In September, Atlanta post-punk outfit Entertainment released Horror Part 1, the first of a two-part EP that finds the group returning from more than a decade between releases. Founding members Trey Ehart (vocals, guitar, bass, and synthesizer) and Bari Donovan (drums and percussion), convened with newer members Jim Groff (synth), and Henry Jack (bass) over a few years to chop, layer, and hack a new body of dark and abstract post-punk into being.
In keeping with its title, the Horror Part 1 EP’s four songs create austere, intense, and icey cold ebb and flow. The music is loosely thematic, drawing out those deeply buried childhood memories of dread and despair that came along with watching horror movies on late-night cable back in the ‘80s. It’s a singularly abstract and powerful approach to songwriting that resonates in a deeper, dark part of the subconscious that more traditional songwriting does not reach.
Ehart took a few minutes to talk about how the music came into being, and what’s in store with Horror Part 2.
Listening to The Horror puts me in an October/November kind of mood. I’ve found myself looking up quotes from movies like Chopping Mall and Sleepaway Camp as I’ve been listening. This is being released by BatCave and Stickfigure, correct?
Those are both great movies! We may have a quote from Night of the Demons on Horror Part 2, it depends on if I feel like it’s too on the nose or not. I always liked the way The Smiths/Morrissey and the Chameleons used TV and movie quotes in their songs, it added a really bittersweet layer to me.
We’re self-releasing Horror Parts 1 & 2, digital only, through Bandcamp. Stickfigure is releasing vinyl of both parts together in 2022, doing all the PR, and handling the streaming services. BatCave Productions is releasing a CD in Europe that combines both parts with all the singles and remixes in early 2022.
For what song are you making a video?
We’re finishing a video for “Voyeur” right now. It should have been out with the single last March but we had to move it from the first person we hired over to John from Hip to Death. We wanted the visuals to match the current sound of the band as much as possible, and John’s aesthetic lines up perfectly with the kind of psychedelic, dark, dream-like layers of sound. John also did the video for “Maggot Church” that we released in late 2020.
Tell me a little bit about the concepts you’re working with in the song and the video?
Conceptually it was originally more like the mimed performances you’d see on ‘80s TV, in front of green screens with a nod to Japan. We hired a model, shot through blinds, making it much more literal to the idea of enticement and voyeurism.
We tend to hide ourselves, or obscure who we are visually, and for this we really wanted to try and push ourselves up front. But when it was put together it was just too sterile for the track. The painterly quality of the music wasn’t coming through. Layers and layers of information, the kind of desperate sound wasn’t coming through.
The cover art effectively projects a sense of cold, dark isolation. What is the idea that’s at work here?
We struggled with how to visually represent what we sound like right now, and with the fact that Gender had such an iconic cover, how do we keep that visual strength going, but move forward?
After talking about it we decided the best way to represent these songs was through the idea of layers of paint on a canvas. As a reference to how some artists can never finish, like Edvard Munch, who would constantly print and paint the same image and theme over and over, seemingly never satisfied, often painting over his own images, leaving canvas outside to rot in the elements then coming back to them, or scraping the paint off a nearly finished piece and starting over. Similar to the writing process for these songs.
So if you look at the covers of all the singles we released leading up to the EP you’ll see a similar obscure bleakness, layers of different paintings overlapping and overwriting each other. I also wanted to make the obvious reference to the Horror sticker from VHS stores, as well as overlaying a torn plastic wrapping to each cover, since these will probably never be physical, it’s the ephemera, the fake idea of a lost reality.
That’s what you see in the cover, layers of paint, fake plastic wrap, and then some neon lights thrown on top, the spark of nostalgic light piercing the dark, or just sinking into it.
It’s also probably another Japan rip off …
The music itself can be described using similar painterly terms. The sounds of the instruments and the vocals feel like big swathes of paint that collide and blend into each other. Can you talk a little bit about this?
It’s hard for me to approach music in terms of traditional means most of the time, I don’t know if I have a mild form of synesthesia, but I’m never happy with a piece of music until I can’t hear myself in it, I don’t know how it was formed, and it comes back to me as something alien of the speakers. I want the sounds to affect the listener in an emotional or psychedelic way. Putting you in a world all its own, appealing but revolting at the same time. To get there I’m constantly layering and revising in overdubs, leaving phantom chords and impressions of sound and texture, unrefined and wild. Kind of merging an artistic approach with a raw punk ethos, and Brian Eno’s “generative music” theory and Oblique Strategies.
The treatment of the sound draws out a more mysterious atmosphere than a lot of more straight-ahead Songwriting with a capital S. There’s an element of abstraction here that puts the imagination into overdrive. Has this presented any obstacles in terms of how the music is perceived, or does it seem like listeners are open to the music?
It’s definitely turned some people away, especially with how at odds we are with modern, sterile production, some people just shut down right away, some are immediately pulled in.
We used to say we wanted our records to infect and ruin every other record in your collection, so you never hear music the same. But maybe that’s a cover up for not being able to write in a pop structure yet… I love the mental space our records put the listener in, but I definitely needed guidance in not taking it too far for this release, reining it in, learning the “correct way,” which I really want as we come back and move forward.
Live, we’re a different beast, more minimal but impactful, deliberate, we’re often told it’s “powerful and sexy,” which makes me a little uncomfortable, but I think it’s a reaction to our rhythm section taking over, the bass lines and beats really shining through.
We accept it, next year we’re going into the studio with Tom Ashton — finally — to re-record a lot of these tracks and make them bigger, more palatable to a wider audience, maybe shed some of the deathrock for more traditional post-punk sounds… whatever that means for us. Tom hears potential in our sounds that I’m really excited about.
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