Dominick Fernow on Prurient’s Bermuda Drain and Vatican Shadow’s “atmosphere of degeneration”
By, Apr 1 2012
This article was originally published in July 2011
“Noise is the freedom to pursue personal obsession, outside of genre and audience. The ideology of it is total selfishness and self-exploration.”
So declares Dominick Fernow over a suitably distorted phone line from Manhattan, where he operates the Hospital Productions record store and label of the same name, and creates a godawful racket – in a bewildering array of different guises and configurations, but first and foremost solo, as Prurient.
For his latest Prurient album, Bermuda Drain, Fernow has largely abandoned the treble-heavy, harsh noise attack which for many is synonymous with the project. Instead he’s channeled his formative obsession with industrial music, and taken further inspiration from techno – he claims Sandwell District, FUSE and Traversable Wormhole are among those who’ve had an impact – to create his own bruised vision of electronic music.
In terms of defying expectation, Bermuda Drain – out July 18 on Hydra Head Records – is his most extreme work to date. It’s also very honest, revealing: where his vocals in the past have usually been screamed and yowled and then processed to the point of abstraction, on Bermuda Drain they’re exposed, unadorned, crystal-clear. There’s still the odd bit of punitive barking, but for the most part Fernow favours a grave, unnervingly steady speaking voice.
Musically, there are certainly precedents and premonitions to be found in the Fernow catalogue for the direction taken on Bermuda Drain. His terrifically paranoid minimal synth side-project Vatican Shadow is especially pertinent, as is his now permanent membership of Wes Eisold’s tortured electro-pop outfit Cold Cave. Tempting though it is, it would be wrong to call Bermuda Drain Prurient’s pop album – it’s too toxic, too aggressive for that – but it’s certainly his most dynamic and accessible full-length to date.
FACT’s Kiran Sande caught up with Fernow to discuss the labour-intensive genesis of Bermuda Drain, and to talk in depth about the Wisconsin native’s relationship to techno and electronic music.
What prompted you to discover – or re-discover – techno, and to work it into the fabric of Bermuda Drain? Did you consciously set out to make an album of “electronic music”?
“Well, I was doing some extensive touring with Cold Cave in Europe…I hadn’t played a show as Prurient in two years and so I was thinking about electronic music in general and how it changed my perception of noise music. I was never really a fan of a lot of the Japanese [noise] bands that were so famous in the 90s, because to me their work always sounded too clean and too identifiable, I guess because it sounded so electronic. The noise that I was into was, I suppose, the most bastardised side of the genre – harsh noise, you might call it. It [harsh noise] had become so abstracted and distorted and so lo-fi, that really it had lost all identifiablity in terms of the sounds that you were hearing, and of course the irony of it is that although it was entirely electronic for the most part, it sounded very warm and organic and rich to me.
“My involvement and interest in noise is entirely anti-musical; it’s all concept.”
“It wasn’t really until I got into playing keyboards and synthesizers more directly with Cold Cave that I started to think about a lot of the Japanese stuff not as noise but as electronic music. And then at the same time, I’d just been listening to so much techno – on the road, on headphones, always driving, perpetually moving – so I decided that there was some sort of relationship going on here. And I started to look at things more as electronic music – or at least as industrial music that’s defined by its use of electronic music. I was listening to the classic stuff you’d expect like Plastikman and FUSE and Aphex Twin, but also more recently the Sandwell District label, Demdike Stare, Traversable Wormhole, things like that…and I decided OK, I’ve always loved this stuff…
“I’ve get frustrated because people have always assumed that Prurient is influenced by black metal, and it’s really not – it’s actually quite the opposite. I’ve never tried at all to make it sonically of that realm; when I do black metal, I do it with my black metal band [Ash Pool], not Prurient. For me it’s industrial music, it’s electronic music. So I wanted to make an electronic record just because I’d run out of things to listen to; and I think that by spending so much time in Europe, where the form has such a long history, I just started getting really stimulated. I was stimulated by the idea of travelling, by the idea of movement, and I suppose became more aware of the possibilities that electronic music can provide you with.
“However, I found there to be a lack of – let’s call it content, or story, in a lot of the [techno] music I was listening to. It seemed very much focussed on sound, which is really the opposite to my work – my involvement and interest in noise is actually entirely anti-musical; it’s all concept. And I consider Prurient to be a multimedia project, I don’t consider it to be a band or even music – though it may be musical – the motivation is not to create music, it’s to give a platform to the ideas and the content that I like.
“So the first idea was that if I was to make this record [Bermuda Drain], it had to be done using entirely new equipment; nothing we used could have been used on any Prurient record before, not at all. That was the really basic foundation – my wanting to do something new. Not new in the larger sense, but new for Prurient.”
“Noise is the freedom to pursue personal obsession, outside of genre and audience. The ideology of it is total selfishness and self-exploration.”
The decision to overhaul your set-up and record in a new way must have been liberating, but surely fraught with difficulties too?
“It was absolutely awful [laughs]. It took us eight months of studio work to get to the point where we had an record, partially just because we were learning this equipment.”
Were you working with a lot of out-board and analogue gear, or was composition and recording more computer-based?
“It’s really a mix – of computer-based, analogue, digital synths…and live percussion too, there’s actually a lot of live percussion that we sampled and then altered and processed digitally. I have to mention and give a lot of credit to Kris Lapke, who produced the album and was really my partner, sonically, in going forward. He really laid a lot of groundwork in terms of figuring out how to use these new machines, I really couldn’t have done it without him.
“The way I define noise is the freedom to pursue personal obsession, outside of genre and audience. I think that’s largely been lost; in a scene that’s supposed to be approaching some kind of freedom, it’s sad to me how conservative and conformist it’s become. I think there’s a problem now where noise for many people simply means distortion, and to me that might be noise sound but the ideology of it is really just total selfishness and self-exploration. And it is anti-social, in the sense that it’s about the internal world. That’s why I think that in some ways– in attitude – this record is the most noise record that I’ve ever made. Even though it may not be seen to be linked sonically to people’s idea of what noise is.
Prurient has always been about, as you say, self-exploration; and moreover the foregrounding, the exposing of your self. By contrast, a lot of techno is defined by, if not anonymity, a certain facelessness, a simplicity of presentation, or to use your words, a lack of story.
“I totally appreciate and understand that approach, but for just for me personally, the work that always inspires me most is the stuff that works on the levels: visually, lyrically, sonically, formally. And in a way, I don’t even consider Prurient music, it’s more like a collage project – whether that be of sound, or the visual, or just a case of me reassembling and reappropriating and recontextualising anything that fits the mood of negativity.”
“I don’t consider Prurient to be music, it’s more like a collage project. It’s me reassembling and reappropriating and recontextualising anything that fits the mood of negativity.”
You alluded earlier to the act of travelling stimulating your interest in electronic music. Can you elaborate?
“The reality of touring – as anyone who’s ever done that sort of activity will know – is that most of the time you’re isolated and you’re moving. Literally. When I’m on tour, I spend 12-14 hours a day in a van and maybe about 5-6 hours in the club where we play the show, and maybe 30 minutes to an hour making music. So really what touring is to me is isolation and movement. It’s a paradox in the sense that you’re contained but you’re also seeing so much – I never realised the geographic diversity of America until I first went on tour when I was a teenager, I literally drove through it and it blew my mind. And there’s something about not flying, not getting in an airplane, and arriving in another world…
“There’s something about the tedium, the incredible tedium, of physically moving through these places and environments that does something to the brain…because on the one hand you’re totally isolated through it, everything is whirling past you, it’s continuous in that it’s always changing…but the irony is that even though it’s always changing it’s fucking boring. It forces you into thinking about the internal world, it’s like some kind of divorce from the world; even though you’re seeing it, you’ve never felt more away from it.
“And it’s the way you spend your time – when most people are going to bed, I’m at the peak of my physical activity; when most people are getting up is maybe when I’ll catch up a couple of hours sleep in the van. So it’s almost like you’re totally rejecting the social rituals of the everyday world. And again that forces you to go into your own world. Really, in some kind of lame, pathetic, horrible way, it’s a form of meditation. You have no other choice, you’re in a fucking prison. So that to me is when the lyrics start and the titles start and the ideas come, when you just have that time to think; so much of this project is literally just thinking, you know, what does this mean, what can this be, how will this work with that? It’s laid out on paper like you’re writing an essay and you revise and you revise and you revise.”
“In some kind of lame, pathetic, horrible way, it’s a form of meditation. You have no other choice, you’re in a fucking prison.”
The tapes you released in 2009 as Vatican Shadow – Kneel Before Religious Icons and Byzantine Private CIA – sound to me like precursors to Bermuda Drain, in the sense that they’re rhythm-led, atmospheric and decisively electronic pieces. Is it fair to say that that what you’ve learned from that project has fed into the way you do things as Prurient?
“Well, in some ways it has and in some ways it hasn’t. Quite simply, Vatican Shadow was the first time that I was experimenting with making beats, and in that sense it did lay some groundwork for Bermuda Drain. I love certain sides of Muslimgauze records, and I kind of ran out of that sort of music to listen to, so that’s partly why Vatican came about…I mean, a lot of what motivates me in general is that when I can’t find something I want, I try to create it, to satisfy that need. And in many ways that’s what Bermuda Drain is too – I’m looking for this thing and I can’t quite find it so I think, ok, so I’ll make it myself.
“You could also say that Vatican is the total opposite and antithesis of Bermuda Drain, because it doesn’t address the personal world thematically. It’s really more about headlines…I like to describe it as being like a spy game, an espionage board game where you don’t know who’s winning or what side you’re on. I think that’s fair. I like the idea that there are multiple events happening simultaneously, and they may be unrelated, but somehow they’re creating a larger picture. I like the idea of things working behind the scenes, particularly in a sinister way. Even the name Vatican Shadow, and all the song titles, are based around this idea of fear and mistrust and…”
“I mean, it’s linked to conspiracy, but I actually have no real interest in that and am not advocating any of those theories. I find [conspiracy] interesting as a symbol for collapse, a total lack of trust, a total global failure – I think that’s what’s interesting. I have no agenda. I like the atmosphere of degeneration and fear that Vatican conjures. It’s very poetic. When you read the news and see these headlines sometimes you just think you’re reading poetry. They’re so absurd.” [laughs]
“I find conspiracy interesting as a symbol for collapse, a total lack of trust, a total global failure – I think that’s what’s interesting. I have no agenda.”
You say Vatican Shadow is the first time you really made beats, and Bermuda Drain is also quite beat-driven. What have you learned about rhythm and its possibilities?
“So much of the work sonically has come from having a connection to the body. When I first started really developing the use of high frequency and feedback in the Prurient project it was literally about how it affected my body. When I would use feedback, it’s like, in its most base, primitive form it changes the sound depending on how my body is: if I’m holding the microphone and I’m standing entirely still, it’s entirely different to how it sounds if I’m having a seizure. Also psychologically I think that the higher frequency sounds are so much more personal, in the sense that they affect your head, your face, your ears, your teeth – you don’t really feel them in your stomach or your knees like bass sounds, and I always liked that, how treble really attacks the person not in a physical way but in a mental way, because it addresses their head. Like when you think of someone you think of their face, identity is so linked to your face and your speech, and your eyes. I like how aggressive that is.
“Obviously the use of drums is also physical, but it’s not head-oriented in the same way that high frequency is. Actually, most of the beats on the album are more in the mid-range, it’s not a very bass-heavy record either, it’s very sort of…punching. And I guess mid-range is more about addressing the area of breathing – the lungs, the heart, the chest.
“To get back to what you were saying about landscape, for me feedback was always a very kind of linear sound; I think of it is as like a long line that you’re drawing with…We were talking about driving, and I think there’s a rhythm of the road – of the pieces of concrete that are laid down, the road signs, the dots of paint, and I think that’s very rhythmic in a sense, and I think that’s why this techno sound goes so well with the road. It seems to have this relationship to movement and with making it go quicker. It alters your sense of time. If you’re driving in the car and then you put the music on it’s like there’s suddenly a time-warp. And the way we’ve done the editing and cuts on Bermuda Drain, there’s really no space in between the tracks; so it is rhythmic and it is moving you along but it’s also disrupting you. That’s where the paradox comes back in, that’s where the discomfort is. There may be beats that you can follow, but the transitions are sudden, and I think that maintains the feeling of tension and anxiety.”
“How do you define an album? Is it just by format, or is it by feeling? It’s about feeling.”
Is that why the tracks on the album are generally quite short too?
“To some degree, yes, but it’s also a rejection of the past. Vatican Shadow is essentially loops, and I don’t really think of those tracks as songs; and when I first started using the synthesizer as Prurient on Pleasure Ground, it was really this idea of loops that are unchanging, where there isn’t a beginning and there isn’t an end – you come into the track and you feel like it’s been in progress before you arrived, it isn’t defined by your presence. It’s not like you’re here, OK the track’s starting, OK now it’s finished, now you go away. I wanted more of a voyeuristic feeling, like you’re being led into an event that’s already in progress and isn’t affected by your presence. So Vatican Shadow is still like that in a sense, as it’s still essentially loops, I wouldn’t call that material songs, there’s no real songwriting there, it’s mostly just atmosphere.
“But with Prurient I wanted to break some of my own rules and one way of doing this was to make shorter tracks – I wanted this album to be seen as songs and not just loops. It’s more about revealing more about revealing and getting away from that idea of voyeurism, and and addressing the audience directly this time, which is something I’ve always avoided. And that’s uncomfortable for me, and I want it to be uncomfortable…I don’t want it to feel good.
“That’s also why so many of the vocals are undistorted or clear or spoken. Originally when we did the vocals, we tried to record them all in one take, with no distortion and no effects…and we failed [laughs]. But the attempt there was to have a kind of nakedness, a kind of directness; let’s not hide this time and let’s really show it in the way that it is, and in some ways I think that’s the most extreme thing about the album – how clear the sound is. I feel like distortion is so comfortable now, it’s so familiar; a skeletal nakedness is much more scary.”
“I had to learn how to take some of the inflection out of my voice, and try to not be me, in a way – which is ironic for something intended to be highly personal.”
Did this “naked” approach to recording vocals influence your lyrical content and phrasing?
“Absolutely. Absolutely. And I struggled with it, it took so long to work out how I was going to do vocals like that. When we first were doing it just sounded like horrendous spoken word at the local café or something [laughs]. And I had to learn how to take some of the inflection out of my voice, and try to not be me, in a way – which is ironic for something intended to be highly personal. The way that I was speaking was so self-conscious that it was an almost an effect in itself. I worked on the lyrics very heavily with my mother who’s also a writer and a poet; the album really began lyrically, just sitting in the van and recording these experiences in a journalistic way. And when I got back the first thing I said was, ‘Mom, I need help! Help me!’ [laughs]. So we spent a lot of time revising and rearranging and I think that gave me the confidence to say, OK, well, I’m not just collaging and quoting poetry, I’m going to write this stuff again, it’s been a while; and it will be heard, and it will be understandable.”
Bermuda Drain breaks a lot of new ground for Prurient, but from what you say it’s also a kind of return.
“Yes…I was having this discussion with Mark from Hydra Head the other day about what an album actually is – how do you define an album? Is it just by format, or is it by feeling? And we came to the conclusion that it’s about feeling. Looking at my discography, there have been quite a number of album-length releases since, say, Pleasure Ground and And Still, Wanting, but in a way I feel like Bermuda Drain is the first real Prurient album since then. It’s a return in the sense that it’s not dealing with one theme, it’s dealing with many; as opposed to a kind of concept piece which focuses one sound or one idea thematically or lyrically. And it’s a return also in the sense that I’m writing again, not using a collage process. I’m writing directly. I guess that’s how I’d define the real albums. Another thing is that basically my life has to be shitty enough for this to happen; I can only write when I feel like I’m really struggling. I’m never writing when I feel good or things are going well; there’s just something about that process that inherently requires some sort of negative energy.”
I read elsewhere that when you were a teenager, you and your friend had no idea what industrial music was supposed to sound like, so you recorded your own approximations based on the idea, rather than the generally accepted sound, of industrial. His work ultimately tended towards techno, yours to noise. Did making Bermuda Drain remind you of that time?
“Definitely, because that’s the time when I first really started to hear electronic music. There was a newness and excitement then: it felt like OK, this is what I want, this is what I’m looking for, but I don’t know how to do it. And it was pre-internet and it was much harder to discover things, especially where I was from in Madison, Wisconsin, which at the time was pretty culturally devoid of any experimental music at the time. I have to give a shout-out to the first record store that I went to there that had industrial, which was called The Razor Room. It definitely changed my life. My friend and I saw a flyer stapled to a telephone pole and it said ‘THE RAZOR ROOM – INDUSTRIAL AND ELECTRONIC MUSIC’…It became this mythical place where we had to find a time to go because its hours were odd and we were in school and it was always closed, and it was at the other side of town and we didn’t have a car and we had to kind of create an adventure out of finding it.”
“I can only write when I feel like I’m really struggling. There’s just something about that process that inherently requires some sort of negative energy.”
How has your approach to live performance changed in light of your studio overhaul?
“Last week was the first Prurient performance I’ve done in two years. I performed alongside Wes Eisold from Cold Cave. There have been shows in the past where I was playing with more than one person, but never in such a direct way as this: we faced the audience, which is something I never used to do, and having someone else there to work the machines and electronics kind of liberated me to concentrate on the vocals. Also I like the idea of Prurient being in some ways a band – as in more than one person. I like that visually there’s something more, there’s another layer. When you’re a solo performer you only have the audience, it’s just you and them. Whereas now with the inclusion of another person it’s more like it builds a triangle instead of a straight line. I’ll have to see how it develops, it’s the first time we’ve done it this way, and I have to say that it was a bit rough around the edges but for a first go…but I think it was OK.”
Does having Wes onstage not perhaps insulate you from the audience to some degree? Depersonalise the performance?
“I feel that it actually allowed me to address the audience properly for the first time, because I didn’t have to worry about ‘the music’. Someone else is operating it; I’m still doing some electronics, but the main heart of what you’re hearing is being handled by Wes. So I guess with the vocals it was like, OK, here you [the audience] are and here I am, and instead of having my back turned to you I’m going to look at you and you’re going to look at me. And that was a new experience for me, and probably for the audience too. Not that there’s any experimentation involved in looking at the audience, it’s clearly traditional [laughs], but for me it’s a shock. The results were there, I guess: people were going crazy, people were moshing, but I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know if people were suddenly going to walk out of the room and I’d be left looking at nothing but a discarded dollar bill and empty beer can on the floor. People actually freaked out, and it was gratifying in that sense.”
“Most of the people that have the ‘genre’ in their hands are doing everything they can to erase and destroy and corrupt the original idea that made it something interesting and worthwhile.”
What do you anticipate the reaction from hardened Prurient and noise fans will be to the more electronic, dare I say accessible direction you’ve taken on Bermuda Drain?
“I think for most people it will be a shock. I assume that the majority of people will totally hate it, but then that’s what I always assume. Yeah…I never read the internet, I never follow anything that’s going on online, mainly because I already know what it says, for the most part. I like to deal with me and the people that are there and the people that I see in real life and that’s what’s important to me. That being said, I certainly have no assumptions of any popularity or acceptance. And I think that’s good coming from the perspective of noise, because as far as I’m concerned most of the people that have the ‘genre’ in their hands are doing everything they can to erase and destroy and corrupt the original idea that made it something interesting and worthwhile. So I’m fine with those people hating it.”
Cold Cave (l-r: Wes Eisold, Jennifer Clavin, Dominick Fernow)
Tell me a bit more about your history and working relationship with Wes Eisold.
“It’s been a very complex and long working relationship that’s taken many forms. I originally met Wes through Steve who does Swingset magazine. Wes had just begun his publishing company [Heartworm Press] and he asked to do a Prurient book, which eventually became the Rose Pillar project. It was the first time anyone had ever asked me to do a project specifically based on the use of the lyrics and the use of poetry – which was interesting to me, because it’s so important to Prurient but it’s also something which has fallen on deaf ears, largely. And so we began working on the project, which turned out beautifully (I have to give my congratulations to the work that Heartworm did on it) then he started making Cold Cave alone as his solo project and shared with me the very earliest stuff, which I thought was great – because as a fan of electronic music, a fan of noise, and a fan of industrial, it felt like something that was addressing all of those things together.
“As a fan of Cold Cave before I was in the band, that was what was exciting to me about it – there’s a good story behind it.”
“I offered him a release for Cold Cave that came out as the ‘Painted Nails’ 7”. And we decided hey, let’s do a tour together, where I’ll play noise in Cold Cave and you guys can play the synthesizers in Prurient. So we did the tour, that was in the UK, and it just made sense so we continued. It soon became clear that it didn’t need to be a collaboration; there was sufficient need for noise in Cold Cave that it made sense for me to stay on as a permanent member of the band. Ironically enough, at this point I’d become a keyboardist totally by accident – and I’m actually playing a lot more noise than I am keyboard now, and Wes is playing a lot more noise than he is keyboard [laughs]. So that’s the fate of anyone who tries to think that they can get away playing pop music by just making noise.
“The main thing that Wes and I have in our collaboration is a desire, and an emphasis on, the subject matter, on the content, regardless of the sound or the genre where it goes. And that’s why I think it’s been such a fruitful collaboration, because I don’t think either of us feel limited by sound, and what’s important to us is what’s behind it: the concept, the world in which the sound lives. And as a fan of Cold Cave before I was in the band, that was what was exciting to me about it – there’s a good story behind it. It seemed like the music was almost secondary. I mean, that’s what I look for in any artist on the label, but Wes is a person who really understands the context in which these sounds live, and furthermore that’s the reason I first invited him to play in Prurient – I wouldn’t have just anyone up there twiddling knobs. It has to be someone who I feel is on the same page.”
There’s obviously a strong pop current running through Cold Cave. One of very broad definition of ‘pop’ is a desire to communicate clearly. Does Prurient want to do this?
“Yes, I do. I think it’s bullshit when so many people say ‘Oh, I don’t care what anybody thinks’; I kind of feel that that’s not really true, because otherwise what’s the point in bringing it into the public realm? Why not just keep it to yourself then? That’s not to say that the audience dictates what you do. I just think it’s a mistake to totally deny the audience’s involvement when you’re presenting work publicly. That isn’t to say that the audience dictates what you’re doing, or even that they’ll enjoy it, just that it’s a mistake to deny that they’re there. I want to communicate; in the past I’ve always used obfuscation and metaphor where I don’t necessarily expect or want the audience to literally understand the message, but I like the idea that there are enough clues – so that while you may not know exactly what’s being said or why, you can definitely hear that something is being said, and you can definitely get the impression that’s something is wrong, even if it’s not really clear. That’s my aim: to make you feel something. Even if those feelings are negative or uncomfortable, that’s important to me. I think raising questions and not providing answers is ultimately the goal.
“I always remember when I was a kid in the mail-order days and I’d get packages in the mail and some of the stuff would blow my mind, and I’d think, ‘Jesus, what is this? Why does it make me feel this way and how do I feel about feeling that way, and what does it mean?’ And those are always the best things to get – things that make you ask yourself your own questions. So yes, I do want to communicate – just not necessarily clearly. But also I’ve screwed myself, because so many times the interpretations of my ambiguities are just so far off that that can be frustrating as well, but hey, that’s the bed I’ve made for myself.”
“That’s part of the challenge of being a performer – being able to deal with the unpredictability of whatever environment you’re in and being able to transform that environment into the one that you want.”
When it comes to performance, what’s your ideal setting? We were talking earlier about techno, and of course the standard – or rather ideal – setting for techno music is the communal, dionysian nightclub, some distance from the typical noise gig. Does place matter to you when you’re performing?
“I feel like the ideal setting for a Prurient show would be the Virgin Megastore or something. Amid an ocean of CDs that no one cares about [laughs]. I like to think that it’s irrelevant, that Prurient could live anywhere, and I think that’s part of the challenge of being a performer – being able to deal with the unpredictability of whatever environment you’re in and being able to transform that environment into the one that you want. The other day we played an event with Cold Cave in New York that was a corporate-sponsored thing, and it was very unusual in terms of the environment – there were all kinds of light displays and neon signs (not in a club way but in an advertising way), there were parked cars inside, and it couldn’t have been more of a distraction. There were people rummaging through bins of free t-shirts, there were people playing video games while we were performing; it basically couldn’t have been more difficult. And we played the set and the response was surprisingly good [laughs], and I thought to myself, ‘Fuck, this is it, this is the most important gig I’ve ever played, because the environment couldn’t be worse – seriously, it was awful – but someone got something out of it. I think that’s another goal as a performer: to be able to make it seem like you’re enjoying yourself. [laughs]
“I really don’t think you begin to understand how your work is operating, or understand the full power of the gestures and tools that you use, until you take it out of its ‘natural’ context.”
Is it hard to reconcile your own roots in independent and DIY culture with, for example, playing a corporate-sponsored gig with Cold Cave?
“It’s certainly difficult but I don’t have any problem with it. And I think that this is what’s hurt a lot of what we can call ‘underground’ music, for lack of a better term: there’s this incredible fear that just cripples so many people of doing anything outside of their comfort zone. I think if you can take the coldest, least personal public event and turn it into a pit of fire – that’s the goal as an artist. And this crippling fear that so many people have to do anything at all that’s stepping outside of their safety net, I think it’s really a mistake for their own work, and I really don’t think you begin to understand how your work is operating, or understand the full power of the gestures and tools that you use, until you take it out of its ‘natural’ context. That’s the only way to develop and grow as an artist. So in some ways, the stranger the event, the more interesting I think it is. And more relevant. It has so much more impact when you have a noise band playing on a bill with two rock bands rather than just having three noise bands playing together.”
The second Cold Cave album was recorded with a big-name producer in a top studio. As someone who’s generally worked autonomously and with a more modest set-up, what did you learn from this presumably alien experience?
“The answer to that question is very simple: basslines. I can’t stress that enough. Basslines are it, man. It’s something I never thought to use before, it’s an incredibly simple tool and a way to transform what you’re doing so easily from a melodic perspective. Of course it was a great experience to be in the DFA synth workshop, that was cool…of course I brought in my old beat-up, undesirable FX pedal and pieces of trash and everyone kind of scoffed at me but I think they were actually surprised at how good it sounded.”