In Greek mythology, dryads appear as tree-dwelling spirits who lure men to their deaths by seducing them into a shadowy realm of the unknown, sometimes replacing them with a doppelgänger—a sinister look alike. It’s a dark and mysterious tale that’s been repurposed in everything from David Lynch’s surreal T.V. saga “Twin Peaks” to Jordan Peele’s paranoid horror film Us. It’s a puzzling metaphor about there being more to the natural world than meets the eye. It’s also a bewitching entry point into The Book of Flowers’ debut cassette tape, Pastels.
Press play on the opening three numbers, “Foxfire & Clover,” “The Housewitch,” and “The Dryad,” and dreamlike imagery takes shape amid swathes of murky country crooning, mellotrons, and British folk-style songwriting.
“I was thinking a lot about impressionist painting and things that use a lot of pastels,” says songwriter James Andrew Ford. “I wanted the songs to have a pastoral feeling to them, with a kind of a dark feeling as well, like watching the sun set over an empty field.”
Ford is a co-founder of Atlanta’s industrial, EBM, and dark wave label DKA Records. The lingering earthly and ethereal tones that he conjures in the songs on Pastels are a far cry from the digital crunch and urgency of much of the label’s output, including that of his own former project Tifaret. But from the soft dissonance of the cover art’s pink and green colors to the balance of electronic and organic textures over Krautrock rhythms of “The White Dress” and “Watch the Stars,” Ford’s shift in style emerges quite naturally.
“During the latter part of Tifaret, I was banging my head against the wall because I was having a lot of issues trying to do a full-length,” Ford says. “I was trying to figure out how to do something that felt satisfying and cohesive, but wasn’t just eight tracks of Front 242 or whatever. How do you create a sad song using synthesizers that doesn’t just sound like old synth pop? How did somebody like Trent Reznor or Depeche Mode get around the monotony of synthesizers?” he asks. “Well, In Depeche Mode, Martin Gore wrote a lot of songs on an acoustic guitar. Trent Reznor writes everything on a piano, or at least he used to. So I thought maybe I need to start writing on acoustic guitar.”
But Ford had never played acoustic before. He hadn’t played an electric guitar in nearly a decade. So he spent much of the pandemic learning how to play an acoustic guitar. The process was a period of discovery, planting the seeds for the songs on Pastels.
“It basically taught me how to have a song there before you have any music,” he says. “With Tifaret, I always wrote the lyrics last. So I was trying to cram in syllables, melody lines, and whatever else into what was already there. Versus if you start with an acoustic guitar, you’ve got your melody, you’ve got your lines written out. You don’t have to cram everything in.”
Previously, Ford was a religious studies major at Georgia State University. With The Book of Flowers he took a deep dive into British folklore. The first two songs to emerge were “Golden Lily” and “Housewitch,” both illustrate a reciprocal harmony that finds his slow and sweeping baritone voice shape the guitar tones, while the natural resonance of the acoustic guitar guides his rich, warm voice.
The lyrics call an epic range of images to mind, from rustic to quite horrific, in one musical motion.
In “The Dryad” he sings: “There in the bed she laid me to rest and slit my throat with a willow rod. She threw me to the raven. She threw me to the hound. She cleaned my skull for her god.”
“With that song, I always thought that I was basically writing an old fashioned murder ballad, but with the positions reversed.”
It’s a scene of pagan carnage that could have been pulled straight from films such as Robin Hardy’s “The Wickerman” or Ari Aster’s “Midsommar”—channeled through a palette of dark and apocalyptic musical inflections ranging from influences such as Current 93 and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It’s quiet, it’s intense, and it’s not for the faint of heart, despite the music’s idyllic presence.
Bob Mould is on the road for this “Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts Tour.” Before playing at City Winery on October 12, Mould took a few minutes to talk about returning to life in America after spending some time in Berlin, experiencing socio-political deja vu, and to reflect on his years with Sugar and Hüsker Dü.
Your current tour is titled the “Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts,” which sounds pretty straight forward. Are you playing a pretty comprehensive setlist?
Blue Hearts was the fifth album for Merge Records that was recorded with the same rhythm section—Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster on drums—and with the same engineer, Beau Sorenson. Blue Hearts came out in September 2020. Obviously nobody was touring at that point.
In October of 2020, the Distortion box sets started coming out on Demon Records in the UK. It was a 30-year career retrospective that took from the first solo album, Workbook, all the way through Sunshine Rock, which was the fourth solo album with Merge. In the fall of 2021, myself, Jon, and Jason did a pretty quick North American tour. Since then, I’ve mostly been doing solo electric stuff, touching on everything from Hüsker Dü and Sugar and the solo albums up to Blue Hearts.
The expense of touring is pretty high right now, and tours are still getting canceled left and right because people are getting sick. So for the time being, the solo electric thing is the easiest way for me to tour.
Most of the press that Blue Hearts has received hangs on it being about your return to the States after living in Berlin for a few years, and getting an eyeful of how much things had changed in a very short time.
The first half of Blue Hearts feels like a return to Hüsker Dü songwriting form.
Yeah, I felt like the fall of 2019 was a lot like the fall of 1983. The country was pretty unhinged, and sadly it seems to have gotten worse.
Staying in the fall of 2019, I’d been spending a lot of time in Germany. I was aware of what was happening in America, but when you come back to the US and you’re surrounded by 24-hour news cycles, and just all of the insanity that is America when things get like this, it felt very similar to my state of mind and my state of being, and how I saw the world back in 1983. It made me think about what I was doing back then, what the environment was like at the time. Most importantly, I was thinking about how I approached my work and the messages at that time, and how little resources a band like Hüsker Dü had in 1983.
The songs on Blue Hearts are more influenced by the reflection of those times and how it seemed like it was deja vu all over again.
The songwriting was pretty direct, pretty political, pretty economical. The record is pretty fast and furious, so it got me thinking about how limited resources in 1983 led me to write and record—making it brief. Not dragging it out, not hiring an orchestra from Prague. Just the three of us in a room banging this stuff out?
So 1983 was the Ronald Reagan era and 2020 was the Trump era. What differentiates these times?
Through the ‘80s, we saw the ascent of Reagan, the Hollywood celebrity but, unlike Trump, Reagan was the governor of California. He had knowledge of how the political system worked. But televangelism was huge then—the moral majority. It was the beginning of HIV/AIDS, the cutting of mental health services in cities. That specific … Tony Fauci at NIH. It’s frightening to me some of the callbacks, whether it’s COVID or evangelicals, and all the sway that they hold over the Republican party. These are all things that I’ve seen before. It didn’t go well last time, and we’ve lost a million people to COVID in America.
At my advanced age, I did not think I would have to go through this yet one more time.
Did these songs come out of you pretty quickly?
Yeah. When I settled back in at the end of 2019, it did not take a lot of effort to look around and write what I know, write what I see. The song “American Crisis” had been kicking around for a couple years. That was the first track anybody heard off the album, but I actually wrote the music and the words for that in Berlin. Those lyrics took five minutes to write. There’s nothing sophisticated about it at all.
The remainder of the record; some of the music had been written in Berlin, but a lot of the words, and most of the music was written pretty quickly at the end of 2019. I went out and did about three weeks of solo touring at the beginning of 2020, tried out a bunch of the songs, and then we recorded the album in February of 2020, and had it wrapped up by the middle of March. That was when everything shut down.
“American Crisis” is the first song that you wrote for this album?
Yeah, that’s the North Star of the record. I had that one already put together in Berlin, probably later in 2018, and I just sort of followed the motif. The rest of the stuff came pretty easily.
“Next Generation” sounds like classic Bob Mold to me. Of course, I see what sets it apart from some of your other eras of songwriting.In terms of the strength of the song, though, I want to place it alongside something like Hüsker Dü’s “Sorry Somehow,” or maybe even “Hoover Dam” by Sugar. When you’re putting demos together, do you have a sense of when you’ve got a hit on your hands?
To me, that one falls closer to the mid-to-late ‘80s stuff I was writing. As a writer, I sort of look at it and go, “Oh, that would’ve been a Flip Your Wig song.”
When I’m working on stuff, I sort of know. I mean, I have x number of ways and x number of styles in which I write. I sort of know when a song is coming in that first 15 minutes if it’s going to either be a type A or a type X song. Then, it’s just a matter of wrapping it up and tucking in all the corners. I’ve got different styles of pop songs, punk songs, folk songs, songs with strings, songs that lean more on keyboards.
It’s sort of like, you get a couple free throws, you’ve rehearsed your free throws. You know how many dribbles you have, and where you’re gonna toss the ball.
Does it feel like there’s an uptick in interest in your songwriting right now?
I think people are still interested in what I do, both the work that I’ve done and the work I’m doing now. There are a lot of people that won’t be there in the future when another album comes out. In terms of politically charged punk music right now, a lot of the things that are coming out of the UK—a band like Idles being the main one that most people know, or Fontaines DC and stuff like that.
I’ve been a bit surprised that art in America hasn’t been as reactive as I thought it would be. Perhaps I’m not seeing it. Maybe it’s further underground than where I hang out, but for music specifically, it feels like more stuff has come out of the UK lately that is addressing the socio-political divisions we’re going through.
Maybe it’s because I’m in Georgia, but Mercyland recently released their long lost record, We Never Lost A Single Game. That’s been the subject of many conversations recently, and I’ve had more people talk with me about Sugar and Hüsker Dü this year than maybe ever before. Maybe that’s because people are talking about Mercyland’s record, which brings Sugar, Bob Mould, and Hüsker Dü into the conversation. Also, September was the 30th anniversary of Copper Blue.
That’s right! Hopefully I get to spend some time with David [Barbe] while I’m in town.
I think Copper Blue is just such a very disciplined, but really exciting pop record. I’m always happy that people have good things to say about it, and that every now and then it takes on a new life.
It’s tight and concise in ways that were very different from Hüsker Dü.
Oh … Hüsker Do was like a bunch of planes trying to take off the same way all at once. That was a completely different beast. Hüsker Dü was so loose and constantly rushing forward in the tempo. That was what people loved about that band. For me, discipline came my way when I started working with my recently deceased colleague Anton Fier, who played drums on both Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain. Working with Anton was where I learned how to study things. He was an amazing drummer. He was a real stickler for time and keeping things pretty strict. Sugar was the next iteration of the rhythm section, and we brought that discipline to the studio. Live, sugar was pretty wild.
What really set Hüsker Dü apart from many of the other bands of the era, like Black Flag, T.S.O.L., X, etc. was the savage tone of the guitar.
It was. And with Hüsker, with Sugar, and with Jon and Jason, it’s the power trio. The guitar tone has to cover a lot of ground and fill in a lot of spaces. That’s something that Pete Townsend had to do with the Who, and something Hendrix had to do. It’s a certain style of playing where you have to be a really good rhythm player, but also be able to sneak lead guitar in there as well, and as you said, it was a unique tone that was necessary given that it was the only guitar. The tone that I’ll be using on these solo shows is not very far away from that tone. So calling it the Distortion and Blue Hearts tour is a pretty literal description of what’s on tour right now.
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Death is inevitable. It is the natural order that affects every living creature, and sooner or later, it’s coming for everyone.
No two people cope with the reality of the situation the same way. For Dusty Gannon, the singer, guitar player, and principal songwriter leading Athens’ rising goth and post-punk outfit Vision Video, death commands absolute respect.
Gannon is a former Army rifle platoon leader who served in war-torn Afghanistan, and until this summer, he has worked for five years as a metro Atlanta firefighter and paramedic. He is no stranger to death, and fostering a healthier relationship with it is the idea lying at the heart of Vision Video’s latest single, “Beautiful Day To Die.”
The song also offers the first glimpse at what Vision Video has in store with the group’s forthcoming second album, Haunted Hours, set to arrive October 14 — just in time for Halloween.
“Beautiful Day To Die,” takes shape around a simple, powerful melody that’s layered in rich musical textures that open up an emotional evocation of mortality. Gannon wrote the song by pulling together aspects from different stories that he witnessed firsthand to illustrate the sentiments that fill the air when someone dies.
“There is a bizarre energy that happens when somebody has been pronounced dead,” Gannon says. “ A lot of the time it’s terrible, and awful, and sad, but if you look closely at it, and if you don’t shy away from it, you’ll see these beautiful moments that are hidden alongside the grief.”
Pushing the idea forward, Gannon relives the details from one of his recent shifts as a paramedic, when he pronounced an older patient dead on the scene.
“There was really nothing that we could have done, and there was nothing that this patient’s daughter could have done,” he says, while walking through the steps that are taken before a person can be declared dead.
“While we were waiting for the coroner to arrive, I was sitting in the kitchen with the patient’s daughter, and she was telling me all of these stories about this person, about their kindness, and about what an amazing life they had lived,” Gannon recalls. “There was so much sadness, but there was also this small and intimate celebration of this person’s life taking place. It was painful, but it was also beautiful. That is one of the motifs behind the song.”
This is just one of the stories behind the 10 songs that make up the new record. Haunted Hours is stylish, and steeped in shadowy imagery, while remaining existentially buoyant.
Vision Video was born in the summer of 2017 when Gannon and drummer Jason Fusco started playing music together. Singer and keyboard player Emily Fredock and bass player Dan Geller joined the band soon after.
Geller is a co-owner and Chief Technical Officer of Athens’ Kindercore Vinyl pressing plant, and he has a long history of playing in Athens indie, pop, and rock-and-roll bands, including Kinkaid, the Agenda, I Am the World Trade Center, as well as the Booty Boyz DJ team.
The band’s name gives a nod to Athens’ once-great, but now defunct video store, bringing something that they all loved back from the dead — at least in name.
Naturally, after living through his experiences during war time, and then confronting death repeatedly in the civilian world, Gannon needed an outlet where he could exorcize the many traumas that he has endured.
In April of 2021, Vision Video’s debut album, Inked In Red, arrived as a self-released offering. Songs bearing titles such as “In My Side,” “Static Drone,” and “Organized Murder” came out blending grim imagery with a gothic snarl, paired with campy horror film imagery.
Each of these elements coalesced around a colorful, modern take on a classic goth, new wave, and post-punk musical lineage touching on everything from Joy Division and New Order, to the Cure, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Sisters of Mercy. Each song was propelled forward by barreling dance-floor rhythms and major-chord songwriting.
The group’s cover of “Picture Of You” adds warm tones to one of the Cure’s most charming numbers.
And, of course, not all is so austere with Vision Video. A campy song about Gannon’s affection for the felines who walk among us, titled “I Love Cats,” proved to be something of a viral hit, sporting lyrics such as: “I love cats, so much more than I love humans. They’re adorable, hilarious, and not one of them is a Republican …” and “They might keep you up all night, but they’ll never take your human rights.”
If Inked In Red laid the sonic blueprint for Vision Video’s sound, Haunted Hours builds upon its foundation by slowing down and stretching the group’s ethereal pop drive to a dark and seductive breaking point.
Songs like “Cruelty Commodity,” “Death In A Hallway,” and a muscular reworking of Joy Division’s “Transmission” are so voluptuous that their hazy textures become tangible.
Gannon’s vocals meld perfectly within a lingering atmosphere marked by reverb and space. From the sinewy title track and “Nothing Changes” to the lingering reflections in “Unwanted Faces” and “Burn It Down,” the album strikes a balance between simplicity, urgent pop melodies and contempt for the failing world.
As such, the album is an assured follow-up that entrenches Vision Video’s stature as more than a flash in the pan for Athens music.
Ashton is, perhaps, best known as the guitar player for Leeds, U.K.’ early ‘80s post-punk outfit the March Violets. He also did a stint performing live with Xymox, the early ‘90s iteration of Dutch darkwave act Clan Of Xymox.
Ashton has also served as Vision Video’s live bass player for several shows surrounding the Haunted Hours sessions, and continues filling in when he’s needed.
Before recording, Gannon wrote most of the music’s skeletal parts including the melodies and the chord progressions for the guitar and the vocals on his own time. As a result, the rest of the group had months of lead time to consume the demos while thinking about their parts to add, which were written while they were in the studio, working out the songs.
“That allowed us to edit on the fly, and there were no set opinions about any one piece,” Gannon says. “If something didn’t work, we changed it then and there. If somebody had an idea, we would field it. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. But it was crafted in a malleable way where, on the fly, we could say, ‘That part doesn’t jive, let’s change it to this,’ and that’s part of the reason it’s so different from the first album.”
Ashton agrees, adding: “It’s just a more mature and spacious expanse. Dusty brought in a different writing approach which really paid off.”
Vision Video may prove the ideal outlet for Gannon to deal with anxiety and darker subject matter, as it relates to sadness, misery, warfare, inequity, and mortality — things that he’s witnessed personally — that can be expressed through aggressive lyrics and performances. But what has garnered equally as much (if not more) attention for Gannon is the Tik Tok character that he has created, called Goth Dad.
“The idea behind Goth Dad,” Gannon says, “Is to create a pure and wholesome character who makes people feel comfortable, safe, and accepted. There aren’t a lot of good father-type figures out there. My dad’s awesome,” he adds. “I was fortunate as a kid to have a really good, positive role model as my dad.”
The Goth Dad character that he plays has gone viral on social media via a series of short video clips that touch on everything from make-up tutorials to corny jokes, such as “What do you call a goth lawyer? Siouxsie Sue!”
“I have been trying to cultivate this place where people can bond and commiserate, and speak their mind about things safely and respectfully, hopefully positively,” Gannon says. “But even if it’s not, that’s cool too. It’s about finding a place for like-minded people to feel like you’re not alone. That’s like the worst part of having post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or anything like that. When you’re feeling like you’re totally in your head and alone, and even if you understand that people are there for you, sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to relay that to anybody,” he adds. “Those are the things that I’m working toward, and I hope that I foster that sensibility.”
Still, it’s the music, and creating a spectacle during live performances with Vision Video that encompass the most important aspect of everything Gannon does.
“It’s like the difference between Twilight as a vampire series and Near Dark,” he laughs. “They’re both about vampires, but they have very different tones, they fulfill very different purposes, but they both fulfill something that’s meaningful in people’s lives.”
Despite Goth Dad’s popularity online, it is onstage in the material world with Vision Video where Gannon is at full tilt. Live, he takes cues straight from the Cramps’ vocalist Lux Interior’s playbook, imbuing high-energy rock with elements of an undead drag cabaret show.
“Of course, I want you to be in the message of the music when we play live, but I also want it to be fun, I want it to be a party,” Gannon says. “That’s the most important thing above everything else: Did you have a good time? Was it safe?” he asks.
When dealing with so much darkness and confronting mortality, levity plays a key role in bringing such death-afflicted music to life.
Gang of Four drummer Hugo Burnham recalls reading a quote from his former bandmate, guitarist Andy Gill some years ago. Burnham had parted ways with the group in 1982, only to return for a brief stint between 2004 and 2006.
Fast forward to 2012 — Gill and Gang of Four vocalist Jon King announced that they would no longer work together, leaving Gill as the only remaining original member still performing with the iconic Leeds, U.K. post-punk outfit.
During an interview around that time, a writer asked Gill about moving forward with a new lineup. His reply, as Burnham recalls, was that Gang of Four is more than a band, it’s an attitude and it’s about ideas. “I don’t even need to be in the band for it to be Gang of Four,” Gill told the writer.
“I had never really thought about what that meant,” Burnham says.
Gill died suddenly in February of 2020. Since then, the gravity of his words has taken on new depth for Burnham, as he reconnects with the band’s legacy, and its incendiary attitude and ideas.
A recently released box set, titled 77-81 (Matador) makes clear its assertion that despite nearly 40 years spent releasing dozens of albums, Gang of Four turned out its most commanding works between 1977 and 1981. Those first five years encompass the group’s first three albums: Entertainment!, Solid Gold, and Songs of the Free. Throughout each of these albums, Burnham, King, Gill, and bass player Dave Allen — the latter of whom was replaced by Sara Lee for Songs of the Free — crafted terse anthems that sharpen their teeth and claws on everything from Marxist philosophy and the dangers of materialism to the trappings of love and maximum entropy.
Songs bearing titles such as “To Hell With Poverty,” “Not Great Men,” “Damaged Goods,” and “I Love A Man In A Uniform” are propelled by muscular rhythms, avant-garde grooves, and the jagged energy and freedom that their British punk rock forefathers in the Clash and the Sex Pistols had exposed.
Alongside British counterparts such as the band Wire, and American band Mission of Burma, Gang of Four’s first three albums have come to define the post-punk canon.
Following Gill’s death, Burnham and King have reconvened under Gang of Four’s banner to bring the group back to the stage. But who could fill Gill’s shoes playing guitar and bring the songs back to life?
They had their eye on a handful of potential candidates. Marissa Paternoster of New Brunswick, NJ trio Screaming Females was in the running, but the pandemic complicated the group’s early efforts. Then, in the midst of their search for Gang of Four’s next guitar player, Burnham’s friend Patrick Ferguson, a drummer with Athens, GA’s indie rock band 5/8, got in touch.
Ferguson hosts the Crash and Ride podcast, which had recently featured David Pajo as a guest. “Patrick said, ‘My god, I’ve just interviewed David Pajo!’ I hope that David forgives me for this, but I said, ‘Who’s that?’” Burnham laughs. “‘Cause you know, he’s a youngster!”
Pajo’s resume boasts of playing and writing with dozens of seminal early ‘90s indie rock luminaries such as Slint, Papa M, The For Carnation, Tortoise, Stereolab, and dozens of other acts.
“So I started digging and listening, and thought, oh god, this guy is good,” Burnham says.
As a founding member of Slint, Pajo is aligned with the early beginnings of math rock in the ‘90s. Semantics aside, his musical DNA blends quite well with Gang of Four’s rigid, angular songwriting style.
Ferguson introduced them to each other via email. After exchanging a few messages, Pajo recorded videos of himself playing guitar along to three of the group’s signature numbers, “Natural’s Not In It,” “To Hell With Poverty,” and “What We All Want.”
“It was chronically, cripplingly obvious that this was the only choice to make,” Burnham says. “We really didn’t want to have just another boring or predictable old white guy in the band,” he adds. “David is neither boring, nor predictable.”
Pajo instinctively adapted to Gill’s percussive style, and how the guitar parts intertwined with the group’s fast-paced rhythmic presence. “He was digging deep into the recordings, alternate versions, and different live things, trying to get [Andy]’s take on everything,” Burnham says. “I said, great! Learn the songs as [Andy] would play them, but make them your own. We are not a Gang of Four tribute band,” he stresses. “This is Gang of Four, here and now. David is in the band, and it’s as simple as that.”
Burnham, King, and Pajo were in place, but bass player Dave Allen opted out of rejoining the group for a round of North American tour dates.
Former bass player Sara Lee was the obvious choice to complete the lineup. After leaving Gang of Four circa ‘84, Lee had gone on to perform as a member of Robert Fripp’s band the League of Gentlemen, and has played with everyone from Robyn Hitchcock to the Thompson Twins, as well as with Georgia acts, the B-52’s and the Indigo Girls. Her 2000 solo debut, Make It Beautiful, was also released by Ani DiFrancos’ Righteous Babe label.
“When I called Sara, I didn’t quite know how to get to the point. Finally she says, ‘I’ve been sitting here on the phone, waiting for you to ask me if I’ll play!” Burnham laughs.
With Lee in place, Gang of Four took on a new configuration, and started breathing new life into the music. On their current tour, the group is sticking mostly to the classic material from those first three albums, but they’ll pull out a few numbers from later albums as well, including “I Parade Myself” from ‘95’s Shrinkwrapped LP. “We’re not being assholic about any of this,” Burnham says, “We’re playing that song because it’s such a great song. But there is such a breadth of stuff that we can dive into from those first three albums, which is more like ‘77-’83.”
The million dollar question: Will Gang of Four record new material with its new lineup? Burnham pauses with a sheepish, tight-lipped smile before joking that for a million dollars he’d record with any lineup. “I hate to hyperbolise, but this has been a lot of fun,” he says. “There is no stress, no anger, no overwhelming control issues. David is a versatile and disciplined player who has done seriously great work leading up to joining us,” he adds. “It would be silly not to make the most of this lineup, even if it’s just for ourselves. We’re not kidding ourselves into thinking that the world is waiting for new stuff — but we’re waiting for it.”
For this run of North American shows, they’re performing songs from Gang of Four’s first three albums, 1979’s Entertainment!, Solid Gold (’81), and Songs of the Free (’82).
Guitarist and co-founding member Andy Gill died in February of 2020, and bass player Dave Allen is sitting out this round of touring.
In the meantime, the group’s lineup features fellow co-founders vocalist Jon King and drummer Hugo Burnham, joined by bass player Sara Lee, who joined Gang of Four’s line up from 1980 to 1984 (circa Songs of the Free), and David Pajo of Slint, Papa M, The For Carnation, Tortoise, et. al., which is awesome.
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In September, Atlanta post-punk outfit Entertainment releasedHorror 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 HorrorPart 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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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.
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.
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.
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!
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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