Ladies and gentlemen this is Golden Frown, this dude has songs.
Jordan Berardo aka Golden Frown, sounds like Roky Erickson partying with Joey Ramone on certain nights, other nights he sounds like Jay Reatard partying with Neil Young. It doesn’t matter, because his songs always sound great. They sound like snippets of a psychopath and dreams of a child, and echoes in the desert. This is a very honest conversation we had on a Saturday morning.
Hope you enjoy.
Tom Cheshire: Good Morning.
Jordan Berardo: How you doing? Give me a minute. I just woke up, it’s a.m. Alabama time.
What is a normal day for you these days? What do you do, what is the songwriting process.
Life feels great these days. Every day I wake up feels like a gift. Making music is a gift, and I take advantage of it. Cleaning up my act was a gift. There’s no turning back now. My only goal is to be a musician, so when I wake up, I live and breathe music and writing songs.
Can you talk about your past, your drug use?
I’m very transparent about my past. No one is perfect. I started meds when I was 14. I started self medicating in 2000. I’ve made my mistakes, I’ve had my addictions. I died in 2007 from a methadone overdose and came back to life. I’ve died eight times because of my addiction. The last time I died was the beginning of my new life. I was on heroin. I got off it and all drugs and began my new life as a musician. I started writing songs. I use my past to help me with my songs. I will write 15 songs in a day some days, and I talk about my struggles, tell my life story.
Tell me about these songs.
These songs aren’t love songs. They are what happen in my mind. They are stories I learned from. My music is a love song to the road, the romance of life.
Sounds like you’re in a relationship with your songs.
I am. Nothing can touch you when you’re on the highway. No one can touch you when you’re in the moment, writing songs. My romance is the music. I’m in a relationship with my songs and with the road. I just sit down and the music just comes out of me.
Tell me about the lyrics.
Well the lyrics are my story about my past, but I write them all freestyle off the cuff in the studio. I come up with the music on the guitar, that’s all written out. Then I get in the studio in front of the microphone and in five minutes I have a brand new song.
You’ve developed a wonderful working relationship with Peter Mavrogeorgis (Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, Twisty Cats) who is recording you and producing your record.
Peter has been amazing. We have a lot in common. We are both artists and eccentric. I love the way he works. He knows exactly what I need. He’s such a great musician and has such a great ear. We have a great system down, so why change it or fix it, if it works already. We have two albums done already and we are writing more.
Tell me about this record. When will it be out?
This will be a four-song EP and it’s coming out July 23. I am calling it Gone Are the Lemon Trees and I think it’s the best stuff I’ve written in my life. The title is a Kinks reference.
I love it and can’t wait for you to share it with the world. Anything else you want to share with our readers.
Everybody loves an underdog. Ruff Ruff Mother Fuckers, and that’s me. I’ve come out of the darkness and now I’m alive. My story is a second chance story. Please give me a chance, and listen to the songs. I’m going to continue writing songs every day, and perfect my craft, and hit the road and play these songs. Check me out, this dude has songs.
Thank you Jordan, and long live Golden Frown.
Golden Frown’s four-song EP Gone Are the Lemon Trees is out July 23.
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Teenage Bottlerocket is on the road again. Originally hailing from Laramie, Wyoming, the rapid-fire pop punk outfit is on the heels of releasing a new single, titled “Ghost Story.” Bass player Miguel Chen took a few minutes between gigs to talk about playing live punk rock shows as the pandemic winds down, the music’s power to unite people, and what’s in store with the group’s next record, Sick Sesh! (out August 27 via Fat Wreck Chords).
Were you nervous, or feeling anxiety about taking Teenage Bottlerocket out on the road while the pandemic is still winding down?
Absolutely, we felt nervous all around. Our first concern was how do we get back out there and do it in a safe way? And how do we do it without a lot of backlash? We worked with a lot of promoters trying to figure it out. Once that started to settle into place a second wave of anxiety came with this one particular show where we were giving a … let’s call it a discount. Essentially, tickets for the show were $1,000, but if you showed your vaccination card it was like $20.
Talk about a conversation starter!
Yeah, it was a crazy promotional thing, but it blew up. The next thing you know we’re being interviewed by CNN about it. We’re on the front page of Apple News, all of this crazy stuff. People just saw the headlines: “Teenage Bottlerocket,” “No Vax Tax.” That angered a lot of people. So we went on the news and tried to explain that it’s just this one show. There are many other shows doing different things. So yeah, definitely anxiety from all angles.
Honestly, though, this has probably been the smoothest running tour we’ve ever had. Turns out it was all imaginary stress and drama, or internet stuff that seemed so real. But when you get out into the real world, it’s just not there.
That’s interesting to process. The internet has been everybody’s window to the world for like a year and a half. People have been stuck at home, staring at their phones and computers. All of the sudden “no vax tax” becomes the frontline.
That was just that one promoter’s idea. Obviously it worked well, that show sold out super fast, and everybody there was really happy. For us, if that’s how they want to put on a safe show, we’re all about it. But it turned into a whole big thing.
Does it feel like audiences have been bottled up and are ready to just go nuts like never before?
A thousand percent, yes. And funny enough, the last real tour we did was a lot of these same cities. Lots of shows in Florida just before the pandemic shut everything down. We played Atlanta on that tour. And here we are, passing back through Florida, heading for Atlanta. For a lot of people we were the last show they saw before everything shut down. Now we’re the first show they’re seeing as everything opens up.
Have you had epiphanes or realizations along the way about the dynamics or the value of getting out on stage and playing live punk rock shows again?
Yeah, and it all connects back to what we were just talking about with the internet. There’s this space that exists within music, and particularly surrounding live music. On some level it reminds us that we’re not all as different as we think we are. We’re all connected in some really meaningful ways. And I think that this whole thing where everyone has existed on the internet for the last year and a half has deepened some divides and made people lose that common ground. I have the feeling that getting back to live music and live shows is going to heal that aspect, and help people realize that we’re all the same on some level.
Have you noticed your audiences becoming more diverse?
We had one particular show in Tallahassee where we all noticed that the crowd was really young. Our band exists in a weird space between the old and the new. So we played this really awesome place in Tallahassee called the Bark; it’s a really Queer-friendly, LGBTQ-friendly, and diverse collective, where we all recognized that we have these types of fans. We are lucky in that we didn’t get stuck with just like the punks who are stuck in the ‘90s. We’ve been embraced by the 2000s punks too! We talked with this one fan at that show—I’ve actually had this conversation two times this year—where they said, “I’ve been listening to you since I was nine or 10 years old because you’re my parents’ favorite band.” That’s really fun, but the younger generation will always inherently bring a bit more diversity, and hopefully that continues forever.
You have a new album, Sick Sesh!, out in August. Are these songs a product of how the band spent its time during quarantine, or were they in the works before everything went crazy?
We definitely had plans to do a record before everything went nuts. Our system has always been to do a record every two years. The plan was always to go into the studio late 2020 and release a record in 2021. It just kept getting shifted back because of all his stuff. Under the original timeline the record would already be out. But you can’t release a record if you can’t tour around it. So we sat on this thing for quite a while. Andrew and Jason at the Blasting Room remixed and remastered it quite a few times because I think they were just like us, bored without the usual workload.
I’ve always thought of Teenage Bottlerocket as a band that’s super tight, super concise, shotgun blast-style songwriting. … Point being there’s never anything in the way of the song. With so much time to work in the studio, did that affect the record?
I think all of the extra time and effort went into stripping it down or making it a little more raw. A lot of bands, given that much time in post-production, might’ve gone the opposite direction: give it more polish, make it more radio friendly. Our approach was, “This sounds too clean. Tone back the production a little.”
I have found that the more time you spend stripping something down, the more you realize that, oftentimes, things that feel essential aren’t essential at all. As a journalist I’m always under pressure to cut, cut, cut. It’s a painful process, but once you have time to reflect you can see that there was too much in the way of what you’re trying to say.
Do you watch Top Chef? I think about that a lot. The chefs who always kick ass are the ones who know how to edit themselves—take ingredients off the plate and present something simple, and do it well. This is Top Chef Bottlerocket. [laughs]
There is a new single out, called “Ghost Story.” Much of the press points out that you wrote the lyrics. Does the group have one principal songwriter, or is it generally a group effort?
Generally Ray writes the songs that he sings and Kody writes the song that he sings. Brandon would write a song once in a while. Over the last few years—since we lost Brandon—I’ve tried to step up a little more and bring songs to the table. I’ve got three on this record: One called “The Squirrel” and another called “Moving On.” Kody sings on one of them. Ray sings on two of them.
Is the band rolling out a lot of new songs on this tour?
We’re doing “Ghost Story” every night because, obviously, it was sort of intentional to release that song before going on tour, and people already seem to know it, which is a great feeling. We’re trying to play one other new song each night, which is fun for us. So many of the songs we’ve been playing for a long time. It’s nice to play new songs that are fresh and that we’re excited about. But the crowd wants to hear “Skate Or Die” or “Don’t Want To Go,” or “Radio,” things like that. So as much as part of me would love to do a show where it’s only the new record, you just can’t do that.
How many songs do you power through each night?
I’d say we probably play 25 songs each night.
That’s a workout!
Yeah, but it’s our only workout, so we need this!
While we’re talking about songs, when I hear “I Want To Be A Dog,” I am instantly thinking about Iggy Pop’s song, “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” These songs are polar opposites of each other, but was there intentional mirroring going on there?
Tony wrote that song, and I’m sure there is. We’re all Iggy Pop guys. One time we played Riot Fest with Iggy Pop, and me and Ray saw him backstage. I was frozen—scared to do anything. Ray just puts his fist up in the air, and says, “Fuck yeah, Iggy!” And he gave us a fist bump back. We were both so pumped after that.
But, yeah, I’m sure there’s a loose connection there. Obviously we tip our hats to our influences. You know “In The Basement,” back on “Warning Device,” is obviously like a Ramones song.
While I’m thinking about “I Want To Be A Dog,” I remember we filmed it and got the edit back, and there’s all these dogs taking a shit. We thought, “There is no way our publicist will let this fly. She’s going to shoot it down, make us edit it. So we hit the send button, and nervously waited for her reply. She just wrote back, “I love it!” And that was it. The video was released. Then Erin, one of the owners of Fat Wreck Chords wrote, “I really could have done without all of the dog poop, guys.” So we’re all like, “Sorry …” [laughs].
That’s funny, but the more I’ve watched that video the less jarring it becomes. Plus anyone who owns a dog knows that’s what dogs do at the dog park.
Yeah, you get desensitized to it pretty quickly. [laughs]
Back in May, I had the privilege of hanging out after hours at Wuxtry Records’ Atlanta shop to interview Randy DuTeau, Jimmy Demer, Danny Lankford, and William DuVall of Neon Christ for this documentary film, directed by Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf.
We talked about the formation of the group and their history together amid Atlanta’s early ‘80s hardcore scene, and the all-analog remastering process that yielded NX’s recently released discography LP, 1984 (Southern Lord/DVL Records).
If you weren’t able to track down a copy of the Record Store Day red vinyl edition of Neon Christ’s 1984 LP, no worries. A second press is set to arrive in September, pressed on black and coke-bottle clear vinyl. Both versions are available for pre-order at the Southern Lord Recordings store.
If you weren’t able to track down a copy of the Record Store Day red vinyl edition of Neon Christ’s 1984 LP, no worries. A second press is on the way, pressed on black and coke-bottle clear vinyl. Both are up for pre-order at the Southern Lord Recordings store.
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MESSENGERS FROM AFAR: Frank Schultz (left) and Scott Burland of Duet For Theremin and Lap Steel.
It’s ironic that 2020, a number that universally signifies clarity of vision, brought to a head one of the most clouded years of recent history. Now, as a global pandemic winds down and the dust settles from a chapter of full-throttle socio-political tumult in America, it’s no surprise that the news media and one of Harvard’s brightest astronomers (Avi Loeb) are pointing to the skies with claims of seeing visitors, messengers from afar?
With their latest album, titled ‘Oumuamua, Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel has crafted an album that communes with the vast and mysterious space where human consciousness and the cosmos collide. Scott Burland’s swirling theremin wails and Frank Schultz’s lap steel textures and movements in songs with titles such as “Ceres,” “Vesta,” and “Enceladus,” are intuitively tailored to resonate with the imagination just as humankind seems fixated on asking bigger questions about the universe in which we live.
Burland and Schultz took a few minutes to talk about ‘Oumuamua, which arrived recently via Stickfigure Records.
How did the concept behind ʻOumuamua come about? Was it something you had in mind going into the recording or did it come about in the editing process, after the music was recorded?
FrankSchultz: After the music was recorded and mixed. Since Halocline was about water related phenomena, we thought we would tackle space. We looked at atmospheric phenomena and those names did not really ring true, then went down the whole “we are space dust” path and landed on the vehicles that would have brought those elements/materials to earth (asteroids and comets).
ScottBurland: We came across ‘Oumuamua after the music was recorded and agreed that there would be some sort of space theme as the music is “spacier” than most of what we’d done before.
Were you aware of ʻOumuamua as it was passing through our solar system, and the dialogue that it caused as it sped up while leaving our solar system?
Schultz: Was aware of it when passing through, but not so much the speed up on exit and the controversy surrounding it.
Burland: I had never heard of ‘Oumuamua until we came across it during our research. But once we came across it, it was like wow! A Hawaiian word for “a messenger from afar, arriving first.” Exciting!
It is rich fodder for the imagination. In academic circles it seems to have removed a bit of the stigma surrounding sincere discussions and speculation about the possibilities of extraterrestrial intelligence, while not being too committed to one answer. It also seems like a nice metaphor for the realm of music in which DfTaLS exists (IE. I often think about this group as coming from the context of Eyedrum and the improv nights that went on there for so long. The music was sophisticated and appealed to something of an academic mindset, but it was also irreverent).
Amid the media’s recent obsession with UFOs and UAPs, ʻOumuamua feels timely, like it reflects a lot of people’s headspace and curiosity. Is that a happy accident, or do you find yourself pondering questions about the cosmos more often these days?
Schultz: Happy Accident. But pondering the cosmos is always a good thing.
Burland: It was a happy accident. It could be argued that our music is space music, or “spacey,” though when we rehearse or perform, we’re not necessarily thinking about that. We try to clear our minds and have no agenda. What comes out comes out. But perhaps UFOs and UAPs have a subtle influence over us in an unconscious way. Space is the place!
How did you approach this music differently from your more recent releases, like Halocline and 10?
Schultz: Much less editing. We took pieces as a whole, no overdubs, no other instrumentation. Compared to Halocline and 10, it is stripped down to the core.
Burland: I don’t think our approach was any different. We often record rehearsals and pore over the recordings and decide if it’s release-worthy. For example, all of the music on CD1 was recorded on Christmas Day 2020. Frank texted a day or so later and said, meh, not so great. But a day or two later he texted and said he was able to work some magic and it was interesting for me to listen. I was able to recognize the basic framework of what we’d done, but it had transformed into something I found much more listenable.
Do you think of this as being more refined from what you delivered with Halocline?
Schultz: No, but I generally don’t analyse or compare our music. I leave that to the pros.
Burland: It’s quite different from Halocline, I think. I’m not sure I would say more refined, but I think the music explores the space that it created. It’s as if we happened upon a nice moment and rather than try to change it or evolve it, we stayed a while and explored that moment.
What was the first piece of music that you recorded for this album? Was that the catalyst from which the rest of the ideas here were born?
Schultz: “Ison,” “Sliding Spring,” and” Enceladus” were all recorded on October 8, which would have been the earliest date. The first CD was all recorded on December 25 and the rest of the songs were recorded on Dec. 2. We did not sit down to record for an album (which we did do for 10), but upon listening back to the various recordings we decided that they should be released. So, there is not a song or series of songs that intentionally influenced the other recordings.
Burland: I agree with Frank here, and will add that we didn’t start out thinking about releasing a double CD, but it seemed appropriate after having listened to the music. There seemed to be a common (though unconscious) thread.
One of the most compelling aspects of DfTaLS’ music has always been the strong emotional reaction the music draws out; and it is an enthralling experience that demands your attention. Just a few minutes ago I left the room while the song called “Enceladus” was playing. I had to take care of some fairly important business. I was in an entirely different room of the house, and the music was still affecting me so severely that I had to come back into my office and pause it in order to concentrate on the task at hand. Have other people described having similar reactions to the music?
Schultz: Well thanks for saying that. I have a friend who ran out of a show because it was freaking her out. 🙂 Hi Katie!
Burland: That is high praise indeed, thank you! I’m always humbled when people talk about the experience of listening to our music, whether it’s a live performance or recorded. We’re just a couple of guys who’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’m always pleased to hear when someone says that they felt something while listening. It’s what keeps me going, keeps me involved. The simple fact that people come out to hear us perform and buy our music and are compelled to write about it or play it on their radio program, I dunno, I am so grateful for that.
DfTaLS’ Scott Burland (left) and Frank Schultz. Photo by Chad Radford.
What is your headspace like when you’re creating this music? Do you feel like you’re in control, or is the music in control of you?
Schultz: Typically our best work comes from being guided by the music and getting completely lost in it.
Burland: The bar is always set to be controlled by the music. There are moments when I get goosebumps, though they are fleeting. Forever chasing the dragon.
GRIZZNESS CASUAL: Ben Trickey. Photo by Chad Radford.
Ben Trickey and I recently made our way to El Myr in Little Five Points to talk about his latest album, We Are Not Lucky We Are Blessed, while knocking back a couple of Grizzes. What’s a Grizz, you ask? It’s a pony-sized bottle of Corona with a shot of well Tequila dropped in, and a lime placed atop so you don’t spill too much on the way back to your table … And to enhance the flavor, of course.
Chad Radford: We met years ago, when you were involved with the noise scene. Whenever we’ve done interviews I’ve brought that up: “How has working with noise music influenced your songwriting?” You always have a good answer, but I’ve been thinking, “Ben’s gonna get sick of me asking him about noise.”
Then I read on Facebook that most people ask you about country music. … I wouldn’t think to go there.
Ben Trickey: I wouldn’t either, but most people who don’t know country music naturally go there. Even the trumpet player on the record tweeted something recently that said it’s a record by this great country guy. People hear Southern and they hear acoustic guitar and think country.
… Whereas I look for the noise in your songwriting, and most people think I’m crazy.
But the noise influence is a big part of it. To me, it’s about intensity, buildup, and structure. Noise is like putting together a house or something. I see it as elements of building a structure.
People get away with a lot of bullshit in the name of noise. But a well-composed piece of noise music can be life-changing? It changed the way I engage with music.
Yes, and I was lucky that I went to art school when I did. Then going through grad school at Alfred University in western New York, about five or six hours away from the city. I got to attend a lot of noise and improv sessions with New York artists like Pauline Oliveros, Peer Bode, and Andrew Deutsch.
Is Alfred University known for having a badass music program?
It has a badass art program. It’s mainly a pottery school—ceramics and new ceramic engineering. They have an electronic integrated art program. That’s where a lot of New York video and sound artists went. I met them through Sara Hornbacher at the Atlanta College of Art, who used to hang out at The Kitchen in New York City.
I was sort of her apprentice when I went to Atlanta College of Art. She connected me with that scene.
Tell me about the sign on the cover of your record?
My parents live in the middle of nowhere Alabama, on Smith Lake. It’s about an hour-and-a-half north of Birmingham—between Huntsville and Birmingham on 65. Near Cullman.
My dad and mom built a small cabin there in the ’70s, and I grew up hanging out around there. It was like our lake house. Later, they built another house there, and they still live there. Both of my sisters live there with my nieces and nephews. I have one brother in Chicago.
It’s a fun, pretty place, and I like going there—just don’t spend too much time talking to some of the people around there, especially in the Trump era.
One day I was in the car with my dad, slightly before the pandemic. People were just starting to talk about it.
We drove by this deserted gas station that had been turned into a youth ministry in Trimble, Alabama. I saw that sign in front: “We are not lucky we are blessed.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh!” I had my dad pull over. He was like, “What are you doing? This is ridiculous!” It wasn’t a big deal to him, but I thought it was hilarious. It felt so cocky to say we are the blessed people, which, first of all, assumes there are people who aren’t blessed. So I took that picture with my phone.
When I was working on the record I started thinking about the multiple meanings of it, especially in the South. Saying, “We’re not lucky …” I am not lucky, and this record is about being not lucky. And in a Southern context, saying someone’s blessed, like “bless your heart” is usually a way of talking down to someone, or saying something’s wrong with them … They’re blessed. So I liked the duality of it for the title of a record that’s about an exhausted apocalyptic feeling.
When you’re working with language like this, and you put it out into the world, people will find meanings that you never intended.
I cannot control how my music exists in the world. So, like I commented on that Facebook post, I’m sitting back, eating boiled peanuts or whatever. I used to get frustrated about it. I’m okay with it, though. Once you listen to the record you can figure out what it’s about … Or not.
I was listening to the lyrics of “Glendalough or Chantilly,” and wondered if it’s autobiographical, or how much is thinly-veiled real life vs. fiction.
It’s a mix. There is an autobiographical element to it, but it’s a longing for escape, and feeling tired.
When I was practicing the song with Tiffany [Leigh Clark], she said, “This is about our phones.” I was like, “Really?”
I mention the phone in the beginning of the song: “We’re all children falling to pieces, blinded by light.” She says yeah, it’s the light of our phones. And I’m like, “Wow, what is that?”
I talk about burying the phone because I had a rough few years. I was thinking about escape. I had been to Glendalough in Ireland and to Chantilly in France. Both of them felt like fairytale worlds. So I’m asking: Give me blue skies, or a night on the town. Give me something, because I’m tired of feeling so exhausted. It’s asking for deliverance.
When I listen to it, I think about the pandemic.
Something happened … Most of this album was written before the pandemic. Then the pandemic happened while I was recording these songs, and somehow I fit all of that into the album. It made me realize that I’ve always written apocalyptic anxiety songs. It meant way more because a lot of what everyone was feeling fit perfectly with what was going on. Everyone was hanging out in their backyards. All they had was the news on their phone, and it was driving everyone crazy.
It all affected the album. Even though it was written before the pandemic, it was recorded and produced during the pandemic. It was all emailed, or I went to people’s houses and sat up socially distanced. That affected the sound. With all of my records I reach a point where I let noise take over. With this one, I wasn’t doing that. I wanted it to be structured, song oriented. There are still touches of noise here and there, but I didn’t scream. With some of the older records I get kind of loud with my redneck bark. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to sing sing, and make an easy going record about hard things. I didn’t want it to intensely attack you. With a lot of my older records I really wanted to punch you in the chest.
I can’t help but look for the confrontational elements of your music, but that’s what I bring to your music.
There’s also just a part of my personality where even if I try, I can’t not do that, because it’s just how I write. So even if I’m pulling back it’s still gonna be there. Like with the song “Burn It All” — where I’m like, “If you think I won’t do it, I will.” That’s confrontational. Maybe I tried to fight it with the organ to keep it a little more smooth.
Don’t undersell your redneck bark! In your voice, there is a naturally sad quality, or a naturally scared quality. So there are moments in songs where you say that you’re scared, and the sound of your voice pushes the words beyond what a lot of vocalists are capable of doing.
That is something that I am aware of, and I’ve played with that over the years. To me, that’s fragility, and by showing fragility the music and the message become stronger—by showing the weaknesses and exposing the cracks, you make it stronger. That’s the basis for a lot of my music.
On the drive here, I was thinking about how to phrase that: “Is there strength in showing vulnerability?
That’s been the conceit of most of my records. Hopefully I’m right [laughs]. A friend of mine recently played it for a woman he’s seeing. She said, “It’s alright, but this guy needs balls.”
I feel like I have them, they’re just deep thinking balls.
… My music is never going to sell a lot. Someone on that Facebook post said something like, “My friend was in a punk band and was into the Clash. He was trying to figure out how to do it. He realized that when he played country music more people came out. He started doing that and now he’s in Sugarland making millions of dollars …”
I’m never going to do that.
I’m less of a career musician than I am a poet, if I can be that pretentious. I don’t consider myself a musician because I’m not that good. So it’s more about poetry. And I can just see the sounds as words.
You do it for you, not for other people.
I came to that realization about music journalism as well. Over the years, different editors have said that I need to write about music that more people care about, more “big Atlanta.” Aside from the fact that I have always felt repulsed by mainstream culture, the music that I am genuinely drawn to doesn’t have many dedicated writers any more, or anyone else paying attention in any critical capacity.
And it would be disingenuous for you to fake it.
Yes, but in the era of social media, a shallow disingenuous voice is often rewarded and repeated way more often than an honest exploration of music.
Do you know what synesthesia is?
Yes. I think I have it to an extent, but It’s never the same for me. Sounds feel like chunks and they feel like colors and pictures. But they change depending on my mood, so it’s never consistent. I almost always visualize it like I want the music to sound like breaking wood. It’s definitely a visual thing in my head. This makes me think of Richard Buckner. Most of his stuff, especially the first few records always sound to me like cracking wood.
What is the first song that you wrote on the new record?
Probably the first song, “Big Empty.”
I had the beginning of the song a long time ago, and I could never finish it. Originally it had a different ending that went into these cliches about mankind, money, and bullshit. I didn’t like it, but I liked the chords. So I rewrote it and rewrote it. The first song that I played out besides that was “Petrified.”
Do you think of “Petrified” as being like a thesis for the album?
Originally, yes, but not any more. That’s a hard question because now that I’ve had time away from it. that song is just an intense little mediator. It is the catalyst where all of the other songs came from. That event or those feelings are what led to everything else being written. But I don’t know if it’s the thesis.
Ben Trickey plays the We Are Not Lucky We Are Blessed LP release party at the Earl on Saturday, September 25, with Evan Stepp.
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Sad news made the rounds over the weekend, as word spread that Miles Seaton of Akron/Family has died. He was 41 years old.
I was lucky enough to see Akron/Family play The Earl a few times over the years—in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2012. The group’s members also made up Michael Gira of Swans group Angels of Light when they played The Earl in 2005.
Akron/Family was the quintessential experimental folk outfit, an offshoot of the “new weird America” scene, blending a cosmic strum and wail over a bed of noisy and psychedelic pleasantries. The group’s sound was a warm and far-out acoustic dirge that was inspired more by the back roads of rural Georgia than the mean streets of their hometown of Brooklyn.
I took these photos at The Earl on February 20, 2007, when Akron/Family was on the road playing songs from the album Love Is Simple (Young God Records). They shared the stage that night with Untied States.
Rest in peace.
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Jayne County is an avatar of social and cultural change—a transgender trailblazer, and a rock ‘n’ roll provocateur. “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere,” her latest single and collaboration with former Sexual Side Effects guitar player and songwriter Am Taylor takes stock of her six decades-long journey, from growing up in rural Dallas, Georgia to performing for New York City, London and the world. She worked side-by-side with and inspired legions of groundbreaking artists including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, the Kinks, Lou Reed, the Ramones, and too many others to name here (seriously, books have been written chronicling her fascinating story). She even acted in Andy Warhol’s theatre production titled Pork. Despite such a long and illustrious career, though, “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere” resonates as a mantra, and an anthem for a life spent perpetually on the leading edge of cultural change. Now, teamed up with Taylor, the two have forged a path into new frontiers of rock ‘n’ roll as religion, safe haven, and ammunition to keep fighting in a contemporary landscape.
County and Taylor sat down with me to talk about how they met, recording their first single for Cleopatra Records, and where it’s all going from here.
Chad Radford: What’s striking to me about the video is the chemistry between the two of you. How did you start playing music together?
Am Taylor: We’ve known each other for about 10 years. We met through our friend Jen Belgard at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club in Little Five Points. Obviously everybody knows Jayne, and she knew of my old band the Sexual Side Effects. One day, Jayne messaged me on Facebook and asked if I wanted to get together and write some songs.
Jayne County: I had played a few shows at the Yacht Club and at the Star Bar. Amber was there, and once we started talking we clicked immediately. I was looking for someone to help me out with some songs I’d written. She volunteered, and she understood what I was saying when I talked about how I wanted a song to feel, how it was structured, and what a song said. She picks up on all sorts of stuff, and adds her ideas, and makes it better!
AT: When Jayne messaged me, I’d been a hermit for a while—a recluse in my home—and was burned out on playing music. I’d done a lot of art and writing—I was taking courses and waking up every morning and doing object writing. I was in songwriter mode, and it was cool to have a collaborator. Jayne would hum a melody to me, I would craft the chords around it, and we’d have a song. That’s literally what our writing process has been.
JC: I don’t know where the songs come from. All of the sudden there’s a tune in my head. I’ll take it to Amber and say it goes like this [hums]. She picks up her guitar and plays what I hummed. Before long she’s playing the whole song!
Have songs always just come to you?
JC: Yes they have, they just descend down on me. Where do they come from? I’ve got that thing where there’s a constant humming in my ears—tinnitus. Sometimes that’s where the songs come from—my tinnitus hums a tune at me. I might be driving in my truck, feeding my cats, cooking, or doing anything, and a tune will come to me. If it disappears, it disappears. If it keeps coming back to me I know it’s catchy, and it will probably be a good song. I’ll record them into my phone. Then Amber works on them.
AT: I have my own process with my songs—I have a factory! I’ll sit down at the kitchen table or wherever, and write down an idea that comes to me, and that’s one session. Another phase: I’ll drive around in my car and rate the ideas that I have, one-through-five. Then I’ll have another session where I’ll piece the songs together. Then I’ll write a first draft. Then I’ll rewrite it and make it better. Then rewrite it again! I usually go through about four drafts. I spend a lot of time on my songs. With Jayne and it’s easy because she comes to me with ideas and it’s like boom, boom, boom, done. We’re a productive team.
JC: We can have one rehearsal session and come up with two or three songs.
AT: She’s into all of this ‘60s stuff and comes up with cool doo-wop and surf stuff that I wasn’t aware of. Working with producer and engineer Andy Reilly, we made our song sound really cool. He knows Jayne so it’s still rock ‘n’ roll. But with the new stuff we’re going to have a production that’s something like the Viagra Boys: loud drums, driving bass. But we’re adding some ‘60s elements. I’ve been playing through a Marshall, and I’ll have these Queens of the Stone Age sounds. With Jayne, I’ll play a Fender and get a James Bond surf rock sound.
JC: I like the folk-rock twangy kind of sound, too. You can hear it in “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere.” To me, the music of the ‘60s was great because it was taking rock ‘n’ roll but adding elements from Indian music, classical music, adding sitar, flute, harpsichord. There was a lot of experimentation with music going on back and then, and a lot of it stood out.
AT: I love Ennio Morricone who composed soundtracks for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Danger: Diabolik, Deep Down. The soundscapes that he created were so weird and different and even the soundtrack for Barbarella: I love the guitar tones. We play music the way we do, but I want to bring those production elements into it as well.
What did you have in mind when you wrote “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere?”
JC: I am a big fan of protest music: “Eve Of Destruction,” P.F. Sloan, the Byrds, early Bob Dylan when he was still a protest singer—before it became really boring. “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere” came from out of nowhere, and the tune came with it. It’s along the same line as the Kinks’ song, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” We have this structure called society that says there are certain things that you have to do, and certain things that you have to believe in. Anyone who can’t do it, just can’t do it. They stick out, and that’s what that song is about. By that I mean not fitting into the gay world, not fitting in with the trans world, the straight world. It’s about being one creature—on your own in the world—but not letting it get you down. Making it work for you.
Jayne, you were a teenager in Dallas, GA during the Civil Rights era, you moved to New York City and participated in the Stonewall riots, and you were there when punk rock was forming.
JC: I was a little before punk, they’ve often called me proto-punk.
You’ve been a harbinger of cultural and social change. Do you look at contemporary society and see the results of what you’ve been a part of? Do you still feel like you don’t fit in?
JC: I have thought about this before: How much of an impact did I really make? I have always been anti-establishment, or whatever the established norm is. I truly do not fit in, so I try to change things for the better for everyone. I can see that certain things have changed as the result of some people being on the frontlines, and not being afraid to make change. You can’t be afraid, or change won’t happen. People have to be on the frontlines to build the different kinds of roads to go down. I had to make my own road to go down.
And yes, I still feel like I don’t fit in. I built my own road to go down, and that road always leads back to me not fitting in. But that keeps me going and working harder. If I fit in I probably wouldn’t be Jayne Country anymore.
Maybe that’s where the frontline is now: In the wake of social media, people need to find that road to embrace their identity.
JC: Yes, and younger people need to know more about history. People are really dumb about history now. I’m a history buff; people have done a lot of really shitty things in the past, but nobody seems to ever learn anything from it.
AT: I’m a history buff, too. The Roman Empire: I have a song about Julius Caesar called “Blood Moon,” and a song about Winston Churchill called “The Darkest Hour.” Instead of writing a song about how a boy or girl broke your heart, this was a different way of writing a song. I studied all of these eras and learned about their stories and pulled imagery from the locations and the people. One is Julius Caesar’s revenge as a ghost, which was cool. It was a lot like “Game of Thrones,” or something. Julius Caesar gets his revenge in the end.
JC: Ancient Egypt is my thing. If you look at the walls in my living room they’re covered with nothing but Egyptian stuff. Hundreds of statues of Bastet, Anubis, Tutankamon. I do a lot of painting with Egyptian themes, but my last two shows have been postponed because of the pandemic.
I have a three-legged cat named King Tut, but we just call him Tut. Most of my cats are rescues. Right now I have about 13 cats.
That’s a lot of mouths to feed!
JC: Oh I know it. My cat food bill is way too high, and I think I feed them too much. But they’re safe and they’re happy here. I leave dry food and water out for them, and I mix wet food with treats. All I have to do is shake the bag of treats and they come running!
Amber, when considering Jayne’s legacy, do you feel pressure to raise the bar for yourself?
AT: The way that I can raise the bar is by thinking about us together—making the songs the best that they can be. I think about how we work together, and respecting Jayne’s ideas, and giving her the space that she needs. I do a lot of rewriting of songs. Sometimes a great song isn’t complete. With “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere,” we didn’t have the hook at the beginning. We tried a bunch of different things, so that’s how I raise the bar.
There’s this trick that Radiohead and the Smiths do to make songs sound weird and cool and creepy, called using borrowed chords. You write out each note of the scale within a major scale and then pick the minor scale. For each one of those notes within that scale is a chord, and you create a chord progression. You can then swap out that chord—the fourth note in the scale is the fourth chord—and you could swap that out for the minor scale version. That’s what a lot of Beatles songs do, and you hear that in a lot of my songs. How can we make this cool as shit? How can we make it like the Smiths?
What would Johnny Marr do (WWJMD)?
AT: Yes! He does all of these inversions, and weird jazz shit. I want to add that into it as well. Make it go to an all new level of cool.
JC: No. I’ve been thinking about updating “Man Enough To Be A Woman,” but we’re concentrating on writing new songs.
AT: We have about five songs, and we’re getting more together for an LP.
JC: Among those five songs there are still ideas that haven’t been pulled out and worked on yet. But when we get 10 songs together we’ll be in good shape for an album.
You did the new single with Cleopatra Records. Are they interested in releasing an album?
AT: Cleopatra said, “Let’s see how things go with this one, and we’ll figure out what to do from there.” We’re still learning the business side of things. From this go around we’ve learned that Jayne has a huge following in Germany, Scandinavia, and Sweden. People were Shazaming the song an awful lot over there.
JC: Iggy Pop played the song on his BBC show. He played “Paranoid Paradise” on the show, so I sent him the new video. His response was, “It’s good …” He didn’t say he was gonna play it or anything like that. But he did!
AT: He said I was a “shrewd rockin’ chic!” I’ve never been called shrewd before, but that has to be Iggy’s stamp of approval, right?
Absolutely! You don’t want him to call you a goody two-shoes!
AT: I guess we did break into a church in the video, but at least we went to church, right?
It’s a long story, but our video turned into something much different from what we thought it would be. Initially we were going to go to all of these places and get kicked out. But since we didn’t have a lot of time or budget we shot it all there and at the Star Bar. As it turned out, he Star Bar had closed down a few days before we were supposed to shoot, but we got in touch with the new owners and got in there. Video Rahim is great, he had all of these ideas like “why don’t you smoke a joint in church, or somebody should grab this girl’s boob here.”
We were lucky to get Justin Welborn, who plays the preacher. He’s our friend, but he’s a TV star now. He was in The Signal, Unforgiven, the reboot of MacGuyver. He has a great look … Great priest! We just asked, “Hey, would you be in our video?” We have all this crazy extra footage of him freaking out and screaming about us going to hell. He’s such a great actor.
What’s next for you?
JC: When we recorded “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere” we also recorded another song called “Too Much Information.” We’ll make a video for that next.
AT: That song has extreme James Bond guitar in it, like spy hunter sounds.
JC: I talk about Facebook and Youtube on it: “Leave me alone/Youtube is on” … “Smart TV/MP3/Can you download your love for me?” Stuff like that.
Have the two of you played live together yet?
JC: Not yet. I’ve thought about doing an invitation show, where we play the songs in front of an audience. There’s a new song we’re working on that I’m excited about, called “She’s On A ‘60s Trip.” The lyrics are tongue-in-cheek, and the verses are constructed using titles from all of these ‘60s songs put together as verses, like “Come On Baby, light my fire, break on through to the other side,” ”Trapped in the house of the rising sun,” “I wanna hold your hand at the revolution.”
AT: We’ve only kind of worked out the acoustic part for it. It will start to morph a little more when we go into the studio and start doing demos. I’m big into creating soundscapes with music. I play a bunch of instruments, and I want to create these soundscapes behind things, so you know the ‘60s stuff that we keep talking about will be fun.
JC: I met them at Max’s Kansas City years ago, and we’ve known each other for years.
I get the impression that, in the mid-to-late ‘70s, you were either a Max’s Kansas City band or a CBGBs bands. Some groups played both, but there was a perceived loyalty to one or the other. What was the line in the sand?
JC: Max’s was more diverse. CBGBs got to a point where it was suburban kids driving in with their punk clothes in the car. They’d dress up in their punk clothes in the car and go to the show. Afterward they’d go change out of their punk clothes, and get back into their office gear for work the next day.
Max’s held up the real freak scene. The real artists scene. There was a big gay clientele there, but it wasn’t a gay club. Gay people were welcome; everyone was welcome. CBGBs became kind of homophobic after a while. A war between CBs and Max’s started in about 1976, because Dick Manitoba from the Dictators jumped up on my stage one night at CBGBs. He’d been in the audience calling me all kinds of names. He jumped onto the stage and I thought he was going to attack me, so I clocked with the mic stand. He fell over and hit a table and was hurt really badly. I felt absolutely terrible about it. That started a war: A lot of people at CBs were taking the wrestler’s side—Handsome Dick Manitoba. People Max’s took my side.
He pressed assault charges against me, but he wouldn’t show up in court so the case was thrown out. He was embarrassed because word hit the streets that poor ol’ Dick Manitoba got his ass kicked by a drag queen.
After that, for a time, Patti Smith talked about it in her shows, saying: “You can’t judge people by what they look like, or by the clothes they wear.” … All because I whooped him. I only did it because I felt like I needed to. He’d been yelling homophobic things at me—just saying horrible things. When he jumped up onto the stage it scared me to death. He had a beer mug in his hand, and he turned at me. I thought he was going to hit me with that beer mug. Later, he said, “Oh, I was just trying to get to the bathroom.”
You moved to London soon after that, correct?
JC: Yes, I moved to London in ‘76 and started playing the clubs there. In ‘77 I went on tour. The Police were my opening band!
When people talk about the golden era of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, they think about the Talking Heads, Ramones, Television, that era at CBGBs. Over at Max’s there was Cherry Vanilla and later came the Misfits, the Victims, the New York Dolls. You were there before those scenes took shape, but you are one of the artists who laid the groundwork for that whole era to begin …
JC: People say that, but it’s hard for me to judge things clearly. I’m so close to it all, and it’s hard to think that was really even me—the person—who was there.
You really were there, and you really did kick Handsome Dick Manitoba’s ass at CBGBs.
JC: He tried to make it make it out like “Oh, I was just going to the bathroom and this big ol’ mean drag queen attacked me, a poor little ol’ wrestler.”
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Over the last two years, Watch Out For Snakes mastermind Matt Baum has played a transformative role in fostering Atlanta’s chipwave, chiptune, and synthwave music scene—electronic music that combines elements of video game sounds, Italo Disco, post-punk, acid house, and new wave songwriting. Since releasing his frenetic debut album UPGRADE in 2018, followed by Scars in 2019, the Florida-born electronic music producer, who has lived in Atlanta since 2006, has kept the art of high-energy live performance chief among his priorities. As standing quarantine orders lumber toward the one-year mark, Baum has channeled his efforts into creating his first video for a new song titled “Fight Those Invisible Ninjas.”
Baum took a few minutes to talk about the song, his experiences growing up amid the hardcore scene on Florida’s Space Coast, and bringing attitude and energy to electronic music.
Chad Radford: “Fight Those Invisible Ninjas” gives nods to soundtracks for games like “Ninja Gaiden” and the “Megaman X” series—it’s driving enough for the dance floor, and benefits from modern synth tones, yet it’s nostalgic enough to draw some seriously nerdy references.
Matt Baum: Totally! I draw influence from a lot of different sources, largely retro games from the Nintendo and Super Nintendo era, ‘70s/’80s outfits like Sparks, Depeche Mode, and ELO, synth-y composers like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, and the energy of hardcore/punk bands like Minor Threat, Refused, Comeback Kid, and Underoath. I’d say 90% of my instrumentation is synthesized from NES chip tones, everything but my drums and pads, but I tend to arrange with a hardcore/punk sensibility because I want to throw down when I perform live. It’s always been about bringing as much attitude as I can to the electronic scene, because that’s the energy I respond to when I’m a fan in the crowd.
How did growing up on Florida’s Space Coast affect your relationship with music?
My introduction to any music scene was going to local hardcore shows in the late ‘90s/early 2000s. I spent a lot of time in community centers like the Melbourne Jaycees. We were all young and dumb with too much energy so all of those shows were a blast. Everyone would get super into dancing and throwing down—we were all super supportive of each other too because the scene was so small. I have a lot of nostalgia for that scene because there was a certain simplicity and authenticity to it. Everyone just wanted to make music that was fun and there weren’t a lot of gatekeepers. There was a single promoter down there called Little Reggies Productions that handled all of the hardcore, punk, and emo acts and they were super fair about how they booked acts, which fostered a lot of love across the scene. Everything I do now–live performance-wise—is trying to recapture the magic of those early days and show everyone a good time.
Did you play guitar before you switched to keytar?
I grew up playing classical piano, but never really enjoyed playing music until I discovered that you could transcribe and play tunes that actually meant something to you. The first song I ever transcribed and played was the main theme for “Final Fantasy VI” on Super Nintendo. That was when I was in 4th grade and it was an epiphany for me, but it wasn’t until 2003 that I started performing at actual shows. I joined a melodic hardcore band in my Florida hometown of Indialantic, called Audrey. They wanted a synth player so I started writing with them. A few months in, I got jealous of the guitarists being able to throw down and engage with the crowd at floor shows so I bought a keytar off eBay and never looked back. I used that same keytar through Audrey, the first Atlanta band I was in, The Drownout (2007-2009), and on up to WOFS. I can’t not be mobile when I’m playing and I don’t like putting up a barrier of synths between myself and the crowd because the only reason I play is to directly feel that reciprocal energy between myself and the crowd.
On a side note, I bought a Telecaster with the intent of teaching myself guitar in 2010, but I didn’t get very far. I still want to spend time learning at some stage. Because I respect the hell out of multi-instrumentalists. I do know how to play oboe (three years in middle school), but I don’t know that there’s much call for oboe in popular music at the moment!
What inspired you to pursue this style of music?
I stumbled across chiptune and synthwave as genres without knowing that there were established genres for either. I’ve always enjoyed messing with minimal synth tones, which I mainly got from more contemporary groups like We Are Wolves, Metronomy, and Bloc Party. But this project mostly began as me thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone wrote an ‘80s movie soundtrack concept album but had all the instrumentation sound like video game music?” The only reason I was even going down an instrumental avenue is because my previous project with my former bassist had fallen through and I was tired of trying to get a vocal tone in that project that I was happy with. It was only once I had a few tracks written that I discovered SURVIVE through The Guest soundtrack and then College through the Drive soundtrack. Those two groups really opened up my eyes that there was a demand for structurally simple, but pure musical ideas.
How do you pull off your high-energy shows as a one-man act?
I had my first full album written almost a year before my first live performance primarily because I deliberated for so long about the best way to perform the music live. Originally, I experimented with a looper pedal because I loved what artists like Howie Day have done, building the whole song live, but the songs I’d written at that stage were too layered and had too many song parts for that to be practical. I also wanted to find a way of incorporating the actual Nintendo into what I was doing, but at the time, the only chiptune artists that were using actual consoles in a live setting were using them more as sequencers, not as instruments and I wanted listeners to connect with what I was doing on stage at any given second. I’ve seen some disappointing synth and chip shows where the artist either just hit play and stood around or was walled up behind so much hardware that you couldn’t tell what they were doing. I didn’t want that for me. So I found a way of compromising where I play backing tracks with the lead parts of each song section pulled out so that I can perform those parts live with the keytar and the softsynth Nintendo emulator I use, Plogue chipsounds.
My entire stage show was designed based on experiences in previous bands to be as easy to set up, tear down, and perform as possible so that I can just focus on the performance itself. I’ve had my share of embarrassing technical glitches with hardware, etc. right before a set and knew I didn’t want to deal with that in WOFS. Proud to say that I’ve only experienced one technical glitch in any of my live WOFS performances and it was something that got worked out during sound check thankfully.
As far as being solo goes, the biggest challenge comes more from travel, trying to figure out how to fly and safely transport all of my equipment from A to B. As an individual, this was probably one of the largest problems I faced, but I figured out a system involving some solid road cases and bungee cords that’s done pretty well for me. I’ve still experienced some unfortunate damage due to TSA checks though, but mostly minor stuff.
Is the song’s title, “Fight Those Invisible Ninjas.” about dealing with personal demons, or is it simply a “Ninja Gaiden” reference?
“Fight Those Invisible Ninjas” is actually a tongue-in-cheek homage to my hardcore days. There are certain mosh calls we’d use as hardcore musicians in the early 2000s to get the crowd to start throwing elbows, kicking, and basically just getting a good pit going. One of those mosh calls “Fight those invisible ninjas!” was one that musicians used half-jokingly because of how ridiculous it was and it eventually became a meme within the hardcore scene, but it perfectly captured this great energy that I always felt at those shows. I want to do what I can to bring more of that attitude and energy to the synth world especially, because I feel like synth artists tend to prioritize polish and aesthetic over grit and rawness.
You hit on some of the subtext of the track though, which was an intentional double-meaning in the title—battling personal demons, which in my case revolve around personal health and self-esteem issues. But each listener can re-interpret those demons to their own personal experience.
Part of your dynamic is channeling personal experiences into songs. How do you approach this?
When I start writing a song, it always starts with a combination of an emotion I’m feeling in that moment as well as some musical technique I want to explore. Musical expression is a form of therapy for me, which is why my songs span a variety of different tempos and musical moods. I’m not that different from most musicians. To this point, what’s inspired me to write has been an amalgam of different traumas and celebrations I’ve experienced over the course of my life: losing family, getting divorced, going through heart surgery, new relationships and friendships … If I find myself focusing on one of these things to the point where it’s overwhelming, that’s when I feel the urge to sit down and write.
I end up shaping these feelings through different song structures or instrument synthesis though, which is where the technical experimentation comes into play.
Initially, I suspected the name, “Watch Out For Snakes,” was a reference to old-school Pitfall for Atari, but it’s a MST3K reference.
I didn’t run across MST3K until I hit high school, but when I did, I went all in on it. “Watch out for snakes,” initially a one-off joke in their Eegah episode became a frequent callback through the entire series that just stuck with me. So when I knew that I wanted to start an attitude-driven chiptune project that kept things light-hearted and goofy, and began brainstorming project names, Watch Out For Snakes was something fun that I kept gravitating back to that no one else seemed to be using musically. I used to have great Google Search results too until a few years ago when the MST3K guys did a reunion “Watch Out For Snakes Tour.” Ah well.
Do you face a different set of standards, or is it difficult to be taken seriously?
The biggest challenge I face is booking shows, especially locally, as a “chipwave” artist. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities out on the road playing huge fests like MAGFest and BitGen Gamer Fest, both in Baltimore, Outrun the Sun Fest in LA, Neon Rose in Portland, OR, and NEON Fest in Providence, which got cancelled last year due to quarantine measures. I feel like I’m an act that wins people over in a live setting because of my energy. But it’s been a hard sell to get booked as support, especially here in Atlanta, for larger synth and video game acts because I ride a fine line between the two groups. Most of the time that can work to my advantage, because I have fan appeal across multiple genres, but a lot of promoters that haven’t seen my act sometimes find me too chippy for synth shows and too synthy for video game shows. I’m positive though that eventually everyone will come around!
There’s a lot of local synth and chip talent in the Atlanta area that doesn’t get the exposure it deserves because some promoters just don’t know what to do with us. That’s one of the reasons I started putting together an artist collective prior to COVID (in partnership with Drunken Unicorn and Outrun Brewery) called Terminus Retrowave, with the goal of providing more opportunities for touring chip and synth acts to perform in Atlanta while pairing them with relevant artists in our local community. Atlanta has one of the largest synthwave artist populations in the US, but Atlanta fans don’t know about them because there’s not a central hub/event to bring everyone together. Hopefully, once the COVID dust settles, we can get that going again in earnest, but in the meantime, I’m partnering with local artists to put something on together in a virtual livestream setting.
What’s next for you?
I quit my day job in November 2020 to pursue music full-time for at least a couple of months so I’m going all-in on a few soundtrack commissions for video games and film, exploring a split 7-inch release with a fellow musician, knocking out some remixes for people, and finishing some additional singles that will be out in the coming months. I’m also going to invest a lot more of myself in Terminus Retrowave and hope to get the first virtual livestream on the books by April 2021. Basically, I’m going to continue exploring how to diversify my music career in a way that’s sustainable and that hopefully gives back to the Atlanta music community.
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Stark black-and-white photographs of a man with intense focus, hammering at plastic containers, metallic tubes, and hunks of repurposed weapons of war. His head and face clean-shaven, and a cigarette dangling from his lower lip as he kneels—muscles locked—pounding metal rods and mallets on mangled bits of titanium and steel. This vision of percussionist and sound artist Z’ev (born Stefan Joel Weisser) was broadcast from the Bay Area to middle America and beyond in the pages of the Industrial Culture Handbook, published by punk and underground culture journal RE/Search in 1983.
RE/Search placed Z’ev alongside industrial music’s early pioneers Throbbing Gristle, NON, Cabaret Voltaire, and more. But as each of these other acts explored the dark aspects of society in the wake of the industrial revolution with subversive cunning, Z’ev communed with the mystical elements of the natural world. The sounds he created tuned into the deeper resonances of a planet hurtling through space, spinning in alignment with the unseen contours of the universe.
Association with industrial music was never disconcerting for him. “It was just a bunch of people coming from an art background, moving into a proto-punk kind of thing,” Z’ev explained over the phone during an interview in 2007. “My relationship with industrial music had to do with the instruments I was using. They were products of high technological industrialization.”
Z’ev utilized the scraps of industry to draw out both the gargantuan and the meditative qualities of metal, space, and time. He fully embraced the artistic notions of turning swords into plowshares, but most importantly, his performances and compositions honed the power of pure harmonics.
Be it with his earlier “wild style” live performances imbued with an intense physical show of force, or his more aurally-focused compositions that found balance in primitive rhythms and improvisation, Z’ev’s output had more in common with the tonal exploration of composers of massive minimalism such as Tony Conrad and Lustmord, or the techniques of Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening Band, rather than the dirge of groups like Einstürzende Neubauten or Test Dept., who utilize similar instrumentation. “I was never interested in people coming to see a violent thing happen, because it wasn’t violent; it was a powerful thing,” he explained.
Recalling reviews of early performances: One bay area journalist wrote that “he manipulates large, metal objects with the look of a concert pianist.” But in New York, a writer called him “a man who personifies violence in sound and vision,” and later asked “why does this remind me of a guy being jerked around by two vicious Doberman Pinschers?”
The latter review didn’t set well. “He’s probably someone who cowers during a thunderstorm,” Z’ev offered with an understated laugh. “Some people revel in a thunderstorm and others get scared. It’s an elemental thing and people’s relationship to them determines if it’s something scary or something to embrace.”
Early Z’ev recordings such as 1981’s Salts Of Heavy Metals (Infidelity Records) and 1982’s Elemental Music (Subterranean Records) summoned the hypnotic qualities of reverberating metal by guiding the clang and bang of his performance to harness the ghostly acoustic feedback swelling between each mallet strike—the rhythmic aural phenomena created by his homemade instruments interacting with the room itself.
Z’ev spent a lifetime studying music, the nature of sound, and spirituality from around the world, including Kabbalah and esoteric systems, and wrote a book titled Rhythmajik: Practical Uses of Number, Rhythm, and Sound. He also worked with the Fluxus Group, and was active in the Downtown Manhattan music scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as the West Coast’s avant-garde arts and music community, extending from his time attending the California Institute of the Arts.
In 1980, he shared the stage with British goth-punks Bauhaus on their first headlining tour of the U.K. “We always used to hand pick our special guests and would look for unusual, stimulating, and challenging artists,” Bauhaus’ bass player and vocalist David J offered in an email. “We saw a film of Z’ev doing a performance where he was ‘playing the building,’ and also using his collection of plastic containers to great rhythmic effect. At the time, we were getting more rhythmic as a band so it was very complimentary to have him opening for us. I believe that he is something of a shaman.”
Over the years, Z’ev also collaborated with various composers, including live electronic music innovator Carl Stone, multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp, guitarist Glenn Branca, pianist Charlemagne Palestine, noise artist Merzbow, Genesis P. Orridge of Psychic T.V., Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))), percussionist Jon Mueller, and dozens more.
Like many, Mueller discovered Z’ev after reading about him in RE/Search’s Industrial Culture Handbook. “When I read his article in ’87 or ’88, I remember it striking me as someone really living a different kind of life, and as a drummer, it was inspiring—mostly in that his ideas went far beyond drumming.”
A few years later, Mueller booked Z’ev to play a show in Milwaukee, where the two met. Later, Mueller released the Osso Exótico + Z’EV CD via the Crouton label.
“Years later, I shared another bill with him in Milwaukee, as part of the Milwaukee Noise Fest,” Mueller says. “That was a great night. We had dinner and really got to talk instead of just exchanging emails—his were typically brief. His set with the synthetic drum triggers manipulating the Jimi Hendrix video was a new direction for him, and I admired his dedication to finding ways to create.”
Mueller goes on to say: “My perception after meeting him didn’t change much, except realizing the possibilities that exist. Being young reading about someone, especially someone like Z’ev, you never assume that one day you’d meet them, let alone work with them.”
In 2009, Important Records released HYDratioN, a collaboration in which Mueller mailed Z’ev a collection of tracks—drums vibrated with gong and synth recordings, and other small percussion. According to the LPs sleeve, Z’ev “recreated” the source material to an extreme degree. How it was executed, though, remains a mystery. “It’s somewhat unclear what all happened on his end,’” Mueller says. “To me, it sounded different than what I sent him, but he said he ‘basically just mixed it.’”
A now scarce retrospective double CD released in 1991, titled 1968-1990: One Foot In The Grave (Touch), drew renewed interest in Z’ev. Dozens more releases followed, including a 2006 CD for Atlanta’s Blossoming Noise label, titled Symphony #2 – Elementalities.
But even in the digital era, many of his recordings remain frustratingly difficult to track down. As a result, more people have heard of Z’ev than have experienced his performances.
For his 2007 tour—his first proper trek playing shows across the United States—Z’ev’s inventory of instruments included steel sheets and boxes, titanium tubes, a gong made from a patio table bass, and a section from the tank of an 18-wheeler. Each is played with various mallets and maracas that have been altered with ball bearings.
His favorite metal is Titanium, which he discovered at a Bowing scrap yard in Seattle circa 1982 where he acquired surplus materials salvaged from the cooling system of missile silos from Triton submarines. “When the rocket shoots out of the sub you have to cool the interior of the silo or it would melt the submarine,” he adds with childlike enthusiasm. “Titanium can become white hot and maintain structural integrity. The more heat and pressure that’s used to create a metal, creates energy potential. When you hit titanium it amplifies the sonic energy it puts out.”
That sonic energy still rings out with unmatched power.
Z’ev was born on February 8, 1951. He passed away on December 16, 2017. He sustained injuries including a punctured lung and five broken ribs, after surviving a train derailment in Kansas. He was 66 years old.
These photos were taken when Z’ev performed at Eyedrum Arts & Music Gallery on May 16, 2007. Mr. Natural, Black Meat, and Sikhara also performed.All photos by Chad Radford.
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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, an early incarnation of the group now known as Ecryptus was born as a melodic death metal band hellbent on exploring the blackened depths of the cosmos. It was the early aughts, and the group’s singer and guitar player Mike Michalski took lead of this ragtag band of thrashers who knew from the beginning that they wanted to do more than write what he calls “pretentious love songs to Satan.”
One day, while wandering around the annual sci-fi and fantasy Sodom and Gomorrah that is Dragcon the group came face-to-face with an ancient order of Force-wielding rockabilly punks with a penchant for theatrics—Grand Moff Tarkin. Featuring Atlanta artists and underground impresarios Jim Stacy and Shane Morton, GMT pushed the Star Wars theme to the extreme, with an array of spot-on costumes, props, and a legion of stormtroopers to do their bidding.
In an instant, Ecryptus emerged with an arsenal of wholly new and sinister Star Wars-themed black metal to serve the Dark Side.
“Grand Moff Tarkin did their thing with unapologetic campiness,” Michalski says, “but we wanted to make serious songs and treat the source material how many bands treat Tolkien. So we thought, how can we hint at the Dark Side of Star Wars without getting completely sued?”
In 2008, Ecryptus unleashed the Astral Crusades EP, breathing life into the group’s campaign for Darth metal supremacy with songs such as “Imperial Revenge,” “Abandon All Hope,” and “Execute Order 666.” More than a decade later, the “Rancorous” b/w “Execute Order 666 MMXVIII” 7-inch summons a supernatural whirr of cosmic grind, making their transformation to the Dark Side complete.
“Ecryptus,” according to Star Wars lore, was the name of the cavern deep below the surface of the planet Korriban where the ancient Sith species first encountered the Dark Side of the Force. Most of the songs the group has recorded and played live deal with the more horrific scenarios that are woven throughout the Star Wars canon that people only familiar with the films might have never thought too deeply about: being sentenced to death by Rancor, being frozen in carbonite, enslaving an entire planet of wookies, and so on.
“Rancorous” opens with a mighty roar before a spiraling assault of blast beats and demonic incantations rise over searing guitar leads that burn with the heat of Vader’s red lightsaber. On the flipside, “Execute Order 666 MMXVIII” resurrects what has become Ecryptus’ unofficial anthem with a new recording, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Astral Crusades’ release. The song chronicles Anakin Skywalker’s perspective of executing Emperor Palpatine’s “Order 66” to slaughter the Jedi. “Making the Emperor say “666” was fun,” Michalski says.
The line up at the time of recording the “Rancorous” single featured Michalski, aka Lord Crypt, performing alongside bass player Lord Tenebris, born Allen Keller of Degradations, drummer Dan Solo, aka Danny Ryann (ex-Gigan), and guitar player Ryan Lamb. Lamb moved to Orlando shortly after the songs for the 7-inch were recorded. Lord Abraxas, aka Justin Brown (ex-Synapse Defect), now plays guitar.
The 7-inch arrived pressed on a multi-hued galaxy of vinyl colors: Cauterized Saber Wound, Mace Windu Purp Surp, Ghrey Rey, Opening Crawl Rotten Banana, Gamorrean Guard Mucus, Sarlacc Puke After Trying To Digest Boba Fett, Luke’s Lame-Ass Saber, and Dagoba Green.
Live, the group takes the stage sporting sith-corpse paint, robes, armor, Dragoncon-acquired lightsabers, and their friend Scara Slayfield wearing her best “Hutt Slayer” Princess Leia outfit, serving drinks to the stage, and adorning the monitors.
The group recently finished recording material for a new EP that’s due out in the Spring of 2021. More recent Ecryptus songs draw inspiration from the expanded universe—characters from Star Wars comic books, novels, and video games.
The forthcoming EP is tentatively titled Kyram Beskar’gam, and, if you watched the The Mandalorian—and you know you did—you already know the title is Mando’a for “Death Armor/Metal.” The new EP will feature songs with titles such as “Cauterized Saber Wound Massacre,” “Planetary Enslavement,” “Compulsion to Disintegrate,” and “Digested over 1000 Years.”
“With each new release, we give in to our anger,” Michalski says, “and become more the Dark Side’s servant …”
In the words of Darth Vader, “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side!”
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