The Horror! Q&A with Entertainment’s Trey Ehart

ENTERTAINMENT: Bari Donovan (left), Trey Ehart, and Jim Groff. Photo by Will Weems.

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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Tom Ashton of the March Violets on the goth and post-punk legacy behind SubVon Studio

Tom Ashton at SubVon Studio. Photo by Mike White

In December of 1981, guitarist Tom Ashton co-founded the gothic and post-punk outfit The March Violets while attending Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds, U.K. Throughout the ‘80s, the band landed several singles on the U.K. indie and club charts, including goth classics such as “Snake Dance,” “Walk Into the Sun,” “Crow Baby,” and “Turn to the Sky.” The latter number earned The March Violets a cameo appearance in the 1987 film “Some Kind of Wonderful,” written by John Hughes. Over the years Ashton has also done stints playing guitar with equally lauded acts Clan of Xymox and The Danse Society, and most recently filled in on bass with Athens’ rising goth luminaries Vision Video. Ashton has called Athens home since 2001. Recently, a new generation of post-punk, gothic, and otherwise darkwave bands have all released music bearing the mark of Ashton’s SubVon Studio, where he’s also found a niche composing scores for various independent films.

What brought you to Athens from the U.K.?

I met my wonderful wife of 29 years, Rachel, an Athens local, whilst touring the US, playing guitar with the Dutch gothic rock band Clan of Xymox — or Xymox as they were known at the time. We met when the band was prepping for our tour at The 40 Watt, supporting the album called Phoenix on Mercury Records. I originally came from Scotland, where I grew up in a small town called Alva in an area called the Hillfoots. From there I moved to Leeds to play music. Years later, I moved to London for nine years before making the move to Athens in 2001.

When did you start recording at SubVon Studio?

SubVon kinda started around 2012-2014. I was recording March Violets stuff and working on a bunch of film scores for people up in Michigan and in Los Angeles. I built a room in our basement purely as a production suite, but when we later finished building out the rest of the area I realized there was room to fit in a whole band with a full kit. After a month or so I started mentioning the space to anyone who might be interested in coming in and joining the experiment. It was christened on January 1, 2018. The name just kind of popped out from nowhere, although the word Von is a nickname for Andrew Eldritch from The Sisters of Mercy, so maybe it’s a play on that for some reason.

The March Violets in 1983: Simon Denbigh (from left), Cleo Murray, Tom Ashton, Loz Elliott

Andrew Eldritch’s Merciful Release label released The March Violets’ “Grooving in Green” and “Religious as Hell” 7-inches. Did you ever join The Sisters of Mercy?

At one point in ’81, Andrew did try to filch me from the Violets, and I did play one show with them playing guitar. It was a great time, and later he said, “If you want it, it’s yours.” I would have loved to do both but I felt I couldn’t do it under the circumstances. I had moved from Scotland to play music with my best mates, and I didn’t want to screw them over. At the time, we were all good mates — I was mates with Craig Adams and Gary Marx from the Sisters. We used to all hang out at Andrew’s house. He was the only person that any of us knew who had a VCR, so we’d all get high and watch “Alien” over and over again.

There is an identifiable scene emerging around your studio work. Bands like Tears for the Dying, Hip To Death, Entertainment, and Vision Video come to mind. What’s the underlying thread that connects them all?

This scene kind of reminds me of the special time back in Leeds and West Yorkshire in ‘81-’82. Bands like Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Sisters of Mercy, Danse Society, Southern Death Cult, Skeletal Family, and The March Violets all combined and developed our own take on punk, post-punk, and goth. Most importantly, we had our own way of doing it. I am lucky to be in the right place at the right time not only once but twice. And I would certainly add We Hunt Kings — Henry from Entertainment’s project — to that list. Pale Pose’s Doorways; The Exiter is another notable album which I mixed and mastered, definitely some dark and beautiful poetry there. And although not strictly gothic in nature, T.T. Mahony sometimes enters some very dark territory with his French People album which I mixed last year.

I think sometimes it all comes down to a quirk of timing and geographical location. The law of averages dictates that at one place and time a similarly minded group of people will cascade together and feed each other their energy and ideas. Once it’s realized it becomes acted upon and is further enhanced. Leeds circa 1982 felt like this, and to me, now Athens and Atlanta have a similar sense of purpose and amount of talent to throw it out to the rest of the world successfully.

Aesthetically speaking, I’d say there is a wide range of styles and influences in the mixing cauldron of these bands, and I see it as my job to capture and collate, collaborating in a way that enhances each individual voice.

Do you have creative input when it comes to the musical choices that these bands are making?

Yes, but it can vary quite a bit according to each individual track. Sometimes a reimagined backing vocal, or subtle orchestrations in the background. I’m very much an ears-and-mind-are-open kind of producer, and I’ll never get in the way of someone else’s vision. I’m just there to help it flow and wrap it in the sheen I always like to hear.

VISION VIDEO: Dusty Gannon (left) with Jason Fusco (drums) and Tom Ashton filling in playing guitar during Historic Athens Porchfest on October 10, 2021. Photo by Mike White

How did you start working with Vision Video?

Ashton: In pre-COVID days, Dusty Gannon ran — and will again no doubt — a fantastic night called Make America Goth Again. I was there one night when Dusty was DJing. We’d never met before. He played “Snake Dance,” and a mutual friend pulled us together and said, “This is the guy who plays guitar on this song!” We hit it off, and he sent me some music he was working on in 2018, I think. I loved it! Even back then it sounded like Vision Video. The track was called “Organized Murder.” Basically we just hit it off with too many similar interests to count and hung out a lot and got drunk!

Are you currently working on any projects with any of these groups?

Dusty from Vision Video is already sending me some wonderful sketches for the next album, and we are discussing ideas and approaches on how the progression will go. I’m still in the middle of mixing We Hunt Kings. Tears for the Dying has a new lineup and are sending me the demos for their next album which sounds fab too.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on various masters for a March Violets CD box set for release in the near future through the U.K. label Jungle Records. There will be never-before-heard material included, and some classic Violets tracks that never had a proper release. Vision Video will be in to record the next record in January or February, and Tears for the Dying start recording their next release with me in mid-December. Until recently I was working on a score for a film called Dwarfhammer by a Michigan-based director named Daniel E. Falicki. I also recently began mixing and remixing tracks for Tennessee-based band Palm Ghost. I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into the future!

Read the print version of this story in the December issue of Record Plug Magazine.

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Entertainment: ‘Voyeur’


The Howling, The Beyond, Driller Killer, Evil Dead 2, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Slumber Party Massacre, Fright Night, The Fog

If you were breathing oxygen in the ‘80s, merely mentioning these titles stirs up memories of youthful fascination, elation, and terror while staring at the artwork for these horror classics of the VHS era. “Voyeur,” the second single from Entertainment’s forthcoming Horror parts 1 and 2 EPs, pushes this aesthetic nostalgia to a deeper and darker place within the imagination.

As vocalist Trey Ehart explains, “‘Voyeur’ is probably the most direct reference on the EPs to being bored and young in rural suburbia, and spending time absorbing horror movies and skate tapes from the local VHS rental store.”

“Voyeur” falls on the heels of Entertainment’s previously released single, “Maggot Church,” and taps into a more severe sense of urgency before diving deeper into the rabbit hole of hazy and cinematic ambiance. Tom Ashton of the March Violets unfurls a rich, goth-tinged production, as Ehart’s heavily affected voice drives the song’s unhinged melancholy and dreamlike vibe with lyrics such as: “video stains my eyes,” “dreams returned too late, screams in the gages of youth,” “show me ways of new desire,” and “static shivers so strange.”

“Each lyric glamorizes the impact of being exposed to a life and music outside of mainstream culture with over saturated practical effects, unnecessarily gratuitous glimpses of nudity, and underground soundtracks,” Ehart says.

The song’s constrictive and alluring melodies grow increasingly more pronounced in the Candelabra Cage Match mix, which comes courtesy of Beta Machine’s bass player Matt McJunkins, who also performs with Puscifer, A Perfect Circle, Eagles of Death Metal, Poppy, and more.

Keep an eye out for the video, directed by John Breedlove of Hip To Death to arrive soon.

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Warm Red reveals ‘Super Bowl,’ first single from ‘Decades of Breakfast’

Warm Red is (clockwise from left) Stephen Lewis, Tony Gary, Bryan Sherer, and Jacob Armando. Photo by Eric Brooks.

Press Play on “Super Bowl,” the latest single from Atlanta post-punk and noise rock outfit Warm Red.

“Super Bowl” is the first single to be released from the group’s forthcoming debut album, titled Decades Of Breakfast. The LP is due out in October via Atlanta punk label State Laughter.

Until then, check out “Super Bowl” on Spotify.

Talking Heads percussionist Chris Frántz on his new book, ‘Remain In Love’

REMAIN IN LOVE: Photo courtesy St. Martin’s Press.

Chris Frántz is best known as a songwriter, producer, and founding member of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. His sprawling and stylish drumming played a key role in pushing post-punk and new wave inflections beyond the commonly held notions of what constitutes rock ‘n’ roll, while always remaining at least three steps ahead of his contemporaries.

In a new memoir titled Remain In Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, and Tina (St. Martin’s Press), Frántz offers a look inside his storied life, recalling tales of meeting Talking Heads singer and guitarist David Byrne while studying at Rhode Island School of Design in the ‘70s, and shaping new facets of creativity in popular music alongside his wife and bass player Tina Weymouth.

On Wednesday, July 22 at 8 p.m. (Eastern), A Cappella Books hosts Frántz in a Zoom conversation with yours truly. We’ll discuss everything from reconciling art and live music on stage and scoring hits with Talking Heads songs such as “Psycho Killer” and “Burning Down the House” and Tom Tom Club’s “Genius Of Love” and “Wordy Rappinghood” to life in the modern world.

Our interview will be followed by an online Q&A session with everyone who tunes in. Tickets are limited to 100 guests. Pre-order a signed copy of Remain in Love via A Cappella Books to receive your private invitation via email. Signed copies of the book will arrive via shipping or local delivery (where applicable) shortly after the interview.

Head over to A Cappella Books to pre-order Remain In Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina.

Chris Frántz. Photo by James Swaffiield.

PHOTOS: Wire at Variety Playhouse Saturday, March 7

Wire photo by Mike White of Deadly Designs.

Before Atlanta shut down over the COVID-19 pandemic, Wire played a show at Variety Playhouse on March 7, 2020. It was a Saturday night, and it was the last show I was lucky enough to catch before statewide shelter-in-place orders became too urgent to ignore.

It had been a few years since the British post-punk legends last made an appearance in Little 5 Points. For this show, co-founding members singer and bass player Colin Newman, guitarist and vocalist Graham Lewis, and drummer Robert Grey, along with guitarist Matthew Simms—the latter of whom has been a member of Wire since 2010—were playing shows on the heels of releasing their most recent album at the time, Mind Hive.

Striking a balance between intimacy and intellect—punk reflexes and avant-garde instincts—lies at the core of Wire’s singularly introspective brand of art rock in the post-aughts. There’s a tactile energy between Newman and Lewis’ words and the drawn-out musical atmosphere that billows around them. Channeling this for the Variety Playhouse’s mostly full 1,000-seat room is no simple feat. But on March 7, Wire reached deep with a 19-song set underscoring the strengths of Mind Hive, while breathing new life into a handful of classic numbers as well.

Perhaps one of the most stunning moments of the night’s performance—aside from “Oklahoma” being an absolute barnburner—was the spacious reinvention of “Over Theirs.” The song, which originally appeared on Wire’s 1987 LP The Ideal Copy, is a barbed and paranoid lurker, cut from the digital textures and sparse rhythms of an era when synthesizers were still a new thing for a foundational British punk band to push forward. At Variety Playhouse, “Over Theirs” went to a dark, muscular, and more cavernous place than its Reagan/Thatcher-era origins, showing off wholly new depth and nuance in the song’s menacing nature. When placed alongside both older and newer numbers such as “Be Like Them,” “German Shepherds,” and “Ex-Lion Tamer” the song unfolded like a cautionary anthem for the darkness that still lies ahead.

Mind Hive has been a solid contender for album of the year, at least in my book. That is, until yet another Wire album arrived in June, titled 10:20. The new album is a collection of upgraded rarities, distilling Wire’s post-2010s stylistic growth into an exquisite and wholly new offering that’s bursting with self-references that reach all the way back to 1978’s Chairs Missing LP. More on that later, but sure enough, the freshly reinvented “Over Theirs” appears on the B-side in all of its ominous glory.

Photographer Mike White of Deadly Designs was there, too, and captured these images from the show.

Setlist
“The Offer”
“Be Like Them”
“1st Fast”
“Cactused”
“Morning Bell”
“Question of Degree”
“Over Theirs”
“German Shepherds”
“I Should Have Known Better”
“Patterns of Behaviour”
“Primed and Ready”
“Ex Lion Tamer”
“It’s a Boy”
“French Film Blurred”
“Oklahoma”
“Hung”

Encore:
“Outdoor Miner”
“Former Airline”
“A Touching Display”

Wire at Variety Playhouse Saturday, March 7

Photo courtesy Wire

Wire + Wire DJs (a different member of Wire DJing each night). $25-$40. 7 p.m. (doors). Sat., March 7 @ Variety Playhouse | Buy tickets

Wire is signing copies of Mind Hive across the street at Criminal Records (1154 Euclid Ave. N.E. A) between 4:30 and 5 p.m. To participate, arrive early and purchase Hive Mind on CD or LP at the shop on the day of show to get a wristband at the cash register. Criminal will have a limited quantity of alternative titles for those who have already bought the new album at the store.

Rad/ATL’s Hidden Hand podcast: An interview with Thom Fuhrmann of Savage Republic

Savage Republic was born amid the Los Angeles punk scene of the early 1980s, when former UCLA students guitarist Bruce Licher and drummer Mark Erskine formed the band Afrika Corps. Before releasing their 1982 debut LP Tragic Figures, the group’s name changed and a menacing post-industrial clatter took shape around Middle Eastern imagery and surf rock ambiance. Savage Republic’s sound was contemptuous, noisy and politically-charged, settling in with song titles such as “Kill the Fascists!,” “Mobilization,” and “Attempted Coup: Madagascar.” They shared the stage with groups such as Sonic Youth, Public Image Ltd., Swans, Fugazi, and more.

Amid lineup changes, songwriter and guitarist Thom Fuhrmann joined Savage Republic in 1983, and first appeared playing keyboards on the song “Trek” from the group’s 1985 EP, titled Trudge (Play It Again Sam Records).

Over the decades, Fuhrmann has assumed a leadership role in Savage Republic. In 2019, he fronts the group, standing alongside drummer Alan Waddington, bass player Kerry Dowling, and long-standing guitarist and percussionist Ethan Port.

In 2014, the group released a full-length LP, titled Aegean, with songs such as “Arab Spring,” “Victory,” “27 Days,” and “Peloponesia” placing Savage Republic’s original aesthetic into a modern context. A 2018 7-inch single featuring the songs “God & Guns” and “Tranquilo” further sharpen the group’s stance against right-wing influences gaining a stranglehold on modern America.

After wrapping up a late summer Midwestern tour en route to record new material with Steve Albini at Chicago’s Electrical Audio, Fuhrmann made his way to Atlanta where we caught up over breakfast.

For this second part of my breakfast conversation with Savage Republic’s guitarist and frontman Thom Fuhrmann, we talk about the origins, evolutions, and tragic circumstances surrounding the work he’s recorded under the name Autumnfair, and more about what the future holds in store for Savage Republic.

To learn more about Savage Republic and Autumnfair look online at www.mobilization.com.