« Boy, man, machine » : an interview with DROSE

The music of the american trio DROSE is a non-identified object in many regards. It’s a kind of slow and deconstructed industrial metal, where field recordings of sounds in a factory – the one where Dustin Rose, the thinking mind behind the band, works – are on equal terms with instruments and sometimes seem to impose their own relentless pace in a man-machine mimetism that is the very own source of inspiration of DROSE. Wether it is on the unique object/record published by the label Computer students (compiling their last album and several other recordings) or during one of their meticulous live performances, the encounter with this band is sure to have an effect on you. After going though that experience at their Urgence disk (Geneva) gig, I felt like following up with a bunch of questions I sent to Dustin by email.

This is your first time as a band touring Europe. What type of experience has this been so far ?

It’s been great! We have been shown excellent hospitality and the shows have been well attended.

The name DROSE seems to suggest that Dustin is central in the creation of your music. Is that the case ? I’ve read that your songwriting starts with the drums but can you shed more light on the process that leads to the writing of your songs ?

It’s true and the songs are usually written starting with a drum composition. The drums are very foundational in this music, so this is where I begin. I find it easy to explore different frameworks from the strongest rhythm element.

The creation of very particular soundscapes is obviously a major part of your music, with a sense of compressed space and the use of machine noises being key elements. Does this come first and do you have to work ways to recreate this sound during your live performances ? Would it be right to say that, in this respect, DROSE is similar to a studio band ?

I collect interesting audio when I come across it and then sort out how I can use it later. In order to bring this audio with us for live performances I have built some equipment to make that possible. We are able to reproduce any sounds from the recording in a live performance.

In particular, I noticed the drums were equipped with a sound system during your gig in Geneva. Can you tell us more about this system ? Are they used to modify the sound of the drums or to activate loops ?

I use pure data (puredata.info) to program our live sets or recordings. The drum sensors and foot switches are brought into pure data using a Teensy micro controller to play and manipulate sound files, synthesized or live audio. The audio is triggered in real-time, there is no click track, it keeps the performances expressive. The program counts drum hits in some sections, waits for button presses or is even allowed to behave randomly in some sections of songs.

The relation between man and machine is a theme running though « Boy man machine ». Would you say that this album is a concept album and, by extension, do you see DROSE as a concept band ?

It’s OK to call it a concept album I was attempting to describe an entire idea. I am not sure DROSE is a concept band.

A very dark, anguished outlook on the relation between man and the machine emerges from your music. Is this just a theme to expand on artistically or can you also see political and ethical implications  ?

Some of the ideas or tales of the songs are parallel with political or sociological happenings but it was not a direct intent. boy man and machine are a closed system, each effecting the other and representing thoughts, feelings, situations or experiences.

I heard you met Julien Fernandez of Computer students while he was on tour with his former band, Passe-montagne, and you were involved in setting up shows in your city. Can you tell us the story of your relationship with him ?

Julien was traveling with his band Passe Montagne. I believe it was 2009 or 2010 summer. My band Toads and Mice hosted Passe Montagne and The Conformists in Dayton Ohio. We were all friends instantly, it was a great time.

I hardly know anything about the musical and artistic scene in Columbus, Ohio. How does a band such as yours fit in with the local scene ?

The Columbus Ohio music scene was very hospitable to DROSE, I am grateful to everyone who has ever came to a show, bought something or shared.

I’ve been told there’s a new DROSE album in the works. How do you approach this new recording and what do you expect from it ?

That’s true! This material has a different sound but it’s the same DROSE.

 

>>>>>>>>>> DROSE

>>>>>>>>>>> COMPUTER STUDENTS

« L’enfant, l’homme, la machine »: une interview de DROSE

La musique du trio américain DROSE est un ovni à bien des égards. C’est une sorte de métal industriel lent et déconstruit, où les field recordings des sons mécaniques d’une usine – celle-là même où travaille la tête pensante du groupe, Dustin Rose – jouent à jeu égal avec les instruments et semblent parfois leur imposer leur cadence immuable dans un mimétisme homme-machine qui est la source même de l’inspiration de DROSE. Que ce soit sur l’objet-disque singulier publié par le label Computer students ou lors de leurs performances live méticuleuses, la rencontre avec ce groupe ne laisse pas indemne. Après en avoir fait l’expérience lors de leur concert à Urgence disk (Genève), j’ai décidé de prolonger la rencontre en envoyant quelques questions par mail à Dustin.

C’est la première fois que vous tournez en Europe. Comment ça s’est passé jusqu’ici ?

Super bien ! On a été très bien accueillis et il y a pas mal de monde aux concerts.

Le nom DROSE laisse supposer que Dustin (Dustin Rose, NDLR) joue un rôle central dans la création de votre musique. Est-ce effectivement le cas ? J’ai lu que vos morceaux commençaient avec des parties batterie mais pouvez-vous nous en dire un peu plus sur le processus de composition ?

C’est vrai et les morceaux partent généralement d’une idée à la batterie. Les parties batteries sont absolument fondamentales dans notre musique, donc c’est avec elle que je commence. C’est facile d’explorer différents paysages sonores à partir d’un élément rythmique solide.

La création de paysages sonores est une partie essentielle de votre musique, dans lesquels un sens de l’espace sous pression et l’utilisation de bruits de machines jouent un grand rôle. Est-ce-que c’est ça qui vient en premier et vous devez ensuite trouver des manières de recréer ces sons durant vos concerts ?

Je collectionne des sons intéressants quand il m’arrive d’en rencontrer et je vois ensuite comment je peux les utiliser. J’ai construit le matériel nécessaire pour incorporer ces parties dans nos concerts. On est capable de reproduire n’importe quel son en live.

En particulier, j’ai remarqué que la batterie était équipée de capteurs durant votre concert à Genève. Pouvez-vous nous en dire plus sur ce système ? Est-ce-que vous l’utilisez pour modifier le son de la batterie ou pour activier des boucles ?

J’utilise Pure data (puredata.info) pour programmer nos sets live ou nos enregistrements. Les capteurs sur la batterie et les footswitchs sont ramenés vers Pure data par un mico-contrôleur Teensy qui active et manipule des fichiers sons, préparés ou joués live. Les sons sont activés en temps réel, il n’y a pas de click, pour garder le côté expressif du live. Le programme repose sur la batterie dans certaines parties, sur des boutons qu’on presse ou peut même s’activer de manière aléatoire dans d’autres parties des morceaux.

La relation homme-machine est un thème qui court tout au long de « Boy man machine ». Dirais-tu que ce disque est un concept-album et considères-tu, par extension, DROSE comme un groupe-concept ?

On peut dire que c’est un concept-album dans le sens où j’essaye de faire le tour d’une idée. Je ne suis pas sûr que DROSE soit un groupe-concept.

L’impression qui ressort de votre musique est celle d’un regard très sombre et angoissé sur la relation entre l’homme et la machine. Est-ce pour toi d’abord une thématique artistique ou y vois-tu également des implications éthiques et politiques ?

On peut faire des parallèles entre certaines idées ou histoires racontées dans nos morceaux et des faits sociologiques ou politiques mais ce n’est pas directement notre intention. L’enfant, l’homme et la machine forment un système clos sur lui-même, où chacun des éléments affecte l’autre et représente certaines pensées, sentiments, situations ou expériences.

J’ai entendu dire que vous aviez rencontré Julien Fernandez, du label Computer Students, alors qu’il était en tournée avec son ancien groupe, Passe-montagne, et que vous vous occupiez d’organiser des concerts dans votre ville. Pouvez-nous raconter cette histoire ?

Julien était en voyage avec son groupe Passe-montagne. Mon groupe Toads and mice avait invité Passe-montagne et The Conformists à Dayton, Ohio. On est immédiatement devenu amis, c’était un moment génial.

Je ne connais presque rien de la scène musicale et artistique de Columbus, Ohio. Comment un groupe comme le vôtre est-il perçu et quelle place occupe-t-il dans la scène locale ?

La scène musicale de Columbus s’est montrée très accueillante vis-à-vis de DROSE. Je suis reconnaissant envers toute personne étant venu assister à un concert, ayant acheté ou partagé notre musique.

On m’a dit qu’un nouvel album de DROSE était prévu. Comment approchez-vous ce nouvel enregistrement et qu’en attendez-vous ?

C’est exact ! Les morceaux ont un son différent mais c’est bien le même DROSE.

>>>>>>>>>> DROSE

>>>>>>>>>> COMPUTER STUDENTS

« La meilleure façon de perdre ses amis » (DROSE – Urgence disk, 17 nov.)

C’est peut-être bien que je dois traîner dans ces musiques depuis trop longtemps, mais si il y a un mot qui me tient en haleine, attise chez moi une curiosité fiévreuse et me pousse vers tel concert ou tel disque, c’est celui de déconstruction. Le rock en morceaux, mis en pièces puis remonté à l’envers et fourni sans véritable mode d’emploi si ce n’est celui que ton cerveau construit. Ou pas. Allez comprendre. Par contre, entre les réactions génées du type « C’est particulier… » et les soupçons d’élitisme, on est d’accord que c’est certainement une des meilleures façons de perdre ses amis. Mais bon, faut avoir le courage de ses opinions de temps en temps.

Quoi qu’il en soit, la première écoute de l’album Boy man machine du trio américain DROSE a été un choc, redoublé par  l’annonce de leur venue à Genève. L’organisation de ce concert assez peu médiatisé aura connu quelques péripéties : d’abord annoncé à l’Usine, il avait été pressenti un moment à l’Ecurie pour finalement se dérouler à Urgence disk.

La petite salle/bar de la boutique plutôt remplie est encore à l’heure de l’apéro et du concert qui a eu lieu juste avant, d’un tout autre style quand les américains arrivent et lancent le set presque aussitôt. Bruits répétitifs. Mécanisés. Domptés. Leitmotiv industriel de la musique de DROSE. Noise-rock suffocant. Eclatant par spasmes. Semblant se débattre contre le règne de la machine, lutter contre son propre engloutissement. Le groupe ne comporte pas de bassiste, mais le son est absolument massif, même avec des protections auditives (et valait mieux).

La silhouette frêle de Dustin Rose et sa voix cristalline, spectrale -à vrai dire assez difficilement perceptible dans le mix – contraste avec la lourdeur et le fracas qui l’enveloppent. Scandée par la batterie minimaliste de John Mengerink, la musique de DROSE développe un vocabulaire qui lui est propre – même si on peut penser à la première période des Swans – et un sens de l’espace sonore et du silence assez impressionnant.

C’est la tête-chercheuse Computer students qui a reédité leur album mais, si on m’avait dit que c’était un label comme ECM, ça ne m’aurait pas plus étonné que ça. De la même manière, on les as vus dans cette microscopique antre qu’est Urgence disk mais qui peut dire dans quel sorte de salle ils passeront dans 5 ou 10 ans ?

Un certain nombre de personnes quittent la salle au fil du concert, déroutés par l’étrangeté ou rebutés par le volume sonore. Pour les autres, les tenaces, l’expérience sonore est au rendez-vous. Au final, une expérience typique de l’Usine – celle d’être une poignée de personnes dans un lieu improbable assistant à la performance d’un groupe singulier.

Bien sûr, un jour il y aura un petit malin qui aura tout compris et qui viendra nous expliquer qu’on a vu un groupe de slow-indus ou une foutaise de ce genre – exactement comme le jour où j’ai découvert avec stupéfaction que certains rangeaient Don caballero dans une petite boîte qui s’appelait math-rock ou Heroin dans un machin appelé screamo. On s’en fout, on sait juste qu’on a vu un putain de groupe qui vit intensément sa musique et qui ne ressemble nul autre.

Et on ne veut rien savoir d’autre.

>>>>>>>>>> DROSE

Welldone dumboyz, « Tombé dans l’escalier » (Repulsive medias, No way asso, 939K15)

Découverte de ce groupe orginaire de Belfort avec cet album. Les huit titres qui le composent sont totalement indéfinissables mais brillent par leur énergie et leur spontanéité.  Stoner gueulard pour le gros son, noise pour la (dé)constrution foutraque et les plans absurdes et toujours blues détraqué et débraillé dans le fond. On ne sait jamais trop à quoi s’attendre. On ne s’embarasse pas de cohérence mais on préfère en foutre partout à fond la caisse, à l’image de l’esthétique gluante de la pochette. Lorsque le rythme ralentit (The hole), c’est pour sonner comme un Nick Cave pochetron et agressif. Elle se permet toutes les bizarreries, un Black space aux ambiances à la Pink Floyd, un Kim plus expérimental et même une derniere Bald story accoustique avec des voix qui chevauchent tout ça avec panache, notamment dans Tombé dans l’escalier, probablement le morceau que je préfère. Ce groupe a son propre truc, il sonne comme lui-même. Une engeance qui se fait rare. Je vois sur leur site que c’est leur huitième enregistrement et qu’il sortent des disques depuis plus de 10 ans. Merde, si ça se trouve, c’est un groupe culte !

>>>>>>>>>> WELLDONE DUMBOYZ

>>>>>>>>>> 939K15

GIG ALERT ! : William Burroughs Haute-Savoie microtour

Avec Cutter, on aura le plaisir de jouer deux fois ce weekend. Cette petite pub, c’est pas tellement pour nous – quoique, hé hé – mais surtout parce que ce sera avec deux très chouettes groupes – Dewaere et leur noise-rock lyrique explosif, Jars et leur post-punk noise hargneux – et dans deux supers endroits (les deux meilleurs du coin ?) : le Poulpe et le Bistro des Tilleuls.

>>>>>>>>>> DEWAERE

>>>>>>>>>> JARS

>>>>>>>>>> CUTTER

>>>>>>>>>> LE POULPE

>>>>>>>>>> BISTRO DES TILLEULS

Videoiid, « Sovtek zoo » EP

On peut dire que cette deuxième sortie du trio franco-suédois Videoiid s’est faite dans la plus grande discrétion. Pour tout dire, je ne crois pas avoir vu passer une seule chronique mais il faut préciser qu’il s’agit d’une cassette réalisée, il me semble, à l’occasion d’une tournée en Espagne. Un nouveau guitariste est d’ailleurs venu prendre la place d’Arvid – lassé par les tournées, justement – auprès de Sarah (guitare, voix) et Frank, alias Sheik anorak (batterie, voix).

Pour le reste, les trois titres de cette cassette sont dans le droit fil du premier enregistrement, à savoir une noise virulente et dissonante sur laquelle plane le spectre d’Arab on radar. Peut-être même que ces trois morceaux gagnent encore en cohérence et en efficacité, avec des structures à la simplicté toujours plus assumée – un morceau = un riff poussé vers son autodestruction – et des voix particulièrement bien posées, que ce soient les vociférations aigues de Sarah ou les incantations détraquées à la Eric Paul de la voix masculine.

Nécessairement discret au milieu des nombreux projets qui occupent ses membres, on devrait avoir des nouvelles de Videoiid dans pas trop longtemps, vers mars. La cassette risque d’être bien usée d’ici là.

>>>>>>>>>> VIDEOIID

« Attaque de guitares patraques » (Gaute Granli, Mark Charles Morgan, Sound off Mars – Cave12, 23 oct.)

(Eternel) retour à Cave12, cette antre de tous les possibles et surtout les plus improbables, où tu ne sais jamais exactement ce que tu vas voir ni la personne qui est à côté de toi –  qui, si ça se trouve, aime souffler dans un saxophone sans embouchure et n’a jamais entendu parler des Melvins. Oui, des choses aussi extrêmes que ça. Là où les publics et les musiques se croisent vraiment, pas comme dans TOUTES les autres salles où celui – ou celle – qui aime le metalcore ne va pas voir les concert de post-punk qui ne mettra jamais les pieds à un concert de grind à qui ça ferait mal d’aller voir de l’arty-impro-n’importe-quoi-bla-bla-bla. Wow, bon sang, on dirait une chanson des Fabulous troubadors. Mais rendez-moi le bon vieux temps de « Eh, y’a un concert de ouf, tu viens ? » Non, mais. Je suis pas vraiment là pour la musique, moi, de toute façon.

Bref, soirée guitare à Cave12, mais guitare bizarre et absurdoïde et c’est pas moi qui le dit mais Sixto de Cave12 et ça, ça veut vraiment dire que tu vas voir ce que tu vas voir.

Gaute Granli est norvégien et tient ou tenait également la guitare dans le duo noise Freddy the dyke. Son solo tient du bricolage sonore improbable. Beats synthétiques. Esquisses de vagues mélodies. Parasites. Techno subissant de fortes perturbations. Présence/absence. Crash et birfurcations inopinées.

Même effet pour la voix sussurée, qui avait un je-ne-sais-quoi de Three second kiss. Le crooner planant est fin saoul et ne veut plus quitter la piste. Je sais pas si j’ai aimé ou pas, à vrai dire. Mais, on n’est pas obligé d’avoir un avis sur tout, n’est-ce-pas ?

Ces solo ont une durée modeste, 30 minutes tout au plus, sortes de petits formats expérimentaux qui s’enchainent de manière fluide et plutôt agréable. Là aussi ça change du cérémonial habituel du concert. Bref, au tour de Mark Charles Morgan.

Mark Charles Morgan est présenté et surtout connu comme le guitariste/chanteur du trio Sightings, un groupe bien borderline que personne ne connait mais qui a quand même publié une dizaine d’albums bourrés jusqu’à la gueule d’exprimentation touffue et de vitalité sonore. Sightings n’est plus mais le solo de Mark Charles Morgan fait écho en condensé aux recherches sonores du furieux trio new-yorkais.

Ca commence avec un signal sur-saturé. Trace en pointillés d’un message sonore existant mais inaudible, dont il ne reste qu’une pulsation. Brouillage. Echec de la transmission. Des motifs vocaux joyeusement incompréhensibles, méthodiquement samplés, viennent ponctuer, compléter l’ensemble par petites touches et lui donner forme. Un solo, fracas de ferraille glaciale, surgit et vient se fondre dans la masse.

Puis Mark Charles Morgan semble juger que le musique ainsi créée est suffisante et peut voler de ses propres ailes. Il la laisse se dérouler, pose sa guitare à terre et entame une petite danse folle et exquise autour de sa guitare et son micro, auquel il vient hululer de temps à autre. Wow. C’est magique et très drôle de voir ce bonhomme en costume sombre s’exécuter ainsi. Son show brillant et facétieux s’interrompt tout à coup et le musicien débranche ses pédales sous, il faut bien le dire, un tonnerre d’applaudissement. Well done, Mister Morgan.

Rangées d’amplis Marshall et Fender. Amas de pédales d’effets. Réseaux de cables électriques. Ce n’est pas un mais six guitaristes qui composent The Sound off mars, groupe sans basse ni chant ni batterie venu de Marseille et qui s’installe joyeusement à même le sol de la salle. Ca sent la bonne histoire entre copains, cette affaire-là. Le mur du son massif et compact produit par les guitares à l’unison est impressionnant, s’apparente à un gros stoner sonique, évoquant Gnod, Part chimp, voire Sonic youth parfois.

Une masse compacte, lente et majestueuse, qui se déploie, se déplie, vacille parfois sous les tiraillements de l’une ou l’autre guitare, pour atteindre finalement sa pleine puissance ou s’écrouler sous son propre poids. Là aussi, le concert est relativement court, peut-être faute de morceaux. En tous cas, cette fanfare sonique pleine de possibles à explorer clôt cette chouette soirée de belle manière. Festive presque.

Millions of dead cops ?

>>>>>>>>>> GAUTE GRANLI

>>>>>>>>>> MARK CHARLES MORGAN

>>>>>>>>>> THE SOUND OFF MARS

« Apologie de la déviance » (Child abuse – Cave12, 15 sept.)

Toujours avoir un oeil sur la programmation de Cave12. Surtout pour tout ce qui touche aux formes de rock déviantes et inespérées. Child abuse, trio new-yorkais obscur au nom en forme d’atteinte à la morale la plus élémentaire, déjà entrevu il y a cinq ans dans le même lieu. Secousse à fortes séquelles, déjà. En tournée pour la sortie de son quatrième album. Impossible de ne pas être là.

Pas d’éclairage au néon porté en pendentif cette fois-là. Ils ont gardé leurs combinaison couleur alu, par contre. Guère plus rassurants, en pleine lumière. Humour disjoncté et ambiance torve. Concerto pour enclume.

Les membres de Child abuse trempent depuis de longues années dans la scène expérimentale new-Yorkaise. La batterie labyrinthique d’Oran Canfield, la basse fretless en déraillement permanent de Tim Dahl (également membre de Retrovirus avec Weasel Walter et Lydia Lunch) et sa voix grand-guignolesque qui fait parfois penser à Shorty et les stridences viciées du clavier qui achève de faire définitivement de la musique de ce groupe un hochet cassé qui ne tourne pas rond. Pas étonnant qu Eric Paul – la voix de Arab on radar et aujourd’hui Psychic graveyard, avec lesquels Child abuse a d’ailleurs joué – fasse une apparition sur leur disque. Les grands malades se rencontrent.

Leur musique est une rafale sans fin, un point de fuite indéfinissable, une coagulation violente de courants contraires.  Déluge de décalages math-rock, free-jazz désarticulé, sauvagerie death-metal. Pas d’autre choix que de se laisser prendre par le maëlstrom. Retiens ta respiration et laisse-toi emporter par le fond.

Un petit tour à la table de merchandising à la fin du concert donne pourtant une impression assez sympathique des individus. Le batteur te propose même Long past stopping, l’autobiographie qu’il a publié il y a quelques années. Et donc, tu te retrouves avec un tee-shirt portant fièrement l’inscription « Abus d’enfant » ainsi que les mémoires d’un héroïnomane.

Mais sinon tout va bien.

>>>>>>>>>> CHILD ABUSE

« We are a successful band. » : an interview with USA Nails

USA Nails on tour with friends Dead arms. USA Nails : Steven (left, 2nd), Tom (left, 3rd), Dan (right, 3rd), Gareth (right, 2nd) Dead arms : Alex (left, 1st), Steve (left, 4th), Dan (right, 3rd), Nic (right, 1st)

Love has only been growing for USA Nails with each album and the last one, « Life cinema », is no exception. Their own brand of virulent post-punk infused noise-rock – or whatever you feel like calling it – getting more frontal each time, more stripped to the bare essentials and yet remaining open to experimentations and a variety of atmospheres. The news that they would hit Geneva last June was therefore received with great enthusiasm and the chance to have a chat with them was seized. This interview was a particularly enjoyable moment : each member giving thoughtful answers, often building up on each other’s idea to expand their own thoughts. You could feel Dan, Steven and Gareth are pretty serious about what they are doing and make a very strong (punk) unit – Tom being a bit more on the listening side at the beginning, understandably being the latest addition to the band. Yet jokes would pop in constantly – none of the laughs mentioned in this interview are faked. Meeting USA Nails in person definitely made me want to dig dipper into their underground world and I hope this interview will make you want to do the same.

You’ve just released an album called « Life cinema », is that because you think that life is a bit of cinema ?

 Steven : Yeah, it’s just about the way people present themselves, their lives and how they want to portray them. It’s very strange, but I find myself doing it as well even though I don’t want to.

Social networks are difficult to avoid today for a band. Is that something you do with pleasure or more of a chore for you ?

Steven : We just treat it as a bit of a laugh, I guess. Instagram and stuff like that, it makes us laugh.

Dan : We never really post anything serious apart from gig information and stupid pictures.

Gareth : That’s how we want to present ourselves, as idiots ! (Everyone laughs.)

Steven : I work with children as well and now parents post pictures of them from when they are born and at every stage of their lives that are gonna be traceable when they’re old, if this technology is still there. You’ll be able to scroll back the pictures to the day you were born. Your whole life. That’s very spooky.

What makes this record special for you ?

Gareth : One of the things is that this is the first album that Tom plays drums on. All the songs we wrote with Tom so we kind of started afresh and worked out a new dynamic between the four of us. I think we ended up with a record that is maybe more melodic than the previous one, maybe there are more choruses in it – not through any conscious decision but that’s kind of what has come out of us being in a room writing music together and what has worked for us this time. I think it’s still very much USA Nails; a bit silly and a bit noisy. I feel we have honed our song writing though, I think it’s a more cohesive record and conceptually as well, I think it ties together nicely because of the things Steven said like life lived through screens and stuff like that. Yeah, I’m quite pleased with how the thing came out…

Steven : I think we got better at putting less bits in songs as well.

Dan : More space…

Steven : Yeah, starting having more of a feeling, rather than « What’s the verse ? What’s the chorus ? Oh, it needs a third section, it needs an outro. »

So, how would you define the perfect song ? What do you look for when you try to write a good song ?

 Steven : Well, this is tricky. If I knew, I’d probably be famous ! (Laughs) Less is definitely more. We’re not trying to be virtuosic. Oh, I don’t how to articulate properly ! It has to have a certain energy.

Gareth : To be focused… I think when you are more ruthless about what you leave out, it brings the important parts of the songs more into focus, it doesn’t muddy the view of the main feel of the song. We all know when we are in a room and write together when we’ve locked in something that is pretty good. Usually some sort of melody or motif and then, well recently, we just look at developing that one thing as opposed to adding in another bit and then another bit. It’s more about just thinking about different ways of approaching this one theme.

Do you consciously try to try new things ? Something very original or something that you’ve never done before ?

 Gareth : Yeah, on every record, I’ve used a new tuning on my guitar because it forces me to think differently about how I approach constructing my parts – which becomes annoying when you go on tour playing songs from previous albums because you need to either work them out in the new tuning or bring two guitars as I have to do now. But it gets you out of your comfort zone, you have to think differently.

 (At this point, Gareth has to concentrate on his answers : Ben, the singer of Nurse who will play first on that night is doing sound balance and his repeated desperate shouts are covering our conversation. « Is he locked outside ? », Dan comments, and everybody laughs.)

I’ve read that you were composing songs pretty quickly and pretty spontaneously, is that still the case today ?

 Everybody : Yeah.

Gareth : We’ve all have experiences of being in bands where we were taking a long time to write songs but in USA Nails it has always been : trust your instincts, go with your first thing and see what happens with it – as opposed to overthinking a simple idea. Maybe it will come out crap in the end, but we can just ditch it and move on to the next thing if so.

So you can see virtues in not trying to think too much…

 Gareth : Yeah, now I find it difficult to do the longer writing process. I’ve joined a new band and they write the more normal way and… sometimes it’s kind of boring. I just want to say : « No, that’s fine, that’s fine ! » It’s Steven who’s the person that really taught me to let go and stop being precious about little things. Steven will always be the first person to say : « This song is finished.That ‘s fine, we don’t need to do anymore with it. » and he’s usually right.

So it’s a confidence thing to be able to say « What I did is good and I don’t need to search for more » ?

Steven : It also depends on what you want to get out of it personally. In bands I’ve been in the past, we used to practice every single day and agonize over « If you’re playing this chord, I need to play a chord that isn’t a major chord it’s got to have this weird shape in it and if you’re gonna play on the beat, I’m gonna play off the beat or I’m gonna play in triplets. » Everything was agonized over, every single note. To the point where you were doing a practice where the drummer would just keep going over the same drum fill and these six hours of practising would be just trying to get the drum fill at the start of the song exactly where you want it to be and I would be just going « Blam… blam… » (Mimicking playing the same note over and over again – Ed.)… I can’t be bothered ! What’s the point ? That’s not fun ! It should be quick… and achievable. And the quicker you do things, the more fun it is, well, I find, anyway. The quicker you have something new to play, the more excited you are.

Gareth : Yeah and I guess moving quickly allows us to try new ideas. Our first songs were quite straight up but I think we quickly moved on to some weirder sort of ideas.

Dan : Our first songs sound so different. Even on our second album, there’s definitely a progression. That first album Steven just did vocals and it was just you and Stu on guitar who provided all the riffs. I guess it was naturally going to change… wasn’t it ?

Gareth : Yeah, it was written and recorded very quickly. It almost feels like it is a different band. Some people still really like that record. I do, but I think what came after is more… us.

I guess what you were saying about the difficult writing process also has to do with the fact that punks often haven’t learned music formally so they’re learning how to create music in the same time that they actually create some music.

 Steven : I guess it has to do with how you view yourself : as a musician or as someone using a thing with strings on to make a sound…

So how do you consider yourself ?

 Steven : I’d say halfway… exactly in the middle ! (Laughs) My previous band were all highly skilled musicians. They went to music colleges and formed a band just to get big and then I joined them afterwards. I’ve learned a lot of music theory playing in that band but I don’t want to know it. (Laughs) I find it’s a hindrance. Sometimes, I’m trying to play this weird chord and then I’m like « No, just play on octave, that’s fine. »

Your guitar sound is quite distinctive, very fuzzy.

 Steven : On records, it usually comes down to discussions with the guy that records – Wayne – about how it’s gonna sound. I had read interviews with the guitarist from Pissed jeans and I bought all the same equipment that he had. I liked how his guitar sounded so I bought an Epiphone Sheraton. Also it was affordable. I’m not really into expensive equipment. I own a couple of nice basses but I work for a living, I can’t afford to buy guitars all the time.

Do you think it’s possible to do something new in punk music ?

 Steven : I think bands like Girl band do. I guess you take elements of other things, don’t you ? They sort of stripped the rhythm out of it, started using guitars to make noises instead of just Da-da-da-da-da (He hums some sort of nondescript chord sequence. – Ed.) and using dance beats. Yeah, I think it is possible but, I don’t know… if it’s always necessary to do something new.

Gareth : I don’t know if we do ! (Laughs)

Steven : Yeah, we don’t do anything new !

Gareth : Punk is a very broad thing, it’s hard to pin down exactly what it is anyway. Ultimately, if you’re using guitars and distortion, you’re automatically referencing decades of music before you’ve played a note. So in that respect it will always be referencing what’s been done before. So it’s hard to say what is new.

Tom : I think as synthesizers become cheaper, you see a lot more integration of that in the kind of DIY scene. Electronics across the guitars, : there’s a lot of bands that are doing that kind of things so that’s were things might go. It mixes the studio with the live performance aspect.

After all these years, records and touring, do you find that you’re getting some kind of recognition , some kind of success ?

 Steven : I don’t know if that’s the name but it’s nice to see people around when you’re playing a gig. In Paris the other day, people were like falling over each other.

Dan : It’s nice to see someone you don’t know wearing your shirt, I guess.

Tom : It’s nice to see your record selling, when you had no idea if it would at all (Laughs).

I mean there are connections between the DIY world and the bigger music world – festivals, magazines – do you often get notices or invitations ?

 Steven : We don’t really get much of that.

Gareth : The label that we put the first two albums out with (Smalltown America. -Ed.) quite liked spending money on PR so we got a little bit of press but… it’s all just kind of fake, isn’t it ? It’s only because they paid for it, that’s why we got national magazines and stuff, it’s not that any of these magazines were genuinely interested in what we were doing. But for me, success is having fun and I think we are ! We get to play fun shows, we get asked to play good festivals…

Steven : We get to travel… We get to go on holidays for free, basically. We’re sat in a room, drinking booze.

Gareth : And it’s all as a result of doing something that we do for ourselves. We’re just exploring our own creative impulses, we don’t write music to enable us to sell millions of records. We write music for people like you and to enable us to visit places like this and meet people and have lots of cool experiences so, yeah… I think we’re successful !

Success seems a bit of a random thing. Why is this band successful and why is this other band not ? Sometimes, it just seems there is not space for everybody.

 Steven : There is a way of getting big. You have to broaden what you do…

Gareth : That word can be used in a derogatory sense, but if what you do has a broad message, a lot of people can agree with or can get on board with, then it’s gonna appeal to large groups of people…

But you wouldn’t do that consciously, trying to broaden your music and make is accessible…

 Gareth : No, I’d feel a bit dirty but some bands sort of capture what’s going on at the moment. They can encapsulate something that a lot of people can relate to, some sort of fashion trends or political ideas, and they sweep everyone up with them with that.

Tom : It has to do with how much money you put in it as well.

Gareth : Oh, that helps, yeah !

Tom : I was rehearsing with what turned out to be a pop band, and the first gig was just a presentational gig, the booking agent was there, the lawyer was there. They were just getting all the people that they wanted : « Come and have a look at us and do what you want with us. » And that worked ! Now they’re getting huge. I opted out because I thought this was rubbish music but now they’re up there doing huge things.

Gareth : Do you regret that ?

Tom : I did a little bit then but I don’t now. I prefer music being a passion as opposed to doing it for the sake of launching your own career. But what I enjoy is the process. The hanging out, the rehearsing, the gigs… The process is all.

Gareth : You have to enjoy every aspect of it. If you hate rehearsals then that’s gonna come through. I enjoy every aspect of it. I love getting together in the week in a room and see what happens. It’s really exciting. I love going to the pub beforehand…

Tom : It’s more interesting when it’s something you’re passionate about. When you’re not passionate about it, it’s not about people interacting with the songs or you interacting with them, it’s more about you being the performing band to entertain them.

I believe you do the artwork of the band yourself…

 Gareth : The album artwork was done by our old drummer, Matt. It was nice that we could get him involved even if he wasn’t going to be playing on the record. He’s done the artwork for three of the four albums. All of us sort of chip in tee-shirt designs. Danny has designed the artwork for some of the EPs, some of the tapes that we’ve done. Steven has done a bunch of tee-shirts. I tried to do a design for a tee-shirt recently but nobody was really into it. (The others are laughing their asses off. -Ed.) I don’t really have a flair for it but… thanks for trying ! That’s OK. I’ve done a couple of tee-shirts but they’ve been pretty lame.

Dan, I really like the artwork you’ve done for the tapes (Work work work and Sell sell sell on SAD Tapes. -Ed.) I wanted to ask you what or who inspired you graphically…

 Dan : Me and my old drummer Matt, we clicked a lot and shared similar tastes. I like to spray a lot and screenprint at home. As for artists.. Nothing in particular. There’s this one book I have from my Mom from the seventies, just a book of illustrations. There’s no cover to it. It’s my favourite thing I own. I’m constantly looking at and drawing inspiration from that. I’m just always drawing : faces, hands and weird shapes. That’s it, really. No more to it !

What I like is that it’s very coherent with the music…

 Dan : Yeah, Steven and I started SAD Tapes – which stands for « Steven and Daniel’s Tapes » (Laughs) The idea was that Steven can record the bands and I print and create some artwork. To be fair, it’s been mainly USA Nails and Dead arms… but we’ve done Bo Gritz, which I fucked up – but they were kind enough not to complain. Steve records everything on a four-track. It’s like the love of demos, you know ? When you listen to a band’s demo and you love it, and then you listen to the same song on an album and you don’t love it cause it doesn’t have the same… urgency or whatever. I think « Sell, sell, sell » is my favourite one. There’s a lot of weird faces and strange shapes… Yeah, I think it worked quite well. Hopefully, one day we can do more. It’s not a business, it’s just another creative outlet that’s attached to the band.

Steven : Matt, our old drummer, is really into lo-fi recording and so am I. There’s often a debate as to whether we should record all our stuff like that, so we just occasionally do some lo-fi recording to scratch an itch that we have. Our albums are still recorded in a recording studio and I think it’s probably a good idea to do both. The songs (On the two tapes « Work work work » and « Sell sell sell ». -Ed.) were still written quickly.

Gareth : We knew that these songs would be recorded on four-tracks and, I don’t know about you guys but, when I was writing my parts, I was consciously thinking of the limitations or the differences in sound when recording like that.

Steven : It gives you a chance to do things that stylistically you wouldn’t normally do. There’s this song where Dan sings – he doesn’t really sing, it’s more spoken-word – it leans a bit towards the sound of The Fall, I guess.

Gareth : Yeah, more post-punky. Some people really like that.

I know the « Work work work » tape is some people’s favourite recording of USA Nails.

 Dan : That’s cool. We got Creative industries from this tape and we put it on the new album.

Steven : And it sounds completely different. On the tape, it sounds more like a pop song.

Dan : It was for nothing. It was just for us when we had no drummer. (« Work work work » is recorded with a drum-machine. – Ed.) Tapes are cheap to produce. So we thought let’s do a tape.

Steven : It was after our tour in America and all the bands that we played with were just selling tapes. None of them had records.

Dan : Tapes are big in the states in the DIY scene. I didn’t realize that before.

Steven : I’ve got a real love of that format. As a kid, that’s what I listened to music on. I guess people older than me listened to music on vinyl and that’s why there’s such warmth for vinyl. But me, I like tapes, I like the aesthetic, the size, the strange compressed sound. Not many people buy them I suppose, so they are more for trading.

Dan : We’re not making any money from it but it doesn’t cost the band , apart from their time.

Will you do any more in the future ? With what bands ?

 Steven : Probably just us ! No, it’s tricky – well not that tricky, I just don’t like many bands.

Dan : You must make sure you get bands that are not that precious as well, that have the same sort of mentality. You’ve got to be very clear with them about what the whole thing is about. You know, we’re recording on a four-track.

Steven : It’s not going to sound like you think it’s going to sound. You have to go into it with that mindset. Everyone is in this one room playing, I can’t hear how it is going to sound. It’s not two rooms where I can go play the guitar : « Oh yeah, that’s a good sound, let’s move the mike a bit. » No, you just play, that’s it, it’s done. Don’t keep going ! (Laughs)

The cool live pictures have been taken by Marie Mauve Photography at the gig in Paris mentioned in the interview . Thanks a million, Marie !

There’s a video of the gig at l’Usine that’s been made, go treat yourself and watch it here.

>>>>>>>>>> USA NAILS

>>>>>>>>>> SAD TAPES

 

Blame it on math-rock : an interview with Dead arms

Last June, Dead arms visited Geneva as part a Euro tour with USA Nails. Full-on hardcore garage-punk assault with by charismatic singer Steve « General Waste » at the front of the action. Before the gig, we sat down with Nick (drums), Alex (guitar), Dan (Bass) and Steve (voice) to get to know more of the story behind the noise.

(ERRATUM : there are two mistakes in this interview, first, it’s Alex who lives in the States, and second, Nick is Nic. Sorry for that !)

Can you introduce us a little bit to your band ? When did you get together ?

Alex : It’s been 8 years, this is our second album. We’re from London in the UK. We did one album in 2015. I think it’s our third tour in Europe.

Nick : The band started in 2011 with a different drummer, Wayne Adams. But he was too busy with other projects, so before the first album he left. I was overseas and I came back and joined. That’s when we started to play more shows and finished the first record. We’ve just had a bit of a break cause I moved to the states. So we actually recorded our second album a year and a half ago.

Live action at l’Usine !

How do you manage the band with you living in America ?

Alex : Well, she moved to the States last February and we haven’t done anything since. It’s our first shows for over a year.

Wanted to ask you about your scene in London. I went to the Shackewell arms to catch a Death pedals show (Alex looking pretty pleased. -Ed.) How active are you in this scene ?

Nick : Pretty active ! Steve and I and another friend of ours started putting on shows back in 2008. There’s a label called Rip this joint and that’s how a lot of us met each other. We probably met Dan that way as well. Basically I was in another band with Steve’s best mate and we were getting put on at terrible shows in London and we didn’t really know where the scene was, so we just decided to put our own shows on instead and then we just met all those great people !

Alex : When we started Death pedals, we were struggling to find anywhere to play a good show and then we met these guys who were doing these Rip this joint shows every months and they were the best shows ! So that’s how we all met ! A lot of people came together from different bands and it was good fun !

Dan : We were working in a pub together (I think Dan is talking of Alex but not sure – Ed.) – I bumped into you when you were really drunk, coming back from one of the shows ! And you said : « Come to the next one ! »  and I did !

Steve : There were bands like Silent front, who were already part of a scene, they were more experienced and when they got involved, they mentored us a little bit through the early stages. But then it just grew and grew and grew and then more and more bands got involved and more bands came out of it. Death pedals formed out of this scene that became a birthing pool for new projects. People would swap through bands…

Nick : I guess over the last few years, we’ve all been a bit busier with other things – jobs and families and things – so we’ve been a bit less active putting shows on.

Dan : Yeah, but there’s more new, like, associations. Younger people went to the shows and then started doing their own thing. It’s really cool.

People here tend too think that the scene is getting older and complain that there are not so many people at the shows. What’s your experience of that in London ?

Nick : We were talking about that in the van. I think going to shows – and punk shows too – has become more popular recently. People seem to go out to gigs as a social thing again. At the time when we first started putting on shows, nobody young were doing that but actually in London,it’s really big again. You know, if you put a show on on a Friday or Saturday, it will be full. People will come. I think the scene has expanded and lots of scenes have kind of merged together.

Alex : And the punk thing seems to be bigger in the UK than it was 10 years ago. Now the noisy shows are popular, 10 years ago they were not popular.

So how do you explain that evolution ?

Nick : No idea ! Maybe it’s the internet, the social media…

Steve : You’ve got some bands, like Idles, that are getting bigger and bigger making quite noisy punk music and young people see that and they are getting into it more. I’ve lived out of London a few years ago and in Kent, the scene is very much young, it’s 18, 19, 20 year old kids. They are setting up their own venues, their whole almost mini-DIY industry. They’ve got records shops and venues and it’s attracting an awful lot of cool bands. It just seems that some bands, like Metz, do well and play all over the UK and everybody seems to be responding to that.

Alex : I think the politics at the moment is such a mess, people want to see bands that have something to say.

Steve : Yeah, when we started putting on shows, a lot of bands didn’t even have vocalists, it was all instrumental stuff.

Nick : It was all quite technical. Math-rock was really popular.

Steve : But nobody seems to be particularly angry. But the last ten year have changed that.

Nick : Yeah, people want a bit more of an experience than just people wanking on guitars.

So you think math-rock was responsible for the lower state of the scene ?

Nick (laughs) : Eeeeeh… No, I think it was just a big fade. I guess music genres are always going in and out of fade.

Steve : Death pedals were the first band to come out and not be a math-rock band. Oh my god, a new band that isn’t math-rock ! I was so excited ! I think a lot of bands formed because of Death pedals. It’s been a big thing !

British bands seem to be quite good at that noise-punk sound, is there any particular reason in your opinion ?

Steve : I don’t know. Maybe, we’re fed up with being thought of as wishy-washy indie. (Laughs)

Alex : I read an article about how noise-rock was really taking off in England because it suits our sense of humour and shit weather ! Britain is a dirty country and we all love it and hate it ! This article was talking about that and I think it was right. I think it will only go bigger and bigger.

Also, British bands have a really strong vocal identity, the voice is pretty much at the front and the accent being very strong…

Steve : It all started in the streets and I think Idles is kind of the continuation of that. … but I always thought that, in Blur, Damon was quite mocking the accent…

On purpose ?

Steve : Yeah, it’s self-deprecating, it’s the British sense of humor.

Coming back to the scene, what are the bands that you really like at the moment ?

Dan : I was having this conversation with Gareth (of Usa nails. – Ed.) driving in the van, and for me, it’s this band called Bo Gritz. I think they’re the best for me at the moment. I can’t take my eyes off them when I watch them live. They’re up there for me.

Yeah, we don’t hear so much about them…

Dan : They need to come and play Europe.

Steve : I really like Modern technology. Waynes Adams told me about them, I put the record on and I was like : « Oh, my god, that’s exactly what I like. » They’re the best thing I’ve heard in a long time !

Nick : One of my favourite band – they’ve been for several years but they’ve just put a record out – is Petrol girls, a punk band originally mostly from London. They’re on tour with War on women and they’re just fucking brilliant. They’re doing really well and rightly so.

Alex : There are so many bands… Grey hairs is one I really like. There’s a band called We wild blood. They’ve played their album launch last week and mybe that would be my tip if you want to check a new London band out. If you want a tip for a record label, check out Hominid sounds records. We released our album with them and there’s lots of cools bands there.

Steve : Also, Human leather ! When you see them live, it’s just brutal. The singer has the greatest voice.

Obviously you are releasing music and touring in a DIY network, what’s good about it, in your opinion ? And what’s not so good about this network ?

Steve : None of us are young men or women anymore. I’ve got a full time job, kids, so this is a bit of freedom to do what we do. We have that freedom to decide when we do it and how we do it. Play what we want to play and where we want to play. Turn down the things that we don’t want to do. For us it just works, cause we’re not full-time. It’s about us. We’re a little family. That’s cool.

Sometimes, when you listen to some bands, it seems like having two lives…

Nick : It is having two lives ! I play in another band back in London as well and I work sometimes seven days a week in a hospital. It is exhausting. It’s really nice to have not so much pressure on the music. Like Steve was saying : picking and choosing when we want to do stuff. It needs to be fun, it needs to be something that we enjoy doing. Otherwise : why would I use all of my holidays ?

Steve : It makes it all the more special. I wouldn’t want it to be a chore. I wouldn’t do it if it was a chore !

So what’s the negative aspect of it ?

Steve : I guess if we played more, more people would hear us and we’d do better. Obviously bands become successful because they tour and gig a lot. But you know what ? We’re at a level that’s quite nice for us. We’re doing all right ! I would never had thought that we would tour Europe and it’s our third time !

Alex : When we started this band, it started as a bit of a joke ! Eight years later, we’re still doing it !

The joke is still going on ! (Laughs)

Nick : Yeah, we like repetitive jokes !

Steve : You must wait for the final line of that one !

You have a song called « Apocalypse Yow ». What does David Yow represent for you ?

Steve : It’s various things. When we had reviews of our first album, people likened us to Jesus lizard and I was like: « really ? » I liked Jesus Lizard but I wasn’t a massive fan. It wasn’t a band any of us listened to heavily and said this is how we are going to play our music and I still don’t think we don’t sound anything like JL.

Alex : I see the similarities now, it took me a little while.

Steve : I think we sound like Cows more, the AmRep band. Anyway, that’s one part of it, the other part is the band Big lad that Wayne produces (ex-Shitwife – Ed.), they always have really good song titles. And so I was messing with things in my head and I came out with Apocalypse Yow : « Yeah that would be funny ! » Then I watched the film « I don’t feel at home in this world anymore » where he plays this crazy character then I started using some of the words that he uses in the film and it became the lyrics of the song. It is a bit about being famous, I guess. How famous people have to deal with fame in different ways. In the old days they would just be on TV once in a while but now everybody is all over the place and it stops people being interesting. You don’t get interesting famous musicians anymore because they’re too worried that everyone’s gonna find out about their sordid secrets. And politicians are the same. They are hiding now. Well… I just put together a lot of nonsense in my head ! (Laughs)

>>>>>>>>>> DEAD ARMS