but once we started re-working our newer material I found the courage to reach out to him for help mixing and mastering the material Kris Sampson had helped us work up with the overdubs we did. He’s been a huge source of support and understanding for us. I originally approached him in a very nonchalant way, but March Violets is the ultimate street cred, and a very different approach from the way we do things. He has really helped to teach me strength and how to desaturate — to lean into the atmosphere of a song but also mind the hook — and to trust myself.
Do you feel like Entertainment is part of a larger community of like minded bands in Atlanta? I ask mostly because I have seen bands like Tears For The Dying and Hip To Death working with Tom Ashton as well. All three of these bands are quite different, aesthetically speaking, but there is an underlying thread of commonality — darkness, post-punk, gothic tendencies. Do you think of these bands as kindred spirits?
I’m pretty sure I introduced them to him, if I remember correctly. I love all those bands. We have all circled each other for years, and worked together pretty frequently. But there’s definitely a more concrete scene developing Out of SubVon, where we all have a place we can work. Honestly, I can remember seeing Hip To Death terrify kids at frat bars in Athens, and I’ve always admired Tears For The Dying from the time they used to rehearse next to us and Snowden in a warehouse off Howell Mill Road. And I think we’ve all developed separately, but we’re all hitting a certain level at the same time.
A little more than a decade has passed since Entertainment released Gender. Aesthetically speaking, how have things changed over time?
Not much, weirdly. I think I’m more inclined to be appealing now, much to the relief of the band. I still look to the artsy tension of bands like the Virgin Prunes and Bauhaus for inspiration, but I’m more interested in allowing people to enjoy us without having to be confronted. Leaning more into Japan and Psychedelic Furs. We were recently referred to as “the bastard child of Swans and Duran Duran,” rather than just “the sound of death,” so I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Do you have a favorite song amid all of the new material?
We have so much unreleased stuff at his point it’s hard to say. If you asked the band I think we’d all say something different, but our upcoming third single, “An Alter of Remembrance,” and the track “Distance” are two we tend to gravitate toward.
Have any of the remixes surprised you or revealed something about the music that you didn’t expect?
Yeah definitely! We’ve been lucky to have so many talented people support us and completely transform our songs. I love hearing how other musicians interpret and manipulate us. At times I am surprised and horrified at how desperate the solo tracks sound, or how small changes can really pull a chorus together in a much more accessible way. They really help put possibilities in place as we decide what the next sound is and get out of our heads.
Do you have a release date in mind for the EPs to arrive?
We have one more single before Horror Part 1 comes out, we’re waiting on a few remixes for that. Then Part 1 comes out in January and a third single and Part 2 come out in February.
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